Yes, President Obama, Pakistan will remain in turmoil thanks to you guys

Most analysts explain politics through the chessboard analogy. Let’s delve into it for a basic understanding, even though the analogy is self-explanatory. The chessboard lays out 16 pieces, eight special and eight simple (read infantry/grunts/poor youth from rural backgrounds/cannon fodder – take your pick). The aim of the game is to save your king and kill the opponent’s king and the analogy is that all politics is akin to the moves played out on a chessboard.

I am, however, inclined to believe that this analogy no longer holds true, even though it still does give us a rudimentary idea of what we understand of political strategy. The most glaring omissions are of course alliances and drones (akin to a child stealing a piece from your opponent). However, there is one phenomenon in realistic politics which does not and perhaps cannot be played out on a chessboard and that is the creation of our own boogeymen.

No matter how good you are at it, one would never allow their opponent to spawn grey coloured knights or start off with 24 pieces.

The Boogeymen

After reading a news piece on Barack Obama’s last State of the Union address, I began to wonder why he was asking congress for authorisation to use military force against ISIS. Maybe he needs to kill his boogeymen, much like George Bush did after 9/11 and the senior Bush did in 1991. (It was Saddam Hussain who was shaking hands with Donald Rumsfeld in 1983 during the Iran-Iraq war. Just in case people don’t remember Rumsfeld said Saddam was ‘our kind of guy’). Obama also mentioned that Pakistan and Afghanistan would face decades of turmoil.

Thank you for telling that to a Karachiite Mr Obama, as if we bloody well didn’t know it already.

I thoroughly enjoy it when world leaders nonchalantly talk about Pakistan. How they feign understanding the dynamics of our country and the region when they really don’t know much about it. And of course when they ominously foretell our future, while being delusional about their own.

Obama needs to be asked why his country keeps clandestinely supporting the terrorists it claims to be fighting. The Soviet-Afghan war and the subsequent aftermath is an example and now Syria is the latest. The US has been covertly and overtly funding, training and arming terrorists around the world for decades (Hillary Clinton’s interview). When these mercenaries stopped receiving funds, they turned on their masters and of course the War on Terror (terror to stop all terror) narrative ensues.

Let’s face it, if you keep ‘Black Mambas’ as pets and then stop feeding them, you ought to own a fridge full of anti-venom.

Just a few days ago, The New York Times ran a long piece on the ‘special relationship’ between the CIA and Saudi Arabia, and how they created the world’s worst nemesis, the ISIS. The article also outlines how other countries including Qatar, Jordan and Turkey were also actively involved in this process, all in the name of removing Bashar al Assad from power. Fast forward a couple of years and now Obama is asking congress for troops and Saudi Arabia has formed a coalition to fight terrorism.

Well if these countries were so wary of terrorism and cared about the world so much, they should not have set up the largest factories of terrorism churning out pseudo-religious mercenaries by the hour.

The Soviet-Afghan War

Since we, as Pakistanis, are more concerned with our territory, let’s discuss our American jihadi history and its fallout.

The Soviet-Afghan war is a prime example of creating demons and trying to kill them once they have grown too big to handle. The war had started on a simple enough premise – the Soviets had entered Afghanistan to help Afghan communists in their struggle for power. I think everyone above the age of 25 knows what followed.

The world showered Afghan mujahideen with money, high-tech weaponry, training and logistical support only to create an elusive and dangerous enemy for themselves. Pakistan was at the forefront of this cooperation as it spearheaded the operations within Afghanistan by smuggling every item on the wish list through their lengthy and porous border. Pakistan not only supplied them every material support possible, but also provided highly motivated fighters for the cause.

These fighters were recruited through rigorous preaching and indoctrination and the most obvious targets were the students of various madrassas spread all over the country. With the influx of millions of dollars, the propaganda machine spewed a twisted version of political Islam to the youth geared towards motivating them to fight the Soviets.

The religious clique was the most mobilised and viewed the situation in Afghanistan as a holy war pitting the ill-equipped but brave mujahideen against the mighty Godless soviet superpower. Western interest, most predominantly American interest, was aroused due to the psychology and politics of the Cold War which was catalysed by their defeat at the hands of the communists in Vietnam and the capitulation of the Shah of Iran to the Islamic Revolution of Ayatollah Khomeini.

With funding from the Gulf States, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE along with the US, the religious parties propagandised the war not only for a heavenly motive but also for a substantial payday. CIA’s Operation Cyclone, aimed at funding and arming the mujahideen remains one of its most costly and lengthy operations to date where the funding began with $20-30 million per year in 1980 and rose to $630 million per year in 1987.

