Go Amreeka Go!

May 15, 2011 Leave a comment

Go Amreeka Go…

by Ali Khan on Friday, February 18, 2011 at 5:42pm

It seems that Pakistani media has assumed, or calculated, that Pakistanis expect drama on a continuous basis. Raymond Davis is the new and ideal fixation. An American shoots two ‘innocent’ Pakistanis and a third one is killed by a U.S consulate vehicle rushing to Mr. Davis’s aid. The widow of one of the deceased commits suicide after declaring that she had no faith in the legal system to bring the killer of her husband to justice. What a Godsend!

It is a testament to the free-market enterprise that given freedom to do business companies will always come up with new ideas and stories to meet demand. It is not that the media invented this one or even that it is blowing it out of proportion; after all, the killer in question is a James Bond style American. But the fact is that scores of people die every day in shootouts across the country and Americans kill Pakistanis almost daily in the drone strikes. It’s just that this time the man is a mystery and plenty political mileage can be had by politicians by painting their opponents American stooges and themselves as sufficiently anti-American. Even police and the courts are going out of their way to express solidarity with public opinion.

Shah Mehmood Qureshi has become the voice of resistance to the American pressure to free the man. He must be the hypocrite of a higher order since no such ‘ghairat’ was seen in him on drone strikes. And the people cheering him must be the same fools who cheered Salman Taseer’s killer. Whether the drones kill terrorists or civilians is not the issue really. Americans are doing what they think is in their national security interest. Screw the laws when it comes to your national security. But as Pakistanis, we should, for once, think: A foreign country is bombing our territory!  Plain and simple. Americans will be gone sooner or later but the rest of Pakistan will have to live with some very vengeful people in their midst.

Some have called on the Govt to show spine and tell the U.S Govt to take a hike. They suggest that even if the Americans cut the money etc, it should be seen as ‘good riddance’. Ratios and percentages are dug up to show the minuscule nature of American aid impact on the country’s economy. I agreethat charity has never solved poverty and Pakistan must conduct internal reforms to grow the economy and cut waste. But in the event of an economic squeeze in the short term (assuming the nearly implausible situation of U.S aid cut), it is not people like those pundits or politicians or even many like me and you who are affected nearly as severely as those living on, near or below the poverty line. Are these ‘ghairatmands’ willing to help their fellow countrymen through tough times? More importantly, are they willing and committed to see real reforms implemented without bias, and unite the country behind a true national agenda?

There are also those who suspect Mr. Davis’s involvement in terrorist or espionage activities in the country (as if there are no Pakistanis involved in both already). The American is certainly no ordinary man. He has all the hallmarks of a Special Forces soldier. And he is probably in Pakistan as much more than a technical consultant to the embassy. Most likely, he is one of many deployed under cover to hunt America’s enemies. But the fact remains that the Army and ISI knows about these operatives and in all likelihood provide them with any support needed. So the rage directed at United States, Zardari and all the so-called puppets of America should, in fairness, be re-directed at the Army and ISI. Without their consent none of this sort is possible in Pakistan. Yet, the ghairatmands cynically avoid the mention of Army and ISI’s alliance with the Americans.

Off course, Army’s alliance with the United States goes back decades. Gen. Ayub Khan declared Pakistan a frontline state in the Cold War.  Since then, Army has maintained good working relations with at least the defense establishment of the United States. It is ironic that Pakistanis consider their Army to be free of U.S influence and politicians as its cronies. Nonetheless, Army deals with the U.S very skillfully, extracting aid and military hardware while maintaining an image of independence and nationalism.  Army has developed its policy-making and research think-tanks and is much better positioned than the under-developed political parties in the art of international affairs and diplomatic give-take.

To be concluded…..

Categories: War & Politics

The Old Hags

May 15, 2011 Leave a comment

The Old Hags

by Ali Khan on Monday, March 21, 2011 at 8:37pm

The U.S and Company have started aerial strikes on Libyan targets. So far, it seems, they have inflicted significant damage on Qaddafi’s forces. Mr. Qaddafi remains defiant and is promising to make the Mediterranean hell for the attackers. Meanwhile, Allied leaders seem unclear about the real objective of the bombing campaign. Is the ultimate aim here to get rid of Mr. Qaddafi’s regime or to merely contain him to Tripoli and nearby areas, hence giving the rebels a real chance of disposing Qaddafi themselves (with some outside help)?

