Archive for November, 2011

Obama Refrains From a Formal ‘I’m Sorry’ to Pakistan

By Helene Cooper and Mark Mazzetti for The New York Times

The White House has decided that President Obama will not offer formal condolences — at least for now — to Pakistan for the deaths of two dozen soldiers inNATO airstrikes last week, overruling State Department officials who argued for such a show of remorse to help salvage America’s relationship with Pakistan, administration officials said.

On Monday, Cameron Munter, the United States ambassador to Pakistan, told a group of White House officials that a formal video statement from Mr. Obama was needed to help prevent the rapidly deteriorating relations between Islamabad and Washington from cratering, administration officials said. The ambassador, speaking by videoconference from Islamabad, said that anger in Pakistan had reached a fever pitch, and that the United States needed to move to defuse it as quickly as possible, the officials recounted.

Defense Department officials balked. While they did not deny some American culpability in the episode, they said expressions of remorse offered by senior department officials and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton were enough, at least until the completion of a United States military investigation establishing what went wrong.

Some administration aides also worried that if Mr. Obama were to overrule the military and apologize to Pakistan, such a step could become fodder for his Republican opponents in the presidential campaign, according to several officials who declined to be named because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

On Wednesday, White House officials said Mr. Obama was unlikely to say anything further on the matter in the coming days.

“The U.S. government has offered its deepest condolences for the loss of life, from the White House and from Secretary Clinton and Secretary Panetta,” said Tommy Vietor, spokesman for the National Security Council, referring to Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, “and we are conducting an investigation into the incident. We cannot offer additional comment on the circumstances of the incident until we have the results.”

The American and Pakistani accounts of the NATO strikes vary widely. A former senior American official briefed on the exchange said Wednesday that the airstrikes came in the last 15 to 20 minutes of a running three-hour skirmish, presumably with Taliban fighters on one or both sides of the border. That is at odds with the Pakistani account that its troops were in a two-hour firefight with the Americans.

Pakistan, rejecting the American account, has blocked all NATO logistical supplies that cross the border into Afghanistan, given the Central Intelligence Agency 15 days to vacate the Shamsi air base from which it has run drone strikes into Pakistani tribal areas and announced that it will boycott an international conference on Afghanistan’s security and development next week in Bonn, Germany.

With everything at stake in the relationship with Pakistan, which the United States sees as vital as it plans to exit from Afghanistan, some former Obama administration officials said the president should make public remarks on the border episode, including a formal apology.

“Without some effective measures of defusing this issue, Pakistan will cooperate less rather than more with us, and we won’t be able to achieve our goals in Afghanistan,” said Vali Nasr, a former State Department official who specialized in Pakistan.

But David Rothkopf, a former Clinton administration official and the author of “Running the World: The Inside Story of the National Security Council and the Architects of American Power,” said Pakistani officials need to understand that in the next year, the Obama administration will be less accommodating to Pakistani sensibilities.

“I do think that it’s important for them to recognize that political dynamics in the United States will lead to a hardening of U.S. positions, and the president will have less and less flexibility to accept the kind of behavior that he has in the past,” Mr. Rothkopf said. “The prognosis for U.S.-Pakistani relations is bleak.”

America’s strained ties with Pakistan have been buffeted by crises this year, from the killing of two Pakistanis by a C.I.A. contractor to the raid inside Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden.

The headaches of the relationship have meant that Pakistan has few friends inside the administration. As one former senior United States official who has been briefed on the administration’s recent deliberations put it, “Right now there are no Pakistan friendlies” at the White House.

But the administration desperately needs Pakistan’s cooperation in the American plan to withdraw militarily from Afghanistan by 2014. Several senior American officials have said Pakistani help is essential to persuade the Taliban to negotiate for peace.

Twice recently, the administration has solicited help from Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, to deliver messages to Islamabad to help defuse crises in the relationship.

On Wednesday, Mr. Kerry was guarded in his comments about the border episode. “We all appreciate how deeply this tragedy has affected the Pakistani people, and we have conveyed our heartfelt condolences through multiple channels,” Mr. Kerry said in an e-mail. “Ultimately, the only way to move the ball forward is to focus on areas where our interests align and where we can really make progress. Our two countries need each other.”

Why They Get Pakistan Wrong

By Mohsin Hamid for The New York Review of Books

Nearly ten years after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the commencement of the US-led war in Afghanistan, the alliance between the US and Pakistan is on shaky ground. The killing of Osama bin Laden by US special forces this May in Abbottabad, Pakistan, has incensed officials on both sides: on the American side because bin Laden’s hiding place appears to suggest Pakistani perfidy; and on the Pakistani side because the US raid humiliatingly violated Pakistan’s sovereignty.

As Ted Poe, a Republican congressman on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, puts it: “Unless the State Department can certify to Congress that Pakistan was not harboring America’s number one enemy, Pakistan should not receive one more cent of American funding.” Dramatic words,1 for Pakistan has been allocated quite a few cents of American funding. Yet this money has bought little love. According to the Pew Global Attitudes Project, only 12 percent of Pakistanis have a favorable opinion of the United States, and only 8 percent would like to see US troops “stay in Afghanistan until the situation has stabilized.” Why might this be the case?

The past decade has been devastating for Pakistan. The country’s annual death toll from terrorist attacks rose from 164 in 2003 to 3,318 in 2009, a level exceeding the number of Americans killed on September 11. Some 35,000 Pakistanis, including 3,500 members of security forces, have died in terror and counterterror violence. Millions more have been displaced by fighting. It is difficult to convey how profoundly the country has been wounded. In 1989, my Lahore American School classmates and I (including children from Pakistan, America, Canada, Sweden, Germany, and Korea) were able to go to the beautiful valley of Swat by bus for a weeklong field trip with no security arrangements whatsoever. In 2009, the battle to retake Swat from Taliban militants involved two full divisions of the Pakistani army and hundreds of casualties among Pakistani soldiers. (Similarly, until a few years ago, there had never been a suicide bombing in Lahore. Now one occurs every three or four months.) The Pakistani government puts direct and indirect economic losses from terrorism over the last ten years at $68 billion.

Of the $20.7 billion in US funding allocated to Pakistan from 2002 to 2010, $14.2 billion was for the Pakistani military. On paper, economic assistance came to $6.5 billion, less than a third of the total. In reality the civilian share was even smaller, probably less than a quarter, for the $6.5 billion figure reflects “commitments” (amounts budgeted by the US), not “disbursements” (amounts actually given to Pakistan). The United States Government Accountability Office reports that only 12 percent of the $1.5 billion in economic assistance to Pakistan authorized for 2010 was actually disbursed that year. Independent calculations by the Center for Global Development suggest that $2.2 billion of civilian aid budgeted for Pakistan is currently undisbursed, meaning that total economic assistance actually received from the US over the past nine years is in the vicinity of $4.3 billion, or $480 million per year. (By comparison, Pakistanis abroad remit $11 billion to their families in Pakistan annually, over twenty times the flow of US economic aid.)

Pakistan is a large country, with a population of 180 million and a GDP of $175 billion. Average annual US economic assistance comes to less than 0.3 percent of Pakistan’s current GDP, or $2.67 per Pakistani citizen. Here in Lahore, that’s the price of a six-inch personal-size pizza with no extra toppings from Pizza Hut.

The alliance between the US and Pakistan is thus predominantly between the US and the Pakistani military. To enter the US as a Pakistani civilian “ally” now (a Herculean task, given ever-tighter visa restrictions) is to be subjected to hours of inane secondary screening upon arrival. (“Have you ever had combat training, sir?”) For a decade, meanwhile, successive civilian Pakistani finance ministers have gone to Washington reciting a mantra of “trade not aid.” They have been rebuffed, despite a WikiLeaked 2010 cable from the US embassy in Islamabad strongly supporting a free trade agreement with Pakistan and citing research showing that such an arrangement would likely create 1.4 million new jobs in Pakistan, increase Pakistani GDP growth by 1.5 percent per year, double inflows of foreign direct investment to Pakistan, and (because Pakistani exports would come largely from textile industries that US-based manufacturers are already exiting) have “no discernible impact” on future US employment.

Perhaps the vast majority of Pakistanis with an unfavorable view of the United States simply believe their annual free pizza is not worth the price of a conflict that claims the lives of thousands of their fellow citizens each year.

Pakistani journalist Zahid Hussain, in The Scorpion’s Tail, his examination of the rise of militants in Pakistan, makes clear that both sides of the alliance between the US and the Pakistani military share blame for the violence currently afflicting Pakistan. A long series of mutual policy missteps led to the present bloodshed.

As Hussain reminds us, the US and the Pakistani military together backed the Afghanistan guerrilla campaign against the Soviet invasion in the 1980s, thereby bequeathing to the world unprecedented international networks of well-trained jihadist militants. For the US, as in its previous alliance with the Pakistani military in the 1950s and 1960s, the primary objective was to counter the Soviets. For the Pakistani military, as ever, the primary objective of the alliance was to lessen India’s superiority in conventional arms. The US gained a proxy fighting force in the form of the Afghan Mujahideen (literally: “people who do jihad”). The Pakistani military gained access to advanced US-made weapons, the most important of which were forty F-16 fighter aircraft: too few, obviously, to resist any full-blown Soviet air assault, but enough to strengthen meaningfully the Pakistan air force against its Indian rival.

