Keep Talking and Keep Listening!

They say listening is more difficult than talking. But what is even harder in today's world is to communicate - an intense process of listening and talking and listening and responding........
This is a forum for people to engage in a conversation which is an art that many people don't know. Lets listen to others while maintaining the courage of conviction.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The original version of what couldn't get printed in Express Tribune - Why shouldn't Christians be Killed?

Someone called me recently insisting that now there will be action in North Waziristan against the Taliban. His point was that the killing of over 80 Christians in Peshawar would shake us into action. I quickly reminded him of what a rather intelligent nephew told me on recently about not taking such outpour of sympathy too seriously because it doesn’t eventually amount to anything. We sympathized with the Hazaras but didn’t ensure any concrete outcomes for their protection. We cry for the Baluch in conference rooms and think the job is done. The young man mentioned above reminded me that we are the kind of people who will cry over dead Hazara, Baluch, Christian, Ahmediya and others not for the sake of humanity but out of fear that we might be next. Sadly, even this episode of brutality will not go beyond producing some Coke Studio version of Faiz or Jalib.  The debate is likely to degenerate into a nonsensical debate labeled as liberal versus conservative verbal contest. The generals will just sit and wait for extensions and appointments. They want civilian leadership to take the blame but will not take any action themselves.
            The jihadi mafia is such lucky folks because they understand that a divided population, which does not even have clarity on holding someone responsible for these attacks, will not have the will to retaliate. There are many like Imran Khan who think the Taliban are not responsible for the attack in Peshawar. Indeed, the Hakimullah Mehsud group very intelligently distanced itself from the attack. So, now we will hold everyone responsible from CIA, Raw and Mossad to Charlie’s aunt and not look inside.
            Why forget that we ourselves are responsible for the attack on these poor Christians? The bias against this community is inbuilt into our psyche. There are many a people who wouldn’t share the same plate or glass with Christians. The whole drama of Asiya bibi is that she tried to drink water from the same well as Muslims. The majority of Pakistan’s Christians belong to the lowest socioeconomic class and they continue to remain there and treated the same way as they were before their forefathers converted to Christianity to escape maltreatment. Recently, one of Punjab CM’s favorite police officer taunted the Christian community and told them that the photographs of what they had done should be sent to ‘all their embassies’. This was after a fight between police and some Christian boys in which both parties had beaten each other. The police was then sent in full force to pick the culprits up from the slums. They would break open doors of houses with a cry of Allah-o-Akbar.
How can we forget that this is not the first attack against Christians and their Churches? There were two attacks in 2001 as well – one in Bahawalpur and another in the diplomatic enclave in Islamabad. For those arguing that those attacks were in reaction to American attack on Afghanistan after 9/11, why target the poor Christians of Pakistan who have nothing to do with the US? It were the poor Christians in the Bahawalpur Church, who cannot even dream of going to the West, who were killed in an attack carried out by Jaishe Mohammad (JeM) which is also stationed in the same city.
For those, who will argue that nothing has ever happened against Christians since 2002 until now and so this must be a provocation from outside, how can they not see the deep ideological messaging and propaganda ridden with bias against these people? Be it the takfiris, who even advocate killing Muslims that don’t support the cause, or the other kind that believe in killing more strategically, they share a common ideology. Glance through the magnum opus of the JeM leader explaining jihad according to the Koran, and you will see how a jihadi or Taliban will be inspired to kill a Christian. The entire interpretation of surah Baqarah, which is the second and the longest chapter in the Koran, puts the Jews and Christians on the same level as the hypocrites and the non-believers. The 2000 pages book carefully builds a thesis which extols the importance of jihad and martyrdom. But this is one aspect. The other is constructing a thesis against non-believers, Jews and Christians. It very carefully explains and interprets, for example verse 109 of Chapter 2, that the reference in the koranic verse to Jews includes Christians as well.  The detailed explanation of verse 114 of the same chapter reminds the reader of how Christians had depopulated the mosques in Spain. On several occasions in the book it is also pointed out that de-populating a mosque is one of the greatest sins that must be rewarded with death. 
The book is fascinating in how it systematically converts the reference to the notion of struggle in the Koran to jihad. But more important, it constructs a formidable thesis against people of the other two sematic religions who were traditionally always considered as part of the same family. Reportedly, Masood Azhar’s work reflects a similar thesis by a Salafi scholar in a Saudi university in Riyadh.

Azhar’s Fathul Jawwad is one of the fundamental readings for those being converted to the 
idea of jihad. There may be different Deobandi groups; even Taliban are Deobandi, but they 
share the literature especially there are more fighters but less ideologues who can create the ideology considered necessary to rally support from around them. Some analysts would make 
you believe that groups like Jandullah may be responsible for such an act and not the TTP which is in talks with the government. But whoever takes responsibility does not matter 
because ultimately this is the literature they are groomed on which is produced by the state sponsored jihadis.

