Thursday, January 30, 2014

Church attack: when state offers the other cheek

Church attack: when state offers the other cheek
By Dr. Mohammad Taqi
Daily Times
September 25, 2013
Terror unleashed on yet another bloody Sunday in Pakistan and yet another round of apologetics for the mass murderers ensued. My city, Peshawar, has grown used to the death inflicted on it consistently by the religious zealots. But even by Peshawar standards the havoc unleashed this September 22ndis particularly brutal as it targeted one of the smallest, weakest and most peaceful communities of the city. Over eighty Christian worshipers were slaughtered in a double suicide bombing when they had gathered for the Sunday mass at the All Saints Memorial Church, Kohati Gate. We have come a long way from when the All Saints first opened its doors in 1883, to when the local elders and tribal Pashtun chiefs attended the service there with one of its pioneer missionaries Thomas Patrick Hughes, to this carnage.
Reverend Hughes had written in his 1885 monograph, “This Memorial Church now stands in an Oriental dress. It is an attempt to adapt Saracenic (Islamic) architecture to the purposes of Christian worship, the whole building having been constructed by a native architect under the superintendence of the Missionaries”. All Saints Church or the “Girja”, as they have always called it, has been a landmark for generations of Peshawaris. It stood as a serene structure through most turbulent of times next door to the Edwardes Church Mission High School – the province’s oldest school – built in 1855 by another early priest, Robert Clarke with help from the Commissioner of Peshawar, Sir Herbert Edwardes. I must have strolled pass by it hundreds of times without once fearing that those buildings or the hustle and bustle around mid-day Sundays endangered my faith or political beliefs. But those who soaked the peaceful white building in the innocent blood of the martyred worshipers must have thought otherwise. Perhaps we would never be able to look at the snowy façade of the All Saints Church – and the white strip in the Pakistani flag representing minorities - the same way again.
But the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) – the ruling party in the Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa province- wants the public to quickly ignore the blood splatters and the dozens of Christian caskets and hop back on to the peace talk bandwagon. The PTI leader Mr. Imran Khan, its spokesmen and cadres are out full force with their callous confabulations about some mysterious forces trying to sabotage the peace with the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). By Mr. Khan’s immediate response after the Peshawar carnage it would seem that the outgoing Awami National Party (ANP) and not the TTP is to blame for the massacre. Thankfully, Mr. Khan stopped short of directly blaming the Christians for bringing it upon themselves as he had done with Benazir Bhutto after the Karsaz bombing. Mr. Khan keeps invoking ANP’s actions to justify his inaction. He forgets that nothing exposes a government and its leader more than their dithering. In their protests the battered and grieving Christian community showed more political maturity than everyone else. The mourners could see through Mr. Khan bending over backwards to justify every atrocity the jihadists have perpetrated including this tragedy. By agitating against Mr. Imran Khan specifically, the tiny Christian community has underscored the most important fact that it is not merely the TTP that is an existential threat to society but also those leaders that afford the jihadists an ideological space to thrive in.
Mr. Imran Khan claims that others like the ANP are doing politics in a time of grief. That coming from a man who has literally made his political career out of cheerleading for the jihadists at every turn is quite disingenuous. From the so-called drone march to anti-NATO sit-in to his malignant and foul-mouthed bashing of the anti-Taliban intelligentsia and politicians, Mr. Khan is the personification of playing politics over the corpses. Even that might be overlooked if the man had a plan to act on what he has been professing for years. But unfortunately, Mr. Khan neither has a strategy nor the intention it seems to develop one on the go. As the one championing talks, Mr. Khan could have done some spadework and opened channels to the TTP affiliates that might be amenable to talks. But he clearly wants to gain political mileage out of the situation by blaming everything on the present federal government and the past dispensation(s).
The Prime Minister Mr. Nawaz Sharif has already conceded way too much in the All Parties Conference to both the PTI and the TTP. Mr. Sharif can rely on the only legitimate fighting force that any state has i.e. the army and paramilitaries to respond to the TTP as the latter, through continued violence, keeps bolstering its position vis-à-vis the state. The opinion within the army is broadly divided into three sections: a) a smaller old guard that considers TTP a menace and wishes to fight it but not the Afghan Taliban; b) an ascendant ISI mindset that wants the good Taliban preserved for the Afghan‘endgame’ and at the most contain the bad ones to the tribal ‘badlands’; and c) a delusional section that seriously thinks that the TTP suicide bombers are somehow US-Indo-Zionist proxies. The last bunch’s weightage counts towards the ISI coterie. Any action by the Pakistani state against the TTP will ultimately depend on whether the ‘traditionalists’ or the ‘adventurists’ prevail within the army. In the end analysis Pakistan army always acts in unison and the opinion divided no matter how widely, will not translate into an open rift.
Mr. Imran Khan’s rhetoric, which blames foreign elements for sabotaging dialogue while also calling ironically to make peace with them, creates a milieu highly favorable to the dominant sections of the army dragging their feet on acting against the TTP. Mr. Khan and his ilk have virtually paralyzed a state that has already kept second-guessing its own campaign against terrorism. Confusion is the name of Mr. Khan’s game and in this chaos the TTP or Jundullah or Junud-al-Hafsah, continues to regroup, plan and kill with impunity. Mr. Nawaz Sharif appears to have missed the window of opportunity he had after the martyrdom of General Sanaullah Niazi and the All Saints Church massacre to wrestle back the narrative from Mr. Khan and his rowdy hordes. Going by the fact that the National Assembly could only come up with condolences and condemnation of the Church attack, it seems that the Pakistani state has offered the other cheek to the TTP.
(The writer can be reached at mazdaki@me.comand he tweets @mazdaki)

