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Editorials

Shooting Malala Yousafzai: Another Low in Taliban Politics of Death

It was not a random act of violence: it was a targeted shooting sanctioned by the higher echelons of Taliban in Swat. The target: a fourteen year old, courageous girl who chose to speak against the Taliban. That this is a new low in the list of Taliban atrocities in Pakistan is fairly obvious. But this act alone provides us yet another proof that there is nothing holy, Islamic, or honorable in the way the Taliban conduct their daily business. This act is also a reminder to us all that if we do not stand strong against the death-politics of Taliban, even our children, who otherwise should be safe in a just war, can be targets of premeditated, cold-blooded murder. That this organization, this monstrosity called Taliban, fights and kills in the name of Islam is yet another thing to seriously ponder. Do we, at the end of the day, want them to hijack what Islam means and express it in such acts of murder?

Our ulama, it seems, are still ambivalent about Taliban. Other than a few words by some fringe groups, I have not yet heard any loud condemnations of these actions by the stalwarts of major Islamic political parties in Pakistan. What does this silence mean? Are the Jamaat and Jameat busy consulting their scholarly commentaries to figure out that shooting  fourteen year old girls in cold blood is not right?

Meanwhile, it seems that this might be the turning point for the Taliban fortunes in Pakistan: not many Pakistanis can now offer any legitimizing apologetics for the actions of these so-called Muslim fighters. It has been my opinion for quite some time now that the Pakistani people need to clearly express their distaste and opposition to Taliban: this act of terrorism against an unarmed minor should, therefore, become a lightening rod in mobilizing the public sentiment against the Taliban and their apologists.

The reason given by Taliban leadership for the attempted murder of Malala is also ludicrous and would have no standing in any interpretation of Jihad or rules of engagement. The Taliban spokesman said that she had been targeted for “openly criticizing Taliban,” and we are to take that as a crime punishable by death at the hand of a masked assassin. What law, what Islamic rule, what Qura’nic verse suggests that criticizing the “mighty” Taliban, killers of children, is a capital offense?

What is Taliban vision anyway? Is it to make Pakistan “Islamic” through death and murder? And if so, does it not prove the point made by detractors of Islam that Islam is a so-called religion of the sword. What good is an Islamic nation, if Islam is  imposed by a violent minority and kept in place through acts of murder and fear of reprisals? These are the questions that we Pakistanis should be asking ourselves and of the Taliban.

Death, death, death: Is that the only way Islam can work as a political force? I hope not.

So, let us stand together steadfast and resolute. Let us tell these murderers that our children and our daughters, Malala and others, are not open targets and those who kill and hurt children are neither Muslims nor decent human beings and, I am pretty sure, there is a separate hell for people who hurt children.

And let us ask our Ulama to take a stand: condemn the killing and maiming of our children!!

Note: This where we will post any statments against this atrocity  by Pakistani religious scholars. Please post them in comments for us to collate:

1. Thank you Ulama of Sunni Ittehad Council for issuing a Fatwa against the shooting of Malala Yousafzai.

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Editorials

Judiciary Again: Serving Their Masters

English: This is the Coat of arms of Supreme C...
English: This is the Coat of arms of Supreme Court of Pakistan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is a recorded fact that the Pakistani justices have pretty much always provided a legalistic rationale for all military adventures in Pakistan. A sad and glaring example of that is the enigma of “doctrine of necessity” invoked by the justices in the mid-1970s to provide a justification for Zia-ul-Haq’s illegal and unconstitutional regime.

We had hoped that the current supreme court, having come back to power through popular support, would have learned not to serve the anti-democracy forces in Pakistan. But we were, of course, too naive.

How did this crisis come to be. Simply, the judiciary forced the Prime Minister to open closed cases against the current president. Let us not forget that Mr. Zaradri IS the former Mr. 10% and we have no doubts about his checkered and corrupt past. But our main concern now is to see at least one government finish its term so that a clear system of public rule and democratic norm can be established. The justices should have kept this long-term view in mind, but, sadly, they have gone for short-term political gains. This set of circumstances is deeply troubling and deplorable.

