Posted by: ourvoicestogether | June 18, 2008

The Unholy Truth About Negotiating With The Terror Traders

I hate to sound like a prophet of doom or a bitterly cynical skeptic but there is something shameful and sinister about this whole entire ‘phenomenon’ of ‘talking it out’ and ‘negotiating’ with the jihadists in Pakistan.

One doesn’t need to be an ‘A-list’ historian to recall the evil deeds of these fundamentalist outfits that have wreaked havoc in people’s lives around the globe and have managed to change the very basis of how and why life exists on God’s planet.

Nothing surprises me about Pakistan anymore. I am fully cognizant about the fallacious, foolhardy and the absurd manner in which governmental functions are carried out. However, what has made me scratch my head and wonder is the rationale according to which the new government is trying to reach out to these terrorists. Why would the leaders of a ‘dysfunctional’ state yearn to appease these traders of death and, worst of all, give in to their demands? I guess for some achievers the sky’s the limit; for others, like the Pakistani leadership, it’s a question of how low can you go?!

Quoted below are some news items that have appeared in the Pakistani Press recently:

Government agrees to enforce Shariah in Malakand – Daily Times (May 14)

PESHAWAR: The NWFP government and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Swat agreed on Tuesday to the implementation of Shari Nizam-e-Adl Regulations 1999 in Malakand division within one month. The Taliban’s demand for Shariah implementation has been settled, Awami National Party (ANP) NWFP President Afrasiab Khattak told journalists after the second round of talks with Taliban representatives from Swat. He also said the two sides decided to extend the ceasefire agreement until the third round of the dialogue…

…Taliban representative Ali Bakht told reporters that their delegation was completely satisfied with the progress made in the second round of talks. He said the Taliban had demanded implementation of Shariah law, the army’s withdrawal from Swat, the release of all Taliban prisoners without pre-conditions and compensation for damages to civilians during military operations in Swat…

…Asked if the Taliban would lay down arms before a troop withdrawal from Swat, Ali Bakht sad: “We have no arms.” Senior Minister Bashir Ahmad Bilour told Daily Times he was optimistic about the talks. Asked about the success of the parleys, he commented: “Where there is will, there is a way…”

Army to leave Mehsud areas after deal inked – Daily Times (June 06)

PESHAWAR: The military will “withdraw completely” from the Mehsud areas of South Waziristan after Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud frees the remaining captured army and paramilitary soldiers, and the government and Mehsud tribes sign a peace deal, according to a draft truce made available to Daily Times on Thursday.

“If Clause 10 (A) of the peace deal is honoured, the army will vacate the Mehsud areas,” reads Clause 11 of the draft peace agreement. Clause 10 (A) refers to the release of “kidnapped army and Frontier Corps soldiers” by Baitullah in South Waziristan.

Taliban commander in South Waziristan’s Sararogha town Taj Muhammad told Daily Times on May 24 that militants led by Baitullah were “still holding dozens of soldiers” captured during operations or ambushes.

Cross-border attacks: The draft agreement does not include the condition of a commitment by the Mehsud tribes that they would not allow militants to continue cross-border movement for attacks on the United States and NATO forces inside Afghanistan. NWFP Governor Owais Ahmed Ghani says however that it is a “sticking point” among all the stakeholders – the Taliban, the government and the coalition partners in the war on terror (the US and the NATO countries).

“Mehsud tribes say they cannot include this point in the agreement since they have no common border with Afghanistan, (but) our allies (in war on terror) say this clause (of cross-border movement) must be included (in the agreement),” Ghani told Daily Times in his office on May 28.

The governor says the government is talking to the Mehsud tribes and not Baitullah, adding, “Let Baitullah say what he wants to say.”

The 15-point draft agreement binds the Mehsud tribes to oust Al Qaeda-linked foreign militants from their areas in one month after the peace deal is signed, but also announces a possible two-month concession in this regard.

The draft peace agreement says only those Taliban prisoners who have not been charged in a court of law will be released.

Dispelling Western fears about peace deals in Waziristan, Ghani said: “This is not the endgame. You need to create space and a peace deal will reduce the space for militancy.”

It appears as though the federal and the provincial governments are chancing their luck to bargain, indulge in wheeling dealing and cut deals with folks who are far away from recognizing the principles and virtues of humanity, who have a criminal track record and who have slaughtered thousands of innocent souls and effected millions of others in recent times.

Lets face it – Pakistan has been the center of terrorist training camps and a source of Taliban and al-Qaeda operations since whenever we have known Islamic religious fundamentalism and the jihadi movements. The governments resolve to cross the lines and deal with the mullahs face to face will only encourage and strengthen the brutal groups of these vultures perched high up in the mountains in the north of Pakistan.

What does the West and the civilized nations of the world need to do about it?

First of all, exert pressure on Pakistan to see reason and realize that it’ll only harm any prospects of rooting out fundamentalism if these clans and tribes that want to impose ‘Shariah’ or kill in the name of religion are talked to.

Secondly, a policy review with respect to the aid and assistance provided to Pakistan by the United States and the European countries is long overdue. Islamabad has trespassed limits of betraying the faith that Washington has imposed on it as ‘the greatest ally’ in the war against terrorism more than once. It is time that some stock-taking is done and strings are attached to the multi-million dollar ‘donations’ given to fight the terrorists. For all I know and what I have heard from those well-informed, the help provided is perhaps being diverted to shelter the enemies of world peace by the powers that be in Pakistan.

Of course the Pakistanis will say, ‘leave us alone and let us sort our own mess’. However, the crux of the matter is that it has been proven well beyond reasonable doubt that the various power structures within the Pakistani state machinery want this fundamentalist ulcer to keep going as intensely as possible.

It is safe to say that, left alone, Pakistan is not capable of even handling basic foreign policy related issues. It is such a broken entity that without the ‘external crutches’, the government cannot even perform the basic, everyday functions.

Pakistan needs a direction in dealing with the terrorists. Even though the new government is resisting the idea, leaders in Western capitals interested in eliminating the Talibans and al-Qaedas of the world, need to aggressively involve their respective countries and join hands to penetrate deep into the Pakistani northern territories and leave no stone unturned to successfully neutralize and blunt the Mehsuds and the Baitullahs.

Time is short, for sure. Governments in Pakistan will continue to come and go – that circus will continue forever. Every government has its own ‘strategic plan’ and hence this rickety coalition in place headed by the Yousaf Gilani is no exception. What the world, however, needs is a consolidated, long-term plan to deal with the fundamentalists that is immune from any internal policy changes that might go into effect whenever the faces of the clowns running Pakistan change.

Pakistan is a sham, a failed state. Not much should be expected from this broken down setup. This is a country that is an absolute bundle of contradictions where 25% of the population lives in sheer, pitiful poverty and, yet, corrupt politicians and generals go about their lives in the most luxurious of ways. The fact that one-third of the population suffers from illiteracy and the only up and running school system is the madrassah based system, speaks volumes of the atrocious indifference to the ground realities that subsequent rulers have shown, failing to provide even the basics of life to the subjects. This unsurpassable ignorance is, therefore, translated into atrociously indifferent policy-making that benefits just a handful and shows insensitivity to the majority.

US policy-makers need to recognize the importance of taking charge to ensure that the military supplies sent in good faith to fight terrorism are not being shipped to the jihadis by Pakistan to equip terrorism. Case in hand is the Danish Embassy suicide attack that happened last week – the 27th such occurrence in the first half of the ongoing year.

Also, any further move by either the military or the political leadership to talk to the Taliban needs to be nipped in the bud. A ruthlessly targeted approach that ensures no bargaining and no negotiation with the fundamentalists should be adopted.

Cynical and skeptical as I may sound, I understand and know well that Pakistan is a can of worms that is tough to deal with. They say, ‘passion speaks the language which reason does not follow’. The new Pakistani leaders are perhaps too passionate; in fact passionate to the extent of being insane – they don’t realize the enormity of the crisis or may be, they have their own ulterior motives involved. Whatever the case may be, all that I am aware of is that the jihadists have to be crushed with an iron hand and that is the only possible and plausible solution to the end this chaos that we have been pushed into by the scourge of terrorism.

–Ahson Saeed Hasan

Posted by: ourvoicestogether | April 24, 2008

How Can We Diminish Extremism?

