Why I still have a soft spot for Musharraf


by Sunny
23rd January, 2008 at 8:30 am    

This weekend Shariq, Zohra, Zahed and I met up with Reza Aslan as he stopped by London on his way to Israel for his next book. He’s great conversation and we all talked at length about the American elections, current affairs and even the situation in Pakistan.

So Shariq says that the west should stop giving financial support to dictators in the Middle East on the basis that if they go then a crazy Islamist regime would take its place. Now, I do think that we should lean on countries that are receiving financial support to be more democratic. But I’m not convinced that they will be overthrown by more democratic goverments. I think we should want to see them eased into democracy and more liberalisation of the media in the way Pakistan has for the last 6-7 years since Musharraf took power. Benazir Bhutto, for all her bluster about democracy, never liberalised the country in the way that he did. As for Nawaz Sharif… forget it!

This article by Karim Sajapour, which compares Pakistan to Iran, sums up my fears perfectly

The army has always been the strongest bulwark in assuring that Pakistan does not go the way of Iran. But while the officer corps may be steadfast defenders of secular rule, the rank and file reflect Pakistani society. In the event of an Islamist political awakening, the army’s allegiances are not guaranteed. In Iran, apart from senior commanders, who were either killed or fled the country, the Shah’s powerful, staunchly secular army switched sides to Khomeini’s revolutionary government virtually overnight.

This is not to suggest than an Islamist awakening in Pakistan is on the horizon, or that Pakistanis must choose between an unpopular autocrat or a Taliban-style government. On the contrary, Pakistan’s liberals are brave to agitate for democracy, the rule of law, and the accountability of Musharraf, whose presidency appears beyond rehabilitation. But they should learn from Iran’s revolution that their means of agitating for political reform must be relevant to the political ends they hope to achieve.

What do others think? Shariq? Is the comparison to Iran relevant in this case?


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  1. Shariq — on 23rd January, 2008 at 11:01 am  

    “So Shariq says that the west should stop giving financial support to dictators in the Middle East on the basis that if they go then a crazy Islamist regime would take its place.”

    Hmmm, thats not quite what I said. My point was that in Pakistan, an Islamist regime won’t take its place right now. However if the army stays in power then down the line the chances of a radical party becoming more popular and taking power is much greater.

    There’s also the fact that Pakistan seems to be in the middle of a civil war which no one is quite sure how it will turn out.

    I think Reza’s point was that we shouldn’t over-exaggerate the threat caused by the Muslim Brotherhood, on which we agreed that although they aren’t great if America keeps propping up Mubarak then the situation will only get worse.

  2. Leon — on 23rd January, 2008 at 11:28 am  

    Yeah the ‘he’s a S.O.B but at least he’s our S.O.B’ logic was also used with Saddam to great effect too…

  3. Kismet Hardy — on 23rd January, 2008 at 12:22 pm  

    Proudly standing shoulder to shoulder with Why I Still Have A Soft Spot For Pol Pot, Hitler and Stalin

  4. Sid — on 23rd January, 2008 at 12:23 pm  

    The Karim Sajapour text you quoted is inconsistent to say the least. First he says that the Pakistan army is the “strongest bulwark” of secularism against Islamist power grabs. Then in the very next sentence he corrects his own nonsensical by saying “the army’s allegiances are not guaranteed”. Well of course it isn’t. The Pakistan army is not, never has been a force for secularism in the sense that Turkey’s army has traditionally been. The Pakistan army’s own allegiance is to itself, it’s internal power struggles, its business links into every level of Pakistani civil society, its complete control of a large portion of the country’s GDP on military expenditure which it jealousy guards without any form of accountability. Most important of all, its ability to prostitute itself to any power base it wants to in order to maintain its position, whether that be USA’s duplicitious backing or power sharing with Islamist forces, or the hijackig of legislature to serve its own ends, all of which it has done in the past, and often at the drop of a hat. These are not the characteristics of a force for secular force which is “easing” the country into democracy.

    The only way Pakistan can “ease itself into democracy” is to ease the army out of office and back to the barracks with their prestige intact. Given that the army has been in power for more than three quarters of its history, this is Pakistan’s democratic challenge to say the least. It may be appropriate for Pakistan to create a power sharing structure similar to Turkey’s where the military plays a constitutional role in government through participation in the High Command of the National Security Council (MGK). Although civilian supremacy over the military is not fully established, the military should serve as a protector of democracy. It does not view itself in competition with the political elite, and plays the role of a non-partisan arbiter.

    I don’t know about you, but as progressives, we should be agitating against non-secular, non-accountable autocrats and for pro-democracy groups not cuddling up to Musharraf and Pak Military Inc. Only then can you take on the Islamists.

  5. sonia — on 23rd January, 2008 at 12:35 pm  

    what shariq said in his comment above makes sense,

    i like how musharraf’s being going around saying ‘we thinkour nuclear weapons are safe! (*i.e. hint – now you wouldn’t like any muslims get hold of it would you? Better a moderate muslim dicator, then who knows what..”

    seems to be working, his pitch

  6. sonia — on 23rd January, 2008 at 12:36 pm  

    i meant..”..extremist muslims..get hold of it”..

