Archive for September, 2010

Female Imams Blaze Trail Amid China’s Muslims

By Louisa Lim for National Public Radio

It is 5:50 in the morning, and dark shadows scurry through narrow alleys to the mosque, as the call to prayer echoes from a minaret in Kaifeng. This city in central China’s Henan province has an Islamic enclave, where Muslims have lived for more than 1,000 years.

In an alleyway called Wangjia hutong, women go to their own mosque, where Yao Baoxia leads prayers. For 14 years, Yao has been a female imam, or ahong as they are called here, a word derived from Persian.

As she leads the service, Yao stands alongside the other women, not in front of them as a male imam would. But she says her role is the same as a male imam. “The status is the same,” Yao says confidently. “Men and women are equal here, maybe because we are a socialist country.”                                        

Yao Baoxia is a female ahong, or imam, at Wangjia Hutong Women’s Mosque in Kaifeng, in central China. She sits alongside believers during prayers, not in front of them like male imams. She believes male and female imams are equal in their role as teachers and leaders of prayers. Yao Baoxia is a female ahong, or imam, at Wangjia Hutong Women’s Mosque in Kaifeng, in central China. She sits alongside believers during prayers, not in front of them like male imams. She believes male and female imams are equal in their role as teachers and leaders of prayers.

China has an estimated 21 million Muslims, who have developed their own set of Islamic practices with Chinese characteristics. The biggest difference is the development of independent women’s mosques with female imams, something scholars who have researched the issue say is unique to China.

Yao studied to become an imam for four years, after being laid off from her job as a factory worker. First she studied under a female imam, then with a male imam alongside male students.

Her main role is as a teacher, she says. “When people come to pray, they don’t know how to chant the Quran, so my job is teaching people about Islam, helping them to study one line at a time and leading the prayers,” she says.

Mosques Began As Quranic Schools

The modest courtyard of Wangjia Hutong Women’s Mosque contains within it the entire history of China’s mosques for females. It’s the oldest surviving women’s mosque in China, with one gray plaque high up on a wall dating back to 1820.

Like other women’s mosques, it began as a Quranic school for girls. These sprang up in the late 17th century in central China, including Shanxi and Shandong provinces. They morphed into women’s mosques about 100 years ago, starting in Henan province. Remembering her own childhood, 83-year-old Tang Guiying says even then the women’s mosque was the only place a girl could receive education.

“I didn’t go to school when I was small,” she chuckles. “We were all too poor; none of us girls studied. But I came here to play and study. The old imam was very, very old — she was 80-something, and she had bound feet.”

Tang is sitting in the mosque’s washroom as she talks. This is where women conduct ritual ablutions before prayer. This space — and the mosque itself — doubles as a social center for these women, the heart of a community. In Kaifeng, there are 16 women’s mosques, one-third the number of mosques for males.

A Unique Chinese Tradition

Shui Jingjun, of the Henan Academy of Social Sciences and co-author of a book on the phenomenon, says that so far there are no women’s mosques in other countries. In most of the Muslim world, women pray behind a partition or in a separate room, but in the same mosque as men.

Shui points out that the women’s mosques in China are administered independently, by women for women, in addition to being legally separate entities in some cases. “After reform and opening up [in 1979], some female mosques registered independently, which shows the equality of male and female mosques,” she explains.

Controversy still rages in the Muslim world about whether women can be imams. In 2006, Morocco became the first country in the Arab world to officially sanction the training of female religious leaders.

China is the only country to have such a long history of female imams. However, there are things that, according to the customary practices of Chinese Muslims, female imams can’t do.

They can’t, for instance, lead funeral rituals or wash male corpses. Forty miles away in the provincial capital of Zhengzhou, white-sashed mourners wail as they process through the streets carrying the coffin from a mosque. No female imams are participating.

Opposition Still Exists To Women’s Roles

In central China, most Muslims support the female mosques, but there is some resistance closer to China’s border with Pakistan and Afghanistan, closer to the harder-line Wahhabi and Salafi influences.

“Historically in northwestern China, there were no female mosques,” says Shui, the researcher. “There was resistance because people thought that building female mosques was against the rules of religion. But in central China and most provinces, people think it’s a good innovation for Islam.”

In the past decade, some women’s mosques have been established in northwest China. The phenomenon appears to be spreading, helped politically by the Islamic Association of China, a state-controlled body that regulates Islam and issues licenses to practice to male and female imams alike.

This is part of the anomaly that is religion in China — the atheist Chinese authorities are endorsing a practice some Muslims find unacceptable. While there is broad support among Kaifeng’s Muslims for female mosques and imams, there is also some opposition.

“The education of Islamic women is a very important job,” says Guo Baoguang, of the Islamic Association of Kaifeng. But he admits that he has been criticized for organizing religious education forums for Muslim men and women to take part in together.

“There were some criticisms that women ought to be in the home, and ought not take part in social activities. I think these criticisms are too conservative, and don’t account of the importance of women’s education in Islam,” he says.

Guo believes that when it comes to female imams, China is leading the way.”Given the fast development of China’s economy, and as its political status rises, I think Chinese Islam will become more important in the Islamic world,” Guo says. “The developments Chinese Islam has made, like the role played by Chinese women, will be more accepted by Muslims elsewhere in the world.”

Greatest Challenge Is Economic

In the women’s mosques, most of the faithful are elderly. Young women with families often don’t have the time to worship, especially given the lengthy purification rituals several times a day.

Third-generation imam Sun Chengying, who has been practicing for 21 years, worries about the future.

“I haven’t had any students since 1996,” she says, shaking her head. “Women don’t want be imams anymore, because the salaries in the mosques are too low. No one is willing to do it.”

Female imams sometimes earn as little as $40 a month, one-third of what can be earned in other jobs. Younger women need to earn more to support their families. And so it appears the future of female imams in China is threatened — not by the state, not by resistance from inside Islam, but by the forces of market economics.

-Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note- Chinese Muslim female imams are unique to China but this practice of allowing female imams is one that should be encouraged throughout the Muslim world. Female imams as well as increased rights for women in Islam across the board will only help strengthen Muslim societies.

Indian-Pakistan Friendship Blooms Amid Games Chaos

By Amlan Chakraborty for Reuters

India has received support from an unlikely source as it races to finish preparations for the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi which start are due to start Sunday.

Following recent concerns about unhygienic athlete accommodation, security and an epidemic of Dengue Fever, in part blamed on stagnant water around unfinished construction sites, sports administrators in neighboring Pakistan are unwavering in their support for the troubled Games.

“When you host something like this, there will be issues but I’m confident it will be a success,” Lal Chand, Pakistan’s deputy chef-de-mission told Reuters by phone.

“We always had very good relation with the Indian Olympic Association and supported them. We will be arriving in full force to spread the message of peace and goodwill,” he said.

Politically, relations between the nuclear-armed neighbors, who have fought three wars, were frozen when Pakistan-based militants attacked the Indian City of Mumbai in 2008, killing 166 people.

However that has not appeared to be the case for sport and Games Organizing committee chief Suresh Kalmadi earlier this year thanked Pakistan for supporting India’s bid to host the October 3-14 event.

“Pakistan supported us to the hilt to get the Commonwealth Games to India. We can never forget their support,” Kalmadi had said in June.

‘TWO-WAY BATTLE’

“We and Canada were locked in a two-way battle for getting the hosting rights and Pakistan supported us in our bid.”

Even when complaints about dirty and unhygienic facilities at the Games Village was drawing flak from all corners, Pakistan hockey player Rehan Butt came out in support for the organisers.

