New Age Islam Edit Bureau
29 March 2017
Terror at Westminster
By Shazar Shafqat
By Mahir Ali
A Jungle of Rhetorics
By Wajid Shamsul Hasan
By Bakhtawar Bilal Soofi
A Unique Ruling Class
By Anjum Altaf
Journeys and Bans
Chief of a Phantom Army
By Zahid Hussain
Heartless Caste System
By Kuldip Nayar
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
March 28, 2017
March 22, 2017 would have been just another
fine day in London. But chaos took hold when a driver moved down pedestrians in
Westminster near parliament – the symbol of British democracy – leaving five
people dead and more than 40 others injured.
In the words of UK Prime Minister Theresa
May, the location of the incident “was no accident”. Keith Palmer, a police
officer in London, was among the unfortunate victims who died last Wednesday.
Initially, the identity of the
knife-wielding attacker remained a mystery. Chaos, confusion and consternation
followed. Various segments of the media were too quick to report the identity
of the attacker, just to debunk them later. The attack was attributed to Abu
Izzadeen (born Trevor Brooks), a British national who had converted to Islam at
the age of 17.
Nevertheless, the veracity of the claim
couldn’t have been verified as Izzadeen’s lawyer and family members confirmed
the fact that he was still in jail. Izzadeen is the same person who had termed
the July 7, 2005 bombings as “Mujahideen activity”. However, it wasn’t he who
showed up at Westminster and mowed down several people that day.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his outfit claimed
responsibility for the attack. Adrian Elms was the man who went on the rampage
in London. No, it was Adrian Ajao. Then what about Khalid Masood? Don’t get
perplexed. All of the above represent one and the same person: the London
attacker. He was born Adrian Elms, later came to be known as Adrian Ajao and
died Khalid Masood.
Last week, the Saudi embassy confirmed the
fact that Masood visited Saudi Arabia in 2005 2006 and again in 2008-2009. He
then visited Saudi Arabia in 2015. As per official details, he used to teach
Considering the developments in the Levant
and the ever-growing threat of homegrown radicalised individuals, the attack
may have been on the cards. The timing, however, needs further deciphering.
March 22 was equally chaotic last year. Brussels was rocked by massive
explosions in which more than 30 people lost their lives. On the first
anniversary of the Brussels bombings, the London incident may have been a
message sent from, and a score settled by, the terrorist outfit – a message
that was, by all accounts, loud and clear. Intriguingly enough, an
international conference on counterterrorism was held in Washington on the same
date as the London attack.
In the aftermath of the attack, there have
been talks about tightening security in the UK. However, to counter extremist
tendencies, extra policing might not suffice. It may help cordon-off a
particular area and physically inspect a particular person. But it fails to
police what is going on in the mind – which matters the most. Enhanced
intelligence gathering is likely to get the job done and keep the ‘radicalised’
at bay. In this regards, Britain has announced to invest more than £2.5 billion
in lieu of catering to the security and intelligence networks-related
requirements in the next five years. The MI5 and MI6 offices will also employ
more staff – up to 1,900 additional personnel.
The UK just can’t afford to be complacent
at this point in time. Mark Rowley, the head of the UK National Counter
Terrorism Security Office (NaCTSO), was spot-on when he stated that “we’re
satisfied at this stage that it looks like there was only one attacker, but it
would be foolish to be overconfident so early on”.
The London attack was ghastly to say the
least. But pitching one religion against the other will not help but will
instead aggravate the already befuddled situation. The far-right should be kept
in check. Tommy Robinson, a British far-right activist and the former leader of
the English Defence League, was quick to reach the scene of the attack and
started spreading hatred and propaganda.
He declared, “This is Islam, this is an act
of jihad”. Fortunately, sanity prevailed. A majority in the UK paid little
attention to his statements and instead accused him of exploiting the attack to
serve his own malicious agenda.
In the recent past as well, there have been
similar activities carried out on British soil. In 2011, northern London was
rocked by riots. In 2013, two British citizens slaughtered Lee Rigby, an army
drummer, in London. In August 2016, a woman was manhandled and stabbed to death
while five others were critically wounded.
In all these cases, the culprits have been
British nationals and their adherence to a particular religion doesn’t put
under the rug the fact that it’s not about religion. It’s about the extremist
tendencies, which, of course, have nothing to do with a particular religion,
whatsoever. As far as the West is concerned, home-grown radicalisation is, in
all likelihood, the actual problem.
March 29 2017
AN intriguing parallel leapt up while
scouring news reports and obituaries relating to Martin McGuinness, the Sinn
Fein and Irish Republican Army (IRA) stalwart who died last week. It turns out
that the teenage McGuinness was propelled into activism, and subsequently
violence, upon seeing pictures of a blood-splattered Gerry Fitt after the
Catholic MP for West Belfast had been set upon by the Ulster constabulary during
a civil rights march in 1968.
Forty years earlier, a similarly minded
police hierarchy, owing allegiance to the same monarchy, had viciously
assaulted a peaceful protest in Lahore against the colonial Simon Commission,
which had been set up to determine the vast colony’s fate without any Indian
representation. The most prominent casualty on Oct 30, 1928 was the politician
Lala Lajpat Rai, who was singled out for personal attention by the local
superintendent of police James Scott.
Possibly as a consequence of the assault he
suffered, Lajpat Rai succumbed to a heart attack less than three weeks later.
Many Indians were inevitably incensed. A few were determined to exact
retribution. Among them was the young firebrand Bhagat Singh, the anniversary
of whose consequent execution was commemorated on March 23.
The patent absurdity of IS contrasts with
the IRA’s motivations.
The parallels cannot be stretched too far,
but both McGuinness and Singh tend to be viewed as terrorists by some and as
freedom fighters by many others, and both of them perceived British colonialism
as the primary foe. Unlike Singh, and for that matter unlike all too many of
his republican comrades, McGuinness did not become a martyr to the cause but
evolved into a peacemaker, serving for almost a decade as Northern Ireland’s
deputy first minister and befriending former adversaries without ever
abandoning his aspiration for a united Ireland.
Among the atrocities McGuinness is claimed
to have masterminded during his stint with the IRA was the brutal assassination
of India’s last viceroy, Lord Mountbatten — although the latter’s niece, Queen
Elizabeth, evidently had no compunctions about grasping McGuinness’s hand.
Others are less forgiving, and the IRA’s
terrorist campaign on the British mainland through the 1970s and 80s is often
cited as evidence of how the natives are perfectly capable of keeping calm and
carrying on in the face of unpredictable outbursts of random violence.
There were plenty of signs of panic,
though, in the wake of last Wednesday’s appalling incident in London, when
52-year-old Khalid Masood ran over pedestrians on Westminster Bridge and
stabbed a policeman to death. It was a despicable crime, and whatever
mind-boggling reasoning there might have been behind it remains shrouded in
There is plenty of circumstantial evidence,
though, pointing to some kind of jihadist intent. The perpetrator, who was shot
dead, was a relatively recent convert to Islam who had spent several years
working in Saudi Arabia as an English teacher. Before that he had served
several stints in prison for violent assault and had also been accused of
domestic violence. Apart from his age, he broadly fits a pattern witnessed on
the other side of the English Channel.
Nonetheless, albeit deeply tragic, the
consequences of his actions could have been much worse. Imagine a vehicle
larger than a four-wheel drive. Or weaponry more lethal than a kitchen knife.
And, while Masood’s dastardly attack is undoubtedly a reminder of how easily an
individual with malicious intent can unleash such violence, it’s worth noting
that such acts, hard as they are to predict or forestall — although police in
Antwerp apparently thwarted a potentially lethal driver the day after the
Westminster outrage — are hardly commonplace.
The militant Islamic State group was quick
to claim credit for the atrocity, but British police and intelligence services
have thus far not found evidence of connections or communications between
Masood and any jihadist outfit. They believe he acted alone, and his precise
motivations remain a matter of conjecture. The last mass casualty attack in
London was the horrendous suicide bombings of July 7, 2005. Compared with the
IRA’s campaign a few decades earlier, that’s a gratifyingly long interval
between outbreaks of terrorist violence.
This redounds to the credit of the security
services to some extent, but also points to the weakness of IS, Al Qaeda and
related branches or semi-autonomous groups. What possible purpose can be
served, though, by elevating crimes such as Masood’s to the stature of an
‘attack on democracy’? To spread fear by exaggerating the threat? And, if only
inadvertently, to encourage similarly deranged copycat actions?
The patent absurdity of Islamist zeal
contrasts with the motivations of the IRA — and for that matter Bhagat Singh’s
Hindustan Socialist Republican Association — whose aims could be embraced
without condoning its abhorrent tactics.
Pakistan is a jungle of rhetoric-mongering
— full of sound and fury signifying nothing. What we were designed to be, what
we have come to be and what perhaps we will be — bother every sane Pakistani
who has a historic perspective.
We had usual ritualistic March 23 Pakistan
Day – a grand affair, fly past of our mighty air force, impressive flotillas,
and of course the display of a series of missiles of varied ranges including
There was an enthusiastic fervour,
colourful bunting and flags all over the country. Everyone seemed to celebrate
it and reflecting a national resilience to strive, to seek and not to yield.
Our rich galaxy of television channels —
nearly a hundred — had special programmes. Leaders,
intellectuals/academics/historians, all got time to spill out their own
narratives. And this was amply manifested in the responses of the common men,
women and children when interviewed, except for a few, no one had a clue what
was the importance of the occasion.
I came across an article “When the past is
the future” by Punjab Chief Minister Mian Shahbaz Sharif that day. I thought
that perhaps in it I will find the elusive answer to my confusion. I read it
painstakingly from top to bottom – indeed very well written and the choice of
words was exquisite. However, I could not get to understand what was it about.
It talks about Allama Iqbal’s historic speech at Allahabad in 1930, which
according to him gave clarity, probably for the first time, to what Allama
thought was good for Muslims to seek.
No doubt in his presidential address at the
25th Session of the All-India Muslim League, Iqbal delved deep into the
question of “Muslim identity by employing his scholarly insights and
penetrating intellect to conclude that by every definition of the word, the
Muslims qualified to be called a nation. This address signalled an end to
intellectual obscurity and the rebirth of Muslim political thought. Iqbal gave
Muslims a voice in the political wilderness.”
I consider Allama Iqbal’s son (late)
Justice Javed Iqbal as the most authentic exponent of Iqbal’s vision and
Pakistan’s raison d’etre as enunciated by Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah.
Commenting on Allama Iqbal’s Allahabad
address, Justice Javed Iqbal once said, “nowhere his father talks of
independence for Muslims.”
According to him, Allama Mohammad Iqbal
sought maximum autonomy for Muslim majority areas within the Dominion of an
Independent India. Further, in the interview he categorically and rightly
claims, even Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah did not want an independent
Muslim state. Jinnah too wanted “autonomous” states within Dominion of India as
per the Lahore Resolution and “full autonomy” is what he accepted later.
Allama Dr Javed Iqbal quotes in his
interview from former Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh’s book:“Jinnah:
India, Partition, Independence” that blames Hindu Congress leadership for
“making Pakistan”. More emphatically put by Dr Javed Iqbal – “Hindus made
Pakistan”. As a matter of fact, Dr Javed Iqbal Sahib advised that in this
context one should read Maulana Abul Kalam Azad’s book “India Wins Freedom” –
particularly that portion which he had wished to be published after his death.
This portion later published had stated the role of Congress leadership in the
creation of Pakistan.
Remember Jinnah had accepted June 3 Plan
within the framework of a confederal India. Not only that 16 years earlier too
Jinnah in his 14 points had sought maximum autonomy for Muslim majority areas
within the Dominion. His proposal, if the Congress had accepted it, it would
have led to the freedom from the British yoke much earlier than 1947. Both Moti
Lal Nehru and his son Jawaharlal Nehru said a firm No to Jinnah’s fourteen
Dr Javed Iqbal’s book on the ideology of
Pakistan demolishes all those clerics that claim the basis of Pakistan is
religion. In his TV interview, he has called upon Pakistan’s political
leadership to let Pakistan be on its own rather than promote itself as an
apron-string of so-called Ummah that is neither here nor there.
Unfortunately, Pakistan’s history has been
distorted and disfigured by the vested interests beyond the pale of truth and
what we see today is nothing but lies and more lies as succinctly put by
Professor (Late) K.K. Aziz’s monumental book “Murder of History”.
How Jinnah’s vision of Pakistan was
subverted was manifested in the most sinister conspiracy by Secretary General
of the government Choudhry Muhammad Ali in collaboration with his fellow
conspirators within the civil, military and judicial bureaucracy in cahoots
with the religious parties that had opposed Pakistan and MAJ. Imagine how
powerful he was that he dared to censor Jinnah’s speech of August 11, 1947,
rightly called his Magna Carta for Pakistan. Had we translated his scheme of
things into action, Pakistan would have become a nation-state within no time
with equality for all its citizens irrespective of caste, creed, colour or
gender with religion having nothing to do with the business of the state.
When we can successfully carry out
Zarb-e-Azb and launch latest operation Raddul Fasaad, one wonders why can’t we
take it to the logical end by eliminating notoriously known clerics responsible
for Red Mosque massacre in 2007 now parading as Sheikhul Swalaheen as if they
are the uncrowned king in the capital. Same is the situation with groups in
Punjab. We need to act quickly before it’s too late.
WHEN terrorists attacked the Shah Noorani
shrine in November last year, 50 ambulances had to be dispatched from Karachi
to rescue the injured. Astonishingly, there was not a single major hospital
near Khuzdar that could provide such services. A few months later when another
Sufi shrine was attacked — this time in Sehwan — some of the most seriously
injured were airlifted to Karachi because the local hospital was grossly
ill-equipped. Both attacks — separated by only a few months — helped highlight
the dearth of basic public services in areas that are remote and distant from
Pakistan’s major urban centres.
This is not just the story of Khuzdar or
Sehwan. Throughout Pakistan, rural areas lag behind urban centres both in terms
of development and economic opportunities. Politicians frequently cite lack of
funds as the reason for the growing rural-urban divide.
While this may be partially true, it
obscures the underlying cause of our distributional imbalance. Rural areas in
Pakistan are under-developed not because the government has insufficient funds,
but because the institutional incentives under our constitutional design are
skewed in favour of densely populated cities. Unless we open our design choices
to debate and undertake serious institutional reform, this problem will
continue to persist. More funds will not resolve the problem; changing
institutional incentives will.
Decision-making at the provincial level
favours urban centres.
The perverse incentives generated by our
constitutional design explain why several of the injured from Sehwan had to be
treated in Karachi and why its facilities are better than most other cities
close by. Under Article 106 of the Constitution, there are 168 seats in the
Sindh Assembly including 29 reserved for women and nine for non-Muslims. Any
party that wins 84 seats gets to form the provincial government, which gives it
control over the executive and legislative agenda for the entire province.
Because each member of the provincial legislature represents an equal number of
people, electoral districts for the Sindh Assembly are drawn on the basis of
population, not geography. This means a region that is geographically much
smaller can be over-represented in the legislature due to its greater
population density. Jamshoro (the parent district for Sehwan), for instance,
elects only three legislators to the Sindh Assembly; Karachi, by contrast,
It is easy to see what’s wrong with this
arrangement. A legislative proposal that benefits Karachi is easier to pass
when compared with one that benefits Sehwan. It simply has more support in the
provincial legislature. Even if under-represented districts want to oppose
provincial proposals that confer concentrated geographical benefits on an area
like Karachi, they must overcome the collective action problem to mount
effective opposition. By contrast, a district like Jamshoro that has fewer
representatives in the Sindh Assembly faces greater difficulty in finding
requisite support for projects that benefit its residents. Since this pattern
repeats itself across all provinces, interior Sindh lags behind Karachi,
Khuzdar behind Quetta and South Punjab behind Lahore.
Even worse, decision-making at the
provincial level favours densely populated cities in the long run too. A party
seeking re-election will naturally focus its attention towards major urban
centres: win Karachi and you win half of the seats needed to form the
provincial government. Why waste precious time, effort and limited resources on
an area that only gets you three seats? The gains made by spending one rupee in
urban Karachi are far greater than spending the same amount in rural Sindh.
This illustrates the inadequacy of
incentives for provincial governments to divert resources and expend public
funds on the provision of public goods in remote areas. In this context, law
and economics require us to rethink our design choices so as to recalibrate
these institutional incentives.
There are two ways of addressing this
imbalance from a constitutional standpoint. First is to empower local
governments in the true spirit of Article 140-A. None of the provincial
governments appear to have done that and any attempts to the effect have been
half-hearted at best. Devolution of power is vital for improving service
delivery at the local level. Second is to consider, or at least, debate the
merits (or demerits) of shifting provincial legislatures to a bicameral system.
A bicameral legislature for each province, elected directly by the people, with
one house drawn on the basis of equal population and the other on the basis of
equal geographical size will balance out today’s skewed incentives.
Knowing that support in both houses of the
provincial legislature is required to pass legislation will not only force
political parties to develop deeper roots in rural areas but will also
incentivise a more equitable distribution of public funds across the province.
Changing institutional incentives is, thus,
key to any meaningful reform in addressing our intra-province imbalance.
Starting a discourse over our constitutional design is the first step.
Do you remember the time when the necklace
donated by the Turkish first lady for flood victims disappeared? After much
search it was discovered in the possession of the prime minister of Pakistan.
The explanation he offered was that he had close ties with the first family and
the first lady was like a sister to him.
Now the former chief executive and
president has disclosed that the Saudi monarch gave him millions of American
dollars to buy apartments in Dubai and London because he “was like a brother to
me” and “I was the only one with whom he used to smoke.”
Why are only Pakistani leaders fortunate
enough to find such generous brothers and sisters and does this phenomenon
merit some serious deliberation? We know of rulers patronised for being the
‘running dogs of imperialism’ as the Chinese used to call them, but is there
any other country whose leaders get tips worth millions of dollars just for
being nice guys loitering around swimming pools?
Just in our neighbourhood, can you imagine,
say, Manmohan Singh or Vajpayee pocketing a few million to buy apartments in
fancy places? If not, what does it signify about our leadership and is there
cause for concern? What deserves attention is that unlike the leaders of, say,
India or China or Vietnam, almost all our leaders have arranged safe havens
abroad where they can recuperate when out of power or seek refuge when things
get hot — apartments in Dubai, palaces in Jeddah, flats in London, estates in
Surrey, villas in France, ranches in Texas and Australia, and who knows what
elsewhere. Some leaders are permanently overseas directing affairs from abroad;
others move back and forth as the situation demands; some just fly in and fly
The reason this matters is because there
can be a world of difference between the attitudes of political leaders who
know they have to live among their people when out of power and those that know
they can flee abroad to the protection of patrons who can engineer their return
at suitable moments in the future under some kind of ‘don’t-ask-don’t-tell’
Besides, leaders anchored abroad needn’t
just stop at furnishing their foreign abodes for the occasional sojourn. They
can go all the way and park the bulk of their assets in safe havens while retaining
just enough running expenses in local currency to suffice for the odd buying
and selling that may be necessary to keep the gig afloat.
This is how one can end up with an
extractive economy in which the game plan of the leaders becomes impervious to
the risk of accountability or citizen pushback. Think of a country as a ship at
sea with citizens as passengers and the leader as captain. The fate of ships in
which the captain knows he will sink or swim with the passengers is different
from that of one in which the captain believes he can bail out at the first
wave of a storm. For the latter there is little need to pay attention to the
welfare of citizens. Projects billed to serve people, are initiated more as a
source of funds to be added to the capital abroad — think of where the proceeds
of a game changer like Reko-diq went. And thus the strip-mining cycle continues
before our eyes.
These extract-and-escape cycles undermine
the legitimacy of the democratic process. In India, political contestation is
still between political parties. Pakistan, however, is spawning groups that
reject electoral politics and aim to destroy the entire rotten system
associated with rapacious elites beholden to outsiders. The virulence of this
rejection also removes from their consciousness any compunction about the
destructive consequences of their actions. Unlike the despised leaders, these
groups consider themselves locally anchored. They can survive on a bare minimum
without luxury apartments and believe everyone else should too till the
transformation from which the nation would rise purer and stronger.
The contrasting imperatives, incentives and
strategies of their respective rulers have led to divergent socio-political
trajectories in Pakistan and India and thereby to the different prospects for
their citizens. While democracy slowly evolves and delivers in India, Pakistan
has descended into a world of mutual recrimination.
At another level, the real question is the
following: Why do our leaders not comprehend there is another option when
offered a gift? It is possible to say no. It really is.
By Rafia Zakaria
ON March 21, 2017, the United States
announced a ban on electronic devices larger than cell phones from hand luggage
on inbound flights from eight countries. Airlines operating non-stop flights
from 10 airports in Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Morocco
and the United Arab Emirates were told to require passengers to place all
electronics save cell phones into their checked luggage. The ban affects a
number of airlines, including, among others, Etihad, Emirates, and Turkish
Airlines. The same day, the United Kingdom also imposed a similar ban on
electronic items inside passenger cabins on flights to their airports. The UK
ban, however, applies to only six countries; it excludes airports in Qatar and
the United Arab Emirates and the flag carriers of those countries.
Pakistani airports and airlines are not on
either the US or UK ban list. However, since there are few direct flights to
the UK and US from Pakistan and most passengers connect to flights in Dubai or
Abu Dhabi (subject to the US ban) or Istanbul (subject to both bans) for their
onward journey, a large number of Pakistani travellers are likely to be
impacted. While they would be able to take their electronics on board flights
to Dubai or Abu Dhabi or Istanbul, they would then have to stow them with
checked baggage at those airports. This usually requires making an extra trip
to a luggage desk later and hoping that the checked items have made it to their
The electronics ban and the Muslims subject
to it are a validation of the logic of collective blame.
Unsurprisingly, a lot of travellers heading
out to the UK or the US from Pakistan are confused and concerned. Those that
arrived in Pakistan for visits prior to the electronics ban have brought along
expensive laptops and tablets with them. Like most Pakistani travellers, they
are aware of the high incidence of theft of items in checked baggage that takes
place in Pakistani airports. Over the years, these incidents of theft have
meant that no Pakistani traveller places anything valuable (electronics among
them) inside their luggage. Expensive computers, cameras and other electronics
as a rule are transported by passengers in their hand luggage even if they will
not be used during the flight. It has for decades been the more reliable means
of ensuring that the goods are not stolen.
That era is now over. As has been the case
in other security measures, such as the ban on liquids more than 100ml, the new
ban on electronics is reported to have been prompted by intelligence regarding
new plots being hatched by terrorist groups. According to The Guardian, these
plots aim to take down an airplane by smuggling a new, undetectable explosive
in an iPad or laptop computer.
The terrorist carrying the device would be
able to position it in such a way inside the aircraft’s passenger cabin that
its detonation would cause the maximum amount of damage and take down the
entire plane. A test run for such a plot occurred last year when an explosion
on board a Somalian Daallo Airlines jet taking off from Mogadishu blew a hole
in the passenger cabin. Experts note that unlike explosives placed in luggage,
those in passenger cabins can be controlled by the terrorist, and thus can
cause the maximum amount of damage.
The idea of a bomb being set off in the
passenger cabin is a terrifying thought indeed. No air traveller wants to
consider the possibility of being on a doomed flight with a terrorist carrying
an explosives-filled laptop. At the same time, extraordinary horrors are always
a little harder to imagine or consider than ordinary inconveniences. In the
days since the ban came into effect, Pakistanis who travelled from abroad with
all their electronics in tow and in the cabin are left figuring out how to take
them back. The already existing ban on shipment of electronics to foreign
destinations means they cannot be sent back via courier.
Some are considering travel insurance;
others are planning to check them in at the Dubai or Abu Dhabi airports, or
relying on the plastic wrap services available at airports that suggest an
extra layer of protection. This last strategy may have limited success since
bags are put through extra screening procedures before being loaded on US bound
flights. These procedures may require the wrap to be opened, something the
passenger would not learn until they receive the bag at their final destination.
They would also never know if the suitcase was opened during actual screening
by security officials or by a thief looking for electronics.
In simple terms, there is no easy way
forward. The theft issue is one portion of the pain, the torture, of a long
journey without the electronic gadgets most have come to rely on for their own
entertainment and that of their children, one likely to be acutely felt. So,
too, will the fact that only Muslim countries and hence mostly Muslim
travellers are subject to it. The 14-hour flights that people usually have to
endure to make it to America are hard enough on the mind and body; now the
burden of a special rule imposing a new deprivation will be added to it. Even
those who never use electronics on planes, who sleep or read, will be affected,
the chorus of crying toddlers left without games and shows for hours inflicting
its own pain.
In sum, the electronics ban and the Muslims
subject to it are a validation of the logic of collective blame. The
possibility that one person, one Muslim travelling from or through one of these
countries may have such intentions, has left thousands subject to being treated
as suspects, potential terrorists one and all. It may not be fair or just or
right, but it is for now, the law.
It is now official. Retired Gen Raheel
Sharif will soon be taking over the command of the so-called Islamic army that
is still to take shape. The ambiguity surrounding the decision to lend the
services of the country’s former army chief to Saudi Arabia has finally been
cleared. The defence minister has confirmed what has been rumoured for the past
But there is still no word from the retired
general on his new job; nor is there any formal policy statement from the
government on Pakistan’s participation in the Saudi-led coalition of 39
countries. Things are certainly not as simple as Khawaja Asif wants us to
believe, that the government has allowed the former chief of army staff to
accept the appointment on the Saudi request.
This decision needed much more serious
thinking as it implicates Pakistan in a highly contentious situation. Let along
it being debated in parliament, it is apparent that the government has not even
taken the cabinet into confidence on this critical issue that has a direct
bearing on our national security and foreign policy. The secrecy surrounding
the move raises many questions about our policymaking process. The argument
that the government could not refuse the Saudi request makes us appear more
like a client state.
What has added to the confusion is the
impression that it was simply a job offer to the former army chief, and that
the government was only supposed to give him clearance and waive the
restriction stipulating that military officers cannot accept a foreign
assignment for two years after retirement. That makes it more imperative for
both the government and Gen Raheel to clarify their positions. It is unprecedented
for a former Pakistani army chief to seek a foreign assignment and that too
immediately after retirement.
How can the government now resist the
possible demand to contribute troops to the coalition force?
Whatever the truth may be, the government’s
approval indicates a clear departure from our policy of not getting involved in
the Middle East power game. It is that much more intriguing as Pakistan has yet
to decide what role it will play in the coalition force. A Pakistani heading it
will inevitably place us in the hotspot and drag the country into a conflict
that we have thus far kept out of, thereby endangering our own national
From the outset, the very concept of a
Saudi-led military bloc is divisive, given the deep involvement of the kingdom
in the Middle Eastern civil war. Unilaterally announced by Riyadh last year,
the so-called Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism is still a phantom
force with no clear structure or well-defined objectives.
Like many other countries, Pakistan was
also taken by surprise by the Saudi announcement of the alliance, also
described as a Sunni coalition. There were no prior consultations among the
countries that were supposed to be part of it. Pakistan agreed to participate
in the alliance, perhaps, in order not to further alienate the Saudis who were
already upset at the government’s refusal to send troops to Yemen on their
Interestingly, the Saudi initiative came
weeks after the Pakistani parliament unanimously rejected Riyadh’s request. Pakistan,
however, made it clear that its participation in the alliance would be limited
and it would not commit any troops. But one wonders how Pakistan can keep its
promise with its retired army chief heading the force. How can the government
now resist the demand that may come next, to contribute troops to the coalition
force? All these questions must be clarified.
Some of the contradictory statements coming
from the senior cabinet ministers reinforce the doubts that no serious thinking
was done before taking the decision. While divulging the information during a
TV interview, the defence minister was evasive on the question whether the
decision would affect our policy of maintaining neutrality in the Middle East
crisis. Understandably there has not been any reaction from GHQ on the issue.
Adding to the confusion were the remarks
made by another federal minister, retired Lt Gen Abdul Qadir Baloch, who
advised Gen Raheel not to accept the controversial position that could harm his
reputation. Similarly, some other senior members of the ruling party insist it
was the former army chief’s own decision to take up the job. But there is no
answer to why the government is compelled to grant him the permission if it was
not in the country’s interest. The opposition parties are justified in asking
the government not to issue him the NOC.
Perhaps the strongest defence came from
National Security Advisor retired Lt Gen Nasser Janjua, who believes that Gen
Raheel’s appointment provides a great opportunity for Pakistan to work for the
“unity of Muslim Ummah”. He dismissed the argument that the decision would
adversely affect Islamabad’s relations with Tehran.
Some other reports, quoting senior
government officials, maintain that there has been high-level consultation with
Iran on the issue and that Tehran has no objection to Pakistan’s participation
in the Saudi-led alliance. However, the veracity of the reports about Tehran’s
approval cannot be confirmed. Iran has been publicly critical of the Saudi
initiative that it perceives as being directed against it.
Surely Iran’s concerns cannot be ignored
given the ongoing proxy war in the Middle East. But that is not the only point
to consider in the argument against Pakistan becoming an active participant in
the Saudi-led coalition. It is simply not in the interest of the country to get
involved in any outside conflict.
Another critical question is; why does a
supposed counterterrorism alliance need to raise a multinational military
force? If it is only a consultative body and intends to develop a unified
counterterrorism strategy, then why the need to have a retired general to lead
a ghost force? One expects the government to respond to these questions. Any
decision based on external pressure jeopardising our national security must not
March 29, 2017
HOWEVER democratic we may be,
discrimination on the basis of caste system has not diminished. Every day, in
some part or the other, there are instances of dalits being burnt alive. Only
the other day Dadri, near Delhi, was the scene of a dalit family being
consigned to fire. In the national capital itself, a JNU student hung himself
because he could not stand the jibe of discrimination. The 28-year-old M.Phil
student had dreamt of studying in JNU and was fortunate to get through on his
fourth attempt. Hailing from the South, Muthukrishnan was reportedly a sober
personality and generally kept to himself.
Surprisingly, there is very little impact
on the society or, for that matter, in India. It was just an incident and
forgotten. Instead, the country on the whole should have been shaken. Had this
been the case of an upper caste student, there would have been many statements
calling for attention notice in parliament. But there was not even a whisper in
the present case. The media was equally guilty because it reported the incident
only as a periphery to some other bigger stories. This only underlined that the
media persons, generally belonging to the upper caste, have the same old
mindset. The youth is supposed to be radical, but this was not the case.
Obviously, the deceased student’s father and even some students believe that
there was some foul play. The police was led to record FIR under relevant
provisions because the police thought that it was a case of suicide. The
parents have demanded a CBI inquiry. I don’t know how it would make the
difference because the CBI would itself depend on the Delhi Police which is in
the dog. A similar issue had cropped up when Rohith Vermula, a dalit research
scholar from Hyderabad University, committed suicide last year. However, unlike
in the JNU student’s death case, there was a big hue and cry and students took
to streets and the agitation even led to the change of guard at university’s
Incidentally, Muthkrishnan had recalled
Rohith’s death and condemned Hyderabad University’s alleged role in the dalit
scholar’s suicide. The JNU student had a Facebook post in which he had criticized
JNU’s new admission policy, obviously recounting several instances where he had
to face discrimination. What do these incidents in varsities indicate? We need
to apply our minds to address the problems that dalit students face in
institutions of higher education. Not long ago, the Hyderabad University had to
revoke the suspension of students after Rohith’s death. Indeed, his suicide had
caused great shock and resulted in outrage, but similar sentiments were
expressed when Senthil Kumar from Salem, another student from the University of
Hyderabad, killed himself in 2008. Muthukrishnan, too, is from Salem in Tamil
There have been over dozen cases of suicide
by students, mostly dalits, in various institutions in Hyderabad between 2007
and 2013. In the north, besides two cases of suicide by dalit students at the
All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Delhi, 14 other cases of suicide by
dalit students were reported between January 2007 and April 2011. It is almost
as if we have become immune to these frequent instances of suicide mainly by
dalit students. The student population on campuses of higher education has
become increasingly diverse. According to 2008 data, of the total number of
students in higher education in the country, four percent of them are Scheduled
Tribes, 13.5 per cent Scheduled Castes and 35 per cent Other Backward Classes.
Hindus alone accounted for about 85 per cent of students, followed by Muslims
(8 per cent) and Christians (3pc). And yet, 23 out of 25 were of dalits!
There are several researches which indicate
that experiences of discrimination, exclusion and humiliation are the
predominant reasons. After analyzing some cases of suicide, the conclusion
seems to be that there seems to be more than enough evidence to believe that
caste discrimination played a significant role in driving these extraordinary
individuals into committing suicide, and that elite professional institutions
are the places where caste prejudice is so firmly entrenched that it has become
normal. A study in 2010 by Professor Mary Thornton and others of five higher
educational institutions in India and the United Kingdom observed that
“separation of groups on the higher education campus is pervasive and
ubiquitous. While some such separation may be for supportive reasons, at other
times it is due to overt discrimination on the grounds of race, region,
nationality, caste, class, religion, or gender”. In 2013, Samson Ovichegan, in
a study on the experience of Dalits in an elite university in India, observed
that “this university is yet another arena in which the practice of caste
division continues to exist. The university environment reinforces and
maintains a divide between dalit and non-dalit. Dalit students do, indeed,
experience overt and covert discrimination based on caste at this premier
university”. As much as we admit to the persistence of caste discrimination and
stigmatization as a problem plaguing higher education campuses, there is also a
constant denial or attributing suicides to incident-specific situations with
total disregard for links with larger social milieu of exclusion. True, there
are incident-specific reasons, but it cannot be a coincidence that out of 25
cases of suicide, 23 were of dalits. Thus, first thing for policymakers is to
come out of denial mode.
No doubt, the situation may have improved.
But the shame of caste system continues in one form or the other. Relations
between the dalit students or, for that matter, with other students and
teachers and administrators, have always been questioned. In my view, we need
to takes steps to address the problems of dalit or other marginalized students.
The only solution I can think of are the legal safeguards against discrimination,
civic education, academic assistance to students who need support, and
participation of dalits in all decision-making bodies of universities and