Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Musings on Pakistan Day

For a past couple of days I have been thinking of what I should write for Pakistan Day, a commemoration of the Lahore resolution which finally consolidated the idea of a seperate homeland for Muslims of the Indian sub-continent. But I'm not sure what this day means to me. For starters, I didn't even know this day existed until recently. It wasn't until I came across Kalsoom's (CHUP) wonderful post that I became aware of this day and its historical significance

I know that I haven't been very forthcoming about myself on this blog. If you have been reading my past posts, you will notice that there is very little mention of myself. I'd rather not be one of those people who  blogs about the inanne details of their day. Part of this has to do with the fact that what I do is pretty boring. As a graduate student involved in fisheries research, much of my day is spent poring over data, performing quantitative analysis and writing drafts and reports.So, I see no point in blogging about how quantile regression is the greatest statistical method ever invented or the advantages of principle component analysis  when monitoring variation in long terms fish habitat data. The other reason for this is the fact that I am a private person and prefer to be solitary than among crowds of people. I am one of the people who grudgingly joinned facebook, only to check it once a month or even less frequently. I'm still considering the mertis of twitter and the only reason I blog is because I have a lot to say about politics, fish and life in general but the people around me aren't interested (not because of selfish reasons, but because there is only so much analysis you can listen to before going crazy).

The reason that I'm writing about my personal background today is because it has a lot to do with how I relate to Pakistan. I emigrated to Canada 11 years ago, and haven't been back once. So my understanding of Pakistan is far removed from the socio-political realities today. I get most of my information from Pakistani and foreign news media as well as some excellent blogs (be sure to check out the links in the sidebar), not to mention friends and relatives. Considering this, what should and can I say about Pakistan day?

From a historical perspective, the Lahore resolution is one of the key documents that is responsible for Pakistan today. Passed on March 24th 1940 after a two day All India Muslim League conference in Minto park Lahore, it recommended the creation of an independent muslim state consisting of Punjab, North West Frontier Province, Sindh, Baluchistan, Bengal and Assam due to the irreconciliable differences between the majority Hindus and the minority muslims. Fast forward seven years and Pakistan becomes an independent state.

As a third generation Pakistani and a first generation Canadian, I have tried to understand why Muslims would want a seperate state to begin with. Though our (hindu and muslim) religious beliefs and practices were different, we still ate similar food, wore similar clothes and spoke similar languages. From my readings of history and talks with my grandparents and parents, it seems that the colonization of India caused a social upheaval. After centuries of rule, Muslims were no longer in power. Added to this was the change of  the  language of administration from Persian to English. Almost overnight, Muslims who were proficient in Persian were unemployed replaced by Hindus favoured by the British due to the belief that the indigenous Indians were ethno-linguistically related to Europeans; the Aryan race. The lack of economic opportunity for Muslims as compared to Hindus heightened pre-existing communal tension, which eventually led to a demand for a seperate state. I can't help but think that the posturing of Islam as a ethnic identity going so far as to dictate culture, language and even folklore was a mistake. While Jinnah clearly stated that Pakistan not an Islamic state in the religious sense, I wonder if the foundation of a homeland on the basis of religious identity is the primary cause of religious extremism today. After all, the formation of Pakistan as a muslim homeland  is still  the biggest excuse for the implementation of religious ideology into state apparatus, which has resulted in the promotion of extremist religious ideology leading us to where we are today.

Don't get me wrong. I am proud of being a Pakistani. But not for the same reasons as an American would be pround of being American. I can't boast about Pakistan's GDP or the Constitutional rights its affords citizens or its technological dominance or its superpower capabilites. But I am proud of the little things such as generosity, hospitality, the respect for elders and the strength of family ties. I'm proud that despite all of the hardships that people face, we have still retained our humanity. I'm proud of Dr. Abdus Salam, Edhi, Asma Jahangir,  Huma Jilani and Ansar Burney as well as organizations like the Kashf foundation, Naya Jeevan, Developments in Literacy which are laying the foundation for a better Pakistan.

For me, Pakistan day is sort of like New Years, or an internal review process. It allows us to take stock of our accomplishments and our failures, as an individual, a society and a nation. Every year it reminds us of how far we have moved forward and how much work still needs to be done.

