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Ved Vaidik & Hafiz Saeed

July 16, 2014

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The Indian journalist Ved Vaidik has met Hafiz Saeed, the Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief, in Lahore on July 2 when the former was on a visit to Pakistan with a group of journalists and politicians invited by a peace and research institute.

The interview/meeting has caused ripples in India because of Vaidik’s close association with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Opposition parties swamped the ruling BJP with questions about how an Indian journalist could meet a man considered responsible for the Mumbai attack in 2008.

India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj informed the Lok Sabha — the lower house of the Indian parliament — that the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi had nothing to do with the meeting. India’s Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has called the meeting a diplomatic misadventure of a private citizen. And according to Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, Vaidik belongs to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a right-wing Hindu nationalist group ostensibly involved in charitable work but notorious for fanaticism.

The Congress Party has asked the government to give details about the meeting as it is a matter of national interest. It has also demanded the arrest of the journalist and a judicial inquiry into the affair.

Hafiz Saeed, on the other hand, has been shocked at the reaction of the Indian politicians to the meeting, which according to him has once again revealed the true face of India, veiled behind a so-called secular demeanour. Saeed tweeted: “Utterly shameful”, about India’s reaction.

Vaidik has defended his meeting with Saeed by calling it a personal matter that has nothing to do with the government. He said his only motive to meet Saeed was to analyse his mind about India and to understand what makes him commit such heinous crimes against India.

According to Vaidik, he has met many Indian-haters in the past to persuade them to bring peace in South Asia. Vaidik has been reported talking to Saeed about the possibility of an independent Kashmir.

Saeed on the other hand has also said that his party would not protest if Narendra Modi comes to Pakistan.

Future For Pakistani Football?

June 29, 2014
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For a third world country that is still relatively young, Pakistan has achieved notable glory in the field of sports.
Over the years, it has produced world beaters in games like hockey, cricket, squash and snooker. It has even given birth to several world class athletes and quality tennis players. But when it comes to sporting success ‘the beautiful game’ remains Pakistan’s Achilles’ heel.
Even as millions of Pakistanis join the rest of humanity to savour the ongoing FIFA World Cup in Brazil, they envy the 32 teams featuring in the quadrennial spectacle. The question many Pakistan fans inevitably ask themselves is why their national team cannot make the cut for what is the most watched sports event in the world? Why is their country – which sees itself as a regional power when it comes to sports – languishing at a joint 164th spot in international football rankings along with tiny Nepal? Why does Pakistan trail behind even its South Asian neighbours Afghanistan, India and even Maldives? Why such failure when they keep hearing claims that there is an abundance of football talent in the country with nurseries like the crime-infested locality of Lyari in Karachi and the border town of Chaman in Balochistan routinely producing exciting young talent?

The problem with Pakistan football, like with so many other areas of the country, is its flawed system.
The country is brimming with raw talent, a fact that is time and again proved by Pakistan’s success in junior football events. At that level, Pakistan has won regional titles time and again. But our football chiefs have failed to translate that immense potential into even modest success at the international level. It’s not that the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) is not doing anything. It has been making tall claims and has even announced that its so-called ‘Vision 2022’ project will pave the path for Pakistan’s maiden World Cup appearance in the 2022 event in Qatar.
But the ground reality is that the PFF remains an inefficient body that has achieved precious little other than lip service. It has failed to fix what is a flawed domestic system and has done little to take concrete steps to bring Pakistan closer to World Cup qualification.
The bitter fact is that with each passing year, Pakistan football gets further from achieving its most cherished dream: winning a World Cup spot. That will continue to happen unless people at the helm of national football affairs get their act together and start doing much more than making hollow promises.

Welcoming Ramadān by Sheikh Salman al-Oadah

June 29, 2014
 
 
Welcome to the month of goodness and mercy, the month of repentance and forgiveness, the month of remembering Allah and reading the Qur’an. The arrival of Ramadān is a joyous occasion and a great blessing. So let’s welcome this generous month and this noble season. 

