Global terrorism — myth and reality

3 December 2015

A new report by the Institute for Economics and Peace, an international think tank based in Australia, brings to light some hard data on global terrorism. During November 2015, a series of terror attacks in Beirut, Paris, Nigeria and Mali reignited the debate on the global ‘challenge’ of terrorism. In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, another coalition is being gathered to bomb Syria to eradicate the Daesh or Islamic State (IS). It is unclear if a militaristic response would yield results in Syria, given the complexity and competing interests of Middle Eastern actors, Russia and the West. In fact, the lack of a multilateral approach has only served to benefit the IS in the recent past.

The Global Terrorism Index (GTI) report confirms that terrorism, globally, is on the rise. Since 2001, there has been a five-fold rise in terrorism. The year 2014 was deadliest with 14,000 terrorist attacks in 93 countries, leaving 32,000 dead. The number of terror victims was 80 per cent more than in 2013. At the same time, countries that battled 500 or more terrorist attacks have seen a staggering increase by 120 per cent since 2013.

The other startling fact, according to the Institute for Economics and Peace, is that Boko Haram, the Nigerian militant group, was the biggest killer in 2014, and not the IS. During the last year, 6,644 deaths attributed to Boko Haram signified an increase of over 300 per cent compared to the deaths occurring in 2013. The IS was the second-most lethal group as it killed 6,073 people. Tactics used by Boko Haram are deadlier as it indiscriminately targets private citizens in its attacks. (more…)

Nawaz Sharif’s shift to the centre

22 November 2015

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s chequered political career may have entered a new phase. His third term is beset by the same old challenges usually presented by Pakistan’s political landscape. A resurgent military ostensibly calling the shots, enduring turbulence in the neighbourhood and decreased negotiating space for policymaking to improve the economy. Unlike his past two terms, Nawaz Sharif has not taken on the military power. Instead, adopting a sobered version of his past self, he has chosen to ‘work’ with the permanent establishment to ensure that a systemic breakdown is avoided. That moment came last year during the street protests, but he survived, in part due to the military’s resolve not to intervene directly.

Despite these protests and lack of tangible results on many fronts, the political base of the PML-N seems to be intact. The recent two phases of local government election and barring the Lahore by-election where the opposition PTI almost won, the PML-N seems to be firmly saddled in Punjab. This is one of the flashpoints as the military’s support base is also located largely in Punjab. Nawaz Sharif’s brand of politics — of asserting civilian power, trading with India, etc. — therefore comes into conflict with the ideological framework of a security state.

Earlier this month, the prime minister said that the nation’s future lies in a “democratic and liberal” Pakistan. He also emphasised the importance of a thriving private sector. Perhaps, the use of ‘liberal’ was a reference to economic liberalism. However, for the country’s chief executive to make such a statement is noteworthy. Nawaz Sharif also spoke about making Pakistan an “educated, progressive, forward looking and an enterprising nation”. He was immediately berated by religious leaders for negating the ‘ideology of Pakistan’.

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Faiz Ahmed Faiz: A window to what could have been

14 November 2015
NEW YORK: Most of us recognise Faiz Ahmad Faiz for his immortal poetry. Few are aware that Faiz was also a prolific prose writer and that too in English. In 1947, he was asked by the great progressive of his times, Mian Iftikharuddin, to edit The Pakistan Times. In addition, Faiz was made the head of the editorial board of the Urdu daily Imroze and was also associated with the literary weekly Lail-o-Nahar.

This foray into journalism came after a five-year stint with the welfare department of the British Army that hired Faiz in 1942 for its publicity wing. This decision to join the army was made due to his clear stance against fascism.

After Independence, Faiz wrote for The Pakistan Times for four years until 1951, when he was arrested for supporting the Rawalpindi Conspiracy. Faiz wrote extensively on a variety of issues in the voice of a conscientious commentator. The writer was less of a revolutionary and more of a journalist trying to pursue a balance.

In an editorial dated September 13, 1948, Faiz paid rich tributes to Jinnah, the founder of the nation. He also added how India and Pakistan in quick succession lost two great leaders — Jinnah and Gandhi. Faiz had termed Gandhi’s assassination in an earlier editorial as “one of the darkest crimes in history” and “comparable only to the crucifixion of Jesus.”

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Blasphemy it was not

30 October 2015
Pakistan’s Supreme Court has upheld the death penalty for Mumtaz Qadri – the policeman who murdered former Punjab governor Salman Taseer in January 2011 for an alleged act of ‘blasphemy’. I analysed the implications
Salman Taseer with Aasia bibi

Salman Taseer with Aasia bibi

The Supreme Court of Pakistan on 7 October upheld the decision of the trial court and the Islamabad High Court and rejected the appeal against Qadri’s death sentence. The defence lawyers had argued that because the slain governor termed the blasphemy laws as “black laws”, Qadri had the right to kill him.

The obiter dicta from the bench, as reported in the press, were also encouraging. Supreme Court Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, while discussing the case, remarked that “criticizing blasphemy laws does not amount to committing blasphemy” and that Qadri had no legal grounds to take the law into his own hands. The fact that such a remark clarifying that “questioning the blasphemy law is not blasphemy” becomes a cause for celebration says quite a lot about the socio-cultural milieu of Pakistan. Similarly, it is highly unlikely that the apex court would have actually bought into the sham arguments presented by the defence lawyers and overlooked the rather clear admission of the accused.

Ghazi Ilam Din Shaheed

Ghazi Ilam Din Shaheed

The idea of committing violence as a religious obligation is neither alien nor criminal for a sizeable number of people

However, the temporary euphoria after this judgment must not conceal the fact that a former Chief Justice of Lahore High Court and a former judge of the same court were defending the accused largely on theological grounds. In fact the former judge, Justice Mian Nazir Akhtar, in an interview declared that disliking kadoo (pumpkin) was akin to committing blasphemy, since that was a vegetable preferred by our Holy Prophet (PBUH).  While the verdict is an important step to establish rule of law, the lawyers who showered rose petals on Qadri will not disappear nor will young students who vandalized a vigil for Salman Taseer earlier this year.

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Dear Infidel: The Dilemma of British Muslims

28 October 2015

I was a student in the United Kingdom when The Satanic Verses – the controversial novel by Salman Rushdie – created pandemonium across the globe. Images of the book being burnt were flashed across the television screens. My British Muslim friends were divided – some passionate about the issue of blasphemy, others unconcerned or detached from the divide. However, this moment marked a moment of imagination of a “new Islam.” Author Sadia Abbas has delineated this construction of the “violent” versus the “civilised” (Western world) in a new book entitled: At Freedom’s Limit: Islam and the Postcolonial Predicament (Fordham University Press). With the “defeat” of Communism and move to “liberate” Kuwait in 1991, a new kind of sensibility was brewing. The September 11 attacks a decade later cemented this construction and today the Muslim, especially in the West is a loaded term open to multiple interpretations; and a new imagination of Islam rules the public mind.

It is in this context that a recent novel Dear Infidel by Tamim Sadikali is an important work of fiction emanating from the United Kingdom where new Islam is also under heavy scrutiny. Sadikali, an authentic voice from the “hood” has both the panache and punch to weave a story around issues of “British Muslim” identity and how it is informed by race, ethnicity, dilemmas of assimilation. Dear Infidel is a story of disparate lives of young Brits negotiating multiple identities in a post-9/11 world. (more…)

A Young Pakistani Physicist Who Loves Nuclear Reactors

26 October 2015

Last week, I was in Dallas, Texas to speak on a panel regarding the elusive peace between India and Pakistan – two neighbors that have yet to acquire the ability of living as responsible adults. The event was organized by Project Pakistan – a budding network, which aims to work on peace-building between communities and nations. It was during this hullabaloo that I met a young Pakistani student Ahmad Shabbar who is currently studying Mechanical and Energy Engineering at the University of North Texas.

Shabbar

Shabbar is a mild-mannered young man of immense talents. As a student of Physics at Reed College, Portland, Oregon he became an ardent student of the science behind nuclear reactors. By a stroke of luck, and obviously academic performance, he worked at the Reed Research Reactor. It is a small reactor facility that caters to various thesis needs of science students, and can tell what a substance is made up of by using a technique called Neutron Activation Analysis. This facility is run entirely by undergraduate students, and it trains young scientists on how to move forward with their careers. (more…)

Exile for me and others

25 October 2015

Pakistan needs to remember those who wanted to but could not stay back

exile

Little did I know that a sojourn to recover from a trauma would turn into exile for me. Exile — forced, self-adopted or incidental — is banishment from your context. Almost a liminal space; where you suddenly know no belonging.

In the discourses of diaspora, the exiles are a marginal story. The ‘diaspora’ for a middle-income country like Pakistan is a source of remittance, a vehicle of transferring jobs, knowledge and skills. The exile is an odd feature of the story — a continuous affront to the nationalistic pride, contrary to the ‘image’ that states want to project and diplomats to peddle.

For decades now, a good number of Pakistanis have lived in such a state of being. Under the various military regimes — especially in the 1960s, 1980s and 2000s — several political activists, writers and even high profile politicians had to be away from their countries.

Intellectuals such as Prof Fazalur Rahman and Daud Rahbar who were the rationalists that our society needed, spent their lives in academia abroad. Their works are cited globally but have limited or virtually no traction within Pakistan. (more…)

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