New Age Islam Edit Bureau
13 April 2017
Islamic Military Alliance And Pakistan
By Dr Zafar N Jaspal
The Language Of War
By Kamila Hyat
Pakistan Must Remain Neutral In Middle East
By J K Wali
Afghanistan — In The Eye Of The Storm
By Khadim Hussain
Let’s Live By The Constitution
By I.A. Rehman
“Education Is The Only Solution”
By Mashaal Gauhar
By Owen Bennet-Jones
Karachi — Of Bridges And Divides
By Faisal Kapadia
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
April 13, 2017
THE hysterical debate over the appointment of formal Chief of Army Staff as head of the 39-nation Islamic military alliance necessitates critical examination of the subject. Realistically, the contemporary terrorist organizations have been indoctrinating and recruiting from various countries. These organizations have facilitators, networks and sanctuaries in almost all Muslim States. The multinational traits of the terrorist syndicate makes impossible for an individual state to annihilate Al-Qaeda, Deash, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), Islamic Jihad Union (IJU), TTP etc. alone. Thus, a collective security approach is imperative to protect the innocent Muslims from the brutality of radicalised transnational terrorist organizations.
According to the published information the Islamic Military Alliance primary objective is to eliminate the terrorist organizations, which have been undermining the national security of the Islamic states. The membership of the alliance reveals that the parties to the alliance are not against any state and sect or ideology. That’s why; Azerbaijan (85% of Azerbaijani Muslims profess Shia Islam while 15% are Sunni Muslims) is party to the alliance. So joining an alliance against terrorist groups neither create sectarian divided externally nor internally. On April 7, 2017, National Security Advisor Lt Gen Nasser Khan Janjua (Retd) pointed out: “The former COAS is not going as a Sunni army chief. He has good relations with Iran too.” Thus, branding alliance a Sunni alliance is an attempt to create sectarian polarization within the Pakistani society.
The critical examination of the Government of National Action Plan and its external approach towards the transnational radicalised groups reveals that Pakistani ruling elite is very much cognizant to the objectives of the alliance. The alliance would only annihilate the criminal transnational non-state organizations(s)—terrorist groups, such as, Al-Qaeda, Islamic State, IMU, IJU, TTP, etc. Hence, Pakistan being a member of the alliance will not harm or work against the national interest of Iran. Instead, Islamabad may play a reconciliatory role in bridging the gap between Saudi Arab and Iran.
Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua and Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa reiterated that Pakistan would not act against Iran. Hence, Pakistan’s joining the multinational Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism is neither against any particular state including Iran nor it would hurt the unity of Islamic countries. Moreover, one needs to understand the fact that multinational alliances, agreements, treaties, etc. contains withdrawal clause. Therefore, if the 39-nations military alliance deviates from its original mandate, Pakistan will use the withdrawal clause and will immediately leave the alliance.
Ironically, despite Islamabad’s assurances, Tehran expressed its reservation on the appointment of the General Sharif. On April 4, 2017, Iran’s Ambassador to Pakistan Mehdi Honardoost stated: “We are concerned about this issue… that it may impact the unity of Islamic countries.” Indeed, it’s the perspective of Tehran expressed by the Ambassador. Though, the satisfaction of Tehran is important, yet it does not mean that for the sake of Iranians or Saudis satisfaction Islamabad compromise on its own sovereign decision-making that is vital for guarding and maximizing its own national interest.
In the community of nations, the nation-state always pursues its own national interest. Therefore, the foreign policy makers critically examine both short and long term consequences of the inter-state relations. Therefore, the Pakistanis have to realize that they have to pursue the national interest of their own state instead Iran or Saudi Arab. Perhaps, good relations with the neighbouring states are imperative for the security and prosperity of the state. The sovereign states, however, does not compromise on their sovereign decisions making just for the sake of pleasing the neighbouring country.
