Sunday, July 24, 2016

Imran Khan's Faustian Bargain

Imran Khan and General Musharraf.
The predicament of Imran Khan’s fanboys has been somewhat like the pubescent girl who falls head over heels in love with a promiscuous playboy; and when her friends try to knock some sense into her by telling her that your sweetheart is cheating on you, instead of opening her eyes up, she thinks that her friends are jealous of her love life.

No wonder, playboys like John F. Kennedy and Imran Khan turn out to be popular leaders because they understand the elementary psychology of the masses. The puerile multitude doesn’t understand that grown-up politics is about following the democratic principles and institution-building rather than putting the destiny of one’s nation in the hands of cavalier messiahs.

During Imran Khan’s four month long Dharna (sit-in and political demonstrations) in front of the parliament in Islamabad from August to December 2014, the allegations of election rigging and electoral reforms were only a red herring; a question arises in the minds of curious observers of Pakistan’s politics that what prompted Imran Khan to make a sudden volte-face?

The stellar success of Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in the general elections of 2013 was anything but a pleasant surprise for the PTI leadership. Imran Khan and his political party were only accustomed to winning a single seat in the parliament right up to the general elections of 2008; but in the parliamentary elections of 2013, PTI mustered 35 National Assembly seats and completely wiped out Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province’s Pashtun nationalist party: the Awami National Party (ANP,) and formed a government in the province with the tacit support of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N;) because PML-N could easily have formed a coalition government with Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F.)

These facts prove beyond a shadow of doubt that the demonstrations and protests by PTI from August to December 2014 were based on political opportunism rather than any genuine grievance against the government. Imran Khan came forward with a very broad and disjointed agenda: from electoral reforms to the resignation of the prime minister to seeking justice for the victims of the Model Town tragedy in Lahore.

When the government agreed to the demand of electoral reforms, Imran Khan began insisting on the unacceptable demand of prime minister’s resignation; and when the people and the media criticized him for being unreasonable and causing disruption to the normal functioning of the state, he immediately occupied the high moral ground by drawing attention to the Model Town tragedy.

It seems that Imran Khan’s “wish list” was only a smokescreen to hide his real motive: which was, to permanently banish Nawaz Sharif and his family from Pakistan’s politics by sending them into another exile to Saudi Arabia with the help of Imran Khan’s patrons in the security establishment.

This obstructionist politics by Imran Khan was a clever strategy; he knew that he couldn’t beat PML-N through the electoral process, at least, in the next couple of elections. The difference of parliamentary seats was just too big to have been easily bridged: PML-N’s 166 National Assembly seats to PTI’s 35.

Some PTI stalwarts hinted during the course of 2014 protests that PTI was open to a military takeover for a few years. So, if things had gotten out of hand during the street demonstrations and the army chief had taken over, say for an year or two, and sent Nawaz Sharif and his family to another decade long exile to Saudi Arabia, the political arena would then have been wide open for Imran Khan.

PTI could then have easily competed with the only other mainstream political party: Pakistan People’s Party’s 45 National Assembly seats. By wheeling, dealing Imran Khan could have formed a coalition government with the help of the defectors of PML-N who would then have joined the Musharraf-allied PML-Q, which already got cozy to Imran Khan during the 2014 protests.

Truth be told, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf played the same spoiler role in Pakistan’s politics which the elusive Tamarod Movement played in Egypt in June 2013, only an year before PTI’s demonstrations in Pakistan. Apart from a small number of Egyptian liberals and Copts, Tamarod was mainly comprised of a few thousand football nuts, known as “ the ultras,” who claimed that they have allegedly collected “millions” of signatures endorsing the ouster of Mohamed Morsi of Muslim Brotherhood, only after an year long stint in power in Egypt’s more than 60 years old political history. By what statistical logic, a few thousand cultist demonstrators got the right to forcefully remove an elected prime minister who enjoyed the confidence of tens of millions of voters?

Most Pakistanis don’t have a clue that how close we came to yet another martial law in our turbulent history; PTI’s demonstrations in 2014 were not spontaneous uprisings, they were cleverly planned and choreographed by some unconstitutional forces that have a history of subverting the constitution.

Those protests should be viewed in the backdrop of the Euromaidan demonstrations of Ukraine in 2013, Rabaa square massacre of Egypt and the mass protests and the ensuing military coup in Thailand only a couple of months before the announcement of street demonstrations against the government by Imran Khan.

It seems that the “scriptwriter” first realized the potential of PTI’s zealots to stage a sit-in when they blocked NATO’s supply route in Peshawar; it must have then occurred to the security establishment that PTI’s highly motivated youth supporters were very much capable of staging months-long Dharna against the sitting government.

Notwithstanding, in order to assess the future prospects of PTI as a political institution, we need to study its composition. With the benefit of hindsight, it seems, that the worst decision which Nawaz Sharif took in his political career, after returning from exile in November 2007, was his refusal to accept Musharraf-allied PML-Q’s defectors back into the folds of PML-N. After that show of moral uprightness in the essentially unprincipled realpolitik, the PML-Q turncoats joined PTI in droves and gave birth to a third nation-wide political force in Pakistan.

If we take a cursory look at the PTI’s membership, it is a hodgepodge of electable politicians from various parties, but most of all from the former stalwarts of PML-Q. Here is a list of a few names who were previously the acolytes of Musharraf, and they are now the “untainted” leaders of PTI, which has launched a nation-wide “crusade” against corruption in Pakistan: Jahangir Tareen, a billionaire businessman who was formerly a minister in Musharraf’s cabinet; Khurshid Mehmood Qasuri, who was Musharraf’s foreign minister; Sheikh Rasheed, although he is not officially a PTI leader but during the protests he became closer to Imran Khan than any other leader except Imran Khan’s virtual sidekick, Jahangir Tareen; and Shah Mehmood Qureshi, a feudal from People’s Party who served as foreign minister during the Zardari Administration until he was forced to resign after the Raymond Davis affair in 2011, to name a few.

