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Commentaries

Pakistan Government’s Phone Tax Policy and its Implications for Travellers

Introduction

According to the most recent Phone Tax Policy of the PTI government in Pakistan, all those entering Pakistan, both citizens and foreigners, must register their phones and pay a phone tax to be able to use their phones while in Pakistan.
At first glance, this seems to be a just policy aimed at generating revenue from those who import expensive phones to Pakistan. But the phone policy enters the realm of the stupid when one finds out that it applies even to the single personal-use phone that one might have brought along.The experience gets Kafkaesque after you try to register your phone. I share here my own story with a brief overview of the implications of this stupid phone tax policy on average Pakistanis and on aspiring tourists to Pakistan.

The Process to Pay the Phone Tax

The website of Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), provides you a convenient link to register your phone, a link that I followed.
You are then prompted to create an account, which I did.
After that you fill in your information including your passport number and the IEMI number of your phone.
After you have filled in all this information, you are prompted to add a contact number to which a confirmation number is sent.

This cannot be just any phone number: it has to be a phone number that still is using the SIM card of the company you had bought your original phone plan.

Let us assume you have a friend who has one such phone number and you receive the confirmation code and you enter it and hit submit.
You are now ready to pay your phone tax and register your phone.

But not so fast. In my case, after more than four attempts I kept getting the same message: “This phone does not qualify for tax exempt registration . . .”

Surprisingly, there was no other information provided or no course of action suggested by the PTA website.

A Visit to the PTA Office

In my case, since I am from the Rawalpindi-Islamabad area, I decided to go to the PTA office in Islamabad. After getting in line and waiting for about thirty minutes (I was lucky, as I could get in the “foreigners” line, the native Pakistanis had a much longer waiting time) I was ushered into a room where young men sat behind their laptops, helping many eager phone registrants.

The kind young man who assisted me entered the same information that I had entered and finally told me that my entry into the country was not yet processed and the “system” was not recognizing my credentials, which meant that I had to wait a couple of days before my phone could be registered.

I asked him about the charges for the use of my personal phone. He gave me the following breakdown for an IPhone Xr:

  • To register the phone for sixty day use during my visit, I had to pay Rs. 37, 000.
  • To register the same phone permanently, I was required to pay Rs. 67, 000.

This was a huge shock to me, especially since this WAS my personal use phone and I had already paid taxes on it when I bought the phone in the US. Furthermore, before this policy came into effect, I was able to use an unlocked GSM phone by replacing my US SIM with a registered Pakistani SIM, which meant that the moment I added a load to my phone, I started paying the usage tax to the phone company and thus to the government of Pakistan.

Now, I was told, I had to pay a huge tax, on an already taxed phone, simply to be able to use it with a Pakistani SIM!

The Problems with New Phone Tax Policy

To me this new phone tax policy is wrong at many levels. Legally, this is double taxation on an item of personal use and seems highly irregular and might even be illegal under international law. More importantly, it sends a wrong message to any aspiring tourists to Pakistan (It’s not like people are lining up to visit Pakistan anyway), for this is yet another hurdle they have to cross simply to be able to visit and travel in Pakistan.

Furthermore, this policy adds an added layer of bureaucracy to the process of visiting Pakistan. The PTA office that I visited was already filled with harried travellers, all trying to ensure that their phones would work in Pakistan. In an economic climate where it is absolutely essential for Pakistan to increase inflow of foreign exchange, tourism being one important sector for this, this additional trip to the PTA office is not likely to endear Pakistan to any future travellers.

The Classic Deflection Argument by PTI Supporters

When I mentioned this experience in a public talk, an ardent PTI supporter countered it through a classic deflection: “Same happens to us when we go to the US; We are not allowed to use our Pakistani Phones.” This assertion is wrong on at least at two levels:

First, the US phone system is not based in the pre-paid model. Most people purchase their phone from one of the large phone companies and then sign up for a two year contract. This way, while the companies can provide them phones at an affordable price, they can also lock in the customers for at least two years (I am not suggesting this is a better or just system). So, if the Pakistani phones do not work in the US, it is because the way people purchase phone services in America is different.