It seems that the present situation has some similarities, albeit with some new twists, with the first Gulf War. First, Mr. Qaddafi had long been a problem for the West and Israel, and its agents have been responsible for series of bomb blasts in the West and downing of passenger aircraft(s). In the 70’s, he was one of the gang of six (along with King Faisal, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto etc) Muslim rulers who dreamed of an Islamic Arc of countries, from North Africa to the Middle-east to Central and South Asia.

Second, although the rulers of Arab and other Muslim countries are supporting the thrashing Qaddafi’s forces are likely to receive, the mood amongst their people may be a different story. Anti-Western sentiment ran high during Nato’s operations against Saddam Hussain. The Muslim governments are avoiding the issue in public, leaving  the anti-American lobbies to paint the current military campaign as yet another invasion of a Muslim country by the ‘crusaders’ for oil. Perhaps sensing a repetition here, the dysfunctional Arab League has already begun to air criticisms of the current airstrikes (after backing it initially).

Third, U.S officials are talking about the ‘limited aim’ of the ongoing operations. Sen. John Kerry, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said yesterday that the goal is not to get rid of Mr. Qaddafi.  Some Republicans are calling for Mr. Qaddafi’s ouster though.  Pres. Obama, ever cautious, had not stated a clear objective. If Qaddafi survives this latest episode (which seems unlikely though), parts of Libya would become much like the Saddam-controlled parts of Iraq before 2003.

There are important differences too. For a start, there is the luxury of a historical context. Mr. Qaddafi’s army is far inferior to Saddam Hussain’s Army circa 1990, though Saddam’s troops were never a match for Nato’s firepower. The news media, complimented by the internet, is free and more than active in that part of the world. Most importantly, Mr. Qaddafi’s time seems to be up, thanks in large part to the unusually consistent protests against dictatorships.

This situation puts those who aspire for a dictator-free, (translation- not U.S allied) Islamic world in a bind. Going all out against stalwart U.S ally Mubarak is one thing, supporting the ouster of anti-American Qaddafi is quite another. For the religious kind in particular, democracy seems not to be the treasured goal. They might be content to have an anti-American dictator replace a pro-American one.

In recent years, Qaddafi, perhaps fearing he was on the target list of George Bush, gave up his secret Nuclear Program (and exposed Pakistan’s proliferation in nuclear know-how! ), and made amends with some of his long-time enemies. The U.S removed Libya from the ‘Sponsor of Terror’ list and opened diplomatic relations with Tripoli. European governments were even more eager to bury the past and let its companies have some piece of oil action. Mr. Megrahi’s release, despite severe public criticism in the U.S and Europe, was part of the mending process.

Given all the flip-flops, the West deserves credit for stepping in to avoid a Qaddafi sweep in Libya. But it would be very counter-productive if opposition groups in other countries follow suit and demand Western intervention too. The protests for democracy should continue without outside help and freedom is best earned.

Categories: War & Politics

The Game

May 15, 2011 Leave a comment

The Game

by Ali Khan on Thursday, March 31, 2011 at 1:08pm

Congrats to India for winning this crucial match and making it to the Final.

Pakistanis are understandably heartbroken and somewhat in shock. All I can say is it was a wonderful game and a reasonably close one. If one side had been crushed and the match had turned out to be a one-sided affair, I, too, would have been disappointed.

Being an irregular follower of cricket games (exceptions are important matches or tournaments such as this); I don’t know much about Pakistan’s players and their progression in the last few years. There was a time in the 90’s when I knew most players and their games. And they stayed for a while.  Wasim Akram, Saeed Anwar, Amir Sohail, Moin Khan, Waqar Younis etc were known names for years. Can we say the same for this current lot??

But some things are obvious. Pakistan relies too heavily on bowling, too little on batting and almost none on fielding.

