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Current Affairs ( 15 Dec 2015, NewAgeIslam.Com)

Jobs and ‘jihad’: New Age Islam’s Selection From Pakistan Press, 16 December 2015

New Age Islam Edit Bureau

December 16th, 2015

Jobs and ‘jihad’

By Rafia Zakaria

APS tragedy: forever etched

By Zahid Hussain

Russia and its radicalising Muslims

By Jonathan Power

Bleak justice

By Sameer Khosa

The politics of peace talks

By Hussain Nadim



Jobs and ‘jihad’

Rafia Zakaria

December 16th, 2015

ONE thing is known about Tashfeen Malik: she is a murderer who, along with her husband Syed Rizwan Farook, shot and killed 14 people in San Bernadino, California. In a United States riven with paranoia following the attacks in Paris, she has been elevated to a terror mastermind, the lethal Pakistani bride who did not simply participate in the massacre but planned it and egged her husband on to do it.

The consequences of her acts and the suspicions birthed from them will of course be borne by others. A mere 10 days after the attacks, The New York Times reported officials saying that the only way future ‘terror brides’ could be prevented from entering the country was to extend the scrutiny applied to female applicants of K-1 and other visas. It is quite likely that these instructions have already been issued to US consular posts.

Those of course are the actions being taken by the US counterterrorism establishment, which has promptly taken the superficial aspects of Tashfeen Malik (and notably not her husband) and is now presenting them as wide-ranging truths regarding Muslim women and terror plots.

One aspect of Tashfeen Malik’s life that has not received attention is the fact that she was raised in a Saudi expatriate home, with a father who became notably more conservative after his move to that country. This fact, highlighted in the few reports filed from Pakistan but largely pushed to the sidelines in American discourse, may in fact present the most crucial clues regarding global labour movements, the import of societal conservatism, and its consequent escalation into a murderous rage pinned to misguided zealotry.

The large-scale extraction of oil in Saudi Arabia led to a seismic shift in the regional labour market. Suddenly Pakistani workers, including Tashfeen Malik’s father, were in demand to toil in Saudi Arabia’s oil fields, delivering the black gold that would make the kingdom one of the richest countries in the world. The trickle-down effect was and continues to be crucial to Pakistan’s labour export market, bringing in several billion dollars in remittances — the largest amount sent back from any country.

There is a constant war of ideologies between the subcontinent’s live-and-let-live brand of Islam and its Saudi adversary.

The impact was visible in all Pakistani communities that were sending their sons to Saudi Arabia; houses built on remittances, well-appointed and ostentatious, stood in remote villages as emblems of the bounty their owners were digging out of the faraway desert land. As years passed, more left and when their iqamahs ran out or when they had earned enough or when their sons could earn in their stead, they returned.

It was not just money they brought back with them. Years in conservative Saudi Arabia also meant years immersed in Wahabi doctrine, whose literalist premises judged their own understanding of religion as inadequate and inauthentic. The Saudis are, after all, the guardians of Islam’s holiest places, their desert the religion’s birthplace; they must know better. So the logic went, pressed further by the fact that the Saudis were also their bosses, whose greater largesse and untouchable superiority inspired an equal pressure in Pakistanis to do as their Saudi masters did.

So this strand of religion came back to Pakistan on the backs of oil workers. The tale of Tashfeen Malik’s father is typical: a man at odds with the family he left behind, judging them for their lesser devotions. It happens all the time, in every Pakistani village.

Pakistan, its job market still dependent on the export of labour to Saudi Arabia, cannot say ‘no’ to what its workers bring back. Nor does it have the power to stem the flow of worker-borne religious conservatism.

The consequence is a constant war of ideologies between the subcontinent’s live-and-let-live brand of Islam — more tolerant and less combative, reared as it was in an environment of cosmopolitanism and diversity — and its Saudi adversary. The latter is winning, Pakistanis can tell Americans; the impetus for ‘correction’, where self-styled ideologues harass, pester and sometimes kill others they believe supportive of a less conservative strand of Islam, is commonplace in the country. Their ranks have been bolstered by new generations raised in Saudi-financed religious schools, Saudi-funded charities and a host of other instruments of Saudi evangelism.

It is all old news in Pakistan; conservatism bred and fed to become the bedding for something worse, the carnage of young children killed in a school, whose anniversary falls today, and tens of thousands of other acts of terror that will not be remembered but have nevertheless devastated and eviscerated.

It is disturbing to see these connections and causes ignored in America, whose cosy relationship with Saudi Arabia renders it mute and resolute against its ambitions of reform in the Islamic world.

Saudi Arabia is bombing the militant Islamic State group, the latest flavour of Islamic extremism that has installed itself as the world’s new bogeyman; this fact somehow becomes a reason to forget all the other trajectories of terror that it cultivates and promotes.

Pakistan needs jobs and Saudi Arabia provides them; in exchange, it is not just the toiling bodies of young Pakistani men that are offered up to squeeze the oil from the kingdom’s largesse but also their minds. As they work in an environment where women are never seen, where tolerance is not necessary because everyone has been homogenised, altered, filed and made to fit a constricted and literal version of religion, they develop also a hatred of the tolerance they may have once known at home. Pakistan is remembered not simply as poor but also less pious.

Making it in Saudi Arabia, then, requires looking down on Pakistan, and the consequences of imported conservatism are visible everywhere, from Karor Lal Esan to Karachi. The Americans, sadly, are too far away to see, too preoccupied in dissecting visible enemies, garage-made bombs and ‘terror brides’ to note the complicity of the friends who birthed them.

Rafia Zakaria  is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.


APS tragedy: forever etched

By Zahid Hussain

December 16th, 2015

ONE year on, the horror of the Army Public School tragedy in Peshawar continues to haunt our conscience. Terror atrocities have killed thousands of people in this country and yet it remains unthinkable that anyone could target children. There are perhaps few parallels of such brutality in modern history. Children as young as 10 were among the victims.

It was, perhaps, the gravest moment even for this country that has seen so many tragedies and bled so many times. The wounds of parents losing their children can never be healed. Those who escaped the macabre dance of death are back in school traumatised by the memories of their colleagues mowed down in front of them. Their lives can never be the same again. The Dec 16 massacre gave a new and more brutal turn to militancy in the country.

Many of the victims were children of army officers and personnel engaged in fighting in the tribal areas. The terrorists chose a soft target to send a message to the army and to spread fear. They failed, however, in their objective despite the horror they inflicted. The gruesome action united the nation. Even those who sat on the fringes in the battle were compelled to join in.

Some of the perpetrators are believed to have been killed. But the masterminds are still at large plotting new terror attacks from their bases across the border. Those who justify the terror brutality that does not even spare children are still among us making our new generation even more vulnerable. The execution of a few terrorists is not going to eliminate this evil. It is a protracted war against a mindset that is deeply entrenched in our society. How willing are we to fight this battle? One year on from this unforgettable national tragedy it is time for reflection and introspection.

One year later, we are still looking for an answer to how it all happened. How did terrorists laden with heavy weapons penetrate the supposedly high-security zone and enter the school unobstructed? The killing spree continued for some time before the security forces arrived. Was there any investigation? Was anyone held responsible for criminal negligence and punished? Have we really learnt any lessons from the tragedy? The answers are not clear.

It was, perhaps, the gravest moment even for this country that has seen so many tragedies and bled so many times.

Surely, the nation stood united in grief and in condemnation of the horrific action, but was that just a fleeting moment? The resolve to take the battle against terrorism to the end was short-lived. It did not take much time for the apologists to resurface with their twisted narrative. There has not been any serious effort to counter it. It was back to the old ways, almost as if nothing had happened. Even those children injured in the attack were forgotten. Only the parents were left grieving for their slain children.

Then there are also questions about the much-touted National Action Plan agreed on by the civil and military leadership in the aftermath of the school attack. Although the 20 points constituting NAP can hardly be described as a coherent counterterrorism strategy, no serious effort has been made to implement even these.

Except for the military courts and the revival of the death penalty there has hardly been any visible progress on the other points. Hardly any action has been taken against the radical madressahs and sectarian groups involved in militant violence. While some senior Lashkar-i-Jhangvi leaders have been killed in what is described as ‘police encounters’, many others are still active inciting sectarian killings.

The promise of reforming the legal system and speedy trial of thousands of suspected militants detained by the security forces during the operation is yet to be implemented. Many of them have been freed by the courts apparently for lack of evidence.

Surely the most critical issue is terror financing. Some cosmetic actions notwithstanding, little has been done to block the inflow of outside funding for militant groups and radical madressahs. In fact, in some cases it has been alleged that elements in the government have been protecting the sources as well as the recipients for political reasons. What is most alarming are widespread reports of some countries recruiting fighters for the ongoing proxy war in the Middle East. It is a very dangerous situation further fanning sectarian tensions in the country.

The madressah reforms and their registration that were among the most important points of NAP have been put on the back burner under pressure from radical religious groups and the mainstream Islamic parties. No action has been taken against Maulana Abdul Aziz, the head cleric of Islamabad’s Lal Masjid for condoning the Peshawar carnage and inciting violence.

It is true that the level of militant violence has come down significantly over the last one year mainly because of the military operation in North Waziristan and other tribal agencies. This has crippled the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan’s capacity to carry out large-scale spectacular terrorist actions. But there has not been any respite in attacks on religious minorities. The attacks on the Christian and Ahmadi communities mostly in Punjab remain a serious concern. Both the federal and provincial governments have failed to show the kind of commitment required to fight terrorism.

The non-implementation of NAP has endangered the gains made by the security forces in the tribal areas. Thousands of our soldiers and officers have laid down their lives to defeat the TTP and restore state authority in the region. The blood of fallen soldiers would go to waste if the scope of the operation against militancy and extremism is not extended to the entire country.

It is basically radicalisation that produces extremist mindsets and the terrorists of the kind who were involved in the APS attack. Without removing the sources of radicalisation and extremism, the battle against terrorism cannot be won. A similar tragedy could happen again if we slip in our commitment to taking the battle against extremism to its logical conclusion. The best way to pay homage to the victims of the December tragedy is to reaffirm our resolve not to let this happen again.


Russia and its radicalising Muslims

By Jonathan Power

December 16, 2015

Russia stands at a major crossroads as it works out how exactly to deal with the 14.5 million ethnic Muslims that live inside its borders. If added to this are the migrant workers from Central Asia and Azerbaijan the total is around 20 million. Compare this with Germany, which has five million and France, which has six million Muslims. This is quite a cupful to swallow. The Kremlin has struggled for decades to deal with Muslim ways and demands. When communism collapsed it was relatively easy to restore the Orthodox Church to its traditional preeminence. But dealing with the Muslims is much less straightforward. Besides being a religion they are a political force.

The relationship between the power of the Kremlin and the developing power of Islam was seriously put to the test in the 1990s by the wars for independence in the southern Muslim states of Chechnya and Dagestan. Today, stability is threatened by the growing appeal of Islamic State (IS) among disaffected Islamic youth. If Chechnya (now pacified) was the catalyst for the initial spread of militant Islamism, IS is now the threat that can spear the soft underbelly of southern Russia.

This threat is galvanised by the belief system of IS and Saudi Arabia (which has exported it), Wahhabism, with its puritanical and anti-female theology. According to President Vladimir Putin, over 2,000 Russian citizens have gone to fight with IS, a ruthless organisation that recently blew up in mid-air a Russian airliner.

Most of the world thinks only of the fall of the Iron Curtain on Russia’s European borders. But it also fell in the south. Six million immigrant workers mixed with evangelical Wahabist imams are gradually becoming a potent fifth column inside Russia. Shooting itself in the foot, Russia has dealt too often with the bubbles of incipient disaffection by using the heavy hand rather than dialogue. Inevitably, this has led to further radicalism.

Nevertheless, a poll conducted in 2010 by the Media-Orient agency in the north Caucasus of Muslims found that 73 percent rejected political and religious extremism. But that still leaves a quarter that is attracted to radicalism to varying degrees. Surprisingly, the highest totals of rejection were in Chechnya and Dagestan — 97 percent and 85 percent respectively. Perhaps that is because they have both experienced the horror of Islamic extremist-led war.

In public, the Russian leadership welcomes the Islamic religion as a moral force. In private, there are grave doubts. It is obvious that over the last two decades Islam, quiescent in Soviet times, increasingly serves as a forum for social and political protests, which in some areas have been hijacked by separatists.

To complicate things, unlike the monolithic Orthodox Church, Islam is split into competing factions. There is old time traditional Islam on the one hand and on the other fundamentalism, Islamism and Wahhabism. Three years ago the mufti of Tatarstan, a traditionalist, was seriously wounded in an attack and Valiulla Yakupov, a prominent ideologist of Islamic traditionalism, was assassinated.