However, if you have an unlocked GSM phone with you, there are small local vendors that do sell you a local SIM and do also offer prepaid national and International calling plans.

But there is nothing in the US law that forces visitors to REGISTER your phone and pay a TAX to register it!

Please bear in mind that I am not suggesting that the US system is better than Pakistan; I am just challenging the deflection offered by many a learned PTI stalwarts. Furthermore, the US economy is not necessarily desperate for foreign exchange and does not depend upon the number of tourists who visit the United States. The Pakistani economy needs the tourism industry and changing this extoritionst phone policy could help make Pakistan more tourist/ Visitor-Friendly!

 

Please also read my other, more positive, blogs about Pakistan!

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Editorials

A Great Milestone for Pakistan: Second Successive Elected Government Ends its Term

June first was a historic day for Pakistan: as the caretaker prime minister took his oath of office, Pakistan, for the first time in its history, completed the full term of its second elected government. The skeptics would have us believe that it is no big deal, and that democracy has not solved many of our problems. All of these objections are valid but also rely on a faulty narrative, a narrative that democracy by itself can, somehow, immediately transform a nation. Democracy, however, is a messy and a long-term process and it takes years, decades sometimes, for things to change, but electing our representatives every five years through a fair election is the absolute first step toward greater change.

Yes, this government probably made a lot of mistakes, but they have had quite a few accomplishments as well and we, regardless of our party affiliations, should bear that in mind. As the system develops and becomes more transparent and responsive to people’s needs, it would continue to prefect itself.

Democracy, however, needs a responsible, aware, and critically conscious citizenry. I am not one of those who believe that only a college degree can make us into critically aware citizens; I think people can always be aware of their material conditions and then ask the government to remedy the ills around them. But I do believe that critically aware education can play an active role in enabling us to become more informed, tolerant,and responsible citizens of a democracy.

Democracy by itself is not a panacea for expedited development; it does not solve all our problems simply by being there. Democracy is first and foremost a process and it also creates, over the long-term, a system of government that MUST respond to the will of its constituents. It is this accountability in front of the people that makes democracy the best possible human-made system. Yes, sometimes the will of the majority can take us to places we do not want to go, but if the minority voices are heard and if the press does its job, or is allowed to do its job, of always informing the public and holding the powerful accountable, then a democratic system has a higher chance of perfecting itself in serving the people.

There are those in our society who believe that they are the only one’s who know the best interests of the people and the nation. Most of the times these privileged and powerful people have lived far removed from the every day exigencies of life; their needs are fulfilled, often at the cost of the future of our children. But from their safe, cozy and privileged existence, they deem that their opinions, somehow, should have more weight. Maybe, some of their claims are true, but to think that a few privileged individuals who have neither seen any want int their lives nor have had to struggle for existence can somehow KNOW the dreams and aspirations of the people is a dangerous kind of hubris.

There are also politicians who see being elected as an end in itself. For them, taking a public office means that they get the right and power to plunder the nation, build private wealth, and use their power to oppress people. This is the most dangerous group, for their actions are often invoked to “prove” that democracy and electoral politics is inherently corrupt and hence not suitable for Pakistan.

There are also those who consider  themselves the custodians of faith: they want us to believe that only their version of truth is worthy of our reverence and all others are either suspect or fit for elimination. sadly, these traders of faith also pit us against each other to a point that we come to hate others even when we do not have any personal interaction with them or even know them. This is another form of politics of hate and exclusivism.

And of course, there are also those who are actively engaged in destroying our national infrastructure and take pride in killing civilians and solders, all in the name of God.

These are some of the internal dangers that we face as a nation and as a result fascist thought and practices offer themselves as the ultimate solution to our problems. Against the material and ideological challenges to Pakistan, democracy, sometimes, comes across as a s slow, corrupt, and ineffective system. But we must never acceded to any other alternatives, especially the ones that silence the people, rely on hate, or ascribe our destinies to a coterie of unelected “leaders” who do  not have the power of popular vote behind them. We must continue to struggle for the creation of an open, fair, and transparent system of democratic government with the hope that an open system is more likely to become humane, representative, and accountable to the people. We all also must live responsible, compassionate, and informed lives. And, despite the myriad of our problems, we must remember that in the end we are all Pakistanis and, regardless of our differences, our destinies are intertwined with each other and with the future of Pakistan.

