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Why Does the Pakistan Army Deserve our Support

It seems that deriding Pakistan army and maligning its efforts has become a finely tuned mechanism within the Pakistani public sphere. It would, however, be prudent to keep certain truths in our minds when we reach hasty conclusions and then share such easily formed opinions on the ubiquitous social media outlets. I write this neither as a former army officer nor as an international scholar, but rather as a diasporic Pakistani who has never actively severed his symbolic and material links with Pakistan.

As I write these lines, the young officers and soldiers of Pakistan army are fighting and dying for Pakistan’s very survival and security on various fronts. I have no doubt that they have the necessary skills, the leadership, and the material support necessary to continue defending Pakistan against all threats. But armies are never only about equipment and technology alone: at the end of the day an armed force is a trained body of human beings who voluntarily offer their services and, when, needed their lives to defend their nation. No amount of money can induce anyone to sacrifice their life: one must believe in the nobility of one’s mission and its intrinsic value to offer one’s life for a cause larger than oneself. When I was deployed at Sia Chin, I did not give my best to the nation because I was being paid a hard area allowance; I gave my best because I believed in defending Pakistan and would have died in the process. I could have such faith because at that time when I introduced myself as an army officer, no matter what the scenario, people treated me with respect and honor. As a human being I knew deep down that the nation for whom I was willing to sacrifice my life accorded me honor and respect. In other words, the public opinion of my service had an inextricable link with my morale, my self-worth, and my commitment to lay down my life for my country!

In the early nineties, only a fraction of Pakistan army was deployed at Sia Chin: at this time over eighty percent of our troops are deployed in one internal struggle for Pakistan or another. Just visit any cantonment and you will see that most battalions only have their rear parties in the cantonment, for rest of them are fighting in one way or the other. The soldiers and young officers, according to my sources, hardly ever get the one and a half month annual, staggered, leaves that happen to be their legal right. Besides this, about seven thousand soldiers have died just in FATA and the number of seriously wounded is even larger than that. In such a scenario, the least we can do for our troops is to offer them the kind of moral support that is absolutely essential for their morale and eventually crucial to Pakistan’s survival.

I live in the United States, an established democracy with strong civil institutions. Even here, from leaders to the average people, no one ever unduly criticizes the armed forces or troops. In fact, if every day Americans run into a military person, they often say to them: “Thank you for your service.” If we just adopt such every-day rituals, it means a world to the soldiers who are fighting for the very survival of Pakistan.

I understand that some politicians and their supporters find it easy to scapegoat the army, but if their politics can only sustain itself by unduly maligning the very integrity of their national defense force, then there is certainly something wrong with such politics. Of course, the politicians are well within their rights to insist on the civilian control of the institutions, but that does not mean that they should force their will upon the internal functioning of armed forces or make it their mission to malign their own armed forces.

I am not naive and am aware of the past political adventures of the Army elite. I am, however, also aware that soldiers, officers, and the current leadership is more interested in keeping Pakistan safe and secure and impugning any other motives onto them is dangerous and self-defeating.

So, your soldiers are fighting and dying for you. It is only fair to lend them your love and support, for if Pakistan loses this fight against the forces of destruction, then no amount of electioneering or democratizing will save Pakistan!

Commentaries Poetry

بنامِ مقتولانِ مصر

مساجد قتل گاہیں بن گئ ہیں، مدارس نفرتوں کے آستانے
وفا و پیار کی دو چار نظمیں، جفا و ظلم کے لاکھوں فسانے
تمہیں کتنا لہو درکار ہے اور، تمہیں کتنے دریدہ جسم چاہیئں
ہاں لاو ظلم کی جھوٹی حدیثیں ہمارے قتل کے رنگیں بہانے
اگر کچھ اور حاجت ہے لہو کی تو آو اے سگانِ بربریت
کہ ہم نے وا کیے درہائے ہستی منور کر دیئے اپنے ٹھکانے
جہاں بھی اس شبِ ظلمت میں دیکھو روشنی واں ھم کھڑے ہیں
تبسم بر لباں، شانہ بشانہ، چار سو ہاں ھم کھڑے ہیں!