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Bashir Bilour: the lion slain

Bashir Bilour: the lion slain

By Dr Mohammad Taqi

December 23,2012

The Awami National Party (ANP) has lost one of its bravest leaders. Senior provincial minister of the Khyber-Pukhtunkha Bashir Ahmed Bilour was martyred this past weekend. One of his party colleagues and a fellow Peshawari said: the lion of Peshawar has been slain.

Bashir Ahmed was born on August 1, 1943 in the walled city of Peshawar in mohallah Hodah inside the old Ganj gate to Bilour Din sahib. He came from the prominent business and trader family of Peshawar called the Kalals. To my generation he was Bashir Lala, or the elder brother , but to his peers and most of the common Peshawaris he just remained Bashir jan - the dear Bashir. The bereaving Peshwaris are lamenting: Bashir jan tannay barri zidyadti keeti aiy - this is not fair Bashir jan!

My first recollection of the politician Bashir Lala is from a 1977 election poster, when I believe he was contesting a provincial assembly seat on the National Democratic Party (NDP)/Pakistan National Alliance candidate. The PNA ended up boycotting the provincial elections. But Bashir Lala and his older brothers Haji Ghulam Ahmed and Ilyas Ahmed, presently a federal minister and senator, respectively, had joined the National Awami Party (NAP) -and by extension the Pashtun nationalist movement- somewhere in the early 1970s. His younger brother Aziz Bilour remained in civil service and never did join politics though there came times that all four brothers were imprisoned by the government of the time for their political affiliation. The NAP was banned and disbanded but Bashir Lala and his family remained committed to Baacha Khan and Wali Khan's political thought. The ANP was formed in 1986 after the merger of the NDP, Mazdoor Kissan Party, Awami Tehrik and Pakistan National Party. Bashir Lala was to later become the provincial president of the ANP.

Today Bashir Lala is remembered for the five consecutive elections he won. I saw him at his finest after his first election and the first and only election defeat in 1988. He was as gracious in defeat as he was in his five wins. The ANP morale was down as it was routed in the 1988 polls in Peshwar valley. That is where the work horse Bashir Lala came into picture. He crisscrossed Peshawar alleys to reach out, support and encourage the party cadres.  If his oldest brother had the social suave to reach out to the Peshawar families it was Bashir Lala's political muscle that held together the ANP election machine in Peshawar from the non-party-based local bodies election of the 1980s to a thumping victory in the 1990 general elections. Peshawar city has traditionally been a stronghold of the assorted Muslim Leagues and then the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). Having lost his first election to Syed Ayub Shah of the PPP,Bashir Lala was truly the architect of the Pashtun nationalists finally wrestling away Peshawar from the League and the PPP. While deeply inspired by Wali Khan he was an extremely effective traditional politician who understood the complexities of a large city and the problems of its people. He reached across language and sectarian barriers and stood up for his constituents regardless of the party affiliation. But he was one of the few leaders who were readily accessible to party workers whenever they needed him.
When the ANP secured a majority in the 2008 provincial elections he was one of the front runners for the chief ministership. Some Peshawaris complain that if he was not a Hindko speaker he may have secured the top slot. But Bashir Lala was not only above the parochial divisions and very secular in outlook personally but he was also a very pragmatic politician and not an ideologue in any sense. Not an ideologue till perhaps an ideology of hate befell his city and the province. He became ideologically committed to fight the obscurantists with whatever, whenever and wherever it took. If Mian Iftikhar Hussain is the face of the anti-Taliban ANP Bashir Lala was its soul. In a country bogged down by confusion over what to do about the Taliban menace his was a clear vision and message: fight and trounce them for their thought and savage means are incompatible with anything modern.

