Commentaries Editorials

Taliban, the Politics of Death, and our Obligation to Speak

That the Taliban claim certain mastery over the methods and instruments of death is no secret. They taliban_pickuphave proven their skills at killing their civilian brothers and sisters quite consistently over the last decade or so. The question that we need to pose to them and to many other like-minded groups is simply this: Do you have a politics of life?

Dispensing death is the easiest things in the world, given the fragility of human body and the power of tools of destruction that we humans have created. But to create conditions that sustain life requires a lot of doing! So, at the end of the day, how would Taliban, if they were to establish their so-called just system, make people’s lives better and would transform Pakistan into a place where living with dignity becomes a right and not just a privilege?

No ideology–religious or secular–can succeed if it does not contain a plausible narrative of life. A social system succeeds only if people see it as a life-giving system and want to become a part of it. Forcing people into a way of life through violence is like putting people in ideological concentration camps and using the religious rhetoric as a path to dignified gas chambers.

And we all know what happens when a powerful group of citizens decides that a certain part of population is undesirable and a danger to the body of the nation: This line of thinking leads only to death camps and gas chambers.

The whole purpose of any civilizational project is to privilege physics (politics) over nature. Much that I disagree with this nature versus politics dichotomy, as it relies on an instrumental logic, it has always worked under certain rational assumptions:

  • That humans are no longer able to sustain life in the state of nature.
  • A Government is necessary to protect them and to create conditions that enable life.

Law is meant to enable life and the role of justice and punishment is to maintain the established order. But to establish an order  through punishment and threat of violence and death is not the right method. To be a part of any system, people must voluntarily become a part of it knowing that after they accept to be a part of a community they will have to live by its rules. To force people into a “community” through violence and then to keep them enclosed is exactly opposite of voluntary participation in the communitas. And this is what the Taliban hope to accomplish: to force people into an ideological straightjacket and then keep them there through coercion and force. Thus, a politics of death is the only mode of action available to them. Taliban, it seems, are trapped in the logic of their own ideology: since their vision of the world is based in force and not in love, they must, automatically, become more violent and death-driven, for signs of love, within this masculinist narrative, are markers of weakness.

I keep writing about these subjects, knowing that the Taliban certainly do not read this, and if they did, they are not likely to be persuaded by my argument. So, what is the purpose of these words that I craft painstakingly and then throw them into the wind? I have no clear answer. maybe, it is my way of saying that I disagree with what Taliban stand for and since I cannot change much, I will, at least, say something about it, for silence is the ultimate form of surrender and, for me, surrender has never been an option.

Cultural silence and general apathy are dangerous signs: they lead a nation to put other humans in death camps. Not speaking against epistemic and physical violence will only lead us to our material and spiritual annihilation. We always assert that ours is a religion of peace, for that is the Arabic root of the word Islam, but do we seriously work to make this statement a real-life project. If we are about peace, then where do these brothers of ours come from? These brothers of ours who in the name of our God have decided that it is perfectly desirable and even virtuous to kill, maim, and destroy ordinary citizens of our country. What logic drives this insanity? Why should we accept it as our fate?

Yes, there are always material reasons for our actions. Yes, we are partially a construct enabled or encumbered by our surroundings. But we do not need to be rich to understand love, nor do we need to be scholars to understand compassion and kindness. I have travelled extensively to the farthest regions of Pakistan, regions considered “backward”–yes that is the term they use in Pakistan–and found the most natural kindness and compassion from amongst the very poor and destitute. Compassion and care of the others have been a part of our culture for thousands of years: we do not need a college degree to learn these values, and we certainly do not need English medium schools to learn these values!

So, what is it that  baffles me the most about Taliban: Their extreme lack of compassion and love. If they are adherents of Islam that I understand and if they read the Qur’an and Hadith and want to follow the sunnah, then how come they completely miss the most alluring part of all these texts. Every time I see images of Taliban–brandishing foreign-made guns and riding the pickups also invented and produced in the West–their faces offer no trace of the kind of compassion and love that is supposed to define a general Muslim demeanour. I see no difference between these stern faces and the faces of other gangsters from other parts of the world, gangsters who, in this realm of privatized violences, terrorize the common people to gain their material or spiritual ends.

