Why is our government reluctant to face the real issues

November 30, 2015

Our foreign policy establishment claims ad-nauseam that there is no ISIS (Islamic state of Iraq and al-Sham) in Pakistan. In the process the nation, already engaged in an existential war against the Taliban/al-Qaeda brand of terrorism, is reassured that it need not fear Da’ish as it simply does not exist.

Before 9/11 few had heard of al-Qaeda. It had no presence in Pakistan. So went the official mantra. For that matter not many were aware of its existence even in Afghanistan.

Since then different jihadist groups have become household names in the Islamic Republic. Before the present military leadership launched Zarb-e-Azb a year and a half ago, there was no dearth of those amongst the political elite and the media pundits who actually extolled the activities of such groups.

For almost quarter of a century Pakistan had become a hotbed of outfits of different hues, colours and nationalities perpetrating jihad according to their own distorted version of religion. Exporting terrorism from the training grounds of our badlands unabated and unchecked virtually became an industry.

This was the time that most terrorist incidents in the west were traced back to persons who had received training in our tribal areas or at least had paid a visit to coordinate with groups commuting freely from Afghanistan, Central Asia and the Middle East.

During the same period the world started viewing Pakistan as a net exporter of global jihad. Thanks partly to Indian propaganda and partly owing to weak-kneed policies of our successive governments, such groups were perceived as operating with impunity from our territory.

Policies pursued by the military regimes since the days of General Zia-ul-Haq right down to General Musharraf and by the ubiquitous establishment — fuelled by open funding by our so called petro-dollar rich Middle Eastern friends — exacerbated the situation.

Before 9/11 few had heard of al-Qaeda. It had no presence in Pakistan. So went the official mantra. For that matter not many were aware of its existence even in Afghanistan

Things have come full circle since then. There is a somewhat belated realisation that terrorism in all forms is eating into the very entrails of the state. Matters have improved somewhat, but still we have a long way to go.

Officially it is stated in unequivocal terms that the state will not spare the terrorists. Nor will they be allowed to use our territory as a launching pad for terrorist activities in other countries.

According to this mantra how can Pakistan, itself a victim of worst forms of terrorism, be a perpetrator of terrorism? Going by the same logic it is claimed that distinction between good and bad Taliban no longer exists.

But despite protestations to the contrary there is a strong perception in the west that Pakistan still harbours and favours certain jihadist groups. Some of them are perceived to be India centric while others like the Haqqani network operate under the banner of the Afghan Taliban.

Thankfully Islamabad’s image in Washington and London has somewhat improved. Despite deep reservations persisting, Pakistan is seen as a key player to facilitate talks with the Afghan Taliban for a peaceful transition in Kabul. ‘Afghan-owned and Afghan-led talks’ is virtually used as a cliché by western diplomats.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif followed by General Raheel Sharif’s sojourn to Washington is viewed in this context. Both had successful visits beneficial to Pakistan’s strategic and economic interests.

An unnecessary controversy was generated in the media regarding the military chief’s recently concluded trip to Washington. There were those who claimed that the COAS himself sought the invitation to the US capital. The kind of reception he received there negates the logic behind creating and fuelling such controversies.

The visit should be viewed as a follow up to the prime minister’s trip. And from a strategic and tactical point of view it served Pakistan’s interests.

Ostensibly things are looking good for Pakistan. Internationally it is not as isolated as it was in the past decade or so.

Nonetheless deep-rooted strategic and existential problems persist. Structurally speaking endemic issues that need immediate and persistent attention remain unresolved. Unless there is a reset there seems to be little light at the end of the tunnel.

Since the military’s powerful public relations wing the ISPR’s controversial tweet criticising the government for not getting its act together on NAP (National Action Plan ) to combat terrorism and governance, the state of civilian-military relations has become a subject of national debate. The army leadership is obviously not happy in the manner in which civilian rulers are managing existential issues relating to combating terrorism and governance.

Unfortunately, without perhaps fully realising it, the military mindset is as much part of the problem as the solution. It has to outgrow its persistent ‘heads I win tail you lose’ syndrome in order to fix Pakistan in the long run.

It is good to hear that Da’ish does not exist in Pakistan. It is being viewed by Islamabad as a Middle Eastern franchise. But rent events, including bombing of a Russian airliner over Sinai and dastardly terrorist attacks in Paris, compounded by Turkey deliberately downing a Russian fighter plane, have further complicated the matrix.

ISIS that controls swaths of territory in Syria and Iraq and runs a government in the form of a caliphate is quite distinct from al-Qaeda. It is better financed, more ruthless and perhaps now more desperate too.


Apart from tackling terrorism on a tactical level, there is an urgent need to change the mindset and embark on a new narrative

After ceding territory and Russia out to destroy its capacity to sell oil, ISIS is resorting to more ruthless and well planned acts of terrorism. By the same token, al-Qaeda in order to remain relevant is in fierce competition. Already facing an existential threat, this is worrisome for Pakistan.

Apart from tackling terrorism on a tactical level, there is an urgent need to change the mindset and embark on a new narrative. IS might not exist on the ground but it does exist in the minds of our leadership, khaki and civilian, and amongst large swaths of the populace.

There is a lot of outrage being expressed on our media about the manner in which the large Muslim minority is being treated in India. The Modi-led BJP government is rightly castigated for a weak response to the Hindu extremists within its folds.

But on the other hand, apart from token condemnation, very little is said about the manner in which we treat our own minorities. Hate speech by so-called proscribed organisations and from sections of the pulpit goes unabated.

Apart from expressing performa disapproval even mainstream political parties are not willing to move a finger to resist this alarming trend or even to condemn it vociferously. Our exalted lawmakers are simply not interested in amending divisive and discriminatory legislation that in its present form can be misused against political opponents and minorities.

Unless the civilian leadership –in the government as well as the opposition — is willing to work in tandem to exorcise a mantra based on hate it will be virtually impossible to combat the menace destroying us from within.


Lets stop apologizing

November 30, 2015

The Paris attacks that killed 130 people and injured hundreds of others are still capturing headlines. They also occupy the top spot in social media the world over.

