Posts Tagged ‘politics of pakistan’


Two Pakistans

May 20, 2010
Facbeook Banned in Pakistan - May 2010

Facbeook Banned in Pakistan - May 2010

There’s a notion of two distinct America’s; one that is conservative, mostly Republican Red and the other a more liberal Democratic Blue, and in a similar way I’ve seen two Pakistan’s.

Case in point : the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority severed access to the worlds largest social networking site this week when a Lawyers Association won a court injunction officially banning Facebook because of a page entitled “Post Drawings of Prophet Mohammad Day”.  As of now, the Pakistan government has added YouTube, and certain pages on Flickr and Wikipedia to the ban list which is either fueling vehement support of the ban (a conservative, we’ll say Red thing to do) and protests against Facebook or a eliciting a total opposite response “God save this country, lunatics are running it” (a more liberal, response we’ll label Blue).

The polarized views are reminiscent of our own democratic deliberations; strong demonstrations for (Red) and against (Blue) the legality of the Iraq invasion beginning in 2004, or protests against the passage of Proposition 8 (Blue) in California which outlawed same sex marriage in 2008 (Red).

So do such polar views necessarily indicate a distinctly Blue and Red America? I’ve never thought so, because overallAmerican’s tend to be far more centrist than our elected officials make us out to be in a two party system. Generally, Americans from California to New York and everywhere in between share basic social and cultural values; we watch the same shows, dress similarly, and ultimately ascribe to the values outlined in our Constitution (albeit interpretations differ).

But Pakistan is very different. There is far less social homogeneousness and more indications of a vastly distinct populace, a Red and Blue Pakistan if you will. Citizens from the remote, more rural northern areas bordering Afghanistan, or Red places will likely dress, consume, and believe differently than people in the more cosmopolitan hustle and bustle of large cities like Karachi, or Blue Pakistan.

Pakistani’s are educated on vastly different scales. While one child might be raised in a feudal system from a village in Sindh with no education, another might be educated per the Cambridge system in a large city, while another might have only had formal training in religious studies at a Madrassah! In terms of dress; it’s not uncommon to find females covered in burqa’s from head to toe, no face, hands or even eyes showing (Red), while you’ll find other’s in the skimpiest of attire partying until daybreak (Blue), at which point some Pakistani’s may rise to pray at a local Mosque while others are just getting home from a night of drinking and dancing. It’s Red and Blue if i’ve ever seen it, if not as stark as the contrast of Black on White.

So there’s an enormous diversity in belief systems that is more immediately recognized in the Pakistani landscape than in ours. I recall living there while in High School and being shocked at the level of ignorance toward America by some and whole hearted embrace of western culture by others. But polar lifestyles and belief systems amongst Pakistani’s doesn’t indicate there isn’t a grey area of people who fall in between two extremes, nor does it mean the group perceived as more “western” is necessarily against the ban on Facebook. In fact, notorious party animal and international rock star Ali Azmat didn’t denounce the censorship:

“Musician Ali Azmat said the issue should be dealt with sternly so that no such thing takes place in the future. “Every Muslim condemns this act, but it should be handled responsibly because we have to maintain our image. I have registered my condemnation of the relevant Facebook page.”

And that’s when I start to worry. If so called “liberal” personalities in Pakistan can be overworked over the Facebook page and fail to renounce such short sighted legislation, I shudder to think of how widespread acceptance of unnecessary censorship still is in Pakistan.

I’ll be the first to say the Facebook page is in poor taste, it’s a sorry excuse for a cause and the fact that it does not have even  a 20k following yet is testimony to how silly it is. Thus the futility of the inane effort makes the Pakistani ban a disproportionate, counter productive response.

The page does not incite hate or violence and I would go so far as to say it posed an opportunity for the Pakistani government to lead its citizens to moderation in this instance. After violent protests against the Danish cartoons which forever mar the image of Muslims today, Pakistan missed a chance to demonstrate Islamic sensibility.

By banning Facebook over a trivial issue the government makes a mockery of it’s people, Red and Blue alike. Officially designated as The Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the government carries a profound responsibility to simultaneously uphold freedom and religious consciousness. Not an easy task, but the last thing Pakistan needs right now are further riled extremists and increased Anti-Americanism.



