New Age Islam Edit Bureau
December 31, 2015
We have met the enemy and he is us
By Harlan Ullman
Price and prejudice
By Mustafa Qureshi
By Khurram Husain
We have met the enemy and he is us
December 31, 2015
Years ago, Walt Kelly’s Pogo was a very popular comic strip. Pogo was a swamp creature made famous by his sardonic witticisms about human nature. The strip was immortalised by the declaration that “We have met the enemy and he is us!” Currently, many Americans seem self-absorbed and even obsessed by the fear of Islamist terrorism. The murders in San Bernardino, California and earlier in Chattanooga, Tennessee have been exploited and exaggerated by politicians, especially those running for president, playing on public dread of terrorist attacks. Beyond Pogo, President Franklin D Roosevelt’s wisdom applies. “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” Roosevelt was admonishing his fellow citizens not to succumb to irrational fears brought on by the Great Depression of 1929 and the hardships Americans were facing regarding their economic well being. Of course, words of encouragement were no substitute for a paycheck and for food on the table.
National anxiety over the threat of homegrown terrorist attacks needs an antidote. That antidote combines fact and reason. Since September 11, Islamist attacks here have claimed fewer than 50 Americans lives. By comparison, over the past 14 years in the US, car accidents have killed nearly half a million people and a more or less equal number died from gun violence. The chances of being shot by a police officer or hit by lightning are orders of magnitude greater than being killed by a jihadi.
If opinion polls correctly reflect American attitudes, why are so many of us genuinely worried about being killed or wounded in a terrorist incident when the chances are remote? In September and October 2002, two so-called Beltway snipers, John Malvo and John Mohammed, terrorised the Washington DC region killing 10 innocent citizens. These shootings followed a cross-country murder spree that began in Tacoma, Washington. People were in a state of panic until Malvo and Mohammed were arrested. The spectre of a massive Islamist biological or chemical weapons’ attack or taking down a portion of the electrical power grid is even more nightmarish. In the run up to the 2003 Iraq war, the George W Bush administration made reference to “mushroom shaped clouds” to help sell the case to the public. Unfortunately, this hype began to condition Americans to the possibility of a major or catastrophic terrorist attack.
In a rational world, Americans would have a lot less to fear. Many more were killed, for example, in the Sandy Hook, Connecticut shootings although the killer was not an Islamist terrorist. So, is death by terrorist a distinction without a difference? Does it matter that killers may be deranged or dangerously misguided such as Timothy McVeigh who blew up the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City 20 years ago killing 168 and injuring about 600 others?
The US has spent hundreds of billions of dollars improving its law enforcement and intelligence capabilities against terrorists of all stripes. No system is perfect and it is unreasonable to think that occasional jihadi terrorists will not self-radicalise or enter the country legally as did the September 11 bombers. The truth is that these dangers are not new. At prior times in the nation’s history, terrorists threatened the nation and Americans overreacted.
Four presidents have been assassinated. Just after World War I, a handful of letter bombs threw the country into panic even though only two people died. “Red scares” persisted through the Cold War. In each case, these fears were greatly exaggerated. Indeed, revoking legitimate visas to put Muslims on ‘no-fly’ lists banning entry to the US is a symptom of this fear. What can be learned? First, as crime and violent crime will never be fully eliminated, jihadist attacks remain possible. Second, while a catastrophic terror attack can never be discounted, the likelihood of Americans being killed by jihadists, home grown or otherwise, is exceedingly small and far less than being harmed by some gun or automobile incident. Third, politicians will play the fear card in most cases not understanding that the damage being done far outweighs the actual danger.
By demonstrating fear, Islamist terrorists are empowered. While that may have no actual effect on the likelihood of attacks, in propaganda and psychological campaigns, al Qaeda and Islamic State (IS) are both winning and will continue to exploit these fears. Both Pogo and Roosevelt were correct. Americans must understand that while danger exists, exaggerating that danger makes our enemies stronger and amplifies their perverted, siren-like call for attracting more recruits. Tragically, fear has become a greater menace than the actual threat of terrorism.