Lately we have heard the Pakistani security establishment ostensibly lamenting that the civilians do not show leadership against terrorism. Bashir Lala was a civilian politician who lead from the front knowing full well that it would cost him his life. He had told his wife, the daughter of the Peshawari steel magnate the late Gul Muhammad Khan, that if my dead body has wounds on the back, you must not see my face. But as we know he took the bomb shrapnel on the chest. His brothers, his wife and his two sons,Usman and Haroon, along with his compadres in the ANP are proud of Bashir Lala. To me this is nothing new. Whether it was the bombings in Peshawar in the 1980s or the siege of the city's Shia in 1992 Bashir Lala would always be on the frontline. He would barge in with true grit and not leave till the job was done. He always did his part as he has done this time. But can his resolve and example be followed?  He is the last fallen along a perilous path on which Salmaan Taseer and indeed Benazir Bhutto were slain but would certainly not be the last one. While continuing to play footsie with its jihadist proxies the security establishment is passing the hot potato of decision making to the civilians as their cower under fear and political expediency.

Gunter Grass had noted somewhere that it is a crime to hope when there are no reasons for hope. I am not about to commit that crime. I really do not know what the fates have in store for Peshawar but RIP Bashir Lala, you will forever in the hearts of the Peshawaris wherever we are.

(The writer can be reached at He tweets @mazdaki) 
- originally published in the Daily Times, Pakistan

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf: TTP's Sinn Féin

COMMENT : Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf: the TTP’s Sinn Féin — Dr Mohammad Taqi

 The original proposal to talk directly to the TTP yet again — despite its past history of signing and flouting scores of talks and agreements — is getting nowhere due to the continued jihadist terrorism 

Peshawar — one of the oldest living cities on earth — is the heart of the Pashtun lands from Kandahar to Khyber and the Qissa Khwani bazar is the heart of this city. My hapless city was stabbed through its very heart when the jihadist terror struck again this past weekend, leaving at least 40 dead — 17 from one family — and scores maimed. Site of this bombing, apparently carried out through a remote-controlled device, is barely a mile from the All Saints Church where 100 Christians were martyred just days ago. It is but a few furlongs from where the lion of Peshawar, Bashir Ahmed Bilour, was slain in another bombing. The upright police officers Malik Sa’ad and Khan Raziq were martyred in a bombing not too far from this spot. Well, yet another sorrowful chapter has been added to the endless tale of blood and tears that the Qissa Khwani — the storytellers’ — bazar has been telling for years now. But as the Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa bleeds and grieves, its ruling party the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) has a different story to tell and a heinous theory to sell.

The PTI spokespersons claim that the recent string of terrorist atrocities has not been committed by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). They blame unknown foreign elements for unleashing this dance of death on the Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa province to undermine the so-called peace talks that the PTI champions. They assert that there are ‘fake’ Taliban within the TTP who have been put up to this by the Afghan-US-Indo-Zionist combine. They even discard the vicious Mullah ‘FM Radio’ Fazlullah’s own admission that he ordered the hit against the martyred General Sanaullah Khan Niazi, claiming that Fazlullah is not ‘TTP proper’. PTI’s Chief Minister Pervez Khattak has blamed even the media for somehow triggering the bombings! Another absolutely rubbish idea peddled by the Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa’s Information Minister Shah Farman is that the present mayhem in that province is somehow related to the bombings that took place there in the 1970s-80s and were blamed on the nationalist and communist governments of Afghanistan then. Never mind the political context then and now and that just the recent church bombing killed more people than all explosions of the 1970-80s put together.