The righteous believers cannot help but rejoice at the arrival of Ramadān. It is the month wherein they develop their piety and faith through the exercise of willpower and self-restraint. 

How can we not rejoice when we recall the numerous blessings Allah has prepared for us, and how He will forgive us our sins and reward us for our good deeds many times over? How can the believers not rejoice at the prospect of Tarāwīh prayer by which our sins are forgiven and past mistakes wiped away? How can we not rejoice at the Night of Decree, Laylah al-Qadr, a night that is better than a thousand months? 

How can we not rejoice at the month of the Qur’an, the month of remembering Allah and the spiritual climate that spreads its sweet fragrance everywhere. It is the month when our souls are at ease and our hearts feel large and full of goodness. This is Allah’s grace. “Say: In the bounty of Allah and in His mercy – in that let them rejoice.” [Sūrah Yūnus: 58] 

The month of Ramadān makes all believers rejoice and puts their hears at ease. It is a time to develop ourselves spiritually, where we can rid ourselves of bad ingrained habits and develop good ones. We need to appreciate this opportunity and the powerful effect it can have on us. The extra worship we are encouraged to engage in during this month, whether great or small, should have a lasting and substantial effect. It does not have to be something transient or seasonal. 

The month of Ramadān is an intensive course in faith. We engage in various acts of worship in turn: prayer, fasting, charity, and reading the Qur’an. When we learn to understand and appreciate why these acts of worship are prescribed for us and therefore offer them correctly, we derive the full benefit from them and they have a profound effect on our lives. As Allah says: “O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you as it had been prescribed for those who came before you, that perchance you can be God-fearing.” [Sūrah al-Baqarah: 183] 

Many of the great and blessed events in our history took place in Ramadān. The greatest of these is the revelation of the Qur’an. It is therefore a month of commemoration as well as a month of worship and active engagement. Therefore, its arrival deserves our warmest welcome, and the best way we can give it that welcome is to develop a deep understanding of great virtue of this month and the worship we are about to engage in. 

We should prepare for the arrival of this special month by purifying our hearts and increasing our portion of worship. We should strive to make our intentions sincere to Allah alone and turn to Him in repentance. We should get ourselves ready to benefit from the spiritual opportunities this month provides and the chance to be among the righteous.

The US-Pakistan ties that bind

June 22, 2014

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No Exit from Pakistan: America’s Tortured Relationship with Islamabad by Daniel S Markey 

As events unfolded in the this month’s audacious terror attack on Karachi International Airport, discussion in the Twitter space in Pakistan buzzed with hash tags like #Karachiairportattack, #ASF ,#raymonddavisnetwork and #dirtywars. This underlines the deep skepticism of many, if not all, in Pakistan about United States involvement in stoking creative chaos in the country. 

So what does this mean for the future of Pakistan-US relations? Daniel S Markey’s latest volume on US-Pakistan relations attempts to answer exactly this difficult question. 

Markey argues that Pakistan is potentially a hostile and difficult state for United States to manage but despite several setbacks and failures in the bilateral relationship, neither Pakistan nor the United States can afford a permanent breakup. 

He maintains that immediate, vital and emergent threats emanating from Pakistan will have a negative impact on US regional interests in South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East. It is due to this, the author argues, that contrary to what many experts and officials may feel in Washington, the United States cannot afford to disengage. 

Markey systematically survey’s Pakistan-US relations, as he sees them, at the three levels of domestic, regional and international politics – helping the reader easily grasp book’s arguments presented. He skillfully links all arguments on these three levels to broader US interests in the region. 

The broad theme of this book is that Pakistan has become a more dangerous country for US interests and poses difficult challenges for it to manage. The author makes this conclusion based on his observations of societal trends – a move towards the radical right – and a deterioration of state institutions and governance weaknesses. 

The author says that these trends, coupled with Pakistan’s geopolitical and geostrategic location, will create problems for US policy if the bilateral relationship is not stabilized. 

