Gandasa

September 9, 2009

Great Article on Af-Pak

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — gauher @ 9:24 am

I read an excellent piece by Mosharraf Zaidi in The News today. Check it out at his website by following the link below:

http://www.mosharrafzaidi.com/2009/09/09/the-afghanistanization-of-pakistan/

Peace fellow travelers 🙂

June 14, 2009

What Would Jinnah Do? (Part II of III)

Filed under: Politcs — Tags: , , , — gauher @ 10:40 pm

Faith

Many of us Pakistanis live in a world where any event, from the ghastly to the mundane, can conveniently be cast into simple bins of black and white. We have become a nation that is unable to think outside of age old stereotypes, afraid of a necessary discourse on social issues, thus breeding the hypocrisy that comes with apathy and discontent. The last decade of easy money and a booming service industry brought prosperity to middle income homes, cable TV to almost 80% of the population and trade-up consumerism to rival any developing economy. As a result of this, many of our urban centers began a Western drift in their understanding of and expectations from society and the state. Awareness and information created a demand to experience the freedoms they knew to exist elsewhere, and a challenge to the social status quo has begun to emerge on class lines. For generations, the concept of faith has been passed on solely on the basis of tradition, so that now our understanding of religion has completely been decoupled from practice. Pakistan has become a society where a majority are Muslims simply because it was the religion of their fathers, and the role it plays in our lives is more social than spiritual. As such, we still cling to a mentality that comes straight from the hurt and disappointment of past generations, where there still is something called an ‘Islamic World’, and this imaginary entity is locked in eternal conflict with an even more mythological foe, the West. If Jinnah were alive today, he might have looked at the world and seen it not very unlike the one he left behind; then, as now, a Western power had suffered losses too great to sustain its decadent ways, and the time was ripe for change and a new direction. We lost that chance then, and have suffered decades of ignorance, political marginalization and exploitation, all because were unable to choose an identity that fit our way of life. This time around, we must make that choice based on a set of values and faith that is ours, not those of our ancestors.

For a country created to provide Muslims the freedom to practice their faith without fear of discrimination, it seems we didn’t really do much with that liberty once we got it. From the very outset, civilian governments chose to pay lip service to Islamic principles while gladly carrying on the business of the government by means that totally contradicted them. We have drifted far,  and our society, raised on the fine ethos of visible deference, chose to go to Friday prayers, pay its stipulated 2.5%, fast 30 days a year and consider  its obligations fulfilled. We forgot what it really means to be a Muslim, which is to submit to the principles and ideals of Islam, and to submit, one must first learn. We let discourse on faith and ideology die, and in time the only knowledge left was in the hands of a traditionalist leadership that discouraged challenge and prioritized acts of worship over the propagation of religious knowledge. When the Middle East oil boom arrived, the stage was set for massive indoctrination of our youth by Madressah’s set up to preach the Arab version of Islam. The ideology created in the Arabian Peninsula by the religious reformer and scholar Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab (1703 – 1792) has greatly influenced the nature of Islamic discourse everywhere around the world, perhaps most visibly in Pakistan. With almost unlimited funding, the alliance of the Saudi religious establishment with the military regime of General Zia ul Haq spelled the beginning of societal brainwashing, otherwise called ‘Islamization’. With American backing, billions of dollars from Washington and the Gulf poured into the hands of hastily set up Madressahs, raising a generation of ‘mujahids’ for an Afghan holy war. The perversion of Islamic faith and principles into a dogma of hatred and destruction all happened under our very noses for two decades, and so as a nation we cannot simply wash our hands of this mess. We were the ones who were happy to give those handouts to ‘brave young warriors’ after Friday prayers, ignored atrocities by our ‘allies’ the Taliban, and paid lip service to the greatness of an Islamic Shariah state in our mohallas and drawing rooms. In our hearts we promoted these ideals as a way to absolve our own guilt at a martyr’s expense, as though our largesse could counter the very non-Islamic way our country’s daily affairs work. Inevitably, the public’s generosity and the government’s short sightedness have bred a generation of passionate demagogues willing to lay down their lives for causes they barely even understand. We let this happen, because were too ignorant to realize that our very own religion was being manipulated and changed in front of us, and we have only begun paying the price.

