New Age Islam Edit Bureau
14 October 2016
Let’s Not Settle For Crumbs
By Dr Farzana Bari
Can Syria Save Obama’s Legacy?
By Aijaz Zaka Syed
The Show Begins Now
By Syed Kamran Hashmi
March On Islamabad…The Last Gamble
By Ayaz Amir
Weapons, Soldiers and Check-Posts for
By Musa Khan Jalalzai
The Cheapening Of America
By Chris Cork
By Zubeida Mustafa
Too Early To Wed
By Yoriko Yasukawa
By Nicolas J S Davies
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
October 13, 2016
Rape, sexual abuse and killing of women in
the name of “honour” is rampant in Pakistan. While gender-based violence is a
global phenomenon, what distinguishes Pakistan from other counties is the culture
of impunity surrounding such crimes. There is less than one per cent conviction
rate in cases of violence against women.
There are socio-cultural, economic and
political structural basis that create conditions of vulnerability for women
and subject them to gender-based violence. Most damaging is the law of the land
that plays havoc with women’s lives. The Qisas and Diyat Law that was
introduced as a part of General Ziaul Haq’s Islamisation, privatises crimes and
allows pardon to perpetrators. The only exception at present exists in cases of
terrorism where compoundability (forgiveness) provision cannot be invoked.
This legal provision has fundamentally
distorted the justice system in the country by creating structural basis of
discrimination against the poor and the marginalised. Only the rich and the
influential can buy out the victims by offering compensation or through the use
of influence and power.
Thousands of women across the country are
killed on the pretext of “honour”. The killers go scot-free due to provision of
forgiveness in the Qisas and Diyat Law. There is generally public silence on
the massive misuse of these laws, especially in “honour killing” cases (with
the exception of rights activists/organisations raising the issue). This
collective apathy on the misuse of Qisas and Diyat Law was jolted when Reymond
Davis, a CIA agent who shot dead two Pakistanis in Lahore and was pardoned by
the families of victims after accepting financial compensation. Also, when the
family of Shahzeb Khan pardoned his killer, Shahrukh Jatoi, son of an
influential feudal lord, the entire nation was stunned by the level of
injustice and impunity that the law provides to the criminals.
The culture of impunity inbuilt in the
Qisas and Diyat Law has turned the country into killing field of women. There
has been a long-standing demand from the women’s movement to delink “honour
killing” from Qisas and Diyat Law and make it a crime against the state rather
than against individual. The demand from the women’s movement was to make
honour killing a non-compoundable offence and no option should be given to the
family to forgive the criminals.
Decades of advocacy by the human rights
community to bring anti-honour killing law fell on deaf ears of successive
parliaments. However, the national embarrassment caused by an Oscar winning
documentary on the issue A Girl in the River by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and the
murder of media celebrity Qandeel Baloch impelled the government to move on
passing the long-awaited bill on “honour killing”.
It is extremely distressing and
disappointing that the Anti-Honour Killing law (Criminal Amendment Bill) makes
no substantive changes that will reverse the tide of killing women in the name
of “honour”. The text of the Law is clearly a political compromise to please
religious lobby in the country.
The Anti-Honour Killing Law maintains
compoundability. It allows families to pardon the murderer in case of death
penalty. Moreover, the Law declares honour killing Fisad-Fil-Arz but leaves
this to the discretion of the judge to decide whether the crime committed is
“honour killing” or Qatl-e-Amd (pre-meditated murder).
This Law has several anomalies: how will
the court decide if the motive behind a killing is honour, especially if the
murderer denies that it was not? Who will provide the evidence for honour
killing? How will the evidence be collected? This simply complicates the
matter. It will extremely difficult in practice to prove that the crime was
committed because of ‘honour’.
We are expected to celebrate because the
amendment of section 311, Act XLV of 1980 says “… if the principle of
fasad-fil-arz is attracted, the court may, having regard to the facts and
circumstances of the case, punish an offender against whom the right of qisas
has been waived or compounded with death or imprisonment for life or
imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to fourteen
years as ta’zir”.
It is clear that tazir will be applicable
only when the judge is convinced that it was honour killing (something
extremely difficult to establish). In case of death sentence, the family is
still entitled to pardon. However, in this case tazir will be applicable and
the offender will be imprisoned for up to 14 years (it could be six months or a
So what is likely to happen? Unlike the
past, those who now kill women will not claim ‘honour’ as the main motive for
the killing. Therefore, they may be convicted (if at all) in qatl-e-amd and the
families will forgive. Therefore, the culture of impunity will persist and the
trend of killing of women will continue. However, the number of deaths reported
under the category of honour killings will now shift to the category “murder”.
It is imperative to understand that notions
of honour, izzat, ghairat are socially constructed to maintain patriarchal
control over women’s lives and bodies. It has been demonstrated in many honour
killing cases that killing had nothing to do with the moral conduct of women.
They were killed for other reasons than so-called honour but perpetrators used
the law to avoid punishment.
In the presence of Qisas and Diyat Law, the
only way forward to protect women’s lives in the cultural context of Pakistan
is to declare every murder of a woman by the family a crime against the state
without any option given to the family to forgive. Anything less than that
means that government has no will or commitment to provide protection and
security to women. This legislation has been introduced due to political
compulsion rather than a genuine concern to protect women’s lives.
