Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Afghan policy unravels

A demoralised American Army is a clear victory for the Taliban. If Osama had intended the 9/11 attack to generate an irrational reaction from the US and then be stuck in a quagmire in Afghanistan then he must be thrilled. It is a depressing moment for Obama too, since he chose to make Afghanistan his war. From all accounts Obama is a reluctant player in all this. Wasting innocent Afghanis does not give him the same satisfaction that it gave the Bush/Cheyne duo. I would not want to be in Petreus's shoes right now. His mission to give a clear statement of purpose to the troops in Afghanistan, to his Nato allies and to an increasingly impatient public back home is a very difficult one. It is truly Obama's job, but he is stuck with some really bad compromises. He should never have let Bush off the hook as easily as he did. He does not relish the job of being a war President and the army can see that he will bring them nothing but disgrace. The political fall out for Obama will be negative even though he has now put a Bush appointee in charge of Afghanistan.

I believe that Obama was pushed into the surge in Afgahanistan against his better judgement. The increased drone attacks may have been his own initiative. Neither initiative seems to have worked out so far and the army is perceiving him as "disengaged" . The right decision would have been to denounce both wars as wrong wars, to cut our losses and develop an appropriate exit strategy. It is another matter that the real legacy of Bush is that the US can never leave either Iraq or Afghanistan and they will have a very uncomfortable stay in either place.

Who are moderate Muslims?

A well argued summary by Mr. Mohiyuddin. Whether one likes the term moderate Muslim ( I do not ), he still makes a fair representation of what most educated Muslims subscribe to, particularly those in favour of Ijtehad. The Quran advocates a middle path, which to me means finding the right balance between worldliness and spirituality. Those who interpret the middle path as finding the right balance between secularism and Islam, risk diluting Islamic thought. Islam already has the concept of worldliness built into it. Unlike Christianity and Judaism, the advent of Islam came about with a move to bring about reform in Civil society in all spheres of worldly life, whether it was the conduct of relations with non Muslims, the emancipation of women or the introduction of laws relating to divorce, inheritance or contracts.
The reforms brought about at that time were not intended to be the last word on any of those reforms and this is a mistake made by Muslim theologians. Just to give examples,two specific areas which I put in the category of continuing reform are 1. Slavery and 2. the Role of women. ( the four wife rule was part 1 ) The other mistake made by theologians is to reject science and to treat the Quran as a book of Science. This has cost the Muslims dearly.
So called moderate Muslims, do a service to Islam by remaining within the fold of Islam and wishing to contribute to its understanding rather than throwing out the baby with the bath water. They how ever frequently make the mistake of seeking inspiration from secular concepts which start with the precept that God cannot have a role in the affairs of men. Self interest is a primary urge of man which unless it is tempered by God's morality ( as opposed to man's morality) will degenerate into naked materialism and all its consequences.
Once the "moderate" Muslim accepts the Quranic concepts of Righteousness and being held accountable for our actions, he has to as does every other Muslim come to grips with very unambiguous definitions, of righteousness and standards on which man will be held accountable, given in the Quran.
Thankfully there is ample debate on matters such as apostasy, blasphemy and heresy and the " moderates" can rightly claim credit for raising awareness on these issues but there is insufficient discussion on issues like justice, equality, honesty, ethics, freedom. When I say discussion, I mean discussing what Islam's guidance to us on these issues. Syed Qutub is a man demonized by the West but his book Social Justice in Islam should be required reading for all Muslims. You may not agree with every thing he says but he was a man of great learning and insight.
While all Muslims need to read and re read the Quran to improve our understanding of what guidance it is providing to us, I am not averse to the study of other religions, other concepts, other philosophies. Thought and study will only help us to understand and appreciate the Quran better, but as Muslims we have to make up our minds whether the Quran is guidance from God or guidance from his prophet. This is a huge subject for discussion so I will not go on. My point is only to add a word of caution that there is a lot of work to be done within the Islamic world and we must continually seek to check that we are headed in the right direction.

Who Are Moderate Muslims?

By Ghulam Mohiyuddin

In the past many Muslims were reluctant to describe themselves as being 'moderate' for fear they might be wrongly suspected of being weak in their faith. With the rise of radicalism and extremism in Islam as manifested by Al Qaeda and the Talibans, as well as the growth of ultra-conservative movements such as the Tablighi Jamaat and the Jamiat-e-Islami, it becomes necessary for us to define the parameters of what we mean when we refer to 'moderate Muslims'. Other designations such as 'liberal Muslims' or 'progressive Muslims' are, for the purpose of this discussion, considered to have the same connotations as 'moderate Muslims’.

Moderate Muslims are not a monolithic group, and many moderate Muslims will not have all the characteristics described below. But there are certain characteristics that distinguish moderate Muslims. They tend to keep religion in a private space and do not make a public display of their faith. Religion for them has a place in their lives, but it is not their whole existence. They reason things out and think for themselves, rather than depend on advice from books or from fatwas.

They are guided by the spirit and ethos of the Quran. They base their thinking and behaviour on the fundamental tenets of Islam, namely the supremacy of the one and only God, His requirement that we live righteous lives and His holding us accountable for our actions. They revere Prophet Muhammad as well as Prophets Abraham, Moses and Jesus. The values that are most meaningful to them in pursuit of a virtuous life are also derived from the Quran, namely equality, justice, tolerance, compromise, compassion and rationality.

However they are not obsessed by rites, rituals and regimentation. Religion is important to them for spiritual sustenance and guidance but it does not dominate their lives. They participate fully and energetically in the rough and tumble, the competitiveness and the rat race of the temporal world. They strive to succeed in their educational and career goals, to provide well for their families' spiritual and material needs and to make their rightful contribution to the community they live in.

Moderate Muslims generally support major reforms in Sharia laws, reforms which conform to basic Quranic principles of fairness, justice, equality, compassion, common sense and human dignity, but which are also consonant with contemporaneous mores and realities. They would like to see polygamy and triple-talaq abolished, women enjoy equal status and equal rights in matters of marriage, divorce and inheritance, have full rights and opportunities to pursue their educational and career goals and be able to compete and work in professions, business, politics, arts, crafts etc just as their male counterparts. Moderate Muslims are not likely to be supporters of burqa or niqab. Regarding some strange fatwas issued recently by some seminarians, part of the problem, in the eyes of some moderates, lies with the fact that the system puts a vast range of issues under the purview of religion, which is defined not just as a "mazhab" or religion, but as a "deen" or way of life. The focus of religion should be on spiritual and moral matters. Issues of daily living and societal affairs such as dress, appearance, diet, personal laws, working conditions, banking, political systems etc should be governed by secular or laic norms even though they will be influenced by one's traditions.

In areas of public affairs, moderate Muslims support democracy and secularism. They highly value freedom of speech. They abhor blasphemy laws, apostasy laws and heresy laws. They strongly support human rights and minority rights. They are often strong critics of the abridgement of minority rights in Muslim majority countries, e.g. the rights of non-Muslims in Saudi Arabia or of Ahmadis in Pakistan or of Tamils in Malaysia. They have strong nationalistic allegiance to the country they live in, irrespective of whether the country is a Muslim-majority country or not.

The "Ummah" for them is an informal and nominal interconnectedness of world Muslims, characterized by empathy rather than by any tangible bonds or obligations. They do not subscribe to the idea of a future world caliphate. They do not consider 'jihad' or holy war to be a possibility in this day and age when Islam is not threatened and Muslims are not persecuted because of their religion. Any hatred of or threats to non-believers or 'kafirs' is unacceptable to moderate Muslims who believe in peaceful co-existence with people of other faiths. Moderate Muslims shun extremism in religion as well as in politics, they condemn all acts of terrorism, condemn killing of innocent civilians, and consider suicide bombers to be mortal sinners. They do not believe bizarre conspiracy theories with regard to either 9/11, 26/11 or any similar catastrophic event.

For moderate Muslims, 'Ijtihad' (innovation) is an important tool for change. It allows independent reasoning to reinterpret and expand on Islamic law. Ijtihad is essential to keep Islam in the vanguard of world religions.

Among recent and current leaders and writers, a moderate Muslim would be averse to the teachings of Maulana Maududi, Sayyid Qutb or Zakir Naik. He is more likely to favor the writings of Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, Maulana Waris Mazhari, Chandra Muzaffar, Sultan Shahin, Ziauddin Sardar and Javed Anand.

A moderate Muslim feels comfortable and at home in a pluralistic or multi-ethnic society, and can enjoy rewarding social and collegial relations with Hindus, Christians, Jews, atheists and others. He is able to respect the beliefs of others and does not feel the need to argue that his faith is superior to those of others. He is able to listen with interest to the views of others. He can expound on his own beliefs with clarity and without obscurantism.

The traditional Muslim teaching is that there is only one Islam and any division of Muslims into orthodox and moderates is invalid. But there are distinct differences between the attitudes and lifestyles of the orthodox and the moderates and we should take cognisance of that fact. People in both groups should be comfortable with their own beliefs and should be able to draw sustenance from the like-minded others in their own group. But above all they should not hurl insults at members of the other group. If we cannot respect each other, we should at least tolerate each other since we do have to co-exist.

Ghulam Mohiyuddin is a retired physician of Indian origin.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Report back from Pakistan

I have just returned from Pakistan where I am deeply involved in working through NGOs in two areas
1. The establishment of Institutions caring for those with mental health Issues. I am motivated to do this because two of my siblings suffer from mental health issues and because this is a neglected area not just in Pakistan but worldwide.
2. Working on Poverty alleviation and women’s uplift through an NGO which gives out loans to women through microfinance.
These subjects take me to Pakistan twice a year and give me the opportunity to interact with Pakistanis from various segments of society. My wife was also in Pakistan but on a different mission. She brought back handicraft made by poor women so that she could sell them here and make money for similar women, so that they can be helped to get educated and to acquire skills.

Impact of US policies from the perspective of ordinary Pakistanis

In a recent survey conducted by Gallup, it was revealed that the US is most unpopular in three countries. These countries being Egypt, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. After Israel , Egypt is the largest recipient of US aid and considered an ally. Pakistan also received substantial aid and is considered an ally. Saudi Arabia receives military aid and equipment and is also an ally. We are therefore most unpopular with those that we aim to help. Next in line of unpopularity is Turkey, another ally. If we look at the case of Pakistan, it would give us some clues to what we are doing wrong that even our friends are unhappy with us. Here are five important points.
1. Killing Democracy in Pakistan by supporting dictators and yes men. Unlike Pakistan’s neighbor India who decided a long time ago that being an ally of the US was not in their best interest but that building up a democracy was, Democracy has not been allowed to take root in Pakistan. I do not wish to leave an impression that the US alone bears responsibility for the absence of democracy in Pakistan but we can see a common thread in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, none of which is a democratic country and we know how the US killed democracy in Iran. To this day the US proclaims itself to be a champion of Democracy while actively destroying it in those countries that look to it for guidance.
2. The unnecessary killing of women and children and other innocent people by drone attacks and other aerial bombings. The so called high value targets who get killed are quickly replaced by others who are more hard line and what is left therefore are just innocent bodies, distraught widows and orphaned children. It will only take one person to emerge from this carnage as the new Osama Bin Laden.
3. Making Pakistan a dependant and pariah nation. Dependant on the IMF and US aid. Pakistan continues to remain on the edge of Bankruptcy. It has a mushrooming population, not enough energy for its needs ( I used to be without electricity everyday for at least four to five hours and sometimes eight. It was much worse in the villages) galloping inflation and no plans for the future except to live from hand to mouth. The common man sees the hand of The US in forcing valuable resources to be diverted to the military and away from education, health and infrastructure.
4. Making Pakistan fight an American war and creating conditions of a civil war, with Pakistanis killing Pakistanis. The rise of religious extremism in Pakistan is a tool freely used by Pakistani politicians as well as American planners. Religious extremists are well funded, well armed and well motivated to continue dividing a society which only wants peace and to be able to get o with their lives. Many people are beginning to wonder that it might be better to side with these extremists if the real enemy is America and not the extremist. After all the extremists are also demanding that US forces quit Pakistan.
5. The perception that the US is waging a war against Islam is strengthened by the number of Muslim countries that the US has recently attacked and the others that it wishes to attack. The common man does not fail to see to see the common thread in US Policy and believes that Pakistan will be attacked at some future date not because it bears any animosity to America but because it is Muslim.
For those people interested in knowing the reaction of Pakistanis to the Time Square would be bomber, the reactions run from one of total denial to those who see it as a CIA plot. Such is the mistrust of the US that the average Pakistani goes for all sorts of conspiracy theories rather than believe what is reported in the press.

How does one respond to allegations that Pakistan is training militants to harm US Interests.

Historically the Taliban are a joint creation of the US, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Putting guns into the hands of Muslim extremists was our idea. This was part of the plan to defeat the Soviet Union and bring down communism. It succeeded wildly but all the cost of this success has been laid at the footsteps of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Afghanistan has been lost to a civil war for 30 years and Pakistan has inherited 4 million Afghan Refugees , a gun culture and porous borders with Afghanistan. People are quick to blame these countries for terrorism and no one acknowledges the debt owed by the so called free world to the people of these countries. These countries are the true martyrs as they continue to bleed and their people continue to suffer. They will never be able to hold their heads high again amongst the comity of nations because they stand accused of corruption, mismanagement and breeding terrorism and not as warriors who shed their blood fighting communism.
The Lashkae Tayyaba and the Jaishi Mohammadi are people trained and bred by the Pakistan Army as freedom fighters to support the struggle of the Kashmiri people against the brutal suppression of their people by a 500,000 strong Indian Army. They were diverted at the request of The US to fight in Afghanistan. How do these people feel when they are asked to turn their guns against their own people the very people who they fought side by side against the Soviets. How would they feel when suddenly American guns are trained against them ? How would they feel when they went from good guys to bad guys in sixty seconds?
The US walked away after the defeat of the Soviet Union and instead of building up an impoverished and decimated nation, left it to the warlords former, friends and supporters to sort it out by letting the fittest survive. They allowed India and Pakistan to fight a proxy war using Afghanistan as a battle ground. So who abandons friends like this, only a people whose definition of self interest is I am alright jack, the rest can go to hell. So who has the right to call anyone else corrupt.
We like to believe in making things simple and seeing things in black and white in saying you are with us or against us but do we realize how much suffering we cause to our own friends and how much we are responsible for creating enemies where none existed before.
No one in Pakistan or Afghanistan for that matter had wished to harm America but I cannot say that this is true anymore. There are a lot of very angry people in Pakistan (and Afghanistan). There are more people in Afghanistan than Pakistan who have lost loved ones but we must remember that the Pushtun in Pakistan are the same people as the Pushtun in Afghanistan. If they feel that the only way to bring the message home to America is to kill the loved ones of America then they will be tempted to do so.
For eight years Americans have known that the man sitting in the White house has been following a policy based on lies, deceit and a violation of all the principles that we believe in. During his period, American credibility and prestige have been hurt perhaps irreparably. We have demolished countries and decimated their people all in the name of American security and we have created enemies where none existed before. In short we have made the world a less safer place for Americans. Having said this we now see a man who we struggled hard to elect, following the exact same policies oblivious to the harm they are doing to America, its friends and the rest of the world. Clearly it is the interests of the Military Industrial complex that seems to take precedence over everything else. Not content with destroying the US Economy, destroying Iraq, destroying Afghanistan and supporting an Apartheid regime in Israel we now want to open another front in Iran and try to destroy that country also.
I only wish to say that the policies that we have followed for the last 10 years are not in the interests of this country and unless we can do something to elect people who represent us and our interests and not those of big money we are doomed as a nation and as a People.