Today we are a country where violence between Sunni and Shia groups, and even Bareilvi and Debandhi groups in southern Punjab, has morphed into a growing problem of domestic terrorism with no foreseeable reconciliation. With economic disparity being the norm and huge populations migrating from war hit areas to urban centers, our people are left exceptionally prone to radicalization by any of the above actors. If this isn’t dire enough, the recent fatal attack on the peaceful cleric Dr. Sarfraz Naeemi now puts traditional Islam in direct conflict with the extremist Taliban.

In these turbulent times, where are normal Muslims to turn? The Ulema have been largely silent, but it remains to be seen if they take this attack on one of their own lying down. The religious parties like JUI have been routinely supporting a ceasefire and re-opening of diplomatic efforts with the Taliban, with the PTI acting as the able sidekick. Where does their brand of populist politics lead them when the Taliban have become exposed as a brutal and vicious enemy of the people? I think everyone in this country can see the limits of our traditional approach to religion, and the terrors that its misuse has bred in our streets and homes.

We need to reach out, turn back the pages of history books to a time not dominated by one single viewpoint to return to the traditions of discussion, learning and debate. Knowledge of religion, philosophy, ideology can never be and has never been static; the world changes everyday, our society is constantly adapting and our understanding of faith is being tested at every turn. What will bring the past into context with the present, and provide the leadership to build an environment of compromise, trust and harmony between disparate factions? These times teach us that a nation without identity, with no moral compass, will be torn apart by greed and internal conflict. We need to realize that we cannot survive without figuring out what we truly believe in, and we need a national effort by intellectuals and religious leaders to re-examine our country’s policies in the light of a balanced Islamic interpretation that is acceptable to all stakeholders. Our constitution, our laws, our bureaucracy and our very system of government need to be re-examined, as to date we’ve either borrowed from the colonials or grossly misinterpreted religious laws. We need to find the balance that suits us, as a nation, even if it means tough questions and difficult answers.

Does religion even have to be a part of government, or is a diverse country better off as a secular state with religion left to the personal arena? Can different sets of laws apply to different sects, or can there be any consensus? Ultimately, these questions cannot be answered without an active involvement by citizens, as it is a question of national identity, not piles of legal documents. Religion and faith at a personal level are undoubtedly a matter of choice, but in the past our apathy has led to hypocrisy becoming the most acceptable compromise. The events of these past months have made it impossible for the status quo to continue, and every Pakistani must realize that the religion of their fathers has been corrupted by those we were told were leaders of the faith. In this vacuum, I encourage people to seek out genuine sources of knowledge and try to learn what being a Muslim is really about. In truth, the way we all choose to live our lives today might affect not just Pakistan but even the world; perhaps this is the clash of civilizations we created, as we fight a war between the past and the present for our nation’s future. With an eye on the horizon and a prayer to God, let us use the principles of tolerance and mutual respect to take an informed, united and enlightened step into the future. I have a feeling it’s what Jinnah would have wanted his people to do.

May 16, 2009

Ghaflat ki Andheri Raat

Filed under: Politcs — Tags: , , , , , , , — gauher @ 1:55 pm

It is strange to comment on a situation that unfolds with little visibility and many shifting positions in so little time. Two months ago our parliament was happy to sign off an entire portion of our territory to Taliban militants under the banner of ‘peace’. Once the deal was signed by the President, the Taliban duly betrayed their word and started occupying private property and terrorizing the locals. Even then the government, toothless and blind, took no step to assuage the suffering of people in these areas and enforce Pakistani law. Finally, at the behest of mounting local and global pressure, they began an operation to clear Dir, Buner and Swat of militants, proving yet again that they lack the ability, foresight and perhaps the desire to take any decisive action before a situation has spun out of control. At the recent summit in Washington, Pakistanis were treated to the spectacle of our leadership groveling for American aid, pleading their case to the western media and public, and promising the kitchen sink in exchange for a few more years of American support to President Zardari.