“…I feel that the issue is blown out of proportion in this case. There were problems during the Manchester Games (in 2002) as well where we stayed in a university hostel,” Butt was quoted as saying by the Press Trust of India news agency.

“That was the worst experience but we did not complain. We, India and Pakistan, never do that.”

Sports historian Boria Majumdar provided a perspective on what brings the bitter neighbors closer in sport.

“I’m not surprised, after all India and Pakistan have inherited the same culture. Historically, they have always put up a united stand in international sport,” said Majumdar.

“Even when politicians were at loggerheads, sports bridged the gap,” he said.

In 1987, then Pakistan President Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq visited India for a cricket match, using the trip to help defuse tensions between the neighbors over a massive Indian military exercise held near the border just months before. The same year, the two countries jointly hosted the cricket World Cup.

The tennis duo of Rohan Bopanna from India and his Pakistani partner Aisam-ul Qureshi were U.S. Open men’s doubles finalists earlier this month.

India’s foreign minister S.M. Krishna has invited his Pakistani counterpart to watch the Commonwealth Games, and said he hoped it could also give them a chance to move on their peace dialogue.

For Better or Worse, White House Bets on Pakistan’s Civilian Government

Reported by Josh Rogin for Foreign Policy magazine

The Obama administration has always been clear that the path to winning the war in Afghanistan goes through Pakistan. But if Bob Woodward’s new book is accurate, the White House considers its war effort much more dependent on the success and survival of Pakistan’s civilian government than was previously known.

Woodward’s “Obama’s Wars,” which hit bookstores Monday, sheds new light on the Obama administration’s vast outreach to the Pakistani civilian government led by President Asif Ali Zardari. It paints a picture of an administration working hard to court the Pakistanis while remaining somewhat confused about Pakistani thinking on a range of issues.

Obama himself was confused about the nature of Pakistani intentions during two crucial decision points in his administration’s Afghan policy — the March 2009 strategy rollout and the deliberations in November 2009, which resulted in a troop surge and a huge expansion of covert operations in Pakistan. However, based on advice from the majority of his key advisers, he nonetheless tried to entice Pakistan to commit to a deep and long-term partnership with the United States by offering the Zardari government incentive after incentive, with relatively few pressures.

According to Woodward’s account, the centrality of Pakistan was championed early on by Bruce Riedel, the Brookings scholar who was brought on as a key figure in the Obama administration’s March 2009 Afghanistan strategy review.

Riedel, who referred to Islamist extremists in Pakistan as the “real, central threat” to U.S. national security, personally convinced Obama, only two months after he took office, that Pakistan needed to be the centerpiece of his new strategy. Riedel’s plan involved arming the Pakistani military for counterinsurgency and increasing economic and other forms of aid to the civilian government. This marked the beginning of the term “Af-Pak,” which drove the administration’s belief that stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan were inextricably linked.

Riedel’s Pakistan focus was not due to his confidence that the civilian government could control the military and intelligence services. In fact, he referred to Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani as a “liar” with regards to the activities of the secretive Inter Services Intelligence agency (ISI), which is widely suspected of aiding the Taliban insurgency. Then Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair reportedly echoed Riedel’s views on this matter.

Inside the administration, Blair argued that Obama was approaching Pakistan with too many carrots and not enough sticks. He at one point advocated bombing inside Pakistan and conducting raids there without the Pakistani government’s approval. “I think Pakistan would be completely, completely pissed off and they would probably take actions against us … but they would probably adjust,” he once told Obama.

Obama, however, opted to pursue a less confrontational path. He concluded the central task would be convincing the Pakistani leadership to throw its lot in with the United States He said at the time of the initial strategy review in March 2009, “that we had to have a serious heart-to-heart with Pakistani civilian, military and intelligence leaders.”

Later that year, when making the decision to send an additional 30,000 “surge” troops to Afghanistan, Obama knew that his plans to also expand the U.S. military presence in Pakistan and widen drone strikes would be a hard sell to the Zardari government. In an attempt to sweeten the deal, Obama framed the policy as a new “strategic partnership” with Pakistan, even tying the success of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan to the survival of Zardari and the legacy of his deceased wife Benazir Bhutto.

“I know that I am speaking to you on a personal level when I say that my commitment to ending the ability of these groups to strike at our families is as much about my family’s security as it is about yours,” Obama wrote in a letter to Zardari delivered by National Security Advisor Jim Jones and counterterrorism advisor John Brennan.

Zardari’s response to that letter reinforced what many in the administration already suspected: Pakistan’s government was in the grips of an internal struggle over whether to embrace the United States. Zardari’s initial response focused heavily on India, though the Pakistani president only referred obliquely to his country’s strategic rival. Woodward reports that the White House believed the letter was written by the Pakistani military and the ISI. However, the Zardari government did end up accepting Obama’s offer.

Obama’s top advisors told the U.S. president that he would have to accept something short of complete success in convincing Pakistan to turn away from its longstanding obsession with the military threat it perceives from India.

When Obama had a meeting with Zardari in May 2009, he told the Pakistani president the he did not want U.S. taxpayers to be funding Pakistan’s military buildup against India “We are trying to change our world view,” Zardari told Obama, “but it’s not going to happen overnight.”

At times, Obama was downright puzzled by his advisors’ advice regarding Pakistan. For example, intelligence reports confirmed that Pakistani officials were afraid that the United States would leave Afghanistan too early, as they believed had occurred after the end of the resistance to the Soviet regime in the 1980s. On the other hand, Pakistan worried that if the United States was too involved in Afghanistan, it might aid in the establishment of a larger Afghan army than Islamabad was comfortable with.

“What am I to believe?” Obama asked his senior staff. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Special Representative Richard Holbrooke, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates all told him these were the types of contradictions that were commonplace when dealing with Pakistan.

For its part, the Pakistani government was just as confused and puzzled by the Obama administration. Woodward recounts one anecdote, in which Zardari tells the former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad that he believed the United States was involved in orchestrating attacks by the Pakistani Taliban against the Pakistani civilian government.

Pakistan’s Ambassador to Washington Husain Haqqani, a key go-between, tried several times to explain to the Obama administration how to court Pakistani leaders, comparing the dynamic to “a man who is trying to woo a woman.”

“We all know what he wants from her. Right?” Haqqani said in a meeting with Jones, Deputy National Security Advisor Tom Donilon and the NSC’s Gen. Doug Lute.

“But she has other ideas. She wants to be taken to the theater. She wants that nice new bottle of perfume,” Haqqani told them. “If you get down on one knee and give the ring, that’s the big prize. And boy, you know, it works.”

Haqqani said the “ring” was official U.S. recognition of Pakistan’s nuclear program as legitimate. He also warned that the Pakistanis would always ask for the moon as a starting point in negotiations. He compared it to the salesmanship of rug merchants.

“The guy starts at 10,000 and you settle for 1,200,” Haqqani told the Obama team. “So be reasonable, but never let the guy walk out of the shop without a sale.”

Although the Obama administration has had some success improving the relationship between the two governments, Pakistan’s civilian leadership still faces a series of difficulties in its goal of exerting control over its entire national security structure. Stability has also been threatened by the enormous pressures resulting from the war that it is waging inside its own borders, and political attacks leveled against it from the media and the courts. Zardari’s perceived sluggish response to the devastating flood crisis has cost him even more credibility among the Pakistani public.

But while the end of Zardari regime has often been predicted, it appears that he will remain in place for the foreseeable future. The Obama administration, meanwhile, is aware of how crucial his cooperation remains for the success of the mission in Afghanistan.