Many opine that the appointment of the retired Pakistani General would annoy Tehran. But they failed to recall that Iran has defence pact with India since November 2003. It was revitalized in 2009. It’s an open secret that Iran has been facilitating India in the materialization of its sea, road and railway connection with Central Asian states through Afghanistan. For instance, in 2014 India invested more than 85 million US dollars at Chabahar port. Did Pakistan express its concerns over the cementing strategic relationship between Iran and India? One cannot recall any negative reaction of Pakistan on Iran’s facilitating role in augmenting Afghanistan and India bilateral multifaceted relations. Nonetheless, Islamabad remained unconcerned by the Iran’s deal with India and Afghanistan over the Chabahar port
Pakistan is one of the biggest victims of terrorism. Since 2001, its law enforcement agencies have been fighting with the multinational terrorists groups. Therefore, the government of Pakistan not only condemns terrorism, but it also actively participates in the efforts destined to obliterate the menace of terrorism. Perhaps, Government’s permission to General Raheel Sharif to head the military alliance is an act of reconfirmation its commitment with the war on terrorism. To conclude, Islamabad ought to adopt a strict bilateral policy towards both Tehran and Riyadh. Neither Saudis nor Iranians should be allowed to interfere in the making of Pakistan foreign policy. Pakistan is a sovereign state and thereby its decisions shall be independent from the diktats of the external powers as well as the fifth column that is operative within the Pakistani society.
The tragic war that has torn Syria apart over the last five years has created enormous suffering in modern times. Not enough has been said about the war by the media that has consistently prioritised other issues. It has highlighted problems that are far more trivial than the tragedy that is unfolding in a country from which thousands have fled.
But beyond the dimensions of war, it is the hypocrisy behind it that is striking. The language used for those taking part in so many ways defines heroes and villains. In many cases this language appears to be inappropriate. It is created by a false, concocted sense of morality and rhetoric that are not based on reality. This was manifested during the latest US air strike that was carried out without the approval of the UN Security Council. This occurred even though Donald Trump, in his election campaign, had averred that there would be no direct US involvement in the Syrian conflict and that massive mistakes had been made by treading on Middle Eastern soil in the past.
The precise truth about the alleged gas attack which took place close to Damascus is yet to be known. This is typical of a war that has been reported poorly throughout its course and where lies have been presented as absolute facts. The Russians of course, present on the ground at the time of the strikes and informed of it in advance, would know. But they form part of the power game that is being played in the region between outside elements – a game that has devastated the beautiful cities of Syria.
The nerve gas attack could be a lie. The UN suggests pro-West rebels conducted it. The lies are familiar. In the not very distant past, Iraq was devastated on the basis of glaring lies conveyed by unreliable ‘spies’ about its weapons. The US and UK picked up on them and presented them as facts because it suited them to do so. We are seeing a replay.
Let’s talk about the narrative we have been fed. This is necessary because at the time of the Iraq war we were told there was no bigger tyrant than Saddam Hussein and that he needed to be ousted at all costs. It is true that Bashar al-Assad is a brutal dictator. He has acted without any mercy against his own people and destroyed vast tracts of his own country in his efforts to fight against those who wish to oust his regime. It is also true that the regime has blood on its hands. It is guilty of torture, execution, the killing of civilians and incarceration in secret jails. Militias that operate under nominal control of the regime have been engaged in ethnic cleansing.
Of course this is not a government that can be admired or sympathised with. But would the US really want to delve into its history? Is it not correct that the Shia Baathist regime led first by Assad and then inherited by his son played the role of a close US ally for many years? Bush would send all those people from whom he wanted to extract confessions (through torture or any other means available) to Syrian jails. This is not something that many Americans are familiar with.
They are also unfamiliar with other truths. The ‘rebels’ which the West has been consistently supporting were once better known as Al-Qaeda, the evil responsible for the 9/11 attacks. They may today in some case go under different names but the groups are the same and consist of the same leadership. Even Isis, against which the US says it is leading the struggle, has not been targeted as frequently as Bashar al-Assad’s dictatorship.
There are other hypocrisies involved in the sequence of events. Qatar and Saudi Arabia are the main financiers of the rebels who were sent into Syria to overthrow Assad. There have been multiple accusations from Syrian citizens – who do not favour the Assad regime – of atrocities committed by these bands. But while former US president Obama and his secretary of state Hillary Clinton are on record as saying they sought democracy in Syria, they do not seem disturbed by the fact that many Middle Eastern regimes are authoritarian. Both nations have quite openly backed the orthodox rebels attacking Syrian cities. They were also ardent supporters of the Taliban who drove Afghanistan into the mediaeval ages.
This has also meant that, despite the 9/11 perpetrators not being Afghan, Afghanistan bore the brunt of the US fury. This time too Iran appears to be the indirect target of the fighting.