Regardless, there were actually two perpetrators that carried out an assault on democracy and constitution during the mass demonstrations against the government in 2014. PTI is a political party which has a mass following; however, Tahir-ul-Qadri and his Minhaj-ul-Quran is a subversive organization which is as dangerous the Taliban. The Taliban carry out subversive activities against the government; similarly, Minhaj launched a concerted assault on the paramount institutions of the state: the Parliament, the PM House and the Presidency.

Here, some readers might like to draw our attention to the Model Town tragedy on 17 June 2014 in Lahore during the course of which 14 workers of Minhaj-ul-Quran were killed by the Punjab police. It was a condemnable and outrageous act and the perpetrators should have been punished; but keep in mind that it was not the first time that Minhaj carried out an assault on democracy.

During the course of PTI’s Dharna, one can make a convenient excuse that Tahir-ul-Qadri was seeking justice for his workers who died in the Model town tragedy; but what was his defense for holding Islamabad hostage in January 2013 before the general elections of May 2013? Those January 2013 protests by Qadri were a carefully planned last-ditch effort by the security establishment to delay the elections, which Nawaz Sharif was poised to win and the establishment didn’t want Musharraf’s nemesis to dictate terms to them once again.

It shows that Qadri is a habitual offender, and that Minhaj is nothing more than his private militia. Bear in mind that Qadri and Minhaj have a lot in common with another establishment-allied cleric: Maulvi Abdul Aziz, and we know that how did Musharraf’s Administration deal with them in July 2007; Qadri’s club-wielding cult wasn’t different from the cult of Laal masjid and Jamia-e-Hafza.

Moreover, it appears that the August to December 2014 protests were also carefully choreographed. The role of Imran Khan and PTI was only secondary; the primary role was played by the security establishment’s stooges: Tahir-ul-Qadri, Sheikh Rasheed, Chaudhry Shujaat and Pervaiz Elahi. PTI is a broad-based political party which represents the urban middle class; by their very nature such protesters are peaceful and nonviolent. Left to his own resources, the best Imran Khan could have done was to stage a sit-in at Aabpara market for a few days.

Both charges of the crowd, the assault on the Red zone as well as the PM House, were led by the Minhaj-ul-Quran workers. Those hooligans were a bunch of highly organized and trained religious zealots who are equipped with sticks, slingshots, gas-masks, cranes and anything short of firearms; which, apparently, their organizers forbade them from using in order to keep the demonstrations legit in the eyes of the public.

The role of Imran Khan and PTI in the assault on the Constitution Avenue was only to legitimize the assault: the peaceful protesters, women and kids, music concerts, revolutionary demagoguery, everything added up to creating excellent optics; but the real driving force in that assault on democracy was Tahir-ul-Qadri and his Minhaj-ul-Quran, which is a religious-cum-personality cult comparable to the Rajavis of Iran and their Mujahideen-e-Khalq, or the Gulenists in Turkey.

More to the point, the role played by Sheikh Rasheed during the mass demonstrations in Islamabad should not be underestimated. It brings to light the fact that whoever controls the constituencies of Rawalpindi and Islamabad can bring the capital of Pakistan to a standstill. Protesters from outside the Twin-Cities can only stage protests in front of the parliament for a few days, but the natives of Rawalpindi and Islamabad can stage a Dharna for months. Furthermore, PTI also won 6 out of 14 Punjab Assembly’s constituencies in Rawalpindi, which played to its strength.

Notwithstanding, if we look at the numbers game in the general elections of 2013: PTI’s 35 National Assembly seats to PML-N’s 166, an upstart party still managed to perform well; but we must keep in mind that PTI won more than 90% of those seats in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province. KP, as we know, has been the worst affected province from terrorism; the elections in KP were fought on a single issue: Pakistan’s partnership in the American-led war on terror, which bred resentment and reaction among the Pashtun tribesmen.

KP’s electorate gave a sweeping mandate to the pro-peace PTI against the pro-military operations Pashtun nationalist party, ANP, which was completely wiped out in the elections. And Imran Khan betrayed the confidence reposed in him by the Pashtun electorate when he endorsed the security establishment-led operation in North Waziristan.

Moreover, to add insult to the injury, when the aforementioned military operation in June 2014 led to the displacement of millions of Pashtun tribesmen, who have since been rotting in the refugee camps in Bannu, Mardan and Peshawar; instead of catering to the needs of the refugees, Imran Khan staged a four month long Dharna in Islamabad on the pretext of alleged rigging in the 2013 general elections and seeking justice for the victims of the Model Town tragedy.

Keeping this perfidy by Imran Khan in the mind, it would be a miracle if PTI musters even half of the aforementioned seats in the next general elections in KP; whose electorate is once again more likely to vote for the Pashtun nationalist ANP, which at least had the decency not to stab the Pashtuns in the back.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Distinction between Terrorism and Insurgency

Gen Zia, Carter and Zbigniew Brzezinski.
The definition of the term “terrorism” has been deliberately left undefined by the Western powers to use it as an umbrella-pretext to justify their interventionist policy in the energy-rich Islamic countries for their economic interests. Depending on context “terrorism” can mean two very different things: religious extremism or militancy. If it means religious extremism then that is a cultural mindset and you cannot possibly hope to transform cultures through the agency of war and military intervention; if anything, war will further radicalize the society.

However, by “terrorism” if they mean militancy then tamping down on militancy and violence through the agency of war does makes sense because a policy of disarmament and deweaponization can be subsequently pursued in the occupied territories. That being understood that the Western powers aim to eradicate militancy through wars, but then a question arises that who were the Libyan and Syrian so-called “rebels” who were, and still are, being supported by the Western powers in their purported wars of “liberation” of those hapless countries? Are they not militants?

Notwithstanding, it can be argued that war and militancy are just means to an end and it’s the objectives and goals that determine whether such wars are just or unjust. No-one can dispute this assertion that the notions of “just wars” and “good militants” do exist in the vocabulary; empirically speaking, however, after witnessing the instability, violence and utter chaos and anarchy in the war-ravaged countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen, the onus lies on any “liberal interventionist” to prove beyond doubt that the wars and militants that he justifies and upholds are indeed just and good.

