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Archive for October, 2011

Source: NYT

Yesterday, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), the political party of cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, held a rally in Lahore against the ruling coalition. According to the Express Tribune, “More than 100,000 supporters [some sources say 200,000+] gathered as a show of strength in what is traditionally the PML-N stronghold,” as Khan made strong remarks about an array of issues facing Pakistan, from minority & women’s rights to corruption. Below, Sahar Khan, a PhD student in politician science, relates her experience while attending the rally yesterday:

From the rooftop of Andaaz restaurant in Hera Mandi, the red light district of Lahore, one gets a full view of the Badshahi Mosque. Just beyond the minaret of the mosque, one can see the top of Minar-e-Pakistan. Although the view was spectacular, it was not the reason for my excitement. I was just about to go to my first political rally in Pakistan and I couldn’t wait!

Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) was holding its first rally in Lahore in Iqbal Park where Minar-e-Pakistan was built to commemorate the 1940 Lahore Resolution, which had been the first formal call for greater Muslim autonomy in India. The symbolism was hard to miss. If this rally went “well” it could prove to be a game changer for Pakistani domestic politics. But I remained skeptical of the turnout. In a city of rallies, where Abrar ul Haq held one on October 27, and PML-N held one on October 28, why was this rally such a big deal? The best way to find out was to go there.

We left Andaaz a little after 3pm. Near Iqbal Park, the road was full of people, carrying flags of PTI, banners with catchy phrases like “Ab nahin tau kab? Hum nahin tau khaun?” (“If not now, then when? If not us, then who?”), posters of Imran Khan titled as Quaid-e-Inqilab (“Father of Revolution”), and placards of “Only Hope” and “Make Peace.” The air was charged with adrenaline. People were walking with a purpose, shouting things like “Agla prime minister khaun? Imran Khan! Imran Khan!” (“Who’s the next prime minister? Imran Khan! Imran Khan!” and “Zardari kuta hai!” (“Zardari is a dog!”) and of course “Pakistan Zindabad! Imran Khan Zindabad!”

At the Rally (Photo by Sahar Khan)

As soon as we reached Iqbal Park, a man selling round badges that were decorated in PTI’s red and green colors with Khan looking thoughtful as he rested his hand near his chin, almost in an Allama Iqbal-like pose. The pose made me chuckle. The badge said, “Qadm millao, Qadm barhoa, mil kar Pakistani bachoa” (“Unite and step forward, save Pakistan together”). Seeing no problem with that message, I decided to buy one and pinned it on my shirt.

The numbers were increasing fast but miraculously the crowd was orderly. Each section had three security checkpoints, where every purse and bag was checked after going through a metal detector. There were male and female police officers at each point and scattered around, enforcing security. Many of them looked shocked and asked me in Punjabi, “Where have all these people come from?” I don’t speak Punjabi so just said, “Lahore!” He laughed and said, “Lahore jag uta hai!” (“Lahore has woken up!“).

We had a good view and managed to secure some plastic chairs, which turned out to be a good idea. Hearts were pounding, slogans were being shouted, and flags were being waved. There were even automatic toy planes flying around with a PTI flag! The stage looked huge even from where I was. The backdrop was inspirational, and at its center was a large crescent from Pakistan’s flag. On one side was Jinnah and smaller versions of Allama Iqbal and Minar-e-Pakistan. On the other side was Khan. The highlight of the backdrop, however, was the message: “Tub Pakistan banaya ta, Ab Pakistan bachao gae” (“You have made Pakistan, Now you will save Pakistan”). A call for democracy indeed!

The rally finally started at 4pm. As PTI members came up one by one to address the burgeoning crowd, I looked around. There was a never ending sea of people behind me. Some people sat on plastic chairs while others stood on them to get a better view. Some sat on the grass while others simply stood. There were spontaneous eruptions of patriotic slogans or simply “Imran Khan! Imran Khan!” The crowd was becoming restless. They wanted to see their leader. And he finally arrived! The crowd went crazy: the sky was filled more flags and the shouts became louder. Time flew by as PTI members came and spoke. The main announcer kept the crowd alive with his booming voice and updates on the size of the crowd—“ab aik lakh log hain!” and “ab dair lakh log hain!” and “ab 2 lakh sey zaida log hain!” (“there are now 1 lakh people” and “there are now 1.5 lakh people” and “now there are more than 2 lakh people”). The best update, however, was “ab cable bund kar diya gaya hai!” (“Cable has been shut down!”). The crowd responded by “Hakumat dar gee! Zardari kutta dar gaya!” (“The government is scared! Zardari the dog is scared!”).

A mixture of excitement and restlessness made the crowd react louder to each speech. When we thought that the time would never come, Khan rose and addressed the crowd. The adoring crowd roared, and I was one of them. We stood on our chairs and clapped till our hands were raw and our throats were sore. We waved those flags till our arms became numb. And we absorbed every word that Khan sahib said. I think I just witnessed the making of a national leader and I was awestruck.

I can go on and criticize and analyze his speech, but this blog post is more about the fact that over 200,000 people gathered in Iqbal Park on a Sunday afternoon to show their frustration with the current administration. This kind of jalsa, the enthusiasm, the excitement, the sheer numbers have not been seen in a long time. This is not because of a lack of political ambitions; there is room for numerous political parties in the Pakistani political plain. Unfortunately, very few parties seem to have that special something about them—and PTI just proved that it is not one of them.