The language used to describe the war is also important. After Assad’s armies walked into the ruins of Aleppo late last year, the events were described as the ‘fall’ of Aleppo rather than with words that would describe a city that had been retaken or recaptured by the Syrian government from the hands of ‘rebels’ who had terrorised people. In contrast, when Palmyra, the ancient city built by the Romans was taken by Isis, the words used to report it stated that Palmyra was recaptured. There was no talk of a ‘fall’ or any other catastrophe.
Similar hypocrisies can of course be found everywhere. In the US media there is little discussion of the fact that the US has been the world’s biggest user of chemical weapons. Apart from the country’s use of them in large quantities against civilians in Vietnam, its use elsewhere has been condoned. Surely there are lessons to be learnt from this. One of the reasons for the pictures being put before us is that many of the war reporters and journalists present in Syria had joined the ‘rebels’, often with the tacit support of US military personnel. It is then not surprising that we hear essentially a single perspective. This has been a problem for a very long time.
In 1945, soon after the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed by US atomic bombs, only one reporter, Wilfred Burchett, suggested that the act delivered a warning to the world about the horrors of technology and warfare. Other journalists maintained the official stance that the US had emerged victorious in its fight against a country that had already been brought to its knees.
This connivance between the media and officialdom, through language – terminology and choice of words – to describe different players in any conflict is now a common phenomenon. It was seen in Afghanistan where American media professionals were ‘embedded’ with troops to ensure that only one version of reality was portrayed. Of course the reporters could have broken away from the leashes that bound them. But historically, only a few have dared to do so and this is perhaps particularly true in the Middle East where many other factors play a part in shaping public perspective.
Syria is the focal point of the game being played between the giants. In many ways the US strike is significant: it will impact relations between Moscow and Washington. For both nations, the region is a crucial one. This is one of the reasons why its people have been subjected to rule by dictators and autocrats who act as puppets for leaders in faraway lands. These people simply become pawns in wars whose reality is often veiled from the world. This duplicity is created by describing things in only one way.
For Pakistan to play the role of a leader, whether in the Muslim world, South Asia, or among pro-democracy forces, it would first need to ensure that it is strong enough to cope with challenges at home.
If Yemen being driven to the brink of collapse by the Saudi bombing campaign isn’t bad enough — assuming our policymakers are aware of what’s happening there — the gut-wrenching images from last Tuesday’s chemical bombing in Syrian city of Khan Sheikhoun should’ve done enough to push Pakistan away from the Middle East.
At a time when one can’t really be sure who was behind the gas attack, taking sides in Syria might end up with Pakistan adding to the horrors of the country which has lost over half a million of its citizens over the past six years.
Of course, this assumes that Pakistan would have a choice over alignments in Syria. With Russia-Iran on one side and US-Saudi on the other, it’s obvious what Islamabad’s participation entails.
This equation becomes all the more problematic when one tries to add ISIS and Assad regime, two primary adversaries in Syria, to the above mentioned equation. While Russia-Iran-Assad form an indubitable alliance, and have done since Bashar’s father Hafez al-Assad took over the reins, the US-Saudi-ISIS ‘coalition’ is both too simplistic and perhaps outdated.
Ever since Saudi Arabia got a taste of its own medicine, after ISIS starting targeting the Kingdom, Riyadh has curtailed funding for the group and has limited it to specific factions that are dedicated to dethroning Assad.
Similarly, while the US role in the creation of ISIS courtesy the disastrous Iraq War is well documented, it would be absurd to suggest that Washington has any interest in nourishing the Islamic State, even if it might result in Assad’s elimination.
As things stand the sole US interest in Syria is tackling Russian influence, and with Islamabad’s budding energy and military agreements with Moscow, coupled with continued alienation by Washington, it would not be in Pakistan’s best interests to team up with its ‘traditional allies’.
For Saudi Arabia and Iran, Syria has long been the ground for a protracted proxy war, long before Arab Spring, Iraq War, 9/11 and Soviet disintegration. As the Sunni majority population is ruled by the Shia Alawite family, Syria has both ideological and geopolitical fault-lines, as Riyadh and Tehran continue to wrestle for control over the region.
This is where Pakistan’s participation — and of course the much publicised command — in the 41-country Saudi-led Islamic military alliance becomes complicated.
For starters, it’s neither Islamic nor a military alliance. A large number of the participants are practically honourary members and do not bring any military wherewithal to the table. And of course states like Iraq, Iran, and Syria, are notably missing, making the alliance more Sunni than Islamic.
