New Age Islam Edit Bureau
23 August 2017
Going To Extremes
By Mahir Ali
Access to Justice and Women Rights
By Jamil Junejo
No Country for Women
By Ailia Zehra
Afghan Reality Check
By Zamir Akram
Cutting the Lifeline, Literally
By Muhammad Hamid Zaman
Perils of Cultural Alienation
By Aziz Ali Dad
Charlottesville And Beyond
By Lydia Howell
Trumped In Afghanistan
By Faryal Leghari
Trade: A Low Hanging Fruit in Ties
By Syed Shujaat Ahmed
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
August 23, 2017
GIVEN that Barcelona is among the most
popular tourist destinations in Europe, it is hardly surprising that almost all
the victims of last Thursday’s terrorist rampage came from various parts of the
world. The murderous intent, as is usual in such cases, was indiscriminate.
Precisely what motivated the young Muslims, several of them still in their
teens, to participate in the gory plot is open to conjecture, although it is
probably safe to assume that a profoundly misguided view of religious
obligations was a part of the mix. News reports suggest they were radicalised
by a Salafist imam — who, like the terrorists, was of Moroccan origin, and died
in the massive explosion in Alcanar when gas canisters stored for the purpose
of staging a more explosive attack thankfully blew up prematurely.
Apparently, the intended target was the
Sagrada Familia church, the most prominent example of Antonio Gaudi’s quirky
architecture in a city delightfully peppered with examples of his unorthodox
designs. The resort to a vehicle as an instrument of terrorism — along the
lines of attacks in France, Germany and Britain — seems to have been Plan B.
And although even a single life lost in such horrifying instances is one too
many, the toll, dreadful as it was, could have been much worse.
Much the same could be said about the
violence in Charlottesville, Virginia the previous weekend, where a radicalised
young man targeted anti-fascist protesters by driving a car into them and
killing Heather Heyer, a legal assistant. She was among those who rallied to
oppose the Unite the Right demonstration organised by a panoply of racist
groups, ostensibly to oppose the local government’s decision to remove a statue
of Confederate general Robert E. Lee that had been put up in 1924, almost 60
years after the South had lost its right to perpetuate slavery.
The American Civil War ended in 1865, but
the struggle to clarify its legacy goes on. The period known as Reconstruction
was relatively short-lived. It wasn’t until a century after Abraham Lincoln’s
Emancipation Proclamation that voting rights and other constitutional
guarantees of equality for African Americans were ensconced in law. Even so,
the white supremacists have sporadically resurfaced. They were suitably
impressed by Donald Trump’s efforts, long before he became a presidential
candidate, to insinuate that anyone called Barack Hussein Obama could hardly be
Enemies range from people of colour to
They were even more enthused when candidate
Trump articulated slurs against Mexicans and declared he would institute a ban
on Muslims entering the US. After Charlottesville, he was quiet for a while,
then announced he saw little difference between the neo-Nazis and their
opponents. He was subsequently persuaded to be more clear-cut in his
denunciation of racists, but thereafter returned to his original formulation,
declaring that there were “many fine people” on both sides.
The president may have felt flattered
because some of the far-right demonstrators wore ‘Make America Great Again’
caps, never mind that many of them were echoing the ‘blood and soil’ slogans of
the German Nazis amid considerable evidence of distinctly anti-Semitic vibes.
His ambiguity spurred a backlash from leading lights of the Republican Party as
well as the captains of industry, which flowed into the West Wing disarray that
has crippled the White House.
The announcement of a ‘new’ strategy for
Afghanistan (and Pakistan) was at least partially an attempt to restore
presidential authority, presaging increased participation in an essentially
unwinnable war. But the darkness that simultaneously crept across the
continental US, courtesy of a complete solar eclipse, was perhaps a better
metaphor for its current woes at home and abroad. Writing recently in The
Guardian, Jason Burke drew appropriate parallels between the Islamist and
American nationalist varieties of the far right, without claiming equivalence.
It is perfectly true that those determined to spread hatred prey on vulnerable
young minds and channel their grievances towards antagonism against ‘the
other’, invariably those of a different religion, race or ethnicity. Wherever
this attempt succeeds, the consequences tend to be horrendous.
At the most basic level, such tendencies
derive from a refusal to recognise the common humanity we all share. In the
narrative of the Islamists, anyone not fundamentally wedded to a heinous
interpretation of the faith is fair game. Among American nationalists, the
enemies range from people of colour to Jews and ‘communists’, a list that has
not changed a great deal since the resurgence in far-right tendencies after the
Second World War, amid open references to “finishing Hitler’s work”.
Back then, Harry Truman, who ushered in the
American security state, baulked from taking action against African American
lynchings. But neither he nor his successors in the White House, regardless of
how far to the right they leaned or how shamelessly they dog-whistled, publicly
declared neo-Nazis to be “very fine people”. The shift is both telling and
The recent introduction of laws supporting
the rights of women in Sindh like elsewhere in Pakistan, is a welcome
development. However, laws operating against the backdrop of a crumbling
judicial system coupled with poor access to justice is unlikely to bring about
The women of Sindh, especially those in the
rural areas are perpetually hung at the altar of woes, worries, torture and
trauma. No sun rises without bearing news of either forced marriages, domestic
violence, or murder in name of so-called “honour”.