  7. sonia — on 23rd January, 2008 at 12:43 pm  

    sunny no offense yaar its not like these sorts of views haven’t been heard before, but they usually dont tend to be easily labelled as a “liberal lefty” kind of thing..( seeing as you’re so into the whole label thingie) well not that most ppl would understand as the liberal left anyway! (maybe thats what this liberal conspiracy project is about – appropriating the so-called liberal left?) anyway either which way perhaps this fixation on labels need to be dropped if you’re going to trying to push dictatorship as some kind of thing liberal lefties are in favour of. I suggest you just say you’re part of the “Strong” Authoritarian Left if you must needs label yourself.

  8. sonia — on 23rd January, 2008 at 12:49 pm  

    Well said Sid in no. 4 – thank you for bringing some seriousness and sanity into this situation.

    And i would say i’m starting to think this ‘hawk-like’ we know whats best from the outside supporting dicators because we have a reason is really starting to stink. (bY whatever label it calls itself) frankly that is always going to keep up a power imbalance as the “outside” interference is significant enough, and there can never be any kind of real civil society with that kind of hawkish we know whats good for you kind of thinking.

    p.s. the benign dictatorship argument has been behind – and responsible for perpetuating – every rubbish kind of human act and in history./ I would take that kind of responsibility a bit more seriously Sunny.

  9. sonia — on 23rd January, 2008 at 12:50 pm  

    And the seriously worrying thing is that the Bangladeshi army is heading in much the same sort of direction.

  10. ali hussain — on 23rd January, 2008 at 1:03 pm  

    sunny please…….

    give us all pakistanis a break. you have sounded so naive and alien like ur bri and american counterparts who have faith in anything army in pakistan.

    never forget that this is the army and its linked agencies which are 1000000000000000000000 percent responsible for the rise of religious radiclaims in some parts of pakistan. coming from pakistan – a country which is so diverse and liberal and yet religious – i can tell you the educated classes are ruing the havoc pakistan army is causing to its society by funding and supporting taleban and al-aeda and the impacts its having on the country.

    the liberalisation of media was unstoppable and anyway media isnt allowed to take on the goverment they way it would like. there are bigger and serious issues – is anyone going to tell pakistan it should stop being dubious and deceptive and stop prducing suicide bombers in most of its over 20 thousand madrassahas. i agree pak army generals are liberal so are the policy makers but they do such things for their obsession with the internal and external security needs – kashmir, afghanistan border, indian, bla bla bla.

    he didnt flinch wen it came to killing a brutal but secular baluch leader nawab akbar bugti through a laser guided missile hundreds of meter inside his cave/bunver in one of the most remotest parts of pakistan. but he is doing nothing about the mullah radio in swat valley who is delivering jihadi speeches all the time on his FM station. and what about alleged benazir killer mehsud whose tape recrodings pakistani agencies seem to interrupt daily. what about two laser guided missiles for these men? No. not yet. such people are the true assets of pakistan’s military planners, not the intellectuals, lawyers and pro democrcay activists. not the liberal classes. not the poor.

  11. fugstar — on 23rd January, 2008 at 1:13 pm  

    reza aslan going to israel to promote his book.

    yikes. i didnt picture him as being that kind of person, hope he knows what hes doing and doenst let them stamp his passport directly.

  12. The Common Humanist — on 23rd January, 2008 at 1:43 pm  

    On the plus side though, if/when Pakistan goes Talebanised think of the flood of educated, urbanised liberal Pakistanis that will come to the West. And then the Islamists can bring the fall of night down on Pakistan – ‘Hi ho to the 7th Century! We have nothing to lose but all our freedoms!’

    Admittedly thats only good for the receiving
    countries.

    But still, silver linings and all that.

    TCH

  13. Desi Italiana — on 23rd January, 2008 at 5:59 pm  

    Oh my god Sunny. Seriously. Tell me this post is a spoof?

    What has PP become? A segment of International Politics with Fareed Zakaria?

  14. Desi Italiana — on 23rd January, 2008 at 5:59 pm  

    “But I’m not convinced that they will be overthrown by more democratic goverments.”

    I know. I’d say the same thing about the “world’s largest democracy.”

  15. Desi Italiana — on 23rd January, 2008 at 6:03 pm  

    Poor Pakistan. I mean, I’m not Pakistani or anything, but I feel for them because they only get characterized within the framework of Taliban vs. Islamist, with very little in between (like perfunctorily nodding towards the pro democracy movement there, but only a little).

    Like there aren’t any fundamentalist forces in places where people supposedly get to elect their leaders, like the US and India. No right-wing Christian and Hindus there, so it’s perfectly safe to be rest assured that “democracy” will not yield fundies in power!

  16. Desi Italiana — on 23rd January, 2008 at 6:21 pm  

    Ali Hussain, I agree with your comment, jaan.

    Carry on, soldier.

  17. Desi Italiana — on 23rd January, 2008 at 7:04 pm  

    “sunny no offense yaar its not like these sorts of views haven’t been heard before, but they usually dont tend to be easily labelled as a “liberal lefty” kind of thing”

    Bush and Co. are liberal lefties.

  18. shariq — on 23rd January, 2008 at 7:49 pm  

    I remember reading something about why Pakistan isn’t like Iran a while back which was very persuasive.

    Just of the top of my head, Pakistan doesn’t have the equivalent of the ayatollah’s in Iran who can claim religious authority over a significant proportion of the masses.

