Shared Goals

At 8:00 PM on June 22nd, President Obama made the much-anticipated announcement that by next summer all 30,000 of the “surge” troops would be brought home.  The drawdown of tens of thousands troops certainly signals the beginning of the end of the war in Afghanistan, but it also heralds a new era in the fight against extremism.

Take for instance a particularly telling quote from President Obama’s speech:

“We are starting this drawdown from a position of strength,” the president said. “Al Qaeda is under more pressure than at any time since 9/11. Together with the Pakistanis, we have taken out more than half of al Qaeda’s leadership. And thanks to our intelligence professionals and Special Forces, we killed Osama bin Laden, the only leader that al Qaeda had ever known.”

In the last decade, Pakistan’s profile in the fight against terror has only increased. Its importance in fighting extremism cannot be swept under the rug, nor can American and Pakistani shared objectives in rooting out terrorists be exaggerated.

Afghans and Pakistanis must not think the US is leaving them again, as they often say regarding the US actions post-Cold War. Rather, the strategy must be different, and for this everyone must come to the table with the same priority: to eradicate terrorism.  An eternal optimist, I cannot help but hope leaders make decisions to cooperate in the right ways. We should take this opportunity to form on-the-ground strategies to combat terrorism, and make this a priority transcending political parties.

The rabid anti-Americanism in our media depends heavily on the idea of Americans as “invaders.” By calling 30,000 troops back, President Obama has made it clear he wants Afghans to build their own country and their own future (don’t hold your breath for the media to point that out, though). That is what America must do for herself as well, he said. As Americans and Afghans are responsible for their own nations, so are we. Our shared goals make us allies, and that is the most crucial point of all.

Anti-American Pathology

Syed Yahya HussainyPakistan’s political system is suffering from a debilitating illness. It is neither corruption, nor nepotism, nor most of the usual symptoms that our commentators point to, but a pathological anti-Americanism that paralyzes the nation and prevents us from achieving our potential.

The usual excuse given for this strident anti-Americanism is that we don’t hate the American people, we only hate the policies of their government. But this is a poor excuse, and it ignores the fact that we react differently to the same policies if the US or other countries adopt them. At every turn, American intentions are assumed to be anti-Pakistan, despite the fact that none of the predictions of American plans to clip Pakistan’s wings have ever come true. We readily accept that US policies are anti-Islam, while we turn a blind eye when Muslims adopt these same policies.

In many ways, America has been a fickle friend to Pakistan, that is true. They have been cozy with both our civilian leaders and the military dictators that overthrew them. The Americans were always there when they needed us, and then walked away when we were no longer useful to their policy goals.

But have we been a better friend to America? In 1979, we burned down the US embassy, killing two American diplomats following false reports that the US had bombed the Masjid al-Haram. These false reports came from Iran, and the street protests outside the Embassy were exacerbated by busloads of young people brought in by Jamaat-i-Islami. Islamic militants carried out the attack, yet we accepted the Iranian propaganda without question. We burned an Embassy and killed two people because of a lie.

In 1986, the US launched a retaliatory strike against Libya following acts of terrorism including the bombing of a Berlin discotheque. The response in Pakistan was fervent anti-Americanism, including large street protests organized by religious parties in support of the military dictator Col. Mommar al-Gaddafi. When that same dictator turned his arsenal on his own people this month, attacking pro-democracy protestors with air strikes, our religious parties were united in their silence.

In 1991, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein invaded a Muslim country (Kuwait) and the Americans were requested to help stop his imperialist agenda. Nawaz Sharif sent soldiers to Saudia Arabia to fight alongside American troops, but the public reaction, encouraged by religious parties and the ISI chief at the time, Gen. Aslam Beg, rapidly turned anti-American and pro-Saddam. We blame the Americans for supporting Saddam in the 1980s, but we were in the streets loudly supporting him in the 1990s.

In 2000, when Nawaz Sharif sought reprieve from the punishment he was given under Musharraf, it was not America that bailed him out, rather it was Saudi Arabia that secretly negotiated his release and gave him sanctuary.

Saudi Arabia was also the new home for the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin where he lived in comfort until his death in 2003. It was this same Saudi Arabia that warned US President Barack Obama not to encourage the Egyptian people to overthrow their own dictator, Hosni Mubarak. If Raymond Davis was from Saudi Arabia and not the US, would we still be talking about imperial arrogance and support for dictators?

