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Why Does the Pakistan Army Deserve our Support

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Pakistan Needs an End to Dynastic Politics

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!


  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.

Freedom to Kill, Taliban Style

Shia in Arabic
Shia in Arabic (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To say that the murder of 82 of our fellow citizens is an atrocity is stating the obvious: But to make the Laskar-e-Jhangvi and members of other such monstrosities to see it as a monstrous act is another questions. How did we get here? What has brought us to a place in our history where one group from amongst us declares another “killable” and then goes on to perform a cowardly act of murder? And all in the name of religion?

Lashkar-e-Jhangvi is a monstrosity that arose from Sipa-e-Sahjaba in 1996, the organization that was launched by  Maulana Jhangvi during the time of Zia-ul-Haq.  Lshkar is a  group of brainwashed sunni youth fed upon the myths of shia practices that, somehow, insult the three of the four caliphs. There is no truth to these claims, but when it comes to indiscriminate killing of minorities, it seems, truth happens to be the first casuality. That most of our Sunni Ulama are openly hostile to their Shia brothers and sisters is beyond doubt. Even some as learned as Dr, Israr Ahmed displayed a pathological hatred of the shia. What distinguishes the Lashkar is that the entire edifice of their bloody politics is built around an open hatred of the shia.

While it is absolutely fine to have differences of opinion and have an open discussion about issues of right and wrong, sacred and profane, the current practices in Pakistani public sphere about all minority groups–Muslim-or non-Muslim–have left the so-called “state of exception” and become the norm. This should not come to us as a surprise, especially since we have allowed our mullahs to use their mosques to spew hate about other groups  without any legal or governmental restraint to their rhetorical acts of terror against other citizens of Pakistan.

The tragedy in Quetta, is, therefore,  not just an event; it is a symptom of our larger problems. It is also a reminder that no religion, no matter how pure and unsullied can bring us peace and love if its practitioners do not want to practice peace and love. It is sadly ironic that when we are asked about Islam, we always tell people that Islam means “the religion of peace” but in our every day lives, those who have hijacked the so-called Islamic identity understand only the politics of death and destruction. Obviously, we are to blame for this. In the last sixty years as a nation we have neither altered the socioeconomic hierarchy of our inherited colonial national identity, nor have we been able to construct a public sphere of civilized discourse. And now, surprisingly, the most vengeful and hateful elements of our religion have somehow taken it upon themselves to force upon us a nightmarish interpretation of the very sacred core of our religion.

I know this atrocity has brought a large number of Pakistanis to the streets to condemn these attacks and to stand in solidarity with their shia brothers and sisters. We need more of this solidarity. And we need a perpetual critique of every action that the murderers perform and we need to challenge them at every step, for what they do, have done, and propose to do is not Islam, and if this is the only interpretation of Islam then we are all doomed. A religion without love has no hope to create a transformative way of life. I do not think Islam is a religion without love: one glance at the life of the Prophet is enough to teach us that “muhabbh” is the ultimate essence of Islam.

So, let us force these lashkaris and their sympathizers to show us if they are truly Muslim. We need to ask them to show us something more than death and destruction and we need to ask them about love.



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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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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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J Salik and the World Minorities Alliance

By far the crowning event of my recent visit to Pakistan was a meeting with Julius Salik. A towering figure in the history of Pakistani activism, J Salik has fought all his life for the rights of the poor and the weak. He has now launched a more ambitious and revolutionary project: The World Minorities Alliance.

Simply focused on the rights of minorities all over the world, WMA describes its mission in the following words:

The World Minorities Alliance would be a single such platform that gives thought to the problems of all minorities and seeks their solution. It aims at projecting the issues irritating the minorities in the very same country they lived in. Every individual living anywhere in the world can become a member of the World Minorities Alliance.