Cricket is not all bowling and batting. Good fielding can win or lose a match for a team as evident in the semi-final. Sachin Tendulkar was first dropped at only 27 runs (his own). Had he been caught at that stage of the game, there is no reason to doubt an Indian total of less than 200. As Imran khan said today, ‘you don’t drop Sachin four times and win’.

Afridi seems to be the best fielder in the team. Others such as Younis or Misbah may be good fielders at times but they are probably unreliable with their unsafe hands in pressure situations. Kamran Akmal is a disaster and certainly does not deserve the place in top 11.

Pakistanis also do not seem to take pressure well. Other than panicky batting and fielding on ground, critical decisions by the Captain/Coach/Manager, which could have tipped the match, were not taken. The failure to opt for power-play earlier is an obvious example. The professionals such as the commentators of the match and others were screaming when Pakistan did not take power-play the moment Razzaq or Afridi came to bat. After they were gone, it was too late.

As a pure spectator of the game, I wanted Afridi to open batting for Pakistan and do the stuff he does best. It may be a technically unsound wish but without risk there is no return. Afridi is the man of the spotlight. He has the ability to destroy the other team and make a high score chase a piece of cake for others down the line. He has been an excellent Captain in this World Cup and bowled marvelously. But what a moment it would have been watching Afridi come out of the pavilion room to open!

You don’t get chances to make history too often.  On the night of the final (or semi-final??) of the 1992 World Cup, Inzamam-ul-haq was quite sick and vomited all night. He told Imran Khan in the morning of the match that he probably couldn’t play. Imran Khan made it very clear to him that even if he was passing out he would play. Now, that may have gone down as the most reckless decision had Pakistan lost the match and Inzamam got out sooner. But Inzamam’s innings was key to Pakistan’s victory that day. The point is, Boldness and risk can change a team’s fate from a historic defeat to glory forever.

None of this may bring consolation to my Pakistani friends. India played well, though not their best and their fielding and control on nerves was excellent. Perhaps it was the hopes (or fearJ) of a billion plus people they held dear, they fought hard and gave their best in the field. Conversely, Pakistanis took a similar pressure of millions of their supporters but panicked. Besides, the prayers of a billion people may have a better probability of being answered. The Almighty is just and fair!

Afridi apologized to ‘his nation’ for his team’s defeat. It is a shame that he has to apologize for this. He (and to a lesser degree his teammates) provided sufficient entertainment to ‘his nation’. He is a great player and had it not been for a lack of a little support from his mates, Shahid Khan Afridi would have joined the club of greats like Imran Khan. He will and should get another chance. As Imran Khan recently said, “jo haar naa mane usay koi nahi haraa sakta” (one who doesn’t give up cannot be defeated).

Let’s hope that the peace process initiated through this match comes to a logical end. We have been at each other’s throats too long. Let’s open our hearts and settle the issues once and for all. Our future generations will thank us for it.

As for cricket, We’ll see each other soon again.

Categories: Cricket

Let Freedom Reign…

May 15, 2011 Leave a comment

Ali Khan

May 13, 2011

Governments that are afraid of their own people are not sustainable. It can be argued that the opposite is indeed true but I believe there should be a distinction drawn between fear and respect. Those who fear their people live in perpetual exiles (both inside and outside of their countries). They live in another world inside their countries and insignificant lives outside. The sting of conscience does not allow them to completely escape their past, just as it does not the perpetrators of other selfish crimes. And yes, their acts are ultimately selfish, no matter how draped their actions are in the shrouds of patriotism and national interest. For it is apparent and the verdict is given; 2 plus 2 almost always equals 4.

Easy as it is to exhaust all the frustration and anger on the common Joes of Pakistan for being almost criminally negligent in electing the same rulers again and again (and to tolerate unconstitutional takeovers by the military), it is with the leadership of the country the burden of progress must lie. Who are Mr. and Mrs. Joe supposed to vote for when the same crooks are on the ballot, and the same crooks may get one of their relatives become a burden on national treasury as the permanent employee of one of the state’s failing institutions? What are the economic alternatives?