Even if Pakistan’s official interpretation of the Islamic military alliance is accepted, that the coalition targets terror outfits like ISIS and won’t be aligned against any state or sect, it still doesn’t make sense for Islamabad to participate as things stand.
At a time when ISIS itself has reached Pakistan, through attacks like February’s Sehwan Sharif massacre, not to mention the countless other jihadist groups yet to be tamed in the country, any counter-terror measures should remain within the state till we have completely eliminated the radical Islamist elements.
When your own house is on fire, you don’t go rushing to the next block with the fire hose.
While the Imaam-e-Kaaba’s visit to Pakistan and his touting of Pakistan as the ‘leader of the Ummah’ were qualified by security of the Harmaein Sharifain, Islamabad can indeed play a prominent role in the Muslim world. But not right now.
Militarily, Pakistan still leads the way in the Muslim World, and it is no coincidence that the Saudi-led coalition earmarked Gen (r) Raheel Sharif as the commander to lead the alliance, following his successful operations in many parts of the country.
But for Pakistan to play the role of a leader — whether in the Muslim world, South Asia or among pro-democracy forces — it would first need to ensure that it is strong enough to cope with challenges at home. When we’ve overcome these major hurdles — especially on the terror front — we would be in prime condition to guide others in successfully dealing with jihadist groups.
Till then Pakistan should uncompromisingly focus on its national interests, before joining any ideological allies.
The death sentence for Kulbhushan Yadav would undoubtedly strain diplomatic ties with New Delhi, an aggravation that could go into 2018 and 2019, at the very least, with general elections scheduled in Pakistan and India, respectively. And so, Pakistan would be deep in a two-front struggle with Islamabad’s plate full with both jihadist militancy and diplomatic warfare on the agenda.
Therefore, neutrality in the Middle East would not only allow Pakistan to steer clear of gruesome war crimes in Yemen and Syria, but it would also help keep Islamabad’s focus on local challenges and mulling ways to counter them. And if eliminating ISIS necessitates a plunge into the Middle East crisis, let’s first start with defeating the group’s Khorasan faction in South Asia, which has found many foot soldiers among jihadist militia in Pakistan.
Afghan officials were rightly concerned when a conference on Afghanistan was organised in Moscow without their presence in December 2016. China, Pakistan and Russia had participated in the tripartite consultation while the United States also wasn’t invited. To dispel the impression that Pakistan was trying to forge an alliance to counter the perceived Indo-Afghan partnership, Moscow hosted another meeting after two months in February 2017. Afghanistan, Pakistan, Russia, China, Iran and India participated this time.
In March 2017, Afghan National Security Adviser (NSA) Haneef Atmar visited Moscow to hold dialogue with the Russians on several issues including counterterrorism and bilateral ties. These developments seem to indicate hectic diplomatic efforts as the Afghan Taliban have signalled their willingness to attend the upcoming Moscow conference.
It is, henceforth, significant to unravel the emerging extremist landscape, especially in Afghanistan and the Pashtun belt of Pakistan. The self-styled Islamic State of Khorasan (ISK) and its affiliates, including the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and the Pakistani Taliban, seem to be drawing lines against the region. In the meanwhile, regional states are engaged in hectic diplomatic efforts to re-adjust strategic alliances.
The ISK, previously based in areas on both sides of the Durand Line, has recently expanded its presence in the north and west of Afghanistan. It has started its recruitment drive from the areas previously under the influence of Lashkar-e-Islam of Khyber Agency. The splinter groups of Pakistani Taliban and IMU seem to have already forged strategic and tactical alliance with the ISK.
While Afghanistan is concerned about the expansion and the recruitment base of the ISK, the group has already claimed responsibility for the recent attack on a Sufi shrine in Pakistan that killed 88 people. It was also blamed for the deaths of six aid workers in northern Afghanistan. Some Afghan officials accuse Pakistan of allowing the ISK to expand its strategic influence on both sides of the Durand Line. The expansion of ISK to the north and west of Afghanistan has also caused ripples in the security circles of Iran and Russia. Kunduz and Badakhshan are reported to have become safe havens for the IMU, ISK, JuA, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT) and Lashkar e Jhangvi (LeJ). Pakistan, on the other hand, blames the Afghans for protecting the Pakistani Taliban that regularly launch attacks against Pakistan.
