A New Low for the Pakistani State Every Day

Source: rferl.org

Just when you thought that the Pakistani state could not stoop any lower, it surprised you with its latest achievement. Although you really shouldn’t be surprised and probably many were not when they learned about the arrest of human rights activist Gulalai Ismail. Gulalai is a young Pashtun woman who has been vocal about women’s digital rights and free speech and has been recognized for her contribution abroad as well.

The cause for Gulalai’s arrest was her support for the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) led by Manzoor Pashteen, who has largely been dubbed as a traitor by the Pakistani state establishment. Gulalai was arrested immediately on her arrival in Islamabad from her tour and her name was put on the Exit Control List, a blacklist supposed to prevent citizens from traveling outside Pakistan. While she has been released on interim bail, the case against her by the FIA stands as her home in Swabi was also raided for her arrest.

Gulalai is a well-respected figure not just in Pakistan but globally for her work in human rights. Founder of NGO Aware Girls, focused on women’s rights and leadership, she has received the Chirac Prize for conflict prevention in France and there was no wonder it wasn’t long before Amnesty International was calling for her release.

It only goes to show the impunity of the Pakistani state and their sheer disregard of not even sparing human rights activists of an international repute. You can only imagine how the authorities must be treating more obscure political dissenters and human rights activists. You can accuse people like Malala and Gulalai of privilege as compared to their fellow citizens, even though that would be unfair, but figures like them become symbols of resistance when the struggle of the common man goes unnoticed.

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The way the Pashtun population has been treated in recent years, especially since the recent Swat and Waziristan operations and the APS incident, has been a disgrace, to say the least. They are particularly discriminated against at military check posts and the way the Punjabi establishment has been painting non-violent grassroots leaders like Manzoor Pashteen as terrorists in their public broadcasts has been simply unacceptable. Such an ad has been airing of late and the embarrassed Punjab government was forced to pull it off.

The Pakistani state must seriously reconsider the way it treats its citizens and must put an end to its long history of undemocratic authoritarianism if it wants democracy to flourish. That clearly has not been the goal of the civil and military bureaucratic establishment in the country.

Pakistan must keep in mind before lecturing other countries on human rights.

My Pakistani Person of the Year 2015: Malala Yousafzai

Source: REUTERS/Cornelius Poppe/NTB

Source: REUTERS/Cornelius Poppe/NTB

Much to the chagrin of our nationalist critics, Malala Yousafzai keeps on achieving great things. And she is destined for even greater things.

If she is a foreign paid agent, then God knows we need thousands more like her, and would thank the generous foreign power for allocating such funds to a Pakistani girl. But if only the world were such a magical place.

2015 was the year in which Malala transcended the Pakistani nationality, and became what every human individual ought to be. A Citizen of the World. In the true sense of the expression.

Focusing on just one country does not even matter anymore, neither does justice to her vision for humanity.

On the turn of this year, Malala Yousafzai became the first ever Pakistani and Pashtun woman and the youngest ever person to receive the Nobel Prize for Peace.

Malala Yousafzai is my Pakistani person of the year for showing Pakistan what the right to education really means and for teaching adults how to raise their children, especially girls. In many ways, she always will be because we would hardly see an individual as brave and as bright in any time to come.

Malala has earlier worked for the education for Nigerian girls, particularly those affected by Boko Haraam. She is now working for the education of Syrian refugee children, which are probably the most troubled individuals in this world. She is leading by example for not waiting for others to take action by founding the Malala Fund.

It is only ironical that Malala comes from a country where the lawmakers have declared education as a right of all citizens, without providing any plan for it, or even understanding what that means. Malala’s critics are not aware that she is only echoing the ideals of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

Don’t worry too much if Malala Yousafzai is not working for Pakistan in your opinion.

She has beaten death to fight for her cause. Shrugging off these taunts and allegations are not going to bother her, though these words could be sharper than bullets and blades. But then again, demanding education for girls is a serious crime in a society that constantly laments about the lack of it rhetorically.

Your opinion judging her nationalistic loyalty does not even matter anymore.

