Archive for March, 2006

Survival of Pakistan Pakistan has recently been f…

Survival of Pakistan

Pakistan has recently been featured in the international press for various reasons; first there was the visit of US President Bush to Islamabad and then it was Pakistan’s desire to sign a gas pipeline deal with Iran despite intense US pressure not to do so.
A lot of things will impact the survival of Pakistan and directly affect its people. As an overview we see that the effects of 911 terror attacks were like an eruption of a major volcano, and although the incident has become part of history now, the geo-political power balance has still not achieved its balance. The incident provided US a reason to enter Afghanistan and overthrow the Taliban government. It also became a major reason to attack Iraq and overthrow Saddam Hussain. In the latter case, the occupation resulted in the destruction of the social and ethnic balance of Iraq, and now, the country might break-up in three pieces.
In this article we will try to sketch the history of Iraq as an example from which Pakistan can learn and chalk out a course of action to survive as a country.

The Ottoman Empire’s decision to side with imperialist Germany in the First World War became the final straw in its weak edifice and it fell into pieces. The Ottoman Empire controlled a large part of the Arab Muslim regions including present day Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya and Saudi Arabia. During the war, allied forces occupied much of the Ottoman territory including Turkey. This gave rise to a Turkish liberation movement under the leadership of Mustapha Kamal Attaturk. The latter was a nationalist and wanted to get rid of impoverished Arab regions to focus more on the development of the Turkish people. If he had knowledge of the hidden treasures under those sun dunes he might have decided otherwise. Since the English, who were leading the allied forces, were also not aware of the oil wealth under these lands, they decided to rule these regions through proxy rulers and carved out countries that still exist on the world map.

Iraq, formerly known as Mesopotamia, consists of an Arab majority as well as a large population of Kurds in its border regions with Turkey and Iran. The US occupation of Iraq disturbed the precarious balance between these communities and created a dynamo that is slowing moving towards full-fledged civil war. In these pages we predicted in August 2004 that Iraq would be divided into three separate regions with Southern Shiite majority, Northern Kurdish region and a small landlocked Sunni region. And, also that most of the oil riches would go to Shiite and Kurdish control regions, which would create a constant security issue which would become a reason for the US military to extend its stay in Iraq. On the other hand, this would also become a first step in the polarization of Turkey and Iran, countries that have struggled with Kurdish separatist movements. Iraqi Kurds with financial resources derived from oil wealth could start financing the Kurds’ separatist movements in these two countries.

The example of Iraq should open the eyes of Pakistani politicians and policy makers where ethnic divisions were played in favor of western interest to divide the country to make it easier to control. In the Muslim world, Pakistan is the third largest country behind Indonesia and Bangladesh. But in terms of military strength Pakistan is the leading Muslim country with nuclear capability. The movement of Pakistan was based on religious definition of a nation where religious practices were considered culturally unique to create a common bond between the people. But the reality is that once the objective of liberation from English power was achieved, the ethnic divisions became prominent. External forces that do not consider a strong Pakistan in their favor as well as our military rulers who wanted to keep the nation divided to ensure their control further fueled these ethnic divisions.

Recently a group of Sindhi and Balochi protestors waged a rally in front of the Pakistan Consulate in Houston to protest against the Kala Bagh dam. I had a chance to speak to some of the leaders present on that occasion. I asked them why are they agitating in a foreign country when their issue was a domestic one? Their reply was that they consider themselves a separate nation and the current policies of the military government borders a situation that is similar to genocide. I also asked them if they don’t want big dams to be built on rivers then what is the alternate solution? They said they didn’t need any dams on their rivers. They held placards highlighting issues like, rights for women, employment for youth and improvement in law and order. Why they considered these issues relevant to Sindh and Balochistan and not of the whole of Pakistan? To this I didn’t get a single reply worth mentioning here.

The current situation in Pakistan is, in part, due to the creation of its provinces on ethnic grounds. In many smaller countries, like France, Germany, Belgium, the provinces formed on the basis of population. We should create more provinces to better manage the needs of the people rather than give rise to ethnic definition of a province. Leaders of separatist/ethnic movements like ANP, Jiya Sindh and MQM should realize that division of Pakistan would also jeopardize the interests of their own ethnic group as it will be very difficult for these states to be economically viable. It is in our common interest, and imperative to our survival as a nation, to remain banded together and create our own unique Pakistani identity.