In 25 years of life I have never expected so little and yet been disappointed so much and so often by the ineptitude of Pakistani leadership. That means you Mr. President, Mr. Prime Minister, Mr. Special Advisor on Interior Affairs, all of you. Even you Mr. Ambassador the US; sure, along with the FM, you’ve done a decent job in keeping the Pakistani-American diaspora from going into a complete panic, but your spin on Zardari’s back tracking off the peace deal leaves a lot to be desired. Do you honestly think anyone is going to believe that Zardari gave the Taliban a peace deal just to prove that there could be no peace? I’m sorry, but doesn’t building public sentiment for unpopular government actions have something to do with, oh I don’t know, running a government? Might I suggest that the Ministry for Public Relations or Information should have had a role to play in changing hearts and mind before ceding territory to anarchists; perhaps some sacred cows of the national and provincial leadership should have risked losing a couple of votes and done the right thing. The point is that the government, in their widely articulated position, say they purposely let the Taliban loot banks, blow up schools, mine roads and playgrounds, build bunkers, fortify their positions and terrorize Pakistani citizens, just to teach our people a lesson about living under the Taliban. Mr. President, I would rather have you spend precious national resources creating critical support and some well executed consensus building rather than allow atrocities to be committed against our people in our own territory. Please cut the bullshit PPP; I will never forgive you for failing these people and all of us in a critical time and you’d better believe I’m going to keep this in mind the next time someone calls me to vote. Maybe we’ll plan a similar reverse psychology scheme where we vote another party into power just to prove how much better you guys were.

ANP, this rebuke is for you as well; thanks for sowing the seeds for an MMA revival in your areas once this is all over. If I were you, I’d forget about politics and go back to farming for a while….if you can ever manage to get the Taliban off your land. Good luck with that btw, you’ll need it once the army return to their barracks and twenty turbans show up at your doorstep. In the months leading up to this situation, the very least the ANP could have done was chalk up an adequate strategy of dealing with IDPs, but even this was overlooked with the result that now, 1.2 million IDPs later, we have no clue how to register, feed, clothe and house these people, let alone employ or educate them. Threats of disease, hunger, overcrowding, infighting and infiltration by the Taliban are very real, but the response I’ve been watching on television is not only pathetic, it is negligent to the point of being criminal. Admit it you phonies, you don’t care about these people because they are poor and destitute, and to you their misery makes them less than human. The government should be ashamed of itself for accepting close to $15 Billion in pledges for the next 8 years and declaring just a paltry amount of PKR 10 Million today in their ‘Emergency Relief Fund’ for these homeless, terrorized refugees. Let’s do the math: 1.2 million refugees and PKR 10 million makes for less than 10 rupees per person. If that is all the government thinks needs to be done for these people who’s homes and livelihoods are being destroyed as we speak, then please spare me the rhetoric; I don’t want to hear another word about ‘winning hearts and minds’ from the PM, the President or any single member of parliament until hollow statements turn into action for our people.

The opposition too has contributed to this dark state of affairs by maintaining absolute silence during one of the most critical phases of our history. Where is the PML-N, the incessantly vocal opposition that styled itself leader of a free judiciary just a mere 2 months ago? Perhaps the deal struck with the government in return for power in the Punjab included vows of silence on all matters, or maybe it is simply a case of cowardice. The PML-Q seems absorbed in its familiar search for a way to exploit every national crisis, as I’m sure collecting scraps of power is far more important to them than saving Pakistani lives. And what of the MQM, which was the first party to denounce the peace deal back in March. Now that the PPP government has declared its support against ‘Taliban’ in Karachi (read ethnic Pukhtun minority),  the MQM too has happily retreated to its sandbox to plot for another day. Most damnable is the stance taken by the religious parties, joined by the confused and brainwashed Imran Khan. Not only have they denounced the army for waging war against its people, their party’s view has become limited to pointing out how this is all America’s fault. I guess fanning anti-West sentiment and re-directing it along the most shortsighted path seems to be a viable political strategy to their twisted minds. Kudos for finally coming out to prove that political Islamist parties are just as great a fraud as all the others, with not an iota of ideological integrity or vision about them.