When Woodward sat down for his interview with Obama earlier this year, he asked the president if the situation was still that Pakistan is the centerpiece of the U.S. strategy. “It continues to this day,” Obama replied.

The Next Nuclear Arms Race

By Tim Sullivan and Michael Mazza for The Wall Street Journal

India and Pakistan are the two countries most likely to engage in nuclear war, or so goes the common wisdom. Yet if recent events are any indication, the world’s most vigorous nuclear competition may well erupt between Asia’s two giants: India and China.

Both countries already house significant and growing arsenals. China is estimated to have approximately 450 warheads; India, roughly 100. Though intensifying as of late, Sino-Indian nuclear competition has a long history: India’s pursuit of a weapons program in the 1960s was triggered in part by China’s initial nuclear tests, and the two have eyed one another’s arsenals with mounting concern ever since. The competition intensified in 2007, when China began to upgrade missile facilities near Tibet, placing targets in northern India within range of its forces.

Yet the stakes have been raised yet again in recent months. Indian defense minister A.K. Antony announced last month that the military will soon incorporate into its arsenal a new intermediate-range missile, the Agni-III, which is capable of reaching all of China’s major cities. Delhi is also reportedly considering redeploying survivable, medium-range Agni-IIs to its northeastern border. And just last month, India shifted a squadron of Su-30MKI fighters to a base just 150 kilometers from the disputed Sino-Indian border. An Indian Air Force official told Defense News these nuclear-armed planes could operate deep within China with midflight refueling.

For its part, China continues to enhance the quality, quantity and delivery systems of its nuclear forces. The Pentagon reported last month that the People’s Liberation Army has replaced older, vulnerable ballistic missiles deployed in Western China with modern, survivable ones; this transition has taken place over the last four years. China’s Hainan Island naval base houses new, nuclear-powered ballistic-missile submarines and affords those boats easy access to the Indian Ocean. China’s military is also developing a new, longer range submarine-launched ballistic missile which will allow its subs to strike targets throughout India from the secure confines of the South China Sea.

No single event has stoked this rise in tensions. China, already concerned about India’s growing strength and its desire to play a greater role in Asia, is even less enthused about the burgeoning strategic partnership between Delhi and Washington. While Beijing has learned to live with American forces on its eastern periphery, the possibility of an intimate U.S.-India military relationship has generated fears of encirclement. The ongoing Sino-Indian border dispute, as well as India’s position astride China’s key maritime shipping lanes, has made the prospect of a Washington-Delhi axis appear particularly troubling.

India’s surface-to-surface missile Agni-II launches off Wheelers island in Orissa state, India, on May 17, 2010.

India likewise feels encircled by China’s so-called “string of pearls”—a series of Chinese-built, ostensibly commercial port facilities in the Bay of Bengal, Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea. Beijing’s military ties to Pakistan, interference in the Kashmir dispute and references to Arunachal Pradesh, an Indian state, as “Southern Tibet” have done little to reassure New Delhi of Chinese intentions. The rapid growth of China’s conventional military might in recent years—between 2000 and 2009, China’s military spending more than tripled—and the lack of clarity as to its intentions, has spurred India to pursue its own military modernization.

These shifts in India’s and China’s nuclear force postures thus represent only the latest and most serious efforts to constrain and convey dissatisfaction with the other’s perceived regional ambitions. But they are more troubling than conventional redeployments.

First, these developments suggest that neither country has confidence in the other’s “no first use” policy. India has good reason for concern: The number of missions attributed to China’s deterrent—responding to nuclear attacks, deterring conventional attacks against nuclear assets, providing Beijing freedom from nuclear coercion and otherwise “reinforcing China’s great power status”—were enough to make the authors of the Pentagon’s annual report on China’s military power last year question the country’s commitment to its “no first use” policy. India, for its part, relies on its nuclear forces to offset gaps and imbalances between its conventional military capabilities and those of China.

Second, there is a point at which efforts to enhance deterrence can foster an arms race. Any attempt on the part of China to increase its own defenses necessarily weakens, or is perceived to weaken, the security of India, thus spurring further defense build-ups; the opposite is true as well. Shifts in nuclear force posture can be particularly disruptive, and have been known to precipitate crises. Upon the discovery of Soviet efforts to deploy missiles to Cuba in 1962, for example, the U.S. responded militarily with a naval “quarantine” of the island, bringing Washington and Moscow as close as they have ever come to a nuclear war.

Finally, the redeployments of India’s and China’s nuclear forces suggest that there is deep-seated and growing discord between the two Asian giants. This is troubling news for a region whose future peace and prosperity depends heavily on continued comity between Delhi and Beijing. It is only a matter of time before the China-India military competition begins to affect neighboring states. China’s nuclear force modernization, for instance, stands to threaten not only India, but also Korea, Japan and other U.S. partners in Asia. A dramatic defense buildup in India, meanwhile, will no doubt leave Pakistan feeling less secure.

Tensions are unlikely to ease any time soon. The two countries appear much closer to the brink of an all-out arms race than they do to any resolution of their differences. While each profits from the other’s economic growth, it is that very growth—which finances military modernization and which is so dependent on potentially vulnerable overseas trade—that creates the conditions for heightened insecurity.

Mr. Sullivan is research fellow and program manager at the American Enterprise Institute’s Center for Defense Studies. Mr. Mazza is a senior research associate at AEI.

Revisiting Pakistan’s ‘Strategic Depth’

By Syed Nadir El Edroos for The Express Tribune

Two words that hold our country hostage is our policy of maintaining ‘strategic depth’ in Afghanistan. Apart from referring to a poorly titled adult film, the policy envisages to protect Pakistan’s eastern borders from unwanted Indian influence.

However, the consequences of continuing with this policy and differentiating between the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ Taliban, has led to accusations of Pakistan playing a ‘double-game’  in Afghanistan. For many the accusation has become quite stale and repetitive. It seems to have become an open secret, with many accepting it as a reality, a part of the status-quo for dealing with the troubles in the region.

Whether the policy has been successful is debatable. The military’s and the ISI’s continued links with the Haqqani network ensures that they are a sought after broker for any back channel attempt to woo the Taliban.

The strategy aims to maintain Pakistani influence in/over Afghanistan, and to thwart alleged Indian designs. However, the policy has at the same time made Pakistan quite unpopular with large segments of the Afghan establishment. Interfering in Afghanistan’s affairs, while demanding an end to foreign influence in Pakistan is met with much ridicule in foreign capitals; it reeks of hypocrisy.

The policy is also questionable, as it breeds violence, and is responsible for the deaths of thousands in Pakistan and Afghanistan. As the violence continues, Pakistan is sure to be in the news, accused for fostering, abating or at the very least tolerating continued bloodshed to maintain its interests.

The result is the ‘image deficit’ that haunts Pakistan. The dismal public response to the floods in Pakistan for example was attributed to this effect. It has also been more difficult for our economic managers to garner favourable trade concessions and development grants. Winning over wider public support remains a problem, as Pakistan remains associated with fostering rather than curtailing violence in Afghanistan. Politicians in the west are portrayed as weak by the right-wing media, such as Fox News in the US, for taking initiatives to support Pakistan.

Look at any article posted on any western news outlet. The comments question the calls for sympathy for Pakistan as we are branded as supporters of terrorism, who inflict material and physical damage on their interests.

An alternative strategy

There needs to be an alternative to our current strategy. The alternative need not be between defending Pakistan from India or bowing before it and allowing it a free hand in Afghanistan. We need to engage with both Afghanistan and India to leverage our geographic position to develop strategic depth with positive connotations.