As we sat and talked about the possibilities of this organization, over a cup of tea, I could see that J Salik has finally launched a project which, if successful, would become his ultimate legacy. Imagine the possibilities: anyone living in a minority status anywhere in the world would not only get a global platform and representation but would also be able to voice his or her opinions in the world affairs, a world system so obviously defined and perpetuated by the majority populations of nation-states.

In my conversation with J Salik while I was deeply impressed with his committment and his vision, I was also aware the a lot of resources would be necessary to launch and sustain this project. While I have no doubt that he will see this through–he is famous for his resilience–I do hope that those of us who are interested in the issues of minority rights and issues of social justice would also step up and support this important cause.

Personally, I have already done a bit of what I can do and would continue to do more and I implore all of you to support this important organization during its fledgling phase. You can help in may ways:

  • Join the organization as members and patrons.
  • Pass the word around on your blogs and websites.
  • Contribute financially (Contact us for details on this).


We will keep posting further updates on this. Meanwhile, please feel free to pass this on and add your comments of support. Thank you all in advance.


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Conspiracy Theories in Pakistan

All cultures usually have different groups of people who believe in grand conspiracy theories. One cursory internet search on the topic would lead you to numerous websites dedicated to one or the other form of conspiracy theory about secret orders and powerful underground organizations. Pakistan is no exception. At any time in Pakistan there are always some conspiracy theories in circulation. What concerns me is how Pakistani media sometimes perpetuate these theories and how even the most educated sometimes fall victim to their lure. I will briefly touch upon two different examples.

A few years ago during my visit to Pakistan quite a few highly educated people kept asking me about my opinion about the “Blood Borders.” Obviously, in the beginning I was clueless as what this term meant. Eventually, I was told that America believes that the borders in the South Asia regions should be redrawn so that they truly represent the natural ethnic and blood ties amongst the people of this region. According to this theory, offered as truth, the US policy in the region was geared toward achieving this end and pretty soon, it seemed, the US was likely attempt to restructure Pakistan according to this vision of the region.

Finally, when more than three of my learned friends in Pakistan invoked the term “blood borders” I got curious and asked them about the source of the term itself. They informed me that blood borders was accepted US policy and as a proof they offered me a copy of an article published in the US Armed Forces Journal. This brief article by Ralph Peters is basically a speculative piece offering realigning of borders in the Middle East to solve the ethnic or regional conflicts (Article available here:

It seems this article had been circulating in Pakistan, but not as a speculative article by a scholar but as document that, somehow, represented US policy. Obviously, the problem was not with the article—one can find thousands of speculative policy articles on any topic published in hundreds of journals—but with the modes of reading applied to it. The readers obviously could not differentiate between the opinion of one scholar and his nation and thus his ideas were assigned the same degree of legitimacy and acceptance as would have been assigned to a policy paper written by someone in the US administration. And since the story made sense within the logic of US war in Afghanistan, it became accepted as truth. No amount of discussion or explanation on my part, it seemed, could dissuade my friends from reading this article as absolutely true statement of US intent in the region. Part of the reason for easy acceptance of such bizarre theories is the extreme lack of critical education in Pakistan. Most of our schools are content oriented and rely heavily on learning the content and then reproducing it. Thinking critically about the issues or about the texts is encouraged neither in the public school system nor in the private sector. As a result we are producing millions of uncritical citizens who either learn the very basic narratives of nations—of which a dangerous other is always a presence—or just learn the surface values of material aspects of capitalism. In both cases the students are neither trained nor learn the methods of looking at the sources critically in order to decide whether or not the sources are reliable or not. Our media pundits—some of them who have bought their PhDs from for-profit universities in the US—also perpetuate varied conspiracies through their frequent appearances on TV shows.

Some conspiracy theories, however, have nothing to do with the grave threats to Pakistan but rather rely on popular desires and dreams to perpetuate themselves. I had one such experience a couple of years back when one of my old friends contacted me to talk about a famous Pakistani scientist.

