Posts Tagged ‘ Ethan Casey ’

Defining Terror: Better Late Than Never?

By Ahad Khan for EthanCasey.com

In his recent article “Home Free: Waging War on Ourselves,” Ethan Casey writes about what I know as “the American dream” or, as he calls it, “the ugly truth buried beneath the manicured lawns of the American suburbs.”

As a person of Pakistani heritage, I didn’t need help to notice the near exact parallel between the history of black people in America on one hand, and the plight of the U.S. government’s ghosts somewhere in “Afpakistan” on the other. I am talking about the victims of America’s drone war in the “Af-Pak” border region, home to the folks who supposedly hate the American way of life (courtesy U.S. presidents of the past decade). If we are to believe their advocates, Predator drones are so advanced that they even have their own conscience. You don’t have to worry about them mistakenly firing on women and children alike.

Our world’s affairs have arrived at a confusing point. Wars between different countries, overt and covert, increasingly appear to be conflicts between civilizations. I should not say that we can’t tell where it may lead us during the course of our own generation. History has clearly taught us time and again that struggles for freedom become inevitable wherever people are forced to live with a feeling of being suppressed. It was just such a struggle that gave birth to an America that dreamt of liberty and justice for all. It was such a struggle that solemnized the rights of the black people of America, through the brilliance of heroes like Martin Luther King and Malcolm X.

It was that same struggle that led to the creation of Pakistan, by a nation of people that – like black Americans – had grown sick and tired of being denied equal treatment in their own society. It is this freedom that we, as human beings, have shown to hold so dear, that it has served to justify our restless campaigns for the rights we demanded to live in honour and dignity.

It is no less amazing what man would do to defend what he perceives to be his freedom, or any symbol that represents it. While it still holds true that the horrific events of 9/11 raised more questions than answers (technically speaking), who would dare to challenge the notion that the USA was dealt a devastating blow to its core beliefs? To repair America’s presumably unshakeable spirit of justice, someone was going to have to pay. A determined U.S. military thus engaged in a worldwide war on ‘terror’. Over a decade later, we find the same forces holed up in Afghanistan, unwelcome and surrounded from all directions. Their enemies (those that were meant to be paid back) are stronger than they were at any point during the course of the war and easily project effective control over most of the country. The lack of a clearly defined war strategy is just one rampant example out of many to show how American leadership is completely clueless about what it’s doing there. But at least bin Laden’s dead. Mission accomplished, whatever it’s been.

As the world looks at its old ally today – they who slammed the lid on Hitler’s coffin – it’s been curious to know what the USA really aims to achieve. As America’s government continues to pursue ‘the terrorists’, it has made that country itself into the biggest victim of terror. Before anyone jumps me for contradicting other countries’ body counts: terror succeeds where people allow themselves to be terrorized; you can’t terrorize the dead. Thus, in my humble opinion, the primary victims of terror are not those that are now laid to rest in their graves; they’re the people amongst us who are ready to sacrifice their freedom for the sake of the mirage that’s presented as “threats to national security.” Those who refused to come to terms with their defeat once, failing to learn from it, are thereby damned to fail in future.

In my humble opinion the Obama administration does know that it had failed, long before the latest breakdown in relations with Pakistan after Pakistani soldiers were attacked without reason. When was the last time you heard any U.S. government official tell the world that they’re trying to “win the hearts of minds” of people on the other side of the world? They never intended to bomb their hearts and minds out, it depends on the means chosen to aim at the target. The tendencies that champion the death sentence as a means for the sake of internal security, favor the use of drones when it comes to external security.

As much as we’ve suffered as Pakistanis under America’s misleading wars, I can’t help but feel sorry for America. As this great nation’s ideology is its biggest victim of war, the defeat couldn’t be greater. The rampant paranoia at present about hunting “terrorists” does not represent the example America gave to the rest of the world in the course of the previous century. Sadly, most of our generation will remember it by the images of a shoe-throwing Iraqi journalist. Pakistan and the emerging Arab nations will learn what democracy is on their own. They’ll take an example in future of what happened in America when people allowed themselves to be governed by fear instead of by a determined leadership. Justice will be sought and found, even by some of those people that the knights of freedom would describe as terrorists.

Ahad Khan is a Dutch Pakistani whose parents hail from Karachi. A health management student from Erasmus University in Rotterdam, he’s a dental practice manager in everyday life.