This figure doubled as the amount was being matched dollar for dollar by Saudi Arabia. The influence of extremist religious parties rose to an all-time high within Pakistan as they partnered with the Pakistani military establishment under the leadership of the zealous General Ziaul Haq.

To top it off, the Americans colluded with some of the most vicious and bloodthirsty groups they could find to fight the Soviets. There have been several analyses by journalists and academics alike, who have highlighted this simple but devastating fact.

I don’t think we really need to discuss ‘Tim Osman’ or Osama bin Laden and his relationship with the CIA. You can of course watch Charlie Wilson’s War for some insight and see Tom Hanks in action.

The problem of course was taking care of these motivated and battle hardened militants after the war was over (not to mention the three million refugees). We were dumped high and dry by the US as soon as the Soviets packed for home.

According to some estimates, we were leftover with 100,000 fully armed and functional‘jihadis’ at the end of the war. With nowhere left to go, the fight came home.

Our Kashmir experiments provided a brief engagement to the jihadis but they proved to be short lived as the world shunned us for the same reasons it loved us for, during the 80s. With drugs and Kalashnikovs in our streets, we were now stuck in our own hell.

Pakistan’s security future

Frankly speaking, Obama is right in one aspect. We are going to be stuck in this mess for years, no thanks to the American establishment and our very own Ziaul Haq. How long we choose to stay in this purgatory phase is up to us.

The Pakistani ‘establishment’ has finally realised two things and has decided to act upon them (thank God).

Firstly, we need to dump our pro-American policy and get with the New World Order where predominantly China and partly, a resurgent Russia are calling the shots at the world’s political stage. The Americans and the British have dirtied their hands so much in their own muck that certain countries are literally using hand sanitisers after shaking hands with them.

Europe is still bound by NATO but it will break free or run the risk of being engulfed in flames like Paris was a while back.

Pakistan has, with the signing of the CPEC agreements and not so secretly, handing overGwadar to the Chinese (from pro-American hands), ushered in a new age of cooperation with China. A Chinese diplomat rightly said that Pakistan has become China’s Israel.

The army has renewed contacts with the Russians and a deal for four ‘Hind’ helicopters is underway. According to some sources, a visit by comrade Vladmir Putin is also on the cards. If he does visit, which is now only a matter of time, another nail will be driven in America’s political coffin.

Given all of this headway the second realisation is only natural. Pakistan needs to get rid of its pet ‘Black Mambas’. Zarb-e-Azb has made great inroads into the lands of the Taliban but it is not the martial front but the political front that needs to be realigned. The politicians who have harboured and used these terrorists are still trying, one way or another, to protect them from annihilation.

Sometimes it is talks, sometimes it is lack of evidence or just a miraculous change of heart, the excuses never cease.

When the political establishment cannot get rid of the Red Mosque cleric, who spews anti-state rhetoric inside the capital city nearly every day, what else do I need to say that we don’t already know or understand?

At the end of it all, Pakistan will have to make the hard choices and take the road never travelled. We will have to destroy these pseudo-religious mercenaries and get rid of all the factories that spawn them. We will have to cull their political representation in our assemblies and resist their religiously worded blackmail. Freedom of speech should not mean freedom to kill. Pakistan’s fight is the not only a country’s fight but is also in a way the fight for the roots of Islam. I guess it is the common people and not anyone else, who will decide what the outcome will be.


Dr Abdus Salam and all the wrong choices Pakistan made

What does it take to be a genius?

The other day this thought struck me. Is it the environment that nurtures the genius or does nature simply endow certain individuals with a special gene? Maybe both propositions have merits of their own, but for the time being, let’s drop the latter. Let’s suppose there are no chosen ones, there are no saviours.

The idea of saviours arises when we start to believe in pseudo-science and seek miracles to solve our problems. But mind it, Aladdin’s lamp or magic wands don’t exist in the practical world. The only magic that works is the labour of hands at the end of one’s own arms and the thinking brain in one’s own head.

The third-world countries need the same magic for their socio-economic development; self-reliance, hard work and stimulating intellectual environment. Mix these ingredients and a successful society will develop. Pakistan, I regret, still misses these elements, and hence, is still far from being developed.

On 29th January 2016, at the 90th birthday of the first noble laureate of Pakistan, Dr Abdus Salam, it would be wise to take a look at his life and to introspect what wrong choices we made.

