THE LINE BETWEEN MAN AND GOD

There is a line separating man from God that should never be crossed. For when it is, hell breaks loose. We witnessed hell on December 16th in Pakistan. One hundred and thirty two children slaughtered in a barbaric attack on a school.

This time the line was crossed by Taliban – a serial offender. They gloatingly accepted full responsibility, adding thatthe children were murdered in response to Pakistan army’s offensive against them. One might question such logic. After all there are rules, even in war. Rules set by the very religion the Taliban profess to follow. Civilians are off-limits. The children for sure.

But such logic matters not. For when you have crossed the line, you are no longer subject to constraints put on men. You are “god” now – judge, jury and the executioner – all rolled into one. The Taliban want to impose “shariah”. We can never know what that means, except to know that it means whatever the Taliban want it to mean. Murdering children could be kosher, if “the god” Taliban so decides. We better submit, or our head could be next.

There is a word in the western world for crossing the line between man and God. It is called Fascism, and the line-crossers are known as Fascists. But we in Pakistan know them through more honorific titles such as Maulana, Allamaand Mashaikh – or even Generals and Prime Ministers.

Yes, make no mistake. The Taliban are not the first to cross the line between man and God. In fact, they are really one of the last to join this habitual pastime of Pakistani elite.

The line was first breached by Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in 1974 who, flanked by every political party and religious scholar, set out to determine who was a true Muslim and who wasn’t. General Zia took this initiative to the next level by inventing his own “divine laws” that prescribed precise penalties for a wide range of “blasphemous” acts.

The following generation of leaders, both within the army and beyond, became even bolder. Why not just decentralize the whole business of trespassing on God’s territory, they thought. Thus you no longer had to head the parliament, or be a General to decide “god’s will”. Anyone with the right length of beard could do it. The subtleties of law and due process were no longer a hindrance.

A local cleric would declare some poor Christians “blasphemous”, and they could be lynched, burnt alive, or their entire community set on fire. The cleric and his mob would never face justice. And if the “accused” Christian somehow managed to save her life, she would surely be picked up by police and banished behind bars for years to come.

Before the Taliban butchered our children in Peshawar, there was a Talibanesque mob in Gujranwala that went to punish the “heretic” Ahmadis. They locked up women, and children as young as 8 months old, inside a room before setting it on fire. The whole episode was video-taped with exuberant men chanting religious slogans. The government looked the other way because the “god” was on their side.

This begs the question. Why blame the Taliban alone when so many in Pakistan are quick to impose divine punishment upon others? But let us not try to answer this question any more.

It is not easy to bury one’s own children. Not so many. And not so regularly. We must put an end to this. We must do the unthinkable. We must redraw the line between man and God in Pakistan, and promise never to breach it again.

This means getting rid of all discriminatory laws in Pakistan. All laws where the state interferes in matters of faith. It means getting rid of all blasphemy laws. The question is not whether Aasia Bibi committed blasphemy or not. The question is why should there be such a question in the first place.

We must respect the line between man and God. Let us all admit that there is no god, except God. May our children rest in peace.

Go Get Them NOW!

When I woke up this morning, I discovered what had happened in Peshawer earlier today, it left me traumatized and in a state of utter disbelief. I cried like a baby. I could not contain my tears even in public. Even at this moment, I am unable to control myself.

For those who are not from Pakistan, let me tell you what happened this afternoon in the provincial capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province; Peshawer. Armed militants belonging to the terrorist group TTP (Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan) stormed an Army school and killed 140+ people, 132 of which happened to be children. They killed them in cold blood. They chased 6-16 year olds and gunned them down. The events have left the nation of Pakistan in a state of horror, disbelief and paralysis. The Army conducted an operation and eliminated all terrorists who took part in this ghastly and unspeakable crime. Alas, it came at an irrecoverable cost. Lives were lost, families were broken,hearts were bled and the children, who survived the attack, were imprinted with a lifelong trauma, the effects of which cannot be quantified or understood.

I am writing this to let my emotions out because I honestly don’t know what to do at this moment. This will not bring the children back.This will not soothe the pain of their loved ones. This will not bring any justice to the young souls who have departed this unfair world. This is not an  attempt to understand what happened or why it happened. This is not an attempt to point fingers at politicians and Army and terrorists and people. This is just an outpour of what I feel right now; an attempt to put into words what cannot be.

I will start by addressing my fellow countrymen. If ever there was a need to come together as a nation, it is now. I have a small request to make to all of you. Let us not disrespect the departed by playing the blame game amongst politicians, Armed forces, political parties we hate, political parties we support and our opinions on who is entitled to an opinion on national matters and who is not. Let us rise above that at least for today.The gravity of what took place today may forever resonate the 796,096 sq km of land that we call Pakistan. Let each and every one of us unite against our common enemy; the scum that has come to plague our nation; the Taliban. Pointing our fingers at the historical fuckups that our country committed and guffawing at those who support this party or that, will unfortunately not do much to solve the problem. It is a never ending cycle that has not been resolved to date, atleast in my conscious memory. Perhaps we need to change the way we have approached this problem. I don’t have a solution and I am not claiming to be a messiah, but I do have a feeling that coming together as a single entity will probably be the first step towards ridding us of the plague we have come to know as Taliban.

To the terrorists who stormed the gates of that unfortunate school today; may you rot in the deepest pits of Hell. Words fail to do justice to the anger, hatred and sheer disgust I feel towards you. You, who are grown bearded men, who claim to be the purveyors of Islam, who chase the idea of landing a plot of land in Heaven, sadly are not even Muslims. I can say that with absolute certainty because my religion does not teach any of the acts that you commit. I will not elaborate on my judgement here any further. The reader can research on Islam and find out what it is about. There is no religion in the world that teaches hatred and orders its followers to kill children. And this is not a question of religion. This is a question of humanity, of sanity, of life, of nature, of all things we make and all things we destroy. You, the terrorists who breached this unspoken pact today, have committed an act so shameful and so disgusting in its very nature that it fills me with deep anger towards your kind. It makes me lose myself in a whirlwind of emotional turmoil.It sends a shiver up my spine and I start shaking in anger and frustration. I can think of no other way than to use the maximum possible force to wipe off each and every one of you not just from the Motherland, but from the world. Because what you did today is not just an attack on a nation. You have shaken the very beliefs of the human society, where such barbaric things could not have been imagined had you not shown us what you are capable of earlier today.

I wish I had a gun in my hand. I wish I could line up all of you. I would probably not shoot you down with precision head-shots like the SSG personnel did. No. That is too comfortable a way to die for a crime like this.I would’ve taken my time with you, slowly and painfully. What kind of a human barges into a peaceful place like a school with the intention of murdering innocent souls in cold blood? What kind of a human being does that? HAVE YOU NO HEART? HAVE YOU NO SOUL? WHAT HARM DID THOSE CHILDREN DO TO YOU? YOU FUCKING COWARDS. YOU FUCKING COWARDS. WHAT WENT THROUGH YOUR MIND WHEN YOU PULLED THE TRIGGER? WHAT WERE YOU THINKING WHEN YOU CHASED DOWN THOSE INNOCENT SOULS WHO WERE TRYING TO RUN AWAY FROM YOU? YOU CHASED THEM DOWN. YOU FUCKING CHASED THEM DOWN. YOU FUCKING SHOT THEM. YOU FUCKING SHOT THEM DEAD. One hundred and thirty four little souls. My God. My God; the horror of it. Your shameful and cowardly act has left a nation paralysed and dejected. You have called upon yourself the wrath of 200 million people. You cut off all those little rose buds before they could blossom, full of promise and potential, who alas will only be remembered in graveyards or news reports or in the thoughts of all those who come to know about this. Those little rose buds will now only feed on tears, never to become what they could have. And all of this because of you.

I feel helpless, sad, angry and frustrated. This is a new low in the whole Taliban-led destruction that has plagued the Motherland for 2 decades. This has shaken the collective belief of this nation in humanity. It is not just the Army against the Taliban now. It is time that we, as countrymen,step in this matter. Let us support the destruction of this menace in whatever capacity we can, be it collective, individual, social, financial, emotional or otherwise.

Let us all come together so that no more children have to go through this. You don’t have to be a father, a mother, a brother, a sister, an uncle, an aunt or a cousin to feel the pain this loss has brought every one. You don’t have to be Muslim or Pakistani or Urdu speaking or Punjabi or Pathan to understand the sheer trauma that this has brought the nation of Pakistan. You just have to be human. You just need a heart and a little emotion. That’s all.

To the parents who lost their children today, I am sorry for what happened. I cannot find the courage to face you. I cannot bring myself to look into your eyes. I am sorry. I am just so very sorry.

