Recent events prove now is the time for a modern nationalism

Diverse PakistanSeventy years ago, certain social and political ground realities existed which resulted in the political movement that created this country. I am not questioning the motivations or the historical environments which preceded the formation of our proud nation. However, it is also undeniable that since the past 70 years the regional and global order has undergone evolutions that have created new social and geopolitical realities that call for an evolution of our strategic and theoretical thinking to match.

Just as a person must evolve and adapt to take his proper place in the community when he ages, nations and societies must also evolve and adapt otherwise they will be unable to properly achieve their rightful place in the global community. What was necessary and proper 70 years ago has been established just as one’s culture and personality are established as one matures. However, one is not the exact same as he was even 10 or 20 years earlier but rather becomes more complex even as he is still grounded in his past.

Recent events have made clear that we have entered a new era in which the religious nationalism that may have made sense in the past is no longer sufficient to guide us in the new millennium. This has become increasingly obvious with the troubles of our participation in the Saudi military alliance, which was presented as a ‘Muslim NATO’ but was soon exposed as a dangerous experiment that threatens our own national security. The stakes were raised once again when a Saudi-led alliance of Arab states announced cutting diplomatic ties with Qatar and closing borders, putting Pakistan squarely in another bad position.

While alliances with Muslim allies are causing no end of uncomfortable situations for Pakistan, it is ironically the atheist China which is proving to be more sensitive to our own needs. Where Saudi has given some loans that must be repaid, China is investing billions in infrastructure and resources that will advance Pakistani businesses and develop our own economy. It is not just economically that atheist China has proven a strong ally, but also in terms of respecting Pakistan’s positions in global forums such as the UN. Even on Kashmir, China has respected Pakistan’s position but not from any religious motivation as China is not Muslim proving that religion is not the only bond that can bring two nations together.

Just as religion is not the only bond that can bring two nations together, also it is not the only bond that can unite our own nation.

Now imagine a Pakistan that would have embraced its diversity instead of treating it with fear and loathing. Imagine a Pakistan that would give equal rights to all its citizens without considerations of religion or gender. Imagine a Pakistan that would not be held hostage by its religious clergy and where the rulers would refuse to be blackmailed by these contractors of faith. Pakistan as a territory blessed with geography, relief, natural resources and a rich cultural heritage.

If its leaders had any vision it would be the magnet for the world both for business and for tourism. The tourism potential alone should have been enough to transform us rapidly into a rich and prosperous nation.

As an example, we can see India is being torn apart by religious chauvinism and majoritarianism. We cannot allow ourselves to fall further into the same trap. Now is the time for an updated nationalism not based on our differences but on our diversity which is our strength.

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?