This government has concluded its term. Yes, there was corruption and a lot of those associated with power have done questionable things, but, to be fair, the government also tried to address people’s problems and did formulate policies to make people’s lives better. And all of this was done in the public eye with open debate in the national assembly: that is democracy! When our elected leaders make their decisions under the scrutiny of the press and with the full knowledge of their people, there are no secret deals possible.

So, while one government, imperfect as it may have been, has successfully concluded its term, let us prepare ourselves for the next one, and the one after that, all elected by the popular vote and held accountable by the people!

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Commentaries

Library Systems and Labs for Tier 1 Universities

Introduction:
While the HEC Vision 2025 document does mention the need for libraries and labs for research institutions, it seems prudent to recognize the integral connection of libraries and labs to the long-term mission of innovative research. This brief document offers a few insights, gleaned from my experience of research universities in the US, about library systems and labs that could be useful for the future planning of HEC
Libraries
In the US university rankings, the library holdings (print and digital) along with the availability of trained staff is crucial to maintaining Tier 1 status. Most research Universities have one major main library and several other subject-related libraries. My campus, for example, has one main library and five other subject-related libraries.
Research Librarians:
A research university must have highly trained research librarians. At UNT, for example, each department has a liaison research librarian. During our research, if we need information on any materials not held in our library, we send a query to our Liaison librarian, and she not only finds the sources for us but also procures them from other libraries.
The research librarians also train our students in how to use the library resources, and also help each department develop the collection according to the needs of the department.
Inter-Library Loans:
The inter-library loan system allows our library to request books throughout the United States. In this way, even if our library does not have a book/ paper they can acquire it from us at any time. The online library catalog allows us to request a book through the loan system simply by logging in and requesting the item.
HEC could encourage this initiative at regional level and maybe one such program could be piloted first to see how it materializes.
Libraries of Record;
Quite a few Tier 1 libraries also act as libraries of record either for state government documents or for the local government documents. UNT, for example, is the library of record for the state of Texas. All public state documents and proceedings are therefore housed and archived in our library and becomes a resource for local, national, and international researches interested in Texas history, culture, or politics. HEC could also test this practice to see if it would be viable at national level.
Special Collections;
All research libraries also have a special collections section. These could vary from collection of rare books [Like the collection of Islamia College University Library] or archives of authors, scientists, leaders, and other local or national figures/ projects. The special collections can provide a university the opportunity to develop a niche research resource that draws a lot researchers if they are writing about the topic related to the special collection holdings.

Research Labs
There are usually two kinds of labs in tier 1 research university. General purpose labs that the students use during their education and the research labs of science professors who are active researchers. Generally, when a tenure track professor is hired at a research University he/ she is provided his/her own lab so that they can develop their r research and also train their respective graduate students in their lab. Only those hired as teaching professors only have no labs of their own. This could be enormously expensive, but HEC could try it on a limited scale and then, depend on the finding available, extend this practice to all major universities. Of course, this could also be done in research clusters, and I know that it is already being done at some major universities.

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Commentaries

Brief Guidelines for Applying to US Universities for Doctoral Studies and Post-Doc Research

Introduction:

This draft document elaborates the general application process to US research universities. For a more detailed understanding of the process, the candidates should research the application criteria on the particular University websites. These draft guidelines are prepared voluntarily to aid the aspirational guidelines of Higher Education Commission as contained in the HEC Vision 25, Section D and are primarily focused on the Pakistani scholars interested in applying to US PhD programs or Postdoc research projects.

