Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Ice is Melting between Pakistan and the United States

By Saeed Qureshi

The uneven and thorny relations between the United States and Pakistan seem to be landing now on soft turf. For all indications that one can surmise from Pakistani prime minister Mian Nawaz Sharif’s visit to the United States is that the period of intermittent bitterness, wanton unpredictability and sweet and sour nature of mutual relations seems to melting away. As a goodwill gesture and prelude to congenial atmosphere for fruitful parleys, the United States has announced release of 1.6 billion dollars to Pakistan.

The four days state visit of the prime minister of Pakistan that began on October 19 and would come to close on October 23 doesn’t seem to have any mentionable irritants that even a hostile press could play up.  Pakistan’s portfolio of issues that are being discussed by prime minister Nawaz Sharif in America  are enhancement of bilateral trade, end of drone attacks, Dr. Afia’s  release, America’s solicitation in smoothening of relations with India, possibility of America’s concurrence to allow for Pakistan the civilian nuclear technology that was given to India. In return America may demand her pound of flesh by asking Pakistan having an insight into Pakistan’s nuclear domain.

But most outstanding issue that would dominate both the traditional partners is the future of Afghanistan after America wind ups her military presence there. Understandably, the United States would ensure that its decade long war on terrorism that began from Afghanistan is not watered down and the moment the last American troops depart, the Taliban stage a comeback.

There can be two pronged aspects of what one can grasp by discerning the American priories. One is that there should be a strong and credible successor that can maintain or promote a good image of the United States after her departure. The peace between any Afghan regime (that would step in after Karzai’s government) and Pakistan would be of paramount importance to the interests of USA in central and south East Asia. America may want in the peace and development process of Afghanistan by taking India on board as well.

Ostensibly, when the bitterness between America and Iran slides down, Iran may also be allowed to join in the reconstruction of Afghanistan and also take part in safeguarding the interests of the United States. United States will not allow Afghanistan ether to fall into the hands of Taliban again or the Soviet influence to be revived in that war torn country.

It is forgone that America would want the militancy of Taliban to be broken either by force or by taking them along as partners in the new  civilian set up in Afghanistan. If American calls off drone attacks that this step  could  cast a soothing and pacifying influence on Taliban who would snatch this opportunity of being counted as a powerful partner in this new regional complexion and power sharing.

So American would dwell much on Pakistan’s support either by way of continued military operations or taming the shrewish Talban by military might.  Taliban are quite aware that while they could fight against American and allied forces they would forfeit such a carte- Blanche in waging war on Pakistan or Afghanistan .In the hindsight when they defeated the war lords, it was done with the backing of Pakistan. This time if they go alone against Pakistan, they might not succeed.

But the atmosphere visible in United States with regard to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit is quite favorable and friendly from top to bottom. Prime Minister Sharif’s meeting with secretary of state John Kerry, the top officials in the government and Senators and House Representatives is free from any malice, antagonism and shadow of “ifs and buts”. The Pakistanis community, whom he addressed, was full of hope and exuberance about the prime ministers’ visit.

Overall the visit carries a pleasant and positive tenor and tinge. The goodwill of the yesteryears is being revived and the acrimony, doubts ad apprehensions are being buried.  One can witness the profusion of goodwill with which Washington is awash about Mian Nawaz Sharif’s visit.

As what quid- pro-quo is to finally emerge would be apparent in a few days when the communiques are released by both the sides and any accords or MOU's are signed. But one thing is quite clear that this time United States is all set to bring her relations with Pakistan on an even keel and with a touch of cordiality and warmth which would last longer than the dictated ones that America has been pedaling all these years.

As to what would transpire about Pakistan’s growing nearness with China and its gas pipeline project with Iran would be manifest after the visit is over. But president Obama seems to be more than willing to accommodate Pakistan’s concerns and needs as far he can go. President Obama appears to be convinced and quite mindful of Pakistan multi dimensional importance in the Arab world, Middle East, Far East and its vital role that Pakistan can play as the trusted partner and close friend of the United States in that crucial  part of the world.

