Monday, 13 June 2016

Orlando shootings and our role in fighting extremism

     Loss of forty nine lives at Pulse (an LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) nightclub) in Orlando, US is regrettable. Hate business is thriving across the globe. ISIS is using hate as political tool. Likewise, developed democracies/ establishments in west are also using hate and fear as political tools. Once an incident like this takes place, it continues to recycle itself. The list of victims will not stop here, it will keep growing. In order to reassert herself, US will react strongly. There will be more casualties elsewhere in the world. Those casualties will have implications elsewhere in the world. Hence, the cycle of terrorism and hate will continue to snowball. What are the implications? How should the great majority of normal people who exist between ideological and liberal extremes, react to this incident? If we just identify the causes of hate on both sides and work on eliminating those, the world can be a far better place. 
     Although, there is relative acceptance in US for lone wolf hate shootings because there is no law that may prevent automatic weapons falling in to wrong hands. But this was not a psychopathic indiscriminate shooting incident. Afghan origin Omer Mateen was a homegrown US terrorist who carried out targeted hate shooting at LGBT hangout, so there will be local and global implications. Though he acted independently and claimed to have allegiance with ISIS. But before any conclusive evidence could surface Donald Trump proposed ban on Muslims entering US. Muslims living in west for economic reasons will definitely take the immediate brunt. They will have to bear some social and economic grief. At global level, this war between two extreme mindsets will have its implications. One is a small minority of religious extremists and others are liberal extremists. Funny enough that both extremes are found in almost every country, society or culture of the world. In fact, the world is hostage to religious and liberal extremism. Everyone is familiar with religious extremism but not many people talk about liberal extremism which has equal share in spoiling the peace of this world. The very acronym of LGBT, abuse of freedom of speech by Charlie Hebdo (showing total dis-regard to the sentiments of 1.6 billion Muslims around the world), public burning of Quran in US, drone attacks, pre-emptive attacks on Muslims countries based on weak intelligence reports, economic oppression of west, unequal distribution of wealth, unchecked Israeli atrocities or US hegemonic presence in different parts of the world; all present the ugly face of west or hawkish liberalism. In a totally polarized world, where media shapes the public opinion, majority Muslims view west as one extreme liberal entity. Likewise, all Muslims across the world are seen by westerns as one extreme religious entity. In reality, on both sides, the numbers of extremists are ridiculously small but their marketing of hate is better than peace loving majority of the world. Unfortunately, this great majority either remains criminally silent or chooses sides based on convenience rather than principle. For example some Muslims living in sub-continent will conveniently feel good about ISIS killing westerners. In private circles, they will admire the act. In official or public capacity, they may show some humanity not to rejoice the event. Similarly, some in west may vent their anger on Muslim migrants in their countries. Others may come on roads to replay Million March like post Charlie Hebdo to avoid being social outcasts. Their ‘selective humanity’ is part of the problem because it is fueling more hatred. 
     Our generation has seen enough of terrorism. Everyone talks about the problem but there are not many viable solutions. Before we discuss solution, let us examine how a child growing in a normal Islamic household (without any extremist inclinations) may see the incident like Orlando Massacre. In normal Muslim households, kids know that Allah is the Omniscient. He is watching everything. He is even familiar with what happens deep down in our hearts. They fear Allah and love humanity. Prophet’s life is testament to the fact that hatred has no space in this religion. For them, the very idea of a nightclub where people socialize as a ‘way of life’, drink, gossip, dance and get laid; collides with the world around which a normal Muslim household is built. It is simply not acceptable. However, killing of those sexual perverts by religious perverts is also not condoned. Yet, Islam by default has always been resistent to secularism and it will continue to do so. In order to understand the root cause, we will have to divorce religious extremism from Islam. Religious extremism has an enormous appeal to Muslim youth which is largely frustrated with ways of the west. This is where our generation has to assume a serious role to check the growth of this menace among our family and surroundings. We need to teach our kids, siblings and youth that hatred is not the solution.
     However, this will only benefit our chaotic world today, when majority of silent but peace loving people in west also mobilize. They should stop buying the political sloganeering that ‘our way of life is under attack’. Muslims are not coming after your way of life, few perverts are. Those perverts are using this political slogan to gather mass and establishments in west are also capitalizing on this scenario to further their energy and hegemonic agendas. They are no different from those extremist freaks. They are using fear and hatred of their own people for political gains. Just see how this incident has triggered political point scoring among US presidential hopefuls.
     Hatred as root cause of problem may appear over-simplified. However, simple plans are the best ones. We have learnt so many complex things in life that doing simple things seems out of line. Hatred is not the means to right end. Hatred is just a burning sensation that burdens the heart. On state level, hatred is only a political tool which has immediate and larger appeal. Few extremists in this world like ISIS and western establishments are adroitly using this tool. Whereas, majority of peace loving people in east and west are playing in to the hands of this small minority. This should stop now. We should play our role to fight the hate business because our kids deserve a peaceful and better world. 
     Only Allah knows the whole Truth.