To everyone else, I beg of you to come together as one. The enemy must be eliminated at all cost now. There is no going back. There is no middle ground or room for negotiation any more. There is no more margin of error. I read today on the internet that ‘the smallest coffins are the heaviest’.134 innocent lives is a gigantic emotional burden that we will have to live with.

The only way forward is to eradicate this disease.

FUCK YOU TALIBAN. FUCK YOU A MILLION TIMES OVER.

My little angels were killed!

In pre-Islamic times, it was common for the tribal Arabs that the birth of a son was cause for great rejoicing while the arrival of a daughter was considered aday of shame and disappointment. For many of these pagans, the fury at the girl child was so great that they would bury her alive. Better to wipe the baby from existence rather than bear the shame and additional cost of raising a daughter.

Once, around the time that the Prophet Muhammad had brought the message of Islam to the Arabs, a man came to the Prophet. His heart was heavy and he wanted to confess a crime he had committed.

He used to have a daughter, he said. This daughter was the sweetest little girl. She would run to him whenever he called her and would hug him and kiss him. One day this man and her daughter went for a walk. The little girl happily skipped beside her father wondering what delightful adventures awaited her. Before long, the man and his little girl came beside a well. In a sudden fit of shame and madness, the man picked up his daughter and threw her in the well. She cried out in terror and confusion, Baba! Baba! But the man closed his heart from her pleas and instead threw a load of muddy earth down the well to bury her. He then went home and left her to die. The man was telling this to the Prophet now because he was full of remorse. He felt a terrible weight on his chest, the guilt was eating him alive.

It is narrated that when the Prophet heard this story, tears welled up in his eyes. The tears spilled down his noble face in torrents. It is said that the Prophet cried so much and so long at hearing about the innocent little child’s death that his entire beard was soaked and dripping. The companions who were with the Prophet at the time also began to cry when they saw how deeply saddened the Prophet was and the Prophet did not ask them to contain themselves either.

The lessons contained within this historical episode are many but there is one in particular that is important for me right now when my own heart, like yours, is rending and twisting:

The Prophet’s actions serve as a reminder to me that on some occasions, especially where the lives of children are concerned, it is okay, nay it is more than okay, it is our duty to cry. To let ourselves be soaked with our tears. To become weak with grief. To allow ourselves to be shaken from our daily calm. To FEEL intensely.

He, peace be upon him, cried for one child. Today we have 141 dead children amongst us.

Today, I ask you: Don’t numb yourself. Don’t switch off or turn away. Don’t busy yourself in the lulling rhythm of the every day life. Allow yourself to feel this tragedy, my beloved fellow humans. Recognize it for the epic, heartbreaking, black disaster that it is. Show your warm blooded, vulnerable, beating heart. Show that you are different from those who commit these crimes in cold blood. Show the light of your heart to push away the darkness they threaten us with. The time for your and my and our healing will come soon enough. Today is the time to feel.

Today, weep.

Today, weep tears of grief as you think of those more than 141 bright little lights that have been extinguished. Those more than 141 families ripped apart. All the other dead and injured. This nation of ours that is hurting.

Today, weep tears of gratitude as you hold your own children, with you only by the grace of God. Gratitude for all the teachers who care for them when they are away from us. Gratitude for the soldiers who are going in harm’s way, the nurses who are receiving and washing the dead and injured, the strangers who are donating at the blood banks, everyone at the front line, doing whatever they can.

Today, weep tears of anger at all those atrocious lost individuals who are bent on hijacking our peace, our country, our religion, our narrative.

Today, weep tears of renewal and determination to change things. Somehow. To put our best selves forward every minute of every day because today has shown that it is more important than ever. That there is only one minute between life and no life.

Today, weep like the Prophet.

And while you weep, hope and pray that our flowing tears combine like a river and the soft, persistent power of that river break down all the big and little rocks of evil amongst us.

Islamic Radicalism: Its Wahhabi Roots and Current Representation

Radicalism, in various forms, has made significant inroads in several countries of Central Asia and in the Caucasus – in particular the three countries that share the Ferghana Valley, namely Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikstan, Chechnya, and the Russian Republic of Daghestan. Known as fundamentalism or “Wahhabism,” it poses a direct challenge to the ideal vision of a state that the newly founded nations of the region have embraced. In addition, the broader ideology name “Wahhabism” represents a serious challenge to the theology and practice of the mainstream Sunni Islam to which most of these nations’ populations adhere. Should this radicalized understanding of Islam continue to spread unchecked, radical interpretations could threaten social stability at the local, national, and regional levels and create serious geopolitical dangers to which neighboring powers, as well as the US and Europe, would have to react.

Today, throughout the world, there has been a wave of radical movements, which sometimes turn militant, whose source can be traced to the Wahhabi movement. What is this movement and how did it spread throughout the Muslim world, and now the Western world? What are its ideological differences with traditional Islam and how are these differences influencing and supporting modern day radical movements? What can be done to diminish the power of these movements in vulnerable states such as those in Central Asia and the Caucasus?

Traditional Islam views religion as a pact between man and God and therefore the domain of spirituality. In this belief, there can be no compulsion or force used in religion. From the time of the Prophet Muhammad (s), peace and tolerance were practiced between different religious groups, with respect to distinctions in belief. Contrary to this, the “Wahhabi” ideology is built on the concept of political enforcement of religious beliefs, thus permitting no differences in faith whatsoever. In “Wahhabi” belief, faith is not necessarily an option; it is sometimes mandated by force.

Origins of the Wahhabi Movement

The origins of nearly all of the 20th century’s Islamic extremist movements lie in a new Islamic theology and ideology developed in the 18th and 19th centuries in tribal areas of the eastern Arabian Peninsula. The source of this new stream of thought was a Muslim scholar named Muhammad ibn Abd-al Wahhab, hence the name “Wahhabism.”

The premise of this new, narrow ideology was to reject traditional scholars, scholarship and practices under the guise of “reviving the true tenets of Islam” and protecting the concept of monotheism. Ibn Abd al-Wahhab’s brand of “purification” of Islam consisted of prohibiting many traditionally accepted acts of worship, reverence of the person of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him and the pious saints, and burning books containing traditional prayers, interpretations of law and commentaries on the Qur’an and Hadith. He encouraged his followers to interpret the holy books for themselves and to act on their interpretations in light of their own understanding, regardless of their understanding of fundamental principles or lack thereof. Anyone who did not profess to this new ideology was considered outside of the realm of Islam – an apostate, disbeliever or idolater, thus making the shedding of their blood and confiscation of their wealth permitted. In this way, he was able to secure a significant following whose legacy continues in one form or another until today.

Over time, Ibn Wahhab’s ideas spread far and wide, being debated, called into question and sometimes supported. A struggle ensued between the staunchly orthodox Ottoman Empire and the “Wahhabi” tribes. The Wahhabis were put down until the eventual dismantling of the Ottoman Empire in the 1920s and the dissolution of its influence. Finding a new opportunity among the tribes, Wahhabis were able to reinstate their beliefs and assert their influence on Muslims of the Peninsula.

Gradually from 1920 until today, they were very successful in establishing an “accepted” new ideology in Islam whose essential characteristic is extreme views and interpretations, as contrasted with traditional Sunni Islam. Coming under the guise of reform of the religion, the movement gathered momentum in the last three decades with support from a number of wealthy individuals. As it has grown, the movement mutated and splintered, with the eventual outcome that some groups went to the extreme in radicalization of their beliefs.

Influence of Wahhabism Today

The Wahhabi ideology is antagonistic to non-Muslims and to traditional practices including seeking intercession by means of the pious saints in Islam, accepted by traditional Sunni Islam for over 1400 years. By rejecting any form of hierarchy such as that followed by traditional Sunni schools, the Wahhabis rejected traditional rulings on a wide range of subjects, invalidated the four schools of thought and its accepted interpretations of law, as well as issued declarations of unbelief for those who disagreed.

While this new ideology prohibited many traditional Islamic forms of worship, its followers did not become overtly militant until recently. Now “Wahhabi” followers have taken up an increasingly confrontational standpoint attempting to impose their ideology in many regions around the world. The Wahhabi mentality asserts that Islam may be reformed by means of the sword. Thus the movement has manifested itself as armed insurrections throughout the world, especially where governments are weak and unable to resist aggression effectively.

Unfortunately, this narrow ideology has appeared and flourished in Islam, but not because of Islam. Previously, Islam was always presented in a peaceful, tolerant manner. The Prophet Muhammad (s) used to present his neighbors or friends that were not Muslim with gifts and flowers, never holding a sword against them, or ever instigating a struggle or a fight. There are many events in Muslim history where the Prophet made peace treaties with non-Muslims. Islam, despite its rapid spread in its first three centuries, never imposed its beliefs on anyone, as attested by the scrolls of history.

