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Attacks On Civil Society Should Be Seen In The Context Of Deviations From The Democratic Norms: New Age Islam’s Selection From Pakistan Press, 8 October 2015

New Age Islam Edit Bureau

8 October 2015

 Attacks on civil society should be seen in the context of deviations from the democratic norms


 The winter of Afghan discontent

Dr Mohammad Taqi

 Barack Obama, a fantastical strategist?

Harlan Ullman

 Mistrust and hostility: A Pakistani journalist in Afghanistan


 The Pope & Putin


 How much should we celebrate the Supreme Court’s verdict on Mumtaz Qadri?

By Noman Ansari


Attacks on civil society should be seen in the context of deviations from the democratic norms


October 8th , 2015

“IF leaders do not listen to their people, they will hear from them — in the streets, the squares, or, as we see far too often, on the battlefield. There is a better way. More participation. More democracy. More engagement and openness. That means maximum space for civil society.” — Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary General

WHILE Pakistan and quite a few other developing countries are trying to reduce the space for civil society in the management of public affairs, international human rights organisations are pleading for better respect for its rights.

The theme for this year’s International Democracy Day, that was observed on Sept 15, 2015, was ‘space for civil society’ and the subject figured extensively in the statement of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights at the opening of the Human Rights Council session last month.

In a recently re-issued booklet on Civil Society Space and the UN Human Rights System, the office of the Human Rights Commissioner has again highlighted the role of civil society on the basis of Article 1 of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders: “Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels.”

The civil society actors recognised by the United Nations include human rights groups (non-governmental organisations, associations), coalitions for the rights of women and children, and social movements (for peace, students’ rights, pro-democracy movements), trade unions, associations of professionals, and public institutions (schools, universities, research bodies).

Attacks on civil society should be seen in the context of deviations from the democratic norms of governance.

The activities of civil society actors encompass a wide field — from provision of social services, empowering youth, women and minorities to combating hate speech, promoting the rule of law, and fighting poverty, corruption, economic inequality and any form of discrimination.

It is necessary to bear these categorisations of civil society actors and their fields of activity in order to avoid limiting the definition of human rights defenders to disbursers of charity.

The high commissioner for human rights began his address by recalling the death of three-year-old Aylan al-Kurdi at sea and asked as to what good sessions of the Human Rights Council were when such incidents could happen. He then moved on to the question of space for civil society in humankind’s striving for a better, happier future. This is what he said:

“Instability is expensive. Conflict is expensive. Offering a space for the voices of civil society to air grievances, and work towards solution is free….

“When ordinary people can share ideas to overcome common problems, the result is better, more healthy, more secure and more sustainable states. It is not treachery to identify gaps, and spotlight ugly truths that hold a country back from being more just and more inclusive. When states limit public freedoms and the independent voices of civic activity, they deny themselves the benefits of public engagement, and undermine national security, national prosperity and our collective progress. Civil society — enabled by the freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly — is a valuable partner, not a threat.”

The high commissioner regretted that the number of states “that have taken extremely serious steps to restrict or persecute the voices of civil society” was growing. He took note of overly restrictive legislation enacted to limit the work of civil society organisations, suppression of the voices of minorities’ activists, targeting of women human rights defenders, measures taken to sharply limit the democratic space online, and attacks on journalists, particularly those who investigate human rights violations and corruption.

The many countries named by the high commissioner for denying civil society its due did not include Pakistan but the country would be a strong candidate for joining the list if the current campaign against civil society organisations continues.

The attacks on civil society in several countries should be seen in the context of deviations from the democratic norms of governance and decline in the rule of law, particularly through the enactment of laws that curtail due process and allow interference with the fundamental freedoms of people ostensibly to fight terrorism or other threats to state security. It can, therefore, be argued that any curtailment of space for civil society will lead to a shift away from democracy and the rule of law.

Space restrictions do not permit a detailed statement on the scale of the campaign against civil society going on in Pakistan at present but the resoluteness the government is showing in pushing forward legislation such as the NGO bill and the cybercrime bill and the new restrictions on freedom of expression and association portend an ominous future.

It is surprising that little thought is being given to the fact that by reducing the space for civil society the government is breaking from the tradition of promoting people’s participation in government that was founded long ago in the colonial period. For instance, large public organisations, such as the railways, had advisory boards comprising non-official experts, citizens and consumers to ensure that the views of the people were duly taken into consideration. This system did not work because of the widespread acceptance of use of official connection for personal gain.

The next stage in the scheme of engaging civil society in the area of governance was the creation of associations to manage professional groups (lawyers, medical and dental practitioners, engineers, teachers, et al). These institutions have succeeded, by and large, in dealing with organisational matters of professional groups except for setbacks caused by the interference of political authorities.

Thus, the emergence of civil society organisations that seek to protect people’s interest against state interference is the result of an evolutionary process aimed at achieving the ideals of civilised governance and any state resisting it would be imperilling its own future.

Published in Dawn, October 8th , 2015


The winter of Afghan discontent

Dr Mohammad Taqi

October 08, 2015

“Now is the winter of our discontent Made glorious summer by this sun of York” — Shakespeare’s Richard III.

The Kunduz city centre may have been ostensibly recaptured by the Afghan forces within three days of the city’s fall to the Taliban over a week ago but the aftermath is far from over. The city remains hotly contested and battles are raging in its several districts. Indeed, the battle for post-US withdrawal Afghanistan has just begun. What transpired in Kunduz and is unravelling in several other northern Afghan provinces is perhaps the harbinger of a long winter of discontent for the Afghans. And it will take a lot more than the first snow flurries to dampen the Taliban’s newfound offensive fury. This is clearly a change of tack on part of the Taliban with a shift from countryside fighting and spectacular terror attacks to incursions into the city and district garrisons. The jihadist terror group has clearly decided to bare its teeth after what Afghan President Dr Ashraf Ghani perhaps mistook for a Taliban smile but to everyone else had looked like a ruse to bide their time.

To the chagrin of both his devotees and detractors, Dr Ashraf Ghani had put all his eggs in the negotiations’ basket held out by Pakistan. Well, now the Afghan president seems to be the one left holding the bag after the Taliban has shown its hand. The capitulation at Kunduz, however evanescent it might have been, will not just leave an indelible mark on Dr Ghani’s presidency but perhaps mortally endanger it too. How deftly he handles the second biggest Taliban surge after the jihadist group’s mid-2000s regrouping and resurgence, will determine not only what lies ahead for Afghanistan but also whether he will get to complete his term in the office. The televised laments of wailing Kunduzi women to Dr Ghani on how the Taliban brutalised them on the ground and his forces from the air cannot be lost on him. The calls for his resignation or impeachment and the chorus of reproach after the fall of Kunduz cannot be conducive for any wartime president let alone for someone with little political history and fast-evaporating political capital. If he fails to wrap his arms around the situation fast, Dr Ashraf Ghani risks becoming the Afghan equivalent of Prime Minister (PM) Neville Chamberlain who was detested for his appeasement of Adolf Hitler and literally shown the door by the British public after the 1940 fall of Norway to the Nazis.

Dr Ashraf Ghani did not heed repeated warnings from within and outside Afghanistan that his peace overtures to the Taliban and their patrons were highly unlikely to bear any fruit. He squandered the opportunity to take the fight to the Taliban when they were most vulnerable politically, even if not militarily, after Mullah Omar’s death was confirmed. An opening that could have been used to liquidate the rump leadership was allowed to slip while signing a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with those who were alleged to be harbouring that clique. Dr Ashraf Ghani’s gamble that Pakistan could or would leverage the new Taliban emir (leader), Mullah Akhtar Mansour, to make peace not war has cost the Afghans very dearly. The time that should have been used to aggressively lobby world capitals for sustained support and training to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) was spent wooing the Pakistani brass at the expense of Afghanistan’s existing international relationships and agreements. The treasure and training needed for the Afghan security force’s effectiveness was surely not going to come from those who groomed its nemesis. The damning New York Times report on Mullah Akhtar Mansour’s whereabouts and wherewithal, published earlier this week, notes: "He has also benefited from a powerful alliance with the Pakistani military spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, the original sponsor of the Afghan Taliban insurgency. That relationship, along with a hefty dose of cash payouts to fellow commanders, was a crucial factor in his ability to manage the succession crisis this summer after news of Mullah Omar’s death finally got out.”