The Kremlin demands unconditional loyalty to Mother Russia. Many Muslims do not give it and look towards the global ummah (community). Their numbers are growing fast. Not even Tatarstan, which has existed peacefully in a Christian environment for half a millennium, is isolated from the tendency towards radicalism and militancy.

According to Alexei Malashenko, co-chair of Carnegie Moscow Centre’s Religion, Society and Security Programme, writing in the quarterly Russia in Global Affairs: “The Kremlin simplifies the situation by focusing on the political aspects. It combats extremism and separatism but evades the question of how people in a secular state can live by religious laws. It ignores the fact that the trend in the development of Russia’s civic identity does not always coincide with, and sometimes is even opposed to that of religious identity.” Malashenko also makes the point that many Muslim scholars, imams, theologians and even local politicians today seek to move away from a simplified dichotomy between traditional and radical. They see that it splits society and that some sort of mix is necessary, not to be violent or brutally puritanical but to recognise the value of the social and political protest. And that even in a modern society sharia law can be observed, as long as one is not fundamentalist about it. There needs to be both a state-Islamic dialogue and an Islamic-Islamic one.

Some 2,000 Muslims going to fight on the side of IS is too many but it is not a lot. The response to the call of violence is still limited to a very small minority. The time for dialogue and mending grievances has by no means run out. Putin said in an important speech on Islam: “Although religion is constitutionally separated from the state, the state itself is not separated from believers.” Clearly, he has some grasp of the problem. But there is a way to go from words to action.

Jonathan Power has been a foreign affairs columnist for the International Herald Tribune for 20 years and author of the much acclaimed new book, Conundrums of Humanity — the Big Foreign Policy Questions of Our Age.


Bleak justice

Sameer Khosa

December 16th, 2015

ON Dec 16 last year almost 150 people, mostly schoolchildren, were brutally murdered in Peshawar. In its wake the country decided that business as usual could not carry on and so was formulated the National Action Plan. A key plank of the NAP was the establishment of military courts to ‘ensure’ that terrorists were meted out justice. The argument was based on the premise that civilian courts, even anti-terrorism courts, were either too afraid or too procedurally cumbersome to deal with such cases.

Therefore, even the strongest case for military courts that was made at the time was premised on these ‘special courts’ being required for ‘special times’ — not as a norm. This is perhaps why the 21st Constitutional Amendment, under which the military courts were provided constitutional protection, also has a ‘sunset clause’ ie it is meant to expire in two years’ time.

Yet, on the first anniversary of the Peshawar tragedy, apart from the panacea of military courts there has been very little meaningful or urgent action to ensure that the shortcomings in the ‘normal’ courts of the country are addressed so that a self-perpetuating cycle of justification for military courts is not created.

We were told that one issue is intimidation of witnesses and judges. Well, military courts have so far addressed this problem only by shrouding their proceedings in secrecy. If that were so, then shouldn’t this two-year period be used to build more secure facilities, provide security to judges and also implement witness protection programmes for normal courts? What will happen when two years are over — will the need to prevent intimidation have vanished?

We were told that civilian courts acquit hardened terrorists. But courts are required to act on the evidence before it. The answer cannot be to stop requiring sufficient evidence before people are convicted. Even so, there are no reforms to our law of evidence being made, no reforms in the prosecuting agencies involved, no reforms or training into evidence collection and preservation so that by the time two years are over the perceived problem stands addressed.

No judicial reforms are evident a year after the school tragedy.

This is simply a fundamental and basic point: if military courts are required to address certain shortcomings, and they are admittedly only an extraordinary temporary measure then common sense and good intention requires that in that time period the perceived shortcomings are addressed.

As it is, it is still not clear what exactly military courts do that normal courts could not do — except to expend with the procedures required to ensure that the persons we punish are actually guilty of their crimes. If secrecy is all that was required, it could equally have been provided to anti-terrorism civilian courts.

In fact, it is arguable that it should not be. Justice, publicly and transparently done, with defence arguments heard and countered is a tremendous public good and cathartic experience. It provides closure to the victims’ loved ones, and represents a public statement that societal rules cannot be violated. It represents a victory of the state institutions against those seeking to destroy them.