Detailing the domestic milieu, Markey identifies four different faces of Pakistan: an elite-dominated country where feudals and top industrialists have appropriated its resources, a garrison state where the political center of power is the military, a terrorist incubator and lastly, a land of youthful idealists. 

The author explains the evolution of this politico-socio-economic structure and arrives at three potential scenarios in the trajectory of the Pakistan state. 

The first is that there will be a revolution and a failure of the state, the second is there will be a continuation of crisis without a revolution, and the third scenario is the success of reformist politics. 

The roots of anti-American sentiment within all the camps inside Pakistan – ie the liberals, the nationalists and the Islamists – are also identified in detail and the author discusses how these beliefs have played a role in frustrating US financial and political investments. 

A significant portion of the book covers the larger geopolitical context of US engagement with Pakistan and the South Asia region. The author has correctly identified that US engagement with Pakistan does not exist in a vacuum and is influenced by what was happening in the broader region and at the international level. 

In the Cold War days, the author argues, containment of communism was the strategic context of US engagement with Pakistan, and this led to security alliances and economic support. In contemporary times, the managing of China’s rise has become the operative context. So the interest is not in Pakistan per se but the broader region which has driven US policy towards Pakistan. 

The author also outlines policy options and their consequences for the United States in dealing with Pakistan. The options he presents are: “defensive insulation”, “military first cooperation” and the “comprehensive approach”. 

The option of “defensive insulation” entails a more robust US pressure on Pakistan in case the US fails to get cooperation from a hostile Pakistan government. This can be achieved by building diplomatic, military and political barriers around Pakistan’s geographic surroundings. The US should also be prepared to target Pakistan’s nuclear program militarily, he argues. 

For “military first cooperation”, Markey says that the US should enhance its military to military cooperation with Pakistan in order to cultivate officers within the ranks. The objective of this strategy is to counter increasing Islamist and anti-American currents within the army. 

“Comprehensive approach” argues for expending more US economic, cultural and political capital in order to build moderate constituencies. Markey does not argue for the US to subsidize Pakistan’s economic growth and maintains that this work has to be done by Pakistanis themselves. 

For South Asia watchers, this book will enhance understanding of US policy towards Pakistan and South Asia. Three other books on similar topics have come from United States recently, written by important policy scholars. It is interesting to note that Markey’s assessment offers nothing fundamentally different from what these have discussed. 

In fact, this book represents continuity in the US thinking towards South Asia, anchored around three principles of its rebalancing to Asia-Pacific: the containment of China, propping up India as a regional counter-weight to China, and pressurizing Pakistan to subsidize India’s growth in the region. 

Since the present government came to office in Pakistan in 2013, it has become clear that Obama administration has reviewed the tactics of its approach towards Islamabad – but not the strategic paradigm. 

The US tactics includes components of all the three policy options laid out by the author of this book, such as managing anti-Americanism sentiment through less visible involvement, giving time to the Nawaz administration to settle down, and suspending drone strikes. It can also be seen in US moves to push the International Monetary Fund to inject money into Pakistan’s economy, in increasing people-to-people contacts and in support for Nawaz’s overtures to India. 

The book reaffirms a rare consensus among the nationalists, Islamists and to a certain extent the liberal class within the policy elites in Pakistan: that US-Pakistan relations will remain transactional to say the least and outright hostile in other cases – despite the pleasantries of strategic dialogue process. 

It is also difficult to agree with any author that says radical political change in Pakistan will lead to collapse of the state. Linking the two without any reasonable proof reflects simplicity on the behalf of many Western academics in studying an otherwise complex subject of state, society and political order. 

Navigating the country through the negative currents of contemporary US policy in South Asia will be a real test of Pakistani statecraft. 

No Exit from Pakistan: America’s Tortured Relationship with Islamabad by Daniel S Markey. Cambridge University Press, 2013. ISBN-10: 1107623596. Price: US$24.68; 253 pages. 