It is a pity that inadequacies and legal
lacunas of Anti-Honour-Killing Bill have overshadowed the Anti-Rape Law
(Criminal Amendment Bill) that deserves much applause and gives us reason to
celebrate. Despite the controversy created by the Council of Islamic Ideology
on the admission of DNA test as an evidence in cases of rape, the Law accepts
DNA as a primary evidence. It is a victim/survivor centred law. It
comprehensively criminalises addresses social mindset, media reporting that
infringes on victims’ rights to privacy, dignity and confidentiality and the
tampering of evidence or creating hurdles in the way of investigation of rape
cases by any police officials.
It is highly condemnable that the
government tried to steel women’s struggle against honour killing by passing
the Law that will make no difference to women’s lives. Let’s not settle for the
crumbs that this Law throws to silence the women’s voices and demand legal
protection against the killing of women in the name of honour.
October 14, 2016
For those of us who generally admire
President Obama as a man of principle, it is wrenching to watch his paralysis.
As I see it, Syria has been his worst mistake, a huge blot on his legacy,
writes Nicholas Kristof of the
New York Times.
Kristof comes from an increasingly rare
breed of journalists, who view their calling as a trust and responsibility. As
someone who has covered and written at length about the ethnic cleansing and
genocide in the Balkans, Rwanda and Darfur, he is angry at the Obama
administration’s response to the humanitarian catastrophe that is Syria.
“As a senator, Obama used to complain to me
and others that President Bush was too passive about atrocities in Darfur. “I
am strongly supportive of us doing what it takes to stop the slaughter that is
taking place, and I think that no-fly zones have to be part of that formula”,
Obama told me in 2006. He should listen to himself,” says the columnist.
For someone like me who once adored Obama,
this frustration is totally relatable.
Indeed, Syria has been one of the twin disasters of his legacy, the
other being Palestine of course.
Even the much-hyped resolution of Iran’s
nuclear knot seems to have helped Washington little. On the one hand, it has
angered the US’ traditional allies in the region even as Iran has expanded its
influence, from Iraq and Syria to Yemen where it’s engaged in a bitter proxy
war with the Saudi-led Arab coalition.
On the other hand, it is the Russians, Washington’s European allies and
even China and India who seem to have really benefited from the thaw with Iran
and easing of international sanctions. The US’ sphere of influence has further
Military cooperation between the the
Ayatollahs and the Russians has grown manifold. For the first time in history,
Russian jets have been flying from an Iranian airbase to hit Syrian targets,
killing defenceless civilians like flies.
All this has happened on the watch of a
leader who began with immense promise and had been hailed as the first ‘global
president’ for the love and support that he evoked around the world. He was
feted with the Nobel Peace Prize in his first year in office for his resolve to
bring peace to the Middle East.
Who could forget his sublime oratory in
Cairo, reaching out to the Muslim world like no US president had ever done.
“The Palestinian people have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. They endure the
daily humiliations that come with occupation. Their situation is intolerable.”
After that initial burst of enthusiasm that
saw him appoint a special envoy to the Middle East in his first week in office
and seek a ‘new beginning’ with the Muslim world though, Obama has done little
over the past seven years to change the ‘intolerable’ situation. He gave up pretty quickly in the face of the
characteristic Israeli intransigence and obfuscation.
Forget resolving the most vexing of Middle
East conflicts; Israel has actually been rewarded for its continuing
persecution of the Palestinians with an unprecedented $38 billion military aid
package, the biggest Washington has ever gifted any country. This after all the
flak and humiliation that Obama has received from Netanyahu and his powerful
friends on Capitol Hill.
Thanks to the administration’s indifference
not only has Israel expanded its criminal enterprise of settlements on what
little remains of Palestinian land and killed hundreds of Palestinians in cold
blood in the name of security, it has done away totally with the pretence of
Why would Israel talk peace with the
Palestinians when it’s rewarded for ignoring and killing them?
But while the tale of betraying
Palestinians is old and familiar, it is Syria that remains our hero’s single
biggest failure. Obama’s crippling inaction has directly resulted in the
slaughter of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians and displacement of
more than 11 million Syrians. It has sparked the biggest humanitarian and
refugee crisis since the World War II, with thousands of them dying at high
Obama’s reluctance to use force and get
bogged down in yet another military conflict in the Middle East may have been
well meaning but it has turned out to be the undoing of a whole country. The
road to hell is paved with good intentions.
His dithering on Syria was virtually seen
as an invitation to others to get involved. As Marwan Bishara argues, Obama’s
aversion to getting involved in Middle East affairs has allowed others to do
just that: Iran took advantage of the US withdrawal to enforce its own presence
in Iraq; Russia took advantage of the US reluctance to intervene in Syria to
deploy its military last year. And yes, this reluctance also created the
monster called Isis, from the badlands of Iraq, thanks to the brutality of US
occupation and sectarian militias.
What hopeless, mindboggling mess! And
nothing illustrates it more starkly than the wholesale destruction of Aleppo,
one of the world’s oldest cities. The historical city has nearly been flattened
as a punishment for hosting rebels.