Welcoming the War – Drones in Pakistan — Part 3

February 11, 2010
Are the Drones Worth the Cost of Compromising Cooperation ?

Are the Drones Worth the Cost of Cooperation ?

Read Part 1 – Reconciling CIA Drones In Pakistan

Read Part 2  – Concessions & Collateral Damage

The most provocative piece I’ve seen on drones in Pakistan was published last week. Not the most detailed, well researched article (the New Yorker takes the cake so far) but certainly the most confrontational. Farhat Taj writes in the Daily Times that International media, including American and Pakistani reports critical of drone use are totally unfounded. Vehemently, Taj writes:

The people of Waziristan are suffering a brutal kind of occupation under the Taliban and al Qaeda. It is in this context that they would welcome anyone, Americans, Israelis, Indians or even the devil, to rid them of the Taliban and al Qaeda”

It’s a grand, almost inconceivable statement given that Anti Americanism is on a rapid rise and India / Pakistan are widely considered notorious Arch Nemesis in international relations today.  Taj says inhabitants of Waziristan actually “welcome” drone attacks and dismisses all accusations of civilian casualties as Taliban propaganda. Basing this on the idea that almost no media are allowed in the area, she concludes there is no verifiable evidence, and therefore no reason for concern of civilian casualties. But mere logic would indicate otherwise. Although surgical, drones are not so precise to as to obliterate one individual at a time. When they strike, the range of damage inflicted by any drone is bound to cause peripheral damage, destroying more than just a singular terrorist.

Taj also too vehemently dismisses the concern that drones infringe on Pakistan’s sovereignty. She says greater Pakistan is oblivious to the more pressing priority of wiping out Taliban. And while I agree the Taliban is inflicting profound, perpetual and grave damage on Waziristan, greater Pakistan’s perceptions are important and not to be overlooked so easily.

Waziristan is but a fraction of Pakistan. If the majority of Pakistani’s see drones as an infringement of sovereignty, future cooperation with strategically poised Pakistan can become difficult. The alliance is already waning and one of politics’ golden rules is: perceptions matter. Whether or not there are exact numbers of civilian casualties, Pakistani’s are strongly against unmanned aircraft dropping bombs in their territory. Regardless of circumstances, the perception of an alliance with America, and our War on Terror is endangered by the drones. Hence arguments that drones are counter productive.

At what cost are we using drones to wipe out a few key leaders from militant and extremist groups? Might we accomplish the same success in hunting down terrorists by employing Pakistani forces to take these guys out themeslves using close cooperation with our counter terrorism, intelligence and military operations?

Some already argue that Islamabad tacitly works with the United States on drones in the north, however, the official and public stance of the Pakistani government is of staunch disapproval of drones. It’s a fair argument because without Islamabad’s approval, the United States would be in violation of international law, and protocol in using drones in Waziristan minus Pakistsan’s approval. So I buy the argument that Islamabad works closely in using drones in the north. But the fact that the government goes to the extent of constantly assuring its public that they disapprove of drones on record, is testimony to how offensive the use of unmanned aircrafts are in Pakistan.

So while our heightened use of drones might be effective in obliterating key leaders from the Taliban ranks for success in the immediate term, the consequences of drones entail potentially riling further anti Americanism which could compromise our interests in the future.

Cooperation is key, and I’m not convinced increased use of drones will help us engage Pakistan in the future.



The Hawk Some Didn’t See Coming : Obama’s Pakistan Policy

January 26, 2010

Bush & Obama : Identical Policies to Pakistan?

Bush & Obama : Identical Policies to Pakistan?

Similar to his ratings drop at home, abroad President Obama is being accused of not living up to expectations. In DAWN news this week there’s an article entitled: “Obama’s Changing Tone” suggesting our President is reverting to foreign policy reminiscent of the Bush administration on Pakistan, and to an extent, the greater Muslim World. The idea is that Obama’s planned troop surge in tandem with ever toughening rhetoric post the Fort Hood Massacre and the Christmas Bomber, reflects leadership that’s not much different than former President Bush’s.

But on the contrary, our escalating presence in Pakistan is exactly what Obama promised. During the campaign trail, he made clear that his main focus was Al Qaeda and  destroying terrorists in Pakistan (militants having spilled over from Afghanistan into Pakistan). The rhetoric was so hawkish, it actually became a sticking point before the primaries that Republicans and Democrats like Hillary criticized. Also, the media publicized his staunch rhetoric at length, so

Obama really has not changed tone on Pakistan: an intensified war matches his rhetoric from the start.