Our country is in the hands of people we cannot trust and who cannot take the action necessary to safeguard our interests and protect our people; as far as I’m concerned they can take their empty sloganeering and shove it. But be that as it may, something must be done for our brothers in the North or we must forever hang our heads in shame for failing our countrymen in their time of need. I still have faith in the generosity and heartfelt fraternity of our people, and I encourage everyone who reads this to be proactive. My only caution is to make sure your donations go to the right place. Whatever you do, don’t give the government your money, because I wouldn’t trust that even a cent on every dollar will reach the victims of this fiasco. I recommend any neutral or international agency like Edhi, Sahara Trust or UN affiliated bodies like the WFP and other relief organizations. I got a list of a lot of such organizations off of www.chowrangi.com, and I’ll try to put up more links later. Nation, your countrymen need you; don’t let this call go unanswered.

http://www.chowrangi.com/swat-crisis-internally-displaced-persons-idps-in-pakistan-need-our-help/

May 2, 2009

What Would Jinnah Do? (I of III)

Filed under: Politcs — Tags: , — gauher @ 12:00 pm

The last year and a half has seen Pakistan become one of the most politically isolated and unstable countries in the world. With the change of reigns in Washington from a Republican administration fully committed to policies remnant of the Cold War, the gains made by the military regime of General Musharraf in portraying Pakistan as an ‘ally’ in the West’s War on Terror have been lost. Now we are on the verge of being declared a terrorist state, a breeding ground for hatred and bigotry, and a country on the precipice of anarchy. Without a doubt, this has played right in to the enemies of Pakistan’s efforts at discrediting our institutions and dismantling our status from partner to pariah. But while many fingers can be pointed at external actors in bringing us to our current state, I think we need to turn the lens inward and look to ourselves for answers to some basic questions; how did we get here, and how do we get out?

 Whatever we are today, we are not Jinnah’s Pakistan. We have strayed far from the vision of Iqbal and Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, and our purity is stained with the blood of many generations of injustice. Where once the idea of a land for the Muslims of British India was argued as an inevitable truth, our report card for the first 60 years has turned Muslim self rule into a laughable, if not dangerous, suggestion. To readers who view a re-visit of pre-partition ideals as anachronistic, I remind you the wheels of history turn both ways. Just as any discussion of today’s challenges is informed by the events of the Islamist 80’s, our future is inextricably linked to facing the mistakes and disappointments of the past.

 Believe me or not, we are on the cusp of the next age of colonialism; and this time it won’t be just for plunder. The Bush doctrine created a sense of self righteous entitlement among the West for their decreed objectives, but this must be recognized as equal parts self interest and self preservation. In a nutshell, Zia’s program for fighting the Soviets created a fundamentalist doctrine of Islam that succeeded in perverting our faith, and the West has used their fear as justification for a new doctrine of global control and forced cultural conversion. And Democrats have nothing new to offer; if Bush was the iron fist of ‘With Us or Without Us’ rhetoric, Obama simply wants us and the world to change…and become just like them. A cursory look around the globe at the Japanese, Koreans, and Phillipinos will tell you all you need to know about the history of cultural indoctrination among nations occupied by the US, and our own painful post-colonial identity crisis should tell you that it isn’t going to be pretty.

Yes, I believe in Us and Them. Not only that, lets take it a step further: I believe in a pluralistic world of nations, where multiple cultures can co-exist peacefully and without conflict. But it takes trust, engagement, action and above all foresight, things we lack just as much as wheat and electricity. I want to live in my country as a Muslim and a free man, able to think and practice as I wish, and my countrymen free to choose a system of morality and ethics that supports theirs beliefs. If you think these ideals are noble, you can forget all about it by 2015; our world will be one where a beard is grounds for arrest and suspicion, where open discrimination against our nationals is acceptable, where Pakistani and, ultimately, Muslim lives are worth less than others.

In the rush to pander to foreign agendas and stuck in the myopia of being unable to learn from our mistakes, we stand to lose our identity, our creed, our religion and our nationhood. The only path open to our disenfranchised millions will be the path of slave consumerism, as adopted by our ‘shining’ eastern neighbors, where our poor will be forced to live in misery while our rich take foreign money with one hand and buy foreign products with the other. If we are to break this cycle, let us go back to our roots and ask ourselves, what would Jinnah do?