Applications to Doctoral Programs:

General:

Most US universities require certain general qualifications that apply to all Doctoral candidates regardless of their discipline of study. Please bear the following in mind before applying:

  • Most US universities only consider PhD application for the fall admissions (Starting in August or September).
  • The application deadlines are usually in December or January: For example, if you are applying for admission for Fall 2019, your application deadline could be either Dec 31, 2018 or January 31, 2019.
  • US universities very rarely admit doctoral students in the Spring semester.
  • The reason for this schedule is connected to funding. The Universities decide their graduate funding once a year, and thus all funding is made available for the fall semester as the beginning semester of the academic year.
  • Admission to a good US university, therefore, is almost a one year process.

Basic Requirements:

The admission at all universities is a three-tier process and you will be dealing with three entities on any US university campus: The Office of International Studies; The office of Graduate Studies/ Admissions, and the College or department to which you are applying.

First Stage (Required by the International Office/ Graduate Admissions Office to Move your application to the College/ Department

  • An Official TOEFL score (Unless you have masters from an English-Speaking Country (Pakistan does not qualify for this).
  • Transcripts of all your previous work
  • A GRE/ GMAT Score depending on your area of study.
  • A statement of Purpose (Usually up to 700 words)

Second Stage: College/ Departmental Requirements

  • Three letters of recommendation
  • A Writing/ Research sample

Final Stage: (After Admission has been granted)

The Office of International Studies will ask you to provide proof of Payment ability. Usually a bank statement or a letter stating that you have a scholarship. [Note: Ability to pay is not considered in making a decision about your admission; that is why you are asked for finances only after you have been admitted]

Issuance of I-20 Student Visa Form.

Transition to US:

Here are some of the important steps:

  • Accommodation: if the institution provides graduate housing, immediately apply for it through their online request forms.
  • If you cannot get University accommodation, contact the International Office to suggest any off- campus accommodation. Reach out to Pakistani/ South Asian Student associations on campus to see if they can help you find a place to live.
  • Arrange with the International office to see if they will arrange picking you up at the airport; most universities will make this arrangement.
  • Get in touch with the Grad advisor in your future program to seek guidance about registering for classes etc.
  • Bring all your credentials in original to the US.

Post-Doc Applications:

The US universities do not charge a bench fee for post-docs. The post-doc students come under the J1 visa program. In order to get the visa, you may follow the following steps:

  • Contact a specific faculty member who works in the area of your interest.
  • Send them a query email, clearly stating your research interests and ask if they would be willing to work with you as a mentor.
  • If they agree, then send them your research proposal.
  • It takes only a few days for a faculty member to fill the necessary forms and refer you to the Office of International Studies.
  • The office of International Studies will gather more of your information including your ability to bear the cost of your stay [usually calculated based on cost of living statistics of the state]
  • After you have proved the ability to sustain your stay, they will issue you a J-1 visa.
  • As a J-1 scholar, you can also work on campus for up to 30 hours per week.
  • Your spouse can also accompany you on a J-2 visa if you can prove your ability to pay the cost of his or her stay.
  • You will also need the proof a health insurance plan that meets the J1 Visa stipulations.

Useful Links:


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Editorials

US-Pakistan Knowledge Program: How to Negotiate with US Universities

Introduction:
These observations are based in my personal experience at three US research universities and including also the experience of negotiating such a deal, at smaller level, with the University of North Texas. I offer these insights to the HEC initiative as described on Pages 37-39 of the HEC Vision 2025 Document.

Who to Contact:
In all cases, instead of initiating contact at the Chancellor level, it is more prudent to talk directly with the university administration, as the university Presidents are pretty autonomous in such cases.