Having witnessed strategic complications in Syria and Yemen, both Russia and Iran have been working on the assumption that ISK might be facilitated, in one way or the other, by the US and her allies in Afghanistan. Iran and Russia seem to incline towards the simplistic approach to use the Afghan Taliban as counterbalance to the ISK. Iran also seems to be weary of the ISK’s stark bias against the Isna Ashari (Shia) interpretation of Islam. The ISK considers Shias to be heretic. Iran assumes that this brings the ISK closer to Saudi Arabia’s interests. Hence, both Iran and Russia might have developed the proclivity to pit certain groups each other. Pakistan is said to have offered its facilitation to bring Russia and the Afghan Taliban closer together on the assumption that the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban are ideologically distinct entities.
India and the US, on the other hand, seem to consider the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network formidable threats to their interests. Another complication in this intricate geo-strategic matrix seems to be the perceived understanding in Russia and China that the US’ influence in the region might be shrinking under Donald Trump.
The security apparatuses of all the above-mentioned states seem to have nurtured two major illusions. These illusions have threatened their vital interests in the past and might continue to pose challenges in the coming years too. First, the security establishments of these states tend to ignore close ideological linkages among religious militias. Second, the security establishments of these states have nurtured an illusion that they would be able to use a group of their choice against other states without any backlash.
Afghanistan may probably remain an arena for strategic interests of regional and global powers in the long-run. The collision might, once again, inflict death and destruction upon locals on a large scale but there could be a huge drawback in terms of pitting militants against certain states.
The One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), and multi-million dollar Chinese-sponsored projects in Afghanistan might tempt China to play cementing role in the region. Moreover, the extremist movements in Chinese territory may also compel China to convince other powers to withdraw support to militancy.
Let’s live by the Constitution
April 13th, 2017
WHOEVER thought of the splendid idea of celebrating Constitution Day did a good service to Pakistan. Such events, even in their ritualistic form, should remind rulers and citizens both of the means of maintaining order in institutions of governance and justice in the state’s relations with the individual.
The essential questions are: who should remember the Constitution? What is in the Constitution or what must be remembered most regarding it? And how can the Constitution be best remembered?
Remembering the Constitution, that is becoming familiar with its provisions, is obligatory for all those who, while taking their oaths of office, vow to perform their functions in accordance with the Constitution or to uphold it. They include the president, the governors, the prime minister, the chief ministers, the federal/provincial ministers, members of all legislatures, judges of the superior courts, members of the Election Commission, and all members of the armed forces.
The public impression is that the only people who remember the Constitution are the superior court judges, who have to deal with constitutional petitions, and parliamentarians who wish to challenge any decisions. All other dignitaries named in the Third Schedule of the Constitution apparently do not consider themselves bound to learn what the Constitution says.
This state of affairs is due to the people’s ignorance of the state’s basic law. Thus, celebration of the Constitution will have meaning if the people are made familiar with the core of the document, that is, the limits to the state’s authority and the inviolability of their rights. This process must obviously begin during children’s schooling.
It is necessary to ensure that the Constitution reflect the evolving concepts of basic freedoms.
There is no harm in learning from the army that has been inviting girls and boys to spend a day with the troops. This is all very well. Children, especially in the 14-18 age group, should know the soldiers and their work, but it may be equally important for them to know the basic facts about their state and the responsibilities of the various institutions and services.
For learning about the Constitution, it is necessary to remember that the people were denied their due and the seeds of the state’s disintegration (in 1971) were sown by the failure to adopt a just constitution for a decade. The people will suffer more and the state’s integrity will remain at risk if there is no fair constitution and we don’t live by it.
A few things about the 1973 Constitution are worth remembering. First, it was adopted while the horrors of 1971 were fresh in politicians’ minds and they were pragmatic enough to defer their demands for a proper federal set-up. These demands were only partly accepted in 2010, vide the 18th Amendment, another halfway house on the path to a genuine federation. Thus, full implementation of the 18th Amendment and the urgency of further devolution of authority to the federating units and from them to the local governments must not be forgotten.
Also worth remembering is Article 3 of the Constitution which distinguishes the 1973 Constitution from the previously adopted documents. This article obliges the state to eliminate all forms of exploitation and start following the principle, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his work”.
This article must not be dismissed as socialist jargon, because the end of exploitation has become an essential ideal of any civilised state. A vast majority of Pakistan’s citizens do want deliverance from bonded labour, child labour, gender discrimination, denial of equality before the law on the basis of belief, ethnicity, domicile and social status, exploitation of religious sentiments, and the growing disparity between the rich and the poor.