Unity

As things stand, the government has been successful at instigating violent protests in 3, and armed uprisings in 2 of Pakistan’s provinces. Balochistan has been mishandled by every Pakistani leader, civilian or military, in the past 60 years. Its people have been made to feel like second class citizens, devoid of funding and protection by the government and completely isolated from the development and urbanization of the other 3 provinces. A great part of the blame lies with the Baloch leadership, who has served the agendas of centrist governments and has never been able or willing to negotiate fair terms for their constituents. In the North, the FATA region’s ambiguous nature has long been rationalized and utilized by Pakistani politicians, institutions and agencies for their own ulterior motives to an extent that the words ‘freedom’ and ‘self government’ are now synonymous with lawlessness and anarchy in these parts. Add to that the complete failure of provincial and national leaders to build any kind of popular support for government actions, and we now have a situation where rogue organizations like the Taliban have been able to use socio-economic brainwashing to create grassroots support for their ‘ideological’ objectives, further alienating the common man from the socio-political mainstream. While the aforementioned two provinces have not been spared the army and intelligence agencies’ heavy and indiscriminate use of force, the Punjab managed to pull off a major political movement without great loss of life or property. The only province unscathed so far has been Sindh, but reports from some time before the recent violence in the provincial metropolis point to an impending ethnic showdown in Karachi. A year after the end of a decade of military rule, a year after a new President and a nationwide democratic mandate, corrupt civilian leaders have recast the country as the new textbook case for Balkanization.

Pakistanis everywhere, answer me this question: are we really a nation anymore? We have parties with heavy mandates that call themselves ‘national’ but have never even discussed, let alone follow, a national agenda. We have a national army, but during their operations they treat some ethnicities as less a part of our nation than others. We have a national day, a national flag, a national anthem, but other than petty symbolism we have nothing. No shared purpose, no harmony, no fraternity, no goal, no vision. We exist as 4 different entities ruled by 4 regional parties, which are dominated by members of the landed/industrial elite who follow self serving agendas and are crooked enough to earn us a regular spot in the most corrupt countries of the world. The Land of the Pure is a morass of shattered hopes and dreams ruthlessly crushed under well heeled boots; now more than ever is the time to get it back.

More than anything, Pakistanis need to commit themselves to democracy. Not just elections mind you, but anything that sows the seeds of accountability for elected representatives and entitlement for the masses. This will not happen while we all stand and cry out our own individual pleas and demands; this is the part where brothers stand together. Punjabis need to tell their leaders that they don’t want a Roti that costs 2 rupees if their brothers in Sindh are paying 6 and children in Balochistan are going hungry. If there is an operation going on in Waziristan and Bajaur, why do we only feel concerned when bombs go off in our backyard? When there are innocents killed, when warriors are martyred, we don’t even stop to ask that their names be remembered. When a country has thousands of terrorism victims every year and not a single face is shown on television, we only serve to dehumanize ourselves and cheapen the value of our own life. This is not the way of true nations, who view selective prosperity not as progress but as grave injustice and a shared failing. It is time to realize that either we all move forward, together, or none of us is going anywhere. This is not a slogan; it is a ground reality without which we cannot become the ‘Qaum’ our nation’s fathers spoke about when they shared their dreams with each other.

Is it really so hard to get along? I don’t think so. If we can take the mental leap and break free of our self serving, self preserving mindset and actually think about ourselves with a degree of civic sense, the problems we face are quite consistent across the country. In all provinces we lack basic facilities like roads, gas, electricity, water, schools, hospitals, etc. At the same time, unemployment, crime, and the crushing burden of inflation threaten all our families, communities and neighborhoods. If people cannot turn to a government that is historically corrupt and unaccountable for its inaction, the people must help each other. Citizens should come together due to their shared circumstances and organize themselves into groups to demand their due, as well as supporting the cause of civil society groups countrywide. We have seen this trend emerging, but it needs to go further, faster, and everyone needs to be involved. How much money gets spent solving a problem is not the question, but local people making sure it gets to the right place and having a say in how it is spent is part of the democratic evolution of our country. It is ironic that the biggest commonality between our people should be their sense of isolation, but my hope is that human connections can bridge our divides faster than fear can ever drive us apart. I believe Mr. Jinnah would think so too.