My friend, a retired Lieutenant Colonel from the Corps of Engineers, informed me that he had recently come into contact with a famous Pakistani scientist, Dr. Aurangzeb Hafi and wanted me to read the said scientist’s poetry. Naturally, as someone who edits a journal on Pakistan I was deeply interested and I informed him that we would also like to publish an interview with this person in the next issue of our journal. Things took a different turn after I did my simple research about this famous scientist.

According to my research, not only were all the claims about his two doctoral degrees false, but I also could not find a single refereed article in any database that the said scientist had published: his website claimed that he had published over three bundled scientific articles.

Furthermore, the scientist had already been interviewed by a local TV network, had been written about in the Urdu press, and the Pakistani blogs had also reported about the singular honor that this scientist had brought to Pakistan. Troubled by what my research revealed to me I contacted my friend and informed him that according to my research this scientist was fake. My friend informed me that the news of Hafi’s accomplishments had been published by Yahoo news and thus his claims could not be false.

Now, Yahoo News is an aggregating service, which means that their webcrawler harvests different sources and then simply reposts them without any editorial oversight. In case of Dr. Hafi, he himself or someone on his behalf had published a press release with PR web (a service that would publish any news if you pay the fees) stating that Mr. Hafi had been declared the man of the year. This press release later showed up in the yahoo feed.

Needless to say, all my efforts to convince my friend that the scientist was really not a scientist failed. My efforts failed because my friend and so many others had built an entire edifice of hope and pride around the accomplishments of this particular person and any attempt at undoing that was also a direct threat to their hopes and aspirations.

In both kinds of conspiracy theories, the one about dangerous beings and dangerous enemies and the other about great leaders, scientist, etc., the users find these theories to fit their own matrix of desire. In other words, the conspiracy theory becomes a sort of ideology through which the users can make sense of the world or ascribe specific meanings to their lives and the world around them. In most cases these people are harmless, but when conspiracy theories start underwriting our worldview to an extent where we decide whether or not someone is our enemy, then the consequences can be dangerous.

In any nation it is the long-term goal of the educational system to produce critically aware citizens so that they do not fall prey to such conspiracy theories. In the short term, the Pakistani press can also act as a useful didactic tool by challenging all conspiracy theories instead of perpetuating them.

(Also published in Viewpoint Online)

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Memogate or the Grand Delusions of Mansoor Ijaz

Delusions of grandeur – a delusion (common in paranoia) that you are much greater and more powerful and influential than you really are. (Source)


Much has been said and written about this hackneyed non-issue in the Pakistani and international media but mostly in speculative and sensationalist way. My purpose here is to basically lay bare the arguments offered by Mr. Mansoor Ijaz about the fruitfulness of his actions in an interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria.

Usually I do not waste my time in responding to or writing about the shenanigans of neoconservative minions of high capital: I belive that if they just focus on accumulating wealth and living a prosperous life and at times spew the virtues of prosperity, then all power to them. But things become problematic when these minions of cut-throat capitalism also, by virtue of being prosperous,  tend to posit themselves as all-knwowing pundits of international politics. Things get even more quixotic when these moneymaking machines decide that they have the power and vision to make or break nations. Mr. Mansoor Ijaz, it seems, suffers from this type of grand delusion about his own importance to history and the fate of Pakistan and since he is known to have cast his lot with the interventionist and imperial policies of Bush administration, he has been the darling insider, the uncle Tom, of the conservative media in the US.

It was interesting to read his interview with Fareed Zakaria and since I am a reader of texts by profession, I find it apt to provide a sort of close reading of this interview. You can read the entire transcript of the interview here: Zakaria interviews Mansoor Ijaz on Memogate. [1. Note this interview was conducted in December 2011 after Mr. Mansoor Ijaz had published an op-ed piece in the Financial Times entitled “To Take on Pakistan’s Jihadist Spies.” Since Financial Times has controlled content, I cannot provide a link to the actual article.]