But what is the constitutionalism that is being celebrated? Everybody has forgotten the principal slogan that inspired all movements for the establishment of democracy, namely, restoration of the basic law as it was adopted in 1973, that is, minus the distortions introduced during 1974-1988 and 1999-2008, except for amendments justifiable by universal democratic conventions.
Pakistan has already paid a huge price by making democratic governance and the rule of law subject to belief, custom and prejudice and the Constitution cannot help the people realise their aspirations until it is purged of such aberrations. Further, the practice of ceding democratic space to non-elected elements will not promote constitutionalism; it will only make the state weaker.
Then it is necessary to ensure that the Constitution reflect the evolving concepts of basic freedoms and rights and new patterns of responsible governance.
The question as to how a constitution can be remembered is hard to answer. Let us begin with educating the children, all of whom must now be attending educational institutions, in the essentials of constitutionalism, the choice of the democratic system, and the citizens’ responsibilities.
Nobody should ignore the fact that the Constitution has repeatedly been subverted with impunity. Judicial authorities assert they have made subversion of the Constitution impossible. It is difficult to accept this claim, for no barrier to protect the Constitution stronger than Article 6 has been raised.
The ultimate guarantee against disruption of the constitutional order lies in the people’s willingness and ability to defend it. That is not possible so long as power is vested in only a few hundred parliamentarians; once they are neutralised, there will be no one to defend what Ziaul Haq contemptuously described as a sheaf of papers that could easily be torn. The Constitution can only be defended by people who are organised, who enjoy a share in power and who are convinced that they own the state and its resources. In this struggle a dynamic, wide-awake civil society can play a key role and perhaps that is why unstable regimes are gunning for it the world over.
The creation of an active citizenry, conscious of its rights and having the will to fight for them, can best justify the Constitution Day ritual.
Pakistan’s countless flesh and blood victims of the seemingly unstoppable terrorist juggernaut rarely make international headlines. Obscured by the mainstream news narrative, the image of Pakistan which emerges hardly takes into account the extent of the loss, injury, and trauma endured by people on an all too frequent basis.
From recent terrorist attacks in Lahore and Quetta to the horrific massacre of school children at Peshawar’s Army Public School in 2014 — the catalogue of atrocities has become immense.
Malala Yousafzai’s recent selection as a UN Messenger of Peace is a recognition of the terrorist violence suffered by Pakistan’s people. Just 19-years-old, she is the youngest recipient of the UN’s highest honour. “Now as our youngest-ever UN Messenger of Peace, Malala can do even more to help create a more just and peaceful world,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
The hate-filled invective of extremists and largely uneducated populace has resulted in disastrous consequences for Pakistan as extremist forces have been able recruit ready adherents. This is why advocates for peace like Malala have placed a singular emphasis on the need to ensure every child is afforded a quality education. Given the growing youth bulge in populous countries like Pakistan, this education imperative becomes all the more urgent.
A recent survey by Pakistan Social and Living Standard Measures found that the literacy rate in Pakistan for 10-year and above rose to 60 percent, representing a 2 percent annual increase.
However, Pakistan’s education system remains in a bleak state. According to the UN Global Education Monitoring Report 2016, Pakistan’s education system has failed to meet its targets by decades: primary education by 50 years and secondary education by 60 years. Moreover, it is estimated that Pakistan’s poorest women have received less than a year of schooling. And, 5.6 million school-age children remain out of primary school and 5.5 million of secondary school.
Pakistan’s Constitution obligates the state in unequivocal terms to provide free and compulsory education to all children from the age of five to 16. However, it seems that while some articles of the Constitution are feverishly upheld and defended, provoking endless political debate, the most fundamental ones like a citizen’s right to education are flagrantly disregarded.
Pakistan’s woefully inadequate education system has been further devastated by militant violence. A recent Human Rights Watch report entitled Dreams Turned into Nightmares: Attacks on Students, Teachers, and Schools in Pakistan, has detailed the disruptive impact of terrorism on the education of thousands of children, particularly girls. With the Taliban and other extremist groups targeting educational institutions, teachers and students have been compelled to keep away in case of further attacks — a brute tactic regularly employed by extremist forces to disseminate fear and attain control as the 2016 massacre at Peshawar’s Bacha Khan University grimly demonstrates.
“Attacks on education not only harm students and families directly affected, but also have an incalculable long-term negative effect on Pakistani society,” said Bede Sheppard, child rights deputy director at Human Rights Watch. Depriving children of education is effectively robbing them of awareness, independence, critical life skills and consigning them to a state of unremitting poverty.