With the Soviet withdrawal, America turned abruptly away from the region and washed its hands of its militant cocreations; in the ensuing power vacuum Afghanistan descended into a bloody civil war among former Mujahideen. The US also severed its alliance with the Pakistani military, cutting off supplies of spare parts for Pakistan’s American weapons and withholding delivery of further F-16s that Pakistan had paid for but not yet received.

The outraged Pakistani military was seriously weakened as a conventional fighting force vis-à-vis India. But it now, as Hussain shows, had enormous experience of projecting power through jihadist militants and two opportunities to continue doing so. One was in the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir (the divided Muslim-majority territory at the center of the Indian–Pakistani conflict, claimed in its entirety by both Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan), where an insurgency against Indian troops had broken out in 1989 following a disputed election.

The other was in Afghanistan, where the largely ethnic-Pashtun, Pakistan-backed Taliban were battling the largely non-Pashtun, India-backed Northern Alliance, consisting of Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras, and others. During the 1990s, Hussain writes,

the jihadist movement in Pakistan was focused entirely on supporting the regional strategy of the Pakistani military establishment: to liberate Kashmir from India and install a Pashtun government in Afghanistan.
But following the terrorist attacks of September 11, linked to members of al-Qaeda living under Taliban protection in Afghanistan, the US returned to the region in force and demanded that Pakistan choose sides. President Pervez Musharraf’s subsequent decision to align Pakistan with the US was perceived by many militants as a “betrayal.” Still, Musharraf hoped the Pakistani military’s conflict with its infuriated, jihadist offspring could be circumscribed, that it might be possible “to drive a wedge between the Pakistani militants and the al-Qaeda foreigners.”

This plan, besides denying the extent of the militant threat to Pakistan, was also undermined by US strategy, a strategy that suffered from the outset from what Hussein identifies as two “fundamental flaws.” The first of these was a failure to understand that unless Pashtun grievances were addressed—particularly their demand for a fair share of power—the war in Afghanistan would become “a Pashtun war, and that the Pashtuns in Pakistan would become…strongly allied with both al Qaeda and the Taliban.”

As the US campaign in Afghanistan began, Hussain writes, Musharraf “warned the United States not to allow the [Northern] Alliance forces to enter Kabul before a broad-based Afghan national government was put in place.” But the US ignored this advice, and later, at the Bonn conference of December 2001, Hamid Karzai was installed as chairman (and subsequently president) as Pashtun “window dressing, while the Northern Alliance took over the most powerful sections of the government.”

By backing the Northern Alliance against the Taliban and then failing to include a meaningful representation of Pashtuns in a power-sharing deal in Kabul, the US not only sided with India in the Indian–Pakistani proxy war in Afghanistan, it also elevated a coalition of Afghanistan’s smaller ethnicities above its largest ethnic group, the Pashtuns. Conflict was inevitable, and since twice as many Pashtuns live in Pakistan as in Afghanistan, it was also inevitable that this conflict would spill over the border.

The results for Pakistan were catastrophic. Over the following decade, as Hussain describes in detail, the Pakistani military’s attempts to separate “good” militants from “bad” foundered. Instead, strong networks developed between radical groups in Pakistan’s Punjabi east and those in its Pashtun west. With each move of the Pakistani military against them, the frequency and lethality of counterattacks by terrorists inside Pakistan, on both military and civilian targets, intensified. Pakistani casualties soared.

The only way out of this trap, in which an unwinnable “Pashtun war” threatens to swamp an essential Pakistani program to neutralize militants, Hussain suggests, is to address the second “fundamental flaw” in US strategy: the “failure to appreciate that combating the militant threat required something far more than a military campaign,” namely a “political settlement with the insurgents, requiring direct talks with the Taliban.”

Equally vital, it must be added, is a push toward political settlement between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. This simmering conflict fuels the Indian–Pakistani proxy war between the Northern Alliance and the Taliban in Afghanistan, encourages the Pakistani military’s embrace of militants, and helps subordinate Pakistani civilian governments to the Pakistani military (by allowing a near-perpetual state of security crisis to be maintained in Pakistan). The outlines of a deal on Kashmir were reportedly secretly agreed upon in 2007, but progress has been frozen since Musharraf’s fall from power in 2008 and the terrorist attacks on Mumbai that same year.

As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama acknowledged Kashmir’s central role. “The most important thing we’re going to have to do with respect to Afghanistan is actually deal with Pakistan,” he said in October 2008.

We should probably try to facilitate a better understanding between Pakistan and India, and try to resolve the Kashmir crisis so that they can stay focused not on India but on the situation with those militants.
Once he was elected, however, talk of Kashmir and peace between India and Pakistan receded from President Obama’s official pronouncements, and he embarked upon an Afghanistan policy that might be described as “shoot first, talk later.” US drone strikes in Pakistan’s Pashtun belt intensified, with more—53—in 2009, Obama’s first year in office, than during the entire Bush administration—42—followed by a further sharp increase in 2010, to 118. This unmanned assault was accompanied by a tripling of US military manpower in Afghanistan, which in turn resulted in a fourfold increase in the American fatality rate, with more deaths there of US soldiers in twenty-nine months under Obama (974) than in eighty-seven months under Bush (630).

Obama has now begun to reverse his Afghanistan escalation. His June 22 speech announced that 33,000 US forces (described as those of his “surge,” but more accurately representing the second of his two roughly equal-sized surges) would begin withdrawing this summer and be gone by the end of the next. There will then, he said, be a “steady pace” of further reductions until by 2014 the change of mission “from combat to support…will be complete.” He also stated that “America will join initiatives that reconcile the Afghan people, including the Taliban.”

The following day, in an interview with the Voice of America, Obama acknowledged a US “focus shifted to Pakistan” and declared:

I think what’s happened is that the [US–Pakistan] relationship has become more honest over time and that raises some differences that are real. And obviously the operation to take out Osama bin Laden created additional tensions, but I had always been very clear with Pakistan that if we ever found him and had a shot, that we would take it. We think that if Pakistan recognizes the threat to its sovereignty that comes out of the extremists in its midst, that there’s no reason why we can’t work cooperatively….
The tone of Obama’s underlying message to Pakistan is certainly much improved from that of the US in September 2001, when Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage reportedly told Pakistan to cooperate with the imminent US campaign in Afghanistan or be prepared to be bombed “back to the stone age.” But implicit in Obama’s words, and explicit in his actions, is a continued willingness to escalate US armed intervention in Pakistan should Pakistani cooperation prove insufficient. The alliance between the US and the Pakistani military remains, therefore, a relationship between parties viewing one another through gunsights. Each side blames the other for putting its citizens in grave danger, and each is correct to do so.

A gunsight is not, however, the primary lens through which King’s College professor and former London Times journalist Anatol Lieven sees Pakistan. Quite the opposite: his Pakistan: A Hard Country, by far the most insightful survey of Pakistan I have read in recent years, reflects sensitivity and considerable, if clear-eyed, affection. Lieven has traveled extensively through Pakistan (dismayingly atypical for a contemporary foreign commentator), exploring all of its provinces and speaking with Pakistanis from a very broad range of backgrounds. He has also immersed himself in written sources, including pertinent anthropological research produced over a period of some two hundred years.

Pakistan’s is a diverse society, so diverse, in fact, that observers who deal best in generalizations are bound to get the country horribly wrong. Lieven recognizes this diversity and makes it central to his analysis. For him, Pakistan is a place of competing and overlapping clans, sects, tribes, beliefs, and practices. Its society, in order to function, has evolved powerful mechanisms to deal with rivalries inside shared localities. As a result, Lieven argues, Pakistan is characterized by structures—military, bureaucratic, social, political, spiritual, judicial—that are profoundly “Janus-faced,” in the manner of the two-faced Roman deity who gazes and speaks in opposite, contradictory directions. These structures, at once predatory and protective, operate to make the country both (frustratingly for reformers) very difficult to change and (bafflingly for forecasters of its demise) remarkably resilient.2

At the heart of Lieven’s account of Pakistan is kinship, pervasive networks of clans and biradiris (groups of extended kin) that he identifies as “the most important force in society,” usually far stronger than any competing religious, ethnic, or political cause. Several millennia of invasions, occupations, colonizations, and rule by self-interested states resulted in a “collective solidarity for interest and defense” based on kinship becoming paramount in the area that is Pakistan. It now, as Lieven points out, “is a cultural system so strong that it can persuade a father to kill a much-loved daughter, not even for having an affair or becoming pregnant, but for marrying outside her kinship group without permission.” Moreover it is enduring, having survived, for example, “more than half a century of transplantation of Pakistani immigrants to the very different climes of Britain.” It has done much the same in the far less dislocating shift to Pakistan’s cities, sustained, as in Britain, through constant replenishment by newly migrating kin from the countryside.

The effects of kinship on Pakistani politics are profound. Most of Pakistan’s leading political parties are dynastic, including the Bhutto family’s PPP and the Sharif family’s PML-N; even individual members of parliament are often elected on the basis of clan alliances and support. Politics is therefore about patronage far more than ideology. Furthermore, the Pakistani state is relatively weak, collecting taxes that amount to less than 10 percent of GDP.