The question now is simply this: would this juridical vendetta end now or the new government would also be brought to a crisis under the same issues. How many prime ministers are the justices willing to replace just to make a point. And who gains if the army, this time, remains the main player behind the scenes. There can be no future for pakistan if those committed to serve the nation cannot stop acting as the masters of the nation and keep coming up with varied schemes to undermine the will of the Pakistani people.

Yes, the political system is corrupt, but give it time, a chance, and we might forge a system worthy of our hopes and aspirations. We have tried military and quasi military rule for the past sixty years: it does not work and it has given us a fractured, tortured, and disrupted nation.

There should be an end to such misguided judicial activism: it hurts the nation and endangers the future of our children!

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US-Pakistan Need Better Stories

“Those who tell the stories rule society.” (Plato)

“But let there be spaces in your togetherness and let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love: let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.” (Kahlil Gibran)

Last week I traveled to Seattle, Washington to participate in the annual conference of Modern Language Association. As the conference reached its end, I decided to take the train to visit Portland, Oregon. In our household Portland is the city of dreams and great memories: my wife lived here for quite some time and still fondly remembers the city and its culture. This trip for me, therefore, was not just an ordinary journey but rather a pilgrimage to a city that has been an important part of my wife’s past. I took some time to visit the very places that she must have visited often during her stay here and I also took a trip to a street where she lived, long ago, in a basement apartment. We do these things to remind ourselves of the importance of those we love and somehow, it seems, visiting the places dear to them also brings us closer to them. That certainly has been the case for me.

My wife also arranged for me to stay at a local bead and breakfast, in a historical house, owned by one of her old friends. It was while at this particular place, last night, that I had a most interesting conversation with the manager. As I was out smoking, Steve, the manager, came out and joined me. We started talking about the weather and from then to our pasts and our cultures. Steve was obviously curious about Pakistan and wanted to have a conversation about my culture. We ended up having a two hour conversation about the past, present, and the future of our two cultures. This conversation epitomizes for me the need for a different kind of storytelling, a different kind of narrative about the US and Pakistan. I realized that as someone who lives in that ambivalent space between two cultures–with no entrenched loyalties to either culture–it is my job to construct and tell a more complex non-binaristic narrative: a narrative that goes beyond the usual stereotypes and brings these small encounters and exchanges of  kindness to the forefront.

We spend too much time demonizing each other: our mullahs always use the west and the US as the other, as the evil against which they must mobilize all powers of a fundamentalist and purist view of the world. As a result, so many of our children in Pakistan develop a sort of underlying hatred for the west and for the US without having ever met and having ever talked to a single American. On this side of the global divide, things are not much different either. The media and the fundamentalist forces of American life also foreground the Pakistani stereotypes in order to simplify and demonize Islam in general and Pakistan in particular. In these huge narratives of difference and distrust, the micronarratives of trust, respect, and love get totally lost.

So, here is my humble attempt at sharing the micronarrative. Last night Steve, who is now my friend, and I sat for over two hours and talked about our two cultures. In this conversation we both respected each other’s history and culture but, despite our different backgrounds and lived experiences, we were able to find a common thread to our existence. Steve is one of thousands of Americans that I have encountered in my life in the US: one of many decent, compassionate, and warm-hearted Americans who have enriched my life and made it possible for me to succeed and live a more meaningful life. These are the people I would like to acknowledge as truly American and truly human. These are the people who Pakistanis need to be told about: decent, compassionate, honest, and caring.

On the other hand, we also need to offer the best of our own culture, our hospitality, kindness, and generosity. If we share these micronarratives with each other chances are we will be able to see beyond the stereotypes, beyond hate and find a way of living in which Pakistanis and Americans can live in peace with mutual respect for each other.