The Pernicious Ramifications of Civilian-Army Confrontation

As someone with a dual personal history, a soldier first and a scholar now, I have always found myself in this liminal space where I refuse to take sides when it comes to my public and scholarly writings about Pakistan. This lack of alignment with one or the other has sometimes cost me many an old friendship. I believe that democracy, unfettered by special interests of any kind, is ultimately the only system that can secure Pakistan’s future. But pragmatically, it is also important to  be cognizant of the contemporary realities of Pakistan and to draw  conclusions from the lived realities of Pakistan’s politics and other existential exigencies. It seems that within the current climate of Pakistani politics, especially when Pakistan is faced with external threats and internal strife, yet another new narrative of  conflict between the Pakistan army and the civilian government is being proffered to the public. Of course, the chief instigator in this instance is no one less than the figure of the now ousted prime minister, Mr. Nawaz Sharif, who recently alleged that the current chief of army staff was not the right choice, and, somehow, he had made a mistake in appointing him.

Mr. Sharif has a history of trying to appoint the army chiefs who would, in his view, serve his personal political interests. And, even though he and his family were brought into the political arena by a military dictator, he, of all the politicians, has had the most unneeded confrontations with several army chiefs. Now there is nothing wrong with the civilian elected prime minister to remind the military that he/ she, after all, is the elected head of the executive and thus must have the final word about Pakistan’s internal and external national policy, but it is also his/ her responsibility to ensure that the army leadership is not politicized and that the image of Pakistan army is not unduly tarnished because of the inherent tensions between civilian and military institutions. In his public statements though, it seems that Mr. Sharif has no problem in directly or indirectly maligning the Pakistan army, which might serve some limited political purpose for Mr. Sharif but cannot be in the best interest of Pakistan.

I must point out here that despite being a retired army officer, I am neither an uncritical apologist for the Army brass and nor do I withhold my criticism of the Army generals when such criticism is warranted and merited. And my criticism of the Army dictators and intransigent generals is published and a matter of public record. I am, however, a strong supporter of the solders and junior officers of Pakistan army,  who constantly put their lives at risk for the safety and security of their country. Right now, as I write these lines, our officers and troops are deployed in the mountains of FATA and are literally offering their lives in a fight to  secure a peaceful future for our children: They need our love and support!

Mr. Nawaz Sharif has a history of making a spectacle of his relations with the army. In the late nineties he brought the entire country to crisis and even attempted to divide the army sympathies by ousting one COAS, while he was on a visit abroad, and appointing a new one in his absence. Of course, constitutionally it was his right to do so, but the constitution also does not give him the right to use his power as a tool for the of symbolic humiliation of the army generals or their subordinates. There is a grave risk for Pakistan if the popular trust in this institutions is “officially” eroded. All armies, but especially the Pakistan army in its current anti terror operations, need general public support to do their job. This symbolic recognition of the army and the measure of its respect in the public sphere is crucial to the actual functioning and morale of the troops. After all, no amount of money can convince anyone to surrender their life for their country. The troops and their officers undertake these lif-threatening missions as their job but also as a service to their people and their nation and if the people turn on them or deride them publicly, then no amount of money can build a functional and motivated army.

I understand that because of army’s history of political interference in the Pakistani system, the public trust of the army has eroded and people have the right to criticize the military dictators. There is also no doubt that so many of the problems we face today can be traced back to one or the other military dictator. But despite all that, it is the responsibility of the government to continuously support the army materially and symbolically and maligning the army leadership publicly can never be in the best interest of the country.

On the other hand, I see on several veteran’s social media pages as well as through personal discussions that the army officers also tend to deride the politicians and the political system and think of it as inherently corrupt. This is also a symptom of a deep-seated distrust of the civilians which has its provenance in the colonial system: the officers and men of the Royal Indian Army, of whose traditions we sometimes follow in the Pakistan army, were trained to distrust the civilians. the British could only create a dependable native force by elevating the soldiers’ self view over that of their own people and thus by aligning their sympathies with their colonial masters. The distrust of the civilians, and as an extension the distrust of the civilian government, is based in this colonial history. Just as not all generals are brave, sagacious, and honest, similarly not all politicians are corrupt: some of them are actually very sincere to their constituents. Besides, one does not accidentally become a political leader: it takes years of work and investment of time and resources and in the end one has to convince thousands of people to vote for you in order to be elected. So, yes there is a lot of corruption in our political system, but to deride the entire political system is neither fair to the politicians nor to the people of Pakistan. We have tried the alternative three times; it failed to make our lives better!

