Tag Archives: Pakistan

Let’s first abolish Pakistan

Some two weeks ago, The New York Times published a lengthy op-ed that advocated essentially the same idea proposed a few years earlier in the paper’s pages by the late Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi. Qaddafi’s piece was entitled “The One-State Solution;” the more recent version – written by influential University of Pennsylvania professor Ian Lustick – has the title “Two-State Illusion.”

The psychopath who cruelly ruled Libya and the University of Pennsylvania professor basically agree that for the sake of the Palestinians, Israel as a Jewish state has to be abolished – never mind the fact that Israel is arguably the most successful state established in the decades since World War II. Indeed, Professor Lustick seems to think that Israel’s success is all the more unpalatable given the likely failure of a Palestinian state. As he correctly anticipates: “Strong Islamist trends make a fundamentalist Palestine more likely than a small state under a secular government.”

Of course, this insight could have prompted Lustick to contemplate options that wouldn’t entail the destruction of the Jewish state – but tellingly, it didn’t.

Since Lustick’s piece was published, there have been many excellent responses, including a commentary by Gilead Ini who highlights an important but much too rarely mentioned point.  In a short list of ideas that the NYT would never discuss because they would be considered “simply beyond the pale,” Ini rightly notes:

“Nor has The New York Times offered space in its coveted opinion pages for debate about whether the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, which is entangled in border disputes and burdened by extremism, should be annulled, folded back into India from which it was carved. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine the newspaper promoting arguments in favor of the elimination of any recognized, democratic country. Such ideas…are beyond the pale. Except, of course, when it comes to Israel.”

It is indeed fascinating and revealing to compare the media’s treatment of Pakistan and Israel – not least because the Muslim state of Pakistan and the Jewish state of Israel were established at almost the same time by partitioning formerly British-ruled territories. In both cases, the consequences entailed bloodshed and refugees, though the magnitude is incomparable: the creation of Pakistan resulted in some 14 million refugees, and estimates of the number of people who lost their lives range from several hundred thousand to one million. 

Many millions more were displaced or killed when East and West Pakistan split in 1971; in addition, as a recent Forbes op-ed puts it, Pakistan has been “at war with itself” ever since it was created to supposedly “preserve ‘what is most precious in Islam.’” Judging from Pakistan’s dismal record in every respect, one would unfortunately have to conclude that intolerance and extremism are what is most precious in Islam.

A few years ago, Fareed Zakaria tried to explain “Why Pakistan keeps exporting jihad,” noting that:

“For a wannabe terrorist shopping for help, Pakistan is a supermarket. There are dozens of jihadi organizations: Jaish-e-Muhammad, Lashkar-e-Taiba, al-Qaeda, Jalaluddin, Siraj Haqqani’s network and Tehrik-e-Taliban. The list goes on. […] The Pakistani scholar-politician Husain Haqqani tells in his brilliant history “Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military” how the government’s jihadist connections date to the country’s creation as an ideological, Islamic state and the decision by successive governments to use jihad both to gain domestic support and to hurt its perennial rival, India.”

Unfortunately, Pakistan’s destabilizing influence is not restricted to exporting jihad and terrorism: after all, Pakistan has also supplied nuclear technology to North Korea, Libya and Iran.

In other words, one could easily imagine that if Pakistan didn’t exist, the world might be a much better place… But of course, it is completely out of the question to entertain such a thought in polite company – which definitely includes NYT readers. Yet, as soon as Israel is concerned, quite a few people who would be appalled to have a debate about the benefits of Pakistan’s demise seem to feel that it is entirely respectable and even constructive to argue that abolishing the world’s only Jewish state could help to resolve some difficult problems.

It might be tempting to conclude that this attitude can be explained with concerns about the plight of the Palestinians. After all, the Qaddafi-Lustick vision of “Israstine” seems to be motivated primarily by the quest to accommodate Palestinian demands such as the “right of return” that are incompatible with Israel’s continued existence as a Jewish state.