The Taliban war plan has become increasingly clear with the spate of its attacks across half a dozen provinces and, indeed, Kabul. The jihadist group is moving from purely guerilla attacks to offensive action against cities and seeks to topple regional governments but not necessarily hold its ground afterwards. Combined with continued terror attacks in Kabul, such incursions seek to delegitimise the central government, demoralise the people and erode their confidence in the Kabul dispensation. Moving the faceoff to ethnically mixed regions like Kunduz, the Taliban seek to exploit ethno-linguistic fault lines too. Thrust into the areas far removed from the Durand Line gives some level of deniability of foreign patronage and also forces the Afghan security forces to expose their southern and western flank, which could allow moving some elements of the Quetta and Waziristan shuras over to Helmand, Kandahar and Loya Paktia areas. It is unlikely, however, that the core leadership, including Mullah Mansour, would actually step into harm’s way albeit for a spectacular photo op. One also seriously doubts that the current Taliban foray into Kunduz and Badakhshan is designed to start off or buttress insurgencies in Tajikistan and China, respectively, as some analysts have suggested. It is actually the other way around with the Central Asian and Uighur jihadists reinforcing the Taliban ranks.

While the jihadist creed invariably is transnational, the Afghan Taliban remain geocentric, at least overtly, but deadly all the same. The Kunduz debacle indicates that the Afghan forces still need airpower and advisory support from the coalition forces and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future as they spread themselves thinner to counter multiple fronts that the Taliban is opening as the US commander, General John Campbell, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on October 6. General Campbell cannot and will not tell his president what to do but has, in his own words, provided “senior leadership with options different than the current plan”, i.e. a skeleton force of 5,000 US troops in Afghanistan after 2016. General Campbell has, however, laid the groundwork for a rethink of the current US strategy in Afghanistan. It is up to Dr Ashraf Ghani now to make a case for uninterrupted US and international support for Afghanistan while he puts his own house in order. He should know full well by now that those backing the Taliban are not backing off any time soon. The sons of Afghanistan will have to put in a herculean effort to turn an imminent winter of discontent into a glorious summer; whether Dr Ashraf Ghani is ready to transform into a wartime president and lead them remains to be seen.

The writer can be reached at and he tweets @mazdaki


Barack Obama, a fantastical strategist?

Harlan Ullman

October 08, 2015

To take Martin Luther King wildly out of context: I too have a fantasy. Suppose it is President Barack Obama and not Russian President Vladimir Putin who is the cleverer strategist. Suppose Mr Obama cunningly set a trap in Syria for President Putin that either will lead to a negotiated political settlement or embroil Moscow in a Syrian quagmire? Or is this a dream run amuck in that there is no way that a community organiser turned university law professor could have outwitted and outmaneuvered a former KGB spymaster?

Last week was not a good one for either the US or for President Obama. The annual UN General Assembly (UNGA) meeting of heads of government became the venue for President Putin making a mockery of Mr Obama’s Syrian strategy. Putin then stunned the anti-Islamic State (IS) coalition with the announcement that Russian aircraft were striking Syrian “terrorists” aiming to topple the Damascus government headed by Bashar al Assad. Adding insult to injury, Russia created an intelligence centre in Baghdad linking the US’ erstwhile ally Iraq with Russia, Iran and Syria.

Howls of criticism over these debacles from left and right still reverberate throughout the White House. However, suppose these critics were wrong. Suspend belief for a moment. Obama’s ‘strategy’ to destroy IS was failing. His contradictory top priorities of demanding that Assad must go and IS in Syria must be destroyed were incompatible and unworkable. How could Obama resolve this predicament?

Because the administration was only prepared to use minimal US force with great reluctance and, absent stronger US leadership and commitment, Arab allies would not do more, someone else had to do the heavy lifting. Enter Russia and who better than Mr Putin? Already bogged down in Ukraine and seeking a way out — and last Friday’s meeting in Paris with French President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angel Merkel, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Mr Putin may be the first step — Syria offered the Kremlin an exit strategy.

Even by sending a modest military force, Putin was demonstrating that unlike the US, which readily abandons its friends and allies such as Presidents Mubarak and Qaddafi, and intervenes elsewhere precipitating eventual chaos (Iraq and Afghanistan) Russia stands by its partners. And Mr Obama knew that Russia’s actions would raise Mr Putin’s image and popularity at home, at least for the short term.