So, as a commitment to this cause, I have decided to continue sharing these important micronarratives, for the stories that we tell our children are crucial in shaping their future. It is time we started telling the narratives of love and understanding instead of demonizing our others to stabilize our own identities.

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Interview: Khalida Kareemi, Founder of Pakistani American Cultural Studies Institute

Khalida Kareemi has been teaching English Composition Writing at the De Anza College for the last 15 years. She is also coordinator for the Urdu program that is offered through the Intercultural /International Studies Division. She has also just started a non-profit organization called the Pakistani American Cultural Studies Institute (PACSI) with a dedicated youth wing called Generation Pakistan (GP). Khalida is dedicated to promoting the Urdu language to provide Pakistani-Americans with a way to maintain their linguistic culture and to introduce Urdu to non-Pakistanis. She is also dedicated to introducing and promoting literary works in English by Muslim authors to dispel negative stereotypes associated with Muslims. Her work and thoughts are highly relevant to people in our community who are striving to balance a dual identity, and we hope our conversation with her will provide you with more inspiration.

1. How would you introduce yourself and your work to our readers?

I have just started a non-profit organization called PACSI: Pakistani American Cultural Studies Institute. The purpose of this organization is to provide Urdu language and cultural education to Pakistani-Americans at the university level. Almost all ethnic groups have support for their languages and universities have included these as part of their programs. PACSI’s objective is to begin small and grow gradually in the academic environment. For now we are focusing on strengthening the Urdu Program at De Anza College. This is an institution that has shown much interest in us and I feel very fortunate that I have maintained a strong relationship with them. We have access to everything here and it certainly helps us in promoting our program. The website is www.deanza.edu and information about the Urdu Program can be reached by going into Schedules and clicking Urdu.

2. Who else is associated with PACSI?

I have set up a team with three other professional women and hope to include more as we progress. My daughter, Seema who has worked in Washington DC at the Pakistan Embassy and on Capitol Hill will be heading the youth organization called Generation Pakistan (GP). This is part of PACSI will conduct research. She has her own dedicated team of college graduates working to achieve goals we have set for the business. Since PACSI is a non-profit that is concerned with the youth, their representation is imperative to the growth and understanding of what we do

3. What was the motivation for PACSI?

I have been in the US for more than 26 years.  I am of Pakistani origin and was raised in Europe since my father worked for the Embassy of Pakistan.  Having lived outside Pakistan, I understand very well the challenges that Pakistani youth face in a foreign country. My parents were very diligent in maintaining the Urdu culture in our home; however, at the same time, we were allowed to maintain our “European culture”. Thus, when I began my teaching career in the US, I realized that I had to accomplish two things: one to teach Americans about Pakistanis and two: promote and establish Urdu language and culture to second generation Pakistani-Americans.

I believe that if a community loses a language, it loses a culture, and when it loses a culture, it becomes isolated and begins the early signs of deterioration. That is the worst result for any ethnic group. Thus, the study of Urdu became my true passion. Now that we have developed the Urdu program at De Anza College in Cupertino, students have come to realize that ethnic understanding is crucial. Furthermore, Americans have also come to understand this because of the large Pakistani-American groups at universities. Students come from many different universities to attend our Urdu classes. One student’s commute was a 2- hour drive. I had another student who claimed that “I wait all week for the Urdu class. It is the only class that makes me feel so happy.” Those kinds of testimonials truly make my work worth the time.

The reason why teaching non-Pakistanis about Muslim culture is so imperative is because of so many negative images the mainstream Americans have about Muslims and especially Pakistanis. Therefore, I include writers in my English classes from Pakistan and the Middle East such as Naghuib Mahfouz. It provides me an opportunity to teach students who we really are and that we too have a rich culture.

My work will continue to promote the study of Urdu not just as a language, but as a culture because it addresses the needs of so many young Pakistani-Americans. I also will continue to use texts that include Muslim life because it exposes the false negative images.