But curiously enough, few people seem concerned about the plight of Pakistan’s “Palestinians” – the Baloch. Indeed, the Baloch have arguably a much better claim to nationhood and a state than the Palestinians, and they have fought for independence ever since Balochistan came under Pakistani rule. Perhaps more importantly in the context that is relevant here, there can be little doubt that the suffering of the Baloch is so severe that one can even make the case that they are among the “most unfortunate” people in the world.

So why is nobody arguing that Pakistan should be dissolved if it is unwilling to grant Balochistan independence and is obviously unable to provide the Baloch with even the most rudimentary services or guarantee their most basic human rights?

Or, to put it differently: why do the Palestinians get so much more attention and support than the Baloch or, for that matter, the Kurds and many other groups that are oppressed and would like to have independence or at least autonomy?

The answer is of course that only the Palestinians can blame the Jews for their situation – and this is plainly something that has great appeal in much of the world.  As David Nirenberg notes in his new book “Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition:” “We live in an age in which millions of people are exposed daily to some variant of the argument that the challenges of the world they live in are best explained in terms of ‘Israel.’ ” Professor Lustick and the New York Times are obviously eager to help spread this message.

And to be sure, as little sense as it makes to explain the challenges of the world we live in in terms of the tiny Jewish state, it is certainly much easier and incomparably less risky than explaining some of the major challenges of our times in terms of failed Islamic states like Pakistan and the problem-plagued Muslim world at large.

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Cross-posted from my JPost blog; also published in Polish in Racjonalista.

Imagine how bad the news would be without Obama [Updated]

In a devastating commentary on the end of the US troop surge in Afghanistan, Walter Russell Mead noted sarcastically:

“We should all be very glad that we have a Democratic president right now; otherwise the news would be terrible. We would be seeing a rash of horrible and depressing stories in the newspapers about strategic failure […]

There would be continuous coverage of the disarray in Afghanistan: the soldier’s we’re training are shooting us, the corruption is intensifying, and the opium trade spreading. There would be story after story about how Afghanistan seems little changed after the surge, and how peace is still not at hand. These stories wouldn’t be on the back pages; they’d be perceived as major news with profound implications for America’s global position […]

There would be bitter, wounding comparisons between the president and LBJ in Vietnam. If we had a conservative Republican president right now, we’d be hearing him compared to the noble Duke of York, who marched 10,000 men to the top of the hill only to march them down again.

And we’d be hearing all kinds of damning stories about the failure of the U.S. government to deal with the chaos in Pakistan.

We’d also be reading stories linking the apparent U.S. failure in Afghanistan to the empowerment of anti-American movements throughout the Middle East. The recent riots would be used as a stick to beat the president with—his weakness, indecision and strategic inconsequentialism in Afghanistan would be endangering our interests all over the region. Instead of concentrating on the real terror threat, the press would tell us, this hypothetical clueless Republican president wasted time, treasure and attention on a failed strategy in Afghanistan. The press would try to hang the corpse of the U.S. ambassador in Libya around the neck of a Republican president, if we had one right now.

But thankfully we have a Democratic president, and in an election year the normally feisty American media—the same media that worked night and day to expose every flaw and contradiction in the Bush policies in the region (and they had plenty to expose)—is too busy reporting the flaws in the Romney campaign […] to pay attention to anything as insignificant as a comprehensively failed presidential strategy in a foreign war.”

This is not the first time that Mead has criticized the media, and I’ve quoted him repeatedly (see e.g. here) because in my view, his voice is particularly important in the fiercely partisan debate about media bias. As Mead himself notes in a new essay on the public’s growing distrust of the mainstream media (MSM), complaints about media bias are usually associated with the political right – and therefore shrugged off by the liberal media elites. Since Mead has a well-deserved reputation as a brilliant analyst whose focus on substance largely ignores partisan politics, his criticism of the media is all the more noteworthy.

In his most recent essay on this subject, Mead suggests that we might begin to see the “MSM Tipping Point On Obama in the Middle East.” He argues that the recent “anti-American riots that have been rocking the Muslim world since 9/11 [2012] have shaken the [media] establishment out of its complacency” and that there is now a growing realization that “[the] turbulence in the region is impossible to miss, the problems for American interests and even security are disturbing to contemplate, and the failures of the Obama administration can no longer be ignored.”

