Archive for the 'Pakistan' Category

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.

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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
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.

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/

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.

pakistan-flag

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.




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