As a consequence, Lieven notes, Pakistani governments follow a predictable pattern. They are elected (usually as coalitions, Pakistan’s many divisions making absolute majorities exceedingly rare) on general promises of higher living standards for the population and individual promises to particular politicians, families, and districts. The governments lack the resources to keep many of these promises (which are, in any case, often conflicting); their majorities ebb away; they lose power and await another turn.

Yet because of patronage, much of what politicians extract financially from official positions circulates among their kinship groups, which cut across class. Lieven believes this system, while hugely ineffective at driving real change, helps explain “Pakistan’s remarkably low inequality rating according to the Gini Co-efficient, measuring the ratio of the income of the poorest group in society relative to the richest.” By that measure in 2002 “the figure for Pakistan was 30.6, compared with 36.8 for India, 40.8 for the US, and 43.7 for Nigeria.”

The role of religion in Pakistan, a source of much hand-wringing in policy think tanks, is similarly complex. As Lieven points out: “the Islam of the Pakistani masses contains very different traditions.” Moreover, unlike in Saudi Arabia or Iran, where an oil-bankrolled state has tried to impose one monolithic version of Islam, “the Pakistani state is too weak to achieve this even if it wanted to.” Lieven describes the theological divisions among Sunnis sustained by Pakistan’s clan and kinship diversity. The Ahl-e-Hadith, heavily influenced by Wahabism, loathe saintly traditions. The Deobandis may praise saints but object to worshiping them. The Barelvis, Pakistan’s most numerous (and “fissiparous”) school, tend to embrace the intercession of saints with God. Veneration of saints is also central to Pakistan’s Shias. Because saintliness can be inherited, the heads of Pakistan’s powerful landowning “pir families remain of immense political importance.” They can actively create bridges among religious groups and they serve as major bosses in several mainstream political parties, especially the “secular” PPP.

Religiosity thus fuses with kinship networks and politics to reinforce Pakistan’s existing elite. But it also helps marginalize Pakistan’s Islamist parties, drawn primarily from the Ahl-e-Hadith and Deobandi schools, which struggle to capture more than a few percent of the country’s vote. (Away from politics and “hardly noticed outside the country,” Lieven believes Pakistan’s religiosity also softens “the misery of Pakistan’s poor” by contributing to an astounding level of charitable donation, which, “at almost 5 percent of GDP, is one of the highest rates in the world.”)

Throughout his analysis, Lieven rejects the notion that Pakistan fits somehow in a category apart from the rest of the South Asian subcontinent, a sui generis nuclear-armed “failed state” on the verge of collapse. Rather, he writes,

Pakistan is in fact a great deal more like India—or India like Pakistan—than either country would wish to admit. If Pakistan were an Indian state, then in terms of development, order and per capita income it would find itself somewhere in the middle, considerably below Karnataka but considerably above Bihar.

Indeed, even in the violent challenges confronting its state authority, Pakistan is like its subcontinental neighbors: “All of the states of this region have faced insurgencies over the past generation,” Lieven notes, and by comparison to the Taliban conflict in Pakistan, Sri Lanka’s Tamil rebellion “caused proportionally far more casualties” and India’s Naxalite Maoist insurgency controls “a far greater proportion of India.”

Lieven has evident sympathy for the Pakistani military (indeed there are points when, in referring to a uniformed ancestor who served during British rule in what is now Pakistan, one suspects Lieven may have his own feelings of kinship with the Pakistan army). But he is clear about the role the army has played in fomenting militancy, and about the deadly threat militants now pose to Pakistan, especially the potential for far worse bloodshed if the remaining militant groups that have not yet turned on the military and are therefore being kept “in existence ‘on the shelf ‘”—including Pashtun militants focused on Afghanistan and Punjabi militants focused on India—were to do so.

Still, despite the ineffectiveness of much of the Pakistani state, he believes Pakistan’s kinship groups and its stabilizing and antireformist social structures give the country a combination of diversity and toughness that makes successful revolution highly unlikely. He also writes that the Pakistani army, as it demonstrated in the “brutal but in the end brutally effective” operation to liberate Swat from militant control in 2009, is fully capable of routing guerrillas who seize territory when it sets its mind to doing so.

A key question, therefore, is whether the army itself could split. Lieven thinks not (and we must fervently hope that he is right). The army, he explains, is an all-volunteer institution with a strong shared ethos, nationalistic rather than pan-Islamic in outlook, and increasingly vigilant against Taliban sympathizers within—”after all, we are not suicidal idiots,” an officer tells him. The real risk, which Lieven argues must be avoided at all costs, is of “open intervention of US ground forces” in Pakistan. For if ordered by their commanders not to resist, “parts of the Pakistani army would mutiny in order to fight the invaders,” and in such an eventuality “Islamist upheaval and the collapse of the state would indeed be all too likely.”

In passages such as this, Lieven comes close to describing Pakistan as if through a gunsight; but the gunsight belongs to an American decision-maker on the hunt, with Lieven playing the role of preservationist guide. The best Western strategy, he counsels, would “stem from a recognition that Pakistan’s goals in Afghanistan are in part legitimate—even if the means with which they have been sought have not been”—and would “seek a peaceful solution to the Kashmir dispute, despite all the immense obstacles in both India and Pakistan.” For in the end, “not even the greatest imaginable benefits of US–Indian friendship could compensate for the actual collapse of Pakistan, with all the frightful dangers this would create not just for the West but for India too.”

Lieven’s is a vital book, with much wisdom in its advice for the West. But equally importantly, this detailed and nuanced survey offers Pakistanis a mirror in which to look hard at their country and themselves. Pakistan’s resilience is bound up with its resistance to reform, yet reform will be essential for facing the great challenges ahead, including the potentially devastating impacts of climate change on a dry and overpopulated land that is dependent on a single river and its tributaries. Pakistanis, and above all members of Pakistan’s military, would do well finally to reject their country’s disastrous embrace of militants. Pakistan must urgently mend its relationships in its own neighborhood and refocus on taking care of itself. Time is not on its side.

1
Indeed, perhaps more than just words: on July 9 the US announced it was holding back $800 million of military aid for Pakistan. ↩

2
Lieven is careful to point out that his analysis refers only to Pakistan as it has been configured for the past forty years, a territory with “more of a natural unity…[and] a degree of common history and ethnic intertwining stretching back long before British rule,” and not to what he terms 1947–1971’s “freak of history…[with] its two ethnically and culturally very different wings separated by 1,000 miles of hostile India,” a situation from which Bangladesh should have been given a “civilized divorce” but which instead “ended in horrible bloodshed.”

-Mohsin Hamid is the author of the novels Moth Smoke and The Reluctant Fundamentalist. He lives in Lahore, London, and New York. (Article originally appeared late September 2011)

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note– The views expressed in this article are the solely the opinions of the writer and although interesting, do not necessarily reflect nor represent the views of Pakistanis for Peace and or Manzer Munir. 

What Happened on the Border?

As Reported by The New York Times

It’s not clear what led to NATO strikes on two Pakistani border posts this weekend, but there can be no dispute that the loss of lives is tragic. At least 24 Pakistani troops were killed. We regret those deaths, as we do those of all American, NATO and Afghan troops and Pakistani and Afghan civilians killed by extremists.

Washington and Islamabad need to work together, urgently, to ensure that this incident does not destroy their deeply troubled relationship. The United States needs Pakistan’s cooperation — as grudging as it is — to pursue the fight against the Taliban. And without American support, Pakistan’s fragile government will be even more vulnerable to extremist attacks.

So far, Pakistan’s leaders seem most interested in fanning popular anger. The Obama administration and NATO have wasted precious time, allowing the crisis to escalate.

On Saturday, after the first reports, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta issued a statement offering their “deepest condolences for the loss of life.” We’re not sure why President Obama waited until Monday to add his voice.

We are also puzzled, and concerned, by the delay in opening a full and transparent inquiry. On Saturday, the top American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen, said he would “thoroughly” investigate the incident. But that was never going to be enough.

It took until Monday for Gen. James Mattis, leader of the Pentagon’s Central Command, to announce a more formal investigation and to name Brig. Gen. Stephen Clark to lead it. The inquiry will include representatives of NATO and General Allen’s team. Significantly, Central Command said Pakistan and Afghanistan would be invited to participate. Islamabad and Kabul should both agree. The panel needs to move ahead quickly and credibly, with full disclosure no matter what it finds.

Pakistan’s leaders, as ever, are playing a very dangerous game. On Monday, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani vowed in an interview on CNN, that “business as usual will not be there.” His government has already shut down NATO supply routes to Afghanistan, ordered a base used for drone strikes evacuated and threatened to boycott a conference on Afghanistan’s security and development. Some news reports are also quoting ordinary Pakistanis demanding that their government retaliate militarily against American forces across the border.

Before things get out of control, Pakistan’s leaders need to lower their rhetoric and make clear that it is in their country’s interest to work with the Americans to find out what happened and ensure it will not happen again.

