Archive for July, 2005

Pakistan in the news for wrong reasons The whole …

Pakistan in the news for wrong reasons

The whole world is riled by almost weekly incidents of bombings around the world. First it was the London subway tragedy claiming 52 lives then another attempt on London after exactly two weeks. And then Sharam al Shaikh bombings in Egypt claimed 62 lives. In almost all these incidents media attention has been focused on Pakistan. Questions are raised and debated about Pakistan’s commitment in the war against terrorism. The pressure has been so intense that even the cool headed Pakistani President made some harsh remarks against the British and US administrations to put all the blame on Pakistan for these incidents. Pakistan’s friendship with the US and the UK is again in question.

Since its independence from British rule in 1947 Pakistan has been a close friend of Western countries especially the UK and the US. In early 1950s Pakistan was a key member of a UK sponsored Central Treaty Organization (CENTO) as well as the South East Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) sponsored by both the UK and the US. In mid 1950s, during the cold war Pakistan provided its air bases to the US to spy on the Soviet Union forever losing the goodwill of the Russian people. When the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) invaded Afghanistan in 1979 Pakistan became a front line state in providing training grounds to US sponsored Afghan mujahideen as well as accommodating over 4 million Afghan refugees straining its already scarce natural resources. The US succeeded in defeating Russian expansionist ambitions in central Asia but Pakistan lost its society to drug trafficking, illegal immigration and prostitution brought by Afghan warlords to Pakistan. In retrospect these social ills seem tame as compared to the infusion of Afghan war trained mujahideen who have turned against Pakistani people and their social values. US totally abandoned Pakistan after the dismantling of USSR in 1989 damaging its good will with the people as a friend.

In the 1990s Pakistani governments followed the policy of aligning themselves with central Asian countries instead of looking towards their 5000 year old historical allies India for political and economic relations. Historically Afghani people have never had cordial relations with some geographic regions now part of Pakistan. For centuries, ambitious Afghan rulers passed through Pakistan to attack India for its gold and other riches. Pakistani leadership ignored those historical dynamics and followed a policy of creating an economic and political block with newly created central Asian states, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The first piece of this strategy was installation of a friendly government in Afghanistan in the form of Taliban government. But history has much deeper currents than the ones that can be controlled by the politicians. Those same Taliban, supported by Pakistan, soon turned against Pakistan and started a movement to Talibanize Pakistan as well with the help of local religious political parties. The situation became worst when Taliban started destroying cultural heritage of Afghanistan by destroying the Binyan statues of Buddha. Pakistan was looking for a graceful exit from this quagmire, which was amply provided by the events of 9/11. As soon as US administration approached Pakistan to once again become a frontline state in its war against terrorist Pakistan quickly responded favorably.

Majority of Pakistanis are moderate people more interested in economic prosperity and expression of their talent than being religious fanatics. But they have been devoid of democratic values because of involvement of military generals in running governments for large part of their history. These military rulers relied on ethnic and sectarian division to ensure the continuity of their regimes. The US and the UK, in the name of their national interest, have always supported these military rulers although they promote democracy in the rest of the world. This dual policy is understood by the people of Pakistan and is one of the main reasons of their frustration with the US.

President General Musharraf, like his predecessors Field Marshall Ayub Khan and General Zia-ul-Haq, has made false promises to the nation. He went back on almost all those promises for one reason or the other. In December 2002 he promised to give up his military uniform and become politically elected President by December 2004. He refused to fulfill his promise and even gave his decision a constitutional cover without showing any morale remorse. In 2000 he promised to revamp Police by 2002 to bring it more in line with the needs of 21st century. But half way he reversed course and abandoned that plan. He promised to bring religious madarssas under the department of education to better regulate their curriculum and include science in their syllabus but no substantial work was done in this regard. When the government introduced new passport machines religion was omitted from these new passports. But once again he succumbed to the pressure of some religio-political parties and included it.

For his achievements President General Musharraf points to over 10 billion dollars worth of foreign exchange in government coiffeurs. The reality is bulk of this foreign exchange is earned through almost 3 billion dollars of US aid as well as almost 2.5 billion dollars of remittances from expatriate Pakistanis living in the US and Europe who felt financial insecurity of their assets after the incidents of 9/11 and the subsequent passage of the patriot act in US. Poverty in Pakistan has worsened and it is now ranked 140 in the world as compared to 136 when President Musharraf took over power in 1999. Easy consumer credit has created an economy of demand without real investment in basic industries in the country. There are no creditable figures available on inflation and unemployment but according to State bank of Pakistan it is in the range of 7% and 7.8% respectively.

Pakistanis have to solve their own social, political and economic issues but they expect the US and EU leaders not to support military generals in their quest for political power. Instead of relying on an autocratic ruler to gain support US should strengthen its ties with the people of Pakistan by encouraging deeper interaction at cultural, trade and political level. We have never seen a US cultural delegation visiting Pakistan or a Pakistani folk group performing in front of US audiences. Our trade interaction is only at merchandise level instead of cooperating at the research and development level. Our political interaction is limited to war against terrorism instead of visits of professors and intellectuals from US think tanks to visit universities and interact with their counterparts. Even in US media when they speak about Pakistan they bring foreign experts from India or other Far Eastern country that is neither a native or lived in Pakistan for a long time. This created a false image of the country and its dynamics in the eyes of US.
UK born bombers are responsible for the recent terrorist acts in London so the blame should not be put on Pakistan. But Pakistan does need the friendship and support of the UK and the US to overcome its domestic issues. The best help these countries can provide is to stop supporting military rulers and make it clear that they only support democratically elected governments in Pakistan. If they can go to war in Iraq to introduce democracy, it is much easier to achieve that objective in Pakistan because people are willing to change.