She has moved on to do greater things.

Happy New Year.

Donate to the Malala Fund here.

Read about my Pakistani person of the last year here.

Pakistani Idiot of the Year 2015: Maulana Muhammad Khan Sherani

Source: dawn.com

Source: dawn.com

While this year offered its fair share of forgettable hilarity and brutal sadness here and there, no one could equal the sheer stupidity and evil of Maulana Muhammad Khan Sherani, the head of the utterly useless, if not malicious, Council for Islamic Ideology of Pakistan.

I wish more people would agree that this organization can only do more harm than good. I know he has already pissed off women’s rights activists. Those in doubt should check their list of major legislative achievements, which should send chills down anyone’s spine, unless you favor locking women away in cages.

However, Maulana Sherani’s shenanigans have been in the news for a long time. So what’s new? The great Maulana with his infinite wisdom of interpreting the Koran and the Sunnah stooped to new depths of misogynistic filth with his suggestions on how women should and should not dress.

During the 200th meeting of the Islamic Council, he graced the world with his generosity by suggesting that it is “not mandatory for women to cover hands and feet,” even though he would consider it preferrable to wear gloves and socks.  Well, thank you, Maulana because women walking around like bandaged Egyptian mummies is the only way to prevenet rape and mischief. Adding these lines actually make you feel physically sick and are the biggest reason for his selection this year.

Later, in an attempt to completly cement gender gap in the Islamic Republic, he recommends completely abolishing co-education and separating educational schools for boys and girls from a very early age. The Council has also declared surrogacy unlawful and unIslamic, so the babies born this way can really go to hell.

Last year, under his leadership, the Council for Islamic Ideology has already declared the laws prohibiting child marriage to be contrary to the Islamic values. In other words, the body is recommending to abolish the laws protecting young children from possible abuse in the name of lawful marriage. They have also ruled out DNA as the primary evidence for rape, and consider an anti-adultery law to be sufficient to protect women from violence and harrassment.

To many, this becomes a matter of what the right interpretation of Islam should be. Apparently these people on the Council make a living doing that. So not sure if any of us can really claim to know more. However, any taxpayer who is not concerned at these clerics getting away with murder should think twice. This institution should be abolished for fiscal, if not humanitarian and democratic, reasons.

This very day as I am writing these words, news just broke that His Worship has involved himself in a scuffle, rather unwisely, with the not-exactly-frail Maulana Tahir Ashrafi, probably the most liberal of Sunni clerics on the council. They were locking horns over the contentious status of the Ahmedis, or as they put it Qadianis, on whether or not to declare them infidels. Not sure how many times do we need to do that though, which was probably the point that Ashrafi was making. But I guess another thing about the Council is that it makes sadism socially acceptable.

A video from within the meeting has been leaked as well. Nevertheless, the smarter Ashrafi resorted to using brain instead of brawn with a timely press conference, not in the opinion of one eye-witness though, for making the point why we should get rid of Sherani as the CII Chairman.

An office that in my opinion should not exist in the first place.

Read about the Pakistani idiot of the last year here.

Why We Need More of Foreign Agenda

Source: APP/Dawn

Source: APP/Dawn

Recently the PML-N led federal government landed itself in yet another mess. The Interior Ministry ordered the closure of the prominent international NGO “Save the Children” and asking its staff to leave the country, but only to reverse the decision sooner than you know. The reason for banning the NGO temporarily was “the anti-state activities” they were allegedly involved in.

Now while the “Save the Children” matter has been taken care of, this just was not enough for the Interior Minister. He said that hundreds of NGOs are violating their charters in Islamabad and under the watch list. Someone else pointed out on TV that hundreds were unregistered.  There is no doubt that every NGO should be registered with the government. Makes perfect sense. But this incident also started a series of morally constipated nationalistic analyses on the national TV about how inherently evil the NGO business is. And how every NGO is absolutely corrupt and conspiring with world powers to destroy Pakistan and implement foreign agenda in the country.

