Heading For Divorce?

Our elected representatives and our people must realise that it is not the drones or national sovereignty or American aid that is the main issue. It is that termite of the extremist mindset that kills Muslims in mosques that has permeated our society and converted it into the rotten mess that it is in today. It will take a concerted effort at de-weaponising house by house and legislators, civil society and the media to galvanise and work tirelessly for decades on a thought revolution to ensure the extermination of extremism and the preservation of Pakistan.

Dr Mahjabeen IslamCaught sleeping on the job, the Pakistan government has turned its machinery to bite the hand that feeds its face. Nations evolve, and one would have thought that rousing nationalistic songs and hot-button phrases like “invasion of sovereignty” would have been dropped in favour of unvarnished facts. Time was that dictators spewed nonsense and one yearned for democracy and a wonderful array of elected legislators who would arm themselves with data and speak with accuracy and vote with conscience. But our kismet is crossed with parliamentarians who come with their own personal agendas.

The two things that galvanise Pakistanis of all hues are cricket and the kursi (chair). Strange bedfellows and stranger sums of money exchange hands for both. It is in times of crisis that a person and a nation’s mettle are tested. A la Goebbels after the in-camera session of parliament, the Information Minister stated that the ISI chief had “surrendered” himself to parliament. We have now taken to messing with the nation’s psyche. The parliamentarians got together and drew up a 12-point agenda, the primary thrust of which was to stop the drones or else the NATO supply lines would be cut and to initiate an independent inquiry commission with regard to the bin Laden fiasco.

Around the same time, US Senator John Kerry visited Pakistan; and interestingly he roared in like a lion and left quite the lamb. For it seems that soon after the bin Laden fiasco, American and Pakistani voices questioned their union in the fight against terrorism. The slur of infidelity was thrown around and both sides felt violated: $ 3.2 billion in aid, screeched US Congressmen and media, what is going on in Pakistan? In the depth of the night, in all of 40 minutes, with helicopters and Navy SEALs, Osama and all multimedia files are gone, wondered the whiplashed Pakistanis.

The Pakistani media went into overdrive. Only a minuscule few honed in on the actual invasion of sovereignty that has occurred over the last quarter of a century in Pakistan and one that we have accepted with gratitude and smiles for this invasion came laced with money and religion. We welcomed Uzbeks, Chechens, Arabs, Afghans and more. It is alternately sad and stupid to realise that the real serpent that has permeated and become one with the fabric of our society is so completely ignored and like petulant children we are kicking and screaming at the US.

Extremism is born and perpetuated by poverty and unemployment. The hungry, disenchanted teenager is much more likely to be ensnared by the charms and monetary temptations of the radicalised. And when the radicalised are your neighbours, your servants, your co-workers, your teachers, or essentially anyone, and you collapse your economy further, you simply guarantee extremism.

Ensconced in ultra-luxury, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has decided that the Punjab province shall refuse the American dole. While it is true that Pakistan has not accounted for its billions in aid appropriately and a good part of it has not made it to its intended purpose and has probably lined many a private pocket, it is factual that American aid is used for a large number of governmental and non-governmental educational, administrative and developmental projects. These projects will simply dry up as the aid does. Chucking charity is not as simple a choice as the ghairat (self-respect and pride) of Shahbaz Sharif might dictate.

Perhaps it was this Punjabi indignation or the graphic posters displayed by protesters in front of the in-camera parliamentary session that caught the eye of the Americans, for now their tune is decidedly different. Senator Kerry may have wagged his finger at Kayani behind closed doors but in public the story is conciliatory. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says that this is not the time for the US to flex its muscles at Pakistan, rather it should withhold judgement. Senator Mitch McConnell says that disengaging with Pakistan now was not a good idea. And most surprising is the statement by House Speaker Richard Boehner, who said that Pakistan was a real asset and had lost more troops and more individuals in the fight against terror than the US.

The US-Pakistan partnership has been one of those uncomfortable but necessary alliances for both parties. So analogous to human relationships when you realise with this gnawing deep inside that you share little now except an interwoven past and an inextricable convenience.

Our hypocrisy must stop. The drones fly from Pakistan’s airfields and we have given our express permission for this. Our president does not even think the non-extremist civilian deaths are collateral damage. Regardless of American intelligence, drones do not rain down on Iran, Turkey or Malaysia. They do not froth at the mouth about “national sovereignty”; they protect it by simply refusing.

Our elected representatives and our people must realise that it is not the drones or national sovereignty or American aid that is the main issue. It is that termite of the extremist mindset that kills Muslims in mosques that has permeated our society and converted it into the rotten mess that it is in today. It will take a concerted effort at de-weaponising house by house and legislators, civil society and the media to galvanise and work tirelessly for decades on a thought revolution to ensure the extermination of extremism and the preservation of Pakistan.

The writer, Dr Mahjabeen Islam, is an addictionist, family physician and columnist. This article was originally published in Daily Times on 20 May 2011.

Pakistan Embassy in Washington DC Raises Money, Awareness For Flood Victims

Ambassador Husain Haqqani

WASHINGTON, Nov 18 (APP): Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States has called for greater American public support for his country’s flood victims as he sought to raise awareness about human sufferings the worst natural disaster inflicted on around 20 million Pakistanis.

Ambassador Husain Haqqani faulted coverage of the tragedy in the American media, a factor which partly contributed to a tepid initial response to the catastrophe. He pointed out that the media stories ignored the plight of flood victims and instead focused unduly on political and security implications of the floods that triggered an epic humanitarian crisis.

Haqqani was making an impassioned appeal to back recovery efforts for flood victims to a gathering of American citizens, Congressional staffers and Pakistani-Americans at an event the ambassador and his wife, MNA Farahnaz Ispahani, hosted at their residence.

“One fifth of Pakistan, an area of the size of Italy, an area of the size of the entire east coast of the United States all the way from Maine to Florida, was inundated…two large rivers basically merged into each other…ten years of rainfall occured in a space of seven days in the Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa province.

“When 20 million people are in trouble the first priority is savasing lives, making sure that there are no waterborne diseases (breakout), no epidemics and making sure that immunization of children remains on track and pregrant and lactating mothers in relief camps get the support they need and the people are enabled to return to their farms and homes,” he stated as a slideshow of images illustrated the extent of human suffering and infrastructure losses.

The international effort, where the United States has been clearly in the lead in providing relief assistance, has fallen short partly becasue governments alone cannot help assist the victims of such major tragedies.

The ambassador appreciated the fact that the U.S. government has allocated $ 493 million towards flood relief recovery and is in the process of directing $ 500 million from Kerry-Lugar funds, approved by Congress last year. But, he underlined, Pakistani flood victims would still need a lot of support from individual donors and private charitable giving in the United States.

“More than the dollar cheque that you may write for the effort, what is more important is to contribute to increasing the awareness of this tragedy, taking the focus away from the political debates to humanitarian dimension of the tragedy.”

Jonnah Blank, chief policy advisor for South Asia to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, reaffirmed the influential panel’s support for flood victims.

Speaking on behalf of Senator John Kerry, he commended the Pakistani envoy’s efforts to improve relationship between the two countries.

“Ambassador Haqqani has been a lynchpin in the US-Pakistan relationship. I don’t think that is any exaggeration. Anyone who looks at the US-Pakistan relations will come to the same conclusion.”

Blank said the Senate panel is trying to re-direct as much money as possible from long-term funding to immediate needs in the flood-affected areas.

“Pakistan of July (this year) is not the Pakistan of August (after flooding). Everything has changed and our plans for development have to change with that.”

The gathering evinced a keen interest in a display of Pakistani dresses designed by leading fashion exponent Deepak Parwani, whom the ambassador hailed as a designer of immense talent, “reminding every one, Pakistanis and non-Pakistanis of the pluralism of Pakistan. He symbolizes a new Pakistan that we are trying to build.” The proceeds from the sale of dresses will support flood victims.

