Archive for the ‘ Peace ’ Category

Pakistan: US Participation a Must in Russia-initiated Afghan Talks

As Reported by Ayaz Gul for The Voice of America

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN —
Pakistan says that Russia-sponsored international talks on Afghanistan must involve the United States for bringing peace to the war-riven country, because Washington is the “biggest stakeholder” there.

Moscow plans to host this week (April 14) a new expanded round of multi-nation “consultations” it has recently launched with the stated goals of developing a “regional approach” for promoting Afghan security and a government-led national reconciliation with the Taliban.

But the U.S. administration has already refused to take part in the conference, questioning Russian intentions and motives.

Speaking to a local television station before the Moscow talks, the Pakistani prime minister’s foreign policy aide, Tariq Fatemi, stopped short of admitting the absence of Washington will not allow the multi-nation process to achieve its mission.

“They [U.S] have their troops present [in Afghanistan], they have invested one trillion dollars there, they are the biggest stakeholder, they have lost hundreds of their soldiers, so they have their interests there,” Fatemi explained.

While Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, China, India were represented in the last round of talks in Moscow earlier this year, former Soviet Central Asian states have been invited for the first time to attend the April 14 conference.

“We hope and desire that when any such peace initiative will enter into a next stage, America will have to be made part of it,” Fatemi told Aaj TV when asked whether the Russian-initiated process could bring peace to Afghanistan without Washington.

Pakistan believes Russia is “positively” using its influence with the Taliban to encourage them to join peace talks and Islamabad is supportive of any such efforts, Fatemi insisted.

“Russia has told us its major concerns are that if civil war conditions are there in Afghanistan, it can become a center for terrorist organizations like Islamic State, or Daesh, who will then try to infiltrate into bordering Central Asian states,” the Pakistani official explained.

The Taliban’s attacks on rival IS fighters in a bid to prevent them from establishing a foothold in the country apparently encouraged Russia to support the insurgent group. But Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Sunday again warned Moscow against maintaining contacts with the Taliban.

“Anyone who thinks they can help themselves by helping the enemy of their enemy is mistaken. Anyone who thinks that they can differentiate between good and bad terrorism is mistaken,” Ghani said.

Speaking at a news conference in Kabul, Ghani acknowledged Russia is also threatened by terrorism and sympathized with victims of recent terrorist attack in that country.

“We have an intense dialogue with all our interlocutors because a stable Afghanistan is to everybody’s benefit and unstable Afghanistan hurts everyone,” Ghani said when asked whether Kabul plans to attend Moscow talks on Friday. He added he wants Afghanistan “as a center of cooperation” in all efforts aimed at stabilizing his country.

The Russian foreign ministry, while regretting Washington’s refusal to attend the coming talks, had also underscored the United States is an “important player” in settling the Afghan conflict.

“So [the United States] joining the peacekeeping efforts of the countries of the region would help to reinforce the message to the Afghan armed opposition regarding the need to stop armed resistance and to start talks,” it maintained.

Meanwhile, Fatemi said Pakistan has also stepped up diplomatic efforts to ease tensions with Afghanistan and is seeking implementation of a proposed mechanism the two sides agreed to in talks last months that were mediated by Britain.

The mechanism, he explained, would allow establishment of a “channel of communication at different levels” between Islamabad and Kabul to help remove “any misunderstanding” and deal with any terrorist incident on either side of their shared border.

“Talks [between the two countries] at the Army level and at different other levels are currently underway, and at a final stage, if needed, foreign ministers of the two countries will also engage in frequent meetings,” Fatemi said.

Afghanistan and Pakistan each deny allegations they harbor and support anti-state militants engaged in terrorist attacks on their respective soils. Tensions have lately risen because of Islamabad’s unilateral border security measures to prevent terrorist infiltration.

Kabul disputes portions of the 2,600-kilometer border between the two countries and is opposed to fencing them, saying it will further add to problems facing divided families.

Why I believe Pakistanis are the most gracious people in the world

By Harsh Mander for Scroll.In and Dawn.com

Pakistan Generosity

My mother was forced to leave behind the city of her birth, Rawalpindi, when she was just 18 because of the tumultuous ruptures of Partition. She had never returned. When she was to turn 75, I thought the best gift I could give her was to take her, if it was at all possible, to the city and to the home in which she was born.

I emailed my friends in Pakistan tentatively with my plan. They were immediately very welcoming.

“Just get her a visa, leave the rest to us,” they said. I applied for visas for my parents and the rest of my family. It seemed then a small miracle that we got these easily. I booked our flight tickets, and before long we were on our way.

A warm welcome

Our flight landed in Lahore, and our friends drove us from the airport to their home in Islamabad. I noticed that my mother was initially a little tense. Maybe it was memories of the violence of her exile; maybe it was just the idea that this was now a foreign land, and for many in India the enemy land.

I watched my mother gradually relax on the road journey to Islamabad, as she delighted in hearing my friends and the car driver speak the Punjabi of her childhood, and as she watched the altered landscape of her journey. Islamabad, of course, did not exist when she lived in the Punjab of her days.

In Islamabad, my friends invited to their homes many of their associates with their parents. They organised evenings of Punjabi poetry and music, which my parents relished. Our friends drove us to Murree, the hill-station in which my mother spent many pleasant summers as a child.

My mother had just one more request. Could she go to see the colony in Rawalpindi where she was born and spent her childhood in? My father also wanted to visit his college, the famous Gordon College in Rawalpindi.

A homecoming

My mother recalled that the name of the residential colony in which she lived as a child was called Gawal Mandi. My friends knew it well; it was now an upmarket upper middle-class enclave.

When we reached there, my mother tried to locate the house of her childhood. It seemed impossible. Everything was new: most of the old houses had been rebuilt and opulent new structures had come up in their place.

She located the building that had housed their gurudwara. It had now been converted into a health centre. But we had almost despaired of actually finding her childhood house. We doubted if it was even standing all these years later.

We were leaving when suddenly my mother pointed to the filigree work on the balconies of one of the old houses. My mother said: “I remember it because my father was very proud of the designs. He said there was none like it in the neighbourhood.”

Taking a chance, we knocked tentatively on the door of the house. A middle-aged man opened it, and asked us who we wanted to meet.

My mother said apologetically, “We are so sorry to trouble you, and intrude suddenly in this way. But I lived as a child in Gawal Mandi, before Partition, when we had to leave for India. I think this maybe was our home.”

The house owner’s response was spontaneous and immediate.

Mataji, why do you say that this was your home? It continues to be your home even today. You are most welcome.”

And he led us all in.

Before long, my mother confirmed that this was indeed her childhood home. She went from room to room, and then to the terrace, almost in a trance, recalling all the while fragments of her childhood memories in various corners of this house.

For months after we returned to Delhi, she would tell me that recollections of the house returned to her in her dreams.

Take a look: Why my heart said Pakistan Zindabad!

Half an hour later, we thanked the house-owners and said that we would be on our way. But they would not hear of it.

We were told: “You have come to your childhood home, then how can we let you go without you having a meal with us here?”

They overruled all our protestations, and lunch was prepared for around eight members of our party, including not just my family but also our Pakistani hosts. Only when they were sure that we had eaten our fill, and more, did they allow us to leave.

Caravan to Pakistan

After we returned to India, news of our adventure spread quickly among family and friends. The next year, my mother-in-law — a wheel-chair user — requested that we take her to Pakistan to visit her childhood home, this time in Gujranwala.