There are many questions that need to be answered. Who first fired on the American-Afghan force? Pakistan’s army is far too cozy with the Taliban. Were fighters sheltering near the Pakistani outposts? What about Pakistan’s claim that the NATO strikes continued for two hours even after Pakistan alerted allied officials? What needs to be done differently going forward?

The two sides need answers if there is any hope of finding a way back from the brink.

U.S.-Pakistan Ties Further Strained by Air Strike

By Saeed Shah and Nancy A. Youssef for McClatchy Newspapers

Tension between Pakistan and the United States rose Sunday over a U.S. air strike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, as the two sides offered widely disparate accounts of what might have happened.

NATO officials said Afghan and U.S. troops operating inside Afghanistan early Saturday had been fired on from the Pakistani side of the border and had requested close air support to help defend themselves. What happened next is still under investigation, officials said.

But Pakistan’s chief military spokesman said he did not believe that there had been any fire directed at the Americans from Pakistan, and said he did not believe the attack could have been inadvertent.

Major Gen. Athar Abbas said the military outpost on a mountain top at Salala in the Mohmand part of Pakistan near the Afghan border was well-marked on maps that both Pakistan and NATO have, and that the U.S. air assault lasted for more than an hour.

“I cannot rule out the possibility that this was a deliberate attack by ISAF,” Abbas said, referring to NATO’s International Security Assistance Force. “This was a visible, well-made post, on top of ridges, made of concrete. Militants don’t operate from mountaintops, from concrete structures.”

The incident sent U.S.-Pakistani relations to their lowest point since the May raid on Osama bin Laden’s hideout, when U.S. troops entered Pakistan without notifying Pakistani officials and killed the al Qaeda leader. U.S. officials believe bin Laden had lived for years in Abbottabod, the site of Pakistan’s premier military academy.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in a prepared statement that Saturday’s events were a “tragic unintended incident.” But NATO provided no details on what happened. U.S. Army Col. Greg Julian, a NATO spokesman, said officials are still investigating.

The Pakistan positions hit are about 300 yards inside Pakistan, Abbas said, and ISAF troops made “no attempt” to contact the Pakistani side using the established border coordination system. He said that the map references to the Pakistani positions had been previously passed to ISAF.

Taliban fighters often use Pakistan’s tribal area as a sanctuary, from which to launch artillery or rockets, or as a place to retreat under fire from NATO.

Pakistan announced Saturday that it would “review” all military, intelligence and diplomatic cooperation with the United States and ISAF forces in response to the incident.

Pakistan also closed its border with Afghanistan to trucks carrying supplies for ISAF, and announced that American forces would be expelled from Shamsi, a remote air base in Pakistan that was turned over to U.S. forces after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and used as a launching point for the U.S.’ controversial drone program.

On Sunday, Pakistan raised the possibility that it would also boycott a conference next month in Bonn, Germany, on Afghanistan’s future. Pakistan’s cooperation is considered vital for stabilizing Afghanistan and bringing the Taliban into negotiations.

Pakistan Stops NATO Supplies After Deadly Raid

By Shams Momand for Reuters

NATO helicopters and fighter jets attacked two military outposts in northwest Pakistan Saturday, killing as many as 28 troops and plunging U.S.-Pakistan relations deeper into crisis.

Pakistan shut down NATO supply routes into Afghanistan – used for sending in nearly half of the alliance’s land shipments – in retaliation for the worst such incident since Islamabad uneasily allied itself with Washington following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

Islamabad also said it had ordered the United States to vacate a drone base in the country, but a senior U.S. official said Washington had received no such request and noted that Pakistan had made similar eviction threats in the past, without following through.

NATO and U.S. officials expressed regret about the deaths of the Pakistani soldiers, indicating the attack may have been an error; but the exact circumstances remained unclear.

“Senior U.S. civilian and military officials have been in touch with their Pakistani counterparts from Islamabad, Kabul and Washington to express our condolences, our desire to work together to determine what took place, and our commitment to the U.S.-Pakistan partnership which advances our shared interests, including fighting terrorism in the region,” said White House national security council spokesman Tommy Vieter.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar spoke by telephone, as did General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Pakistani Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.

The NATO-led force in Afghanistan confirmed that NATO aircraft had probably killed Pakistani soldiers in an area close to the Afghan-Pakistani border.

“Close air support was called in, in the development of the tactical situation, and it is what highly likely caused the Pakistan casualties,” said General Carsten Jacobson, spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

He added he could not confirm the number of casualties, but ISAF was investigating. “We are aware that Pakistani soldiers perished. We don’t know the size, the magnitude,” he said.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani said the killings were “an attack on Pakistan’s sovereignty,” adding: “We will not let any harm come to Pakistan’s sovereignty and solidarity.”

Pakistan’s Foreign Office said it would take up the matter “in the strongest terms” with NATO and the United States, while army chief Kayani said steps would be taken to respond “to this irresponsible act.”

“A strong protest has been launched with NATO/ISAF in which it has been demanded that strong and urgent action be taken against those responsible for this aggression.”

Two military officials said up to 28 troops had been killed and 11 wounded in the attack on the outposts, about 2.5 km (1.5 miles) from the Afghan border. The Pakistani military said 24 troops were killed and 13 wounded.

The attack took place around 2 a.m. (2100 GMT) in the Baizai area of Mohmand, where Pakistani troops are fighting Taliban militants. Across the border is Afghanistan’s Kunar province, which has seen years of heavy fighting.

“Pakistani troops effectively responded immediately in self-defense to NATO/ISAF’s aggression with all available weapons,” the Pakistani military statement said.

The commander of NATO-led forces in Afghanistan, General John R. Allen, offered his condolences to the families of Pakistani soldiers who “may have been killed or injured.”

Dempsey’s spokesman, Colonel David Lapan, could not confirm the closure of the Pakistani border crossing to trucks carrying supplies for ISAF forces. However, he noted that “if true, we have alternate routes we can use, as we have in the past.”

POORLY MARKED

Around 40 troops were stationed at the outposts, military sources said. Two officers were reported among the dead. “They without any reasons attacked on our post and killed soldiers asleep,” said a senior Pakistani officer, requesting anonymity.

The border is often poorly marked, and Afghan and Pakistani maps have differences of several kilometres in some places, military officials have said.

However, Pakistani military spokesman Major-General Athar Abbas said NATO had been given maps of the area, with Pakistani military posts identified.

“When the other side is saying there is a doubt about this, there is no doubt about it. These posts have been marked and handed over to the other side for marking on their maps and are clearly inside Pakistani territory.”

The incident occurred a day after Allen met Kayani to discuss border control and enhanced cooperation.

A senior military source told Reuters that after the meeting that set out “to build confidence and trust, these kind of attacks should not have taken place.”

BLOCKED SUPPLIES

Pakistan is a vital land route for nearly half of NATO supplies shipped overland to its troops in Afghanistan, a NATO spokesman said. Land shipments account for about two thirds of the alliance’s cargo shipments into Afghanistan.

Hours after the raid, NATO supply trucks and fuel tankers bound for Afghanistan were stopped at Jamrud town in the Khyber tribal region near the city of Peshawar, officials said.

The border crossing at Chaman in southwestern Baluchistan province was also closed, Frontier Corps officials said.

A meeting of the cabinet’s defense committee convened by Gilani “decided to close with immediate effect NATO/ISAF logistics supply lines,” according to a statement issued by Gilani’s office.

The committee decided to ask the United States to vacate, within 15 days, the Shamsi Air Base, a remote installation in Baluchistan used by U.S. forces for drone strikes which has long been at the center of a dispute between Islamabad and Washington.

The meeting also decided the government would “revisit and undertake a complete review of all programs, activities and cooperative arrangements with US/NATO/ISAF, including diplomatic, political, military and intelligence.”

A similar incident on Sept 30, 2010, which killed two Pakistani service personnel, led to the closure of one of NATO’s supply routes through Pakistan for 10 days. NATO apologised for that incident, which it said happened when NATO gunships mistook warning shots by Pakistani forces for a militant attack.

Relations between the United States and Pakistan were strained by the killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden by U.S. special forces in Pakistan in May, which Pakistan called a flagrant violation of sovereignty.

Pakistan’s jailing of a CIA contractor and U.S. accusations that Pakistan backed a militant attack on the U.S. embassy in Kabul have added to the tensions.

“This will have a catastrophic effect on Pakistan-U.S. relations. The public in Pakistan are going to go berserk on this,” said Charles Heyman, senior defense analyst at British military website Armedforces.co.uk.

Other analysts, including Rustam Shah Mohmand, a former ambassador to Afghanistan, predicted Pakistan would protest and close the supply lines for some time, but that ultimately “things will get back to normal.”

Pakistan’s New U.S. Envoy Faces Tough Task Ahead

As Reported by Xinhuanet

A journalist-turned politician, Ms. Sherry Rehman, will soon proceed to Washington to assume responsibility as Pakistan’s new ambassador where she would face tough task as how to bridge the trust gap with the United States.

Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani appointed Sherry Rehman as Pakistan’s new ambassador in Washington a day after her predecessor Hussain Haqqani resigned over a recent claim by a Pakistani-American business tycoon that he had been asked by Haqqani to deliver the alleged President Asif Ali Zardari’s memo to the former U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen, seeking Washington’s help to rein in the powerful army.

