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Archive for October 14th, 2008

Three weeks ago, a bomb blast at the Islamabad Marriott Hotel killed 57 people and wounded more than 250. The attack had a lasting impact on the psyche of the Pakistani people, with many labeling it the country’s 9/11. Although violence and bombings are not new to the country, a high-scale attack in the capital city impacted many who previously did not identify with the military’s offensive in the tribal areas. Ursala Jogezai, a dental surgeon based in Islamabad, commented on the impact of the blast and provided her opinion on how the country and the Pakistani people should handle the fight against militancy in Pakistan:

September 20, 2008, a day that has come to be known as the 9/11 of Pakistan, shook the country in ways previously unimaginable. The sheer impact of this catastrophe will be felt for a long time. However, how should we go about countering this threat? While many in Pakistan’s elite and upper middle class seem to favor military operations to weed out these terrorists, this is not the  solution in the long run. As the famous slogan about Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and his execution said, “Tum kitne Bhutto maro gay, har ghar say Bhutto niklay ga.”

This statement reflects exactly what is happening today. You can go on killing scores of these militants, but new ones will pop out from within the nook and crannies of this country. The main reasons behind this phenomenon are social depravity and a lack of education. This war is not about religion anymore, at least not for those who are leading it. It is about power, a desire to be recognized as a force that can shake the very core of this country. The innocent young minds that have become the gophers for these operations are the victims of this ambition, lured in with promises of heaven and virgins. They are more easily recruited due to the factors described above. Ultimately, it boils down to the haves and have-nots.

When I look at what has gone wrong with this country in terms of the security crisis we face today, many things come to mind as reasons. First, the lack of a unified education system has created several different mindsets, each with a different ideology. This is further compounded by the social disparity that exists between the upper and lower classes of this country. A child receiving a madrassa [religious school] education knows no world outside of the Quran and the beatings he has to endure to memorize a text he may not comprehend. Urdu medium schools, or the government-owned institutions, are actually a disgrace to the name of education. Ancient text books, underpaid teachers, worn-down facilities and a rote learning system hardly engender any form of intelligence or creativity in those who go there. Finally, the English medium schools cater to the upper middle class and the elite of Pakistan. In a country of 170 million people, less than 5 % are fortunate enough to attain a fairly decent education. How can you blame the rest? They do not know any better.

Second, the concept of Islamist militancy was nurtured by none other than our very own politicians who used these elements, with the aid of the U.S., to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan and conduct operations against our enemies. We have now lost control over these same elements. We armed them, used them, abused them and now our own actions are coming back to haunt us.

In short, operations might be necessary to fight these militants and terrorists since we must do something to counter their attacks, but this is not a war that is going to end anytime soon. Our government and we as individuals need to find alternative ways of combating these militant forces. We must turn to softer measures for a broader, more long-term impact. The importance of education should be emphasized. Educated and enlightened individuals should establish organizations to raise awareness amongst the youth on the issues facing Pakistan. We must reach beyond our cities to radical madrassas in rural villages and areas where people are more susceptible to extremist influences. These measures will probably not manifest tangible returns anytime soon, but in a decade or two, our children will thank us. We probably will not be able to change the minds of those who have already been recruited by these elements, but we can at least impede the numbers of future militants.

This is a time to say enough is enough. Let everyone stand united while individually we must take charge and make a difference in whatever way we can. Pakistan needs us all now more than ever.

Want to contribute a piece to CHUP? Email your piece on a pertinent topic related to Pakistan [no more than 700 words] to Kalsoom at, changinguppakistan@gmail.com.

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Mr. Zardari Goes to China

Media outlets today reported that President Asif Ali Zardari arrived in Beijing, China for his first official state visit since taking office in September. According to Dawn, “Zardari made it clear in an interview with China’s official Xinhua news agency that building economic ties would be his top priority during his four-day trip…” Xinhua quoted the official, who stated, “China is the future of the world. A strong China means a strong Pakistan.” The Financial Times on Tuesday indicated that Zardari “is expected to seek a soft loan of $500m-$1.5bn (€367m-€1.1bn, £289m-£900m) from the Chinese government to help him shore up a moribund economy beset by warnings of a possible debt default.” [Image from Reuters]

The visit is reportedly at the invitation by Chinese President Hu Jintao. According to BBC News, not only are Pakistan and China traditional allies with long-standing economic and commercial relations, but “Beijing is also Islamabad’s biggest weapons supplier and is helping Pakistan to build a nuclear power plant – the second such project between them.”

Although the primary purpose of the visit would be to seek financial assistance in the wake of Pakistan’s economic crisis, [see yesterday’s post] news agencies also indicated that other important agreements may be signed or discussed. According to the AFP, “In an interview with his country’s Geo TV on Tuesday, Masood Khan, Pakistan’s ambassador in Beijing, hinted that an agreement on a civilian nuclear pact with China could be on the cards during Zardari’s trip.” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang also echoed that nuclear energy cooperation would be discussed, stating, “China and Pakistan share sound cooperation in nuclear energy. China is ready, on the basis of equality and mutual benefit, to continue its cooperation with Pakistan.”

Several media outlets framed the four-day visit in light of strained U.S. relations. BBC News reported, “Pakistan is a frontline state in the U.S.-led ‘war on terror’ but in recent weeks, U.S. forces in Afghanistan have carried out a series of controversial cross-border air raids into Pakistan to target Al Qaeda and Taliban militants.” Moreover, reported the news agency, “Correspondents say that relations between Washington and Islamabad were further strained when India and the U.S. signed a nuclear agreement that would allow Delhi to buy U.S. civilian nuclear technology.”

Although Islamabad says it would like a similar deal with the U.S., Zardari’s China visit may indicate a shift away from Washington, particularly if a civilian nuclear deal is on the table. However, analyst Talat Masood noted, “Both the U.S. and China have a strong presence in Pakistan and Zardari will seek to ensure that their joint presence is used to find maximum benefit for the country as it faces further difficult times.” China and Pakistan also reportedly discussed forging a closer relationship on the war on terrorism. The Daily Times quoted Zardari, who told reporters, “We need commonality to fight terrorism.”  Because Beijing also views Islamabad as a counterbalance to its regional rival India, it would arguably be in China’s interest to prop up and strengthen Pakistan. It is possible that this visit could be part of a strategic chess game in regional politics.

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