Actually, we have some clue as to the answer. In 2008, three gunmen from Hayatabad abducted Heshmatollah Attarzadeh Niyaki, a commercial attaché at the Iranian consulate in Peshawar. They killed his guard during the assault. After the Iranian diplomat was missing for two years, Ramin Mehmanparast, the Iranian foreign ministry spokesman, announced last year that “the location where Attarzadeh was held was identified by Iranian intelligence agents, and through a series of complex operations he was brought home”.

Ansar Abbasi wrote that security has been tightened around Raymond Davis to prevent “a possible Hollywood Rambo-style sting operation”. But such a breach of Pakistan’s sovereignty, honour, and national security has already happened. Only it wasn’t American forces, but Iranian intelligence agents that crossed our borders, violated our sovereignty, and carried out covert operations without informing our own military intelligence agencies. And none of the religious parties or Ghairat Brigade spokesmen has been moved to say a word against it.

It was also in 2008 that Prince Muqran bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, the chief of Saudi intelligence, visited Gen. Musharraf, Nawaz Sharif, and Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain to “play its role in Pakistan’s present political circumstances”. And we learned from the American diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks that Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the US Adel al-Jubeir told American Charge D’Affaires Michael Gfoeller that, “We in Saudi Arabia are not observers in Pakistan, we are participants.”

Far from being a slave to American hegemony, we have been a willing puppet of dictators in Muslim dress. The Americans may have short memories, unable to remember their overthrowing of Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953, their support for Saddam Hussein in the 1970s, and their wavering on the Arab democracy movement. Our memories may be longer, but they are selective. How easily we forget our own support for dictators, our own complicity in the slaughter of Muslims and the imperialist ambitions of those same Arab dictators.

America may have been inconsistent in its relations with us, supplying our military with weapons and training but ignoring the much-needed development of our civilian institutions. But this is finally changing. Despite any imperfections in the Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill, it represented a shift in American attitudes from using our military establishment to expand US power to investing in the long-term development of democracy and civilian infrastructure. Despite the threats of violence by our own right-wing, the greatest threat made by the US over Raymond Davis has been to reduce aid.

If the US cuts aid to Pakistan, it will weaken our civilian institutions – not the elite and the military establishment. The US will always keep close relations with the military and the ISI, an outcome those institutions are certain of. They know that their power in the country will be strengthened. The real victim of the Raymond Davis fiasco will be neither our sovereignty nor our pride. What is at risk is the very change that we have been demanding – a change in the relationship between our two countries that has been paralyzed by a pathological anti-Americanism. This is our revolution. The question is, are we willing to seize it?

A Way That Heals

Bilawal’s speech in London at the memorial for Salmaan Taseer was a much needed affirmation of the principles and values that were envisioned by Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. It was Jinnah’s vision that saw the founding of our great nation, a fact that came against the objections of the same people who today celebrate the murder of an innocent man.

I’ve watched the video of Bilawal’s speech several times, and each time it fills my eyes with tears and my heart with a yearning for justice – not only for Salmaan Taseer and his family but for everyone who is abused and threatened for speaking their minds.

Bilawal’s speech helped me know that, as I wrote earlier this week, I’m not the crazy one and I’m not alone. But, as I also wrote, we need to expand our discussion beyond blasphemy laws and address the issues that result in such tragedies.

I have also been watching the way that America is dealing with its own tragedy of the attempted assassination of one of its own politicians only a few days after Salmaan Taseer’s murder.

On Wednesday, President Barack Obama gave a speech in honour of those killed in America last week, and his speech speaks not only to their own tragedy but to ours as well.

But at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized – at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who happen to think differently than we do – it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we’re talking with each other in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds.

As we discuss these issues, let each of us do so with a good dose of humility. Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let’s use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy and remind ourselves of all the ways that our hopes and dreams are bound together.

When I read those words, it was like he was speaking about my Pakistan. This is exactly what we need also. We need more hope and encouragement, and less anger and hatred. We need to stop only saying bhai and start actually acting like brothers. Yes I disagree with the blasphemy laws. But we need to find a way to come together as a nation and focus on our commonalities instead of our differences.

I agree 100% with Bilawal’s statment that ‘Democracy is the best revenge’. But democracy requires a united people. That is why tyrants and dictators have always used the ‘divide and conquer’ strategy. That is why certain people are organizing street protests and making threats against lawmakers. Extremists threaten the nation with anarchy, and then they go into the streets to prove it.

But we cannot be hostages to the threats of extremists. There may have been 30,000 people who protested to defend the blasphemy laws, but there are 180 million Pakistanis who did not show up to their rally. Changing the blasphemy laws – or any laws – is not going to happen quickly. But before we can do anything, before we are going to see any progress, first we must “pause for a moment and make sure that we’re talking with each other in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds”.