However, the fact that the failures of the Obama administration’s Middle East policies have been ignored by the MSM for so long has some important implications.

Perhaps most obviously, there are a number of analysts who can rightfully say “told you so.” If I could name just one of those analysts, it would be Barry Rubin – and I think everyone who has followed his prolific and knowledgeable commentary over the past few years would agree that his readers knew long ago what the MSM seem to discover only now.

But of course, for the past few years of the Obama administration, it was “right-wing” or “neo-con” to find fault with US Middle East policies.  This kind of labeling – practiced enthusiastically both by the left and the right – is of course an easy way to dismiss an argument by saying essentially: you have your world view and I have mine, and yours is wrong.

What is completely ignored is the question if the rejected view is based on facts and logical reasoning. This is perhaps hardly surprising since we live in a time when almost all certainties have been shattered and postmodernism has made it fashionable to assert that there is no such thing as “facts,” let alone “truth”.

I have to admit that I was delighted to find out that it is apparently not as old-fashioned as I had feared to ponder what all this means for the politics of our times: just last fall, the Hannah Arendt Center at Bard College organized a conference devoted to exploring the challenges of “Truthtelling: Democracy in an Age Without Facts.” While I feel quite ambivalent about Arendt and have some reservations about the introductory lecture for this conference, I think there is one observation that deserves to be cherry-picked:

“We face today a crisis of fact. Facts […] are all around us being reduced to opinions; and opinions masquerade as facts. As fact and opinion blur together, the very idea of factual truth falls away. And increasingly the belief in and aspiration for factual truth is being expunged from political argument.”

But it’s actually not just about facts, but also facts in their relevant context. One excellent example is the attempt of Justin Martin, a journalism professor blogging at the prestigious Columbia Journalism Review, to use published data about the number of journalists jailed in various countries to calculate the completely meaningless ratio of how many journalists per capita are jailed in any given country. You can easily see where this gets us: Naturally, tiny Israel swarming with journalists needs to arrest only one journalist to get a bad ranking, while a big and populous country like China with relatively few journalists can round up quite a few and still look pretty good.

As Sohrab Ahmari rightly noted in a critical commentary:

“The ultimate impact of pieces like Mr. Martin’s is a softening of the reading public’s moral intuitions and sensitivities. By placing Israel on the same plane as the likes of Iran and Syria, Mr. Martin minimized the threats faced by journalists working under genuine authoritarianisms—not to mention the broader human rights catastrophes underway in these societies.”

Tellingly, in his response, Justin Martin notes right at the outset:

“Some issues in journalism fire up audiences more than others […] Globally, it is reporting on the Middle East, particularly Israel/Palestine matters, that draws ire, fulsome praise, or ad hominem molotovs.”

Of course, this obsession with “Israel/Palestine matters” has to a considerable degree been created by the media, not least because in the wake of 9/11, it has become particularly popular to view Israel as the root cause for the Middle East’s problems: after all, agreeing with long-held Arab and Muslim “narratives” that depict the tiny Jewish state as the region’s biggest problem is a fabulously convenient way to follow the “politically correct” imperative to avoid a “clash of civilizations.”

But as Walter Russell Mead observes in a just published must-read essay entitled “Dispatches From The War That Nobody Wants:”

“We may be tired of the war on terror, but the terrorists aren’t tired of waging war on us. Far from it. They are just warming up.”

This is bad news for everyone – but for Israelis, it’s not really news. However, thanks to the MSM, this will be really bad news for a lot of people.

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Cross-posted from my JPost blog.

 

UPDATE:

Walter Russell Mead has done it again: In yet another new must-read essay under the title “Thank God W Isn’t President Anymore,” Mead pokes more fun at the media, but also offers some very serious and important observations.

As a teaser, here’s one highlight from the fun part, fantasizing what we would get to read if Bush was still president:

“There would be no end to the woes and the recriminations. There would be the most moving and eloquent examples of hand wringing in the New York Review of Books, elegantly demonstrating that the cretinous assumptions and moral failings that led Bush into his failed Afghan policy weren’t his alone, but reflected broader, deeper failings in America itself. One is almost sorry for the sake of the authors of these diatribes that Bush is gone; the failure of our Afghan strategy is so sweeping, so unavoidable, that it would be the best possible backdrop against which to paint a stirring portrait of a failed president misleading a flawed people. What works of polemical literature have been lost, what inspired jeremiads will never be penned, what scalding portraits of America’s inherent flaws will never see the light of day because W left the White House too soon.”

In the serious parts of the essay, Mead points out that there “may not be any real answers to America’s conundrums in Afghanistan;” as another example of a problem that might not have a solution, Mead mentions the “Israel-Palestine problem.”

Taking the media to task once again, he argues:

“The implicit assumptions in the press that anything less than a flawless performance in war is prima facie evidence of bumbling incompetence merely reflects the cluelessness and arrogance of a pseudo-educated elite that thinks textbooks on theory and lessons in political correctness plus good SAT scores amount to a grounding in the real business of life.”

But Mead emphasizes that he is of course not advocating that the media should treat Obama as it treated Bush:

“There is a happy medium between clueless cheer leading and attempts to destroy: it is called responsible analysis [and] we could use a lot more of it. A press that neither waves pom-poms nor throws stink bombs non-stop is an important component of healthy democratic society; there are plenty of excellent reporters out there who want to do exactly that. May their tribe prosper and their numbers increase.”

 

Musharraf on the mighty Jews and the even mightier Palestinians

Under the rather enigmatic title “A little modesty”, the weekend magazine of Ha’aretz features a long interview with former Pakistani president Musharraf. However, on the newspaper’s website, a different title highlights what the editor presumably regarded as the interview’s most noteworthy revelation: “Relations with Israel could help Pakistan, says former president Musharraf.”

To dedicated Ha’aretz readers who love the paper for its hypercritical coverage of Israel, this should sound most startling: What about Israel’s so much deserved and supposedly ever growing isolation?!?!  Indeed, why on earth would the Islamic Republic of Pakistan – a regional power with the seventh largest standing armed forces in the world and (so far) the only Muslim state with nuclear arms, the 6th most populous and the 36th largest country in the world  – feel that relations with the tiny Jewish state could be in any way helpful?

Well, it turns out that Musharraf is a firm believer in the almighty “Israel Lobby” – though he might not have read the notorious book. He regards himself as an independent thinker, and he believes that “because of Jewish influence, the U.S. is totally pro-Israel.” Moreover, Musharraf also thinks that “Israel has clout in the media […and] the Jewish community has clout in the media, in the U.S. and elsewhere.”

Needless to say, Musharraf views all this “Jewish influence” as most unfortunate and negative, but, as even Ha’aretz notes, “when asked what Pakistan has to gain by getting closer to Israel, the very thing that most irks Musharraf – i.e., the perceived Jewish influence in the U.S. and elsewhere – is what he points out as a potential prize.”

That doesn’t seem to be a vindication of the view of Israel’s “tough-love” friends that peace is best served by a lot of “daylight” between the US and Israel…

To make matters worse for Israel’s “tough-love” friends, the Ha’aretz interview validates Lee Smith’s thesis that in the Middle East, a “strong horse” will command respect and admiration. As it turns out, Musharraf is “an Ariel Sharon fan”:

“I used to read novels. But now, mostly just military history. I enjoy that. I like reading about Napoleonic campaigns. And I have read about all the Israeli-Arab wars and that is how I know about Ariel Sharon,” he says. “I know how he contributed toward the victories of the Israelis. In every war it was his contribution that counted. Every time this man contributed. He is a great military leader … My admiration comes from a place of realistic assessment of his military exploits, which were very impressive. I think he was a great military commander and I appreciate that.”

However, when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Musharraf unsurprisingly asserts that “[right] from the beginning, from when we got our independence in ‘47 and Israel came into reality a year later, we have been pro-Palestine.”

Indeed, Pakistan’s longstanding hostility to Israel is well known. In 1947, the just established Muslim state fiercely opposed the UN Partition Plan for Palestine, and subsequently, Pakistan made efforts to support the first Arab war against the fledgling Jewish state. In 1949, Pakistan was the only country to join Britain in recognizing the sovereignty of the Kingdom of Jordan over the occupied West Bank territory – keep that in mind when you read Musharraf’s repeated claims during the Ha’aretz interview that Pakinstan’s hostility to Israel has always been driven by heartfelt concern for the plight of the Palestinians…

In the 1950s, Pakistan refused to grant Jewish refugees from Afghanistan passage to India. In the Arab-Israeli wars of 1967 and 1973, Pakistani pilots are said to have manned Jordanian and Syrian planes; later, Pakistan provided military training to the PLO and in the 1982 battle for Beirut between Israel and the PLO, fifty Pakistani volunteers were taken prisoner by Israel.

What is less well known is that the notion that “relations with Israel could help Pakistan” is by no means a new idea. Already in the 1980s, there were supposedly some contacts because Pakistan was interested in enlisting Israel’s help to influence American policy makers to mediate in the Indian-Pakistani nuclear race. In the 1990s, there were again indications that Pakistan was interested in relations with Israel due to a number of factors including the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and China, the normalization of relations with India – which deepened Pakistani concerns about military cooperation between Israel and India – and, according to Moshe Yegar, a retired  Israeli Foreign Service official, it was also believed “that Pakistan’s difficult economic situation, shaky relations with the United States (primarily because of its nuclear program), and strong desire to improve its image were driving it toward improving its relations with Israel.”

But even back then, Pakistani officials acknowledged that “the main deterrent to relations with Israel was the fear of a negative reaction by extremist circles within Pakistan.”

While Musharraf would like people to believe that it was all about Palestine, in reality, as Yegar explains, Pakistan’s adopted a more “Islamic” outlook starting in the early 1970s; and according to Yegar, this shift was

caused by Pakistan’s disappointment with the West after being defeated in the 1971 war against India, and primarily by the mounting Islamic sentiments among the Pakistani public and the increase in Arab countries’ power. The strengthening of ties with Muslim countries in general, and with Arab countries in particular, stemmed from the following factors: 1. The need to garner support in the conflict with India; 2. The desire to promote economic interests, such as importing cheap oil, ensuring a flow of income from Pakistani workers employed in Arab countries (in 1983 this came to about $3 billion), developing markets for Pakistani products, and receiving loans and grants; 3. The need to obtain international political support in the face of the Soviet threat during the war with Afghanistan; 4. The desire to exhibit international Islamic solidarity to internal religious circles; 5. The need to prevent Iranian subversion in Pakistan.

But of course, Musharraf tells Ha’aretz:

I personally think the Palestinian dispute is at the foundation of many of our bigger problems. Look at terrorism and extremism, 9/11, Al-Qaida, Hezbollah, Hamas – all these are products of the unsettled Palestinian dispute. Because of the misery these Palestinians are suffering, which is seen all over the world on TV, there is a reaction.

For some reason, the Taliban (and Pakistan’s support for them) didn’t make Musharraf’s list; and for some reason, he doesn’t seem to think Kashmir (and Pakistan’s support for militants there) is much of an issue; and of course, there wouldn’t be any reason (it’s not on TV, after all!) to mention the plight of Pakistan’s Baloch people – who would likely envy the Palestinians in view of a 2009 report that points out: “88% of the population of Balochistan is under the poverty line. Balochistan has the lowest literacy rate, the lowest school enrolment ratio, educational attainment index and health index compared to the other [Pakistani] provinces. 78% of the population has no access to electricity and 79% has no access to natural gas.”

Interestingly, according to Peter Tatchell, a campaigner for Baloch rights, Pakistan’s “cultural conquest of Balochistan also involves the radical Islamification of the traditionally more secular Baloch nation. Large numbers of religious schools have been funded by Islamabad, with a view to imposing Pakistan’s harsher, more narrow-minded interpretation of Islam. This is fuelling fundamentalism.” Tatchell has also argued that “Pakistan’s war against Balochistan is strengthening the position of the Taliban, who have exploited the unstable, strife-ridden situation to establish bases and influence in the region. From these bases, the Taliban terrorise the mostly more liberal, secular Baloch people and enforce the Talibanisation of Balochistan.”

