Pragmatic Moderation: An alternative to failed hyper-nationalism?

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif should be commended for attempting to use diplomacy to highlight the plight of Kashmiri people. However, it is time to face the fact that the hypernationalist narrative that our officials have been promoting has completely failed. This does not mean that the Kashmiri cause is failed, it just means that the way we have been trying to help has actually being hurting. If we truly want to help the Kashmiri people, we need to try something different.

First let us discuss why our current efforts have failed. It is easy to blame the Indian lobby for all of our failures, but we should be honest enough to look in the mirror. Here is one that Jibran Nasir has held up for us.

During the recent diplomatic mission to Washington, Senator Mushahid Hussain found himself facing the usual questions about how Pakistan can be taken seriously on Kashmir when our diplomats are singing the praises of Hizbul Mujahideen commanders at the United Nations. Senator Hussain gave the correct answer, which is that ‘one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter’. As much as that may make sense to us, though, we need to think about what the rest of the world is hearing which is that ‘your terrorists are our freedom fighters’. We are not convincing anyone that Hizbul Mujahideen are not terrorists. All we are doing is confirming India’s claim that Pakistan is the ‘mothership of terrorism‘.

We can blame whoever we want, but it cannot be denied that our efforts have achieved nothing till date but maintaining the status quo. We can compare Kashmir to Palestine, but in the words of one Pakistani scholar, “In case of Jammu & Kashmir there is not even that level of international support and interest that exists in the Palestinian question.” That scholar is none other than Husain Haqqani, and hate him however much you want, but you cannot deny that he is correct on this point.

That quote was taken from an interview Haqqani gave a few months ago in which he makes several very good points about the Kashmir crisis and how the war between right wing ideologies in both India and Pakistan make this crisis and all other regional crises worse.

Haqqani says that he considers himself a ‘pragmatic moderate’ and notes that ‘solving disputes first and then becoming friends is always more difficult than becoming friends first and then solving disputes’. However we continue to demand that relations can only improve once all disputes are solved. We are putting the cart before the horse.

Despite the failure of our strategy till date, we still have so-called ‘experts’ saying that the way forward is just doing more of the same. As we debate and discuss about enemy narratives and diplomatic offensives, something Haqqani said about his own pragmatic moderation: ‘This is not about winning the argument, this is about winning the peace’. We should ask ourselves whether we are more interested in winning the argument.

Taking Refuge in Words and #Hashtags

see-no-evil-hear-no-evil-speak-no-evil

The latest MQM fiasco has mostly focused on the issues of law and order. Rangers raided and sealed 90 after MQM activists carried out attacks against media houses in Karachi – an inexcusable action by anyone but especially by a democratic political party, though sadly not an unusual one. PTI workers have been known to attack media workers include female reporters and PMLN workers have also indulged in attacking journalists. Any attacks on media are condemnable and attackers must be punished accordingly. However it is the underlying issue behind all of these attacks that requires our immediate attention.

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JNU Protests: Is Political Dissent Acceptable Here, Also?

JNU protest

The arrest and treatment of Kanhaiya Kumar and Indian government’s militant overreaction to protests at Jawaharlal Nehru University have given a black eye to India which claims to be the world’s largest democracy. In Pakistan, the response to this has been a heartening defence of the right to free speech and political dissent, and a strong reaction against hypernationalism. Pakistani media has declared that ‘Calling the brave students of JNU anti-Indian is a slur. They are holding up the best progressive traditions, aspiring to form a more democratic society’ and op-ed writers are saying ‘it is time for everyone to stand up and be counted’ against fascism.

This change of heart and new love of dissent and free speech among our countrymen will sound like sweet music to the ears of those like Asma Jahangir, Marvi Sirmed, and Husain Haqqani who have been hounded and threatened for daring to challenge official narratives and hypernationalistic ideology. After being forced out of Daily Times, now Mohammad Taqi will be given his own talk show on Express News?

No. Not here. Not now.