Given the joys of my parents’ successful visit, I was more confident. Many elderly aunts and an elderly uncle joined the trip, and in the end my wife and I accompanied six older people to Pakistan.

Our experience was very similar to that of the previous year. The owner of their old ancestral haveli in Gujranwala village took my mother-in-law around the sprawling property on her wheel-chair, and after we had eaten with them asked her: “Would you not like to check out your farm-lands?”

On both visits, wherever my wife visited shops for clothes, footwear or handicrafts, if the shopkeepers recognised her to be Indian, they would invariably insist on a hefty concession on the price. “You are our guests,” they would say. “How can we make a profit from our guests?”

As news of these visits travelled further, my associates from an NGO Ashagram working in the small town of Barwani in Madhya Pradesh for the care and rights of persons living with leprosy — with which I have had a long association — demanded that I organise a visit to Pakistan for them too.

See: Pakistanis seem to love Indians. Do Indians feel the same way?

Once again, the Pakistan High Commission granted them visas. There was only one catch this time: all of them were vegetarian. They enjoyed greatly the week they spent in Pakistan, except for the food.

Every night they would set out looking for a wayside shop to buy fruit juice. Each night they found a new shop, and each night without exception, the shopkeeper refused to accept any money for the fruit juice. “We will not charge money from our guests from India,” they would say each time.

This happened for a full week.

I have travelled to many countries around the world in the 60 years of my life. I have never encountered a people as gracious as those in Pakistan.

This declaration is my latest act of sedition.


Getting To Serenity: 10 Daily Habits For Inner Peace

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By Meerabelle Dey for The Huffington Post

We all want serenity, that elusive state of calm that seems to belong solely to Tibetan monks and yoga instructors. People with serenity are better equipped to enjoy life. Their small problems remain small and don’t become magnified into huge catastrophes. And when real crises arise, they react with steady, clear thinking.

However, serenity isn’t achieved without effort. Just as we need proper exercise habits to have healthy bodies, we need good mental habits to have peaceful minds. To that end, here are some daily habits to get you on your own path to serenity.

1. Give Thanks Continually. When your alarm goes off, before you even get out of bed, close your eyes and think about the ways in which you’ve been blessed. Consider the most basic gifts that you have: a job, good relationships, your home, your clothing, your health. Then continue to give thanks throughout the day. If someone lets you in their lane when you are driving, give thanks. When your paycheck is deposited into your account, give thanks. When your child comes home from school safely, give thanks. Make a point of acknowledging every good thing that happens to you.

2. As Soon As Your Mind Wanders Off in The Wrong Direction, Get It Back on Course. We know when we are getting mentally off course. We get irritated over minor things. We decide it’s our job to correct other people’s bad behavior. We obsess over past slights. These are all symptoms of the mind going down a path toward wrong thinking. Like a car that has shifted into a lane with on-coming traffic, our minds also can shift into the wrong lane. As soon as that happens, stop what you are doing. Walk away from the person who isn’t acting properly. Then do whatever it is that helps you get your mind back on track. For me, it’s reading something spiritual. For others, it may be listening to inspiring music or talking to a good friend. By re-directing your mind, you can more easily return to clear thinking.

3. Practice Acceptance. Practicing acceptance doesn’t mean that you allow yourself to be treated poorly by others. It means that you accept others for who they are. If someone is a jerk or manipulative, that is who they are. It’s your choice whether or not to spend time with them, but accept that you can’t change them. Likewise, practicing acceptance doesn’t mean that you don’t try to improve your life. For instance, you may not like your current job or home. Accept your situation for what it is today. Do your best at your job, and make your home as beautiful as possible. Appreciate that you have work and a place to live. Then do what you can each day to get your dream job or home in the future. Acceptance isn’t stagnation. Acceptance is understanding what you can and cannot change.

4. Be Kind To Others. There is no scenario in which being unkind to others will benefit you. So be careful how you operate. The ugly things that you say and do to other people may affect them, but those actions will poison you. If you are unhappy, take a long, hard look at your behavior. If you spew mean comments or take advantage of people, you will be miserable. I can’t sugarcoat that. Instead, be consistently kind. Build others up. Be helpful. You will find that by doing those three things, you’ll be at peace with yourself because you will actually like yourself.

5. Be Careful What You Drink. Some things we drink can affect our minds. Coffee, tea and some soft drinks have caffeine. Caffeine affects each person differently. Evaluate how it affects you. If it makes you jumpy or irritable, then either reduce your consumption or eliminate it altogether. Alcohol affects people differently as well. If drinking wine, beer or hard liquor makes you anxious or depressed, again, limit your drinking or cut alcohol out of your life altogether. Being happy is more important than your Starbucks or your nightly glass of wine.

6. Get Enough Sleep. Our minds cannot think clearly if they aren’t rested. Small children need copious amounts of sleep in order to be happy. Adults are no different. While we may not throw ourselves on the floor and scream if we haven’t had a nap, we function only slightly better without sleep. Develop good sleep habits. Go to bed early. There is nothing wrong with going to bed at 9 p.m. The television shows you are missing aren’t nearly as important as your serenity.

7. Watch and Read the Right Kind of Books, Movies and Television. What we watch and read affects how we think. Choose your entertainment carefully. There is a lot of violent, pointless junk out there which is deemed to be “avant-garde” or “creative.” If you want to have a relaxed mind, spend your time watching and reading things that have a positive message or that educate. Don’t spend your valuable free time filling your mind with garbage just because it’s popular.

8. Keep a Clean, Uncluttered Home. There is a reason why spas don’t have dirty towels on the floors and shelves covered with knickknacks. You can’t relax in a place that is messy. A cluttered home or room is a sign of a cluttered or unstable mind. Make your home a place that is tidy and beautiful. You should breathe a sigh of relief when you enter your home. It should be a refuge for both your mind and your senses.

9. Spend Some Parts of the Day without Noise. There is nothing wrong with television per se, but there is something wrong with the television being on all the time. People tend to turn on the television to avoid being uncomfortable. We are either uncomfortable with our families, or we are uncomfortable with ourselves. So we distract ourselves from that discomfort with a lot of racket. The problem is that noise impedes you from truly relaxing. Make the choice to give your ears and mind a break, and enjoy the silence.

10. Spend Time with the Right Kind of People. There are people who can’t help but be a problem. Everywhere they go, they create drama. Someone has always done them wrong, or they are continually upset about something. Or they just can’t say anything nice. Give those people wide berth. You can’t necessarily eliminate those people from your life, but you can limit your contact with them. It is a matter of self-preservation. When you allow people into your life who bring chaos, it is very hard to maintain your serenity. It isn’t your job to make their lives better. It is their job to not spread their brand of drama.

Pakistan, Afghanistan trade accusations at U.N. over extremist havens

By Michelle Nichols for Reuters

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Afghanistan and Pakistan traded accusations in the U.N. Security Council on Thursday over the whereabouts of Islamist extremists on their porous border as the United Nations described increased tensions between the neighbors as “unfortunate and dangerous.”

Afghanistan’s U.N. envoy, Zahir Tanin, told a council debate on the situation in Afghanistan that “terrorist sanctuaries continue to exist on Pakistan’s soil and some elements continue to use terrorism as an instrument of foreign policy.”

Pakistan’s U.N. ambassador, Masood Khan, said “terrorists operate on both sides of the porous border” and many attacks against Pakistan were planned on Afghan soil. He said aggressive policing and border surveillance were needed.

“I reject most emphatically Ambassador Tanin’s argument – root, trunk and branch – that terrorist sanctuaries exist in Pakistan and some elements continue to use terrorism as an instrument of foreign policy,” Khan told the council.