Haqqani, who was summoned to Pakistan this week after the memo controversy dragged the country into crisis, was asked by the Prime Minister to quit during a meeting attended by the President, the Army Chief General Ashaq Pervaiz Kayani and Intelligence Chief, Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha in Islamabad on Tuesday.

Sherry Rehman, a former Information Minister and current member of the National Assembly or Lower House of the parliament, is also a central leader of the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party. She was chosen for the key post only because of her association with the ruling party as she has no diplomatic career. Islamabad routinely appoints ambassadors to the United States on a political basis. Several retired military men have also served as the country’s ambassadors to the U.S..

The Pakistani government has designated a political loyalist and the woman ambassador to the U.S at a time when mistrust between the two key allies in the so-called war on terror is at peak. Pakistan and the U.S. cooperation is considered a key to stability in Afghanistan as Washington is mounting pressure on Islamabad to take measures in “days and weeks” to encourage the Taliban, the dreaded Haqqani network and other Afghan armed groups to join the peace and reconciliation process in the war-ravaged Afghanistan.

“It’s like that old story – you can’t keep snakes in your backyard and expect them only to bite your neighbors. Eventually those snakes are going to turn on whoever has them in the backyard, ” US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said while standing along with her Pakistani counterpart in Islamabad last month in a blunt message to Pakistan.

The first major challenge the Pakistan new ambassador will have to face is how to address to the U.S. concern about the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani network, which the U.S. officials say are operating from Pakistan’s tribal region. Washington seemed to be in haste on the Afghan peace process in view of its troops’ withdrawal, which already began in July and will be completed by 2014.

The Pakistani Taliban is also an issue for the U.S. as the CIA says that they are sheltering Afghan armed militants in the country’s lawless tribal regions bordering Afghanistan. In view of its frustration, the U.S. routinely uses its spy aircraft to hit targets in Pakistan tribal regions, which is also a source of tension in bilateral relationship and the U.S. is in no mood to stop drone strikes despite Pakistan’s criticism.

The new Pakistani ambassador will also have to convince the U.S. administration to unblock the suspended military aid to Pakistan. The U.S. withheld some 800 million US dollars in assistance to the country’s armed forces in July just two months after Osama bin Laden was killed in a U.S. military raid, the U.S. unilateral action had itself worsened relationship. The U.S. has also attached tough conditions with the civilian aid for Pakistan.

Pakistan is nowadays under fire during the Presidential nomination campaign in the U.S. and even on Tuesday Republican presidential candidates attacked Pakistan in their foreign policy debate. The Republican presidential hopefuls ganged up on Pakistan and questioned whether the United States could trust it. Texas Governor Rick Perry called Pakistan unworthy of U.S. aid because it had not done enough to help fight al-Qaida.

Criticism at Pakistan by the Republican hopefuls shows how much tough environment she would face after she assumes the office of ambassador in the coming days. She vowed on Wednesday, a day when she was designated as ambassador, to work for improvement of ties with the U.S..

The United States on Wednesday acknowledged the impending change of guard at the Pakistani embassy in Washington as they praised deposed Ambassador Husain Haqqani for his services and announced their anticipation of working with Pakistan’s new Ambassador Sherry Rehman to continue strengthening bilateral ties between the two countries. In Washington too, the State Department spokesman on Wednesday said the U.S. looks forward to working together with her as both countries “continue to build a strong, cooperative relationship between our two countries.”

The former Pakistani ambassador to the U.S. had also good ties with the U.S. administration and his role was praised by the State Department spokesman, Mark Toner, but even then the relationship had been worst during his tenure. Now Sherry Rehman will not only have to address to the U.S. concern but also to serve the interests of Pakistan where a majority of the people are against the U.S. policies.

An American Muslim’s Thanksgiving

By Dr. Faheem Younus for The Huffington Post

I know how much I didn’t know 15 years ago.

After landing at the John F. Kennedy Airport in New York as an exchange visitor, I was faced with a culture shock. I knew the word “Manhattan” but I didn’t know what it actually meant. Was it a fruit? A car? A newspaper? I knew the name Michael Jordan but I didn’t know who he actually was. A singer? A scientist? A politician? I knew Thanksgiving was an important holiday in America but I didn’t know what to do on thanksgiving? Eat? Pray? Love?

Don’t forget. This was 1996, when internet was not ubiquitous and search engines meant using a pillow sized book called Yellow Pages. But despite spending a lot of time, the Yellow Pages could not expand my understanding of the above three queries.

So I did what we doctors do best: read a book. It was a book about American cultural literacy.

Reading about the history of thanksgiving, however, opened up a Pandora’s Box of controversies. Is it a Christian holiday? Is it a secular holiday? Is giving thanks to God a good idea or should we be thanking our fellow human beings? Or is it a reminder of the “genocide of the native Americans” and therefore should not be celebrated at all.

This was all too complicated for a medical doctor who was now having second thoughts about learning the history of Manhattan or Michael Jordan. “Who knows … they may turn out to be just as controversial?” I thought.

Which left me with the loaded question: What should I, as a Muslim in America, do on Thanksgiving?

One good thing about medical residency was that sometime a holiday would simply pop-up on your schedule and you literally had to do something with it. So my first reaction to “do something” with my first Thanksgiving was to thank God. Thank Him for giving me peace, security and opportunity in America.

To that end, I found a rainbow of Quranic verses exhorting Muslims to thank God in various ways. Here is one for each color in the rainbow.

Want a promising violet, try: “… If you are grateful, I will, surely, bestow more favors on you;” (14:8); How about an acknowledging indigo: “(Abraham was) thankful for His bounties; God chose him and He guided him unto a straight path” (16:121); Or the true blue thanks of another prophet “Assuredly, he (Noah) was a grateful servant” (17:3); Or a the combination of a green encouragement with a yellow warning: “Remember Me so that I will remember you, and give thanks to Me and do not be ungrateful to Me” (2:152); Or consider the simply orange truth: Surely, Allah is gracious towards mankind, but most of them are not thankful…’ (10:61); and if all fails, here is the red hot chastisement: “If you are thankful I will add more unto you. But if you show ingratitude My punishment is terrible indeed” (14:7).

But God was simply missing from most American Thanksgiving celebrations. Why? Because many atheists claim that giving thanks to our fellow human beings, those who make a true difference in our day to day lives, is more important than thanking a nebulous (in their opinion) entity.

There is much credence, (in my opinion), to the atheist’s point of view of thanking our fellow humans. Prophet Muhammad also reminded Muslims, “The one who does not give thanks for a small blessing will not give thanks for a great blessing, and the one who does not give thanks to people will not give thanks to Allah” (Abu Dawud). By helping the poor, respecting the elders, giving up his seat for a guest, showing unconditional love and exercising fairness in every day affairs, the prophet taught Muslims an important lesson. Thank you is not just a word; it’s an attitude.

Making the thanksgiving holiday a focal point of the Native American controversy is an over simplification. So I will leave it for a separate discussion.

15 years later, as a naturalized US citizen, there is much that I still don’t know about a lot of things. But I do know what an American Muslim should do on Thanksgiving: Give thanks.

Let’s thank our beautiful country, let’s thank our living constitution, and let’s thank the people around us. Only then can we truly thank God.

By the way, adding Turkey with stuffing, cranberry sauce, gravy, and a pumpkin pie to the day would be a fantastic idea too.

Faheem Younus is the Adjunct Faculty for Religion, CCBC; Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine, UMD

This is not Prophet Muhammad’s Islam

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

The steady stream of negative news about the twisted way Islam is being practiced around the world seems to never end. In my view, it is not how the Prophet would have wanted his followers to behave.

Just when I thought I was beginning to get used to the ridiculousness of the news coming out of Saudi Arabia, where a religious edict is trying to force women there with beautiful eyes to  completely cover up their face in order to stop the temptation of the men, along comes the grim news of Gulnaz  from Afghanistan. If you are not familiar with Gulnaz’s story, let me give you the facts.

Two years ago, in 2009, Gulnaz, a 19 year old single girl who lived with her elderly mother in Afghanistan, was brutally raped by her cousin’s husband. To describe the events, she recalls that on this day, the rapist came into her house when her mother left for a brief visit to the hospital. “He had filthy clothes on as he does metal and construction work. When my mother went out, he came into my house and he closed doors and windows. I started screaming, but he shut me up by putting his hands on my mouth,” she said.

Afterwards, she hid what had happened out of shame and fear, as shockingly there is no difference seen between women who are raped and women who commit actual adultery.  In Afghanistan and in many conservative Muslim countries, any sex outside marriage, whether the guilty party is single or married is considered adultery by the society and the justice system.

A few weeks after her rape, she began to vomit and started showing signs of pregnancy with her attacker’s child. Instead of sympathy and proof of her ordeal, she was charged and found guilty of adultery by the courts and for having sex outside marriage and was sentenced to twelve years in prison. She has already served two years and even gave birth to her rapist’s child, a little girl, in Kabul’s Badam Bagh jail where sadly, her innocent daughter is being raised in captivity alongside the unfortunate mother.

