Waris Husain, op-ed: Creating A National Identity for a Religious People, America’s Past is Pakistan’s Present


         The question of Pakistan’s success as a Muslim state is one which begs another question: can a state with a schizophrenic perception of its interests solely based on religion continue to exist without someday forming its own nationalist identity? While acknowledging the significance of religion to the fabric of the Pakistani society, I respond with a resounding “no”. One forgets that America, like Pakistan, was founded by a very religious population who identified with one another based on religious sect. However, the founders of America knew this could prohibit nationalism and thus incorporated the role of religion as a mere foundation upon which to build constitutions and state-institutions that foster nationalism.  Similarly, without supplementing Pakistan’s religious identity with a particular nationalist narrative, the nation cannot succeed or survive.

American policy-makers benefit from a long-developing democracy which was created on the basis of a national identity for a religiously heterogeneous people with many different colonies and cultures. Most of the new citizens of the United States were people who came to the new land because they were persecuted for their religious beliefs. The groups varied and some had intense rivalries amongst one another, which could have prohibited the ability of the State to garner trust and participation by citizens obsessed with their religious divisions rather than their national commonality.

The founders realized that if religion was their only unifying principle to form the nation, it would divide the State by giving the majority religion rights at the cost of the minority.  James Madison, a founding father, once said, “what influence have [religious] establishments had on Civil Society. In some instances they have been sent to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of the civil authority; in many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny….. Rulers who wished to subvert public liberty may have found an established Clergy convenient auxiliaries (partners).”

Yet, the link between religion and politics was strong even to the Great Enlightenment philosophers who advocated for the creation of the secular U.S. democracy. Their belief was that every public official would act out of a duty to the State and the Constitution, but would also be dictated by the religious morals engrained in him. George Washington acknowledged the separation of Church and state but also stated that “religion and morality are indispensable supports” to political prosperity and that “reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.  

The dichotomous way of looking at governance as either Westernized/ secular or based on medieval Shariyah law forgoes these lessons of America’s history coinciding with Pakistan’s lack of national identity. The solely religious unifying element of Pakistan’s people has forced the ruling elite to practice behavior that is not based on national interests but the interests of concepts like “Ummah.” This allows for groups like the Taleban, who challenge the writ of the Pakistani state, to gain acceptance as part of the Islamic brotherhood and Pakistan’s Muslim identity.

The public’s on-again- off-again love affair with the jihadis is the product of an obsessive Islamic identity which has enhanced the perception of the India as a primordial religious enemy hell-bent on destroying its Muslim neighbor. Pew Global research reported that 53% of Pakistanis view India as their biggest threat, doubling the size who believed that the Taleban was the biggest threat to Pakistan. From an outsiders point of view, one knows the severe impact of terrorism is far greater than any threat India would wish to pose. The issue of Kashmir further complicates matters because it is viewed through a religious lens as a bastion of “fellow Muslims” who must be liberated at any cost. This includes funding and sympathizing with groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba who are now lodging attacks against Pakistan’s own security structure and civilian population.

However, what can modern Pakistani politicians do when their constituency believes in this basic presumption of religious unity above all else? First, I believe that State actors must dispel the belief that the only available democracy is the carbon copy of the modern Western model, which has taken generations to develop. Second, the message must be sent from Islamabad that they are creating a new national image based not only on the foundation of Islam but more importantly, on constitutionalism and social welfare.  Third, politicians must be prepared to face the short-term ire of the public in exchange for the long-term creation of a nationalist sentiment. Even Thomas Jefferson, who Americans now hold in the highest regard, was called an infidel by Federalists as well as the New England Palladium published in 1800.

Yet, individuals like Jefferson believed that creating a constitution and building upon the religious foundation to foster a nation’s development, rather than relying purely on religion to unify the people, would create long-term security. The necessity for such a policy in Pakistan is highlighted by the dire threats now challenging the existence of the state from terrorist groups.

The only way to get rid of the sympathy people feel with groups like Lashkar or the Taleban is to persecute those elements not because they practice an illegitimate form of Islam, but because they violate Pakistan’s national interests. Further, the creation of this nationalist sentiment will require Pakistan to reevaluate Kashmir as just one of many sovereignty issues facing the nation, rather than being existential element of Pakistan. Pakistan will fail if it continues to view itself as part and parcel of the Muslim community, rather than Pakistan, a nation of its own people with its own culture, history, and domestic problems.


