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!


American Protests against the Muslim Ban: Lessons for all Pakistanis

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!


Donald Trump and Perception of America in the Islamic World

As a Muslim resident of the United States, I have keenly followed the Islamophobic tone and rhetoric of Mr. Trump. I have also noted that Donald_Trump-150x150most of the time the opposition to his claims is posited within the logic of the constitutionality of his proposed actions and policies toward American Muslims.

We also ought to look at Mr. Trump’s views and policy statements from the point of view of their reception in the general Islamic world, and especially the ultimate usage of his statements by the very forces that Mr. Trump hopes to defeat: ISIS and other terroristic groups.

Since this election season began, I receive quite a few queries from Pakistan—my native country—about the possibility of a Trump presidency. For people in Pakistan, a Trump victory would ultimately legitimize the kind of America that the Islamists and their more terroristic contemporaries mobilize to demonize America.

In the published and articulated literature of ISIS, Taliban, and the other Jihadist groups, America is posited as an inherently evil and anti-Islamic place. Within the Islamic interpretations of the sharia that these groups follow, a place cannot be declared darul harb [abode of war] unless it can be logically considered hostile to Muslims and Islam. Thus, the Taliban, the ISIS, and al-Qaida all attempt to prove beyond doubt that America is this hostile place for Muslims and worthy of being declared a war zone. Mr. Trump’s candidacy and his stated policies about Islam in general and the American Muslims in particular, thus, become an important recruitment and propaganda tool for the radical groups all over the Islamic world.

As someone who works on the borders of two cultures, I find myself in an interesting position while in Pakistan: Anytime someone asks me a question about America, its people, and its policies, I try to highlight the complexity of American nation and its diversity. In my public talks, I often counter the generalized negative views about America by pointing out that there are millions of Americans who are kind, accommodating, and generous and that the number of racist, xenophobic, and Islamophobic Americans are much smaller than the vast majority. Granted this argument became harder to sustain during the Bush presidency, for my audiences always asked me: if that is the case then why did they re-elect Bush? I had no simple answer to that.

Now, with the rise of Mr. Trump as the nominee of a major political party with millions of followers, my job of translating culture to my home country has become even harder.

On the other hand, it has become easier for the radical groups to convince, recruit, and enroll more young men to their side: they only have to point to some of the things that Mr. Trump has said or proposes to do when he becomes the president.

So why should we worry about what people think of America in the Islamic world? In my humble opinion, the fight for America’s security in the world cannot just be won through military force. America must shift its perception. America must represent its very best, its diversity, its tolerance, its regard of human life as its ultimate values. Unfortunately, Mr. Trump cannot do that. He, in fact, ends up representing the very worst that people can think of America: hubris, belligerence, and ignorance.

So, despite his claims to making America “great again,” Mr. Trump would actually weaken America within (by dividing Americans on racial, religious, ethnic and regional lines) and by destroying the positive image of America and replacing it with the one that the terroristic groups already rely on to recruit.

The way America is perceived in the Islamic world is absolutely crucial to America’s security: No conventional military force can take the US forces in a conventional war. I say this with certainty because of my years of experience as an infantry officer in the Pakistan army. The threat to America is of the unconventional kind: the bombers, the snipers, the lone shooters. While good intelligence and active fighting can reduce the chances of such terroristic acts, erasing the narratives that are used to recruit these men is extremely important. That  is why it is important for the Americans and the American policy makers to represent the kind of America that tolerates differences, that cherishes human life, and that encourages a better world. Thus, a continuous foregrounding of the “goodness” of America and Americans is absolutely necessary to shift the ideological landscape within the Islamic world.


If Mr. trump is elected as the president, then America might become stronger militarily but it would have lost the ideological war and become the very thing that its enemies claim it to be: a xenophobic, hostile, and arrogant super power led by an equally xenophobic, arrogant, and ignorant man.