April 24, 2009

Judgement Day for the Pure

Filed under: Politcs — Tags: , , , , , , — gauher @ 12:31 pm

As of today, the Swat Taliban have expanded the territory under their influence from North & South Waziristan, Bajaur and Swat to the adjacent district of Buner, and have made clear their intentions of continuing to push towards Mardan, Shangla and onwards. Wherever they go they bring with them their brand of hardcore ideology, a perversion if Islamic beliefs that reflect nothing but the bare essentials needed to subvert the local populace and wield power with an iron fist.

 The Pakistani Taliban are different from the Afghan Taliban in the respect that these fighters have no need to justify their existence by relying on an ideological position, such as the expulsion of US & NATO forces from Afghanistan on religious grounds; rather they are simply opportunists taking advantage of a socio-economic meltdown and gross government mismanagement to make as many gains as they can before consolidating their position. All they are really doing is making use of the disenchantment of the poor by offering them money and weapons to take on the status quo. They are preaching ‘empowerment’ and ‘virtue’ derived through the barrel of a gun, and they are taking areas under their control to a system of anarchy, barbarism and ignorance, matched only by the 7 years of Taliban rule in Afghanistan. Can we afford to let wide swathes of our land be occupied and governed by terrorist organizations that would rather enslave or kill us than enter the political mainstream? Will we let our next generation be brainwashed into becoming the tools of hate-mongers and extremists? These questions need to be answered with facts, not conjecture, rhetoric or bombast, as our nation to know the truth. If you feel the need to be informed, search no further, just read on:

 Wait, Global Terrorist State, What!! How on Earth Did We Get Here?

 Many Pakistanis who left the country in the last decade would be surprised to see just how far we have fallen in so short a time. Under the heavy cover of Musharraf’s 10 years in office, the Pakistani people rarely knew what deals were struck with militant groups in the North in exchange for peace or what resources were shared with the Americans in exchange for a free flow of easy money into our system. With civilians in power our policy making has been exposed as shortsighted in the least and a shambles at best. We pretend we can sign ‘peace’ agreements with terrorists who strike at the hearts of our cities, attacking innocent civilians, infrastructure and security installations with gusto and proudly taking responsibility for their actions. Our military and intelligence establishment thinks it can play both sides, funding and propping up militant leaders who have been useful in the past as well as trying to sell the idea to the Americans that we have accepted the idea of ‘Pakistan’s War’. Truly, sieving truth from all the garbled information is difficult, but it’s always good to start with what we know:

  • Military: Despite the end of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan over 2 decades ago, the Pakistan army has continued to fund militant groups both in Pakistan and along the border areas of Balochistan and Afghanistan. Part of this policy is a legacy issue from the Zia regime, but today there are known links of the Pakistan Army to militant groups like those run by Mullah (Col.) Nazir on the Pak-Afghan border, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar along the Baloch-Afghan border and Jalaluddin Haqqani in the area close to disputed Kashmir. These groups have served Pakistan’s security interests in the past by taking on the armed struggle for liberation in Kashmir, reducing India’s influence in Afghanistan to prevent the opening of ‘two fronts’ in the event of a conflict, and working with the army against even more dangerous groups like Baitullah Mehsud’s network of Taliban that is decidedly anti-government. They have been on our payroll for decades, and the big question is whether the army has the will to take the tough decisions Pakistan finds itself faced with.  The return of Pakistan to democratic rule (not democracy by far) has seen a complete turnaround in public statements and the PR policy of the Pakistan government. Whatever the government’s actions, under Musharraf we had a fixed public position on terrorism:
    • Pakistan doesn’t fund or support any kind of militants or terrorist groups
    • All Taliban are foreigners and have no indigenous support
    • Differentiate between Pakistani tribal militant groups who fight for economic gain and self interest, and fundamentalist Jihadi/Terrorist groups like Al Qaeda
    • Osama bin Laden is NOT in Pakistan
    • The military and civilian government is in complete agreement and unity over the fact that Pakistanis are FOR Peace, Democracy and ‘Enlightened Moderation’

As a result of this unified policy, the Republicans were kind enough to fund our nation’s economy for a good 7 years before the global economic collapse. Under civilian government, our arguments radically changed, becoming akin to a daily airing of years of dirty laundry:

  •  
    • Taliban are Pakistanis, extremists are Pakistanis, and so the army can’t fight ‘its own people’. Ironic?
    • ‘Rogue’ elements of the ISI exist not under Pakistani government control (who can apparently carry off attacks on Mumbai hotels and embassies in Kabul)
    • The Pakistan army ‘surrendered’ and ‘lost’ to 6,000-8,000 militants in Swat, forcing our hand on the peace deal
    • ‘Osama is our muslim brother and is welcome in our areas anytime’ (a widely reported quote from the Swat Taliban spokesperson)

This is a startling change in our public discourse. Where once we battled Uzbek, Tajik, Arab and Chechnyan Taliban on our borders, less than a year later it seems they are all made up of Pakistani militant leaders who are better established in those areas than our own army. Did all of this happen magically while we weren’t looking? On one hand, while these revelations show the incompetence of the incumbent government in handling national security matters in the media, it is also a reflection of how populist politics results in shortsighted and ultimately costly decisions for Pakistan. I don’t believe for a second that our army can’t totally eradicate the Pakistani Taliban if it wanted to…after all, these are the same militant leaders that have been funded and nurtured by our security establishment for over 20 years. It is a known fact that these organizations count amongst their numbers several former army personnel. If we don’t have the ability to carry out an operation on our own territory, 60 miles from the capital city, then I’m assuming we just bought our nukes right off a shelf in Beijing. It is obvious governments cannot be telling the truth, and that such a huge change cannot happen in less than a year. As to what it does mean, I boil it down to three options, as follows:

  • The Pakistan Army does not have the will to fight Pakistani Taliban groups, because:
    • It is waiting for its security concerns to be recognized by the West, and assurances/arrangements be made to protect Pakistan before turning on the Pakistani Taliban support network, OR
    • It is creating a situation where the US views a civilian government as a liability, and is more than happy to accept a military ruler as state head as long as the job gets done, OR
    • This last one is the scariest: It could just be that the military cannot make up its mind. 20 years and many ideologues later, perhaps building the support within the nation’s security and intelligence establishment to take on groups viewed for some time as a virtual extension of Pakistan’s last resort security policy isn’t as easy as giving out orders. An internal split between our national interests and the ulterior motives of select security personnel/agencies represents the gravest danger to our nation imaginable. Why? Because it means we can’t trust the army, the Americans can’t trust us, and then the line between Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq begins to go even blurrier in the minds of the foreign geo-strategist. If, at any point, the world begins to actually listen to the Indian argument (let us send Indian troops to Taliban areas with your blessing, we’ll ‘secure’ everything), it could be the end of an entire nation.

 