Monday, October 21, 2013

One can be Moral without being Religious

By Saeed Qureshi

While I contend that man can be moral and righteous without being religious, I am in no way suggesting, that one should abandon practicing religion. Morality, essentially, is a virtue that is personal and the human beings follow it out of social or personal obligations or volition.
Let us put it like this, that even in heathen and secular societies, the people, at the same time, tell lies and speak truth. Truth is a component of virtue that one believes not because of religious compulsions or motivation but because it is a positive social value that is appreciated while its antonym is disliked.

When we are speaking truthfully, we seldom think we are doing so because the religion ordained so, but because this was right and commendable to do so. Same mindset applies to other countless virtues and ethical values that we practice in our daily lives.

To be law abiding, to care for others, to be compassionate and considerate, to be kind and humane, to treat aged and children with kindness, not to steal, murder, or rape and so on,  are invariably considered as virtues that are cherished and commended  equally in the irreligious and the rigidly religious societies.

The religious commandments or injunctions if vigorously and earnestly applied during our social dealings, then of course, we may not err or indulge in immoral and unethical pursuits either by word of mouth or by our actions and deeds. Yet in our daily life and in social interactions, we make a mess of the moral codes ordained by our religions.

Irrespective whether we believe in Judaism, Christianity, or Islam or any other religion, countless times we lie, swindle, weigh less, adulterate the foods, and charge more. We do not keep our promises. We molest, kidnap, speak rough even use abusive jargon, enter into fratricidal disputes, tamper with out utility services meters, evade or do not pay our tax in full.
We solicit jobs through bribery or influential contacts; prefer our relations and friends for jobs or contracts via nude and unabashed nepotism and so on. We seldom think that all these vices and foul activities and are forbidden by religions and despised by the society.

Therefore, whether we are religious or not, we demonstrate outward social behavior without keeping in mind all the time that these are do’s or don’ts contained in the religious codes. If we still persist in good behavior as well as bad behavior then certainly we are simultaneously complying and breaching the tenets of the religion.
The claim or argument that religion fosters absolute morality would look convincing if we can divide the human race into two clear sections, one being wholly moral because of being religious and the other being entirely immoral because of being irreligious. We know we cannot draw out such clear-cut distinctions.

If morality were entirely exclusive to religions then the human generations existing before the advent of religious eras would have been immoral. In the prehistoric ages when there was no ownership of land or property, the communities would be knit into bonds of fraternity, work together, equitably divide their food and resources, and share each other pains and pleasures. Those generations might be believing in spirits, demons and souls but certainly, they were not the adherents of traditional religions that sprang later.

Even the wicked Pharaoh admonishes Prophet Abraham for falsifying his real relationship with Sara, who was his wife but he faked her as his sister. In this episode, the conduct of the heathen Pharaoh looks more moral as compared to the religious apostle Abraham. If we accept the plea or ruse of Abraham as the need of the hour, then we are tainting or bending the inviolable religious canons with regard to the virtue of truth.

The core aim and underlying purpose of any religion is absolute morality and piety. In addition, it connects the creation that is human being with the creator that is almighty God. In religion, there cannot be any compromise or modifications on the belief in a super human power or God. Nevertheless, when the faith pertains to the affairs of the societies or mutual interactions, the laws and traditions of the religion mingle with the mundane laws of the society and thus the people follow both of these.

The Christian Orthodox Church is succumbing to the pressures and imperatives of the modern societies to the extent that it now permits marriages for nuns and priest. Of late, it has conceded to the use of condoms and even gay and same sex marriages. Beyond the cardinal belief in God, the religions flourish and remain vibrant on the strength of their customs and rituals, which are vigorously practiced. The faithful relish, cherish, and draw bliss and spiritual elevation by observing these countless religious chores that become an integral part of our social milieu.

They feel that their bond of obedience with God is strengthened and the reverence for the messengers is reinforced. The examples are Hindus converging on the river Ganges every year and celebrating various festivals like Holli and Krishna Janamashtami. Muslims celebrate religious days, pray, fast and perform pilgrimage. The Jews go to Jerusalem and Roman Catholics go to Rome.

Every religion has a pantheon of deities, an array of rituals and an assortment of customs and innumerable taboos and shibboleths. In Christianity, there is a vast plethora of symbols that are dutifully performed during the service. Some of these are use of candles and rosaries, images of saints, chants ,incantations  prayer books, incense, holy water, long robes, everlasting light before the alters, serving of bread, the special architecture of the church buildings and so on. As stated above, In Hinduism, there are countless deities as symbols of various powers, the river Ganges as purifier of sins, the temples, and the sacred books: Vedas, Brahmanas and Upanishads and Purana.

In Jewish faith, there are countless symbols such as tabernacle, Star of David, the holy books Torah and Talmud, Sabbath, festivals and circumcision and so on. In Islam, the mosque, the minarets, the curved sword, the green color, the holy house of God in Mecca, the sacrifice, the two sacred festivities: one after the fasting and another on the eve of pilgrimage. The list is long. I shall leave other smaller religions that are immersed in a sea of customs and rituals.

Arguably, while these customs and traditions are fervently and zealously followed by all the religions, yet this does not stop them from killing each other and occupying each other’s lands and enslaving them. In history and even in present times, there have been horrendous ethnic cleansing of the adherents of one religion by the followers of the other religion such as between Jews and Christianity and Christianity and Islam, Hindus and Muslims, Jews and Muslims etc.

Simultaneously, the religious and secular, or irreligious societies profess principles, precepts, and laws that are intrinsically moralistic. However, at the same time morality could be variously interpreted and is relative in case of each society. In permissive yet religious societies as in the West and the Far East, such pastimes as nightlife, clubs, drinking and dancing are integral part of the social life. In dogmatic Islamic countries, these social features are sins to be liable for harsh punishments.

Yet in these glamorous and socially open societies, people respect each other, give charities to the poor and downtrodden, take maximum care of the toddlers and young children, and maintain nursing homes for the old people. They behave politely and respectfully to each other. Any discrimination based on color, ethnicity religion or gender is unlawful. Although, these and similar other values are preached by religions, yet these are manifestly practiced in religiously liberal societies. It means it is the culture or the law that enforces these good traits. That eliminates the difference between being religious and non-religious in order to be socially moral.

The citizens of these religiously tolerant countries obey the civic rules, seldom taint the food, or tamper with their meters. Their agitations and protests rallies are orderly and peaceful. They maintain environmental cleanliness and respect the rights of their neighbors. They are by and large peaceful and allow religious freedom for all believers. Such societies are havens of civic comforts and facilities.

These are moral and human manifestations of such societies, which accord scant or customary regard to religion. Nevertheless, they believe and practice the well-established principles of morality, ethics, and good conduct. These serve their people well and manifest good governance for the welfare of their people.

Temperamentally humans when born, possess inbuilt good or bad traits with varying degrees. These traits are not influenced by external factors and remain as the unalterable part of one’s personality till the last breath. These may be suppressed under peculiar conditions or circumstances but can never be eroded or rooted out from the body. As such socially and temperamentally, some people tend to be highly moral, less moral or conversely highly immoral or less immoral. A miser and greedy man can never be generous, a brave person cannot turn coward and a cruel person would be devoid of compassion, a timid would not be outspoken and an introvert not to become an extrovert, et al.  

Humans tend to be hypocritical in posing as moral and religious by exhorting others to be good while they would be wicked themselves. The religious clerics, clergy and preachers though preach moral values, do not offer practical examples by their own conduct. They ask others to be frugal and simple, while they themselves gloat in wealth and lead lavish lives. They crusade against the moral evils and goad reverence for God. Yet they exploit their adherents by using wrath and pleasure of God. Many of them work as touts of the respective government .They are known for hoarding money and eve caught in heinous rape of minors.

Such a sermonized morality looks to be sham and mere humbug. As morality is ingrained and very personal to an individual, my accent is on social and individual moralities and not political. In politics, morality is nonexistent as the interests of state supersede the moral contours set by religious movements and gospels as well as the traditional social or individual morality. For this reason an absolute religious government is hard to work for a longer period of time. Secondly the religious doctrines and tenets are meant for a specific period of human societies and become outdated and collide with the emerging conditions in subsequent times.

 In simple words, the societies are dynamic and evolutionary while the religions are static.   Thirdly morality is a universal virtue and is not subservient exclusively to the religion. Fourth, we have seen that the religious societies get infested with divisions, factionalism, power struggle and disharmony because of irreconcilable sectarianism.  







Friday, October 4, 2013

The Rapid Rise and Fall of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto

By Saeed Qureshi
The paramount question that has been intriguing the discerning students of history is that why an iconic, revolutionary and charismatic leader Zulfikar Ali Bhutto met with a tragic end. He took the political citadel of Pakistan by storm and assailed the minds and hearts of people within a short span of time. He soared into the political horizon of Pakistan like a meteorite yet plummeted with the same speed and intensity. The charm and magic of Bhutto’s personality and his rhetorical style and revolutionary mandate bewitched the people of Pakistan who looked up to him as a redeemer and the  architect of a new Pakistan that he vowed to built from ashes  and by picking the pieces of the a colossally mauled left-over Pakistan.

  It would not be in vain to adjudge him a leader who touched the zenith of people’s love and approbation after the founder of Pakistan Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Had he not committed egregious blunders due to his personal weaknesses he could have been equated with Kamal Ataturk of Turkey and Jamal Abdul Nasir of Egypt and similar iconic leaders? Yet despite a dazzling and unprecedented popularity, within five years he was desperately fighting for his political as well as personal survival.

He was endowed with the frame of a firebrand revolutionary who performed exceedingly fast and furious to uproot a debased system of governance and initiated instead one premised on parliamentary democracy.  He was the proponent of the Muslim unity and he deserves the credit for convening of OIC 1974 conference in Pakistan. The society was liberalized and straight jacket of cumbersome rules and bureaucratic tangles were broken. People were greatly relieved and motivated. He has the glorious distinction of being the father of Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons program.

A flurry of reforms including land reforms forbade a new era of hope and progress.  The journey towards a new destiny began with a nation rejuvenated after country’s truncation. Although the release of Pakistan’s prisoners of war and retaking captured territory by India were considered as Bhutto’s spectacular achievements through Simla Accord, yet I am of the opinion that India could not keep such a huge captured army for long, nor could she hold on to the captured territory indefinitely.

Bhutto’s overwhelming weakness was that he was loyal to no one not even to his lofty ideals. He possessed a voracious obsession for power. What I want to point out that Bhutto would go to any extent for retaining power. He ruled like a dictator in the grab of a civilian head of government. During his dwindling fortunes after 1977 elections, he sacrificed his cosmopolitan and secular principles by lobbying with ultra conservative forces and courting discredited feudal classes in order to stick to power. His letter written in April 1958 to the then president of Pakistan general Iskander Mirza extolling him as more exalted that the founder of Pakistan was a sordid display of rank flattery. His exploitation of Tashkent Pact (10 January 1966) was a smart tactical move that swept away a powerful military dictator with a bruised and demonized image.

 Bhutto was genetically averse to anyone’s popularity. His companions, who stood with him through thick and thin and faced extreme persecution and oppression during Ayub Khan’s time, were disgraced and sacked one after another on such flimsy grounds as someone getting popular in public view or opposing some of his policies. Alas his weaknesses overshadowed his watershed achievements and that resulted in his tragic end.

 Presently, in order to highlight Bhutto suspicious nature and his morbid proclivity to tame and frighten his ministers and party leaders, I have to refer to some of the observations made by Baloch leader Sher Baz Mazari in his book, “The Journey to Disillusionment”

“If any of his subordinates showed even a modicum of independence, he would be swiftly punished...“Even Bhutto’s close associates and cabinet ministers now lived in dread and fear of the unpredictability of their master’s temper”…”Bhutto would not brook any criticism…”Bhutto’s obsession with maintaining a aura of invincibility was so strong that he would spare no one, not even those who had done him valuable and devoted service over the years”.

About Bhutto’s devious machinations that were part of his politicking style, Mr Mazari wrote, “I had known Bhutto for some 23 years. To him lying, double-dealing and deceit were normal means of attaining and keeping power”

His FSF was a Gestapo type dreaded outfit that was created to terrorize and tyrannize both his colleagues and political rivals. In his fabulous bookThe Journey to Disillusionment”, the Baloch leader Sher Baz Mazari writes that, “Bhutto chose to use a policy of systemic terror to brutalize his opponents.” Mr Mazari provides an account of many erstwhile colleagues of PPP who suffered enormously at the hands of Bhutto’s FSF that brooked no mercy for anyone if ordered by Bhutto to be fixed and brutalized.

But let us thrash out the events then took place prior to the Bhutto’s ascension to power first as the president and then as prime minister of Pakistan. The foremost question is that who was primarily responsible for the historic blunder of igniting a civil war in formerly East Pakistan? A political leader of the genius of Bhutto could never support use of military in East Pakistan knowing well it would entrap Pakistan army.

Yet by a clever ruse not only did he refuse to sit with a majority party but convinced debauched Yahya khan to take the fatal army action in East Pakistan. Pakistan army was not only defeated but earned a lasting ignominy of surrender. There was a tacit or studied collusion between the then president Yahya Khan and Mr. Bhutto for an army operation in East Pakistan for the reason no one can justify.

If the democratic process was to be honored then why was it necessary for Mr. Bhutto to warn the elected parliament members going to East Pakistan would have his legs broken? That was a blatant denial of a majority party’s right to form government. Were the army top brass and Mr. Bhutto not cognizant that sending of army to subdue a whole province on immoral, unconscionable and illegal grounds was suicidal? Were they not aware of a yawning reality that in-between was a perennially hostile country and the resumption of supplies both of army personnel and ration and medicines by air nor by sea could not be carried on.

Bhutto’s tenure could be portrayed as a kind of fa├žade of democracy that cloaked his authoritarianism and that was the most dominant reason for his downfall. It is unbelievable that all his colleagues who stood by him through thick and thin and were ideological bulwark of his revolution were forced to leave through gross intimidation, witch-hunting, physical tortures, humiliation and through every brutal means carried out through the FSF and by Bhutto personally in disgracing them. So when the army intervened on July 5, 1977, the PPP was depleted from committed and loyal cadres to stand by him. He fought a lonely legal war in front of the prosecutors who were his enemies for other reasons.

Bhutto’s penchant for power was so chronic and deep-rooted that contrary to his lofty ideals of making Pakistan a democratic, modern, secular, liberal country with civil society, shamelessly abandoned his cherished value and principles and dashed these on the rock of expediency. During the earth shaking countryside agitation spear-headed by Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) he frantically tried to win the support of the religious right to stay in power. One Such party was Jamaat Islami that opposed the creation of Pakistan and wanted the new state an Islamic emirate. He compromised his cherished credentials of an enlightened leader by downgrading himself to the level of a religious preacher or cleric.

What a volte-face that he sold his lofty status of the architect of a new modern Pakistan and auctioned his revolutionary mandate for the sake of power. Now such perfunctory measures as declaring Friday as holiday, declaring Ahmadis as non Muslims, banning liquor and horse races would not make Pakistan an Islamic state. But in order to deflate the hurricane of commotion for his ouster he bargained his secular credentials, his conscience and political integrity. From that moment the Pakistan has been irredeemably sinking into the abyss of religious fanaticism, lethal sectarianism and unremitting bigotry. But even that historic betrayal couldn’t keep him in the power saddle.

The outcome was irretrievably disastrous for his future. The religious lot got their piece of pie and then hastened for his downfall. The anti Bhutto outburst was all sections of society, betrayed and disillusioned people, friend and foes, bureaucracy, army, rival politicians, traders, students took part. The whole scene seemed to be the replay of what Bhutto did against Ayub Khan.

Now there is very little logic in maligning or hating Ziaul Haq who seized power from Mr. Bhutto.Ziaul-Haq was not a politician. He was a rigid religious practicing Muslim.  He was an army chief and the country was drifting towards a total chaos and breakdown. Ziaul-haq enjoyed the full support of the Islamic parties, Imams of mosques, religious seminaries and madrasas, besides the army and a host of politicians and perhaps external abettors. There an ample space from the controversial elections of March 1977 that were ruthlessly rigged in accordance with the motives of Mr. Bhutto.
Mr. Bhutto prolonged the process of holding talks for a rapprochement. When he finally agreed on the contentious issues between him and opposition much water had flown down the political rivers. It clearly means that he lacked a kind of political acumen and ability to see the direction of the wind. Thus Ziaul-Haq took the reins of the government and ruled with an iron had till he met his tragic fate also.

Now I would apportion much of blame to Ziaul-Haq because he was not an ideal moralist although he was a practicing Muslim. He did not amass wealth, nor made mansions but decidedly lived simple and austere life. This is for his person character. But in politics and in power all is fair. All the more when the religious sections of all hue and cries were behind him and the power fell in his lap like ripened fruit.

Let us give credit to Ziaul Haq for a proxy war, although at the behest of America that forced Soviet Union to leave Afghanistan with an historic disgrace. As a result of Soviet Union defeat in Afghanistan, the Muslim caucuses that the czars of Russia had forcibly annexed became independent. In a brief conversation with journalists including this scribe, Ziaul haq obliquely made statement to the effect that a miracle was about to happen in Afghanistan. By that he meant the Soviet defeat and liberation of Afghanistan for the communist stranglehold.

 I am not an admirer of president Ziaul haq but I believe that he was more prudent, crafty and skilful than Mr. Bhutto.  He never claimed that he was a political wizard or that he favored democracy and fundamental rights. He crushed the freedom of expression, independence of media, and maimed the organs of civil society like judiciary and parliament. But he did these things because he near thought these were wrong or in simple words it was not his mandate.
The dictators around the world have been doing obnoxious things and oppressed their people to stay in power corridors. Ziaul was not a lone dictator who suppressed the social freedom and further Islamized the society by more stringent Islamic injunctions. But he was never hypocritical, apologetic about what he was doing. He was the votary and spokesperson of a rigid, orthodox Islamic regime that he served well even employing extreme tyranny. Bhutto was people’s chosen representative yet he used the same coercive methods and intrigues that bring them at par.

Ziaul Haq and of late General Musharraf assumed power by default and because of the peculiar conditions that surfaced by the wrong doings and inept policies of their predecessors. Bhutto’s grave mistakes of curbing Baluchistan insurgency by use of brute military force, his amendments in the constitution for accumulation of more powers, his maltreatment of the opposition leaders, the massive rigging of 1977 elections, behaving as a merciless and intolerant lord to his peers and devoted colleagues, betrayal of his revolutionary mandate and finally using excessive force before and after 1977 elections to curb the agitations whipped up by PNA and other groups were all catalysts for his downfall.

Similarly the previous conduct of Nawaz Sharif as lording over Pakistan as a fiefdom, muzzling dissent and adopting confrontational postures with state institutions, fomenting political vendettas and finally the clumsy way of removing the COAS were the dynamics that culminated in his own ouster and taking over the reins of the government by General Musharraf.