We Are Free to Choose Peace

By Ethan Casey for Dawn.com

I was planning to devote this column to Memogate and Ambassador Husain Haqqani’s resignation, then I woke up one morning to learn that the topic had been rendered quaint by a Nato cross-border attack killing two dozen Pakistani soldiers and bringing the already fragile (not to say ostensible or notional) alliance between Pakistan and the United States very close to the breaking point. Then I realised that the two topics are aspects of a larger one, indeed of the twin elephants in both societies’ living rooms: the damage done when a military establishment becomes too powerful and unaccountable.

The only time I’ve ever met Husain Haqqani was at a seminar at Harvard University in 2006, organised by the journalist and activist Beena Sarwar. He wasn’t yet Ambassador to the US; Musharraf was still president. Most of the discussion was, I felt, preaching to the converted among elite-class Pakistani liberals about how the military was the problem and the solution was democracy in the form of elections and civilian rule. I’m not Pakistani, but I was an invited panelist at the seminar, so I took the liberty of challenging that consensus. Recall, I said, the sorry tit-for-tat excuse for democracy that Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif and their undemocratic parties inflicted on the country throughout the 1990s. That rivalry’s personal vindictiveness and pettiness, I asserted, did a lot of damage to the credibility of civilian leadership. Was it really clear that civilian rule was preferable to military rule under Musharraf?

For my pains I was, as I remember it, ganged up on by Husain Haqqani, the stern and formidable historian Ayesha Jalal, and Ayesha Siddiqa, whose book Military Inc. was about to be published. Haqqani in particular accused me of being “merely anecdotal,” meaning that the foibles of civilian politicians were incidental, whereas the military was a problem institutionally and structurally.

I still believe that my point was well taken, because there’s much that elected leaders can and should do to claim political space and assert their own authority, even – especially – if they’re being besieged or undermined by the military. If you’re elected to lead, you must accept the responsibility to do just that, and you must demonstrate courage and personal character in disdaining consequences to yourself when necessary. And I’m a reporter; merely anecdotal is what I do. But Haqqani was all too right – wasn’t he?

I’m aware that conspiracy theories have been flying about the notorious memo’s provenance. Like most conspiracy theories, they’re beside the point. It doesn’t matter whether Haqqani wrote the memo himself or was framed by the ISI; the result is the same. And the question to ask is Lenin’s: Who benefits?

A.J.P. Taylor (among many others) was right to point out that the armed forces are a fundamental institution of any state. But if the state is going to serve the interests of anyone else, the armed forces must be subject – and obedient – to civilian authority. This is what the authors of the US constitution understood in the 18th century, when they made the president the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. And it’s what President Truman understood when he fired the insubordinate General Douglas MacArthur in 1951, even though MacArthur was more popular with the American public at the time than Truman himself.

But Americans should be anything but self-congratulatory about such things. President Eisenhower, himself a retired general, was not only prescient but brave and patriotic when he took the occasion of his leaving office in 1961 to warn, in a rightly famous nationally televised speech, that a “military-industrial complex” (he coined the phrase) was poised to dominate America’s public life and economy. Half a century later America is hip-deep in the muck of Afghanistan, and – in addition to the death and destruction in Afghanistan itself and in Pakistan – the only Americans who are benefiting are the military itself and the shareholders of the companies that supply the war effort with everything from “contractors” (mercenaries) to drones to cheeseburgers for the troops. Military Inc., indeed.

Which brings us to the cross-border attack. Maybe Nato mistakenly or aggressively attacked over the border; maybe Pakistani troops fired first. Who knows? The New York Times has published a de rigueur, pro forma editorial urging an inquiry. Whatever the truth, it doesn’t matter, because the only people who gain from such an incident are the people who gain from war, and that’s not you or me. It’s also not the soldiers on all sides who are being killed. If I were Pakistani I would be furious, as I know many Pakistanis are, at the contempt for sovereignty that the attack shows. At the same time, we know that the Pakistani establishment is duplicitous. So where does that leave you and me? Does it help anyone if I claim your establishment is more duplicitous than mine, and vice versa?

Our two countries have arrived at a depressing and discouraging pass, both in relation to each other and internally. The exigencies of “defense,” which is a euphemism for war, have brought us here. As individuals, we feel (because we are) largely powerless to affect the course of events. As human communities there’s more we can do, as the Occupy Wall Street movement has been showing in America, and as the lawyers’ movement showed in Pakistan.

We’re in this together – and by “we” I mean Americans and Pakistanis. We’re not on opposing sides; we’re on the same side, against the warmongers of both states. And we are free to choose both our actions and our attitudes. As an American, Ken Williams, commented just this week on my Facebook page: “We can live with generosity and trust OR greed and fear. Each choice has outcomes.”

