Anti-Islam video a mere trigger, not the root problem in itself

It’s the video that has gripped the entire world. Anyone and everyone’s talking about it. Almost all news channels are running it as their main headline while newspapers are running it as their cover story. Op-eds, blogs, articles, tweets; you name it, have been written about it. From President Obama to the Taliban to the “naan wala” near my house, everyone has voiced their opinion about it. America’s immediate condemnation of the video doesn’t surprise me. Neither does the violent response to the video across the Middle East surprise me. But what does surprise me is how everyone (government officials, analysts, pundits etc.) seems to misconstitute the backlash that followed, to the video itself, rather than to the root of the problem- America’s foreign policy in the Islamic World.

For decades Muslims have viewed American policies in the Islamic World with suspicion. In fact as early as 1959, the Saudi King Saud said to Pakistan’s then President, Ayub Khan- “America cannot be trusted”. Since than faces of power in the Islamic World have changed but the suspicion has remained. Since September 11, 2001 that suspicion has only gotten stronger. Add into the mix the anger over US misadventures in Afghanistan and Iraq, drone attacks in Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia and Afghanistan, and you have the perfect recipe for disaster.

Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State, brushed aside suggestions by a reporter yesterday in a press conference that the protests might have something to with Obama administration’s foreign policy. She remarked instead that under President Obama, US has a more favorable rating around the globe. A statement that in this context is utterly false since US is viewed more negatively in the Islamic World now than it was under President Bush. Only Europe views US more positively under Obama than Bush.

What most people fail to realize is that the video was merely an excuse. An opportunity. It provided the people with a way to release decades old frustration. A frustration that is builded because the people view their governments stance on relations with the US as contradictory to the will of the masses. Monarchies, dictators and fragile democracies across the Islamic World insure that the people aren’t given the opportunity to decide whether relations with the US should be attained or scrapped. Unfortunately this also means that it is nearly impossible to know how much of the protester’s view represents that of the masses. It is a vicious circle where frustrations continue to build among the people until the day when something like the anti-Islam video pops up out of nowhere and provides people with the perfect opportunity to take it all out.


Time for Pakistan to recognize the State of Israel

For six decades now, Pakistan has refused to recognize the State of Israel. Although, human rights violations have played a part in this decision, the real reason has always been to show solidarity with the Palestinians, the Arabs and the ‘Muslim World’ at large. But if one is to reflect back on this, it has been a costly decision due to which Pakistan has suffered not only diplomatically but also politically and economically. Today with terrorism running havoc in the country, an economy in ruins that is struggling to stand on its own two feet and relations with the international community at an all time low, it is imperative for Pakistan to realign its foreign policy in a drastic way so that it reflects neutrality rather than preference towards any specific nation(s) or bloc(s). The ideal beginning to such a policy would be to recognize the State of Israel.

The seeds of the this highly ambiguous and complicated relation were sowed when in 1947 Israel’s first Prime Minister Ben Gurion sent a secret telegram to Pakistan’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, asking to establish diplomatic relations between the two countries. But Jinnah’s delay in responding back was soon followed by his death the same year. Interestingly, in 1949 Pakistan came quite close to recognizing Israel under the government of its first Prime Minister, Liaquat Ali Khan. The following year, Iran recognized Israel (relation that was severed when Ayatollah Khomeini came to power in 1979), a move that was the perfect catalyst to Pakistan making a similar decision but the assassination of Liaquat Ali Khan in 1951 left the matter in a state of paralysis. The weak government of Khawaja Nazimuddin that followed ended any chances of Pakistan formulating ties with Israel during that period; as such a move required a populist leader who could speak over the Islamists, something Nazimuddin was unable to achieve. In the decades that followed, diplomats, politicians and intelligence officers from Pakistan and Israel met numerous times at various embassies and events around the globe but such interactions never resulted in a bold move from either side.