The US, Afghanistan and India have been pressing Pakistan to allow the transit of Indian goods over Pakistan through to Afghanistan and vice versa for years. I say, let the goods pass, hell put them on the trains. That will help to give our faltering railways a financial shot in the arm. Extend the Iran-Pakistan pipeline into India, let the gas flow. Transit fees galore! Rather than questioning Indian development aid to Afghanistan we should support it. Geographically it’s more of an advantage for us, as any increase in economic activity in Afghanistan will immediately suck in Pakistani exports.

What would the advantages be? Imagine the headlines. Pakistan would look like the peace builder, shunning international criticism and situating itself as committed to the development of an Afghan state. We would also be seen on the diplomatic offensive vis-à-vis India. With Pakistan offering so many incentives, India will have to respond in the affirmative. After all India is cultivating its image as a regional and global superpower, the ball will firmly be in India’s court. It cannot be seen rebuffing genuine gestures from its old foe.

Importantly, a policy that leverages our geographic position economically rather than militarily negates any association with violence.  We would be treated as victims rather than the guilty.

If India is indeed developing consulates across Afghanistan housing RAW agents that ferment trouble in Pakistan, improved economic ties will help shed a spotlight on the functioning of these consulates. As Pakistan becomes vital for transporting Indian-Afghanistan exports and imports to each other, minimising any threat to these links will become a primary concern for Indian traders. This will build added pressure on those who dare concoct nefarious designs to fuel militancy in Balochistan for example.

India can switch on and off the belligerent rhetoric as India’s economy has little or no interests in Pakistan. However, a Pakistan which is vital for Indian trade, supply of resources etc will have no choice but to tone down any sabre rattling that seems to be a cyclical part of Pakistan-India relations.

So where does Pakistan’s security come in?

In any period of belligerent hostility Pakistan will have the ability to cut of energy and trade links. Containers can be seized, Indian traders in Pakistan arrested, and diplomatically we can garner support by portraying ourselves of peace. We have gone the extra mile to foster our relations with India and support a viable Afghanistan. India would be seen as the aggressor. How is that for maintaining strategic depth?

Our present policy allows for India’s security establishment to deal with her interests in Afghanistan ignoring any media or public scrutiny. A policy that places economic links at its foundations will open up Indian policy on Pakistan and Afghanistan and the actions of its security agencies to wider scrutiny. The competition between competing interests will insure that whatever policy is actually implemented is a watered down compromise that is not a real threat to Pakistan.

We have to find alternatives to the status-quo. With the nation reeling under flooding, terrorism and economic stagnation we are more dependent on foreign assistance than at any point in our history. They are not many variables that we can control for. We can’t control how the foreign press paints us, how we are perceived abroad etc. However, what little we can do to help alter these perceptions, we must. And this does not have to lead to subjugation to Indian influence that many right wing commentators would suggest.

If we are to continue with our obsession with thwarting Indian designs, can we please do it in a manner that doesn’t hold us all hostage to violence and paint us as terrorist?

Shaping global opinion is a long term effort which must start sooner than later. Our challenges for the future, access to water, natural disasters caused by climate change and development depends in a large part to interaction and support of our neighbours and the international community. Politics and security needs are always a concern, but we must get society at large, the world over on our sign. We are not the cause but the victims. Strategic depth? Sure, but by other means.

EU Backs Deal to Deport Illegal Pakistanis

As reported by The Voice of America

The European Parliament has approved a controversial agreement that will make it easier for EU nations to return illegal immigrants from Pakistan back to their homeland.

The European Parliament backed the readmission accord Tuesday with a vote of 382 to 250. Twenty-three members opted not to vote.

Under the accord, any EU readmission request not answered by Pakistan within 60 days will be considered accepted.  Pakistan also will have to justify any refusal for readmission.

Some members of the European Parliament strongly opposed the agreement on human rights grounds. Opponents argued that Pakistan does not comply with relevant human rights standards and has not signed the Geneva Convention on Refugees, which prevents governments from deporting people at risk of torture.

Once ratified, the new rules will apply only to those who enter the EU illegally after the accord goes into effect.

The European Commission estimates that about 13,000 Pakistani citizens have been arrested in EU nations without proper documentation.

The measure calls for the EU and Pakistan to engage in dialogue on legal immigration and visa policy. The European Parliament’s approval of the agreement follows eight years of negotiation with Pakistan.

U.N. Speakers Urge Pakistan to Free Up Arms Talks

By Patrick Worsnip for Reuters

Heaping pressure on Pakistan, a high-level U.N. meeting called on Friday for talks to start immediately on a treaty to ban production of fissile material used as fuel for nuclear weapons.

But Pakistan has insisted it will continue to block such talks, arguing that a ban would put it at a permanent disadvantage to its nuclear rival India. The dispute has led to deadlock at the 65-nation Conference on Disarmament in Geneva.

At the U.N. meeting of some 70 states to discuss the paralysis at the conference, speakers avoided openly naming Pakistan, but several referred to “one country” that was causing the problem.

In a closing summary of the views expressed, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said there was “broad agreement on the need to immediately start negotiations on a … treaty banning the production of fissile material.”

Continued impasse could result in states going outside the Geneva conference, known as the “CD,” to tackle the issue, Ban warned.

Support has appeared to be growing in Geneva to find another approach — possibly small-group talks in parallel to CD sessions. A precedent was set when Canada and Norway moved talks on a landmine ban out of the forum, eventually clinching the landmark 1997 Ottawa Treaty.

At Friday’s U.N. meeting, Western powers sharply attacked Pakistan’s blockage of the CD, which requires consensus for its actions.

“It strikes us as unwarranted for a single country to abuse the consensus principle and thereby frustrate everyone else’s desire to resume serious disarmament efforts,” said U.S. delegate Gary Samore, a special adviser to President Barack Obama.

Washington understood that all countries needed to protect their security interests, and with that principle in place, “no country need fear the prospect of (fissile material) negotiations,” Samore said.

NO CONSENSUS

British junior foreign minister Alistair Burt said blocking the negotiations was “damaging for multilateral arms control.”

Launched in 1978, the CD has clinched treaties banning biological and chemical weapons as well as underground nuclear tests. Its members include all five official nuclear powers — the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China.

But it has been unable to reach consensus on substantive work for the past 12 years. Pakistan’s refusal since January to launch negotiations on fissile material like plutonium and highly enriched uranium is the latest obstacle.

Zamir Akram, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, said earlier this month his country would continue to hold out, arguing that India has an unfair advantage with bigger fissile material stockpiles and “discriminatory” nuclear cooperation deals with the United States.

“Pakistan’s security concerns can be addressed only once we have developed sufficient capacity to ensure our deterrent is credible in the face of growing asymmetry,” he told Reuters. “My instructions are, ‘We continue to maintain our position.'”

Pakistan did not speak at Friday’s meeting in New York. No decisions were made, but Ban said he would ask a panel of advisers to review the issues raised.

Separately, French delegate Jacques Audibert said Paris would host a meeting of the five official nuclear powers next year to discuss their obligations stemming from a May conference on nuclear non-proliferation.

The conference called on the powers to pursue negotiations ultimately aimed at the total abolition of nuclear weapons.

Arabs Must Recognize Israel’s Right to Exist

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

New York – President Obama delivered his speech to the United Nations General Assembly Thursday in New York and it focused largely on his desire to see the Middle East peace process proceed ahead despite all the difficulties. 

Mr. Obama stated that he wanted it to succeed in accomplishing the peace that has eluded the Arabs and the Israelis for over 60 years. Realizing that there are many obstacles and hurdles ahead during tough negotiations for diplomats from both sides, he stated his concerns and his hopes for the road ahead.

