Feisal Naqvi

Bravo, Senator Obama

In Uncategorized on July 22, 2008 at 2:52 am

Islam has room for intelligent people in it so it would be nice if the whackos out there would stop trying to take exclusive possession of shared beliefs

“The United States always does the right thing,” said Winston Churchill, but only “after exhausting every other possibility.”

If the history of the US-Pakistani relationship is anything to go by, the United States certainly seems to have explored every bad option, ranging from supporting dictators to threatening popularly elected leaders to benign neglect. My point though is not to mark all the missed opportunities and all the failed policies, but to note that if Senator Obama is elected, we may finally see a sensible US policy towards Pakistan.

For those of you who don’t know what I am talking about, Obama gave a major foreign policy speech a few days ago in which he made the following points.

* If the United States is serious in countering terrorism, it needs to focus not on Iraq but on Afghanistan;

* The US cannot succeed in Afghanistan without succeeding in Pakistan;

* US policies cannot succeed in Pakistan unless they benefit the people of Pakistan, as opposed to the Pakistan Army;

* That therefore, he supported and was co-sponsoring a bill to triple developmental aid to Pakistan and provide US$15 billion over ten years.

I obviously think this is brilliant but many people, both on the right and on the left, have screamed. The most violent reaction came from a local columnist who alleged that US aid was intended to “enslave” Pakistan. He then continued:

‘In the name of development, a huge amount of Westernisation will take place, leading to the erosion of Islamic values and coming into existence of a new class of citizens whose only concern will be the gratification of desires and fulfilment of bodily needs. For all individuals committed to the vision of Islam, this is a silent bomb that will explode in the coming decades.’

The above analysis is so wrong and in so many different ways that one hardly knows where to start. Briefly speaking though, the logical leaps embedded in his argument become clearer if his argument is summarised as follows:

Development = westernisation = “gratification of desires” = “erosion of Islamic values”

Every step of that logical sequence is wrong.

First, development does not mean “westernisation”. Lots of countries have developed without aping the West in every way.

Second, “western” society is not only about seeking the “gratification of desires”. Yes, the West is the land of Gucci and Louis Vuitton (not to mention nightclubs and pole-dancing). But it is also the land of Oxford and Cambridge, of Plato and Aristotle, of Homer and Shakespeare, of Rodin and Picasso. If all you can see in “the West” is consumer culture, then there is something wrong with you, not with the West.

Third, there is nothing inherently wrong with “the gratification of desires and fulfilment of bodily needs”. A human being has the right to live for shallow gratification, if he so chooses. Yes, he will be a sorry excuse for a human being but that is his problem. It is not your job to take care of his soul: he can do that for himself. More importantly, it is not your job to judge people on their spiritual failings: that privilege belongs to the Almighty.

Fourth, there is no one universally agreed set of Islamic values. Muslims spend a considerable amount of time explaining how Islam is not monolithic and that for every suicide bomber, there are a thousand gentle souls who only want to live in peace. That message gets comprehensively sabotaged by our would-be intellectuals who are only too ready to dress up their own particular prejudices as the only right way to live one’s life.

To summarise, development and Islam are not antithetical. Morons who cling to a vision of Islam in which the only modern possession allowed is a Kalashnikov are precisely the kinds of idiots responsible for our current situation. Islam has room for intelligent people in it so it would be nice if the whackos out there would stop trying to take exclusive possession of shared beliefs. And finally, our biggest problem right now is not silent bombs: our biggest problem is the kind of bombs which explode with a big bang.

To venture into jurisprudence for a minute, no one denies that we all act as if there is one right answer. But that does not mean that there is a rationally discoverable and identifiable right answer. Instead, we have to accept that whatever “right answer” we identify will be a human construct, one which will have developed, consciously or subconsciously, to meet social objectives. Those objectives change on a continuous basis because society remains in flux, not frozen in a time-warp. And therefore, the answers we create must also change on a continuous basis so that they do not become obsolete.

In his brilliant new book Descent into Chaos, Ahmed Rashid chronicles how the US decision to neglect Afghanistan led the Pakistani army into believing that its strategic interests lay in preserving the Taliban so as to keep the US dependent on Pakistani goodwill. Obviously, this was a move fraught with danger, but one whose consequences did not seem to have been appreciated by our friends in Aabpara. Those dangers are perhaps best illustrated by this (very old) joke.

Some years after the establishment of Khalistan, the fledgling state runs into economic trouble. In the Khalistani parliament, the debate is fierce. Ultimately, one Sardar Ji rises with the solution.

My friends, he says, the answer is obvious. We must attack America immediately.

His suggestion is met by consternation but he then explains. Look at Germany, he says, and look at Japan. Both of them attacked the US and both of them were defeated. But after defeating them, the US rebuilt them and made them strong.

The suggestion is now greeted with universal acclaim except for one elder who keeps his own counsel. Eventually the excited members of parliament realise that their sage has yet to speak and so they ask him for his opinion. At first he demurs, saying that Parliament has spoken and it must be respected. But when everybody insists, he finally unburdens himself to ask the key question, “Oi, jay assi jit gaye tey phair ki karaan gey?”

The answer to that question, i.e. what happens if we win, is visible in the chaos around us, in the large bands of our country which are not just ungovernable but actively hostile. What it shows, above all, is the folly of negotiating with our friends and allies by holding a gun to our own heads.

Every year, a group dedicated to appreciating the work of Charles Darwin honours those individuals who bless this Earth by finding particularly creative ways to kill themselves thereby preventing onwards passage of their clearly defective genes. My personal favourite is the story of the thief who tried to steal a car engine by slowly undoing each one of the bolts connecting the engine to the chassis while lying underneath the car. After he finished unscrewing the last bolt, the engine landed on his head, thereby causing him to earn his Darwin Award.

They do not have Darwin Awards for countries. Not yet anyway.

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  1. excellent post
    I only wish they start handing out Darwin Awards to less evolved creature to encourage the much needed evolution.

  2. Senator Obama is turning out to be a real disappointment and a very dangerous man. Moving the war on terror to Pakistan could have disastrous consequences on both the political stability in the region, and in the broader balance of power. Scholars such as Richard Betts accurately point out that beyond Iran or North Korea, “Pakistan may harbor the greatest potential danger of all.” With the current instability in Pakistan, Betts points to the danger that a pro-Taliban government would pose in a nuclear Pakistan. This is no minor point to be made. While the Shi’a in Iran are highly unlikely to proliferate WMD to their Sunni enemies, the Pakistanis harbor no such enmity toward Sunni terrorist organizations. Should a pro-Taliban or other similar type of government come to power in Pakistan, Al-Qaeda’s chances of gaining access to nuclear weapons would dramatically increase overnight.

    There are, of course, two sides to every argument; and this argument is no exception. On the one hand, some insist that American forces are needed in order to maintain political stability and to prevent such a government from rising to power. On the other hand, there are those who believe that a deliberate attack against Pakistan’s state sovereignty will only further enrage its radical population, and serve to radicalize its moderates. I offer the following in support of this latter argument:

    Pakistan has approximately 160 million people; better than half of the population of the entire Arab world. Pakistan also has some of the deepest underlying ethnic fissures in the region, which could lead to long-term disintegration of the state if exacerbated. Even with an impressive growth in GDP (second only to China in all of Asia), it could be decades before wide-spread poverty is alleviated and a stable middle class is established in Pakistan.

    Furthermore, the absence of a deeply embedded democratic system in Pakistan presents perhaps the greatest danger to stability. In this country, upon which the facade of democracy has been thrust by outside forces and the current regime came to power by coup, the army fulfills the role of “referee within the political boxing ring.” However, this referee demonstrates a “strong personal interest in the outcome of many of the fights and a strong tendency to make up the rules as he goes along.” The Pakistani army “also has a long record of either joining in the fight on one side or the other, or clubbing both boxers to the ground and taking the prize himself” (Lieven, 2006:43).

    Pakistan’s army is also unusually large. Thathiah Ravi (2006:119, 121) observes that the army has “outgrown its watchdog role to become the master of this nation state.” Ravi attributes America’s less than dependable alliance with Pakistan to the nature of its army. “Occasionally, it perceives the Pakistan Army as an inescapable ally and at other times as a threat to regional peace and [a] non-proliferation regime.” According to Ravi, India and Afghanistan blame the conflict in Kashmir and the Durand line on the Pakistan Army, accusing it of “inciting, abetting and encouraging terrorism from its soil.” Ravi also blames the “flagrant violations in nuclear proliferation by Pakistan, both as an originator and as a conduit for China and North Korea” on the Pakistan Army, because of its support for terrorists.

    The point to be made is that the stability of Pakistan depends upon maintaining the delicate balance of power both within the state of Pakistan, and in the broader region. Pakistan is not an island, it has alliances and enemies. Moving American troops into Pakistan will no doubt not only serve to radicalize its population and fuel the popular call for Jihad, it could also spark a proxy war with China that could have long-lasting economic repercussions. Focusing on the more immediate impact American troops would have on the Pakistani population; let’s consider a few past encounters:

    On January 13, 2006, the United States launched a missile strike on the village of Damadola, Pakistan. Rather than kill the targeted Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s deputy leader, the strike instead slaughtered 17 locals. This only served to further weaken the Musharraf government and further destabilize the entire area. In a nuclear state like Pakistan, this was not only unfortunate, it was outright stupid.

    On October 30, 2006, the Pakistani military, under pressure from the US, attacked a madrassah in the Northwest Frontier province in Pakistan. Immediately following the attack, local residents, convinced that the US military was behind the attack, burned American flags and effigies of President Bush, and shouted “Death to America!” Outraged over an attack on school children, the local residents viewed the attack as an assault against Islam.
    On November 7, 2006, a suicide bomber retaliated. Further outrage ensued when President Bush extended his condolences to the families of the victims of the suicide attack, and President Musharraf did the same, adding that terrorism will be eliminated “with an iron hand.” The point to be driven home is that the attack on the madrassah was kept as quiet as possible, while the suicide bombing was publicized as a tragedy, and one more reason to maintain the war on terror.

    Last year trouble escalated when the Pakistani government laid siege to the Red Mosque and more than 100 people were killed. “Even before his soldiers had overrun the Lal Masjid … the retaliations began.” Suicide attacks originating from both Afghan Taliban and Pakistani tribal militants targeted military convoys and a police recruiting center. Guerrilla attacks that demonstrated a shocking degree of organization and speed-not to mention strategic cunning revealed that they were orchestrated by none other than al-Qaeda’s number two man, Ayman Al-Zawahiri; a fact confirmed by Pakistani and Taliban officials. One such attack occurred on July 15, 2007, when a suicide bomber killed 24 Pakistani troops and injured some 30 others in the village of Daznaray (20 miles to the north of Miran Shah, in North Waziristan). Musharraf ordered thousands of troops into the region to attempt to restore order. But radical groups swore to retaliate against the government for its siege of the mosque and its cooperation with the United States.

    A July 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) concludes that “al Qaeda is resurgent in Pakistan- and more centrally organized than it has been at any time since 9/11.” The NIE reports that al-Qaeda now enjoys sanctuary in Bajaur and North Waziristan, from which they operate “a complex command, control, training and recruitment base” with an “intact hierarchy of top leadership and operational lieutenants.”

    In September 2006 Musharraf signed a peace deal with Pashtun tribal elders in North Waziristan. The deal gave pro-Taliban militants full control of security in the area. Al Qaeda provides funding, training and ideological inspiration, while Afghan Taliban and Pakistani Tribal leaders supply the manpower. These forces are so strong that last year Musharraf sent well over 100,000 trained Pakistani soldiers against them, but they were not able to prevail against them.

    The question remains, what does America do when Pakistan no longer has a Musharraf to bridge the gap? While Musharraf claims that President Bush has assured him of Pakistan’s sovereignty, Senator Obama obviously has no intention of honoring such an assurance. As it is, the Pakistanis do just enough to avoid jeopardizing U.S. support. Musharraf, who is caught between Pakistan’s dependence on American aid and loyalty to the Pakistani people, denies being George Bush’s hand-puppet. Musharraf insists that he is “200 percent certain” that the United States will not unilaterally decide to attack terrorists on Pakistani soil. What happens when we begin to do just that?

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