Reviewed by Majid Mahmood 

Majid Mahmood is a research officer for foreign affairs at the Center for International Strategic Studies Islamabad (CISS) and a post -graduate scholar in the International Relations Department at the National Defense University, Pakistan. 

(Copyright 2014 Majid Mahmood) 

Iraq pays price of US sectarian meddling

June 19, 2014
 

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Labeiki ya Zaynab” chanted Iraqi Shi’ite fighters as they swayed, dancing with their rifles before TV news cameras in Baghdad on June 13. They were apparently getting ready for a difficult fight ahead. For them, it seemed that a suitable war chant would be answering the call of Zaynab, the daughter of Imam Ali, the great Muslim Caliph who lived in Medina 14 centuries ago. That was the period through which the Shi’ite sect slowly emerged, based on a political dispute whose consequences are still felt until this day. 

That chant alone is enough to demonstrate the ugly sectarian nature of the war in Iraq, which has reached an unprecedented highpoint in recent days. Fewer than 1,000 fighters from the the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) advanced against Iraq’s largest city of Mosul on June 10, sending two Iraqi army divisions (nearly 30,000 soldiers) to a chaotic retreat. 

The call to arms was made by a statement issued by Iraq’s most revered Shi’ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, and read on his behalf during a Friday prayer’s sermon in Kerbala. “People who are capable of carrying arms and fighting the terrorists in defense of their country … should volunteer to join the security forces to achieve this sacred goal,” the statement in part read. 

The terrorists of whom Sistani speaks are those of ISIS, whose numbers throughout the region is estimated to be at only 7,000 fighters. They are well organized, fairly well-equipped and absolutely ruthless in their conduct. 

To secure their remarkable territorial gains, they quickly moved south, closing in on other Iraqi towns: They attacked and took over Baiji on June 11. On the same day, they conquered Tikrit, the town of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, where they were joined by ex-Baathist fighters. 

For two days, they tried to take over Samarra, but couldn’t, only to move against Jalawala and Saaddiyah, to the east of Baghdad. It is impossible to verify reports of what is taking place in towns that fall under the control of ISIS, but considering their notoriously bloody legacy in Syria, and ISIS’s own online reporting on their own activities, one can expect the worse. 

Within days, ISIS was in control of a large swathe of land which lumped together offers a new map fully altering the political boundaries of the Middle East that were largely envisioned by colonial powers France and Britain nearly a century ago. 

What the future holds is difficult to predict. The US administration is petrified by the notion of getting involved in Iraq once more. It was its original meddling, at the behest of the notorious neoconservatives who largely determined US foreign policy during George W. Bush’s administration that ignited this ongoing strife in the first place. They admitted failure and withdrew in December 2011, hoping to sustain a level of influence over the Iraqi government under Shi’ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. They failed miserably as well and it is now Iran that is an influential foreign power in Baghdad. 

In fact, Iran’s influence and interests are so strong that despite much saber-rattling by US President Barack Obama, the US cannot possibly modify the massively changing reality in Iraq without Iranian help. Reports in US and British media are pointing to possible US-Iranian involvement to counter ISIS, not just in Iraq, but also in Syria. 

History is accelerating at a frantic speed. Seemingly impossible alliances are being hastily formed. Maps are being redrawn in directions that are determined by masked fighters with automatic weapons mounted on the back of pickup trucks. True, no one could have predicted such events, but when some warned that the Iraq war would “destabilize” the Middle East for many years to come, this is precisely what they meant. 

When Bush led his war on Iraq in order to fight al-Qaeda, the group simply didn’t exist in that country; the war however, brought al-Qaeda to Iraq. A mix of hubris and ignorance of the facts – and lack of understanding of Iraq’s history – allowed the Bush administration to sustain that horrible war. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis perished in an immoral military quest. Those who were not killed, were maimed, tortured, raped or fled into a borderless Iraqi odyssey. 