In political science the devil always lies in the definitions of the terms that we employ. For instance: how do you define a terrorist or a militant? In order to understand this we need to identify the core of a “militant,” that what essential feature distinguishes him from the rest? A militant is basically an armed and violent individual who carries out acts of sabotage against the state. That being understood, now we need to examine the concept of “violence.” Is it violence per se that is wrong, or does some kind of justifiable violence exists?

In the contemporary politics, I take the view, on empirical grounds, that all kinds of violence is essentially wrong; because the ends (goals) for which such violence is often employed are seldom right and elusive at best. Though, democracy and liberal ideals are cherished goals but such goals can only be accomplished through peaceful means; expecting from the armed and violent militants to bring about democratic reform is preposterous.

The Western mainstream media and its neoliberal constituents, however, take a different view. According to them, there are two kinds of violence: justifiable and unjustifiable. When a militant resorts to violence for the secular and nationalist goals, such as “bringing democracy” to Libya and Syria, the misinformed neoliberals enthusiastically exhort such form of violence; however, if such militants later turn out to be Islamic jihadists, like the Libya Dawn or the Islamic State, al Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham in Syria, the credulous neoliberals, who have been misinformed by the mainstream narrative, promptly make a volte-face and label them as “terrorists.”

More to the point, there is a big difference between an anarchist and a nihilist: an anarchist believes in something and wants to change the status quo in favor of that belief, while a nihilist believes is nothing and considers life to be meaningless. Similarly, there is also a not-so-subtle difference between a terrorist and an insurgent: an Islamic insurgent believes in something and wants to enforce that agenda in the insurgency-hit regions, while a terrorist is just a bloodthirsty lunatic who is hell-bent on causing death and destruction. The distinguishing feature between the two is that an insurgent has well defined objectives and territorial ambitions, while a terrorist is basically motivated by the spirit of revenge and the goal of causing widespread fear.

The phenomena of terrorism is that which threatened the Western countries between 2001 to 2005 when some of the most audacious terrorist acts were carried out by al Qaeda against the Western targets like the 9/11 tragedy, the Madrid bombing in 2004 and the London bombing in 2005; or the terrorist acts committed by Islamic State in Paris and Brussels in the last year; those acts were primarily the result of the intelligence failure on the part of the Western intelligence agencies.

However, the phenomena which is currently threatening the Islamic countries is not terrorism, as such, but Islamic insurgencies. Excluding al Qaeda Central which is a known transnational terrorist organization, all the regional militant groups like the Taliban in Afghanistan, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, al Shabab in Somalia and Boko Haram in Nigeria, and even some of the ideological affiliates of al Qaeda and Islamic State, like Al Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula, Al Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb, Islamic State affiliates in Afghanistan, Sinai and Libya which have no organizational and operational association with al Qaeda Central or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, respectively, are not terror groups, as such, but Islamic insurgents who are fighting for the goal of enforcing Sharia in their respective areas of control; like their progenitor, the Salafist State of Saudi Arabia.

After invading and occupying Afghanistan and Iraq, and when the American “nation-building” projects failed in those hapless countries, the US’ policy-makers immediately realized that they were facing large-scale and popularly-rooted insurgencies against the foreign occupation, consequently, the occupying military altered its CT (counter-terrorism) approach in the favor of a COIN (counter-insurgency) strategy. A COIN strategy is essentially different from a CT approach and it also involves dialogue, negotiations and political settlements, alongside the coercive tactics of law enforcement and military and paramilitary operations on a limited scale.

The goals for which the Islamic insurgents have been fighting in the insurgency-wracked regions are irrelevant for the debate at hand; it can be argued, however, that if some of the closest Western allies in the Middle East, like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait, have already enforced Sharia as part of their conservative legal systems and when beheadings, amputations of limbs and flogging of the criminals are a routine in Saudi Arabia, then what is the basis for the US’ declaration of war against the Islamic insurgents in the Middle East who are erroneously but deliberately labeled as “terrorists” by the Western mainstream media to manufacture consent for the Western military presence and interventions in the energy-rich region under the pretext of the so-called “war on terror?”

Notwithstanding, the root factors that are primarily responsible for spawning militancy and insurgency anywhere in the world is not religion but socio-economics, ethnic differences, marginalization of disenfranchised ethno-linguistic and ethno-religious groups and the ensuing conflicts; socio-cultural backwardness of the affected regions, and the weak central control of the impoverished developing states over their remote rural and tribal areas.

Additionally, if we take a cursory look at some of the worst insurgency-plagued regions in the Middle East, deliberate funding, training and arming of certain militant groups by the regional and global powers for their strategic interests has played the key role. Back in the ‘80s, during the Soviet-Afghan war, the Afghan so-called “mujahideen” did not spring up spontaneously out of nowhere; Western powers, with the help of Saudi money and Pakistan’s ISI, trained and armed those “freedom fighters” against their archrival, the Soviet Union. Those very same Afghan “mujahideen” later transmuted into Taliban and al Qaeda.

Similarly, during the Libyan and Syrian uprisings, the Western powers, with the help of their regional client states, once again trained and armed Islamic jihadists and tribal militiamen against the “unfriendly” regimes of Qaddafi and Bashar al Assad. And isn’t it ironical that those very same “moderate rebels” later transformed into Ansar al Sharia, al Nusra Front and Islamic State?

While formulating their security policies, military strategists generally draw a distinction between the intentions and capability of the adversary, and they always prepare for the latter. Similarly, the ideology of the militants, whether it’s ethno-religious or ethno-nationalist, only has a tangential importance; it’s their capability: that is, their funding, training and arming that decides the strength and success of a militant organization.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

A House Divided: Turkey's Failed Coup Plot

Abdullah Gul, Gulen and Erdogan.
After reading a few detailed reports on the failed coup plot in Turkey, especially the informative analysis [1] by Metin Gurcan, I have reached a conclusion that instead of a serious attempt at overthrowing the government, the coup plot actually was a large-scale mutiny within the ranks of the Turkish armed forces. Moreover, although Erdogan is blaming the Gulenists out of malice, but my opinion is that the coup was attempted by the Kemalist liberals against the Islamist government of Turkey.