Im trying to be as much as possible zero, that means I’m trying to be nothing. Because when you are nothing, then you’ll be able to understand everything. When the zero comes beside the “1”- it becomes a number, it becomes 10, it has a meaning. The “1” is the “1” that created everything is that “1”. And we are all from him, from his power, from his ocean of love that he molded us and made us, and make our pictures, and created us.

There are many people that say that we have to make interfaith dialoge in order to bring differnt societies and communities together. Which is very good, but the only thing that we are forgetting is that we are already together. We are already human beings from teh same father and same mother. if we are from same father and same mother, we have similiarities. We are already from the same origin.

FP Mag: Blood on The Tracks (photo story)

Every year, tens of thousands of people, 90 percent of them Central American, cross the length of Mexico in hopes of reaching the United States. They travel by foot, train, car, bus, or truck, facing kidnapping, extortion, rape, robbery, sickness, hunger, and death along the way. Ecuadorian photographer Felipe Jácome Marchán followed migrants on this perilous journey, documenting the trials and dangers of heading north. And it has only become worse since Mexico ramped up the drug war; in search of easy profits, cartels have started to seize migrants, holding them ransom. As a result of these growing threats, in April Amnesty International called the migrants’ route “one of the most dangerous in the world.”

The majority of the migrants starting out on the route are young men. But there are women and children, too, like the ones pictured here crossing the Suchiate River between Guatemala and Mexico. Mexico’s National Migration Service (INM) estimated that one in 12 people on the route are under 18, some making the journey alone.

The safest place on the train is the last car, where Jácome sat for the trip. Trains often derail along the route — and when that happens, it’s the rear cars that absorb the least impact. The ride is bumpy and dangerous, so most migrants find a way to strap themselves to the roof of the cars with belts, rope, or anything they can find.

The routes that migrants travel are well known — to Mexican authorities, criminals, and local people. Operativos, the mobile Mexican military units based along the route, sometimes stages night ambushes on trains. Terrified of being sent back home, migrants often jump from moving trains. The operativos send dogs to find them.

Kidnappers are another group that preys on migrants, taking advantage of the confusion of small towns along the route, where the trains stop. Most migrants have a “backer” in either the United States or Central America who helps pay for their trip. (An entire journey can cost as much as $8,000, Jácome estimates.) “They say [to the migrants,] give me the phone number” of the backer, Jácome recounts from interviews with kidnapping victims. Even if the ransoms they collect are small, say 2,000 pesos (about $150), the volume makes up for it: On a good day, kidnappers could make thousands of dollars.

Catholic priests have set up several shelters for migrants along the route, including this one in the small city of Tapachula. Offering food and sometimes a bed, the shelters welcome migrants for a few nights before newcomers push them out again. A wall map gives migrants a glimpse at the long journey ahead, but many travelers will never make it to the United States.

NYT: Roger Cohen- The Forgotten American


Furkan Dogan

Troy,  New York — The Dogans were a quiet family little noticed by their neighbors here in upstate New York. Ahmet Dogan had come to the area from Turkey to study accounting at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He was a serious student; the Dogans did little entertaining. But when their younger son, Furkan, was born in 1991, the family threw a party and a neighbor recalled a toast “to the first U.S. citizen in the family.”

Furkan Dogan would live just two years in Troy, returning to Turkey with his family in 1993. But he was proud of his American passport and dreamt of coming back after completing medical school. Five Israeli bullets — at least two of them to the head — ended that dream on May 31. Dogan was 19.

The young American, who had just completed high school with excellent grades in the central Turkish town of Kayseri, had seen an online advertisement for volunteers to deliver aid to Gaza. The ad, from a Turkish charity called the Humanitarian Relief Foundation, or I.H.H, said the goal of the trip was to show that Israel’s “embargo/blockade can be legally broken.”

Little interested in politics, but with an aspiring doctor’s concern for Palestinian suffering, Dogan won a lottery to go.