Rather than being freed from jail and given justice for her painful ordeal, the only way out of the dishonor of rape or adultery for her is incredibly only by marrying her attacker. In Afghan culture, and indeed in most Muslim communities, this is believed to be the only way to restore a woman’s honor, by marrying the man who she had sex with, damned be the fact whether it was willingly or unwillingly!

Sadly in many Muslim countries, rape remains a common form of violence against women. In addition, women are often blamed for being the victim of rape. Islam however, views rape as a violent crime against the victim, against society, and against God. The perpetrator who commits a crime is morally and legally responsible for that crime and should be held accountable. The victim, who is an unwilling partner in the sex act and so should bear neither blame nor stigma associated with the unfortunate act. To either ostracize or condemn the victim because she was compelled to engage in sexual intercourse is against the laws of Islam since the victim was an unwilling, and therefore a blameless, participant.

As common as her story and circumstances are for a woman in Afghanistan, the world has only learned of it due to a chance foreign documentary.  Gulnaz’s ordeal came to light because of a dispute between filmmakers and the European Union who hired the crew to film a documentary on the improving situation of women’s rights in Afghanistan and the assistance that the EU has been providing in the better treatment of women in the country. It was only when the documentarians came across her story and the grave injustice being done to Gulnaz and indeed by some accounts, hundreds of women across Afghanistan in similar circumstances, that the EU decided to cancel the project out of fear of harming their relations with Afghan government and institutions. Officially the EU states that it fears for the safety of the women in the film as they could be identified and face reprisals but many human rights organizations believe it is due to the fact that the film shows Afghan justice system in a poor light and the EU is concerned about the Afghan government’s sensitivities to the situation. It is despicable that the EU is more concerned with the sensitivities of the Afghan government rather than fighting for justice for Gulnaz.

Customs such as these in Afghanistan or the recent religious ruling in Saudi Arabia warning women to cover their attractive eyes, or the continued religious persecution of Christians and other minorities in Pakistan through the egregious blasphemy laws as seen in the case of Aasia Bibi, only serve to illustrate to many within and outside Islam the tremendous challenges that exist in what is right and what is logically very wrong and goes against all sense of justice and common sense, not to mention the very essence of Islam.

I am certainly not arguing for making any changes in the Quran or interpretations of religious text or any wholesale revisions whatsoever. That would not only be blasphemous but also counterproductive and unnecessary. Furthermore,  a big part of the beauty of our religion stems from the fact that it has remained unchanged as we Muslims believe that mutations and changes in both the Bible and the Torah necessitated the need for a third Abrahamic religion, Islam,  to arrive some 1400+ years ago to “set the record straight” after all the changes over the years in the two earlier Holy Books. Instead, I believe the only thing that needs to occur is the realization amongst the leaders and countries of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) that in this day and age, there are certain rights and freedoms that should be guaranteed to citizens of all countries of the world and this does not require any changes in the great religion but rather some simple changes in the current laws.

Aristotle once said that “You can judge a nation by the way it treats its most vulnerable citizens”. You could be a Hindu or a Christian in Pakistan, a woman in Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia or a homosexual or transgendered person in Iran, you do not deserve to lose your life or liberty under the guise of religious laws. Allah almighty is a just and fair God in Islam, just as he is in the Christian and Jewish faiths. He most certainly would never condone the treatment of Gulnaz, Aasia Bibi and countless other poor souls who are being mistreated under the banner of Islam.

I am not a religious scholar and nor do I profess to know everything I need to know about Islam, Christianity and many other religions. Some may even question my faith and belief in calling myself Muslim simply because I am asking these tough questions, and in their version of Islam, you never question, you simply obey. Lest they forget, Islam also clearly states to seek knowledge and to be just and fair and respectful of other religions.  “Surely those who believe and those who are Jews and the Sabians and the Christians whoever believes in Allah and the last day and does good — they shall have no fear nor shall they grieve.” (Quran 5:69)

I am however certain that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) would indeed be very upset with the current state of affairs of most Muslim countries when it comes to morality, religious freedoms,  respect for other religions and the treatment of women. Sadly, I do not see the changes necessary coming into being voluntarily by these nations, I believe it is incumbent of the benefactors of these nations, such as the United Nations, United States, the European Union, China and other trading partners, to push for better treatment of women and religious minorities in many Muslim countries of the world.  It is high time that they pressure these nations into enacting basic rights and freedoms for all people, regardless of their race, religion, gender, and sexual orientation. It must become a precursor to being a part of the civilized nations of the world and in being a member of the world community of nations. Freedom after all is what the Arab Spring is all about!

-Manzer Munir, a proud American of Pakistani descent, is a practicing Sufi Muslim and member of Muslims for Progressive Values, he is also the founder of Pakistanis for Peace and blogs at www.PakistanisforPeace.com as well at other websites as a freelance journalist and writer.

Pakistan Spy Agency Picks the Wrong Fight

By Jeffrey Goldberg for Bloomberg News

The Pakistani military and its spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, have an expansive menu of options before them in their endless campaign to subvert democracy.

And subverting democracy (as opposed to, say, winning wars against India, or helping the U.S. defeat the Haqqani terrorist network in Afghanistan) is the real specialty of Pakistan’s military.

On many occasions, the intelligence service, known as the ISI, achieves its goals through sheer brutality. Such was the case in the beating death of Saleem Shahzad, a Pakistani investigative journalist, in May. His murder was sanctioned by the ISI, according to Admiral Mike Mullen, the just-retired chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. In a recent article in the Atlantic, Marc Ambinder and I reported that U.S. officials saw intelligence showing that officials in the office of General Ashfaq Kayani, the head of Pakistan’s army (and the most powerful man in a country ostensibly led by a civilian president), ordered the head of the ISI to “take care of the problem” posed by Shahzad. His body was soon found on the bank of a canal.

On other occasions, the ISI executes its mission with slightly more politesse. Such is the case in a controversy now raging around the alleged activities of the Pakistani ambassador to the U.S., Husain Haqqani. He stands accused of something akin to treason for allegedly trying to enlist American help to undermine the Pakistani military’s hold on the country’s elected government.

An Absurd Campaign

Haqqani (no relation to the Haqqanis of terrorism fame) has long been known as a pro-democracy activist and a critic of the army’s meddling in Pakistan’s civilian affairs. As a scholar (he was a professor at Boston University before taking his current post), he wrote the definitive book on the Pakistani military’s unholy alliance with jihadists, “Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military.” Haqqani was appointed ambassador to the U.S. in 2008 over the objections of the ISI, which has been gunning for him ever since. This is an absurd campaign for the ISI to wage: Haqqani is one of the few Pakistani officials who have any credibility in Washington, and he has carried water for the ISI numerous times. Self-destructive behavior, however, is also an ISI specialty.

Last month, the Financial Times published an op-ed article by Mansoor Ijaz, a Pakistani-American businessman. In it, Ijaz claimed that he had helped deliver a memo, ostensibly on behalf of partisans of President Asif Ali Zardari, to Mullen, asking the chairman to help curtail the Pakistani military’s power in politics. (Mullen later said he ignored it.) The article intimated that Haqqani was behind the memo.
Ijaz keeps turning up in the most unlikely places. In the 1990s, he has said, he was involved in discussions in which the Sudanese government offered to deliver Osama bin Laden to justice, a claim denied by Clinton administration officials. In 2006, he suggested that he knew of evidence that Iran had already produced a nuclear weapon.

But the ISI apparently sees him as very credible. And they found in his op-ed a chance to move against Haqqani. The spy agency quickly fomented an anti-Haqqani campaign among the more pliant of Pakistan’s newspapers (the ISI is also known to keep journalists directly on its payroll, which is a timesaver for its media-manipulation department), and Zardari was forced to recall Haqqani to Islamabad. Haqqani denies drafting the memo, and has already offered to resign, in order to protect Pakistan’s civilian president.

Some Obvious Questions

Like many people who know Haqqani, I feared that he would be met at the airport by a Benigno Aquino-type arrival ceremony, or at the very least by ISI officers more interested in interrogation than explanation. But Haqqani, with whom I e- mailed several times in the past few days, seemed to be handling the pressure coolly: At one point this weekend he wrote, “Someone’s game plan was to scare me and my President into submission without a fight.”

He also raised some obvious questions about Ijaz and his motivations. Ijaz says he is a critic of the ISI and claims to be opposed to military rule in Pakistan. Yet, according to reports in the Pakistani press, he recently met with General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the head of the ISI, and turned over his BlackBerry.

Ijaz’s behavior suggests that he is either an epically erratic operator or someone who from the outset was attempting to subvert Haqqani.
It’s not at all clear how this scandal (known as “Memogate” in the obsessed Pakistani press) will end, but if it results in Haqqani’s removal as ambassador, it would be a minor tragedy for an already tragic country. Military rule has brought Pakistan nothing but violence, stagnation and political repression. Many Pakistanis see the Haqqani network — the pro-Taliban terrorists who are killing American troops — as a more serious threat than a pro-democracy academic. But as long as the military and the ISI are in charge of Pakistan, the wrong Haqqanis will be ascendant.

Saudi Women With Beautiful Eyes Should Cover Them up, Says New Sharia Proposal

Reported by Amrutha Gayathri for International Business Times

In yet another sexist and repressive act, a conservative Islamic committee in Saudi Arabia has proposed a law to stop women from revealing their “tempting” eyes to the public.