Monday, 14 March 2016

Fifty shades of extremism

Allow me to pose a simple question; who should decide what is good for the people of this country? Simple and logical answer would be, the legislature. Then why people take Fatwa more seriously than the law? For example, if strict blasphemy laws existed then why people rushed to imam masjid of Ittan Wali for disposal of Asia Bibi after she allegedly passed the blasphemous remarks? Reason is simple. there is a serious disconnect between law and tradition. Here, the word 'tradition' is used purposefully to illustrate that our religious inclinations and social settings combine together to form tradition. So basically it is mix of culture and belief. For obvious reasons, the word Maulvi has become a derogatory term for anyone who keeps a beard or talks religion yet the nuisance value of Maulvi is a reality of our society. Not only they exist, they matter. See how they have been able to mobilise the people on Mumtaz Qadri's hanging and Women Protection Bill. However, Religious Right (religious political parties, Tableeghis, hard core sectarians, taliblans and Pirs) is not the  favourite of this country as election after election, people elect lesser political evils (mainstream political parties particularly PML (N) & PPPP).  This scenario suggests that there is a great silent majority who believes that Religious Right should stay away from power. Yet, when it comes to 'significant issues', they seek 'guidance' of Ulema. It is a funny old cocktail. The political parties, owing to jinx of mediocrity and incompetence could never rise above short term gains and corruption. Hence, people are mis-represented and confusion galore. But the worst part is that they are misrepresented by choice. So how do we cope up with this situation? After all, religion cannot be divorced from politics and vice versa. Ottoman Empire was probably the best model of politico-religious co-existence but it was a monarchy which withered with time.
Today we are surrounded by fifty shades of extremism. Extremism has caused irreparable damage to Pakistan; may it be religious, sectarian or liberal extremism. You must have read and heard volumes on religious extremism but today we shall expose liberal extremism which has been equally damaging. 
For thousands of years, strength of our society rested in conventional wisdom and strongly embedded family values, holding entire society together. However, the decaying process started with introduction of western education. Acquisition of Western education was essential to progress but it had to be tailored in line with our socio-religious makeup. Works of Allama Iqbal revolve around the same theme. Other civilizations e.g Chinese are also progressing through western education but without losing sight of Confucianism. Unfortunately, right at the outset, small yet influential elite of our society lost track of its core values during process of cultural naturalization. But a mango tree will never yield oranges. So, like a science experiment that produces undesired results, we ended up with cult of liberal extremists in our society.  Luckily, they are not the intellectual elite of this society. But still, liberal extremist exist in numbers and they are as bad as religious extremists. 
Social media has been buzzing with unrelenting liberal extremism in the wake of recent issues which have no substance or significance whatsoever. Some people are even offended by the very mention of Sharmeen Obaid Chinnoi. Well, she is a commercial artist who conceived a brilliant business plan twice and twice her efforts were recognized by The Academy (a biased and controversial institution) . But that is about it. We should not feed on fallacy that it meant any good to the women of this country. Likewise, Malala Yousafzai is developing in to a well rounded young lady. She is doing well in life and which is 'good for her'. Similarly, legislator Uzma Bukhari is trying her best to add another feather in her cap by promoting women’s protection bill. Notwithstanding the fact that  promulgation of this bill will further compound the issue for women. Divorce rate of last two decade will give you a hint.
Liberal extremism has taken such deep roots that some of you have already judged the scribe being an ortho-religious extremist. However, truth of the matter is that all Muslim Pakistanis are trying to find their way through fifty shades of extremism. For example, all of us have a sect; something our parents chose for us at the time of birth. For the rest of our lives, whether we know its basics or not, we bravely defend our sect mostly through undermining other sects. To an extent that we may give benefit of doubt to non-Muslims but we have no tolerance for other sects because 'Aqeedah has overtaken the Iman'. Such is the state of affairs. If anyone still thinks ‘all is well’ then see where we stand today and you will find the answer.