When I asked Omar Cheema, the Chief Information Officer of PTI, why the rally was so successful he said, “The youth of Pakistan has decided to take the future in their hands.” The youth may be PTI’s not-so-secret ingredient for success but it is yet to be seen whether or not PTI can translate this rally’s outcome into an electoral success. I look forward to the show as much as everyone else.

The contribution is the sole opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the opinion of CHUP. If you would like to contribute a piece to CHUP, please email Kalsoom at changinguppakistan[at]gmail[dot]com. Pieces should be no longer than 800 words please. For past contributions, click here.

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Who Watches the Watchmen?

Photo: NYT/AP

In last week’s Economist, an article delved into the increased use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) – also known more colloquially as drones – in present-day warfare. As The Global Post noted in their related series, “The Drone Wars are the new black.”

What was once a super sleuth secret weapons program by the U.S. government is now openly referenced by the likes of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who recently said, “Having moved from the CIA to the Pentagon, obviously I have a hell of a lot more weapons available to me in this job than I had in the CIA, although the Predators weren’t bad.”

Good one Leon. Not so “secret” anymore!

During his tenure as the former director of the CIA, Panetta “oversaw a dramatic increase” of drone strikes. Since becoming president, Barack Obama has intensified the number of drone strikes in Pakistan, from one every 40 days under the Bush administration to one strike every four days. The Economist reported,

John Brennan, Mr Obama’s counter-terrorism chief, has made it clear that as America draws down its forces in Afghanistan over the next three years, there will be no let up in drone strikes, which, he claims, are partly responsible for al-Qaeda being “on the ropes”. The grim Reaper’s ability to loiter for up to 24 hours, minutely observe human activity from five miles above while transmitting “full motion video” to its controllers and strike with pinpoint accuracy has made it the essential weapon in America’s “long war”.

According to U.S. officials, the rationale for an increased usage of UAVs is obvious – the drones allow reach into places where U.S. boots cannot. They also can hit very specific targets – or at least they’re supposed to, the numbers are hotly disputed. While the U.S. government claims that the drone program [which, besides Pakistan, operate in Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Afghanistan, and Iraq] is a success, “claiming that out of the more than 2,000 people thought to be killed so far, all but 50 were militants,” the number of civilian casualties has been contested. According to analysis conducted by Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann from the New America Foundation, the true civilian fatality rate since 2004 is about 32 percent, versus the 25 percent cited by government calculations.

Via the Economist.

The recent death of Al Qaeda militant [and U.S. citizen] Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen in a September 30th drone strike as well as the number of civilian casualties lends itself to an interesting and pertinent discussion. From a legal perspective, drones sit in an uncomfortably gray area. U.S. officials, not surprisingly, will tell you that drone strikes are perfectly within the parameters of international law. U.S. Department of State Legal Advisor Harold Koh has stated (via the Global Post),

It is the considered view of this Administration … that U.S. targeting practices, including lethal operations conducted with the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, comply with all applicable law, including the laws of war … the United States is in an armed conflict with Al Qaeda, as well as the Taliban and associated forces, in response to the horrific 9/11 attacks, and may use force consistent with its inherent right to self-defense under international law. As a matter of domestic law, Congress authorized the use of all necessary and appropriate force through the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). These domestic and international legal authorities continue to this day.

But just who operates drones raises an issue as well. According to the Global Post, drones used by the military are considered an extension of armed conflict, and are therefore more likely to be deemed acceptable by international law standards. But what if the same system is deployed by the CIA to target a specific individual or group? What about the death of innocent civilians? Or U.S.-born citizens-turned-militants like Awlaki [btw, no love lost for Awlaki, but just raising the argument here]?

For me, the issue of drones goes beyond the issue of legality. It touches on the progression of warfare as a whole. Or whether morality, arguably the foundation of international law, is really being compromised in favor of the arbitrarily defined “greater good.” In an article by Barbara Ehrenreich for Guernica Magazine this past summer, she discussed how the emergence of a new kind of enemy – “non-state actors” – has partly contributed to a shift in how we combat war, namely with “robot”-like machines (including but not limited to drones). She wrote,

Video cameras, borne by drones, substitute for human scouts or information gathered by pilots. Robots disarm roadside bombs…today, the U.S. military has an inventory of more than 7,000 [UAVs], ranging from the familiar Predator to tiny Ravens and Wasps used to transmit video images of events on the ground. Far stranger fighting machines are in the works, like swarms of lethal “cyborg insects” that could potentially replace human infantry. These developments are by no means limited to the U.S.

This is not to say that human beings do not play a significant role in today’s conflicts. But is the “automation” of warfare something that should concern us? A guy sitting in Nevada operating a drone by a joystick may not feel the same gravity of war as a soldier fighting in the trenches. As we become more detached and more removed, are we losing touch with the humanity of warfare [and yes, that was an ironic statement, since many feel warfare is inhumane by nature]? Civilian casualties become dots on a computer screen, the collateral damage of the “best worst option.” Computer viruses affecting drones become a significant tool in cyber warfare. And we in turn become increasingly distanced from the reasons why we engage in conflict in the first place.

An interesting debate, nevertheless. Who does watch the watchmen?

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