The attack came days after suicide bombers blew up about 40 people in a Beirut suburb and before that a Russian plane was blown up over Sinai killing more than 200 people. Daesh (the self-proclaimed IS) took responsibility for all of these murderous acts.

I received several phone calls from Western journalists asking for the Saudi point of view on these murderous attacks to which my reply was that all of us condemn these inhumane and ugly acts which do not serve any purpose, but on the contrary malign our society and our religion.

One caller asked if we will apologize. I almost screamed at him. Apologize for what?! Are we responsible for the actions of mysterious groups that destroy and kill? Are we responsible for all the evil acts being committed and falsely attributed to Islam?! I am not going to apologize, I said.

Let an international investigation be conducted and the findings made public. I am not a believer in conspiracy theories, but since the 9/11 attack until now many questions remain unanswered. How is it that after every major incident a passport is found intact? As if people walk the streets with their passports in their pockets and the passports are made of nonflammable material that is resistant to fires and bomb attacks.

In New York, it was a Saudi passport; in Paris it was a Syrian passport which later was found to be a fake and there were 11 passports with the same name and number!

We have had enough of preachers of hate and ignorant politicians inciting animosity against Muslims and ranting anti-Islamic rhetoric that is racist and full of hate. Enough of ignorant people going on the rampage uttering jingoistic chants forgetting the complicity of their own governments in creating Al-Qaeda and Daesh-like organizations and propping up dictatorships in the region, dismantling armies and social order and creating vacuum that led to strife.

I stand with the entire world in condemning the wanton, ruthless and mindless destruction of innocent human lives, but please do not ask me to apologize for something for which I am not responsible. Have the Jews apologized for Netanyahu’s daily massacre of Palestinians? Have the Dalai Lama and Aung San Suu Kyi apologized for the brutal holocaust inflicted on the Muslims of Myanmar? Has Indian Prime Minister Modi apologized for the massacre of Muslims in Gujarat or the lynching of people alleged to have eaten beef? Have Bush, Blair, Rumsfeld, Cheney, Wolfowitz and Bremer apologized for the death of a million Iraqis?

While the world rises up in arms against the cowardly murders of the innocent in Paris, no one protested when over a 100 Turks were blown to bits by Daesh in Ankara.

This selective grief is not palatable to me and to many around the world. These acts are carried out by people who are supposedly Muslims, but are mostly managed by shadowy groups operating under the umbrella of Western agencies. They do not represent us. I am not guilty, and therefore, I will not apologize!


Reality bites

November 30, 2015


Pakistan’s foreign reserves have been on a sharp ascent and are often quoted by the ruling party as a manifestation of sound economic policy work. The total foreign exchange reserves of the country have climbed to 19.828 billion dollars according to the State Bank of Pakistan.

According to an article published in Bloomberg, “at least half of the country’s $20 billion stockpile comprises debt and grants, almost all of which have flowed in since Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif took office in May 2013. That money could leave quickly as Pakistan begins repaying the IMF in 2016 or if oil prices surge, leading to another balance-of-payments crisis”.

Reality bites

The article further states, “Looming debt repayments in 2016 prompted Pakistan to go ahead with a $500 million overseas bond sale in September amid rising borrowing costs even as Turkey, Iraq and Abu Dhabi pulled back. It needs to gradually start paying back the IMF, with repayments rising to $639 million in 2019.”

To those observing Pakistan’s economic scene from a non-partisan position, these are not startling revelations. In fact, there has been sufficient debate on the nature of economic progress in Pakistan. While those who applaud the incumbent government on its decision making within the realm of economic policy constantly assert the fact that Pakistan has become a favorable investment destination and with the CPEC project in the pipeline, there is a great deal to be hopeful for; those at the other end of the debate raise valid concerns of sustainability and longevity.

Costly foreign loans are being taken to boost foreign exchange reserves to meet the IMF target for Net International Reserves. Parliamentary Secretary for Finance Rana Muhammad Afzal Khan informed the NA during question hour on November 27, 2015 that during the tenure of present government, loans taken by Pakistan amounted to over 9.7 billion dollars excluding bonds and IMF loan while reiterating the fact that the IMF loan was exclusively to build foreign exchange reserves. Why the country’s export sector has been completely sidelined and is not looked at as a source of revenue is anyone’s guess – that is, if at all, there is a desire to not lose momentum.

The government had borrowed $250 million from consortium of commercial banks in the first quarter against the budgeted $200 million for the ongoing financial year while it had borrowed $322.5 million during last fiscal year. Economic expert, Dr. Ashfaq Hassan Khan has often pointed out that the government’s dependence on expensive borrowing will prove to be harmful in the long run. While talking about the borrowing from commercial banks to build foreign reserves, he has again warned that it would prove to be a heavy cost to bear when the time for repayment comes. As it is, a recent report published by the SBP stated that banks’ profits have increased by 28pc in the last 9 months not because of the sector’s performance but mainly due to lending loans to the federal government. The SBP had decided to keep its policy rate fixed at 6 pc. It seems that even the banking sector that was being hailed as one of Pakistan’s best performing ones, is merely managing to keep appearances.

It is believed that the circular debt is back again and in worse form than when it was handed to the incumbent government as baggage standing at an intimidating Rs600bn level. It may not be impractical to believe that this time around as well the beast may be reined in using the same formula as the first time. Robbing Peter to pay Paul except the government will be borrowing which is worse perhaps – given that it is doing so at exorbitantly high mark-up rates. Just close to Black Friday, the ADB agreed to disburse $800 million (in two equal tranches) to Pakistan to help the country improve the efficiency of its power sector.

The statement by the ADB said, “This will allow Pakistan to introduce for the first time an advanced metering infrastructure system for power distribution companies across the country to improve load management and strengthen the financial viability of the sector by reducing electricity losses and increasing revenue collection.”

And, “The state-of-the-art new metering system will minimise losses and allow effective load management and transparency, thus ensuring a robust and sustainable power supply needed to lift growth and job creation.”

Tariq Bajwa, Secretary Economic Affairs Division, and Werner E Liepach, ADB’s Country Director for Pakistan signed loan agreements for the two programs, said an ADB statement.

Finance Minister Ishaq Dar witnessed the signing.

Business as usual.

Thawing the ice between Pakistan and India

November 26, 2015

Trend lines in the subcontinent are poor and will not improve until there is substantive dialogue between India and Pakistan. Hopes that Prime Minister Narendra Modi would pull a “Nixon goes to China” maneuver with Pakistan have been dashed, at least for now. Modi either has no Pakistan policy or has a policy not to engage with Pakistan. It’s worth recalling, however, that President Richard Nixon didn’t pursue his China gambit early on. And that General Pervez Musharraf introduced himself to India with a land grab and ended his presidential run trying to reach a settlement over Kashmir. It’s never a good idea to type cast or pigeonhole ambitious leaders. Rather, it’s usually a good idea to look for openings to improve testy relations between states that possess nuclear weapons.

For now, however, relations are most definitely sour and are likely to remain that way until Modi shifts gears from a one-topic agenda item for talks, focused on terrorism. This stance, like Islamabad’s renewed embrace of the Kashmir issue and the compilation of dossiers of Indian trouble making in Baluchistan and elsewhere, serve as placeholders until Modi is ready for serious, sustained engagement. Pakistan hasn’t won a favorable UN resolution on Kashmir since 1957, but old chestnuts keep being thrown into the fire.

The avoidance of nuclear dangers now depends on the absence of a big explosion in India that can be traced back to a group like the Lashkar-e-Toiba, with its historical ties to Pakistan’s military and intelligence services. There have been no big explosions since the 2008 Mumbai attacks, seven long years ago. Perhaps this suggests control as well as influence by Pakistan’s military and intelligence services over the LeT, for which they cannot take public credit. Perhaps this suggests success in a strategy of defanging the LeT in return for monetary incentives and other benefits, such as not prosecuting its leaders. Perhaps Rawalpindi has internalized the realization that the damage to Pakistan’s image and economic prospects resulting from these attacks far exceed the satisfaction gained by causing India pain and embarrassment. Perhaps Modi’s reputation as a hard-liner has served as a deterrent. Or perhaps another attack is in the offing. Most of us just don’t know the answers to this riddle; those who do aren’t talking.

In the meantime, Pakistan and India are increasing their nuclear arsenals, with Pakistan doing so faster than India. Rawalpindi’s nuclear deterrent includes tactical nuclear weapons of varying kinds, to dissuade New Delhi from carrying out cross-border conventional thrusts in response to another Mumbai-like attack. Since tactical nuclear weapons are the least safe and secure in Pakistan’s arsenal, and since these and longer-range, nuclear-capable launchers will be moved around in the midst of a serious crisis, nuclear risks will grow significantly in the event of another confrontation. Pakistan’s military leaders seem unpersuaded by arguments that mixing tactical nuclear weapons into conventional battle plans is a lousy idea.

Combat between ground forces, backed up by air power, will greatly accentuate the risk that there will be a battlefield nuclear detonation. What might be done to defuse India-Pakistan relations and break the back of the nuclear competition on the subcontinent, the way that Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev broke the back of the superpower nuclear arms race?

Permit me a flight of fancy – and suspend disbelief for a brief moment. Reagan and Gorbachev were out-of-the box thinkers and risk takers. They set the ball rolling by declaring that, “A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” Words can be empty and devoid of content. They can also have the power to shape perceptions and actions. These particular words undermined programs for nuclear war-fighting strategies of deterrence and paved the way for significant nuclear arms reductions.

So allow me to put words in Prime Minister Modi’s mouth – words that could greatly reduce nuclear dangers and upend Pakistan’s anti-India narrative. First, Modi might announce that, in the event of another attack on Indian soil by extremist organizations based in Pakistan, he will not initiate a ground campaign across borders. Instead, he will consider other military options. Or, like his predecessors, he might conclude that Pakistan is not worth another war that risks uncontrolled escalation and damage to the Indian economy. The blame for a new crisis, like its predecessors, would fall squarely on Pakistan, which would once again suffer diplomatic and economic setbacks without India having to strike a blow.

Pakistan’s hawks will not believe Modi’s stated intention, any more than they believe India’s pledge not to use nuclear weapons first in a conflict. How, then, might Modi be more persuasive? By announcing that if Rawalpindi is intent on mortgaging Pakistan’s future by spending Soviet-like budget percentages for military-related accounts – including spending to repel a ground campaign that India does not intend to wage — it is entirely free to do so. Likewise, if Rawalpindi wishes to grow its nuclear arsenal at a faster rate than any other state possessing nuclear weapons, it will not hear even one muted complaint from New Delhi. India, Modi might say, will continue to grow its arsenal at its own pace, giving priority to social welfare and electricity over nuclear weapons.

These statements would also be met with disbelief by Pakistan’s hawks, just as hawks in the United States could not believe Mikhail Gorbachev’s stated intent to take away Washington’s enemy image of the Soviet Union. Since Modi, like Gorbachev, will continue to spend money on conventional and nuclear forces, hawks in Pakistan will find reason to continue to plan against worst cases. So what else, in this flight of fancy, might Modi say or do?

Modi might re-energize back-channel talks between India and Pakistan on a long-overdue Kashmir settlement. The outlines of a settlement are well known: there would be a permanent moratorium on firing across the Kashmir divide; borders would not change but neither would they become impediments to improved relations; security forces would be thinned out on both sides and greater autonomy given to locals; economic trade would significantly increase across multiple gateways, and broader regional economic integration plans would be implemented.

Kashmir isn’t a Gordian knot; it is well known how to untie this dispute. These plans have long awaited Indian and Pakistani leaders strong enough to override interests that are deeply invested in familiar posturing. A civilian prime minister in Pakistan cannot take the lead is dispute resolution, but might be able to follow Modi’s lead – if the costs to Pakistan of rejecting a fair plan and the incentives to accept it are meaningful. Even if Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in unable to reach a settlement along these lines, a strong Indian government would gain ground internationally by proposing it, while opening a release valve for growing disaffection in the Kashmir Valley.

This scenario is currently implausible. It’s easier to make the same old speeches, while peace making entails risk. Autocracies can turn on a dime; vigorous democracies cannot. Right flanks have blocking power and bureaucracies do not get paid to envision improbable success stories. There is no welcome relief on the horizon from the impasse in India-Pakistan relations, marked by growing nuclear dangers.