The monsoon floods buffeting Pakistani lands this summer have been termed as the largest natural d1isaster in the world since the inception of the United Nations, more than 60 years ago. But statistics in terms of world response to recent disasters reveal that in comparison with the Far Eastern Tsunami, the Pakistani and Haitian earthquakes, the flooding disaster has so far received much less financial and in kind backing.

Zain Hussain Qureshi: Drowning in the sea of pointless pointlessness pointlessly!

Saleha JavaidBy Saleha Javaid

There was a time when I used to shy away from discussing individuals as opposed to events. Only recently I have broken my rules and feel compelled to say things publicly, stamping out gossip when it sparks up, believing it is imperative to dispel baseless allegations, while augmenting the demand for facts.

Since the latest trend in Pakistani politics is stirring up hysteria, and taking things at face value while mindlessly spreading rumors like wild fire, I am trying to keep up with the current theme of systematically extending the life of every topic, irrespective of how pointless it may be!

After critically analyzing Pakistan’s social spectrum, I have come to realize that in addition to indulging in bogus gossip, a significant number of Pakistanis are now suffering from an acute and potentially dangerous psychological illness which impairs their ability to think rationally. Nation-wide study predicts that full recovery of such chronic patients will require getting in touch with reality and embracing it. Left untreated, this disease may inflict a serious cost on the nation in the form of mental decline.

Last time I checked, I couldn’t find a good enough reason to tarnish someone’s image with an outlandish claim, so can someone please explain to me the rationale behind purposely digging up dirt on people? What could be the logic behind character assassination? Why do people like spreading salacious information with a passion? When will we label the whole practice as reprehensible? Isn’t it our duty to question hearsay? Shouldn’t it be our responsibility to discredit misinformation that has no basis in reality? Or will we continue finding flaws for the sake of ‘habitual criticism’?

As if juicy tidbits about “Meera” aren’t bizarre enough already, staggering reports about Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s son, “Zain H. Qureshi” are a ‘special’ and hopefully ‘limited’ edition to tabloid journalism in the country. The intern who has been ripped to shreds for his internship at Senator John Kerry’s Office is alleged to have been complicit in drafting the controversial Kerry Lugar legislation in his capacity as “legislative fellow” during the period of his internship. So much for gaining pre-professional work experience prior to graduation!  What is more amusing is the portrayal of this association between the FM’s son and the Senate Foreign Relations committee chair as being covert and classified, intensifying Pakistani suspicion about recently passed and highly controversial “Kerry Lugar Bill.”

In a world free of delusions, an internship is a career specific, temporary position which helps to gain necessary work experience by observing and understanding things as they occur over a specified course of time. It is perfectly legit to secure an internship for the educational and academic value it provides. It is also perfectly normal to have a visiting card for the duration of the internship which further clarifies the transparent means through which networking is conducted. Experience entails professionalism and facets of PR are important to represent your country, especially in Washington DC, the prime political capital of the world.

So then what is wrong in undergoing practical training? Why is it bad to get your foot in the door? How many politicians in Pakistan attempt to gain professional experience? How many try to learn about the inner workings of the US Senate and the general workings of the American system? Should Zain be criticized because he got the chance to learn and discover?  Should he be lambasted for refining his skills? Shouldn’t we appreciate him for diversifying his experience? Shouldn’t he be encouraged to gain a better understanding of his political field?

It is extremely unfortunate that many people in Pakistan completely disregard transferable skills and fail to understand the importance of seeking work place maturity and perspective. But it is about time we realize that it is an asset to have youth that commands an awareness of the world. Engaging international audiences’ helps remove any misperceptions that might hinder the attainment of our foreign policy objectives.

Pakistan needs people who can represent our interests in the policy formulation bodies of America. We lack important insights into the workings of the American system which are required to bolster public diplomacy and are necessary to understand and apprehend foreign perspective. As a nation we need to get out of the ‘gossip groove’ and strive to attain the knowledge we need for tomorrow, to pave the way into a better future. That is the only way we can give back to our community; the only way in which we can build a stable bridge between home and abroad!