Speaking of which, we should actually be thankful to the foreign NGOs for promoting foreign agenda in Pakistan, because clearly we could use more of it.

If helping children get a decent, rational secular education, better access to clean water and healthcare, and promoting democratic values mean foreign agenda, then certainly we could do with much more of it.

While the political parties and government in Pakistan, including the political party currently in power (since they have regained their monopoly over moral righteousness these days), make high claims about public welfare, they are clearly not touching areas that many of these “anti-state” NGOs are working on. If despite lofty claims, the government is not able to deliver education as a right, then do they blame foreign NGOs to take credit for promoting education in the society?

Why should we worry about the foreign agenda anyway when our own domestic agenda is so lethal.

OK, let me guess.

These foreign NGOs are dangerous because they are promoting education, free speech, and democracy. And that is probably anti-state, so that our children don’t get to learn that having a theocratic and discriminatory constitution is wrong. That could seriously disintegrate the almost perfectly homogeneous ignorance of our almost perfectly homogeneous society.

These foreign NGOs are particularly dangerous because they keep on talking about liberating women and helping them become financially independent. They are also a threat to the society because they keep on talking about legislating to punish violence against women. Because obviously that would shred our family values and honor to pieces.

If our constitution involves excommunicating religious communities, and our law supports provisions for capital punishment on blasphemy, then probably it’s foreign agenda alone that could come to salvage this hopeless mess.

But then again, when our local agenda involves hiding the most wanted terrorist in the world, there is not much to expect, is there?

That’s why we need more foreign NGOs to buy more local people with foreign money.

Let’s admit it as a nation, and there is nothing to be ashamed about it.

We need more of foreign agenda.

This post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

 

Malice, Morality & Malala: or Adding Insult to Injury

Source: AP/The Hindu

I write this with a heavy heart, with disgust and with a sense of insecurity and fear.

As you all know, teenage education activist Malala Yousafzai had been shot by the Taliban in her native Swat on October 9, 2012 to the shock of not only the entire nation, but the whole world. Right now she is struggling her way back to life and hopefully making good progress. However, I am seriously concerned for her well being in the future as she is feared to have suffered brain damage, but that’s not confirmed. Hopefully not.

After this sad incident, amid spontaneous sympathy and genuine grief, all kinds of genuine heartlessness, cruelty and the usual idiocy emerged. I am talking about the organized campaign and the spontaneous reactions aimed at undermining the tragedy of the shooting of Malala Yousafzai and maligning her character as an activist.

You can find all kinds of people coming up and linking the event with their political agenda and trying to prove something completely unrelated.

So, you’re upset about Malala, right? How come you don’t make the same kind of fuss about hundreds of little children who have died in the drone attacks?

I am so sorry for not outraging as much about the hundreds of little children who have died in the drone attacks, but what in the world drone attacks have to do with Malala and what does grieving for her have to do with grieving for the children dying in drone attacks? Why is grieving for a girl that you knew as a public figure wrong and how that negates the feelings you have for the people dying in drone attacks?

So is speaking out for the attack on her wrong just because you think people are not condemning drone attacks? What kind of morality is that, by any of the twisted standards we have in this world of ours? Maybe just because the whole world is sympathizing with her, she must be an evil person, right? The ever-obnoxiously-eloquent Ayaz Amir puts it like this.

I mean what in the world are people trying to prove over here. Yes, drone attacks (which are, mind you, bombings, which are bombings and are lethal, let them be by manned aircraft or not) are atrocious for both innocent and terrorists alike, but those events are completely irrelevant to the point that Malala Yousafzai was an innocent little child who was brutally shot. I literally felt as if someone had shot my own daughter, but you don’t have to feel the pain to imagine if the girl was your “daughter” really. I regret even mentioning that word here. Though I cannot see it or put it any other way.

Actually the reaction from many of the hyper-nationalist and self-proclaimed exclusively-patriotic and religious right and center-right (with sincere apologies to the sane center-rightists) of the country, and especially the religious leaders and “scholars”, is nothing more than a dirty display of Groupthink, with hurt pride turning into venomous damnation of Malala and of all the sympathy for her. It is certainly not without a reason.