Interestingly, religious and liberal extremism are not the opposite poles but the shades of extremism. Wearing different masks they all sell the same merchandise i.e. hatred and intolerance. Greater majority of Pakistanis exists in this fog of extremism but they continue to remain silent. They have already delegated the responsibility of deciding their fate to extremist mullah or extremist liberals through media channels. Past few weeks, we have seen debate over Women's Protection Bill in the mainstream media. Every evening we see a tiptop lady and a well fed Mullah wrangling over opposite perspectives on the the same issue. Both try to prove their ascendancy over each other by telling us what is good for us. It is not their fault, it the fault of that silent majority between these extremes which is affected by this nonsense but does not speak up. Neither the women of ruling elite nor the love life of Mullahs will be affected by these laws; rather the women of our families will have to take the brunt. Contrary to traditional respectful ways, which neither involved Mullah nor the law; women are being made to believe that Punjab Police and the greatest administrator of human race (Chotay Mian sb) will afford them protection. Please do not jump the gun by concluding that the scribe condones violence against women. It is deplorable. But a country which stands 127th in poverty index; which barely educates half of its population and still insists on building matros instead of schools and universities can face such issues. There is greater emergency in education sector than any other. However, men habitual of violence and those who do not take responsibility of their offspring must be taken to task through consensual legislation involving all stakeholders.
Now let us see the how religious and liberal extremism continue to ravage this country in the light of recent developments. Liberal element is ascendant due to promulgation of Women’s Protection Bill and hanging of Mumtaz Qadri. On the other hand, antagonized Religious Right element sees it as an opportunity to re-assert itself because it was rapidly losing ground due to ongoing Operation Zarb-e-Azb. Before operation, they were making hay while the sun of religious extremism was shinning bright. But now the tables have been turned.  For the first time, public opinion was unified against extremism (which otherwise took nearly four decades and almost hundred thousand lives to sink in). Those in supply chain of extremism were facing bad business. Their unchecked supplies of weapons, manpower and other logistics both inland and across were hampered. Similarly, the middleman who had his fingers in ghee and head in karahi was becoming redundant. In the past, people like Maulana Sahab retained Govt Ministries as well as upper hand in brokering deals between govt and the terrorists whichever felt the need for negotiations.  But it all came to halt with determined stroke of Azb.
Lately, liberal extremists through their disdainful posturing, continued to rub salt in to already bruised Religious Right. Liberal extremists are not paying heed to the fact that their high octane rhetoric may cast aspersions on ongoing operations
and will also afford a ripe opportunity to Religious Right to exploit the situation. We have already witnessed a spate of violence across the country after Qadri’s Hanging which has the capacity to gather mass like a snowball. Likewise, provocative statements emanating from govt offices are also adding fuel to the fire. Growing resentment over the said events has the propensity to undermine the gains of Operation Zarb-e-Azb.
Despite all shades of extremism we remain Pakistanis. Religious Right is hurting because it is losing business and nuisance, but it is unfathomable why liberal extremists can’t stay away from undue confrontation. They just have to let go for a while. Is moral victory not enough that controversial law has been passed? Is it not enough that Mumtaz Qadri is hanged? Whichever, education system one may have attended and whichever sect we proudly belong; we should have the stomach for disagreement without a squabble. Disagreement is the hallmark of vibrant societies but not at the cost of good manner. But most of liberal extremist simply want to open up firing squad on Mullahs which is equally extremist as Taliban view liberals. Difference is in method of execution whereas both shades of extremism have already done enough damage which must stop now. Instead of initiating a crusade against Mullahcracy, we need to tackle this mindset with due amount of respect and tactfulness because they do hold a position of strength in society. 
Finally, Pakistan cannot afford another row over less important issues like protection bill and hanging of a murderer. We must consider that when we spit venom against each other, it further polarizes the society. There are no winners in this game. Rather, it goes to show complete disregard to the brave sons of the soil who are giving their lives in ongoing operations as we speak. We can chip in with our share by just controlling that little shade of extremism inside each one of us.
Only Allah knows the whole Truth.

Monday, 7 March 2016

MQM's extreme makeover

News of Altaf Hussain's terminal illness is an open secret. Consequently, MQM's leadership appears embroiled in crafting her next move on political chessboard.Timing of every move is critical to its success. It seems that MQM has done her homework to turn impending death of her Quaid in to an opportunity. They are going for an extreme makeover. There are concerns in some quarters that Altaf’s death and creation of rebel block may result in some unrest. This assertion becomes irrelevant as MQM is using her political brain and working adroitly on Post Altaf scenario in order to make the best of Bhai’s demise.
            Now, let us build upon the hypothesis in the light of recent developments.
MQM’s militancy, money laundering, RAW connection and Altaf Hussain’s eccentricity have become facts by now. Political face of MQM is badly tainted. However, MQM’s strength lies in her party structure and mandate in Urban Sindh. This did not happen by chance. They have thrown everything but kitchen sink to establish political foothold in Urdu speaking community. Resultantly, their vote bank has grown after every election. Currently, they have 8 Senators, 24 MNAs and 50 MPAs (departure of Dr Saghir is not likely to change the tally of MPAs). These figures are staggering in any democracy. These figures also give you the answer to reconciliation compulsions of past and present Governments. Democracy as form of govt may have its advantages but MQM’s stranglehold on urban Sindh is the worst face of it.
Quick recap of Mustafa Kamal’s parachute landing along with Anees KK is; "calculated" allegations (no proofs, no specifics) only against Altaf Hussain, pleading to people & establishment for rehabilitation of MQM's militant wing on the pretext that 'they were not born killers'(probably same was the case with Al Capone & Hitler), highlighting RAW connection & mentioning South Africa & Indian 'Set ups', attributing all wrong decisions to one man who is dying & cannot defend himself giving strength to doubts over ‘timings’ of their return, measured attacks against PPPP & Rehman Malik, MQM's rather docile response to apparently 'Dabang' press conference, whereas, normally a word against Bhai was considered abuse against all Mohajirs, party flag & name withheld, establishment's mysterious silence either due to ignorance or complete confidence in the outcome or may be they are still colluding with MQM for 'saving democracy'.
Scribe wishes to be wrong but having been able to see through the MQM’s political acumen, one can easily smell the rat. It all appears to be a bargain to save party. The decision makers in the party have been able to look far ahead than its workers and people in general. It appears that important power players in MQM have decided to give up Altaf Hussain’s legacy and maintain Raaj in Karachi. It does not require a PhD economics to know that  Karachi is the hen that only lays golden eggs in terms of revenue generation. So keeping grip over Karachi becomes more important than holding on to appalling legacy of Altaf Hussain. For which MQM political brains are working on following:-
1.      Trade one man and take home all. They are playing on declaring Altaf Hussain an alcoholic douchebag who took all decision under influence which has ruined two generations of Urdu speaking community.
2.      Again fix blame on Altaf Hussain for RAW connection, so that rest of them get away with it.
3.      It is about time to close South African and Indian setups so that they come clean from militancy stigma. Again, Altaf Hussain’s name is the best choice and rest of them get a clean chit from people and govt.
4.      Protecting and rehabilitating MQM’s dissident militant wing as there was serious resentment in party over the disowning of this wing. Since politics of violence was not making any headways, they have decided to do away with this aspect as well.
5.      All three (MK, AKK and Dr Saghir) did not target any of their comrades in MQM rather they focused on singling out Bhai. Likewise, since Urdu community holds the key for power in Urban Sindh, they have tried to re-connect with Urdu speaking community only. Statements like we were once educated people and now being dubbed RAW agents. There is nothing wrong with unit and sector incharge on ground, they were just executing orders on Bhai’s behest.
6.      Rebel group is hampering on the fact that people have been kept in dark in the name of Muhajir exploitation. They are, in fact, writing a new chapter of deceit for their own community.
7.      Among all political rivals, these rebels are only targeting PPPP which can politically challenge MQM in Sindh. So the approach is politically MQM centric and futuristic.
8.      Finally, for the sake of newer and cleaner beginnings, on demise of Altaf Hussain MQM is likely to take everyone into fold including Mustafa Kamal, Anees KK and now Dr Saghir by giving them important leadership slots in MQM.  Or as plan B- wait & see; which MQM is doing right now. Let these rebels flourish, let others join, let them gain so much momentum that eventually remaining MQM is merged with rebels.
Mustafa Kamal may be the best choice as MQM wishes to start afresh with relatively cleaner politics. Minus one now appears to be a Win-Win for them. They will apparently mourn for optical value and then they will show a big heart and absorb old defections in to MQM or join them. Slowly they will start to disown all wrongs of the past attributing them to Altaf Hussain's solo and poor decision making just like they disowned all those militants in their ranks caught by LEAs. But it remains to be seen whether new look MQM gives up her old bad habits? Will the architects of MQM’s new episode be able to overcome temptations of the past?
Zia ul Haq, IJI (coalition of MQM & Noon), PPPP and Pervez Musharraf, all deserve a mention here. They all knew shenanigans of MQM but cast a blind eye to it. They nurtured this monster for the last three decades. Even now, the Interior Minister sees statements of MQM insiders as a storm in the tea cup and refuses to associate any weight to it.  If not Interior Ministry then who is going to take stock of situation? Finally, little mention self proclaimed leader and political novice, Mr IK who is happy that recent events supplemented PTI’s stance on MQM. Apparently, MQM’s politics has once again outgrown everyone in Pakistan.
Above stated hypothesis may prove wrong. In which case, just take this piece as new episode of Game of Thrones. But it seems that MQM after undergoing extreme makeover by its political wizards is here to stay with a new look and same old agenda without Altaf Hussain.
Only Allah knows the whole Truth. 

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Raheel Sharif's impact and possibilities

zarb-e-azb-is-indiscriminate-operation-against-terrorists-army-chief-1416476048-2085The impact General Rahil Shareef has made on politico-military landscape of Pakistan cannot go unnoticed.  There are rave reviews on his performance and he has his critics. He has been declared the best military general of 2015 by abc news, ahead of US’ chief of joint staff, Russian and Chinese military chiefs. People may question authenticity of this survey/ news item. But then we all crave for information which sometimes has little or no value. We can make a case by saying that in past no other general of Pakistan army has been dubbed as the best in the world even by unauthentic news sources. So all this smoke augurs presence of fire down there somewhere. In which case, more serious question is why army could not produce a general like Raheel Sharif in 70 years or will it take another 70 years to produce a well-rounded general like him?

Before we talk about his achievements, it would be relevant to draw an analogy for ease of understanding as to how things work in Pakistan and what is Army's role in it? Think Pakistan as a factory. Like any other factory, there are procurement, HR, finance, production and marketing departments. All the managers become important stakeholders. If one manger is efficient e.g. packing department manager; he may impact quality of packing but he still cannot improve the quality of product. Such is the dilemma of Army in Pakistan. Overall situation can only improve if all institutions work towards improving the end product. Agreed that analogy does not fit the description of Army critics but whichever way we look at it, final conclusion will not be far from it.

Interestingly enough, General Raheel Sharif has not done anything out of the ordinary. He has just been himself (an officer and a gentleman). He has been a Pakistani all the way. He has just done his job honestly. He took up issues of national interest and stuck to his guns. It is so easy to be a cult hero in Pakistan. People are so frustrated with years and years of lies and corruption that if a person like RS makes it to the highest pedestal of Army and only focuses on doing the basics right; he is at the verge of attaining a legendary status. Among other things,  Pakistan’s free media, for the first time is speaking Pakistani narrative. Nation seems united on war against terror. Corrupt and militant political factions are sweating from their teeth. After initial stutters, civil-military relations have taken a steady path. Clear lines are drawn between military and political affairs. Army is not reluctant reminding political leadership to ‘watch their steps’ on every transgression. No qualms about the fact that army is subservient institution of the government. However, credibility has remained an issue between the two because army never trusted political leadership and vice versa. On the other hand, political leadership did nothing to improve upon their credentials. Unfortunately, political leaders insist on running the state as a ‘private company’ just like their family businesses except that loss in state affairs due to their poor decision making will still have gains for them. They must have obliged big players by handing out projects on easy terms and commissions must have already been paid in time and in exact amounts.

By the way this is not an army paid article or a suck up. Having given prime time of my life to Army and being critical where required, I still find is painfully strange when people show disdain for army without valid reasons. Here is a little example for common reader. PM took gift of Saari for mother of Modi who in turn brought gifts for his grand-daughter’s wedding last month. For the last 18 months, I am located close to Eastern borders and every week we pick up dead bodies of our men and civilians due to ceasefire violations by India. See how men in uniform are combating Indian atrocities and how our PM honours the blood of our comrades who are supposed to be his people as well.

Back to Raheel Sharif. Some would call his popularity an undue media hype or mere optics. Others would concoct unending conspiracy theories. And some might be swept away in infatuation. One thing is certain that no general in past could muster as much goodwill as RS has attained. Where do we go from here? Pakistan represents an ideology and army is the sole impediment to physical disintegration of this country. The whole scenario makes position of RS very critical. There are 11 months to November 2016 and lot can be done in this time to tidying up the loose ends. Inter alia, following may be considered for the good of Pakistan:

a.    Drone attacks on Pakistan must stop. End of drone regime can ensure restoration of Pakistan’s sovereignty on its own land as well announcing establishment of the writ of the state in our western corridor.

b.    Foreign policy towards India, US, Iran, KSA and Afghanistan is crucial. Chinese friendship is guaranteed not for their love of Pakistani people but for our geo-strategic location and Chinese interests in the region and globe. Indian threat is not a fiction but reality and our reactive mode needs to be switched to proactive. Dependence on US should be curbed as US friendship is a matter of time. Better working relations with Russia can be useful for better stakes at international front. Neutral stance on KSA/ Iran wrangling is quintessential to keeping relative sectarian calm in the country. An investment of over three decades in Afghanistan can only come true if we stay relevant in power matrix and broker a deal between TTA, west and Afghan Govt.

c.    Taking the National Action Plan to the logical end. Political leadership should not play games with Army like we saw in case of currency smuggling and terror financing scandals in Sindh. Govt has gained political space against its rival parties (PPPP & MQM) as well as cut deals where it felt necessary like letting go entire leadership of PPPP without any prosecution. NAP must remain above political gimmicks and only Army can ensure that. Rehabilitation of IDPs and issue of missing persons should be taken on priority. As a follow up to Zarb-e-Azb, Govt be asked to come up with a long term program for restoration of FATA, KPK and Balochistan eventually configuring these area in to the fold of Pakistan.

d.    Completion of CPEC project can change the fate of Pakistan. There will be repercussions. Construction of Gawadar Deep Sea Port has cost us more than 60,000 lives. Construction of CPEC corridor may have its costs. It will allow full economic advantage to Pakistan. Our friends across border are already having sleepless nights. But they have also developed a habit of coming up with ingenious/ proactive strategies like 2001 escalation which silenced Kashmir Issue without firing a single bullet, Bombay attacks aftermath and creation/ sustenance of TTP. Complacency is not an option on this issue.

e.    It is a fallacy that terror organizations somehow can be used as vital national assets in times of need. It had a back blow when Mujahideen in Afghanistan went out of business after collapse of USSR and turned their focus on IOK. But soon India, in master stroke of strategy was able to win over few mercenaries thus creation of TTP came to pass. We are still paying the price for a flawed policy of the past. However, learning from past mistakes, Pakistan’s name should not figure out while listing down sponsors of terrorism including Jaish-e-Muhammad, Jamat-ud-Dawah etc.

f.     Finally, please do not even consider extension in your tenure as COAS. You had your share of service and glory. Extensions have a bad history and it would be a heartbreak if your good name is maligned for any right or wrong reason. We would love to remember you as a meteor which blazed across murky horizons of Pakistan.

Only Allah knows the whole truth.
Pakistan with its mix bag of problems remains to be the unique country by virtue of its ideology. Inertia is broken. Look how one man has impacted the world just by doing his job honestly. I wonder what wonders may come this nation’s way, if all of us start doing our bit honestly.