Pakistan ties: Old wine in old bottle

SADLY, the Obama administration appears to be trying to revive its failing Cold War policy to refurbish the strained U.S. ties to Pakistan. Ever since its inception, what remains of Pakistan after the secession of Bangladesh has been under the rule of its self-serving feudal-military-bureaucratic class. Today’s Pakistani prime minister and president belong to that class.

U.S. relations with Pakistan have been based on courting that repressive and exploitative class – and the governments that belonged to it – with perks, bribes and mostly military government assistance. Only two Pakistani prime ministers – Khwaja Nazimuddin in the 1950s and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in the 1970s – ventured to break out of U.S. hegemony. The former paid for it with his job, the latter with his life.

In return for the subservience to Washington, the Pakistani military, which has lost all of its three wars with India, has been serving tenaciously as America’s mercenaries to fight its enemies – the Soviets (in Afghanistan) during the Cold War and anti-U.S. Muslim militants since 9/11.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who will be visiting President Obama in the White House on Wednesday, is also persuaded by American president to rent out the Pakistani armed forces to continue to fight America’s wars. But I don’t think that would work in the long run. The times have changed dramatically.

Except for a small and thinning layer of Westernized social parasites, Pakistanis today are pulsating with fervor for freedom and dignity, expressed in their smoldering rage against foreign hegemony and tutelage. Prime Minister Sharif can’t go too far in kowtowing to America without risking a public backlash of the kind that swept the former Pakistani military dictator Pervez Musharraf off power and into exile.

Let EU rein in Egypt’s military junta

I’M RELIEVED to see that Egypt’s military junta has blinked first in its bloody confrontation with the Muslim Brotherhood. The regime apparently has dropped its interior minister’s threat to stamp out the Brotherhood sit-ins. Tens of thousands of supporters of Mohammad Mursi have since been allowed to stage rallies, demanding his reinstatement as president. Mursi was elected president on the ticket of the Freedom and Justice Party, the Brotherhood’s political arm.

The generals who staged the June 30 putsch against his government are in a pickle now! So it seems is the Obama administration, which had befuddled or amused many by its persistent refusal to call their coup as a coup. The government of Egypt’s interim President Adly Mansour, appointed by the military chief Gen. Abdul Fattah el-Sisi, can’t dismantle the Islamist sit-ins without a catastrophic bloodbath. That would make the junta an international pariah.

The Mansour regime is already becoming paralyzed, as it can’t make headway with its planned overhaul of the constitution without a settlement with the Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest and best-organized political organization. The Islamist group is fast regaining its strength, eroded during last months of the Mursi presidency, as it has paid a high price in blood to resist the military-backed autocracy. The Brotherhood’s campaign against bureaucratic meddling with the country’s constitution could block the project.

I see a silver lining, however, in the European Union’s diplomatic effort to defuse the Egyptian crisis. Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief, is working with the generals and Brotherhood sources to help Egypt resume its democratic process. The United States’ failure to oppose the overthrow of Mursi’s democratic government has alienated it, at least for now, to the Brotherhood. This leaves Ashton mission the best tool to untangle the Egyptian imbroglio.

The Obama administration has become the butt of jokes around the world for playing with words to avoid describing Mursi’s ouster by the military as a coup. It’s doing so to circumvent the American law that demands the cut off of aid to any country in which the military has overthrown a democratic government. The administrations thinks that Israel’s security interests requires it to continue the aid flow to Egypt, no matter what.

Ever since the 1978 Camp David Accords, brokered by President Jimmy Carter, the United States has been giving Egypt more than $1 billion annually, mostly in military aid, which essentially is the price for Egypt’s continued adherence to the treaty. That treaty neutralizes Egypt, the most populous Arab country, in the ongoing Arab-Israeli belligerency. President Obama and his advisers obviously fear that stopping U.S. aid could jeopardize the Egyptian military’s commitment to that peace accord.

During his brief, one-year presidency, Mursi had disillusioned large numbers of Egyptians. They held huge public rallies, demanding his abdication. Many of them eventually supported the military as it toppled him from power.

It has happened in many other post-colonial countries. Initially, democratic governments fail to fulfill people’s aspirations, generated by democratization campaigns. Many of them give military adventurists a chance to do a better job of giving them the goodies. But their trust in power-hungry generals doesn’t take long to evaporate.

Egyptians’ frustration with Mursi was partly manufactured by the military, judicial and bureaucratic establishments. They resented their accountability to his democratic government and sabotaged many of his economic, infrastructure and constitutional programs.

But the mobs mobilized against Mursi don’t have viable political organizations. And the feckless Mansour government’s rubber-stamping military decisions, including the massacres of Brotherhood supporters, already has begun to antagonize many of Egyptians who opposed Mursi.

I expect the Freedom and Justice Party to win Egypt’s next democratic elections as well, or form a powerful constitutional opposition. The United States needs to mend fences with the Brotherhood. It should backtrack from its tacit acceptance of military coup and throw its full weight behind the EU mission in Egypt.

Egypt’s return to the democratic track would extricate the administration from its embarrassing amnesia about the murder of a newborn democracy.

Mustafa Malik is an international affairs commentator in Washington. He covered Egypt and the Middle East as reporter and conducted fieldwork there as a researcher for the University of Chicago Middle East Center.

John Kerry: Same old same old

WELL, JOHN KERRY doesn’t have it, either!

