Arguing With Husain Haqqani

Husain HaqqaniHe is Senior Fellow and Director for South and Central Asia at a prestigious think tank in Washington, DC. He has written multiple books that have been termed ‘compulsory reading‘ in the West. He has been an invited speaker at the Aspen Ideas Festival and his ideas and analysis are regularly featured in global media like The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Foreign Affairs, and Foreign Policy. Whether we like it or not, Husain Haqqani is probably the most influential Pakistani intellectual of modern times. Many don’t like it. I do not want to defend Husain Haqqani or his controversial ideas. What I want to do is use Husain Haqqani to talk about how we respond to those who we disagree with.

As you must know by know, Husain Haqqani’s latest piece for The New York Times caused quite a stir. In it, he dismisses the idea that India poses a real threat to Pakistan, and confirms the belief that the Pakistani state has supported extremist militants in Afghanistan and Kashmir. This is nothing new, however, it is his prescription for a cure that has angered many quarters because Haqqani calls for the US to get ‘tougher’ on Pakistan, something that is automatically seen as many as a shocking disloyalty, even though he explains that he is not looking to punish Pakistan:

The United States would be acting as a friend, helping Pakistan realize through tough measures that the gravest threat to its future comes from religious extremism it is fostering in its effort to compete with India.

Calls for ‘tough love’ are always controversial, however the response to this piece has not been to counter with facts and analysis. Actually, the response has shown the worst of the worst of human emotions. Surely you know what I mean, but here is a small sample of what I am talking about:

This is the response: Abuse, threats, hashtags, shouts of ‘traitor’, Indian flags and even a jewish star photoshopped on his picture. It is so stupid it is embarrassing. What do we think this behaviour makes us look like to the rest of the world? Intellectuals or idiots? Debaters or bullies? This is not even the behaviour of so-called ‘cyber commandoes’. Actually, they are nothing but cyber goondas. He says Pakistanis cannot be reasoned with, and we respond unreasonably. Such responses actually give Haqqani’s point more credit than his enemies realise.

This brings up another point. Pakistan has an entire diplomatic corps at its finger tips. Where is Ambassador Aizaz Chaudhry’s piece published in New York Times? Where is his piece published in The Wall Street Journal? More to the point, where are the Pakistani intellectuals who can debate with Haqqani without resorting to name-calling, innuendo, and threats?

Instead, what comes after the social media abuse calms down is completely predictable: Op-eds will be published in The Nation, Pakistan Observer, and Express Tribune. Urdu talk shows, especially on ARY, News One, and Bol will feature talking heads parroting the same talking points about how Haqqani was a member of IJT 30 or 40 years ago, even though he obviously grew out of such ideas before most of the audience was even born. They will call for Haqqani to be brought back to Pakistan and be tried for treason. After a few days of chest beating, something else will take over the media’s attention and the Haqqani Hate Squad will quiet down until he writes something else and the ‘Standard Operating Procedure’ is repeated.

Husain Haqqani is not really the point here. He is not the only progressive Pakistan whose ideas are responded with such abuse and threats. We see the same treatment handed out to our other internationally respected intellectuals like Asma Jahangir and Malala. If ISI and ISPR support such stupidity, how can we ever expect to be taken seriously on the world’s stage? If they do not support it, they need to call out these foolish ‘cyber warrior’ accounts, especially those that have attended the official trainings at NDU. They need to correct the retired officers and their children who spend their days abusing on social media. We need to stop attacking and abusing those who we don’t agree with, and start proving them wrong if we can. Otherwise, we are only drawing attention to our own lack of intelligent answers!

Six months after APS Peshawar, we have lost the plot completely

APS Peshawar

16th December was supposed to be a turning point. The brutal massacre of hundreds of innocent children at APS Peshawar had finally awoken the nation and united our resolve to defeat the real enemy – the jihadi extremists that had killed tens of thousands of Pakistanis since the last ten years. It is almost six months since that black day, and where are we now? The truth is not encouraging.

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The problem with #PakPositive

People rarely get the whole story about Pakistan. In the global imagination, our nation is perceived as a filthy, dangerous place fueled by violence and hatred. Hollywood films like “Homeland” reinforce these stereotypes while ignoring all the wonderful, beautiful things about our homeland. In response, many well meaning individuals have embarked on an effort to promote a #PakPositive image for the country. While well intentioned, this effort has an unintended side effect which is actually self-defeating.

Maleeha Lodhi

Many of the supposedly #PakPositive stories are relatively harmless. World records for giant human flags are interesting and give a patriotic feeling. Others, though, seem a little desperate. Highlighting the fact that Maleeha Lodhi is the “first Pakistani woman” to hold the position of Permanent Representative to the UN ignores the fact that this is a position appointed by Pakistan. Isn’t promoting our willingness to appoint a career diplomat to a diplomatic position even though she’s a woman setting the bar a little bit low for #PakPositive?

Worst, though, is when #PakPositive is used as an excuse to avoid dealing with the problems that plague our nation. Malala Yousafzai was targeted by militants for wanting an education. Despite being nearly murdered, she never gave up and has been recognized by the world for her courage. She has been given large cash awards, and has donated that money to improving schools in Pakistan and Gaza. This is something we as a nation should be very proud of, but instead she is defamed by many Pakistanis for talking openly about Pakistan’s problems.

Unfortunately, this attitude has become part of our political and diplomatic strategy. The following Tweets by Taha S Siddiqui perfectly illustrates the problem:

#PakPositive

The diplomat was 100 per cent incorrect. We do not need “positivity” at a regional seminar on radicalization, we need solutions. Otherwise the respected diplomat should seek a job with PTDC.

There is nothing wrong with promoting positive stories. When our daughter is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, we have the right to be proud. However, there is a difference between being proud of our achievements and ignoring our problems. Terrorism, extremism, polio, lack of education – these are not a drunk uncle who can be hidden away in the back of the house. They are serious problems, and they deserve to be treated seriously. Every nation has problems. It is how a nation faces those problems that determine the nation’s image. If we want to improve our image in the world, we need to be seen as taking our problems seriously, not trying to sweep them under a rug.

Whose Agenda Is Being Promoted?

World Congress of Overseas Pakistanis

The important role of our countrymen living overseas cannot be overstated. In addition to sending billions back home in remittances, overseas Pakistanis are having a major influence in politics by funding political parties. However, it is not only influence inside Pakistan that is taking place. According to a new report, a shadowy organisation in London called the ‘World Congress of Overseas Pakistanis’ has arm-twisted Oxford University into canceling speaking invitations to Hamid Mir and Malala Yousafzai. This report is disturbing enough by itself, but it also raises questions about how certain vested interests may be using overseas Pakistanis to promote a particular agenda in foreign countries.

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