Silent Successes

After doomsday predictions ranging from a war between the judiciary and the executive to the downfall of the republic itself, Daily Times reminds us that as usual the complaints of the chattering class about the section of the 18th Amendment that established the process for appointing of superior judges was much ado about nothing.

Contrary to perceptions of a confrontation between parliament and the judiciary created during the court hearings on the 18th Amendment, the new system has started off smoothly, with the unanimous election of Senator Syed Nayyar Hussain Bokhari as chairman of the parliamentary committee and establishment of its rules of business. One can be sanguine that the procedure of broader consultation and more transparent mode of appointment of judges can work with necessary improvements.

Perhaps this is something that we should keep in mind as the same voices are raising the same dire pronouncements for the passage of RGST. Perhaps we should also ask ourselves why it is that we are so quick to loudly pronounce new laws a failure before they’re even implemented, and so silent when we discover that they are actually a success.

Salmaan Taseer In Good Company

Pak Tea House draws attention to an article in PakTribune about religious parties issuing an ‘apostasy’ decree against Governor of Punjab Salmaan Taseer.

Majlis-e-Ahrar Pakistan leader Syed Ataul Muhemin Bukhari and other leaders also warned of a launching a movement against the PPP government and Punjab Governor Salman Taseer if they continued implementing western conspiracy against Islam in the country by extraditing Asia Masih and trying to change the blasphemy laws. Jamaat-e-Islami Punjab Ameer Dr Waseem Akhtar, while addressing a meeting, demanded that presidential powers to pardon blasphemy convicts must be withdrawn and if blasphemy laws were to be amended then they should be done through parliament in consultations with the religious scholars.

Meanwhile, Almi Jamaat Ahle Sunnat in an emergency meeting has issued a fatwa (Edict), declaring Governor Punjab Salmaan Taseer as ‘apostate’ for raising his voice to free blasphemy convict Asia and implementing the western conspiracy against the blasphemy laws in the country. According to a press release, Salman Taseer will remain apostate till the time he seeks forgiveness for this great sin and shows repentance. The fatwa came in a meeting of the religious scholars at the office of Allmi Jamaat Ahle Sunnat with Sahibzada Allama Pir Syed Mustafa Asharf Rizvi in the chair.

As Pak Tea House reminds us, that puts the Governor in good company:

The same parties abused – it does not need reminding- Mahomed Ali Jinnah, the founder of this nation and called him “Kafir-e-Azam”.  Maulana Mazhar Ali Azhar wrote those famous lines “Ik kafira kay peechay Islam ko chora, yeh Quaid-e-Azam hai yaa kafir-e-Azam”.

It also says something pretty interesting about the religion of some of these self-appointed saints. ‘Apostasy’ means abandonment or renunciation of one’s religion. In this case, the accusation comes as a result of Salmaan Taseer wanting to amend the blasphemy law of Zia-ul-Haq, not the law of Allah. So it seems that the ‘religion’ of Majlis-e-Ahrar and Jamaat-i-Islami is not the Islam of Allah and his Prophet (PBUH) but of Zia. Yes, I would say that this certainly puts Salmaan Taseer in pretty good company.

Lessons from Al-Anbar

al Anbar
Throughout history, the pursuit of peace has never come easy. People – across centuries and continents – have waged wars against tyrants, fought revolutions, and won their right to life free and safe from harm. And even after their victories, they must always remain vigilant against those who would infringe upon their liberties. In the modern age we live in today, we are all striving towards our own goals. We all wish to achieve success as individuals, at times forgetting that we must also succeed as a community.

The world was reminded of this principle from an unlikely source – the people of Iraq. Iraqis have suffered decades of tyranny under cruel, hateful leaders and then, lived in fear of extremists. Al-Qaeda found its new home. Iraqi soil was consistently stained red. Then, in the fall of 2006, members of the Al-Anbar tribes (living in the country’s dangerous Sunni Anbar province) met to discuss the volatile situation.