How Can We Diminish Extremism?Our Safer, More Compassionate World forum was one of many positive strategies offered at Tufts University’s Pathways Project conference, Religious Pluralism in a Time of Extremism: The Campus Responds, held in Medford, Massachusetts on March 2, 2008. The conference brought more than 300 students, faculty, community leaders, academics and activists from around the nation to discuss why and how engaging in inter-religious dialogue and cooperation can effectively address intolerance and extremism. Supported by the United States Department of Homeland Security through the START Center, it marked the culmination of two years of collaboration among five campuses—Brandeis University, MIT, Tufts University, University of Maryland and Wellesley College—to develop and implement campus programs that promote dialogue and cooperation among students from different religious backgrounds.

Our forum included Our Voices Together partners Vicente Garcia (Americans for Informed Democracy) and Daniel Tutt (20,000 Dialogues). Together we presented a summary of our nationwide forum series and how it is changing the public conversation about individual response to terrorism, especially among students. We focused on concrete, positive global action as part of counterterrorism strategies and then modeled an actual forum, facilitating discussion and offering local and global actions students and others can take as a response to terrorism.

I asked our members to continue the dialogue and tell us their ideas: how can we diminish extremism?

Here is what you said:

“Allow people to express themselves in anyway they choose. they cannot feel that they have limited freedoms so they will not be able to call for extreme actions since the call will be muted because of their freedoms to express themselves.” — Richard L.

“We need to focus on our commonalities. All religions are founded on the basic principle: love your creator. love your neighbor as yourself. Secondly, do to others what you would want done to you.” — Rayleen N.

“My wish is for all faithful/spiritual leaders to stop condemning opposing views and start focusing on the ties that bind… Bringing back the basics of respect, tolerance and understanding. We are all one race, the Human Race, with families, dreams, blood, sweat and tears. We all need food, water, shelter and love. With division comes turmoil, in unity comes hope.” — Victoria C.

“Leave religion in the institutions. Bring the values of compassion, respect for every living being and this earth to the table and go from there.” — A B.

“Try making an existential commitment to morality, relying less on myth and legend for an inner core. Short of that a more Asian view that life is more about doing than being.” — Clayton H.

“I have just finished writing a 5000 word chapter for a book on Cultures of Peace that will be published later this year. It suggests how we can use the legislation now under consideration for establishing a Department of Peace in the Cabinet (Kucinich) for moving America from its current emphasis on peace through strength to an emphasis on peace through cooperation.” — Paul K.

“Terrorism is and always has been the political act of last resort, used when no other political means are available. We have seen it many times and in many places, most notable to Americans, in Northern Ireland. The solution is obvious. The people who feel wronged by political status and events must be addressed in across the table conversations to reach accommodations. It happened with the IRA in Northern Ireland by the good efforts of the retired US Senator and it can happen now with the Islamic terrorists who threaten the US but it will never happen as long as there are people who block the obvious solution by attempting to label the US as “right” and the Muslims who rightfully feel politically oppressed by the US as “wrong”. You say the Muslims are wrong to employ terrorism? What should they do to prevent the continuing oppression of Muslim Palestinians, the systematic corruption and support of royal families and the invasion and occupation of Muslim countries? It is not a propaganda war as you seem to imply. It is a very real political issue caused, as the 9-11 report clearly states, by US foreign policy.” — Charles L.

Posted by: ourvoicestogether | March 17, 2008

Zia’s Brutal Legacy Still Haunts Pakistan

What makes life truly worthwhile and beneficial are the experiences that we encounter, the events that make or break our conceptual development and lead us to a path that would ultimately bestow us with the maturity of thought and action and an insight that would help us distinguish the good from the bad. Whatever else there is, is, mostly, thin air; the people around us, those we grow up with, those who take care of us, and finally, those we can relate to are like pedestrians on a bridge who come and go with the passage of time, but, at times, leave indelible marks on our lives. That’s my little, somewhat parochial, take on this enigma we call life!

A few days back a close friend raised an obnoxiously intriguing question: Why is it that a good number of folks from my generation who grew up during General Zia-ul-Haq’s rule are so severely antagonistic and aggressive when it comes to a conversation that is inclined towards Islam being a religion of peace?

I normally don’t go around asking questions to people and not many ask me questions, but I wasn’t shocked by this rather blatant inquiry! It did make me scratch my head and wonder if the guy had a point!

I was in my very early years of life when Zia took over the reigns of power in Pakistan back in the 1970s. However, I do remember vividly the days when and how the change was brought about. Yet another elected government was toppled by the military, thanks to the mullahs conniving with Zia, who himself was son of a Muslim cleric.

Right from the word go, Zia talked in terms of Islamization, starting from interest-free banking to severe punishments for those who committed crimes. Intense propaganda was waged on the state-run television and radio networks, calling for strict adherence to principles and precepts of Islam.

Slowly and gradually a network of sorts was created that included, amongst others, construction of mosques at every nook and corner, huge incentives for those who took Islamic courses in the universities and applied for government jobs on the basis of their religious qualifications; shutting down of all businesses at the time of Friday prayers and enforcement of Wahibized trends that were nothing but truly unnatural to the texture and tenor of the Pakistani social psyche.

Right around the time when Zia started his circus, the Soviets decided to march into Afghanistan. Millions of refugees from across the border began to trickle into Pakistan. That proved to be an important point in Pakistan’s history. With the never-ending flow of the refugees and with the ‘Jihad’ discussed left, right and center, Islam became the hub of all activities that had to do with governance and administering the country.

Things changed. From changing of the dress code of government employees to the permission to take prayer breaks during work hours to the ‘pampering’ of those who were helping in the propagation of the dictator’s brand of Islam, all that mattered in life was hopelessly changed.

The bottom-line was that all possible measures were taken to effectively promote Islam and its ‘richness’. The objective, obviously, was to meet certain vicious political targets that would help Zia and his backers to carry out a sustained effort to change the very ethos of the Pakistani nation and, of course, prolong their rule.

This process of penetration increased manifold. School curriculums were infested with Islamic studies. One witnessed a mushroom growth of Islamic schools all over the country. The religious political parties became stronger and meaner; huge government grants were provided to maintain and ‘safeguard’ institutions that were ‘helping out’ in the process of Islamization. Constitutional changes were introduced and the outdated Shariah became an integral part of the basic law for the first time in the country’s history. In no time, the nation was plunged into the dark ages!

There was this feeling of a syndrome that engulfed the entire nation that Islam was perhaps the best available ‘tool’ that can salvage us – the evil and the dreadful of the earth – from the burning fire that we were destined to face in our after lives!

I remember there was this Saudi crony, a Wahabi mullah, Israr Ahmad, who would appear on the state-run television right around the prime time and would scare the hell out of folks for about half an hour or so every night about how miserable they will be in their respective after lives if they did not follow the precepts of Islam and how dreadfully the angel of death will treat us if we faltered or deviated from the ‘right path’!

This religious stunt lasted for eleven long years. Religion became so institutionalized that it was hard to comprehend if anything else existed beyond the realm of the Holy Book, the sayings of the prophet of Islam or, as for that matter, the ‘virtues’ of the ‘amir-ul-momineen’ – a title that Zia had bestowed upon himself!

As a young man, this was all astoundingly sickening to my mind; the agitation against the happenings around was immense inside me. I tried to read what other nations were thinking about Pakistan; I approached and talked to the liberals, those who were critical of the horrible changes that Zia was bringing about; I questioned the logic of his Machiavellian ways. I wondered why were issues like Kashmir and the nuclear bomb were associated with Islam. I could sense very well that a devastating turnaround was being brought about and that Pakistan, as a nation, would be ‘disabled’ for all times to come to be creative and imaginative enough to charter its own course and break the shackles of the confined boundaries of the fallacious, politicized Islam.

Zia died in 1988. It will be safe to say he indeed was the father of Talibanization of Pakistan. Twenty years after his death Pakistan is a dead state, a failed polity that has been gripped by the same issues that Zia had sowed the seeds of. It has become the center of terrorism. It faces the worst problems with respect to fundamentalism. There seems to be no end whatsoever in sight, no chance and no let up from the fanatics to give up destroying the very fabric of the Pakistani nation.

As for me, I grew up and distanced myself from the wretched miseries of religion that I saw evolve around me. The image of modern day, ‘functional’ Islam is that of Zia, fundamentalism, Arab extremism, Palestinian insanity, Mahmud Ahmadinejad’s lunacy and hundreds and thousands of folks, innocent individuals that have fallen a prey to the brutally agonizing, non-virtuous ways of those who claim to be Muslims but have nothing to do with peace and tranquility.

Islam, to me, is a stressed faith, unwilling and too rigid to be flexible, unable to learn from other great traditions. Pakistan represents its worst possible form. What’s happening there is unique in a way that that people there are not oblivious of the imperfectness of the scenario and dilemmas that encounter this nation of almost 160 million individuals.