  19. Sunny — on 23rd January, 2008 at 7:58 pm  

    I know there is a huge secular / liberal contingent in Pakistan… but honestly – do they move anywhere outside metropolitan circles?

    The point is, if some charismatic dude like Khomeini did become popular – how would they deal with him?

    Don’t forget, not long ago we had a firebrand mosque leader from Islamabad’s Red Mosque getting his band to go around shutting down music shops, attacking “brothels” and what not. Until Musharraf forced that attack, these guys were running riot.

    In a democracy, how would they challenge that? And that guy was just in Islamabad. Imagine if some national figure was to arise? To dismiss such a scenario out of hand is absurd. My worry is that if Pakistan is taken over by some lunatic radical – he will only want to antagonise things with India over Kashmir and force a bigger confrontation.

    I don’t know about you, but as progressives, we should be agitating against non-secular, non-accountable autocrats and for pro-democracy groups not cuddling up to Musharraf and Pak Military Inc.

    I agree that we need to continually put pressure on Musharraf to force more democracy than not. But forcing him out when there is little alternative – what do you do then?

    I would have actually preferred Bhutto as PM and him as president, with some semblance of democracy. But now it’s all fucked up.

  20. Sunny — on 23rd January, 2008 at 7:59 pm  

    p.s. the benign dictatorship argument has been behind – and responsible for perpetuating – every rubbish kind of human act and in history.

    and it has worked in countries like Malaysia, S Korea, Taiwan etc. Not saying they haven’t had human rights issues, but every country has – including western democracies.

  21. Desi Italiana — on 23rd January, 2008 at 8:18 pm  

    “My worry is that if Pakistan is taken over by some lunatic radical – he will only want to antagonise things with India over Kashmir and force a bigger confrontation.”

    Interesting how no one is really worried about some lunatic radical Hindu taking over India to further antagonize Pakistan…

  22. Desi Italiana — on 23rd January, 2008 at 8:20 pm  

    Sunny:

    “and it has worked in countries like Malaysia, S Korea, Taiwan etc. Not saying they haven’t had human rights issues, but every country has – including western democracies.”

    “I agree that we need to continually put pressure on Musharraf to force more democracy than not.”

    Conflicting comments, yours, Sunny.

    The first one is a bunch of bull, I am sorry. If you think benign dictatorships are fine, and that even democracies can have human rights violations, why can’t the UK have a benign dictatorship?

  23. Desi Italiana — on 23rd January, 2008 at 8:25 pm  

    Sunny, let me couch the following criticism with the “you-know-I-love-you” blah blah, but your comment #19 is a bunch of crap. All of it. What that comment is full of is apologies for why you think Mush should stay in power, and it reads like a White House Press Conference.

    Everywhere you have written “Pakistan” in your comments, take that out and insert “India” or the “US” in its stead, and tell me if you agree that India and the US should have dictatorships, and if not, why is that isn’t acceptable for India and the US but yes for Pakistan.

  24. Desi Italiana — on 23rd January, 2008 at 8:39 pm  

    “your comment #19 is a bunch of crap. All of it.”

    I was unnecessarily harsh, no need to say “all of it” is “crap.” Some parts are, but I didn’t need to be that mean. Sorry.

  25. Desi Italiana — on 23rd January, 2008 at 8:57 pm  

    Now that I think about it, Sunny may have a point about benign dictatorships.

    The US is in dire need of an iron fist that gently taps people in the shape. Time and time again, the American people (and judicial branch in the 2000 “elections”) have demonstrated the fact that they are unable to make informed decisions and appropriately utilize “democracy” by installing governments that have had disastrous effects both domestically and internationally and have recently disregarded the law and checks and balance system. I’m also getting tired of Christian right-wingers running the White House and also owning a portion of cable TV and talk radio. And yet, when another election comes around, who gets voted in the primaries? Another guy whose policies aren’t that radically different from the Republicans! What is wrong with those Iowans?! Do they need martial law?

    After work, I am going to go occupy the White House, overthrow the current administration, and install an “interim” government. When I feel that Americans are “ready” for democracy, I will hold elections.

    Come to think of it, the UK needs a dictatorship too. Too many racial antagonisms and whatnot. And those football hooligans– they need to be whipped into shape. As President Musharraf said:

    We don’t want to get involved in running around on the streets and hooliganism on the streets. I am sorry again you are from the west, your perception is different. Maybe your processions are very well organised and they are very disciplined. Here, you allow 400 people they will break all the window panes, they will break all your street lights, they will break all the traffic lights, and this kind of activity is hooliganism.”

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/pakistan/Story/0,2763,491716,00.html

    Indeed. Similar stuff happens here, too. Dictatorships, here we come!

  26. Desi Italiana — on 23rd January, 2008 at 9:05 pm  

    Whoops, didn’t mean to copy and paste the entire interview. Just this part:

    “We don’t want to get involved in running around on the streets and hooliganism on the streets. I am sorry again you are from the west, your perception is different. Maybe your processions are very well organised and they are very disciplined. Here, you allow 400 people they will break all the window panes, they will break all your street lights, they will break all the traffic lights, and this kind of activity is hooliganism.

    So we need to learn to be more disciplined. So I wouldn’t like to allow any kind of activity which has a chance of distracting us from our main objective until October 2002. After that there will be an elected government which we will ensure is also democratic so there will be true democracy with an elected government and true democracy and then let political activity go on. We will allow it.”