-Pakistanis for Peace group member Ethan Casey is the author of Alive and Well in Pakistan and Overtaken By Events: A Pakistan Road Trip. He can be reached at www.facebook.com/ethancaseyfansand www.ethancasey.com

We Are Not All CIA Agents

By Michael Kugelman for The Express Tribune

Wondering about America’s latest reason for being unhappy with Pakistan? Look no further than the case of aid worker Warren Weinstein, the US citizen recently abducted from his residence in Lahore. I am not suggesting that Americans resent the fact that Pakistanis kidnapped Weinstein. Many of us (though by no means all of us) understand that abductions of Americans in Pakistan are very rare and realise that those Pakistanis who relish the thought of kidnapping Americans constitute a small percentage of the population.

What I am suggesting is that Americans are upset with what Pakistanis are saying about Weinstein. It is striking how quickly some Pakistanis have proclaimed that Weinstein is a CIA agent (and to be fair, a number of Americans are making the same assumption). An American in Pakistan doing aid work in the tribal areas? Wearing the native dress? And spending so much time in the country? Clearly the hallmark traits of a spy, they conclude. Never mind his advanced age (how many near-septuagenarian spooks are prowling around Pakistan?), or the fact that he was living quite conspicuously in a large home in an affluent area of Lahore. Also striking is who is making these accusations. One expects such views from the likes of Shireen Mazari, who famously had an altercation with a western-looking man in a restaurant when he inadvertently bumped into her chair, referring to him as a “bloody CIA agent”. Or from those impressionable masses who fall prey to the anti-American narratives propagated by school textbooks, mullahs and the media.

However, it is quite another matter to see readers of this newspaper — who, by virtue of their English-language aptitude and willingness to read The Express Tribune, are not narrow-minded ideologues — posting good-riddance comments about Weinstein and his presumed CIA bonafides.
Yes, Americans in Pakistan have been and are connected to security contractor firms and intelligence agencies. Yes, many of the alleged conspiracy theories about CIA agents crawling around the country have been proven true; Washington has sometimes emerged with egg on its face after prevaricating about the intelligence affiliations of its citizens stationed in Pakistan.

And, yes, ‘development work’ can be code for spy craft. Nonetheless, to reflexively assume that any American in the country is tied to the CIA is not only unfair, but also insulting — because it sweepingly dismisses the highly beneficial work done by many Americans in the country, such as, presumably, Weinstein himself. Just as there are Pakistanis who admire America (albeit not necessarily its foreign policies), there are Americans — with and without government affiliations — who hold Pakistan in high esteem and who dedicate their lives to making positive contributions there. Some may single out school-building superstar Greg Mortenson; I would cite the likes of the somewhat lesser-known (and therefore more typical) case of Todd Shea — a musician by training who, moved by televised images of suffering in Kashmir after the 2005 earthquake, travelled to Pakistan to provide relief aid. Shea has been there ever since; he now runs a hospital in a remote part of Kashmir.

There are other Todd Sheas in Pakistan. They may not want their stories publicised, but they are there, serving as healthcare trainers, conducting research on drone strikes’ impacts on civilians and helping promote women’s rights. Some work for NGOs, others represent non-intelligence agencies of the US government and others still — perhaps the most honourable of them all — act as volunteers and represent only themselves.

Pakistanis often lament, and rightly so, how so many of their most humanitarian and peace-loving citizens — from Abdul Sattar Edhi to Shehzad Roy — are relative unknowns in the US. Americans are equally justified for being indignant about the lack of recognition accorded to the selfless work of their countrymen in Pakistan — work that has little to do with cloaks and daggers and much more to do with benevolence and social upliftment.

Pakistan and the American Learning Curve

By Ethan Casey for Dawn

On June 1, I took part in a TEDx event hosted by the Princeton Public Library in Princeton, New Jersey, USA. The TED people bill what they do as “ideas worth spreading,” and during the weeks I spent preparing my talk I pondered what ideas I wanted to spread to an American audience. I titled my talk “What Does Pakistan Have to Do with Haiti? (the full text is on my website, and I’m told the video will be online soon), but in an important sense it’s really about the United States.

I used the occasion to try to make some sense of the weird coincidence that the two countries I care about most deeply and personally, other than my own, both were devastated in 2010 by horrific natural disasters. I did find a number of things they have in common, believe it or not, but the most salient is that Pakistanis and Haitians both see the United States from the outside. And what they see is often ugly and cruel, because they live on the receiving end of the American power that we Americans usually don’t experience, because we’re the ones wielding it. This is a point that’s very clearly apparent to many people worldwide, but not always easy to get across to Americans.