Military courts provide none of that. In fact, they do the opposite. We have recently been told that four individuals involved in the APS attack have been hanged. Yet, we have no way of verifying that claim, no public record of their trial, no idea of the evidence against them, no idea of what each man’s role was — no real closure.

Instead of urgently pursuing judicial and legal reform, what we have seen is the opposite. As feared, any time a shocking incident happens some public figure or the other makes a call for the individuals responsible to be tried through military courts. When the child sex abuse scandal in Punjab broke out, public figures called for those responsible to be tried through military courts, in fact this was requested in the Lahore High Court as well.

We cannot risk military courts being seen as an alternative to the flaws in our legal system. They cannot become a permanent feature of our judicial framework. There is no point in fighting with terrorists militarily if in the meanwhile we willingly acquiesce to changing the orientation of our state and forego the values that are necessary in any civil, humane and just society. If we do that, then we have already lost what we are fighting to protect.

Military courts were supposed to be a necessary evil. No stakeholder, whether government, military or opposition should be allowed to make the argument two years later that military courts are still required when during the intervening period they have sat by and not taken the required measures to address the perceived shortcomings that necessitated them in the first place.


The politics of peace talks

By Hussain Nadim

December 16th, 2015

Nothing brings more jubilation in South Asia than resumption of peace talks between Pakistan and India. At times, it seems that the two nations are so intent on the resumption of peace talks that the peace itself gets dwindled down somewhere in all the hype and political point-scoring. One, however, has to appreciate the consistency and sheer optimism of the two sides every time they begin talks, despite realising that they usually don’t go anywhere as can be seen from history. Yet, they try — and this time they are trying to initiate a big, fat ‘comprehensive’ dialogue for peace. It is so comprehensive that any serious analyst can predict an impasse occurring before the dialogue even starts in earnest.

Despite all the optimism and media hype celebrating the recent meetings between Pakistan and India at the Heart of Asia conference, the reality is that the talks appear more to be stunts that help the establishments in both India and Pakistan — domestically and abroad. Such is the strength of the peace narrative that even the general who led the Kargil war could not help but pursue peace talks when he gained power. Similarly, the BJP, despite its war rhetoric against Pakistan, succumbed to the narrative and realised that ‘peace talks’ sell. So why make efforts to strike real peace between the two countries when there is a lot more to gain from limiting the whole agenda to just ‘peace talks’?

The reality is that there is little appetite for full-scale peace and prosperity of relations within the establishments of the two countries — something that is evident from the agenda of the composite and comprehensive dialogue that includes all major issues, none of which can be resolved before the hawks on both sides jeopardise it or the next terrorist attack is carried out to end the dialogue. It then comes as a surprise as to how the diplomatic, security and political brass in the two countries expect the Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue to be a real success when the basic ingredients of a meaningful dialogue are missing and the strategy misdirected.

Given the history of India-Pakistan peace dialogues, important lessons must be learnt for any success in the ongoing talks. The first and foremost is that the continuation of the peace dialogue can only be ensured if the talks remain discreet and beyond the gaze of the media. Celebrating the peace dialogue before it has achieved anything and bringing it to the attention of the sensational and nationalistic media on both sides will trigger elements that would want to act against the process before it comes into shape. However, as mentioned earlier, there is more to gain from ‘peace talks’ than from peace itself, so there will always be the need to involve the media in the whole process.

Secondly, we need to realise that for a sustainable, comprehensive peace dialogue, the ability to produce and demonstrate quick and early successes is important. Unfortunately, nothing in the Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue agenda has been included that can give quick gains to both countries for confidence-building and pacifying the hawks. Given the expectations from the dialogue, the media limelight and high stakes involved, it is striking that the two sides have included nothing in the agenda to show quick tangible results to their respective populations.

The fact that the resumption of the Pakistan-India cricket series, which could have been one of the successes to come out of the dialogue, is nowhere in sight goes to show that the Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue may have started on the wrong foot and may not be different from the fate of all the dialogue processes of the past. Peace has to start small and then snowball into covering major issues — not the other way around. There are some positives here, however. One of these is that it is clear that the Pakistani civilian political leadership and the military are on the same page on this important matter that has previously been a bone of contention between the two spheres. To witness a civilian face on the peace dialogue with India, backed by the military is a positive sign and provides hope for this otherwise dead-ended dialogue to go ahead.

Hussain Nadim is a PhD candidate and coordinator of South Asia Study Group at the University of Sydney


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