Malala’s triumph is a collective victory for Pakistan as her views and aspirations deeply resonate with the overwhelming majority of Pakistanis. Earlier at the UN, she eloquently articulated the power of resistance against retrogressive forces, “... the Taliban shot me on the left side of my forehead. They shot my friends too. They thought that the bullets would silence us. But they failed. And then, out of that silence came thousands of voices.” Malala was just fifteen-years-old when she was shot by Taliban gunmen in 2012. An outspoken critic of the Taliban, Malala gained recognition for her BBC blog describing the atrocities wrought by the Taliban in Swat after militants burnt down a girls’ school.
The recent years of conflict have exacted a heavy toll on Pakistan. Sadly, the story of Malala is just one of innumerable attacks against children but she stands as a brave survivor and narrator of a dark chapter in Pakistan’s history. As she so aptly asserted, “Education is the only solution. Education first.”
THERE were many who believed the army would never confront the militants in North Waziristan. Too many strategic assets were located there, they said. And the cost of appeasing the West by dismantling the militants’ infrastructure would be too high. But the predictions were wrong. Eventually — after years of hesitation — the army did move in.
It’s easy to forget now that back in 2007 it was not uncommon to hear Peshawarites say they were moving their children out of the city for fear that the state could not provide sufficient security. And even if many of those parents still worry today about the risk of their offspring being kidnapped, there can be little doubt that the situation is vastly improved.
Many of those who doubted the army’s resolve also thought it would never make a genuine effort to control the Pak-Afghan border. After all, for years the army had said it could not control the movement of militants from Pakistan into Afghanistan because the border was so porous. But now that the flow is reversed it turns out that the border can be controlled. There are new posts, forts and radar systems to stop militants getting into Pakistan from Afghanistan.
It all prompts the question: are these developments in northwest Pakistan a one-off? Or are they a model for what might happen in the rest of Pakistan?
The army would doubtless argue that its fight against militant violence is by no means restricted to the northwest. The Fata campaign has been matched by a commitment to tackle militancy in Karachi. And even if many might see the Baloch insurgency in a different light to violent Jihadism, from the military’s point of view, in Balochistan too, the state has confronted those who violently oppose the state.
Not all militant groups are being targeted.
And yet elsewhere in the country some militant outfits remain untouched. There are three types of groups to consider: those active in Afghanistan, the sectarian groups and the India-facing outfits.
Despite all the impassioned official denials, the world has little doubt that the Afghan Taliban leadership has sanctuary in Quetta. Given that foreign affairs adviser Sartaj Aziz said as much it’s difficult to believe anything else. And there is a reason for this policy. In the minds of some of Pakistan’s military strategists the protection offered to senior Afghan Taliban leaders and their families serves Pakistan’s national interest. The international community, the argument goes, will be unable to get a peace deal Afghanistan without going through Pakistan.
Similarly, the links with India-facing groups are plain for all to see. The idea that Pakistan can rely can on the indigenous movement in Kashmir may be gaining ground in some official circles but as long as Modi is in power the Pakistani militants are going, at the very least, to be held in reserve.
Which leaves the sectarian groups. Even for the most hard-bitten supporter of the state’s use of jihadi proxies, support or toleration of the sectarian groups is very hard to understand. The sectarian groups cause huge suffering. They deepen a potentially disastrous rift in Pakistan society. They are already the subject of outside interference and financing and thereby undermine Pakistan sovereignty. In addition, they offer a potential route for the militant Islamic State group to get into Pakistan society. While many analysts believe IS lacks the infrastructure or popular support base to become a major force in Pakistan, there is still a risk that the organisation could become established by forming an alliance with anti-Shia groups such as Lashkar-i-Jhangvi.
Despite all these serious considerations the sectarian groups continue to operate. The most likely explanation — beyond sectarian prejudices reportedly held by some senior officers — is that these groups are now so numerous that confronting them head-on would risk something approaching civil war in the key province of Punjab.
There are other reasons to believe that various types of militant groups active outside the northwest will not be touched. The civilian government has still failed to adopt a clear position on militancy. Maulana Abdul Aziz Ghazi, one of the leaders of the Lal Masjid rebellion, remains in charge of an institution that became a byword for anti-state violence and which was cleansed of violent elements at a high cost to human life. Nor has the government instituted sufficiently thorough reforms to undermine the militants by providing people with schools, hospital and courts.