By extending a hand towards Israel, Pakistan can play a decisive role in the Israel-Palestine conflict, a conflict that Pakistan’s ex-President (1999-2008) Pervez Musharraf characterized as ‘the root cause of many of our bigger problems such as terrorism and extremism’. For decades radical groups in Pakistan have used this conflict to garner support for themselves and their causes. That is why despite Israel and Pakistan never having engaged in an open conflict, Israel follows US as being one of the most negatively perceived countries in Pakistan. Pakistan must also realize that it cannot expect to play a role of a mediator between the two parties if it fails to recognize the very existence of one of the parties. Another advantage lies in balancing the Israel-India relation, which has been on an upward trajectory since 1992 (when India recognized Israel). Currently India is the second-largest military partner of Israel while it also accounts for nearly fifty percent of Israeli defense market sales. Keeping in mind the highly volatile relation that India and Pakistan share, pulling Israel away from India’s grip can only benefit Pakistan. A welcome bonus for Pakistan will be the positive reception such a move will garner from around the international community. Pakistan will also be able to use Israel’s clout to reenergize its ties with the west and the US in particular.

Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri (left) meets with Israel’s Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom on September 2, 2005 in Turkey.

Israel too stands to achieve a lot from its relation with Pakistan, the second largest and only Muslim nation with nuclear power. Since 1948, Israel has shown more signs of being interested in developing official ties between the two countries than has Pakistan. As Israel’s foreign ministry pointed out in 2003, “We have no diplomatic or border problems with Pakistan. We have no hostility (against them). We would be happy to have relations with Pakistan”. Such a relation will certainly lead to reducing the enmity against Israel in many of the Muslim countries and will likely pave the way for countries like Indonesia, Malaysia and Bangladesh to follow suit by recognizing Israel as well. Pakistan being one of the founding members of the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) generates considerable influence in the Muslim world despite the political and economical conundrum that it finds itself in nowadays. Its ties with Middle Eastern regional powers such as Saudi Arabia have been historic with Prince Turki bin Sultan describing it as “probably one of the closest relationships in the world between any two countries”. Hence closer ties with Pakistan could provide Israel with the much-needed gateway into the Muslim World and with it the Arab World.

It is critical to be realistic when it comes to Israel. Pakistan must realize that by recognizing the Jewish state, it is not shedding off its pro-Palestinian position, a view that is quite popular among many Pakistanis, but it is merely acting as a responsible nation that can, in the immediate context, play a positive role in enforcing a permanent peaceful resolution to the Israel-Palestine conflict and in the larger context garner support to resolve another burning conflict not far away, Kashmir. Undoubtedly the resolution of these two conflicts will trigger a dynamic collapse of Islamic extremism. After all, the one thing Israel has taught all of us over the last 64 years is that it is a political reality and nations like Pakistan must learn to accept it. No two nations, in their bare essence, share more similarities between one another than Pakistan and Israel- (i) both rejected calls of unification, Zionists rejecting to be part of Federal Palestine, Muslims rejecting to be part of United India; (ii) both argued for a separate state based on the justifications of the minority retaining its identity; (iii) both movements were led by secular leaders and opposed by the religious clerics; (iv) both witnessed massive migrations; and (v) both were created on the basis of religion, Israel on Judaism and Pakistan on Islam.

Pakistan must not continue to be handicapped by the opinion that recognizing Israel will anger its allies in the Arab World. Especially, since Arab nations continue to have increasingly cordial relations with India despite its dispute with Pakistan over the Kashmir region. A prime example being UAE’s Dubai Port World cancelling its bid for managing the Gwadar Port, one of Pakistan’s most strategically important project located in the province of Balochistan, after India’s National Security Council voiced concern over it. If the Arabs can have such close relations with India than can’t Pakistan have close relations with Israel? If Arab countries like Egypt and Jordan can recognize Israel than can’t Pakistan? As Musharraf once declared “must the Pakistanis be more Palestinian than even the Palestinians?”