We also need to give up the national policy of recognizing four different linguistic and cultural presences of communities. Each individual can identify himself/herself with a particular ethnic group or a caste but it should not be a national policy. We should also create a think tank to define what does being a Pakistani mean and how we should define ourselves among the global community of nations.

Dr. Manzoor Ahmed, during my recent meeting with him, mentioned that many leaders in Balochistan and NWFP are his old students and they are sensible, educated people. The Government should initiate a dialogue with them and understand the root cause of their grievances instead of handling it with a bayonet. It is obvious from our last 65 years of history that military rulers have failed the nation miserably. It is also creating a slow dissent between the nation and military establishment, which could result in a civil war. General Musharraf, instead of considering himself the savior of the nation should do his national duty of holding a fair and free elections and pass on the responsibility of the government to elected representatives of the people. In the first few elections the corrupt and self-interested individuals might get elected but as people understand the power of the vote they will start electing qualified and sincere leaders as has happened in other democracies.
Pakistan is facing a period of turmoil in the region squashed between two large regional players India and China. We need to take hold of our destiny and create an internal harmony as a stepping-stone for political and economic stability. If we fail to do so, we will face the same destiny Iraq is facing today where it is on the brink of being broken into parts because of its ethnic divisions.


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How would the Prophet (Pbuh) feel today? After th…

How would the Prophet (Pbuh) feel today?

After the publication of indignant cartoons of Prophet Mohammad (Pbuh) in an obscure Danish newspaper the Muslim world is gripped in a continued state of terror and violence. Ironically the agitations are more prominent in countries with authoritarian rulers like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Egypt, Syria and Nigeria to name a few. Conspiracy theorist explain this phenomena that these agitations are politically motivated by the rulers to convince West they need continued support for their authoritarian rule to keep the religious fundamentalist at bay. Anthropologist on the other hand suggests that these agitations are a demonstration of the frustration of the population oppressed by authoritarian rule and reeling under never ending poverty. The instrument used in these agitations are the clergy who are always in look out for a way to show their control of the masses to further their orthodox religious agenda. Let us take a look at the life of Prophet Mohammad (Pbuh) from the eyes of a common man to see how correct these clergy are in prophesying their understanding of the religion and true message of the Prophet.

From all books written about Prophet Mohammad whether Muslim or non-Muslim everyone agrees that He is one of the greatest people to inhabit this world. His message of Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world. A message must have some appeal in it to attract large number of converts every year. As a person he was raised by his uncle Abu Talib who was one of the tribal leader in the boduin society of the time. At an early age he was hired by a widowed woman Hazrat Khadija (RATA) to take care of her trading business. This means that he must have enjoyed good reputation in the city as well as shown good business acumen. This also means that he must be conversant with the business practices related to accounting, merchandising, sales negotiations and settlement. This also means that to gain spiritual elevation a person has to be involved in a gainful employment besides spending time on spreading the spiritual message.

If we look at the lives of our current day clergy and religious leaders only a handful of them are involved in gainful employment. Most of them make their livelihood from the mosque. This economical interest from the mosque creates a conflict of interest in the promotion of true message of islam. In order for an Imam to be successful he has to make his mosque a success which in other word means to attract large number of people to the mosque by playing on their emotional psyche related to the religion. They also play on people’s fear of an after life for their sins of life on earth. This is a departure from the sunnat (life example of the prophet) to use religion as a means of livelihood.

As a young man Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) was not comfortable with the pagan religions. He would go to a nearby mountain and spend parts of nights there to meditate and find true meaning of life. We must try to emulate the state of mind of a young person who has no formal education. We have to understand the psychological development he must have gone through while sitting alone in a cave reflecting on life and its meaning. We see similar experiences in the lives of other great people of human history like Buddha, Moses, Jesus who spent countless years developing their spiritual self before announcing to the world. It was a journey through the depths of the soul that our current band of religious is totally incapable of. How many of our religious leaders do we know of who have meditated for even few years to find spiritual enlightenment? This is another departure from the Sunna of the Prophet.

When Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) announced his message to the world no one doubted that he is true but he struck at the heart of their faith, which is not an easily digestible idea. Socrates drank the bowl of poison just for that. While Aristotle flee from Athens for 7 years to save his life. As he kept preaching his message he made enemies who became bloodthirsty creating a huge risk for his life. As a practical realist as soon as the Prophet realized his life could be in danger, it also meant a danger for his message. He decided to migrate to Medina who were already inviting him to come and explain his message to them. This shows that despite being a Prophet with powers at his command he decided to lead life of a common person and handle the situation in a realistic manner. If we look at the attitude and speeches of our clergy after the publishing of the cartoons we can easily see that they once again abandoned the Sunnah of the Prophet for their own personal political and religious views. These religious leaders exploited a situation that could have been handled peacefully into a violent agitation costing human lives and property.

In Medina Prophet Mohammad quickly gained a large number of followers. But even with this fast growing group of Muslims he felt that he needed to act swiftly to ensure the safety of Medina from the aggression of Meccan’s who were still pursuing to capture and kill newly converted Muslims. Prophet Mohammad’s one of the first acts was to sign a peace and mutual defense agreement with Jewish tribes in the region. This was one of the most brilliant political moves by the Prophet who in a stroke of pen gained strengths against much stronger Meccan aggression. This also shows that Prophet Mohammad (Pbuh) was not averse to signing pacts and agreements with non-believers. This also shows that he understood well that there will always be non-believers in the world but mutual co-existence is important for the well being of mankind. In today’s Muslim societies non-believers feel pressured and discriminated. This is another departure from the Sunnah of the Prophet. Throughout 1000 years of Muslim domination of the world Muslim countries were open societies with equal opportunity for all, low tariff and excellent educational institutes.

After the victory at Mecca Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) gracefully pardoned all those who conspired against him. He is said to be home sick in Medina, as he loved Mecca deeply, but he still decided to return to Medina to be with people who accepted him when everyone in Arabia rejected him. This shows that a person should be dedicated and since to his adopted homeland regardless of where he was born. To follow Sunnah we have to protect our adopted homeland of USA but at the same time continue our efforts to improve relations between US & Pakistan as well as improve image of Muslims.

It is understood that the Muslims around the world are deeply wounded by the publication of Cartoons in the Danish paper. But adopting violent means of agitation burning and damaging public property, killing other muslims is a departure from the Sunnah of the Prophet whose message we all follow. If we really want to agitate we need to pursue education, economic independence and social reforms in our societies.

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A Visit to Pakistan Recently, I had a chance to…

A Visit to Pakistan

Recently, I had a chance to visit Pakistan. During my short stay there the hot news was of MMA planning a country-wide strike to protest against the government using the pretext of the infamous cartoons of the Prophet (PBUH), news of a bomb blast near US consulate in Karachi a day before the arrival of US President to Pakistan and President Bush’ visit to Pakistan. To gauge the reaction of the Pakistani people to the American President’s visit, I met with a number of people from different walks of life. I also had a chance encounter with Professor Dr. Manzoor Ahmed, ex-chancellor of Karachi University and a renowned intellectual with deep understanding of Pakistan. I talked to taxi drivers, shopkeepers and businessmen to get their perspective on the socio-economic and political situation of Pakistan. It will be difficult to share all those experiences in this article but I will try to paint a picture of things there- the way I saw them.

Karachi was as chaotic as always. Several under-construction projects were noticeable in all parts of the city; work was in progress on Lyari expressway; Clifton has an underpass; and overpass is planned at various congested points in the city. Other things that I found to be different were the abundance of small cars on the roads, almost everyone carrying a cell phone, and mushrooming of billboards throughout the length of the main roads. The latter has hugely tarnished the aesthetics of the city. People told me that the city has decided to tear down all these eyesores and issue licenses for pre-selected sites.

A positive development visible was the proliferation of a large number of television channels documenting almost all aspects of social life in Pakistan. There were main channels like GEO, ARY and PTV. Then there were many music channels, some ethnic channels, western channels and also Indian channels. Business Recorder has also started a business channel called Aaj. It seems that the nation is gripped by talk-show frenzy. Local bureaus of these channels allow common people to come on air and inform the viewers about the problems faced by them whether it was theft of electricity in their neighborhoods, seeping sewerage lines, lack of drinking water, broken roads or corruption of officials. This is a positive trend. But here I would like to quote Manzoor Ahmed: “ Pakistan’s intellectual depth is limited to the discussions on television channels. We lack formation of think tanks that could guide policy makers in forming future vision for social, economic and political development.”

In Lahore, I had a chance to meet with some young, successful businessmen. Their view about Pakistan’s economic future was quite discouraging. They felt that Pakistan’s major export, textile, was not ready to compete in the global market against China, India and Bangladesh after the abolition of tariffs and quotas in January 2004. They said that almost 30 textile composite plants that they know off were heading towards bankruptcy because the business models were based on quota and kickbacks. They also were of the opinion that no new industry has been installed in Pakistan to diversify its export base and that a credit based economy has emerged creating an inflated demand for consumer goods without creating employment opportunities thus moving the country towards large scale personal bankruptcies. They also felt that middle class is wiped out altogether from the country, which is considered a backbone of any fundamentally strong and growing economy.

As for the strike, well, one of my friends who is an active member of Jamaat-e-Islami and was involved in the planning of the MMA strike, to be held on March 3, maintained the view that peaceful strike is a democratic way of agitating against a government that is not truly representative of the people. He was not hopeful that 2007 elections would be fair and unbiased since, according to him the recent district council elections were widely rigged to bring to power those who could help the government achieve a substantial majority in 2007 elections. Then why was MQM, which is a majority party in Karachi and government itself, supporting the strike? I asked. My friend did not have a very convincing reply to their quiet support. The way it goes in politics, it could be that the government wanted to show to the US president that fundamentalists are still a threat to moderate government of General Pervez Musharraf and MQM, which is openly supporting General Musharraf, went along this line. Another view could be that General Musharraf wants to allow the situation to deteriorate so that he has a premise for early elections keeping the old Pakistani tradition of dissolving elected governments before their term expires.

Before the day of the strike I spoke to some shopkeepers, taxi drivers and day laborers. I asked them whether they would participate in the strike, and if yes, would they do so to support MMA’s cause or for the fear of violence and risk to their life and property. Almost everyone opined that strikes are not good for a poor country and that they are participating because they don’t want to risk their life and assets. Majority of them said they considered Maulanas to be hypocrites using religion to further their own brand of Islam and gain political power in the country with no visionary program for the nation. The strike was held peacefully throughout the country.

Speaking of President Bush’s visit, he arrived for a two-day visit to Pakistan after making a surprise visit to Afghanistan and a historical visit to India in which he signed a landmark nuclear treaty with the latter to cooperate in civilian nuclear technology. Pakistan was looking for a similar deal to maintain the balance of power in the region. But the government realized they would not gain anything when the news reached that Afghan President Karzai has complained to the US President that Pakistan is responsible for the current turmoil in their country. It was evident to Pakistan government that President Bush’s visit to Pakistan will be dominated by the clarification of Pakistan’s sincerity, loyalty and desire to fight terrorism in the region. Before the US President embarked on his journey he was looking for an scapegoat to avoid a nuclear treaty with Pakistan while insisting on Pakistan’s importance to them without really giving anything in return. Afghan President Karzai, who lived in Quetta, Pakistan, for almost 25 years forgot the sacrifices of Pakistani people during Afghanistan’s struggle against Russian aggression; forgot that it was Pakistan, who despite its own scarce resources, provided accommodation to 3.5 million Afghan refugees when no one else was willing to accept them. The infiltration of Afghan warlords destroyed the peaceful Pakistani society and obliterated it with weapons and drugs. But Karzai forgot all this and played in the hands of Indian diplomats to embarrass Pakistan. The fact is that Afghan insurgents, that are not controllable by Afghan border patrol, support current hostilities in Balochistan and Waziristan.

During the press conference of Musharraf and Bush, the body language of both presidents suggested that there has been tension during their discussions. The US did not offer any special treatment, economic aid or military assistance to Pakistan. The only consolation prize was formation of Reconstruction Opportunity Zones (ROZs) that need to be approved by the US congress before it can be implemented. Goods manufactured in these ROZs will be allowed duty free import into the US. All political analysts were of the view that India won this diplomatic round and Pakistan has to reconsider their approach in the region. Some pundits also suggested that President Musharraf got wind of what was to come and decided to visit China a week before the visit of the US president to seek help from China to counter the new equation formed between India and US.

Ground reality in Pakistan is much different from the rosy picture painted by the government. Leaders in power should take revolutionary steps to put the country on the path of sustainable progress in both economy and political fields. The opposition should understand that it is in the larger interest of the country to let the current elected government complete its term and not play in the hands of the government to find a reason for dissolution of assemblies. Intellectuals should come together to form think tanks to guide the elected representatives in formation of strategy and policy.

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