I was curious to see if the new secretary of state’s “major speech” at the University of Virginia might finally signal a “change” in foreign policy, which President Obama had promised Americans during his first presidential run. Sadly, it didn’t.

John Kerry’s recipe to meet U.S. foreign policy challenges appeared to have been copied from the neoconservatives’ play book: trade, aid and democracy. All these have been tried. They didn’t work.

On international trade, the U.S. trade deficit has  ballooned under Bush and Obama. With China,  America’s most important trading partner, it has reached an historic high of $315 billion.

The United States has poured tens of billions of dollars in foreign aid, promoting secular education and bolstering security and military forces in countries that are breeding terrorists.  The idea, floated by fertile neoconservative minds, is that young Muslim men are turning to terrorism because of poverty and joblessness and anti-Western hatred engendered by madrasah education.  Despite America’s prodigious aid programs during the past decade,  terror is winning America’s “war on terror.”  Al Qaeda used to be holed up in Afghanistan’s Hindukush Mountains. It’s now spreading dramatically — so are other terrorist groups — in South Asia, the Middle East, North and West Africa, and elsewhere.   After fighting its longest war in history, the United States is getting ready to flee Afghanistan without realizing Obama’s repeatedly proclaimed vow to “disrupt, dismantle and defeat” the Taliban.

Kerry’s other proposition, i.e. helping build democracy abroad, is based on another pie-in-the-sky neoconservative mantra, namely that democracies are peaceable and buddy-buddy with one another.  I wonder how the former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee could have failed to notice that democracy is transforming secular, and – with the exception of Iraq – pro-American regimes into Islamist ones that care less about American democracy or American interests?  Egypt, Tunisia and Turkey are among the examples.

Nobody would, of course, doubt Kerry’s sanity, but he apparently plans to defy Albert Einstein’s caveat against “doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.” But why?

The main source of the secretary of state’s predicament is not  himself, but his boss.  For all his soaring rhetoric, Obama came into the White House as a clean slate in international affairs.  He didn’t – and still doesn’t – have a vision of his own about America’s relations with the world.  Most naive and perilous has been the president’s lurch toward the right-wing foreign and defense policy aficionados who had helped create the mess abroad and whom he now expected to clean it up.

I was aghast to see him fill his key defense, intelligence and foreign policy posts with such right-wing diehards from the Bush administration as Robert Gates, Tom Donilon, John Brennan, James Jones, Dennis Ross, and others. Hillary Clinton also is a dyed-in-wool establishment figure.  Her traditionalist worldview was highlighted in, among other issues, her unwavering support for the disastrous Iraq war, which she has persistently refused to call a mistake. I was hoping, in vain, that the president would bring over to his administration such progressive and resourceful minds as Zbigniew Brzezinski, Aaron David Miller, Joseph S. Nye Jr., Ann Marie Slaughter and Robert Unger. His nomination of Chuck Hagel for the defense secretary post seems to have been an aberration. I would be surprised if the forward-looking and (still) morally inspired former senator from Nebraska can withstand the pressure of jingoism permeating in the administration.

No wonder the Obama administration, in international affairs, looked like a third, and now probably a fourth, Bush-Cheney administration.  Noam Chomsky aptly described the Democratic president  as a “moderate Republican” who is a “reactionary” on civil liberties issues.  It’s because Obama lacked, not only a grounding in foreign affairs, but the moral courage and commitment to break out of America’s outmoded foreign policy establishment.

◆ Mustafa Malik, an international affairs commentator in Washington, hosts the blog ‘Islam and the West.’.



Back to old Palestine?

Political columnist Pat Buchanan once described Capitol Hill as the third “Israeli-occupied territory” after the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.  Those days the White House frequently resisted Israeli pressure to support its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, while Congress routinely supported the Israeli stance.

Thursday, the Obama administration voted against the U.N. resolution that recognized the two Palestinian territories as a “state,” which has yet to become a full member of the world body. The U.S. vote was a high watermark in the current and last administrations’ support of  Israeli colonial policies. Meanwhile, Israel has pulled out of Gaza.  Buchanan could now argue that the White House has replaced Gaza as the third Israeli-occupied territory!

Israel has retaliated against the U.N. recognition of the Palestinian state by announcing the revival of a 3,000-home Jewish settlement project in a territory adjacent to Jerusalem, known as E1.  The project would cut through the West Bank, making the creation of a viable state impossible,. Hence it had been suspended in 2009 under intense international pressure.

So  what could come of the 138-9 U.N. vote recognizing the Palestinian state? Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president,  had told cheering General Assembly delegates that their  landmark resolution would “save the two-state solution and  salvage peace,” which he vowed to pursue through “negotiations” with the Israelis.

I wish I am wrong, but I see his vow to achieve negotiated peace between Israel and the Palestinians a pipe dream.  It’s  19 years since the Oslo Peace Accords launched the Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations. During those on-again, off-again talks, successive Israeli governments — both right-wing and centrist — have made abundantly clear that their maximum concessions would fall far short of Palestinians’ minimum demands.  Those demands include the creation of a sovereign state in the West Bank and Gaza with its capital in East Jerusalem and return of thousands of Palestinian refugees to their homes and lands in Israel from where they were expelled by Jews in 1948.