Under this modern ideological extremism, Islam’s essential principle of tolerance has been abolished. The Holy Qur’an mentions repeatedly that there is no compulsion in religion and that all people are free to practice any religion they like. Those of the Wahhabi ideology selectively apply verses of the Holy Qur’an to support their ideology, whose basis is to impose its beliefs upon everyone, Muslim and non-Muslim alike.

Theory in Practice: Declaration of War against Governments

Just as the spread of Wahhabism flourished outside of the Arabian Peninsula after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, it now poses a significant challenge to the region of the former Soviet Union. While these countries were “protected” from all types of religious influence under Soviet rule, the fall of the Soviet Empire and the vacuum of religious teaching made this area fertile ground for the spread of this new ideology.

Wahhabi belief provides the religious and ideological underpinnings to enable militant movements to take up arms against existing governments if they deem the need arises. Though these movements are ideological in nature, they easily resort to armed struggle. While most governments are able to reconcile and reach compromises — as one may easily compromise with a moderate Muslim — extremists reject any kind of compromise, insisting on their way and no other. They have tunnel vision, believing in a duty and message to deliver.

The extremists who have turned militant declare war against anyone with viewpoints contrary to theirs; thus, declaration of war against a government is commonplace. In Egypt, they oppose their government. Similarly in Jordan, they oppose their government. In Syria, Pakistan, Algeria, and many other countries “Wahhabi-minded” groups oppose their governments as they have begun to do in the Caucasus and Central Asia. The approach of these movements is to infiltrate mosques, Islamic teaching centers, and charitable organizations from where they indoctrinate religiously oriented people with their ideas and methods. They forcefully impose their views on weak societies, in hopes of conquering one and establishing a base for further control. They justify their militant acts and illegal means of financing their cause by claiming to wage a “jihad” for the preservation of Islam.

Today, we have many examples of this phenomenon, whether it is individuals declaring war on America, or vigilante groups coming against their governments in Central Asia. This contradicts the explicit teaching of the Prophet Muhammad, not to oppose a ruler as long as he does not prevent the performance of prayer, even if he commits injustice. Thus, those of the Wahhabi mentality use Islam when it suits them and likewise, contravene it at their convenience.

Using Islam to Justify Prohibited Actions

The term “Islamic” is grossly abused by extremists who attribute to the religion all kinds of rulings, which in fact contradict the essence of the religion in spirit and in particulars. Among them is the fatwa that justifies the use of terror tactics such as suicide bombings of civilians and attacks against non-combatants in marketplaces, schools, offices, and places of worship. Similarly they have issued a fatwa legitimizing the use of drug money to finance their campaign, despite the fact that narcotics are strictly forbidden in Islam.

Islamic extremists have ruled permissible and recommended the production of drugs and their sale on the streets of Muslim and non-Muslim nations. With such illicit monies, these extremist groups finance the development of their global network, purchase weapons and supplies, and build their front organizations, which represent them under the guise of Islamic activism.

Containing the Spread and Growth of Extremism

It is very well known that certain networks have flourished in many countries throughout the world. Small but well-financed militant movements arise, coming against their government and the common people, instigating conflict. The danger lies when an outside government supports such extremist movements under the false impression that this constitutes preserving religious freedom.

In Uzbekistan, for example, rather than legitimize these vigilante groups as part of the religious fabric of the society, there should be system of checks to insure the government is not fostering the growth and spread of radical movements, whose stated goal is elimination of the legitimate government by any means, including armed struggle. There are known groups who are not permitted in many of the Middle Eastern countries, thus, it is unreasonable to single out Uzbekistan as being required to recognize these same groups as a legitimate religious party. There must be some type of code of ethics devised to differentiate legitimate religious groups from those who use the threat of force to impose their ideology.

The problem of extremism exists not only in far distant countries, but in the US as well. It can be dealt with more effectively if the West better understands Islam and builds bridges with moderate Muslim individuals and nations. To support “religious freedom” abroad without having knowledge of whom one is supporting (i.e., an extremist movement) is an irrational misuse of the laws protecting the religious rights of individuals.

To understand such movements, one must understand the scope of Islam and the psychology of Muslims, since what we are seeing today is an ideological movement turned militant. It is important to note that the Wahhabi ideology itself is extreme in its interpretation and can turn militant over time. Why is this form of thinking attractive to some Muslims? What are the political agendas behind “religious” movements? How are holy books used to justify illegal actions performed in the name of the religion? Education is a key factor in containing and countering the spread of this type of extremism and its associated movements.