In this regard, some of these alarming news
items appeared last week in a local daily. A dead body of a 20 years old girl
kidnapped earlier was found in Jhudo town,... doctors pronounced that the
possibility of rape could not be ruled out, “A woman staged a protest against
some influential people in Baqrano area, Larkana,...” she said they regularly
tortured her before her handicapped husband, “An attempt was made to kidnap a
woman...”. “A female resident of Naro area staged a protest against her husband
whom she accused of domestic violence”. “A woman approached a police station in
Sukkur and demanded protection from her husband whom she accused of domestic
No doubt, deep seated patriarchy in social,
administrative and political organisations is the main cause behind the
persecution of women in Sindh, much like elsewhere in the world. Unfortunately
patriarchy cannot be demolished in one stroke; its development began as a
process and a process is necessary to reverse it.
It is no new fact that victims of
patriarchal highhandedness can only utter resentment and occasionally resist
before risking themselves to social exclusion and further violence. Being a
villager myself, I have personally observed how women routinely experience
misogynistic behaviour throughout the day. Most women remain silent and continue
to suffer violent treatment. Others, bent on getting justice, are courageous
enough to report to nearby police stations but rarely are their cases given
priority or their persecutors punished.
Rule of law and access to justice may not
guarantee complete justice to women given the deeply rooted patriarchy in
Sindh, but it can potentially prevent the occurrence of offenses against women
and can instil hope and courage among the victims
This is due to two main reasons, weak rule
of law and poor access to justice in much of Sindh.
In the pre-trial stage, police officers are
bribed and succumb to political and social pressures to tamper with the cases.
When approached by a female victim, police officers are reluctant to lodge the
case as they claim that women’s issues should be addressed privately. On
agreeing to file the case, police officers apply soft provisions of law on the
report, thereby allowing the accused to escape charges.
The trial stage also fails to bring
complete justice to victims. According to an unpublished trend analysis report
of district Jacobabad, over the last nine years from 2008 to 2016, 188 cases of
honour killing were registered at the police stations in the district. However,
not a single person has been sentenced or punished and most of them are set
free. According to the same report, 22 cases of rapes were registered in the
district from 2008 and 2014, and all the accused persons were released.
According to same report, after the insertion of section 310A in the PPC
through the Criminal Law (Third Amendment) Act 2011, in Jacobabad a total of 17
cases were reported under section 310A (punishment for giving women or girl in
marriage or otherwise in Badla-E-Sulh, Wani, Swara). Most of the accused have
been acquitted by the court.
The above report focusing on the access to
justice situation in Jacobabad district may not necessarily reflect the
situation in all of rural Sindh. The report also may not necessarily reflects
that judges are not gender sensitised, but it does reflects the status of weak
prosecution caused by corruption, flawed investigation, misreporting and use of
delay tactics by investigation officers and public prosecutors.
In order to ensure access of justice to
women, we need to eradicate corruption in all police and prosecution
departments. More importantly, we need to strengthen the role of police and
prosecution departments in the light of internationally recognised principles
such as United Nations guidelines on role of prosecutors, and international
human rights standards for law enforcement (agencies).
Rule of law and access to justice may not
guarantee complete justice to women given the deeply rooted patriarchy in
Sindh, but it can potentially prevent the occurrences of offenses against women
and can in still hope and courage among the victims.
The mudslinging and personal attacks that
followed Ayesha Gulalai’s harassment allegations against PTI chief Imran Khan
sent a clear message to all the women of Pakistan — don’t speak out if you are
a victim of sexual harassment. The reaction to her outburst and what was
witnessed on the political scene following the development is enough to further
shatter the confidence of victims who are not courageous enough to speak out.
Ayesha Gulalai’s case shows that, once
again, Pakistan's patriarchal society is unable to shed its misogynistic
fixation with the ‘honor’ (ie physical control) of womenfolk
Ayesha Gulalai’s case will be settled after
an investigation begins, because of its high profile status — and the truth
will eventually be out. But this entire episode is a reminder of the hell that
sexual harassment victims in Pakistan experience once they make their
Apart from the culture of misogyny, the
episode revealed another disturbing aspect of Pakistan’s politics. PTI leaders
criticised Gulalai for refusing to resign from her National Assembly seat
saying she was nominated by the party on a reserved seat and has therefore lost
the moral authority to retain it after her decision to quit the PTI. This
particular argument exposes the disdain for women elected to the parliament on
There is a need for reserved seats for
women politicians because they don’t get equal opportunities while running for
public offices because of the patriarchal structure of politics, and of our
society itself. Women often have had to deal with personal attacks and
propaganda campaigns while running their election campaign.
From Fatima Jinnah to Benazir Bhutto, every
female politician had to face misogynist elements, and rivals used character
assassination as a political tool against them. This is one of the reasons why
middle class families discourage their daughters from entering politics, and
the field is widely seen as male dominated. Therefore, those who see women
elected on reserved seats as ‘lesser’ members should realise these seats exist
because patriarchy is still alive and kicking — even in 2017. There won’t be a
need for special arrangements to bring women to the assemblies if men helped
create a safe environment for them — based on equality and free of hostility.
Ayesha Gulalai belongs to Federally
Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) where previously women were not even afforded
the right to vote. Her sister had to live as a boy for years in order to be
able to follow her dreams of being a squash player. None of us are aware of the
struggle Gulalai went through before joining politics, given that she belongs
to one of the most backward and conservative regions of the country.
Every political party ought to ensure that
its female workers do not duffer because of a lack of opportunities. By giving
her the NA seat, PTI only fulfilled this political responsibility and it should
not be presented as a personal favour to her. PTI has every right to take
disciplinary action against Gulalai, but the party MNAs’ act of interrupting
her NA speech was entirely uncalled for.