Not to be outdone by his lieutenants, the PTI chief Imran Khan demanded the TTP be allowed to open its office in mainland Pakistan to conduct talks. Implied in this demand is some form of immunity for at least those TTP members who would run this shop. While some in the PTI disowned Mr Khan’s outrageous demand and comparison to the Afghan Taliban’s office in Qatar — note that it was not in Kabul or Kandahar — most of his party stood by him. The PTI’s vigorous defence of the brutal and criminal TTP, absolving it of any fault, makes the PTI look like the political face of the jihadist outfit and Mr Khan its opening batsman. The original proposal to talk directly to the TTP yet again — despite its past history of signing and flouting scores of talks and agreements — is getting nowhere due to the continued jihadist terrorism. The recent All Parties Conference (APC) declaration, which had disastrously elevated the TTP to the ‘stake holder’ level, is virtually dead now. It may be time for the Pakistani state to negotiate with the PTI not the TTP.

The PTI is particularly fond of citing the British handling of the IRA insurgency as a template for talks with the TTP. The fact is that British did not directly negotiate with the IRA but with its political wing Sinn Féin. While there is nothing common between the savages of TTP and a modern nationalist IRA, in Mr Khan and the PTI, Hakeemullah Mehsud may still have found his Sinn Féin. Let the PTI make clear the nuts and bolts of what it is demanding on behalf of the TTP. The PTI leaders are already putting up a grotesque defence of the TTP’s brutalities daily; let them now serve officially as the banned outfit’s emissaries and guarantors. It would also obviate the need for a TTP office.

The fact is that the PTI is providing the TTP prized ideological and political space as well as a tremendous amount of time to hone their machetes. Mr Khan and his confidants are actually mainstreaming a savage group that rejects the Pakistani state and its constitution and anything that is modern. Mark my words, the TTP is no Provisional IRA; it will eventually go after even Mr Khan when they have no use left for him. For now he is serving them well by muddying the waters enough to delay any operation against them. The TTP has no intention to enter a meaningful dialogue, not now, not ever. If the TTP were to accept Mr Nawaz Sharif’s naively stated conditions of dropping their guns and upholding the constitution before the talks, there would be no need for talks at all — as the TTP spokesman has already pointed out. But Mr Sharif seems quite content so long as the terrorist pyres burn down the Pashtun homes while the Punjab — his home province — is safe. Using the Pashtun lands as a buffer is neither new nor a foolproof policy and Mr Sharif will discover that soon — most likely in his present term.

Both the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and PTI invoke their recent electoral mandate to deliver peace as the carte blanche to give the TTP whatever they wish. They cannot be more wrong. These parties won an election not a referendum to pawn away the Pashtun lands to whomever they wish. The APC declaration is at best a political statement, not a constitutional one. It is not worth the paper it is written on, no matter what Mr Khan says. The APC declaration’s only significance now is that Mr Khan is using it to delay or thwart any military action against the TTP. The TTP may have the guns but it is their political face — the PTI — that is holding the Pakistani state hostage. This paralysis of the state, however, is untenable and must be upended with a robust action against the terrorist TTP and its affiliates. The Pakistan army has said that it can inflict a befitting response on the terrorists. It is time perhaps to take the army up on its word. The venue to chalk out course of such action must be the parliament, where the TTP’s Sinn Féin is represented too, not another APC.