Around 300,000 of its besieged residents,
locked away in their ruins, are being starved to death. Jets have been
relentlessly pounding the last bastion of resistance. These jets have even
bombed a UN convoy that was bringing in much-needed humanitarian aid, killing
around a dozen doctors and nurses, not to mention the vetoing of a UN
resolution that called for ending air strikes.
These are nothing short of war crimes, as
France has rightly suggested. Yet
the international community, including Washington, has just stood around
rubbing its hands. All that the US could come up with is the threat to suspend
‘bilateral engagement’ with Moscow over Syria, as if the Russians care. Russia
and their friends in Damascus think they are finally winning. Why would they
want to ‘engage’ Washington now?
Another brainy idea being thrown about by
US diplomats as a ‘Plan B’ is a No Fly Zone over Syria, a la Iraq, to stop the
relentless air attacks.
It is an idea whose time may have already
passed. It is too little, too late.
It would have perhaps worked early in the conflict if the US had backed
it up with the threat of use of force. As the top diplomat of the US, John
Kerry reportedly told some Syrian groups privately that his diplomatic efforts
have gone nowhere because they are not backed by military muscle. Besides, this
is literally the fag end of this president’s tenure.
Still, given the utter hopelessness of the
situation, any proposal offering faintest hope of putting an end to the Syrian
misery is worth trying. It is certainly better than doing nothing. The US
remains the world’s reigning superpower and could certainly help end this
nightmare if it indeed wants to, rescuing Obama’s legacy.
In the words of Kristof, if we don’t act
after half a million deaths, will we after one million? After two million?
Reported by a renowned journalist, Cyril
Almeida, and published in a reputable newspaper, Dawn, the story tells us the
insider account of a high level meeting held in Islamabad convened to discuss
the international isolation faced by Pakistan today. Realising our lack of
influence on our neighbours after we failed to host the 19th annual SAARC
summit as the majority of members boycotted it the meeting was attended both by
civilian and military leadership. At least, the administration realises that we
are internationally isolated; a fact that has been denied in the past at every
level, but it now seems to have broken some ice behind closed doors while the
public refutation continues.
Except for the conspiracy theorists who
live in their own imaginary world, everyone knows why Pakistan encounters
global indifference; why our protests on Kashmir are not taken seriously; and
why our legitimate national security concerns fall on deaf ears. It is an open
Through our relentless policy of sponsoring
and exporting ‘non-state actors’ as proxies, we stand where we stand now. To
remove any confusion, let me say the term non-state actors is euphuism for
state-sponsored international terrorism. And our heavy reliance on it has irked
our friends, stirred international conflicts, and caused us global shame. It is
as bad for us as was reliance on Saudi oil for the USA. Both the countries had
to cut down their dependence on products whose outcome is almost always
catastrophic. The US has already done that; can we say the same about
Even China, our close ally, has raised concerns
about our dangerous and self-destructive strategies. The Chinese do not
understand why we have to resort to such means when our fears hold ground. What
to talk about other countries and their governments, friendly or not, when it
comes to foreign policy, we cannot satisfy our own people. More so, we lack the
capability to describe the objectives in simple terms and justify them
Coming back to the meeting: no one would
have expected anything exciting from it, it was a routine exercise — the prime
minister heading the meeting perturbed by upcoming protests in Islamabad, and
the chief minister of Punjab occupied with the Orange Train line project in
Lahore, the sword of Panama leaks hanging atop their heads. It was supposed to
be a meeting brimmed with a long, dull and sleep-inducing presentation,
peppered with unintelligent questions, mirrored by even more unintelligent
explanations, and followed by of course tea and refreshments. To put it another
way, the forum had only one objective: ascertain that no change in the
fundamental policy takes place. Life, as usual, goes on, the double game
Even if we suppose the meeting had ignited
some excitement, kept the prime minster involved, the chief minster interested,
and even if the purpose of the meeting was to bring a fundamental change in
policy, what we could not have imagined was that the civilian leadership would
ever challenge the military and compel the military to adopt a defensive
position. In our history, we have not seen many instances like that. Left
without an exit strategy or counter-accusation, it seems the military agreed to
support the provincial government in its crackdown against militants promising
the administration no future interference.
Almost like a fairy tale, unrealistic and
out of this world, based on the laws of a different universe where gravitation
pull ceases to exist and the quantum mechanics fail, the story depicts the
confidence and the determination of the Sharif brothers to eradicate religious
extremism and terrorism from the country. But contrary to the popular belief,
was Pakistan military found to be on the same page? The other question is: what
kind of suspects captured by the police is later released by the intervention
of the intelligence agencies? Why do we not talk about that on television? How
has this interference crippled our ability to combat extremism?
Of course, we expected that the story would
be denied, as it has been by the prime minister’s office. Indeed, the leak has
been regarded as a breach in national security, an investigation has been
launched to expose the culprit, and the journalist has put on the exit control
list, as if he is the reason for our international isolation. We all know who
is doing it and why.
Any incident in which the civilian
government seems to have an upper hand can yield various consequences for
everyone standing on the other side of the fence. It can lead to the
dissolution of parliament and its constitutional structures, the annulment of
the constitution including, but not limited to the removal of judges. For the
prime minister, it can result in losing his job, his freedom, and his support.