“We held a meeting earlier and agreed to fight those who call themselves mujahadeen,” tribal leader Sheik Abdul Sattar Buzaigh al-Rishawi said in an interview. “We believe that there is a conspiracy against our Iraqi people. Those terrorists claimed that they are fighters working on liberating Iraq, but they turned out to be killers. Now all the people are fed up and have turned against them.” Iraqis stood up to their own people, whom they identified as a cancer that must be stopped for the progress of their country.

Pakistan is on its way to doing the same. Pakistanis are united against terrorists; this is proven by sheer numbers. We have lost more people in our efforts than any other nation. But what we are fighting for is much, much more than that.

What we need is a public spirit of hope and determination. We are fighting for our very soul. Our country must be united to succeed on all fronts – socially, politically, and economically.

The issues that divide us must fade away. The Anbar tribes cast aside their Sunni-Shia prejudices, realizing this further allowed extremists’ to manipulate them. Sunni/Shia attitudes must be changed. The dominant attitude towards Ahmadis is appalling. The current Asia Bibi issue has stunned Pakistanis who cannot understand why archaic laws and brutal sentencing continues to be on the books. The work ahead of us is immense.

Economically, we must invite businesses, investment and trade to work within Pakistan. A country like Pakistan has endless opportunities – in our 180 million people population, the median age is 18! – and we have much to offer the world, too.

Politically, our country has come a long way from the days of Zia, and all signs point to a strengthening democracy.

But all this is lost if we are not united. It will be lost if we cannot find it in ourselves to regard all Pakistanis as equals, with the same rights and freedoms.   All our women are the daughters of Pakistan, as all our men are the country’s sons. We have to protect each other, and in this way, we protect ourselves.

With Al-Anbar, we saw poor people rise up against an unendurable enemy. Only in doing that, they realized, could they succeed as a people.

Before We Can Change Laws, We Must Change Minds

There has been a lot of discussion about the Asia Bibi case lately, and while it’s been encouraging to see the number of prominent thinkers who are willing to publicly call for the repeal of the blasphemy laws, it’s also somewhat depressing because I can’t help but think that in a few weeks the entire issue will have blown over and nothing will have changed.

I was given something of a reality call, though, when I saw that Ambassador to the US Husain Haqqani posted on Twitter,

For those asking why blasphemy law is not being repealed, simple answer is there aren’t enough votes for that in parliament

This is an important point to consider. No matter how much I or anyone else might be completely shocked that Zia’s blasphemy laws remain on the books, we do live in a democracy and changing the laws requires popular support for a change. Even if an MNA himself or herself believes that the law should be overturned, their job is to represent the people in their district. And if the people in their district support the blasphemy laws, well, what lawmaker will go against their will?

Nadir Hassan’s article for The Dawn Blog, Intolerance of the other, expands on this point.

At a time when the main criticism of the courts has been its embrace of judicial activism, we will end up sounding incoherent when faced with a case where the accusation of blasphemy, as defined by our laws, is credible. After all, if we expect judges to adhere strictly to the letter of the law, how can we criticise them for handing out severe punishments in such cases? By all means we should plead for Aasia Bibi’s release, but let’s not lose sight of the bigger battle: the repeal of all laws that discriminate on the basis of religion.

The true enemy in this fight is not the judiciary. Rather, an overwhelming majority of the population needs to be convinced that blasphemy laws are cruel and anachronistic. Britain, after all, had a blasphemy law – which made it a crime to speak against the Church of England – on the books until 2008, but the last time it was used was in 1922. When society understands that putting someone to death for their opinions and beliefs is fundamentally illiberal, the battle has already been won. In Pakistan, we haven’t even begun to approach that level of enlightenment. Keep in mind that no one has been legally executed under the blasphemy laws in this country as the higher courts, particularly the Federal Shariat Court, have overturned all such death sentences. The real threat to the lives of those accused of blasphemy comes from enraged mobs, with the police playing the role of uninterested bystanders and the judgments of lower courts fuelling the anger.

Until these mobs, and those who silently support them, are silenced through force of argument, even the repeal of blasphemy laws will bring only marginal safety to minorities.

Before we can change the laws, we must change minds. The problem is not whether militants will increase attacks – they are already attacking! The problem is that in a democracy, there must be popular support for change. So do not ask what your MNA is doing to repeal the blasphemy law, ask yourself what you are doing to change the thinking of your neighbors who still support it!