Selecting the Universities:
We should target all major Research 1 universities, but especially those which are located in places with low cost of living. We could also research and target various universities based on their most highly ranked programs.
How to Contact:
A brief note should be developed that explains the Pakistani initiative to send 10000 PhD scholars to various US universities.
A designated person should first reach out to the office of the provost or the office of the president of the University and send a query email about whether or not they will be interested in discussing the project.
If they show interest, then HEC should send a team of experts to start the negotiating process. The team should have all the information and a really good presentation. Please make sure to invite the people from the department that you are interested in.
If possible, involve a diasporic Pakistani academic in the process.
What to Negotiate:
That the partnership will offer a certain specific number of seats, for certain specific number of years to qualified Pakistani candidates.
Ask them to charge you only the In-state tuition. You have the numbers on your side, so they should be willing to work with you. Various states have different laws for offering in-state tuition. Note that International tuition rate is almost always double that of the in-state tuition.
If your candidates have teaching experience, the host university can very easily adjust them at in-state rate by employing them as Teaching Assistants/ Research Assistants.
In the state of Texas, if Pakistan contributes $1000.00 to a general fund at the host university, the host university can issue that to the students as “scholarship” thus legally qualifying them to pay in-state tuition.
Where possible, negotiate that the host university should provide the health insurance.
Conclusion:
All major US universities love diversity and are desperate for International graduate students. In any such negotiation, Pakistanis, therefore, have an edge over their US counterparts, as the latter are never using their resources at an optimal level and bringing in more graduate students looks good in their annual reporting.

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Commentaries Uncategorized

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!

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Editorials

Pakistan Needs an End to Dynastic Politics

http://studiesnote.blogspot.com/2013/06/the-marketing-analysis-of-pakistan.html

A few weeks ago the Pakistani Twittersphere went ballistic when Maryam Nawaz, daughter of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, declared herself a part of “Ruling Family,” thus suggesting as if she and her family, somehow, should enjoy some special privileges and rights within Pakistan. In a democracy, of course, such ideas are absurd, but sadly some major political parties in Pakistan are built as dynasties and while the average workers may get a chance to advance to a certain level, the top echelons of these political parties still consist of either the children of their founders or close relatives. At this point, the Muslim League (N), Pakistan Peoples Party, and Awwami National Party are all governed by either the founders or the progeny of the founders; same rules always apply to quite a few regional political parties.

If Pakistan hopes to develop a viable democratic system, and if the civic structures and practices are to be reshaped within this democratic norm, then the political parties need to be openly democratic, which means that the party leadership should not be passed from one generation of a family to another. The parties should hold open elections to elect their leadership and the top leadership positions should be open to all members of a political party. Otherwise the entire nation ends up becoming the private property of one large extended political family. Look at the recent Nawaz Sharif cabinet, for example. Almost all the major cabinet positions were either held by Mr. Sharif’s immediate family members or the members of his extended family. 1

Of course, when such is the case with the most powerful political positions in the government, then the children of these leaders feel aptly justified in thinking of themselves as a “natural” ruling class. Our so-called leaders forget that any powerful regime depends for its survival on the “willing” consent of the people. 2 For a group of politicians to consider themselves as part of a “natural” ruling class the recognition of this claim must come from the people, for if no one accepts you as ruling class then, your claims notwithstanding, you cannot become this so-called ruling class. The people, on the other hand, should see the kind of hubris that encourages our cultural and political elite to think of themselves as a “ruling class.”

The two major dynasties in our politics, the Sharifs and the Bhuttos, if we look at their histories, were both propped up by military dictators and served the interest of the dictators in the early years of their political rise. Of course, both these families eventually broke away from their masters and charted a political path of their own, but it is our job as the people of Pakistan to keep reminding them that they gained their ludicrous “ruling family” status by either selling their loyalties to the military dictators, or, if we want to go further in the past, by selling their allegiances to tour erstwhile colonizers. This critique of the “naturalized” claim to being the rulers must be posed consistently through the media and social media. The idea is to let no one get away with the claim that they, somehow, own our destiny as their birth right!

There is a lot at stake in the process of eliminating dynastic politics; the case is intimately connected with politics of personality. Any politics that relies on a narrative of liberation at the hands of one man, one leader, is bound to unleash the macro and micro fascist tendencies in our culture. In simple terms, fascism is nothing more than the deeply internalized belief that one single leader can, somehow, solve all our problems. Thus, any time we look around for one strong leader to liberate us, we are expressing our latent fascism. By eliminating dynastic politics, we might also be able to dislodge this deep seeded fascism in our souls and might then, ultimately, look for collective solutions to our manifold problems.

