06
Apr
16

The failure of religion in Pakistan

Published here: Express Tribune

Inciting violence in the name of religion has become an all too common theme in Pakistan. Unfortunately, it is all too easy to whip up mobs into a frenzy whenever the divine is concerned. Religious faith provides a route to inner peace for individuals and all of the major religions share the golden rule, to treat others the way you want to be treated. In the case of Pakistan, it has deteriorated into a tool to promote violence and deny women’s rights. Why is religion failing us? Islam was never intended to be Pakistan’s identity. Now we’ve allowed it to be hijacked by fanatics who have subsequently sabotaged our constitution. That was never Quaid-i-Azam’s vision, nonetheless each amendment to the constitution further engrained fanaticism in our society at the expense of minority rights and freedom of speech.

_88966425_35a62f92-b8c5-49df-812e-b3d3db72d6a5The violent mob that descended on Islamabad to demand sharia law while participating in a protest for the hanging of a murderer was appallingly misguided. The attack on Easter in Lahore was disgusting. The government appears to have a bottomless stomach for this ongoing violence.

Pakistan’s government is helpless as long as religion is tolerated as justification for murder, rape, and violence. It has become the victim of its own mutated constitution and cannot differentiate between a sin and a crime. For instance, Christians celebrating Easter, the hanging of a murderer, and a woman’s protection bill could all represent symbols of betterment of our society. In practice, they are construed as secular concepts and a threat to Islamic principles.

In the rest of the world, we’re seeing the implications of this fanaticism that is broadcast nonstop. 20150912_blp502Muslim refugees escaping from ISIS might just get banned all together from Europe following terrorist attacks and ogling of women at public swimming pools. Looking at the US, a once farce of a candidate like Donald Trump has a real shot at the presidency since his statements about banning all Muslims or requiring them to carry an ID card are increasingly popular.

An ideal way to reverse this trend is for religion to be stripped from the constitution and for the rule of law to be supreme. Blasphemy law and the Islamic Council would also be abolished since these primitive laws and institutions have no room in a modern world. This would free everyone to observe their faith as they see fit and also provide personal freedoms to Pakistani men and women that the rest of the world takes for granted. Can any of this happen in our lifetime? The momentum doesn’t favor the optimistic as Pakistan’s government 2992already conceded to the mob in Islamabad and assured the protestors that it won’t amend the country’s blasphemy law or pardon those convicted of blasphemy. Will the government eventually learn from history and realize that each concession to these fanatics, dooms the nation to an even longer period of self inflicted hell? While military operations can destroy the terrorist infrastructure, the government will eventually need to step up and address the obsession with religion that has seeped into our identity. This is unlikely to happen until the voices of reason are loud enough to silence the madness of mobs.

09
Mar
16

International Women’s Day

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10
Feb
16

Afghanistan prepares for 2016

5184Lt-Gen John Nicholson, President Obama’s nominee for commander of American forces in Afghanistan spoke to the Senate Armed Services Committee about Pakistan’s role in the peace and stability of the Pakistan/Afghanistan region. His words amounted to nothing more than the usual “Pakistan needs to do more”. Repeating these words for more than a decade doesn’t change the facts, then again the US doesn’t let facts get in the way of their will to wage foreign conflicts. US commanders know very well that if operations are conducted on one side of the border with Afghanistan, then supplementary operations must be carried out on the other side for any lasting success to be had. We may never be told the honest reason why this didn’t occur.

Pakistan conducted operations in Bajaur, Dir, Mohmand, Swat, Buner, Aurakzai, Khyber, Kurram, and South Waziristan. Each agency was cleared but nothing improved in the tactical or operational posture across in the the coalition. Instead, Fazlullah, Faqir Muhammed, Latif Ullah Mehsud etc found a warm welcome in the Kunar province of Afghanistan. For the first time, the US military even admitted, through a statement by Lt Gen Nicholson last week, that they are not targeting the Haqqani network in Afghanistan.

Among other problems are the reports from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan1800213_607731872686248_6136073308889134881_n Reconstruction (SIGAR) highlighting the incompetence and corruption which have plagued training and reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan. Almost a trillion dollars have been wasted and needless to say that these issues have been written about numerous times.

Perhaps the most damning evidence of failure in Afghanistan comes from the SIGAR office, which reported that the Taliban now controls more territory than it did in 2001. Their territorial gains include the Helmand province, a region that shares a 250 km-long border with Pakistan. Large quantities of opium is grown in Helmand, which is then used to produce most of the world’s heroin. The harvest earns up to $3 billion a year. You could say that the insurgency’s funding is “blooming”. To make matters worse, ISIS is also establishing roots in the country.

Per Lt-Gen Nicholson, the Afghan forces are getting “rebuilt” for their fiercest fighting season yet. The reasons for the rebuilding “are a combination of incompetence, corruption and ineffectiveness,” said Gen. Wilson Shoffner, the head of public affairs for the U.S.-NATO mission. However, for most of the US troops on the ground, the Afghan forces have been a distraction or the butt of a horrific joke known as “man love Thursday” due to their reputation for raping young boys in the lead up to holy Friday as reported in detail by the New York Times.

Not wanting a repeat of what happened in Iraq after a complete withdrawal, there is an increasing likelihood that thousands of US troops could remain in Afghanistan, despite Obama’s plan to completely withdraw by 2017. An unnamed senior Pentagon official told imagethe Washington Post that “What we’ve learned is that you can’t really leave”. However, instead of following the same inconsistent approach of the past and relying on a break through with the peace talks, the US government would be wise to heed the outgoing US forces-Afghanistan commander General, John Campbell’s advice of needing to do more to beat the Taliban. More, in this case, must include coordinated efforts on both sides of the border with Afghanistan.

24
Jan
16

Time to end child abuse and ban the CII in Pakistan

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Photo: The Sydney Morning Herald

The Council of Islamic Ideology termed the ban on child marriage bill as blasphemous! Even though it’s recommendations are non binding, the National Assembly is all too eager to accept the CII’s decisions on women and children so as not to ruffle any feathers.

In 2013, the CII suggested that DNA evidence in rape cases is inadmissible and instead preferred four witnesses who observed the crime. The council also rejected Women’s Protection Act of 2006 and it opposed the Domestic Violence Bill as well. In 2014, I wrote about the need to abolish the CII. Two years down the road, we’re still in the same boat. With the current government kowtowing to Saudi Arabia, the CII and madrassah situation is not about to change anytime soon.

Read my latest on the issue here: Breaking free of the Primitive Mindset 

Further reading:

  1. The State and the CII
  2. Women: Pakistan’s second-class citizens
01
Jan
16

2016!!!

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26
Dec
15

The War on ISIS

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The Economist

18
Sep
15

Reality Check

16
Dec
14

Peshawar Attack

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06
Oct
14

Back in Iraq

With the ISIS horror show tweeting murders and beheadings as it blazes through Iraq, pressure has mounted on world powers for new Iraqi intervention. This time they’re well equipped to attack remotely from up above rather than exposing troops to an extended ground assault. In his recent national address, President Barack Obama announced some measures to combat the terrorist group in Iraq. Air power will be used to seek and force out ISIS militants from various cities and towns they control across Syria and Iraq. There will also be an increased total of 1,600 American military advisers and others working with Iraqi Army, Kurdish fighters, and sectarian militias to defeat ISIS. US Vice President declared “we will follow them to the gates of hell”. Despite confident words from the administration, almost 70 percent of Americans lack confidence that the US will achieve their stated goals in fighting ISIS. Recent history with similar tactics in Afghanistan has proven that a decade isn’t long enough to establish a dependable local police force. This means the president, and perhaps the next several, will need to somehow sustain US public support for an entire generation to give the plan any real chance at success.
In an effort to train and equip US allies to fight terrorists, Obama has requested $5 billion from Congress. $500 million of that money will be spent on training a new Syrian opposition in Saudi Arabia. Even though Iraq demanded US assistance in fighting ISIS, and has even relented and promised immunity for US troops, the new Iraqi Prime minister made it clear that there will be no foreign combat forces on ground. This a day after US General Martin E. Dempsey recommended that American soldiers may be needed if current efforts fail.
Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Jordan have joined the US-led alliance against ISIS. Russia and China also appear likely to give support for an operation launched against the extremists. Broad consensus from strange bedfellows may be what sets this effort apart from recent conflicts waged in the area. Granted, the proposed plan is not yet unique or inspiring, but support from all global powers may give this effort unparalleled staying power. Temporarily beating ISIS back into hiding is one thing. Strengthening Iraq’s weak government and military to sustain the peace is another matter altogether. Although a new government has been formed in Iraq, not much has changed since the old players are still in power. Nouri al-Malaki, the former prime minister is now the vice president and previous policy makers have been reshuffled.
With Afghanistan and Iraq are unraveling, the fruits of interventionist policies have come to bear. During his election campaign Obama promised to end the wars since the economy was in ruins and the American public was fed up. However, ISIS’ rampage across the region is becoming harder to ignore and the US finds itself back in Iraq. As Colin Powell once stated about the US invasion of Iraq “If you break it, you own it”. Contrary to President Bush rushing into a declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq, Obama is reluctant to even define what success would look like in this case or even the aftermath of “degrading” ISIS. US politician Jim Moran sums it up as “the best of a long list of bad options”.

28
Aug
14

Revolution, Inqilab & Azadi

Unfortunately, “democracy” only exists in Pakistan either through the lineage of a Bhutto or Sharif. While the masses are 53fd731036526increasingly fed up with the regurgitated choices offered to them every election year, PTI and PAT’s march was doubtful to bring about the changes they seek. In fact, these protests were an ill-timed distraction. Pakistan is already besieged with an IDP crisis and a military that is enthralled in conducting the Zarb-e-Azb operation in North Waziristan. Yes, there was electoral fraud along with discontent about the poor quality of life, but a call for a “Tahrir square” revolution is not the solution. Can any rational person claim that present day Egypt is the ideal model for the future of Pakistan?

22959-imagex-1403774824-884-640x480Nawaz Sharif’s government has failed to curb electricity blackouts which share a large deal of the blame for the crippled economy. Add to that the gross lack of social justice, poverty, extremism and one arrives at a toxic mix with the right ingredients for an uprising. Case in point, the murder of eleven protestors this past June would be unthinkable in any democratic nation. However, enticing the crowd with whimsical promises such as housing and jobs for everyone is cruel and doesn’t achieve anything. Instead, energies should be focused on becoming a formidable opposition in the parliament and coming up with a realistic plan to tackle the root causes of the issue such as the ever growing population, illiteracy and corruption.

It is also important to realize that for a revolution to occur in Pakistan the nation has to be one. Since Sindh, Baluchistan,928627_287858068066215_491543121_a Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab are ethnic divisions within Pakistan, the very essence of revolution is missing. Rebellions are born amongst the people and not created overnight by foreign clerics in containers. For instance, the current crisis in Iraq is due to the fact that every single aspect of the Iraqi government was dismantled by the US, subsequently leading to a takeover of the country by ISIS. Iraq is now fractured along sectarian and ethnic lines possibly even facing disintegration.

