Narratives and Counter Narratives: Who Are We Supposed To Believe?

President Mamnoon Hussain has joined the call for a counter narrative against extremism and terrorism. This statement puts the President on same footing as ex-COAS Gen Raheel Sharif who gave a similar recommendation at World Economic Forum in January. With such luminaries making the case for a counter narrative against extremism and terrorism, one would be sure that the state had finally reached a unified approach to combating the threat of militancy. Despite these lofty remarks, however, the message reaching the people remains divided.

Lt Gen Muhammad Asad Durrani

Ex-DG ISI says terrorism justified

President and ex-COAS have called for counter narrative against terrorism, but former DG ISI Lt Gen (r) Asad Durrani has a new piece in Dawn justifying terrorism as a ‘technique of war‘, and possibly just ‘part of human nature’.

Gen Mirza Aslam Beg

Ex-COAS says Taliban ideology is equal to Islam

Lt Gen (r) Asad Durrani’s pro-terrorism stance was quickly supported by no less than  ex-Chief of Army Staff Gen (r) Mirza Aslam Beg who wrote in The Nation that Pakistan’s national security was threatened by anyone who criticises Jamaatud Dawah and Taliban, both of which are black listed in the world as terrorist groups. In case there was any doubt, Gen Beg explained that Taliban can never be defeated because of their ideology which he says is equal to Islam.

Official press releases declare that whole nation is unified against terrorism and extremism, but the reality is not clear. We have always been taught to trust our Generals as beyond doubt. Now they are telling us that we should be for terrorism and that Taliban ideology is Islam. Others are telling us that terrorism is never justified and Taliban ideology is not Islam. Meanwhile whole nation is divided and confused who to believe? Pakistan will continue to suffer.

Are we in the midst of an ideological awakening?

I like to think of myself as an optimist, but also a realist. Sometimes these two traits come into conflict, and in these instances, I find that a depressing reality can easily knock the rosy tint out of my glasses. And so over the weekend I found myself nodding in agreement with Cyril Almeida’s piece about our ability to respond, but not reform, and I found myself in a bit of a funk. Today, however, my positivity has returned. Not because of any breakthrough in governance – that may still be in the distant future, but because of several pieces that have begun appearing that inject a dose of realism into the national debate and, hopefully…just maybe…are pointing towards an awakening among our intelligentsia.

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Sacrificing reason on the altar of ideology

Censored textbook

Imran Khan says education is key to the success of the country. At first glance, this sounds like an intelligent (if obvious) statement. Let’s look at the PTI chief’s comment in more detail, though. Here is what he said:

He said that the country was suffering from two parallel education systems, adding that if he comes into power, the PTI government would introduce a uniform education system across the country. He said that education was the backbone of any developed society, but in Pakistan, the government never gave importance to the most important issue.

To understand what this means in a practical sense, we can look at what education system the PTI has introduced in KPK where it is already in power.

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf-led (PTI) government in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa has agreed to revisions in the curriculum for government schools here – including the removal of pictures of schoolgirls with their heads uncovered – for the new academic session commencing April 1, 2015.

The PTI’s coalition partner Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) raised objections over the curriculum which was approved in 2006. The JI said Islamic chapters had been removed in 2006 syllabus; the party also wanted secular chapters removed from the textbooks. The religious party asked for the removal of “objectionable” materials and the addition of 18 Quranic verses to grade 9 Chemistry book…verses on jihad were removed from the ninth-grade Islamiat textbook and added to the grade 11 course.

According to Directorate of Curricula and Teacher Education (DCTE) Director Bashir Hussain Shah, the provincial government has accepted all of JI’s demands.

This is a glimpse of the education system that Imran Khan promises to make uniform across whole of Pakistan – one that is founded not in facts and reason, but in ideology.

Actually, this system is becoming uniform already – the PTI just wants to speed up the process. Even without the guiding hand of PTI, Karachi University recently banned Dr Imtiaz Ahmed, professor of international relations at Dhaka University, from attending a conference because of his views on 1971. Dr Imtiaz Ahmed got off easy. Dead of Islamic Studies at University of Karachi Mohammad Shakil Auj was murdered in the street for promoting a liberal interpretation of Islam.

LUMS administrators were cowardly in a different way when they allowed Pervez Hoodbhoy’s contract to expire with no explanation given. They may have felt that this would allow them to do the deed while denying the reason, but the message was heard loud and clear by anyone paying the least bit of attention.

In Islamabad, a dean and students advisor were sacked after it was discovered that a Model UN programme included information about Israel. It should be noted that Israel is a member state of the UN. Or was IIUI modeling the UN of its dreams instead of the UN of the real world? Either way, how can students be expected to succeed in the real world when their education is based on a fantasy one?

Most reports on education crisis in Pakistan focus on abysmal enrollment numbers. However even full enrollment of every child in the country will not provide an educated population if our education system is one that sacrifices reason on the altar of ideology.

Will pedigrees bring change to Pakistan?

PTI is excited to announce that Waleed Iqbal has announced to join their party. Waleed Iqbal says he has never joined a political party before, and has no experience. So why is this announcement hailed by Imran Khan? Obviously, Waleed Iqbal has the only experience necessary…his pedigree.

Waleed Iqbal is the grandson of Allama Iqbal. In case you think this is coincidence, please note that the official PTI website does not even make the announcement by calling Waleed by his own name, simply referring to him as “Allama Iqbal’s grandson”.