From PTI followers maligning Gulalai’s
squash-playing sister for wearing shorts, to party representatives making
sexist remarks, the reaction to her allegations of sexual harassment had been
disgusting — but hardly surprising. However, it would be wrong to single out
PTI for criticism because a number of PML-N leaders resorted to the same
tactics when Ayesha Ahad reappeared in the limelight and accused Hamza Shehbaz
Most PML-N representatives who are so eager
to have the Gulalai case investigated are guilty of practicing misogyny and
sexism. Not too long ago, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif insulted the
female participants of the PTI rallies for dancing and singing. Rest assured
the PML-N leaders who claimed to be the champion of women rights in the wake of
Ayesha Gulalai’s allegations will never support a woman of their own party if
she accuses one of their leaders of harassment. PTI reps who are questioning
Gulalai’s allegations today will then be speaking for women’s right. No
political party has a harassment cell or committee despite presence of woman
members. No party considers this serious issue worthy of being addressed in
party manifestos. It appears that they only use such incidents and the victims’
grievances to pull each other down.
To reverse this all, we will need a counter
narrative to the flawed concept of ‘honour’ that exists in the country. A
woman’s ‘honour’ is associated only with her body, and this is why she is
merely seen as an entity that needs to be controlled in order to protect this
so-called ‘honour’. As soon as this flawed belief ends and women are respected
as complete humans instead of their identity being determined by their gender
or relationship to men, real progress with regard to women rights will be seen.
Ordinary women and girls need to reclaim the public space occupied by men and
take it from there. Furthermore, awareness campaigns about pro-women
legislation like Protection from Sexual Harassment at Workplace and Protection
of Women against Violence should be initiated by the government.
After months of procrastination, US
President Donald Trump finally announced on 21st August a “strategy” for
Afghanistan and South Asia. But while his speech is long on rhetoric, it is
short on substance. He declared the intention to “win” but not how this will be
achieved after trying for 17 years and spending a trillion dollars, even with
increases in troop deployment. None of the contradictions in US Afghan policy
seem to have been resolved. There are only two issues on which there is
agreement: that America is losing the war and Pakistan is to blame for it. But
blaming Pakistan and punishing it, as Trump has suggested, cannot be the basis
of a viable strategy. What the Americans need is an honest reality check in
The reality is that Washington’s Afghan
quagmire is the result of several American acts of omission and commission
dating back to their 2001 intervention in Afghanistan.
From the outset, America has ignored the
lessons of history. The tribes in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region have
fought invaders since Alexander, followed by the Mughals, the British and more
recently the Soviets. All had to eventually withdraw from there. This is the
stark reality confronting America today. Welcome to the graveyard of empires.
This has been compounded by the lack of a
clear strategic objective. At first, President Bush only wanted to eliminate al
Qaeda but then got into nation-building. Obama ordered a surge to create
conditions for troop withdrawal by 2014, leaving behind forces only for
logistic support and training. Now Trump is back to eliminating terrorists but
After dislodging the Taliban, the US failed
to capitalise on its quick victory by failing to provide the hammer and anvil
with Pakistan to prevent the Taliban and al Qaeda forces from relocating and
regrouping. It also ignored Pakistan’s advice not to alienate the majority
Pashtun by aligning with the Tajik-led Northern Alliance, and refusing to coopt
moderate Taliban leaders opposed to al Qaeda. Worse, the unitary constitution
imposed on Afghans violated traditional tribal autonomy, creating a Pashtun
backlash in the Taliban’s favour. American failure to win Afghan hearts and
minds through effective economic and social development programmes also
contributed to the appeal of the Taliban, especially among Pashtuns. Worst of
all, the indiscriminate use of air power, cruise missiles and drones, led to
thousands of casualties. This “collateral damage” brought recruits to the
Taliban in droves, and underscores their appeal today.
The American shift of focus from
Afghanistan to the Iraq war further helped the Taliban to re-group and target
American/Nato and Afghan forces with increasing effectiveness. Local
disenchantment with the corrupt and ineffective Kabul government, fuelled by
failed promises and continuing insecurity, also provided the necessary public
support for the Taliban. Consequently, the Taliban now effectively control half
of Afghanistan, including even non-Pashtun areas in the north and east of the
The US has also failed to eliminate the
drug trade, a vital source of funding for the insurgents. Even Afghan
government ministers and officials are reportedly involved in this
narco-terrorist network, an example of the complete breakdown of governance in
This situation has now become even worse
with the emergence of Islamic State or Da’ish, a threat recognised by Russia,
China and Iran, owing to which they are now opening links with the Taliban, the
only force currently opposing the IS in Afghanistan. The US also needs to
recognise that the greater long-term threat to its security is posed by the IS
rather than the Taliban.
Unless Trump learns from past American
mistakes and recognises existing ground realities in Afghanistan, his
“strategy” will fail. Washington needs to distinguish between the Taliban and
al Qaeda/IS terrorists — the latter can be eliminated, the former cannot,
unless half the Afghan population is wiped out. There is also no military
solution to the Taliban, as the last 17 years of warfare demonstrate. The only
option is a political solution based on power sharing among Afghans arrived at
Instead of threats and punitive action,
America needs to work with Pakistan, which is crucial for an Afghan solution.
It must recognise Pakistan’s security interests in Afghanistan and South Asia
as a whole, which are being undermined by their support to Indian involvement
in Afghanistan. Washington must also help to close down Indian-sponsored TTP
sanctuaries in Afghanistan while cooperating with Pakistan to effectively seal
the Pakistan-Afghan border. Over the longer term, the US should address the
real terrorist threat posed by the IS and al Qaeda remnants in collaboration
with Pakistan and other regional powers like Russia and China.