They do actually consider Malala and everything she represents as a threat. A threat to their religious-nationalist identity. A threat to the Pakhtun Islamism, a threat to the Islamic clergy, a threat to the Taliban and a threat to their cult of oppressing women into oblivion, ignorance and obscurantism, depriving them a right to education and a happy and free life.

Islamists like the Taliban are more aware than your average moderate Pakistani Muslim what great a threat secular education can possibly be to the religious dogma and faith. The reason is that education on scientific basis can help children grow to become freethinkers and use reason and scientific method, which could possibly eliminate the superstition and the supernatural from their lives.

Oh yes, was she really innocent of all her charges? The razor-sharp wit of Wus’atullah Khan so sarcastically puts why she was not. Even Nicholas Kristof sees it this way.

I agree that she is not innocent of her charges. I am proud that she is not. She was doing something even the most outspoken of liberal and secular public figures were and are afraid to do. She was propagating, supporting, endorsing and practically ensuring secular education to the children of her land, especially girls. This is something remarkable considering how the Taliban love to blow up girls’ schools and how they consider education to women an evil.

This is also remarkable because not long ago the Taliban and allied Islamist militant groups had taken over the control of Swat and enforced their Shariah there for the time. The Pakistani state had briefly lost control over the territory until a military operation was carried out to regain it. So it takes some courage to take on the Taliban not far from their lair.

This is precisely why the Taliban targeted her and their spokesperson Ehsanullah Ehsan has vowed to attack her again if she survives this one. Actually, the Taliban specifically mentioned that she was attacked because she was “secular-minded”. This is the reason why many in the rest of the supposedly moderate Pakistan think that attacking her was justified, even though they cannot or could not do it themselves.

So much for those who think that though shooting her is wrong, she does not deserve all this attention and sympathy. There are even those who think that shooting her was completely justified. Those who side with the Taliban. Therefore, I find this incident, not polarizing, but cleansing, in terms of who is who in our society. If we still cannot see who our enemies are as Pakistanis, then we never will.

Source: Amnesty International

While I think about Malala Yousafzai this day, what overwhelms me more than anything else and what really puts me to shame is her bravery and her clarity. Because what she is demanding is so obviously and unmistakably right and worth defending and not worth giving up, even for a second, just like breathing, eating and drinking. And stepping down and giving that up just because your life is under threat is just clearly wrong reasoning, isn’t it? But are we fighting that hard?

Either we are stupid or Malala is.

The Crime of Being Born Without a Penis

Source: aboutcirc.com

I never thought I would be writing a post on this but I guess there are a few things which I feel need to be said. A few things that I observed and that talking about them would do more good than harm for others than for myself. The last fortnight started with a tragedy and ended with all sorts of political and intellectual hilarity, as every week begins and ends in one way or the other in our world. Started of course with a plane crash in Rawalpindi/Islamabad due to alleged bad weather and an alleged lightning strike/downdraft. The plane crash killed around 127 people. The airline’s first flight in a little less than two decades, not exactly, and had earlier been banned for violating safety procedures. It seems no one will question the CAA too hard for clearing the 30 year old 737 to fly, though I had put the question to Honorable Interior Minister Senator Rehman Malik, which I expect no heed to be paid to. Another question to ask is this. Would the people and government had treated the airline in a similar manner had it been the national flag carrier. But let’s be honest with ourselves, friends, let’s be honest. Let us hope, and pray, if you believe in praying, that we don’t find ourselves in a plane that is about to crash. Because in any case, that is the end of that.

Later an article by an Egyptian American columnist Mona El Tahawy appeared in a magazine allegedly discussing Foreign Policy created a stir. The cover of the magazine, which I found pretty charming and a rather eye-catching form of graphic propaganda that some people saw as objectification of women, probably deliberately meant, was extremely useful in terms of journalism, or even propaganda for that matter, because it sent the right message straight away. Without a word being spoken. I wouldn’t be too proud of the issue but of the cover very much, had I been the editor. It was a great idea in itself, keeping the moral issues aside. You don’t have to agree with its morality to agree with its effectiveness by the way. I won’t go into the detail of that particular article because the internet has been exploding with it all over the place and you can go through it yourself. My comment is neither about women’s rights nor about feminism nor the opinion presented in the article itself, to which I mostly agree and which makes good sense factually given the history of discriminatory practices against women in the Middle East, but about the criticism of it and the response to that criticism, since I don’t consider myself qualified enough to talk about feminism and women’s rights, so letting the experts speak is the right thing to do in any case.

The moment I saw the article I knew that the twitter will turn into a battlefield and blogs populated with fresh rebuttals and counter-rebuttals, as it occurred, so let us stay out of the line of fire. I found the criticism more political and nationalistic in nature than dealing with feminism or women’s rights. I am not sure if all the people criticizing the criticism saw that, though I can safely assume that many did. As for the criticism, here is one argument for it and one against it. The criticism was primarily about wounded Arab nationalism and Islamic traditions than out of the genuine denial of women’s suppression, but one that was dripping with desperation. An insult was probably meant, it is safe to say, not necessarily by the article but by the issue, and was achieved it seemed. Now that is biased criticism in terms of the content of that article, but maybe not too much in terms of the context of the space in which it appeared. Some of the answer to that is already provided in that article actually.

Probably the critic had perceived the relevance of such article in a magazine that mostly talks about American wars overseas and the propaganda associated with it for a good deal of time, which is what US Foreign Policy has been mostly about for decades, to be inviting war in the Middle East for the cause of the liberation of women, since it exclusively talked about the Arab world. The most absurd thing you’ll ever hear though, even if that is the case. The Western powers, however, are not idiots and would be willing to do so anyway for several other reasons than that one, though would like you to believe otherwise. An argument against it obviously is that in the blind criticism of the article, her point of female suppression in the Middle East, which is a crude fact, had been conveniently subsided if not denied by many. This is where even the self-proclaimed constructive criticism starts losing its credibility and as one of my friends puts it, the gap between Western feminism and in his words so-called Islamic feminism shows broad daylight. But despite the criticism, I do think that Islamic feminism is a good idea on the face of it. Better than nothing.

I personally do not mean any disrespect to any particular culture or philosophy and do not feel the need to ever do so, but simply talking about things the way I perceive there are in this case. Those who do mean disrespect are noticed by their language anyway. However, it was entertaining to see the burka debate emerge all over again which involved one side challenging the patriarchal symbol of female suppression in the male dominated societies and the other side upholding the choice of the female individuals choosing to wear it. One sees burka as a symbol of oppression. Other sees it as a way of life. Both sides obviously thinking that the other is very wrong. I feel both are right in the sense that they have a point but both are wrong in the sense that they do not realize that they are actually on the same side of the struggle and probably even the same side of the argument. I do think that the struggle against the enforced burka can be carried out while accepting it as a piece of clothing. Maybe that is not possible but I can’t see why. However, the worst part is that both sides are not prepared to learn from the other.

There is a lot of cognitive dissonance involved in the burka issue because of the cultural shock factor. Everything you say about a burka is an insult to someone. Just like this post probably, which if it is, I hope at least offends both the parties equally, because doing that never is the aim. Supporting the burka is an insult to feminism and female emancipation and opposing it is an insult to some culture and women who support or wear it. Just like it is an insult to a woman to wrap a burka around her and an insult to another to stripping her of it. This cognitive dissonance is because of the merging of two distinct and apparently clashing cultural ideas, western feminism and Islamic culture. Yes, cultural shock is not always a cool thing. Not anymore, at least.

For some it is about which culture is superior, which I want to have nothing to do with because I find ideological warfare repulsive and disgusting. However, not every woman (speaking for women’s rights) living in an Islamic culture has accepted western feminism as it is, giving rise to what people refer to as Islamic feminism, while others have completely embraced it. Like it or not, this is a fact. Some of them may wear the hijab while others wouldn’t be found dead in it. This cognitive dissonance has given rise to the burka debate and a neutral observer has little choice but to respect the viewpoint of both the schools of thought. Then again, it depends on the neutral observer. Right now I cannot think of a way of describing it in a more scientific and objective manner.

