Waris Husain Editorial: The Self-Flagellation (Mathaam) of Pakistan

Self-flagellation is practiced across the globe, with Christians in the Philippines reenacting crucifixions on Good Friday to commemorate Jesus or with Shiites beating their chests during Muharram to remember the death of their spiritual leaders. While the body suffers during this exercise, the pious purpose for which the devotee is punishing themselves is supposed to provide a spiritually clarifying experience. When a nation, like Pakistan, punishes itself for some ‘higher purpose,’ one should remember whether or not the effect is so constructive.

             Pakistan’s “mathaam” starts with the perverse reverence and deference awarded to Saudi Arabia by the state and the society. There have been positive elements to the relationship with Saudi Arabia including the billions in aid, which has saved the state from financial collapse at times of economic distress. The same can be said for the United States and other powers who have supplied Pakistan with funding at crucial points, and yet they do not receive the same status as the Saudis.

The reason that both the state and society wish to recognize Saudi Arabia as a patriarch, is for a higher purpose of nearness to the origin of Islam. However, the real effect of this Saudi relationship is that Pakistan has become inundated with religious extremism stemming directly from Saudi Arabia. The predominant interest for Saudi Arabia in Pakistan is to neutralize Iran, and it utilizes policies that the U.S. used with other nations during the Cold War. Namely, funding and training religious right-wing groups to challenge the ability of communists (or Iranians) from taking control of the state. Thus, there are allegations that Saudis are financially and intellectually exporting a violent ideology in Pakistan, which is uprooting the society itself and tearing the nation apart. If one compares the motivation of closeness to Islam and the violent effect of religious extremism and intolerance, it seems clear that Pakistan is “beating itself” for no real purpose.

The next “mathaam” Pakistan is engaging in relates to the presumption that India is a primordial enemy of Islam and that Pakistan has a duty to attack this threat. The higher purpose for this animosity to the eastern neighbor is that Pakistan will serve its Islamic purpose by defeating India in true David-versus-Goliath form. However, there have been horribly negative effects of this focus on India as an “arch nemesis,” highlighted by the growing insurgency in the Afghan border region. The mistrust towards the Indians is so deep that Pakistan currently holds hundreds of thousands of troops on the Indian border while suicide attacks and murders are being carried out brazenly by extremists. This mismanagement of priorities has allowed for the militant anti-state organizations to carry out operations in the heartland of the country.

Similarly, the focus on India inspired the ISI to develop the practice of fostering “low intensity conflicts” or organizing small-scale terrorist attacks against their rival. This led to the ISI creating bonds with certain extremist groups who were provided with funding and training as long as they could carry out terrorist threats in Kashmir and India’s heartland. However, after the Army’s Red Mosque siege and the hard-hitting military operations in Swat and Wazirstan, those ISI-supported groups turned against the state and people of Pakistan. Out of all this, India has suffered far less than Pakistan, who continues to ‘beat itself’ whether by training the same groups who now are aimed at destroying the state or avoiding an offensive in hotbeds of terrorism due to mistrust of Indians on the border.

Finally, Pakistan’s “mathaam” extends to its practice of relying on the military as the ultimate responsible ruler of the government. The higher purpose for this reliance is that the military provides a strong top-down leadership structure, with highly trained technocrats, and a history of providing services to the people. However, one must remember the holistic image of the military’s leadership when it comes to power, which is usually through an illegal coup. The Army’s very ascension to power is a violation of general constitutional principles that require a military to be subservient to the state, not vice-versa. Further, the composition of the military, its leadership, and its decision-making are not subject to any control by the Pakistani people, which is the central benefit of civilian rule.
            The Army’s adversarial relationship with the civilian government hinders the ability of the civilian state apparatus to bourgeon responsible governance.  In this regard, the Army has relied solely on the help of obedient religious parties to negate the influence of politically independent politicians, whether they are from the PML (N) or PPP. This has been accompanied by the political removal or assassination of almost every politically progressive mind in the nation’s history, thereby limiting the ability of capable civilian leadership to emerge. Pakistan ‘beats itself’ by pursuing the ‘higher purpose’ of responsible leadership in its deference to the Army, because the Army itself extorts this deference by prohibiting the ability of a government elected by the people to achieve these same goals.

No self-flagellation can be supported unless it is for a truly “higher” purpose, because without this higher purpose, the effect of the act is to harm the physical body without any benefit to the spirit.  Pakistan self-flagellates for invalid higher purposes including idealizing a nation that exports violent ideologies, training terrorists to attack India who instead attack the Pakistani people, and idealizing a military that has continually destabilized civilian rule. Thus, without any benefit to the ‘spirit’ of the nation, these practices should be stopped before there is no ‘physical form’ left to save.