While it was clear from the start that the Azaadi march and Inqilab were not going to bring about a revolution or the 10384676_10152311034194527_5735778053886220120_nresignation of Nawaz Sharif, the last few days have still been a wakeup call for the current government which has been left weak. While the government has agreed to form a committee for electoral reform it has clearly stated that resignation of the prime minister and fresh elections are off the table. Even though Imran Khan’s cause is commendable, his methods have been irresponsible and his demands inconsistent. He should use his influence to focus on electoral reforms rather than the misconceived call for an Arab spring style uprising, civil disobedience and resignations. Sending this farce of a democracy packing is not going to bring about a revolution in Pakistan. Instead, as many citizens have mentioned, Imran Khan should impose his revolutionary ideas in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and make that into a shining example for the rest of Pakistan to strive for. Without a proven path to pursue, rhetoric rings hollow. Pakistan can ill afford more empty promises and chaos at the moment.

04
Aug
14

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14
Jul
14

CAIR press conference on American teen beaten by Israeli police

CAIR – The Florida chapter of the organization I work with held a press conference with the family of teen beaten by Israeli border police.

23
Mar
14

3000 Cups of Tea – The Mission & Madness of Greg Mortenson

Last year, I was interviewed for the  upcoming documentary on Greg Mortenson’s schools in Pakistan. The film is titled 3000 Cups of Tea  and looks into the allegations of fraud made by the CBS  news show called 60 Minutes. After visiting Korphe and witnessing CAI schools in action along the way I’m glad to see Jennifer and Jeff carry out extensive research to get to the bottom of the story. 60 Minutes has already destroyed its credibility last year by running a fake story on Bengazi and then a fluff  piece on the NSA.

Neither 60 Minutes or Mortenson’s biggest critic, Jon Krakauer traveled to Pakistan or Afghanistan to research the existence of these schools and that is baffling! Krakauer does good work, his research into the US military’s cover up of Pat Tilman’s death by friendly fire in Afghanistan was an eye opener. Hence, it is difficult to understand why Krakauer went after Mortenson without conducting adequate research before making these accusations.

“Throughout my trip in the northern areas of Pakistan, I came across numerous blue CAI boards marking their institutions. The kids at the school in Korphe now have opportunities that were otherwise beyond their reach before the charity began and the locals backed up every aspect of Three Cups of Tea that I could remember”…you can read more about my experience in Korphe here and view the trailer to the documentary below:

http://3000cupsoftea.org/

31
Dec
13

2013 in Review

This year flew by and as usual it was jam packed with travel, events, risks and rewards! I started the year off by interning with a grass roots level non-profit “Move to Amend” for six months. This internship allowed me to write on hot button issues in US politics such as the XL pipeline and the power of lobbying groups while also gaining experience as a co-producer of their weekly online radio show. We also prepared to make the big move to the east coast from the west coast, I applied for jobs in DC and we rented out our house so that we’d have the ability to move across the US quickly if required. Since I wasn’t having any luck applying online we decided to take a trip to the capital so I could meet people face to face instead of relying on a computer to pick up the key words in my resume. While catching up with friends and sightseeing in DC was great but as I already wrote in a post below, it was made clear to me during my meetings at different think tanks that interest in South Asia is dying down since the war in Afghanistan is coming to an end. Meanwhile, interests have shifted to the Middle East and Africa etc.

img_1850I’m glad for the DC experience but after returning and completing the internship with Mimg_1848ove to Amend, I accepted a position with the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) in California. I thoroughly enjoy working for this organization and have already been part of some incredible events. During CAIR’s annual banquet in November 2013, Glenn Greenwald joined us via video since he faced possible arrest if he flew into the US. Mehdi Hassan and Wajahat Ali also spoke at the event.

I’m happy to have found an excellent job in California. Living in the golden state was always our first preference and we’re also excited to be moving back into our home. Looking forward to finally completing a couple of projects we wanted to doDSC_0719 around the house.

Amidst all the hustle we did find time to watch Rodrigo y Gabriela perform live in San Francisco, their music is mesmerizing and it’s my favorite station on Pandora when I’m writing or reading and sippinIMG_1237g my coffee. 

My goals for next year include writing a novel and making time to read more books. I also plan on updating my blog more regularly along with keeping up with my articles for the Express Tribune biweekly on Mondays. Hopefully, I can stay true to my goals and this post will serve as a reminder. 

I’m looking forward to keeping up with my work for CAIR, reading more, writing, traveling and conquering new video games. A trip to Seattle is already in the works for early next year. Happy New Year!

img_1472My reading List:

Empire of the Moghul Series: Alex Rutherford

The God Delusion: Richard Dawkins

I am Malala

Game of Thrones series: George R.R. Martin

The Hunger Games: Suzanne Collins

03
Nov
13

New Job!

I’m happy to announce that I have accepted a position with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). I will be working as the operations coordinator for theirphoto(1) office, a position which entails dealing with the press and writing etc. CAIR is a grassroots civil rights and advocacy group which is committed to protecting the civil rights of all Americans, regardless of faith. CAIR’s missions and goals are in line with the last organization I worked with. Move to Amend, like CAIR also supported justice and human rights for all.

Untitled I still plan on keeping up with my articles for Express Tribune featured biweekly on Mondays. CAIR has an upcoming event featuring Glenn Greenwald from the Guardian and Wajahat Ali from Al-Jazeera. I looked forward to the event and working with CAIR.

16
Aug
13

A Return to Founding Principles

imagesQuaid-i-Azam envisioned a democratic Pakistan with rights for all. In a radio broadcast to the people of the US on February, 1948 he said “in any case Pakistan is not going to be a theocratic State to be ruled by priests with a divine mission. We have many non-Muslims – Hindus, Christians, and Parsis – but they are all Pakistanis. They will enjoy the same rights and privileges as any other citizens and will play their rightful part in the affairs of Pakistan.” Yes, Pakistan was created for Muslims, but citizens were free to go to their mosques, churches and temples. Our own flag has a symbolic section in white dedicated to the religious minorities within the country.

Within a decade of the nation’s inception, the 1956 constitution declared Pakistan an Islamic Republic; it also deemed Islam as the official religion of the country. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the patronbhutto of the 1973 constitution took it a step further and declared Islam as the state religion. A year later an amendment was also added to the constitution which proclaimed Ahmadis as non-muslims. Bhutto’s government went on to make Islamiat and Pakistan Studies compulsory in schools and banned alcohol in Pakistan. Ultimately his government’s policies led to empowerment of Islamist groups. Add in Zia-ul-Haq’s fanaticism and Pakistan’s destiny was on a treacherous path. Zia managed to indoctrinate religion into the society, media, armed forces and universities. Politicians have relied on religion since that point to garner votes and allow extremism to seep even deeper into the societal fabric of Pakistan.

Image: Dawn.com - Feb 12, 2013

Image: Dawn.com – Feb 12, 2013

Using religion as an extension of politics often leads to discrimination and imposition of a majority’s beliefs on a minority. Add illiteracy and ignorance to the combination of religion and politics and we arrive at the current toxic situation in Pakistan. The use of contraception is deemed un-Islamic by local clerics while 4 million babies are being born into extreme poverty every year. Some of these impoverished children are the same we see on frequent news reports with suicide vests and righteous hopes of fulfilling their godly duty. Freedoms of speech along with women’s rights are suppressed in the name of religion. Let’s not forget Quaid-i-Azam’s words “no nation can ever be worthy of its existence that cannot take its women along with the men”. Instead of attempting to define who is a Muslim or not, Pakistan’s government should focus on granting equal rights to all men and women whether they are devout Muslims, non-Muslims, non-practicing Muslims or atheists.

Image: The Friday Times, July 14, 2013

Image: The Friday Times – July 14, 2013

Religious beliefs other than Islam must be tolerated in order for Pakistan to move beyond this era of violence; after all, the original constitution protected the freedom to profess, practice and propagate any religion. If other religious views are such a threat to an individual’s beliefs then he or she must question their own faith rather than seeking to harm “non-believers”. Spiteful mullahs should not be allowed to incite another mob under the primeval blasphemy laws.

At this turbulent time, Pakistanis need to reevaluate the role of religion within the government. A true democratic state cannot play a game of religious favorites, particularly not the radicalized version which is being preached by illiterate clerics to the poor. It is time to realize that faith or lack of faith is unique to individuals and it should be kept that way. No one person has the right to impose their system of belief upon others. Overcoming years of Islamization will be a challenge in this time of economic woes and conflict. But, these trials should also provide an equally strong motive to right our path. The Quaid envisioned Pakistan to be a modern, progressive and democratic state. Sixty six years after independence that dream still has not materialized. Let’s use this time to peacefully reflect and come together to prove that the dreams of our founder didn’t pass away with his mortal body.

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29
Jul
13

The DC Experience

In May of this year, my husband and I took a trip to DC in order to meet people and check out job prospects. It was great to catch up with so many friends and class fellows from the Monterey Institute who shifted east after graduation and hear their internships and employment stories.

The minute we landed in DC I received an email from Huffington Post Live about appearing on their show the next day HuffPo to talk about women voter influence in Pakistan’s elections. Despite an already busy schedule that morning, I accepted the invitation. The interview ended at 10:30 leaving me just enough time to hop in a cab and make it to my other meeting with about 2 minutes to spare.

I met with various researchers and fellows from an array of think tanks in DC but most of them made it pretty clear that interest in South Asia is dying down, particularly as the withdrawal from Afghanistan approaches next year. Think tanks mostly follow the money and funds for research in South Asia have dried up. Instead, interest has shifted to Africa and the Middle East. Another observation I made was that the South Asian specialists in DC are rarely of Pakistani origins. Perhaps, the US strategy towards Pakistan would have been more successful if they had better firsthand knowledge rather than relying on opinions from outside experts. I’m sure some of this sentiment comes from my own feeling of being undervalued, but I am equally certain that there is no substitute for direct experience.

Interns seem to be the lifeblood of Washington, from young pages dashing around the Capitol to Graduates spending long hours just trying to get their foot in the door with NGO’s. Many of these internships are unpaid and are filled by people who already face 6-figure college loan debt. In order to pay their rent these interns often end up working a second job in the evening, e.g., waiting tables. Since the economic crash in 2008, unpaid internships have proliferated and have replaced paid jobs. Take the recent case of the “Black Swan” movie which earned over936full-black-swan-poster $300 million, yet did not pay its interns a dime. Eric Glatt one of the unpaid interns for Black Swan sued Fox Searchlight Pictures in 2011. Federal District Court Judge William H. Pauley ruled that Fox Searchlight should have paid the interns, because they were essentially regular employees. The US federal law states that unpaid internships must benefit the worker, not the employer, and should be a part of a formal training program, without replacing a paid employee’s job. The Black Swan “internship” — much like a lot of unpaid intern situations — violated all of those tenets, ruled Judge Pauley.

1. Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid and IbOne of my friends from the Monterey Institute works for the Senate majority leader, and thanks to him we were able to meet Senator Harry Reid during an event he held for visiting constituents. The long-time Senator inquired about how “his friend, Imran Khan” was doing following his fall at an election rally in Lahore.

In between meetings, I did manage to squeeze in some sightseeing and checked out many – but not nearly all – of DC’s monuments and museums. During our tour of the Capitol we saw Senator John McCain on the senate floor recording his statement and urging the US to attack Syria. On the floor of Congress, Paul Ryan was standing around with fellow Representatives while they were voting on a bill. I couldn’t help but think of all the lies he told regarding his workouts, marathon (26.2 miles/42km) time and even the fake photo op in a soup kitchen during the election campaign in 2012. He claimed to have run a marathon in 2 hours 50 min where as his actual time was 4 hours 1 minute! No one forgets their 1st and only marathon time; my husband finished The Big Sur marathon in just under 4 hours and he says he’ll always remember it.