Pervez Hoodbhoy: Their Drones…And Ours

The following article by Pervez Hoodbhoy was written for Issue 27 of ViewPoint.

A drone – of the kind discussed here – is a programmed killing machine. By definition it is self-propelled, semi-autonomous, and capable of negotiating difficult local environments. Remote handlers guide it towards an assigned target. A drone does not need to know why it must kill, only who and how. They have drenched Pakistan in blood, both of fighters and non-combatants.

America’s drones

These are unmanned aircraft – MQ-1B Predators and MQ-9 Reapers – operated remotely from Nevada . In 2004, a Predator-fired Hellfire missile took its first casualties in FATA. Since that time, constantly circling the skies over Waziristan , Orakzai, and Bajaur, high-resolution drone cameras have kept watch on vehicle and people movements over day and night. They are augmented by a network of ground-based spies and informers who identify Taliban and Al-Qaida targets. When discovered, they are usually tortured before being killed.

The 100th drone strike for 2010 was recorded on November 15. In typical terse style, a newspaper reported that “a handful of militants, including Arabs, were killed”. Maybe they were indeed militants. But, then again, they could have been ordinary people.

Who do drones actually kill? Sometimes we are sure, as when Al-Qaeda celebrates the martyrdom of its commanders. About two dozen senior followers of bin Laden have been taken out by drones in recent years. But in general, ascertaining casualties of either militants or non-combatants is extremely difficult. Independent journalists cannot venture into this dangerous war-zone. Even if one succeeded, he would be limited to a tiny observational area. The Pakistan Army, or the CIA, have relatively better information but they too can only guess the damage and fatalities. Their local spies often have their own axes to grind and tribal scores to settle.

In short, damage assessment by drones is a free-for-all; you can believe what you want.  Well, almost! Hit repeatedly by missile strikes, militants have migrated from South Waziristan to North Waziristan and Kurram, where they are being daily targeted. Drones have prevented large formations of Taliban fighters from acting in concert. This sort of evidence suggests they are militarily significant – at least in a limited way.

CIA director, Leon Panetta, goes much further. He claims that his spy agency’s unmanned aircraft are “very effective” in taking out suspected militants in Pakistan . He, like many in the Obama administration, believes that short of a US ground invasion, drones are America ’s best bet for destroying Al-Qaida’s leadership.

Pakistan’s drones

Pakistan has many more drones than America . These are mullah-trained and mass-produced in madrassas and militant training camps. Their handlers are in Waziristan, not in Nevada . Like their aerial counterparts, they do not ask why they must kill. However, their targets lie among their own people, not in some distant country. Collateral damage does not matter.

The human drone is infinitely better manufactured than its aerial counterpart. The motor, feedback, and control systems have been engineered to high precision by natural evolution over a million years. This drone never misses its target, which could be a mosque, Muslim shrine, hospital, funeral, or market. But military and intelligence headquarters have been targeted with deadly precision as well.

The walking (or driving) drone’s trail is far bloodier than that of the MQ-1B or MQ-9; body parts lie scattered across Pakistan . Detection is almost impossible. The destructive power has steadily increased. The earlier version had a simple bomb strapped on the back but the newer one carries plastic explosives packed into vests both on the front and back of the chest. For additional killing power, the explosives are surrounded with ball bearings and nails. This killing machine is far cheaper than anything General Dynamics can make. Part payment is made by monthly installments to the family, and the rest is in hoor-credits, encashable in janat-al-firdous.

What must be the last thoughts of the bomber as he sits in the eight row of mosque worshippers, moments before he reduces dozens of his fellow Muslims to bloodied corpses? Can he think beyond instrumental terms? As a murder weapon, the human drone has no room for moral judgment, doubt, remorse, or conscience.

Protesting aerial drones

American peace activists, who are men and women of exceptionally good conscience, are outraged. Cindy Sheehan and her colleagues have found a new cause and a new place to be – the drone headquarters at Creech air force base in Nevada is now attracting placard carrying protesters. The CIA headquarters in Langley is also becoming a popular place to visit.