Foreign Policy: Killing the Messenger

Sedition, a charge that is obsolete in most democratic societies, is often employed to squelch dissenting voices in totalitarian cultures. So it’s disquieting when there are boisterous calls to use it to curb politically unpalatable opinions in a liberal democracy like India. This is exactly what happened last week after Booker Prize-winning author Arundhati Roy told a convention of political activists and Kashmiri separatists in New Delhi that “Kashmir has never been an integral part of India.” It was, she said, a “historical fact.”

Roy’s comments sparked national outrage. Almost immediately, flag-waving patriots began baying for her blood. India’s opposition Bharatiya Janata Party demanded that she be arrested for inciting “disaffection” against the government. It was a “perfect case of sedition,” the Hindu nationalist party contended.

The Indian government agreed, and found her statement “bordering sedition.” Roy, undeterred, doubled down, responding in a written statement that “I spoke about justice for the people of Kashmir who live under one of the most brutal military occupations in the world.” Kashmiris, she wrote, “live in the terror of what is becoming a police state.” In the end, the government flinched, announcing that it would not press charges against her — perhaps realizing that prosecuting Roy would put the authorities in the untenable proposition of having to slap the same charge on millions of Kashmiris who have long asserted that their citizenship is a matter of dispute.

In fact, Roy and her civil-society critics alike have little bearing on the Kashmir dispute, the unresolved colonial legacy of a territory claimed by both India and Pakistan. But the reaction to her remarks is symptomatic of how the majority in India, divorced from realities on the ground in Kashmir, refuses to acknowledge the growing anti-India sentiment in the contested territory, a sentiment that is stoking the embers of separatism to a degree unseen in years.

Azaadi — “freedom” in Urdu and the cri de coeur of Kashmiris — is bewildering to most Indians, and more often than not provokes an aggressively nationalistic response. “What is the meaning of azaadi?” people here ask. Kashmiris have the right to democratically elect their own government; the Indian constitution accords the Himalayan state a “special status”; the territory receives more monetary assistance from New Delhi than any other Indian state. And yet this “spoiled” and “pampered” lot — in the words of one right-wing Hindu organization — wants to break away from us?

Such attitudes only hardened this summer, as the region was convulsed by violent anti-India protests that by many accounts were far worse than the onset of the armed Islamist insurgency in 1989. The Kashmiri “Intifada” was triggered in early June by the killing of a 17-year-old Kashmiri student by Indian security personnel. The ensuing violence claimed 110 lives.

The apathy and indifference of Indians towards Kashmiris’ grievances has deepened despair throughout the Kashmir valley. Material inducements and a modicum of political representation cannot heal Kashmir’s existential scars, much less expunge the spirit of azaadi. Kashmir has its own government, but it is just as directly controlled by New Delhi as the army, paramilitary forces, and intelligence agencies that have descended upon the state. Democratic spaces have shrunk over the last two decades. India guarantees free speech to its citizens, but curbs all varieties of political dissent in Kashmir. Protesters in many corners of India throw stones, but only in Kashmir do the authorities respond with live ammunition.

Azaadi, for many in Kashmir, does not really mean a call to break away from India. For some, it represents a collective demand for a slew of smaller freedoms: freedom to express their dissatisfaction, freedom from the daily interdictions of security forces, and freedom from fear. What really arouses anti-India sentiments is the gargantuan security presence in the valley; over the last two decades, Kashmir has become a garrison state. There are nearly 700,000 Indian security personnel stationed in the region — one for every 20 Kashmiris, one of the highest soldier-to-civilian ratios in the world. Armed with automatic rifles, they occupy schools, hospitals, shopping centers, temples, mosques, cafes, and playgrounds. Looking out from behind their gun turrets and sandbags, they constantly remind Kashmir of its status as a suspect territory. It’s precisely for this reason that most Kashmiris call their homeland maqbooza –– or occupied Kashmir.

India’s security concerns, of course, are legitimate. Infiltration of militants from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir is still a major worry. But the armed insurgency has waned steadily since it began two decades ago: According to official estimates, there are less than 500 militants currently active in Kashmir, a far cry from the 10,000-plus in the first years of the insurgency. “How many troops are needed to combat 500 militants?” one Kashmiri observer asked me on a recent trip to the valley. “10,000? 100,000? Certainly not 700,000. The army is here not to control militants, but the entire population. In that sense, every Kashmiri is a militant.” 