Harlan Ullman 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
Price and prejudice
December 31, 2015
Having come into prominence as a builder of major Manhattan real estate projects, Donald Trump wishes to be part of the real world give-and-take of politics at a level where large sums of money and power are at stake. According to the presidential candidate himself, he only wishes to make the US great again, which, unless the word great has undergone semantic pejoration and is now synonymous to bigotry and racial discrimination, is the polar opposite of what he is actually doing.
Donald Trump’s political interests are in a direct relationship with his personal motives as a business tycoon. His father, Fred Trump, too was a major New York City based real estate developer with deep ties to elected officials. Continuing from where his father left, Donald Trump began establishing personal ties with politicians as he sought tax breaks on midtown high-rise projects and battled unions, contractors, public agencies, social and environmental pressure groups, and property owners who refused to sell their land to him. Trump was preparing his latest run for president long before most people imagine.
Trump has previously floated the idea of running for president thrice — 1988, 2004 and 2012 — and for governor of New York in 2006 and 2014, but did not enter those races. According to a news poll conducted by The New York Times in November 1999, 70 percent of Americans had an unfavourable opinion of Trump.
Flash forward to 2015. Donald Trump is indeed running for president of the US and is the Republican presidential front-runner. Since midsummer of this year, Trump has polled at or near the top of most opinion polls for the GOP nomination. The ugly truth behind the unprecedented success of Donald Trump is his ability to successfully manipulate the inequality and insecurity of the American population.
Donald Trump is continuing, through his words, the shameful record of hurling racial abuse against non-whites, first African Americans, then Asians, then Arabs and now Mexican communities. Large portions of his speeches during his campaign include promises to build a wall on the southern border of the country at Mexico’s expense to stop Mexico, China and Japan from disrupting legalised trade activity in the US and to strictly arm more Americans to immediately retaliate against terror strikes.
National debate over immigration and Hispanics has been degenerated into thinly veiled bigotry. Bombastic statements and racial attacks are Trump’s calculated medium of campaign to boost his number of supporters by inciting in them xenophobic fears about a vulnerable population that has been, time and again, used as a scapegoat to serve as a dumping ground for all the rage and frustration of the American public.
Extending his xenophobic rhetoric about Mexicans to the Muslim community, Trump controversially demanded for a complete shutdown of Muslims entering the US following a mass shooting in San Bernardino involving two Pakistani Muslims. Trump went on to say that, if elected, he would consider requiring Muslims living in the US to register themselves with a government database or obligating that they carry special identification cards that display their faith. His recent claims with regard to the Muslim community mirror Hitler’s rise to power as Trump wants to mimic laws that the Nazis had imposed on Jews, including mandating them to wear a gold star of David on their clothes.
However, it is not his money nor his brash personality that have catapulted him to the top of opinion polls but the overwhelming support that he has, intentionally or unintentionally, received from the media. His relentless verbal assault on other candidates and marginalised communities receive hours of media coverage. Trump, always wanting to be the centre of all attention, has been playing the media and all his supporters. Like a multinational, the US media is selling a product while Trump keeps providing them with more fodder to sell with all parties mutually benefitting from the exchange except promoters of tolerance and common sense.
It is possible that a faction of voters who are activated by racist appeals exists in the US. Americans who hold strong anti-black views and respond favourably to racial prejudice exist throughout American politics and constitute a reasonably large voting group that Trump is primarily targeting. Trump has wisely or unwisely discovered that the racist vote is influential and crucial for his nomination and, therefore, with every bullet fired from the gun of a Muslim, the hatred multiplies and his followers multiply.
While Trump may continue to push his luck too far and increase the intensity with which he addresses Muslims all over the globe, the consequences of his bid remain unpredictable. Although Trump has received a dangerously positive response following his derogatory statements about Muslims, it could trigger a horrific reaction from radical Islamic groups or violent jihadists in the form of increased mass shootings and increased threats, eventually making Trump’s loss or victory irrelevant to the security of the American population.
Mustafa Qureshi is a freelance columnist
Days of future past
By Chris Cork
December 31, 2015
The writer is editorial consultant at The Express Tribune, news junkie, bibliophile, cat lover and occasional cyclist
Let me begin with a cautionary word — some reading this will be experts on Afghanistan, well brace yourselves because there is going to be some monumental simplification in the paragraphs ahead.
By the time I left Afghanistan in May 2001 the Taliban were getting the hang of governance. They had been helped in large part if unwittingly and sometimes unwillingly by a bureaucracy that had for the most part stayed at their desks. The men and occasional woman who pushed the pens that kept the state — sort of — rolling, albeit on three rather than the requisite four, wheels.
Most Fridays if I was in Kabul I took tea after prayers with a prominent Taliban figure, or at least prominent in Western eyes, who one day said something that took me aback — “We never expected to win.” He explained that he and virtually all the rest of the Taliban groups that had eventually established what they called the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan in 1996 — had not expected to survive. This is a gross compression of a complex conflict but the point he was making was that there was no expectation that they would be required to actually run a country having prevailed militarily. None of those doing the fighting had any experience of governance beyond the purely local systems in the towns and villages they came from.
So they used what they knew and for what they did not made it up as they went along. It was messy, callous, brutal and deeply frustrating to those of us that worked in the numerous NGOs that were constantly juggling ethical positions and humanitarian imperatives to try and deliver their core services. But by the turn of the century there was a sense that order mostly prevailed. It was an order imposed under what many would consider a reign of terror, a kind of disciplined barbarity, but order it was.
Then there was 9/11 and it all came tumbling down — except that it didn’t. The Taliban can be remarkably pragmatic when necessary, and they mostly went home when the American-led invasion bundled them out. The Northern Alliance took Kabul in November 2001 and in many ways it has been downhill ever since.
Instead of summarising the events of the last 15 years let us instead take a look at where things are now in Afghanistan, if briefly — and it does not look good. Not good at all.
The Taliban directly control about 30 per cent of the country, and are contesting another 30 per cent. The province of Helmand is eventually going to fall to them. They have established themselves right across the country, but are at their weakest in the west. The Afghan National Army is gradually disintegrating and not so gradually in some parts of the country. The Kabul government, despite being democratically elected is a weak and feeble creature riven by tribal and sectarian rivalries that are centuries old. And there are no knights in armour waiting over the horizon.
Anecdotally in October 1963 the outgoing Prime Minister of the UK Harold Macmillan gave his successor Alec Douglas-Home some prescient advice. “My dear boy,” said he “as long as you don’t invade Afghanistan you’ll be absolutely fine.” Considering that the British suffered one of their worst military defeats at the hands of Afghans who also, arguably, bested the Russians and now the British (again), the Americans and a basket of other nations that gave up blood and treasure to fail ignominiously — this was advice well given.
The current mantra is ‘an Afghan solution to Afghan problems’ which is little more than code for ‘we are going to help you fix this and this is how we want you to do it’. From the outset the Taliban were proxies for other players, and originally something of a hybrid constructed at least in part by Pakistan in collusion with the Americans. But like many monsters they have got a life of their own, independent and evolving in ways undreamed of by their creators, and we arrive at today when, just possibly, the Afghan Taliban are the solution to the Afghan problem. With that chilly thought I bid you Happy New Year.
December 31st, 2015
RARELY has a democratic government enjoyed a year such as 2015. For the government of Nawaz Sharif, opportunity was served up on a platter to set into motion far-reaching initiatives. Did they take advantage of the opportunity?
The year opened with the sound and fury of the dharnas receding, and the country pulling together under the banner of fighting militancy to the very end. There were a series of announcements at the start of the year, some that made headlines and others that passed largely unnoticed. The headlines were made by the 20 points of the National Action Plan (NAP) and the announcement of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Two issues that did not live long in the headlines, but were no less important, were the commitment to have a new National Finance Commission (NFC) award, and the promise to hold a population census by March of 2016.