Under the current circumstances, then, it is the politicians’ job to ensure that the  Pakistan army  does not lose its public support: without a culture of general respect and support, the army can neither perform its internal security functions nor protect the nation from foreign aggression. But with the symbolic and material support of the nation behind them, the soldiers and officers can continue to do their best to safeguard Pakistan’s people and its interests. On the other hand the army elite also need to train their officers and men in the habits of democracy: habits that encourage them to see their civilian counterparts as their equals, and values that inform them that they, the soldiers, are there to serve their people and not rule them.

I would like to end this with a reference to US politics and the every day treatment of veterans in the United States. Politically, both major political parties always go out of their way to praise the US armed forces and their service to the country. Every US president makes it a point to valorize and praise the US servicemen and women at the end of every major speech. This happens across the political spectrum: this is political maturity at its best, for despite their political differences the US politicians know that publicly acknowledging the services of men and women in  uniform is crucial to the morale of the armed forces. Furthermore, in the every day culture, when people encounter a veteran, they always look at them and say: “Thank you for your service.” I have seen this a thousand times!! This is the way we used to treat our soldiers! Why cannot we do that now?

So, I am not proposing that the army should have more political power or should have some form of autonomy in shaping national policy: that absolutely is the prerogative of the elected government. What I am suggesting is that while the army should restrict itself to its constitutional role, the politicians should also ensure that they do not attempt to weaken the army image for their limited political goals. In fact, if the politicians do build a politics of confrontation with the army, then by weakening the army they will end up enervating the morale and readiness of the very organization that is crucial to Pakistan’s survival against the internal and external threats.


Pakistan Army and Pakistan’s Water Security

By all accounts, Pakistan is currently one of the top water stressed countries and the situation is likely to further aggravate in the future. Given the rise of population, urbanization, and loss of forested areas, water planning should be at the top of Pakistani federal and local governments. However, there seems to be no coherent long-term planning at all governmental levels.

The Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) has warned that the country may run dry by 2025 if the authorities didn’t take an immediate action. According to a yet-to-be released report, parts of which have been made available to the media, the Islamic country touched the “water stress line” in 1990 and crossed the “water scarcity line” in 2005. 1

One does not need to be a water planning expert to assess the water stress situation in Pakistan. Even in Islamabad, the capital city of Pakistan, the city has to resort to water rationing and the residents do not seem to have a reliable supply of water. The situation is even worse in older cities, especially the inner city areas of all major urban centers. During the summers, the unregulated private water supply vendors charge exorbitant amounts of money to supply water, and sadly they basically sell public water to the urban citizens. Thus, “water mafia” is yet another powerful net of illegal extortionist businesses in our major cities. So far, most people in the inner cities rely on private wells to draw water, but since the population is rising and more and more city-spaces are being paved, the aquifers that supply the deep wells are also drying up. If this trend of water scarcity continues, Pakistan’s next violent clashes could very well be caused by fights over water.

There are many solutions being offered by people much more educated and wiser than me and given some planning and political will, the government can if not avert this impending disaster then at least reduce the costs and risks. As a former army officer, I would like to encourage our military commanders to make this into a major issue of national interest.

Pakistan army has cantonments all over the country and the army also owns vast stretches of land all over the country. While on a strategic level the federal government could develop a long-term water security plan with the army, the army itself, through its own resources, can also launch some major initiatives. In the United States, for examples, most human-made dams and water reservoirs were built by the US Corps of Engineers over a long time. The Pakistan army could also use the expertise of their own Corp of Engineers and other forces to build small-scale dams and water reservoirs in all cantonment areas. The dams do not have to be massive or large: any size of water storage ponds, lakes, and dams would not only serve the immediate purpose of storing rain and stream water but would also help in raising the water table around the ponds and dams.

Similarly, the Pakistan army cantonments pretty much always have their own independent sewage systems. The army could invest in modernizing the sewage systems and then create efficient water treatment plants to clean and reuse water. The army has the expertise, the manpower, and a centralized effective leadership to accomplish all this and thus become central to securing the future of Pakistan in this important, but sadly neglected, part of our national planning for the future.

Of course, the Pakistan army has already undertaken such projects in water stressed areas. For example:

Wali Tangi Dam, Islam Kach and Levy Post dams in Balochistan and water supply schemes in Thar Desert are a few examples, which have made positive impact on the environment and the local population. Additionally the Army has reactivated a number of abandoned tube wells in Cholistan desert. 2

However, these efforts need to be accelerated both at macro and micro level. 3 In a way, the army could launch a whole program that introduces thousands of micro programs to create and maintain water storage areas all over the country. Furthermore, while developing the army housing schemes for troops and officers, water planning should be a major part of any such planning, for what is the point of building housing for troops and officers if they are left scrambling for water.

While the civilian government ought to lead Pakistan toward its water security and we can hope that water will become a priority for our political governments, the Pakistan army can lead the way in doing its part in ensuring the water security of Pakistan.


The Incredible Pettiness of Mr. Trump

America has had its fair share of not too intelligent presidents, but in most of the cases when such people got elected they made up for their intellectual shortcomings by either being compassionate and kind, or by simply projecting a popular I-am-just-like-you-all persona. That Mr. Trump does not have the required experience and intelligence to run this country is fairly obvious, but what, in my view, is even more startling is his tendency to be petty, little, and mean.

In fact, this is probably the first time in post World War American history that a person with a foul temper, juvenile behavior, and petty attitude has won the nomination of a major political party. So, if he gets elected, America will, for the first time, have a president who is likely to stomp his feet and yell and scream when he does not get his way. And, being president, no one will be able to set him straight and send him on a time out or ground him. Some people believe that as he runs for office, he will, somehow, become more presidential. But no amount of coaching will ever make Mr. Trump “presidential.” He has, in the recent weeks, become even more childish in public.

His recent attack on Ghazal Khan, the mother of a fallen Muslim soldier, is yet another example of this cruel childishness. This is classic juvenile behavior: think of your school years, doesn’t his behavior remind you of the kid who always blamed others for his own failures. It seems, whatever goes on in the  world, it is always someone else’s fault and if you criticize Mr. Trump, then in his teen-age mind, you deserve to be called names or belittled.

His supporters believe that he “tells it like it is.” Not true. How many of the conservative families in America would accept their children to throw tantrums, yell at others, or call them names. How many Christians in America would be okay if their son or daughter derided the death of a fallen soldier by making his mother the object of his or her criticism. No, Mr. Trump may have a small following amongst the most uncritical and the most bigoted, but he, to me, does not represent the good Christian or conservative values; I know this because I have experienced the kindness and generosity  of my conservative and Christian friends over the past twenty years or so and not even a single one of them would behave the way Mr. Trump does!

So, the question here is not  whether America can afford to have an unprepared person as its next president: maybe that can be remedied with good advisors and with a lot of help. The questions here is whether America and Americans will be okay to have someone so petty as their president. After all, besides his or her policy, American presidents are also seen as as people larger than their parties and as people who can set some good examples for all Americans. American presidents, by and large, have always projected themselves as either being populist or, at least, being capable of working with grace and dignity even under the worst of circumstances. The office of the president is more than just what the president does; it is also about what kind of symbolics the president offers to the Americans and to the rest of the world.

Could someone so petty as Mr. Trump fulfill this symbolic function of the US presidency locally and globally? I don’t think so.

So, think twice before you vote America!


Pokémon Go: My Journey to Level 30 in Pilot Point, Texas

It might seem odd for a professor of literature, who usually writes about deeply political issues, to opine not only about an augmented RajaLevel30reality game, but to also admit to having played it extensively over the last six weeks. To be honest, I find the game valuable and revolutionary in so many way, not the least of which is its focus on outdoor activity and on social interactions. I am writing this personal narrative to share the trials, tribulations, successes and failures in reaching level 30, considered, by many serious gamers, as a major milestone in the game. I will also provide, where necessary, some of my personal critical insights about the possibilities that this game opened up for me and that it can do for many other players/ trainers. I must admit, at the very outset, that before Pokémon Go I had never even once played any kind of video game: neither in my childhood nor in my adult life. Thus, my experience involved not just learning this specific game but also learning the general rules and practices of playing a game like this as a serious player.

The Learning Curve

I downloaded the game on July 13, 2016. Now, bear in mind that I had absolutely no background knowledge on the earlier versions of Pokémon games and I had not seen the series. Thus, when the three first Pokémon were offered to me by the professor, I chose at random and ended up with a Squirtle as my starter Pokémon. Later, of course, I learned that there are many different ways of catching the first Pokémon and that one could even start with Pikachu as the starter Pokémon. But, as a novice I still had to learn more: I had no idea what HP, CP, or XP meant nor did I have any idea about how to get these valuable commodities.

Thus, I started researching the game and in a few days had learned quite a lot from Reddit and other such forums on the game. Pretty soon, I was talking the lingo of the game and boasting about the CP of my Rattatas and Pidgeys:) This does not mean that I did not make the early mistakes that most other beginning players like myself had made.

Early Mistakes

Like everyone else, I evolved my Pokémon too early and thus ended up using a lot of stardust to power them up. Furthermore, since I did know much about what are the best moves and what Individual Values (IV) are the most suitable, I mostly relied on chance to end up with good enough evolved Pokémon.

I also learned too late in the game the use of lucky egg+mass evolution (Pidgeys, Rattatas, and Weedles) to level up. Had I learned this early enough in the game, it would have probably taken me less time to reach level thirty, but probably this whole journey would have been less fun without these mistakes.

General Lessons Learned

Level up using mass evolutions with a lucky egg but do it at a place where you can, if there is still some time left on the egg, cash some Pokestops and / or fight at a gym: That would give you added double XP bonus.

Enhance your Pokémon Bag (I think 350 is maximum) and your Items bag to maximum as early as possible.

Do not waste money on Pokeballs, lures or incenses: Invest in incubators!!! Every hatching not only brings you a new Pokémon (whose IVs tend to be perfect by the way) but also gives you a lot of XP and stardust.

Save your stardust for later, when you can catch and hatch higher level Pokémon so that you can power them up without spending massive quantities of stardust. I suggest evolving your main fighting team after you hit level 20; by then you will have caught first generation Pokémon at much higher level and will not need much stardust to make them stronger.

Have at least 12 top Pokémon’s, with varying combinations of powers, always at the maximum CP level corresponding to your game level. This way, when you level up, you can power them up to maximum quickly and then use the resources to power up other Pokémon down the list, if you need them.

When you do select a team of your fighting Pokémon, make sure you have all the varied varieties like fire, Ice, water etc.

Now, as it has been made available in the recent update, use the appraisal function in the app to figure out if a certain Pokémon is worth investing in.

Gym Battles

My tiny Jolteon took down a mighty Dragonite.
My tiny Jolteon took down a mighty Dragonite.

I waited until I reached level 20 to engage in a gym fight; by then I had a few Pokémon powerful enough to take on a level four or five gym.

One lesson I learned quickly enough was that no matter how powerful your Pokémon; you cannot hold a gym alone: You can only successfully defend a gym if you hold it as a team!

But as a lone player, you can use your individual strength to earn extra XP. I learned this because of the opportunism of one of my opponents. I had just taken down a level 5 gym and was about to put my Pokémon in it, when suddenly someone from another team, who probably was waiting in the wings, placed his or her Pokémon first!! I felt cheated, but then decided to take their single guy down. That gave me 150 points. I repeated this ten times: I would take down their defender and wait for them to “beat” me to placing a new defender. In the end, I made 1500 points from a gym that I could have not held on to even if I had put my Pokémon in it.

I have named this technique “Gym Cashing” 🙂 So try this: take down a contested gym and get the points for it; then pause, wait, and let someone else stick their Pokémon up there. Then take that one down and see how long can you reap the rewards!!! If you are using a lucky egg, your rewards, of course, will be doubled!!

Keep this strategy in mind:

Attack: Don’t only just have a trained team of powerfulPokémon; make sure to plan the logistics and have enough healing potions to heal your team. So, stock up on healing potions before attacking a gym.

Defense: This game is collaborative, in gym battles, and unless you have a whole team of trainers ready to fortify and defend a gym, not even your most powerful Pokémon will be able to hold off an attack. So, take a couple of friends with you and when you take a gym, raise its prestige so that a couple of other people can add their Pokémon to it quickly.


So, over all catch whatever you can, mass evolve to level up, and wait till level 20 to really evolve your fighting team and save that stardust to power up your guys.

Invest in incubators.

Use “Gym Cashing” to earn extra points!!!

My Opinion on the Social Aspects of the Game

I think what makes this game amazing is the social aspect of it: You have to get out of the house to play it and you have to explore new places. Since I downloaded the game, I have talked to people I would have never run into, I have visited more places in my town, and I have been walking a lot (over 200 Kilometers). This social aspect of the game, to me, is the most important part of the game and I am glad that the developers are constantly highlighting this integral part of the game.