This might seem like a big score for Imran Khan and his PTI, but it certainly also deflates any claims about being different from other parties where positions are inherited. After all, without his ancestor, would Imran Khan even care about poor Waleed who he can’t even call by his own name?

So PTI has a new member that can trace his ancestry to Allama Iqbal. Okay, but Yusuf Salahuddin is also a grandson of Iqbal and he is with PPP. Should we start asking which party has more Syeds? If ideology of Pakistan is Islam, shouldn’t this determine which party is best?

Of course not. Such a practice would be silly. Politicians should work to earn our support by their actions and their ideas, not their family history or who was their grandfather. Since he decided to take up politics 15 years ago, Imran Khan has been spending all of his time with people like Qazi Hussain Ahmed. Lately he’s been running around with Zaid Hamid, Ahmed Quraishi and crazy Ali Azmat.

Imran Khan, Ahmed Quraishi, Zaid Hamid and Ali Azmat

Imran Khan, Ahmed Quraishi, Zaid Hamid and Ali Azmat

These are Imran Khan’s ideological inspirations. Now Imran Khan is adding in the ingredient of pedigrees to his ideology, and this is supposed to bring change to Pakistan?

No Terrorism In Pakistan Before 2001? Think Again.

America top terroristA discussion on Twitter the other day brought up a dusty old Ghairat Brigade talking point – there was no terrorism in Pakistan before 2001. Actually, I find that even among my friends and family it’s widely believed that terrorism was brought by the Americans as part of their ‘War on Terror’, and it will leave with the Americans. If it wasn’t for ‘America’s war’, Pakistan would still be as peaceful and tolerant as it was before. This is a great talking point that provides an easy solution to one of the most grave problems facing the nation. Too bad it’s utter non sense.

1986: Pan Am Flight 73 highjacked in Karachi, innocent passengers killed

1987: Bombs kill 72 and wound 250 in Pakistani city.

The bombs exploded half an hour apart amid crowds of rush-hour shoppers in the heart of Karachi, the country’s biggest city.

1995: 2 Americans shot to death in Pakistan.

Gunmen shot and killed two United States diplomats and wounded a third this morning as they were driven to work in Karachi, a sprawling port city that has long been ravaged by violence…

More than 1,000 people have been killed in Karachi since January 1994 in a wave of ethnic, sectarian and factional violence. Of these, more than 275 have been killed this year, including 13 Shiite Muslim men and boys who died last week in a massacre in a Karachi mosque. The victims, who had gone to the mosque for prayers celebrating the end of the holy month of Ramadan, were lined up against a wall in the mosque and gunned down.

1995: Widespread damage: 40 die in Peshawar car-bomb blast.

PESHAWAR, Dec. 21: At least 40 people were killed and nearly 120 injured when a powerful explosion rocked the central part of the city, blowing up a number of shops and setting others on fire. The blast was said to have been caused by a car bomb.

1995: Suicide bomber attacks Egyptian Embassy in Islamabad, kills 15 and wounds 59.

A suicide bomber rammed a pickup truck packed with explosives into the gate of the Egyptian Embassy in Islamabad today, killing 15 people and wounding 59 others. Islamic militants claimed responsibility.

Most of the dead were Pakistani security guards and people applying for visas. One Egyptian diplomat was also killed, hospital officials said.

1997: Retribution?

The four Americans were killed this morning when unidentified gunmen opened fire on their station wagon. The vehicle’s Pakistani driver was also killed in what police described as a deliberate attack. According to police reports the car carrying the Americans was forced off a road in Central Karachi, then riddled with bullets at close range. The driver and the four passengers died instantly, according to the police. The four Americans worked for the Union Texas Petroleum Company–the largest international oil firm in Pakistan. Today, at Union Texas headquarters in Houston, John Whitmire, the company’s CEO, said he and his colleagues were stunned…

Pakistan was a long-time Cold War ally of the United States and a partner in the decade-long fight to oust the Russians from Afghanistan in the 1980’s. In recent years the country has suffered from political turmoil, ethnic violence, and economic stagnation. So far, no one has taken responsibility for today’s attack. But both Pakistani and U.S. officials speculated that it could be linked to the case of Mir Aimal Kasi–a Pakistani national charged with the murders of two men, both CIA employees.

1999: Explosions rock Islamabad

Several explosions hit Pakistan’s capital today. Rockets struck near the US Embassy, the UN office, an American cultural center and other buildings, rocking Islamabad with at least seven explosions, officials and witnesses said.

These are just a few examples of terrorist incidents that occurred before 2001, putting to rest the false claim that we can sit and do nothing and the problem of terrorism will magically disappear when American troops leave Afghanistan. Also, do you notice how many incidents involved the killing of Americans? These incidents also disprove the false claim that anti-Americanism is a result of drone strikes or American troops in Afghanistan. The fact is that authoritarian tyrants have used the bogey of America to exploit sentiments and manipulate the people for decades. It’s nothing new, and we should stop being fooled by the same old tricks.

These are just a few examples that I was able to easily find news articles about doing some basic research, but it’s just a drop in the bucket. Terrorism in Pakistan was not imported by Americans, and it’s not going to leave when they go home in 2014. We will never be free of this menace until we face the uncomfortable truth that we are allowing the problem to grow as poisonous ideologies fueled by hatred and violence are allowed to spread unchecked. Until we are willing to face the internal threat head on, we are going to continue to suffer. That’s not a talking point, that’s reality.