Nothing could upend deeply ritualized hostility and reduce nuclear dangers on the subcontinent more than this Nobel Prize-worthy script. Might Modi be capable of good surprises after taking missteps, just as Musharraf was?

But enough of this daydreaming. It’s time once again to visit Pakistan.


What Muslim parents should tell their children about Paris

November 26, 2015

By Ammarah Usmani
AREA 14/8

Over the past decade and a half, after every horrific incident around the world, it seems as if time stops for a couple of days. Mental energy is at an all-time low, and if we’re not busy commenting and posting updates about the crisis or having passionate discussions with relatives and friends, we’re sitting on our couches, numb and mindlessly flipping through news channels, blood pressure rising and falling as we see again and again what we fear.

The first blow comes when the death toll pops up, steadily increasing. The second blow comes and we prepare ourselves for the list of condemnations.

Once again, Muslims are the culprits.

Throughout this whole scenario, we often forget about the young, innocent minds that are quietly observing their elders cope. Now, with the recent Paris attack, it’s crucial to know how to explain the situation to kids, whether elementary-age or teenage. Being too explicit about the event should be avoided, as well as being completely quiet. Teachers and other students might question your kids about their feelings at school, so you need to help them properly understand. Bullying is also a common occurrence nowadays, unfortunately.

These tips are specifically for the Paris attack, but can be molded according to any tragedy involving Muslims:

1. Show them how a Muslim properly reacts to any tragedy

It’s easier said than done, especially with the mix of emotions that came this time around – sadness, anger, frustration, confusion. For kids who aren’t school-aged yet, it’s still important to control and monitor your own reactions in front of them. Kids can fully sense anger and frustration. And how they see you react now will determine their own reactions, as they get older.

It’s okay to let out some emotions, which shows them that it’s a serious matter, but at the same time, it’s wrong to go into denial and act like everything is normal. Don’t
leave the news channel open all day. It’s not healthy even for adults to be completely consumed by the media, especially during this time. You need your children to be relatively aware, but you also don’t want them to lose the innocence of childhood.

It’s fine if they see a few tidbits, if it’s not too graphic. But instead of showing them that all you can do is sit and worry and write angry posts, show them positive

Make Dua with them after prayer. Sit down after Salah and supplicate out loud for the victims, for the affected, for their families, and for protection for Muslims around
the world.

We’re not always the best at this, but we need to be unbiased when it comes to any tragedy. No matter if the victims are Muslims or not, we need to open our hearts and grieve for all, as Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, did.

Muslims’ frustration at the double standards in media is justified of course, but it’s important to be emotionally intelligent. Those who lost loved ones are not at all at fault for the way media gives preference to one tragedy over another, and no matter how many angry comments you make and infographics you post about other countries, the media isn’t going to change its agenda. So be smart and show your children as well, that when tragedy strikes, anywhere in the world, you stand by
them as Muslims.

After a few days, you can point out the discrepancies and spread  awareness about other tragedies in the past that weren’t equally covered, but, again, be tactful, be respectful, and choose your words wisely. Otherwise, your children will mimic your anger, and they might say insensitive things to others who might be in pain over the attack.

2. Emphasize what being Muslim really means, and that those who do wrong aren’t following Islam

For kids who do comprehend, their biggest question is – Why do these Muslims do bad things? Are we also like them? Does Islam really call for killing infidels wherever you find them? The older they are, the more complicated their questions may be.

Explain to your kids that ISIS, or any other group falsely claiming to follow Islam, are far, far from the truth. You need to emphasize that you and your spouse, as parents, are raising them to be good Muslims that spread humanity and not hatred. Allah is angry with anyone who kills an innocent human being. Just as there are good and bad people in other religions, unfortunately there are also people who call themselves Muslims and still do horrible things.

With older kids, you may need to open the Quran and point out the verses that people misinterpret, and explain their actual meaning with context, because they will most probably either question it themselves or will be questioned about it in school.

As well, for those kids in high school or older, as well as those who are interested in understanding the broader political and historical root of the problems Muslims are facing, be ready to discuss this with them. It is crucial that they understand that the Ummah is not in turmoil but in a struggle for freedom, justice, and peace.

But it’s not enough to just show what a Muslim is not. You need to also give examples of Muslim role models, Muslims who have done great things for our world, in the past and the  present. They need to have a clear picture of a true Muslim, so whenever someone claims to be Muslim and commits heinous deeds, they can immediately tell they’re not following Islam.

3. Help them formulate general responses to questions and reactions from others

After you’re sure that their minds are at ease about their own identity, tell them how they should respond to any kind of question. Some would be common sense for them, but others require a bit of thought. For example, tell them to be honest when someone asks them how they feel about the attack – sadness at the lives lost and anger at the ones who committed the crimes. Tell them it’s also okay to say they’re a bit afraid, of being Muslim and having others assume that they support ISIS and evil acts around the world.

You also need to prepare your child for some negative feedback. In public schools, some non-Muslim kids may unfortunately be fed completely wrong information about Islam and the attack, so they might bully or harass your kid.

You need to have clear communication with your child so he/she would be comfortable in confiding with you. Every kid is different. Some may feel comfortable in responding positively to any negative remarks and clearing up misconceptions, but some kids may feel overwhelmed. If any incident causes too much stress for your child, talk to the principal and/or counselor at their school so they can properly handle the situation.

If you don’t take the right measures and you know your child is being bullied, he/she may even fear going to school.

Even if your kids attend Islamic school, you still need to have clear lines of communication with them. There have been reported minor threats to schools and Masjids after the attack, so tell your children to not wander far from their teachers and to stay inside the building at all times, unless supervised by a trusted adult.

4. Tell them it’s all a test from Allah

When the tension gets unbearable, and the situation is obviously out of our hands, then we need to do what any good Muslim does – leave it all to Allah. Your kids need to see what patience and perseverance really look like. Make Dua for better days, and show them what it means to have good expectation from Allah, that good and bad times are both from Him, and no moment lasts forever.

5. Make it a learning opportunity and chance for improvement

Sometimes, Allah brings forward shocking events to wake us up, shake us out of our dreamlands and jolt us with reality. Those who avail the opportunity can make the best out of any situation. Are we really fulfilling our roles as parents? What can we do to make sure our children can confidently bear the true flag of Islam and spread humanity?