“I hear those voices of skepticism, but I ask you to consider the alternative,” Obama said. If no peace agreement is reached, he added, “then the hard realities of demography will take hold. More blood will be shed. This Holy Land will remain a symbol of our differences, instead of our common humanity.”

“I refuse to accept that future,” he added. “And we all have a choice to make. Each of us must choose the path of peace. …We can say that this time will be different – that this time we will not let terror, or turbulence, or posturing, or petty politics stand in the way.”

“If we do, when we come back here next year, we can have an agreement that will lead to a new member of the United Nations – an independent, sovereign state of Palestine, living in peace with Israel,” Obama said to a loud applause by the delegates of all the countries at the United Nations.

In order for this to happen, the Arabs must first recognize Israel’s right to exist and the right of the Jewish people to claim specifically a part of the Holy Land as theirs. I know, it sounds so basic and a no- brainer. But surprisingly a large portion of the Arab world does not believe in Israel’s right to exist and specifically their right to exist in the southern Levant area which makes up the majority of the area for present day Israel. They want to ignore history and all the Biblical and historical evidence of Jewish settlement and claims to the land. They point to the migration of many Jews all over the world the last few hundred years as reason enough as to why they no longer can call Israel home.

Some Arabs demand that the Jewish homeland should be in Germany. After all, they claim, it is where so many of them were killed by Hitler and the main reason that precipitated the need to allow the Zionists of Europe and America, post World War II, to demand a home for the Jews. Why should the Palestinians pay for the crimes of the Europeans they argue?

Others have blamed the British and the Balfour Declaration when in 1917 the British Foreign Secretary, Arthur James Balfour, declared in a letter to Baron Rothschild, a leader of the British Jewish community for a need for a home for the Jews when he stated: “His Majesty’s government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”

Quite simply, no other place makes any sense whatsoever. First of all, there is extensive mentioning of the land of Israel that is promised to the Jews in the Bible as well as the Hebrew texts, not to mention the Qur’an. All three identify geographic areas in present day Israel that has historically been identified as the homeland of the Jews. Jewish people do not even make up more than 1% of any country’s overall population other than in United States (2.2% of overall population), Canada (1.2% of population), France (1% of population) and Israel (75% of population). That means that for the rest of the world, each country’s Jewish population is not even one half of one percent of the overall population of that nation! Where else would the Arabs have them go? Certainly not Germany where many claim that they should be settled since that is where over 6 million of them were killed in the holocaust. The United States actually has more Jews in its boundaries than are currently residing in all of Israel. So they cannot very well say that they should go there as over half the population already lives here.

Most people do not realize that the Jewish population of the world is very small compared to Christianity or Islam. There are an estimated 15 million Jews around the world including in Israel. By comparison, there are over 2.1 billion Christians and nearly 1.5 billion Muslims. Nearly 105 countries of the world are majority Christian nations while there are perhaps at best 55 majority Muslim countries on the planet. Did you ever wonder how many majority Jewish countries of the world are there?  There is just one. Israel.

This is one of the great religions of the world and also one of the oldest monotheistic beliefs aside from Zoroastrianism, and came at a time when polytheistic beliefs were more prevalent as a human concept of divinity. No doubt, both Christianity and Islam owe a great deal of their religious thoughts and laws to the early Hebrew laws and traditions. In fact, large parts of both the Bible and the Qur’an constitute the Old Testament, also known as the Torah, the Jewish holy book and the scriptures revealed to Moses.

Jewish contributions to humanity have been disproportionate and staggering when one realizes that as less than one half of one percent of the world’s populations, the Jews have made immense advances in nearly every field that has benefitted the whole world. We can go from Albert Einstein’s advances in physics to Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine, discuss Galileo’s contributions in astronomy to Freud’s understanding of the mind. We could illustrate how Baruch Spinoza’s rationalist ideas and philosophies laid the groundwork for The Enlightenment of the 18 century or marvel at the brilliant filmmaking of 21st century Jews like Steven Spielberg and Oliver Stone. The list of Jewish contributions and the value of their culture to man’s history cannot be ignored.

What also cannot be ignored is that historically these are a persecuted people. The troubles that they faced in ancient Egypt as illustrated in the Bible as well as the deaths and expulsions during the Spanish Inquisition are part of their sad history. They faced persecution at the hands of both Christians and Muslims during the Crusades and at the time of the Papal States as well as during Muslim rule when they were subjected to the jizya (a per capita tax imposed on free adult non-Muslim males). The worst crimes nonetheless happened in the 20th century leading up to World War II when millions were killed in the Holocaust in Germany by Hitler’s Nazism and by Stalinist Russia.

So as the Israelis and Palestinians, as well as the other Arab countries, sit down over the next couple of weeks to resolve once and for all the Middle East conflict, the Arab street and indeed the entire Muslim world, must come to a realization and acceptance of the fact that the state of Israel has a right to exist; and has a right to exist in this ancient land as much as the Palestinians, who also have the rights to parts of this holy soil that is so important to all three religions. No doubt, historically and Biblically, the Palestinians can make similar claims also. Except, in Israel’s case, there is no other nation for the Jews, whereas, there are 55 others for Muslims. It is only with this undeniable understanding that true and lasting peace will ever be achieved and it can clear the way for a two state solution that President Obama envisions and one that will allow the normalization of relations between Israel, the Arab and the entire Muslim world. 

As perhaps the most famous Jew of all time, Jesus, once said, “Greet ye one another with a kiss of charity and may peace be with you.” Indeed, Shalom and Salaam equal peace and that can finally be achieved once there is mutual respect and acceptance of the right of the other to exist.

Manzer Munir, a proud Pakistani American and peace activist, looks forward to a day when there will be peace between Israel and all the Muslim countries of the world, including Pakistan. He is the founder of Pakistanis for Peace and blogs at www.PakistanisforPeace.com as well at other websites as a free lance journalist and writer.

U.S. Walks Out as Iran Leader Speaks

By Neil MacFarquhar for The New York Times

UNITED NATIONS — President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran made a series of incendiary remarks in his speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday, notably the claim that the United States orchestrated the Sept. 11 attacks to rescue its declining economy, to reassert its weakening grip on the Middle East and to save Israel.

Those comments prompted at least 33 delegations to walk out, including the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Costa Rica, all 27 members of the European Union and the union’s representative, diplomats said.

The annual General Assembly started formally on Thursday, with scores of presidents, kings and ministers expected to address the gathering over the coming week. The speeches often fail to break new ground or lack electricity, so the occasional theatrics inevitably attract considerable attention.

Mr. Ahmadinejad rarely disappoints on that scale, although he seemed to go out of his way to sabotage any comments he made previously this week about Iran’s readiness for dialogue with the United States. The theme of his often flowery speech was that the capitalist world order was collapsing and he cited three examples: the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, and the pressure on Iran over its nuclear program.

He said there were three theories about the origins of the Sept. 11 attacks, including “that some segments within the U.S. government orchestrated the attack to reverse the declining American economy and its grips on the Middle East in order also to save the Zionist regime.”

The United States Mission to the United Nations swiftly issued a terse response. “Rather than representing the aspirations and goodwill of the Iranian people, Mr. Ahmadinejad has yet again chosen to spout vile conspiracy theories and anti-Semitic slurs that are as abhorrent and delusional as they are predictable,” it said in a statement.

It was not the first time Mr. Ahmadinejad espoused the theory, but never before so publicly. “The majority of the American people as well as other nations and politicians agree with this view,” he said.