So, in the interview Zakaria pushes Mr. Ijaz on the very argument of his op-ed in the Financial Times:

Zakaria: The basic point of your article was a rather striking – in fact, even stunning call for the U.S. to label an element of the Pakistani military, the ‘S Branch’  of the intelligence wing, a terrorist organization. What brought you to feel so strongly that?

This is a very important question and it allows Mr. Mansoor Ijaz to elaborate his own “illustrious’ history as a power broker and as the central figure in the saga of his own delusions of grandeur and, of course, his answer is a testimony to this:

Ijaz: You know, I’ve been involved in different operations in Pakistan now for a very long time. I helped Benazir come back together with the Clinton administration as a part of the larger Pakistani-American community. I, as you know, was deeply involved in trying to broker a ceasefire in Kashmir. And during these various interventions that I tried to effect in Pakistan, what we found out in almost every single case was that there was a political motivation and a political interference by the ISI. [emphasis added]

This answer is deeply interesting: it makes Mr. Mansoor Ijaz, in his own words, central to so many Pakistan-related issues. So, we learn in this response that somehow Benazir needed an intermediary such as Mr. Mansoor Ijaz to get in touch with Clinton Administration and the reply also places Mr. Mansoor Ijaz at the center of the most enduring conflict in the region. Beyond the specifics Mr. Mansoor Ijaz also goes on to suggest that he had also attempted to “effect” other changes in the region. So, not only is Mr. Ijaz at the center of regional and international politics now, we learn, but he has also been this highly important intermediary in grand issues of the region and the world in the past. We learn all of this in Mr. Ijaz’s own words. These are, I must submit, classic symptoms of a delusional personality. After all, other than being rich and prosperous and being an insider in neoconservative politics, what other credentials does Mr. Mansoor Ijaz offer as an “intermediary” and as an “effecter” of change in the region. The fact that not many Pakistanis were even aware of his illustrious existence before the murky memo affair caught the national attention further weakens his personal claims of this grand history of working for the region. In my humble opinion, if Benazir Bhutto needed someone such as him to get in touch with Washington, then all that I have ever thought of her stature as a national leader becomes questionable. I am pretty sure that, given her prominence in the national and world politics, if Benazir ever wanted to contact Washington, she probably did not need a middleman like Mr. Mansoor Ijaz, especially an untrustworthy middleman, a fact proven by the momogate scandal.

After this initial exchange, Zakaria, to his credit, goes to the most important question of his interview, a question that we all should be asking of our illustrious Mr. Manssor Ijaz:

Zakaria: So what I’m wondering is, why would you make public the fact that the Pakistani civilian government was concerned about the ISI and was trying to curtail it? It seems to undercut the very purpose of your own article to reveal that the civilian government was trying to clip the wings of the Pakistani military.

Yes, an apt question indeed. If the purpose of the op-ed was to point out that there is a so-called “S” branch of ISI that functions as a body not accountable to any power in the nation, then why make the civilian government’s concerns about it so openly public. To this Mr. Ijaz offers an interesting and surprisingly contorted non-answer:

Ijaz: That’s a fair question. And all I will tell you is that you’ve written enough op-ed pieces to know that the way the op-ed process, the writing process works is that there has to be some authenticity in the way that a writer presents his particular argument.

Now I’m not a writer of a book like Ahmed Rashid, I’m not a decorated veteran of some war, I’m not a former secretary of state, I’m not you. You’ve got a great credibility to do these things just on your name alone.

In my case because I’m a businessman who theoretically has nothing to do with these kinds of issues, what I wrote and how I wrote needed to have a certain authenticity to it.