The writer can be reached at and he tweets @mazdaki

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

وزیر چنیں  از  ن م راشد 

تو جب سات سو آٹھویں رات آئی
تو کہنے لگی شہرزاد
اے جواں بخت ایران میں ایک رہتا تھا نائی
وہ نائی تو تھا ہی
مگر اس کو بخشا تھا قدرت نے ایک اور نادر گراں تر ہنر بھی
کہ جب بھی
کسی مردِ دانا کا ذہن ذہنِ رسا زنگ آلود ہونے کو آتا
تو نائی کو جا کر دکھاتا
کہ نائی دماغوں کا مشہور ماہر تھا
وہ کاسہء سر سے انکو الگ کر کے
ان کی سب الائشیں پاک کر کے
پھر اپنی جگہ پر لگانے کے فن میں تھا کامل
خدا کا یہ کرنا ہوا کہ ایک دن اس کی دکان سے ایران کا ایک وزیر کہن سال گزرا
اس نے بھی چاہا
کہ وہ بھی ذرا اپنے الجھے ہوئے ذہن کی از سر نو صفائی کرا لے
کیا کاسہء سر کو نائی نے خالی
ابھی وہ اسے صاف کرنے لگا تھا
کہ ناگاہ آ کر کہا ایک خوجہ سرا نے
"میں بھیجا گیا ہوں جنابِ وزارت پناہ کو بلانے"
وہ اس پر سراسیمہ ہو کر جو اٹھا وزیر ایک دم
رہ گیا پاس دلاک کے مغز اسکا
وہ بے مغز سر لے کے دربار سلطاں میں پہنچا
مگر دوسرے روز
جو اس نے نائی سے تقاضا کیا تو وہ کہنے لگا "حیف!
کل شب پڑوسی کی بلی جناب وزارت پناہ کے دماغِ فلک تاز کو کھا گئی ہے!"
اور اب حکمَ سرکار ہو تو کسی اور حیوان کا مغز لے کر لگا دوں؟"
تو دلاک نے رکھ دیا دانیالِ زمانہ کے سر پر کسی بیل کا مغز لے کر
تو لوگوں نے دیکھا
جناب وزارت پناہ اب فراست میں
دانش میں
اور کاروبارِ وزارت میں
پہلے سے بھی چاک و چوبند تر ہو گئے ہیں

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

PTI's financial scruples

Daily Times
Thursday, November 10, 2011

COMMENT: PTI’s financial scruples —Dr Mohammad Taqi

If one red US cent goes towards putting a US soldier in harm’s way, that does not reflect well on the US officials who had been cosying up to Imran Khan and had a meeting with him just before the Lahore rally

In the wake of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) rally at Minar-e-Pakistan Lahore last month a flurry of reports and opinions has appeared. These perspectives range from laudatory and supportive of the PTI and its leader Imran Khan to strong criticism and downright condemnation. A lot of information and perhaps disinformation has been circulating on the traditional and contemporary media about the financial disclosures of the PTI and indeed, of its leader.

Ali Aftab, the lead vocalist of the band Beygairat Brigade, whose single ‘Aaloo Anday’ has been a hit political satire, took a crack at it in a contemporary this past weekend. Aftab wrote: “Imran Khan is very determined about keeping a check on the assets of the current political figures. But shouldn’t these good intentions begin at home? A well-known political analyst from PTI said that Imran’s annual income culminates to 2 crores from which he donates around 1 crore to Shaukat Khanum and other non-profit institutions. But one can’t but have conjectures about where the dough is coming from for all his campaigning”. Aftab also asked as to who picked up the tab for the logistics including the fanfare, musical entertainment and floodlighting at the PTI’s very successful event.

But even before the PTI’s Lahore rally a lot questions were being asked about the party’s resources to support its high-profile anti-government and anti-United States campaign. Several media people, especially in informal interactions on the social media, have pointed finger towards the PTI drawing financial support from its foreign and domestic patrons, including the Pakistani establishment. Others have raised concern if funds from Imran Khan’s philanthropic projects were diverted to shore up his political fortunes. A media anchor who had tweeted about whether funds from Shaukat Khanum Memorial Hospital (SKMH), were going towards the PTI, was apparently being threatened by the PTI-walas. On the other hand, senior editor and seasoned analyst, Najam Sethi had tweeted:” FACT: Public donated Rs. 3 bn (billion) to Imran’s ‘flood relief fund’. Qs: How much was spent? On what? Where is the balance? Public has a right to know.”

In my last column I maintained that there is no reason to doubt Imran Khan’s personal financial integrity and so far I have not seen anything that will change my opinion. But what I have noticed is that there are several genuine questions that have either not been handled well by the PTI and its leaders or answered in a way that added to the confusion rather than clearing the fog over their financial scruples.

For example, one of the newest converts to the PTI, Mian Muhammad Azhar had, ostensibly, remarked on a recent television show – the YouTube clips of which have now mysteriously disappeared- that Imran Khan does raise funds (simultaneously) for the SKMH and the PTI. A prominent anchor and former information secretary of the PTI, Nasim Zehra, despite her kid-glove treatment of Imran Khan in a recent interview, was forced to ask about his personal assets and property. Even though Ms Zehra did not ask pertinent follow up questions, Imran Khan was visibly antsy answering queries about his financial propriety.