The Oslo Accords created the Palestinian Authority and assigned it the task of freezing the Palestinian struggle that could threaten Israel’s security.  While the PA kept a lid on anti-Israeli protests and violence in the West Bank, Israel went on gobbling up  large swaths of the Palestinian lands through the creation of new Jewish settlements. Together with the E1 project, these settlements are meant to be “facts on the ground” that would leave no room for a workable Palestinian state.

On the Palestinian and Arab side, swirling democracy movements have created another set of facts on the ground, which  has further diminished the prospect of a “two-state solution,” meaning the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.  Democracy has cost Israel the two biggest pillars of its regional security system: Egypt and Turkey. For decades pro-Western secularist regimes in both these states maintained extensive security and commercial ties with Israel, defying their citizens’ overwhelming support for Palestinians and their nationalist cause. In both countries now, democratically elected Muslim governments are strongly opposed to Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands and suppression of Palestinians. During the recent Gaza conflict, the intervention of the Egyptian and Turkish governments, along with those of Tunisia and Qatar, prevented Israel from launching a land invasion of Gaza, which would have defeated Gaza’s Islamist Hamas regime.

So what lies ahead for the Palestinians and Israelis?  The Gaza war has shown that Palestinian missiles can now rain on just about all parts of Israel, including Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Imagine Israel’s national nightmare when Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Lebanese Hezbollah will be able to equip those missiles with GPS and target them to Israel’s population centers and vital economic and industrial facilities. More significantly, while Israel’s  E1  project is putting the last stitch on the coffin of the two-state solution, the old Palestine — comprising Israel, the West Bank and Gaza — is becoming a de facto bi-national state with a Palestinian majority. In such a state Jews can rule only by disenfranchising the majority Palestinians. Would the 21st century, especially the resurgent Arab Muslim world, live with apartheid in the Holy Land? If not,  will most Jews reconcile with living under Palestinian domination?

Mustafa Malik, an international affairs columnist in Washington, hosts the blog site ‘Islam and the West.’

Obama, Romney clueless about Islam

That was a shocker. On Monday, Mitt Romney launched a blistering, if empty,  assault on President Obama’s allegedly “passive”  policy toward Muslim extremists and terrorists. The Republican presidential nominee accused the president of not being able to tackle “violent extremists,” some of whom stormed the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

Obama “passive” about extremists and terrorists? Actually,  the president’s highly charged campaign against violent and many non-violent Muslim militants has been applauded more by jingoist Republicans than progressive Democrats. As I will argue, his — and Republicans’ — single-minded focus on extremists has left broad modernizing and  democratizing Islamist movements in their blind spot.

Obama has eaten his 2008 campaign pledge and kept Gitmo open. He has continued the Bush-era Patriot Act, military tribunals, indefinite detentions and extraordinary renditions. And he has intensified and vastly expanded the drone war, killing hundreds of innocent children, women and men, while targeting terror suspects.

In reality, Muslim extremism has been declining steadily, which so far has eluded U.S. politicians and media. The Arab Spring is a glaring example.  In the Middle East and North Africa, mainstream Islamists and other groups waged their democratic struggles peacefully. There were few anti-American slogans or burning of the American flag, even though America had long been supporting most of the repressive autocratic regimes they were tying to overthrow. Whatever violence has occurred between Arab protesters and their autocratic regimes was triggered by violent government crackdowns. Anti-American violence is being committed, as in the Benghazi case, mostly by fringe groups such as Al Qaeda, which have long been at odds with the U.S. Middle East policy.

The Islamist mainstreams’  transition to democracy has been facilitated by their growing popularity among the public, enabling them to pursue their agenda through the electoral process.  During reporting trips in the Middle East and South Asia in the early 1970s, I found most Islamists espousing armed jihad against their secular autocratic regimes and foreign hegemons. Among them Matiur Rahman Nizami, the current head of the Bangladesh Jamaat-i-Islami party. In 1971 he and his Islamist party plunged into an armed struggle against the Bangladesh independence movement, fearing the secular nationalists would secularize Bangladeshi society and outlaw Islamist politics there.

Four years ago I dropped in to see Nizami, then the industries minister of a democratically elected Bangladeshi government, at his office in Dhaka, the country’s capital. I couldn’t believe my ears when he asserted that “democracy is the only way to serve Islam and Bangladesh.” His party had come to power (along with a secular party) through a peaceful democratic election.  I have heard similar comments from Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Pakistan’s Jamaat-i-Islami ideologue Khurshid Ahmed and other Islamist or Islam-oriented leaders and activists.

The spread of Islamism through modern democracy has turned the old Western theory of modernization and secularization on its head.  That theory said education, economic development and public participation in politics would, according to modernization theorist Daniel Lerner, lead to the “secular evolution of a participant society.”  He added that “Islam is helpless” to resist the secularist tide. On the contrary, today’s modernizing Muslim societies are using the democratic process to Islamize.

Egypt’s dictatorships had persecuted the Muslim Brotherhood and banned it from politics for decades. Democracy has catapulted that Islamist organization to power, alongside a vibrant modernization process. Since 1980, Egypt’s national literacy rate has doubled to 71 percent. Especially encouraging is the literacy rate among young women aged 15-24, which is 82%, as UNICEF data show.

Democracy, too, has replaced Tunisia’s secular autocracy with the Islamist Ennahda  party government. During the last three decades Tunisia’s literacy rate also has nearly doubled to 77 percent, with that of women 15-24 an enviable 96%.

