Losing Our Moral Credibility

Moral arguments are regularly used to promote positions on a range of issues. Independent Kashmir should be supported not to stick it to India, but because it is a moral imperative to defend the lives and freedom of people who want to be free. Drones should be stopped because they are a violation of sovereignty that is killing innocents. But in order to make a moral argument for a position, one is typically expected to adhere to the same standards.

The British learned this lesson the hard way after years of colonialism left them lacking moral credibility in the world arena. The US is the most recent student to learn the hard lesson after decades of supporting dictators left them suspect in the minds of the new leaders emerging from the Arab Spring. Now, we too may be facing a tough lesson.

The Foreign Office summoned American diplomats to lodge formal complaints about US drones killing Pakistani citizens last month. Over the weekend, though, it was our own diplomats who were summoned, this time by the Afhgan Foreign Minister who lodged a formal complaint about cross-border shelling from our side of the border. This came just after we abstained from a vote to impose sanctions on Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president who is massacring his own people in a last ditch effort to keep an iron grip on power. This failure to support efforts against a murderous regime comes only one year since we saw our troops traveling to Bahrain to support the violent suppression of a popular uprising.

Moral arguments are important. But if we want them to be taken seriously, we have to be willing to avoid the same policies that we are criticising. The UK and the US have learned this lesson the hard way. Why are we following down the same path?

Pakistan’s Black Water

The Raymond Davis case continues to be passed around like a bowl of sour milk that no one wants to end up with. After the Foreign Office neglected its duty to determine the American agent’s diplomatic status and passed the case on to the LHC, the LHC has now determined that it too does not want to be responsible for making the determination and has passed the case on to the trial court. Meanwhile, religious groups continue to use the case to organize protests and conspiracywalas in media are making a picnic out of fears of American agents roaming the country and undermining Pakistan’s democracy. But while the hue and cry against American agents interfering against Pakistan’s sovereignty, hundreds of foreign fighters have been entering another Muslim country to undermine its own democratic movement and nobody seems to be paying attention.

Bahrain protesters attacked with tear gas on 13 Mar 2011

The people of Bahrain, following the example of Tunisia and Egypt, are attempting to rid themselves of a corrupt and brutal regime. The country’s rulers have responded by cracking down on pro-democracy protesters and declaring martial law. But those enforcing the corrupt government’s rule are increasingly foreign agents recruited to stamp down on pro-democracy protestors. But these foreign agents are not from the US – they are from Pakistan.

According to the Ahlul Bayt News Agency, a classified advertisement entitled “Urgent Requirement: Manpower for Bahrain National Guard” was recently placed on the website of a prominent Pakistani human resource firm that has close ties to the Pakistani military.

The advertisement said Bahrain was seeking to hire several categories of ex-military personnel, including anti-riot instructors, Pakistan Military Academy drill instructors, retired infantry majors, and military police.

The advertisement added that a delegation from the Bahrain National Guard would be visiting Pakistan for the purpose of selecting the Pakistani personnel from March 7 to March 14.

It is difficult to confirm the exact number of former Pakistani soldiers who have been recruited in response to the recent ad, but sources claim as many 800 Pakistanis have been hired in the past few weeks.

Human rights activists have long complained about the controversial practice of hiring large numbers of foreigners to serve in the Bahraini security forces to suppress political dissent in the kingdom.

Bahrain’s police, military, and national guard are staffed in large part by non-Bahraini citizens, mostly from Pakistan, Yemen, and Syria.

It is bad enough that the complaints against foreign agents in Pakistan are shown as sheer hypocrisy on the world stage, but there is a much more dangerous element to this story that must be examined. Pakistanis recruited to serve as pro-regime agents in Bahrain are not only undermining democracy in a Muslim state, they are also stoking sectarian tensions.

Earlier this year, Syed Nadir El Edroos asked ‘Will Bahrain’s sectarian divide impact Pakistan?’ In his post for Express Tribune the author makes an important point.

What makes events in Bahrain relevant to Pakistan is the sectarian divide in the country.

The Sunni minority in Bahrain has monopolised power while the Shia majority is systematically marginalised from public influence and control. With Saudi Arabia’s support, the Shia population has been systematically oppressed, as the fear of Iranian influence in Bahrain is considered a strategic liability.

Bahraini security forces recruit from across the region. Pakistanis, particularly from Balochistan along the Makran coast, are favoured recruits.

These Pakistanis are viewed as instruments of state oppression by the protestors. If the Bahraini regime were to fall, Pakistan as a willing supplier, nay ‘facilitator’ of Bahraini recruitment will not be viewed favourably by a new set of leaders.

Pakistan’s involvement in sectarian tensions in Bahrain could result in an even more dire outcome for our own country because it threatens to worsen sectarian tensions not only within our borders, but with our neighbor to the West the Shia state of Iran.

Pakistan itself is no stranger to sectarian violence, which has intensified in recent years. If the Bahraini regime falls as the Saudis and American’s fear, it would be seen as and portrayed by Iran as a victory of her interests. This would push the Saudis to intensify support for organisations that share it’s goals of containing Iran.

Such support for organisations in Pakistan, could lead to sectarian attacks and reprisals.

Though Nadir warns of this outcome in his post, I fear he misses the more important point. The correct strategy to protect Pakistan’s security is not to prop up the corrupt and anti-democratic regime in Bahrain, but to support democracy and the people of Bahrain deciding their own government. We must not take part in the same interventions that we complain of within our own borders.

We must face the fact that we have our own Black Water and that our own agents are propping up corrupt and anti-democratic regimes in Muslim countries. This not only undermines any moral authority we have to complain about foreign agents on our own soil, but in the worst case it threatens to undermine our own security as we experience ‘blow back’ from sectarian violence.