One way I tried to do it in Princeton was by arguing that both countries are prime examples of what the Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Adichie, in an excellent TED talk in 2009, called “the danger of a single story.” We Americans tell ourselves a single story about Haiti, and a different single story about Pakistan. Dr. Paul Farmer, a celebrated physician who works in the poorest areas of rural Haiti, wrote a book titled The Uses of Haiti. We use Haiti rhetorically and ideologically and, every time there’s a new fitful spasm of American interest in Haiti, our uses for it rear their heads anew. It’s never an edifying thing to see, and it’s maddening to those of us who know Haiti.

America has different uses for Pakistan, and those are not unlike the uses we used to have for the Soviet Union. If Haiti meets Americans’ need to have someone to pity, Pakistan fulfills our need to have someone or something to fear. Fear, pity, and contempt are easy, self-indulgent emotions. But much more demanding, I said, is to cultivate and practice respect. Respect implies distance and difference, and to practice it entails acknowledging that difference is inevitable and even desirable.

Another thing Haitians and Pakistanis have in common is their experience as immigrants and visitors to America. I tried to bring this home by telling the audience about novelist Edwidge Danticat’s 81-year-old uncle, who fled violence in his neighborhood in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, in 2004 and made the mistake of asking for political asylum at the airport in Miami. US Immigration officials threw him into the infamous Krome Detention Center and denied him his diabetes medication, and he died in detention. Danticat tells the story eloquently in her wonderful nonfiction book Brother, I’m Dying, which is above all a beautifully composed story about family love, immigrant struggle and aspiration, and the tortured and all too intimate relationship between Haiti and the United States, told by a Haitian who is also an American. I often find myself telling Pakistanis the story of Edwidge Danticat’s uncle, and I know that many Pakistanis would recognize its elements.

The idea I tried to leave the American audience with was that, as I put it, our lazy and self-comforting reductionism says nothing about Haiti or Pakistan, and all too much about us Americans — that the earthquake in Haiti and the floods in Pakistan were natural disasters, to be sure, but didn’t happen in a geopolitical vacuum. I gave them a lot to think about, possibly too much.

What I want, by the same token, to offer Pakistani readers is an occasion to reflect on just how big and delicate is the task of influencing American awareness and opinion. The novelist Upton Sinclair famously quipped that it’s difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it. There’s a national analogue that applies to Americans: we are no less innately patriotic than Pakistanis or anyone else, and no one wants to think ill of his or her own country.

So the job of educating and influencing the American public is a long uphill battle, and changing US foreign policy is like turning around an aircraft carrier: it has to be done carefully and very patiently.

Perhaps it can be helped along by American friends of Pakistan like myself and, even more, by leaders and members of the Pakistani-American community. In the meantime I urge Pakistanis to remember the humanity of ordinary Americans, who have been on a steep learning curve since at least September 11, 2001.

Ethan Casey is the author of Alive and Well in Pakistan: A Human Journey in a Dangerous Time (2004) and Overtaken By Events: A Pakistan Road Trip (2010). He is currently writing Bearing the Bruise: A Lifetime in Haiti, to be published in early 2012. Web: http://www.facebook.com/ethancaseyfans or http://www.ethancasey.com.

Follow Ethan Casey on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/ethan.casey

Pakistan Floods: Why Should We Care?

By Ethan Casey for EthanCasey.com

Yesterday a non-Pakistani friend here in Seattle emailed me: “I wanted to ask you which you think would be the best organization to make a donation to for the current crisis in Pakistan. We usually give to MSF, but their website doesn’t seem to offer the opportunity to give specifically for Pakistan. Can you offer advice?”

This friend is British and greatly prefers British media outlets, but I need to believe that there are many Americans who also want to help flood victims in Pakistan – or who would want to, if they knew the scale and severity of the disaster.

Why don’t they know? We can, and I do, blame “the media,” but that’s unhelpful and ultimately a cop-out. Each of us individually has the opportunity and responsibility to be aware of every tragedy in our world, and we should be willing to exert ourselves to redress them. We’re all in this together. But the real problem is that there’s too much tragedy, and it’s happening too fast, and these days Americans are distracted and confused and worried about serious problems close to home, like our own jobs and mortgages.

This is understandable. But you need to know that all indicators are pointing toward an enormous, long-term human tragedy unfolding in Pakistan, and we need to do something about it, for several good reasons. The New York Times acknowledged one of these when – belatedly, in its first significant coverage of the floods that I noticed – it headlined an August 6 article “Hard-Line Islam Fills Void in Flooded Pakistan.”