On May 2, the same league was in power. Power is the correct word to describe their current stints inPakistan. In a civilized country, a president or prime minister would have come out immediately and addressed the citizens. ButPakistan is not a civilized country yet, and to expect even the mere basics from the rulers seem naïve. For them it is just another one of those hiccups that needs to be managed to stay in power. The President of the United States, on whose doorsteps petty dictators and, sadly, some elected rulers line up like a bunch of beggars for arms and cash, addresses the American people immediately at a time of peril or triumph.

The failures of Pakistani rulers are plenty, least of all the dismal performance on the security and economic fronts. But these failures point to a deeper decay of the Pakistani society. The current incident is certainly being blown out of proportion. Sovereignty is not really the problem for the ultra-nationalists of Pakistan; that has been violated many times over by the jihadis, Generals, Politicians and Americans alike for decades. The issue is a deep felt belief that something has gone terribly wrong with Pakistan. A country that had so much potential, so much promise, is now widely considered a failing state. There are constant stings of conscience that remind them the sins of their pasts. Why didn’t we think long-term since partition? Why didn’t we get to the bottom of Liaqat Ali Khan’s murder? Why did we tolerate, and even celebrate the first military takeover in 1958? Why didn’t we chart out a long-term economic policy and stick to it? Why didn’t we end the extravagant spending on toys and perks the Generals wanted? Why did we spend a shameful amount on the education of our kids? Why did we segregate and humiliate citizens of own country (Bengalis), and force them to free themselves from the masters? Why did we embark on an uneven and unwise foreign policy in the late 50’s? Why didn’t we do more to settle the issues between us and India?   etc etc etc…

America is a nation perfected by more than 200 years of sustained democracy and a marvelous system of checks and balances. Its hubris foreign adventures are certainly not what America’s founders would approve of and are not always acts of self-defense. But it is important to note that wars inAfghanistanorIraqare not as high an economic burden as some would like to think. The real costs for a war of choice, such as theIraqwar, may not be monitary in the end, significant as they seem, but a loss of respect globally and more security challenges ahead. America overcame the Vietnam trauma (that divided the country) but a few more of these would wound it from within.

Pakistan was always a proxy for the United States to fight wars. Americans may call Pakistanis their partners but proxies or tools they ultimately are. Why should it concern the U.S if a dictator is in charge in Pakistan? That’s not their problem, it is Pakistan’s. America uses these tools to achieve its objectives and the rulers keep power through thefriendship they enjoy with the Americans. Along the way, America drops a few cents and some gadgets in the beggar’s bowl. The sad part of this symbiotic relationship is that Pakistani rulers spit in the same bowl they eat from. They encourage anti-Americanism amongst the masses and rally them against India, the eternal enemy. This suits the rulers just fine. As long as the herds are kept pumped up against a foreign hand, the failures and decay of the state and society from within is ignored. Rulers of various Arab countries mastered this art of deception long ago, replacing India (in Pakistan’s case) with Israel.

That is not to say that anti-Americanism is not championed by the public at large. The reasons are many, from a sense of falling behind to an absence of much else to treasure. A glorious, real or perceived, Islamic past is all they have to treasure. That is why they tend to be overly sensitive and defensive of anything associated with Islam. Islam has also become the drug many have come to rely on to escape the decay in society. Words like ‘Allah karay gaa’ (God will do), ‘Allah ki marzi hai (it is God’s will)’, ‘Allah Emaan walo ka imtihaan laita hai’ (God tests the faithful), ‘Allah maalik hai’ (God, being the master will take care) etc have been substituted for taking an honest, clear-headed stock of our situation today. ‘When memories exceed dreams, the end is near’ (Thomas Friedman).

Thus, Pakistanis hate and/or dislike and/or object to the United States not because the U.S is the enemy, but because they are angry at their own failures. United States does not treat its enemies with much love, as is evident by its comprehensive defeats of Japan, Germany, Soviet Union and now the spectacular operation that killed Osama bin Laden. A Pakistani journalist who interviewed Mr. Bin Laden in November 2001 claims that OBL told him that if the United States were to use nuclear weapons in Afghanistan, Al Qaeda will retaliate with a nuclear strike of its own. It is clear that Bin Laden understood the significance of killing 3000 Americans. The last time that many Americans were killed in a surprise attack, the U.S nuked the enemy, twice, after it had destroyed much of its industrial centers. In that sense, America has been forgiving.