What is perhaps missing is knowledge, the knowledge to connect, the understanding of the sentiments of public opinion by the leadership. The people have, for long, been alienated and ‘left alone’ by those who rule over their destinies.

The scourge of fanaticism is not going away anytime soon. While we sit and observe the turmoil and human suffering, there is not much that been done – it is hard to revive a failed system, especially when there are too many vultures and leeches within the system itself that are part and parcel of the fundamentalist networks.

Pakistan needs a major ‘facelift’ and serious soul searching. All the goodness, if it ever existed, has turned into worseness. I hear a lot of respect, hope, and expectancy from the ‘new leadership’ that has emerged after last month’s general elections. I think its totally absurd optimism, bordering on the superlatives that hardly convey any sense.

The ground realities haven’t changed and will not change unless the powers-that-be are serious enough and ready to grapple with the issue of fundamentalism. The edifice of negativity laid by the evil days of Zia remains strong, versatile and deceptively widespread. Pakistan will have to dig deeper and toil harder to reach some concrete conclusion to attack the epidemic.

And, yes, although it is hard for me to forget the ‘unforgettable’ period of massively tantalizing Islamization undertaken by Zia, I feel for Pakistan. My problem is that I do not see much light at the end of the tunnel!

–Ahson Saeed Hasan

Posted by: ourvoicestogether | February 27, 2008

Pakistan: The Spirit Of Elections Must Be Allowed To Carry On

Reports from Pakistan speak of ‘new opportunities’ and ‘intense uncertainty’ after the February 18 elections that went by without any mentionable incidents of violence or bloodshed.

The fact that President Musharraf’s cronies were so severely negatively impacted shows that perhaps despite best efforts to rig the polls and thwart the process of free expression of public will, the two main opposition parties – the Pakistan Peoples Party and the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz Group) – were able to muster enough votes that could potentially help them to form a national/consensus government. This could mean that the president is in for a tough time.

Musharraf recently said that he would be like a father figure to the new prime minister. This sounds interesting especially because constitutionally the office of the prime minister is nothing more than a rubber stamp. Although theoretically a popularly elected figure, the prime minister is at best an admin assistant to the president. The entire gamut of power revolves around the office of the president who can, technically, show the door to the government with a mere stroke of a pen.

Knowing Musharraf, if the course of events do not shape up to his liking in the next few days or weeks to come, it may not be difficult for him to cook up or orchestrate a situation that might rock the boat and hence destabilize this unique atmosphere of cordiality that is being witnessed among the major political forces of the country. Musharraf has given a hint of the dirty tactics up his sleeve by reopening corruption cases against the main opposition leader, Asif Ali Zardari. Granted that Zardari is a crook to the core, the timing of this stark action is rather anomalous.

Also, Musharraf, despite rumors that he is planning a safe exit, insists that he will hang on to the reigns of power. On the other hand, the two main parties that tasted success in the elections have already made somewhat belligerent statements talking about impeaching the president. In the days to follow, the tempo of such a campaign is bound to gain momentum, if not from all but from at least a few concerned quarters, especially the Muslim League.

Pakistan, despite the smooth conduct of elections, still remains miles away from the creation of a peaceful environment. Even to the best of optimists it remains ungovernable. The dust hasn’t settled down and there are no ready answers for the troubles that the system is faced with. The country is basically in shambles. All and sundry agree to the fact that the recent elections are just a small step toward a potential opportunity to steady a sinking ship. The enormously gigantic issues are there to be recognized. It’ll be a highly intriguing and treacherous path that the ‘new leaders’ will have to walk on.

Notwithstanding the fact that speculating anything to do with Pakistan’s future can be an absolutely ‘non-virtuous’ idea, the least the political parties can do is to assure an insecure nation that they will work toward effecting some kind of stability and sanity to the stupendously volatile atmosphere.

What has transpired over the years is the inability of the country’s leadership to introduce the wisdom and the courage to introduce healthy modernization. The consequence is that Pakistan today finds itself drowned in the muddy waters of religious extremism, poverty, and most of all, is a truly rudderless, isolated polity.

The reason why conventional norms of domestic reconciliation and standard negotiation procedures between various political forces of Pakistan have not worked in the past is perhaps not because concerned and responsible parties on all sides have not tried hard enough but those who have pursued solutions have not searched in the right place.

The root cause of what is occurring in Pakistan today is not altogether political chicanery but the prolonged perpetuation by the military of what can only be described as ulterior motives based despotism. The political parties that are supposed to provide solutions have never looked for answers in the right place, i.e. through dialogue and tools of enlightened democratic ideals. Instead, politicians have always been ‘flexible’ and available to strike deals with the men in uniform, thereby utterly neglecting the interests of the nation. This has created a fatal disconnect between the man on the street and the ruling elite. Ordinary Pakistanis are saying that they have endured enough denigration and are taking matters into their own hands. This particular election is a testimony of that fact.

President Musharraf is no longer effectively leading the Pakistani masses. He is desperately trying to regain some credibility and control to restore his image. His track record as an ‘honest broker’ is nothing but a joke. His ambitious plans to stay in power eternally are so obviously visible that hardly anyone in the country takes him seriously anymore. His only asset is the cooperation with respect to terrorism. However, his ‘achievements’ or otherwise in the past six years or so haven’t had much of an impact. Pakistan continues to the hub of activity of extremism and the new government will have its hands full to deal with this ‘cancerous’ activity. It’ll be interesting to see if the politicians will once again fall a prey to the hard-line shibboleths within the Establishment.

Clearly the old formulas are not working. Something new and innovative needs to be ‘devised’ in order to bring Pakistan back on its feet. This apparently knelt down and humbly submissive polity is a terrorism monster. The repeated cycles of political confrontation have failed to resolve any of the underlying issues that have for so long now fuelled issues like extremism and economic disparity in the country. The plight of the vast pockets of population who live in squalor and virtual economic serfdoms of the feudals and the like has never been meaningfully addressed despite promises and assurances.

Pakistan wasn’t always that way. Yes, it was a rickety structure but I do remember even till the mid-70s, despite the loss of the eastern wing of the country, things were relatively peaceful with little or no traces of ‘imposed Islam’ or devastatingly harsh politico-economic realties. Pakistan, after all, did start out as a secular state that was supposed to have an ‘open door policy’ for anyone or everyone who wanted to live Jinnah’s dream.

Pakistan is perhaps reaching a point where it’s citizens can no longer be victimized by the sweet reasoning tactics of the military and the politicians. What might work are persistence and patience. The political leadership must embrace the ‘colonized’ and the trapped public. Out of sheer desperation, the people have voted for the nefarious politicians, it is the responsibility of the politicians to deliver and not dodge the opportunity to work for the interests of the downtrodden. Many gullible Pakistanis like to proudly say that Pakistan is a nation of the strong-willed and the bright-minded. I seriously doubt this contention! Whatever the case may be, we’ll have to see if this nation of 160 million folks can survive and endure yet another test of time. These elections may prove to be the turning point.

What would really matter is how quickly the new leaders can spot the burning issues and how effectively can they start working on them. We’ve heard enough of their promises; now is the time to deliver. What Pakistan needs today is no more military interference in politics; no more latitude for extremists, the bearded and turbaned; complete cleansing of the military leadership down to the lowest of ranks in order to root out any aspirations based on faith and religion, and of course, no more suicide bombings. It doesn’t sound a lot but it certainly would mean a lot if these objectives are met and fulfilled.

The people and the mainstream political forces appear ready for ‘reconciliation’. This effort must not end in any more assassinations and suicide bombings. Fundamentalists and extremists have destroyed the Pakistani nation enough. It’s remains to be seen how Musharraf will wriggle out of this situation. The masses have thoroughly rejected him and certainly opted for a change and change is what can bring Pakistan out of the woods and closer to a realistically achievable stability to make its way out of a traumatic state of affairs. There are too many question marks about Pakistan’s future; we can only wait and see and wonder and hope for the best.

–Ahson Saeed Hasan

Posted by: ourvoicestogether | February 11, 2008

Elections May Further Add To Pakistan’s Troubles

Beyond all the unscrupulous and the blatant butchery that has characterized modern-day Pakistan, the nation goes to polls on February 18, 2008 to elect perhaps another stupendously fallacious group of public representatives and provide President Musharraf with a further opportunity to boost about ‘democratization’ of this astoundingly weakening polity.

What has shaped up to be a horrible example of a notoriously ambitious chain of events orchestrated by powers that be in that country, Pakistan today finds itself standing on the edge of precipice.