He told Reuters in an interview afterward that Tanin had been “ill-advised” to raise the border issues at the Security Council as Kabul and Islamabad were already talking through other channels. Khan blamed Afghan President Hamid Karzai for stoking tensions.

“When President Karzai meets our leadership, he’s most gracious, engaging, he’s a statesman. But when he talks to the media, he says things which inflame sentiment and that’s most unhelpful and destabilizing,” Khan said. “We have given very restrained responses.”

Pakistan’s role in the 12-year-old war in Afghanistan has been ambiguous – it is a U.S. ally but has a long history of supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan in a bid to counter the influence of its regional rival India.

Pakistan’s military played a key role in convincing Afghan Taliban leaders to hold talks with the United States, U.S. and Pakistani officials said, but Afghan anger at fanfare over the opening of the Taliban’s Qatar office this week has since delayed preliminary discussions.

“We were talking to multiple interlocutors behind the scenes and we have been asking them to participate in these talks, (telling them) that we think the war should come to an end,” Khan told Reuters.

‘SUCCEED OR FAIL TOGETHER’

U.S.-backed Afghan forces toppled the Taliban in late 2001 for refusing to hand over al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

Pakistan helped the Taliban take power in Afghanistan in the 1990s and is facing a Taliban insurgency itself. The Pakistani Taliban, known as the Tehreek-e-Taliban, is a separate entity from the Afghan Taliban, though allied with them.

“Stability and sanctity of Pakistan-Afghanistan border is a shared responsibility. Robust deployment of Pakistani troops on our side is meant to interdict terrorists and criminals,” Khan told the council. “This must be matched from the other side.”

A spate of cross-border shelling incidents by the Pakistani military, who said they were targeting Taliban insurgents, has killed dozens of Afghan civilians in the past couple of years.

“We are very concerned with ongoing border shelling,” Tanin told the council. “This constitutes a serious threat to Afghan sovereignty and the prospect of friendly relations between the two countries.”

U.N. special envoy to Afghanistan, Jan Kubis, told the Security Council that the heightened tensions between Afghanistan and Pakistan were a serious concern, especially at this stage of Afghanistan’s development.

“Such tensions are unfortunate and dangerous,” he said.

The NATO command in Kabul on Tuesday handed over lead security responsibility to Afghan government forces across the country and most foreign troops are due to withdraw from the country by the end of 2014.

“It is for the two countries to address these concerns and problems and their underlying reasons, to build trust and to refrain from any step that could contribute to an escalation of tensions and inflamed public sentiments,” Kubis said.

“They share common concerns and interests in fighting terrorism. They can succeed or fail together,” he said.

Reflections On Pakistan From A Recent Visitor

By Alan Jones for The Huffington Post

Pakistan is in the news – not least because of the violence leading up to the elections. H.L Mencken told us that “for every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.” Sometimes something happens and we’re hit between the eyes not only with complexity but with a sense of both urgency and humility. Last month I traveled to Pakistan as part of a UPIC (US-Pakistan Interreligious Consortium) delegation led by the Reverend Robert Chase who runs a remarkable project — Intersections International – which is part of the Collegiate Church of New York.

My involvement came through a sponsoring organization called Convergence, a bi-partisan group centered in Washington DC. Before I went to Pakistan, I thought I was reasonably informed. Now that I’ve had an absurdly short but intense five days there, I find that I know even less, except for two things: one, how intensely tribal human beings are, not least those who wouldn’t admit to belonging to a tribe at all; and two, there is no substitute for personal contact and one-on-one relationships.

Not very profound insights in themselves but significant nevertheless, because my sense of tribe was greatly extended through finding new friends. The intense tribalism on the planet is fed by the lust for power by means of violence and death. But there’s a countervailing “tribalism” which is convinced that if we are to survive and flourish we’d better realize that there really is only one tribe, one ethnic group and that’s all of us. That surviving and flourishing will involve more and more of us in the pursuit of justice and peace.

I found myself in Islamabad sitting next to the scariest looking Muslim in the room (given my prejudices and assumptions – surely modeled on Osama Bin Laden – white turban and dress — suitable for hiding a weapon?). He had a large beard and an intense presence. I found out he was born in Bolton in the UK and now lives in Maryland where he has a farm, a body shop and an Islamic center. We hit is off right away and have become good friends. He is spiritually grounded and intellectually critical and we found that our approach to the great mystery of our different (but not so different) traditions were, in crucial respects, not so much sympathetic as identical.

I came away with two basic insights – one discouraging, the other bright with promise. First, the discouraging part. In some ways Pakistan is a basket-case of a nation. Public opinion polls reveal much that is neurotic and paranoid (not unlike other nations we might mention nearer home). One of our hosts – a distinguished academic – outlined for us the perceptions many Pakistanis have of us. There is overwhelming anti-American feeling revealed in the polls in Pakistan (it wasn’t always so) Why? There are deep problems of perception that have been internalized.

Many are convinced that the War on Terror is really a War on Islam. Moreover this war is being encouraged by a deep conspiracy of Jews and Christians. The US government is not to be trusted because the US wants to break up Pakistan and take control of Pakistan’s assets (the nuclear issue). Finally, the US wants to impose India’s hegemony over Pakistanis. All of the Pakistani delegates agreed with the analysis but also insisted that the perception was distorted – a caricature.

The encouraging insight was our interaction with Pakistani university students and faculty both in Islamabad and Lahore – particularly the women, who were passionate, critical, articulate and energized. What was particularly striking was their clear and biting honesty both about their own country and their severe critique of the appalling ignorance of what is going on in the world and in our name on the part of the US populace.

Alasdair McIntyre some years ago in an essay “How to be a North American” wrote: “We become people one of whose aims is to make sure that we please others, so that they are pleased at being pleased by us. And this wanting to be liked is one of the great American vices that emerges from this refusal of particularity and conflict. Americans tend under the influence of this vice to turn into parodies of themselves – smiling, earnest, very kind, generous, nice people, who do terrible things quite inexplicably. We become people with no depth, no depth of understanding, masters of technique and technology, but not of ourselves.” Colonel Tuan of the Republic of Vietnam once called Americans well-disciplined and generous but a people without a culture. He was not referring to high culture McIntyre commented,, “He meant that he could not recognize what it was about them that made them Americans in the way that he was Vietnamese. And I think that is what happens to people with no story to tell themselves, people who do not confront their future as a narrative future. They, or rather we, become superficial people, people with surfaces, public relations people.”

It struck me that these young Pakistanis were speaking from the point of view of a culture – a culture to be sure that was being challenged by change but a culture nevertheless. Where to begin? It might seem rather thin simply to affirm that there are now strong ties and friendships between members of the two delegations. But these relationships are strengthened by a deep commitment to go on meeting both here and in Pakistan; and not only to meet but to work on projects which will build bridges between our two countries.

It isn’t as if we have to start from scratch. There is already a strong corps of Pakistani-Americans who are dedicated bridge-builders. What comes through when I reflect on my trip to Pakistan is my conviction of the urgency of a new vision for humanity. How can the best of religion be galvanized for the common good? One of my colleagues at the seminary where I taught for many years, often used this aphorism: “Don’t let the demons set the agenda.” It seems to me that this is a good injunction for our age both in our country and in our relations with others. It’s time to jump into the complexity of things with a sense of urgency, humility and humor and realize that there is, in the end, only one ethnic group, only one human race.