How he was killed is disputed — as is just about everything concerning the Israeli naval takeover of the six-boat Gaza-bound flotilla — but his father suspects a video camera carried by his son may have provoked Israeli commandos.

O.K., enough said, that’s the start of the story you haven’t read about the short life of Furkan Dogan, an American killed by Israeli forces in international waters on the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara.

In truth I have not been to Troy but I do find the effacement of Dogan since his death almost two months ago at once offensive and instructive.

I have little doubt that if the American killed on those ships had been Hedy Epstein, a St. Louis-based Holocaust survivor, or Edward Peck, a former U.S. ambassador to Mauritania, we would have heard a lot more. We would have read the kind of tick-tock reconstructions that the deaths of Americans abroad in violent and disputed circumstances tend to provoke. (Epstein had planned to be aboard the flotilla and Peck was.)

I also have little doubt that if the incident had been different — say a 19-year-old American student called Michael Sandler killed by a Palestinian gunman in the West Bank when caught in a cross-fire between Palestinians and Israelis — we would have been deluged in stories about him.

But a chill descends when you have the combination of Israeli commandos doing the firing, an American with a foreign-sounding Muslim name, and the frenzied pre-emptive arguments of Israel and those among its U.S. supporters who will brook no criticism of the Jewish state.

This chill is a bad thing. Let’s do whatever it takes to find out how Dogan died — and the eight other victims. The Middle East requires more open debate and the dropping of taboos. It needs the leading institutions of American Jewry to encourage broad discussion rather than, as Peter Beinart put it in an important recent essay in The New York Review of Books, checking “their liberalism at Zionism’s door.”

Let’s face it, without the flotilla outcry that allowed the Obama administration to question Israel’s self-defeating suffocation of Gaza, Israel would still be imposing the blockade that handed Hamas control of whatever was left of the Gaza economy. Now that blockade has been eased.

As this suggests, Israel will, ostrich-like, push policies born of the security mantra way beyond their rationale, only changing course when its critical friends raise their voices. It’s time for the U.S. Jewish establishment to think again — and think openly — or risk losing the many younger Jews troubled by Israel’s course.

I hope every member of Congress read Beinart’s piece. I contacted the office of Congressman Paul Tonko, who represents the Troy area, to ask about Dogan. A spokesman, Beau Duffy, wrote saying that “There really isn’t much of a local connection here” and that Tonko had no comment. Hardly a surprise: Nobody in Congress has had anything to say about this American death.

I called the State Department, where an official said the U.S. ambassador in Turkey has offered the Dogan family assistance. (He also denied reports that the United States plans to designate I.H.H. a terrorist organization.)

Any further action, including a possible F.B.I. investigation of Dogan’s death, will hinge on the results of the inquiry being led by a retired Israeli Supreme Court justice and including two foreign observers. The Dogan family could also request F.B.I. action.

But it seems they have few illusions. Professor Dogan, who teaches at Kayseri University, told the Wall Street Journal’s Marc Champion (who wrote the best piece on Dogan) that he’s been wondering what the U.S. response would have been if his son had been a Christian living stateside. Having lived in America, he said, “I know what people do there when a cat gets stuck in a tree.”

It’s different, however, when an American Muslim male gets stuck in a hail of Israeli gunfire.

International Herald Tribune: Command and Control of War

Pakistan’s army chief has received the much-desired extension. The decision of the civilian government was applauded by all on the basis that General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani’s performance in the past couple of years should have been rewarded by giving him an extension in tenure. According to Lt-Gen (retd) Talat Masood, this is the first time that a political government extended the tenure of a serving army chief instead of the officer granting himself an extension.  But it is worth seeing what the decision means for civil-military relations (CMR) balance and for the armed forces as an institution.

It is wrong to see CMR in a binary trajectory, which means that it is incorrect to assume that things will repeat themselves and not morph into newer shapes. The extension might be given by the civilian administration but the decision underscores the power of the army and its chief who was keen to see his tenure extended. Many commentators believe that this was being considered for the past several months. Some day one hopes stories will simmer in the public through the grapevine about how members of the political government fought the possibility of an extension.