Even if we were to imagine that the murder of over 80 innocent Christians including women and children may be the work of some foreign agency, how can we rule out the critical role that 
this kind of literature would have played in convincing the person who actually blew him/herself up? Perhaps, the killer might also have read the explanation given for verse 190 
that it is fair and legal to kill women who take part in fight including instigating against Muslim. Children are just collateral damage. 

Surely, the killers and many more see these women and children only from that lens. And still we call these jihadis friendly Taliban. 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

What do Khakis look for in a Boss?

Who will be the next army chief is an issue that seems to have caught the imagination of many a people in Islamabad and even outside. many a defense analysts are setting up shop and doing good business because of their acclaimed expertise on the matter. The closer you are to the GHQ's heart the more answers you might have. At least, you can conjecture much more freely and tout yourself as 'The Security Expert'. There are at least a couple in Islamabad who have a raving business built around their ability to answer questions of less knowledgable people, diplomats and foreign journalists. I bumped into one such character at a dinner who could name the postings that a particular senior general had done like the back of his hand. Very impressed!

But as I write this in mid-september, it seems that the about to retire saviour General Ashfaq Kiyani is still vying for an extension. Or if that's not possible to get appointed as national security advisor to the newly resurrected old military design organization called the National security Council. Such suggestions are not made directly but through journalist/anchor chamchas (translated into English as boot-lickers) who make a suggestion to test waters. The beauty of media empowerment under Musharraf is that now there are too many out there to sell themselves to the GHQ and others at hefty sums. But referring to General Kiyani, who some analysts claim to be a wise man, one's eyes easily pop out at the suggestion of him getting any appointment after his miserable track record of: Abbotabad ignominy, Salala disaster, Raymond Davis fiasco, scandalous moves to threaten democracy (ref: Memogate), and numerous scandals linking his brothers with corruption. 

However, he still seems to have control over a lot of things in the army which is why many sources don't think that Lt. General Haroon Aslam, who is the senior most will make it to the position of the army chief. He is being named for the position of the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC) but not as COAS. This is probably a pet Kiyani trick as he succeeded in kicking General Wyne to the position of CJCSC when he himself got a 3-years extension under the PPP government. Many name Lt. General Rashid Mahmood as a possibility. But then the rumors are that army officers call him baji (elder sister) indicating that he is a softee which also means that he may not be the one to rock the political boat. There are two other generals also famed as bajis: Generals Jahangir Karamat and Ashfaq Kiyani. One of the reasons why junior and mid-ranking officers use such derogatory terms for these two generals is because of their inability to standup to civilian leadership or become part of their corruption. Majority of military officers that include the PAF and PN were unhappy with Karamat for how he resigned and caved into pressure from Sharif's government in 1999. Kiyani makes them unhappy for taking extension from, what is perceived as a corrupt PPP regime. The stories of Kiyani's brothers corruption and involvement in land scams is also a reason some officers refer to him as 'Almas Bobby' (for those interested in bobby simply google).

For many a men the epitome of male officer-type is people like Pervez Musharraf and Asif Nawaz Janjua. These are male predator type for whom honor represents raw bravado, ability to break laws and poke anyone in the eyes. Musharraf still remains popular amongst the jawans more than the current chief. They look up to him for how he protected their interests. The manner in which he supported an alleged rapist of a femal doctor in Sui, Baluchistan Dr Shazia Khalid or condoned the slapping of a police official by an army officer as punishment for stopping the general's car on red light are cases in point. Had Musharraf not poked the CJ in his eyes or seemingly tilted too much towards India, most were fine with him. The men definitely want their man to be a man. The fact that he slept around or ran undressed with women in government buildings in hill stations or elsewhere, or drank himself silly does not really matter. However, it is also interesting that being categorized as a female has never stopped a senior commander from becoming an army chief. Perhaps, as long as the baji generals are good enough in providing kickbacks and perks internally, how they act ultimately is of little consequence. 

Then there is Raheel Sharif who was sidelined to a secondary position of Training and Evaluation in the GHQ. He comes from an army family, younger brother of Major Shabbir Sharif who won two military awards for his performance and martyrdom in the 1971 war.