A related point is that we Americans owe Pakistanis a measure of basic human respect and compassion, as well as gratitude specifically for the sacrifices they’ve made at our behest in several wars in Afghanistan. When we repay this debt, it will also redound to our benefit. “It’s high time we showed Pakistanis the best of America,” disaster relief specialist Todd Shea told me last year. “If you’re a true friend, you don’t run out on somebody when you don’t need them anymore. … Pakistanis don’t trust America anymore. We need to show Pakistanis who we really are.”

Todd Shea runs a charity hospital in the Pakistan-administered portion of the disputed region of Kashmir, where he has been working since the October 2005 earthquake that killed 80,000 people. He also responded urgently and effectively to the World Trade Center attack, the Asian tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, and the earthquake this January in Haiti. He’s currently on the ground in Pakistan, running medical camps and providing drinking water, food, and other relief. An August 11 update on his organization’s website suggests the scale of the challenge:

In a recent statement appealing for more aid to Pakistan, UN humanitarian chief John Holmes said: “While the death toll may be much lower than in some major disasters, taking together the vast geographical area affected, the numbers of people requiring assistance and the access difficulties currently affecting operations in many parts of the country, it is clear that this disaster is one of the most challenging that any country has faced in recent years.”

Thousands of people are camped out on roads, bridges and railway tracks – any dry ground they could find – often with nothing more than the clothes on their backs and perhaps a plastic sheet to keep off the rain. “I have no utensils. I have no food for my children. I have no money,” said one survivor, sitting on a rain-soaked road in Sukkur along with hundreds of other people. “We were able to escape the floodwaters, but hunger may kill us.” …

There is a desperate need to send more well-equipped medical teams to the flood-hit areas to prevent the further spread of disease. The victims of the flood have lost everything and cannot cope with potential epidemics on their own.

I’m writing this article because I live and work between two worlds: the mainstream North America that I come from, and the Pakistani immigrant community. My job is to help bridge the gulf in awareness and sympathy between those worlds. What I’m seeing right now is that Pakistani-Americans and their admirable and effective nonprofit groups are jumping once more into the breach, as they always do. And, as always, they’re confined – and confining themselves – to soliciting funds from each other.

The flooding is “well timed” in the sense that the fasting month of Ramadan has just begun, and many Muslims will be directing their annual zakat charity contributions toward flood relief. Pakistani-Americans are generally an affluent community, but there’s a limit to what they can do. Wealthy Pakistanis in Pakistan also need to help, and surely are helping. Just as important, we non-Pakistani Americans and Canadians must help. We also must somehow self-raise our own awareness, given the paucity of decent media coverage. This is important both for obvious-enough political reasons, and simply because it’s the right thing to do.

I see troubling contrasts between the outpouring of generosity and attention that followed the earthquake in Haiti and the averting of eyes from the flooding in Pakistan. I see several reasons for this: Haiti is nearby; the earthquake killed 200,000 or more people all at once. In addition, though, there’s the fact that Haiti is not a Muslim country. The earthquake fit right in with the story we were already telling ourselves about Haiti, which is all about poverty and tragedy. Dr. Paul Farmer sums it up pithily in the title of his book The Uses of Haiti. The uses of Pakistan are different. We need to move beyond the uses of both countries and toward understanding them accurately and respectfully, in their own terms. Our awareness of Haiti should be more political and of Pakistan less so, or differently so.

Anyway, back to my friend’s question. The short answer is that, as always, grassroots groups are more nimble and effective, and your money will be put to better use if you give it to groups that are nearer the ground. This is why the nonprofit groups founded and run by Pakistani-Americans are crucially important. I’m including links to several of these below, and I recommend them all.

I was jolted the other day when another friend suggested that being asked to donate to the excellent Islamic Medical Association of North America “could possibly turn some people off.” He’s probably right, but we goras need to get over our knee-jerk aversion to the word “Islamic.” Your doctor might be a member of IMANA. As a Haitian woman told Paul Farmer years ago, “Tout moun se moun” – all people are people. We’re all in this together.

Please contribute to flood relief in Pakistan through one of these organizations (listed in alphabetical order):

APPNA    www.appna.org/

The Citizens Foundation   www.thecitizensfoundation.org/

Developments in Literacy   www.dil.org/

Edhi Foundation    www.edhifoundation.com

Human Development Foundation     www.hdf.com/

IMANA    www.imana.org/

Islamic Relief USA    www.islamicreliefusa.org/ 

Relief International   www.ri.org/

SHINE Humanity   www.shinehumanity.org/

UNICEF    www.unicef.org/

%d bloggers like this: