Wednesday, 22 March 2017

The journey from extremism to tolerance, Muhammad Rabnawaz Awan

The journey from extremism to tolerance, Muhammad Rabnawaz Awan
Had I not transformed, I would have termed Dr A.Q. Khan, arguably the biggest Pakistani patriot on the face of the earth, as a traitor for using the word ‘massacre’ for Operation Searchlight victims

I began life quite religiously. Raised in an ultra-Muslim home, I attended a religious school at an early age. My father, a die-hard fan of Muhammad Ziaul-Haq, the former military dictator of Pakistan, had a great influence on my thinking. Haq is often epitomised as religious extremism in Pakistan. The unbounded admiration of the authoritarian leader had made my father one of the most ardent haters of democracy on the planet. Perhaps predictably, I shared his ideological hatred toward democracy.
In my youth, I had a highly simplified view of the world. I was an implacable enemy of India, as it was considered a prerequisite for all Pakistani patriots to hate India day in day out. In those days, I would approvingly quote the lofty thought of Ghulam Ahmad Parwez, a “liberal” Islamic scholar, who had demonised Hindus by calling them bloodthirsty beasts, dreadful crocodiles, and cunning foxes.
Nawa-i-Waqt, the ultimate guardian of the ideology of Pakistan, was heaped praised by me because it had reproduced this demonisation of Hindus on February 22, 2004. Now I imagine what would have the reaction in Pakistan if any Indian newspaper had published such a piece against Muslims.
Besides his credentials as a journalist, Majeed Nizami, the late media baron, was also my hero due to his fondest wish of “be(ing) tied to a nuclear bomb and get(ting) dropped on India.” I also felt highly obliged to his most patriotic newspaper in the country, which had informed us that the 9/11 attack was carried out by the Americans themselves and that “there were 4,000 Jews who were absent from work that day.”
I also regarded Zaid Zaman Hamid, a controversial political commentator, as my hero due to his anti-India rhetoric. At that time, I had little ability to get past the rhetoric and critically analyse what was motivating the speaker. Orya Maqbool Jan’s diatribe against democracy and secularism highly appealed me without knowing that secularism and tolerance were virtually synonymous with each other. Jan had also made me believe that democracy is against the Quran.
Before evolution, likewise most of the religious young people, my premature politicised mind was ripe to receive any ideology that would have sought the solution to the ummah’s problems in a black-and-white manner. This was why I was attracted to Islamism; a political ideology that sought to overthrow democracy in order to implement a narrowly-interpreted Sharia law.
In those days, my fondest desire was to see an Islamic revolution. The rhetoric of peaceful revolution from a Barelvi school of thought revolution-seeker party was so appealing to me. So, in order to bring the peaceful Islamic revolution, I formally joined it in 2002. But I was deeply disappointed when this ingrate nation did not recognise my leader as its messiah despite him wanting to serve in the humble position of prime minister under Pervez Musharraf, the former military dictator. Now, when I analyse the past events dispassionately, it reveals on me that it was his delusion of grandeur that had led him on to his unfortunate fate.
East Pakistan had occupied a special place in my narrative of victimhood. To me, losing a half of my country in 1971 and the creation of Bangladesh was the ultimate proof of Jewish and Hindu sinister conspiracies against Muslims. I loved to live in denial. My approach remained, “If there are any problems in this country, it is all outsiders fault. Let alone blame, we don’t deserve any criticism.” Regarding East Pakistan, I used to believe that it were Hindu teachers who had preached hate against West Pakistan. Consequently, the Bengalis were misguided. In fact, I was a staunch supporter of brutal military action, which had parted them from us as far as the East is from the West.
I used to call the voters and supporters of the Awami League traitors, and any criticism, no matter how reasoned, of the military establishment role in the breaking of Pakistan would disturb me immeasurably. The most important fact regarding the creation of Bangladesh was missing in my discourse those days; the holocaust of Bengalis. Had I not transformed, I would have termed Dr A.Q. Khan, arguably the biggest Pakistani patriot on the face of the earth, as a traitor for using the word ‘massacre’ for Operation Searchlight victims.
It was not until my late twenties that I met a mentor who altered the course of not only my life but also my thinking. My desire to question my own assumptions was greatly encouraged by him. I can distinctly remember the struggle to leave years-old prejudices behind. I used to think as if I was on trial. My half-baked ideas were under scrutiny. Later, due to the courtesy of the constant thought- therapy by a father-figure guide, it slowly dawned on me that I needed to get away from simplistic ideas of good and evil.
I was urged to believe in research before forming my opinions. By improving my critical thinking skills, I ceased to be a blind follower as well as defender of any ideology. Consequently, I am now at peace with myself and others. I have also realised that substantial reliance on hearsay is an impediment to success.
In addition, I have realised that unsubstantiated assertions should be debated and challenged. And it is imperative that educated people amongst us develop a counter-narrative against the victim mentality and self-touted righteousness upon the rest of the world. Based on my own experiences, my message to the youth — subject to brainwashing in Pakistan—would be to develop their own capacities to tolerate the dissenting opinion. Further, they should work on developing their critical thinking skills. Unfortunately, our education system has no place for critical thinking skills. In fact, the term remains alien to most of our teachers. And herein lies the problem. By contrast, critical thinking has long been regarded as the essential skill for success in Western educational systems. The need is thus that our educated people should excel in critical thinking because it challenges the black-and-white views of the society by undermining their simplification and certitude.

The writer is an Islamabad-based media and public relations professional. He can be reached at He tweets at @rabnawazminhaj

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Are Russia Pakistan And China Staging An Intervention In Afghanistan? By Polina Tikhonova

Are Russia Pakistan And China Staging An Intervention In Afghanistan?
By Polina Tikhonova         March 6, 2017
Pakistan has warned the U.S. to sort out the “total mess” in Afghanistan, and if it doesn’t, Russia will. Moscow could penetrate Central and South Asia and stage a Syrian-style intervention in Afghanistan, the Pakistan military warns.
A senior source within the Pakistan Army is reportedly telling U.S. President Donald Trump’s new generals that Russia could sort out the “total mess” in Afghanistan if the U.S. and its allies fail to stop the advance of ISIS and the Taliban.
The unnamed Pakistani source told The Telegraph that if ISIS and the Taliban keep destabilizing Afghanistan at the current rate, Russia could stage the intervention on the pretext of protecting itself and its allies in the region. The source said the U.S. is “losing control” in the region after the significant decrease of Western troops operating in Afghanistan.
Is Russia planning an Afghanistan intervention with China and Pakistan?
ISIS and the Taliban continue to gaining strength in the region, and last month they pushed their chaos into neighboring Pakistan by killing nearly 200 people in a string of violent terrorist attacks. Now, the Pakistani source warned that Russia could intervene in Afghanistan with full force.
The death toll in Afghanistan is on the rise, with the United Nations reporting last month that nearly 3,500 Afghan civilians died in the deadly conflict last year – the highest death roll in several years. Russia has repeatedly voiced its concerns over the volatile situation on Afghan soil but has so far not announced plans to intervene directly.
However, last month Russia invited China and Pakistan to trilateral talks to discuss Afghanistan – which may have been the foundation that would open doors for sending Russian troops to Afghanistan. Interestingly, the U.S. and India – two key players on battling ISIS and the Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan – were not invited to the talks.
Chinese troops already operating in Afghanistan
Multiple evidence-backed reports, however, indicate that Chinese troops are already operating inside Afghanistan. While details about China’s involvement in the war-torn country remain vague, many experts suspect that China and Russia – and possibly also Pakistan – are planning to play a much greater role in Afghanistan once the U.S. and NATO troops leave the country.
Since 2015, the U.S. has kept about 8,000 troops on Afghan soil, but there are reported plans to reduce that number to less than 1,000 in 2017. But that was the Pentagon’s withdrawal plan under President Barack Obama, while Trump has yet to outline his policies on Afghanistan, Pakistan and the region as a whole.
Afghanistan “slipping out of control”
The Pakistan military source also revealed that the country recently held a series of high-level discussions with U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Resolute Support Mission Commander Gen John Nicholson.
Last month, Gen. Nicholson publicly admitted that Afghan forces are cornered by the Taliban militants. The unnamed source in the Pakistan military now says that Pakistan has repeatedly warned both Gen. Nicholson and Mattis that Afghanistan is “slipping out of control,” and if the U.S. fails to deal with the extremism and terrorism threat in the country, the Trump administration will have “a huge crisis on its hands.”
“Da’ish is also developing there, and if they leave Syria and Iraq, the next place for them to gather in is Afghanistan,” the Pakistan army source reportedly told the U.S.
Afghan army unable to deal with terrorists
While relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan remain tense – especially after last month’s terrorist attacks in Pakistan, which Islamabad blamed on the Afghan government – Pakistan continues to criticize Kabul for failing to guard its side of the border, from where terrorists are said to be launching their attacks against both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The Pakistani source also reportedly explained why Kabul’s anti-terrorism efforts have been so ineffective.
“There are 350,000 troops in the Afghan army, but only about 20,000 are capable of combat missions,” the source said, adding that there are about 1,000 generals within the Afghan army, but most of those gens were appointed only because of their “tribal affiliations” rather than skills to combat the rise of extremism in the country. “The problem is that you can’t teach a donkey to gallop.”
Russia fears U.S. is using ISIS for its own purposes
But America’s inability to eliminate the extremism and terrorist threats in Afghanistan could play a cruel joke on U.S. interests in the region, as Russia and China are said to be prepared to get involved in the deadly conflict to prevent ISIS and the Taliban from spreading closer to their borders.
The Pakistani army source reportedly said that the Russian government fears that the U.S. could be using ISIS as “a plot to destabilize its backyard,” which explains why the West’s anti-terrorism efforts in the region were doomed from the very beginning. Russia, which is often praised for its counter-terrorism operation in Syria, could use its fears as an excuse to get militarily involved on Afghan soil.
Russia establishes contacts with the Taliban
During the trilateral Russia-China-Pakistan talks last month, Moscow called for dialogue with the Taliban, as Beijing, Moscow and Islamabad all seem to agree that peace in Afghanistan can be achieved only through negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban.
Russia has already reportedly started back-channel contacts with the Taliban, which may be the starting point of its intervention in Afghanistan. Establishing those contacts could help Moscow build proxy assets in Afghanistan in order to extend its military operation from Syria into the other war-torn country.
Would the U.S. stop their military intervention?
One could argue that Russia hosted trilateral talks with China and Pakistan with the exclusion of India, Afghanistan and the U.S. for a reason. Both China and Pakistan are equally interested in halting the terrorist threats emanating from there.
Pakistan recently experienced firsthand the deadly threat of terrorism and extremism, while China wants to ensure that no threats obstruct the implementation of its ambitions with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project. Clearing Afghanistan from terrorism would also prevent the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), which is associated with ISIS and the Taliban, from destabilizing China’s Xinjiang province.
If Russia, China and Pakistan announce a joint military operation against terrorists on Afghan soil, will anyone be there to stop them? Has the Trump administration made up its mind about Afghanistan and the region as a whole? Or when exactly are Trump’s generals planning to outline their plan to halt ISIS and the Taliban from further advances? Russia, China and Pakistan seem to be losing their patience by the day.