But, unfortunately, Trump has not given any
indication of recognising South Asian realities. He has almost entirely blamed
Pakistan for America’s Afghan quagmire and threatened terrible retribution,
including giving India and even greater role in Afghanistan. This will neither
encourage Islamabad’s cooperation nor intimidate Pakistan to abandon its
crucial priority which is to ensure its regional security against Indian
machinations. Moreover, any sanctions or violations of Pakistani territory will
create a popular backlash that will deny America the vital means to deal with
Afghanistan. Therefore, to use Pakistan as a scapegoat is not a strategy, it is
an excuse for failure.
August 22, 2017
The week where every headline was about
celebrating the 70th anniversary of the birth of a new nation, an unimaginable
tragedy unfolded at a government hospital in Gorakhpur, India. The hospital ran
out of liquid oxygen, a lifeline for sick babies and children who needed it to
survive. At least 60 died. Whether the hospital ran out of oxygen, or whether
the suppliers decided to cut it due to unpaid bills is still being debated.
That debate, mired in politics and deflection of blame, is irrelevant for those
who lost their most precious treasures.
The situation for little ones in Pakistan
is not much better either. During my meetings in Lahore last month, I got to
see a number of physicians, including those who work at Children Hospital
Lahore, the largest hospital for children in the province. The situation there
did not seem much better — and I was told that the children who have to get
their biopsies done for cancer testing have to bear unbearable pain. There is
not enough anesthesia for them, and a weak local anesthesia is all that is
available. The screams, agony and pain of innocent children has become
commonplace at the leading hospital in the country.
Life is cheap on both sides of the border.
There seems to be a threshold, a bare minimum number of casualties, for it to
make news. The initial reaction, by the local government in Uttar Pradesh, was
to suggest that on average ten children die in this season at the said
hospital. In other words, the loss of life is both routine and not a big deal
whatsoever. The fact that it was sixty and not ten, therefore, is a minor blip
on the radar of statistics. Across the border in Lahore, when I asked doctors
and bureaucrats about the lack of the very basic medical supplies at hospitals,
they shrugged their shoulders and said unfortunately this is how it is. In
other words, not much can be done to change the system and we need to change
the topic of the conversation.
Given the attitude of those in charge and
those in power, it is not unreasonable to assume that similar smaller scale
tragedies occur routinely. They just do not matter much because the poor die
routinely and who is keeping the score anyway. While the reasons for the
tragedies in our hospitals are complex, and range from a heavy population
burden to lack of resources, corruption and mismanagement, there is only one
reason for our indifference. It is our moral failure to recognise the value of
the lives of the poor. The system does get any better because we do not care,
and those who are the victims of our collective negligence and indifference are
weak. Those burdened with the challenges of poverty have little room or ability
to have their voices heard. For as long as our indifference, at the individual
and collective level remains intact, there is little reason to assume that
other aspects of the problem, from resources to management, are going to
The horror in Gorakhpur, the situation in
Lahore and many such unreported or underreported tragedies across the region
that do not meet the casualty threshold, should make us wonder what kind of
people have we become? Seventy years on, is the life of a poor baby any more
precious than it was in 1947? Perhaps we are better off in having newer
technologies, but are we better off in our empathy, recognition of the value of
life, and a fundamental desire to protect the children of the poor?
August 23, 2017
The culture of Gilgit-Baltistan has evolved
over the centuries within a mental framework or worldview that is unique to the
region. Likewise, the economy, literature, society, music and architecture of
the region have a close relationship with the indigenous worldview.
Within the traditional social setup,
cultural knowledge is transmitted through institutions, personalities, rituals
and activities that are linked to orality. Since all the languages of
Gilgit-Baltistan are oral, cultural knowledge is imparted through oral mediums.
Such mediums have enabled individuals to
become a part of the worldview that connects the individual self with society,
the semiological universe and the world. This indigenous worldview has informed
the people’s understanding of different spheres of life and nature.
With the advent of modernity,
Gilgit-Baltistan’s society has experienced the disintegration of the
traditional worldview and the natural world and society has been disenchanted.
As a result, society has lost the mental structure that offers different ways
of seeing the world. A society without a mental framework to understand the
subjective and objective world cannot make sense of the order of things.
The disintegration of the indigenous
worldview has affected every aspect of life, including the processes that have
facilitated the internalisation of cultural knowledge. The disintegration of
the traditional worldview has created a rupture in the value-chain of knowledge
In the absence of a worldview, society and
its members continue to operate in an ideological vacuum. In other words, the
society of Gilgit-Baltistan has become a clean slate. In this state, it has
gained exposure to exogenous ideas, the modern cultural industry and the media.
When a society without cultural and intellectual capital gains exposure to a
stronger culture, it loses the genuine parts of its culture and becomes a
passive receptor of various impressions. This results in a change in the
structure of thought and brings about a change in social behaviour and the
cultural ethos. Such changes have far-reaching effects on society and the self.
With the rupture in cultural transmission,
the individual feels alienated from his/her society and nature. The
disintegration of the worldview in Gilgit-Baltistan is an outcome of the
roaring current of change that, in the words of Alvin Toffler, “overturns
institutions, shifts our values and shrivel our roots”.
Now, the indigenous sources of self in
Gilgit-Baltistan have dried up and the individual is invested with ideas and a
cultural vocabulary that does not help him/her make sense of self-existing in
society and nature. Such is the situation that the new generation of
Gilgit-Baltistan can easily explain the psychology of African hyenas, but are
oblivious to the social dynamics in their own hamlets or neighbourhoods.
There is no denying the fact that modern
means of communication have facilitated cross-regional cultural interaction.