Happy Pakistan Day!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Damned if you do, damned if you don't

Kai Eide (former UN envoy to Afghanistan), in a BBC interview strongly objected to Pakistan's recent arrests of high ranking members of the Taliban stating that these arrests have jeapordized Taliban-UN negotiations. According to Mr. Eide, "the effect of [the arrests], in total, certainly, was negative on our possibilities to continue the political process that we saw as so necessary at that particular juncture" and that "the Pakistanis did not play the role that they should have played. They must have known about this. I don't believe that these people were arrested by coincidence. They must have known who they were, what kind of role they were playing, and you see the result today."

Let's go over this one more time. If Pakistan arrests senior members of the Taliban that are promoting violence against security forces, NATO and civilians in Afghanistan (and Pakistan), then it has sabotaged Taliban-UN negotaitions. But if Pakistan denies any knowledge of these individuals and does nothing about them, it is supporting terrorism?  It seems like Pakistan is stuck in a pissing contest between US and UN with US wanting to get the bad guys and UN wanting to talk to them.

Frankly speaking, UN opinion does not matter. Yes, negotiations are important in determining lasting peace for both Afghanistan and Paksitan, but so are arrests.  In the case of the Quetta Shura; the primary group which Mr Eide had been talking to, negotiations are moot because there is no guarantee that this organization will (or can) step away from violence even if some sort of middle ground is achieved. It is true that the arrest of half of the Quetta Shura has had no impact on the never ending violence in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. But neither have these negotiations.

 And let's not ignore, Mr. Eide's assertion that UN-Taliban negotations have nothing to do with Pakistan. Considering that the Taliban and their affiliated organizations on both sides of the border are linked with each other, this statement highlights the inherent flaw in these negotiations. There can be no peace in the region if Pakistan is not considered into the equation.

The UN clearly doesn't have a clue. Let's just ignore them and move on.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

I won't be blogging for the next couple of days

As you might have noticed the frequency of my posts has been decreasing over the last week or so. Basically I have a ton of work piled up and therefore have not been able to update my blog as frequently as I would have liked. So I would like to give the two or three people who take the time to read my blog a heads up. Basically, other than daily discoveries, I won't be doing any large posts from Wednesday March 17th to Sunday March 22nd in order to meet my deadlines at work. However, I will be be back on Monday March 23rd with a new post. So please drop by and let me know what you think.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Eyewitness account from Lahore Blast

Courtesy of Teeth Maestro

I was waiting at the school lounge for uncle Allah Ditta to pick me up after the school time was over. We heard the first blast and it was not very powerful but frightening. Our teacher said that it is army that is firing in the area; there is no need to worry about. Then, came the real one. The earth under our feet was moving away from us, it was like an earthquake. I started crying so were many more children. The teachers asked us to move away from the walls and come in the ground in an open place. I saw my teachers in tears as well. The uncle Allah Ditta arrived and I went with him.”

This was what my 10 year old son A. Farooq told me when I called him after the blast today. He is class three student at Lahore Grammar School Landmark project at Arif Jan Road Lahore Cantonment.

The blast today at RA Bazaar was only few hundred meters away from the school building. It seems that over 50 have been killed and many more injured in the deadly suicidal attack today at an army vehicle by some religious fanatics.

My daughter M. Farooq (16) School was also nearby and there were similar scene there with children crying and glass broken of several cars. She told me that she started crying as the first thought I had was that the blast has blown my brother school and my mother was also supposed to pick us up today. So were many more fear-provoking thoughts coming to my mind. We had wait for some time before uncle Allah Ditta came to pick me.

Our driver Allah Ditta was an eye witness to the blast. He was outside the school to pick A Farooq when the blast occurred. “I saw several cars glasses broken because of the intensity of the blast next to ours. Fortunately there was no damage to our car. I rushed to the scene after the second blast. Many were running to our side with a lot of blood coming out of their bodies. There were body parts everywhere. I had not seen such a terrifying scene in my life. Several drivers were injured as well. I was little late to pick A Farooq. If I would have picked A Farooq in time, I would have gone to area where there blast happened because I had to take a U turn from that corner to go to M Farooq School. So it was luck by chance. There Ambulances in few minutes and I saw several bodies been carried away on military truck with blood still soaking on the road. At one time, there were injured people waiting for ambulances but it was shortage of them” he told me.