The other two serious contenders seem to be Lt. Generals Tariq Khan (Coprs Commander Mangla) and lt. General Zaheer-ul-Islam. They say that Tariq Khan may not have a good chance due to his closeness with the US. Reportedly, his territory in Mangla looks like mini-US (these are reports not what I have seen myself). However, there are confirmed reports of him being a great party-thrower and a great DJ as well. However, there are others who insist that whatever the nature of discussion on the issue of the appointment of a service chief it will ultimately be Tariq Khan who will become the army chief. Indeed, he is a restless man who promotes his cause through military men in media. He also has a daughter studying in the US (California to be precise) who writes columns and is the future defense analyst. She will probably land in many American think-tanks (as long as singing a duet with the Pak army remains fashionable).

Zaheer-ul-Islam is the current ISI chief who is also reputed to be a great Muslim. Reports are that he is mindful of his prayers and is less visibly an American chamcha as Tariq Khan. 

The Prime Minister has clearly two choices: he could either go for a baji type and not risk derailment or go for a more American friendly macho type or an Islamic ummah kind and have greater pressure put on him at some future date. I suppose the pieces of the puzzle will get together once the Kiyani retirement or extension or relocation decision is done. 

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Concocting Identity

A few days ago I was surprised to hear a renowned journalist sit and boast about his Baluch lineage. The boasting stuck out because then it was accompanied with claims of good knowledge of the unfortunate province. The comfort with which he spoke about the archaic nature of the tribal culture, his own experience of being head of a tribe at an early age was enough to impress the numerous foreigners sitting there that night. I am sure many of the ignoramuses amongst the audience must have felt pangs of respect for the gent as they realized how he must have abandoned the traditions to turn into a modern, liberal urbanite. All the excitement must have made them not notice the one critical detail of his father being an army officer (on a separate note the number of army brats that now occupy positions of significance in the private sector, think-tanks, media, NGOs etc., is just amazing).

Referring to the journalist, I was in a bit of a shock that evening because the person in question had never boosted about his Baluch lineage before or told tales that may raise suspicion in your mind that he probably knew something about Baluchistan or the culture. My mind suddenly wandered to another character, a female this time who has been presented by the agencies as the grand daughter of some Baluch tribal chief. The woman – a femme fatale – for the notorious ISI was lucky to get her entire resume and life doctored by the military’s intelligence agency and sexed-up to make her appear acceptable in the eyes of the foreigners, local elite and many other customers. The last I remember the young woman from when I met her many years ago was that her mother was some medical doctor in one of the military’s welfare foundations and she was raised in Multan. Reminded me of yet another ISI’s femme fetal, who the other day, was boosting in front of a foreign audience how well she knew of South Punjab because her retired military bureaucrat father had some land in an areas she referred to as the boonies. Such a claim was being made to show her knowledge of the area and to impress an important western diplomat of what she was saying about some positive change in the place was the gospel truth. A common friend later told me that this woman might have visited the place once but never again because the piece of land was taken care of by her elder sister. But let’s suppose she went to the boondocks in South Punjab every month or week; or lets imagine the journalist I referred to earlier was of Baluch descent; or another journalist close to the heart of Pakistan’s military establishment who claims to be a blue-blooded Kashmiri was actually a blue-blooded Kashmiri, does it naturally give them sufficient knowledge of these places, especially what people suffered – their joys and sorrows? The journalist claiming to be Kashmiri has never lived in Kashmir or even visited the place besides accompanying his army dad or in army helicopters, nor has the two man and woman claiming Baluch lineage have ever lived there. They have certainly not seen that part of being a Baluch which experiences humiliation and torture at the hands of the state and its numerous agents. It was not too long ago that I met a newly-inducted civil bureaucrat from the Makran coast. He was frustrated, anxious and deeply hurt as he talked about how the state did not appreciate that people like him did not want to fight a battle with the state and yet were humiliated and dragged around. people like him were caught in the middle between not wanting to fight with the nationalists and being humiliated by the state all the time. His was a blood-curdling narrative about what goes on in people's minds when military and para-military forces barge into people's homes in search of those declared terrorists or criminal. The manner in which families are treated is something that would produce greater anger and resentment. Their's is a different lineage, which, in the eyes of the state cannot be worn around like a medal. There are no prizes for these Baluch whose right over their resources is challenged in the name of the state's desire to bring modernity. The Baluch cannot be made party to a decision to contract out Gwadar to the Chinese or any other firm because they appear as anti-modern. Intriguingly, the tribalism, which the state and General Musharraf (and his predecessors) so loathed is then owned in a different way by giving the mata haris the same identity and lineage. What is despised and targeted in one place is celebrated and romanticised in other cases. 

To those, who like to wear their lineage like a medal to gain prizes from certain quarters, I can only say that an ethnicity or lineage is not in a name or a title. It is also about collective experience. You are either a part of it or you cannot pretend ownership of that identity.