So, let me grasp this. Mr. Ijaz claims to be a novice at op-ed writing and also acknowledges that he does not have the proven credentials to write something such as this as he is, in his words, ” a businessman” and thus, in order to be credible and to make his argument “authentic” he had to, as I understand it, offer an aura of authenticity. This, in other words, means that even though he neither had the intimate knowledge nor the necessary expertise to write this op-ed, he had to offer his views as authentic and believable. This, in other words, means that he had to lie in a convincing manner. As regards to his sensational account actually strengthening the ISI, the very institution he had set out to criticize, and weakening the civilian government, he supplies us with this profound answer:

Ijaz: I don’t think that’s what’s happened. If you ask me, we have strengthened Pakistan. Maybe we haven’t strengthened the civilian side of Pakistan’s government, but there may have been a rot there that needs to be cleaned up. And if that rot is cleaned out, you might find a very strong Pakistan emanating out of this in which the judiciary does what it’s supposed to. The military does what it’s supposed to.

This, of course, is delusional at a monumental scale. If I was a conspiracy theorist like Mr. Mansoor Ijaz, I would suggest that the ISI permitted Mr. Mansoor Ijaz to write this op-ed (or wrote it for him) where he, on the surface, criticizes the ISI, but in spirit actually creates a space for the ISI to hold this government hostage. But Mr. Ijaz’s inability to see the destabilizing impact of his assertions for the future of democracy in Pakistan are not only seriously beguiling but also point to the fact that even he himself does not know what he was saying in an article that he, supposedly, wrote himself.

So, in my humble opinion Mr. Mansoor Ijaz should give up his role as a political pundit or as a great mediator and go on running his business and making money. At least if he sticks to his capitalistic ideals of perpetual growth and endless accumulation of profits, he will only  harm those whose labors he must exploit to be rich, whereas his role as a pseudo pundit and as a delusional mediator has the possibility of damaging a whole nation.

So, as I read this bizarre interview I am grateful to Zakaria for asking such important questions of this demagogue and have also reached a firm conclusion about Mr. Mansoor Ijaz: I will not let him help me even if I was drowning and he was the last human on earth left to pull me out. No, I would rather drown!



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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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Pakistan Civilian-Military Relations

According to an apocryphal story, immediately after General Pervez Musharraf launched his infamous Kargil offensive, the Indian Prime Minister contacted Mr. Nawaz Sharif, then Prime Minister of Pakistan.

“Mian Sahib” asked the Indian PM, “What are you doing to us? Why has your army launched an offensive in Kargil?”

“Let me ask my generals and then I will get back to you,” replied Nawaz Sharif

“That is the difference between you and us, Mian sahib; we don’t ask our generals, they ask us before they do anything” is said to have been the Indian PM’s reply.

This story, often repeated in the streets of Pakistan, is also a sort of popular self-awareness of how things stand in Pakistan when it comes to civil-military relationships.

In the military circles, of which I was a part for fourteen years of my life, the civilian administration is always seen as corrupt and inefficient. This view is, of course, partially true especially if one compares the two systems without incorporating their attendant peculiarities. It is easy to be professional and efficient in the military: everyone is trained to do their job and there is an established hierarchy of rank structure buttressed by an uninterrupted history of functionality as an institution. Furthermore, the military leaders only have to deal with highly indoctrinated troops who, being soldiers, have no right to any kind of free will or civic rights. It is easy to command and manage a captive audience.

Our civilian systems, however, neither have a continuous history of functionality nor do they comprise a system in which the hierarchy is clearly established and articulated. Because of various martial laws and other military interventions neither the people nor the so-called leaders have truly learned the ethics and politics of public political life. Resultantly, most of our politicians see their offices as a path to self-agrrandization and have no qualms about using their influence to enrich themselves. Since the system is unstable, the politicians’ psyche is connected to short-term goals. So, instead of refining their message and streamlining a long-term, people-oriented politics, our politicians are more focused on the short-term goals. If the threat of military take-overs had been eliminated, just like the Indians did, then over the last sixty years we would have also developed a more responsive and transparent system of politics and governance.