For the last five years of the Syrian proxy war, the Kemalists have been looking with suspicion at Erdogan Administration’s policy of deliberately nurturing the Sunni jihadists against the Shi’a regime of Bashar al Assad. As long as the US was onboard on the policy of training and arming the Sunni Arab jihadists in Syria, until June 2014 when Islamic State overran Mosul that led to the reversal of the previous American policy of regime change, the hands of Kemalists were tied.

But after the US declared a war against Islamic State and the consequent divergence between the American policy of supporting the Kurds in Syria and the Islamist government of Turkey’s continued support to the Sunni Arab jihadists, which led to discord and the adoption of contradictory policies; and then the spate of bombings in Turkey claimed by Islamic State and the Kurds in the last year, all of these factors contributed to widespread disaffection among the rank and file of Turkish armed forces, which regard themselves as the custodians of the secular traditions and the guarantors of peace and stability in Turkey. The fact that one-third of 220 brigadiers and ten major generals have been detained after the coup plot shows the level of frustration shown by the top and mid-ranking officers of the armed forces against Erdogan’s policies.

The dilemma that Turkey is facing in Syria is quite unique: in the wake of the Ghouta chemical weapons attacks in Damascus in August 2013 the stage was all set for yet another no-fly zone and “humanitarian intervention” a la Gaddafi’s Libya; the war hounds were waiting for a finishing blow and the then Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, and the then Saudi intelligence chief, Bandar bin Sultan, were shuttling between the Western capitals to lobby for the military intervention. Francois Hollande had already announced his intentions and David Cameron was also onboard.

Here it should be remembered that even during the Libyan intervention Obama’s policy was a bit ambivalent and France under the leadership of Sarkozy had taken the lead role. In the Syrian case, however, the British parliament forced Cameron to seek a vote for military intervention in the House of Commons before committing British troops and Air Force to Syria; taking cue from the British parliament the US’ Congress also compelled Obama to seek approval before another ill-conceived military intervention abroad; and since both of those administrations lacked the requisite majority in their respective parliaments and the public opinion was also fiercely against another Middle Eastern war, therefore, Obama and Cameron dropped their plans of enforcing a no-fly zone over Syria.

In the end, France was left alone as the only Western power still in favor of intervention; at this point, however, the seasoned Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, staged a diplomatic coup by announcing that the Syrian regime is willing to ship its chemical weapons’ stockpiles out of Syria and subsequently the issue was amicably resolved. Turkey, Jordan and the Gulf Arab states – the main beneficiaries of the Sunni Jihad in Syria, however, had lost a golden opportunity for dealing a fatal blow to the Shi’a alliance comprising Iran, Syria and their Lebanon-based proxy, Hezbollah.

To add insult to the injury, the Islamic State, one of the numerous Sunni jihadist outfits fighting in Syria, trespassed its mandate in Syria and overran Mosul in northern Iraq in June 2014 and threatened the capital of America’s most steadfast ally in the oil-rich region – Masoud Barzani’s Erbil. The US had no choice but to adopt some countermeasures to show to the world that it is still sincere in pursuing its schizophrenic and hypocritical “war on terror” policy; at the same time, however, it assured its Turkish, Jordanian and Gulf Arab allies that despite fighting a symbolic war against the maverick jihadist outfit, the Islamic State, the Western policy of training and arming the so-called “moderate” Syrian militants will continue apace and that Bashar al-Assad’s days are numbered, one way or the other.

Moreover, declaring a war against Islamic State in August 2014 served another purpose too – in order to commit the US Air Force to Syria and Iraq, Obama Administration needed the approval of the US Congress which was not available, as I have already mentioned, but by declaring a war against Islamic State, which is a designated terrorist organization, the Obama Administration availed itself of the “war on terror” provisions in the US’ laws and thus circumvented the US’ Congress.

In order to understand the Kurdish factor in the Syria-Iraq equation, we should bear in mind that there are four distinct types of Kurds: 1) the KDP Kurds of Iraq led by Masoud Barzani; 2) the PUK Kurds of Iraq led by Jalal Talabani; 3) the PKK Kurds of Turkey; and 4) the PYD/YPG Kurds of Syria. The first of these, i.e. the Barzani-led KDP Kurds of Iraq have traditionally been Western allies who have formed a strategic alliance with the US and Israel since the ‘90s, the First Gulf War. All other Kurds, however, have traditionally been in the anticolonial socialist camp and that’s the reason why PKK has been designated as a terrorist organization by NATO because Turkey has the second largest army in the NATO.

Unlike the Barzani-led Kurds of Iraq, however, the PYD/YPG Kurds of Syria, who are ideologically akin to the socialist PKK Kurds of Turkey, had initially formed an alliance with the pro-Russia Assad regime against the Sunni Arab jihadists in return for limited autonomy; the aforementioned alliance, however, was not just against the Islamic State but against all the Sunni Arab jihadist groups operating in Syria some of which have been supported by NATO and Gulf Arab states.

It was only in August 2014, after the US' declaration of war against ISIS, that the PYD/YPG Kurds of Syria switched sides and now they are the centerpiece of the US policy for defeating ISIS in the region. One can’t really blame the Kurds for this perfidy because they are fighting for their right of self-determination, but once again the Western powers had executed their tried-and-tested divide-and-rule policy to perfection in Syria and Iraq to gain leverage and to turn the tide despite the dismal failure of their stated policy of regime change for the initial three years of the Syrian civil war, i.e. from August 2011 to August 2014.

Until August 2014 when the declared US policy in Syria was regime change and the PYD/YPG Kurds of Syria had formed a defensive alliance with the Assad regime against the Sunni jihadists to defend the semi-autonomous Kurdish majority areas in Syrian Rojava; that equation changed, however, when ISIS captured Mosul in June 2014 and also threatened the US’ most steadfast ally in the region: Masoud Barzani and his capital Erbil in the Iraqi Kurdistan, which is also the hub of Big Oil’s Northern Iraq operations. After that development United States made an about-face on its Syria policy and now the declared objective became the war against Islamic State.