Mr. Ahmadinejad obviously delights in being provocative during his annual visit to the United Nations. He framed his comments about Sept. 11 as an examination of opinions, an approach he has used repeatedly in questioning the Holocaust.

But his assertion that the majority of Americans agree with him surely lacked any factual basis. As did his claim that reviving the American economy was the motive behind the devastating attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon; the United States economy declined significantly after the attacks. In his interviews with journalists, much like during his debates with opponents in the disputed Iranian presidential election last year, Mr. Ahmadinejad has often been accused of making up statements wholesale.

But analysts noted that his remarks should be viewed through the prism of domestic politics in Iran, where conservatives try to outflank him. They said that during a recent Friday prayer sermon, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati said that 84 percent of Americans believed their own government was behind the attacks.

Iran also cultivates an image as the voice of all Muslims in confronting the United States, and the idea that Americans rather than Islamic extremists carried out the 2001 attacks has long resonated among Arabs. “This is very helpful to Ahmadinejad’s desire for greatness in the Arab world,” said Ali Mirsepassi, a professor of Middle Eastern studies and sociology at New York University.

The other two theories on the attacks presented by Mr. Ahmadinejad were that terrorists who penetrated American security were responsible, and that terrorists carried out the attacks but then the American government took advantage of the situation. He even suggested that the United Nations create a fact-finding panel to study the theories.

Farideh Farhi, an Iran expert at the University of Hawaii, said, “Apparently now he has decided that by going to the core of American sensitivities — in the same way he did with Israel by questioning the legitimacy of that country’s existence — he can continue to keep himself at the center of global attention while deflecting attention away from his dismal domestic record.”

Mr. Ahmadinejad also lambasted those Americans who had threatened to burn the Koran. “The truth could not be burned,” he said, hefting a green Koran aloft with his one hand and a black Bible with another, saying he respected both of them. “We should wisely avoid playing into the hands of Satan.”

The other speeches Thursday followed more traditional lines, although not without moments of passion.

Prime Minister Wen Jiabao of China focused his speech exclusively on China’s domestic accomplishments, with a brief global reference at the end when he suggested a vital, peaceful China was good for the world’s peace and prosperity.

The speech, entitled “Getting to Know the Real China,” lauded the country’s economic progress while recognizing that it had a way to go with 150 million people still living in poverty. Mr. Wen said China was determined to forge even greater progress through education, science and technology.

The Turkish president, Abdullah Gul, endorsed American efforts to negotiate peace in the Middle East, but criticized Israel both for its presumed nuclear arsenal and for attacking a Turkish-organized humanitarian convoy at sea in May during which nine people were killed.

“We hope that this new engagement can take us closer to a viable and fair settlement,” Mr. Gul said. “On the other hand, it would be very difficult to make progress toward permanent peace unless we put an end to the humanitarian tragedy in Gaza.”

Mr. Gul called the attack a violation of international law, and he welcomed a report released Wednesday by United Nations Human Rights Council, which endorsed that viewpoint.President Bingu wa Mutharika of Malawi, speaking on behalf of the African Union, urged the General Assembly to defer for one year the war crimes charges brought by the International Criminal Court against President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan. He said that would avoid jeopardizing the outcome of a referendum scheduled for January on independence for southern Sudan.

Pakistan: Study Shows Appreciation for US Disaster Aid

By Howard LaFranchi for The Christian Science Monitor

A survey of Pakistanis living near the worst-hit areas of 2005 earthquake finds enduring positive attitudes toward foreigners, including Americans.

Is all that foreign aid flowing into Pakistan in the aftermath of last month’s massive floods changing the way Pakistanis feel about the West, and in particular the United States?

Public opinion surveys conducted in Pakistan in the past have suggested that the country’s very low opinion of Westerners and Americans in particular doesn’t improve much as a result of sudden foreign largesse in response to a natural disaster.

But a new study plumbing the views of more than 28,000 households in 126 villages in the part of Pakistan devastated by a massive earthquake in 2005 finds that attitudes toward foreigners, including Americans, shifted significantly to the positive and in an enduring manner as a result of assistance from abroad.

“What we found is that trust in foreigners changes in response to action,” says Tahir Andrabi, a political economist at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif., who organized the study with Jishnu Das, a World Bank research economist. “The big picture from our work says that what you do on the ground as a country and a people really does matter.”

Debate over the impact of foreign aid and what role it plays in improving America’s image abroad has bubbled ever since the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the ensuing national probing around the theme of “Why do they hate us?” Surveys showed that opinions of America improved sharply among Indonesians after significant US assistance flowed in following the 2004 tsunami. But similar polls in Pakistan suggested that minor improvements in America’s rock-bottom image after the 2005 earthquake were soon lost.

Subsequent surveys of Pakistani opinion also have suggested no lasting improvement in views of the US and Americans. The question is resurfacing once again in the wake of the summer’s centennial floods and the significant assistance the US has provided.

At a ministerial meeting at the United Nations in New York Sunday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced that the US has provided about $345 million in what was initially rescue and emergency aid efforts and which has now shifted to relief and early recovery work. The American military was involved in the rescue of more than 15,000 people and in delivering more than 7 million pounds of food and other supplies, she said.

In particular, a Pakistan Relief Fund created especially for individual Americans to make $10 donations over their cell phones has brought in $2 million, Secretary Clinton said. That sum will be matched by Proctor and Gamble and will go towards new water purification projects in flood-stricken areas.

Not only is such assistance appreciated, but Mr. Andrabi found in his study that affected populations remember who provided assistance – and retain a positive image of foreigners because of it – years after the disaster. Andrabi and the World Bank’s Mr. Das carried out their study in 2009, four years after the earthquake.

“What really struck me is that the image of foreigners remained so positive in many of these households a considerable length of time after the disaster, and also over a period that included things that tarnished Westerners’ image generally in Pakistan,” he adds. Such harmful factors include the controversy over the Danish cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad, the growing use of US drones in Pakistan in targeted attacks on Taliban leaders, and rising terrorist violence across the country that many Pakistanis attribute to stepped-up US involvement in domestic issues.

In particular, Andrabi’s study finds that trust of foreigners rose higher the closer people lived to the quake’s fault line, while the level of trust in national institutions did not vary over the wider quake-effected region. That suggests to Andrabi that the concentration of foreign assistance in the most devastated areas – often in places where few foreigners had traveled before – was retained by locals as a positive expression of global concern. Previous polling of Pakistani attitudes sought to reflect national views.

The Andrabi survey shows that while the affected populations understood that the US and other foreign countries were operating from a mix of motivations, most people did not see the assistance as “a cynical attempt by Americans to win hearts and minds,” Andrabi says.

“Hillary Clinton speaks about a ‘shared humanity’ that is behind the US relief effort, and I think most people see it that way,” he says. “People are smart enough to understand that America has multiple faces, we all do,” he adds. “But what they seem to have concluded is that the basic motivation is human.”

U.S., Procter & Gamble send water purifiers to Pakistan

By joseph Picard for The International Business Times

Procter & Gamble is teaming up with the U.S. government to provide 28 million water purification kits to help flood victims in Pakistan.

“P&G is eager to bring clean drinking water to the people of Pakistan by partnering with USAID and the U.S. State Department’s Pakistan Relief Fund so that our many partners in Pakistan can provide more than a quarter of a billion liters of clean drinking water,” said Bob McDonald, P&G chairman of the board, president and CEO.

The purchase and distribution of water purification supplies marks the first disbursement of the State Department’s Pakistan Relief Fund. Created in the aftermath of the horrific floods that have devastated the country since July, the fund serves as a mechanism for the public to contribute money to the ongoing relief efforts.