Coca-Cola Tries to Bring India, Pakistan Together via its New Vending Machines

As Reported by The Economic Times
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An upscale mall in South Delhi has a Coca-Cola vending machine that not only dispenses Coke, Thums Up and other beverages of the firm but will very soon connect India and Pakistan.Once a similar machine is installed in Karachi or another Pakistan city, users of the two vending machines can see and virtually touch each other, a person in the know said.

The beverages major has quietly launched an online campaign that seeks to connect people in not-so-friendly countries through vending machines, starting with India and Pakistan this year.

“This year, two countries will show that what unites us is stronger than what sets us apart and come together to share a Coca-Cola,” says the commercial launched on YouTube.

A company spokesperson said it was too early to comment on specific plans, on how the beverage maker plans to scale up the concept.

This world peace initiative is part of the firm’s happiness project. “A moment of happiness has the power to bring the world together,” it says.

In another initiative, Coca-Cola recently set up a ‘hug machine’ in Singapore-a vending machine with red and white message announcing the consumer to ‘hug’ it, after which the consumer would be given a free Coke. The ‘hug machine’ generated 112 million impressions within one day. In Istanbul, it had installed a vending machine that gave away free Coke if people could prove they were indeed a couple.

Coca-Cola is spending heavily on social media globally, though the spends are still small compared to what it spends on traditional mass media.

“Brands can’t work remotely anymore so it is important to listen and engage to consumers,” Wendy Clark, senior VP, integrated marketing communications and capabilities, at Coca-Cola had told ET last month.

“We make consumers part of our marketing channel, sharing content and engaging with them all the time,” Clark had said, adding that the company was looking at investing in innovative ways to connect on social media.

Muslims: #RemoveHate or Pakistan Will Disintegrate

As Reported By Dr Faheem Younus for The Huffington Post

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The irony was aptly captured by this picture, taken by a BBC journalist and now going viral on social media. It shows a group of Shiites protesting the recent attacks under another banner in the background, spewing anti-Ahmadi hatred.

Unless protestors #RemoveHate against all groups, they cannot #RemoveHate against any. That’s why I always had trepidations about the Shiite sect becoming the next target — the next Ahmadis if you will. Leading Pakistani analysts feel the same way.

So here is my unifying proposal for all Pakistani Muslims: redeem yourselves by starting a#RemoveHate Twitter campaign. You cannot change the discriminatory laws and you cannot change the school curricula — at least not that easily. But why not, physically and literally, tear down the banners, whitewashing the graffiti and throw away the pamphlets that incite hatred or violence against any religious group?

Americans may argue to confront such hate speech with “more good speech.” But here lies the rub: These banners actually incite violence by calling minorities “worthy of death” and leaving thousands dead.

These deaths — or target killings — are not happening in a vacuum. Just look at the anti-Ahmadi play book: First, the political arm of the Saudi funded Wahabi sect pigeonholes a minority sect as non-Muslims. This is followed by changing the public opinion and poisoning the public discourse, which manifests as hate filled banners and graffiti, and culminates into constitutional edicts and discriminatory laws.

For Pakistani minorities, the process has been kick-started. A 2012 Pew poll showed that 50 percent of Sunnis in Pakistan now believe Shiites to be non-Muslims. For Sufis, that number was at 25 percent.

Historically, Muslim sects in Pakistan chose to appease the “worthy of death” rhetoric against another minority because they saw it as an insurance policy for themselves. Perhaps they should listen to John F. Kennedy’s inauguration speech of 1961: “…remember that, in the past, those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside.”

The tiger has already swallowed so many. Just look around: Shiite processions? Terrorized. Sufis shrines? Bombed. Christian leaders? Assassinated. Hindu girls? Kidnapped.

Don’t #RemoveHate and soon liberals and working women will be next.

I believe in unity against hatred. I believe that our love for Pakistan should not be measured by the amount of hatred we express for America. I believe that our love for Islam cannot be reckoned by our hatred for those who differ with our interpretation. I believe that if Pakistan’s Muslims did not#RemoveHate , Pakistan will disintegrate.

Let your Twitter feeds go wild with #RemoveHate. Let Facebook pages be dedicated to exploring and sharing the best ideas to remove hate from our surroundings. Did you use a ladder or climb on top of boxes to tear down the banner? Did you use paint or white wash to remove graffiti? Is pre-dawn a better time than post-dusk?

I beseech you, my Pakistani Muslim family: Sectarian killings are neither a Shiite nor an Ahmadi issue; they are a human rights issue. Instead of resorting to conspiracy theories, take individual responsibility to #RemoveHate from your streets. But if you still choose to stand under a hateful banner today, don’t complain if you are on it tomorrow.

Dr. Faheem Younus is a clinical associate professor at the University of Maryland. He is the founder of Muslimerican.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FaheemYounus.

 
 
 

 

In Sign of Normalization, Pentagon to Reimburse Pakistan $688 Million

By ERIC SCHMITT and DAVID E. SANGER for The New York Times

Kerry Panetta

The Pentagon quietly notified Congress this month that it would reimburse Pakistan nearly $700 million for the cost of stationing 140,000 troops on the border with Afghanistan, an effort to normalize support for the Pakistani military after nearly two years of crises and mutual retaliation.

The biggest proponent of putting foreign aid and military reimbursements to Pakistan on a steady footing is the man President Barack Obama is leaning toward naming as secretary of state: Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts. Mr. Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has frequently served as an envoy to Pakistan, including after the killing of Osama bin Laden, and was a co-author of a law that authorized five years and about $7.5 billion of nonmilitary assistance to Pakistan.

The United States also provides about $2 billion in annual security assistance, roughly half of which goes to reimburse Pakistan for conducting military operations to fight terrorism.

Until now, many of these reimbursements, called coalition support funds, have been held up, in part because of disputes with Pakistan over the Bin Laden raid, the operations of the C.I.A., and its decision to block supply lines into Afghanistan last year.

The $688 million payment — the first since this summer, covering food, ammunition and other expenses from June through November 2011 — has caused barely a ripple of protest since it was sent to Capitol Hill on Dec. 7.

The absence of a reaction, American and Pakistani officials say, underscores how relations between the two countries have been gradually thawing since Pakistan reopened the NATO supply routes in July after an apology from the Obama administration for an errant American airstrike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November 2011.

Mr. Kerry’s nomination would be welcomed in Pakistan, where he is seen as perhaps the most sympathetic to Pakistani concerns of any senior lawmaker. He has nurtured relationships with top civilian and military officials, as well as the I.S.I., Pakistan’s most powerful intelligence agency.

But if he becomes secretary of state, Mr. Kerry will inherit one of the hardest diplomatic tasks in South Asia: helping Pakistan find a role in steering Afghanistan toward a political agreement with the Taliban. As the United States, which tried and failed to broker such an agreement, begins to step back, Pakistan’s role is increasing.

For a relationship rocked in the past two years by a C.I.A. contractor’s shooting of two Pakistanis, the Navy SEAL raid that killed Bin Laden and the accidental airstrike, perhaps the most remarkable event in recent months has been relative calm. A senior American official dealing with Pakistan said recently that “this is the longest we’ve gone in a while without a crisis.”

Sherry Rehman, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, said, “Pakistan-United States relations are settling down to a more stable trajectory.”

The interlude has allowed the United States to reduce the huge backlog of NATO supplies at the border — down to about 3,000 containers from 7,000 when the border crossings reopened — and to conduct dry runs for the tons of equipment that will flow out of Afghanistan to Pakistani ports when the American drawdown steps up early next year.