That policy change in turn led to a reconfiguration of alliances among the regional actors and the PYD/YPG Kurds broke off their previous arrangement with Assad regime and formed a new alliance with NATO against the Islamic State. Unlike their previous defensive alliance with the Syrian regime, however, whose objective was to protect and defend the Kurdish majority areas in Syria from the onslaught of the Sunni Arab jihadists, this new Kurdish alliance with NATO is more aggressive and expansionist, and its outcome is obvious from this Amnesty International report [2] on the forced displacement of Arabs and demographic change by the Kurds.

Sources and links:
[1] Why Turkey’s coup didn’t stand a chance:

[2] Syrian Kurds razing villages seized from Islamic State, Amnesty International report:

Monday, July 18, 2016

Imran Khan's Freudian Slip

Imran Khan and Tahir-ul-Qadri.
This unusually forthright statement by Imran Khan, that Pakistanis will distribute sweets if army takes over, seems like a Freudian slip: apparently, the failed coup plot in Turkey has touched a raw nerve on a subconscious level. As the wiser among us know that since the 2014 Dharna fiasco, Imran Khan has pinned all of his hopes on the security establishment that eventually the Sharif family will be banished from politics, and then the field would be wide open for PTI to emerge as the largest political party in Pakistan.

After witnessing the humiliation of the Turkish coup plotters at the hands of the masses, however, this deplorable statement by Imran Khan is meant as a reassurance to his followers and, more importantly, to his patrons in the establishment that you don’t have to worry, because Pakistan is different from Turkey and that such a treatment would not be meted out to any potential coup plotters on the streets of Pakistan.

In Pakistan’s 68 years long history, the army has directly ruled it for 34 years and for the remaining half it kept dictating the terms to the civilian governments. If the army failed to weed out corruption, or to enforce an egalitarian social order in Pakistan in three decade long martial laws, then is it not na├»ve to expect that it would weed out corruption if given another chance?

Moreover, if a saint like Edhi promises that he would work for the benefit of the poor masses, he can be trusted. But a sinner who has been surrounded by corrupt billionaires and political turncoats like Jahangir Tareen, Khurshid Qasuri, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Aleem Khan, Azam Swati and Sheikh Rasheed, one has to be an imbecile to expect from such a cabal of corrupt quislings to transform Pakistani politics.

Furthermore, it is wrong to assume that the Pakistani electoral process is somehow not credible and trustworthy as alleged by Imran Khan and his followers. We do have a few pitfalls in our electoral system, but on the whole it is quite transparent and trustworthy. To prove this fact by empirical evidence, we’ve never had a single party rule in Pakistan. In the four elections between ’88 to ’97, two each were won by PML-N and PPP, and the latter also won 2008 elections.

One could only blame one-party rule like that of Mugabe in Zimbabwe that such sham elections are rigged, but not the Pakistani electoral system where all the parties have equal chance, more or less, to form the government; provided they have the confidence of the masses.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Military-Industrial Complex of Pakistan

Ashfaq Pervez Kayani and Shuja Pasha.
Before the signing of the Iran nuclear deal last year, BBC’s defense correspondent, Mark Urban, published a report [1] that Pakistan’s military has made a clandestine deal with Saudi Arabia that in the event of Iran developing a nuclear weapon, Pakistan would provide ready-made nuclear warheads along with delivery systems to Saudi Arabia.

Moreover, it should be remembered that Pakistan’s military and Saudi Arabia have very deep and institutionalized links: thousands of Pakistani retired and serving army officers work on deputations in the Gulf states; furthermore, during the ‘80s Saudi Arabia lacked an efficient intelligence set-up, and Pakistan’s ISI virtually played the role of Saudi Arabia’s foreign intelligence service.

Additionally, in the recent years Pakistan’s defense production industry, with Chinese assistance, has emerged as one of the most sophisticated military-industrial complex in the region. Not only does it provides state-of-the-art conventional weapons to the oil-rich Gulf States, but according to a May 2014 AFP report [2], Pakistan-made weapons were also used in large quantities in the Sri Lankan Northern Offensive of 2008-09 against the Tamil Tigers.

Notwithstanding, from the massacres in Bangladesh in 1971 to the training and arming of jihadists during the Soviet-Afghan war throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, and then launching ill-conceived military operations in Pakistan’s tribal areas under American pressure, which led to the displacement of millions of Pashtun tribesmen, the single biggest issue in Pakistan has been the interference of army in politics. Unless we are able to establish civilian supremacy in Pakistan, it would become a rogue state which will pose a threat to the regional peace and its own citizenry.

Regarding the Kashmir dispute, there can be no two views that the right of self-determination of Kashmiris must be respected; and I am also of the opinion that Pakistan should lend its moral, political and diplomatic support to the Kashmiri cause; but at the same time I am strongly against the militarization of any dispute, not just Kashmir.

The insurgency in Kashmir erupted in the fateful year of 1984 of the Orwellian fame; when the Indian armed forces surreptitiously occupied the whole of Siachen glacier, including the undemarcated Pakistani portion. Now we must keep the context in mind: those were the heydays of the Cold War and the Pakistan military’s proxies, the Afghan so-called “Mujahideen” (freedom fighters) were winning battle after battle against the Red Army, and the morale of the Pakistan army's top brass was touching the sky.

Moreover, Pakistan’s national security establishment also wanted to inflict damage to the Indian armed forces to exact revenge for their humiliation in the Bangladesh War of 1971, when India took 90,000 Pakistani soldiers as prisoners of war. All they had to do was to divert a fraction of their Afghan jihadist proxies towards Kashmir to light the fires of insurgency in Kashmir.

Here we must keep in mind, however, that an insurgency cannot succeed anywhere, unless the insurgents get some level of support from the local population. For example: if a hostile force tries to foment insurgency in Punjab, they wouldn’t succeed; because Punjabis don’t have any grievances against Pakistan. On the other hand, if an adversary tries to incite insurgency in the marginalized province of Balochistan and tribal areas, they will succeed because the local Baloch and Pashtun population has grievances against the heavy-handedness of Pakistan’s military.

Therefore, to put the blame squarely on the Pakistani side for the Kashmir conflict would be unfair. Firstly, India treacherously incorporated the princely State of Jammu and Kashmir into the Dominion of India in 1947, knowing fully well that Kashmir had an overwhelming Muslim majority and in accordance with the "Partition Principle" it should have become a part of Pakistan.