But shouldn’t it purely be a woman’s debate? If that is not being sexist. I don’t know but men do comment on it. As for men commenting on it, the fact that men cannot understand enforced burka does not mean that they should abandon the principles of individual freedom, if they believe in them. For those who believe in telling people what to do are the cause of the entire problem anyway. The point is that you cannot tell people what to wear and what not to wear while still be concerned when fundamentalist Muslims criticize women for their clothing and tell them to dress in a certain way. This is why supporting democratic values and individual freedom mean opposing a burka ban in France as well as the absurd law-norm of enforced burka wearing in public places in Saudi Arabia. I presume many people would support the former while oppose the latter for some valid reasons. Not saying at all that this approach is not based on a principle and a philosophy, but not sure if it is as democratic as the one opposite to it and I personally do not respect it as much. Though I personally am not fond of the burka anyway.

Both the mentioned laws are wrong in my opinion, but to some both are right or one of them is. A ban on the internet is wrong, right? A ban on anything is wrong. That’s freedom. That is where you compromise the principles you claim to believe in to fit your ideological passions. But this is just a viewpoint and it can be wrong. Maybe the burka, which must also remind a lot of people of the Taliban, is banned because it harms women who want to wear it or harm other women and have far-reaching psychological and social consequences that I cannot even reach the understanding of in this lifetime. I am still learning about the science behind the burka, especially how it is made. Perhaps a burka ban would be more relevant in the context of a society like Saudi Arabia where women are forced and required to wear burka, unlike France where it is most probably banned for other reasons.

It would still violate individual freedom though. But since men cannot understand what it feels like to be inside a burka and the discrimination that it involves, though not all men are unfamiliar with sexual invasions contrary to popular opinion, it is fair to leave the choice to women, as in the case of childbirth and abortion, ideally that is. Maybe only women should be allowed to vote on such issues. This way it could offer a better picture to the solution of these issues. A recent example being all the female Republican senators voting for passing/renewing Domestic Violence Act in the United States but most of the male Republican senators voting against it. I don’t know.

But a few months later, there will be another article printed about it again and the debate will start all over again and will end in a stalemate, just like the debate about the existence of God.

A stalemate is a sign of an intelligent species. This much I can tell you.

So the point of writing all this was that we should try to learn from such a debate. But it really is true that men can have no idea what women go through with the societal norms that they have created and engage in misogynist behavior everyday, sometimes unknowingly, being raised up in patriarchal societies. Also true that Middle Eastern women and also women in Pakistan and India and maybe even Bangladesh are particularly oppressed by men. To the point of even hating them. A very good example being acid assaults in Pakistan. How heartlessly atrocious and subhuman low can you get. Nationalistic criticism of that viewpoint cannot change facts. This is something that a particular society should take the responsibility of changing itself by modifying some of its norms over time through education and awareness, easier said than done. Although all the advantage men have over women in such a society is that they are born with a penis and that women are not. So they can be thankful that nobody tells them to wear their underwear over their pants whenever they leave their homes.

In other words, women’s crime for being treated with discrimination is being born without a penis.

Isn’t that absurd?

The Pul-e-Jawan Experience: The Pakistan Country Forum Event April 11-12, 2012

Introduction Brief (Source: Furhan Hussain for Pul-e-Jawan)

Pul-e-Jawan is a peace initiative and a discussion forum covering India, Pakistan and Afghanistan peace and security issues. I learned about an event of the forum being organized by Bytes 4 All, an organization dedicated to internet freedom and online privacy in Pakistan, and had a chance to participate. The event that was held on April 11 and April 12, 2012 in Islamabad, covered various aspects of regional peace and security through the participation and opinions of the analyst-turned-Foreign Office advisor Mosharraf Zaidi, analyst and scholar Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa and the representatives of the independent US institutions monitoring aid in Pakistan including Nadia Naviwala of the US Institute of Peace, Danny Cutherell of Center for Global Development and Pakistani-American entrepreneur Awais Khan of American Pakistan Foundation. Indu Nepal briefly joined on live stream from Afghanistan to explain what the Pul-e-Jawan forum was about.

