US fired 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at Syria’s Shayrat Airfield in the first major military operation ordered by Donald Trump. In addition to the serious consequences of deteriorating situation in Syria, this attack highlights the reality that international alliances are not as simple today as they were during the bi-polar Cold War when one was aligned with either American or Soviet side. For Pakistan, the Syrian crisis could have serious consequences, including for our involvement in the controversial Islamic Military Alliance.
One of the greatest concerns about involvement in the Saudi-led military alliance was whether Saudi and Iran would be able to overcome differences and adopt a common policy. Members of the Islamic Military Alliance supporting the attack include Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey, and Bahrain. However, Iran has condemned the attack as “dangerous, destructive and violates the principles of international law.”
Russia has also opposed the American missile strike, while China has stayed neutral. The question facing Pakistan now is, how do we fit this reality into our new alliances? Do we support American intervention along with Saudi and Turkey and other Islamic nations? Or do we oppose the American aggression along with Iran and Russia? Or do we try to sit on the sidelines along with China? Is that even an option?
Unfortunately, military alliances are not as simple as slogans about “all weather friendships.” Each nation is going to do what is in its best interest, and unless we are going to be a vassal state who follows a lead whether right or wrong then we also must determine what is in our own interest instead of making decisions based purely on convenient alliances and imagined shared ideologies.
Hundreds of innocents killed in a new wave of terrorist attacks, a new military operation announced, and within weeks we have already lost the plot. In just the past few days we have seen Islamabad High Court and Interior Ministry announce possible new social media ban to crack down on alleged problem of ‘blasphemous content’. This was followed by a petition against Zara Hut Kay for daring to question the IHC Judge.
Soon after, some of our so-called ‘journalists’ selectively read an article by former Ambassador Hussain Haqqani about American politicians meeting Russian diplomats and somehow managed to turn it into an admission that he helped capture Osama bin Laden. Only in Pakistan is helping capture the world’s most wanted terrorist considered treason, but this is our reality. However this interpretation doesn’t even match what is in the supposed confession. Haqqani says that he brought a request to Islamabad (which was his job) and that American intelligence agents were operating in Pakistan (this is no revelation or have we forgotten that ISI was working with CIA in Pakistan at the time?). The important line that nobody seems to have read is when Haqqani notes that “the United States kept us officially out of the loop about the operation”. Never mind the facts, though, as PPP grasped at the opportunity to disown their former Ambassador, something they do once a year as part of their desperate attempts to slow their slide into political irrelevance.
Meanwhile, COAS Bajwa has met with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz and Army has announced new operations will defend Saudi Arabia from cross border attacks. This news has broken only two days after Chinese media reported that Pakistan Army Chief has also promised to protect Chinese workers and investments in Pakistan. It has not been clarified where Pakistani citizens come in the priority, but some are speculating that the current list is:
Kashmir-based ‘freedom fighters’
Operation Raddul Fasaad was launched on 22 February. Less than four weeks later, we find our selves in essentially the same chaotic mess that we have remained leading many to ask if Raddul Fasaad and the national ‘unity’ is anything else but a facade.
Government has increased diplomatic efforts to stop the execution of Pakistani national Zulfiqar Ali by Indonesia. Sartaj Aziz recently sought a meeting with his Indonesian counterpart, and Indonesian Ambassador Iwan Suyudhie Amri was also summoned to the Foreign Office to officially protest. This is good news, and it is hoped that the execution will not be allowed to proceed. However it also raises the question why so much effort is being made to save the life of Zulfiqar Ali while the government has remained completely silent while dozens of Pakistanis have been executed by another country.
In the first five months of last year, 10 Pakistanis had already been executed by Saudi Arabia. Earlier this year, Pakistani citizen Elias Ismail was executed by Saudi Arabia also, but there were no smiling photos in the media and no diplomatic efforts to save his life. Pakistani citizen Shah Zaman Khan Sayyed was executed by Saudi Arabi in April this year for attempting to smuggle heroin, the same crime accused against Zulfiqar Ali.
Saudi sympathisers will claim that the cases are different because Zulfiqar Ali claims he was tortured, but is this really a difference? International human rights NGO Amnesty International reports that ‘Torture and other ill-treatment remained common and widespread’ in Saudi Arabia and ‘courts did not exclude statements elicited by torture, ill-treatment or coercion and convicted defendants solely on the basis of pre-trial “confessions” without investigating their allegations that the confessions had been obtained through torture, in some cases sentencing the defendants to death’.
It is the responsibility of the government and the Foreign Office especially to protect the rights of overseas Pakistanis. It is good to see the government doing everything it can for the defence of Zulfiqar Ali, but we should be very worried about what it means that they refuse to do the same for Pakistanis in Saudi.
Benazir Bhutto, former Prime Minister, once said, “Extremism can flourish only in an environment where basic governmental social responsibility for the welfare of the people is neglected. Political dictatorship and social hopelessness create the desperation that fuels religious extremism.”
Mohtarma, being a part of that environment, was well aware of it, where religious extremism was feeding under the shadows of Zia’s dregs. Radicalization is the main factor of extremism and extremism leads to terrorism, which according to statistics has caused 130,000 fatalities worldwide, between 2006 and 2013.
In Pakistan, around 60,779 people have lost their lives between 2003 and 2016 due to terrorism, and Pakistan stands at 4th out of 124 countries in a Terrorism Index, according to 2015 reports. Poverty and low standard of living are the main reasons for extremism. The majority of Pakistanis have middle class and lower middle class living standards, which has caused hopelessness and desperation. The quality-of-life index clearly shows the position of Pakistan; it stands at 93 out of 111 countries.
When Saudi Arabia confirmed identity of Jeddah suicide bomber as Pakistani Abdullah Qalzar Khan, it felt like a kick to the stomach. Then it got worse. 12 of 19 arrested for three bomb attacks in Saudi Arabia were Pakistani. There has been no clear explanation for the terrorists motivations, but that is not the point. There can be no justification for terrorism. I only mention this because it is another example of our countrymen who have been “willing to die” for their cause. We can accept that these man were misguided and unjustified and whatever they believed, they have actually done more to harm Islam than to defend it.
These reports were followed by another news report quoting PML leaders saying that ‘Pakistanis are ready to lay down their lives for Harmain Shareefain security’. While we don’t know their exact thinking, it is easy to assume that Abdullah Qalzar Khan and the others who carried out bomb attacks in Saudi Arabia probably believed they were laying down their lives to defend Islam. Now we are told all Pakistanis are ready to lay down their lives to defend Islam from those who are ready to lay down their lives for what they believe is defending Islam. Maybe it is time that everyone stop trying to die for Islam and start trying to live for it.
Abdul Sattar Edhi has done more for Islam in this world than any jihadi, and he has done it not by killing or dying but by living and helping to live. Edhi sahib has given the greatest sacrifice of his life, not by losing it but by giving it to others. There is a famous story of a man asking if his ambulance service is Islamic why his ambulance picks up non-Muslims. Edhi sahib replied perfectly, ‘Because the ambulance is more Muslim than you’. If we want to honour Islam, we need to be as Muslim as Edhi’s ambulance, not Kalashnikov’s rifle.