As of now, Saudi Arabian women are required to cover themselves up from head to toe, with a long black cloak called the “abaya”, except for their eyes and in most cases the eyebrows.  The laws on women covering their bodies are strictly imposed and anyone who doesn’t abide by the codes of conduct faces fines and public floggings.

However, Saudi Arabia’s Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (CPVPV) found that even women’s eyes could sometimes be too attractive for men and drafted a new proposal.

According to the Daily Mail, a report on the Bikya Masr news site suggested the proposal was made after a member of the committee was attracted by a woman’s eyes as he walked along a street, provoking a fight. The fight culminated in the woman’s husband getting stabbed twice in the hand.

A spokesperson for CPVPV, Sheikh Motlab al Nabet, said a proposal aimed at making it illegal for women to be in public without covering themselves up completely, if they happened to have attractive eyes, had been tabled.

The committee has always been under fire from human rights activists for repressive measures had carried out in the name of Islamic principles. It was widely criticized for its inhuman enforcement of the Sharia law in March 2002, when a public school in Mecca was on fire.

The religious police prevented female students from escaping by locking the doors and barring firemen and emergency services personnel from entering the building because the students had not covered their heads properly. The committee said it didn’t want to invoke the “sexual feelings” of emergency personnel by allowing them see the girls without their head-cover. The CPVPV was held responsible by human rights organizations for a death toll of 14. Though the organization denied the charges, the shocking accounts of witnesses were published by local media.

Incidents of brutal physical torture of women, by religious committees, for not abiding by Islamic laws have regularly appeared in Saudi media. Women are not allowed to drive or travel without male authorization or accompaniment in the country.

US Hip Hop Troupe Praises Pakistan’s Rich Music

As Reported by Dawn.com

Pakistan has very rich music and through concerts we can open up conversations about different cultures and can make real relationships. The people we have met and worked with in Pakistan are amazing.

These were some of the views members of a United States hip hop troupe ‘FEW Collective’ that is currently visiting Pakistan as part of US cultural diplomacy programme shared with Dawn. The troupe is expected to perform in Lahore on Monday (tomorrow).

The troupe consists of six people — DJ Asad Jafri, Alsarah, a Sudanese-born singer and songwriter, Aquil Charlton, writer and performer, Manal Farhan, a performing artiste, Braveonk Daniel Haywood, dancer, and Jonathan St. Clair, aka Super Inlight, a multidisciplinary performing and teaching artiste.Throwing light on hip hop music and dance, Charlton said this genre of performing arts like rapping emerged in the United States at house parties in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Charlton said The band ‘FEW Collective’ was formed in 2005 and its objectives included to convey positive message through the hip hop forum, to become the voice of the young and voice of the marginalised wanted to stand as an example for types of positive things that could happen and could bring young people from different backgrounds together and fuse their thoughts.
He said hip hop had four elements i.e. DJ, graffiti, break dance and know yourself, but ‘FEW Collective’ stood for ‘Fifth Element
Warriors’ since we are fighting for the knowledge.

St. Clair said the group had performed in Algeria, Morocco and China while Pakistan was their fourth destination.

Farhan said that Asad Jaffri, also her husband, had visited Pakistan a couple of times since his family belongs to Karachi. She said it’s been great here in Pakistan.

Asad Jaffri is also running a community-based non-profit charity organisation – Inner-city Muslim Action Network (IMAN).

Based in Chicago, IMAN organises works for social justice, provides direct services, and cultivates arts in urban communities.

Since 1997, IMAN has utilised arts as a vehicle for social change and to build bridges among communities and cultures. It also works closely with an international network of over 400 artists. This work includes artistic retreats, developmental workshops, and cultural exchanges. Through national and international efforts, IMAN stresses the importance of arts in creating mutual understanding, connecting cultures, and building community. Delivering a vast array of stories, music, movement and visual arts from rich cultures, IMAN highlights the work of Muslim artists and powerful artistic movements around the world.

The group members told Dawn that they had listened to Pakistani music which was very rich and they had also prepared a song ‘Dam Mast Qalandar’ in fusion with Pakistani instrumentalists.

During their stay in Lahore, they also worked and interacted with students of the BNU and LACAS.

The FEW is an artistic collective that believes in the power of art to engage, educate and inspire. It combines traditional forms of music, dance, and art with the elements of hip hop and theatre to address contemporary issues.

As representatives of hip hop culture, its members acknowledge the evolution of music, visual art, the spoken word, and dance as basic elements of the culture and knowledge as a master element.

Some know them as the Fifth Element Warriors, others relate them as From Every Walk, but they know themselves as always Finding Eternal Wisdom. The FEW specialises in hip hop theatre, concerts, arts workshops, team-building sessions and
leadership development.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note– This is a great initiative by the US State Department to help foster better understanding between the two countries who have hit a rough stretch after 60+ years of a close friendship and mutual regard between the people of the two nations.

Fate of Pakistan’s Zardari May Hinge on Scandal of Purported Memo

By Alex Rodriguez for The Los Angeles Times

Did he, or didn’t he?

All over Pakistan, people are asking whether Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari approved a memo asking for Washington’s help in reining in the country’s powerful military.

The answer could play a role in whether Zardari, already deeply unpopular with both the public and the military, stays in power.

The scandal scorching the airwaves in Pakistani cities and towns now has a name — Memogate — and it is sparking talk of early elections. At the center of it all is Pakistani American businessman Mansoor Ijaz, who says a senior Pakistani diplomat asked him to convey a letter to Washington seeking its help in preventing a military takeover of Zardari’s administration.

In return, the letter stated, the Zardari government would eliminate a wing of the Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency, or ISI, that maintains links with Afghan insurgent groups, and would give U.S. troops “a green light” to root out Afghan militants hiding out in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

Ijaz says Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, asked him to be the intermediary and that Zardari had endorsed the memo. The explosive allegations prompted Haqqani to offer his resignation as a way of defusing the controversy, though he denies either writing the memo or asking Ijaz to pass it on to Washington.

Unless Haqqani can show that the memo was fabricated, he could be ousted from his post. But analysts say the crisis also casts a shadow on Zardari, who has been criticized by many Pakistanis for his closeness to the American government, which they mistrust, as well as his failure to solve the country’s myriad economic and infrastructure ills.

“It might be a game-changer in the political arena, with the military concluding there’s no way it can trust the Zardari government,” said Pakistani columnist and legal expert Babar Sattar. “If the military isn’t willing to let this go, it could reduce the term of this government. That might be the only resolution: to hold early elections.”

If genuine, the memo sheds a harsh light on the deep rifts between Pakistan’s civilian and military leaders. Although Zardari is president, the military, led by army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, holds ultimate power in Pakistan, as it has for most of the country’s 64-year history. The military thinks Zardari is too acquiescent to Washington’s demands.

The memo purportedly was drafted a week after U.S. commandos killed Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden during a secret nighttime raid on his compound in the Pakistani military city of Abbottabad, about a two-hour drive from the capital. It portrays a civilian government convinced that the country’s military leaders were planning a coup against Zardari.

The rationale, Ijaz said in an Oct. 10 op-ed piece in the Financial Times newspaper, was that the military was being heavily criticized by the public and the media for allowing the raid to occur, and needed to make Zardari a scapegoat to deflect blame.

“Request your direct intervention in conveying a strong, urgent and direct message to Gen. Kayani that delivers Washington’s demand for him and [ISI chief Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja] Pasha to end their brinkmanship aimed at bringing down the civilian apparatus,” stated the memo, which was delivered to the then-chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Michael G. Mullen. The memo was published on the website of Foreign Policy magazine and by the Pakistani newspaper the News.

“If true, it shows that the civilian government really panicked,” said security analyst Talat Masood, a retired Pakistani general. “It’s extraordinary that they would get so nervous that they would write all this. It shows the deep divide between the civilian leadership and the military.

“If it’s a phony memo, it would recoil back at the [military].”

If the military was behind such a move, it could be aimed at discrediting or weakening Zardari’s government.

“The more likely, but far from certain, scenario? The boys are up to their tricks again,” Cyril Almeida, a columnist for Dawn, an English-language Pakistani newspaper, wrote Friday, referring to the military.

To back up his claims, Ijaz gave the News email that he says he and Haqqani exchanged at the time the memo was drafted and later conveyed to Mullen. On May 10, after the memo was delivered to Mullen, Ijaz allegedly emailed Haqqani, saying, “Ball is in play now — make sure you have protected your flanks.”

Pakistani Envoy Offers to Resign Over Memo

By Salmaan Masood for The New York Times

Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, has offered to resign amid a political and diplomatic storm in Pakistan over a mysterious memo, which asks for American help in dealing with the Pakistani military and Mr. Haqqani is accused of orchestrating.

Mr. Haqqani denies any involvement with the memo, but he said he offered to resign to end the continuing controversy.

The claims that Mr. Haqqani wrote the memo were made by Mansoor Ijaz, an American citizen of Pakistani origin, who said he was asked to ensure the delivery of the document to Adm. Mike Mullen, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time.