Losing Our Dignity, One Drone At A Time

I still haven’t forgotten a story that my father told me about eight years ago. We were sitting outside one late night, reveling in the midst of family & friends, smoking the traditional hookah and dining the night away. I don’t exactly remember how we reached upon this topic but suddenly I found myself listening to my father reminiscing the days when he first flew to Saudi Arabia in the 60s. He spoke of that time with such admiration and fondness. He recalled how when he first mixed in with the locals, the first question he would be asked was where he was from. The moment the Saudis heard Pakistan; they would follow up with another question, asking him whether he was a doctor or an engineer!

Recently I was sitting in a cab in Dubai. Now I must mention here that I have this habit of always conversing with the cab drivers throughout the trip. I don’t know why I do it but it is something I find very soothing, especially by seeing the joy it brings to the faces of the cab drivers, who long to converse with someone while driving around a foreign city day and night, far far away from their families. These cab drivers always vary in nationality. Sometimes I meet an Egyptian, sometimes an Indian, sometimes an Afghani, sometimes a Yemeni, sometimes a Nigerian and sometimes a Pakistani.

On this particular day, the cab driver was from Pakistan’s region of North Waziristan (FATA). He told me that he had come to the UAE about 4 years ago. I asked him where he lived before, to which he replied by saying Saudi Arabia. At his mere mention of Saudi Arabia, my head flooded with the thoughts of what my father had told me that one night, about eight years ago. As minutes passed by, I found myself retelling that story to the cab driver. Once done, I enquired from him about his own experience of interacting with the Saudis. ‘Terrible’ he said. ‘They don’t respect us. Sure, they respect our leaders when they fly there to do their umrahs but they don’t respect the aam Pakistani (everyday Pakistani). And it’s not just the Saudis; it’s the same with the rest of the Arab World.’

By this time, we had reached the destination of my trip. As I pulled out my wallet to pay the cab fare, I asked him what in his opinion were the reasons behind this change of perception of Pakistan in the mind of the Arabs. ‘Money’ he swiftly replied. ‘In 60s Pakistan was the Asian Tiger. Our entire country was growing like Dubai. Now we don’t have money and the drones don’t help either.’ At that instant I realized that the man I was speaking to was from North Waziristan, the center point to the majority of the US drone attacks that take place in Pakistan. I asked him what connection drone attacks have with Arabs losing respect for Pakistan. ‘Har kuch (everything)’ he said. ‘How can anyone respect a country, the only Muslim nuclear power at that, which gets bombed by a foreign country every few weeks and does nothing about it?’ he enquired. I said nothing. As I placed the money of the cab fare into his hands, he refused to take it. After much difficulty, he accepted the money and I walked out of the cab with more questions than answers.

Pakistan’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, in his address to a gathering in the city of Ahmedabad (Gujarat province of India) in 1946, a year before Pakistan’s creation, had said that “Pakistan is destined for greatness. It is a Muslim ideology that must be protected for time to come”. Sadly, today Pakistan is being drowned not by its enemies but by it’s own leaders. Corruption, nepotism and radicalization due to lack of education plus poverty lay at the heart of Pakistan’s ills. From being the country that other Muslim nations looked up to, Pakistan has become a country that other Muslim nations look down at. It is imperative for the country to shrug itself of its ills, lift itself from the shadows of darkness and capture the greatness that it’s founder envisioned for it. Otherwise the country will continue to lose its dignity, one drone at a time.

“Kiss Me, Stupid”

There she stood.
In her khaki overcoat.
Looking through her tortoiseshell glasses.
Taking a puff on her dangled cigarette.
At that very moment.
Like many a moments before.
I nearly called out to her.