Team play is yet another aspect of the game that I find highly laudable: it can teach both youth and adults that working in concert with others can often be more rewarding!

In my small town (Pilot Point, Texas), I have decided that soon, through a local ice cream shop, I will start volunteering to lead the local kids on a Pokémon tour of the downtown area. Tis would involve passing through the Pokestops and talking about their history and then conducting two gym battles at both ends of the downtown. Overall, this would combine exercise, a lesson on local history, and an implicit education that working as a team is much better than just going it alone!!

I will certainly post some more on this topic and probably also write an academic article about it too, but for right now, thank you for reading and for letting me share my thoughts and experiences!

Go Catch’em all and reach level thirty: it’s a great feeling to be here!!!




My New Book: The Religious Right and the Talibanization of America

TalibanizationI just wanted to take a few moments to share the news about my forthcoming book, The Religious Right and the Talibanization of America (Palgrave, 2016).

This is a really short monograph written both for academic and popular audiences. I thought of writing the this book when, a few years ago, as I started noticing certain similarities between the rhetorics employed by the Taliban and the ultra-Christians in the United States. This line of inquiry encouraged me to look into the ideological scaffoldings of both these groups and to see as to what kind of world would we be in if either of these two groups succeeds in implementing their vision. To my surprise, I learned that in either case the world that they would create would be similar in its exclusionary practices and in its destructive nature for all those not associated with the in-group.

The book is organized in three simple chapters: Chapter one discusses the Taliban; chapter two explains the Ultra-Christian and the libertarian right. In chapter three I discuss the kind of world both these groups would end up creating if they win the chance of implementing their vision.

I believe this book could be useful to students, scholars,a nd policymakers. So, if you like the general idea, please help me promote this book and share the news about the books with your friends and colleagues.

Back Cover Description of the book:

This highly original book suggests that the practices of Taliban and the American far right, two very significant and poorly understood groups, share common features. This commonality can be found in the philosophical basis of their ideological beliefs, in their comparative worldviews, and in their political practices.  As Raja argues, the Taliban are much less the product of an irrational fundamentalism, and the radical right in America is much more the result of such a mindset, than Americans recognize.  After providing a detailed explanation of his theoretical concepts and specialized vocabulary, the author develops a discussion of the subject in this brief but penetrating book.  This is a book that should attract a wide readership among both academics and the general public.

The books will be available to purchase on march 25th and can be preordered on Amazon.

Commentaries Education

Humanities make humans

We often hear, in public and private conversations, that Pakistani culture and politics will become better with the increase in access to education. This is nothing new: almost all nations offer “education” as a panacea: as something that can solve most of their socio-economic problems. In the last decade or so, huge investments have been made in higher education in Pakistan, but a shift in public culture is not so visible. In fact, the culture has become markedly more violent and troubled. So, why is the rise in education not leading to a more egalitarian and progressive culture? And why is it that in some cases, some of the most highly educated youth end up being terrorist sympathisers, like those who murdered Sabeen Mahmud?

Besides other reasons, it is the lack of a humanistic education that causes so many of our ideological and material problems. But let me clarify my terms: What do I mean by humanistic education? Simply stated, a critical humanistic education focuses on the humanities disciplines that include, but are not limited to: literature, history, and philosophy. But simply including these subjects in our college curricula is not enough. Humanities must be taught to encourage critical thinking, to learn to accept cultural differences, and to encourage the habits of questioning all master narratives. Very rarely are humanities taught in such a way or with this aim in Pakistani universities.

In such a didactic model, students learn the habits of democratic life

Furthermore, like in the US, most of the higher education funding in Pakistan is reserved for Science-Technology-Engineering-Match (STEM) disciplines. I guess the idea behind this investment is to train and develop a workforce that can compete globally and contribute locally. But if this workforce does not develop the habits of critical thought, then no amount of scientific knowledge would make them into the kind of enlightened and tolerant citizens that any modern nation-state absolutely needs to sustain itself.

There is a vast corpus of research on the role of humanities in what Gayatri Spivak, the renowned postcolonial scholar, calls “training the imagination” of our students. In such a didactic model, students not only learn the subject matter, but also learn the habits of democratic life.

On the day of the successful testing of the US atomic bomb, Oppenheimer, who headed the Manhattan Project, said, “I am become death: the destroyer of worlds.” So, on the day that he had achieved his scientific mission, which was the creation of the bomb and its successful launch, Oppenheimer does not speak like a scientist. As a scientist he should have been proud of his accomplishment. He speaks as a humanist.