Pakistan too has seen some visible agitation. Given strong anti-drone sentiment, one might have thought that gatherings would attract tens or hundreds of thousands. But, in fact, only a few dozen or few hundred people have turned up at protests, mostly organized by religious right-wing parties. This is because the culture of street protests has essentially disappeared – except on blasphemy and religious sectarian matters. Nevertheless, the small street turnouts do not mask the fact that Pakistan ’s population is perhaps the most anti-American in the world. In fact, surveys show that it exceeds Iran and Cuba in this respect. Drones are one important reason, although there are many other reasons as well.

Silence on the human drone

Vocal as they are about being bombed from the sky, most Pakistanis – including many on the Left – suddenly lose their voice when it comes to the human (Muslim) drone. There appear to be three key reasons.

First, the bomber – even if he kills pious Muslims or those in the act of prayer – sacrifices his life for Islam. Therefore, lest they be regarded as irreligious, people mute their criticism. The bomber receives an Islamic burial together with his victims. But paradoxically, even when a militant group takes credit, many still prefer to believe that the bomber was a Hindu, Jew, or one purchased by Blackwater. For a long time, a myth that the bomber was not circumcised was in circulation.

Second, Pakistan television channels have created a distinctive public psyche. The country feels sharp pain when attacked from outside but feels little or no pain when attacked far more ferociously from inside. On an average day, militants butcher about a dozen ordinary people, policemen, and soldiers. And yet, when 3 soldiers were killed by NATO troops in October 2010, the country erupted in a paroxysm of rage that could not be pacified even after repeated apologies.

Third – and this particularly applies to muddle-headed “anti-imperialists” – suicide bombers get a lower level of condemnation because they are supposedly fighting the American Goliath in some unspecified way. I recall a left-wing rally in Islamabad last year that was called to protest the public flogging of a Swati girl, Chand Bibi. This rapidly turned into an anti-drone rally. Typically the chants at such rallies are: down with religious extremism, down with the Pakistan Army, down with American imperialism, down with the drones…..

While this position of “downing” everyone and everything is laudably pure and pious, it scarcely addresses the question: who shall protect Pakistan ’s population from religious militants, stop the daily dynamiting of girl’s schools and colleges, prevent human bombers from exploding themselves in mosques and markets, and end the slaughter of Shiites? The notion that protection can come from “mobilizing the working class” is laughable. It is irresponsible to think that somehow the fierce onslaught of an army of fascistic holy warriors can be stopped by two dozen earnest people holding colorful placards at the Islamabad Press Club.

Aerial drones: the downside

The use of unmanned aircraft to kill in another country halfway across the globe raises important ethical and legal issues.

First, and most seriously, they have doubtlessly killed non-combatants, including women and children. Smaller warheads and precise guidance have reduced collateral damage, but killing innocents is never excusable even if fewer are killed than had artillery or aircraft been used. The fear in the local population is palpable. A pharmacist in Peshawar told me last year that the sale of sleep medicines like Valium has skyrocketed in FATA. One of the ever-circling drones may turn nasty at any moment.

Second, aerial drones violate Pakistan ’s sovereignty. However, this is a lesser objection than the first. Pakistan had deliberately chosen not to exercise force against FATA’s militants until recently. Indeed, since 2002, Pakistan ’s military had turned a blind eye as the Taliban created their Islamic emirate in Waziristan which collected taxes and tolls, and steadily increased its stock of weapons and equipment.

Some Pakistanis actually want drones

Not all Pakistanis are angry at aerial drone strikes. According to Farhat Taj, a Pushto speaking female researcher at the University of Oslo who makes frequent trips to FATA, most tribals actually welcome the drone attacks. She says these victims of Taliban brutality do so out of helplessness and desperation. They would prefer their enemies to be killed by the Pakistan Army, but it is also acceptable if they are killed by infidel America . Bucking accepted wisdom, she claims, “In Waziristan people get really upset when there are no drone attacks. Their apprehension is that the US and Pakistani government might enter in an agreement to halt the attacks.”