Even now, if someone tries to instigate an insurgency in the Pakistani part of Kashmir, I believe, that they wouldn’t succeed; because Kashmiri Muslims identify with Pakistan. The Indian-occupied Kashmir has seen many waves for independence since 1947, but not a single voice has been raised for independence in the Pakistani part of Kashmir in our 68 years long history.

Secondly, India re-ignited the conflict by occupying the strategically-placed Siachen glacier in 1984. Pakistan's stance on Kashmir has been quite flexible and it has floated numerous proposals to resolve the conflict. But India is now the new regional henchman of the US and also the strategic partner of the latter against China; that's why, India’s stance, not just on Kashmir but on all issues, has been quite rigid and haughty nowadays; because it is negotiating from a position of strength. However, diplomacy aside, the real victims of this intransigence and hubris on both sides have been the Kashmiri people and a lot of innocent blood has been spilled for no good reason.

Coming back to the topic, for the half of its 68 years long history Pakistan was directly ruled by the army and for the remaining half the security establishment kept dictating Pakistan’s foreign and security policy from behind the scenes. The outcome of the first martial law (1958-71) was that Bengalis were marginalized and alienated to an extent that it led to the dismemberment of Pakistan; during the second decade-long martial law (1977-88) our so-called “saviors” trained and armed their own nemesis, the Afghan and Kashmiri jihadists; and during the third martial law (1999-2008) they made a volte-face under American pressure and declared a war against their erstwhile proxy jihadists that lit the fires of insurgency in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

Although, many liberal political commentators in Pakistan nowadays hold an Islamist general, Zia-ul-Haq, responsible for the jihadist militancy in our tribal areas; however, it would be erroneous to assume that nurturing militancy in Pakistan was the doing of an individual scapegoat named Zia; all the army chiefs after Zia’s assassination, including Aslam Beg, Asif Nawaz, Waheed Kakar, Jahangir Karamat and right up to General Musharraf, upheld the same military doctrine of using jihadist proxies to destabilize the hostile neighboring countries, like Afghanistan, India and Iran, throughout the ‘90s. A strategic rethink in the Pakistan Army’s top brass took place only after 9/11, when Richard Armitage threatened General Musharraf in so many words: “We will send you back to the Stone Age.”

Thus, the deliberate promotion of Islamic radicalism and militancy in the region was not the doing of an individual general; rather, it was the well-thought-out military doctrine of a rogue institution. The military mindset, training and institutional logic dictates a militarist and offensive approach to the foreign and domestic affairs. Therefore, as a matter of principle the khakis must be kept miles away from the top decision-making organs of the state.

Regardless, the annual budgetary allocation for defense roughly amounts to a quarter of the federal budget, but Pakistan army also operates its own business empire: from myriads of industries like Fauji Fertilizers and Askari bank and cement to the most lucrative real estate business carried out by the Defense Housing Authority (DHA). All the major cities of Pakistan are dotted with numerous sprawling military cantonments and DHA’s housing colonies for the officers of the Pakistan armed forces.

The profits earned from this business empire are not included in the aforementioned budgetary allocation. Apart from that, Pakistan army has also been getting $1.2 billion every year from the American Coalition Support Fund for the last decade or so, for its partnership with the US in the latter’s dubious “war on terror” policy. If we add up all that, our East India Company really is an unaffordable white elephant. And I don’t mean East India Company in a metaphorical sense; they literally are Pakistan’s indigenous colonizers.

The army officers have their own separate barricaded housing colonies and cantonments where the natives aren’t allowed to enter. They operate their own network of schools, colleges and universities for the children of the army officers. They also run their own hospitals like the Combined Military Hospitals in all the major cities of Pakistan. The British colonizers in India also established separate housing colonies and cantonments, missionary schools and hospitals. In more than one ways Pakistan army is like the British East India Company.

Finally, the rule of law, more than anything, implies the supremacy of the law: that is, all the institutions must work within the ambit of the constitution. The first casualty of the martial law, however, is constitution itself, because it abrogates the supreme law of the land. All other laws derive their authority from the constitution, and when the constitution itself has been abrogated then only one law prevails: the law of the jungle. If the armed forces of a country are entitled to abrogate “a piece of paper,” known as the constitution under the barrel of a gun, then by the same logic thieves and robbers are also entitled to question the legitimacy of civil and criminal codes, which derive their authority from the constitution.

It’s high time that all the political forces and civil society of Pakistan present a united front against the foreign and as well as the domestic enemies. Pakistan armed forces are the friends of Pakistan within their constitutionally-ordained limits, but outside of those limits they are the worst enemies of Pakistan. Determining the domestic and foreign policy of Pakistan is the sole prerogative of Pakistan’s elected representatives; and anyone who thinks that they can redefine the national interest to suit their personal ambition, or institutional interests, is a traitor who shall be judged harshly by the history.

Sources and links:
[1] Saudi nuclear weapons 'on order' from Pakistan: BBC’s defense correspondent, Mark Urban.
[2] Pakistan-made arms were used against Tamils in Sri Lanka:

Monday, July 4, 2016

How Does Corporate Media Manufactures False Narratives?

Bandar bin Sultan and George Bush.
What bothers me is not that we are unable to find the solution to our problems, what bothers me more is the fact that neoliberals are so utterly unaware of the real structural issues that their attempts to sort out the tangential issues will further exacerbate the main issues. Religious extremism, militancy and terrorism are not the cause but the effect of poverty, backwardness and disenfranchisement.

Empirically speaking, if we take all the other aggravating factors out: like poverty, backwardness, illiteracy, social injustice, disenfranchisement, conflict, instability, deliberate training and arming of certain militant groups by the regional and global players, and more importantly grievances against the duplicitous Western foreign policy, I don't think that Islamic State, al-Qaeda and the likes would get the abundant supply of foot soldiers that they are getting now in the troubled regions of Middle East, North Africa and South Asia.