Indeed, reacting to a shrinking economy, in a major speech last December, Putin guaranteed his countrymen that in two years time, all would be well on the economic front. With the current state of oil prices, Putin is also running low on foreign reserves. So, it is extremely unlikely he can deliver on that promise. Hence, while Putin’s political future is safe for the moment, for the long-term things could go badly. Thus, in this fantasy about Obama’s mind, Syria offers Putin further opportunities.

Russian air strikes will sustain the Assad regime for the short-term. However, if Russia does not wish to be drawn into an Afghan-like quagmire that helped implode the Soviet Union and cause what Putin called the greatest geostrategic catastrophe of the last century, these missions in Syria will not continue indefinitely. If they do, then Syria could become a Russian nightmare. A stronger Assad might be more prone to accepting a diplomatic settlement given he would have more influence in negotiating a more favourable outcome. If the war drags on, Russia is trapped. While the Syrian people will suffer, that was inevitable without Russian intervention. Either way, Obama comes out ahead.

If Putin takes the high road, sanctions will be lifted and possibly the Russian economy will quickly change direction. If it does not, Putin’s longevity is in question. While Obama may not be in office long enough to claim either result, that could be his legacy, if one were prepared to accept the president’s strategic acumen.

Time to wake up. Reality trumps fantasy. Readers will have concluded that this rendition is far too generous to Mr Obama. If Obama were a true strategist, he would confront the facts and emulate what George W Bush was forced to do in 2006 regarding the disintegrating conditions in Iraq. Bush made massive changes to his strategy. So, too, must Obama. It is unlikely he will. The administration’s strategy for destroying IS — and some argue there is no strategy — is not working and is actually failing badly. Russian and Iranian interventions into Syria may or may not pour gasoline on this fire. Yet more of the same on Obama’s part will be disastrous.

The writer is chairman of the Killowen Group that advises leaders of government and business and senior advisor at Washington DC’s Atlantic Council. His latest book, due out this fall, is A Handful of Bullets: How the Murder of an Archduke a Century Ago Still Menaces Peace Today


Mistrust and hostility: A Pakistani journalist in Afghanistan


October 8th , 2015

As a TV anchor, I'll readily admit that our electronic media neglects covering Pak-Afghan relations. Why? Because it will not bring in ratings.

This is also part of the reason why Pakistan’s biggest TV channels have few to no correspondents in Kabul or other cities in Afghanistan.

In fact, it is not even considered ‘newsworthy’ to report on our neighbour unless either of the two states (always better when both) indulge in a blame game on the security front.

I decided I would address this gap by visiting Kabul myself. I wanted to learn more about the perceptions of Afghan people. I also wanted to meet with politicians and social workers to understand the trust deficit between our two countries.


First impression: the Kabul International Airport looked like a US air base. I was immediately approached by a member of the airport staff who started conversing in Urdu; this put me instantly at ease. Unfortunately, this welcome was short-lived as I reached the security checkpoint.

I said I was Pakistani. They said I should remove my shoes. My luggage was carefully scrutinised. And there was a very, very long list of questions. This was repeated at all subsequent security checks.

And this was just the start. I stayed in Afghanistan for eight days. My time there consisted mostly of short interviews, off record and on record interactions, and some rather alarming exchanges with sources who requested anonymity, of course.

Each call that I made to coordinate my scheduled interviews carried an often hostile undertone.

‘…I am a Pakistani journalist.

No, I am not an ISI agent.

I am in Afghanistan for work.

I am a journalist…’

A specific hatred

The current mood in Kabul is quite anti-Pakistan, or to be more precise, anti-ISI. Most Afghans do not hate Pakistan per se, but the ISI, they staunchly believe, supports the Afghan Taliban and has vested interests in destabilising their country. While the ISI was berated by many, whenever I asked for specifics, I only got half-stories, hearsay and no evidence.

Examine: ISI officer involved in Kabul parliament attack, claims Afghan intelligence

The National Directorate of Security (NDS) and the government of Afghanistan blame Pakistan for almost every security dilemma.

Explore: At UN, Afghan leader calls on Pakistan to crack down on terror outfits

Indian intelligence, on the other hand, has close relations with Afghan intelligence. I learn that being on good terms with the Indian embassy in Kabul can really help you gain the trust of the Afghan interior ministry.