The GHQ, on the other hand, operated through its usual tools: the free media in the country and its American partner in the war on terror. The team of American generals such as David Petraeus and Mike Mullen were all for General Kayani. This was a major source that pursued Islamabad for this decision. A number of GHQ-friendly journalists keenly advised the civilian government to extend the services of the army chief. Job well done, boys!

The fundamental argument supporting the extension is that it will ensure continuity of command during the ongoing war. There are several examples of when absence of this factor produced less exciting results. One such example pertains to the change of command during the 1965 war. But the current war is very different from the conventional war of 1965. This is a slow and simmering war which will not end in the next three years either. An operation in Swat or different parts of Waziristan will not do the job alone. This is a battle which requires serious socioeconomic and political initiatives, especially after the military clears the path. This is also a battle which requires the will to abandon security assets if the country is to be saved at all. The war on terror is not something which can be fought with tanks, fighter aircraft and drones. Just consider the cost-benefit ratio of drone attacks and you can see the limited advantages.

From an organisational perspective, we are told that the Pakistan army is the only surviving institution of the state. However, an organisation’s survival is demonstrated by how well it can nurture and breed internal systems. Prime evidence of this is that the senior management is in sync with the objectives and can plan the operations with a sense of a joint mission. So, what does the decision fundamentally tell us about the organisation? Is it an organisation which will be unable to battle the internal enemies once the top man and his inner team are gone?

The army is involved in fighting a war on terror for the past 9-10 years. This should mean that the top management understands the objectives and that the next army chief will be able to act as well as the outgoing. Or is it that other officers don’t have the same level of competence? Or, perhaps, the US government was convinced that the rest of the generals might contain a surprise like General Ziaul Haq. What does one make of an organisation that begins to depend on personalities rather than processes?

Although predicting Pakistan’s politics is both difficult and useless, it is quite possible that the political government might have bargained for some more time to remain alive. A relatively honourable exit will bring kudos for the general and might win him a visiting fellowship in one of the US think-tanks after he finally retires.

Pakistan indeed has its unique model of CMR, which it seems, eluded academics like Francis Fukayama. He might have solved the puzzle had he looked deep into the history of the Prussian military.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 25th, 2010.

BBC: US says Wikileaks could ‘threaten national security’

The leaks raise “serious” questions about US policy in the region, a senior US senator has said The United States has condemned as “irresponsible” the leak of 90,000 military records, saying publication could threaten national security. The documents released by the Wikileaks website include details of killings of Afghan civilians unreported until now. Three news organisations had advance access to the records, which also show Nato concerns that Pakistan and Iran are helping the Taliban in Afghanistan. Pakistan has denied claims its intelligence agency backed the Taliban

 The huge cache of classified papers – posted by Wikileaks as the Afghan War Diary – is one of the biggest leaks in US history. It was given to the New York Times, the Guardian and the German news magazine, Der Spiegel. In a statement, US National Security Adviser Gen James Jones said such classified information “could put the lives of Americans and our partners at risk”. He said the documents covered the period from 2004 to 2009, before President Obama “announced a new strategy with a substantial increase in resources for Afghanistan”.

Pakistan denied claims its intelligence agency, the ISI, backed the Taliban in the war in Afghanistan. One of the leaked documents refers to an alleged meeting between insurgents and the former Pakistani intelligence chief, Lt Gen Hamid Gul. He dismissed the Wikileaks material as “pure fiction which is being sold as intelligence”. “It’s not intelligence,” Lt Gen Gul told the BBC. “It may have a financial angle to it but more than that it is not hardcore (intelligence). I’m an old veteran. I know. This is not intelligence.” 

 The documents are a treasure trove for historians, showing the fragmentary, elusive quality of raw intelligence. The picture they paint is of American naivety at the beginning, a distracting obsession with Osama bin Laden, aid programmes that did not work, failure to understand the nature of the Taliban, and the continuing poor quality of Afghan police and soldiers.

 It is easy to see why the leak of all of this information would infuriate a White House desperate to make 2010 the year they change the way they do business in Afghanistan. The extent of American penetration and control of Afghan intelligence revealed in the documents will also raise questions about Afghan independence. Reports show that targeted assassinations of suspected Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders, stepped up under the Obama administration, have often killed civilians.

