New Age Islam Edit Bureau
January 13, 2016
• IS and the World: Broad International Consensus against Islamic State is a Hopeful Sign
By D Asghar
• Learning to Love: Pakistanis Love Their Feeling of Superiority to Others
By Amber Darr
• The importance of public spaces for women
By Ume Ayman
• Out of the frying pan and into the fire
By Shamim Masih
• Pak-Russia relations: certain realities
By Dr Qaisar Rashid
IS and the World: Broad International Consensus against Islamic State is a Hopeful Sign
By D Asghar
January 13, 2016
Lately, things have not been going too well for Islamic State (IS) on the battlefield. In Iraq, for instance, Iraqi forces have largely pushed IS out of Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province in the largely Sunni heartland, with considerable help from the US by way of bombing IS positions. They had earlier pushed them out of Tikrit and taken control of the northern city of Baiji and its oil refinery. An important point to make is that these areas are predominantly Sunni and that the successful military operations enjoyed some level of cooperation with Sunni tribesmen under US patronage.
Any further consolidation of the Iraqi hold on Ramadi and elsewhere will depend on two important factors. These are, first, insertion and presence of a local force drawn largely from Sunni fighters to hold the city and, secondly, to establish a largely Sunni administrative structure to establish trust with the local Sunni population in an otherwise predominantly Shia-dominated Iraq. Here, it is important to mention that US forces had earlier succeeded in destroying the Abu Musab al-Zarqawi-led al-Qaeda militancy by enlisting Sunni tribal groups enraged by the scant respect that the militant movement showed for local tribal traditions and authority. With US military training, weapons and money these tribal chiefs were promised an amalgamation of their units into the regular Iraqi army. However, the Shia government did not honour that commitment, as it did not trust the Sunnis as part of the new army. Besides, there was an element of settling old scores by inflicting on them the persecution and pain the Shias had suffered under the Saddam regime. It was time for tit for tat. And there was no time for creating an inclusive society and political order for a post-Saddam Iraq.
It was in the midst of such fear, hopelessness and terror that the dormant al Qaeda in Iraq — once led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and virtually destroyed by the US forces allied with the newly raised and inspired Sunni tribal units — expanded outgrowing its al Qaeda origin and metamorphosing to become IS and the so-called caliphate. In the new climate of fear, hate and terror among the predominantly Sunni regions of Iraq, IS found acceptance after the hell visited on them by the new Shia order. And when the Iraqi army crumbled last year in Mosul and elsewhere, IS installed its control without any popular resistance.
The present Iraqi military’s advances into Ramadi with the revival of some Sunni tribal militias under US patronage, significantly aided by US aerial attacks on IS positions, is supposed to create an inclusive Shia-Sunni challenge to IS. How it will be translated into a cohesive and inclusive political order is still to be worked out. Perhaps, it is all ad hoc and not thought through. And this is where the weakness lies.
At the same time, in Syria, the situation seems even worse. A hopeful sign, if it can ever be translated into workable action, is the broad international consensus against IS. There is the UN Security Council’s (UNSC) resolution of bringing together the Damascus regime and different elements of the Syrian opposition (minus IS and other terrorist outfits like the al Nusra front) for talks to create a transitional political order. The role of the Damascus regime under Bashar al-Assad in such a transition is controversial, though there does not seem any way around it with Moscow standing by it. There is also the prospect of some local ceasefires for humanitarian reasons. The whole process in its unfolding and implementation, if carried through, is extremely fragile.
At another level, there is an attempt to involve regional regimes into forging a united front against IS. This has been an ongoing process under US pressure. The US experience in Afghanistan and Iraq clearly showed that its military involvement in these countries only created a quagmire where it tended to return again and again without any conclusive result. The prolonged US military intervention has simply complicated and delayed the process of any kind of internal/regional resolution. At the same time, continuing and recurring US military intervention tends to give oxygen to outrageous Islamic militants, like IS, by increasingly painting external intervention as a western attack on Islam.
The US feels that that this can be blunted both ideologically and on the battlefield by the greater commitment and involvement of Muslim countries in a political and military alliance against IS. Saudi Arabia, therefore, hurriedly chose to announce such a military alliance, including such heavyweights like Indonesia and Pakistan. But it started to unravel before taking any concrete shape. Jakarta was taken aback at the announcement by Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of an “Islamic military coalition”. Indonesia’s foreign ministry spokesman pointed out that his country had been approached to join a “centre to co-ordinate against extremism and terrorism”. But, according to Indonesia’s minister concerned with the country’s security, Luhut Pandjaitan, “We do not want to join a military alliance.”
Pakistan’s reaction was equally one of surprise. Its foreign secretary, Aizaz Chaudhry, said that Islamabad was seeking details from Riyadh. Even the Saudis, it appears, were not clear about their announced “Islamic military coalition”. While seeking to clarify the concept, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir painted the “coalition” as a grouping that might offer/render assistance to each other to fight terrorist groups. It is a nebulous concept devised in a hurry to emphasise regional commitment in fighting terrorism, which has already existed in some form or the other. But the absence of Iran from any regional grouping to defeat IS is unlikely to work because Riyadh’s overriding focus and priority remains to keep Tehran out of any kind of regional parleys. In any case, the escalation of Saudi-Iranian political rivalry from the execution of a prominent Shia cleric in Saudi Arabia has further complicated the situation.
In other words, all kinds of international initiatives might struggle to create enough momentum to start and sustain talks between the Bashar regime and different strands of opposition and rebel groups. In the meantime, IS Chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has come out with a defiant message, declaring that, “Our state is doing well. The more intense the war against it, the purer it becomes and the tougher it gets.” He added, “Crusaders and Jews do not dare to come on the ground because they were defeated in Iraq and Afghanistan.” He called on Saudi citizens to “rise up” against their government. And he claimed that IS would soon be in Palestine to establish an Islamic state there. These do not sound like the words of a terrorism chief in retreat.
D Asghar is a senior journalist and academic based in Sydney, Australia. He can be reached at email@example.com
Learning to Love: Pakistanis Love Their Feeling of Superiority to Others
By Amber Darr
January 13, 2016
The writer is a barrister with an interest in psychology
What is the single-most defining characteristic of Pakistanis? The question nagged me recently as I read Watching the English, by the English anthropologist Kate Fox, in which she attempts to uncover the defining characteristics of the English (humour, reserve, orderliness, in case you are wondering). Not being an anthropologist and not even being in Pakistan, I had no option but to rely on memories of my considerable time in the country and of interactions with my Pakistani relatives, friends and colleagues as well as to indulge in some necessary introspection before I could suggest the rather startling answer: we Pakistanis do not know how to love!
What can I possibly mean by that, you may well ask. And what kind of love am I talking about? If it is divine love, then surely devout Pakistani Muslims have an excess of it? If it is filial love, then I must be blind to think that Pakistan runs short on that? Or if romantic love is my subject of interest, then I only have to watch Pakistani dramas or visit upscale malls on Valentine’s Day to see that it is thriving. Before this discussion proceeds any further, I must hold up my hands in protest: I am not speaking of any of these varieties of love, but of their much neglected cousin, ‘self-love’.
I can hear myself being attacked yet again: how can I possibly claim Pakistanis lack self-love? Surely, we are as selfish, self-absorbed and self-satisfied as any other nation? Well, that’s entirely the point. When we equate true self-love with selfishness, we are confusing it with ‘love for our self-image’. We don’t love ourselves; we love our feeling of superiority to others (‘Don’t-you-know-who I am?’), our power over our children (‘Obey me, or else’), our patriotism and our divine devotion (‘I’ll kill you if you speak against my country/my religion’). But loving an image is easy because an image is perfect. Loving oneself, warts and all, is an entirely different story.
And why does self-love matter? You see, the bottom line is that it is only when we truly love ourselves that we are capable of loving others, whether it is our professed beloved, our family or even God — it’s a bit like putting on your own oxygen mask before offering it to others. When self-love is missing, we remain in a state of anxiety and neediness and seek reassurance from everything around us. More often than not, this manifests itself in highly critical or judgmental behaviour towards others — because only when we put someone else down, do we feel that we are worthy. I believe we lack it because criticism and judgment are some of our favourite national pastimes. It is important to understand, however, that they stem not from inherent flaws in others but our own lack of awareness of our shortcomings.
So, how can we go about creating greater self-awareness? One way to do it may be to take a long hard look at oneself and take stock of both the good and the bad, with absolute honesty! It may proceed something like this: Hair? Good. Eyes? All right (with glasses). Ears? Good. Clothes? Best I can afford. And so it goes on. If we are particularly pleased with an attribute, perhaps we can give ourselves a little star in the margins. But it gets tricky when we reach parts of ourselves we are more ambivalent about: Hardworking? Not really. Honest? When pushed to the wall. Kind? Sometimes. The danger in following this exercise is that we may not like what we find. After all, had it been easy wouldn’t we have done it anyway?
But no need to despair, because there is another, perhaps easier way, and that is to treat everyone we encounter with a little more understanding, kindness and compassion. How will that create greater self-love? Psychologists believe that our physical behaviour and our mental state are closely linked. So, if changing the feeling is difficult, change the behaviour and gradually the feeling will start to shift also. It is entirely likely, therefore, that in practising compassion towards others (and thereby inwardly declaring ‘I understand and forgive your shortcomings because I am not perfect either’), we may start extending greater acceptance — and in time, more love — towards ourselves, which in turn would help improve the quality of all our relationships. Don’t believe me? Try it for yourself. I did.
The importance of public spaces for women
By Ume Ayman
January 13, 2016
The writer has a bachelor’s degree in International Relations from Szabist, Islamabad
In Pakistan, city planning is usually an afterthought. The government only appears to wake up to the problems of citizens once cities run out of resources, and even then responds passively to the needs of urban dwellers. It is, therefore, important that policymakers and town planners put their heads together to make the cities we live in as effectively responsive to our needs as possible.
An indispensable element of smart cities in the 21st century is the idea of public spaces for the populace. While sports and recreational activities are no direct panacea for the eradication of poverty, hunger, child mortality or disease, the UN recognises these spaces as powerful tools to advance peace and human development. It is evident that there has been little advancement in this area in Pakistan where public spaces exist, but mostly for men. For women, this is still a far-fetched idea. Providing women with such spaces, opportunities and programmes can effectively empower them to take on a more proactive role in the community. Many women feel empowered by participating inactivities outside their homes, establishing networks, participating in public life and taking matters into their own hands.
There are various case studies from around the world, which show that more public spaces, especially for women, positively impact the socioeconomic development of a populace. In developing economies, breakthroughs in skill acquisition, learning and leadership happen most easily in women-only settings. Grameen Bank has a great record of achievement with small business enterprises,whereby it has trained women of low-income backgrounds for an all-female work environment. The success of this venture even made it a target for government seizure. There is also the example of Barefoot College in Tilonia, India, founded by Bunker Roy in 1972, and which was the subject of a recent documentary by Jehane Noujaim, Rafea: Solar Mama. This programme aims to turn desperately impoverished, illiterate women into solar engineers within a six-month training period. The film shows how support and freedom from unhelpful male intervention liberated these women’s capabilities and confidence.
The areas of urban planning that have a direct impact on women are housing design, parks, pavements, transport and safety. Many of the problems of urban planning simply reflect women’s inequality. For example, a majority of women in Pakistan do not have access to a car during the day, but many urban schemes are designed around car drivers and commuters. Considering our patriarchal society, public transport also favours the male commuter. This not only impacts women’s mobility but also any career prospects they may have.
Since I belong to a region which is known worldwide for its landscape and cultural heritage, it is important to contextualise the debate. Women in Gilgit-Baltistan are actively contributing to the socioeconomic development of their region. They are now daring to step into professions considered daunting even by men. From mountaineering to skiing and from being business leaders to entrepreneurs, women are competing with men in all walks of life. A peek into history shows the active role women have played in the past. The first canal system introduced in the region was by a woman ruler, Dadi Jawari. The women of Gilgit-Baltistan have the potential and capability to come up with revolutionary ideas. Young girls of the region have not shied away from proving their mettle in academics and sports. Yet there is not a single gymnasium for girls in the area. Given that tourism plays such an important role in the region’s economy, there is no centre where they can acquire professional training to become tourist guides. Like all regions of South Asia, women here work from dawn to dusk in their respective walks of life. They are great managers because they look after their jobs, families and farms, working shoulder to shoulder with men. It is socially expected of them to cater to all these areas. Such responsibilities can be performed at an optimum level if the happiness and leisure of these hard-working ladies are catered to. But there are not a lot of avenues for entertainment as there are few public spaces where their entry is deemed socially acceptable.