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London falls victim to terrorism Last week’s Lond…

London falls victim to terrorism

Last week’s London bombings once again brought war against terrorists into the limelight. These bombings, that took place during the G8 summit, in a way challenged the West in their fight against terrorism. The world is once again shocked by the cruel act and grieving for its victims. The loss of innocent blood has created strong reaction in the Muslim world too. The latter is strongly condemning these criminal actions which are used to promote a political agenda. Muslim organizations throughout Europe have issued statements expressing solidarity with the grieving families, and pronounced that such criminal actions are in no way a part of the Islamic teachings of patience and understanding.

For a long time the western and US media has labeled terrorist acts as Islamic terrorism but there is a noticeable change in this attitude. After the recent London bombings, the emphasis was on the terrorist act without linking it to the Islamic faith. This is a welcome change and should further the understanding between the majority of the Muslim world that is moderate and the West. Tony Blair in his address to the parliament also emphasized that these are terrorist acts and will be dealt with accordingly. He did not label it as Islamic terrorism.

The real issue of how to combat terrorism remains largely unanswered. The first and foremost issue that rests deep in the sentiments of the Muslim world is the Middle East conflict between Israel and Palestine. Iraq war has reduced focus on this long-standing dispute between two nations that share the same cultural and ethnic heritage. It was hoped that after the election of Mehmood Abbas as the new leader of Palestine, there would be substantial progress on this issue but even after a year there is still a stalemate in the talks between the two sides. Israel is taking independent actions to pull out from some parts of Gaza and the West bank but this unilateral step, although positive, is not enough to solve the larger issue of the return of refugees, control of Jerusalem and creation of two separate nation states. Unless this major issue is resolved in earnest, the Muslim world will feel there is no real motivation in the West to address Muslim grievances.

The US invasion and occupation of Iraq has proved to be a major recruitment tool for terrorist organizations like Al-Qaeda. Regardless of the intentions of the invading army, it is imperative that the defeated nation face higher loss of life and property. There is no creditable account of loss of Iraqi civilians during the last 2 years of US occupation but the numbers run in tens of thousands. These affected people are potential recruits for terrorists like Zarqawi who have their own agenda to pursue using the energies of these broken people. The situation is further deteriorated when the US media tries to label the insurgent on sectarian lines promoting it as a Sunni insurgence against majority Shiite. This strategy might work in short term but in the long term it can have devastating effect in the whole region. Iraq is bordered by two majority Shiite states Syria and Iran who are indirectly fueling the insurgency as a safeguard against US invasion of their territories. The US, instead of labeling insurgency as a Sunni phenomenon, should work with all major communities in Iraq to create a true representative government in Iraq. This interim government should have control of the US forces on the ground as well as a time frame for the creation of political, economic and social system in the country. It might also help the local government if the US could announce the time frame for gradual departure of US forces.

Although Kashmir is considered as a geographical dispute between India and Pakistan but recent evidence of a foreign fighter engaged in the insurgence there has changed this view. The EU and US should use their diplomatic muscle to bring the two nations to the table without preconceived notions on a solution. Pakistan and India have both shown willingness to resolve their issues leading to a permanent solution to this 65-year-old dispute. Similar strategy can be adopted to solve the issue of Chechen annexation by Russia.

The Muslim world represents almost 25% of the world’s population and 30% of the nation states. Despite this, democratic leadership in the West does not support inclusion of a Muslim state in the UN Security Council to make it more democratic and representative of the world population. There has been much talk of expanding the UN Security Council to include Japan, Germany, India or Brazil. But this expansion will still leave a big void in the Muslim world for lack of representation in this world body. The most eligible country for the Security Council is either Malaysia for its industrial success or Pakistan that is currently the strongest military and diplomatic power in the Muslim world.

US President Bush on many occasions stressed that the US, to protect its lifestyle and value, has to take the war to the terrorists. British Prime Minister expressed the same point of view by saying, “we will defend our values” in his address to the parliament after the London bombings. Free markets, democracy, protection of human rights and justice are all Islamic values so there is no conflict between the two communities. Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) in his address during Hajj, laid out the political foundation of Muslim societies when he said, “All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also white has no superiority over black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action.” The real issue arises when, the EU and the US, in their short-term national interest, support authoritarian regimes. These autocratic rulers have no respect for human rights and are the greatest impediment in human development in many countries. This hypocritical approach creates anxiety and delusions in impoverished masses. Since a large majority, almost 70%, in Pakistan, is under the age of 30, they need avenues to express their talents but are unable to do so because of lack of opportunities. This frustration is exploited by terrorist organizations that blame the West for all the malice in the society and provide an avenue for these young people to retaliate. The Organization of Islamic conference (OIC) can be an ideal forum to promote democracy in the Islamic world but unfortunately no dialogue has been initiated to pursue that avenue.

A large majority of the Muslim world is comprised of moderate people who are more concerned with the advancement of their families rather than following the political agenda of Osama bin Laden. But these moderates need support from wealthy and democratic nations to strengthen democratic values in their societies. They feel suppressed when they see autocratic rulers being supported by the West. Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt are some of the countries struggling under these autocratic rulers and most of them are close US allies.

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