As the year draws to an end, how much progress did we really see on these fronts?
As the year draws to a close, how much progress did we really see on some very crucial fronts?
NAP has had mixed results, and the last few days of the year 2015 have seen the political consensus behind it starting to come under pressure. The PPP is now referring to it as the PML(N) Action Plan and accusing the government of using the enhanced powers obtained under it to target political opponents.
One of the crucial components of NAP was the commitment to pursue terror financing, and here too hardly any advancement seems to have been made. Other than a few arrests, no systemic architecture to monitor and intercept terror financing has been laid down, and at one point in the middle of the year, Nacta was even caught serving up misleading numbers to the prime minister about the amount of money frozen under terror financing stipulations.
CPEC has enjoyed a prominent place in the headlines, and the closing days of the year saw three large projects attain financial close — Thar coal, the Orange Line, and a coal-fired power plant at Port Qasim. All three are to be welcomed, even though some environmental issues still bedevil the Orange Line project.
In other areas though, CPEC hit some hurdles. The Quaid-i-Azam solar park was successfully launched and began generating its power this year. But the second generation solar tariff announced for the next round of investments in utility scale solar power plants have seen the upfront tariff reduced sharply, giving them reason to reconsider whether they wish to continue with their plans or not. The costs of CPEC projects are tallying up a lot faster than the hype around the projects, and unless there is more transparency about the financing arrangements under which the projects are being initiated, it is impossible to say whether their impact will be as beneficial and “transformative” as we are being told.
The NFC award got off to a weak start. The only meeting on this crucial topic was held in April. Initially, everyone waited for Sindh to nominate a member, and now the wait is on for Punjab to nominate a member since their last nominee became the provincial finance minister.
The last fiscal year closed without any new agreement, and currently the country is operating under a makeshift arrangement that continues the conditions of the last award. The president granted the last NFC award one more year while a new agreement is reached, but thus far it doesn’t appear like any meetings have taken place between the provinces and the centre, despite six months having elapsed since the extension was granted on July 1. It is possible that an agreement could be reached in the next six months, but given the state of the centre’s relations with the provincial governments of Sindh and KP, it’s a fair bet that this will take very tricky and skilful politics to pull off.
Then there is the population census, announced in March of 2015, and promised to be done by March of 2016. By September, the plan for the census included updating the census blocks and surveying all big mauzas with GPS. By now, digitised maps of urban areas ought to have been made, blocks updated in the database, mauzas surveyed with more than 50 teams, and a total of Rs1.2 billion released and spent on the exercise.
Today, the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics secretary confirms that Rs600 million have been released, and by January another Rs1.2bn will be released. He insists the exercise is fully on track but is now entirely conditional upon the army agreeing to provide the manpower for security. “We did whatever we could do,” he says with reference to the groundwork necessary for the census exercise. Mauzas need to be surveyed, census blocks need to be updated, digitised maps of urban areas need to be prepared. “Where possible, we have updated the information, where it was not possible, we will proceed with the older blocks, but the census exercise will not be delayed on account of these things,” he insists.
If the census is actually held on time, or even with some delays, it will be a big win for the PML-N government, especially if the results do not become controversial. The lack of a census has hampered policymaking and implementation for over a decade now, and if the year 2015 ends up being a turning point in this extended stalemate over the exercise, it will be a big positive coming out of the year.
We can debate the larger macroeconomic questions of 2015 all over again — the rising debt burden, the anaemic growth, the fall in foreign investment and exports and so on. But the issues that are structural in nature and that can actually help break the quagmire that our economic status quo is turning into, are issues like security, political stability, centre-province relations, stable government finances, and updated census information. The year 2015 served up a mixed bag of accomplishments on these fronts, but on the balance, more opportunities were lost than were seized. Let’s hope 2016 is an improvement.