The fact is that the media people are not the only ones concerned about the mixing of philanthropy and politics to the extent where it becomes hard to tell one apart from the other. My considered opinion is that SKMH funding remains squeaky clean and it would be highly inappropriate to cast aspersion on that wonderful humanitarian service. There, however, remains a serious issue with how Imran Khan has over the years used the SKMH platform and its fundraisers to peddle his brand of anti-politician politics. About a year ago, at an SKMH charity dinner in Houston, he went on his usual drivel against the Pakistani politicians and especially the President Asif Zardari. A Pakistani-American doctor subsequently got up and protested very vocally that they were there to raise money for a good cause and not to listen to Imran Khan’s political spiel.

In the interest of maintaining his own good name and that of the stellar charities that Imran Khan has championed, he must not wait for someone to call an audit by saying “ mera ihtisaab kar leiN ” (I am ready for accountability). If he had a transaction where his ex-wife gifted him a 300 kanal land parcel, rather than a transfer transaction entailing potentially higher fees and taxes, he should declare the details of the deal. Similarly, if there is a legitimate reason for him to have declared his ancestral properties at their fifty year-old value, the people should be taken into confidence about it.

Another important disclosure that Imran Khan has been remiss in making is his political fundraising and lobbying outside Pakistan. For example, the PTI is registered in the US under the Foreign Agent Registration Act 1938, with the stated objectives of organizing the party, lobbying the elected and appointed US functionaries and above all for fundraising for political purposes. Pervez Musharraf’s APML and the MQM are the only other Pakistani parties similarly registered in the US.

Imran Khan is a frequent flyer to the US and shortly before his Lahore rally he raised 140,000 dollars for PTI at two events in Florida. Now what the PTI USA does is perfectly legitimate and according to the US law as they operate under a US tax identification number and maintain a bank account in the US. But the waters become murky when the US taxpayers’ (in this case predominantly Pakistani-Americans) money is channelized to PTI Pakistan and potentially used for whipping up anti-American hysteria there. Chiding the US Secretary of State, as “Chaachi Clinton” can be conceded as just political theater. However, it gets trickier when the PTI puts the US service men and women at risk by blocking the NATO supply lines in Pakistan, which it has done at least twice this year.

If one red US cent goes towards putting a US soldier in harm’s way, that does not reflect well on the US officials who had been cozying up to Imran Khan and had a meeting with him just before the Lahore rally. The PTI’s anti-US leader – like many politicos he detests - is perhaps oblivious to the ethical dimension of biting off the hand that has been steadily feeding him. Regardless, he must become the change he wants to see and answer questions about the PTI and his own financial scruples. It would only raise his stature not harm it.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

A passport to dystopia?

Daily Times Thursday, March 03, 2011

COMMENT: A passport to dystopia? —Dr Mohammad Taqi

Professor Ali has taken serious liberties with the facts and has tried to denigrate the Pashtuns by portraying them as a people inherently incapable of living under a democratic dispensation. He simply ignores the secular-democratic Khudai Khidmatgar Movement (KKM) that dominated the Pashtun polity in the first half of the 20th century

When Samuel Huntington and Warren Manshel co-founded the Foreign Policy magazine (FP) in 1970, they felt that “in the light of Vietnam, the basic purposes of American foreign policy demand re-examination and redefinition”. They pledged to do so through “an effort to stimulate rational discussion of the new directions required in American foreign policy”. They described their vision in their first editorial dated January 1, 1971:

“Our goal is a journal of foreign policy which is serious but not scholarly, lively but not glib, and critical without being negative. And we frankly hope that the discussions of these issues in our pages will affect the actions, or at least the thinking, of those in government, academia, business or elsewhere who shape our foreign policy.”

FP has since gone through many phases, editors and management, but has more or less stuck to the original vision of a lively yet serious debate. Even those of us who have never subscribed to Huntington and FP’s US-centric view of the history and future, considered the periodical a sober entity — well, up until last week.