Thus while science can give one the knowledge to build or to destroy, only a humanistic education can equip one to know the difference between destructive and salutary acts.

Both Pakistan and India became independent nations because of the hard work of their leaders (and of course their followers) who understood the functioning of the British political system and thus could challenge the British within the rhetorical logic of their own system. Jinnah and Nehru are both good examples of this. These leaders were a product of the British humanistic tradition, but sadly they failed to replicate the very educational system that had produced them.

Now, in the early education sector, private schools do encourage critical thinking and focus a lot on humanities, but in most of the cases, these schools rely on a purely Western curriculum. The students are not really trained to be responsible citizens within Pakistan, but are trained to perform better in foreign universities. A culturally grounded humanistic education would enable the students to know the world but without developing a disdain for their own culture. Thus, a critically aware humanistic education would enable the students to encounter cultural differences without feeling threatened by the difference itself. And this capacity to live with differences is crucial to all modern democracies, but especially for Pakistan where sectarian, regional, gender, and other differences are currently being mobilised to pit our citizens against each other.

But of course, there is yet another question that I must answer. Precisely, how is literature supposed to make us better human beings? In his book Radical Pedagogy, Dr Mark Bracher asserts that we all, in one way or the other, attempt to safeguard our identities and move about in the world with an imperceptible knowledge of all threats to our identities. In order to bring about change in our worldviews, knowledge alone is not enough. We must alter our self-serving narrative through attentive didactics. It is in this attempt to reshape our personal and collective narratives that a humanistic education becomes crucial.

For an average Taliban foot soldier, the narrative is oversimplified: the world is divided between the followers of their own sect and “the rest”. The rest are evildoers and wrong – a threat to the purity of one’s faith. No amount of uninformed education can alter this worldview. Only an informed education that slowly displaces this exclusivist narrative with a more inclusive narrative has some hope of transforming such destructive subjectivities.

Now, all these individuals with a purist view of faith and culture can be trained to be scientists, doctors, and engineers and all that knowledge would probably not alter the narratives upon which the edifices of their selves are built. Only a critically informed humanistic education would have some hope of altering and transforming the core narratives of such people.

On the whole then, for a country like ours, while it is absolutely necessary to develop technological, medical, and other scientific expertise, it is also extremely important to revitalise education in the humanities so that we can produce the kind of human subjectivities that are, besides their scientific training, also trained to imagine and practice life in an increasingly diverse and complex world.

First published in The Friday Times.

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Axact, Bol and Pakistani Journalism: What is at Stake!



A lot has happened since the New York Times published their deeply troubling investigative story about the shenanigans of Axact. The Pakistani authorities have now launched an investigation into the dealings of the company, the leading journalists recruited by Bol, an affiliate of Axact, have now left the new network, some for the reasons of “conscience.”

For right now, the Pakistani government and media have discussed this story only from the perspective of Pakistan’s image in the world. But this, I suggest, is more than just an image problem.

That a shady corporation selling fake degrees almost got away with launching a major media channel in Pakistan is what we should be looking at closely. Furthermore, this channel, funded by a fake corporation, was able to recruit some leading journalist, including some who call themselves investigative journalists, is another question we need to follow. How did these journalists, who have the power to shape public perceptions in Pakistan and whose job it is to reveal the truth, got roped in by a corporation that specialized in smoke and mirrors? Shouldn’t these pundits and opinion-makers have been more inquisitive and critical when they were signing their lucrative contracts?

The would be Chief Editor of Bol, Kamran Khan, a household name in Pakistani TV  journalism, just resigned though a tweet:

Charges against Axact far from proven in court but my conscience not letting me continue.I’ve decided to disassociate from Bol immediately.

Sounds a lot like a fat rat jumping a sinking ship! But the main questions is about how the rat got on the ship? I mean how do you become the Chief Editor of a company without knowing how it is being funded? Isn’t it your job as a journalist to at least check? Unless, of course, you are not really a journalist and have relied  on average clichés and platitudes to rise as a titan amongst your fellow pygmies, all clamoring to become the loudest and most ill-informed so-called journalists.

Yes, we should certainly explore and take Axact to task for their shady dealings, but these journalists also need to account for their uncurious stance on the company that they eagerly joined and have now disavowed through hasty tweets. Are these the people we should trust to reveal the truth and to keep the public informed?