The immense imbalance between soldiers and civilians has encouraged the army’s pernicious practice of extra-judicial killings, known locally as “fake encounters.” Innocent civilians are gunned down and posthumously determined to be militants by officers in pursuit of medals and promotions — the sort of activity that Roy was referring to when she said that Kashmir has turned into a “brutal military occupation.” Such incidents have hardened Kashmir’s antipathy to Indian rule — so much so that on my recent visit to the state, one Kashmiri father told me,When my three year old son sees an army soldier his immediate reflex is to pick up a stone.”

The most recent wave of anti-India rage was led not by Pakistan-sponsored militants, but by Kashmir’s homegrown youth — most of them teenagers — who hurled stones at Indian security personnel while zealously shouting independence slogans. They took to the streets in defiance of stern curfews and even shoot-on-sight orders. I vividly remember seeing one young stone-thrower standing perilously close to a military bunker, thumping his chest. “Come shoot me,” he dared the soldiers.

To defuse the crisis, New Delhi recently announced an eight-point Kashmir “peace package” consisting of financial grants to schools and payments to the families of those killed in the recent violence, among other things. The government also appointed a three-member panel of mediators to reach out to various alienated sections of the Kashmiri population. The package is well-intentioned, and the interlocutors are eminent members of civil society, but both gestures are essentially toothless. Their mandate does not include assessing militarization and military governance, without which the suffering and outrage of Kashmiris will not go away.

Still, if Roy was right in insisting that India needs to stop stifling Kashmir, her criticism of the government gives too little credit to the complicated geopolitical forces at play in the neighborhood. Kashmir shares its borders with Pakistan and China, both nuclear armed countries, and an unstable Afghanistan; Indian concerns about the balkanization of the Indian state were it to lose Kashmir are not paranoid delusions. But India cannot muzzle her voice — and that of Kashmiris — if it is to call itself a real democracy.

Foreign Policy Magazine PhotoJournal: Intifada in Kashmir

Kashmiri Muslim protesters are engulfed in tear gas during a clash with Indian police in Srinagar on Sept. 14. In September, the Indian government announced an eight-point “peace package” to defuse the conflict, but such measures have thus far been ineffective.

Indian police stand guard outside a school as students look from down from the school building in Srinagar on Sept. 27. It is common for soldiers and police to patrol and be stationed inside schoools, temples, mosques, and shopping centers in Kashmir.

“Azadi”= Freedom.

A Kashmiri woman walks past graffiti that during curfew hours in Srinagar on Oct. 19. At this stage in the conflict, military curfews are often in place for all but a few hours a week.

Kashmiri protestors shout anti-Indian slogans during a protest in Srinagar on Sept. 10. As the Indian security presence in Kashmir has persisted and Indian public opinion has hardened over the long-running situtation, the Kashmiri resistence has begun to be compared to the Palestinian Intifada by many observers.

A Kashmiri man stands outside during a curfew in Srinagar on Sept. 20.

Kashmiri relatives and friends of Sheikh Yasir, who was fatally wounded on Aug. 31, mourn at his funeral in Srinagar on Sept. 17.

Indian paramilitary troops patrol on a street during a curfew in Srinagar on Sept. 20.

Al Jazeera Report: Taliban is heavily recruiting in Karachi (Pakistan’s most populated and wealthy port city)

Though US drone strikes on Taliban targets in northwest Pakistan have become routine, the group continues to have a presence in the country’s south. Several members of the Pakistani Taliban have been arrested in the southern port city of Karachi.

However, despite the crackdowns, the Taliban continues to use the city as a hub for funding and recruitment. Amir Latif, from the Online News Network in Karachi, told Al Jazeera that the Taliban are hiding in Karachi.

“It’s very true they are in here. Karachi is the commercial hub of Pakistan. They can get finance from many resources; direct funding from their supporters here as well as through illegal funding from outside,” he said. “However, it is impossible for the Taliban to capture land here or establish their own government in line with the tribal regions [like Waziristan and Swat Valley].”

But there are those who disagree – the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) party, which represents Urdu-speakers, allege the Taliban have set up base in the mountains round the city.

Pashtuns who live there deny that – for them such allegations are aimed at countering the mass migration of Pashtuns who have been escaping the violence in northwest tribal regions

BBC: American Scientiest developing a “dream catcher”

A US researcher has said he plans to electronically record and interpret dreams. Writing in the journal Nature, researchers said they have developed a system capable of recording higher-level brain activity. “We would like to read people’s dreams,” says the lead scientist Dr Moran Cerf.

The aim is not to interlope, but to extend our understanding of how and why people dream. For centuries, people have been fascinated by dreams and what they might mean; in ancient Egypt for example, they were thought to be messages from the gods.