It would be highly beneficial if a think tank or research institute were to be formed in order that government officials, researchers, and media understand Islam on a deeper level, rather than making rash generalizations based on superficial understandings. To truly understand the world Islamist extremist movement, one must realize it is not just a social phenomenon as so many theorists mistakenly assume, but is a full-fledged ideological war of words and weapons alike.

What should Pakistan want in Afghanistan

As expected, the December 4 London Conference on Afghanistan jointly hosted by Prime Minister David Cameron and President Ashraf Ghani yielded pledges from the 60-odd countries attending the Conference to maintain support for Afghanistan after foreign troops are withdrawn, but no specific levels of support were mentioned. Only US Secretary of State John Kerry made the somewhat vague promise that the Obama Administration would ask Congress to approve “extraordinary” levels of aid through to 2017. It was, however, made clear that the flow of this assistance would be dependent on Afghanistan taking the steps laid out in the Tokyo Mutual Accountability Framework to curb corruption and streamline the utilisation of the assistance provided. The London Conference communique talks of the new Afghan government implementing “sustained realistic strategies to root out corruption, combat terrorism and strengthen good governance and rule of law”.

Will this be possible? Afghanistan has 850,000 persons on its payroll. What do they do? In the province of Ghor, an education department survey showed that of the 740 schools, 80 per cent were non-operational and one can, therefore, assume that 80 per cent of the 4,000 teachers are ghost employees. President Ghani has said that he was told that Afghanistan had 60,000 teachers but feared that a survey may show that only 6,000 of them were working. Perhaps the National Unity Government is capable of the harsh administrative measures needed to correct this situation but clearly this will not happen while the insurgency continues. More importantly, from Pakistan’s perspective, if these ghost workers join the ranks of the 40 per cent deemed to be unemployed or under-employed, there will be a fresh exodus of economic refugees across the porous Pak-Afghan border adding to the five million refugees we are already hosting.

On the peace process, the London Conference “reaffirmed the importance of the peace process to ending violence and sustaining development in Afghanistan”. It further said that “the Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process towards reconciliation and peace must be transparent.” It “reiterated the importance of the peace process principles as per the UN Security Council resolutions, such as the renunciation of violence, the breaking of ties to international terrorism and respect for the Afghan Constitution, including its human rights provisions”.

But are the Taliban or other elements of the “armed opposition” ready to participate in the peace process? In the last three weeks, there have been 11 attacks in Kabul, apparently designed to prove that the Taliban can attack at will, to scare foreign aid workers who have started leaving Afghanistan, and to generally enhance the sense of insecurity in Kabul.

More ominous, however, are the large-scale attacks exemplified by the Taliban occupation of the British vacated Camp Bastion in Helmand. It took the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) three days to retake Camp Bastion and that, too, became possible only after air raids were carried out by the Isaf forces. It is such evidence of ANSF shortcomings that has prompted President Barack Obama to authorise — in contradiction of earlier orders — to permit Isaf forces to continue to provide combat support to the ANSF through to 2015. It has also probably prompted American commanders on the ground to propose once again that the withdrawal of all combat forces by 2016 should be reconsidered and made subject to the actual ground reality. In the absence of reconciliation, I see President Obama being forced by his military commanders to postpone withdrawal of combat forces well beyond 2016. Do the regional countries have concerns about this? If so, only the advancement of the peace process can help prevent this.

This brings us to the question of the role Pakistan has to play in moving the peace process forward. In London, our prime minister spoke of a “comprehensive and enduring partnership” and of “fighting terrorism as a common enemy”. This was also, one can assume, the principal point of discussion during the spate of visits exchanged between Kabul and Islamabad in the past few weeks and in meetings in Beijing and London. President Ghani, in pressing Pakistan to bring the Taliban to the table with reasonable demands for reconciliation, also addressed the highly exaggerated Pakistani concerns about India’s role in Afghanistan by withdrawing the request Hamid Karzai had made to India to buy Russian military equipment for supply to Afghanistan and by emphasising that if Afghanistan’s future lay in “regional connectivity”, then Pakistan had to be the premier partner.