The question when playing with fire is not if you will get burnt, it is how
extensively and how deep.
The show has just begun!
Not the least of this season’s ironies: the
threat to assault the capital and shut it down would not have come, indeed
would not have been possible, without the impressive show at Raiwind, next to
the Sharif Palace at Jati Umra, now maintained at public expense, because
they’ve declared it PM’s camp office.
In a previous column I had said this wall,
no doubt soon to be recognised as a national monument, had cost a modest 45
crores. I have since been corrected: true cost, 75 crores.
There’s no one to beat us when it comes to
these ingenious swindles…living in official palaces and then declaring your
private estate a camp office so that the state ends up paying for your posh
lifestyle. This would count as brazen plunder anywhere else, matter for
impeachment not the fairytale which is accountability. Islam indeed, why don’t
we stop talking about Islam? If this was early Islam, a page out of the first
caliphates, this money would be recovered from their pockets. Here everything
goes and we bat not an eyelid and call it democracy.
Here’s a thought: if Islamabad could be
shut down permanently no greater favour could be done the Islamic Republic. Of
all the useless things we have created over the years the founding of this city
takes the prize. It has done us no good and may have caused us harm in the
sense that our Bengali brothers and sisters, whom we got rid of all those years
ago, could never quite relate to it. In the alienation of East Pakistan,
Islamabad has a chapter all to itself.
But these are empty musings. We face a real
problem and that relates to Imran Khan’s threat, made at the Raiwind jalsa,
that unless there was movement on the scandal engulfing the prime minister and
his family – offshore accounts and Mayfair flats never disclosed to either the
Election Commission or the tax authorities – he would be left with no recourse
except to lead his followers to Islamabad on October 30.
Before Raiwind when there was no shortage
of souls convinced it would be a flop and that Imran had it coming for him and
would be deeply embarrassed, this would have been an empty threat and the
ruling party’s regular trumpeters would have filled the airwaves with laughter
and ridicule. But after the success of that show the buglers are strangely
quiet, their bragging gone as if they now fear the worst.
Even the line much propagated by the PML-N
that Imran was all alone with no other political party standing with him has
lost its edge. I personally thought that without the Sheikh-ul-Islam’s ready
force of committed workers, who had demonstrated more than once during the 2014
dharnas and marches their unrivalled ability to put the janissaries of the
Punjab and Islamabad Police to headlong flight – spectacles worthy of any
Hollywood action movie – Imran faced a serious problem. But sensing the
challenge before him he got down to some hard work, pulling off the whole thing
by himself, on the strength of his own party, with no help from any other
It was a valuable experience and now Imran
needs no props to prepare for the march on Islamabad, the Pakistan Tehreek
-e-Insaf (PTI) finally learning, after all these years, that charisma and star
appeal, while important if not crucial for a mass party, are still not enough
substitutes for organisation and planning. There was no one more charismatic in
the ring than the great Muhammad Ali but that never meant that he could take
his training lightly.
Imran knows what is at stake. Having given
the challenge he can’t afford to take it lightly. Ticket-holders, members of
assemblies, key persons, are being given quotas to fulfil…workers and activists
that they must bring to the capital. And workers are being asked to bring
blankets and food with them. This attention to detail is a new thing for the
Previous to this the PTI was very good at
organising jalsas…they would take care of the sound system (the DJ Butt
phenomenon), the lighting and the stage preparations. But blankets and food and
the digging of latrines which I read in an Urdu paper they are going to do this
time are things that religious parties were good at. The Jamaat-e-Islami, the
Sheikh-ul-Islam’s PAT, at their conventions which could go on for several days
would do these things. This was never the PTI’s forte.
Its jalsas were sound-and-light shows. For
the first time it is behaving like an army on the march, realising the
importance of logistics – an army which must march on its stomach and which
must also look to the digging of latrines, and the provision of clean drinking
water, etc. The Sheikh-ul-Islam’s distancing may thus turn out to be a blessing
in disguise for the hitherto disorganised PTI. When put to the necessity of cooking
most of us, unless completely helpless with our hands, manage to turn out
something or the other.
Organisation, in any event, comes not so
much from theory as practice…the hard school of experience through which, of
necessity, the PTI and its enthusiasts are passing.
The Sheikh-ul-Islam, for his part, may have
missed a great opportunity. Begun with such fanfare his qisas movement has
ended with a whimper. The likely outcome of his sudden eruptions and equally
sudden departures is that when the final count is taken he will be remembered
more as a preacher, a televangelist, than a man of action.
The world of Islam has never lacked for
preachers – theologians and textbook professors, all endlessly explaining the
hidden points of scripture. From the decline of the Islamic civilisation
starting from the mid-thirteenth century when Halagu Khan’s army sacked Baghdad
down to the present, these theologians have been explaining Islam, writing
books on the meaning of the Quran. But as Marx said in a similar context, the
point is not to explain the world but to change it.
More power to the Sheikh-ul-Islam’s
preaching. Although I can’t help thinking that the commitment and dedication of
his followers, mostly from the less privileged sections of society, by far
outweigh the sound and import of his scholarly brilliance.