But the failings are not by civilians alone. The lack of resolve is also creeping into military parlance. Increasingly, the military is moving away from saying militancy reflects internal divisions in Pakistan. Instead, it is taking the much easier and convenient line of blaming it all on foreigners. Even if such claims are sometimes justified, they run the risk of become a catch-all explanation that will undermine the clear thinking needed to take on such a difficult adversary.
We have all heard the usual spiel. It goes something like this: Karachi is a city of more than 20 million denizens. Karachi is a city that treats everyone the same, no matter wherever you might be, whether by the sea or by a toll plaza. And that it is people who tend to create divisions, who sow the seeds of hatred. Yet we always come together as one in the end. Well, I am here to tell you, dear reader that nothing could be further from the truth. Allow me, if you will, to enlighten you as to what the truth of Karachi is.
This city is a teeming, throbbing mass of humanity, which is routinely and neatly categorised by class due to clout and coffers running the show. The most educated lot here are to this day woefully referred to as “immigrants” — whilst the sons of the soil, or at least of Sindh, are denigrated as “dacoits”. The whole set-up reeks of a plot stolen from that book by Charles Dickens. You know the one, right? Yet instead of a tale of two cities — what we have in Karachi is a tale of many, many cities, each one boasting its own idiosyncrasies and distinct culture. Sadly, the people of each come together where it would be better that they do not. Meaning that disdain for all other neighbourhoods is the singular uniting factor.
Now, I can well imagine that there is many among you who, upon hearing such uttered sacrilege, are all set to get up and brew a storm in your teacups. Fair is foul and foul is fair, after all. Yet before you do this, dear friends of mine, I would request you to take time out and tell me how many of you go forth and cross bridges that connect not just this city — but that also bridge the existing gaps in the hearts and minds of all who share this vibrating megalopolis. Do any of you realise that we would happily find much of our daily purchases at cheaper prices if only were willing to go the extra mile, say, a twenty-minute drive. Do any of you understand the irony when we hear ourselves muttering things like, “Are the roads working ‘over there’?” or else, “No, man, that is way too far out for me to drive!” or even, “That is an area where no one knows their neighbours.” Of course, I am ready to hear charges of focusing on the trivial. But to this I have just one thing to say in response: all this is borne of something far greater than distance. I am, naturally, talking about the far greater chasm of class.
The above are cracks that threaten to rob Karachi of her true character. And nowhere are they more apparent than in our assumptions about the different folk and the areas they inhabit, all of which we are only too ready to dismiss as cheap since that is the best put-down we can come up with. These cracks also, at times, are more visible than at others. Take, for example, how we are willing to ban people from riding to Sea View on motorbikes on New Year’s — as if we have some sort of ownership over the Arabian Sea itself. Or when someone like Sahir Lodhi points out, albeit it true filmi fashion, that those who go to watch films in Bambino and Nueplex cinemas go there for much the same reason. As much as I may be smiling to myself as I recall his words — the gentleman does have a point. I, too, have been forced to sit up and listen. For who do we think we are when we decide who is cheap and who is not based on superficialities such as the clothes people wear, the neighbourhoods they live in or the films they choose to go and watch? Furthermore, why are we so very surprised when we meet someone from, say, Lyari, whose talents extend beyond the sports field, for want of a better example.
You would all do well to understand this as the commonality of thought running through the city. And having done this — then, there really is no need to be surprised when basic services differ from neighbourhood to neighbourhood. Indeed, why do we continue to be shocked at the distinct records of municipal service delivery, whether in terms of water supplies of the police?
This surely needs to change, though, doesn’t it? And, actually, I have a great idea of where to start. Imagine the scene: the Super Savari Express starts tours going from one side of the city to another. I kid ye not! This might be the only way for Karachiites to fully appreciate that there are no differentials when it comes to intellect and respectability. *Or even better, our erstwhile city government can arrange, as part of full confidence-building measures, exchange trips where one group of influential characters would visit a particular area and have another group visit theirs. Put simply, the city of Karachi hasn’t just been long divided along ethno-religious lines — it has also been deeply divided along man-made class lines, based on the sheer chance of location. And this is simply the result of ill-founded prejudice.
Security has been returning to this megalopolis over the last year, following serious clampdowns by the city’s law enforcement agencies. But it’s about time warmth and compassion return, too. And, Dear Reader, the responsibility for this rests with us. In this regard, we are the final authority.