What can we learn about our approach to US policy in Pakistan?

1. Giving aid to countries which only makes them dependant is not in the interest of those countries, including Pakistan. The whole matter of Aid needs to be reviewed and revisited.
2. Using force to resolve problems only alienates people particularly our friends. The use of force has only helped to destroy countries and not build them. The US is getting a reputation as a destroyer of countries and not as a builder. We live in a past where we like to remind people look how we help to rebuild Germany and Japan. Look at how we saved Europe from the Nazis but we forget that this was a very long time ago. Ever since we became the world’s sole super power, we seem to have become nasty and dictatorial.
3. Owning up to our own mistakes seems to be a problem for us. It some how goes against the grain of seeing ourselves as the good guys who can do no wrong or if we do wrong then our intentions were good and therefore it is not a crime in the same category as the wrongs of the other side. Unfortunately there is no other side. Our enemies are non states. We are fighting in many cases shadows of our own imagination. We are drumming up excuses to keep our war machine happy. While we are doing all this we are neglecting our own country. The one trillion spent in Iraq and similar amounts spent in other parts of the world could have helped us resolve our domestic issues. There is rampant economic injustice, our Banks are bankrupt and need massive financial aid, Our health system is captive to the Insurance Industry and we end up spending 18% of GDP on a health system which leave a huge number of American uninsured. Our Social Security system is bankrupt and above all we are the largest creditor nation in the world with no hope of ever repaying our debts. Unemployment has remained at a little below 10% with no sign of improving, the stock market has finally recognized that the future is bleak. So instead of attending to our problems here why are we killing innocent people in Afghanistan and creating a situation where we will end up spending huge amounts of money on security.


We are living in a world which has suddenly shrunk not in terms of population but the impact that an individual can have on events. The forces that want an unequal world are right now in charge. They are rich and powerful beyond words. Those of us who wish to focus on Justice above everything else are the subjugated and the powerless. Let us make no mistake about it. The powerful can crush the powerless like we crush ants under our boots. All that the powerless have to do is to stand up as one for a better world. We have seen how first in Vietnam and now in Afghanistan the weaker party was able to withstand the full might of the most powerful nation in the world. Ultimately America has been weakened inextricably from its futile wars. I do not believe that we have learnt our lesson and so it is even more necessary that we renew our efforts to stop this craziness.

I am only saying today what Martin Luther has already said 43 years ago.

“Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover when the issues at hand seem as perplexed as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty; but we must move on.”

Ladies and gentlemen we must not only move on, we must try to stop this madness.

Does Pakistan support the Taliban?

After Obama, declared Afghanistan to be the right war, he quickly announced that he will be leaving Afghanistan soon. Both Pakistan and Afghanistan view the US as being there temporarily. They feel that to bring eventual peace to the area, a deal will have to be done with the Taliban. Amazingly the US has less credibility with either Pakistan and Afghanistan than do the Taliban.

Aside from what one may feel about the beliefs of the Taliban, they are still from the area and are related by blood to both Afghanis and Pakistanis.

The most amazing turn around in recent times has been that of Karzai from being anti Pakistan to now being anti US and viewing Pakistan as being part of the solution. Karzai is ferociously biting the hand that feeds him. The resignations in his cabinet have been those of the Northern Alliance people, who are supported by the Indians. If any one's days are numbered it is more Karzai than Zardari.

The Taliban have some how hung in there long enough for the US to run out of steam and make all sorts of serious mistakes. The Drone attacks are a mistake that the US fails to recognise and have helped turn round people like Karzai. The typical answer of the US to any mistake is to say we did not apply it forcefully enough and therefore let us send in more troops, throw more bombs, kill more people. The Taliban are therefore quickly becoming David to the American Goliath.