Moreover, I do concede that the rallying cry of “Jihad in the way of God” might have been one reason for the abundant supply of foot soldiers to the jihadists’ cause, but on an emotional level it is the self-serving and hypocritical Western interventionist policy in the energy-rich Middle East that adds fuel to the fire. When Muslims all over the Islamic countries see that their brothers-in-faith are dying in Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and Afghanistan, on an emotional level they feel outraged and seek vengeance and justice.

This emotional outrage, in my opinion, is a far more potent factor than the sterile rational argument of God's supposed command to fight holy wars against the infidels. If we take all the other contributing factors, that I have mentioned in the second paragraph out of the equation, I don't think that Muslims are some "exceptional" variety of human beings who are hell-bent on killing the heretics all over the world.

Notwithstanding, it's very easy to distinguish between the victims of structural injustices and the beneficiaries of the existing neocolonial economic order all over the world. But instead of using words that can be interpreted subjectively I'll let the figures do the talking. Pakistan's total GDP is only $270 billion and with a population of 200 million it amounts to a per capita income of only $1400. While the US' GDP is $18 trillion and per capita income is in excess of $50,000. Similarly the per capita income of most countries in the Western Europe is also around $40,000. That's a difference of 40 to 50 TIMES between the incomes of Third World countries and the beneficiaries of neocolonialism, i.e. the Western powers.

Only the defense budget of the Pentagon is $600 billion, which is three times the size of Pakistan's total GDP. A single multi-national corporation based in the Wall Street and other financial districts of the Western world owns assets in excess of $200 billion which is more than the total GDP of many developing economies. Examples of such business conglomerates are: Investment banks - JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, Barclays, HSBC, BNP Paribas; Oil majors - Exxon Mobil, Chevron, BP, RDS, Total, Vitol; Manufacturers - Apple, Microsoft and Google.

On top of that, semi-legit wealth from all over the world flows into the Western commercial and investment banks: last year there was a report that the Russian oligarchs have deposited $800 billion in the Western banks, while the Chinese entrepreneurs have deposited $1.5 trillion in the Western financial institutions.

Moreover, in April this year the Saudi finance minister threatened that the Saudi kingdom would sell up to $750 billion in Treasury securities and other assets if Congress passed a bill that would allow the Saudi government to be held responsible for any role in the September 11, 2001 terror attacks. And $750 billion is only the Saudi investment in the US, if we add up Saudi investment in Western Europe, and the investments of UAE, Kuwait and Qatar in the Western economies, the sum total would amount to trillions of dollars of Gulf’s investment in the US and Western Europe.

The first and foremost priority of the Western powers is to save their Corporate Empire, and especially their financial institutions, from collapsing; everything else like eliminating terrorism, promoting democracy and "responsibility to protect" are merely arranged side shows to justify their interventionist foreign policy, especially in the energy-rich Middle East.

Additionally, the irony is that the neoliberal dupes of the mainstream media justify and validate the unfair practices of the neocolonial powers and hold the victims of structural injustices responsible for their misfortunes. If a Third World's laborer has been forced to live on less than $5 a day and a corporate executive sits in the Wall Street on top of $18 trillion business empire, neoliberals are okay with this travesty.

However, we need to understand that how does a neoliberal mindset is structured? As we know that mass education programs and mass media engender mass ideologies. We like to believe that we are free to think, but we aren't. Our narratives aren't really "our" narratives. These narratives of injustice and inequality have been constructed for the public consumption by the corporate media, which is nothing more than the mouthpiece of the Western political establishments and the business interests.

Media is our eyes and ears through which we get all the inputs and it is also our brain through which we interpret raw data. If media keeps mum over some vital structural injustices and blows out of proportion some isolated incidents of injustice and violence, we are likely to forget all about the former and focus all of our energies on the tangential issues which the media portrays as the "real" ones.

Monopoly capitalism and the global neocolonial economic order are the real issues while Islamic radicalism and terrorism are the secondary issues and itself an adverse reaction to the former. That's how the mainstream media constructs artificial narratives and dupes its audience into believing the absurd: during the Cold War it created the “Red Scare” and told us that communism is an existential threat to the free world and the Western way of life. We bought this narrative.

Then the West and its Saudi and Pakistani collaborators financed, trained and armed the Afghan so-called "freedom fighters" and used them as their proxies against the Soviets. After the collapse of the Soviet Union they declared the former "freedom fighters" to be terrorists and another existential threat to the "free world" and the Western way of life. We again bought this narrative.

And finally, during the Libyan and Syrian proxy wars the former terrorists once again became freedom fighters - albeit in a more nuanced manner, this time around the corporate media sells them as "moderate rebels." And the lobotomized neoliberal audience of the mainstream media is once again willing to buy this narrative, how ironic?

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Gender Identity in the Light of Evolutionary Biology

Benazir Bhutto and Asif Zardari.
The distinction between genders: masculine and feminine, is more of a social construct than it is an immutable physical division. A tigress is as good a hunter as a tiger. But the complexity of human existence is very different from all other species. We, as social beings, have developed advanced social institutions and culture.

The distinction between males and females is based less on their physiological traits and more on their respective mindsets. And these mindsets, in turn, are an outcome of social expectations of behavior in a cultural milieu. It is expected from the male members of a society to behave in a manly fashion; and similarly it is also expected from the female members of a society to act in a supposedly feminine manner.

But the emphasis on this binary distinction in a rural-agrarian society served a purpose: the division of functions between the male and female members; where the females were expected to do housekeeping and nurture the offspring. This distinction is still maintained, to a lesser or greater extent in an urban and industrialized society. But a distinction based on the division of functions is a hypothetical imperative: as means to achieve certain ends and not an end in itself.

Moreover, it is erroneous to assume that before the onset of monotheistic civilizations, women were somehow equivalent to men. That was an age of hunting-gathering, agriculture and strenuous physical labor and it is a known fact that women are physically a weaker sex, that’s why we have separate sports and athletics events for men and women.

Women attained the status of equality after the onset of industrial revolution, mechanized labor and then the beginning of “The Information Age,” when the focus shifted from physical labor to intelligence and information; and when it comes to cognitive faculties, women are just as intelligent as men, if not more so. Thus, blaming organized religions for sexism and misogyny in the medieval times is a bit unfair; the subjugation of women in that era had more to do with divisions of functions based on economics than religious beliefs, as such.