Moreover, the two sides have resumed a series of high-level meetings — capped by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s meeting this month with top Pakistani officials in Brussels — on a range of topics including counterterrorism, economic cooperation, energy and the security of Pakistan’s growing nuclear arsenal.

Maleeha Lodhi, a former Pakistani ambassador to Washington, concurred. “There’s greater convergence between the two countries than there has been in eight years,” she said. “It’s been a fairly quick kiss and make up, but it’s been driven by the approaching urgency of 2014, and by their shared desire for a stable outcome in the region.”

The one exception to the state of calm has been a tense set of discussions about Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. United States officials have told their Pakistani colleagues that Islamabad’s move to smaller, more portable weapons creates a greater risk that one could be stolen or diverted. A delegation of American nuclear experts was in Pakistan last week, but found that the two countries had fundamentally divergent views about whether Pakistan’s changes to its arsenal pose a danger.

The greatest progress, officials say, has been in the relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan, after years of mutual recrimination. A high-level Afghan delegation visited Pakistan in November, resulting in the release of several midlevel Taliban commanders from Pakistani jails as a sign of good will in restarting the peace process.

The United States, which was quietly in the background of those meetings, approved of the release of the prisoners, but has still held back on releasing five militants from Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, a key Taliban demand.

One American official said there was a “big push” to move the talks process forward during the current winter lull in fighting. The United States is quietly seeking to revive a peace channel in Qatar, which was frozen earlier this year after the Taliban refused to participate.

Despite the easing of tensions in recent months, there are still plenty of sore spots in the relationship.

Lt. Gen. Michael D. Barbero, who heads the Pentagon agency responsible for combating roadside bombs, known as improvised explosive devices, or I.E.D.’s, told a Senate hearing last week that Pakistan’s efforts to stem the flow of a common agricultural fertilizer, calcium ammonium nitrate, that Taliban insurgents use to make roadside bombs had fallen woefully short.

“Our Pakistani partners can and must do more,” General Barbero told a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee hearing.

American officials have also all but given up on Pakistan’s carrying out a clearing operation in North Waziristan, a major militant safe haven.

“Pakistan’s continued acceptance of sanctuaries for Afghan-focused insurgents and failure to interdict I.E.D. materials and components continue to undermine the security of Afghanistan and pose an enduring threat to U.S., coalition and Afghan forces,” a Pentagon report, mandated by Congress, concluded last week.

Declan Walsh contributed reporting from Islamabad, Pakistan.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note– Kerry for Secretary is a great choice now that Susan Rice did not work out. We love Hillary Clinton and as a Democrat and Liberal through and through, as much as we wish Secretary Clinton a speedy recovery and look forward to voting for her as the first woman President of the United States, it is high time to have a man in there as a Secretary working together with Secretary Panetta. John Kerry is a good and honorable soldier who is a patriot and will uphold American interests but will be a person who is very familiar with Pakistan and the need to have a dialogue with the men who man the barracks in Rawalpindi, regardless who happens to be the Prime Minister in Islamabad. We hope he has a speedy confirmation and no obstructionism by the Do Nothing GOP~

Why Palestine Won Big at the U.N.

As Reported by TIME

An instructive week after Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip tested Israel on the battlefield, the pacifist politicians who govern the West Bank notched a significant diplomatic win without much of a fight at all. Just before 5 p.m. New York time, the U.N. General Assembly voted 138 to 9 to bring Palestine aboard as a “nonmember state.” Another 41 nations abstained. Assured of passage by a whopping majority, Israel and the U.S. noted their objections mildly and mostly for the record, their effort to limit the fallout for the Jewish state itself limited in the wake of Gaza.

The status of “nonmember state” — emphasis on the “state” puts Palestine on the same level of diplomatic recognition as the Vatican, which is technically a sovereign entity. The Holy See has its own ambassadors but, for a few, may be better known for its busy post office off St. Peter’s Square, where tourists queue for what quiet thrills are afforded by a Vatican stamp canceled with the Pope’s postmark.

Palestine already has post offices. The particular marker of sovereignty it sought from the U.N. is even more bureaucratic: access to international organizations, especially the International Criminal Court at the Hague. Experts on international law say that, armed with the mass diplomatic recognition of the 150 or so nations it counts as supporters, Palestine will be in a position to bring cases against Israel, which has occupied the land defined as Palestine — the West Bank and the Gaza Strip — since 1967.

The ICC, as it’s known, is on record as inclined to regard Israel’s more than 100 residential settlements on the West Bank as a crime of war. (The Jewish state pulled its settlers and soldiers out of Gaza in 2005 and argues that it no longer qualifies as its “occupier” under international law. Critics argue otherwise.) The physical presence of the settlements in other words would give Palestine a ready-made case to drag Israel before the court — or to threaten dragging it before the court. In the dynamics of the Israel-Palestine conflict, the real power lies in the threat. But in his last U.N. address, in September, Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas began to lay the foundation for charges based not on the settlements but on the violent behavior of some individual settlers, who attack Palestinian neighbors and vandalize property and mosques. Settler attacks have skyrocketed in the past two years, according to U.N. monitors, and now account for the majority of the political violence on the West Bank, despite the lingering popular impression of Palestinian terrorism dating back decades. On the West Bank, at least, the reality has changed.

“If you were in my place, what would you do?” Abbas asked TIME in a recent interview. “We will not use force against the settlers. I can use the court, but it’s better for the Israelis not to push us to go to the court. They should put an end to these acts committed by the settlers.” His address to the General Assembly in advance of the vote on Thursday made the stakes plain enough: Abbas blasted Israel for “the perpetration of war crimes” and “its contention that it is above international law.”

Abbas’ effort actually got an unlikely boost from Israel’s eight-day offensive in Gaza. Operation Pillar of Defense focused on attacking Hamas, the militant Islamist group that has governed Gaza since 2007. Hamas, and more radical groups also operating in Gaza, lost scores of fighters and rocket launchers to Israeli air strikes. But by standing up to overwhelming Israeli military power for more than a week — and sending missiles toward major cities previously left untouched — the militants stirred a defiant pride and solidarity across the Palestinian community.

“The armed resistance of Hamas in Gaza gave the people hope and the impressions that this is the only way to fight against the ongoing occupation,” Majed Ladadwah, 46, told TIME 0n a Ramallah street, in the West Bank. “I can’t say they won,” said Ladadwah, speaking before Thursday’s balloting, “but they surely gained a lot of points for Hamas in the streets of Palestine.”

That logic was pointed out to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when she visited Jerusalem to coax him toward a cease-fire. In the days that followed, Netanyahu’s government stopped threatening to punish Abbas for going to the U.N., a move Israel has called a threat to the peace process, which has been stalled for at least four years.

At the same time, European nations rallied around Abbas, intent on shoring up a leader who is secular, moderate — and already at political risk for cooperating with Israel to suppress armed resistance even before Gaza seized the world’s attention. Many of the “marquee” countries of Western Europe that Netanyahu had hoped to vote against Palestine statehood, like France, instead lined up behind Abbas. Others, including Britain, abstained, after seeking assurances that Palestine will not to go the ICC, or that negotiations with Israel will resume. Abbas has already promised the latter. Thursday morning brought news that Israel had lost Germany, a stalwart ally in the wake of the Holocaust, to the abstention column. “If there is a poor turnout, a poor vote, the radicals gain,” India’s U.N. Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri told reporters.