As a nation we are in dire need of inventing new narratives of selfhood and nationhood: the ideal narratives would retain the best of our tradition and the best of what the world has to offer. A reliance on a purist past will not do; it will only produce more monstrosities like the Taliban. There is no natural path to the past: past is only textual and when we read the textual signs of our past, what we bring to the act of reading decides what we seek and see in the text. There is no unmotivated, unmediated engagement with history, nor is there an accidental transition to a bright future. To forge a future with a total reliance on history is a complete denial of the present and without the present–our only tangible signpost–one can neither retrieve a useable past, nor create a better future.

So, what the Taliban do in our streets, cities, villages and public spaces is nothing less than the destruction of the present to overwrite it with a simplistic and purist narrative of the past. If we lose, we would have lost the past, the present, and the future and such a loss of all temporalities is unsustainable.

It is time for us to wake up as a nation of living breathing beings and say it in our different voices that those who can so randomly and callously kill, maim, and destroy our brothers and sisters do not have our silent acquiescence. Yes, it is time to speak, for silence is now only a slow march to the death of our culture!


Democratic Society and Importance of Criticism

Lately, I have focused extensively on offering public criticism of some powerful institutions both inside Pakistan and United States. Of course, no one asked me for it, but as someone invested in issues of democracy and social justice, I find it apt to share my views and insert my voice in the public debates about contemporary issues. I am, however, not a journalist; I am a literary and cultural critic by training and a public scholar by choice.

There is an important moment in the famous Foucault-Deleuze interview, where Foucault insists that the role of the intellectual, and I am paraphrasing here, is to provide a persistent and relentless critique of power. Power, for both Foucault and Deleuze, is not hierarchical as envisioned in the classical Marxist tradition but rather more “diffuse” ever-present around us. We all are, in one degree or another, caught up in this web of power, a web that does not give us a chance at reaching outside or the other side of power. Our existence, in a way, is always discursive.

So, when I criticize power from within my discursive space as an intellectual, I am within the fold of power myself, but my puny voice, it seems, still baffles those invested in normative drive of power, for they retaliate in so many subtle and unsubtle ways. Those using  subtle ways suggest that I am, somehow, a “disgruntled” former military officer trying to take a swipe at the mighty Pakistan army; the less subtle ones have informed me that my long hair and my life in the US, somehow, disqualifies me to be a critic of power in Pakistan. And this is being implied when all the powerful institutions in Pakistan–civil and military–are in the most intimate relationship with powers that be in the United States.

In the last few weeks, I have written a criticism of Israel, an indictment of Pakistan Army, a self-reflection on my Army career, and an introductory entry to an important Jewish peace organization. These entities sometimes do not have much in common but the only way I can plot a connection amongst them is by my views of power and its impact on our lives. My critique, of course, is narrow and often not very detailed: it does not need to be, for it is these little cuts, these small ruptures in the armor of power that matter the most. I think this is what Foucault meant by the term “persistent critique” of power: not a giant heroic blow but these small cuts and swipes to unsettle power, to make it stop to lick a thousand tiny wounds, to stop it from normalizing itself, from becoming natural.

The response has been mixed: quite a few young and hopeful readers have added their voices to mine and given me their strength: I see a rhizome in the making. But the minions of power, ever so gently, have also responded with their rationalizations and ad hominem attacks. It is almost comical: like an elephant responding to a bee sting. But then that is the problem with power: it must totalize itself to become normative and our small acts of defiance hinder that process.

These small instances of criticism are crucial to develop a more humane and responsive system of life and governance. These “micro-resistances” (Deleuze) are important just as it is important to squash those micro-fascist tendencies in our minds that force us to respect power and those who wield it.

So, in all humility, I offer my gratitude to all those who find some merit in my public writings, and to all those who are flustered and disturbed by them, I say: Peace!!!

Remember, we are a swarm and we are many!!!