It is sufficiently clear that Mr. Bin Laden died a sad man. He and his followers are nowhere near evicting the U.S from Arabian Lands (indeed Americans invaded Iraq and have huge bases there), and the royals they so despised were only strengthened by presenting themselves as pro-west, moderate Muslims opposed to the radical takeover. Al Qaeda’s most significant achievement is the forcing of American and European societies to close a little. A whole new generation of Americans will grow up not knowing how open and free America used to be before 9/11. The airport security lines, full body scans, extra background checks, etc is all Al Qaeda can be proud of.  They can also take pride in tens of thousands of Muslim deaths.

As for Pakistan, Americans have exposed its people and it’s military for they are: a third world nation. The military has grown so much extra fat off the regular billions it receives that it has turned into an inefficient, obese entity with little or no capability to do its real job. Its economic tentacles and interests are so deeply entrenched in the general economy that it cannot possibly to counted on to defend the nation’s frontiers from enemies, foreign and domestic. The dismal performance of our larger than life military was evident in almost all the wars it fought. It may have achieved tactical victories but have almost always lost the strategic objectives. And like an obese person who can intimidate but does not have the stomach for a fight, our military men run for a civilian cover for rescue once a misguided adventure goes south. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto gave the military a lifeline after the 1971 War, and Nawaz Sharif was rushed to Washington to end the Kargil War. The same military stabbed the prime ministers in the back, killing one and sending the other (who won a two-thirds majority in the parliament) into exile. The military seems busy securing a public bailout again, in the garb of national unity. History shows that once they have managed this current episode, it will revert back to its old ways (blatant coups or pulling political strings behind the scenes).

Although our patience with the politicians always runs thin, Democracy must be given a chance to mature. Democracy is not just a word in fashion, used by every Tom, Dick and Harry to further their malicious goals; it is a cleansing process. Given a chance, the fruits of democracy are tasted by everyone, not just the top few. India stuck to democratic principles despite having problems many times Pakistan’s and the results are obvious. Those who think an honest and patriotic dictatorship (whatever that means!) can deliver quickly and efficiently conveniently ignore the price. China is often cited as an example of an authoritarian regime that has delivered for their people. But millions died in China in several experiments by their dictators till Deng Xiaoping gained prominence in late seventies (About 40 million died during Mao’s rule in China). Moreover, economic development is key but social development and progress must go hand in hand with economic growth. Democracy may be chaotic but its impact is grounded in all societal structures.

Samuel P. Huntington wrote about a cycle of violence nations go through on their way to modernity. But the cycle plaguingPakistantoday is not merely institutions fighting each other for supremacy. Pakistan is facing security threats far more severe and consequential than the predictable violence Mr. Huntington talked about. Ethnic and sectarian divisions, weak institutions and a corrupt elite (civil and military) is making Pakistan’s struggle against extremism harder still, especially given a hostile neighborhood (of our own making) and involvement of a super power.

The way forward for Pakistan is clear. The democratic dispensation, however incompetent and corrupt, must be allowed to sort itself out. There are glimmers of hope for the future but the short term will be painful. The pressure Pakistan is under is well deserved. Whether incompetent or complicit, Pakistan cannot expect a different response from the U.S and the world when Mr. Bin Laden is found just a mile from Pakistan Military Academy. The military must be shown its proper place as the gatekeepers-not masters. Politicians must respect the sacredness of the vote. They must become the guardians of the parliament, not blind followers of their party’s short-term interests. We must evaluate our status in the world today, end the useless conflict with India and allow a multi-ethnic set up in Afghanistan.

This is an opportunity for Pakistanis to correct the mistakes of the past. Religion must be gradually separated from the State and some form of secularism encouraged. We must start loving our children more than we hate others. What Thomas Friedman wrote about Arabs apply to us too, “In an age when others are making microchips, you are making potato chips”.

….Let Freedom Reign (MLK)