11. Indus river photo Smithsonian MuseumAnother thing that I couldn’t pass up was the chance to see a photograph of mine which was selected for permanent display at the Smithsonian for their spotted pond turtle exhibit! It took awhile to spot the smallish 4”x6” shot but I was happy to see it was still in place. After a quick photo in front of the exhibit, we jumped on the Metro rail and caught the Washington Nationals baseball game. They have a beautiful park that is just a short walk from the nearest train stop. The locals and most fellow tourists left the game in a cheerful mood after an easy win for The Nationals.

DC is a vibrant city exploding with different cultures, restaurants and policy institutes. My husband and I enjoyed our stay there, even though it was packed with meetings and “informational” interviews. Thank you for the experience, DC and my MIISers. Since interest in South Asia is dying down, I’ve decided to dedicate my efforts to make the best of my life in California, which has always been our long term intention anyway. However, if the right opportunity presents itself, I still reserve the right to consider the cross-country shift once again. Till then I’ll continue to focus on my writing and may even have a beginnings of a novel.

11
Mar
13

Move to Amend

This year I began interning for Move to Amend a grass roots movement focused on abolishing Corporate Personhood – the idea that Corporations are the same as human beings and that money is equal to speech. Obviously this concept is ridiculous and translates into lobbying groups having ultimate power over the voice of the people. I co-produce the weekly MTA radio show and I also write Op-Eds & blog posts on various political issues for the movement.
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The 2010 Citizens United verdict was an overreaching ruling by the Supreme Court which overturned a century of legislative trends to prevent corporate money from contaminating democracy. The last election cycle proved how individual voices are at risk of being stifled by anonymously funded super PACs. Take the recently exposed case of American Council of Engineering Companies California; this particular group supports privatization of public infrastructure work. It gifted $400,000 to a nonprofit in Virginia, Americans for Job Security which in turn gave this money to another vague non-profit organization in Arizona. This nonprofit then pumped $11 million to a committee in California which opposed Proposition 30, a tax increase on California’s top earners to fund schools and supported Proposition 32, deceptive initiative to crush labor unions. In order to improve their bottom-line these groups were determined to deny funding to schools and also make unions, a shrinking voice of the working class, powerless. Fortunately, the business group’s donation surfaced last month due to a Californian law requiring political action committees to show their spending, including money that goes to issue-advocacy groups.

Similarly Proposition 37, calling for a label stating genetically modified food was polling at Image80% approval rate in California before agribusiness corporations poured $46 million into the state to misinform voters. Deceptive methods such as voter guides from fake front groups posing as cops, literacy groups, green groups and Democrats were mailed to homes in order to sway voters against Proposition 37. The last minute tactics worked to defeat the well-intended measure before voters had a chance to figure out fact from fiction.

With Congress polling at a single digit approval rating, the people clearly do not believe that their representatives are serving their best interests. Some of them have selected to channel their frustrations and participate in local grassroots movements to reverse the trend of corporations buying elections.

My articles for Move to Amend:
Corporations as Voters?
Divine Incorporation?
Corporations cozy up to Judges

25
Jan
13

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Delivers Address on nonproliferation and disarmament at the Monterey Institute

130118_un_secretary_general_ban_ki_moon_at_miis1_2100x1400http://cns.miis.edu/activities/130118_un_sg_ban_ki-moon_at_miis.htm

17
Jan
13

The Military, PPP and Pakistan

published at the Express Tribune

The demands by the Hazara community in Quetta for the military to take control have baffled the nation’s top analysts who insist that the Protest-Sit-in-Quetta5-Jan12military, ISI and the Frontier Corps are committing genocide in Baluchistan. Strictly sticking to the facts, Pakistan’s military is garrisoned in Quetta, it is not deployed hence it is not out there abducting and slaying people as claimed. It is only the FC that is deployed in Baluchistan and terrorists captured by the FC are usually released by the courts. Only after regressive steps were taken to strip the FC of its powers in Baluchistan did terrorist attacks increased multifold. The massacre of Hazaras on Jan 11th has led the government to reinstate the FC with authority and furnish them with police powers for 2 months.

I recently had an opportunity to interview the DG-ISI, Lt General Zaheerul Islam, where he mentioned that there is an insurgency in Baluchistan and for any insurgency to succeed the law enforcement agencies have to be made ineffective. During the British colonial rule, Baluchistan was divided in A and B areas, the former were directly controlled by the British and the latter through Balochi Sardars. This continued after Pakistan’s independence until General Pervez Musharraf converted the B areas (almost 95 percent of Balochistan) into A. Hence, maintenance of law and order of the majority of the province was handed over to the police instead of the levies who mostly served the interests _51449589_pakistan_baloch_quetta_0810of the Sardars. However, in 2010 the now sacked Chief Minister of Baluchistan converted A areas back into B and the police was withdrawn from 240 plus stations. This move made the first responders, the police ineffective and led to the militant outfits including the Taliban to reorganize in the area. These groups did not face much of a challenge from the levies, who neither had the training or the resolve for such a situation. The second response consists of the FC who have been put on the defensive since the issue of the missing people was raised. After the enforcement agencies in Baluchistan were successfully hindered, violence raged on in the province uncontrolled.

Flag_of_Pakistan_Peoples_PartyMuch as our analysts assert that the military is scheming to take over the country and derail the democratic process rest assured that the military is content on the sidelines observing the political circus. The PPP government has managed to destroy public institutions like the PIA, Railways, Steel mills and the energy sector. Average GDP growth rate during the past four years has been the lowest in the history of Pakistan’s economy and per the IMF, the country’s debt is not sustainable without foreign help.

The 2013 elections will not unleash any substantial political tsunamis because the PPP will likely win the “democratic” election simply due to its ability to secure large numbers of seats in the National Parliament. A democracy should empower the people rather than elect corrupt illiterate politicians and their brood over and over again. Thus, till a radical shift takes place, Pakistan is doomed to nose dive into oblivion. Militancy has opened the door to non state actors that have eroded the writ of the government in external and internal affairs. Furthermore, it has led to b1sectarian cleansing as was witnessed in Baluchistan. The clerics, with their hold on the rural areas have not used their authority to contain violence and have instead been instrumental in preaching hatred. If the cleric is not contained, sectarian divides will keep the country in a near state of civil war. The Judiciary, on the other hand, has yet to punish a single terrorist. Without addressing cases through some oversight office such as an independent supreme judicial commission, the judiciary will remain heavily influenced and corrupt forcing the people to seek justice through other means. Likewise, the police have to be depoliticized and granted an independent protocol in order to make it effective.

Constitutional amendments to expunge the ‘Objectives Resolution’ should be considered since it goes against the unifying concept promoted by Jinnah. Any political party that has a manifesto promoting intolerance of other groups shows direct contempt for the Pakistan flag whose vertical white stripe symbolizes inclusion of minorities in the government. Seminaries must be state owned and staffed thus not allowing individuals to hijack ideology. Education is key to achieving these goals; education of the public as well as enforcing a minimum level of education to get elected into public office.

16
Oct
12

A visit to Greg Mortenson’s school in Korphe

Published at the Express Tribune. Featured in the Central Asia Institute’s newsletter, Alima

The allegations of fraud against Greg Mortenson were troubling to thousands of firm supporters of his mission to educate children, especially girls, in the isolated regions of Pakistan. When my summer trek to K2 basecamp started near the spot where Mortenson’s first school was constructed, I couldn’t resist stopping by the Korphe Central Asia Institute (CAI) to get some firsthand answers.

The first thing our guide pointed on during the short hike from Askole to Korphe was a newly constructed vehicle bridge. Two unfettered concrete supports still stood next to the new structure, marking the spot where Greg was forced to build a footbridge across the Indus to complete the promised school.

After crossing the river between Askole and Korphe, my group and I hiked for half hour up a steep set of switchbacks to reach town. We could hear the singing voices of kids before we even spotted the elementary school. When our climb ended, a neat building greeted us with honey colored walls and bright red borders; it stood out prominently from the neighboring mud huts.

There were 80 or so young boys in their blue and white uniforms reciting poetry in unison to their instructors as we entered the Haji Ali Memorial School. We begged them to continue and asked permission to take a few quick photos. In the girls classroom, timid faces looked up as I entered the room. They had been singing with full force but were too shy to carry on in front of new acquaintances.

Mohammad Hussain, a CAI employed teacher, gave us a tour of the 5 room building. Lessons scribbled on the chalkboards varied between English, science and basic arithmetic problems such as the total cost of groceries given the price of each item.

Hussain later showed us to his desk and called for tea. This gave us a perfect opportunity to get answers to the questions which were gnawing at the back of our minds. Hussain explained that he is now the only teacher at this school who is paid by CAI, but there are four others out of whom 2 are funded by NGO’s and 2 by the Pakistan Government. All uniforms, books and pencils are provided to the children free of cost by CAI.

Our tea came while Hussain and a couple other residents in the room jokingly reminisced about Mortenson stumbling into the village with torn clothes, hungry and completely exhausted. Only now can they laugh about it since Mortenson was disorientated and lost when he reached Korphe. As described in the book, Three Cups of Tea, the Korphe locals nursed Moretenson back to health and he promised to return and build a school.

Mortenson came back after 3 years and did fulfill his promise. The school was first built in 1995 but had to be brought down due to its poorly constructed foundation. It was then rebuilt with a stronger foundation and reinforced concrete. Currently the school has classes from Nursery up to 8th Grade. Plans for expansion of the school building are in the works and Mortenson is set to return in October of this year to oversee the addition of grades 9 and 10 to the program. Students who excel at this school are awarded full scholarships to attend colleges/universities in the capital, Islamabad. Hussain proudly told us that his own daughter is attending college under the scholarship program.

In the end I asked the Korphe locals if they had heard about the allegations against Greg Mortenson. They had and replied that the lack of media presence in the region has prevented them from telling their side of the story. The people of Korphe, Askole and other locals that I came across during my trek had nothing but immense appreciation for Greg Mortenson and his work. It is important to understand that the CAI is making efforts to provide education in distant corners of Pakistan where there is little to no presence of public schools. Throughout my trip in the northern areas of Pakistan I came across numerous blue CAI boards marking their institutions. I won’t attest to confirming the 250 or so institutions that the Central Asia claims to support, but this one was in fine shape. I know that the kids at this 1 school now have opportunities that were otherwise beyond their reach before the charity began and the locals backed up every aspect of 3 Cups of Tea that I could remember.

24
Sep
12

Freedom & responsibility

Freedom of expression should be a right of every man and woman, but in order to prevent abuses, people need to be accountable for their opinions. Anonymous speech in the form of monetary political campaign expenditures was already causing havoc in the US before “The Innocence of Muslims” ever went viral. The only purpose of the crudely made movie was to provoke the sort of madness and destruction we’ve witnessed.

The onus of this latest round of violence also lies with Sheikh Khaled Abdullah for airing an Arabic dubbed version of the film on Egyptian television. Few had heard of this movie previous to it being broadcasted on his show. Following the airing, riots erupted throughout the Middle East and other Muslim countries. One of the riots resulted in the death of 4 US diplomats in Libya. Would it be fair to say that he could have easily predicted the violence that followed? If so, the audience needs to hold him accountable and perhaps Egypt needs to consider revoking broadcast rights. In fact, the Al-Nas channel that aired the film had previously been suspended by the pre revolution Egyptian government for promoting religious and sectarian hatred.