However, at the same time, it has widened the communication gap within local
communities in Gilgit-Baltistan.
Take the example of organic relationships
and communications that have evolved during the age of compulsory foot-walks.
In olden times, there were no roads and hotels and people established
relationships with far-flung villages and areas in Gilgit-Baltistan through
marriages and other kinship-based solidarities. With the opening of the
Karakoram Highway (KKH), the people began using modern means of communication.
Now, a person does not know about his blood
relatives who live in a different ethnic, linguistic and religious milieu
because modern transportation has enabled him or her to whiz past the villages
in a vehicle without fulfilling traditional compliments.
Ideally, the modern schooling system should
have taken the role of imparting cultural knowledge in the wake of the
disintegration of traditional mediums of transmission. But this has not
happened in Gilgit-Baltistan as none of the local languages and indigenous
literature is part of the education system.
In his book titled ‘Cultural Literacy: What
Every American Needs to Know’, E D Hirsch states that “the basic goal of
education in a human community is acculturation, the transmission to children
of the specific information shared by the adults of the group or polis”. He
claims that “only by piling up specific, communally shared information can
children learn to participate in complex cooperative activities with other
members of their community”.
In the case of Gilgit-Baltistan, the
education system has failed to acculturate children. As a result, there has
been a failure among individuals to cooperate and participate in collective
activities. There has also been a breakdown of communication among linguistic,
cultural and religious groups in the region. Although the region has witnessed
a phenomenal increase in literacy as compared to other parts of Pakistan, it has
failed to equip the new generation with cultural literacy.
Today, children and the youth of
Gilgit-Baltistan can quote Mir, Ghalib, Faiz, Shakespeare and John Keats but
cannot express their sense and sensibilities in local cultural metaphors.
Hence, local literature is replete with alien metaphors, similes and images
that do not have a resonance with the lived experience of the people who
inhabit the cultural space of Gilgit-Baltistan.
Another major change in culture and society
has been brought by information and communication technology. Gilgit-Baltistan
has entered the information age with the dawn of the new millennium. The advent
of modern information and communication technology has coincided with another
development: the uprooting of the youth from the region. Owing to the lack of
opportunities, the youth in Gilgit-Baltistan have left their homes to find jobs
in major cities of Pakistan and abroad. This has culminated in the
hollowing-out of adults and the youth in various villages. As a result, important
social and cultural roles are fast disappearing.
What we are witnessing in the
abovementioned developments is the uprooting of the self from society and the
individual from solid space. With their absence in solid spaces, the residents
of the region who are living elsewhere try to reconnect with their culture and
society through virtual spaces. In this regard, social media has become an
effective tool to establish new connections and solidarities. Now, virtual
identity has superseded the solid identity among the new generation in
Gilgit-Baltistan. Unlike previous ages, the sources of the contemporary self
stems from virtual spaces and alienated conditions.
The combination of the virtual with the
alienated self can have dire repercussions on culture and society as such a
society is more prone to nihilism. To avoid the complete alienation of the self
from culture, it is imperative to invest in creating solid spaces where the
self can express its creative and aesthetic dimensions through cultural metaphors
and gain cultural knowledge.
Amid the disintegration of atoms in the
cultural sphere, it is heartening to see that novel initiatives have been
undertaken by the civil society and the government. For example, the Aga Khan
Cultural Service Pakistan has opened a music school and a carpentry centre for
women in Altit Village in Hunza. It imparts training to young men and women in
the cultural music, arts and crafts of Gilgit-Baltistan. Similar, activities
are carried out by the Bulbulik Music School in Gojal, the Karakoram Area
Development Organisation (KADO) and the Baltistan Cultural and Development
Traditionally, music and poetry has
remained male-dominated and caste-specific. Now, young students from diverse
backgrounds are learning music and other crafts. In addition, the government of
Gilgit-Baltistan plans to introduce local languages at school till class five.
In this regard, a special committee has agreed on a common syllabus.
However, the outreach of the abovementioned
initiative is still limited. At the broader level, the society is under the
spell of a new version of faith that manifests itself in social and mental
spaces in the shape of religiosity. This has contributed towards creating an
exclusivist narrative that is based on faith. This new form of religiosity is
gobbling up the remaining cultural spaces and expressions.
Such an exclusivist mindset can be
countered by investing in culture and creating cultural spaces that are not
only inclusive but also provide spaces for the self to reengage creatively with
society and achieve self-actualisation. If we ignore culture, we are doomed to
be swallowed by multiple forms of nihilism.
Unequivocally opposing white supremacists
in all their manifestations: Ku Klux Klan, Nazis and militias should be a moral
reflex. Terms like ‘white nationalism’ and ‘Alt-Right’ are fuzzy euphemisms.
Blunt clarity is required. What we saw in Charlottesville, Virginia are white
supremacist domestic terrorists.
In May, te FBI warned of the rising tide of
Since September 11, 2001 through the end of
December 2016, white supremacist domestic terrorism have been far higher than
domestic terrorism by Muslims: 74 percent white supremacists vs. 26 percent by
Racist violence has always been essential
to maintaining a system privileging white, rich men and put everyone else in a
descending order, with people of color at the bottom. Men in 3-piece suites,
legislators, businessmen, and media benefit from violent white supremacist
‘shock troops’, enforcers of the racist order structuring a class system.
After Charlottesville, the easiest call is
condemning Nazis. Many of our grandfathers and fathers fought in WWII. What’s
often not recognized is that that includes African-Americans, Latino and Native
Americans. The most decorated battalion was native-born Japanese-Americans who
signed up to fight from inside US concentration camps that held 120,000
Japanese-Americans (mostly citizens) from spring 1942 to April 1946.
