Miracle or Hoax? Why not try reason…

Flying horse in Saudi Arabia

“Miracle or Hoax?” That was the headline of Dunya News that reported the viral video supposedly showing a black horse flying in circles above Jeddah. At least this reporting floated the possibility that the video is not authentic, but it is only the latest example of reporting ‘miracles’ at the expense of rational thinking.

Who can forget Agha Waqar’s ‘water kit’ from a few years ago. Media spread the report of this miraculous invention without the least amount of critical thinking, only to have it soundly disproven by actual scientists. Same is true for HAARP which was projected by media as America’s weather controlling weapon. Once again, the claim was proven to be a hoax.

Some will term such hoaxes as harmless entertainment, but actually they are very dangerous. When media projects scientifically unsound stories such as reports of flying horses and water cars, the people become conditioned to accept anything no matter how ridiculous. This conditioning bears dangerous fruit when exploited by extremists who tell people that polio vaccine is ‘dangerous to health and against Islam’.

Dunya’s report on the flying horse viral video tries to keep a balance by noting that some people do not believe the video is authentic and that ‘there is a shop in Jeddah that sells horse-shaped balloons for children’, but in the case of supposed miracles especially, is ‘balance’ really necessary? Shouldn’t the burden of proof fall on the person claiming a miracle?

Time and again we allow ourselves to be duped by hoaxes that denigrate Pakistan in the eyes of the world. Instead of spreading this kind of sensational stories, media could be promoting science and reason, explaining the health benefits of vaccines and debunking hoaxes. This would strengthen the nation by building strong critical thinking skills that would help us solve our present problems like polio epidemic and avoid future problems as well.

Saudi Grand Mufti Wastes Critical Opportunity

Grand Saudi Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz

Hajj is the largest gathering of people on Earth. This year, authorities believe that over 1.4 million Muslims have traveled to follow in the footsteps of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). During last year’s Hajj, Saudi Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz delivered an important message that “Islam does not allow terrorism at any cost,” and that “Islam condemns all violence.” Sadly, this year’s sermon has taken a different direction and could increase confusion, paranoia and violence among Muslims.

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Finally, some sense on drones

Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani KharEarlier this year, an American think tank published a study claiming that no civilians have been killed by drone strikes in 2012. Considering the difficulty in collecting information in areas affected by drone strikes and the tendency of militants to live among civilians, callously putting them in the direct line of fire, basic common sense says that claiming that absolutely no civilians have been killed is a hard claim to accept.

Another American study, published more recently, claims that drones are terrorising civilians. While it is certainly more believable that drones are terrifying for those living in affected areas, this report is also riddled with problems. Even though media claims that the report was written by ‘experts’, it was actually written by students. Most importantly, though, it was funded by an anti-drone organisation in the UK. This is rather like asking the CIA to fund a study on the effectiveness of drones – the conclusion is bought and paid for.

Obviously, that does not mean that people living in areas affected by militants and drone strikes are not terrorised. Actually, it would be surprising if they were not. They’re living in a war zone, and, while I’ve never personally found a headless body on the side of the road, I can imagine that it must be severely traumatising. That’s what is left out of the equation by those who seized on the latest ‘study’ to condemn drone strikes as ineffective – the responsibility of militant groups for causing the trauma in the first place, both by terrorising locals and by putting them in danger by hiding in their villages.

This has been the status of the drone debate since the past few years – you are expected to either wholly embrace drones and ignore any problems with them, or ignore reality and condemn them as weapons that only kill women and children.

Thankfully, a sensible position has finally been taken and, hopefully, an honest discussion can now be held about the controversial issue.

Speaking in New York, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said that “Pakistan does not disagree with what drones are trying to achieve by targeting terrorists but they remain unlawful”. This statement importantly acknowledges what the military has said in the past – most of those killed in drone attacks were militants.