Mr. Ijaz described the memo, which he has not made public, as saying that the civilian government in Pakistan was seeking help in preventing a possible military coup in May. The military had just suffered humiliation over the American raid into Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden.

Mr. Ijaz said that the memo indicated that Pakistan promised, in return, to dismantle a part of its premier intelligence agency — which some American officials have come to distrust.

On Wednesday, Admiral Mullen’s former spokesman, Capt. John Kirby, said that the memo was delivered, but that Admiral Mullen “did not find the memo at all credible.”

“Therefore,” Captain Kirby said, “he addressed it with no one.”

Captain Kirby added that the memo was unsigned and was delivered by someone other than Mr. Ijaz.

Supporters of Mr. Haqqani say that he maintains close contacts with American officials, including Admiral Mullen, and did not need an intermediary to deliver a message, especially one as explosive and diplomatically delicate as what was said to be included in the memo.

The controversy over the memo threatens to further aggravate the differences between Pakistan’s civilian government and the powerful military.

Many people in Pakistan view Mr. Haqqani as too close to the United States because he often pushes for closer cooperation between the countries. Before becoming ambassador, Mr. Haqqani was also a vocal critic of the military, but since taking his job he has sometimes been supportive of the military in speaking with American officials. Many in the Pakistani military view him with suspicion.

The prime minister announced this week that Mr. Haqqani had been told that he needed to return to Pakistan to answer questions about the memo.

Mr. Haqqani said the decision of whether he continued at his job or not rested with President Asif Ali Zardari.

“I do not want this nonissue of an insignificant memo written by a private individual and not considered credible by its lone recipient to undermine democracy,” Mr. Haqqani said in an e-mail.

The news of the memo first surfaced last month when Mr. Ijaz wrote an op-ed article for The Financial Times. At the time, he did not name the diplomat he said he was behind the memo. He only recently said it was Mr. Haqqani.

Thom Shanker contributed reporting from Washington, and Matthew Rosenberg from New York.

New Neurological Test By a Pakistani

By Suhail Yusuf for Dawn.com

A Pakistani scholar has devised a non-invasive way to sense brain pressure which could significantly change the current paradigm of neurological care of those suffering from brain injury or disease.

Monitoring intracranial pressure (ICP) is the most important thing to assess brain injury, hemorrhage (internal blood flow), tumors and other neurological problems. But current methods to measure this pressure are highly invasive – requiring a neurosurgeon to drill a hole in the skull to place a pressure sensor or catheter inside the brain – and are thus restricted to the very severe cases.

Pakistani scientist, Faisal Kashif has devised a non-invasive technology for ICP monitoring in his PhD thesis at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, US. The method is based on processing available clinical signals using a mathematical model of relevant physiology. It provides real time estimates of ICP and cerebrovascular impedance, the latter is an indicator of brain’s ability to maintain its blood supply.

“ICP is a key neurological vital sign and is affected in several brain pathologies – even in concussions and migranes – and this non-invasive method could help in monitoring a vastly larger pool of patients,” said Kashif. He further added that unlike the invasive approaches which require a neurosurgical facility, the non-invasive method can also be applied in emergency-care settings where most trauma patients are first brought. Having access to ICP in a timely manner can guide doctors to provide life-saving interventions.

The initial validation studies show that the new method is equally precise as compared to other painful surgery based procedures. Now Kashif and his colleagues are setting up their prototype device for real time monitoring by the doctors, and to run relevant clinical trials. He is also hopeful that the device could be easily developed in Pakistan as well.

The Helen Carr Peake research prize

In April this year, Dr. Faisal Kashif won MIT’s Helen Carr Peake research prize for his doctoral thesis contributions to the field of bioengineering. He has also presented his findings at two major international conferences, American Heart Association’s Stroke 2010 in US, and ICP 2010 in Germany.

His research work was also declared as “Most Innovative Research” at the Innovation Congress 2009, Boston, US. In 2000, he was awarded two Gold Medals at Ghulam Ishaq Khan Institute of Technology (GIKI) and won four years HEC’s overseas scholarships as he was accepted for the doctorate program at MIT, though he only partially used these funds as support became available from MIT’s research, teaching and a medical engineering fellowship, which he was awarded for his proposed research.

A Thesis dedicated to Pakistan

His doctoral thesis entitled “Modeling and estimation for non-invasive monitoring of intracranial pressure and cerebrovascular autoregulation” was a milestone in Kashif’s career. Four years ago, in his Masters thesis, he developed a method for efficient communication through a nonlinear channel, such as the one encountered in satellite and optical fiber links. He dedicated this thesis to his parents and to all the martyrs of independence, which shows his dedication to Pakistan.

“I am proud to be a Pakistani because I know the reasons for its creation. I am very happy to associate my honours to the ideology behind it. I want to do a lot more Insha-Allah, and contribute in all ways I can,” he told to Dawn.com.

Pak Bans Dirty Texting: Just Say No To Monkey Crotch

By Shivam Vij for FirstPost

You cannot SMS ullu chod in Pakistan anymore. Nor can you SMS monkey crotch if you had any reason to do so.

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has banned 1,795 expletives on SMS, ordering telecom companies to filter out SMS-es containing these offending words with effect from 21 November 2011. The letter includes a list of 1,109 English words, more pornographic terms than expletives, and another 586 Urdu words which are more colourful sexual expletives of the standard South Asian kind rather than the plain garden variety pornography.

A letter from the PTA, dated 14 November and signed by its Director General (Services), Muhammed Talib Doger invokes the “Protection from Spam, Unsolicited, Fraudulent and Obnoxious Communication Regulations, 2009″ to pass the order.

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has banned 1,795 expletives on SMS, ordering telecom companies to filter out SMS-es containing these offending words with effect from 21 November 2011. Vivek Prakash/Reuters
The Pakistani Twitterverse was on fire last night as the two lists make for hilarious reading. The English list begins with A.S.S. and ends with yellowman. Some words sound harmless (crap and crappy), others bizarre (Jesus Christ, flatulence, murder, monkey crotch). Many are commonly used obscene words (“FUCK YOU”) and care has been taken to account for alternative spellings (biatch, muthafucka). While many spelling variations of ‘masturbation’ are on it, the correct spelling is not. Most words seem to be designed to prevent ‘sexting’ or sending sexually explicit texts (sexy, lick me, do me, S&M, lotion and porn). The list comes down on anal sex as much as vaginal sex. But it isn’t just sex. By banning drunken they perhaps hope to reduce alcoholism.

The Express Tribune points out, “While much of the list contains expletives, a number of words to be banned include medical terms, terms used by particular minority groups, common words from the English language and rap group, Wu Tang Clan.” The ‘medical terms’ include athelete’s foot, breast, intercourse, condom and period. The ‘daily use’ terms include hole, hostage and harder. Words like gay and homosexual don’t surprise but it’s curious why wuutang raised the censor’s hackles.

In fact, thanks to this helpful compendium many Pakistanis are finding their expletive vocabulary enhanced. @UroojZia asked what bumblefuck and ladyboog meant.

@Zakoota said the lists should be required reading in schools to give children the vocabulary to describe politicians and cricketers. With the amount of phrases that include the word “BUTT”, @KhaLeak wondered if Aijaz Butt was banned as well.

The Urdu list has standard gaalis also popular in north India, but many of them may not be familiar to Indians (such as “dani mani fudi chus“). Some are unfamiliar even to Pakistanis. @FurhanHussain said the presence of Punjabi gaalis in the Urdu list amounted to cheating, but others noted that there is no list of Sindhi and Punjabi language expletives, a grievous omission given that the Punjabi language is particularly full of colourful expletives.

“Padosi ki aulaad” doesn’t sound very obscene. There are some 15 spelling and gender variations of ‘kanjar’, a popular Pakistani expletive meaning dancing girls, often also used to describe cross-dressing or men dancing like women. Some of the Urdu ones are quite creative. There are four variations of “Chipkali ke gaand ke pasine” and some are inexplicable (“Nimbu sharbat“, “carrom board”) and some are zoologically bizarre (“ullu chod” or owl fucker). Some are rather vanilla everyday terms like “Buckwaas” (nonsense) and “Bewakoof” (foolish).

There were so many oddball terms in there at first people though it was a spoof. However, Shahzad Ahmad, an internet rights activist who tweets as @bytesforall, said he confirmed with a source at the PTA that the list was real. The Express Tribune story referred to above has been updated to quote a PTA spokesperson who denied knowledge of any letter and said that the PTA “does not take such decisions and only passes on the instructions to licensees once a decision is taken by a ministerial committee.” The PTA, which is also in the news for directing ISPs to block access to 1,71,261 pornographic sites, is said to have convened a meeting this morning to discuss the uproar.

It’s unclear how telecom companies who cannot even filter out commercial spam will be able to handle this new morality burden. But Pakistanis, used to growing online censorship administered by the PTA, took little time to come up with the obvious workaround to the SMS censorship. The offending words are numbered on the blacklist. Many including @SamadK came up with the idea, “Now instead of typing the whole gaali you just need to send the number. Thank you PTA for making is even lazier.”

Many have already started testing it: @KhanDanish tweeted “I hope Imran Farhat 143 doesn’t do 471 in Friday’s match. #Urdu.”

The Urdu list is here and the English list here.

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