How many Americans know that Adolph Hitler
modeled his concentration camps on US forced relocation of Native Americans to
reservations? How known are pre-WWII American Nazi-sympathizers – including
Minnesota’s own favorite son, aviator Charles Lindberg, visiting Germany in the
1930s, praising their airplanes? Minneapolis was the most anti-Semitic city in
the 1930s and ’40s. Today, by every measure, Minneapolis has one of the worst
It shouldn’t be hard to condemn the
American-made KKK – the world’s oldest, ongoing terrorist organization.
Starting in 1866. KKK’s violent waves reversed free Black people’s gains during
Reconstruction, established and maintained Jim Crow in the 1890s through 1960s.
This wasn’t just in the South: Klan membership peaked in the 1920s at
one-million with 80,000 in Detroit alone. The 1950s and ’60s Black civil rights
movement faced Klan terrorism. Election of the first African-American
president, white supremacist terrorist groups surged again.
Facts of history and events in
Charlottesville disprove Trump’s brazen false equivalence between the white
supremacists and counter-protesters. Violence has always been central to the Klan, Nazis and militias –
while anti-racism has
primarily been a
non-violent movement. American-made
white supremacist groups’ tactics have always been arson, brutal assaults, rape
and murder. They’ve targeted Black people, immigrants, any religion except fundamentalist Protestants: Jews,
Catholics and today Muslims face assaults, murder and attacks on their
mosques;less well-known is the targeting of white anti-racist allies – termed
race traitors – like Heather Heyer in Charlottesville.
The Klan, Nazis and militia came to
Charlottesville armed with weapons: shields had razor-sharpen points, pop cans
filled with cement, baseball bats and guns, concealed and displayed.
Antifa and anarchist youth (a minority of
the counter-protesters) came with thin sticks, pepper-spray and their fists.
Friday, August 11th, the racist mob’s
torch-lit march echoed Hitler’s Nuremberg rallies and Klan cross-burnings. They
yelled 1920s Hitler brown-shirts’ slogan “Blood & Soil” along with
anti-Jewish and anti-Black chants. This mob surrounded a Black church, filled
with counter-protesters at a prayer service, trapping them inside for 30
Saturday, August 12th, fifty peaceful
clergy-members linked arms at the park’s entrance when the white supremacists
attacked them. Anti-fa stepped in and as Black theologian Professor Cornel West
said, “They saved our lives.”
It bears repeating that since September
11th – and increasing, since 2008 – the majority of domestic terrorists are
Yet, Trump has eliminated federal focus on
all terrorism except by Muslims – part of a long history of ignoring far-right
and white supremacist extremists.. This is yet another green light to racist
violence – which continues to target Black people, immigrants (and Latinos
mistaken for immigrants), and Muslims (along with Sikhs who are mistaken for
Muslims). This violence that has a long history of infecting law enforcement,
past and present. One of the most infamous examples was the murders of three
civil rights workers Goodman, Schwerner (both white) and Cheny (Black)
registering Black people to vote, during Freedom Summer 1964 in Mississippi:
local sheriffs who were KKK-members participated in kidnapping and murder. Like
so much impunity for police, it’s rare to investigate white supremacist group
membership in police departments. But, the DHS released a report on it.
Behind white supremacist violence are
policies carried out by elected officials, government employees and businesses
– and these policies are not in some
distant past. Since the 2000 presidential election, a growing attack on voting
rights, that’s already purged hundreds of thousands of legal voters from the
rolls; Trump’s so-called Voter Integrity Commission continues Republican
attacks on voting rights, to eliminate Democratic-leaning voters (which the
Democratic Party has only weakly resisted). The 2007-8 economic meltdown had a
disproportionate impact on Black and Latino home-owners who Big Banks targeted
for mortgage fraud and sub-prime loans – most blatantly by Wells Fargo with
what they called “ghetto loans”. As Dodd-Frank is undermined (with the aim to
repeal it), Wells Fargo and others are reviving fraud that stole billions in
wealth from communities of color. Like Republicans, the Democratic Party is
awash in campaign contributions from Big Banks and Wall Street promoting legal
robbery. Trump’s Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is reversing decades-old civil
rights protections, with passive aiding and abetting by Democrats that’s colluded
with policies like No Child Left Behind and for-profit charter schools. These
are just three examples of policies benefiting from white supremacy violence.
Right-wing media, on the air and online,
fuels white supremacist mob violence – and its silent white supporters, who
call themselves ‘Tea Party’ or ‘Libertarians’ (in Congress’ ‘Freedom Caucus’
mould) or simply ‘conservatives’. Right-wing radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh (
given air-wave access that liberals (much less the Left) can only dream of and
propagandists like Ann Coulter, Dennis Prager, and many others, along with Fox
TV, are the creators of actual ‘fake news’. Often they take their talking
points from more obscure white supremacist websites, giving a megaphone to
false stories, made-up statics and outright lies – that work to dehumanize and
make ‘enemies’ of people of color, immigrants, LGBT people and Muslims.
Once you term any group of people to be
less than human, to be a danger, it becomes acceptable to do anything to them.
History shows us the reality of this and that reality is playing out today with
Donald Trump getting all his ‘information’ from these same racist brainwashing
Days before Charlottesville, a mosque in a
Minneapolis suburb was bombed. Luckily, no one was injured or killed. Unlike
Trump, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton immediately called the attack “a
dastardly act of domestic terrorism”. Trump didn’t even have the decency to
call Heather Heyer’s mother until the day of her daughter’s funeral.