As impressive is the pace of democratization and modernization in Turkey, which has replaced a military-dominated secularist regime with the democratic government of the Islam-oriented Justice and Development Party. Turkey’s literacy rate has jumped from 65% in 1980 to 94% this year, including 97% among women in the 15-24 age group.

Westerners who are rightly concerned about the backwardness of Muslim women mostly overlook today’s progressive and liberating trends. Large numbers of the young, educated Muslim women practice their faith and support Islamist movements.

Education and new winds of freedom have inspired Muslims with a deepening sense of self-worth and empowerment. They had been languishing under domestic autocratic suppression and foreign colonial subjugation for centuries.  The awareness of self-worth has heightened their fervor and pride for their own religious and cultural heritage, which translate into pro-Islamist votes in the polling booths.

The United States should appreciate Islamism’s role in Muslim empowerment and the democratization of Muslim societies. It  should broaden its mutually productive relations with Islamist governments. That would help neutralize Islamism’s extremist fringe, which has been feeding on the West’s hostility or disengagement with Islamist movements for freedom, dignity and democracy.

  • Mustafa Malik is an international affairs commentator in Washington. He host the blog, Islam and the West:




Americans fed up with right and left

The documentary “2016: Obama’s America” is drawing big crowds in the South, reports my hometown newspaper the Washington Examiner . And  “liberal and conservative voters” watching it are cursing President Obama.

“I have to get some more friends” to see the documentary, says 18-year-old Tammy Birdwell who watched it in Greenville, N.C. “We have to get Obama out.”

The production is based on Dinesh D’Souza’s controversial book The Roots of Obama’s Rage.  D’Souza is a right-wing, indian-born activist and writer who used to be an adviser to the Reagan White House. His book’s underlying theme is that Obama is inspired by the liberal “anti-colonial ideology of his African father.”  That ideology, adds D’Souza, has shaped the policies of the Obama administration. A right-wing documentary luring liberals? It reminds me of Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11”, which was praised by many conservatives.  Many Americans are apparently disillusioned by both conservatism and liberalism.

D’Souza’s portrait of Obama is based mostly on the president’s writings and rhetoric.  The author selectively stitched together bits and pieces of them to draw up a profile of the first black American president that repels many  Americans.

As evidence of Obama’s liberalism and anti-colonialism, the author cites his call as a U.S. senator to withdraw American troops from Iraq, opposition to Gen. David Petraeus’ “surge” strategy in Iraq, association with “Marxist professors and structural feminists” at Occidental College, unidentified plan to “spread the wealth” in America, and so forth.

This image starkly contradicts Obama’s policies or actions as president.  President Obama is known the world over for  his embrace and expansion of the Bush administration’s drone war in several Muslim countries, killing hundreds of innocent men, women and children. He continues President Bush’s policies of profiling and surveillance of American Muslims, of denying Guantanamo Bay prisoners the due process of civil law, and of refusing to identify with African American issues and priorities. Early in his administration, Obama alienated many of his liberal and leftist supporters by caving in to Republicans to focus on deficit cuts over jobs and growth.

I knew the president was about to sidestep the causes of the poor and the left when he hired such died-in-the-wool conservative economists as Larry Summers, Tim Geithner and Peter Orszag to frame and run his economic policies.  But I did not anticipate his adoption of the Bush administration’s militarist agenda.  Washington Post writer Ezra Klein’s characterization of Obama as a “moderate Republican” may apply to many of his domestic policies. In the Middle East and South Asia, his first presidential term looks more like Bush’s third. So the question, again, is why is the right-wing documentary “2016”  riveting liberals? Why do Moore’s liberal documentaries attract many conservatives?

My take on it all is that while vested interests and ideologues remain loyal to ideologies, most everyday Americans are fed up with them. They know in their bones that their political ideologies and economic and financial institutions aren’t answering their real-life problems.  They have been voting Democrats and Republicans to Congress and the Presidency, but their economy remains in a shambles. Too many of them are unemployed or have jobs that don’t relieve them of hardships and despair. America lurches from one bloody and costly war to another, yet Americans have never felt so insecure: airports, government offices, corporations and many other swaths of public space have turned into veritable fortresses, under disturbing and annoying security cordons.

Americans’ allegiance to their political and economic institutions is eroding fast. Yet they continue to shuttle between them because they see no alternative paradigm, or avenues of meaningful living. Well, not yet. New ideological or existential paradigms often come unannounced. We should keep an ear out for them.

  • Mustafa Malik is an international affairs columnist in Washington. He hosts the blog Beyond Freedom.






Pakistan out of U.S. shadow

“How do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?” These were the words of a young antiwar activist named John Kerry, testifying before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Forty-one years later Kerry, now chairman of the  same Senate committee, was defending the Afghan war, in which the last man has probably yet to die.

“A premature departure [from Afghanistan] would jeopardize the chances for a responsible transition,” he writes in the Chicago Tribune.

As the end game in Afghanistan draws near, half-heartedly and in confusion, the Americans are trying to put in place an exit strategy. As part of it, Pakistan has agreed to reopen Nato supplies.

The supply route was closed indefinitely seven months ago when U.S. bombers killed 24 Pakistani soldiers on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. For reasons of sanity, lets us not indulge in to the logic of why such an incident took place. Even if you kill my cat, I will try my best, not to allow you to live in a house next to mine.

For the Pakistani government and army, it was the last straw. Besides stopping Nato supplies to Afghanistan, Pakistan suspended other forms of cooperation with the U.S. and demanded an American apology for the killings.