It is disturbing that women simply accept the physical and geographical limitations placed on them in everyday life to the point of getting used to the uncomfortable. According to Eeva Berglund, a social anthropologist, “One of the major issues is the way that women restrict their lives. You choose where you go and where you don’t go and you come to find that acceptable.”
Initiatives at the community level can prove to be stepping stones in this direction. Recreational centres for females should aim to provide unique opportunities for capacity-building. As a result, a chain reaction of fruitful outcomes will ensue. Women participating in such recreational activities will start to reach out via different campaigns and share their positive experience with their friends, families and neighbours. In addition, these forums will also teach women, who are otherwise afraid to talk in public, to speak out for their rights and stand up for themselves.
Out of the frying pan and into the fire
January 13, 2016
Pakistan is predominantly a Muslim country with 97 percent of its population adhering to Islam and the religious minorities making just a fraction of the population with varying estimates at a few percent of the total population. The Constitution of country has guaranteed full rights and protection to all its citizens. The founder of the country, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, apparently promised freedom for other religious minorities in his address to the Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947, and Christians along with other religious minorities agreed to and believed in his promise. However, unfortunately, these safeguards did not come true and Pakistan is now not known as a responsible democracy. Recently, many banned organisations have been openly speaking against rival sects and other religions, and this has resulted in the killings of many innocent people from religious minorities. Pakistan has been facing a growing hatemongering problem and most of it this comes from within the urban/semi-urban centres. Though Article 20 of the Constitution deals with the “freedom to profess religion and to manage religious institutions” and Article 36 is about the protection of minorities and safeguarding the legitimate rights and interests of minorities, the reality is that unfortunately things have only gotten worse in the last six decades because of the growing violence against religious minorities in Pakistan.
Based on 10 incidents that took place in only one month (October 2015) only in Punjab, the United States Commission on International Freedom (USCIRF) urged the US State Department to list Pakistan among nine other nations as “countries of particular concern” (CPC), a designation for those nations considered to be the worst violators of religious freedoms. These include governments that “engage in or tolerate” systematic ongoing, and unspeakable violations of religious freedom.
In recent years, attacks against religious minorities have increased. Though Pakistan’s persecution of Christians may not be anything comparable to the kind we see perpetuated by the likes of Islamic State (IS) it is still quite horrific. The suffering of minorities in the country have been worsened by a sense of deprivation among the locals and an inclusive political system is unable to achieve sustainable peace and stability. Thus, many Christian families and Hindus have fled to other countries seeking protection and the rights needed to live like other human beings. But it is very unfortunate that Pakistani Christians are not being welcomed in Europe like it welcomed millions of Muslims.
Samina, a Christian woman who fled violence-ridden Karachi and sought refuge in Thailand, died on Christmas Eve after she was arrested when her visa expired. She was arrested as part of an ongoing wave of arrests of foreigners deemed to have overstayed their visa and was detained in horrific conditions. Most Pakistani Christian asylum seekers have been given that status by the UN Human Rights Council (UNHCR) but because Thailand refuses to sign the relevant Refugee Protocols that most other nations have, it does not recognise that status and treats such Pakistani Christians as illegal immigrants. Therefore, thousands of Pakistani Christians are either living in prisons or hiding in places and if found are badly treated.
While writing this story, another man, Bashir Masih, reportedly died there. Sources confirmed that there are more than 200 people still in lock ups in Thailand. And many more are living miserable lives in hidden places fearing arrest at any time. Australia, Canada and many European countries have been granting immigration visas to thousands of Pakistanis and Afghans in recent years. However, Christians’ visa applications were turned down in the thousands last year. In fact, these applications are rejected without citing any convincing reasons, many of them on frivolous grounds that surprisingly cannot be challenged on any forum. Will the situation remain the same for Pakistani Christians as it continues to get worse here?
Shamim Masih is a freelance columnist
Pak-Russia relations: certain realities
Dr Qaisar Rashid
Pakistan has finally decided to undo the act of Liaquat Ali Khan who, in 1949, as the Prime Minister (PM) of Pakistan, turned down the request of the then USSR to visit it; instead, he visited the US in May 1950. The former USSR must have been annoyed at this. Fuel to the fire was added when Pakistan joined the anti-USSR western alliance rooted in antagonism towards the communist ideology, which was upheld and sponsored by the former USSR. This was how the annoyance of the former USSR with Pakistan was turned into animosity and the same reflected in the events leading up to the 1971 crisis, which witnessed Pakistan getting divided into two halves. With hindsight, Pakistan’s reliance on the US for military and financial aid since 1947 attributed to Pakistan’s joining the anti-USSR camp, chaired by the US. Pakistan became a prisoner to its needs sprouted from insecurity — enforced by India — by denying Pakistan even the rightful share of assets consequent to partition.
It was the famous Atlantic Charter — a joint declaration signed and released on August 14, 1941 by Franklin Roosevelt, the US president, and Sir Winston Churchill, the PM of the UK, following their meeting during the Second World War, expressing their post-war aims — that offered a glimmer of hope to colonial subjects (including those populating British colonies) to exercise the right of self-determination (i.e. the rights of all peoples to choose their own government and which may be by opting for decolonisation), as enshrined in point three of the charter. During the war, subjects from the Indian subcontinent fought alongside the British army against the Nazi regime of Germany and did not hesitate to risk or lay down their lives for their colonial commanders but did not revolt. Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbour in December 1941 brought the US into the war theatre from where the US emerged as the victor of the war by creating a humanitarian crisis in Japan, whereas the former USSR, which also bore the onslaught of the Nazi army, remained one of the beneficiaries of the triumph. This point placed the former USSR at least one notch below on the ladder of global significance vis-à-vis the US. Consequently, it was quite natural with Pakistan to join the victor club preferably and hurriedly, since Pakistan was beset by severe economic and military inadequacies since 1947.
The hostile embrace between Pakistan and the former USSR took place in Afghanistan from 1979 to 1991 and this time it ended in the dismemberment of the former USSR into several small states. The score was settled. Communist ideology was defeated. From the rubble emerged the Russian Federation carrying the cargo of legacy and the burden of the lament of the former USSR, besides the resolve to reform its own system. The Russian Federation, the core of which is Russia, can still be called the reduced, if not deflated, version of the former USSR.
The Russia of today is grappled with two major issues on the foreign policy front: first, how to support the allies (such as the regime of al-Assad of Syria) of the former USSR and second how to cope with the needs of the modern age predicating on economic realities (instead of ideological veracities including Islamic ideology) more than ever. Russia has been trying to balance these two incongruent aspects. Regionally, Russia has been successful in mending fences with China. Russia is in need of China owing to China’s economic prosperity whereas China needs Russia’s help (in terms of supplying energy resources and distributing transport networks for the movement of goods to and fro from Europe) to develop its western half. The other leg of China’s need-based paradigm is to touch the warm waters of the Arabian sea, the same warm waters the former USSR is said to have aspired to reach after stepping into Afghanistan in 1979, even if the term ‘invasion’ is avoided to elucidate the act.
Russia has also mollified Pakistan. Immediately after 1991, Russia started extending the hand of friendship to Pakistan to which Pakistan remained sceptical. In the meantime, Russia also tried to associate itself with the west but failed. On the other hand, since 1991, the US has also started bringing India closer to its fold. Post-9/11 developments offered both the US and India wider space to figure out ways of working together in a range of fields from nuclear energy harnessing to space exploration. In the post-9/11 era, circumstances called developments have also brought Pakistan nearer to Russia in reciprocal reconciliatory terms on both bilateral and multilateral fronts including sharing the platform of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in July 2015. In short, in Asia, the priority of Russia seems to be economic cooperation and not military invasion. Russia is looking towards the East. The word hegemony is not being bandied about.
Interestingly, the post-Cold War realignment was slow and shallow but the post-9/11 realignments are quick and sturdy between the regional countries of Asia. More interestingly still, Pakistan was not happy with the former USSR but now Pakistan seems to be happy with the modified but condensed version of the same called Russia. The appalling episode of 9/11 must have offered sufficient space to Russia to yearn for revival.
Pakistan must be asked how it views its former nemesis, the former USSR, which now embodies Russia, to destroy the Islamic militant monster it has created and which is now Pakistan’s biggest existential threat. Pakistan is soon going to offer a land route to Russia to let its goods have access to the warm waters of the Arabian Sea or Russia may achieve that target through China. If amity and reconciliation are the ultimate destiny of a crisis, who will justify the lives lost on both sides of the border in a struggle to subdue the other in the name of ideology?
Dr Qaisar Rashid is a freelance columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org