According to the State Department, approximately $500,000 in private American and other contributions, including significant support from the Pakistani-American Diaspora community, will be matched by $500,000 from Procter & Gamble.

An additional $1 million will be provided by the United States Agency for International Development, or USAID, a State Department agency.

The $2 million will purchase the 28 million water purification kits and deliver them to Pakistani flood victims. These kits include buckets and filtering cloths, which will generate 280 million liters of clean drinking water for 1.5 million people in desperate need.

The P&G kits utilize PUR packets, a water purifying technology developed by P&G and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help reduce sickness and death resulting from drinking contaminated water.

One small PUR packet quickly turns 10 liters of dirty, potentially deadly water into clean, drinkable water, P&G said.

McDonald said that P&G is well positioned to respond to this crisis with the PUR packets because they are manufactured in Pakistan. The company and its partners in Pakistan will work with local humanitarian groups to provide PUR packets as well as training to ensure proper use.

“The floods that have devastated Pakistan have taken weeks and have caused terrible damage, but the recovery will take much longer than that,” said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “As the waters recede, the people of Pakistan must know that they will not be alone. They can count on the U.S. and the international community to stand with them.”

Millions are without safe drinking water and water-borne diseases are spreading, the State Department said.

Approximately 2,000 people have died in the floods, which began in July and are considered the worst natural disaster in the nation’s history. The UN estimates that close to two million homes have been destroyed and as many as 21 million people have been injured and or left homeless by the catastrophe.

The UN, trying to feed 6 million Pakistanis, sent out another call for assistance to the world’s nations this weekend – the largest disaster appeal in UN history – asking for $2 billion in aid.

In response, the United Kingdom more than doubled its pledge to Pakistani relief, bringing the total to $209 million. The U.S. raised its commitment to $345 million.

China, Pakistan Discuss Another Nuclear Plant

By Jeremy Page for The Wall Street Journal

BEIJING—China’s main nuclear power company announced that it is in talks to build a one-gigawatt nuclear power plant in Pakistan, even as the two countries face U.S. and Indian concerns over their cooperation to build other plants in Pakistan.

Pakistan has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and U.S. and Indian officials worry that nuclear material might fall into the hands of al Qaeda and Taliban militants based near the Afghan border in northwestern Pakistan.

The state-run China National Nuclear Corp. has already helped Pakistan build its main nuclear power facility at Chashma in Punjab province, is completing a second reactor there and has contracts to build two more 300-megawatt reactors.

Qiu Jiangang, vice president of CNNC, told a meeting in Beijing on Monday that the first reactor was operating safely, the second one was now being tested and expected to start formal operations by the end of the year. “Both sides are in discussions over the CNNC exporting a one-gigawatt nuclear plant to Pakistan,” he added, without giving details.

There was no immediate reaction from the U.S. or India. Officials from both countries expressed concern after China signed a deal in February to build the additional two 300-MW reactors. U.S. officials said such plans required special exemption from the 46-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group, which China joined in 2004, and which is supposed to regulate the global nuclear trade.

Vann H. Van Diepen, the U.S. acting assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, suggested before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in July that the U.S. would vote against such an exemption.

The U.S. and many other NSG members have long had concerns about nuclear proliferation from Pakistan, especially since A.Q. Khan, its top nuclear scientist, confessed in 2004 to selling nuclear secrets to North Korea, Iran and Libya.

Abdul Basit, a Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman, declined to comment on the one-gigawatt plant, but said Pakistan’s nuclear cooperation with China was for civilian purposes. “The nuclear cooperation between the two countries are in accordance with international obligations and comes under IAEA safeguards,” he said, referring to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

China and Pakistan argue that the U.S. set a precedent by sealing a landmark deal to sell civilian nuclear fuel and technology to India in 2006 even though New Delhi had yet to sign the NPT.

That agreement, which lifted a U.S. ban imposed after India tested its first nuclear device in 1974, is seen as the cornerstone of a new partnership with New Delhi designed to counterbalance China’s influence in Asia.

Critics, however, say it undermined the global non-proliferation regime by recognizing India as a global nuclear power, but not Pakistan, even though the South Asian rivals developed nuclear bombs simultaneously.

Message to Muslims: I’m Sorry

By Nicholas D Kristof for The New York Times

Many Americans have suggested that more moderate Muslims should stand up to extremists, speak out for tolerance, and apologize for sins committed by their brethren.

Go to Columnist Page »That’s reasonable advice, and as a moderate myself, I’m going to take it. (Throat clearing.) I hereby apologize to Muslims for the wave of bigotry and simple nuttiness that has lately been directed at you. The venom on the airwaves, equating Muslims with terrorists, should embarrass us more than you. Muslims are one of the last minorities in the United States that it is still possible to demean openly, and I apologize for the slurs.

I’m inspired by another journalistic apology. The Portland Press Herald in Maine published an innocuous front-page article and photo a week ago about 3,000 local Muslims praying together to mark the end of Ramadan. Readers were upset, because publication coincided with the ninth anniversary of 9/11, and they deluged the paper with protests.

So the newspaper published a groveling front-page apology for being too respectful of Muslims. “We sincerely apologize,” wrote the editor and publisher, Richard Connor, and he added: “we erred by at least not offering balance to the story and its prominent position on the front page.” As a blog by James Poniewozik of Time paraphrased it: “Sorry for Portraying Muslims as Human.”

I called Mr. Connor, and he seems like a nice guy. Surely his front page isn’t reserved for stories about Bad Muslims, with articles about Good Muslims going inside. Must coverage of law-abiding Muslims be “balanced” by a discussion of Muslim terrorists?

Ah, balance — who can be against that? But should reporting of Pope Benedict’s trip to Britain be “balanced” by a discussion of Catholic terrorists in Ireland? And what about journalism itself?

I interrupt this discussion of peaceful journalism in Maine to provide some “balance.” Journalists can also be terrorists, murderers and rapists. For example, radio journalists in Rwanda promoted genocide.

I apologize to Muslims for another reason. This isn’t about them, but about us. I want to defend Muslims from intolerance, but I also want to defend America against extremists engineering a spasm of religious hatred.

Granted, the reason for the nastiness isn’t hard to understand. Extremist Muslims have led to fear and repugnance toward Islam as a whole. Threats by Muslim crazies just in the last few days forced a Seattle cartoonist, Molly Norris, to go into hiding after she drew a cartoon about Muhammad that went viral.

And then there’s 9/11. When I recently compared today’s prejudice toward Muslims to the historical bigotry toward Catholics, Mormons, Jews and Asian-Americans, many readers protested that it was a false parallel. As one, Carla, put it on my blog: “Catholics and Jews did not come here and kill thousands of people.”

That’s true, but Japanese did attack Pearl Harbor and in the end killed far more Americans than Al Qaeda ever did. Consumed by our fears, we lumped together anyone of Japanese ancestry and rounded them up in internment camps. The threat was real, but so were the hysteria and the overreaction.

Radicals tend to empower radicals, creating a gulf of mutual misunderstanding and anger. Many Americans believe that Osama bin Laden is representative of Muslims, and many Afghans believe that the Rev. Terry Jones (who talked about burning Korans) is representative of Christians.

Many Americans honestly believe that Muslims are prone to violence, but humans are too complicated and diverse to lump into groups that we form invidious conclusions about. We’ve mostly learned that about blacks, Jews and other groups that suffered historic discrimination, but it’s still O.K. to make sweeping statements about “Muslims” as an undifferentiated mass.