The reports also suggest: The Taliban has had access to portable heat-seeking missiles to shoot at aircraft

A secret US unit of army and navy special forces has been engaged on missions to “capture or kill” top insurgents

 Many civilian casualties – caused by Taliban roadside bombs and Nato missions that went wrong – have gone unreported ‘Civilian deaths’ But the head of the Foreign Relations Committee in the US Senate said the leak came at a “critical stage” for US policy in the region.



Waris Husain: Gang- Taleban Mentality: Appealing to the Hopeless Youth, Printing: Pakistan Post.

Many Western policy-makers find the increasing enlistment of young poor people in religious militancy as an anomaly of history. However, in the U.S. we have had our own security threats from armed bands of young poor people: gangs. The youth’s propensity in Pakistan to engage in militant extremism is similar to the gang mentality that affects low-income minority communities across the United States. Groups like drug gangs and the Taliban appeal to a youth who feels alienated from their society and powerless to change their condition. A large amount of young people who lack education and live in increasingly volatile environments are central components for the success of drug gangs and extremists alike.

Salma Butt represents an organization for youth development in Pakistan called Bargad, and delivered a talk at Johns Hopkins University this week. Ms. Butt stated that the youth she interviewed, who were involved in militancy, had little understanding or interest in the ideology of the groups they belonged to. For the most part, she found that the young people had no other option available to channel their youthful energies, and these groups offered them an outlet. Further, these non-state groups took advantage of the hopeless sentiment felt by some young Pakistanis who perceive their government as too incapable or unmotivated to ameliorate their condition.

The same sort of environment harbored the rise of gangs in the United States, which date back generations to the Irish street gangs of New York, (the Irish were one of the first targets of American xenophobia). The 1900’s saw a great migration of people to American cities, which caused an unplanned mixing of races and socioeconomic groups in an otherwise rigid class system. The threat of potential harassment and opportunity for self-empowerment brought forward the rise of black and Latino gangs in this era.

There were several reasons why the teenagers joined the gang other than the racial and socioeconomic discrimination they felt as minorities in America during that time period. The gang in those times served a community purpose; while utilizing brutal methods, they aimed at protecting those within the gang and residents of the neighborhood. Many of the teenagers in these low-income areas lacked a formal family structure, and found such a unit in the gang. They further lacked a sense of purpose or identity because they never had proper guidance inside or outside the school. Lastly, these youth had to deal with a lack of alternative community groups to associate with in the social vacuum of their hostile environment.

 Collectively, this created allure for the young father-less poor male who finally would have a common purpose in which to channel his youthful energy. Unfortunately, with the influx of drugs after the Vietnam War, the common purpose became selling drugs and defending territory. While the allure was once power in the community, it is now power over the community which drives thousands of American teenagers each year to gangs.

There are obviously differences between the Taleban, who have an ideological religious agenda, and gangs, who attract enlistment based on the despondency of the local youth without any kind of spiritual message. Yet, if we recognize that many young recruits in Pakistan’s terrorist groups do not know or care to understand the concepts behind jihad, then we see a correlation between the gang mentality and this newly-increasing youth militancy.

The hopelessness and revulsion toward mainstream culture in Gangland, USA is the same as the Kaleshinkov Culture’s hate toward the central government of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Both groups thrive where there is lack of identity or purpose in young people, lack of education, social services, and a despondency in the current status of the nation. To summarize, Dr. Kaiser Bengali once stated at a talk in Pakistan “The jihadi outfits provide weapons, money, identity, meaningfulness, and sense of power to the existentially insecure youth. This culture of guns and inequality has militarized our minds.”

The confusion for American policy-makers is deciding whether this is an ideological threat or a threat by a group of angry young people who want jobs and education. The two can be separated, despite claims made by Pakistani apologists who claim that no one in Pakistan ideologically supported extremism until the U.S. began its drone attacks.

The answer will not come from the U.S. but from the nation’s leadership looking introspectively and finding that much of the threat is not ideological but based on socio-economic conditions creating a hopeless and listless youth. Unlike battling an ideology, there are tangible steps one can take to alter the increasingly militant sympathy; this includes improving education, providing more community outreach groups, and providing basic social services.  Thus, both American policy-makers and Pakistan’s leadership must readjust their focus to include long-term incentives for the populace to reject a religious insurgency.