Plus is it fair to expect something radically different than the previous administration in the first place? Let’s not forget that it is often the political system and circumstances that drive leadership, and not vice versa. The fact is, America was already deeply engaged in two very problematic wars at the inception of Obama’s Presidency. He inherited an intensely worsening situation in Afghanistan that rapidly spilled across the border into Pakistan. President Obama anticipated this and is thus living up to campaign promises: a more hawkish foreign policy to Pakistan.

Which of course then raises the question: is hawkishness the right approach to Pakistan at this time? Pakistani’s certainly don’t think so.  CIA drones have the entire country in an uproar, while Islamabad isn’t taking well to DC’s tacit encouragement of rapidly increasing Indian influence in Afghanistan, and even billions in aid from America is frowned upon with unprecedented magnitude. And it’s not that the Obama administration isn’t aware of skepticism. Rather, toughening policies are a matter of practicality.

My guess is that the President is thinking: we’re already in Afghanistan, the war is deteriorating into Pakistan, what’s the best way to mitigate the situation, secure the region just enough to exit in the next couple years while leaving behind more cooperative players in the region so as to ensure our energy and geopolitical interests in South/Central Asia.

Phew. Now there’s a dilemma. And when looked at from his possible perspective, the Pakistan quagmire is revealed as tremendously complex. It’s such a multifaceted, sweeping, consequential and changing situation that involves so many players who work within the confines of political systems that only history should be the best judge of whether Obama’s stance on Pakistan is constructive or progressive. And that itself is relative. So let’s not be surprised at his hawkishness. It was naive of anyone to expect otherwise in the case of Pakistan.



Who “Meddles” in Pakistan ?

December 28, 2009

“Before we begin to upbraid the world for “meddling in our internal affairs,” it is vital for us to put our own house in order.”

Says a writer for Dawn News (Pakistan’s premier Newspaper). It’s an increasingly heard argument as cooperation between the United States and Pakistan deepens. In fact, it seems many Pakistani’s either fall into the category of calling for less meddling if not suggesting a total end to the alliance.

But shouldn’t we clarify what exactly “meddling” is? Does the author mean to encompass everything from drones, the Kerry Lugar Bill, Obama’s Troop Surge, and Secretary Clinton’s Pakistani media rounds / policy recommendations are equivalent to meddling?

Because the inherent problem with referring to any of those issues as “meddling” is that they all require the compliance of Pakistans government. Without the concession of Pakistani politicians, American interventions, assistance or policies could not be implemented.

Of course one might suggest realist theories on international relations wherein leaders, and ultimately states are subject to an international system actually dictate policymaking. In the case of current U.S. Pakistani relations some say cooperation, at any cost, is inevitable given American hegemony. It’s an argument echoing former President Musharraff’s description of why Pakistan didn’t remain neutral post 9/11:

‘Be prepared to be bombed. Be prepared to go back to the Stone Age’,” is the threat Musharraf said Pakistan received if it didn’t cooperate in Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001’s invasion of Afghanistan.

So why wasn’t neutrality an option? One might look back in history and cite an unremitting reliance on international assistance as the main cause of why Pakistani politics might seem inevitably subject to foreign interference.

During the Cold War, while countries like India declared themselves Non Aligned, Pakistan bandwagoned with the United States forming an alliance in desire to expand militarily. I won’t argue whether that military expansion was necessary or not, because there are fair arguments on either side. But military cooperation during the Cold War, and then the Soviet Afghan War set the stage for inevitable cooperation in today’s War on Terror.

Never forming viable democratic social and political infrastructure from the ground up may have fated Pakistan to rely on foreign assistance, or what some consider “meddling” for the sake of basic security and development.

The author is then correct to some extent: before whining about foreign interferences, Pakistan might consider constructing it’s own security first.