So, we all must look at our political parties to see how democratic they are in their structures before we give them the power to lead our democracy. Yes, there are some religious parties that do tend to be more democratic, but since they consider one single interpretation of religion as the solution to all our problems, their worldview becomes more exclusivist and less democratic. So, despite their democratic practices in selecting their leadership, their vision of the future will always be restrictive and reliant on one way of looking at the world, which can never be a recipe for success in a country as diverse as Pakistan.

So, over all, besides challenging all assertions of “natural” legitimacy by our political elite, we must also be watchful against all those who claim to know the future and have simple solutions for our problems!

Notes:

  1. In fact, according to some reports at one point at least 17 members of Nawaz family held political positions and over all, it is said by some, 84 members of this family were in powerful top positions at one time. “Family politics of Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif
  2. I am relying on Antonio Gramsci’s explanation of “hegemony” as means of obtaining the willing consent of the people.
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Editorials

The US and the Myth of “Pakistan Should Do More”

Once again a US politician, this time the new US president, has offered the same hackneyed wisdom about the US war in Afghanistan, and besides other mundane things offered as new and innovative, yet another refrain was also included in the non-substantive Afghanistan policy speech delivered by President Donald Trump. Trump, like so many other US politicians before him, bellowed:

Pakistan has much to gain from partnering with our effort in Afghanistan. It has much to lose by continuing to harbor criminals and terrorists. In the past, Pakistan has been a valued partner. Our militaries have worked together against common enemies. The Pakistani people have suffered greatly from terrorism and extremism. We recognize those contributions and those sacrifices.

But Pakistan has also sheltered the same organizations that try every single day to kill our people. We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting.

But that will have to change. And that will change immediately. No partnership can survive a country’s harboring of militants and terrorists who target U.S. service members and officials. It is time for Pakistan to demonstrate its commitment to civilization, order and to peace.

Beyond the usual bluster, if looked at textually only the rhetorical energy spent on Pakistan in the speech also declares, beyond the words themselves, the extreme importance of Pakistan in the US mission in Afghanistan, whatever that mission ought to be, for Mr. Trump failed to define what exactly would be the US “Victory” in Afghanistan. The Pakistani government and military should not take this as more of the same or as an empty threat. Furthermore, declaring that we as a nation are better off with China (as the argument is being made in Pakistan by some leading politicians and journalist) is also not in Pakistan’s best interest. Staying engaged with the United States can in no way be against the Pakistani national interest. But keeping the US public informed about the sacrifices made by Pakistan is also exceptionally important.

Just the last month as I sat with one of my former army seniors, he informed me that my old battalion was slated to be deployed in an operation in the Pakistani tribal areas that very night. As we talked, we both hoped and prayed that everyone in our battalion came out of the operation unscathed and unharmed, but, deep down, we both knew that in operations such as these there are always casualties. Pakistan has suffered tremendously over the last decade or so both in terms of military and civilian casualties. We need to remember that this war against the Taliban and ISIS and other extremist groups is not necessarily a war conducted at the behest of the United States, but crucial to our own national future. We should fight this war on all fronts, military, civic, and economic, with or without US help, but we should also do a better job of challenging absurd claims by the US politicians about “reluctant” Pakistan “not doing enough.” Our men and women, civilians and soldiers are dying every day in this complex and expansive war: WE ARE DOING A LOT!!! We need to do a better job of foregrounding our sacrifices and our efforts nationally and globally. Our politicians, generals, journalists, and academics need to help develop a counter narrative to the Taliban and others but also a strategic counter narrative to any scapegoating of Pakistan proffered by the US politicians.

We should also pose some hard questions to the US policymakers: What, to them, is victory in Afghanistan? Obviously it cannot be the conquest of Afghanistan! If the victory to the US is a stable democratic Afghanistan with a democratically elected government, then it cannot be accomplished through military means and even if Mr. Trump does not like it, he will have to invest in building the civic and political institutions in Afghanistan. Building a stable and autonomous Afghanistan should also be a top Pakistani priority. We as a nation need to rid ourselves of the misconception that Afghani people owe us for anything. Yes, we hosted millions of their refugees during the Soviet-Afghan war, but that alone does not give us the right to dictate Afghan politics or their foreign policy. If we need to win Afghanistan over as a regional ally and friend, then we should accomplish that with deep cultural and economic investments in Afghanistan and not through proxy groups or through politics of intimidation and isolation.

If there is some truth to Trump’s claims about Pakistan serving as a safe haven for Taliban groups, then we as a nation should openly declare that no place in Pakistan shall be or could be used as a safe haven for any Taliban group. If we have used any of these groups as our proxies in the region, we should know by now that the same groups can turn on us any time and conduct horrible terroristic attacks on our people. At this point there seems to be no advantage to us in harboring any terroristic groups both  officially or unofficially. Pakistan should, therefore, declare openly that Pakistani territory will not be a safe place for any terroristic proxy group, may they be targeting Afghanistan or any other adjacent regions.

Only when we have a clear and open policy against terror groups can we challenge the sad and shallow stereotyping used by US politicians against Pakistan. Furthermore, our relationship with the US should not be transactional but rather deeper and long-term. Th US on her part can continue to invest in Pakistani education, infrastructure, and other civic and cultural fields. If the US decides to isolate Pakistan and defunds US cultural and military support to Pakistan, the long-term implications  of such steps might be hard for Pakistan but would certainly be damaging to the US interests in the region.

So, as two nations focused on solving an intractable problem in the region, the US and Pakistan should treat each other with the kind of respect and dignity as two sovereign nations ought to!

Categories
Editorials

American Protests against the Muslim Ban: Lessons for all Pakistanis

http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/features/inside-the-huge-jfk-airport-protest-over-trumps-muslim-ban-w463615

It is now a recorded fact of history that as soon as Donald Trump signed and promulgated his infamous Muslim Ban, hundreds of Americans rushed to their local airports to protest this singularly stupid action of their president. Note, no one organized this protest, there was no centralized call by leaders or activists: this was a spontaneous response by the average American citizens from all walks of life.

On the legal front, the American Civil Liberty Union (ACLU) immediately field stay orders against the detention of some detained refugees and some major district courts in America issued a stay order within a few hours. Of course, this is not a total victory, but it says  lot about the general American culture. Note also that included amongst the protestors were Americans from all faiths and creeds: Muslims, Jews, Christians, atheists etc.etc.

In fact in so many way the American Jews were and have been the strongest critics of this policy. In most of the cases in new York as they, in the words of one of my Twitter sources they finished their Shabbat and rushed to the airports to protest:

 

Similarly, a lot of Democratic leaders, liberal activists, students, and Christians also joined the protests against the Muslim ban. Some leading Catholic and Protestant church organizations also called President Trump’s actions Un-Christian and Un-American. Now, please note that for the Democratic party the American Muslims are not even remotely a huge political  constituency, but they still came out strongly against the ban.

These protests, of course, were prompted by several individual and collective motivations: some people were there because they saw it as Un-American, others joined because they thought it immoral to stand by when refugees were being detained, yet others joined the protests because they felt it was the wrong way to make America safe. Their personal of collective motivations notwithstanding, all these people came out and made their collective bodies speak against the Muslim ban, and that is truly American and commendable!

Now, as Pakistanis we need to ask ourselves some serious questions. The most important question  to ask, of course, is this:

How many of us, the Pakistani citizens, would have come out and stood in solidarity with a minority group if the government had promulgated a law like this?

And if the answer is “we don’t know,” or worse “not many” then we have a lot work to do as a nation!

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Editorials

Disappearing Acts: What is at Stake for Pakistan

In a recent spate of unexplained disappearances, at least eleven social media and other activists have suddenly gone missing in Pakistan. At this point neither any terrorist organization nor any state agency has claimed the responsibility. There are no ransom demands or any other announcements about these disappeared activists. I am only aware of the names of four of them: Salman Haider, Waqas Goraya, Asim Saeed and Ahmed Raza Naseer.

That these activists were all either progressive or openly critical of all forms of intolerance, hate, sectarianism, and fundamentalism is also a fact. Their disappearance, therefore, is not only a violation of their bodies and souls but a threat to the very future of public discourse in Pakistan.

Let us look at it reflectively. The most urgent threat to Pakistan in the current times is the rise of sectarianism, intolerance, and terrorism perpetuated by those who believe that only a simplistic way of defining Pakistan’s national identity is valid and laudable. All the state forces, government agencies, and the police forces combined have not been able to eliminate these material and ideological threats to Pakistan. Pakistan can only win this fight, in the long run, through the active participation of its youth and citizens. To eliminate the Taliban, for example, all Taliban-friendly thoughts must be slowly eliminated.

Activists like those disappeared serve a crucial function in this regard: they actively engage with the youth and help create and sustain a competing narrative of a tolerant, diverse, and democratic Pakistan. Their silencing, abduction, and incarceration, therefore, does not serve the Pakistani national interest, but rather strengthens the very forces that are threatening the ideological and material existence of Pakistan as a nation.

In the current climate of Pakistan, all dissenting voices are considered suspect and it takes a lot of courage to challenge the normative narratives so shamelessly proffered by powerful constituencies. It is important to have activists, scholars, and journalists who constantly ask the hard questions of power. Asking hard questions can never be considered unpatriotic! It is, therefore, shameful for people on various state-sponsored social network pages (Pakistan Defense Forum, for example) to exult in these disappearances. By rationalizing these disappearances, through their venomous and silly rhetoric, these people are empowering the kind of intolerance that it is the job of intelligence agencies, police forces, and the government to eliminate.

A few years ago when I had written a few critical articles about the generals of Pakistan army, I was invited to meet a senior official of the ISI. This official was a former superior of mine and an exceedingly professional officer and a decent human being. I went voluntarily and there was no coercion involved in the process. During our conversation, I was told that Taliban and their ilk were a new kind of enemy and that the armed forces believed that this fight could not only be won through military operations. I think the intelligence agencies still have the same view, for this fight needs every Pakistani citizen on the front lines to counter the venomous discourse that underwrites all pronouncements and actions of hate by Taliban and other hate groups. These activists, in my view, are the first line of ideological defense against the forces of intolerance and hate: they should be enabled to work freely and openly. They should be protected and not disappeared!

The current government has announced that these disappearances are illegal and that they will try their best to “recover” these activists. I hope that the government will live up to its own pronouncements, for the alternative is to have a population cowered in fear of not just those who threaten Pakistan but also of those whose job it is to protect us.

And for our protectors, where ever you are, we have a simple message: No army fights in a vacuum and all national armies rely on the sacrifices of its people to fight the material and ideological wars. The Pakistani people live in poverty, struggle every day, and have often sacrificed the future of their children to sustain their defense institutions. The Pakistani people deserve your love and respect, for in the end YOU are there to serve them and not vice versa.

We don’t need any more dictators; we have had enough of them already! We have had four illegal, unconstitutional regimes so far and all of them are responsible for the state Pakistan is in now. You cannot rule for thirty years and then blame the politicians for the ills of the nation! Yes, democracy is messy and our politicians are not all perfect: but they are responsible to the people and if the system continues, people will learn the habits of democracy and weed out the corrupt and the inefficient.

The activists who have been disappeared are doing a great service to the nation: they are practicing and perpetuating the habits and responsibilities of living in a democracy. They need to be respected, lauded and acknowledged for their service to the country, for they do this of their own free will and do not ask for anything in return.

Let there be open and free conversation about what do we mean by Pakistan and what are the rights and responsibilities of its people. So, in solidarity with these disappeared activists, let us all remember that only our silence will make such acts normal. We all, therefore, must speak and must continue being thorns in the heart of power, for power, as Deleuze famously said, must “totalize” and the role of the activists, the intellectuals, the journalists, and citizens is to constantly pose hard questions, to keep power from totalizing itself. For totalization is silence and death!