For seven months the U.S. tried all sorts of diplomatic maneuvers to force Pakistan to reopen its “southern supply route” running through Pakistan. Those maneuvers included financial squeeze on Pakistan through the IMF, Pakistan’s exclusion from strategic talks on Afghanistan and overt preferential treatment of India, Pakistan’s arch rival. But Pakistan stood its ground and demanded nothing less than an apology for the killing 24 of its troops would make it consider the reopening of the supply route.

In the words of mark twain, “History never repeats itself but often rhymes.” Mention the Afghan exit strategy to any American in Afghanistan and the first thing that comes to his mind is Vietnam, America’s longest war until Afghanistan.

It is very difficult not to draw similarities between the Vietnam and Afghanistan. A corrupt government elected by a small minority, a consumer economy fueled by war spending, alienation and neglect of ground realities, and end game where exiting American forces are trying to pull a PR stunt to convince everyone that the local forces are fully capable fighting their  war.

Some Vietnam parallels to this war are amazing. In the spring of 1972 then President Richard Nixon flew in to Saigon to ink a treaty with then Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu, codifying a ‘long-term’ U.S. relationship with South Vietnam, which would leave Vietnam’s security to Vietnamese. In May 2012 President Obama flew in to Kabul to sign a “strategic partnership agreement” with the Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Said Obama: ‘Afghans are responsible for the security of their nation, and we build an equal partnership between two sovereign states; a future in which the war ends, and a new chapter begins’. How much more secure will post-American Afghanistan be than was post-American Vietnam?

Before the exit of their combat forces from Vietnam, the Americans started believing that they were losing because Cambodia was supporting the rebels in Vietnam. Ali Syed writes “The Cambodians remained as neutral as they could but the Americans alleged that they are playing a double game, they bombed the border areas (since they believed that communists had set up sanctuaries there), with the result Khmer Rouge was formed and later what they did with their people is also horrid. There are stark similarities between the conflict of Vietnam and Cambodia and the one that we have now (Afghanistan and Pakistan).” In Afghanistan, many Americans blame their travails on Pakistani elements’ alleged support for the Taliban.

After seven months of intense negotiations and arm-twisting, Washington has persuaded Islamabad to reopen the NATO supply route through its territory.  Hillary Clinton agreed to release a ‘Sorry’ statement and Pakistan accepted it and allowed non-lethal shipments to pass through its Karachi port.

Even though a second NATO supply route that runs through Central Asian countries was given a lot of hype after the closure of the Pakistani one, it was not viable. Ahsanurahman Khan writes in Pakistan’s Frontier Post newspaper that the Pakistani route is ‘the inescapable requirement of the NATO for the exit phase, despite the availability of the Central Asian routes.’

Pakistan’s help is essential for invaders’ retreat.  Soviet invaders needed assurances from Pakistan to prevent mujahedeen attacks on their withdrawing units. Now NATO will need Pakistan’s cooperation to retreat safely from Afghanistan through Pakistani territory.

Many in Pakistan such as Asif Haroon Raja believe that there is no justification  for Pakistan ‘to become party to the massacre of Afghans by the US kill teams particularly when drawdown has commenced and the US is actively engaged in parleys with Taliban in search of political settlement.’ They see the reopening of this route as ‘digging our own graves and consciously putting our heads in hornets’ nest.’

However, the closing and reopening of this route has some Geo-strategic implications. Mahmoud Majid in a policy paper  points to ‘the American policy shift in favor of a ‘regional’ approach for a grand political reconciliation is in itself evidence on the limits of US power in the region.’

The U.S. apology shows that Islamabad can finally take an independent stand for its own strategic interests. We are also seeing the beginning of an era where Pakistan can view its relations with India without the American prism. All this will also help Pakistan in its relations with China and Russia.

Tajwali Khan is a guest contributor to ‘Islam and the West’. (He is an Independent researcher and blogger  from Pakistan, with an interest in South Asian and Middle eastern issues. He is editor  of the blog He also writes for  Oriental Review and Islamabad Times Online)

Taliban fight for freedom, justice

By Mustafa Malik

SYLHET,  Bangladesh — Aunt Salima Khatun, my mother’s sister, barged in to see me here in the Bangladeshi town of Sylhet.  I spend part of my Bangladesh vacations in Sylhet, known for its tea gardens, cane furniture and the shrine of the famed Muslim saint Hazrat Shah Jalal.

Behind Aunt Salima was her grandson, a college student, carrying a big bowl. It had several dozen homemade sweets, wrapped in banana leaves under plastic covering.  They were made of flour, meshed with the delicious juice of a local fruit known as “tal” and other ingredients, before being rolled into round cakes and cooked.

“When you were a little boy, you loved ‘tal sandesh’ (tal sweets),” said my aunt, 81. “See if you like them.”

As the conversation progressed, she asked if I could bring the student over to the United States for further education.  He had been “pulling out my hair,” meaning badgering her, to make me the request, she added.  I apologized for my inability to help him get a U.S. visa.

The young man was, however, a member of an Islamic student group, which campaigns against U.S. and Israeli occupation of Muslim lands.  Why was President Obama “so viciously opposed” to Palestinians’ U.N. membership? he asked.  He was elated, however, that Muslim guerrillas were “throwing out the [Western] invaders” from Iraq and Afghanistan. Would Americans “dare to occupy a Muslim country again?”