People defending Confederate monuments
should consider this: there are no statues honoring Hitler, his generals or
other Nazi officials in Germany; no parks are named for SS or Gestapo leaders.
Yet, in the US, Nathan Bedford Forrest, slave trader, Confederate general and
Grand Wizard of the original KKK is honoured by over 32 statues, with parks and
high schools named after him. General Robert E. Lee owned slaves and committed
treason leading the Confederate Army. John C. Calhoun was a political architect
of Southern secession and philosophical justifications for slavery. This isn’t
‘heritage’ but, a history that should be damned as the Germans have the Third
US President Donald Trump’s unveiling of
his government’s Afghanistan policy should not surprise us. It is as expected.
The increased US troops that have been welcomed by Kabul are only going to
exacerbate the conflict and give the insurgents an impetus to continue on a war
As anticipated, India was asked to
contribute more to the country. After all, Modi and Trump’s ideological and
world viewpoints converge dangerously close to each other. Giving a carte
blanche to India to extend its role in Afghanistan is – as pronounced by
Pakistan’s retiring High Commissioner to India, Abdul Basit – nothing but “a
recipe for disaster”.
Washington, instead of using this
opportunity to reprimand India for its insidious role in Afghanistan vis-à-vis
Pakistan, has overlooked the evidence painstakingly conveyed to the Pentagon
and the US State Department over the years by Islamabad. It has instead chosen
to make its bed with a state whose continued use of military force and
deplorable human rights record in Kashmir can only earn it the accolade of
But ‘state terrorism’ is the sword of
Damocles hung over Pakistan as a last measure. We, the sponsors of terrorism,
shall be labelled as such if we do not do what is being demanded: pull back all
support from the Haqqani Network and destroy their safe havens.
Let us view this hypothetically: what if
trouble persists in Afghanistan even after our military flushes out every
Haqqani man, woman and child from the crevices of the hinterlands, which is
most likely? Will Kabul and Washington still point their fingers at some other
faction and demand Pakistan stop supporting it?
America’s expedient use of friends and foes
is nothing new. We, in Pakistan, have been privy to it for decades and lament
it periodically and unabatedly. Yet, we continue to plough on, nurturing our
relationship with Washington through the lows and the highs. But this is
realpolitik. Though we may have compromised our integrity and national pride at
some low points in the past decades, we are a sovereign nation. Do we need
these reminders? Yes – and often.
As for the US, it is ready to overlook the
human cost we paid in the loss of thousands of our soldiers fighting the war on
terror for those ‘billions and billions of dollars’ given to Pakistan. The US
wants Pakistan to get serious about clearing the safe havens for all those
resisting the government in Kabul and the presence of the foreign forces. But
not a word is mentioned about the safe havens operating on the other side of the
Durand Line that house the TTP terrorists who use these as bases to launch
attacks on Pakistan.
Asking India to extend its ‘political’ and
economic role in India is nothing short of asking New Delhi to damage Kabul’s
already frayed relations with Islamabad. Not to mention its use of the
so-called consulates for destabilisation purposes in Balochistan. Kabul’s ire
with Pakistan, stemming in large part from its own inability to bring dissident
factions to an agreement, has further deteriorated relations between the two
This is extremely unfortunate, given
Pakistan’s open-door policy for millions of Afghan refugees during the previous
troubled decades. Instead of being discussed and redressed behind closed doors,
any grievances are always publicised and exaggerated. Despite all parties
agreeing to end the blame game and working closely to alleviate suspicions
regarding alleged intelligence operations, the situation remains tenuous.
But first, we need to question our policy
towards the US at this very critical juncture. Our relations with our western
neighbours, including Iran, are at a low point. Our military and foreign policy
– instead of evolving with changing geopolitical dynamics – remains stymied.
The turning point in our approach to militancy and ending any alleged support
to militant groups had come a while back. Let’s not forget the horror of the
massacre of the Army Public School in Peshawar in December 2014 and the
reaction that bound the nation together.
However, the lack of unity on the political
front and the formulation of a clear and concise policy that has an inherent
flexibility to accommodate any developments that threaten our national
interests – and not just in the short term – has been our bane. If Pakistan
could survive the damage of the past decades and prove its resilience, can it
not coalesce together at this point and bridge the fault lines that threaten
its own survival? If our policy is to change, it must be for the sake of our
own people and not because of external threats.
Pakistan’s help in bringing long-lasting
stability to Afghanistan cannot be overlooked. Instead of working together
towards an inclusive approach that brings Afghan insurgents to the negotiating
table, Kabul and Washington – no doubt out of frustration – have chosen to go
back full circle and opt for more boots on the ground. The onus will be on NATO
to share the financial and human costs, as Trump has already laid out in his
recent speech. And with India thrown in, it is bound to be an even greater morass.
It is hoped that our civilian and military leadership put aside their ‘other’
preoccupations at present and formulate a cohesive strategy in response.
Trade: A Low Hanging Fruit in Ties With
Bangladesh has been one of the key
exporting destinations for Pakistani goods over the decades. Pakistan’s exports
to Bangladesh have come through various fluctuations but still managed to end
on a rise. It rose from $14.27 million in January 2005 to $48.8 million in
January 2017. This fluctuation in export is primarily due to rising domestic
demand and a stiff competition in the export market. Other reasons for the
fluctuation include improved manufacturing facilities in Bangladesh, rise in
regional agreements with India, Nepal, Bhutan and the Maldives and also major
developed economies along with increase in informal trade.
In January 2017, the most popular
commodities that found their way to Bangladesh from Pakistan included cotton
yarn not for sewing cotton type products and woven cotton fabric products.