On the condition of anonymity, a senior politician (a jihadi in the past) told me that the national unity government in Afghanistan did not understand the importance of 'good relations' with the ISI. He stressed that Afghanistan needed to prioritise its relations in the region, which just wasn't happening.

In his view, Pakistan was not handling the matter of talks very well either. What they are doing under the table must be stopped, he said cryptically, before adding that the NDS and the government did not trust him and that he openly admitted to being pro-Pakistan.

This politician told me about his private meetings with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. He said, “Ghani panics a lot,” and that the president could not bear pressure. He further said that the MOU between Afghan and Pakistani intelligence was not impacting the trust deficit between the ISI and the NDS. For him, the solution lay in the policies and decision-making power of the Afghan government; the frequent change in diplomatic and political inclinations was damaging to foreign policy.

The Afghan journalist

I met a few Afghan journalists who wanted to work in Islamabad, but security clearance procedures were proving too troublesome.

A journalist is considered an agent in both states.

Afghan TV channels do not have any bureaus in Islamabad, and proposals for their establishment are lying in the dust. Officials from the Afghan foreign ministry told me that they had thrice requested Pakistan’s Minister for Information, Pervaiz Rasheed that they wanted to work with Pakistan's state TV on positive image-building (an effort which could be extended to private channels), but they have yet to receive a response.

The journalist community in Kabul is of the view that the two countries should build better relations with each other. In their view, miscreants in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India are actively working to prevent this.

I was told that whenever journalists from Pakistan come to work here, they are harassed by the NDS. I believe Afghan journalists must face the same problem in Pakistan.

Security and military reasons aside, I discovered another dimension of Afghanistan's tilt towards India when I learned that over 150 Indian journalists are currently working in Afghanistan. You will hardly find any Pakistani journalists working on important stories.

With this kind of people-to-people contact, no wonder Afghans trust Indians. For my own security, I was suggested not to reveal my nationality while interacting with the local public, though I did not follow that advice.

The Afghan social worker

I also met Afghan women social activists, who wanted bold decisions from their government. They did not believe in enforced brotherhoods and wanted a globalised, progressive and modern Afghanistan. They did however think that a pro-Pakistan attitude was never useful to them and that Pakistan had actually used them.

Fatana Gilani is a famous social activist who has been working for women empowerment for 30 years. She runs more than 50 vocational institutes for women; empowering Afghan women through education.

She said, "I love the women of Pakistan. We share the same culture. We live so close. But what about the role of the Pakistani government? Why does Pakistan support Taliban? Who created the Taliban? My efforts for women will not stop, but at the same time, I cannot ignore the factors which hinder our progress. Pakistan should not support the Taliban."

I even got access to the Afghan Taliban, though it wasn't easy, as they avoid talking to women. The aged man spoke of the Islamic State, the threat it posed, and how Pakistan may resultantly lose its influence on strategic policy in the region.

When I spoke to Afghan government officials, they avoided the camera, and the reason was straightforward: “It won't be right to give an interview to a Pakistani journalist right now.” I got diplomatic (empty) answers to most of my questions.

For the Afghan government, a porous border is not the bone of contention; it is the alleged sanctuaries of Afghan Taliban in Pakistan which are unacceptable. My observation is that they have no solution for border management, and it’s not even a major issue for them.

Dr Rangin Dadfar Spanta, former foreign minister and national security adviser to former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, shared the same sentiments.

“Pakistan is interfering in the internal matters of Afghanistan,” he said, citing a serious concern regarding Afghan Taliban crossing over from Pakistan. The ex-foreign minister further said that he was aware of the operation being carried out by the armed forces of Pakistan, but he believed it was not against the terrorists who attack them.

I asked him if Pakistan was indeed stabbing Afghanistan in the back, how would he explain the millions of Afghan refugees living in Pakistan? To this, he responded with surprising gratitude, thanking the Pakistani nation and the government for keeping and facilitating the refugees.

Meanwhile, responding to Afghan allegations like the above, Pakistani ambassador in Kabul Ibrar Hussain was of the view that Pakistan cannot open so many fronts at the same time, as the country is already busy fighting the internal threat of terrorism in Pakistan.

Pakistan is committed for peace and prosperity in Afghanistan, he said, which is why various landmark projects funded by the Pakistan government, like a hospital (US$60 million) and a boys hostel/school (US$ 10 million), are underway.

Pakistan and Afghanistan are losing valuable time and energy in their altercations against each other. Ufortunately, all this is happening at a policy-making level, and the effect is trickling down to innocent citizens, which in turn fuels widespread suspicion and hatred.

To sum up my sojourn, I would say that the ties between Pakistan and Afghanistan are complex, but can be overcome with rationale rather than emotional responses based on the past. Those in Kabul, and those in Islamabad need to step outside of the bubbles they have decided to live in.

Batool Rajput is an anchor for DawnNews.


The Pope & Putin


October 8th , 2015

IN the eyes of the West, President Putin can do nothing right and Pope Francis can do no wrong.

This has less to do with papal infallibility than with the engaging personality of the South-American born pontiff. Pope Francis (born J.M. Bergoglio in Buenos Aires, Argentina) began his secular career as a chemical technologist, doubling as a night-club bouncer, employed to keep gatecrashers out. Today, as the 266th pontiff, his mission is to be inclusive, all-embracing.

Pope Francis demonstrated his skills during his recent 10-day visit to Cuba, the United States and to the United Nations headquarters in New York. Each visit was carefully calibrated. In Cuba, a largely Roman Catholic country, he called on Fidel Castro whose trespasses over the past 50 years have been forgiven finally by the United States. In Washington, no one pouted when he kept President Obama and VIPs waiting for 17 minutes while their guest reached out to the faithful who had flocked his route to the White House.

He addressed a joint session of Congress, where he referred admiringly to Moses as “the patriarch and lawgiver of the people of Israel”. No one accused him of being a closet Zionist. He shared the balcony of the Congress building with Vice President Joe Biden, a Roman Catholic who stands a heartbeat away from the presidency. He addressed the multinational General Assembly of the United Nations, a minuscule but powerful enclave which, like Vatican City, functions courtesy of its host country.

His speeches were like the Masses he conducts — structured, ordered, and designed to elicit the right responses. At the UNGA, for example, he spoke as a fellow human being, cautioning delegates — as Al Gore has been doing ever since he left politics — that “any harm done to the environment is harm done to humanity”. A practising Jesuit, he preached to his well-fed audience against the “culture of waste”. He could afford to do so, having just opened his hitherto private summer palace at Castel Gandolfo to the public.

And in an age when lawsuits against the Church abound for impropriety, he kissed children and hugged male seminarians in public without arousing controversy.

Unlike the Pope, Putin can never do anything right in Western eyes.

By contrast, Russian President Vladimir Putin in Western eyes can do nothing right. He is viewed increasingly as its worst nightmare, feared as a resurrected Frankenstein.

Putin addressed the UNGA from the same podium that Obama had vacated minutes earlier. It was Putin’s first speech before the UNGA in 10 years; many of his victims must hope it will be his last.

He spoke with tactful subtlety. He spoke of the Russian sacrifices during the Second World War but never once mentioned Germany except with the euphemisms: “Nazism” and “anti-Hitler coalition”. He described the emergence after the Cold War “of one centre of dominance”, a nation “so powerful and exceptional” that it thought only it knew what was best for the world, but he never once mentioned the United States.

He admitted the mistakes made by the Soviet Union when it “exported social experiments, pushing for changes in other countries for ideological reasons”. He deplored that some unnamed countries “instead of learning from other people’s mistakes … prefer to repeat them and continue to export revolutions, only now these are ‘democratic’ revolutions”.

He criticised those Western countries (again nameless) that “have chosen to create exclusive economic associations, with their establishment being negotiated behind closed doors, secretly from those very nations’ own public and business communities, as well as from the rest of the world”.

For Putin, his Russia is not the residue left after the disintegration of the USSR. (He called its collapse “‘a national tragedy on an enormous scale”.) He wants the world to acknowledge his revitalised, resurgent Russia.

Look East, he told the West, and reaffirmed Russia’s proposal “to interconnect the Eura­sian Economic Union with China’s initiative for creating a Silk Road economic belt [and] harmonising the integration vehicles between the Eurasian Economic Union and the European Union.”