More recently, dream analysis has been used by psychologists as a tool to understand the unconscious mind. But the only way to interpret dreams was to ask people about the subject of their dreams after they had woken up. The eventual aim of Dr Cerf’s project is to develop a system that would enable psychologists to corroborate people’s recollections of their dream with an electronic visualisation of their brain activity.

“There’s no clear answer as to why humans dream,” according to Dr Cerf. “And one of the questions we would like to answer is when do we actually create this dream?”

Dr Cerf makes his bold claim based on an initial study that he says suggests that the activity of individual brain cells, or neurons, are associated with specific objects or concepts. He found, for example, that when a volunteer was thinking of Marilyn Monroe, a particular neuron lit up.

By showing volunteers a series of images, Dr Cerf and his colleagues were able to identify neurons for a wide range of objects and concepts – which they used to build up a database for each patient. These included Bill and Hilary Clinton, the Eiffel Tower and celebrities.

So by observing which brain cell lit up and when, Dr Cerf says he was effectively able to “read the subjects’ minds”.

Dream catcher

He admits that there is a very long way to go before this simple observation can be translated into a device to record dreams – a “dream catcher”. But he thinks it is a possibility – and he said he would like to try. The next stage is to monitor the brain activity of the volunteers when they are sleeping.

The researchers will only be able to identify images or concepts that correlate with those stored on their database. But this data base could in theory be built up – by for example monitoring neuronal activity while the volunteer is watching a film.

Dr Roderick Oner, a clinical psychologist and dream expert, believes that while this kind of limited visualisation might be of academic interest, it will not really help in the interpretation of dreams or be of use in therapy. “For that you need the entire complex dream narrative,” he said.

Translating thoughts

“It would be wonderful to read people’s minds where they cannot communicate, such as people in comas,” said Dr Cerf.

There have been attempts to create machine interfaces before that aim to translate thoughts into instructions to control computers or machines. But in the main these have tried to tap into areas of the brain involved in controlling movement. Dr Cerf’s system monitors higher level areas of the brain and can potentially identify abstract concepts.

“We can sail with our imaginations and think about all the things we could do if we had access to a person’s brain and basically visualise their thoughts. “For example, instead of just having to write an email you could just think it. Or another futuristic application would be to think a flow of information and have it written in front of your eyes.”

Waris Husain- Suffi Musical Spiritualism

As I have discussed previously, a certain strain of Islam that more people should know about is Suffiism. There are lots of analogies one can use to describe them- think Rastafarianism is to Christianity as Suffism is to Islam. While there are several schools of Suffis, many explain that one can be a Suffi without knowing it- as they acknowledge a one-ness between themselves, their society, and their environment as the only true “rule.” Each individuals path is different.

One of the central teachings of Suffi leaders has been that humans should find methods to channel a deeper subconsciousness or to induce trance states. The Whirling Dervishes did this spinning  motion while dancing to music because they believed it would put them in a trance so they could truly focus without disruption on their spirituality. Music has been a part of Suffi traditions from its start, and the following is one mystic who utilizes his drums to induce trances amongst his audience.

BBC: War Torn Countries are More Corrupt

War-torn states are still seen as being the most corrupt in the world, according to a new report from Transparency International.

The Berlin-based watchdog monitors perceived corruption and has published its annual report, based on a poll of businesses and people in 178 nations. The worst country is Somalia, followed by Burma, Afghanistan and Iraq. Denmark, New Zealand and Singapore tie for top place as the world’s least corrupt countries, with the UK 20th.

‘Good governance needed’

Transparency International was founded in 1993 and is a non-governmental organisation that monitors corporate and political corruption. In its latest report, Russia is rated as among the worst for corruption, in 154th place. And Italy, down in 67th spot, now comes below Rwanda. Meanwhile, emerging economic powerhouse China is in 78th place.

It is the poor and vulnerable who suffer the consequences of corruption, Transparency International found. Hence, more should be done to enforce existing rules and laws, according to Huguette Labelle, chair of Transparency International.

“These results signal that significantly greater efforts must go into strengthening governance across the globe,” she said. “With the livelihoods of so many at stake, governments’ commitments to anti-corruption, transparency and accountability must speak through their actions.

“Good governance is an essential part of the solution to the global policy challenges governments face today.” Chile and Uruguay are rated the least-corrupt countries in Latin America. In the Middle East, the best placed is Qatar. Top-rated African nation is Botswana, in 33rd place.

Transparency International concludes that some countries have become more corrupt in the past year, particularly the Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy and the US. Despite falling down the list, perhaps because of corruption revealed by the financial crash, the US still comes near the top at number 22.