If you’re not already active in the community, both local and Muslim, what better time to make this a priority? Your kids need to see that their parents aren’t complacent complainers, always just blaming others for the miseries of the Ummah, but not being proactive in spreading good.

Let’s try to be better Muslim community members and neighbors.

Everything happens for a reason – we believe this statement as a part of our Deen. Of course there is nothing at all positive about destruction and deaths, but you can help your children take away life lessons from this incident. While parents fear the opposite, this experience can help them gain confidence in themselves as Muslims.

With proper guidance, you can equip them for the tools needed to cope with any hard time. You can show them what it really means to help and support others, what it means to be emotionally intelligent, empathize, and display the essence of Islam and the Sunnah of our beloved Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, who stood by everyone in their time of need, whether Muslim or non-Muslim.

May Allah protect the Ummah, especially our children, and aid them in spreading truth and humanity to all corners of the world, Ameen.

Modi’s governance: Flash over fire

November 26, 2015

Watching Narendra Modi govern India, one laments a lost opportunity. His victory in May last year had offered independent India its first clear shot at a free-market conservative government. Sixteen months later, one struggles to find any sustained commitment to market reforms. His recent speech to the Delhi Economic Conclave was a mixture of complacency and platitudes.

Modi is no Margaret Thatcher. I see no honest drive to undo India’s crony capitalism, and an excessive reliance on populist slogans — of which there have been more in his 16 months in office, I wager, than in all of Indira Gandhi’s years in power. In any case, how is ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas (Together with all, Development for all)’ any less banal than ‘Garibi hatao, Desh bachao (Abolish poverty, Save the country)’. And in terms of sheer rhetorical electricity — supposedly Modi’s forte — the latter slogan from Indira’s days wins hands down.

 As for Modi’s conservatism, there’s much too much in it of Amit Shah, his party’s manipulative president, and not enough of Edmund Burke. Before nationalist critics hyperventilate over a “foreign” philosopher, let me explain. Modi has done nothing to arrest the galloping tyranny of the majority, thus putting at risk India’s social order. Burke was okay with a reining in of individualism in the interests of social cohesion. But under Modi, we’re experiencing curbs on individual rights that result directly in a social unravelling. This isn’t conservatism, it’s the very opposite.

Some of us who were not Modi’s most natural supporters, but who believed that an end to Congress rule was necessary to drag India out of an almighty rut, understood the use of the Amit Shah Way in the campaign to win the elections last year. After all, Modi had to win power in order to exercise it, and the BJP’s election strategy — a combination of chest-thumping nationalism, some promises of economic change, and a tactical deployment of Hindutva — wasn’t particularly outlandish by the low moral standards of Indian electioneering.

There were clear indications from the more sophisticated sectors of the BJP that once the dirty business of the elections was done — once the campaign bullhorns and dog-whistles were put away — Modi & Co. would get down to the business of finding ways to let India grow. But increasingly, it seems that we were swindled.

The conservatism that we see today is not fiscal but religious. The order we see being imposed on India is not national but Hindu. After campaigning the Amit Shah Way, Modi is now governing the Amit Shah Way. There is no calm, there is no reflection, there is no attention paid to what ails the nation. Instead, we have a Nonstop Campaign. There is scarcely a moment or opportunity when Modi thinks of the nation first, and not of his party and its saffron fellow travellers.

The BJP had to win elections in Bihar, so the issue of the Madhesis in Nepal was stoked up, Indo-Nepalese relations be damned. Indian citizens were lynched on accusations of consuming or transporting beef, and the Prime Minister of India — the Prime Minister of all Indians — found it impossible to utter three plain words: “Lynching is abhorrent.” In both cases, the party’s interests came first.

This is what I mean when I point to a victory of Amit Shah over Burke. One side says: the party’s ideology is paramount. The nation can fall into place later. The other side says: nothing is more important than the nation.

In India, the wrong side is winning.


India going off-balance

November 25, 2015

At a meeting with the president of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at his residence in New Delhi last Friday, the functionaries of the Hindu nationalist organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which mentors the government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, reportedly expressed “grave concern” over the mishandling of the country’s relations with Nepal.

The RSS functionaries censured the government for the current India-Nepal standoff, blaming the leadership for causing “an unnecessary escalation of the situation because of a lack of communication between the two governments”. They expect Shah to be the messenger to carry out their instruction to the government.

In a separate development recently, a high-flying erstwhile RSS functionary seconded to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), who acts as ‘shadow foreign minister’, was pulled up recently for serious irregularities in organizing the banga banga parties for Modi during his visits abroad, such as the spectacle at Madison Square Garden in New York last year in September.

These theatrical roadshows are important for Modi to project himself as a ‘rock star’ on the world stage and to inspire awe in the minds of the uninformed Indian public.

Suffice it to say, it is in such bits and pieces that the public gets a peep into the strange ways in which the Modi government conducts its foreign policies. The Modi government has a full-fledged foreign minister (and a junior foreign minister who used to be a four star general), but they do not seem to be consequential. The diplomatic missions in Delhi often take the ‘shadow foreign minister’ more seriously than the real foreign minister.

When the shadow becomes more important than the real thing, something has gone very seriously wrong in the conduct of India’s foreign policies – quite obviously, the falcon is no longer hearing the falconer. This is most evident in India’s neighborhood policies. India has never before projected itself as a ‘national security state’ in such a brazen fashion in its neighborhood. It is not only preposterous for a liberal democracy to do so, but India is punching far above its weight.

The RSS subscribes to the doctrine of Akhand Bharat, which implies a Hindu-dominated Indian sub-continent, which seeks the return of the small countries vivisected out of India such as Pakistan or Bangladesh or Nepal to the womb. As regards China, RSS regards it as an enemy country with which it must only deal from a position of strength.

Unsurprisingly, the bureaucrats in the foreign and security policy establishment have figured out the ‘wind factor’ (as the Chinese call it) and are bending low toward the RSS. They estimate that in the present political dispensation, it pays to be a ‘hawk’.