For their part, Palestinians overwhelmingly back the measure, despite an assortment of disappointments with Abbas — for wasting a year trying to get full U.N. membership in 2011 and for not visiting Gaza during the fighting, as foreign diplomats did. “We are for the U.N. bid because we anticipate this will help us legally to pursue our struggles and gain our rights,” said Ladadwah, the bank employee who spoke admiringly of Hamas’ stand in Gaza. Hamas itself said it backs the diplomatic effort, as do other factions.

“This is called resistance, whether armed resistance or peaceful resistance,” said Mahmoud Khames, 34, an unemployed West Bank resident, in advance of the vote. “It’s not a soccer match that someone has to win. Resistance is a matter of freeing one’s self and his people from the Israeli occupation.”

In downtown Ramallah, the crowd watching on an outdoor TV screen on Thursday night was large and festive despite the late November chill. Celebratory gunfire — fired by exultant uniformed police and soldiers — rent the night as the vote came in just before midnight local time. “I expect many things from this but the most important is the reconciliation of the two factions, Hamas and Fatah,” said Mohammad Abdel Moute, 40, a government employee who lives in a local refugee camp. “And now hopefully we’ll be able to address the world with our problems, and hopefully the world will be able to help us in obtaining our rights, to be able to live like normal human beings.” Nearby, Layla Jammal, 70, praised the strategy of putting the question of statehood to the General Assembly instead of to the U.N. Security Council, where the U.S. routinely vetoes measures opposed by Israel.

“We heard threats from Netanyahu this evening before the voting, saying that a Palestinian state at the U.N. is unilateral, one-sided,” Jammal said. “And we laugh, because the wall that they built is one-sided! They didn’t ask us. From here it makes us it makes us a state against another state.”

— With reporting by Rami Nazzal / Rama

Israel keeps pounding Gaza by air, says it intercepted missile fired by Hamas at Tel Aviv

By Karin Brulliard and Abigail Hauslohner for The Washington Post

Israel’s four-day-old air offensive in the Gaza Strip expanded to target Hamas government buildings on Saturday and Palestinian militants continued firing a torrent of rockets at civilian areas in southern Israel as both sides stepped up diplomatic efforts to win support.

Israeli airstrikes over Gaza accelerated to nearly 200 early in the day, including one hit that reduced the offices of Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh to a smoldering concrete heap. That strike, along with others on a police headquarters and smuggling tunnels along the strip’s southern border with Egypt, raised questions about whether Israel had broadened its mission to including toppling the Hamas government that rules the coastal strip.

Just before sundown, Hamas said it had fired an Iranian-made Fajr-5 rocket at Tel Aviv, and air raid sirens sounded in that city for the third day in a row. The Israeli military said its newly deployed missile defense battery intercepted the rocket before it landed in the populous coastal city.

Even as airstrikes pounded the area Saturday morning, the foreign minister of Tunisia’s Islamist-led government, Rafik Abdessalem, arrived in Gaza with a delegation, underscoring Hamas’s newfound credibility in a region dramatically altered by the Arab Spring. Abdessalem expressed outrage at what he called Israeli “aggression” and pledged to unite with other Arab countries to end the conflict.

In Cairo, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, whose prime minister visited Gaza on Friday, held meetings with Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the emir of Qatar, Sheik Hamad Bin Khalifa al-Thani — both Hamas supporters — to discuss what Morsi and other regional leaders have promised will be a more robust response to Israel’s actions than during past conflicts. By Saturday night, rumors of Morsi, Erdogan and Hamas chairman Khaled Meshal hashing out a cease-fire plan were swirling but unconfirmed.

Also in Cairo, the Arab League held an emergency meeting of foreign ministers to discuss a response to the conflict. Many participants called for Arab assistance to the Palestinians and a “reconsideration” of Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel. But it was unclear if the usually ineffectual league would deliver decisive action by the end of its summit.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, meanwhile, took his country’s case to European leaders. In conversations with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the prime ministers of Italy, Greece and the Czech Republic, Netanyahu argued that “no country in the world would agree to a situation in which its population lives under a constant missile threat,” according to an Israeli government statement. The government announced that it was launching a special operations center for public diplomacy, centered on “the unified message that Israel is under fire.”

The White House reiterated its support for the Israeli operation, which the military says is intended to stop rocket fire that has escalated in the four years since Israel last invaded Gaza to stunt attacks by Hamas, an Islamist movement that Israel and the United States consider a terrorist group.

“Israelis have endured far too much of a threat from these rockets for far too long,” Ben Rhodes, a deputy U.S. national security adviser, told reporters traveling with President Obama to Asia. Rhodes declined to comment on the Israelis’ choice of targets, but he said White House officials “always underscore the importance of avoiding civilian casualties.”

The death toll in Gaza rose to 45 by Saturday evening, Health Ministry officials said. Three Israelis have been killed by rocket fire from Gaza since the operation began. An Israeli military spokesman said about 130 rockets were fired from Gaza at Israel on Saturday, 30 of which were intercepted by a missile defense system known as Iron Dome.

Israel made preparations this week for a possible ground invasion, but there were no further signs of one coming on Saturday.

Israel: No shift in mission

The Israeli airstrikes, which continued to target rocket-launching sites and weapons depots, slowed throughout the day, even as Israel appeared to be channeling new efforts toward Hamas civilian institutions. Capt. Eytan Buchman, an Israeli military spokesman, said the strikes were “part of our overarching goal of toppling Hamas’s command and control capabilities” and did not mark a shift in mission.

Haniyeh, the Hamas prime minister, was apparently not at his office when it was hit.

According to the newspaper Haaretz, Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai said the “goal of the operation is to send Gaza back to the Middle Ages.”

That is how it felt to Hossam and Sanaa al-Dadah, two teachers who had the misfortune of living next door to a house the Israeli military said belonged to a Hamas commander.

At 6 a.m., the family’s windows shattered and their walls burst open. The adjacent house, in the Jabaliya refugee camp, had been demolished in an airstrike, and suddenly theirs was ruined, too.

In the terrifying moments that followed, Hossam al-Dadah, 50, frantically dug his five children out of the rubble, and a few hours later, they had been taken away to their grandparents’ home. But a dust-caked Sanaa, 40, rushed from room to room, crying and gathering her children’s clothing, school bags and dolls and placing them on a sheet.

Israel says Hamas operates in populated areas to use civilians as human shields, and it has dropped thousands of leaflets over Gaza warning civilians to stay away from Hamas operatives. Sanaa said she never got the message.

“Where are we going to go?” she said again and again. “The Israelis are responsible. They are the enemy of God. What did we do? Did we carry any missiles? Did we launch any rockets?”

Outside the house, children played insouciantly in rubble and scorched cars. Rami Mukayed, a 12-year-old in gray trousers, said he reserved his fear for darkness.

“At night, come see me, I’m panicked,” he said. “I play in the morning. I hide in the evening.”

Effect on peace process

In a speech in Cairo, Erdogan said the Gaza conflict called for a new era of Egyptian-Turkish cooperation.

“If Turkey and Egypt unite, everybody will be singing of peace in the region,” he said. “And if we stick together, the region will no longer be dominated by crying and weeping.”

Speakers at the Arab League meeting made the same argument.

“We can no longer accept empty meetings and meaningless resolutions,” said Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby, addressing the assembly at the start of the meeting. He urged Arab states to adopt a “strict stance” on the conflict.

Issandr El Amrani, a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations who heads a blog called the Arabist, said the Gaza standoff has presented the new Arab Spring governments and other regional heavyweights an opportunity to reconsider their position on Israel and the peace process in a series of talks that could have long-term regional implications.