Freedom of speech in the United States allows anyone to make as many moronic movies as they want. Ex prisoner and a bank fraud artist, Nakula Basseley Nakula took full advantage of this and paid $75 a day to several actors who thought they were working on a movie about ancient warriors in the desert. Their lines were later dubbed over without their permission. The movie was shown once in Hollywood to a nearly empty theatre after which it was dubbed into Arabic and posted on you tube.

Nakula needs to take responsibility for his work since it is not the role of the government and the Los Angeles police to keep him and his family in hiding. By doing so they are only enabling others to anonymously ignite violence around the world without being responsible for the consequences. Holding the angry mob that stormed the US embassy in Libya accountable is, of course, without question. Their actions were without excuse, but what is more important is working to reduce the risk of a similar event happening in the future.

Mullahs in Pakistan are already taking advantage of lingering frustration and have whipped up mobs into committing even more violence. Blocking you tube is not the solution and neither is denying visas to Google employees. The internet is full of blasphemous content regarding all religions but that does not give anyone the right to censor or kill and terrorize in the name of religion. The government should not fall prey to the extremists instead it should do everything in its power to curb the lunacy that is spewed by them.

Ultimately, the movie was intended to infuriate and that’s exactly the result it achieved. Now the producers of the movie and its supporters are pointing to the riots as evidence of Islam being a violent religion. Hence, the rioters played right into the hands of the Islamophobes who will use this as an opportunity to tout their views about Muslims being fanatics. The result could give support to candidates who are pro war and anti-Islam in a critical election year for the US. Mobs aren’t known for thinking clearly and these angry people are probably going to cause themselves harm if they continue. The anti-Islam protests have been the headlines for days now not to mention the Newsweek cover which has depicted 1.5 billion Muslims around the world as a single ferocious and angry entity. This crisis also brings attention to political parties which use religion to spur violence for political gain. Fox news is busy criticizing Obama’s policies in the Middle East. Mitt Romney called the Obama administration’s response to the attack on the US embassy in Libya “disgraceful,” and that he chose to “sympathize with those who waged the attacks”. The media needs to be careful because the last thing this world needs is another warmongering US President.

Day of love of the Prophet: 20 killed, over 200 injured in Pakistan

Aftermath: Students take to streets to cleanup

30
Aug
12

The other side of Pakistan

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10
Jul
12

I see K2

Some photos published at Express Tribune

After talking about it, planning, and looking forward to the trek for years – our group finally set out on the 2 week adventure to Concordia. As with everyone else’s experience our flight was cancelled and we drove to Skardu from Islamabad. Our jeeps came to a halt in Askole after a few hard days of driving and we decided to spend 2 nights there in order to acclimatize before setting out. In hindsight 2 days in Askole is not essential but it proved beneficial for us since we did not go through a tour company and had not arranged for porters ahead of time.

Remnants of religious extremism in Chilas on the way to Skardu

Our “guide” came highly recommended but he turned out to be dead weight – he hadn’t been to the area for over 10 years and had no idea about anything. Hence, he earned the nickname of “anti-guide”. It is certainly possible to arrange this trip by oneself, but hiring a sensible guide will definitely have its advantages.

Finally after weighing our goods and determining the number of porters necessary to haul everything, we set out for Concordia. This part of the trek started out flat in the beginning and then turned into a trail of dust and cobble. The weather was hot and sunny but we all had our CamelBaks filled with water to ensure we stay hydrated.

We took over the planning responsibilities from our guide and decided to hike to the camp at Paiju on our second day because we felt we should make up ground lost during yesterday’s easy 3 hr trek. Day 2 turned out to be a total of 32 km and took us around 13 hours including breaks. The terrain varied between narrow dirt trails by the river and sandy flat lands with rocks. Increased glacier melt has caused the rivers to be too dangerous to cross thus adding more time to this already long segment. It took an extra hour and a half to hike up the valley to a suspension bridge and back to where people used to cross the river on foot.

Liligo

Happy to have made up for the first day – on the third day we followed the trekking guide on our K2 maps and trekked to Liligo camp. After Paiju, the Baltoro glacier begins and the scenery is beautiful when the Trango Towers are visible. Baltoro didn’t match what I had imagined a glacier would look like. Most of the ice and snow is covered with dirt and loose rocks. However, there were slippery spots in between where the ice had started to melt. The weather was cool and it drizzled on us throughout the day. Liligo sits at roughly 12,200 ft and is situated off the glacier on the side under huge rocks. According to porter lore, the camp derives its name from a girl named Lily who disappeared at this spot after wondering off for a walk and so it came to be known as Lily go. Our porters sacrificed the goat in the evening and celebrated by singing songs and playing their drums.

The next day we headed out at 5:30am sharp for Urdokus, this 10km stretch is the most strenuous according to our K2 maps. The first half of the trek was pretty easy but the second half consisted of hiking up and down the glacier covered with loose rocks. The trail was so narrow at certain spots there was barely room for the width of my small foot to catch hold. Hearing rocks and chunks of ice falling down into glacial pools was common too. We reached our destination in about 6.5 hours (including breaks) only to be faced by one final 500ft vertical climb of switchbacks to get to our campsite! As soon as we made it to the top the weather took a turn for the worse and it started to rain.

Snow storm at Goro

On the 6th day we made our way to Goro campsite. This was the day when the elevation started to affect most of us and we were all struck with headaches after a little physical exertion. However, short frequent breaks provided enough relief to push on. The following morning we
were engulfed in a snow storm. Our tents were covered with snow and our porters recommended we wait for the weather to clear up before heading out to Concordia. At 10 am there was a break in the weather and we were on our way. About a quarter way through we got caught in another blizzard and it showed no signs of letting up. According to our maps the trek from Goro to Concordia takes about 3 hours and is only 8 km but our porters got lost due to poor visibility and we walked in knee deep snow for 6 hours (13km) before reaching Concordia. K2 was nicely tucked away behind a dark grey wall of clouds when we made camp.

Luckily in the weather cleared up entirely in the evening and there stood K2, immaculate and proud. I’ve heard some people have waited for over a week to get a clear shot of K2 and we were lucky enough to see it the first night! Three Frenchmen came over to greet us from a nearby camp. They had been in the area for a month and were preparing to climb Gasherbrum 4.

After an early dinner we went to bed all excited to be sleeping at 15,000ft and so close to K2. The next morning, however, another snow storm was in full effect. We waited in our mess tent all day hoping to catch another glimpse of the savage mountain but K2 didn’t make an appearance at all. In the evening we went to chat with the neighbouring Canadian camp and learnt that they had climbed Mt Everest last year!

We woke up at 4am to begin our journey home. Most of K2 was visible and we managed a few parting shots before the clouds came rolling in and covered it up again. We left camp at 5:30 am and it lightly snowed on us all day. We reached Askole in 4 days and never strained ourselves too much since we were dropping elevation and our bodies had become accustomed to walking 8 to 10 hours per day on average.

After living in the wild for nearly 2 weeks I realized there are many things I took for granted like hot showers, clean dry clothes, food free of sand, and warm weather! However, getting away from civilization has its own thrills. K2 was stunning and the entire trek was an experience of a lifetime. I would definitely recommend it to those with an appetite for adventure.

17
Apr
12

Concordia Dreamin’

We’ve been talking about it for years and finally a group of us are going to trek to K2 base camp, Concordia this summer. After going through various blogs and reading about other trekkers’ experience, the planning and training is in full gear!

Cali

For starters I begin the day with a quick walk with our yellow lab, Cali (short for California). Following which I indulge in a healthy breakfast of a whole wheat English muffin paired with an assortment of fresh strawberries, blue berries and bananas. After which I put on my hiking boots and backpack loaded with books and onto my 2 miles (3.2 km) walk to Starbucks for a caffeine treat. Sometimes I manage to fit in a weight training workout before lunch but I haven’t been able to reach my goal of 2 workouts per day as yet – nonetheless the closer we get to our departure I will ensure 2 visits to the gym per day – weight training in the morning and cardio conditioning with interval training in the evening.

with love from Starbucks

I’ve been strict about my evening workouts which consist of leg work and interval training. Not much can be done about elevation sickness but interval training helps so I run fast, slow, fast, slow, fast, slow…followed by running on steep slopes. Interval training aids the heart beat in recovering faster and that’s the secret to overcoming altitude sickness. Going through blogs I’ve learnt that people of all ages and at various fitness levels have completed this trek from the traveling backpackers all the way from England to a group of senior citizens from California – so as long as a person is in good shape this trek is doable. However, I don’t want to take a chance and be turned around after the second day only thus, I am trying to get in the best physical condition possible.

So far I’ve managed 2 to 3 morning workouts per week on top of the daily evening workout. My morning workout encompasses lunges, squats and 5 to 10 lbs weights. Instead of focusing on cardio I tend to concentrate on muscle toning so that the trek will not leave my body sore.

Breakfast

Breakfast

Evening workouts are followed by another walk with Cali so that she’s calm during the rest of the day. In total, I walk around 6 miles (9.6km) per day but it’s all on a flat service. To compare we’ll be walking roughly 8 miles (13km) per day in mountainous terrain for nearly 2 weeks.

Going back to healthy meals, lunch is usually light and high protein such as daal (lentils). Dinner is heavier but consists mainly of whole grain pasta, chicken or beef and a leafy green salad packed with walnuts and fruit such as currants, cranberries, watermelon or sliced granny smith apples. The weekends are another matter though and don’t include a visit to the gym. Greasy food like Pizza is also devoured on Saturday or Sundays.

On to gear, since the first part of the trek is usually warm during the day, trekkers have to carry breathable light clothes for the heat and heavy waterproof gear for the snow later on. Snow jackets, trekking poles and warm sleeping bags are required. We will also be carrying crampons though most trekkers have completed the hike without using crampons but some blogs strongly recommend their use – better safe than sorry!

There will be 6 of us in our group and about 30 porters including a guide and a cook who will accompany us on this expedition. Stay tuned for more and advice from previous Concordia conquerors is welcome.

12
Apr
12

Rest of the World vs America Newsweek Covers for this week

So the Newsweek International cover features a story on “Imran Khan, the next prime minister of Pakistan?” and the US cover has diet advice from Dr. Phil!

04
Apr
12

North Waziristan: the ground realities

I was part of the Pakistan panel at the Syracuse University’s annual conference on security held on March 31st, 2012. I presented on the security situation in North Waziristan and the ground realities in the agency. My slides from the presentation are available here.

General Michael Hayden (former director CIA/NSA) also spoke at the event. He implemented the Patriot Act after 9/11 which gave the government powers to track and intercept communications. It also authorized wiretapping and surveillance amongst other things. I questioned him about the probability of my phone conversations with family and friends in Pakistan being listened into and taped. He assured me that my rights are protected under the 4th amendment!

My research paper on the current situation in North Waziristan published in Syracuse University’s Journal on Terrorism and Security Analysis: http://satsa.us/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/SATSA-Journal-Final-III.pdf

Image

27
Mar
12

Aid could mend broken ties

Published at the San Francisco Chronicle

 

29
Feb
12

Human Rights?