Regarding matriarchy, I believe, that it was a fringe phenomena; though, matri-lineage might have been a norm in some primitive societies but matriarchy -- the rule of the women -- was only an exception in the age of physical labor for the abovementioned reasons.

Additionally, while I agree with the feminist view that in egalitarian societies the role of women is just as important as men’s, if not more so, considering that they perform the pivotal job of raising children and families; however, I generally shun taking a normative approach towards scientific facts, because the treatment of disorder depends on the correct diagnosis of the problem. Romanticizing the past and singling out pieces of uncorroborated evidence that conforms to our preconceived biases will serve no other purpose than self-deception.

In the primitive tribal societies women, as a weaker sex, were treated as slaves and personal chattels. The organized religions gave them rights and the status of mothers, wives, sisters and daughters. The modern feminism dates back only to the First World War when most of the male labor force in Europe either perished or became incapacitated for labor; it was only then that the force of circumstances necessitated the “liberation” of women and they began performing duties which were previously the sole prerogative of men.

Moreover, retrospectively applying modern standards to the millennia old social systems is very unfair; in their time the organized religions contributed to elevating the status of women. In modern times a rethink is definitely needed to bring about parity in the status of men and women but we must not underestimate the role played by the organized religions for the empowerment of women in the ancient times.

Notwithstanding, instead of taking a binary approach to the classification of genders, the modern feminists now favor to look at the issue from the lens of a whole spectrum of gender identities. The way I see it, it should not be about being “manly,” rather, it should be about being “human,” which is the common denominator for the whole spectrum of gender identities.

When we stress upon manliness, it’s not “manliness” per se that we are glorifying, but the presence of feminine attributes in the socially-elevated male gender is something that we, as the agents of patriarchal structure, frown upon. But such machismo is not a natural order of things, because more than the physical attributes the rigid segregation of genders is an outcome of social constructions that manifests itself in the artificial social engineering of the male and female mindsets.

In our formative years such gender identities and their socially-accepted attributes are infused in our minds through the technique of gender “Othering,” but this whole heteronormative approach towards the issue of gender identities is losing its validity in a post-industrial urban milieu, where the gender roles are not as strictly defined as they used to be in the pre-modern traditional societies.

More to the point, what are the virtues that are deemed valuable in women separate and distinct from the ones that are deemed desirable in men? If meekness, diffidence and complacency are disapproved in men then why do we have double-standards for separate genders? Self-confidence, assertiveness and boldness should be encouraged in both genders without discrimination.

However, the trouble is that the mindsets of the individuals and gender-roles are determined by the society, but if the society itself is patriarchal and male-dominated then it tends to marginalize and reduce women to a lower status. Therefore, a social reform is needed which can tweak with the definition of "virtue" and the qualities which are deemed valuable in human beings should be uniform and consistent for both genders.

Regardless, if we study the behavioral patterns in the animal kingdom, the females of most species are generally more violent than their male counterparts; because they fight not only for food but also to protect their offspring. But how often do we find a violent woman in the human history, or society? It’s a very rare exception. Thus, by nature women are just as violent as men; but the patriarchy-inspired nurture and the male-dominated culture have reduced them to an extent that they have even unlearnt their essential nature.

Two conclusions can be drawn from this fact: firstly, that it’s always the nurture and culture which plays a more significant role in determining human behavior compared to some far-fetched concept of essential human nature; and secondly, that essentially human nature is quite similar for both genders, it’s only the behavioral process of social construction of gender identity that defines and limits the roles which are deemed proper for one gender or the other.

Additionally, it is generally assumed about males that due to the presence of testosterone they are usually more aggressive and competitive compared to females. If we assess this contention in the light of global vs. local character traits theory, however, testosterone only promotes a specific kind of competition, i.e. competition for mating. When it comes to competing for food, however, as I have mentioned before, that males and females of all the carnivorous species exhibit similar levels of aggression and competition.

Therefore, it would be reductive to assume that the distinction between male and female attitudes and behaviors is more physiological and hormonal than due to the difference of upbringing and different sets of social expectations of behavior that are associated with the members of male and female sexes.

Finally, there is no denying of the obvious fact that testosterone is primarily responsible for secondary sexual characteristics in the males of all species. Through the process of natural selection only those males that have succeeded in mating were able to carry forward their genes, which proves beyond doubt that males with higher testosterone levels do have a comparative advantage in the competition for mating, but its effect on attitudes and behaviors of animal species, and especially the human beings with their complex social institutions and cultures, is tentative and hypothetical, at best.

Four Distinct Varieties of Islam

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Colonel Qaddafi and King Faisal.
Although, nominally there are countless sects in Islam, but for the purpose of social analysis I can identify four distinct varieties of Islam in terms of culture:

Firstly: The Western secular Islam which is practiced by the Muslim Diaspora in the Western countries and also by the Westernized liberal elite in the Islamic countries; secular Muslims generally prefer a personalized interpretation of religion over a social one.

Secondly: The urban moderate Islam which is practiced by the urban middle class in the Islamic countries; it is the most abundant variety of Islam which is practiced by the majority of Muslims all over the Islamic world (it can also be titled as mainstream orthodox Islam.)

Thirdly: The rural Barelvi Islam which is professed by the rural masses in the Islamic countries; it’s a mystical variety of Islam but the number of its adherents are declining fast due to urbanization and the missionary activities of the mainstream orthodox Islam.

Fourthly: The most virulent strain of Islam which is the direct precursor of the militant jihadism; I’d like to call it the tribal radical Islam. Its adherents are mostly found among the tribesmen in the Arab countries like Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iraq, Syria and as far away as Egypt, Libya and Algeria.

Since the Af-Pak border region is also inhabited by the Pashtun tribes, therefore due to the influence of the Wahhabi madrassahs and the compatibility of the tribal values and cultures all over the Third World Islamic countries, the tribesmen in the Af-Pak border region readily adopted the tribal radical Islam.

The usual caveats apply: it’s only a heuristic classification which is not exhaustive; and there is some overlapping and similarities between the categories one and three, and two and four.