For years, the Arab League has floated a proposal for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal that Israel never took seriously, Amrani said. Arab states might now choose to drop that proposal and adopt more aggressive approaches — Egypt could revise the terms of its peace treaty with Israel; Arab states might consider providing covert aid to Hamas; and others will amplify the pressure on Israel through diplomatic corridors, he said.

By Saturday night, despite mounting rhetorical and symbolic support to Gaza’s Hamas leadership, the Arab ministers’ meeting had announced plans to send a delegation to Gaza but had stopped short of pledging immediate material support to Hamas.

“I’ve seen a lot of talk about doing something and how there’s a collective Arab responsibility to act,” Amrani said, “but no one has suggested anything concrete.”

The Opposite of American

By E.J.Graff for The American Prospect

The Sikh temple shooting, which left seven dead including the shooter, has left me feeling more shaky than the shooting in Colorado, which seemed more random.

I write that even though the skeleton of these stories is roughly the same. One man with a grudge takes semi-automatic weapons and opens fire at a public or semi-public event where people are gathered for some socially acknowledged purpose—education, work, politics, entertainment, worship. Some people die. Others are wounded. The gunman may or may not have the presence of mind to execute himself. Or he may choose to be martyred, putting himself in line for police to kill him.

The gunman’s race and age vary, anywhere from 12 to 50. In the U.S., the majority of such gunmen are white, disproportionately (although just slightly) to their numbers in the population. They are overwhelmingly male. Sometimes the gunman has a personal motive for making others suffer: He lost his job, or girlfriend. Sometimes his motive is putatively political: Liberals are ruining Norway, or abortion clinics are killing babies. Sometimes he’s just crazy—psychotic, or with a deeply disturbing character disorder—but sane enough to follow the cultural script.

Even knowing that the story has a plot that I can strip down to familiar elements, this particular shooting upsets me more than most—because Wade Michael Page shot up a gathering of a religious minority, darker than white, in the bucolic Midwest, in what police are calling an act of domestic terrorism. The FBI has been called in. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Page was, as many of us suspected, a “frustrated neo-Nazi who had been the leader of a racist white-power band.” (Okay, I didn’t guess the band part.) Dave Weigel goes into the background documents and offers up the relevant nuggets in an excellent post at Slate, including a link to one of Page’s hate songs.

Sikhs have been targeted and attacked in hate crimes since 9/11; CNN has a summary of some of the publicly reported attacks here. Many of the news reports quoting Sikhs about this attack emphasize that they’re mistaken for Muslims, as if attacking Muslims would be more understandable. But post-9/11 hatred focused on the “other” hasn’t been that specific; Sikhs are visibly south Asian and, with those turbans, non-Christian. That’s enough for a neo-Nazi or any xenophobe who nurses an irrational resentment.

Here’s why this one leaves me particularly shaky. I grew up in the only Jewish family in my southern Ohio township, and probably the county; for nearly a decade, as far as I knew, I was the only Jewish kid in my jam-packed grade school, junior high, and high school. (My graduating class had 675 people.) The area was so German-American white that my medium-brown hair (see picture to the right) counted as dark, and left me irrationally unwilling to date anyone blond, although I’ve known consciously that that’s ridiculous. Somehow, I never had the presence of mind to connect my feeling of exclusion to what my dear friends the Conchas, the township’s Hispanic family, might be feeling, much less how the handful of black kids might have felt; as a child, my focus was on trying to shut off that sense of exclusion. Not until adulthood did I learn, instead, to expand it into empathy.

It’s hard to express how or why this incised me with vulnerable outsiderness so profoundly. Was it the time my friend Patti chased me around at recess, telling me that the Jews killed Jesus, and the teacher made me sit in the corner for crying? Was it having to stand every day in fourth grade as everyone said the Lord’s Prayer, which I knew wasn’t mine? (Yes, that came after the Supreme Court ruling banning prayer in schools, but I wasn’t yet well-versed enough in the law to object.) Was it getting those little choose-Christ-or-go-to-hell pamphlets in our Halloween bags, which probably went into everyone’s bags but which I interpreted as specifically meant for my Jewish family? Or having my sixth-grade teacher call me into the hall at school, asking whether the class could have a Christmas tree?

Another child might not have felt all this so keenly, of course, but I did. And my friends who grew up in urban or suburban Jewish clusters—Los Angeles, Cleveland Heights, Long Island—had a vastly different experience as American Jews. After I left for college, a Hindu temple moved in, and I was happy that my little brother and sister would have some fellow outsiders to befriend. For me, being the Jewish kid in Beavercreek, Ohio, was a lot harder than coming out later as gay. Which is probably why I never write about this subject, and why it’s so easy, comparatively, for me to write about sexuality and gender.

And it’s why, after 9/11, I was so grateful to march with members of the tiny Cambridge, Massachusetts mosque, which sits one street over from the tiny Cambridge synagogue, as befits religions that are such close cousins. However much the 9/11 bombers resembled, say, Timothy McVeigh or Eric Rudolph (who bombed a lesbian club, an abortion clinic, and the Atlanta Olympic games, in that order) in their message of politically targeted hatred, I knew that after 9/11 all Muslims would be slandered as responsible in a way that all white Christians had not been. In fact, the one thing I thought George W. Bush got absolutely right was insisting that Americans should not blame a religion for its most extreme members’ unhinged actions.

Police may not have definitively determined Wade Michael Page’s motive. But I see a group of brown people gunned down in their temple, almost certainly for their religious outsiderness, out there in the hyperwhite Midwest. I grieve for every Sikh in the country, and for every Muslim and Hindu and South Asian and Middle Eastern American who knows the message was aimed at them as well.

Page may have been a shooter like all other shooters: just another grudge-holding male who decided to feel powerful by becoming the lord of death. And yet his bullets nevertheless delivered a specifically white message of “patriotic” hatred: You don’t belong here. You are not us. Go directly to hell.

Will someone—everyone, really—please stand up and say that what Page represents is the opposite of American?

Mango Mania

By Huma Yusuf for The International Herald Tribune

KARACHI — Summers in the city — and across much of Pakistan — are relentless. Temperatures typically hit 100 degrees, power outages drag on for hours, heatstroke is common, and while monsoon rains bring some relief, they bring great ruin through widespread flooding. But there is one thing that makes Pakistanis anticipate the torpid summer months — mangoes.

With their golden yellow, blushing pink and pale green hues coloring markets by the cart-full, Pakistani mangoes are a source of national joy and pride. But bad luck — and poor logistics — are now threatening Pakistan’s king of fruits.

The country is the fifth-largest producer and third-largest exporter of mangoes in the world. For as long as I can remember, mangoes have turned oppressive summers into seasons of celebration and amity. Friends and families share crates of the finest mangoes. Rival tribes exchange baskets to resolve arguments. Hotels and restaurants host mango festivals featuring mango puppets or 4-foot-high, mango-shaped cardboard cutouts strung with streamers.

Pakistan’s love affair with the mango is culturally ingrained. Mirza Ghalib, the foremost Urdu-language poet of the Mughal era, was an avid mango eater who measured his health and joie de vivre by the number of mangoes he was able to consume.

Nothing (except perhaps cricket) will stir Pakistani nationalism more than the suggestion that another country’s mangoes could taste half as good as Pakistan’s. The only point of contention is which of the country’s hundreds of mango varieties is the most delicious: chaunsa, langara, sindhri, anwar ratol? (My vote goes to the subtle and aromatic anwar ratol.)