General Officer Commanding 7-Division Maj-Gen Ghayur Mehmood said in a briefing here: “Myths and rumours about US predator strikes and the casualty figures are many, but it’s a reality that many of those being killed in these strikes are hardcore elements, a sizeable number of them foreigners.

“Yes there are a few civilian casualties in such precision strikes, but a majority of those eliminated are terrorists, including foreign terrorist elements.”

Importantly, however, the Foreign Minister’s statement also acknowledges that it is not realistic for one country to carry out unilateral attacks inside another country without creating resentment and possibly undermining the actual goal of the strikes.

While drones have killed a lot of militants, they have also given those same militants an effective propaganda tool not only against the US, but against our own government who gets accused of selling the nation’s sovereignty. This may be an unfair accusation, it is one that is too easy for militants to use and therefore cannot be ignored.

By cutting through the single-mindedness that dominates both sides of the drone debate, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar has created an opening for solving the issue in a way that could maximise the effectiveness of the fight against militants while respecting what are real issues regarding sovereignty (as opposed to the phoney ghairat brigade kind). The details, wether they include technology transfers, PAF pilots, or some other cooperative measures are for officials of both nations to work out between themselves. For now, though, it’s good to know that at least there’s finally someone willing to have a rational conversation about a complex issue.

Saying #ShutUp Doesn’t Solve the Problem

zawahiri

Yesterday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters that she believes al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri is hiding in Pakistan. Foreign Minister Khar responded with grace and poise following such a serious allegation, stating that the government has no information about Zawahiri’s being in Pakistan, but that if the US does would it kindly share that intelligence with Pakistan so that they government can take appropriate action. Unfortunately, this was not the only response. In addition to the FM’s cool reaction was, of course, the predictable outburst of emotion that ignored all reason and, in trying to defend Pakistan, behaved embarrassingly.

The embarrassing response took the form of a Twitter hashtag #ShutUpClinton. As you might expect from the hashtag itself, these were not the most intelligent responses to Clinton’s accusation. They were emotional, reactive, and often attempts to change the subject by pointing out problems with US policy as if that someone excuses problems with our own.

There is no doubt that the US has made some profound mistakes. 9/11 was a terrible intelligence failure. The invasion of Iraq was based on manipulated evidence and propaganda. But just because the Americans have intelligence failures and manipulated evidence and propaganda, does that mean we should do the same?

Many people responded to the #ShutUpClinton campaign by pointing out that Osama bin Laden was living in Pakistan undetected. What came to my mind wasn’t Osama, though, it was Warren Weinstein – the 70-year-old development worker who was kidnapped from his home in Lahore last August.

Overshadowed by Clinton’s remarks was another piece of news that should shake us to our core. The kidnapped American aid worker has finally been heard from – in an al Qaeda hostage video.

It was the first direct confirmation that Al Qaeda was holding Mr. Weinstein, the country director for the Washington-based consultancy J.E. Austin Associates, which contracts for the United States Agency for International Development.

Armed men snatched him from a Lahore neighborhood in August; three months later the leader of Al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahri, said Mr. Weinstein could be released if the Obama administration stopped all airstrikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, and released several men convicted for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

Yesterday, TTP leader Hakimullah Mehsud declared that the 4th May suicide bombing in Bajaur district was carried out to avenge the 2006 death of an al Qaeda commander. An article in Express Tribune explains the frightening al Qaeda connection in Bajaur:

A Mohmand cleric, Maulvi Faqir Muhammad arose as the al Qaeda-backed leader of the Taliban in Bajaur, who has escaped capture for the last six years, although it was rumoured earlier this year that he may have been killed. He is an important commander with approximately 3,000 warriors under his wing and is expected to fight the post-withdrawal war in Afghanistan. In August 2008, the army launched Operation Sherdil against him to stop the Taliban movement to and from Kunar. The terrorists were ousted from the agency by 2010 but, like warlord Fazlullah of Swat, Maulvi Faqir is able to make hit-and-run raids into the area. Bajaur is far too strategically important for al Qaeda to abandon. In the coming battle, this will be the funnel through which our warriors will cross over to fight the Northern Alliance.