4. What are the cultural benefits of promoting Urdu studies for Pakistani youth?

This is a very good question. The need to work for the Pakistani youth is extremely important at a time when Pakistani culture is slowly and gradually becoming obliterated at campuses. Most campuses develop a South Asian Program. Pakistani Americans are brainwashed into thinking that when Urdu and Hindi are offered as one core program that they will be learning about Pakistani culture. It is exactly the opposite. Hindi and Urdu culture is taught as one with the Indian culture being the dominant culture. For example, the Hindi script is taught, not the Urdu. Indian nationalism and religion is at the forefront of every program, not Pakistani culture. To add to this, Bollywood has slowly penetrated our children’s lives and since Muslim and Hindu ceremonies are shown intermittently, Pakistani-Americans feel it is one and the same. Furthermore, when students have complained to departments, Urdu is brought into the schedules but with little Pakistani focus. Even the professors are hired from India and not Pakistan. The first course taught is Urdu, but then Hindi overpowers it. This is detrimental to our youth. The purpose of our organization is to change all that. I have the experience of working with more than one institution in promoting the Urdu language. Our pilot program was at Canada College in Redwood City where Urdu was part of a program called Humanities 680. It was all new and all my friends sent their children to the program. That was the greatest support that could have ever happened for Urdu. We were out in every newspaper and people called from as far as Los Angeles inquiring about the program. Observing the success at Canada, De Anza promised its support. It has never wavered.

5. What obstacles if any are you facing in your work?

We have many setbacks with developing Urdu at colleges. In most South Asian departments, Urdu is simply on the surface, but is soon swallowed up by Indians. The problem is not just that Pakistanis don’t believe in themselves; unfortunately, many lack fresh ideas. If they see something is good, instead of supporting it, they just go right ahead and copy it in some other form or shape. This is detrimental to our community because it takes away from what could be something very positive. For example, ever since I have begun this transferable Urdu program, many copycats have emerged. They use the same slogans, idioms, and language that are taken from my fliers that my students have distributed around the community vendors. However, if they simply supported the program and became a part of it, the program would have already taken a much larger shape. Understanding these setbacks has now allowed my team and myself to strategize ourselves in a way as to make our business successful. We have organized ourselves in a way that is conducive to PACSI’s success. This is primarily because this non-profit is an organization with active and educated professional women who feel the need to take our community’s children to the next level. We expect to grow rapidly and have much support, but we need a lot more as we begin to grow.

6. How will the Pakistani youth benefit from PACSI?

PACSI’s focus in on the Pakistani language and culture taught at colleges. Students who enroll in these courses receive transfer credit to any 2 and 4 years institution. Students receive GED credit or can transfer these units and fulfill the foreign language requirement. Currently, under university and college guidelines, a one-year program is necessary in order to fulfill the requirement for the foreign language. This does not include the foreign language that students take at high school. Universities have their own requirements for the foreign language. In addition, Pakistani students already have some background in their own language. It is easier to learn a language one is somewhat familiar with. If other ethnic groups are observed, they all speak the language and have a confidence that our students lack. This summer, De Anza College is offering an intensive Urdu program where students earn 10 units of university credit.

7. How can the community support PACSI?

Both physically and financially. We are available at www.svpacsi.org. People can also email me at kkareemi@svpacsi.org. Any amount of donation would be welcome. We are also working on federal aid. Setting up programs at colleges requires money. In order to make this successful at De Anza College, I gathered with my friends to brainstorm ideas and we spent our own money on marketing, planning, and media awareness to make people aware of our focus. It took four years to get the Urdu accepted by the administration. Since I am an English instructor too, it has paved the way a little easier. However, none of this could have been possible had the Dean of the Intercultural/International Studies Division, Duane Kubo not spent many hours guiding me. He always said working with the community is the toughest for any community, but mostly the Pakistanis because they do not yet understand its benefits. They will do that when their children begin a downward spiral path. I never want that to happen because it is much easier providing help at a time when students are willing and able, then to pull them out of situations that are impossible.

8. Let’s switch gears to your teaching career – tell us a little bit about it...

I teach English Composition Writing courses at the De Anza College.  I also coordinate the Urdu program.  When I began to teach, I tried all the different colleges and universities. I found that the universities had mostly rich students who were not in need of immediate help. However, I found that at the community colleges, it was different. Marginalized students who came from such diverse backgrounds were very needy. It was a challenge sometimes to help them, but I always did and still do. The results are amazing. In my mind, there is no profession that can replace teaching because so many students suffer without others knowing about it. I think especially the Pakistani students who have more serious challenges to deal with because they are isolated, alone, and many cannot communicate with their parents. Teaching is a career that has taught me many things about life. The greatest lesson is that these are our children, and we have a responsibility. Most Pakistani students understand I am there for them. It has made a huge difference in their lives. Moreover, they are not the only ones who benefit. Teachers and students help each other all the time. One gets to teach and the other to learn. In that process, learning continues for both. It is a very unusual relationship.

9. What has been the inspiration behind all this community focus in your life and career?

The community is very important to me. I learned at a very young age that supporting a community is vital to our growth. My parents were very instrumental in teaching that aspect to me. When we were living in Europe, my parents organized events at the Embassy of Pakistan and my mother also established a Muslim, young girls’ weekly club. This was a club devoted to the understanding of Muslim cultures in order to assimilate with the different Muslim communities. She believed in the brotherhood and sisterhood of Islam. It comprised of the families at various Muslim embassies. It met at different locations every week. The most enjoyable aspect of it was that sometimes it would be a hiking trip and at others a boat trip. Most of the activities were centered around what the girls enjoyed. It felt very good watching these ladies (my mother always in a saree) climbing hills and walking long trails in valleys. Sometimes the mothers would have their way and walk the girls through an array of rose or tulip gardens. It was always a fun trip. I was taught that our religion is the core focus of what a community should be. I think those great women made every effort to make that a reality

10. Tell us about your family…

I am married and have two college age daughters. My husband attended MIT and Stanford and earned his Engineering degrees. He ventured on starting three companies with innovative high-tech creations and then saw one of them go public. The company that became public was Penware, and Canesta his latest startup is doing very will and expected to also be a great success. Currently, he is mentoring several early stage startups; in the past two years, he has assisted three entrepreneurs in getting their start ups off the ground successfully.

My older daughter is at UC Berkeley and is majoring in Business and Economics. My second daughter, Seema graduated form UC Davis and has worked in DC at the Embassy of Pakistan under DCM Mr. Sadiq and then later for Congressman Mike Honda and .Congresswoman Cynthia Mkinney. She spent last summer doing volunteer work for the earthquake victims in Kashmir. She is currently enrolled in graduate courses at UC Berkeley and intends on entering law school.

11. Anything else you would like to say to our readers?

First of all, I am very grateful and honored that you have been so gracious and kind as to interview me for my organization. This kind of support is what PACSI needs. I do want your readers to know that students will benefit from this program. Firstly, their academic needs will be met in ways that they did not think possible. Also, contact with the Pakistani culture maintains the Muslim religion. This is very necessary in order to keep our children focused. I would like your viewers to visit us at our site at www.svpacsi.org. Our website is going to become more elaborate as we get funding. For now, I have created this organization with my own funds and am still in the process of working with the different aspects of the organizations. My students in my English Writing classes have helped out in every possible way. I am very grateful to them. However, any donations by the Pakistani community would be greatly appreciated. Any support people could give in marketing our program and our organization, we would accept in a heartbeat. We are a new organization and would love the Pakistani community to support us at any level. No amount of financial or physical help is too small to be recognized. Also, please give us any comments and suggestions on our website! Again, thank you for time and interest.