While we are strongly defending freedom of dissent and rallying against fascism, we are also preparing to send a cricket fan to prison for 10 years for celebrating a player from the wrong country.

Umar DarazIn an amazing display of blind hypocrisy, we are defending political dissidents in India and persecuting a poor cricket fan for the crime of appreciating the skill of Virat Kohli. Umar Daraz never organised a protest. He never gave speeches or wrote pamphlets against Pakistan. In this country, such acts are not necessary. According to police, merely holding an Indian flag to congratulate a cricket idol is an act ‘against the ideology of Pakistan’ and must be severely punished by destroying an innocent life.

Our media talking heads can smile and give all the comments on supporting freedom of speech and political dissent, but the joke is on us. India is wrongly handling the protests at JNU, but can we honestly believe such a debate could even be allowed to take place here? If you are unsure, please ask Umar Daraz what he thinks.

Traitors: Theirs and Ours

Rising intolerance in India is no secret. Lynchings of Muslims by Hindu extremists have made international headlines, and the world has taken notice of Modi’s unwillingness to show sensitivity to his country’s minorities. So when Amir Khan said that he too felt alarmed by the growing incidents and even his wife had asked if they should move, it should have come as no surprise. However, the reaction – both here and in India – tells a lot.

In India, Amir Khan has been termed a traitor by right-wing hyper-nationalists, with even Shah Rukh Khan thrown in for good measure. In Pakistan, however, Amir Khan is being treated at a martyr who is being persecuted for doing nothing but telling the truth. This is the correct response, and it should also come as no surprise except when we remember how we treat our own Amir Khans.

The list is a long one: Asma Jahangir, Pervez Hoodbhoy, Marvi Sirmed, Hamid Mir, Husain Haqqani, Raza Rumi, Mama Qadeer…the list goes on and one. Anyone who dares to stand up for Ahmadis, question Army’s actions in Balochistan or support for jihadi groups like Jamaat-ud-Dawa, or apologises for treatment of Bengalis before 1971 is branded as a traitor and threatened with their lives. Are we hypocrites? Or can we not see that we are acting exactly like the Hindu extremists we claim to be against?

 

The Blackened Face of Hypernationalism

Sudheendra Kulkarni face blackened by Shiv Sena thugsThe image has already been seen countless times around the world. Observer Research Foundation Chairman Sudheendra Kulkarni sitting with his face blackened with ink next to former Pakistan Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri at the latter’s book launch in Mumabai. Kulkarni suffered the attack by hyper-nationalist Shiv Sena thugs who were against the Pakistani book event being held in India. While the world was shocked by the image, there were many here in Pakistan who jumped at the opportunity to advance a hyper-nationalistic narrative of their own.

The image of Sudheendra Kulkarni’s blackened face is a humiliation for India, but it should also be a chilling warning for us in Pakistan also. Have we forgotten about the campaigns to ban Indian media within our borders? What about the fact that not only Indian media, but even Malala’s book launch was also canceled due to security threats. Some books never even see the light of day in this country if they are deemed against the national interest, even when they are written by a former DG-ISI! Most telling, though, our own hyper-nationalists give the exact same message as Shiv Sena to ban Pakistanis from holding book events in India in the first place.

This is the true blackened face of hyper-nationalism. It is not really about promoting or protecting the country you love. It is about gaining power through threats and intimidation. It is about oppressing your own people to build your own illegitimate power over them even more than punishing anyone else. Foreign threats? These are just a convenient bogey for hyper-nationalist keyboard warriors. Shiv Sena in India and groups like Difa-e-Pakistan here are two sides of the same coin. They shout about foreign enemies, but they are really only trying to threaten and intimidate their own people. Why? Because if we stopped hating each other, those hyper-nationalist hate groups would be out of business.

There is no difference between Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut and Pakistani mouthpieces like Ahmed Quraishi. They even give the same statements, only wrapped in different flags. We should stop listening to all of them.