Maulvi Faqir has been difficult to eliminate because of his alliance-making dexterity: he is aligned to Mullah Omar and al-Zawahiri. There are other terrorist outfits in Bajaur that owe similar allegiances and are at the beck and call of Maulvi Faqir. Since 2007, the Taliban are there together with the remnants of TNSM. But the Jaish-i-Muhammad is there too, headed by Qari Ali Rehman, who will unite against the Pakistan Army despite his differences with Maulvi Faqir. The Harkatul Jihadul Islami, which was involved in the Islamabad Marriot Hotel blast, is also active in Bajaur,

As The Express Tribune notes in its editorial, “The suicide attack in Bajaur is a foretaste of what will transpire in the region after the US and Nato forces leave Afghanistan”. Forget Osama, since the past few days al Qaeda terrorists have carried out suicide bombings and released hostage videos of aid workers kidnapped from Lahore. And our response is to list the failures of American foreign policy?

Al Qaeda is operating in Pakistan, and our response is to tell Hillary Clinton to shut up? That doesn’t solve the problem, it ignores it. Whether or not Ayman al-Zawahiri is living in Pakistan is not a question of ghairat, it is a question of self-preservation. If we are unable to unwilling to admit that terrorists are in Pakistan – whether or not their names are Zawahiri – we will be the ones who continue to suffer.

Memogate Mindset

As the memogate saga continues to drag on long after its expiration date, it occurred to me that Memogate is about much more than the accusations underlying the case. How else could one man with quickly sinking credibility manage to so completely capture the attention of the nation? What I’m proposing, though, is not that memogate is a conspiracy – I don’t know if it is or it isn’t. What I’m proposing is that memogate reflects a mindset that cripples our ability to get things done.

In this mindset, despite the bizarre claims, the countless contradictions, and the weak and unimpressive ‘evidence’, we get swept up by a dramatic narrative in which we chose a villain and then become fixated on catching the villain and punishing him. In the process, we ignore all facts and reason. In the memogate case, Dawn captures this perfectly:

Three serving chief justices of high courts are spending long hours wrestling with borderline silly claims and counter-claims in Islamabad while the infinitely more serious work of managing high courts weighed down by myriad administrative problems has been sidetracked.

But it’s not just secret memos that we allow to distract us from pressing issues. Drones, too, have become a fixation of the national mindset. You don’t have to support drone strikes to realize that they aren’t the biggest threat to Pakistan right now. Facts are facts, and the facts are that while hundreds of innocents have been killed by by drones, but over 30,000 have been killed by extremists. But you wouldn’t know that from the way we talk about the war on terror here. We turn a blind eye when militants hold public rallies, but we suspect every American of being a Raymond Davis.

Imran Khan says the killing of Osama bin Laden was the greatest humiliation for Pakistan, but what about the fact that the world’s most wanted terrorist not only felt safe living for years in the shadow of Kakul. Was that not a greater embarrassment? Dr Afridi has been charged with treason for helping expose the terrorist leader, but nobody has asked who helped this terrorist to violate Pakistan’s sovereignty and expose us to international humiliation.

Imran Khan termed the killing of Osama bin Laden as “cold blooded murder”, while his good friend Munawar Hasan terms Osama as “the greatest martyr” – but martyr for what? Certainly not for the Islam that is practiced by hundreds of millions of Pakistanis – a humble, peaceful, merciful, loving Islam. We have picked our villain, and it is America. Facts and reason be damned.

This mindset is holding us hostage. Just as the continued wasting of precious time and resources on the word of a single discredited source keeps us from relieving the suffering of countless Pakistanis who are crying out for justice, our obsession with America as a villain keeps us from seeing the forces who are actually carrying out attacks against our people and our targeting our military assets. If we truly want to defend Pakistan, we need to change this mindset now.