In one of the sessions, Pakistan’s foreign policy strategy was discussed. The most important piece of information was the fact that Pakistan had started engaging with all the ethnic groups in Afghanistan instead of just Pashtuns. Some found it hard to believe but it nevertheless was something positive. Pakistan’s approach of increasing trade with India and other nations was also discussed. A journalist from Waziristan asked about the compensation for the “Pakistani citizens” becoming victims of the war campaigns in the tribal areas from the Pakistani government. It was found that Pakistani government was largely clueless about the idea, let alone the thought of considering those casualties Pakistani citizens. Criticism of the alleged Saudi petrodollars funding terrorism was a positive. We also learned that people of Pakistan did not vote for internet freedom in 2008, causing a momentary outrage but life went on.

Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa’s session was a candid discussion primarily about civil liberties and national security, also including the state of affairs of Pakistan vis-à-vis its neighbors and the war on terror. Most of the discussion revolved around the internal affairs of Pakistan, the role of the military establishment and religious extremism. She discussed how the perceived freedom of Pakistani media was an illusion and how the Pakistani political left has been eradicated out of existence. She talked about how she had been criticized for being anti-military and explained that criticizing military does not mean that you advocate putting it out of existence. The highest point of her talk was when she mentioned that she decided to return to Pakistan since the battle for better civil rights and democracy would be best fought from within the country. She considered the thinking ones a minority in the country and was not as enthusiastic about supporting civil liberties over national security as your average hawk would have thought.

To tell you the truth, I personally had very little interest in listening to the US officials because I am not really thrilled about the subject of aid anyway. It always sounds pretty meaningless to me in terms of politics, but if it can be of help for underprivileged people, great. Also because they would not have had answers to any of the questions that I wanted to ask from anyone coming with US aid proposals and it was therefore absolutely pointless to ask anything. However, a lot of participants were very interested in the discussion and contributed enthusiastically to it. I couldn’t help but observe a few things which I am sure would be making US aid officials and the US government in general sick to their stomachs. I have noticed that some of the participants were literally crucifying the US for the uselessness of the aid initiatives due to the corruption in the Pakistani society and government and yet were complaining that not enough aid was being sent and not utilized on better projects. Now isn’t that unreasonable? What the hell are they supposed to do?

A journalist from Waziristan was talking about the need for investment in the tribal areas as unemployment was turning young men to militancy and probably what we refer to as terrorism. Another friend asked them about the lack of US contribution to Baluchistan. While both the gentlemen were spot on and I cannot recall with certainty if the FATA journalist asked them this particular question, but to answer the general mindset, I cannot understand how aid in itself could end unemployment and create industries in the region, which was actually the aim of some of the questions put to those officials. Perhaps the gentleman from Waziristan was referring to direct foreign investment, so that is what he talked about, it only came as a feedback for the personnel on how aid was really changing their lives. I think this kind of demand should be forwarded to an official of the Government of Pakistan instead of aid monitoring officials. I think it is about time that Pakistanis should realize that it is economic growth instead of the US aid that could really get them anywhere, especially when it comes to earning respect among the nations of the world. At least it will keep their government from being obsessive-compulsive beggars.

The thing that I liked the most about the US officials session was their honesty about the aid process. They admitted that the government processes were slow on the both sides, referring to the Kerry-Lugar Bill, which is actually in jeopardy overPakistan’s shady role in the Osama Ben Laden episode, but maybe not due to the dual nature of Pakistan-America relations. Though I do wonder how the military aid gets processed so quickly. They explained that if an NGO receives too much aid, it is most likely to go corrupt. Cutherell stated that aid will never solve Pakistan’s issues and Pakistanis have to take control of the things themselves. Common sense will tell you that as well, but Pakistanis are hooked to any kind of aid anyway. Too lazy and incompetent to earn money themselves perhaps. Awais Khan was suggesting people to vote in a better way, at which point I was forced to unsuccessfully ask who we should vote for, since I really cannot make up my mind. That was the end of that.