Published at The Express Tribune

Why the sudden publicity surrounding human rights issues in Baluchistan? The US committee on Foreign Affairs has not recently held any hearings on human rights violations in Kashmir and Palestine. How did these Congressmen vote on a recently passed US security bill that allows the military to hold terrorism suspects indefinitely without trial? Strangely enough they all voted in favor of detaining their own constituents without due process. What about the human rights of innocent civilians killed by drone strikes in the tribal areas of Pakistan? Needless to say the grievances of the Baluch are urgent and need to be addressed but the timing of this interest by three Republican politicians about the plight of Baluchistan is suspicious.

Although this bill has little chance of going anywhere in Congress, it effectively riled up politicians within Pakistan. With any hope it will result in a grand bargain with the Baluch to provide them their fair share of political representation and economic development. That would be the most positive possible outcome from this unwelcome intrusion. Politicians who are foreign to Pakistan such as the Texas Republican Louie Gohmert should refrain from meddling in affairs of which they cannot even begin to fathom the end result. His reasoning for creating Baluchistan as a separate country because “They love us…they’ll stop the IEDs and all the weaponry coming into Afghanistan”. That line of reasoning did not work out that well for Dick Cheney in 2003, who said “The read we get on the people of Iraq is there is no question but what they want to the get rid of Saddam Hussein and they will welcome as liberators the United States when we come to do that.”

Ironically, Louie Gohmert’s own State of Texas has its fair share of secessionists. The annexation of Texas by the US is considered illegal by some groups in Texas and they continue to believe that the State remains an independent nation under occupation. Gohmert the liberator does not appear intent on helping fellow Texans secede from their own authoritarian rule.

Dana’s unfamiliarity with the region was on clear display as he consistently transitioned between the correct pronunciation and “Biloke-istanwhile reading from prepared notes. The Representative also left out some important facts in his opening remarks. Painting Baluchistan as a single united entity seeking independence is misleading since Pashtuns and Hazaras also inhabit the province. Baluchistan’s troubles are not black and white but severely complex and certainly not suitable for intervention by such politicians on the other side of the world. The fact is that this man is only 1 of 435 elected members of the House and represents one fifth of one percent of US citizens. To clarify further, he is one of 53 representatives of California, which is only one of 50 states. His views do not represent those of the USA and should hold just about zero weight among the international community.

As far as the third co signatory of the Baluchistan bill is concerned, Steve King, he stated in 2008 that if Obama becomes the president of the US then al-Qaeda and its supporters will be dancing in the streets after declaring a victory on the war on terror. He also inferred that Obama’s middle name, Hussain is troublesome. His intolerant views above are a good indication of his intellect level. If Rohrabacher, Gohmert and King are truly sincere about human rights then they should begin by giving up obstructionist antics at home and promote greater human rights for their fellow citizens in the US; simply lead by example. These Tea Party lawmakers have systematically voted against universal healthcare, women’s rights, gay rights and minority rights while demanding harsher immigration laws.

In the end it is clear that addressing human rights violations was never the intention of the hearing. This was just perceived as a good opportunity to kick the hornet’s nest for political gain and to antagonize Pakistan further in its current fragile state. All three signatories of the bill belong to Obama’s opposition party and are motivated to damage the administration’s efforts to mend relations with Pakistan, even at the detriment of their own nation. Rohrabacher and his pals may be “sticking it to the Pakistanis” but calling for a separate Baluchistan at a time when Israel is threatening to attack Iran and the coalition forces are preparing to withdraw from Afghanistan does not show much geopolitical judiciousness. As public servants these lawmakers should put more thought into the consequences of their actions. The US State Department is now busy with damage control and has made it very clear that they continue to view Baluchistan as part of the Pakistani state. However, the issue has been brought to light. Pakistan would be wise to step up and earnestly make an effort to appease regional concerns if it intends on securing Baluchistan as an integral part of the Country.

Further Reading:

Balochistan Pakistan’s other war, Al Jazeera documentary

Pakistan’s Fatal Shore, The Atlantic

16
Feb
12

New documentary on Kashmir

13
Feb
12

LEASHING THE DOGS OF WAR *

After two ill-informed mishaps in Iraq and Afghanistan, the loss of thousands of lives, and the economy nearing collapse one would think the United States must have lost its appetite for war. Nonetheless, AIPAC (America’s Israel lobby) considers this moment a good opportunity to start beating the drums of war against Iran. With the election so close, the presidential candidates are trying to out do each other in their threats to annihilate Iran in order to appease Israel sympathizers. The ingrained policy of protecting Israel at all costs divulges the Jewish-Zionist grasp on US politics. It also shows a flaw in the US political system which AIPAC has milked to its utmost advantage.

A 2006 comprehensive Harvard study by two professors titled the Israel lobby and US foreign policy revealed that one of the most crucial factors in President Bush’s decision to attack Iraq in 2001 was to help Israel. With support from AIPAC, Israel and the Jewish high ranking “neo-conservative” officials in the administration, Bush decided to invade and nullify one of Israel’s greatest perceived threats in the region. In 2004, US Senator Ernest Hollings declared that the US invaded Iraq “to secure Israel,” and “everybody” knows it.

However, the invasion of Iraq was not intentioned to be a costly quandary but a first step in the larger plan for the region. Pro-Israel supporters have always pursued a direct involvement of the US in the Middle East in order to seek protection for Israel. Soon after the war in Iraq the Israeli ambassador to the US, Danny Ayalon, called for a regime change in Iran. He claimed that the removal of Saddam was not sufficient and that America has to “follow through” because there were great threats emanating from Syria and Iran.

Thus keeping true to their grand plan for the Middle East, a barrage of op-eds now warn of imminent danger if Iran were to build a nuclear weapon – just like articles on Saddam Hussein being a grave threat to humankind, were published before the Iraq invasion. The very same Israeli, American and other intelligence agencies who insisted Iraq possessed WMDs now assert that Iran is assembling a nuclear weapon. In reality Israel knows that if the US can live with a nuclear Russia, nuclear China, nuclear Pakistan and a nuclear North Korea then it can live with a nuclear Iran as well. However, this goes against Israel’s policy of maintaining a monopoly of nuclear arsenal in the Middle East. Hence, in order to preserve the balance of power in its favour, the Israel lobby is mounting pressure on the US by threatening to take pre-emptive action against Iran.

The US and its allies have hardened sanctions on Iran by targeting its central bank and banning its oil imports. However, sanctions only hurt ordinary citizens and it is delusional to think that a crippled economy will push Iranians to overthrow the regime. In fact, it could lead to more support for Ahmadinejad.

In its determination to wage a war against Iran, the Israel lobby has forbidden diplomacy. According to section 601 of the AIPAC drafted sanctions bill, which was passed in November 2011, the US president, diplomats and other officials cannot pursue negotiations with Iran. In order to even begin diplomacy with Iran the President must now convince, 15 days in advance, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs that not doing so would pose an “extraordinary threat to the vital national security interests of the United Sates”. Not to mention that the leaders of this committee, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Howard Berman seek war in the first place. By signing this bill the US has severely limited their functionality; never in its history have US officials been outlawed from conducting diplomacy with foreign states even during war. For instance, the Cuban missile crisis was resolved through secret meetings between US and Soviet officials.

Former Mossad chief Meir Dagan and the former chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi stated that the Iranian threat was not as forthcoming as suggested and that a military strike would be catastrophic. It is time for the American populace to wake up and realize how their charity and tax contributions are being used. Discourse on Israel is most often one sided and any other view is instantly labeled anti-Semitic. Not only is AIPAC stepping on America’s democratic principles but by thwarting any US attempts to make peace, it has ensured that a solution to the Israeli-Palestine conflict is unlikely. The status quo continues to supply extremists with plenty of fuel for recruitment and further promotes radical Islam around the globe. AIPAC is without a doubt an immense success story, but they are currently walking a fine line with supporters who have long grown tired of a recent decade of conflict. If the Zionists are not careful, their tremendous influence may be the very thing that undoes them.

*Title of this article was borrowed from a Conflict Resolution book, Leashing the Dogs of War: conflict management in a divided world by Crocker, Hampson and Aall

Further reading:

Iran war: what is AIPAC planning?

Iran war would cost trillions: will the GOP pay more taxes for that?

25
Dec
11

NATO attack

Published at Dawn http://www.dawn.com/2011/12/23/sacrifices-disregarded.html

Last month’s mindless Nato attack on Pakistani posts confirmed the perception that the US always shoots first and asks questions later. It is hardly surprising that Pakistan refused to be a part of the investigation, whose results were announced by the media yesterday, considering that probes conducted after two attacks in 2008 and 2010 in the tribal agencies of Mohmand and Kurram yielded nothing.

According to Pakistan, the US disregarded standard operating procedures for operations close to the border and provided the wrong coordinates. The Afghan intelligence should also be taken to task for apparently misleading the coalition troops.

It is a pity that the coalition’s operational intelligence seems to be influenced by those who are still stuck in the past. Any attack in Afghanistan is immediately followed by a knee jerk reaction of blaming Pakistan.

The leadership role of the US unfortunately comes with the burden of responsibility. One cannot blame tactical failures and lack of operational progress on an ally that is more or less dependent on the US. For its part Pakistan does need to stop providing relief to the Haqqani network within its borders. Even if North Waziristan is cleared coalition difficulties in Afghanistan will not come to an end. The US has withdrawn forces from Helmand and Kandahar and shifted its presence to the eastern provinces bordering North Waziristan.

This manoeuvre should have been done earlier in response to the US ‘mantra’ to do more when Pakistan stated that the US was not prepared to conduct reciprocal operations across the North Waziristan border in Afghanistan. (One often hears statements regarding terrorist safe havens in Pakistan though it is never mentioned that these areas have not been under the writ of the government.)

Meanwhile the insurgent groups in Nuristan and Kunar are thriving since there is no presence of coalition troops in those provinces. These groups continue to conduct insurgency in Pakistan.

Ultimately no one benefits from the Nato crisis. Pakistan is reviewing its relationship with the Americans. With three years left in the region, the time has come for the US to make some fundamental choices in South Asia.

Will the ragtag Afghan National Army with its share of deserters and addicts be able to take control? Pakistan has already paid a gruesome price for taking in three million Afghan refugees during the Soviet invasion, accompanied by the spread of heroin, guns and smuggling in the country. It can hardly host another influx.

In the US, political support of military efforts in Afghanistan is waning and every branch of the US government is facing the threat of sharp budget cuts. For the people of Pakistan, the billions of dollars lavished in American aid on their country does not translate into a free pass to disregard sovereignty, conduct drone strikes and have CIA agents roaming around in Pakistan.

Pakistan’s response to the latest Nato incursion was swift and effective, making it obvious that it can only be pushed so far. So what options are available to move forward?

The US can cut aid to Pakistan in which case it might not be able to use Pakistani airspace for drone strikes in North Waziristan nor will it be able to move supplies through Pakistan to Afghanistan. This is not likely as the US still needs Pakistan to deliver the endgame in Afghanistan.

On the other hand Pakistanis are saying that enough is enough. Thus, for this relationship to continue the US will have to appease the Pakistani population. Also a revised set of rules will set the tone between the two countries till 2014. Perhaps recognition of the sacrifices borne by Pakistan is too much to ask for. Nevertheless, the US needs to understand that American troops will return to their homes, but the Pakistani nation has been shaken and transformed forever with death and destruction becoming a daily reality.