It is difficult to know whether this, or similar statements, should be fully believed. But there is at least a grain of truth here. Many FATA students in my university have seen the barbarity of Taliban militants from close quarters. They want the beasts killed – and they don’t care how and by whom. For example, a physics PhD student from Mohmand told me that he has not been back to his village for 3 years and still lives in constant fear of being kidnapped by militants. His crime? To have protested the public decapitation by the Taliban of 14 members of a neighbour’s family outside the village mosque. Even after the mosque’s mullah justified the head chopping as something that the Holy Prophet (PBUH) routinely did to his enemies, the sickened student objected – and then promptly fled.

Not surprisingly, Kurram’s Shiite community of about half a million people is also said to be largely supportive of drone strikes. They have suffered an estimated 2,000 deaths at the hands of Taliban militants since 2007. Photographs of severed heads and limbs have been posted on the internet by the Taliban, who think that Shiites deserve nothing less.

A scientific survey of attitudes in FATA in today’s dangerous circumstances is impossible. Nevertheless, the impression one gets in talking to individuals is that tribal people with education generally favour drone strikes. This includes those who have lost relatives. But uneducated people, who form the overwhelming majority, hate them.


Pakistan has three choices.

The first is surrender. We can stop fighting, accept militant demands, or perhaps join up with them to fight hegemonic America . One is keenly aware of its long history of wrongful military interventions overseas, grabbing of natural resources, and installation of pliable governments.

But the Taliban want something immensely more dreadful. They stone women to death, force girl-children into burqa, cut off limbs, kill doctors for administering polio shots, threaten beard-shaving barbers with death, blow up girls schools, and kill musicians. In a society policed by Taliban vice-and-virtue squads, art, drama, and cultural expressions would disappear. The only education would be that of madrassas.

Seeking to avoid difficult choices, some influential leftists living outside Pakistan have tried to wish the problem away. They deceive themselves – and others – into believing that the Taliban are merely some kind of ethnic Pakhtun movement. But the emergence of the Punjabi Taliban, and a score of fanatical organizations with Taliban-like ideology, has proved this to be nonsense. These movements represent a cancerous malignancy within Muslim societies that is spreading across borders, boundaries, and ethnic divides.

Other leftists have fantasized that religious militants represent some kind of indigenous, albeit primitive, movement for wealth redistribution. But social justice is not on their agenda. Where does one hear Taliban leaders speak about land reforms, or doing away with feudalism and tribalism? They do not demand worldly things like roads, hospitals and infrastructure. Instead, they dream of transforming today’s lame democracy into a fascist religious state where they will be the law.

The second option is to stop fighting and start negotiating.

This cannot work because Pakistani militants are not united under a central leadership. Some groups are largely criminal while others have various ideologies that are extreme but mutually incompatible. Even when one group is clearly dominant, they cannot be persuaded just by reason and argument – or even by surrendering.

The failure in Swat proves this point. The Pakistani government and army had cravenly accepted the writ of the Taliban and signed on to nizam-e-adil.  In a matter of days the peace agreement was violated, and the Taliban moved on to the adjoining area of Buner. Their spokesman, Muslim Khan, announced that they would take over all Pakistan and that they recognized no authority other than the Qu’ran and Allah. It took Pakistani society a long time to recognize that surrender in Swat would not bring peace. This delay was immensely costly in human lives.

The third way – and the only sensible way – is to fight determinedly against the militants while keeping open doors to negotiation. Simultaneously, it is crucial to work on land redistribution, create a justice system that actually works, control corruption, tax the rich, and improve governance.

Fighting militants is practically possible only through some mix of local militias (lashkars), the police and Frontier Constabulary, the Pakistan Army, and American drones and weaponry. Each of these can be rightly criticized: the lashkars often have criminals within them and are known to avenge old tribal scores; the police and FC are notorious for corruption and brutality; the Army is hung up on its hatred for India so it supports certain “good” militants while killing “bad” ones; and the Americans have often cynically manipulated religious fanaticism to their advantage. But without some combination of these unsavory forces, there will be carnage of ordinary Pakistanis.

In this grim situation there is no guarantee of victory, even eventually. To prevent defeat every effective weapon – economic, social, political, and military – must be pressed into service. The use of aerial drones, terrible though it is, is a necessary evil.

Source: ViewPoint Online on 19 November 2010.