By Area 14/8

In light of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s second official visit to the US since 2013, the media was abuzz with speculating what the agenda of the meeting would be. With Obama’s decision to retain troops in Afghanistan till 2017, this meeting gained even more significance as the decision meant that the two countries will continue spearheading the fight against terrorism in the region for the foreseeable future. While some experts felt that nuclear escalation in the region and relations with India would form the core of the agenda, others pointed out that a stable Afghanistan would be Obama’s only concern towards the end of his tenure; however, a compilation of ten issues that Obama needs to address published on the Huffington Post really took the cake. Penned by Malik Siraj Akbar, who would more than qualify as an ‘expert’ given his credentials dismally failed to live up to all the accolades he has received as a journalist. While the internet is flooded with articles that criticize just for the sake of criticism and further a certain agenda, this one stood out for the lack of depth and understanding with regards to the very basic issues it raises.
While all of the ten points aren’t worthy of being addressed, a couple them deserve to be countered as they have been circulating in the realm of social media for quite a while. Starting with Pakistan’s complacence when it comes to taking action against outfits such as the LeT, it is as simple as chalking out a strategy and prioritizing according to exceptional circumstances. Pakistan’s armed forces have been deployed in tribal regions to eradicate the networks of al Qaeda and the TTP, and taking into consideration the volatile situation of the region and arrival of ISIS in Afghanistan, the forces will be stationed in the region till at least 2019. Pakistan faces a long-term struggle against terrorism and more importantly against extremism, but Mr. Siraj should be aware of the fact all the militant outfits cannot be dealt with a mere swoosh of the wand.
Mr. Siraj feels that “Obama must urge Sharif to repeal, or at least reform, the infamous blasphemy law, which is mostly used against religious minorities.” Apart from the fact this issue would not even be considered as part of the agenda by the Obama administration, it seems that the author is oblivious to the on-ground realities and widespread extremism in the country. Misuse and exploitation of the law has been a recognized issue before Nawaz Sharif came to power again in 2013, and such reform cannot take place in vacuum unless a shift comes about in the way the Pakistani society views the law. That shift has been taking place gradually though, the recent judgment of the Mumtaz Qadri trial and even more recent statement by the Supreme court stating that calls for improvement of the Blasphemy law are not objectionable point to the fact that small but significant steps are being taken to improve the implementation of the law.
With regards to the situation in Baluchistan, there has never been any doubt that the Baloch people harbor legitimate grievance. However, there is no denying the fact that external involvement in the province has been a serious obstacle in the path of the Pakistani administration that has attempted to adopt more inclusive measures to address and tackle the prevailing issues in Baluchistan. Moreover, one would wonder why Obama would choose to address this issue, while he chooses to regard the Kashmir issue as an internal one.
The author also touches upon other issues such as the Cybercrime Bill, sectarian violence, and the ‘return’ of the death penalty. With regards to the cybercrime bill, there have been concerns over the intrusion of privacy and curtailing of dissent; however, President Obama would think twice before raising this issue because of the countless number of fundamental human rights violations that have taken place under the Patriot act (NSA being exposed by Edward Snowden). Moving on to sectarian violence, as mentioned previously, extremism is more of a threat to Pakistan compared to terrorism; precisely because the latter can be curbed using force while the former cannot. Mr. Siraj confidently states, “Sharif, the only politician to run the country for a third term, has made no policies to curb violence and hatred against religious and sectarian minorities nor does it appear on his list of things to do in the future.” It could be the case that the author is unaware of the recent operation that wiped out the top leadership of LeJ recently, or the fact that the federal government last month announced the commencement of an operation in Southern Punjab targeting exclusively sectarian militants. At last, no one claims that military courts are an ideal situation; but taking into account the lack of judicial reform that has taken place, the backlog of pending cases in civilian courts, issues with regards to the witness protection act etc, it is understandable as to why military courts are being considered as an option in such exceptional circumstances. As far as the death penalty is concerned, President Obama would know better than to point a finger towards Pakistan as states such as Connecticut are debating over its merits, and more importantly the simple fact that it is an internal issue.
Considering the fact that the Huffington Post has an ever-growing active community and was also ranked #1 on the 15 Most Popular Political Sites list by eBizMBA Rank according to traffic in 2012, perhaps it would serve the renowned news aggregator well if more stringent standards were put in to place to prevent the publishing of half-cooked agenda driven write-ups.