17
Nov
11

Nostradamus of WMDs

Published at the Express Tribune: http://tribune.com.pk/story/293408/the-nostradamus-of-wmds/

On November 4th The Atlantic published an article titled “The Ally from Hell” co-authored by Jeffrey Goldberg. In the article Pakistan is described as the “epicenter of gobal jihadism” and then the author goes into detail about the danger of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. He writes that Pakistan is paranoid about the US seizing its nuclear weapons, so much so that it constantly moves nuclear components and “mated” nuclear weapons in unprotected civilian vans through regular traffic. His wild unsubstantiated claims go on to reveal US operational plans to seize control of Pakistani nuclear weapons in the event of an “Islamic Coup” in the country. In which case US forces would enter Pakistan Hollywood style from helicopters, parachutes, running across the border etc and begin securing nuclear sites. A “disablement campaign” is also in place and it entails disabling the entire Pakistani nuclear arsenal. Under such a campaign the US would put into action the military’s 20th Support Command, whose teams will destroy nuclear weapons without causing an explosion. Another scenario involves US troops evacuating after disabling as many bombs as possible before nuclear bunkers would be targeted with missile strikes.

Such serious allegations without substantial evidence and only citing unnamed sources prompted me to conduct some research into the author’s background. Interestingly enough, one of Goldberg’s most notable pieces of work was a 2002 report for the New Yorker titled “The Great Terror”. There, Goldberg described the imminent threat posed to the US by Saddam Hussein. He detailed Hussein’s links with Al Qaeda and portrayed him as the evilest of all dictators who had weaponized a biological agent called aflatoxin. In an article for Slate magazine Goldberg wrote that aflatoxin does only one thing, it causes liver cancer especially in children. However, a 2004 report from Charles Duelfer, the Bush Administration’s chief weapons inspector in Iraq, stated that Iraqi scientists conducted experiments with aflatoxin, but determined that there was no evidence found linking these experiments with the development of biological weapons. Goldberg also wrote about Sadaam’s ability to make an atomic bomb within months of acquiring fissile material. His article concluded “the administration is planning today to launch what many people would undoubtedly call a short-sighted and inexcusable act of aggression. In five years however, I believe that the coming invasion of Iraq will be remembered as an act of profound morality.” In 2008 he wrote an article on how he got Iraq wrong citing faulty intelligence which he claims is a universal phenomenon. For a person who writes on such serious topics, we should hope it is not Goldberg, himself, who suffers from faulty intelligence.

 With a proven track record of false claims regarding Iraq, how are we supposed to trust his newest allegations about Pakistan’s nuclear program? Like his previous articles on Iraq nameless sources apparently provided top secret information. Pakistan has stated many times that  nuclear weapons are kept “de-mated” where the warhead is kept separate from the delivery system thus placing their weapons in the realm of impossible to steal in any useful form. Pakistan also keeps in place a two-person control system and permissive action links (PALs) coded locks meant to prevent unauthorized arming or detonation of a nuclear weapon. Goldberg states that according to an unnamed ex defense official, it is not clear what the PAL process includes. Is it two people who would unlock the box around the warhead, or is it two people who launch the nuclear weapon once the warhead has been mated to the missile? A question which is ignored within the article is whether it would be wise for Pakistan to make information regarding the safety procedures of its nuclear weapons public. Perhaps this was omitted due to the obvious answer.

Before his career as a journalist in Washington DC, Goldberg served as a prison guard for the Israel armed forces. In his article for the Atlantic, he points out that the US gives Pakistan $2 billion a year. He states “so: the U.S. funds the ISI; the ISI funds the Haqqani network; and the Haqqani network kills American soldiers.” If claims like this get under Goldberg’s skin, he must get furious when he thinks about the annual $3 billion US aid to Israel. The US funds Israel, Israel occupies Palestine and kills Palestinians as well as US and Turkish civilians on a flotilla to deliver aid to Palestinians.

Goldberg’s article has a familiar whiff of the doomsday scenario presented by award winning journalist Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker where he claimed that joint US-Israeli teams are in place to dismantle Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. He wrote that in the summer of 2001 a nuclear component had gone missing in Pakistan. A team from the US was deployed but by the time they reached Dubai they learnt that the report was a false alarm. Another false claim made in the article was that India supposedly conducted raids in Pakistan to target terrorist cells! Seymour Hersh has been criticized for using unnamed sources in his articles; with some even suggesting that these sources are unreliable or just made up. It’s a shame when such prestigious magazines like the New Yorker and the Atlantic publish such fantasies. The readers rely on these magazines to provide them with factual based well researched insights about situations around the globe and not some dreamt up end of the world high stakes drama. Perhaps these magazines are trying to seem nonpartisan by printing articles from extreme ends of the spectrum. That is a dangerous precedent to set because it promotes ignorance and feeds off people’s paranoia.

18
Sep
11

Governance in Pakistan’s FATA

My research paper on the governance challenge in the tribal areas of Pakistan published in the Naval Postgraduate School’s (Monterey, California) research journal – Strategic Insights:

http://edocs.nps.edu/npspubs/institutional/newsletters/strategic%20insight/2011/SI-v10-I2_Khan.pdf

18
Sep
11

Drone Strikes

The recent incriminating report by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in the UK has revealed mountains of damning information regarding drone strikes in the tribal areas of Pakistan. According to this report a drone strike occurs every four days and has resulted in the deaths of 775 civilians including 168 children since 2004. The report states that 45 civilians have died in the past year which is contradictory to Obama’s counterterrorism advisor, John Brennan’s statement that no civilians have died in nearly a year. However, the US has rejected the report’s findings and “unknown” officials have attacked the report, claiming that the numbers are exaggerated. Doubts have been cast on Mirza Shahzad Akbar’s role in the report since he is suing the CIA on behalf of Pakistanis who lost their family members to drone strikes. Mirza is a lawyer and was one of the sources used for the report. The Pentagon stated its concern about Mirza’s connection with the ISI since he ousted the undercover CIA chief in Pakistan.

The CIA has maintained that drone strikes do not result in any civilian deaths or “collateral damage” but since the beginning of the drone program in 2004, there has been controversy over the numbers of civilian deaths. The ability of the predator drone to loiter over a target for hours before striking supposedly gives it the ability to precisely aim at its intended target but the following reports depict otherwise. David Kilcullen, former adviser on counter-insurgency to General David Petraeus said for every single terrorist killed 50 civilians died, which is a hit rate of only 2 percent. Meanwhile in 2009 the Brookings Institution concluded that for every militant killed, 10 or so civilians also perished. On the other hand the Long War Journal stated that only 10 percent of those killed by the drone strikes were civilians reflecting that a low amount of collateral damage is acceptable. Finally an analysis carried out by the New America Foundation revealed that since 2006 till 2010, about 250 to 320 civilians died. Though they did cite difficulty in recognizing civilians from the militants since the latter live amidst the population and do not wear a uniform. These contrasting numbers over the past few years are troublesome. One of the reasons for the disparity is that people who were present in the same building as terrorists are counted as civilians in some reports whereas in others they are not. Similarly if a drone targets one house but ends up destroying three houses around the target then are the dead neighbours also counted as terrorists? Hence many questions arise regarding the data collection methods used in order to determine the accuracy of drone strikes.

The drone program is controversial because it doesn’t recognize any legal, ethical, or political boundaries. Under the United Nation’s charter drone strikes are illegal; Article 2(4) clearly states that all members shall refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state. The UN Human Rights special investigator Philip Alston said “The CIA is running a program that is killing significant numbers of people and there is absolutely no accountability.” He warned the US for failing to track, and punish soldiers for drone strikes that result in civilian deaths, for not revealing the number of civilians killed, and for no plans on compensating victim’s families. Nonetheless, the US claims that the UN Human Rights Council and the General Assembly have no say regarding killings during an armed conflict.

Currently there are two drone programs in effect in South Asia. A military program which operates in Afghanistan and a CIA run covert drone program in Pakistan, which the US is not at war with. These drones are controlled by an operator in the Creech Air Force base which is forty five miles north of Las Vegas. This base is the first in Air Force history that solely flies unmanned aircraft. The UAVs used in Pakistan are MQ-1 Predator and the MQ-9 Reaper which fire AGM-114 Hellfire missiles. Reports also came out that the CIA operatives were paying Pakistanis to identify al-Qaeda targets by placing electronic chips in their homes so that they can be targeted by predator drones.

The US seems to believe that continued drone strikes will significantly diminish al-Qaeda’s abilities. However, drone strikes are counterproductive because they play into the hands of militant propaganda seeking to gather and recruit the local populace to their cause. Since the US is preparing to withdraw from Afghanistan it is time to realize that drone strikes are here to stay despite their illegality and the civilian deaths they produce. With no boots on ground drones will remain the weapon of choice for the US. These strikes have hindered the capabilities of al-Qaeda and other militant groups but have not been successful in eliminating these groups all together. The US and Pakistan share a common enemy thus; a joint control of the drone program appears to be a logical approach at the moment. Jointly coordinated drone strikes will ease the level of anti-Americanism in Pakistan and also eliminate civilian deaths; since there will not be a complete disconnect between the drone operator and the reality on ground. Pakistan has demanded veto power over drone strikes and new detailed agreements between the governments of US and Pakistan are allegedly in the works. Former US Intelligence chief, Dennis Blair also supported giving Pakistan the veto power over drone strikes arguing that continued unilateral action in Pakistan is disadvantageous. Indeed a more effective strategy would entail development and investment in education and infrastructure but the area needs to be cleared of militants first before such programs can be enacted. Persistent unilateral actions by the US threaten to push the country over the brink. Pakistan continues to wallow in an era of political violence and terrorist attacks. Openly acknowledged joint efforts in pursuit of terrorists will ease public criticism while still providing a method to combat the extremist plague.

09
Aug
11

lobbying in the US

An abridged version of this article was published at the Express Tribune: http://tribune.com.pk/story/305107/fai-and-kashmir/

Lobbying in the US is not strictly an Israeli and Indian sport; in fact it is a legal activity permissible to all. The untouchable Israeli lobby in the US puts so much pressure and funds into policy makers that Israel’s interests nearly always come first. Following Israel’s lobbying model is the Indian lobby which is also succeeding in getting their way by pumping dollars and applying pressure on US Government officials. The Kashmir American Council (KAC) was no exception; it is amongst the numerous organizations that promote interests of foreign states.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) identifies itself as America’s pro-Israel lobby. AIPAC consists of Jewish Americans but some of its strongest supporters are evangelical Christians, a group which embodies a quarter of the American voters. Political careers in Washington often come to an abrupt end when officials openly support Palestinian causes; they are labeled as supporters of terrorism, anti-Semitic and anti-Israel plus the opposing candidate suddenly receives generous donations.  The US Indian Political Action Committee (USINPAC) was founded by Sanjay Puri in 2002. The Indians were so enthralled by the Israel lobby that they formed USINPAC in its mold. The large size of the Indian population in the US coupled with higher level of education and income has strengthened the Indian lobby.

According to the FBI report the KAC had received up to $700,000 annually from Pakistan to make contributions to US politicians in order to influence US policy on Kashmir. Dr Fai operated overtly; he held seminars and his guests included political leaders, human rights groups, diplomats and journalists. His aim was to raise awareness about the plight of the Kashmiris and also to find a solution to Kashmir. Nonetheless, these public events threatened US national security and Fai was arrested. The Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) requires those who receive funding or lobby on behalf of a foreign government to register as a foreign agent. Thus Fai’s crime being that he did not file the correct paperwork declaring that he was working with a foreign government. USINPAC and AIPAC are not however held to the same standards. They are not registered under FARA because USINPAC claims it focuses only on Indian American community whereas AIPAC states that it does not receive funding from Israel. However, it is difficult to separate the policies of these two groups from those of India and Israel. India friendly policies proposed by USINPAC promote India’s national interest as well. For instance USINPAC played a role in pushing the US-India nuclear deal through Congress. Meanwhile AIPAC lobbies for financial aid to Israel, securing up to 3 billion annually, making Israel the largest collective recipient of US aid over the past 60 years. AIPAC also ensures that the aid is not allocated for any specific projects.

From an American standpoint, aversion to Fai’s activities seems bizarre. He was only promoting the cause of self-determination for Kashmiris and we should not forget that the right to self-determination has always been a strong tool of US foreign policy… even if it is used selectively. The timing of the revelation is also suspicious since the KAC had been operating in the US for two decades. Opportunely his ties to ISI were revealed during Hillary Clinton’s trip to India.

Kashmir: infographic. Source: Al Jazeera

In reality the US has always steered clear of Kashmir other than reiterating support for a bilateral settlement on Kashmir between India and Pakistan. Secretary Clinton made no mention of Kashmir during her visit to India. When Obama first took office in 2008 he had called for a comprehensive regional solution linking Kashmir to problems on the Af-Pak border. Richard Holbrooke’s portfolio originally included Afghanistan, Pakistan and India (Af-Pak-Ind). However, the Indian lobby proved successful in getting the nation excluded and furthermore prevailed in pressuring the US not to mention Kashmir. According to the Washington Post, the Indians were troubled by Holbrooke’s tough reputation and did not want him interfering in Kashmir. So Obama, like his predecessors, caved and the Indians got their way. Self-interest of the United States undoubtedly plays a role in their support of two major arms purchasers. During his visit, Obama reached a $10 billion trade deal with India in hopes of creating 50,000 new jobs. America, the champion of human rights, can overlook the abuses by the Indian military in Kashmir as long as India is willing to use American bullets along the disputed territory.

Pakistani efforts in Washington D.C. have been suffering following the Bin Laden raid as experts on the area are leaving key offices. Shamila Chaudhary once served as a member of Hillary Clinton’s Policy Planning Staff and as a senior adviser to the late RichardHolbrooke. She has since moved on to the private sector. There does not seem to be a backup team in place to take charge either. As Shuja Nawaz said “there is a wholesale movement of the Pakistan expertise out, and there is apparently not enough expertise in the pipeline.”

Lobbying has become an essential activity in order to have a voice in the international arena. Pakistan does not have billions of expendable dollars to lavish among US politicians for support for its interests. Thus, it is important that the Pakistani diaspora join in to improve upon the foreign image of Pakistan. Nearly 600,000 Pakistani Americans reside in the US. They pay taxes like any other citizen and have the right to be heard. Instead of shying away from a homeland in disrepair, Pakistanis residing throughout the world would be best served by following the example of Fai. Just be careful to properly fill out all the necessary forms.

Some resources for further reading:

The Israel Lobby and the US Foreign Policy:  http://web.hks.harvard.edu/publications/workingpapers/citation.aspx?PubId=3670

Kashmir: http://english.aljazeera.net/indepth/spotlight/kashmirtheforgottenconflict/

http://english.aljazeera.net/indepth/opinion/2011/07/201172672822527671.html

04
Aug
11

Pakistan’s Troubled Frontier

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11
Jul
11

New Vegas – Las Vegas

After playing Fallout New Vegas, an xbox game based in post nuclear fallout during the 1950s, I wanted to experience the real Vegas. This summer provided a perfect opportunity!

We set out around 9 in the morning on an 8 hours drive to Vegas through the Mojave Desert. In the game I spent a lot of time exploring the desert thus it was intriguing to see the actual landscape. Although to be honest there was not much to observe except a vast expanse of barren land and brown mountains in the background. During our journey we came across some of the little towns which I thought were invented for the purpose of the game only. After an easy drive and a few stops on the way, I could finally see Vegas on the horizon. It was hard to miss in the desert with its glittering lights and flashy colourful billboards. The closer we got the more it seemed like we had driven into an eruption of gigantic advertisements, shops and hotels. There were hoards of people walking in opposite directions on both sides of the road, in and out of the casinos and their hotels.

Caesars Palace

While making our way to the hotel room we passed some of the famous hotels in Vegas like Caesars Palace. I couldn’t help but think of the scene from the Hangover when Alan asked “This isn’t the real Caesar’s Palace is it?”

View from top of the Palms

After a quick pizza dinner at the New York New York we made our way on top of the Palms. I heard that one could get a spectacular view of the Vegas strip from above 55 floors on the roof of the Palms hotel. The setting was indeed superb; the outdoor sky deck offered a remarkable 360-degree view and parts of the floor were glass which also provided a glimpse all the way down. From up above it was obvious why people referred to the Vegas Boulevard as the strip, it did appear to be a shiny strip of glittering lights surrounded on all sides by the darkness of the desert.

The Venetian

The next day we decided to walk down and explore  Vegas. Most of the hotels were interconnected so it was easy to move around. Each hotel tried to outdo the other and seemed grander than the previous. The ceilings in the Bellagio were painted to look like the blue sky with white puffy clouds. There were beautiful gardens inside along with a butterfly house. The Venetian looked like an Italian village inside with water canals, boats, bridges and all. The strip was longer than we had thought and we only managed to walk down half off it before we realized we barely had enough time to make it to our dinner reservation. After reading a lot of reviews online I picked the Mon Ami Gabi restaurant for dinner and it certainly lived up to its reputation. A charming classic French bistro located right across the Bellagio. We were seated in outdoor patio area which provided us with an excellent view of the fountains. Our meal was delicious and the ambiance was great. Too bad we had to rush through dinner in order to make it to the Crazy Horse Paris burlesque show at the MGM.

Bellagio fountains

The following morning we finished discovering the rest of Vegas. We walked around the latest addition on the strip, the City Center. Its ultra-modern building with a shiny smooth surface stood out next to the older hotels surrounding it. However things hardly remain new in Vegas for long, trends are always changing and everyone is competing to be the next best thing. Time flies in Vegas and before we knew it, we had to run to the Stratosphere for dinner. I was looking forward to dining at the top of the 1,149 ft high Stratosphere tower, the tallest structure in Vegas. This restaurant provides an infinite view because it slowly rotates 360 degrees during the entire length of the meal. The Stratosphere also offers dare devils the opportunity to jump from the top! It looked almost like bungee jumping but jumpers didn’t bounce back instead they were attached to a descent cable. So every now and then during our meal we saw a person  falling down outside our window. I don’t think I will ever work up the courage to attempt such an insane act.

While peeking outside I saw a strip of lights far off in the distance, it appeared to be the Nellis Air force base. Apparently drones being flown over Pakistan and Afghanistan are controlled from this base in Las Vegas! No wonder it all seems like a video game to the operators of the Reaper and Predator drones. They are so detached from the reality on ground that any large gathering seems like an appropriate target and if innocent people die then oops!

A Cirque Du Soleil show is a must in Vegas. Out of the numerous choices available I picked KA because of its action based story line. KA which means fire, is one of the five elements philosophy in Japan. It was rated as the most lavish and technologically advanced show in Western theater. The most amazing aspect of KA were its colossal floating stages which moved in every direction possible and made the viewing experience that much more surreal. At one point the entire stage was vertical with a few warriors just barely dangling from arrows shot earlier onto the stage; while the rest seemed to have fallen down in the abyss. The battle scenes were intense with actors leaping into the audience. Another bewildering feature of the show was the indoor use of fire. I could feel the heat from the massive flames during a scene consisting of a weapons making factory.

On a historical note it is hard for me to imagine that Vegas developed as a result of an atomic bomb research project during World War 2 when scientists came to the area to test bombs in the desert. The mushroom cloud became a symbol of Vegas and generated tourism. Military personal came to Vegas which created jobs and Vegas boomed. On an average a bomb was tested every three weeks over a period of 12 years! Effects of radiation were unknown at the time and above ground testing continued till 1963 when the partial test ban treaty was signed banning testing in the atmosphere.

After three wonderful nights it was finally time to say goodbye to the entertainment capital of the world. It does have a lot to offer and it can be overwhelming but that is what makes it so marvelous, a little shiny world of its own in the middle of the desert.

My daily Vegas reminder!

24
May
11

Graduation and Gypsy Kings – a California weekend!

Last weekend I returned to Monterey for my friends’ graduation from the Monterey Institute of International Studies (MIIS). After 2 years of constant deadlines and pressure; students finally walked across the stage, shook the president’s hand and received their diploma. What a relief! About 6 months ago I graduated from MIIS in December 2010 with a Master’s in Conflict Resolution.

Originally I received my Masters from Quaid-i-Azam University in Defense and Strategic Studies. MIIS awarded me a merit scholarship and an advanced entry because of my prior course work in Pakistan. Thus, I was able to graduate a semester earlier than my friends. Studying in the US was an entirely different experience than my 2 years at Quaid-i-Azam. I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to study at both schools because it made my academic credentials that much stronger. For instance the nuclear proliferation course taught in Pakistan was a totally different learning experience than the same course taught in the US.

The wonderful aspect about MIIS is that it boasts students from all over the world. After class, evening conversations amongst class fellows usually revolved around current events back home in everyone’s respective country. Thus students learnt so much from each other by engaging in constructive discussions. An array of languages could be heard any time in the Samson Center which is where a majority of us went to study. One of the requirements for admission into MIIS is proficiency in a second language. Coming from Pakistan, English was considered my second language.

Monterey itself is a beautiful little historic city by the Pacific Ocean. It was immortalized in the novel Cannery Row  by the American author, John Steinbeck. The novel was based on people working in fish canneries in Monterey during the Great Depression. Today the fish canneries are gone and Monterey is a tourist spot. I felt fortunate to be able to attend Grad School in such a delightful little town. One doesn’t need a car to live in Monterey, it has beautiful trails and bike paths that run along the ocean. I could walk to class, nearby coffee shops and grocery stores. Every Tuesday night a Farmer’s Market is held downtown where fresh fruits and veggies from the local farmers can be bought. My friends and I made this one of our weekly rituals! It provided a much necessary healthy relief from studying. 

Now back to my friends graduating last weekend! After countless research papers, presentations, and study groups my friends celebrated the end of the student era. Finally it’s time to set out in the professional world and to start repaying some of those student loans! Some of my friends have already set out on exciting perhaps dangerous internships all over the globe – mostly the developing conflict torn part of the world. Even though these internships are unpaid they are exciting because students gain first-hand experience and are involved with innovating projects in order to encourage development and conflict resolution. These internships are dangerous because interns are literally thrown in warzones… for example my friends are currently in Liberia, Ghana and Colombia. Living conditions are brutal and the weather extreme nonetheless MIIS students view these hardships as a growing experience. Besides when one joins the workforce then it is difficult to get away from the desk to work for free in different parts of the world.

Most of my friends will be moving to Washington DC, in pursuit of exciting careers so that they can play their part in changing the world. I wish them all the best in the future and I will always have fond memories of my Grad School experience. Here’s to our reunion in DC!

On our way back from Monterey on Sunday, we stopped at the Sonoma Jazz Festival to watch Gypsy Kings live! I grew up listening to their rich throaty voices and a combination of their acoustic Spanish guitars and hand claps. Their music got me through all those research papers in Grad School. Even now when I want to unwind with a cup of coffee I play my Gypsy Kings station on Pandora. Therefore I couldn’t resist the opportunity to see them live. My husband and I were celebrating 10 years together and we thought this concert would be perfect way to remember our first meeting anniversary.

Even the weather was perfect for this event; sunny and breezy in the beautiful Sonoma valley. An enormous white tent was set up to protect the viewers from the sun however with people rushing in to grab their seats it started to warm up inside. The breeze would provide relief every now and then, plus ice cream and chilled beverages could be purchased to keep cool. At 4pm Gypsy Kings walked on the stage. The band consists of a total of 9 members, 6 guitars, 1 fretless five string bass, 2 percussionists and no picks. The 3 hours live performance was indeed marvelous and the acoustics were splendid. They sang some of their biggest hits like Bamboleo, Djobi Djoba and Volare. However, much to the disappointment of one fan who kept yelling Bem Bem Maria, they did not sing that song. The Gypsy Kings have fans all across the globe including people like me who do not speak Spanish but their passion filled and timeless music has enabled them to connect with music lovers worldwide.


06
May
11

Waziristan my home

South Waziristan? Where is that? My friends would ask every time I told them I’m going to visit my grandparents there during summer and winter holidays. Much to my disappointment, all that changed after 9/11. Suddenly everyone knew about Waziristan… as the most dangerous place on earth.

Destruction en route

My brother’s wedding was just last summer. Following the ceremonies, we decided it was time to introduce the new bride to our family roots in Waziristan. Two American friends of mine were visiting from the US and they unwittingly found themselves on a spur of the moment visit through the tribal areas of Pakistan as well. Despite nasty international headlines, the couple realized that they might never get an opportunity like this again. We began our journey in Peshawar on a hot sunny day. Destroyed buildings and other remnants of war were visible on our way. But along with the destruction there were signs of progress as well, roads were being constructed and the Frontier Scouts were keeping watch from above the hills.

Road construction in Dara Adamkhel

The Tank family was ready to celebrate as soon as we arrived. But the real partying would have to wait, first the groom had to proof himself worthy of his bride by participating in a target shooting competition against tribesmen and local militia. The mark was a white brick and it was about 150 yards away, my brother nailed it and everyone rejoiced. In the midst of all the firing one bullet ricocheted off a tree and managed to hit our American friend’s arm. An inspection revealed that there was no bleeding or bruising but I am sure the story about him getting shot in Waziristan has been told and embellished upon countless times in the US.

Throughout the afternoon despite the burning heat, Kalashnikovs were fired in the air and the thumping of the dhols (drums) carried on nonstop. Rupee notes were showered and tribesmen danced with their Kalashnikovs and AK-47s. Strict purdah is observed in Waziristan, so while the men celebrated outside the women played their dhols and danced inside. While the groom was proving his manhood outside with target shooting, inside the bride was scrutinized from head to toe. Everything from her hair, to her clothes and jewelry were inspected. After meeting everyone’s approval, the dancing began and continued till dinner time.

The tribesmen prepared a feast in honour of the wedding.  Huge pots of palau and chicken curry were cooked over wood fire and fresh naan were baked in the tandoor oven. We devoured the delicious hot food and enjoyed the moment as temperatures cooled in the evening. The dhols played on in the distance throughout the night interpreted by celebrative gunfire every now and then.

30
Apr
11

The Lost Civilization

Published at The Express Tribune

Twenty-three hundred years ago, Alexander the great and his forces were pushing deep into South Asia. Legend has it that on their way to India in 327 BC, some of Alexander’s men remained in the villages of Chitral in the Northern Areas of Pakistan. As a result the Kalash tribe of roughly 3500 (3554) consider themselves direct descendants of the Macedonian king. This unique tribe is tucked away in the isolated mountain valley of Bumberet, hidden from the rest of the world. My family and I were fortunate to spend a few nights among the extraordinary Kalash during our travels through Pakistan last summer.

We began our journey along the Chitral-Dir road early in the morning. Besides a few large boulders here and there, the paved highway was not living up to the lore. The drastic change in terrain didn’t occur until midday. Our vehicles turned off the mainline and headed down a steep s-curve. Upon navigating the turn, we immediately encountered what I like to describe as an 1800’s suspension bridge intended for pedestrians and smallish mules. We safely squeezed through the narrow passage despite driver apprehension. Mud walls crowded the dusty roadway and made the concept of speeding impossible without losing a side view mirror. The seemingly endless ride didn’t end for hours. At one point the tires of our pickups were inching off the edge of a rocky cliff on one side and skimming the sharp cut bank of the other. Eventually the jagged gray scenery morphed into green fields tended by women in colorful clothes, embroidered headpieces, and jewelry.

It felt great to finally witness a culture which I had heard so many tales about. The Kalash have maintained their ancient Greek rituals throughout the centuries. They make their own wine, hold animals sacred and believe in gods and fairies. The steep slopes surrounding the valley have helped protect this tribe from conservative Islam. During a time where extremists drove out minorities in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan, the Kalash remained free to grow marijuana in the open and continued to ferment their wine. Although the people remain isolated, some of them venture out to the modern world to educate us about their ancient civilization and to work with NGOs to improve their schools and hospitals. Recently, the population has been dwindling as more and more depart to follow the faith of Islam. This pattern hasn’t prevented the steadfast from holding popular festivals which continue to generate revenue and attract tourists from the world over.

My party recovered quickly after a night of rest and headed out on the town where we were greeted by a large gathering of locals. A drum fashioned out of a metal gas cannister started its deep thrum and the Kalashi women formed a huge circle while inviting us to join in. After missing a few steps I eventually fell into rhythm and was proud to see that I caught on before my mother did. Bragging rights are essential during long trips such as these. The circle soon dispersed and the men cheered while the women broke into groups of 3 and danced on their toes while flicking their hands side to side. The men and children joined in too. Each dance was a thrill to witness and my entire party was saddened when the event came to an end way too soon.

The most astonishing aspect of this tribe is the working relationship between Kalasha men and women. The women do not hide their faces instead they dance in the open, drink wine and express themselves freely. Unlike most other villages in Pakistan, Kalasha women are active members of the governing body and play a role in decision making. They tend the fields in the morning, cook, make wine in the evenings and embroider intricate designs on clothes and accessories to be sold in their handicraft stores. It appeared to me that the women ran the community. Men on the other hand, were seen chatting with others, taking care of the children or with cattle in the hills.

Later on in the day we visited the ancient graveyard of the tribe. Open coffins with visible bones were spread around in the cemetery. The Kalash do not bury the dead and their funeral rituals are just as distinctive. The deceased are not mourned.  Their bodies are instead propped up for display at the Jestak Temple which is named after the Goddess who protects pregnant women, marriage and family. Family members visit and scribe images of the deceased with coal on the temple walls. Fresh milk is offered up on an alter to the Goddess in order to protect the family during this period.

As our tour of the Jestak Temple came to an end one of the village elders kindly invited us to visit her house. The house was shared between two families and consisted of two rooms, the kitchen/dining area next to a window by the terrace and another room with a wood burning fireplace surrounded by a few beds. A large container used for fermenting took up a good portion of the bedroom. The Kalasha use grapes grown in the valley and during the festivals every house has wine to offer to the tourists.

Our host then led us to the nearby handicraft store where I immediately hoarded an armful of gifts and souvenirs. Everyone’s favorite was the intricate women’s headgear embroidered with buttons, shells, beads and whatever else was available in the village. Some suggest that the colorful headpiece resembles Macedonian war helmets. Women in the village ritually add a set of orange beads around their neck for each additional year of life. Needless to say the older women had thick strands upon strands of orange beads on their chests.

After 3 wonderful nights our group was naturally disappointed when the moment of departure could no longer be delayed. The village elders came to say goodbye and draped hand woven ribbons around our shoulders to thank us for coming and to welcome us again. This visit was a mesmerizing adventure and the Kalash way of life was an exciting discovery. I am determined to return during the Kalash spring festival which lasts for a month and contains even more dancing and wine drinking. Remarkably this tribe has maintained its identity while the rest of us are consumed by globalization.

21
Apr
11

No tea for Mortenson?

Published at http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/5520/no-tea-for-mortenson/

CAI school sign, Skurdu

I met Greg Mortenson at the Authors Festival in Carmel, California while I was attending Grad School in the area. We chatted for half an hour and swapped contact information so we could meet up in Pakistan. While in Pakistan I rang up his Central Asia Institute contact, Suleman, to arrange a meeting but Mortenson’s trip was cancelled because of his heart condition. Nevertheless we kept in touch through emails and facebook. I made an effort to see the CAI schools in Skardu while I was visiting those areas during my summer break. After my return to California, a group of class fellows and I met Mortenson at a book signing event for Stones into Schools at the Steinbeck Center. Both times Mortenson was easy going and happy even though there was a long line of people waiting for their books to be signed. He was knowledgeable about the areas and people familiar to me in Pakistan. Although his book tour did seem to be taking a toll on his heath since he appeared tired. I’ve read his books and contributed to CAI so the recent allegations that have surfaced against him are indeed troublesome. After watching the 60 Minutes investigation I was not convinced, so what if he had exaggerated some events in his books? It was all for a good cause. Plus it is difficult to verify the truth in remote areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

I read Jon Krakauer’s 75 page  report called 3 Cups of Deceit, in which he goes into detail about the exaggerations in 3 Cups of Tea and Stones into Schools. Krakauer writes about Mortenson giving up on his attempt to climb K2 but fails to mention that this happened after Mortenson and his friend Scott Darsney went to the rescue of the French climber, Etienne Fine, who collapsed during his climb and had to be carried down to a helicopter.

Mortenson’s wandering alone and lost into Korphe is disputed, because Darsney said that they went to Khane not Korphe and this is where Greg Mortenson promised to build his first school. Mortenson even wrote about this in the article published in American Himalayan Foundation newsletter. But he admitted that events have been compressed in order for better story telling. The truth behind Mortenson’s kidnapping by the Taliban has also come into question. However Jon Krakauer’s report reveals that Niamat Gul, one of the supposed protectors instead of kidnapper, is a petty thief who moves from town to town conning people. He was in prison for kidnapping a girl and managed to escape a couple of years before running into Mortenson.

The most damning revelation was that more than 50% of the CAI funds are used for book promotions and travel expenses even though the CAI does not earn any revenue from book sales. It seems like Mortenson got used to working on a small scale in Pakistan and the CAI grew too big too fast to manage. He does not seem to be aware of how a non-profit organization functions. There should be more transparency and control over how the funds are used but that will likely come at the sacrifice of time and efficiency. CAI has tried to remain a small organization in order to avoid layers of bureaucracy. Mortenson operates well in the field but he is in need of better business practices. Let’s not forget that he did go out on his own in remote areas to build schools for children who were using tents or tree shades as their classrooms. He was awarded the star of Pakistan medal for his services to Pakistan and President Obama donated funds from his Nobel Peace Prize to the CAI. Mortenson has worked with the US military in Afghanistan as well.

Greg Mortenson should work with the CAI to provide more solid figures as to how donations are used and book profits are spent. To date, however, there has been no solid evidence of any wrongdoing to justify recent attacks. My hope is that Mortenson and the CAI act quickly to answer people’s questions so that can continue to offer educational opportunities to those in desperate need.




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