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/pakistan/Story/0,2763,491716,00.html

    Maybe someone can snip the boo-boo in comment # 25?

  27. Sid — on 23rd January, 2008 at 10:28 pm  

    Don’t forget, not long ago we had a firebrand mosque leader from Islamabad’s Red Mosque getting his band to go around shutting down music shops, attacking “brothels” and what not. Until Musharraf forced that attack, these guys were running riot.

    Sure, but this should be seen as reigning back the Islamists as a policy. This attack by Musharraf was by no means consistent. In your example of the Red Mosque incident, he is seen to be cracking down on the Islamists, but elsewhere cut he deals with the religious parties that give these extremists credibility and power (hence power sharing), in particular the coalition called the Muttahhida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA, or United Action Committee).

    Musharraf is the poster boy of Washington because he is seen to have helped in the capture of some key al Qaeda terrorists, in particular Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. But at the same time, because the Pakistani Islamist groups that sometimes harbor these terrorists are growing in power and influence under Musharraf’s constantly deferred promises to reinstate genuine democracy, these groups may no longer be controllable. Taliban still openly roam the streets of Pakistani cities.

    Meanwhile, naive Liberal Interventionists and Muscular Liberals here in the west write leaders and blogs posts like yours to his name while they turn a blind eye at his record of horse-trading with the Islamists and stamping out pro-democracy groups, banning newspapers, turning off private news channels, tapping phones, detaining without trial of liberals.

  28. Desi Italiana — on 23rd January, 2008 at 10:34 pm  

    “n your example of the Red Mosque incident, he is seen to be cracking down on the Islamists,”

    Actually, Mush could have quelled that little uprising right from beginning, but instead, intentionally prolonged it. That led some folks to believe that he refused to snip at the bud because he wanted to show his benefactors: “Look! See what fundies we have! This is why you need me!”

  29. Sid — on 23rd January, 2008 at 10:34 pm  

    typo in the top post, first sentence:
    “Sure, but this should *not* be seen as reigning back the Islamists as policy”

    And by the way, nice to see at least one Pakistani pro-democracy anti-totalitarian poster on this thread in the post by ali hussain in #10. And here I was thinking that this type had all but died out.

  30. Desi Italiana — on 23rd January, 2008 at 10:34 pm  

    Sid, my jaan, you’re so smart.

  31. Sid — on 23rd January, 2008 at 10:41 pm  

    Desi #28 – abso-fucking-lutely.
    And since when was it acceptable in our Western Liberal value system to fire bomb an entire building which contained women and children in the name of “Fighting Islamists”?

    Oh yeah, I forget, since Iraq and Fallujah. My bad. What a blancmange these Western Liberal ideals are, eh?

    Desi, you’re the one that I want
    You are the one I want
    ooh ooh ooh

  32. Desi Italiana — on 23rd January, 2008 at 10:51 pm  

    “And since when was it acceptable in our Western Liberal value system to fire bomb an entire building which contained women and children in the name of “Fighting Islamists”?”

    Didn’t Russia do that to when Chechneyan guerillas took over the opera house or whatever it was? Apparently, that was ok, too– I don’t recall any Western governments saying it was all that wrong.

    “Desi, you’re the one that I want
    You are the one I want
    ooh ooh ooh”

    Stop it, Sid. Stop teasing me.

  33. Refresh — on 23rd January, 2008 at 11:17 pm  

    Did I read upthread somewhere saying Musharaf should be bombing Swat?

    Does it occur to anyone they are suggesting that Musharaf should be bombing and killing his own citizens?

    I really don’t get some people. They hark on about democracy in far off places and yet want people to kill their own citizens.

  34. Desi Italiana — on 23rd January, 2008 at 11:27 pm  

    “Did I read upthread somewhere saying Musharaf should be bombing Swat?”

    I think Ali Hussain was illustrating the point that the army and Mush have been sustaining jihadis for a long time and have done nothing at all, while not thinking anything of killing off Balochi leaders (and I might add, students, teachers, journos, etc). I don’t think Ali was suggesting bombing Swat like how the army has done in Balochistan; just contrasting the treatments meted out (or not).

  35. Desi Italiana — on 23rd January, 2008 at 11:36 pm  

    “Just of the top of my head, Pakistan doesn’t have the equivalent of the ayatollah’s in Iran who can claim religious authority over a significant proportion of the masses.”

    Also, Iran wasn’t founded on religion (this is different from a state having a nationally declared religion), whereas Pakistan was (only two countries have been founded on a religious basis- Pakistan and Israel).

  36. Desi Italiana — on 23rd January, 2008 at 11:38 pm  

    Iran’s democratically elected government has also been overthrown by the CIA; while the CIA and America have been present in Pakistan (and keeping a dictator in power), that wanton display of power and intervention hasn’t been seen in Pakistan as it was in Iran at the time of the revolution…at least, not yet.

  37. Sid — on 23rd January, 2008 at 11:40 pm  

    And here is ali hussain’s sentence:
    he didnt flinch wen it came to killing a brutal but secular baluch leader nawab akbar bugti through a laser guided missile hundreds of meter inside his cave/bunver in one of the most remotest parts of pakistan. but he is doing nothing about the mullah radio in swat valley who is delivering jihadi speeches all the time on his FM station.

    Not sure how anyone would (mis)undertand the passage to contain a call to bomb Swat?! To be honest, there are simply not enough voices like ali’s on this blog, or indeed on discussions on Pakistan current affairs in general.

  38. Desi Italiana — on 23rd January, 2008 at 11:43 pm  

    Sid, I think Refresh might have read this part:

    “what about two laser guided missiles for these men? No. not yet. such people are the true assets of pakistan’s military planners, not the intellectuals, lawyers and pro democrcay activists.”

    But I didn’t take that as a call to bomb Swat. If anything, I think this critique speaks volumes when you think about the Pakistani army’s actions against Balochis, whose leaders are by far the most secular political forces in Pakistan but have been popped off like nothing else.

  39. sonia — on 23rd January, 2008 at 11:49 pm  

    its the usual one rule for them, one rule for us sort of thinking – ‘those people are crazy and uncivilised they need a strong hand!’ and ‘we’re sensible and civilised, of course we can and should govern ourselves’ type thinking.

  40. Refresh — on 23rd January, 2008 at 11:51 pm  

    Thanks Desi.

    My point is that either we are democrats and want democracy for other people and a fundamental part of that is your rulers will not kill you. And when they do, they are brought to book by the process. And the only mechanism for that would be the judicial system.

    I would have preferred Ali Hussain made this a central part of his argument – not they’ve killed these but won’t kill them.

    On the same basis there is no way any decent democracy* would hand over citizens to a foreign power without due process as happened with those delivered to Guantanamo Bay. I would imagine that would have been a fundamental part of maintaining ones sovereignty.

    Moving along, I will relish the day when a civilian Pakistan issues international arrest warrants against all those Guantanamo Bay staffers responsible for torture of their citizens, not to forget of course all those who tortured and then handed them over. That would be an excellent sign of a stable and progressive Pakistan.

    * British govt. also seems to be handing its citizens over to a foreign power as and when it feels like it.

  41. Sid — on 23rd January, 2008 at 11:55 pm  

    I think ali’s comparisons of the imbalance of Mush’s treatment of secular (wiped out) versus reactionary (turned into coalition partners) politicians/power brokers falls under ‘grim irony’.

  42. Refresh — on 24th January, 2008 at 12:02 am  

    Musharaf should not be killing anyone. The fact that he has and is willing to do so to meet a political imperative (US on his back: ‘not doing enough’) rules him out and his ilk forever.

    What Pakistan needs is to be truly independent, with its head held high; Musharaf and Bhutto are/were not the people for it. Between them they would have killed more of their own citizens. A no no if ever there is one.

  43. Desi Italiana — on 24th January, 2008 at 12:03 am  

    Refresh:

    “I would have preferred Ali Hussain made this a central part of his argument – not they’ve killed these but won’t kill them.”

    Yes, I can see that point to. But again, I don’t think Ali Hussain meant that. Perhaps he will come back and explain…

    I for one do not advocate bombing Swat. And really, what do we know about Swat beyond the fundies? Sepoy wrote an excellent post on how the GWOT rhetoric has been used to discuss Swat, and this has hampered any sort of study which discusses Swat’s socio-economic, political, and historical dynamics, which Swat has, and has had prior to any Afghan jihadis crossing the border:

    http://www.chapatimystery.com/archives/homistan/the_akond_of_swat.html

    I think it’s time to quit looking at things through the lens of “fundamentalists,” “Islamists,” and “terrorists.” It has explained very, very little, it has resolved nothing, and it has gotten us nowhere.

  44. Refresh — on 24th January, 2008 at 12:15 am  

    Desi Italiana,

    ‘I think it’s time to quit looking at things through the lens of “fundamentalists,” “Islamists,” and “terrorists.” It has explained very, very little, it has resolved nothing, and it has gotten us nowhere.’

    Totally agree. It seems now that everyone has completed their hyperventilation on the matter, we might actually see reality sink in.

    Lets hope we can all agree that every life and every livelihood is valuable. And no one shall get away with it.

    If we carry on with this very poorly considered outlook where its us and them, then we are indeed doomed. There is the Third Way (hope Blair’s not reading), and that is: face the truth with humility so we can learn as to how we got here.

    Thinking further ahead, I am torn between advocating for a Simon Wiesenthal or a Desmond Tutu to deliver justice.

  45. Sid — on 24th January, 2008 at 12:32 am  

    I think it’s time to quit looking at things through the lens of “fundamentalists,” “Islamists,” and “terrorists.” It has explained very, very little, it has resolved nothing, and it has gotten us nowhere.

    Well, to qualify your statement for the sake of accuracy, I’d say: it’s time to quit looking at *all muslim geo-politics* through the lens of “fundamentalists,” “Islamists,” and “terrorists.” – when it is politically expedient to do so. It shouldn’t be too difficult for the neutral observer to distinguish real “Islamist fundamentalism” when it stares us in the face, aims to polarise mainstream politics, or pretend to be a reaction to “Modernism” as such, under the pretext of clerical dogma.

  46. Refresh — on 24th January, 2008 at 12:41 am  

    Sid,

    ‘Well, to qualify your statement for the sake of accuracy,’

    I am afraid it then looks like obfuscation. Look closely at how those movements came about, and who encouraged and used them.

  47. Refresh — on 24th January, 2008 at 12:43 am  

    Tariq Ali has substantial material to offer us on the subject.

  48. Sid — on 24th January, 2008 at 12:46 am  

    Refresh, are you suggesting that Islamist fundamentalism is the figment of a CIA wonk’s imagination? That real people have not died as a result of bombs going off in market places, cinemas, buses, public spaces? That women are not tormented and driven to suicide by the pressures of jumped-up maulanas who blackmail society? Have you ever lived in country ruled by a military dictatorship? Have you ever had your relatives jailed and tortured for real/perceived dissent of Islamist/military or are these incidents all the product of the tooth fairy?

  49. Desi Italiana — on 24th January, 2008 at 12:51 am  

    “It shouldn’t be too difficult for the neutral observer to distinguish real “Islamist fundamentalism””

    Yes. I also mentioned that it would be helpful to understand what exactly is going on in places like Swat? I mean, understand the histories, socio-political dynamics, etc? It’s like when everyone reduces Kashmir to Islamic fundamentalists and Pakistani infiltrators. Sure, that exists, but there’s this enormous gray area, or territory that we are blinded to. What about the thousands of innocent Kashmiris, what about the geopolitical shit that’s been going on, what about Kashmir being a ping pong between India and Paksitan, etc.

    Surely, advocating a deeper understanding of what’s going on is not to necessarily neglect in calling out a fundamentalism when and if in fact it is?

  50. Desi Italiana — on 24th January, 2008 at 12:58 am  

    “Refresh, are you suggesting that Islamist fundamentalism is the figment of a CIA wonk’s imagination?”

    Well, outright lies and circulating distorted “strategic communication”– there are those two things, and I think the CIA, US gov, etc have waged the latter A LOT. Blowing up cinemas, killing women, etc certainly happens in the name of Islam, but these kinds of acts are not relegated to Islamic fundies. Hindus are doing it too. So to emphasize- and even coin “Islamic fundamentalism” without giving weight to the fact that it’s a FUNDAMENTALISM which knows no religious boundaries IS intentionally providing a skewed perception for public consumption. It’s like when people call out Hamas for being an Islamic party which is anti Zionist (NOT anti-semitic, two different things), but no one would dare think to make a similar argument about Israel being religiously racist, requiring all Jewish citizens (and Druzes, but in the end, the composition is overwhelmingly Jewish) to serve in the military which is an occupying force in the name of a country founded on one specific religion, or the fanatical and violent settlers, or racist injunctions which bar Palestinians from the Right of Return but the Law of Return is perfectly acceptable when it comes to people who want to come to Israel and come from a Jewish background.

    And I have also noted that several figures have been called “radical,” “Islamic fundamentalist” etc when their politics differ from the US’. Like Moqtada al Sadr.

  51. Refresh — on 24th January, 2008 at 1:01 am  

    Some of what you describe happened in non-muslim societies too – look right across Latin America.

    What I am saying very clearly – is that yes it was a part of a plan. Look at how Carter funded the insurgency in Afghanistan before there was any sign of a Soviet invasion, and how readily it was picked up by Reagan and Bush snr.

    How else did they get into the position they are in? They were the cannon fodder.

    If you read what I said upthread I oppose military dictatorship. I also oppose anyone who doesn’t have the backbone to protect its own citizens.

    Can’t comment on your point about women committing suicide because of blackmail by maulanas. I don’t know enough about it.

    So what I am saying is that you cannot look at this in isolation – its the whole picture or nothing.

    To paraphrase a Presidential advisor, ‘what’s a few stirred-up muslims when we brought down the Soviet empire’. So who paid the price, and who continues to pay the price?

  52. Desi Italiana — on 24th January, 2008 at 1:03 am  

    “Well, outright lies and circulating distorted “strategic communication”– there are those two things, and I think the CIA, US gov, etc have waged the latter A LOT.”

    To add to this, it’s like during the Cold War era. Every fucking person who was disagreeable was portrayed as some boogeyman Communist who was part of the Red Peril conspiracy. Not saying that there were not mean spirited people, but there were times when we were told that these people were just “Commies.” That’s it. Nothing about positions, ideas, or beliefs unless it was couched in the terms of West vs. East.

    Oh, and it makes it all the easier that most of us in the West don’t have a fucking inkling of what most of our boogeymen are talking about- it’s not like we understand Hindi/Urdu, Pashto, Persian, or Arabic (but Sunny thinks that you can still make arguments about Al Jazeera in Arabic without having to understand Arabic, so I dunno).

  53. Sid — on 24th January, 2008 at 1:16 am  

    So what I am saying is that you cannot look at this in isolation – its the whole picture or nothing.

    I agree, but if Musharraf has no right to bomb fundies in Swat or torture liberal actvists in Rawalpindi, as you rightly picked up, why are the bombs detonated by al-Qaeda groupuscules which kill as many as Mushy has ever done, brushed under the carpet or regarded glibly as part of “the whole picture”?

  54. Refresh — on 24th January, 2008 at 1:25 am  

    ‘brushed under the carpet or regarded glibly as part of “the whole picture”?’

    But its not though, is it? Musharaf himself doesn’t, he probably prefers it, who knows. Anything out of the ordinary that happens he, we, everyone pins on them.

    They who commit these crimes, should be brought before a court of law and be made answerable.

    You may recall what happened when ‘shoot to kill’ policy was exposed here in Thatchers time. She was put under a lot of scrutiny. Likewise any deaths in the hands of Musharaf he has to answer for.

    How else do we progress? Believe me it won’t be with bombs and bullets.

  55. Desi Italiana — on 24th January, 2008 at 1:29 am  

    “brushed under the carpet or regarded glibly as part of “the whole picture”?”

    I don’t think anyone was saying to brush fundamentalisms under the carpet by talking about the “whole picture.”

  56. Desi Italiana — on 24th January, 2008 at 1:29 am  

    Goodnight, Sid and Refresh, my pumpkins. This little Indian is OUT for today.

  57. Sid — on 24th January, 2008 at 1:30 am  

    They who commit these crimes, should be brought before a court of law and be made answerable.

    So for you, each and every crime ascribed to fundamentalism is merely perception and spin of 3rd parties looking to gain from the political expediency of “Islamist terrorism”?

  58. Refresh — on 24th January, 2008 at 1:31 am  

    Goodnight Desi, and you too Sid if you are retiring.

  59. Refresh — on 24th January, 2008 at 1:59 am  

    For me a crime is a crime. And yes there is expediency at play – on a massive scale.

    On a general note – I have always argued that no one should have gone into Afghanistan when the Soviets were drawn in by the US. Certainly not the muslims.

    But then blind faith is half the problem. This I would happily tackle.

  60. Dhanush — on 24th January, 2008 at 9:46 am  

    Couldn’t really be bothered to read all the replies (most end up being the same sycophantic gibberish from the likes of sid, Refresh et al).

    As each week goes by, Sunny loses more and more credibility. Every goat herder, newspaper hawker and rickshaw driver in Pakistan understands the link between the army, Pakistani Islamists and the middle classes and that all are corrupt to the core.

    But Sunny persists, hilariously.

  61. Zak — on 24th January, 2008 at 2:28 pm  

    its been a given that the mantra for every tuler of Pakistan is “if you don’t help me the next guy couold have a beard!”

    Interestingly the one group that has not come on the streets in Paki recently not since lal masjid are the madrassah students. The only time they flexed their muscles was when they helped catch imran khan

  62. Jai — on 24th January, 2008 at 6:26 pm  

    It’s like when people call out Hamas for being an Islamic party which is anti Zionist (NOT anti-semitic, two different things), but no one would dare think to make a similar argument about Israel being religiously racist, requiring all Jewish citizens (and Druzes, but in the end, the composition is overwhelmingly Jewish) to serve in the military which is an occupying force in the name of a country founded on one specific religion, or the fanatical and violent settlers, or racist injunctions which bar Palestinians from the Right of Return but the Law of Return is perfectly acceptable when it comes to people who want to come to Israel and come from a Jewish background.

    That paragraph in #50 should have stopped at “public consumption”. I fail to see how it is constructive or wise to list a litany of completely off-topic accusations against Israel — and simultaneously imply moral equivalence with Hamas — considering the extremely volatile history of that subject on Pickled Politics. Not to mention the insensitivity of raising the spectre of that issue — even as a supposedly “comparative example” or an analogy — on a thread which has absolutely nothing to do with it, considering the animosity on all sides which has been triggered by previous arguments on the subject and the negative impact it has clearly had on much-loved regulars like Katy Newton, whom I am sure many of us would not wish to see driven away again. I except Bananabrain would have a few things to say in response to that quote too.

    This doesn’t mean that explosive and controversial issues such as that (or any others) should not be discussed, but what has always, always resulted from any references to what is “fondly” known on PP as “I/P” makes it clear that extreme caution is advised. There is a time and a place for everything, and the track history of that subject on this blog means that this is one particular hand-grenade whose safety clip should not be removed unless it’s absolutely necessary and unless the core topic of debate actually focuses on that issue.

  63. Refresh — on 24th January, 2008 at 6:33 pm  

    Jai, I know you mean well – but I think Katy et al are more than competent enough to join in.

    As it happens, having seen the biggest jailbreak in history, its a topic that probably needs its won thread.

  64. Jai — on 24th January, 2008 at 6:36 pm  

    Just trying to prevent history from repeating itself here, Refresh.

    However, I agree that the “jailbreak” issue does deserve its own — separate — thread.

  65. Desi Italiana — on 24th January, 2008 at 6:37 pm  

    Jai, why do you take it upon yourself to be a Pickled Police officer? I wrote what I wrote. So I am supposed to stop writing about something because you think it’s not helpful and because it’s a “volatile” subject? Give me an effing break, I am sorry.

    As for Katy and etc, no one stops them from responding. They can respond if they want to. What the hell is this idea that one should not write certain things because commentators get “pushed away.”

    Seriously, Jai.

  66. Desi Italiana — on 24th January, 2008 at 6:39 pm  

    Why do I even bother responding to Jai’s policing efforts, anyway?

    Last time I respond to a comment which asks commentators to be mindful of other commentators’ “feelings.” I said nothing wrong, I didn’t write anything racist, spiteful, or anything like that.

  67. Desi Italiana — on 24th January, 2008 at 6:40 pm  

    “Just trying to prevent history from repeating itself here, Refresh.”