Pakistan has long argued that its influence over the Taliban is limited quoting examples of how the Taliban while in power had rejected such Pakistani requests as the surrender of the Pakistani terrorist Riaz Basra or protecting the Bamiyan statues. This is true, but it is also true that the Taliban could afford to reject these demands because of their perception that those making the requests did not represent all centres of power in Pakistan. Now one hopes thatOperation Zarb-e-Azb and the pledge to fight terrorism as the common enemy will convey to the Taliban that any demand we make of them will represent the view of all centres of power in Pakistan.

When one sees the situation in Pakistan, Chaman seems to be more a Taliban city than a Pakistani one. The Quetta districts of Pushtunabad and Khrotabad and the refugee camps in the vicinity are off-limits to Pakistani authorities. Sectarian attacks against the Hazaras unite the Taliban and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. It is imperative that if we wish to re-establish the writ of the state, we create conditions in which Taliban fighters no longer have a place on our soil.

This is the moment of truth for us. Perhaps we have allowed the problem to fester for too long and no longer have the capacity to decisively influence the Frankenstein we have nurtured but we must realise that every day that passes will reduce our influence further and allow the situation in Afghanistan to deteriorate further. There is a reasonable resolution available. It is the road map that the High Peace Council brought to Pakistan in November 2012 and which envisaged that to start with, the Kabul government could recognise the political reality of the support the Taliban enjoyed — a recent credible Asia Foundation survey shows that one-third of Afghans still sympathise with the Taliban — by giving them such non-elected offices as district and provincial governorships and then let them participate in the next round of elections.

The confused case of a ‘liberal’ Pakistani

As the claws of fanaticism have dug deeper in our skin during the last one decade, a parallel phenomenon has taken place among some sections of Pakistan’s urban youth – a shift towards liberalism.

In the simplest of terms, the components of liberalism fly the flag of equality and freedom. The whole concept revolves around civil liberties and rights. To a huge chunk sick of conservatism, liberals provide a platform that enables social change and political reform. Not a bad idea looking at the current state of bomb-wrapped, blood-spluttering affairs in Pakistan.

What is the problem then?

The problem is the foundation of liberalism, not only in Pakistan, but globally.

The Pakistani liberal carries a stupendously thin worldview of man and society. A proponent of free will and choice, he cries foul whenever someone brings an opposing view forward, however true it may be. This very thinness in this understanding of society is deemed to be the prime requirement of peaceful coexistence. Whoever attempts to thicken these assumptions is immediately disposed to the corner of authoritarianism. In short, the basic urge of the Pakistani liberal is to place himself on a higher echelon, just like his conservative counterparts, and attempt to play guardian of the free world.

But what’s most important is the prime focus of the Pakistan liberal in the belief of individual gratification and a society where every man is free to pursue this very individual gratification. It is a society which accepts the class difference as natural, a society where economic freewill runs through our veins in the form of unregulated capitalism and a society which will eventually burst at its seams and lead to anarchy.

It’s ironic that the liberal is a proponent of pluralism, yet makes sweeping judgements about the past, present and future. There is a massive tendency to be liberal for the sake of being liberal, without analysing and reading into matters. Positions of neutrality are most common with liberals, taken in the name of individual freedom and choice.

What about the rest of the society then?

There is always an effort, and a massive one at that, to showcase a deep rooted concern for the lower echelons of society. Corporate social responsibility is splashed across capitalist screens, the faded flags of equality and freedom soar high, but that’s the end of that. When all is said and done, a liberal is content when his personal space remains in order.

Another recent development among Pakistani liberals is to advocate their beliefs in the name of change, societal revamp, and most laughingly, left-wing politics. This is the classic portrait of liberalism across the globe – harp on about the left, but practice on the right.

Clichés about tolerance and freedom are found in abundance on liberal tongues. What is not found in abundance, however, is an understanding of how they attempt to achieve hollow missions of tolerance, freedom and change while using the same foundations that gave them the gift of intolerance, captivity and preservation. The fact that the free market is essentially the biggest hurdle in actual freedom is never discussed. The fact that delusions of nationalism and religion not only need to be separated from the state, but eliminated altogether, is never discussed. The fact that class conflict in Pakistan is so obvious to the naked eye that it would serve as economic pornography to the likes of Friedman, is never discussed. The fact that the working class is the actual proponent of social change is never discussed. The fact that the root of all that is wrong with us essentially boils down to neoliberalism, is again, never discussed.

What is discussed instead is the grotesque version of freedom without regard for the rest of society.