The plight of Bol journalists leads us to larger and more troubling questions about Pakistani journalism. Can we seriously trust our media networks and those who “pose” as investigative journalists on these networks? As readers and viewers, do we behave like silent recipients of revealed “truths” by these demagogues or should we be active and seek out the hidden agendas behind their pronouncements. It has been proven to us already, by these uncurious journalists, that their investigative skills are so dull that they could not even look into the funding sources of their own employer. A more dangerous thought, however, is to acknowledge that maybe they knew about it, but the money was too good. Either way, these so-called journalists were either too dumb to have asked the pertinent questions of their employer, or were “bought” with the foreknowledge that the network they were joining was built on ill-gotten gains.

We Pakistanis have always fallen for such scams: remember the water car! There is nothing wrong with expecting more than the average from our writers, scientists, leaders and journalists; it is only natural to aspire for individual and collective greatness!

But it is also crucial to become critically aware citizens so that we develop the most important habit of living in a democratic society: Asking questions!

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Aamir Liaquat: Mullahs and Scapegoating of Ahmadiyya Community

AamirLiaquatIt seems that in the aftermath of Peshawar Massacre, now that the hate-mongering mullahs and their followers are facing the wrath of the Pakistani public, the mullahs and their follower have now started blaming and scapegoating the minorities. It is no surprise then that, once gain, the Ahmadiyya community, the most peaceful and patriotic “minoritized” group in Pakistan, is once gain being scapegoated.

In a TV show on December 22, the Geo TV host, Aamir Liaquat, invited three “scholars” to his show who went on to suggest that instead of the Taliban, the Ahamdis were a threat to Pakistan. This is wrong on so many levels, least of all under the normal journalistic ethic.

This kind of hate speech about already marginalized communities has gone on for too long and we as a nation are all to be blamed for not coming to the semiotic and material aid of these targeted communities. Not only have we as a nation minoritized the Ahmadiyya community through a constitutional amendment, we have also, having declared them a minority, often failed to protect their rights of citizenship as Pakistanis.

And now when it has suddenly become clear that our actual enemies are right in the open, killing our children and taking credit for it and even offering us bizzare religious justifications for the murders, we are being told by prominent media figures, and pseudo intellectuals, that it is, somehow, the fault of the Ahmadiyya community. This deplorable act of misrepresentation has already started claiming its victims, as a young Ahmadi man named Luqman Ahmad Shazad was gunned down days after the show.

It is salutary to see that the civil community in Pakistan is growing stronger after the Peshawar massacre, and these propagandist deflections and misrepresentations are a panicked response from those who have held sway in maintaining and perpetuating the hateful national narrative of exclusions and intolerance. We should be cognizant of these reactionary responses and challenge all kinds of hate speech and scapegoating by these so-called ulama.

As a nation, besides fighting the terrorists, we are also at a crossroads: we must decide as to what kind of nation we ought to be! Will we be a nation that tolerates difference and accepts all Pakistanis as equals or will we be a nation in which only certain groups claim the rights and privileges of full citizenship. In my humble opinion an exclusivist model of citizenship is irreconcilable with the times in which we live. We are led to belive that some kind of spiritual purity would solve all our problems, but such purity is a myth. And purity is always achieved through gross and monumental acts of exclusions. We are a diverse nation and only a diverse and tolerant approach to public life would assure us a future, or else we will become one of those nations where might rules and the weak and the different perish at the hands of an intolerant majority.

People like Aamir Liaquat and his ilk would have us belive that the Taliban atrocities are, somehow, not attributable to the Taliban themselves. That is why they are now trying to embroil the Ahmadiyya community in a conflict that belongs clearly to the Taliban and their salafi, wahabi sympathizers. We as people of Pakistan need to stand up and take the narrative back: we need to continuously insist that not only will we keep our eyes on the real enemies–Taliban and Taliban sympathizers–but also that we will not let anyone in the media, in politics, or in the public sphere deflect the balme on to peaceful and patriotic minority citizens of Pakistan.

With these thoughts in mind, I strongly condemn the actions of Aamir Liaquat and his supporters. Concerned Pakistanis have also started a petition against Aamir Liaquat’s show and I urge the readers to kindly follow the link below and add their voices against scapegoating of Ahmadiyya community.

Petition Link