Friday, May 27, 2011

Rapid effective solutions

We’ve been sleeping with the enemy, that much is incontrovertible. But getting the Pakistani nation to realize that we face imminent demise unless some emergent action is taken is like trying to get the deeply somnolent, nay comatose, national ostrich pulled from under the sand.

As though harboring Osama bin Laden for years in the comfort of a million dollar mansion in Abbottabad were not enough, we were invaded from within, by an enemy we pretend not to see. Strolling through the backfields of PNS Mehran, simply cutting the barbed wire, probably smiling at the unmanned guard posts and security cameras , first allegedly twelve, then supposedly six and now apparently only four militants held one of the world’s most well-trained armed forces at bay for eighteen hours. The Karachi sky lit up with the destruction of the two Orion PC-3 that just sat there in seeming wait for this invasion.
Initially the story went that two militants escaped, later this was denied. There appears sufficient circumstantial evidence to show that this was an inside-job.

As soon as the incident occurred all national military installations were placed on “high alert”. One wonders if they should not have been on eternal high alert after the bin Laden incident or the GHQ attack or since 9/11 for that matter-but that’s where our “sab theek ho jay ga” (everything will be alright) Pakistani mantra always comes in handy.

In the raucous debates over the Abbotabad and Karachi incidents the straw that might well break the camel’s back is being ignored: power and impending food riots. But the civil and military government seems totally inured to this. At least Ahmad Shuja Pasha offered to resign after the bin Laden incident. The Navy’s Noman Bashir does not even consider the invasion of the PNS Mehran a security lapse. Is he confirming that it was an inside job or were they jinn of some kind?

As much as the Mehran incident has broken the spirit of Pakistanis the world over and robbed them of the last shred of self-respect, Bashir audaciously travels in a sparkling white Rs. 7 million bullet proof BMW and on retirement gets two plots of land in a prestigious locality. All from the taxpayer that is currently contemplating suicide or selling her children or marrying his daughter to an octogenarian for bail-out money.

After four long days of the Mehran attack the civil and military leadership finally met, sans the Defense Minister Ahmad Mukhtar who was traipsing the US. Is this a PPP thing to travel when the country burns? Anyway, the resolution that came out of this plastic meeting was that the armed forces would work to prevent acts of terrorism. Excuse me? They weren’t doing that till now?

I condole the death of Hakim Ali Zardari but wonder why taxpayer money was spent on helicopters hovering over the funeral. As it is when the most ignominious and critical incidents in their rule occur, Asif Ali Zardari and Gilani leave the country for jaunts to France, the Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Russia, China etc. It is also a matter of record that neither of them provided any coherent statement to the people after the Abbotabad and Karachi incidents-the nation recognizes their corrupt incompetence, but for old-times’ sake, nay vote-times’ sake, we could have licked our wounds together.

There’s always a silver lining in each cloud; with the rapidity of a technical knock-out the nation has realized that the army had better stay in its barracks. They can’t do what they trained for so they should not be pulled into government. And on a sadder note: the incidents stole the romance the nation had for the army. The armed forces are just another facet of a fast degenerating nation: lackadaisical, undisciplined and clearly corrupt.

The metastatic cancer of extremism that has spread widely in Pakistan, the role of the United States in destabilizing and splitting Pakistan to get at its nuclear assets and reduce China’s regional and world influence and India’s eternal enmity should really be moot issues for those that really value Pakistan’s survival. Daily protests occur against the widespread lack of power. Factories and businesses are so widely affected that unemployment rises and a population threatened with scrambling for food can be brought to the precipice of starvation. Suddenly.

These are not problems that the current corrupt clueless government has even the distant ability to manage. First and foremost the Zardari-Gilani national joke must be retired. It is not Pakistani to leave volitionally and with grace. Thankfully the army is not an option. Sadly though the replacements on offer make one’s despair complete, and yet essentially anyone could outsmart the national embarrassment that the current government is.

The days when detailed twenty-point agendas and five year plans were made for Pakistan should be long gone. The current government must be replaced by a vote of no-confidence by the Parliament. The second and most important action agenda is the economy: it needs to be yanked out of its abyss and the population provided with basic needs. Third, house to house de-weaponization. We are not the United States where there is a right to bear arms. Carrying a weapon should be made heavily and immediately punishable. Fourth, a policy of exterminating domestic terrorism and radicalization as well as a cohesive and united face as far as the United States is concerned. Pakistan has suffered from a lack of historic continuity in terms of agreements made by past rulers with none of the details shared with successors. We have to rely on WikiLeaks to give us the scoop.

As a nation we have long looked at accountability as quasi-treason, especially when it is asked for from the armed forces. And thus in the sub theek ho jaye ga mantra we have swept everything under our now mountainous national carpet of shame. The prognosis is not guarded but grave. We seem to hurtling in free fall. Sincerity, alacrity and smartness can parachute us to survival. But in the face of our imbecile leaders and the enormity of our issues, crying, I brace myself.

Mahjabeen Islam is an addictionist, family physician and columnist.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Heading toward divorce

May 18, 2011

Caught sleeping on the job the Pakistan government has turned its machinery to bite the hand that feeds its face. Nations evolve and one would have thought that rousing nationalistic songs and hot-button phrases like “invasion of sovereignty” would have been dropped in favor of unvarnished facts. Time was that dictators spewed nonsense and one yearned for democracy and a wonderful array of elected legislators that would arm themselves with data and speak with accuracy and vote with conscience. But our kismet is crossed with parliamentarians that come with their own personal agendas.

The two things that galvanize Pakistanis of all hues are cricket and the kursi. Strange bedfellows and stranger sums of money exchange hands for both. It is in times of crisis that a person and a nation’s mettle are tested. A la Goebbels after the in-camera session of Parliament, the Information Minister stated that the ISI Chief had “surrendered” himself to Parliament. We’ve now taken to messing with the nation’s psyche. The parliamentarians got together and drew up a 12-point agenda the primary thrust of which was to stop the drones or else the NATO supply lines would be cut and to initiate a judicial inquiry commission with regard to the bin Laden fiasco.

Around the same time US Senator John Kerry visited Pakistan; and interestingly he roared in like a lion and left quite the lamb. For it seems that soon after the bin Laden fiasco American and Pakistani voices questioned their union in the fight against terrorism. The slur of infidelity seemed thrown around and both sides felt violated. $3.2 billion in aid screeched US congressmen and media, what is going on in Pakistan? In the depth of the night, in all of 40 minutes, with helicopters and Navy Seals, Osama and all multimedia files are gone, wondered the whiplashed Pakistanis.

The Pakistani media went on overdrive. Only a minuscule few honed in on the actual invasion of sovereignty that has occurred over the last quarter of a century in Pakistan and one that we have accepted with gratitude and smiles for this invasion came laced with money and religion. We welcomed Uzbeks, Chechens, Arabs, Afghans and more. It is alternately sad and stupid to realize that the real serpent that has permeated and become one with the fabric of our society is so completely ignored and like petulant children we are kicking and screaming at the United States.

Extremism is born and perpetuated by poverty and unemployment. The hungry, disenchanted teenager is much more likely to be ensnared by the charms and monetary temptations of the radicalized. And when the radicalized are your neighbors, your servants, your co-workers, your teachers or essentially anyone and you collapse your economy further, you simply guarantee extremism.

Ensconced in ultra-luxury Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has decided that the Punjab province shall refuse the American dole. While it is true that Pakistan has not accounted for its billions in aid appropriately and a good part of it has not made it to its intended purpose and has probably lined many a private pocket, it is factual that American aid is used for a large number of governmental and non-governmental educational, administrative and developmental projects. These projects will simply dry up as the aid does. Chucking charity is not as simple a choice as the ghairat (self-respect and pride) of Shahbaz Sharif might dictate.

Perhaps it was this Punjabi indignation or the graphic posters that protested in front of the in-camera parliamentary session that caught the eye of the Americans for now their tune is decidedly different. Kerry may have wagged his finger at Kayani behind closed doors but in public the story is conciliatory. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says that this is not the time for the US to flex its muscles at Pakistan, rather it should withhold judgment. Senator Mitch McConnell says that disengaging with Pakistan now was not a good idea. And most surprising is the statement by House Speaker Richard Boehner who said that Pakistan was a real asset and had lost more troops and more individuals in the fight against terror than the US.

The American-Pakistan partnership has been one of those uncomfortable but necessary alliances for both parties. So analogous to human relationships when you realize with this gnawing deep inside that you share little now except an interwoven past and an inextricable convenience.

Our hypocrisy must stop: the drones fly from Pakistan’s airfields and we have given our express permission for this, our President does not even think the non-extremist civilian deaths are collateral damage. Regardless of American intelligence, drones do not rain down on Iran, Turkey or Malaysia. They don’t froth at the mouth about “national sovereignty” they protect it by simply refusing.

Our elected representatives and our people must realize that it is not the drones or national sovereignty or American aid that is the main issue. It is that termite of the extremist mindset that kills Muslims in mosques that has permeated our society and converted it into the rotten mess that it is in today. It will take a concerted effort at de-weaponizing house by house and legislators, civil society and the media to galvanize and work tirelessly for decades on a thought revolution to ensure the extermination of extremism and the preservation of Pakistan.

Mahjabeen Islam is an addictionist, family physician and columnist.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Of abdication, vacillation and decisions

Strange that it is France where our leaders abdicate to when Pakistan is either drowning in biblical proportion floods or frying in the greatest debacle after its 1971 division. While an entire populace sat stunned, betrayed and sleepless at the American Abbotabad strike, Prime Minister Gilani and a troupe of fifty luxuriated in the $800 a night Paris Intercontinental. Why did the Speaker of the House or the wives of the various officials need to go?

Is finding the World’s Most Wanted on Pakistani soil so much of an everyday occurrence that the Prime Minister seemed rested and his colleagues all smiles? After May 2nd America released a volley of information to the world. But Pakistan’s establishment seemed to have been given a paralytic. And when the silence did break it was nonsense that spewed forth and continues to. These are the people that we elected and the military and ISI that were once able to galvanize the nation with fiery speeches.

The insult to injury that Pakistan’s government, armed forces and ISI add to Pakistanis the world over is difficult to encapsulate in words. It would have been easy to vilify America or demonize India or abuse Israel, but when your own elected representatives and the armed forces that swelled you with pride and the intelligence agency you thought was superb are the ones that pretty much crucify Pakistan, hope all but evaporates. Is ghar ko aag lag gayi ghar key chiragh sey (this house was burned by its own candle).

The mealy-mouthed Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir is a smear on Pakistan’s Foreign Office. In a clear clash with Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States Haqqani who repeatedly spoke of an inquiry, Bashir was content with a review. Leon Panetta was quoted as not sharing information with Pakistan as they would leak it to bin Laden and Bashir said that “we have the highest regard for Mr. Panetta”. Icing on the cake: “we realized that there was invasion of Pakistan’s airspace due to a ticker tape on the television”. This is not funny, only ignominious.

A statement on the website of the Pakistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs statement reads: “US helicopters entered Pakistani airspace making use of blind spots in the radar coverage due to hilly terrain. US helicopters’ undetected flight into Pakistan was also facilitated by the mountainous terrain, efficacious use of latest technology and ‘nap of the earth’ flying techniques.” So here’s the recipe, come invade us, tried and tested, it works!

The only credit that General Kayani gets is that he looked like a truck had just run him over. Interior Minister Rehman Malik shooed away reporters but had all kinds of time for the Saudi royals and Iran’s President Ahmadinejad to both of whom he paid a warm visit speaking with folded hands and deference. What of the millions that elected the PPP, don’t they deserve an answer or comfort, something? The Air Force Chief all but ripped off the scab that was barely beginning on the national psyche when he said that the radars on the western borders were not jammed they were off! And then that stealth technology was used and we couldn’t have detected them anyway. We really feel secure now.

But then it’s our fault isn’t it? We get the corrupt and the incompetent perhaps because we are damned as a people. Our own vacillation knows no bounds. The jihadists have woven their network into our society overtly and covertly, many a time with our permission. And now that our neighbor or servant has the philosophy and ability to hold us up at gunpoint or blow up our schools, we are really stuck. For within us are the likes of Amir Liaquat Hussain and the venom that they spew, and the television channels that they influence. Many pseudo-scholars like him have been successful in swaying the population by inciting hatred rather than promoting peace. On one such television channel the anchor spoke of bin Laden in the “unki” plural and respectful form and his daughter not as beyti but as his sahibzadi (honorable way of address). These are small cues but vital subliminal statements.

Pakistan remains a nation divided and is reaping the fruits of this deep division. The 6000 terrorist attacks and 30,000 innocent Pakistanis killed by fellow Pakistanis since 9/11 mean less to the population than the invasion of our sovereignty by the United States. We as a people need to understand, agree and unite on the premise that ridding our nation of terrorism can only happen with the help of the population. It must be de-weaponized and thought-controlled with regard to terrorism.

If bin Laden could have lived in Haripur and Abbotabad for nine years, under the nose of the Kakul Military Academy, what confidence should the nation have about the protection of its nuclear assets? Or is that what America is after?

Judicial commissions and closed sessions of Parliament are all delaying and diffusing techniques, crafted to gain political points. The “referendum” of the MQM is a misnomer, it is more of a survey and again serves to bide time. People who love Pakistan deeply are beginning to question its creation. This is not a time to create more bitterness and skepticism; sharp surgical action is needed to yank the nation out of its dark malaise. Prime Minister Gilani in an address to Parliament incredulously demanded several questions of the nation: what was the citizenship of bin Laden, what of the thousands dead in terrorist attacks, why has all this happened? Perhaps it was jet lag from French jaunts for even the Speaker of the House looked pained and confused as the Prime Minister seemed to be asking questions the country should be demanding of his elected administration.

Pakistanis are very slick at getting out of the worst pickles. Commissions and parliament sessions should be easy as pie. A no-confidence motion should be passed in the Parliament post-haste or a true referendum held on this one issue of resignation. And President Zardari, Prime Minister Gilani and ISI Chief Ahmad Shuja Pasha should gracefully resign. It’s generally three strikes or a grave violation and you’re out. This is as grave as it gets. Pakistan desperately needs a change at the helm. Immediately.

Mahjabeen Islam is an addictionist, family physician and columnist.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The two faces of Pakistan

This is a tough time to be Pakistani. Perhaps the humiliation and bewilderment of the average Pakistani can be analogized to the time when West Pakistan unleashed rape and murder on its eastern half and lost it. But those were not the days of the Internet revolution; propaganda whitewashed the gory details and West Pakistanis lived in ignorant bliss.

Osama bin Laden’s killing remains shrouded in mystery; the backpedalling of the American government is unsettling. And for Pakistanis across the world the initial eerie silence and the subsequent outlandish statements of the Pakistan government and the ISI add the last nail in our coffin of infamy.

The media had a heyday with reports of Bin Laden using his wife as a shield and all that connotes. After 24 hours there was a recant. President Obama seems very concerned about Muslim sentiment and the preference in Islam to bury as soon as possible. So with “Muslim rites” bin Laden is dumped in the sea! The bodies of all previous high value terrorists that were killed were shown to the media and all were buried. A basic knowledge of Islam would reveal that Muslims cannot be buried at sea unless there are extenuating circumstances, and this was not one. The calls for closure and quashing of conspiracy theories demand, at the very minimum, photographs of the body but the decision now emerges that it would inflame Muslims and threaten national security so they too shall not be shown.

That bin Laden was living for at least a year in the backyard of the elite Kakul Military Academy in the garrison city of Abbotabad, that America could kill him and gather all computer data in 40 minutes flat before the Pakistan Air Force could mobilize, that the Pakistanis were deliberately kept in the dark about this and now there is no public evidence of bin Laden’s death only leads to further vilification of America and arms Al-Qaeda and the Taliban to advance their conspiracy theories and extremist ideology.

Even non-Muslim Americans and those that lost loved ones in the 9/11 attacks would have benefited by the closure that photos provide. Reprisals one can anticipate, making definitive evidence public rather than expecting the world to believe the “99.9% DNA match” would not have been gloating but the closing of a terrible chapter in world history. 64 % in a CNN poll wanted the photos to be made public.

Pakistanis must face that over the last 25 years Pakistan has been converted into a haven for terrorism. That the thousands of Paksitani military and civilian lives lost in a war that was not Pakistan’s died at the hands of Muslims. With the tacit and overt support of the population.

There are two Pakistans-one that is committed to democracy, human rights, education and professional advancement of women and a Sufistic practice of Islam. The other is the Taliban brand-literalistic, uneducated, violent, treating women as receptacles of procreation and following the Salafi/Wahabi practice of Islam.

Most Al-Qaeda figures that have been arrested for terrorist activities in various parts of the world have had links to Pakistan and the majority of them were not Pakistani. Over the last 25 years Uzbeks, Arabs, Chechens, Afghanis and even Filipinos have found safe haven in Pakistan, learnt Urdu and Pashto and obtained Pakistani passports. Worse, economic conditions have forced the local population to rent to and aid and marry these foreigners and slowly but surely Pakistan has been radicalized and also permeated with Wahabi thought.

As a young woman I don’t remember seeing flailing beards in our cricket team or army passing out parades as one notices now. Not to mention the entirely modest dupatta and shalwar kameez outfit that has been dumped in favor of the Arab hijab, niqab, gown and gloves, that also in the searing heat of Lahore.

Speaker of the House John Boehner and other members of Congress are questioning the US$2 billion aid that Pakistan receives. And rightfully so. Accountability is not Pakistan’s strong point. It is conjectured that some of the aid went with Musharraf when he went overseas. The current government is mired in corruption and Prime Minister Gilani soaks up French hospitality while Pakistan burns.

The ISI most likely knew of the operation and perhaps it was decided that it would play dumb, for CIA Director Leon Panetta claims that the first response of his counterpart on hearing the news was “congratulations”. It is virtually impossible for Pakistanis to believe that supposedly one of the best secret services in the world did not know of bin Laden living in a military garrison. It is conjectured that a large part of the ISI and the army has been permeated by Taliban thought, with the unjust American invasion of Iraq as a terrible catalyst and perhaps keeping the ISI out of the operation completely would allow it to better deal with its radicalized members.

After the London train bombings the friend of one of the bombers said that it did not matter if bin Laden was alive or dead; “al-Qaeda is inside” he said pointing to his head. The same premise applies to Pakistan. The government and now the ISI are inept, true. But the problem is the population and with it lies the solution.

The non-radicalized face of Pakistan has an onerous responsibility. It must form coalitions and maybe an umbrella organization to rid Pakistan of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Ironically bin Laden and terrorists like him are easy surgical strikes. Wahabi/Taliban thought that has permeated into the population over the last 25 years may take another generation to cleanse. And by that time Pakistan may not even be the banana republic it is now. Probably drawn and quartered beyond recognition.

Mahjabeen Islam is an addictionist, family physician and columnist.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Interview with The Toledo Blade/Osama Bin Laden death

May 3, 2011
Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. Special Forces, but his ideology died before him, several local Muslim leaders said Monday.

“I think he effectively died in the Arab revolution of the last few months when the whole relevance of his call against the West received a ‘no confidence vote’ by the Muslims in the street,” said Ovamir Anjum, the Imam Khattab endowed chair of Islamic studies at the University of Toledo.

Dr. Abed Alo of the Masjid Saad Foundation in Sylvania expressed a similar view, saying the revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and other Arab nations showed that the people’s peaceful actions can be more effective than terrorism.

“The current developments in the Middle East showed that bin Laden’s thinking was not valid. The only reason why such ideologies will attract some people is when there is too much oppression and dictatorships. Now when people think they can change the situation without violence, then this type of ideology will not have much attraction any more,” Dr. Alo said.

“My reaction is that it’s no longer a really big deal except in America and possibly in the Afghanistan and Pakistan region,” Mr. Anjum said. “In the short term his death might provoke some reactions, but on the whole, what has happened in the Arab world already sounded the death knell of bin Laden’s ideology. This puts the final nail in that coffin.”

A number of area Muslims said they were relieved to learn that bin Laden was taken out at his Pakistani mansion hideout.

“He got what he asked for,” said Yehia “John” Shousher of Toledo. “He started out defending against the evil Russian occupation of Afghanistan and then he became a devil himself. ‘

Mr. Shousher and others said bin Laden’s radical and violent actions have given mainstream Muslims a bad name.

“We felt we have paid a price with the victims in New York and other places because of what happened. We never approved what went on, but we paid the price and now we have to fight for respect in the community in which we live,” he said. “What bin Laden did is against our faith and our country and against humanity and 99.9 percent of the Muslim world feels the same way.”

“We are very happy about what has happened,” said Dr. Syed Maseeh Rehman, president of the United Muslim Association of Toledo. “It was like Osama declared himself as the Muslim voice for the world when in fact he does not represent the mainstream Muslims. He is not a scholar. He’s a nobody. He has his own version of Islam and he brought a bad name to everybody — to Muslims, to Arabs, and to human beings. Killing innocent women and children in the name of Islam — this is absolutely not allowed in Islam.”

Dr. Mahjabeen Islam said the al-Qaeda leader’s death raises a number of serious questions, such as how he was able to hide in a heavily fortified mansion that towered over the rest of the neighborhood and which was close to a prestigious military academy. It suggests government collusion, she said.

“As a Pakistani American, I am absolutely furious at the Pakistani government. How much did the Pakistani government know? Clearly something was going on,” she said.

Dr. Islam also fears that bin Laden’s death might trigger violent reprisals among his supporters and other extremists.

“I think his death is going to radicalize his al-Qaeda followers more. … I think his death is going to make it stronger. I think there are going to be vengeful attacks on innocent people,” she said.

Dr. Islam also voiced concern that U.S. officials reported they buried bin Laden at sea. If so, that would be a violation of Islamic practice, she said. It also means that if bin Laden’s body is at sea, there is no way to check the DNA evidence that officials said proved he was the target of the raid.

Ziad Hummos, a member of Masjid Saad, said he hopes the terrorist leader’s death will bring about peace.

“Violence creates violence. I hope this will be the end of killing innocent people around the world,” Mr. Hummos said. “I hope now the world will come to peace and people will come back to their sanity. It is something really important that people respect all human life.”

Imam Ahmed Abou Seif of the Toledo Muslim Community Center also said the events might provide a chance for positive change.

“Getting rid of Osama, that would be a great opportunity for both the Muslim people and the U.S. to work together toward the same goal,” Imam Seif said, adding that the goals are “justice, freedom, and equality.”

Cherrefe Kadri, a Toledo attorney and former president of the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo, said Muslim Americans feel no differently about bin Laden’s death than do other citizens.

“I don’t know that Muslim Americans should have any different feelings than any other Americans. It’s a measure of justice for all Americans,” she said. “We don’t have any special interest in Osama bin Laden. We never looked at him as a religious leader or a religious figure. If somebody does bad, then I think they get their just due. Hopefully this closes a chapter.”

Staff writer Tom Troy contributed to this report.

Contact David Yonke at: or 419-724-6154.