His admiration for anti-American guerrillas is widely shared by most Muslims in South Asia, as I have learned during trips through the region.  Noor  M.  Khan, a family friend in the northeast Indian town of Haflong, told me during a visit there last year that “our mujahedeen [Islamic guerrillas] are our only hope against American imperialism.”  The Afghan mujahedeen drove back Russian invaders from Afghanistan in the 1980s, he continued.  Now thanks to the Taliban, American occupation forces would be fleeing Afghanistan, “peeing in their pants.”

Many South Asian Muslims, as many Muslims elsewhere, usually get to like Americans with whom they come in contact.   Many try to migrate to the United States for a better life.  If young, some of aspire to have an American education, as my aunt’s grandson does. Yet the same Muslims would be denouncing Americans vehemently for America’s “war on Islam.”

It’s a déjà vu of the last decades (1910s-1940s) of British colonial rule in what was then “British India.”  Those days many Indians had British friends. Many were educated in British schools or British-style secular schools in India.  Yet some of them joined the struggle to liberate their country from British colonialism.  British-sponsored education had taught them Western concepts of liberty and freedom and inspired them into anti-colonial struggle.

Justice is Islam’s core principle.  Muslims, secular or religious,  innately resist foreign hegemony because they consider it fundamentally unjust. Today most of the leaders and many activists of Muslim movements against U.S. invasions and domination  zest for freedom among Muslims, firing them up against American hegemony.  In earlier times, onset of modernity  stoked their struggles for freedom against European colonialism..

Modernity, it seems, has become the West’s Frankenstein’s monster!

But many of South Asia’s anti-American Muslim guerrillas are educated in madrassahs, or Islamic schools. They’re inspired by their innate antipathy for foreign military presence — which they share with many secularist activists — and pride in Islamic civilization, which madrassahs have inculcated in them.  In October 2007 a madrassah-educated Taliban supporter in Pakistan’s Mohmand tribal agency town of Ghalanai (whose name I promised not to publish) said to me that Muslims had built “the glorious Spanish civilization and taught Europeans the sciences and philosophy for more than 700 years.”  How many years, he asked, could “American Crusaders” stick around in Afghanistan?

The Taliban and other Pakistani and Afghan militants with only a madrassah education are also fighting for freedom from foreign occupation and domination.  Most of them just don’t know that freedom is a core American value that Americans once fought wrest from British colonialists.

Muslims youths are struggling to snatch that American ideal from the jaws of the American hegemon, which they consider unjust.

● Mustafa Malik is the host of the blog site Beyond Freedom.

U.S. policy threatens Pakistan’s stability

Book Review: Middle East Policy, Washington, D.C.;  Fall 2011

By Mustafa Malik

THE QUESTION once again: Is Pakistan a ‘failed state’ that’s going to bite the dust?

Anatol Lieven is among the latest authors to try an answer. His book Pakistan: A Hard Country is a broad and detailed survey of the security, economic, social, political and ecological challenges facing Pakistan.  But he argues that a greater threat to Pakistan’s security is posed by the United States and India.

India has been Pakistan’s archenemy, with which it has fought three wars, two of them over the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir, or Kashmir for short. Muslim Pakistan (including what is now Bangladesh) was carved out of  British India in 1947 on the principle – agreed to by its Hindu and Muslim leaders and the departing British colonial power – that the subcontinent’s Muslim-majority territories should become the independent state of Pakistan.  The rest of British India would be the independent Hindu-majority India. Pakistanis believe that India, which occupies two-thirds of the Muslim-majority Kashmir, is violating the foundational principles of the partition of the subcontinent.

Lieven analyzes, extensively, Pakistan’s serious economic crises, never-ending ethnic and sectarian strife, and growing water shortages. He considers the problem potentially the gravest threat to Pakistan’s survival.  He demonstrates his best insights on the question of Pakistan’s stability, especially whether terrorism is going to undo the problem-ridden state.

A professor at King’s College in London, Lieven examines four kinds of terrorism roiling Pakistan.  First, the Pakistani Taliban and allied groups are crossing over to Afghanistan and fighting the U.S. and NATO forces there. Secondly, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jamaat-ud-Dawa wage campaigns of violence in India to vent their rage at the Indian occupation of Kashmir, and most Pakistanis approve of their action. Thirdly, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Sipah-e-Sahaba, which belong to the majority Sunni Muslim sect, are striking Shia Muslim targets in Pakistan. Finally, the Taliban, Jaish-e-Muhammad and other militant groups are also attacking Pakistan’s military forces and civilian institutions because they have branded the Pakistani military and civilian government America’s “slaves” for joining the U.S. “war on terror” against militant Muslim groups in Pakistan.

Embarrassed by this kind of criticism, which is also widespread among the Pakistani public, the Pakistani government and army brass, as well as the United States, are arguing that Pakistani military forces are actually defending Pakistan against these militants. They cite militant attacks on Pakistani installations.  Americans add that these militant assaults, together with economic and other problems, threaten to make Pakistan a “failed state.”

The author agrees that militant violence has been a major part of the bloody mayhem Pakistan is going through in the anti-terror campaign.  “By February 2010,” he points out, “according to official figures, 7,598 civilians had died in Pakistan as a result of terrorist attacks, Taliban executions, military action or drone attacks. It is worth noting that this figure is two and a half times the number of Americans killed on 9/11.”