I was also at the scene of the blast at 11am around two hours before the incident. I had to deposit the school fee of A Farooq and M Farooq at Habib Bank RA Bazaar. The Bank is located next to the scene of the blast. There were ordinary security measures at the place. Anyhow, all the cars had to stop at a barricades eructed by the police some 800 meters away from the scene.

This was the second blast in four days on police and army instillations and conveys. The one on 8th March had also been one of the worst in Lahore with a massive 600 kilograms of explosive used to destroy the building of the Special Investigation Unit. Today’s attack on an army truck is first of its kind. It seems that the religious fanatics have changes their strategy of attacking the ordinary markets that was the practices during last year.

The two attacks have also blown the claim of the government that it has controlled the religious fanatics by occupying their areas. Aided with American drone attacks, Pakistan Army is carrying out a military operation since June 2009. Many ordinary people have been victims of the barbarism of the both sides. There is no end of this madness on both sides. The Americans Imperialism and Pakistani government are convinced that only a military solution is the only one. So are the religious fanatics who believe that they will teach a lesson to the military and police against the attacks on their homes.
Lahore is once again becoming a dangerous place to live. The two attacks in a week time have shaken the confidence of every one and many feel insecure all the time. I had to rush home after the blast from the office to calm my children who were still terrified

Farooq Tariq of Labor Party Pakistan

Heroes? I don't think so

In a recent (and rather snarky) article in the NYT, a group of Pakistani legislators on their way to meetings with Obama's top policy administrators in the United States refused to submit to a full body scan during security screenings before boarding a flight to New Orleans. Instead they returned to Pakistan and are being hailed as heroes.

Appearing on Capital Talk (hosted by the odious Hamid Mir), one of the legislators spoke about his decision to refuse a body scan stating, “Going through a body scan makes you naked, and in making you naked, they make the whole country naked.”

For me this incident is a bit of a Catch-22. One the one hand, asking publicly elected officials from a country to submit to body scanners is a diplomatic insult. Additionally, there is an inherent double standard. If the legislators in question were from any of the G-8 countries, would they be asked to submit to such screening? What about Pakistan's efforts against Terrorism such as the recent offensive on South Waziristan, or the capture of the members of the Quetta Shura? On the other hand, it is important to point out that the majority, if not all of our publicly elected figures have participated in a variety of criminal acts ranging from bribery and extortion (all of MNA) to extra judicial killings (MQM, PPP and ANP, as shown recently in Karachi). It would also be remiss to ignore that fact that several of our publicly elected officials have ties to and support extremists and militant organizations (see Rana Sanaullah), many of which are listed on US State Department's list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. And given that Pakistan is terrorism central, should our public officials be treated in the same manner as those from nations that are not used to support terrorist activities both at home and abroad?

The worst part is that these officials are being hailed as Pakistani heroes. How is refusing to undergo body scanning at an airport an act of heroism?  In this incident, these legislators had the option of refusing to undergo scans without severe repercussion to themselves, their family and their property. Not exactly what I would call heroism! And let's not even get started with the subsequent media frenzy. From what I can see, this whole incident seems staged for popularity.

If Hamid Mir is going to highlight Pakistani heroes, I would prefer he invite individuals like Ansar Burney, Asma Jahangir and Hina Jilani, Mukhtar Mai, Edhi, Ruth Pfau and Mai Jori; people who are actually working to improve the condition of the Pakistani people. 

P.S  I'm posting the entire Capital Talk episode below.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Monday, March 8, 2010

Blast in Lahore

A suicide bombing this morning near the FIA and Special Investiagtive Agency in Lahore has killed a dozen people and left 81 injured. The blast also ripped apart a neighboring school and nearby houses; many casualties included parents returning from their daily school runs. Eight of the reported twelve dead were women.