Among export of services, Pakistan provided transportation, government-related
services, telecommunication, financial and travel services. During the same
month Pakistan’s major imports from Bangladesh was tea (flavoured and not
flavoured), hydrogen peroxide, woven cotton fabrics, jute and other textile
fibres and yarn of jute or other textile fibres.
Pakistan over the decade has also been a
key supplier of cotton and woven goods along with the services sector where
contribution was of minimal level to the economy. Like trade in
locally-produced goods and services, its flow has also reduced over the period
when it comes to discussion of trade ties between the two South Asian
countries. There are several explanations for this reduction. The most
important are: political shifts occurring in this region, eg, different
regional agreements where Pakistan is not a part of. These key regional
agreements include South Asian sub-regional Sub-Economic Commission,
Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal motor vehicle agreement and Bangladesh,
Bhutan, India and other agreements of regional connectivity (Sasec and BBIN).
Beside these political shifts and regional pacts there had been increasing
demand in the domestic market both in Bangladesh and Pakistan also resulted in
low trade over the period.
In different forms of literature, we had
established that the relationship between Pakistan and Bangladesh was not on
the positive side thus resulting in low and fluctuating trade numbers over the
period. Data has also revealed that there is huge trade potential in the
services sector, ie, during 2010-15; Pakistan has been more inclined in
government and other business services leading to increasing employment trend
and mostly in the lower and upper middle class income groups.
We also have evidence from recent
literature of different forms and data that the slowdown and fluctuation was
mainly due to political differences which has hindered the growth in various
sectors and thus resulting in trust deficit followed by communication problems
between people of different countries. This less than desired pace of reform in
formal trade also explains the reason for stagnant growth in economic and
While security and political cooperation
between the two countries may continue to remain a great challenge, we believe
that cooperation in trade is a low hanging fruit, considering the business
communities of both sides. We have clear identification of challenges which the
business community is facing. And given this identification, there should be an
easy solution to work on. For example, in 2013 there were different MoUs signed
between traders from both sides, the business community was worried about
getting business visas, non-signing of a free trade agreement, lack of
implementation of regional agreements like the South Asian Free Trade Agreement
A critical evaluation of data and trends
reveal that several mutually-agreed decisions have yet to be implemented. For
instance, both sides agreed to sign a bilateral FTA to open more trade
alongside Safta. This needs to be implemented in letter and in spirit. There
were many reservations beside these hindrances which were raised by Bangladesh.
Key reservations included special and differential treatment of Bangladeshi
goods on grounds of being a least-developed nation, as well as differences over
opening of markets post-FTA.
The other major points of negotiations at
that time included relaxed rules of origin, reduction in the rate of direct
tariffs, elimination of non-tariff barriers, longer phase-out period of tariff
withdrawal and anti-dumping and countervailing measures. During the course of
discussion Bangladesh continued with its “negative list approach” in the
negotiations for protection of local industry. By this approach both countries
at the time of negotiations were on positive note to allow products between the
two countries and save the items that are incorporated in the list.
During the dialogue period both countries
were able to forge consensus on number of issues. Pakistan did agree to give
Bangladesh special and differential treatment under the bilateral trade deal
and both countries will continue with their negative lists. Bangladesh will be
enjoying longer phase-out period and have a longer negative list of products
along with two different type of lists been agreed upon. The first list will
have products with immediate tariff concession and another with reduction in tariff
in different phases.
Thus Pakistan had already granted duty-free
access to Bangladesh tea and jute goods which came into effect during 2002-03.
But Dhaka had no success in achieving the target over the period. Apart from
the need to have a more expanded network of Pakistani banks in Bangladesh,
there are challenges for other banks to pursue because of the different banks
operating there from different parts of the world.
Despite these challenges, the business
community is more upbeat and sees markets on both sides as linking trade to
trust and bringing people closer to each other. During the last four to five
years the business community is coming closer to each other for expansion of
trade as an initial barrier to breaking the ice. Thus the business community is
stressing both the governments to finalise a bilateral FTA for better ties.
This agreement can strengthen cross border-value chains, comparative advantage
for enterprises working on both sides. Given the conditions and trade terms, an
urgent meeting should be called between ministries concerned at initial level
followed by the head of the states which may be termed a near-term goal. Given
the hesitation felt by the two governments based on political differences, we
propose some recommendations which can hold the political representatives and
bureaucracy on both sides more answerable to the long due promises.
Firstly, the finance and commerce
ministries of the two countries should be pressed into meeting by the
Bangladesh and Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry. Secondly,
representatives from both the chambers should also meet with the president of
Saarc Chambers of Commerce and Industry with the request to send formal
communication to the heads of the two states. The key focus of this request
should demonstrate the loss to all stakeholders given the reduced level of
cooperation and high political tensions.
Thirdly, the apex chambers on both sides
need to invest their resources to showcase their argument in print, electronic
and social media, and highlight the loss to producers, traders and consumers as
a result of a lack of bilateral cooperation. Fourthly, a detailed orientation
may be organised for economic journalists, think tanks and academia in Dhaka
and Islamabad, so that repeated messaging is ensured through various forums.
Fifthly, think tanks in both Bangladesh and
Pakistan should join hands in producing joint research and advocacy material.
This will also bring in independent voices for pro-trade and transit reforms.
Think tanks should focus on their views specific to the business community and
to respective and concerned bodies in parliament. Sixthly, there is also a need
for proactive approach of these standing committees which in the past also
resulted in reforms and measures. Seventhly, advocacy efforts should be backed
by rigorous research which demonstrates loss to the business community and the