After all this time.
There she stood.
Making my heart skip a beat.
As it always did at her sight.
Only If I could call out to her.
To utter something.
Something poetic.
Or perhaps to just mutter…
“Kiss me, stupid”

On the Road: From pieces of paper to the big screen

There are only a few books out there with which I share a relationship. Jack Kerouac’s novel ‘On the Road’ is one of them. It captivated my imagination even before I read it. As an individual who romanticized anything and everything to do with writers, it does not suprise me to see see this book affect me the way it did. Even though I am not a big fan of books being adapted for cinema, this is one of those times where I am willing to make an exception because honestly I for one can’t wait for this film to come out.


The beginning of Al Qaeda’s unannounced war on Pakistan

March 11, 2012. Another suicide bomb strikes Pakistan. This time it leaves fifteen people killed and thirty-seven injured in Peshawar, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Pre-9/11 Pakistan had been a victim to just one suicide bombing; post-9/11 has been a victim to more than 303 suicide bombs. These attacks have accounted for the lives of 4,808 everyday Pakistanis. Another 10,149 Pakistanis have been left injured by these attacks. What is even more saddening is that these are figures that keep growing each and everyday at a staggering speed. Also these figures of casualties suffered by Pakistan in the ‘War on Terror’ surpass those that both the US and NATO have incurred together.

For a Pakistani it seems almost impossible not to ponder what set off the chain of events that have had such a devastating affect on the lives of each and every Pakistani. The most common answer to this is usually bestowed to the events on September 11, 2001, when terror struck at the heart of New York. After that the other common answer seems to rotate around ‘Operation Sunrise’, when the Pakistani army stormed the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) in Islamabad on July 2007. But there is another event, not quite as famous as the previous two, that might be the answer that an average Pakistani seeks, an event that saw the beginning of Al Qaeda’s unannounced war on Pakistan- The Battle of Wana.

Wana is a town located in South Waziristan, Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan. The Wazir tribes, whose origin dates back centuries, inhabit the complex white mountainous terrain that is closely aligned with Afghanistan. Months after the terrorist’s attack of 9/11, Pakistan for the first time since its independence in 1947, deployed the army to FATA in 2002. By late December 2003, differences between the army and the Wazir tribe reached heightened levels. March 16, 2004 saw the army engage in an altercation with Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters. This led to what would be known afterwards as the Battle of Wana.

Initially the army was on the receiving end of heavy casualties. That was until the army deployed its 20th Mountain Brigade as backup. As days passed by the battle intensified. Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters continued to strike back hard at the army due to the advantageous and strategic points that they had on top of mountains, which allowed them to monitor every movement of the Pakistani soldiers. The insurgents gained further strength when more foreign fighters joined in from Afghanistan. This led to airstrikes by the Army Corps of Aviation on suspected posts and hidden positions of the insurgents as the army intensified its efforts to capture the peaks of the mountains.

By the dawn of March 18th 2004, after days of heavy and intense fighting, the army was able to control all key strategic points that enabled them to gain an upper hand on the insurgents. But Taliban and Al Qaeda re-launched one last effort to fight back which led to the fight spewing off to the near by mountains. Slowly the insurgent fighters started to retreat and leave the entire white mountainous terrain of Wana for Afghanistan. As the army cleared off the area they found secret tunnels in the mountains, which led straight into Afghanistan’s infamous Tora Bora region. Pakistani soldiers also reported sightings of a mysterious foreigner believed to be Al Qaeda’s number 2, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, who managed to escape through one of the secret tunnels.

March 23rd 2004 saw the Battle of Wana come to an end. It is considered to be one of Pakistan army’s most bloody battles where an estimate of around 9,000 troops fought 400 plus Taliban and Al Qaeda Insurgents. The battle was the first time that the Pakistani army came face to face with Osama Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda since the morning of 9/11. Prior to this battle Pakistan had witnessed 4 suicide bombs in 3 years, mainly targeting foreigners in Pakistan. After this battle, Pakistan witnessed 31 suicide bombs in the next 4 years, mainly targeting Pakistan’s governmental and security agencies. The success at the Battle of Wana came not only at a heavy human price for the Pakistani army but as millions of Pakistanis were going to find out years later, at a heavy price for the country as a whole.