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Enough Already: Let’s Give Pakistan Some Love

Those of us who are addicted to news and the blogosphere are aware of the thrashing that Pakistan and Pakistan army ahs been getting from all quarters since Osama Bin Laden (OBL) was served a healthy dose of the same medicine that he himself was a master at concocting. Yes, he is dead, killed, kaput for the crimes that he committed against humanity. But Pakistan, it seems, is still reeling from the aftershocks. Just one look at one Pakistani blog aggregator’s front page is enough to guess the most popular topic of the past few weeks:

In a rather subdued but straight speech the Prime Minister of Pakistan–a man I respect for not having abandoned his party for the Musharraf float–admitted that just like all other nations, Pakistan and its intelligence agencies had also failed in locating and eliminating OBL. I think it is time to give the Pakistani government some benefit of doubt and admit that such failures do occur and that there is no need to look for exotic conspiracies behind it.

Meanwhile, in Washington D.C, in the true spirit of American politics [which involves kicking your opponents when they are down] the vultures are already sharpening their claws to dig into Pakistan’s lifeline. Senator Patrick Leahy sugegsted that the US aid to Pakistan should be reviewed and, maybe, stopped. This is the stupidest thing that the US government can do, but stupidity is also a hall-mark of American politics and is not necessarily native to Pakistan alone.

I think any reduction of aid to Pakistan would be downright stupid and destructive. Yes, Pakistan has failed but so have the  the intelligence agencies of the world: weren’t they all looking for OBL?. Let us not kick Pakistan when it is down: let us help this courageous country up, for its people have suffered immensely in this endless war on terror and while I don’t get starry-eyed when I see a Pakistani general in uniform or hear a Pakistan politician, I do care about pakistan and its people. So, let us stand with pakistan and let us stop opportunists here and abroad from stomping Pakistan into further misery and shame.

As I have written elsewhere, Pakistan has sacrificed deeply and suffered greatly in this war and it is now time to acknowledge that and to stand by the people of Pakistan.

So, against the current trend and  going beyond my own critical writings about this event, I would like to send my love and best wishes to the people of Pakistan.


Pakistan Forum: Most Visited Blog Entries this Year

Provided below is a list of posts that have been popular with our readers so far this year:

05/09 : Thinking of Che and The World
05/08 : Of Cuban Cigars, Rum & Coffee
05/06 : Naked emperor, dead rabbit
05/05 : The Osama Kill: A New Era of Hi-tech Death Squads
05/02 : Obama and the End of Al-Qaeda
04/28 : All Politics is Always Local
04/28 : A Case Against HEC Devolution
04/23 : A Weird Knot
04/23 : Sex and Religion
04/21 : Suicide Bomber: A Product of Capital
04/18 : Media Whiz Kids of the Security State
04/14 : Iqbal: The Reluctant Feminist
04/05 : We Are Conformity
04/05 : The Veiled Woman in the Picture: Mystery Solved
04/03 : Review, India-Pakistan: Coming to Terms, By Amit Ranjan
04/03 : Talibanisation of the Heart
03/31 : Maverik Mullah & his Jamiat Ulema
03/31 : Mullahs in Nation-Building
02/06 : Arab revolution in Pakistan!
02/03 : Pakistan’s Hurt Locker
01/18 : Religious Intolerance Sweeping Pakistan
01/18 : Taliban se Qibla-ru Guftagu (طالِِِبان سے قِبلہ رُو گُفتگُو)
01/17 : Dead in My Tracks: Salmaan Taseer, the Mullah of Bourbon St and Freud’s Uncanny
01/16 : Women’s Rights in Islam, By Sayed Mumtaz Ali
01/15 : Suicide Bombing: The Martyr Machine
01/13 : Understanding and removing the barriers: Story of Nazir Ahmad Wattoo
01/12 : Call for Papers: Second Emory Conference on Religion, Conflict, and Peacebuilding
01/12 : All Eyes on the Prize!
01/12 : Why do people vote for tyrants? Understanding voting patterns in Pakistan
01/11 : CFP: Rethinking Urban Democracy in South Asia
01/10 : After protests, militancy in the Valley
01/08 : Lashkar-e-Zia kills Taseer
01/07 : Dr. Akhter Hameed Khan: Brief Bio
01/05 : HITEC: An Education Miracle Worth Noting
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A Pakistani General Resigning?

The Pakistani generals are not famous for resigning, not even when they lose half a country (Yahya Khan) or start a disastrous war without the knowledge of their government (Pervez Musharraf). In fact, when they make huge blunders, they usually tend to sack the elected governments and declare themselves the rulers of our poor nation. We are the only nation in the modern history that has been conquered by its own army four times.

So, the recent rumors that General Pasha, the erstwhile head of the ISI, is likely to resign are rather more of a wishful thinking. No sir, our generals do not go down with the sinking ship, they just leave the ship on their reserved life boats, or, in this case, golden parachutes. So, I will belive it when I see it.

The case against the ISI head is rather strong: Under his watch Osama bin Laden was discovered to have been living, for five years, right next to the very factory where officers are produced. This is not just incompetence; it is rather a deeply ironic and sadly hilarious incompetence. I mean no one would belive this if this had been written as fiction or made into a movie.

Here is an organization that eats up a large chunk of our national budget, is rarely audited, and is not directly accountable to anyone if Pakistan and now we have found it to be extremely incompetent.

If we are setting up the precedence for resignations by our generals, then let us also put the DG MI on this list as well, for it is his job to know such things about terrorists and stuff as well. And also the head of the Pakistani Air Defense–both army and airforce–should also be kind enough to tender their resignations for failing to detect American gunships flying over their territory.

It is hard to resign as a general: there is so much to lose. But I think this time there is no hiding behind the national security skirt as the national security itself has been found to be lacking a skirt.

So, let us have it from our armchair generals: a bit of courage to take responsibility. A resignation, or a few resignations, and public apologies to a poor nation that underwrites their priveleges would be a good start.

I will believe it when I see it!

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For Pakistani Military a Hard Choice: Complicity or Incompetence

Soon after the US “invasion” of Abbottabad and elimination of Osama bin Laden, Pakistan army has been caught with its proverbial, heavy-booted foot in the mouth. Were they a part of the Operation? Nobody knows! So, if this was a solo US mission then what were our overfed intelligence agencies doing for the last ten years? How could they miss a fortified mansion right next to the Pakistan Military Academy. I mean it is a fortress; look at it:


So, let us believe for a moment that they missed it: it happens some times. But how could they have missed it for ten years? weren’t they looking for him all this time?

Even more pathetic is the excuses being offered for not having detected TWO ATTACK HELICOPTERS flying over Pakistani territory for over an hour to reach their target. So, they cannot find a target in their own country and also do not have the capacity to ascertain the presence of two foreign helicopters flying across their territory.

So, here is the million dollar question: Are they simply incompetent? Or yet another: Were they hiding OBL? And yet another: were they part of the operation but are too afraid to make it public.

I guess it is time some hard questions are asked of our generals. What have they been doing with the money that our nation has sacrificed for them by selling our children’s future and what have they been doing with the money given to them by the US? I mean how much money does it take to have a competent intelligence agency that can either find the most wanted man in the world or can, at least, track two “hostile” helicopters flying over their territory.

I am not sure if they were complicit with the US or OBL, but of their incompetence I have become quite certain.

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Tea Break: An Impressive Pakistani Blog Aggregator

A few months ago, after having expanded The Pakistan Forum into a multiauthor blog, I started looking for good Pakistani blog aggregation websites. My purpose, simply stated, was to link with these websites so that our content could be more widely distributed. I must admit that of all the blog aggregator websites that I contacted, I found Tea Break to be the best under several registers.

Website Layout:

Their website has a very profession layout and all aggregated entries are offered as individual blog entries with a prominent link to the original source. This layout stands out on their own website and provides a friendly link to our own website.

Aggregation Practice:

Their server picks up our content quickly, and each time they aggregate our content, they send us a pingback, which increases our site’s backlinks and raises our search engine ranking.

Customer Service:

This is the only Pakistani blog aggregator with a wonderfully professional customer service. First, their website provides easy-to-use links and forms to contact them directly. Second, they are exceptionally good at responding to your feedback. In our case, our RSS link was broken and when I contacted them their tech people not only included our alternative link but also gave us some good advice about how to fix our RSS feed.

Based on my personal experience with them and after having seen our content regularly aggregated in appropriate categories, I recommend Tea Break whole heartedly to  all those with Pakistan-related blogs. My thanks and gratitude to the people of Tea Break for all their help.

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