I am often asked, ‘what is wrong with Pakistan?’ I have thought long and hard about it and the only answer that I can come up with is that it is not a question of what is wrong with Pakistan but the issue is that there is nothing right with Pakistan and, therefore, the very premise of looking at things in a subtly optimistic manner could itself be an exercise in futility. The obnoxiously rickety structures are so ‘legitimately recognized’ that thinking on the lines of reforming that country is perhaps that worst possible idea in the world!

Here’s how I see Pakistan to be at this stage of its life:

  • Hub of terrorist activity: Every Tom, Dick and Harry of the terrorist world is somehow linked to Pakistan. What has turned to be a sophisticatedly organized activity that has changed the very face of a society that was, for all intents and purposes, a pretty steady, if not a very cool, culture until, at least the 1970s.

Thanks to the mard-e-momin, the great ‘merchant of death’, Zia-ul-Haq, the Arabs and a few other force structures, Pakistan was turned into a slaughterhouse in the name of religion back in the decade of the 80s. Since then there has been no looking back. The fact that the world was somewhat late in taking notice of the madarrsahs, the talibans, the lashkars, the sahabas and the like, did not help much. Pakistan’s integrity, as a nation, was majorly compromised the day state brutality was legitimized in the name of Islamic Shariah.

  • Corrupt leadership: There is not even one stable, sober statesman that one can pinpoint in the sorrowfully miserable history of Pakistan who stood up and tried to turn the tide and stop the rot. Zulfi Bhutto could qualify to be one but the guy was so full of himself that he sacrificed the eastern wing of the country just to have things his own way!

Musharraf showed promise in the beginning until he decided to go political. He did introduce some positive changes in the laws by getting rid of the foolhardy Shariah laws and took steps for economic reform. However, as time went by, his ambition to stay in power until the last day of his life, made him manipulate and pollute the already richly contaminated system. His self-embracing style of governance has not only eliminated any hopes or chances of a new and progressive leadership to take over the reigns of power, it has also resulted in anarchy and a downward trend of fortunes for the entire nation of almost 160 million individuals. Musharraf presents an example of someone who suffers from classic symptoms of narcissism.

Politicians are like leeches. Loads of money, power to subdue their subjects, no accountability, the ability to loot and plunder the public exchequer is all they want and strive for. In the process, on a countless number of occasions, just to gain and stay in power, they have managed to strike deals with the armed forces and hence kept the people’s interests on the sidelines.

  • Haves and have nots: At least 70 percent of Pakistan is rural and by rural I mean no roads, no schools for children, no dispensaries, and a complete absence of the basic amenities of life in a vast majority of areas. People still have to walk miles just to get drinking water in villages and small towns. Money is scarce, scarce enough that folks have to skip meals just to make ends meet. Jobs are not many and the available ones are hard to get – nepotism plays a huge role in every sphere of life.

The haves, of course, have everything their own way. They live the way they want to, wield power and are bound by no rules or laws. They have in the past and continue to squeeze whatever is left in a shrunken resource base.

Good governance is direly needed but is nowhere to be found. A lot is often said about the economic and technological development that has taken place in Musharraf’s time. However, what is often not mentioned is that Pakistan suffers from chronic issues related to power generation, so much so that a majority of areas of the country, on average, go without electricity for up to 12 hours a day!

  • The Pakistan army: Perhaps the most power-hungry outfit in the world! Corrupt to the core and lacking in vision, the Pakistan army has horrendously plundered and pummeled any or all prospects, if they ever existed, of a democratic setup ever being established. What has transpired is an ‘up in the air’ system that is fragile and intrinsically defective and that has innumerable and irreparable flaws. Military interventions are a fashion with the generals ready to jump in at the drop of a hat.

The army has basically adopted two key approaches to justify their presence in the political life of Pakistan. One, that it is the sole institution in the country qualified enough to safeguard national interests and sovereignty.

Two, Pakistan is an Islamic country and hence it is the responsibility of the armed forces to protect and safeguard Islam.

My question is: Is faith such a clumsy ‘object’ that it needs institutional protection? Are the followers of the faith so dangerously skeptical of their respective abilities to comply with its tenets that they like being watched over by the wolves in the khakis?

This forced ‘faith association’ has provided the military with a license to club issues like jihad, nuclearization, border conflict(s) with India, extremism and basically anything that justifies their presence on the scene. In turn, the public at large has been brainwashed enough to accept the subsequent military takeovers and prolonged periods of governance.

In effect, a responsible political culture has failed to evolve, thanks to this thumping vis-à-vis national interests and Islam.

  • A non-diverse country: Pakistan is placid and dull when it comes to diversity, a non-heterogeneous composition of people who have lived together for centuries and have little or no ability to teach respect and tolerance or pass on virtues and healthy traditions. There is a lack of exchange of values and ideas that are so essential to create an atmosphere conducive to development of confidence and security of mind.
  • An utterly failed constitutional infrastructure: Starting from an impotent bicameral legislature down to a useless, waste of grey matter executive, and, of course, a truly devastated judiciary, Pakistan is run by the writ of a dictator who makes and breaks laws as and when he wishes. Musharraf’s demeanors since the past, at least, a couple of years have proven beyond doubt that constitution means nothing to him.
  • Foreign Policy: For some odd reason, some nut somewhere in the Pakistani power structure sometime back got convinced that the country can take over Afghanistan, Kashmir and perhaps India as well! This somewhat sickening philosophy provided an opportunity to all and sundry to get ‘oriented’ toward a frightening trend that Pakistan’s diplomatic as well as military-intelligence agencies are capable to ‘go for the gold’! Needless to say, most of Pakistan’s neighbors area never too happy with Islamabad’s ‘game plan’.
  • Human rights: Whereas the rest of the world may be done and over with slavery, yet, believe it not, it is still alive and kicking in Pakistan! This ‘institution’ is so well entrenched in the dynamics of the national character that I don’t hear even the most diehard critics mention anything about it anymore.

Moreover, the feudals rule over vast tracks of land in the rural areas and maintain peasants that are not paid in cash but just enough grains to feed their families. These ‘slaves’ are not allowed to attend schools and every effort is made to make them stay away from the enlightening influences of the modern world.

Worst still, people in the rural areas dump their children in the madrassahs where the imams chain them and make them learn Islam in the most horrifyingly parochial fashion. It is from these areas that the taliban grow out of. It is from these areas where all types and kinds of jihadis appear who worship the Osamas, the Zahwaris and the like as demigods.

At the state level, torture is rampant. Due to an absence of a strong system of justice, the principle of might is right is prevalent. The real criminals are never brought to book and it is always the weak and the poor that get targeted.

Religious minorities, be it Muslim or non-Muslim, have a minuscule chance to survive in a rather hostile environment. The country has, over the years, turned into an insanely Sunnized state where being a follower of any other faith is a stigma and a non-recommended phenomenon.

I know many Pakistan supporters will not like what I have mentioned above. And I am not even looking for any ‘certification’ from any one individual or institution to ‘legitimize’ my thoughts. These observations are a consequence of years of experience that I, as an ordinary onlooker, felt and sensed each and every day of my life.

It is said that elections in third world countries always bring nations a step closer to freedom and democracy; I say, under the given circumstances and a spiteful president, the forthcoming elections in Pakistan will perhaps hasten the process of disintegration. It is a sad commentary on the state of affairs but when nations lose their creativity, the power of imagination, the will to change and, most of all, are slammed in the corner by reckless rulers, the end is never too far away.

It’s a catch-22 situation. Pakistan is an important country in the present context of international political mechanism. The Washington Post recently quoted a senior US intelligence official saying, “The Pakistanis are at the very steep part of the learning curve. The military leadership sees the importance of getting it right. But they are dealing with a very battle-hardened adversary (the extremists).”

With all its ugliness and an unpleasant set of deformities and disabilities, Pakistan is a mesmerized country and needs big-time fixing. It’ll be interesting to monitor how things progress in the coming few days. It remains to be seen how Musharraf plays his cards. Will he let elections happen without any further delay? Will he let them take place peacefully? Will he try to ‘doctor’ the results? Will he let the process go on even if his cronies are unable to make an impact in the elections?

Pakistan is a complex web of intrigues. It is not easy to understand/disentangle the internal forces that dictate the running of the country. After 60 years of ‘no luck and mostly failure’ history, it is extremely tough to predict a positive future. If the elections are allowed to go ahead, the next few days and weeks could turn out to be the most critical in Pakistan’s history.

–Ahson Saeed Hasan

About 90 people attended the January 29, 2008 Safer, More Compassionate World forum, hosted by the League of Women Voters of Schenectady County at the Schenectady Public Library, New York. Sally and Don Goodrich, founders of the Peter M. Goodrich Foundation, with an Afghanistan exchange student and anthropologist and Afghanistan expert David Edwards were the featured speakers.

The focus was on the work being done in Afghanistan by the Peter M. Goodrich Foundation, addressing the fundamental needs of fragile populations, and long-term exchange students to the U.S. as a response to terrorism.

Asad told of how he and his family survived in a country in constant upheaval and how the American intervention after 9/11 saved their lives. Very moving and impossible for us to imagine what it must have been like. Sally showed a film clip of the work they are doing. and David Edwards spoke about the realities of working in Afghanistan. Good questions from the audience. Lots of discussion after the meeting was officially adjourned. Generally a very positive experience.

The library is doing a “One County, One Book” read and the book they have selected is The Kite Runner. They were cosponsors of last night’s program. Schenectady has a sizeable Afghan population–refugees from the Soviet invasion.

The event was taped and will be shown on the local public access TV station. Some teens are writing up an article which they are submitting to a local paper.

Ruth Bonn
League of Women Voters of Schenectady County

Posted by: ourvoicestogether | January 31, 2008

Worthy Ambassadors of Inter-Faith Reconciliation and Goodwill

Despite an almost 300 million population, vast geography and home to the best and the most breathtaking holiday resorts in the world, the republic of Indonesia hardly ever hits the headlines. It’s a low profile, unheralded nation that perhaps likes to stay within the confines of its rather spread out boundaries.

A report that recently appeared in the print media about this not-so-discussed country caught my attention. Often referred to as the biggest ‘Muslim’ country in the world, I was pleasantly surprised when I learnt that a five-member peace delegation visited Israel last month. The delegation, amongst others, met with the Israel President, Shimon Peres.

The visit that was sponsored by the Simon Wiesenthal Center and LibForAll Foundation comprised of delegates from two major Muslim movements – Nahdlatul Ulama (generally known as NU) and Mohammadia. These two organizations claim to represent approximately 70 million out of the 195 million Muslims in Indonesia.

Abdurrahman Wahid, a former president of Indonesia, is the co-founder of LibForAll. He is also a member of the International Board of Governors of the Peres Peace Center in which capacity he has visited Israel on a few occasions.

There are no diplomatic links and ties between Israel and Indonesia. However, apart from this elite level contact, Indonesian businessmen are also involved in some business ventures with Israel.

Israel, on the other hand, was at the forefront of countries that provided aid and assistance to Indonesia when Tsunami hit parts of the country. In fact, Israel was the very first country to offer help soon after the massive earthquake hit the South and South East Asian regions.

The delegation, according to Press reports, interacted with the hosts on a wide-range of topics that included politico-economic and religious issues. The delegates were visiting Israel at the time of the country’s 60th independence anniversary celebrations.

The Israeli President was gracious enough to convey to the delegation that Israel is ready and willing to establish relations with Indonesia. Mr. Peres called for peace and solidarity and prayed for the well being of ‘all the children of Abraham’.

The delegates stressed upon Indonesia’s efforts and emphasis to develop economy, democracy and revamp the economic infrastructure, aimed at transforming people’s attitudes and creating an aware and a tolerant society, where the Muslims were open to change and transitioning to modernization of thought and action.

The delegation mentioned about the extremist elements that play havoc with the moderate face of Indonesia but stressed that with Islamic values ‘there must be peace. We cannot live without peace.’

According to reports the delegates met with Palestinian moderate elements that believe that conflict and physical violence only increases hatred and animosity rather than helping find a solution to the problem.

Below I quote an extremely pertinent and noteworthy comment that President Peres made to the Indonesian delegates while talking about the 1947 UN resolution on the partition of Palestinian state. The President said:

The Palestinians were not recognized as a people or a state. The Arab states never recognized the Palestinians. Israel was the first state to recognize the Palestinians as a people with a right to have state of their own.

Last year these organizations gathered folks from Indonesia who were survivors of the bombings and a Holocaust survivor and co-sponsored a conference in Bali under the patronage of President Wahid.

Also, at the end of 2007, a group of Indonesian journalists met President Peres who told them that Indonesia could potentially play a major role in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, primarily due to the fact Indonesia had set a precedent for the rest of the Muslim world by transforming itself from a dictatorship to a progressive democracy and ‘by proving that modernism and religion can walk hand in hand.’

There is a long list of activities that the delegation was able to participate in that included ‘joining in a Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony, dancing at a hesder yeshiva in Kiryat Shmon, touring Bethlehem and attending prayers at al-Aksa Mosque in Jerusalem following the meeting with Peres.’

The point that I am trying to make here is that if the Indonesians can cross boundaries and be courageous enough to shake hands and act as ambassadors of goodwill, why can’t the rest of the Muslim world be accommodating and open-minded as well? I understand that these people-to-people interactions are not recognized at the state level as yet due to lack of formal recognition, yet, it seems that things are headed in the right direction.

Persistence and patience always pay off. History is witness to the fact that the Wall of Berlin came down due to the consistent efforts of the people of erstwhile East and West Germany who wanted absolutely no symbols of division and malice.

To my mind, the Muslims are suffering from a retardation of a constructive thought-process. Those amongst the Muslims who would like to live in peace are being sidelined and condemned. A dear friend forwarded an email to me, titled as ‘A German’s point of view on Islam’. Here’s what it said:

A man whose family was German aristocracy prior to World War II owned a number of large industries and estates. When asked how many German people were true Nazis, the answer he gave can guide our attitude toward fanaticism.

“Very few people were true Nazis “he said,” but many enjoyed the return of German pride, and many more were too busy to care. I was one of those who just thought the Nazis were a bunch of fools. So, the majority just sat back and let it all happen.

Then, before we knew it, they owned us, and we had lost control, and the end of the world had come. My family lost everything. I ended up in a concentration camp and the Allies destroyed my factories.”

We are told again and again by “experts” and “talking heads” that Islam is the religion of peace, and that the vast majority of Muslims just want to live in peace.

Although this unqualified assertion may be true, it is entirely irrelevant. It is meaningless fluff, meant to make us feel better, and meant to somehow diminish the specter of fanatics rampaging across the globe in the name of Islam. The fact is that the fanatics rule Islam at this moment in history.

It is the fanatics who march. It is the fanatics who wage any one of 50 shooting wars worldwide. It is the fanatics who systematically slaughter Christian, Jews or tribal groups throughout Africa and are gradually taking over the entire continent in an Islamic wave. It is the fanatics who bomb, behead, murder, or honor kill. It is the fanatics, who take over mosque after mosque. It is the fanatics who zealously spread the stoning and hanging of rape victims and homosexuals. The hard quantifiable fact is that the “peaceful majority”, the “silent majority”, is cowed and irrelevant.

Communist Russia was comprised of Russians who just wanted to live in peace, yet the Russian Communists were responsible for the murder of about 20 million people. The peaceful majority was irrelevant. China’s huge population was peaceful as well, but Chinese Communists managed to kill a staggering 70 million people.

The average Japanese individual prior to World War II was not a warmongering sadist. Yet, Japan murdered and slaughtered its way across South East Asia in an orgy of killing that included the systematic murder of 12 million Chinese civilians; most killed by sword, shovel, and bayonet.

And, who can forget Rwanda, which collapsed into butchery. Could it not be said that the majority of Rwandans were “peace loving”?

History lessons are often incredibly simple and blunt, yet for all our powers of reason we often miss the most basic and uncomplicated of points: Peace-loving Muslims have been made irrelevant by their silence.

Peace-loving Muslims will become our enemy if they don’t speak up, because like my friend from Germany, they will awaken one day and find that the fanatics own them, and the end of their world will have begun.

Peace-loving Germans, Japanese, Chinese, Russians, Rwandans, Serbs, Afghanis, Iraqis, Palestinians, Somalis, Nigerians, Algerians, and many others have died because the peaceful majority did not speak up until it was too late.

As for us who watch it all unfold, we must pay attention to the only group that counts – the fanatics, who threaten our way of life.

Indeed, ‘it is the fanatics who march’. Has the Muslim faith been hijacked by the extremists? Have the Muslims become victims of the ‘Ivory Tower Syndrome’? Have the al-Qaedas, the Talibans and a host of other jihadi outfits devastated any prospects of a healthy future for those who would like to live and prosper in an increasingly interactive and versatile world where state borders and boundaries have become meaningless and where Jews, Christians, Muslims and those belonging to other faiths will move forward as one people working together, hand-in-hand with no fear or jealousy.

Notwithstanding the fact that Indonesia has had its share of misfortune vis-à-vis extremism, there is ample proof that the government of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is intensely working toward removing any traces of fanaticism found in this predominantly secular country. The Economist magazine reported not long ago that ‘as the 2009 presidential and parliamentary elections approach, secular parties have been attracting voters by creating Islamic – but not Islamist – wings’. ‘The in-phrase’, the report adds, ‘is Islam Lunak, ‘soft Islam’. Pollsters are telling politicians that it helps to add a mild religious tinge to speeches about social justice and anti-corruption. But radical stuff, like preaching an Islamic state, is a turn-off.’

I had the opportunity of meeting one of the architects of Indonesia’s ongoing economic effort recently who was in Washington to meet the World Bank president. Talking to him, it appears that after years of living in the wilderness, Indonesia is on the verge of a breakthrough, working in the direction of ‘economic nourishment’. The country’s priorities are aimed at achieving greater economic goals and entering into alliances with various countries of the world to encourage trade and business.

Why can the rest of the Muslim world not follow the footsteps of the Indonesians? Why is it so hard to nurture peaceful partnerships/relationships? Why aren’t there more Abdurrahman Wahids in the Muslim world or are they afraid to come forward because they fear the extremists? Why is it always about sickening and ‘convenient’ interpretations of the Islamic teachings and not about economic progress? Why are the ideological battles fought by violent means and methods and not through peaceful and democratic ways? Why can they not take the moral high ground and try to reconcile?

Islam may be a religion of peace but, in the current context, it appears to be a bundle of contradictions, a theater of the absurd that has little or no future to survive in the modern-day world. History is witness to the fact that nations and faiths have survived in the face of odds and adversity only when they have embraced those who were abhorred or feared. The Muslims, at the same time, need to overcome the extremist onslaught; those who are eating the very roots of the faith and tarnishing the image of millions who practice the religion peacefully or just try to go about their live trying to make ends meet.

We are all God’s one great family. Love is all we need. We need to say goodbye to our parochial interests and accept change with open arms. One wishes that some day in the near future the walls of hatred with be brought down and the world will become a better place to live in.

–Ahson Saeed Hasan

Posted by: ourvoicestogether | January 14, 2008

Pakistan’s Democracy Quandary

As it gets harder to understand the real motives and  the role players involved in the rampant onslaught of suicide bombings and terrorism in Pakistan, it makes one wonder if its even worth a try to give democracy a chance and trust that the military will stay away from politics for long.

Even the most gullible and the diehard breed of supporters are now questioning and showing skepticism about Pakistan’s dwindling fortunes. It appears that although the country is used to historical hiccups,yet, this current phase of ‘strenuous’ trickery mightslip that nation of 170 million folks to newer and‘dead-ended’ depths.

No one seems to care about nation building or the shocks the system has suffered from vis-à-vis international goodwill and its involvement in instigating global religious fanaticism. Pakistan’s decline is too obvious to miss, too bitter to swallow and too serious to ignore for the sake of world peace and stability.

I recently came across an interesting piece by Isaac Kfir, titled ‘Democracy and Talibanization in Pakistan’. Written just after the imposition of emergency rule back in November last year, the writer has carefully analyzed the troubled nations lack of options in dealing with the fundamentalists and questions the relevance of ‘the issues of democracy and democratization’ to Pakistan.

It’s great to talk about democracy, it’s even better if the world believes that a country with all the ‘virtues and vices’ of a ‘failed state’ is still good enough for this beautiful concept that has gained approval of all and sundry so much so that even despots like the Pakistani president like to be called true democrats and speak highly of their democratic ‘achievements’!

Having a first hand experience and having observed Pakistan’s decline, I personally consider Kfir’s article to be momentously significant. Plagued as it is by disasters of domestic anarchy and aggression, it appears that between the military rule and the Islamists, the country doesn’t really have much else to play around with.

Kfir writes:

While international attention focuses on the manhandling of protesting lawyers, jailed Supreme Court justices and fickle politicians, the Taliban and other Islamists expand their influence, sowing misery and fear. Across Pakistan’s tribal belt, music stores and barbershops have closed and attacks against men without beards and unaccompanied women have increased. In one area, Islamists have warned women that their marriages will be annulled unless their husbands grow beards.

While it is indeed true that, as things stand today, Pakistan does have a ‘civilian’ president, an interim prime minister and of course parliamentary elections that are due to be held in the next few weeks, it would seem that democracy is not only prevalent but the future of the system is also bright. However, read between the lines and check out the ground realities and you’ll feel that something is not right with the political conditions.

Considering that at least since the past one year, the country has been in a constant situation of influx and stress, ruled by an elite unbound by constitutional restraints, where the otherwise loudly declared commitment to protect and promote the legitimate interests of the governed have been trampled over on several occasions, Pakistan has only seen constant crisis and turmoil.

Starting from the dismissal of the chief justice of the Supreme Court last March that triggered off a wave of public resentment, down to the assassination of a popular political leader a few weeks ago, it’s been a roller coaster ride for Pakistan. Suicide bombings have been the order of the day with tensions mounting rapidly with respect to those demanding implementation of the outdated ethos of the Sharia, mullahs calling for death to the United States and Israel, killing thousands of innocent souls, kidnapping and, on occasions, beheading law enforcement personnel and plunging the country into a quagmire of vociferous horror.

Of course, added to all the above, Pakistan is faced with onerous socio-economic, political and infrastructural problems coupled with a serious crisis of leadership. Historical facts amply demonstrate that even though there have been times of democratic rule, the military has always made a comeback and held the reigns of power for long periods of time.

More than once, the Pakistan army has intervened in the politics of the country. Institutions have never been allowed to prosper. Thanks to the absence of a healthy and organized public opinion, implying a minimum political culture, along with civilian leaders’ loss of popularity among the people, the zeal of the military has been sharpened time and again to overthrow the corrupt and notorious civilian administrations.

The men in uniform have intervened because other elites have been missing in action, and while they have proven themselves to be impotent and indifferent, the army has improvised and expanded its role to carry the burden created by a modernization crisis.

Apart from that, nationalism has provided the army with a civic religion and an overriding set of values. The leadership believes that they have a unique role to play as guardians of the national territory and ultimate repositories and custodians of national values. Where nationalism has gripped the masses, the armed forces have become a visible symbol and the pledge of nationhood and independence.

Moreover, and strangely, the military has intervened in defense of popular democracy, since democracy stands on the celebrated maxim: “The voice of people is the voice of God’. Thus, Zia-ul-Haq overthrew an elected government in the 70s, since he succeeded in mustering a small semblance of popular support.

That particular intervention spoiled Pakistan’s chances of ever transitioning to a true democracy since from then onwards the path was laid wider open for the military to intervene and supercede the civilian government altogether on the plea that the armed forces can claim to be the lawful government.

Where does this all lead to?

By the looks of it, it appears that a group or a faction inside the Pakistani government machinery has turned into an uncontrollable juggernaut, a de facto, faceless, ‘holier than thou’ setup that gets sickened by the talk of democracy, freedom, rights and liberty that results, obviously, in a much secular dynamics with little or no provision of fanaticism to be encouraged and thrive. It could be the intelligence agencies, the military itself, perhaps a faction within the military, Musharraf’s confidants, anyone, any ‘association’ of individuals that feels threatened when it sees power slipping out of their hands and not being able to control the destiny of the nation.

Whatever the case may be democracy seems to be a distant reality. There are not many possibilities to explore and work on. The constitution is in shambles; there is an impotent, ‘government-controlled’ judiciary and a sheer absence of checks and balances.

I am not trying to discount the idea of an actual, real, democratic government ever coming into existence in Pakistan. I am only suggesting that, may be, the chemistry of the Pakistani nation does not match with democracy. Therefore, it may be wastage of time and energy to push for a ‘democratic settlement’ under the given set of circumstances. This never-ending debate and tussle to create a setup based on democratic principles is probably reducing the importance of the more integral issues, the biggest amongst them being the issue of terrorism.

It is unrealistic to believe also that the ‘military-mullah bond’ will ever be broken. Pakistan is destined to remain a fundamentalist hotspot. The army has protected the mullahs before and will more than likely continue to supply all help and paraphernalia to the Islamists.

Yes, agreed, that Pakistan needs democracy but, to my mind, at this time, there are just about of couple things that can happen.

One, Musharraf continues to rule with a strong hand and doing everything and anything to prolong his rule. This would mean that the military keeps supporting him, as is apparently the case now.

Also, if the February 18 elections are allowed to go ahead, he will appoint a weak candidate to be the prime minister. As it is, constitutionally, the office of the prime minister is nothing but a rubber stamp.

One of the theories going around is that Musharraf might have got rid of Benazir Bhutto because he was afraid of an overwhelming and imposing character assuming the office of the prime minister and thereby becoming a threat to him. This could be an absolutely absurd assumption but Pakistan is always a bagful of surprises!

The other possibility is the army listening to the ‘voice of people’, paying attention to the anti-Musharraf rhetoric and agitation and finally deciding to step in. Once again Islam, nationalism, cleansing of the system, etc., will hit the headlines.

Going by the trends and the public outrage against the government coupled with Musharraf’s unpopularity, it will probably not be too shocking to digest the news of a military takeover. Pakistan is on the edge for sure and it appears that those calling the shots in the government are unable to decipher the situation.

Either way, the circumstances will stay ideal for the fundamentalists. As Kfir says:

ultimately, if things continue along this path, the issues of democracy and democratization’ will become moot, as only one system and one voice is permitted under the Taliban: Islam and the mullahs.

This exaggeratedly menacing environment does not auger well for the world community. Between now and the elections day, it’ll be nothing but interesting to observe as to how much damage the mullahs will carry out and how the evolving matters are dealt with.

Whatever is happening in Pakistan is important for the future of humanity as a whole. Being the center of Islamic militancy, the country’s crisis situation must come to halt sooner rather than later.

There are, unfortunately, no ideal solutions. Democracy may have been a possible part of the solution but what matters most for now is to calm down the charged up atmosphere and stop the march of the Talibans, the al-Qaedas, and the likes. This violence and aggression must come to an end now. If that does not happen, any chances of peace and reconciliation may have little or no opportunity to succeed.

–Ahson Saeed Hasan

Posted by: ourvoicestogether | January 1, 2008

Pakistan–The ‘ideal’ solution

In the real world there are no ideal solutions. Life and its events present one with unique situations and circumstances and hence they have to be dealt with by the best available resources. Setting targets and goals and having a vision is important along with timing and execution. Solutions have to be realistic and hence ‘gettable’.

It seems as if I left Pakistan eons ago after several years of frustration, disgust and encounters with the system and its cronies. I saw the country declining. The decades of the 80s and 90s were perhaps the most crucial – hatred, chaos, inflation and poverty reigned supreme coupled with the insensitivity of the ruling elite. Traces of religious fanaticism were becoming evident – the transition was too obvious to miss.

Whereas human rights violations were on the rise, thanks to the introduction of the outdated and distorted Sharia laws and severe punishments, certain extreme forms of Islam were aggressively ‘marketed’ by the powers that be and intensely enforced. Someone, somewhere had a ‘vision’ – the vision was to strike at the very root of an otherwise secular minded populace and turn religion into a tool of anarchy and destruction.

I feel sad at what has become of Pakistan. The transformation from a not so bad to a notoriously rogue state has only vindicated my fears. I remember asking a Pakistani journalist who was visiting Washington back in the time when the Taliban were plundering Afghanistan with Pakistan’s help about the diplomatic repercussions and loss of Islamabad’s goodwill amongst the polity of nations. The lady reacted rather vociferously and said that it was Pakistan’s bounden duty to assist its ‘brethren’ who were waging a war for the establishment of an Islamic order.

At that time I wondered if Islam was really what the Taliban were trying to enforce or was Afghanistan just another Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) experiment, another project for power conducted by the ambitious generals within the armed forces network to influence regional politics.

I am often blamed by all and sundry for being ultra skeptical about the state of affairs, for my negativity about the Pakistani mess. I agree that that I am a diehard critic of the country’s military and the politicians. But there are times, such as the current one, when I feel sorrowful and inadvertently start thinking about solutions. I try to get over my disappointments and ponder realistically about what can be done.

I’ve been a student of politics and world history for as long as I remember. I consider each day as a continuation and extension of what I studied and learnt at school.

Having said that, I am at a loss to present any plausible solutions for Pakistan! The country seems to be at odds with itself. There are too many role players trying to gain control of the circumstances. Finding a way out of the quagmire is next to impossible. The vital signs are not functioning too well, not receptive to the changing needs of time. Basically, it has all the characteristics of a failed state.

Amidst all the gloom and dreariness that cloaks the Pakistani horizon, lo and behold, we must make a reality check of the surroundings and the international system as whole. No matter how much the Pakistanis refuse to acknowledge, the country is a center of terrorism, a monstrous production house of the mullahs and the Taliban aided by elements within the government machinery.

How do we revive this failed state? That’s the real catch-22!

I am a great admirer of Hans Morgenthau. However, I do like to idealize at times and I do believe that we all have the right to think beyond the realm of the dullness of realism in order to reach out for our ideal objectives. Crucial as it is to stay within certain limits of ‘realisticness’, I do try my best not to go overboard!

Pakistan needs a perestroika, a glasnost. Yes, these can turn out to be just fallaciously high-sounding, fantastic but meaningless terms if the very essence and spirit of the concepts are not captured or complied with. Believe it or not, its leadership has deceived the Pakistani nation forever; the ‘little man’ has been trampled, by such slogans innumerable times in its history.

The situation is a bit different now. It is shameful and it is extraordinarily ‘tight’. There is no time to deceive or go back and forth on terms and concepts that may not deliver. Not long ago we did hear Musharraf talk about introducing the phenomenon of ‘enlightened moderation’ that he stole from a great US Secretary of State. Did he mean anything when he uttered these sacred words? He might have at that time but that doesn’t even matter anymore. Look at what happened. The country is in shambles. I fail to see any traces of ‘moderation’ – all that is visible is red-hot emotionalism aimed at killing in the name of religion for the sake of power.

My suggestion, no matter how utopian it may sound but I’ll go ahead with its enunciation, is that for a period one year, a body of individuals should be formed to run the country. This body should be named as the Reformation Council and be composed of personalities who have impeccable and unblemished track records. Honesty, integrity, academic excellence should be the hallmarks of their respective characters. Thorough background checks should be made and it should be ensured that no one has skeletons in their respective closets.

The system should be purged of all political and military elements. The military should be sent back to the barracks and assigned to safeguard and secure the country’s borders. No more perks and privileges for the generals, no shortcuts to accumulate wealth anymore.

The Council should take over foreign and economic affairs and cleanse the body politic, introducing reforms with respect to the constitution, electoral process, human rights, and break the back of the rich and the powerful elite and the landowners, thereby ending their stronghold on the system.

Most important of all, the Council must be empowered to deal with religious fanaticism head-on. Members should be provided with all possible help, intelligence etc., that would assist in tracking down the crazies. An elaborate paraphernalia should be created that would help analyze the situation and ruthlessly target the fanatics. Also, Pakistan must become an IAEA signatory at the earliest possible so that fears of the terrorists taking over the nuclear program can be minimized to a certain extent.

On the foreign policy front, the first priority should be to enter into agreements with neighboring states and make peace with them. Afghanistan and India have been victims of ISI orchestrated insurgencies in the past. The Pakistanis must solemnly pledge never to interfere in their affairs.

Washington must continue its support. However, this support should be conditional and with checks and balances. In addition, area specialists should be sent over in order to aid the reform body in the policy making process. These ‘advisors’ should preferably stay on beyond the one-year mandate of the Council. Islamabad must work with the US, rather than being a resistance.

I understand that I over-emphasize the US role in sorting out the Pakistan situation more than often. I, as an individual, have strong faith in the United States. It is my strong belief that, given an opportunity, the US can fix even the harshest of issues because of all the intellect and resources available. I truly respect the spirit for which the US stands for as a nation with my heart and soul.

Pakistan should be renamed ‘Republic of Pakistan’, getting rid of the ‘Islamic’ part. The people have had enough of Islam that has been used as a convenient mechanism to fool around with public sentiments. Religious minorities should be considered a part and parcel of the community without any exceptions. All must work together to uplift the soul of the nation.

By the same token, Pakistan should pick and choose its friends carefully. Granted that the Arabs have helped the country financially for ages now but their assistance has come with a heavy price tag. Interaction with the Saudis and the Emirates should be restricted so that they are no longer in a position to interfere in the internal affairs.

Israel is one country Pakistan can highly benefit from to a great extent. There is a commonality of interests on a number of counts. Both have been targeted by acts of violence and terrorism in the name of religion. That in itself is perhaps the most appropriate area to work on, cooperate and become allies against terrorism.

Whereas Israel has on several occasions shown the accommodation to shake hands, it’s been the Pakistanis who are perhaps reluctant to go forward because of the ‘Islamic brotherhood’ issue. They must realize that, first, there is no such thing as ‘Islamic brotherhood’ in the modern day world, and, secondly, even if there is one, they need to extricate themselves out of it, make the hard choices and move forward by going for pragmatism rather than stupendous hallucinations.

Furthermore, borders with India should be opened. A relationship of trust and confidence should be established. People in India and Pakistan were one not long ago and lived together for centuries. The very premise of the Kashmir issue should be considered as a forgotten phenomenon. For all practical purposes, Kashmir belongs to India and the Pakistanis must let go of the issue.

Institutions of religious reconciliation and inter-faith dialogue should be formed. The public should be allowed to debate the matters to do with faith related stress that the society is suffering from. Findings of these institutions should be considered and given practical shape when policies are made.

The media should be set free. Dissent should be allowed. The right of the people to express themselves should be respected at all times.

I understand that all this sounds somewhat impractical. Of course, the biggest question is: ‘who will appoint the Reformation Council?’ Where are we going to find all these folks to form the Council? Well, this is where my plan meets its Waterloo! My proposal is just a wish, a cry in the wilderness to revive the fortunes of a failed state that could be the world’s most vicious terrorist breeding ground.

Time is short. The country is facing a crisis of leadership. There is no way that the current setup can provide any relief to the nation in absolute turmoil. Pakistan must work hard and play hard and prove itself to be worthy and be a productive part of the international system. Achieving this objective is not impossible – only the right tools and the people are needed to get the job done.

–Ahson Saeed Hasan

Posted by: ourvoicestogether | December 30, 2007

Pakistan’s Fragile Political Setup Could be the Mother of all Evils

Events that have unfolded in Pakistan following the tragic death of ex-prime minister Benazir Bhutto on December 27, 2007 have proven beyond doubt that the Pakistani political culture and the system itself is nothing but a rickety structure lacking a strong edifice that can endure trials and tribulations of time.

The unruly behavior of the protestors and their inclination to rip apart public property and state owned symbols is a true reflection of a society in turmoil. It appears that mobs have literally taken over and overpowered whatever little civil order that existed beforehand.

It is indeed true that Ms. Bhutto’s loss is a monstrous shock and the fact that the government of the day is indulging in some sort of a devious PR exercise vis-à-vis the real cause of her death, is in itself a frustrating experience. However, it does not provide anyone with an excuse to burn down and destroy anything and everything that comes in their way.

Lack of institutional cohesion and harmony is one huge issue with respect to the Pakistan state system. This is a 60 year-old country. It is indeed shameful that up until now no effort has ever been made to educate and train the public at large to stay steady in times of stress and tragedy.

Enlightened citizenship, they say, is a hallmark of democracy. Democracy teaches it’s subjects about the principles of peaceful co-existence and statehood, to synchronize and digest upheavals and deal with events that are ‘out-of-the-ordinary’ such as the one that took place last Thursday.

Democracy breeds a society rooted in civilized norms and conventions, it creates institutions that are rock solid and keep the people away from nefarious tendencies. It encourages public involvement in the affairs of the state and government, thereby creating awareness amongst the masses to manage situations that are abrupt and overwhelming. The assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the remarkable steadfastness of the American people, and the smooth transition of power that followed speak volumes of the stability of the US political system.

Unfortunately in Pakistan’s case, democracy has been a fit and starts affair. For more than half of the 60 years of the country’s existence, it has been ruled by military dictatorships. Even the times when democracy has been ‘allowed’, institutions have never had the time to prosper and grow. The strength of the character of a nation is tested in times of crisis. Pakistan, not surprisingly, has been found at fault on more than one occasion.

As things stand today, prima facie, the structures and the building blocks that make up a democratic system do exist. The country does have a constitution, federal and provincial legislatures, an independent judicial system, and all the bells and whistles that come with democracy. On paper, it seems picture perfect! However, deep down, the system is a farce. There are too many ‘distractions’ and ‘additional’ power structures that hamper the progress of the march of millions toward a free and democratic setup.

The military, of course, has been and remains the biggest skeptic of democracy. In the name of national interest, the army has intervened on several occasions. Although still somewhat disciplined and respected, the Pakistan army coupled with the military intelligence system could be one of most corrupt in the world.

Since the political system has never been provided an opportunity to thrive, the politicians are a happy-go-lucky lot. As and when they get an opportunity, they loot and plunder, make millions of dollars, stay in power for short stints until booted out, go into hibernation for a little while, or meet dreadful ends. Yes, Pakistan has produced some towering political personalities, such as Ms. Bhutto, yet no one has ever been provided with a long enough opportunity or circumstances that would tilt the balance of power in favor of civilian rule.

The feudal system is another roadblock in the way of democracy. Feudal lords own acres and acres of land, resist change, modernization, education for their people, and practice slavery. Much of the horror of terrorism has its roots eastern and central areas of Punjab and NWFP, thanks to the patronization by the feudals. A large number of politicians are feudal lords who represent no one but themselves.

The tribal belts of the provinces of NWFP and Baluchistan add chaos to the dynamics of a confused power setup. These areas have their own laws, jirgas (village judiciaries) and have no respect for human rights. The people in tribal areas live in abject poverty, believe in primitive traditions of religious practices and the ‘sardars’ (tribal heads) who rule over the tribals are stagnent and refuse to progress. The talibanization of Pakistan started in the mountains of NWFP and remains a major ‘production ground’ of terrorists till-date.

Given the frailty and the fragility of the political culture, the system has ended up being a bundle of contradictions. Politics is mostly personality driven. And this is one of predominant reasons why so much of anarchy has ensued due to the passing away of Ms. Bhutto. When personalities are worshipped, principles and the debate as far as the ideals for which political parties stand for take the back seat. The educational value of the political system is thrown out of the door.

Who benefits from this stampede? Under the given set of circumstances, one can safely say that the armed forces benefit the most. The more the unrest on the streets, the stronger are the prospects of those in uniform to stay in power and command the destiny of the nation. A promising prospect of civilian rule starts ringing alarm bells in the corridors of the military power structure and hence such a ‘threat’ has to be eliminated.

Terrorists, be it al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or anyone else reap rich harvest. Obviously, historically, the armed forces and the fundamentalists have been the best of buddies. Indicators or personalities that talk about moderation are a hazard for these fanatics. One wouldn’t be at all surprised if Ms. Bhutto was brought down by the military-fundamentalist paradigm. Her recent statements were directly aimed at them. She was not the one who they wanted in the power structure. Centers of Wahibism, the crazies in the army and those in the hills of the Pakistani northern areas may have been left wondering and scratching their respective heads as to how to deal with the woman. Obviously, what the world saw was the consensus that those butchers of humanity must have reached.

Solutions? None whatsoever, I’m afraid. Unless, of course, some ‘external’ power and influence is exerted. Democracy was introduced in East Europe not too long ago. We saw the Berlin Wall come down, Romanian dictator Nicolai Chauchesku driven out by a popular uprising, the Hungarians, the Poles, all forcing the will of the people and creating institutions that are now mature enough to withstand the pressures whenever any untoward activity takes place in those countries. Philippines, Indonesia, Chile, Bangladesh are other examples where democracy once introduced has kept the armed forces away for good.

In Pakistan’s case it seems to get harder and harder to introduce the germs of a permanent democratic mechanism. It’s difficult to pinpoint the reasons but it could be that the people are not educated or aware enough to effect that much needed change.

External power? In a unipolar world, only the US, the greatest military and economic power on God’s Earth is capable to deal with disparate and complex factors that prevail in Pakistan.

The US has done a lot by pushing and prodding Musharraf to introduce democratic reforms but perhaps it needs to do more. This menace of terrorism is hurting the cause of peace and reconciliation. Humanity as a whole has a lot many other issues to deal with. Poverty, hunger, disease, human rights problems need to be addressed.

But before all that is done, we need to make the world a secure place to live in. Resistance or no resistance from Islamabad, the US must send in its forces in the fundamentalist hideouts and cleanse the areas. Understood that Iraq for now is at top of the priority list but it is equally essential to ensure not just superficial but real democratic reforms take place in Pakistan and that the scourge of terrorism is uprooted for generations to come.

The US has the muscle and the strength to cure this bleeding ulcer. It has the right tools and the brainpower to deal with the treachery and the trickery of terrorism that has overshadowed our recent history, bringing misery and suffering to thousands of innocent souls. We need to take charge before it’s too late.

–Ahson Saeed Hasan

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