Not many know that in 2001, during their first meeting, president George W. Bush broke the ice by asking him about a crucifix, blessed in Jerusalem, that Putin’s mother had given him. He cherishes it, especially after it survived a fire at his dacha. Few know that Putin has a street named after him in Bethlehem.

His connection with Christianity is necessarily less overt than the Pope’s. Like the Pope, though, Putin wishes the world to be inclusive, not exclusive. “Russia is Europe’s large and sometimes awkward neighbour,” an analyst of US-Russian relations has written, “but it is a neighbour with which Europe has to live and with whom engagement is a necessity, not a choice.”

If only speakers from all other neighbouring countries at the 70th UNGA would follow such pragmatism.

The writer is an author.


How much should we celebrate the Supreme Court’s verdict on Mumtaz Qadri?

By Noman Ansari

October 7, 2015

There is a Chris Rock quote I like sharing whenever someone seeks positive strokes for completing a responsibility they believe is a grand achievement. In his standup, the comedian speaks of fathers who are proud of sending their kids to school or staying out of jail,

“You’re supposed to, you dumb m*****f*****! What kind of ignorant s*** is that? ‘I ain’t never been to jail!’ What do you want, a cookie?! You’re not supposed to go to jail, you low-expectation-having m*****f*****!”

Well, Chris, as it turns out, after years of disappointment, the good people of Pakistan now carry desperately low expectations.

Today, the Supreme Court of Pakistan, led by the brave Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, threw an appeal from bodyguard turned murderer, Mumtaz Qadri, out of court, upholding his death sentence. Undoubtedly, this is a gutsy move from the trio of judges, considering how the law enforcement officials, prosecutors, intelligence personnel, and judges themselves, who dare to fight against injustice, are repeatedly targeted by the violent sociopaths lurking in the shadows of this country. But although it is certainly a landmark moment, excuse me while I don’t bring out my party gear.

On the January 4, 2011, the Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, was shot dead by a man hired to protect him.

Shot 27 times with an AK-47.

Shot at a commercial area near his home with enough eye witnesses.

His shooter, the man in question, Qadri, undoubtedly had sufficient gunshot residue on his body.

His shooter did not deny killing him, in fact, he openly admitted to the crime. Had this been a case on an hour long episode of CSI, the investigators would have solved it without breaking a sweat, leaving the ending credits rolling one minute after the opening theme music. Had it been on the reality court show, Judge Judy, Qadri would have been a source of nutrients for soil by now.

Yet here we are, closing on five years since the murder, and Qadri and his fundamentalist clown posse have made a mockery of the Pakistani justice system. The murderer remains convicted, yet not punished.

Qadri claims he murdered Taseer because the governor questioned the validity of Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy law, which has been used as a weapon by many nam kay Musalmaans (Muslims by name only) to target minority groups. Taseer, of course, was speaking up for Aasia Bibi, a Christian lady convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death.

Ideally, the deranged bodyguard should have been punished after a speedy trial. The way Qadri and his fundamentalist clown posse were allowed to hijack Pakistan with their warped interpretation of religion and the blasphemy law, only encouraged other numskulls to target more minorities. If the blasphemy law had been controversial before, it was now untouchable.

What’s more, had Qadri been punished without being allowed to spread his nauseating propaganda, the case Taseer had been fighting for could have gained the momentum it deserved.

Dawn estimates that from 1986 to 2010, 1,274 people have been charged under the blasphemy law, which was added into the constitution by General Ziaul Haq, the dictator who keeps on giving. Prior to 1986, only 14 cases were reported, which is a startling disparity.

The saner members of the Pakistani public have always questioned the logic behind the blasphemy law, yet their voices have been drowned by the extremely vocal minorities who championed it.

When Qadri shot Taseer, he immediately became the loon to lead the lunatics, the joker of this gallery of rogues. He would have become a martyr regardless, but by punishing him quickly, at least Pakistan would have set an example for others. Qadri should have met a disgraceful end, instead he was allowed to become the tube light to which flocked the frolicking moths.

As it has been with dictators, militants, and terrorists, we allow far too many jackals to assume the role of lions in this country.

A freelance writer and regular contributor to The Express Tribune magazine and newspaper, Noman tweets as @Pugnate (