In my travels, I’ve seen some of the worst of Islam: theocratic mullahs oppressing people in Iran; girls kept out of school in Afghanistan in the name of religion; girls subjected to genital mutilation in Africa in the name of Islam; warlords in Yemen and Sudan who wield AK-47s and claim to be doing God’s bidding.

But I’ve also seen the exact opposite: Muslim aid workers in Afghanistan who risk their lives to educate girls; a Pakistani imam who shelters rape victims; Muslim leaders who campaign against female genital mutilation and note that it is not really an Islamic practice; Pakistani Muslims who stand up for oppressed Christians and Hindus; and above all, the innumerable Muslim aid workers in Congo, Darfur, Bangladesh and so many other parts of the world who are inspired by the Koran to risk their lives to help others. Those Muslims have helped keep me alive, and they set a standard of compassion, peacefulness and altruism that we should all emulate.

I’m sickened when I hear such gentle souls lumped in with Qaeda terrorists, and when I hear the faith they hold sacred excoriated and mocked. To them and to others smeared, I apologize.

Pakistan’s Strange Response Towards Indian Aid offer

by Omer Farooq Khan for The Times of India

The worst floods in Pakistan’s history provided a good opportunity for both the South Asian nations to come closer. Accepting Indian aid offers half-heartedly and that too after US insistence, Pakistan has given an impression that it is convinced that its policy on India cannot change.

Pakistan’s initial response to the Indian offer of five million dollars was a positive one but then it was unsure how to respond. It took several days for Pakistan to finally accept the offer, saying that the aid had to come through the UN. Now, a total of $25 million Indian assistance for flood relief efforts in Pakistan has to be spent by the UN.

Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi had said that the delay was due to the sensitivities involved in the relationship with India. Even, a section of policymakers, conspiracy theorists in media and some India-centric elements within the Pakistani establishment blamed India for opening floodgates of its dam to inundate Pakistan’s cities and towns. While building public opinion, they did not care that their contention was technically wrong. The fact is that the rivers that caused destruction in Pakistan do not originate in India.

Some defence analysts argue that Pakistan’s strange response towards India’s aid offer was meant not to get obliged. “Pakistan reacted politically towards Indian humanitarian gesture. The destruction is so colossal that petty politics must be avoided. Pakistan asks for help and when it is offered by a neighbour, its ego comes its way. The main hurdle was that Pakistan did not want to be obliged,” argues defence analyst General Talat Masood.

Kamran Shafi, Dawn’s columnist says that Indian-centric approach within the security establishment and intelligence agencies was the main predicament that the government accepted Indian offer half heartedly. “Values and wisdom demand that politics must be kept aside at time of tragedy. Pakistan needed to have warmly welcomed neighbour’s goodwill gesture.”

India and Pakistan have made major efforts in recent months to build confidence in their relations, which were badly strained by the Mumbai 2008 terror attacks that India blamed on militants from Pakistan. If Indian civil society, volunteers and NGO’s were allowed to do relief work in the flood affected areas, this could have been an ideal confidence building measure in the relations of the two countries.

Certainly, it would have served the spirit of Thimphu where Pakistani PM Yusuf Raza Gilani and his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh tasked their top diplomats to create CBMs. An opportunity is still not lost if governments, media and civil societies in both the countries come forward and create enough space to use this calamity into an opportunity.

-Editor’s Note for Pakistanis for Peace- The writer is spot on with his analysis of Pakistan’s aid offer from India. During times of a humanitarian crisis of biblical proportions, its political response was petty and irresponsible to its citizens. Furthermore, half heartedly accepting several days after the response does little to build on the goodwill. Either accept it right away with gratitude (our advice) or reject it outright. It did neither and so was ineffective in either cause. The politicians of Pakistan continue to show their incompetence by ineffectively managing the affairs of the country both domestically and internationally.

God Bless Islam with Courageous Leadership

By Ebrahim Moosa for Religion Dispatches

As Muslim Americans and millions around the world celebrate the end of Ramadan 2010 what will they pray for? What was the spiritual harvest of the month of fasting, prayer, deep reflection, and discipline? Given the growing hostility directed towards Muslims in the United States and the horrible deeds perpetrated by persons aligned to Islam on 9/11 and elsewhere in the world, I for my part, will be making two prayers.

The first is to urge Muslims to affirm their solidarity with all of humanity. The words of this prayer come from a tradition of the Prophet Muhammad. It reads:

Oh Allah, Lord (Rabb) of all things. I testify that You alone are the Lord of the world, Lord of all things… I testify that all servants of God are one family… Make me and my family truthful to you in every moment of life in this world and the next. Oh powerful and generous one, hear and respond to my prayers…

My second prayer is that God bless Islam with a religious leadership that has a modicum of Solomonic wisdom and tons of moral courage.

Why these two prayers? I think many Muslims have forgotten the message of humanism and solidarity with all creation that are the cornerstones of Islam. All servants of God are part of a single family, the Prophet Muhammad taught. So how can faiths be at war, if only to serve earthly gods? Many of our religious leaders have forgotten that our theologies, teachings, and practices were means to serve a transcendent Creator; not for idolatrous ends. Many of the most prominent Muslim religious and moral authorities the world over—clergy, intellectuals, scholars, politicians—have, through silence and inaction, invited a plague of craven violence on a number of Muslim societies. In a manner of speaking, in many places, the asylum is in charge of the mosque. Religious leaders are more interested in cowing to public adulation through demagoguery than in showing courage and exhorting people to piety and sanity.

Check if the sermon in the`Id al-Fitr (End of Fasting) sermon at your mosque hinted at the cowardly acts of al-Qaeda who killed thousands on September 11 and elsewhere. Or if deeds of the Somalian Shabab who killed dozens of Ugandans watching a soccer World Cup match in the suburbs of Kampala caused outrage. Has anyone been able to keep track of the death toll inflicted in Pakistan by Taliban suicide bombers, who most recently killed more than 60 people in Quetta because they were Shi’a? Did anyone even notice that a radical Muslim group in India chopped off the hand of a Catholic professor in the state of Kerala in July for apparently offending the image of the Prophet Muhammad in an exam questionnaire?

`Id is a day of celebration with family and friends. But it is unconscionable if Muslims do not think seriously and act in unison about the deep moral crises afflicting our communities here and abroad. To think critically is not to bow to the hate of the Islamophobes, it is a sign of strength and faith. Those who claim that there are no “moderate” Muslim voices denouncing acts of violence committed by Muslims are wrong, and yes, there are many good things happening in Muslim societies that do not make the headlines. Yet it is delusional to think that the evil masquerading as faith does not erode the belief and values each Muslim.

To Muslim Americans I say, next time you wonder why young men like the Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad become entangled in conspiracies to commit acts of violence in this country and abroad please ask the following questions: What is the qualification of the imam at your mosque? Is he enriched by the best of American and Islamic culture, in tune with his environment, or is he preaching a theology no longer even appropriate for people in Iran, Egypt, or Pakistan? Does he teach the tradition creatively and help people think imaginatively? Or does he focus on impieties and promote the virtues of paraphernalia like the dress code and the mandatory length of facial hairs? If the imam is as wise as the religious leader in the Canadian sitcom Little Mosque on the Prairie, it will be a huge step up.

Mosque committees share their burden of responsibility too. Often they appoint preachers by applying the lowest and cheapest standard; theological diversity is frequently absent and enlightened thinking is considered too challenging and burdensome for them to contemplate. Will the smart Muslims in America and around the world stand up and be counted?

-Originally printed on Sep 9, 2010 for Religion Dispatches. Ebrahim Moosa is a professor of Islamic Studies at Duke University and an author of several books on Islam.

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