On February 25, 2011 an article titled ‘The Islamic Republic of Talibanisation’, by Professor Saleem Hassan Ali of the University of Vermont, was published online by FP in its section titled “Argument”. The gist of Professor Ali’s outlandish theory is that having failed to rout the Taliban in Afghanistan through military means, the US should somehow arrange for a referendum to be held in Afghanistan and several adjoining parts of Pakistan, in which people would opt for an Islamic emirate under the Taliban rule. If and when such a referendum is successful, the people of Afghanistan and Waziristan subscribing to the Taliban worldview can immigrate to this autonomous emirate. The US and its allies would have to make sure that this entity is encapsulated from the surroundings so as to prevent export of violence but would be induced to trade with the neighbours and encouraged to “try its hand at governing”, which shall eventually result in everyone and their uncle living happily ever after.

Reading the 1360-word piece left me scratching my head. Was this a tongue-in-cheek swipe at both the Taliban and the regional and world powers? I wondered if some political fiction had gone totally haywire. Is this what Huntington and Manshel had meant by serious, rational and lively debate, without being negative? But reading the comment section underneath the article one could almost hear the Twilight Zone music playing: Professor Ali in his responses to a barrage of criticism appeared to be seriously defending an atrociously glib thesis!

Making a case for a fundamental change in the western and US strategy to cope with the Taliban’s ‘staying power in Afghanistan’, Professor Ali starts with a frontal assault on the Pashtun nation itself. In an utter disregard for the history of the region, he writes: “The fact is that the Taliban and other Islamist elements are popular in the region out of which they operate, the Pashtun tribal belt between Afghanistan and Pakistan. This has always been an utterly conservative locale where the local population has generally favoured Islamic fundamentalism. Even going back to the 1930s, Waziristan’s rallying flag against the British was a simple white calligraphic ‘Allah-Akbar’ (God is Great) on red fabric.”

Well, the fact is that Professor Ali has taken serious liberties with the facts and has tried to denigrate the Pashtuns by portraying them as a people inherently incapable of living under a democratic dispensation. He simply ignores the secular-democratic Khudai Khidmatgar Movement (KKM) that dominated the Pashtun polity in the first half of the 20th century. He then mentions the doctored elections of the 2002, stating: “In Pakistan’s frontier province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Islamists were freely elected into power in one recent election.” However, cherry-picking the history, he skips the electoral rout of these same Islamist political parties at the hands of the secular Awami National Party (a continuation of the KKM) in 2008 elections that were widely accepted as free and fair. And even before that, the Pashtuns of the tribal belt have elected people with impeccable secular credentials like Abdul Lateef Afridi (Khyber), Shahabuddin Khan (Bajaur) and Dr Javed Hussain (Kurram) in various national assembly elections.

Professor Ali quotes a New America Foundation poll, which had suggested that the majority in Waziristan opposes the west’s military presence and that the parties (JI, JUI, PTI) with Islamist inclinations would gain almost half of the votes in a free and open election. Ironic that an article published under the section “Argument” would have a deductive fallacy bigger than the Hoover Dam: most Waziris despise foreign presence while all Taliban fight the foreigners, therefore the Waziris want to be ruled by the Taliban!

But this is not it. The article lectures the geopolitical strategists to seriously consider a canton under the Taliban where they may be free to flog and maim people. Professor Ali writes: “Although the west and its allies in Pakistan and Afghanistan have been terrified by the spectre of a second Islamic republic, there is a way to mitigate the threat: the creation of a semiautonomous region where Islamists can exercise their draconian system of law — if that is what the people agree to impose upon themselves.” In the most blatant manner Professor Ali not only blames the victim but also expects that the Pashtuns of FATA, held hostage by the armed mercenaries and their masters in Rawalpindi, will somehow vote freely in a fair referendum.

Pashtuns are outraged at FP for allowing its pages to be used not just to disparage a proud people but also to propose creating a terrorist haven. FP calls its flagship blog, ‘Passport’. But with this new low in geopolitical discourse it seems more like a passport to a barbarian dystopia, where new techniques of torture and terror would be perfected.

Sam Huntington had said in an NPR interview: “I think clearly the US, as well as other western nations, should stand by their commitments to human rights and democracy and should try to influence other to move in that direction.” This is precisely what Barack Obama has decided to do in the rapidly unravelling situation in the Arab world. But apparently, Professor Ali has opted to stand on the wrong side of not just the Pashtuns but also the history itself. As for FP, it ought to revisit its first editorial.

The writer can be reached at