Well, it will sort itself out in no time once the Palestinian issue is solved … Or maybe not? Apparently, at least Israel shouldn’t expect too much from peace. As Musharraf tells Ha’aretz:

Israel […] should not expect everything to be “hunky-dory, with no attacks and no bullet fire. You will never get that. This guerrilla warfare will continue, and then settle down gradually. But you can not expect there to be no Hamas and no Hezbollah and no rockets at all.”

So, according to Musharraf, “terrorism and extremism, 9/11, Al-Qaida, Hezbollah, Hamas – all these are products of the unsettled Palestinian dispute,” but even if this “dispute” is settled, Hamas and Hezbollah will continue to attack Israel.

On this last part, I’m afraid Musharraf is absolutely right — and all the other Islamist terrorists he didn’t mention will likewise continue with what is for them business as usual. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict may be the world’s most talked-about conflict, but when a former (and perhaps future) Pakistani president claims that it is the main cause of “terrorism and extremism”, he only illustrates that there is a lot of empty talk about this issue.

If you know more about Israel than about Pakistan…

In a post on “‘News’ That Isn’t News,” Walter Russell Mead argues:

Media critics often rail about the bias and the blindness in so much mainstream media coverage, and this is clearly an issue. Watching the media try to turn OWS into a genuinely significant movement of left populism that would counter the Tea Party was one of the funniest spectacles in some time: so much earnestness lavished on such an unpromising corpse.

But at the end the vapidity and the stupidity of the news industry is more worrying than the bias. News is ultimately a matter of stories: constructing a series of continuing narratives that help us identify what matters in the daily and weekly news flow, and using those narratives to organize and present news in ways that allow busy readers to see what is happening and what it means.

The mainstream media is failing by and large at this essential task. It isn’t telling the important stories in a compelling way. The new great game in Asia, the global green meltdown, the crisis of the blue social model, the global contest between Christianity and Islam and a handful of other big narratives aren’t being covered by the mainstream media in a serious and useful way.

I agree with much of this – and I definitely agree with the suggestion that reading Via Meadia regularly is a great way of getting the news that really matter for the big picture.

However, I think when it comes to the Middle East, the problem is not that the media has failed to construct a “narrative” but that they stick to a simplistic narrative, which has been very well described by the French philosopher Andre Glucksmann in an article published in summer 2006 under the title “The Jerusalem syndrome”:

Haven’t legions of experts – for decades now – identified the Mideast conflict as the centre of the world’s chaos and the key to its pacification? Is there any diplomat who does not repeat ad nauseum the formula about the gates to a hell of future wars versus the gates to world harmony, all of which open in Jerusalem? A never-changing script haunts 21st century minds. The script maintains that everything is decided on the banks of the Jordan. In its most grim version, that means: As long as four million Israelis and as many Palestinians are facing off against one another, 300 million Arabs and 1.5 billion Muslims are condemned to live in hate, bloody slaughter and desperation. And the rosier version: We just need peace in Jerusalem to put out the fires in Tehran, Karachi, Khartoum and Baghdad and to set the course for universal harmony.

As Glucksmann also noted, it is the tiny Jewish state that is blamed for blocking the path to “universal harmony” – and this “narrative” is clearly reflected in poll results that show almost 60 percent of Europeans regarding Israel as the greatest threat to world peace in 2003, or majorities viewing Israel as having a mostly negative influence in the world.

In reality, it is of course Pakistan that has the best claim to being “the most dangerous country in the world;” sadly, Pakistan is also one of the most dangerous countries in the world for women, and it is also a very dangerous place for reporters.

But many people with an average interest in world news would probably not really be aware that Pakistan has a “population [that] is more than half the size of the entire Arab world; [... that] it suffers from an Islamic insurgency that has killed 30,000 people over the past four years; [that] it is regarded by students of geopolitics as the most likely location of nuclear conflict; and the reasons why it does not work as a country are many and fascinating.”

Well, for some reason, the media clearly find Israel more fascinating…

To be sure, in the past year, the so-called “Arab Spring” has forced the media to devote more of its Middle East coverage to Israel’s neighbors, but leading newspapers still find front page room for stories about Israel that are just a symptom of the “Jerusalem syndrome.”