Last summer, Pakistani growers were thrilled at the prospect of countries beyond Asia finally enjoying their mangoes. Not only did the British retailer Asda start stocking Pakistani mangoes, but the first-ever shipment of Pakistani mangoes arrived in the United States in July 2011 after USAID helped Pakistan to meet U.S. standards of pest control and post-harvest management. New exports to Western markets were expected to be a boon to local farmers.

But this summer’s crop has not met expectations — some mango varieties ripened too late in the season, others are too small or are lacking in taste or texture. Pakistan is now likely to fail to meet its mango export target of 150,000 tons by September, instead managing to export only 100,000 tons.

This is partly because of last year’s monsoon and subsequent flooding, which reduced mango productivity by 30 percent. According to some estimates, up to a quarter of all mango farms in the southern province of Sindh were completely washed out.

But a big part of the shortfall is due to poor logistical planning: containers needed to ship mangoes are in short supply; Pakistan International Airlines does not appear to have the proper infrastructure to make shipments; international shipping companies have transported mangoes to the wrong destination or failed to secure the fruit against damage or theft en route; a cumbersome distribution system has caused Pakistan to lose out in the Asian mango market to China and India. Meanwhile, U.N. sanctions against trade with Iran have also caused a loss of $10 million to Pakistan’s mango growers, who previously exported up to 40 percent of their crop to the neighboring country.

All this bodes poorly for the future. Meagre profits — or in some cases, losses — from exports, coupled with last year’s widespread damage to mango farms, could compromise future yields. This would be nothing less than tragic, especially given that a worsening economic and security situation means that there are ever fewer things for Pakistanis to enjoy.

I, for one, am not taking any chances. This summer, I’m scarfing down mangoes at every opportunity. But my real hope is that the Pakistani mango’s reign endures for many years to come.

Huma Yusuf is a columnist for the Pakistani newspaper Dawn and was the 2010-11 Pakistan Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.

For Surjeet Singh, Life Unfolds a Guessing Game

As Reported by The Hindustan Times

“Pehchanon ji ye kaun hai” (guess who this is), is what Surjeet Singh often hears, as he relaxes on a cot in the sweltering summer heat on a farm in this Punjab village. Surjeet, 69, now plays this ‘guessing game’ several times a day, ever since he arrived in his native village last week, after more than 30 years of incarceration in Pakistan.
“There are several people from villages and other places coming to meet me despite the heat. Sometimes, my family members ask me to guess who a particular person is. Most of them look so different and older, just like me. It is hard to guess every time and then I try to identify them by their names. I can re-collect some names though,” Surjeet Singh told IANS with several people sitting around him.

“Ye budhi kaun hai (who is this old woman)?” was a question Surjeet popped in Punjabi to his relatives as an elderly woman came to meet him. He was told that she was a relative and he gave her a warm hug.

Surjeet wears a pair of white kurta-payjama and slippers as he wanders through his daily life and receives scores of visitors or meets them around his village. He returned home Thursday to a tumultuous and teary welcome from family and friends.

Among the visitors Saturday was Gurbaksh Ram, a fellow prisoner in Pakistan who returned to India in June 2006.

“I was with Bapuji in the Lahore jail for several years. I was released in June 2006 after, spending over 20 years in Pakistani jails. When I read about his return, I wanted to meet him,” Gurbaksh told IANS.

Among the visitors were two Sikh gentlemen who asked if he could recognise them.

“I am Bhai Singh and he is Vikar Singh,” one of them said. Surjeet had a hearty laugh as he hugged the taller Vikar Singh and remarked: “Ehh taan baba baneya phirda hai (he has become an old man).”

Besides the people who knew him from over three decades back, there are others who come to him with hope to hear about their own missing ones.

“Some people get their files and photographs of missing family members who are believed to be in Pakistani jails. They show him (Surjeet) the photos to know if he has met that person in Lahore jail,” one of his relatives said.

“He is very happy to be back in his country and among his family members and friends. Even though we were forced to sell our old house (where Surjeet lived) and land, this new house is lucky for us as it has brought him back,” Surjeet’s wife Harbans Kaur said.

“In the (Pakistani) jail, he had some facilities like regular power supply which is not available here. He is back now and my tension is over. I will put the entire responsibility on him. He will take charge of things,” Harbans Kaur, who supported her children in adversity after Surjeet went missing in 1982, said with a smile.

Surjeet languished in Pakistani jails for over 30 years after being arrested on charges of spying there. He was sentenced to death but the sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment.

Surjeet was released from Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat jail early Thursday and made the road journey in a prison van to Wagah, on the Pakistan side of the border, before walking into India at the famous checkpost.

India, Pakistan Ties Hinge on Hope

By Mir Ayoob Ali Khan for The Times of India

When hope is lost, everything seems to be lost. But when we hear the adage, Ummid pe dunya khayam hai (the world stands on hope), we visualize a ray of light at the end of a tunnel.

The rollercoaster ties between India and Pakistan are an unending reading in despair. It is hope that makes people believe that one day, some day, we will live like good neighbours. That someday becomes believably close when we hear that Indian and Pakistani politicians, officials and members of the civil society are ‘seriously’ talking about the benefits of developing stronger economic and commercial links between the two nations. Or, when the Supreme Court of India allows aging Pakistani virologist Mohammed Khalil Chishti, a murder convict, to visit his hometown Karachi.

It is an unprecedented move by the Supreme Court which took a humane approach in a murder case. The apex court spoke of Chishti’s age (82), his global reputation as an accomplished microbiologist and his previous clean record to say that he is free to go to his country but on certain conditions. He should be back in India in November to face trial in court. Though the Supreme Court’s order is solely based on the prudence of the judges, there is hope that Islamabad would show some reciprocation with regard to Indians stranded in Pakistan prisons. For instance, many are waiting to see if they would free Sarabjit Singh, an Indian convicted of life imprisonment in a case of mistaken identity.

Chishti and Singh have been in the public eye owing to the extensive coverage of their plight in the media. However, there are numerous Indians languishing in Pakistani prisons and vice versa who have hardly been covered by any media agency or their cases taken up by any human rights organization seriously. They too deserve attention as their loved ones are waiting to see them. In the meantime, the air over India and Pakistan is thick with hope that the two countries are about to enter into a new era of trade and commercial cooperation. Activity in this direction gained momentum ever since Pakistan decided to give the MFN-the Most Favoured Nation-status to India last year.

The two sides have realised that the trade volume was a paltry $2.6 billion in the year ending 2011. Officials and members of the trading community believe that this could be taken to $10 billion to $12 billion in the next three to five years. In the forefront of trade with Pakistan which is expected to grow in the coming weeks, not years, are tomatoes from Maharashtra. About 4,000 trucks carrying tomatoes have crossed over to Pakistan in the past three months. Lorries containing soya beans followed. Not to lag behind, Pakistan has started exporting cement and other construction material to India. Talks are on to allow 8,000 items from Pakistan to enter India in the next couple of years.

Hope is now fuelled by the foundation laying of an oil refinery in Bathinda, a town in Punjab which is160 km from Lahore, by billionaire Lakshmi Mittal and Indian Oil Company Ltd costing $4 billion. Pakistan that is already importing kerosene and diesel from India is hungry for petroleum products. The refinery in Punjab and another one owned by the Reliance Group in Gujarat which is close to Karachi could meet the fuel needs of Pakistan, at least to some extent. There are also talks to dismantle hurdles in matters pertaining to education and IT sectors, visa regimes, especially for the business community and tourists, opening of more land and air trade routes.

In India-Pakistan relations, hope is the key word. Let’s hope that it becomes a reality extending benefits to the people of the two neighbouring nations.

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