But Pakistanis view America as the source of the whole phenomenon of terrorism and social turmoil in their country. The Taliban didn’t begin to organize and Al Qaeda didn’t exist in Pakistan before the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. “Before 9/11,” Lieven quotes a Pakistani activist as saying, “there was no terrorism in Pakistan. Once America has left Afghanistan, our society will sort itself out.”

In reality, despite their violence, the Anti-American and anti-Indian militant groups enjoy wide support among military ranks and the public.  And the Pakistan army, the author says, “has been forced into alliance with the US which a majority of Pakistani society – including soldiers’ own families – detest.”

Most Pakistanis have been anti-American because of America’s support for Israel, perceived hostility to Islam and invasion of Iraq and, especially the neighboring Afghanistan.  Afghanistan provides Pakistan its “strategic depth” again India, and Pakistanis are always leery about foreign hegemony over Afghanistan. Also, Pakistan is the home of twice as many Pashtun as live in Afghanistan, who are fighting to expel NATO forces from that country.

Many Pakistanis recall the massive American aid and arms supplies to Afghan Mujahedeen in their struggle to roll back the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, and they “see Afghan Taliban as engaged in a legitimate war of resistance against [the U.S. and NATO] occupation, analogous to the Mujahidin war against the Soviet occupation in the 1980s.”

The Taliban’s violence against Pakistani military and other institutions are, however, resented by many Pakistanis.  Educated Pakistanis become outraged when they see the Taliban forcing their puritanical form of Islamic religious and moral code on Pakistanis, meting out brutal punishment to villagers for violations of that code. Yet most Pakistanis don’t consider them or their violence a threat to the stability of the state.

The author argues that terrorists can’t destabilize the Pakistani state “unless the US indirectly gives them a helping hand.” By indirect U.S. action, he apparently means U.S. drone attacks on militant targets and other American anti-terror operations within Pakistan. He quotes a 2009 cable from then U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, Anne Patterson, to the State Department, warning that U.S. drone and other attacks on Pakistani targets “risk destabilizing the Pakistani state, alienating both the civilian government and military leadership, and provoking a broader governing crisis in Pakistan.”

Significantly, the author also mentions the possibility of Pakistan being destabilized by direct U.S. invasion, maybe in collaboration with India. He doesn’t explain how and why America may invade Pakistan, but warns of its dire consequences. No conceivable gains “could compensate for the vastly increased threats to the region and the world that would stem from Pakistan’s collapse, and for the disasters that would result for Pakistan’s own peoples.”

On the question of possible U.S. invasion of Pakistan, Lieven echoes the fears of many Pakistanis, which some of them shared with me during research trips through Pakistan.  Among them were a retired army colonel and a political activist. The retired army officer, whom I interviewed on condition of anonymity, said that “the hue and cry [in the United States] about terrorists stealing our so-called Islamic bomb” has been a “ruse to take out our nuclear weapons and facilities.” He recalled that in the mid-1980s Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade the government of Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi to join Israel on an operation to dismantle Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program.  He feared that if Mossad now revived its scheme, “it may have a partner” in New Delhi.

Muhammad Sirajul Islam, the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) activist and resident of Karachi, voiced the same concern and added that the United States and Israel have never reconciled with “what they call our Islamic bomb.”

The roots of Pakistan’s belligerency and warfare with India lie in the dichotomy of self-image between Muslims and Hindus on the subcontinent. In undivided British India, Hindus were three-fourths of the population, Muslims making up most of the other fourth.  Hindus in general resented Muslims’ separate cultural niche and their demand for constitutional safeguards for their political representation and economic interests.

Without such safeguards, Muslims argued, “the brute majority” of Hindus in a majoritarian democracy would relegate them to permanent Hindu subordination.  The Hindu leadership didn’t agree to the Muslim demands, and Muslims forced the partition of the old country to create a Muslim state. Most Hindus were furious at the partition, and some continue to nurture their hostility to the Muslim state.

Since partition, India has assumed a hegemonic posture on the subcontinent, to which Pakistanis isn’t reconciled.  This historic Muslim-Hindu animus has been at the root of Pakistani-Indian hostility.

I’m more optimistic than the author about Pakistan’s future and its relations with the United States and Pakistan.  I see Washington beginning to realize that its goal of eliminating Muslim anti-American militancy through military means is a pipe dream.  Already, that realization has led to the Obama administration’s decision to begin pulling out American troops from Afghanistan, without being able to “disrupt, dismantle and defeat” the Taleban, which President Obama had vowed to do.  The administration also has all but given up on getting the Pakistan army to root out Taliban and Al Qaeda groups within its borders. In frustration, Washington has suspended a third of its annual aid package ($800 million) to Pakistan.

The United States is likely to better appreciate Pakistan’s strategic importance once it no

longer has boots on the ground in Afghanistan and anti-American militancy continues to percolate in South Asia.

The belligerency between Pakistan and India has already begun to abate. For one thing, Pakistan’s acquisition of a nuclear deterrent as of itself has made a large-scale Indian invasion of Pakistan almost inconceivable.  Secondly, the unrelenting secession movement in the Indian-held Kashmir and India’s cool relations with Muslim Bangladesh, which it helped create, would make New Delhi extremely wary of a cataclysmic military campaign against the hornet’s nest of Muslim Pakistan. In Kashmir, India has tried all tricks to suppress the 22-year-long Muslim uprising and has to come to terms with the Kashmiris’ aspiration for some kind of self-determination.