So what happens when the 30th comes? It’s all up in the air. Various
government quarters are threatening drastic action. But what do the Panama
Leaguers have at their disposal? Nothing more than the dharna-tested and
found-wanting lions of the Islamabad and Punjab police forces. And the police
have seen how they were used in Model Town – pushed to mercilessly gun down the
Sheikh-ul-Islam’s followers, and then largely left to their own devices. Model
Town haunts the Sharifs. It also haunts the Punjab Police. And when PTI workers
descend on Islamabad somewhere on the horizon will still linger the ghost of
To make matters worse for the government,
just when it needed the army’s support the most it could not curb its penchant
for over-cleverness. The Almeida story, which Dawn is treating as its passport
to heroic immortality – comparing it already, Lord help us, with the Pentagon
Papers – was comprehensively leaked by someone in the PM’s office. Who dunnit?
That’s the question and not anything to do with that pious humbug called
‘freedom of expression’. This was not the time for such a leak.
Anyway, I’ve already booked a room for the
29th…can’t wait to cover the excitement, unless this too, to my chagrin, ends
with a whimper.
Last week, a number of Afghan
parliamentarians from the Kunduz province accused the national unity government
and its armed forces for supporting terrorist organisations like ISIS and
Taliban. They alleged that military commanders were providing arms, financial
assistance and sanctuaries to terrorists, and transported their suicide bombers
to their destinations. These were some of the most disturbing accusations in
the Afghan history at the floor of parliament.
The MPs also accused the Afghan National
Army (ANA) commanders for handing over dozens of check posts along with
sophisticated arms to the Taliban. An MP from the Kunduz province, Miss Fatima
Aziz said that defence and interior affairs ministries failed to maintain
security and law and order in the country. She also accused police commanders
for facilitating Taliban against ANA positions. “All Afghan officials in the
Kunduz province, including the ANA, police and local government officials in
cooperation with the people from central government, handed the city to the
Taliban,” said Miss Aziz.
The Afghan opposition perceives the
persisting disagreement between the two heads of state, and poor leadership as
the reason that the Kunduz city fell to the Taliban. Moreover, the prominent
military analyst, Javed Kohistani, hammered the ANA for selling weapons to the
Taliban. “We have evidence that prove there are people inside the security
forces that sell weapons and checkpoints to the Taliban and let their fellow
colleagues being arrested by insurgents. There is the type of betrayal that
exists among the security forces, especially the local police,” said Mr
Other MPs also levelled the same
accusations against ANA commanders and local administration. “Lack of a
coherent strategy in the Kunduz province and corruption are the bigger
challenges [there],” said Mirdad Nijrabi, head of internal security committee
in parliament. The governor of the Kunduz province, Assadullah Omar Khel,
slammed Vice Chief of Army Staff, General Murad Ali for the collapse of the
city. “I asked that first, we should clear the entire city, but General Murad
did not accept my suggestions and acted according to his own plan... In these
attacks the people of Kunduz suffered a lot,” said the governor. However, the
chief of the Afghan intelligence agency, NDS, apologised for his failure to
counter Taliban insurgents. Muhammad Masoom Stanekzai acknowledged that the
government failed to intercept the Taliban outside the Kunduz city.
In 2016, amid this dirty warfare, the
Taliban introduced new strategies of war by controlling districts and provinces
without fighting against the Afghan security forces. They entered into
negotiations for fixing bargains with ANA commanders on terms and conditions to
purchase military check posts, including weapons and soldiers in various
provinces. Before the Taliban entered the Kunduz and Helmand provinces, they
bribed ANA commanders and local warlords, and allowed them to safely escape the
city. The ANA officers are not paid their salaries regularly by the defence
ministry, the reason why they sell check posts, weapons and military secrets to
The Afghan security forces are reluctant to
protect the interests of the ruling mafia groups and their American partners.
Mismanagement, political interference, ghost soldiers, poor war capabilities
and corruption are challenges that have made the forces more vulnerable.
Perception of an ethnic war between President Ashraf Ghani and Mr Abdullah
Abdullah has badly affected the conglomeration of the ethnic alliance. In
August 2016, Mr Abdullah severely criticised President Ghani for his
unilateralism. Differences over appointments of governors, military commanders
and police officers reached the point of no return. President Ghani wants to
take the war to the Northern provinces of the country, while Mr Abdullah does
not agree with him, and accuses him of collaboration with the Taliban against
ethnic minorities. The recent attacks by the Taliban in Kunduz further
intensified their blame game as they failed to adopt a long-term military
strategy against the Taliban and the Islamic State.
This way of kleptocratic governance does
not benefit the poor and insecure people of Afghanistan, a country where public
aspirations are not respected and national interests are not considered the top
priority. Both the leaders are busy in sorting out their political issues but
have failed to settle the key issues like appointments of governors and
military commanders. Last week, the desertion of soldiers to the Taliban and
ISIS became a complicated crisis. More than 44 ANA officers disappeared in the
United States, and 60 police officers were sold to the Taliban in the Badghis
province and 70 in the Helmand province.