The Americans toyed with Iraq in numerous ways. They dissolved the army, dismissed all government institutions, attempted to restructure a new society based on the recommendations of Pentagon and CIA analysts in Washington DC and Virginia. They oppressed the Sunni Muslims, empowered the Shi’ites, and fed the flame of sectarianism with no regard to the consequences. When things didn’t go as planned, they tried to empower some Shi’ite groups over others, and armed some Sunni groups to fight the Iraqi resistance to the war, which was mostly made of Sunni fighters. 

And the consequences were most bloody. Iraq’s civil war of 2006-07 claimed tens of thousands to be added to the ever-growing toll caused by the war adventure. No sham elections were enough to remedy the situation, no torture technique was enough to suppress the rebellion, and no fiddling with the sectarian or ethnic demographics of the country was enough to create the coveted “stability”. 

In December 2011, the Americans ran away from the Iraq inferno, leaving behind a fight that was not yet settled. What is going on in Iraq right now is an integral part of the US-infused mayhem. It should be telling enough that the leader of ISIS, Abu Baker al-Baghdadi is an Iraqi from Samarra, who fought against the Americans and was himself held and tortured in the largest US prison in Iraq, Camp Bucca for five years. 

It would be imprecise to state that ISIS started in the dungeon of a US prison in Iraq. The ISIS story needs to be examined in greater depth as it runs deep through the heart of this conflict. It is as mysterious as the masked characters who are blowing people up with no mercy and beheading with no regard to the upright values of the religion they purport to represent. 

But there can be no denying that the US’s ignorant orchestration of the mass oppression of Iraqis, and Sunnis in particular during the 2003 war until their much touted withdrawal was a major factor in ISIS’ formation, and in the extremist group’s horrendous levels of violence. 

It is unclear whether ISIS will be able to hold onto the territories it gained or sustain itself in a battle that involves Shi’ite-controlled Baghdad, Iran and the US. But a few things are certain: 

The systematic political marginalization of Iraq’s Sunni communities is both senseless and unsustainable. A new political and social contract is needed to re-order the mess created by the US invasion, and other foreign intervention in Iraq, including that of Iran. 

The nature of the conflict has become so convoluted that a political settlement in Iraq would have to tackle a similar settlement in Syria, which is serving as a breeding ground for brutality, by the Syrian regime and opposition forces, especially ISIS. That factory of radicalization must close down as soon as possible in a way that would allow Syria’s wounds, and by extension Iraq’s, to heal. 

Ramzy Baroud is the Managing Editor of Middle East Eye. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story(Pluto Press, London).

Two Generations of Scottish Muslim Politicians – Bashir Maan and Humza Yousaf

June 17, 2014

Originally posted on Journey into Europe:

In Glasgow, the Journey into Europe team interviewed two distinguished Muslim politicians representing two different generations– Bashir Maan and Humza Yousaf.

Mr. Bashir Maan, CBE, is a leading Scottish politician, businessman, judge, community worker and writer. In 1968 he was appointed Justice of the Peace for the City of Glasgow, the first Asian and Muslim Justice of the Peace in Scotland. 1970, he was the first Muslim to be elected to public office in the United Kingdom, serving as a Labour Party councillor for the Kingston ward of Glasgow. He is the author of the books New Scots and The Thistle and the Crescent.

Mr. Humza Yousaf, MSP, is a member of the pro-independence Scottish National Party and represents Glasgow in Scottish Parliament. He is currently the Scottish Minister for External Affairs and International Development and is an alum of the University of Glasgow.

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Ending sexual violence

June 10, 2014

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Imagine witnessing a member of your family taken from your home by armed men andraped, or sold into sexual slavery, or imprisoned and tortured sexually.

Imagine that happening to tens of thousands of other women, men and children in your country, for years on end, and living in that dangerous and traumatic environment.

And imagine how you would feel if the rapists were allowed to walk free for the rest of their lives.

This is the reality for millions of survivors of war zone sexual violence and the reason for our campaign.