  • Politics: The security situation of the country is better known to insiders, this is simply a summary of speculation and analysis available in the world media and on your local TV channels. The real inside story may yet be far too real for us to handle. This is probably why most elected leaders have chosen this critical time to remain silent and meditate on what to buy with their recently increases salaries.
    • It is an indictment of our political leaders that the passing of the Peace Accord / Surrender Agreement in Swat was done with a unanimous vote and without disagreement, with almost all major political parties on board. To give credit where it’s due, the only party that actually staged a walkout and has been on the case of this peace deal from the very beginning has been the MQM. This is while the ANP continues to extol the virtues of ‘peacemaking’ in spectacularly shortsighted fashion, while the PPP dishes out its daily dose of inane, nonsensical statements and political gaffes. The PML-N has done absolutely nothing to oppose this deal, and despite riding back to power on the coattails of the ‘people’, it seems content to wait around in the Punjab till this whole thing blows over. Maybe they’re planning to make Lahore the capital once the Taliban take over Islamabad, who knows; for now, I think its about time for Nawaz Sharif to make use of the immense political leverage he can gain in the West by coming out against the militants. Some recent anti-Taliban statements suggest that he may be positioning himself to the US as a better qualified, better supported and more legitimate leader for the country. Whether this plan works or not depends entirely on how bad Zardari lets things get, and how fast.
    • What does Zardari really want? When I discussed the military’s thought process above, it was under the assumption that the PPP government was for a resolution of the Swat situation under peaceful means. Whether this is true or not is also another aspect up for debate. The PPP historically went into Karachi, its own city, with all guns blazing to cleanse it from the ethnic violence of the 90s, yet now it balks at the concept of establishing the writ of the government and prioritizing national security over shortsighted ‘peace’. Maybe I’m just cynical, but more talking and less shooting just doesn’t strike me as their administrative style. I guess the real question is who is really in charge? Are Zardari’s hands tied by the military, is he calling the shots or are both colluding to keep the Americans spinning? We won’t know for many years till its all over, and I can’t speculate any more based on my information than I already have; but if one thing is for certain, inaction, incompetence and insincerity on behalf of the incumbent government is a great part of why we are here today.
  • The US of A: Can they be trusted?
    • Everyone in the Muslim / Arab / Developing world loves to bash America. For most countries its enough that they’re rich, we’re poor, and they seem so much happier than us and that just can’t be fair at all. With Muslims and Islam in the mix, the picture gets murkier. Their policies to the Arab world vis a vis their unflinching support for Israel and turning a blind eye to all atrocities committed against Palestinians has been a gaping, open wound to all Muslims around the world. The fact that the US has become almost incapable of changing its tone and taking an objective view of ground realities has become inexcusable; the policy of choosing who to negotiate with is over, as organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah now have strong local, democratic support, largely due to the success of successive Israeli military campaigns in creating alienation, oppression and hatred amongst the people they rule over. The presence of American troops in Saudi Arabia, as a response to the aggression of a repressive, inhuman military dictator in Iraq who was himself a recipient of US funding and support against Iran, just crystallizes the West’s image in the Muslim world as a power with double standards and worthless promises. The trust deficit of the US from a Muslim standpoint is too great; we cannot simply take their word for it that they won’t leave us high and dry the next time they want to sell things to India, but I doubt our political leaders have the stature or vision to stand up for Pakistani interests.  
    • The current problem of Talibanization in Pakistan has its roots in the oft repeated saga of American cold war support of the Afghan Mujahideen. While it’s true and we did fight the American’s war for them, the reality is that we did so on extremely favorable terms of payment and by means left entirely up to our own devising. The army received huge payments during the entire Soviet occupation, and the method of adapting an ideology to prey on the marginalized, poor, downtrodden and persecuted is a creation of Pakistani operational needs. This was not the only way to win that war, but we chose it wholeheartedly and kept at it many, many years after the war ended. The Americans are notoriously shortsighted, and the patchwork of American military bases and precarious diplomatic ties in every region shows just how much vision (or lack thereof) they exercise in conflict zones. However, our problems at this juncture, the growing polarization between rural and urban areas, the spread of jihadist, sectarian and extremist organizations across the country, and the lack of any social discourse on a contrary national ideology to fundamentalism, are entirely of our own making.  

We need to accept that whatever the US does, its job has always been to supports its people’s global interests, not holding our hand and nursing us out of sickness; as a sovereign nation ourselves, if anyone we have been remiss in putting the priorities of Pakistan above the requirements of other countries, and it is our leaders who are to blame. It is us, the privileged, English speaking, big spending elite that has let this country down by being uncaring, un-patriotic spectators of a grand Tamasha. We are complicit in the looting of our national resources over the last 60 years because not once have we exerted influence or tried to be heard, mainly because we have benefited quite well from the injustice. The economics of neglect and apathy has been exceptionally generous to the rich in Pakistan, and that is why we find ourselves here today; in 4 provinces, those with means see a different, modern, progressive Pakistan, while the majority of our countrymen’s lives are so miserable that they can only see the world of salvation or death. We failed them by not demanding that they be fed, clothed and educated as is their right, we never gave them a chance to escape the dark specter of poverty as it snatched away children, tore apart families, shot up neighborhoods and reduced hundreds of thousands to starvation. These are the sins we pay for today, so please Pakistanis, don’t simply blame America. If you need someone to hate, look in the mirror. We have slipped and fallen, our halo is gone, our face is wrinkled and our skin is decaying; we can no longer cling to the names of Iqbal and Jinnah like talismans, hoping their spirit will guide us through the dark. We need to act now to save Pakistan from becoming a polarized, fractious, ethnic hodge-podge of a country, where our cities have curfews and rampant violence, and our villages grow terror and hatred rather than wheat and maize. If we are to live and prosper, we must act now; else we must recognize that tomorrow may never be the same again.

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