Thus, India’s relations with China and Pakistan have taken a turn for the worse through the past one-year period for no obvious reason one can discern. There is peace and tranquility prevailing in the disputed border regions with China; there are no Chinese ‘incursions’ being reported from those parts.

China is largely leaving India to itself and Beijing has its hands full in terms of its historic reform program and the recent disputes with the United States in the South China Sea. No Chinese submarine has lately appeared in Sri Lanka or Pakistan. China is not fueling the insurgencies tearing India’s northeast region apart.

In fact, for the first time, China has shown willingness to be a peacemaker in Afghanistan. All in all, there is an opportune moment for Delhi’s mandarins to rev up diplomacy towards China. Yet, the national security state is not only uninterested but also refuses to build on the legacy of trust in the relationship it inherited from the previous government.

India’s Asia-Pacific diplomacy – ‘Act East’ policies – can be summed up as follows: ‘Hey, out there, if you guys have any tiffs with China, come to Delhi and have a cup of tea with us’.

The Modi government’s policies towards Pakistan are almost ditto. In a calibrated move to irritate that country, India lately began asserting its territorial claims to the Northern Areas and Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir. The RSS has conjured up irredentist visions of Akhand Bharat (implying that the Partition of 1947 leading to the creation of a Muslim-majority Pakistan can be undone.)

The ministers in Modi’s government openly bragged that Indian forces will not hesitate to cross the border with Pakistan if a need arises. The army chief speculated about a ‘swift, short war’.

Yet, the restive Muslim-dominated Valley region in the state of  Jammu & Kashmir has been so very tranquil and free from cross-border terrorism lately – although the alienation of the people remains deep and almost unbridgeable. It is possible to estimate that Pakistan may have, finally, rolled back its support of insurgency in J&K.

Pakistan has its plate full with problems of various kinds and has no desire to provoke India. Its military is preoccupied with fighting terrorism on the western border with Afghanistan. Pakistan seemed to signal willingness to discuss a moratorium on terrorism that addresses mutual concerns. However, the national security state is simply not interested in normalizing relations with Pakistan. Pakistan wants to discuss ‘all outstanding issues, including Kashmir’, but the national security state will only discuss terrorism. On this silly argument, India manages to scuttle talks with Pakistan.

As regards Nepal, the standoff between the two countries seems more and more like a tragi-comedy. The clumsiness with which India handled Nepal’s transition to constitutional rule has been appalling. India waded into the making of Nepal’s new constitution. It all started with the RSS determining that Nepal should be a ‘Hindu Rashtra’ (Hindu nation).

Modi personally launched a charm offensive to realize the RSS project in Nepal. From the traditional welcome extended to Modi during his two visits to Nepal, New Delhi concluded wrongly that the RSS project in that country was a done thing. But then, Nepal chose to be a secular republic.

The RSS project to dominate Nepal is unrealistic, since it fundamentally overlooks that India’s small neighbors cherish their sovereignty, independence and national identity and will defend them no matter what it takes. But in the mindless pursuit of the RSS project in Nepal, Delhi committed a series of blunders, wounding Nepali sensitivities and national pride. Nepal suspects that India harbors territorial designs on it.

The ‘hawks’ in the Indian establishment have become so myopic that they overlook that India will have a tough time defending its own actions in its turbulent insurgency-ridden regions – unmarked graves, war crimes explained away as ‘encounters’ with militants, military occupation, denial of civil rights and so on –if ever the yardsticks it detailed in Geneva last week to berate Nepal at the UN Human Rights Council were to be applied to it fairly and squarely by the international community.

Indeed, what is Indian diplomacy trying to prove in Nepal? That Nepal is a tiny impoverished country, which is highly vulnerable to pressure from India’s national security state? It is difficult to quarrel with the Nepali Prime Minister K. P. Sharma Oli’s remark that India’s economic blockade of his country is more inhuman than war.

The sympathy of the world community will only lie with Nepal as the mounting humanitarian crisis in that country due to the Indian blockade snowballs during the harsh winter months and the western aid agencies and the UN relief organizations start expressing anguish and despair about India’s stony heart. The UNICEF has already highlighted the developing crisis.

Fundamentally, India’s neighborhood policies will be on roller coaster so long as the RSS controls the Modi government and dictates the policies. The RSS diktat to Shah on Friday shows the extent to which it not only prescribes India’s Nepal policies but fine tunes the diplomacy.

Shah is of course a mere handmaiden of the RSS. Simply put, a hopeless scenario presents itself.

Alas, India used to have brave, highly professional bureaucrats in the foreign-policy establishment who would give independent advice to the political masters on the merits of an issue, but that is yet another British legacy that is receding into history.

Bureaucrats who get catapulted by Modi out of turn to the top of the heap nowadays feel beholden to him for their rising career graph. They choose to be time-servers and pay heed to the RSS’ Hindutvaagenda, hoping that the shadowy outfit’s goodwill is all that counts in the Modi era for their career advancement.


Proof that Muslims are not more violent than others

November 25, 2015


Contrary to what is alleged by bigots like Bill Maher, Muslims are not more violent than people of other religions. Murder rates in most of the Muslim world are very low compared to the United States.

As for political violence, people of Christian heritage in the twentieth century polished off tens of millions of people in the two world wars and colonial repression.  This massive carnage did not occur because European Christians are worse than or different from other human beings, but because they were the first to industrialize war and pursue a national model.  Sometimes it is argued that they did not act in the name of religion but of nationalism.  But, really, how naive.  Religion and nationalism are closely intertwined.  The British monarch is the head of the Church of England, and that still meant something in the first half of the twentieth century, at least.  The Swedish church is a national church.  Spain?  Was it really unconnected to Catholicism?  Did the Church and Francisco Franco’s feelings toward it play no role in the Civil War?  And what’s sauce for the goose: much Muslim violence is driven by forms of modern nationalism, too.

Proof that Muslims are not more violent than others

I don’t figure that Muslims killed more than 2 million people or so in political violence in the entire twentieth century, and that mainly in the Iran-Iraq War 1980-1988 and the Soviet and post-Soviet wars in Afghanistan, for which Europeans bear some blame (the secular nationalist Young Turks also committed genocide against the Armenians during an invasion of eastern Anatolia by Russia).

Compare that to the Christian European tally of, oh, lets say 100 million (16 million in WW I, 60 million in WW II–  though some of those were attributable to Buddhists in Asia– and millions more in colonial wars.)

Belgium– yes, the Belgium of strawberry beer and quaint Gravensteen castle– conquered the Congo and is estimated to have killed off half of its inhabitants over time, some 8 million people at least.

Or, between 1916-1930 Tsarist Russian and then Soviet forces — facing the revolt of Central Asians trying to throw off Christian (and then Marxist), European rule — Russian forces killed an estimated 1.5 million people. Two boys brought up in or born in one of those territories (Kyrgyzstan) just killed 4 people and wounded others critically.  That is horrible, but no one, whether in Russia or in Europe or in North America has the slightest idea that Central Asians were mass-murdered during WW I and before and after, and looted of much of their wealth.  Russia when it brutally conquered and ruled the Caucasus and Central Asia was an Eastern Orthodox, Christian empire (and seems to be reemerging as one!).

Then, between half a million and a million Algerians died in that country’s war of independence from France, 1954-1962, at a time when the population was only 11 million!

I could go on and on.  Everywhere you dig in European colonialism in Afro-Asia, there are bodies. Lots of bodies.

Now that I think of it, maybe 100 million people killed by people of European Christian heritage in the twentieth century is an underestimate.

As for religious terrorism, that too is universal.  Admittedly, some groups deploy terrorism as a tactic more at some times than others.  Zionists in British Mandate Palestine were active terrorists in the 1940s, from a British point of view, and in the period 1965-1980, the FBI considered the Jewish Defense League among the most active US terrorist groups. (Members at one point plotted to assassinate Rep. Dareell Issa (R-CA) because of his Lebanese heritage.)  Now that Jewish nationalsts are largely getting their way, terrorism has declined among them. But it would likely reemerge if they stopped getting their way.  In fact, one of the arguments Israeli politicians give for allowing Israeli squatters to keep the Palestinian land in the West Bank that they have usurped is that attempting to move them back out would produce violence.  I.e., the settlers not only actually terrorize the Palestinians, but they form a terrorism threat for Israel proper (as the late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin discovered).

Even more recently, it is difficult for me to see much of a difference between Tamerlan Tsarnaev and Baruch Goldstein, perpetrator of the Hebron massacre.


Or there was the cold-blooded bombing of the Ajmer shrine in India by Bhavesh Patel and a gang of Hindu nationalists. Chillingly, they were disturbed when a second bomb they had set did not go off, so that they did not wreak as much havoc as they would have liked.  Ajmer is an ecumenical Sufi shrine also visited by Hindus, and these bigots wanted to stop such open-minded sharing of spiritual spaces because they hate Muslims.

Buddhists have committed a lot of terrorism and other violence as well.  Many in the Zen orders in Japan supported militarism in the first half of the twentieth century, for which their leaders later apologized.  And, you had Inoue Shiro’s assassination campaign in 1930s Japan.  Nowadays militant Buddhist monks in Burma/ Myanmar are urging on anethnic cleansing campaign against the Rohingya.

As for Christianity, the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda initiated hostilities that displaced two million people.  Although it is an African cult, it is Christian in origin and the result of Western Christian missionaries preaching in Africa.  If Saudi Wahhabi preachers can be in part blamed for the Taliban, why do Christian missionaries skate when we consider the blowback from their pupils?

Despite the very large number of European Muslims, in 2007-2009 less than 1 percent of terrorist acts in that continent were committed by people from that community.

Terrorism is a tactic of extremists within each religion, and within secular religions of Marxism or nationalism.  No religion, including Islam, preaches indiscriminate violence against innocents.

It takes a peculiar sort of blindness to see Christians of European heritage as “nice” and Muslims and inherently violent, given the twentieth century death toll I mentioned above.  Human beings are human beings and the species is too young and too interconnected to have differentiated much from group to group.  People resort to violence out of ambition or grievance, and the more powerful they are, the more violence they seem to commit.  The good news is that the number of wars is declining over time, and World War II, the biggest charnel house in history, hasn’t been repeated.

What fuels IS?

November 25, 2015

Weeks before the attacks that killed 129 people in Paris, U.S. warplanes resumed sorties above Syria and Iraq, targeting anew oil fields and other parts of a vast petroleum infrastructure that fuels—and funds—Islamic State, one of the richest terrorist armiesthe world has known.

These airstrikes were launched not because U.S. officials were prescient. They came after the Obama administration found and quietly fixed a colossal miscalculation. U.S. intelligence had grossly overestimated the damage they’d inflicted during airstrikes on the militants’ oil production apparatus last year, while underestimating Islamic State’s oil revenue by $400 million. According to U.S. Department of the Treasury officials and data they released in the wake of the Paris mayhem, the terrorist group is actually taking in $500 million from oil a year. What’s more, just a few hours before the first Islamic State suicide bomber blew himself up outside the Stade de France on Nov. 13, U.S. Army Colonel Steve Warren conceded at a press briefing that some American airstrikes disrupted IS oil operations for no more than a day or two.

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The Obama administration “misunderstood the [oil] problem at first, and then they wildly overestimated the impact of what they did,” says Benjamin Bahney, an international policy analyst at the Rand Corp., a U.S. Department of Defense-funded think tank, where he helped lead a 2010 study on Islamic State’s finances and back-office operations based on captured ledgers. He says the radical revision on oil revenue came after Treasury officials gained new intelligence on Islamic State’s petroleum operations—similar to the ledgers Rand used for its study—following a rare ground assault by American Special Operations Forces this May. U.S. forces, operating deep into the group’s territory in eastern Syria, targeted and killed an Islamic State “oil emir,” a man known by the Arabic nom de guerre Abu Sayyaf, Pentagon officials said at the time. (Treasury officials, who are charged with leading the administration’s war on Islamic State’s finances, declined to comment specifically on whether Abu Sayyaf’s ledgers were at the root of their new estimates, but the agency has said the figures are extrapolated from the militant group’s oil earnings from a single region in a single month earlier this year.)

 It’s not clear how the U.S. got it so wrong, Bahney says, but he suspects that the latest round of airstrikes are directly related to the administration’s new math. “You have to go after the oil, and you have to do it in a serious way, and we’ve just begun to do that now,” he says. Yet even if the U.S. finally weakens the group’s oil income, Bahney and other analysts in the U.S., the Middle East, and Europe contend, Islamic State has resources beyond crude—from selling sex slaves to ransoming hostages to plundering stolen farmland—that can likely keep it fighting for years. In any case, $500 million buys a lot of $500 black-market AK-47s.

Islamic State got into the oil business long before it captured global attention through barbaric beheading videos in the summer of 2014. It seized Syrian border crossings to profit from oil smuggling. And it tapped a network that’s operated for decades, dating to at least the 1990s, when Saddam Hussein evaded sanctions by smuggling billions of dollars’ worth of oil out of Iraq under the United Nations’ Oil-for-Food program.

Most often refined in Syria, the group’s oil is trucked to cities such as Mosul to provide people living under its black banner with fuel for generators and other basic needs. It’s also used to power the war machine. “They have quite an organized supply chain running fuel into Iraq and [throughout] the ‘caliphate,’ ” says Michael Knights, an Iraq expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, using the militant group’s religiously loaded term for itself. Because the U.S. apparently believed the real money for Islamic State came primarily via selling refined oil, rather than crude, last year’s strikes heavily targeted refineries and storage depots, says Bahney. He and other experts say that strategy missed an important shift: Militants increasingly sell raw crude to truckers and middlemen, rather than refining it themselves. So while Islamic State probably maintains some refining capacity, the majority of the oil in IS territory is refined by locals who operate thousands of rudimentary, roadside furnaces that dot the Syrian desert.

Pentagon officials also acknowledge that for more than a year they avoided striking tanker trucks to limit civilian casualties. “None of these guys are ISIS. We don’t feel right vaporizing them, so we have been watching ISIS oil flowing around for a year,” says Knights. That changed on Nov. 16, when four U.S. attack planes and two gunships destroyed 116 oil trucks. A Pentagon spokesman says the U.S. first dropped leaflets warning drivers to scatter.

 The terrorist army has diverse nonoil assets—ranging from hostages to fertile farms—and a sizable cash surplus

Beyond oil, the caliphate is believed by U.S. officials to have assets including $500 million to $1 billion that it seized from Iraqi bank branches last year, untold “hundreds of millions” of dollars that U.S. officials say are extorted and taxed out of populations under the group’s control, and tens of millions of dollars more earned from looted antiquities and ransoms paid to free kidnap victims.

The taxes bring in real money. One example: Islamic State allows policemen, soldiers, and teachers in its territory to atone for the “sin” of having worked under religiously inappropriate regimes—for a fee. Forgiveness comes in the form of a repentance ID card costing up to $2,500, which requires an additional $200 a year to renew, according to Aymenn Jawad al-Tami, a fellow at the Middle East Forum who closely follows the group.

Arguably the least appreciated resource for Islamic State is its fertile farms. Before even starting the engine of a single tractor, the group is believed to have grabbed as much as $200 million in wheat from Iraqi silos alone. Beyond harvested grains, the acreage now controlled by militants across the Tigris and Euphrates river valleys has historically produced half of Syria’s annual wheat crop, about one-third of Iraq’s, and almost 40 percent of Iraqi barley, according to UN agricultural officials and a Syrian economist. Its fields could yield $200 million per year if those crops are sold, even at the cut rates paid on black markets. And how do you conduct airstrikes on farm fields?

For his part, Bahney contends that the group’s real financial strength is its fanatical spending discipline. Rand estimates the biggest and most important drain on Islamic State’s budget is the salary line for up to 100,000 fighters. But the oil revenue alone could likely pay those salaries almost two times over, Bahney says. He also believes they’ve been running at a surplus. Bahney says that if the U.S. and its allies are going to diminish the threat from Islamic State, they must recognize that knocking out oil, while critical, isn’t enough. “They’ve built up quite a bit of excess cash flow in the last year,” he warns. “So they’re going to be able to keep this going for a while.”


NAP implementation: Jhelum religious violence

November 24, 2015

The modus operandi was a distressingly familiar one — an allegation of blasphemy, incitement by local mosques, and a frenzied mob venting its rage on the impugned individuals/community.

However, the government’s response to events in Jhelum last week could well determine whether this country is indeed making a break from a past replete with condemnable instances of violence in the name of faith.

The incident in question began to unfold on Friday evening when workers at an Ahmadi-owned factory in the city alleged that pages from the Quran were being desecrated on its premises.

Take a look: Normalcy returns to Jhelum

Announcements made from area mosques further inflamed passions, and a mob — including people from surrounding villages — stormed the factory, setting it on fire.

The next day, an Ahmadi place of worship in nearby Kala Gojran was ransacked by crowds who, after throwing its contents out in the street and torching them, proceeded to occupy the building in the name of converting it into a mosque.

That no one lost their life in the violence is extremely fortunate, and probably due in large measure to attempts by the administration to get people out of harm’s way as well as the fact that the army moved quickly to quell the rioting in this garrison town.

Meanwhile, cases have been filed against around 80 alleged attackers under the Anti Terrorism Act.

However, what happens next is crucial. In post-National Action Plan Pakistan, with its avowals of dismantling the infrastructure of religious extremism that is the recruiting ground for ideologically inspired militancy against which the country is at war, Jhelum is no less than a test case.

It is a test case because it pushes the boundaries of what many Pakistanis consider religious intolerance: the target is a community against which religious discrimination in this country is not just socially entrenched, but also deeply institutionalised — and even celebrated as a virtue in certain quarters.

Are there going to be exceptions to action against all forms of religious persecution? Is not an attack on a place of worship — any place of worship — an attack on the fundamental rights of that community to freedom of religion?

It also bears asking why mosques in Jhelum chose to incite violence at this juncture when the state has been clamping down on hate speech — one of NAP’s 20 points — which has a proven record of instigating murder particularly when delivered from the pulpit.

Cases have been filed against a number of clerics on this charge; some have even been sentenced to prison for several years. In the present instance as well, the full force of the law must be brought to bear against the individuals concerned.

A majority community must use its strength not to oppress minorities — for that is only evidence of its own moral frailty — but to guarantee their inalienable right to live with dignity as equal citizens.



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