We came together because of our closeness to one particular country, Bosnia. There, up to 50,000 women and an unknown number of men were raped during four years of conflict. Bosnia is in the heart of Europe, the world’s most stable and peaceful region. But 20 years have passed without justice for the vast majority of those victims.

Rape has been used as a weapon of war repeatedly in our lifetimes, on every continent and in every major conflict. It has nothing to do with sex, and everything to do with power and the desire to conquer and humiliate.

The nature of the act consigns many survivors — of both sexes — to a lifetime of isolation, exclusion and fear. In some countries, survivors of rape are regarded as prostitutes, and are rejected and considered unfit for marriage. Without social acceptance, many are consumed by shame and mental suffering, and scarred by physical injuries. Without legal recognition, they often lack financial support, healthcare, or the counselling needed to recover from their experiences. The victims are often very young children, whose bodies, minds and future can be irrevocably damaged.

Such is the corrosive power of the stigma that it often attaches itself to the next generation — to children born of rape, or the families of survivors. This powerful taboo around war zone rape also explains why its scale and severity is not widely understood. But from our own experience anyone who hears these stories finds their very soul revolt against such injustice.

Around the world memorials are built to people who have given their lives in conflict.

Imagine how vast an edifice would be needed to record the suffering of all the survivors of rape in conflicts in the last hundred years. New names would have to be chiselled onto it every day, because these crimes are happening as you read these words: in Syria, South Sudan, the Central African Republic and other countries.

We’ve joined forces because we share several unshakeable convictions.

First, we are convinced that rape and sexual violence are not inevitable, but a deliberate tactic of war that can be deterred, prevented and punished.

Second, we believe the fundamental issue is justice. Each time these crimes happen and the world does nothing, a precedent is set that sexual violence can be used with impunity: whether the victims are schoolgirls in Nigeria or refugees in Syria.

Third, this is a moral responsibility. No country can say they believe in human rights and choose to turn a blind eye to sexual violence in conflict. But it is also a vital foreign policy issue, fuelling instability and conflict. Ending it is a national security imperative.

Fourth, while men and boys are also victims, sexual violence in conflict is holding back the rights of women everywhere. Each day we read of the suffering of women at the hands of abusive husbands or draconian legal systems. If we can shatter impunity for sexual violence in conflict, then we can accelerate a change in attitudes towards women in many other settings.

Fifth, we both refuse to accept that sexual violence in conflict is a problem that is simply too vast and complex to be tackled. Much the same thing was said about the slave trade, or about banning the illegal arms trade. When public opinion is roused and governments stir themselves, change can be rapid.

There is evidence that this is now happening. More than three quarters of all of the world’s nations have endorsed the Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict we put forward last year. And this week, we will host representatives of over 100 governments (including Pakistan), the heads of eight UN agencies and nearly a thousand experts in London.

We will launch the first-ever International Protocol on how to document and investigate sexual violence in conflict. Over a year in the making and the work of hundreds of experts, it will help investigators preserve information and evidence in the aftermath of an attack, improve the chances of successful prosecutions and protect victims from trauma.

We will ask countries to bring their laws on rape and sexual violence into line with international standards. We will call for all soldiers and peacekeepers to be trained to understand and prevent war zone sexual violence. Simple measures, from installing lighting in refugee camps to accompanying women collecting firewood, can dramatically reduce the number of attacks, and we want these basic protections to become universal.

We will urge countries never to grant amnesties for sexual violence and pursue the most infamous wanted men like Joseph Kony. And we will ask for new funding for survivors and the groups who work with them — the unsung heroes whose work we build on.

There is no law that can be passed or treaty adopted that will abolish war zone sexual violence overnight. This is a cause for our generation.

And the truth is that governments will never achieve this by themselves. Ending sexual violence in conflict requires us to break the mould. We need governments and citizens and civil society to work together, in a new model for how we tackle vast global issues.

It is in our power to remove rape as a weapon of war from the world’s arsenal of cruelty. And it is in our hands to treat victims not as social outcasts but as courageous survivors.

By Angelina Jolie & William Hague

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