What is discussed is the individual – the mind numbing idiot in pursuit of solo contentment.

What is discussed is the status quo. Not change.

How To Ruin Your Life (Without Even Noticing That You Are)

Understand that life is not a straight line. Life is not a set timeline of milestones. It is okay if you don’t finish school, get married, find a job that supports you, have a family, make money, and live comfortably all by this age, or that age. It’s okay if you do, as long as you understand that if you’re not married by 25, or a Vice President by 30 — or even happy, for that matter — the world isn’t going to condemn you. You are allowed to backtrack. You are allowed to figure out what inspires you. You are allowed time, and I think we often forget that. We choose a program right out of high school because the proper thing to do is to go straight to University. We choose a job right out of University, even if we didn’t love our program, because we just invested time into it. We go to that job every morning because we feel the need to support ourselves abundantly. We take the next step, and the next step, and the next step, thinking that we are fulfilling some checklist for life, and one day we wake up depressed. We wake up stressed out. We feel pressured and don’t know why. That is how you ruin your life.

You ruin your life by choosing the wrong person. What is it with our need to fast-track relationships? Why are we so enamored with the idea of first becoming somebody’s rather than somebodies? Trust me when I say that a love bred out of convenience, a love that blossoms from the need to sleep beside someone, a love that caters to our need for attention rather than passion, is a love that will not inspire you at 6am when you roll over and embrace it. Strive to discover foundational love, the kind of relationship that motivates you to be a better man or woman, the kind of intimacy that is rare rather than right there. “But I don’t want to be alone,” we often exclaim. Be alone. Eat alone, take yourself on dates, sleep alone. In the midst of this you will learn about yourself. You will grow, you will figure out what inspires you, you will curate your own dreams, your own beliefs, your own stunning clarity, and when you do meet the person who makes your cells dance, you will be sure of it, because you are sure of yourself. Wait for it. Please, I urge you to wait for it, to fight for it, to make an effort for it if you have already found it, because it is the most beautiful thing your heart will experience.

You ruin your life by letting your past govern it. It is common for certain things in life to happen to you. There will be heartbreak, confusion, days where you feel like you aren’t special or purposeful. There are moments that will stay with you, words that will stick. You cannot let these define you – they were simply moments, they were simply words. If you allow for every negative event in your life to outline how you view yourself, you will view the world around you negatively. You will miss out on opportunities because you didn’t get that promotion five years ago, convincing yourself that you were stupid. You will miss out on affection because you assumed your past love left you because you weren’t good enough, and now you don’t believe the man or the woman who urges you to believe you are. This is a cyclic, self-fulfilling prophecy. If you don’t allow yourself to move past what happened, what was said, what was felt, you will look at your future with that lens, and nothing will be able to breach that judgment. You will keep on justifying, reliving, and fueling a perception that shouldn’t have existed in the first place.

You ruin your life when you compare yourself to others. The amount of Instagram followers you have does not decrease or increase your value. The amount of money in your bank account will not influence your compassion, your intelligence, or your happiness. The person who has two times more possessions than you does not have double the bliss, or double the merit. We get caught up in what our friends are liking, who our significant others are following, and at the end of the day this not only ruins our lives, but it also ruins us. It creates within us this need to feel important, and in many cases we often put others down to achieve that.

You ruin your life by desensitizing yourself. We are all afraid to say too much, to feel too deeply, to let people know what they mean to us. Caring is not synonymous with crazy. Expressing to someone how special they are to you will make you vulnerable. There is no denying that. However, that is nothing to be ashamed of. There is something breathtakingly beautiful in the moments of smaller magic that occur when you strip down and are honest with those who are important to you. Let that girl know that she inspires you. Tell your mother you love her in front of your friends. Express, express, express. Open yourself up, do not harden yourself to the world, and be bold in who, and how, you love. There is courage in that.

You ruin your life by tolerating it. At the end of the day you should be excited to be alive. When you settle for anything less than what you innately desire, you destroy the possibility that lives inside of you, and in that way you cheat both yourself and the world of your potential. The next Michelangelo could be sitting behind a Macbook right now writing an invoice for paperclips, because it pays the bills, or because it is comfortable, or because he can tolerate it. Do not let this happen to you. Do not ruin your life this way. Life and work, and life and love, are not irrespective of each other. They are intrinsically linked. We have to strive to do extraordinary work, we have to strive to find extraordinary love. Only then will we tap into an extraordinarily blissful life.