Thirdly, my research has revealed that the memories of wars and the partition of the subcontinent, which have bred much of the India-Pakistan hostility, are fading among both Pakistanis and Indians.  The generations that were most traumatized by those hostilities have mostly departed from the political scene.  The lingering tensions between the two states, albeit much diminished, are now fueled by the Hindu nationalist movement in India and the army and some militant Muslim groups in Pakistan. The new generations of Pakistanis and Indians are more interested in peace and business between the two countries.

Thus while official bilateral trade between Pakistan and India amounts to only about 1 per cent of their respective global trade, Pakistani towns and bazaars, especially near the Pakistan-India border, are flooded with Indian goods. Indians’ interest in Pakistani music and literature, and the popularity of Indian movies and music in Pakistan, among other things, signal an inexorable trend toward normalization of relations between the two countries.

During its five millennia of their recorded history, peoples of the subcontinent have alternated many times between periods of relative harmony and hostility. While the boundaries between their states are likely to endure, the dark period of their mutual hostility spawned by the 1947 partition appears to be yielding gradually to new era of relative political, trade and economic harmony.

•Mustafa Malik, an international affairs commentator in Washington, hosts the blog site Islam and the West: http:/


















Aiding Arab freedom serves U.S.

(Published in the Columbus Dispatch, April 30, 2011)

By Mustafa Malik

Democratization of Arab societies “would be a disaster” for the West, warns Princeton University scholar Bernard Lewis. Yet he predicts that Islamic political parties are “very likely to win … genuinely fair and free elections” in the Arab world.

One of the West’s best-known historians of Islam, Lewis has echoed what many American intellectuals and politicians are saying in private. And sometimes in public.  Democracy, they argue, brought Hamas “terrorists” to power in Palestine and has given Hezbollah “terrorists” a lock on the Lebanese government.  Democracy has replaced Iraq’s staunchly secular and anti-Iranian — albeit autocratic — regime with a pro-Iranian pseudo-theocracy. And in Turkey, an anti-Israeli government rooted in Islam has replaced an ultra-secularist and pro-Israeli ruling establishment through free and fair elections.

Ironically, Lewis had personally lobbied former President George W. Bush to invade Iraq and democratize it and other Arab societies.  Many Americans supported that campaign. The new drive to sit out Arab democratic upheavals is also shared by many Americans, especially politicians and pundits. Among them Nicholas Goldberg, the editorial page editor of the Los Angeles Times.

“It would not be beneficial to the United States for the Middle East to be democratic,” Goldberg wrote. Democracy would replace the current pro-Western Arab governments, especially in the oil-rich Persian Gulf, with anti-Western Islamic regimes. That would force the West “to pay a fair price for petroleum, which would shake the foundation of the [Western] economic system.”

Both the Arab democratization campaign of the last decade and today’s opposition to Arab democracy have a common goal: resisting Islamic forces from seizing the reins of government. Both are based on a dire misperception, i.e. that Islam-oriented regimes would necessarily endanger U.S. or Western interests.

It’s a tribute to the West that most of the Muslim and non-Muslim societies that once fought hard to throw off Western colonial yoke have adopted or are pursuing Western political institutions – political parties, elections, parliaments, press freedom, and so forth.  Yet these societies remain deeply rooted in their own traditions and heritage.  In fact the post-colonial Muslim and non-Muslim generations in the East are showing greater appreciation of their indigenous traditions than did their forebears who were brought up under Western colonial rule.

Thus in Muslim countries such as Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Egypt and Sudan, Westernized ruling elites have given or are giving way to political forces rooted in Islam. In others such as Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Kuwait, Pakistan, India and Indonesia, political parties anchored to native traditions are on the rise and forcing the adaptation of their Western-oriented state laws to native traditions.

Islam is the bedrock of Muslim social and cultural traditions. Indigenization of a Muslim society’s political process means its adjustment to Islamic values and lifestyle. Decades of Western cultural and military campaigns have failed to stem this trend. Western antipathy or indifference toward Arab pro-democracy movements wouldn’t do it, either.

But the very concern that Islamic political activism would threaten Western interests is also unfounded. Sure, anti-Americanism is agitating many Muslim minds, and it sometimes triggers terrorism. But contemporary Muslim anti-Americanism has been spawned by the American invasion, occupation and domination of a host of Muslim societies, not by Islam.

At all events, if mighty imperial armies couldn’t suppress anti-colonial movements in earlier times, today’s feckless and tottering Arab autocracies can’t ride out the greatest Arab populist upheaval in a millennium. (The Arab nationalist movement of the early twentieth century was confined mostly to military and political elites.)

The Arab spring has given America and the West an opportunity to protect their interests in that region by cultivating the revolutionary forces that are going to shape the policies and agenda of tomorrow’s Arab states.

The Obama administration needs to drop its policy of supporting some Arab pro-democracy movements and ignoring others.  It should adopt a bold and principled policy of defending and aiding all populist Arab struggles. Democratic or populist governments in the Persian Gulf may ask the West to “pay a fair price for petroleum.”   A fair price would be cheaper than the high price that could be demanded by governments alienated by American apathy or indifference toward the struggles that would have brought them to power.

♦ Mustafa Malik is an international affairs columnist in Washington. He conducted field research in a host of Middle Eastern and South Asian countries as a senior associate for the University of Chicago Middle East Center.