Salam was a genius for the world, nonetheless a discarded one in his own country. Born in a village near Jhang on January 29, 1926, he studied in an ordinary Urdu medium school that lacked furniture. He belonged to a lower-middle class family. His house had no electricity, or any other basic facilities. His circumstances were challenging, yet they never served as an excuse.

The fact that he scored the highest marks ever recorded for the matriculation examination at the age of 14 and published his first research paper at the age of 17 indicated his gifted potential. But who, at that time, could have imagined that this young prodigy would have received the most prestigious Nobel Prize in Physics for his contribution to the unification theory.

Dr Abdus Salam recieves the Nobel Prize for Physics from King Carl XVI Gustav of Sweden on December 10, 1979. Photo:

The list of awards and honours which he received and his contribution to Pakistan need a separate volume. Some of his services, for instance, include working as the science advisor for President Ayub Khan to lay the infrastructure of science in Pakistan. He persuaded him to acquire Karachi Nuclear Power Plant (KANUPP) – the first commercial nuclear reactor of Pakistan. He served as a founding director of Pakistan Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO), worked for the establishment of Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) and The Pakistan Institute of Nuclear Science and Technology (PINSTECH). Not to mention that he mentored the scientist who designed the atomic bomb for Pakistan.

Not only was his unification theory a touchstone of modern physics, he also laid the pioneering work for the discovery of Higgs boson (referred to as the God-particle) in 2012 which happens to be the most important discovery in Physics in the last four decades. This discovery took place at the Large Hadron Collider established at CERN, a European organisation for nuclear research.

Last year on July 31st, Pakistan became the first non-European country to become an associate member of CERN. In his recent visit to CERN, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif hailed the contribution of Pakistani scientists, and also paid tribute to Salam calling him the pride of the country.

This statement, however, couldn’t wash out the stain of guilt that the subsequent governments of Pakistan and the entire nation still carry. While the entire world applauded him, Salam was never regarded as a hero in his own country. He’s considered the opposite – a traitor.

What we did to Salam is shameful to say the least. When he returned to Pakistan after receiving the Nobel Prize, no one received him at the airport. Right wing propaganda concocted conspiracy theories to accuse him of nuclear espionage. When he was invited to Quaid-e-Azam University for his lecture, he was threatened by the fundamentalist students. Ziaul Haq refused to endorse the candidature of Salam as a Director General of UNESCO even though Salam visited nearly 30 countries in 1987 and gained their support. In 1988, the then Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto, refused to meet him after making him wait for two days in a hotel. Similarly, Nawaz Sharif, in his first term of premiership, conveniently ignored Salam while mentioning the distinguished alumni of Government College, Lahore while addressing its convocation. Had Salam given up his Pakistani nationality, he would have easily avoided such humiliations, but he remained a Pakistani national until his last breath.

Salam’s biggest failure was not some personal tragedy – a person of his stature with generosity of spirit could forgive personal sufferings. His agony was due to a far bigger tragedy. Salam dreamt of establishing an international research centre in Pakistan for third-world physicists. He wanted to stop the brain-drain, but no government showed interest. He ended up setting up the International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy that was later renamed the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics.

All of this took a toll on him, and in last years of his life, he became the victim of a neurological disorder and was confined to a wheelchair. He died in Oxford, England on November 21, 1996. He was buried in Pakistan on his request. No government official attended his funeral. His misery didn’t end with his death. The epitaph of his tombstone was defaced as a final disgrace to remove the word ‘Muslim’ from it.

Defaced tombstone on Dr Abdus Salam’s grave. Photo: Aziz Bilal

If we look back in history, the Mongols invaded Baghdad and demolished Baitul Hikmah, a centre of excellence during the Islamic Golden Age. Ibn-e-Rushd was exiled and his books were burnt. When Europe found the light to get out of the Dark Ages, the Muslim world lost its way. And now the country where Salam was banned from delivering his lectures in universities is witnessing terrorism in those very educational institutes.

I again seek your attention towards the dilemma that I mentioned in the start: What does it take to be a genius in any society?

There are no chosen ones, there are no saviours.

For socio-economic development, self-reliance, hard work and a stimulating intellectual environment is required. Where there is no such environment, there are no scholars, there are no intellectuals and there are no heroes. Even if someone, like Salam, somehow manages to prove his talent, he would not be treated as a hero. He would be shunned.

On the 90th birthday of Dr Abdus Salam. The best way to wish him is to let freedom of religion and intellectual thought prevail in the country.