The business of war and destruction is
profitable in Afghanistan where American and Afghan warlords are dancing side
by side. The current situation in the country is worse than at any time since
2001. Today, the Taliban control more than 70 percent of Afghanistan, and
target not just the capital but also provinces across the country. As
Afghanistan is a resources-rich country, much of the profit from lapis lazuli
and gold goes into the pockets of American and Afghan warlords.
Almost 15 years into the war in the
country, the US-fed Afghan war criminals, human rights violators and corrupt
civil-military officials helped NATO and ISAF in occupying the country. On
October 8, 2016, the Pentagon raised the issue of ghost soldiers within the
ANA, and assured the Watchdog Agency that the US commanders were struggling to
track Afghan active-duty security forces to save the US taxpayer money on those
ghost soldiers. According to the report of the Special Inspector General for
Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), the issue of ghost soldiers is too irksome.
SIGAR also expressed concern about the war in the south and the north, and
warned that the US money provided to the Afghan security forces could be
pocketed by Afghan military commanders under the guise of paying soldiers who
have deserted, died or never existed.
As violence grows, the business of
destruction and killing expands, and more people die or are injured.
Governments of two presidents have miserably failed to positively respond to
the looming threat of state collapse as the nation lost trust over their way of
governance. The unity government has divided the country in north and south
where every president manages his own administration. In districts and
municipalities, no election has yet been held for formal government offices at
village level. Many of these villages are instead self-governed by a
combination of village elders and local councils that act as intermediaries
between the communities and governors. The state is now ultimately shrunken,
defeated, humiliated and fractured due to the return of war criminals to the
It’s a sad little word ‘tawdry’.
Dictionaries, my own old-fashioned print variety and the online version all
concur — cheap shoddy and tasteless they say. I got 90 minutes of full-on
tawdry last Monday morning when I grumped before the TV set with my cereal and
the first cuppa of the day to watch the second debate of three that is a part
of the endless American presidential process.
The previous weekend had seen assorted
media platforms go into meltdown mode with the release of a tape that showed
Donald Trump having his least-finest moment. No need to re-hash the details
here, it was hashed over in the debate which was a thing of purest vitriol. Two
people that detest the very sight of each other trapped in a cycle of endless
confrontation. Trump prowled behind Clinton in a manner that even the most
forgiving of his sympathisers could only see as predatory. Clinton had that
faux-smile that she does so well and was as relaxed as a watchspring. Both of
them tore bleeding chunks off each other. Trump did better than on his last
outing, Clinton did no worse and some called it a draw when the gore and
fragments of body parts had been hosed off the stage-set.
But what it was — was tawdry. It was a
cheapening of Brand America. One of the people in front of the cameras is going
to be the next President of the United States of America. Both are deeply
flawed if in different ways. To the best of my knowledge Mrs Clinton has never
been accused of unseemly behaviour — other than in the case of emails and
Benghazi, that is — whereas Mr Trump has any number of women seemingly queuing
up to have their 15 minutes of fame at his expense. There are Wikileaks
tumbling out of the woodwork for Mrs Clinton and hints of more tapes to come
for Mr Trump.
The Republican Party is in considerable
disarray and at the time of writing. Mrs Clinton has a nine-point lead over Mr
Trump which if the polls are correct — and recent times have demonstrated
starkly just how unreliable polls can be — then she ought to be on her way to a
Meanwhile back in the White House the
twilight days of the Obama administration play out. There has never been a hint
of scandal in the eight years since the Obama family walked slightly amazed
down Constitution Avenue. The Obama marriage has allegedly had its ups and
downs in that period, but there were no accusations of infidelity by either
party and their two children seem to have survived with their sanity relatively
intact. Let’s leave it to history to be the judge of whether Obama was a good
or bad President shall we?
The Obamas have brought grace and dignity
to the Presidency, something even their sternest detractors would agree on.
Neither Mr Trump nor Mrs Clinton is going to do either coming as they do with
mountains of malodorous baggage that is in the public domain there to be picked
over by the carrion-crows of the Fourth Estate. Make no mistake, the portable
cesspits that both carry with them is going to be emptied in coming days and
years with sickening regularity.
The Dirty Genie is well and truly out of
the bottle and never likely to be put back. Brand America has taken a
hammering, and will take further blows in the days before the poll on November
8th that are going to be remembered for time immemorial. Those memories of the
campaign are going to play as the backdrop to however the winner — and loser —
comports themselves in future. They will be exhumed on talk-shows, memorialised
and serialised in print, become best-sellers and embedded forever as a part of
the American narrative. Less than a generation down the line Hollywood will
probably have a crack at them.
‘Stronger together’ says Mrs Clinton.
‘Let’s make America great again’ says Mr Trump. America is more divided than it
ever was and the greatness — and it undoubtedly was — is forever tarnished by
the tawdry mantle that this election has settled on its shoulders. Tawdry… such
a little word.
October 14th, 2016
WOULD you expect to see Qurratulain Hyder’s
Aag ka Darya on the shelf of a public library in Glasgow? Probably not. But I
actually found Annie Apa, as she was fondly called, in the Glasgow Women’s
Library (GWL). The discovery was made more exciting by the fact that the
library was a distinguished one as only a feminist library can be.
Set up in 1991, the GWL has grown and never
looked back. In 2015, it celebrated the 25th year of its existence. Containing
30,000 books on women or by women (about 20,000 writers), the GWL is distinct
from other libraries by the feminist ownership shown by those who manage it and
those who use it.
When Donna Moore, the adult literacy and
numeracy development worker, and Wendy Kirk, the librarian, met me to talk
about the GWL, I was overwhelmed by their enthusiasm, pride and passion. They
reminded me of one of our leading feminist intellectuals, Nighat Saeed Khan. In
2011, Nighat had taken me round the Institute of Women’s Studies, Lahore,
speaking with the same passion about the wealth of hidden material she had
carefully stored. She was looking for a donor to help her catalogue and archive
A Library In Scotland Is A Reminder Of
The feminist spirit that Wendy and Donna
displayed vis-à-vis the treasure trove of knowledge under their care is what
bonds the global sisterhood of women. They use books for their feminist
activism; as a speaker said in the film March, a GWL-RCS (Royal Conservatoire
Scotland) production, “Freedom is born from wisdom”. And one may add, wisdom is
born from knowledge. Without awareness, conscientisation and the involvement of
a critical mass of women, a feminist movement cannot change the lives of women
in any country.
And it is the love of books and the
commitment to women’s rights that combine in the making of a successful women’s
library. The basic goal of such a library is always the empowerment of women by
using knowledge as the catalyst. The librarian must be a committed activist and
teacher to inspire those she interacts with.
The GWL with its paid staff of 20, and
80-100 volunteers, is doing just that. It runs a lifelong learning and adult
literacy programme to empower women. The library has a collection of books,
archives, historical and contemporary artefacts that are related to women and
commemorate their lives and achievements. Additional activities the GWL
organises are not exactly book-related but their focus is on women. Thus its
programme lists a number of events organised by the library such as talks and
discussions on women, writing competitions and workshops, art exhibitions, film
screenings, meetings of reading groups and heritage walks to create awareness
of women’s histories in the city
The women’s library strives for
self-sufficiency by raising donations from the public and through activities.
All the books have been donated. Innovative ideas have been introduced such as
getting people to sponsor a book, a shelf or even a library section for as little
as 10 to 1,000 as a tribute to a living woman.
Having emerged as the hub of information in
Scotland on women and a focal point for activities designed to empower and gel
them into a vibrant integrated community, the GWL is a permanent reminder of
women’s hidden power that deserves to be celebrated. It has a membership of
3,800 that can borrow books, and an estimated 15,000 guests visit it every
The GWL’s pronounced interest in the
political dimension of women’s lives is remarkable. Suffragettes receive a lot
of attention. Donna Moore was most vocal when showing me the suffragette
memorabilia displayed with great pride in the library. Although the suffrage
movement began in England, it received a boost from the Scottish suffragettes’
zeal. Even today when women have won the vote there are concerns about the
political status of women and the GWL extends its support to movements such as
the Women 50:50 campaigns that was launched to improve the representation of
women in parliament, there being only 35 pc in the Scottish legislature at
That is what one expects libraries to be —
institutions that empower people. A women’s library empowers women.
Unfortunately, there are not enough of them around. Probably 300 or so all over
the world but this is just a guess because there is no international
organisation linking them together. Wendy attended a conference of librarians
from women’s libraries in Mexico many years ago which was a chance event and no
other meeting has taken place since.
The women’s library has been an agent of
social change in many ways, as confirmed by Donna Moore from her experience of
interacting with women she has taught. They gain confidence. That empowers
them, she tells me. And we know what a lot of difference that makes.
REKHA (not her real name), who lives in the
Rangpur division of Bangladesh, got married when she was just 13 years old —
“just after my first menstruation”, as she recalls. A year later, the
14-year-old had a child of her own, joining the ranks of the thousands upon
thousands of adolescent mothers in a country where child marriage remains
widespread, even though the legal age of marriage is 18 for females and 21 for
Rekha’s story is far from unusual. Almost
one in two girls in South Asia — in countries including Bangladesh, India and
Nepal — will marry before turning 18, and one in six will marry before the age
of 15, if current rates continue. While the practice of child marriage has
declined in South Asia over time, falling from 63 per cent in 1990 to 45pc in
2010, and from 31pc in 1990 to 17pc in 2010 for girls under 15, it nevertheless
remains far too high In Bangladesh where 59pc of girls are married before the
age of 18.
In Nepal, the figure is 37pc. Meanwhile, in
Afghanistan, some 33pc of girls are married before age 18, and 21pc of girls in
Pakistan. Child marriage is a practice that primarily affects girls but boys
too. While a much smaller number of boys are married as children, there are
also child grooms in the region, who marry even younger child brides.
Child Marriage Violates The Rights Of
Millions Of Girls.
For literally millions of girls like Rekha,
child marriage violates their human rights. It threatens their lives and
health, as well as their future prospects, exposing them to early pregnancy,
and increasing their vulnerability to exploitation and abuse. Child marriage,
quite simply, robs them of their future.
As the evidence shows, girls who marry
young often become pregnant while they are still adolescents, putting them at
risk of complications in pregnancy or childbirth — complications that are a
leading cause of death among older adolescents in developing countries.
They are also more likely to experience
violence, including sexual violence, than girls who marry over the age of 18
years, and to be more exposed to sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV.
When they marry, girls are often forced to
drop out of school so they can assume household responsibilities, denying them
their right to complete their education. Child marriage limits their
opportunities including their job prospects, and has long-term effects on their
It also has negative impacts on their
children. A recent global study in five middle-income countries shows that
children born to mothers 19 years or younger have a 20pc to 30pc increased risk
of low birth weight and pre-term birth compared to mothers aged from 20 to 24
years. Moreover, they have a 30pc to 40pc increased risk of stunting and
failing to complete their secondary-level schooling.
While many countries in South Asia have
laws in place to prevent child marriage, the practice still persists. Often, at
the state and community level, traditional and customary laws still allow girls
younger than 18 years to marry with the consent of their parents and other
authorities. Unequal power relations between men and women, women’s and girls’
restricted rights and opportunities, and norms which place a higher value on
sons rather than daughters reinforce the practice.
And, not surprisingly, vulnerability to
child marriage increases during crises when family and social structures are
disrupted — for example when families are separated during natural disasters or
conflicts, or when they are faced with economic hardships that prompt parents
to marry off their underage daughters.
Countries around the world have committed
to “eliminate all harmful practices such as child, early and forced marriage,
and female genital mutilation” in the Sustainable Development Goals that
underpin the 2030 agenda whose central pledge is to leave no one behind.
UNFPA and UNICEF are working together to
end child marriage through a multi-country initiative to prevent girls and
boys, from marrying too young, and support those already married. In South
Asia, Unicef and UNFPA, in partnership with governments, are implementing
proven strategies for change: keeping children — especially girls — in school,
increasing their access to healthcare, educating their parents and communities,
increasing economic support to families, and putting in place and enforcing
Just some days ago, Unicef and UNFPA hosted
a meeting of experts from South Asia and around the world to share and build
the evidence base for change.
Strong partnerships at all levels are
required to end child marriage. The scale of the problem requires all of us,
governments, local actors, the global community and the United Nations to act
together to end child marriage. All of us need to join hands to give back to
children, particularly girls like Rekha, their choices, their dreams, their
futures — and their childhoods.
Fifteen years ago, on October 19th 2001,
Donald Rumsfeld addressed B-2 bomber crews at Whiteman AFB in Missouri, as they
prepared to fly halfway across the world to wreak misdirected vengeance on the
people of Afghanistan and begin the longest war in US history.
15 years later, our wars have changed the
way millions of people live and killed about 2 million people who had nothing
to do with the crimes of September 11th. The most basic principle of justice,
that only the guilty should be punished for a crime, was quickly lost and
buried in America’s rush to war.
President Bush’s military spending set a
post-WWII record, an average of $635 billion per year in 2016 dollars, compared
with an average of $470 billion per year throughout the Cold War. Now President
Obama has done what would have seemed impossible in 2008, outspending Bush by
an average of $20 billion per year.
Clearly it has not enabled the US to win
any wars. The only wars we have won since WWII were over the tiny neo-colonial
outposts of Grenada, Panama, Kuwait and Kosovo. Hillary Clinton derided those
operations as ‘splendid little wars’ in a speech to the Council on Foreign
Relations in 2000, as she urged its members to support more ambitious uses of
US military force. Clinton got what she asked for, but she seems to have
learned nothing from the catastrophic results.
The danger of investing so much of our
country’s wealth in military forces and weapons of war is that it gives our
leaders the illusion that they can use war to advance our national interests or
solve international problems.
Instead of making good on the ‘peace
dividend’ Americans hoped for at the end of the Cold War, US leaders were seduced
by the mirage of a ‘unipolar’ world in which the threat and use of US military
force would be the final arbiter of international affairs. In pursuit of this
mirage, we have used force in violation of the UN Charter against Yugoslavia,
Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Libya and now Syria. Our military
and civilian leaders have systematically violated the laws of war, ordering US
troops to kill civilians, torture
prisoners, ‘dead-check’ or kill wounded enemy combatants, and to misidentify murdered civilians as combatants
killed in action, deliberately undermining the distinction between combatants
and civilians that is the basis of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
President Obama’s doctrine of covert and
proxy war has expanded US Special Forces operations from 60 countries when he
took office to 150 countries today. Under President Obama, US Special Forces
night raids in Afghanistan exploded from 20 raids per month when he took office
to over 1,000 a month two years later. Senior officers have admitted to the
Washington Post that at least half these raids target the wrong person or
house, killing thousands of innocent people.
Meanwhile, President Obama’s expansion of
Special Forces operations has not led to any reduction in US air strikes.
The world faces huge problems that must be
addressed and resolved in the next few decades. We have depleted many of the
natural resources that our present way of life has been built on, and now
climate change is turning our use of fossil fuels into a slow form of mass
suicide. The question facing us is this: will the allocation of increasingly
scarce resources and the necessary transformations of the 21st century be
directed by international cooperation for the benefit of all and the survival
of human civilization? Our country’s current war policy offers only one answer
to that question. We must find a different and an effective political strategy
to impose it on our deluded leaders while there is still time.