Pakistan is also still burdened with a medieval system of production in which the large landholders still rely on captive labor to continue reproducing the inequalities that we inherited at the time of the partition. How is the army to blame for this? Quite simply, one look at who did the military mobilize during their regimes will be a good answer: Ayub Khan relied on some heavy weights of Pakistani feudality and Zia-ul-Haq, despite his pseudo-Islamic policies, also worked through the same ”notables” in all regions of Pakistan. Mr. Musharraf, notwithstanding his pronounced liberalism, also worked with cahudries of Gujraat and other such parasites to keep his regime functional. In the entire thirty or so years of the aggregated military rule, not even one of them even hinted at land reforms or tried to disrupt this unjust, unequal system of wealth distribution. In fact, by supporting the zamindars and the waderas, the military has provided them new inroads into the nation’s politics: pretty much all major parties now field feudal candidates from the rural heart of Pakistan, candidates who are basically there to safeguard their own interests and to maintain the status quo.

It is often declared that without the army, Pakistan will disintegrate as a nation. Maybe, that is partially true as a functional national government does need a strong and established armed force to maintain order within its borders, to provide emergency relief, and to also safeguard against foreign aggression. But a deeper look at our system suggests that military itself has become the main cause of Pakistan’s instability and bleak future. This isn’t something new; one look at human history is enough to prove that eventually it is always the high military expenditure that brings nations and empires down. At the height of its power, the Roman Empire relied heavily on the Roman legions for the expansion of empire. But in the end the legions themselves became too expansive to maintain and thus became the cause of the failure of empire. Same happed to the Soviet Union. We are headed the same way. We all know that we cannot afford to spend so much on the military but we must, as our politicians neither have the courage nor the popular support to reign in the military elite.

The civil military relationships in Pakistan, therefore, are a symptom of a nation gone wrong, a nation in which people are still living in squalor while their leaders and their generals live like kings.

It is quite obvious that our politicians are mostly corrupt and probably do not care about the people, but part of this apathy is systemic: if the politicians are in it for the short term and do not have to worry about their long term obligations to their constituents, then the system does not force them to become more receptive to popular demands. The generals, on the other hand, have no reason to pander to the people especially if they can continuously rely on popular distrust of the politicians and a constant invocation of outside threats. The result of this military civilian symbiotic relationship is that Pakistan has increasingly become a dysfunctional state in which might is right and the only way to make ourselves look better is to keep deriding other nations.

Rise of Islamic fundamentalism is a direct result of, among other things, the unequal and unjust society that the army and the politicians have constructed over the years. Think of it this way: if you feel powerless and silenced with no recourse to a functional justice system or a vibrant social system, then you will sign up with anyone who promises to literally restructure the entire socio-economic edifice. The left in Pakistan has never been able to promise such an upheaval: in fact, the Pakistani left, whatever is left of it, has itself become an elitist pursuit by some real and mostly pseudo intellectuals whose political alignment is mostly with the feudal or industrial bourgeoisie. In such a scenario, only the most fundamentalist mullahs can mobilize the people as they can, at the end of the day, at least promise revolutionary change.

In wake of the recent Memogate scandal and other national debacles, it has become evident that the interest of the army and those of our politically elected leaders are on a divergent course. Yes, we need the armed forces: at least, they provide employment for hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis directly and indirectly. But we need an army that knows that it is one tool in the hands of popularly elected governments, an army that enables Pakistan to become a viable, pluralistic democracy.

Our politicians also need to learn that they are servants of their people and unless they internalize this core principle, they will continue the inane and self-serving politics that has now made them a joke in the region as well as in the world.

If the present government finishes its term, ineffective as it maybe as a government, it will be the first popularly elected government to do so in my entire lifetime. So, yes, their corruption and failure notwithstanding, let us aid and help this government so that we can have another and yet another popularly elected government. A functioning system of politics is the only way for Pakistan to become a viable nation and for that to happen, the Pakistan army will have to learn to think of itself as an instrument of Pakistani state and the generals will have to learn to be servants of their people: Yes, the very people whose poverty and suffering underwrites the privileges that our generals enjoy as their rights.

(Also published by Viewpoint Online)

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