Despite the fact that TTP has taken responsibility for these attacks as retaliation for US drone attacks and Pakistani military operations in the tribal regions, Punjab law minister Rana Sanaullah claimed that India’s RAW agency as well as Israel and other countries could also be involved. It is a sad day indeed when lawmakers utilize tragedies such as this to advance conspiracy theories rather than discuss the matter on hand. Even with the almost daily attacks on the civilian population, it seems that the Pakistani ruling elite have still not accepted the threat that religious militant groups pose to the country. Blaming India, Israel and other countries is an insult to the victims of these attacks and makes it clear that politicians like Rana Sanaullah couldn't care less.

In recent days, Pakistani forces have been congratulated for making numerous strides against militancy in the region. Today's blast serves as a reminder that this work is far from over.

Friday, March 5, 2010

AAZ's attempt at PR = FAIL

If you don't know what I'm talking about, consider yourself lucky. Unlike me, you did not waste 10 minutes of your life reading AAZ's asinine op-ed in the Guardian. I have never seen such shameless self promotion in my life, with the exception of Jimmy Carter's letter to Foreign Policy (at least this guy did something while he was in office). Let me break it down for you:

Clumsy attempt at self promotion #1

AAZ: I  am working with parliament to run a country, not a political campaign. The goal of our democratic government is to implement policies that will dramatically improve the lives of Pakistanis. In time, good policies will become good politics...

...just ignore the fact that I have done nothing for Pakistan so far and will continue to do nothing unless it is in the interest of myself, my son(myself) or my dead wife(myself) I believe that democracy is the best system of government, but only when I can get votes by carrying around the picture of my dead wife.

Clumsy attempt at self promotion #2

AAZ: Just as our people refuse to be terrorised, our government refuses to be derailed from its course of fiscal responsibility, social accountability and financial transparency...

...actually, I am very terrorised, that's why I live in a walled mansion surrounded by 24 hour security. As for fiscal responsibility, social accountability and financial transparency, every Pakistani knows how much money I have stowed away in my Swiss banks accounts. How much more do you want? I draw the line at sharing my password.

Clumsy attempt at self promotion #3

AAZ: The World Bank, the European Union and the US have all applauded our accomplishments. This praise may be little reported, but it's far more important than the chimera of polls...

...because if you go by the polls you will know that everyone hates my guts.

Clumsy attempt at self promotion #4

AAZ: Pakistan's economic resurrection has been the product, primarily, of our own sweat and blood... "our" I mean everyone except me, my son and the 8,000 people on the NRO.

Clumsy attempt at self promotion #5

AAZ: If the community of developed democratic nations had, after our last democratic election, crafted an innovative development plan with the scope and vision of the Marshall Plan that rebuilt Europe after second world war, much greater economic, political and military stability would already have been achieved. Those who found comfort with dictators have resisted change. Pakistan tried it their way – and endured catastrophe. We intend to build a new Pakistan using long-term solutions based on sound fiscal management...

...I'm not very happy with the money you guys have given me so far. Don't be cheap. If Europe can get billions of dollars in aid after WWII, then I should at least get that much. Monsoon season is just around the corner and my mansion leaks like hell.

Clumsy attempt at self promotion #6

AAZ: Some in Pakistan question our international alliances because they disapprove of our allies' actions, such as last month's unilateral US drone attack against militants in Waziristan. We should all understand that concern. But we are fighting for our lives, and Pakistan's policies cannot be based solely on what is popular...

...I'm an Amreeki chamcha and I'm proud of it.

Final attempt at self promotion

AAZ: History has shown the difference between expedient policies and the long-term goals of true statesmen. When the history of our time is written, Pakistan's decisions will be seen as a turning point in containing international terrorism. We are building a functioning society and economy. In the end, these sometimes unpopular steps will create a Pakistan that sucks the oxygen from the fire of terrorism. Those who are counting on Pakistan to back off the fight – militarily and economically – underestimate my country and me...

... just stating the facts. Some might even call me the Winston Churchill of terrorism. If it wasn't for me, you all would be wearing burkas and picking lice out of your beards. Would a Nobel prize be too much to ask for?

Nauseating! That's all I can say.