On the second day, MP Bushra Gohar of the ANP spoke about the achievements of the women’s caucus of parliamentarians for better legislation for women’s rights and acting in a united manner beyond party lines. She started the presentation with an ode to the active social role played by Pakistani women in all fields of life with a sentimental montage repeatedly focusing on Benazir Bhutto’s arrival in Pakistan after her self-imposed exile in 2007. The Tina Sani song was instantly criticized for its rather patriarchal lyrics, referring to the Anchal or the Chador, by the witty Tazeen who was interviewing Gohar, since all women do not wear it. Gohar apparently was one step ahead instantly explaining that she had the same problem and that the lyricist had also taken the criticism in a positive light. I personally found the lyrics overly sentimental and somewhat touching, but that’s poetry. Maybe it was the montage. You can check the song and the video for yourself, not that it’s important.

She pointed out how women parliamentarians took an initiative when they were left out of the Constitutional Standing Committee. The rest of the time was spent on defending the position of the Awami National Party on various fronts. She was asked why the tribal areas have been neglected by the ANP Government to which she responded that the FATA has been included in the KP province in the ANP constitution, apparently unlike the Pakistani constitution. She was spot on when she said that FATA has been reduced to a strategic space and its people strategic assets by the Pakistani states and should take a stand for their rights. In my opinion, that is where the polarized Pakistani nation is at one. She also mentioned that she had received death threats and acid attack threats from the Taliban for her views and even for her appearance and attire. Had the pleasure of briefly meeting her, a very intelligent and articulate woman. She is the kind of representative you would want to vote for any day, without getting impressed by her party much.

MP Bushra Gohar at the Pul-e-Jawan event (Source: Furhan Hussain for Pul-e-Jawan)

To my delight, and of everyone else’s if I may take the liberty to say that, Nabiha Meher Sheikh took her time out to conduct an excellent workshop on Critical Thinking and Cognitive Biases. This was important because some of the participants were realizing what biases meant for the very first time, if I may not be considered too biased for stating that. After the initiation, the participants were divided in 5 groups, each required to present and justify a local example of Groupthink. A couple of groups gave the example of the 1971 war, one of the lawyers’ movement and my group gave the example of Pakistani nationalists’ criticism of Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s Oscar winning documentary.

FATA Journalist Ihsan Dawar at the event (Source: Furhan Hussain for Pul-e-Jawan)

The stars of the show and the center of attention among participants remained to be two gentlemen from the beautiful tribal land of Waziristan, which has been abandoned by Pakistan ever since the independence. At least in my books. The radio journalists Ihsan Dawar and Umer Daraz Khan stole the show through their input about the situation in the tribal areas and bombarding all the speakers with stinging questions about the role of Pakistan in the tribal areas. They also gave a pretty hard time to the US officials and enjoyed a fair bit of preference as far as opportunities for questions were concerned, for which I admire the organizers. Gulalai Ismail was another prominent participant who gets my admiration for her Aware Girls project in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Participation of activists from the Hazara community and the Sindhi Hindu community was also something worth noticing and the event encompassed the diversity in Pakistan pretty well.

Before taking my leave of the event, I and my group proposed a new social media campaign idea which would involve online petition messages from the citizens of Pakistan and India to their governments for withdrawing troops from the Siachen glacier in order to end a pointless and bloody conflict, which was causing more deaths due to the horrific living conditions instead of the battle. The campaign is meant to go beyond just being an online petition, as it would constantly pursue the Siachen conflict, as it is often easily forgotten, and would remind India and Pakistan of what they are doing to their people.

All in all, it was a great experience and learned quite a bit from it and made a few friends. Other than that, still trying to develop something a bit more meaningful and constructive out of the experience at the Pul-e-Jawan forum.