Transactional Ties: U.S. Foreign Policy to Pakistan

December 22, 2009
U.S. Pakistan Cooperation

U.S. Pakistan Cooperation

One difference between valuable information and balderdash is that the balderdash is sometimes louder than the valuable information. Case in point are two articles criticizing our dealings with Pakistan. The first article offers valuable insight on why it’s imperative we revamp foreign policy to the country since it’s likely becoming the “most dangerous place in the world”. The article outlines offers 5 well- founded reasons for this and is authored by Dr. Larry Goodson of the U.S. Army World college and published by the Strategic Studies Institute. The other article is written in the online magazine by Chris Hitchens author of God is not Great: how Religion Poisons Everything. His piece entitled “Why does Pakistan hate the United States” like Dr. Goodman’s, criticizes our foreign policy but inaccurately attributes Anti-Americanism to a sliver of Pakistani elites who irrationally and diametrically oppose the United States. Let’s compare both assessments:

Hitchens says the:

“Pakistani elite hates the United States because “it is dependent on it and is still being bought by it. It is a dislike that is also a form of self-hatred of the sort that often develops between client states and their paymasters. (You can often sense the same resentment in the Egyptian establishment, and sometimes among Israeli right-wingers, as well.) By way of overcompensation for their abject status as recipients of the American dole, such groups often make a big deal of flourishing their few remaining rags of pride. The safest outlet for this in the Pakistani case is an official culture that makes pious noises about Islamic solidarity while keeping the other hand extended for the next subsidy.This is, and always was, a sick relationship, and it is now becoming dangerously diseased. It’s not possible to found a working, trusting, fighting alliance”

Conversely, Dr. Goodson explains:

“The United States is Pakistan’s far away, fair weather friend, locked in a decades long transactional relationship that satisfied neither partners desires. Pakistan is the dark side of the moon to the average American who cannot tell you one salient fact about the country, its people, their customs or history. So we use Pakistan as a bulwark against whatever goes boo in the night in that part of the world, paying their price of the moment and then walking away when the crisis is resolved”

Both authors describe what former Pakistan to United States Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi called a “transactional” relationship between the countries, but differ in their assessment of that situation. Hitchens concludes U.S. Foreign Policy is doomed for failure, ultimately insisting a complete severing of cooperation is imperative. It’s a wild recommendation that assumes various security, and economic interests can just be overlooked. His suggestions are simplistic and recommendations reckless. Severing ties with a long-standing, highly strategic ally like Pakistan is absurd. Balancing relations in South Asia is in our interest and requires maintaining an alliance with both Inda and Pakistan, not one for the other. In fact, Hitchen’s doesn’t even address the crux of the issue :U.S. Foreign Policy is problematic in that it’s viewed as merely “transactional”. Instead, he jumps to an implausible conclusion that cooperation is doomed for failure.

To contrast, Goodman suggests understanding Pakistan’s complex demographic, history and then engaging them for the long haul, especially with the Chinese sitting in Pakistan’s backyard eager to replace an American absence. His piece addresses such ground realities and offers a plausible prescription for change in what’s increasingly seen as “transactional ties”.

So although Hitchens is loud and published mainstream, he’s unfortunately inaccurate. Dr. Goodson’s work is more obscure, but it’s pragmatic with a well spelled out assessment and recommendation. his article concludes with detailed recommendations for long term engagement for development in Pakistan while Hitchens outlook puts a damper on an already dire Af-Pak situation.

Presenting problems isn’t enough. Elucidating complex situations, offering accurate insights and practical solutions separate valuable information, from journalistic balderdash. Kudos to Dr. Goodson for a well written assessment of U.S. Foreign Policy to Pakistan.



The Power of Restraint : American Neutrality in Pakistan

December 21, 2009

American Neutrality is Boston Globe’s recommendation for U.S. policymakers as political uncertainty looms over Pakistan with last weeks repeal of the National Reconciliation Ordinance, effectively revoking Amnesty from corruption charges on thousands of government officials. Although political transition appears imminent in 2010 and comes as President Obama commits to an Af-Pak troop surge, effectively stepping up our engagement with Islamabad, the Boston Globe’s call for neutrality is wise given the current pool of potential leaders to choose from:

  • Nawaaz Sharif:
    • Reason We Should Remain Neutral – Quite simply:After two terms as prime minister, he’s remembered for rampant corruption, nuclear proliferation, and his penchant for cozying up to Islamist militants
  • Pervez Musharraf or Asif Zardari:
    • Reason We Should Remain Neutral – Well: “at the behest of Washington, General Pervez Musharraf, who was president at the time, arranged the amnesty that allowed Zardari and his wife, Benazir Bhutto, to return from exile so she could lead her Pakistan Peoples Party in elections. Bhutto was assassinated, and her husband became prime minister. Not without reason, many Pakistanis who are angry about Zardari’s corruption and ineffectiveness hold the United States responsible for imposing him on their country”
  • Pakistan Military:
    • Reason We Should Remain Neutral – Perpetuating rampant blame that one too many American backed military dictators have prevented democracy from ever taking root in Pakistan can’t help growing weariness of cooperation with our government.
      • Noteworthy example – Backing General Zia-ul-Haq in the 1980’s with his leadership key to training the Mujahideen (now known as Al Qaeda) to oust the Soviets from Afghanistan. Not coincidentally, Zia’s regime is remembered as the time Pakistan shifted from being a socially progressive, and moderate Islamic state, to imposing severe, fundamentalist religious policy reforms.
  • Chief Justice Iftekhar Chaudhry:
    • Reason We Should Remain Neutral: Under a sugar-coated banner of “democracy”, the Chief Justice is too blatantly partisan for us to support. His recent decision to repeal the National Reconciliation Ordinance, which set wheels in motion for regime change is widely understood as nothing short of a ploy for power and done in the politics of retribution.

This leaves neutrality as not only our most wise option, but also perhaps our most ethical route. Restraint in supporting any particular regime could mean history points one less finger in our direction should anything go less than perfect as we deepen involvement in Af-Pak. Simultaneously, neutrality assures Pakistani masses who are increasingly skeptical of cooperation with the United States that they have 100% autonomy in political processes.

Well publicized neutrality on a looming regime change could be a valuable opportunity to demonstrate a genuine interest in Pakistan as they transform politically and we require their support in the War on Terror.



Pakistan Year in Review: 2009 Was a Testing 12 Months

December 18, 2009

Overview: Pakistan has been the ultimate quagmire. Suicide bombings, Taliban aggressions and violence plagued Pakistani civilians throughout the year while the Obama administration grappled with crafting an effective strategy in what is now referred to as the Af-Pak War. Collectively, foreign policymaking heavyweights attempted at a solution. Special Envoy Holbrooke spent months in the region, Secretary Clinton made multiple visits and media rounds this year, and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee heard from General McChrystal on a troop surge which itself was hotly debated at length before ultimately being brought forth by President Obama. Despite the necessity of bilateral cooperation in obliterating terrorists, Pakistan and the United States grow weary of their alliance. Drones, intensifying U.S. relations with India namely the civilian nuclear deal, and deep hesitations on the Kerry Lugar Bill marred relations on the Pakistani side. And for the United States, the lingering concern that Pakistan should be doing more in the War on Terror and appreciate our patience with their efforts have made both states cynical partners.

Person of the Year: Unfortunately, the Terrorist. Al Qaeda militants who spilled over from the nebulous Afghan-Pakistan border have gripped the country and sadly had major impact on the lives of innocent civilians. Brazen, unprecedented violence in the form of suicide attacks on public shopping areas, children’s schools and even Mosques demonstrate how the terrorist paralyzed Pakistan in 2009.

Most Unexpected Event: Terrorists turning domestic. Pakistan has suffered the brunt of terrorist activity in 2009. The stereotype we have of terrorists today entails violent attacks on supposed “infidels”, or western international targets. But 2009 saw Al Qaeda gradually in cooperation with the Taliban, extend violent attacks on Pakistan’s predominantly Muslim population. Attacks on and around Islamic houses of worship even became a reality this year.

What to Watch for in 2010: Increasing democratization of Pakistan, despite a very likely change in regime. Former military General Musharraf may return in some capacity, and democratization should continue to progress by way of an expanding private media.  As per Musharraff’s reform in 2002, privatized Television channels have made extraordinary strides in disseminating information that is increasingly reflective of the masses, giving Pakistani’s a voice, and vehicle for change. Many consider the reinstatement of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry in March 2009 a direct result of privatized media who vociferously helped mobilize demonstrations such as the Long March. So, although security issues will continue to dominate until Af-Pak is stabilized, expect expanding television media that can help pave the way for a more moderate, democratic Pakistan.


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