(Posted from The Saturday Post)

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US-Pakistan Relations: The Need for a Strategic Vision

As a former Pakistani military officer and as the editor of an academic journal on Pakistan, I often interact with Pakistanis from different walks of life. During my visit to Pakistan a few months ago, I had the privilege of engaging with ordinary Pakistanis, academics, and some very powerful old friends. Our conversations always centered on the US-Pakistan relations probably because of my connection to the US as an academic. I find it worthwhile to share some of my exchanges about the US-Pakistan relations, as these views are not normally covered by the mainstream US media.

In my conversations with my friends, relatives, and people from my village, one topic always came up: the US drone attacks within Pakistani territory. According to my sources, there were 118 drone strikes in 2010 claiming 1127 lives of which 680 are believed to be those of civilian bystanders. President Obama has continued these attacks as an “effective” tactics in the US mission in Afghanistan. But strategically, in symbolic terms, these attacks tend to damage the long-term US interests in Pakistan. The Pakistanis see these attacks under several symbolic registers:

They see it as a mockery of Pakistani sovereignty, a perception that is further accentuated by the frequent deaths of civilians caught in the targeted areas. The drone attacks also make their own government and their military look weak and ineffectual, even though, as is suggested by the US media, the Pakistani government often coordinates these attacks with the US forces.

The people also see it is a tactics that replicates the Israeli targeted killings of Hammas leaders, and thus the US tactics, somehow, is seen as part of larger Israeli conspiracy.

One of the most interesting and probably the most apt question came from one of my ex soldiers, who asked: “Do American people know that a lot of civilians are getting killed by these drones?” And, he further asked, “If they know about it, do they object to it? Needless to say, I had no convincing answer to this pointed question.

In my conversations with my military friends, the war on terror was often the main topic. In terms of Pakistan’s military operations against Taliban, as of January 2011, Pakistan has lost 2740 soldiers while 8500 of them have been wounded in action. These figures are enough to counter any claims by the US media that Pakistan is not doing enough. In fact, it seems, that Pakistanis have sacrificed quite a lot in this unending war.

While almost all these officers were sure that they can tactically control the FATA and probably win the war, but they all also suggested that in order to really solve the problem of radicalization of youth, Pakistan will need a lot of international help. Some of the sectors that could, in their view, use this help include: education, healthcare, and job creation. Pakistan, obviously, cannot transform its infrastructure in all these areas single-handedly and this is where the US aid is crucial to the long-term stability of Pakistan. During my visit to one of the defense-funded schools (Heavy Industries Taxila Education City) I was astounded to learn that the school was providing free education for two hundred students recruited from FATA. Imgaine the impact these students would have on the economic and cultural life of their respective regions after they have had a chance to get a more cosmopolitan, modern education. Just a little bit of help from the US and other powers could drastically increase the number of such students whose lives would have a long-term impact on the future of Pakistan.

It seems, however, that when it comes Pakistan, the US is guided more by an arbitrary, short-term vision and lacks any long-term plan of developing a people-to-people relationship. The US handling of Raymond Davis’s trial in Pakistan is a case in point. It is sad to note that in this case the US has chosen to respond with the typical myopia that signifies its relations to Pakistan. In an attempt to pressure Pakistan into handing over Mr. Davis, the Us state department, as per the reports here, has cancelled high level meeting with the Pakistani government on Afghanistan, has threatened to reduce defense aid, education aid and, also decided to slow down the visa process for Pakistanis aspiring to travel to the US. While it is important for the US to insist upon defending the diplomatic immunity of its embassy staff, the measures threatened publicly do not help the US cause in any way. In material terms, these measure would end up hurting Pakistan in the very areas where Pakistan needs US help, which would ultimately also hurt US interests in the region. In symbolic terms, these actions would also harden the popular views against the US and against the unequal relationship between the two countries.

Unless the US transforms its relations to Pakistan to that of equal partners and unless Pakistani national interests are foregrounded in this relationship, the chances of US success in the region would be seriously hampered. The US media, therefore, need to highlight the nature and importance of this relationship. Looking at the situation from a Pakistani perspective, instead of just a US-centered approach, would be a good start.

(Also published by The Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations)