The Solution to Pakistan’s Problems

July 1, 2011

By Shemrez Nauman Afzal

We all know what is wrong with Pakistan. We all read the newspapers every day. We watch TV, we watch the anchors and the video clips, we listen to the radio, and with a straight face, we acknowledge that we have become immune to violence, to hatred, to inequality, to greed, and to whatever happens to Pakistan.

If you’re really not concerned or bothered about it, and would rather do something else, now is the time that you stop reading this, because it really isn’t worth your while. But if you do care, and if you do want to do something about it, but don’t know what to do or how to do it, just take a little bit of time out and listen to what I have to say. The choice is yours, but the right to know is yours as well.

Yes, there are many problems with Pakistan, and nobody knows where to start from or where to pick up. But instead of talking about what’s wrong with Pakistan, shouldn’t we be talking about how we fix it? Everyone says there’s a war being fought against us – some say it’s the Taliban, some say its America, others say it’s the mullah’s, and so on. Well, if it is a war according to that narrative, then we do need to fight a war against Pakistan’s problems, but how many wars can we fight? Do we pick up arms and fight the Taliban? Or do we join the Taliban and fight America, in Afghanistan or like Faisal Shahzad in New York? What good does protesting do if you do not get your voice heard in the end? Do numbers in the street matter when you give a speech and go home, but do not achieve anything substantive or cogent from the common platform that you all stand for and believe in?

Yes. We need to fight a war against all of Pakistan’s problems. One war that we need to fight is against apathy. And that is the biggest war we must fight. Why do we not care? We must care. If we feel sad or depressed, then we must do something about it so that it does not keep happening to us; call it survival if not altruism. We cannot sit idly by and watch our nation spiral down into further depths of chaos and anarchy. But what do we do? Do we join the police or army? Or do we join the Taliban and Al Qaeda? Do we join those who are protesting every day out in the streets, on one issue or the other? We might think of all of this, in the comfort of our drawing room, and then just move to the TV or read something on the internet. Or go out to have a cup of coffee, meet with friends, drive around, do something interesting, get tired, go to sleep, and live another day.

If you are still reading this right now, know that you are responsible for this country’s problems if you don’t do anything about it. Whenever you stop acting like a citizen of Pakistan, you do this country so much harm that it becomes hopeless for other citizens of Pakistan to live or survive. And there is a way to make amends for it. There is a way to actually undo the wrongs, the mistakes, the grievances of the past sixty-three years.

If Pakistan is your country, if you really feel for it beyond an national identity card or a passport, then own up to it – to its mistakes and to its greatness. Become its engine of change. Bring positive and meaningful change, and stop waiting for it. Stop being concerned – start being responsible. And it’s not that difficult, and if you really are worried about Pakistan and want to help change it for the better, then you won’t have to change much yourself – you will just have to become, for lack of a better term, more productive. And others who are already being responsible, or want to be responsible, will join you. If you don’t believe me, you should listen to Allama Muhammad Iqbal who said har fard hai millat ke muqaddar ka sitara; each citizen is the shining star of the nation’s destiny.

So stop cribbing about hopelessness and despair. Stop being apathetic. BE the change you want to see. Bring positive and meaningful change through democratic means, and silence all those here and abroad who say that Pakistan is a failed state. It does not matter who you vote for, as long as you vote and make your voice heard. Your political opinion does not matter in your drawing room – and contrary to popular opinion, it may matter even less on your blog – but on the ballot paper, your political opinion is your exercise in charting out the destiny of your country. It is both your privilege and your responsibility – in a democracy, the citizens rule, but if the citizens are not responsible or capable to rule, then the system falls apart. And we all see that it has.

Despite our better judgment, we have made this mistake again, and again, and again. This has happened in all elections that Pakistan has experienced – most of them have been labeled as rigged, while the one in 2008 had high hopes, but ended up with results that also accounted for 46% bogus votes in the final tally. The citizens of Pakistan are capable to rule themselves – if they were not, sovereignty would have no point in our country, and some already believe it doesn’t – but in order to properly exercise this capability, the citizens of Pakistan must be responsible about electing their leaders and representatives. To do this, they must vote responsibly – because someone who has come to power without your vote (whether it is a general or a politician) will not be accountable to you in any way. Pakistan must prepare for elections in late 2012, or early 2013. Or even before that. The timing of the election matters very little – what matters is the result, and what matters even more is that if it reflects the general will of the people of Pakistan. How must Pakistan prepare for this? By being aware about the political system of the country and of the political options available in any given electoral situation. Since education has suffered immensely in Pakistan, even electoral knowledge in the voting populating is found wanting. Constituents must responsibly elect their representatives, and they must know how to be responsible during election campaigns as well as during voting procedures. Bringing change by the ballot is the only chance Pakistan has; change by the bullet is something the residents of Swat would repeatedly warn you about.

It is time for you to become responsible; responsible about Pakistan, responsible about its problems, responsible about what you can do about it, responsible about actually doing something about it, and by doing so, encouraging others to be responsible in the smallest ways that they can. Once we are able to understand how to convert our concerns and depressions into innovative ideas and solutions, we can share these small solutions to help our communities deal with bigger problems. For Pakistan right now, community mobilization is the most important element of recovering a national and local ethos that is becoming victim to suspicion, mistrust, and other social impediments. Communities must become aware of their living environments, and they must responsibly handle the problems that they and their neighbors face. This cannot happen in a day, but for it to succeed, it must continue to happen every day, and you must do your part for your community even if others don’t. And when it is time for you to decide who gets to govern us and determine the future of our country, make sure you vote, and vote responsibly.

The future of Pakistan depends on it.

Faisal Shahzad: A Game Against Pakistan

June 8, 2010

By Brig Asif Haroon Raja

Going over the sequence of events that led to detection of smoking SUV at Times Square (TS) on 1 May and arrest of Faisal Shahzad from Dubai bound plane on 3 May, that is two days after the botched attempt, and speedy linkage of Faisal with Tehrik-e-Taliban (TTP) in North Waziristan (NW), coincidental reincarnation of declared dead Hakimullah Mehsud in January and his offensive statements to burn down cities of USA, his spokesman Azam Tariq claiming responsibility of failed TS incident, arrest of a Pakistani in Santiago and some others in USA and their alleged connections with Faisal, one has reason to believe that something fishy is going on. Possibility that Faisal was framed in order to maximize pressure on Pakistan at a time when it is not agreeing to start an operation in NW cannot be ruled out.

People protesting against a fake case of Faisal Shahzad

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Pakistan – already playing its role in war on terror

June 7, 2010

By Asad Munir

“We have made it very clear that if such an attack were to happen again, and if we could traced it back to Pakistan, there would be very severe consequences.” This recent statement by Hillary Clinton is not likely to help because threatening a country which is an ally of the war on terror may not be a very wise diplomatic move.

Faisal Shahzad may have been inspired by extremists, but the people at the helm of affairs in the US know that the Pakistani state has no role in the affair. Drones are already violating Pakistani air space, so the severe consequences hinted at might be the use of missile strikes against suspected targets inside Fata and the crossing of the border by Nato ground forces. Instead of considering this option, the US needs to evaluate the performance of its armed forces. After eight years of fighting, they have now realised that forces available in Afghanistan are not adequate to win a war against the Taliban.

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Korean moot demands end to US drone attacks

May 25, 2010

* Afghan politician denounces violence spurred by Taliban and foreigners in her country

By Iftikhar Gilani

GWANGJU: Experts debating war on terror in this Korean city have called for an end to drone attacks in Pakistan, saying killing of innocent people was creating more terrorists.

Participating at a function to commemorate May 18, 1980 Korean uprising, Malalai Joya, expelled from the Afghan parliament for her radical views, charged both Taliban and Americans for killing her countrymen and curbing their freedom. She also described the Hamid Karzai government as a bunch of criminals and warlords.

She said Afghans had no expectations from the forthcoming parliamentary elections. “No one can expect a legitimate or fair vote. Even the international observers have been speaking about widespread fraud and intimidation and, among the people on the street, there is a common refrain: the real winner has already been picked by the White House,” she said.

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Relatives: 3 Pakistanis innocent in Times Sq. case

May 24, 2010


ISLAMABAD – Relatives of three Pakistanis detained for alleged links to the suspect in the attempted Times Square bombing protested the men’s innocence Sunday, saying their fervent religious beliefs do not mean they are Islamic extremists.

Family members of Shahid Hassan, one of among six men, who have been detained in Pakistan for alleged links to the botched Times Square bombing, leaves after a press conference in Islamabad, Pakistan, on Sunday, May 23, 2010. Relatives of three Pakistani men detained by the government for alleged links with the Times Square bomber protested the men’s innocence Sunday, saying their fervent religious beliefs do not mean the are Islamic extremists. (AP Photo/Anjum Naveed)

The family members demanded the government either officially charge the men, who have been in custody for at least two weeks, or release them. Pakistan has a history of holding people for months, if not years, without charging them.

The trio are among at least six men who have been detained in Pakistan for alleged ties to Faisal Shahzad, a Pakistani-American arrested in the United States two days after the failed May 1 attack in New York. Like Shahzad, the detainees are all from their country’s urban elite, including several who were educated in the United States.

But their relatives expressed concern that the men were being mistakenly targeted because they are devout Muslims who pray five times a day and fast during the holy month of Ramadan – a contrast to some Pakistani elites who live a more Westernized lifestyle.

“Saying prayer is his crime, fasting is his crime, being Muslim is his crime,” said Saima Shahid, whose 32-year-old husband Shahid Hussain is alleged to have helped arrange money for the Times Square suspect.

Both men studied at the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut, but Shahid did not know if they were at the school at the same time. Hussain returned to Pakistan in 2004 and worked for the courier company DHL and the cell phone company Telenor, she said.

The uncle of another one of the suspects, Ahmad Raza, was equally adamant that his nephew’s religious beliefs did not translate into extremism.

“He sports a beard. He is religious in the sense that he says his prayers and fasts,” Afzal Inayat said about Raza. “That doesn’t mean that he is an extremist.”

Raza, who has an MBA from a private university in Islamabad, worked at an upscale catering company co-owned by the third suspect whose family spoke Sunday, Salman Ashraf.

Pakistani intelligence has said that two of the suspects wanted Ashraf to help bomb a foreign party his company was catering.

But Rana Ashraf Khan, Ashraf’s father and co-owner of the catering company, said his son never displayed any signs of extremism. He was critical of U.S. policies in the region, but that is quite common in Pakistan, he said.

“He is a normal, business-minded person,” he said about Ashraf, who studied hotel management in Florida and computer science in Houston before he returned to Pakistan in 2001.

The other three suspects detained in Pakistan include a former army major and his brother and the owner of a computer dealership in Islamabad, Shoaib Mughal, who is alleged to be a go-between for Shahzad and Pakistani Taliban in their hide-outs close the Afghan border.

Shahzad is accused of leaving an SUV rigged with a homemade car bomb in Times Square on May 1 that failed to explode. The 30-year-old son of a former air force officer was born in Pakistan and lived a privileged childhood before moving to the U.S. when he was 18.

Shahzad has claimed that he received financial support from the Pakistani Taliban for the Times Square attack, according to U.S. law enforcement officials close to the probe.

Two of the suspects detained in Pakistan, Mughal and Hussain, have admitted with pride that they helped Shahzad and don’t believe they did anything wrong, said a Pakistani intelligence official who is part of the team questioning the men.

The other four suspects have also expressed their hatred for the West and the U.S., but have not admitted any links with Shahzad, the official said earlier.

Hussain’s father, Mohammad Ramzan, insisted his son was innocent and demanded that the government officially press charges against his son if they have evidence of wrongdoing.

“It is just a shame, just a shame that our sons are being picked up right in our own country,” said Ramzan, a 75-year-old retired bureaucrat. “I do not have any indication that my son had links with any (militant) group. If there is anything like that, please tell us his crime.”

Rights activist and lawyer Zia Awan said law enforcement agencies in Pakistan are bound by law to present citizens before a court within 24 hours of detaining them to register their case.

With that in mind, Raza’s uncle, Inayat, demanded the government obey the law.

“Provide us justice,” he said. “Provide us fair play.”

Hussain’s 4-year-old daughter Aiza Shahid had a similar request.

“When will I see my father?” she asked after Sunday’s news conference. “I do not know where he is.”

Associated Press writer Zarar Khan contributed to this report.

Army major arrested for links to NY bomb plot

May 21, 2010


WP report says major met Shahzad in Islamabad and had phone contact with him

WASHINGTON: An army major has been arrested in connection with the failed bombing earlier this month in New York’s Times Square, The Washington Post reported on Wednesday.

New York City Police Department Counter Terrorism Unit officers patrol in Times Square on May 5. A Pakistani army major has been arrested in connection with the failed bombing earlier this month in New York’s Times Square, The Washington Post reported on Wednesday.

If the report, which quoted Pakistani law enforcement sources, is confirmed, it would the first time someone in Pakistan’s military establishment implicated in the botched car bombing plot.

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The University of God

May 20, 2010

Rakesh Mani

Are you a Pakistani who happens to be a Muslim, or a Muslim who happens to be a Pakistani? Are you an Indian who happens to be Hindu, or a Hindu who happens to be Indian? Flag first, or faith?

Like many others, I read last week’s column by Yasser Latif Hamdani (‘Faisal Shahzad’s radicalisation’, Daily Times, May 10, 2010), the lawyer and writer, with considerable interest. He discussed the radicalisation of the Times Square would-be bomber, Faisal Shahzad, and traced his hardline ideology to the rabid agendas of Islamic organisations on American college campuses.

As a graduate of an American university myself, I know exactly what Hamdani is talking about. I agree that these organisations engender a sense of religious belonging and fervour amongst their members that can often prove dangerous. As Hamdani has rightly pointed out, most of these fanatical (or getting there) members are not foreign students, but Americans – first or second generation immigrants with Islamic backgrounds. And I agree with the argument that the overt religiosity of the immigrant communities has a lot to do with the pull-and-push of multiple identities around them that they are trying to make sense of.

But a few questions still linger unresolved in my mind. In almost all cases, why are the most religious and fanatical American Muslims of Pakistani origin? Several Arab, Indian and Indonesian Muslims are also members of these Islamic societies, but their faith seems to be cut of a different cloth. Why is it that only Pakistanis, and some Egyptians, seem to be obsessed with faith? The argument that the years of General Zia’s rule indoctrinated young minds and pushed them towards religion only applies to those who grew up in Pakistan, not those who grew up in suburban US.

Furthermore, why have other immigrant communities in the US not had similar problems balancing their religious identities? Why do we not hear of Jains, Jews, Buddhists and Hindus having trouble reconciling their religious identities with the culture around them? And even if they do have trouble, how are they able to deal with it internally? Why are they not building religious associations at American universities that preach radical worldviews and a parochial way of life?

Around the time that I was a student at New York University (NYU), two events occurred that illustrated the stark difference in the way different religious organisations operated. The first was the incident involving the controversial cartoons of the Prophet (PBUH). The NYU daily newspaper had intended to publish the cartoons to inform its readers of the source of the controversy. The Islamic association rallied thousands, including the university’s president and several deans, to stage a protest in the heart of the campus. Eventually, the paper’s editorial committee decided against publishing. Fair enough.

On the other hand, around the same time there were several major controversies surrounding the depiction of Hindus and Sikhs in films and the use of Hindu chants during some questionable movie scenes. Hindu and Sikh religious councils registered their protests, but Hindu student organisations on campus were muted. They seemed almost disinterested.

Never once in my academic career have I ever been approached by a Hindu, or Indian, student organisation asking me to join. And despite my attendance at iftars and Shabbat dinners, never once did any fellow student question me about my personal choices. The same is the case with several of my friends of different nationalities and religions, from Jews to Jains. Their personal choices were sacrosanct.

On the other hand, several Muslim friends have recounted weird stories of being confronted on campus. A female friend from Karachi, who attended an elite institution, habitually dressed in shorts during the summer and enjoyed a good drink at the pub every weekend. She was subjected to e-mails and phone calls from ‘sisters’ who would ask her to think about her behaviour. They even accosted her on her way to class, telling her that they knew she was at a nightclub the night before and did she know that such behaviour was sinful? My friend resorted to brusque replies and a different route to class.

Hamdani called Islamic student bodies the “guardian of all Muslim organisations on campus” but in reality they tried to behave like the guardians of all Muslims (or pseudo-Muslims) on campus. Oddly enough, most other communities on campus seemed to be able to wear their religious identity lightly and to keep it personal. No, there is something else that is the matter here.

The best answer to this conundrum seems to come from a fundamental question: are you a Pakistani who happens to be a Muslim, or a Muslim who happens to be a Pakistani? Are you an Indian who happens to be Hindu, or a Hindu who happens to be Indian? Flag first, or faith?

It is perhaps an unfair question. Today, we understand ourselves as composites, often contradictory and even internally incompatible. But despite these contradictions, we understand who we are as people. We nurture religious and national identities simultaneously, without one interfering with the other. And yet, paradoxically, it is a powerful question that many religious people cannot answer readily.

But when, and if, you do hear a measured response to that question, it provides a better insight into the dilemma of contemporary identity politics than anything else. Just over a year ago, a Pakistani friend and I asked several people this very question for an essay we were researching. We were shocked that most Pakistanis were more likely than any other to be willing to subordinate their state to God. And I am sure that if the question were extended to pro-Hindu fundamentalists, their answers would be similar.

I wonder how our countries can be expected to prosper if religious people (the vast majority of our citizens) harbour only a secondary allegiance to the state.

Perhaps Pakistan’s fixation with faith has to do with history – because it was a country built on the principle of religion. But if anything, Pakistan’s travails over the last 60 years have proved that religious ideology alone is not a sufficient basis for nationhood. The creation of Bangladesh (Muslim-majority, but Bengali) from East Pakistan was the first major blow to this idea and the nationalist aspirations of the Pashtun and Baloch people threatens to be the second. It is undeniable that two Bengalis of different faiths will always have more in common than a Bengali and a Punjabi of the same faith. Cultural similarities will always outscore religious differences and religious faith is, finally, a poor unifier.

The real challenge, and the ultimate solution, lies in getting citizens to think and talk about these ideas. Be sure that it will not be a never-ending debate, but a conversation through which choices can be made, values defined and defended. It must be a debate between people, and within people.

We, the people of the subcontinent, must resist the surrounding clamour of illiberal, religious voices and unwind national traditions of excessive religiosity. Perhaps soon these struggles will be remembered as the birth pangs of a new era. It helps to ponder over Rumi’s prophetic lines:

“Har Sooay baang-o-marghalay;
Har Kooay shama-o-mashalay;
Keh eem shab jahaan-e-haam-e-lay;
Aayad jahaan-e-jaavedaan.”

[Whichever way you look there is a din of tumult;
Whichever way you go there are flames and torches;
For tonight this world is heavy with labour pain;
To give birth to a world, which will forever remain.]

Rakesh Mani is a 2009 Teach For India fellow, and a writer. He can be reached at


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