    Why, thank you, Jai! What would PP be without a gallant gentleman who whips everyone into line.

  68. Refresh — on 24th January, 2008 at 6:46 pm  

    Actually Jai, that paragraph you referred to was highly relevant to the topic in hand. It was very pointedly referring to hypocrisy of the situation, and yes Hamas is presented as Desi says.

    Moral equivance issues also arise in a majority of people’s minds who consider Israel’s oft-trumpeted democratic credentials rather base.

  69. Jai — on 24th January, 2008 at 6:54 pm  

    Re: #65, 66, and 67.

    My reasoning is clear and I have nothing more to say to you. You can of course carry on making childish remarks and attempting to bait me, but insulting me for disagreeing with the perceived necessity of some of the contents #50 adds absolutely no value to this discussion or this blog.

    For my part, I have voiced my thoughts for the record as I felt the point needed to be made. I do not feel it necessary to add anything further.

  70. Desi Italiana — on 24th January, 2008 at 6:55 pm  

    Careful, Refresh. Don’t repeat history! Some commentators will get turned off from ever posting comments here.

    It’s interesting that they are roadbumps in threads when Jai’s indignant comments show up.

    And of course, I feed them by responding. Must. Stop.Doing. That.

  71. Desi Italiana — on 24th January, 2008 at 6:58 pm  

    “My reasoning is clear and I have nothing more to say to you. You can of course carry on making childish remarks and attempting to bait me,”

    Jai, forgive me, but your comments are infuriatingly passive-aggressive. Stop that, will you? You can’t very well whine about someone responding to you when you post back-handed comments addressed to them.

    “For my part, I have voiced my thoughts for the record as I felt the point needed to be made. I do not feel it necessary to add anything further.”

    Then why do you keep repeating it? And then you will skirt around all of my comments for a while, and then you will post yet another passive-aggressive comment directed towards me.

    C’mon, Jai.

  72. Jai — on 24th January, 2008 at 7:13 pm  

    Refresh,

    re: #68

    I understand your reasoning and I’m sure your friend also appreciates your support, but like I said I have no wish to discuss I/P even tangentially on this thread and, again given the history of the matter on PP, personally I think that any references to the subject risks seriously derailing the discussion if people start wading in. Given what has happened so many times before.

    I also don’t think it was appropriate for someone to use a discussion about Pakistan to take tangential pot-shots against Israel — especially in such detail — particularly as the basic point of that post had already been made by then via other (shorter) examples. But that’s just my view, and people are free to write whatever they want to if Sunny & Co are okay with it. It’s not my blog, after all. Of course, the rest of us are also free to openly disagree with whatever someone else may write.

    However, you and I will agree to disagree here — amicably, as always — and I’m not going to say anything more on it.

    Regarding this thread’s main topic, I don’t have a firm stance on the issue either way, but for the record I do think both you and Sid in particular have been doing an excellent job of rigorously debating both sides of the argument. It’s proving to be very interesting and informative reading. Keep going.

  73. Desi Italiana — on 24th January, 2008 at 7:18 pm  

    Hey, whoever whited-out the mistake in my comment #25– thanks for doing that.

  74. Refresh — on 24th January, 2008 at 7:22 pm  

    ‘I understand your reasoning and I’m sure your friend also appreciates your support,…’

    I consider everyone here as a friend or a potential friend, including Mazumadar and Amir (not sure about Morgoth, he is a touch too vile for my taste, perhaps he’ll change).

  75. Desi Italiana — on 24th January, 2008 at 7:26 pm  

    I hope everyone is joking when they say “friends” with people they have never, ever met in person and in many cases don’t even know their real name?? I mean, these virtual communities are fun and whatnot, but like, they are VIRTUAL?

    But yes, Refresh, I love you.

    Now, can we get over the “please don’t say anything offensive to scare away other commentators” hiccup?

  76. Desi Italiana — on 24th January, 2008 at 7:29 pm  

    “But I’m not convinced that they will be overthrown by more democratic goverments.”

    You know, this phrase right here sounds really paternalistic. Like, “I don’t think that Pakistanis can really do something that I, who does not live in Pakistan, can agree with, so I am going to push the idea that they should not have right to vote and shape their own political future and destiny.”

  77. Jai — on 24th January, 2008 at 7:34 pm  

    It’s interesting that they are roadbumps in threads when Jai’s indignant comments show up.

    More accurately, it’s interesting that there are roadbumps in threads whenever you respond to anyone politely disagreeing with you (or whom you disagree with) by resorting to personal attacks and distortion/exaggeration of what was actually said.

    You can’t very well whine about someone responding to you when you post back-handed comments addressed to them.

    Neither can you. And I wasn’t whining, just remarking on the childish tone of several of your responses.

    Then why do you keep repeating it?

    A single post (#62) does not constitute repetition.

    Now, can we get over the “please don’t say anything offensive to scare away other commentators” hiccup?

    That’s not quite what I said — and in fact, what you are referring to only comprised a small fraction of the entirety of my opinions in that post — but hey, nice try ;)

  78. Refresh — on 24th January, 2008 at 7:40 pm  

    Look guys, go get yourselves a mug of cocoa. Each.

    That’s what Douglas does when he needs his own space.

  79. Refresh — on 24th January, 2008 at 7:41 pm  

    ‘But yes, Refresh, I love you.’

    And stop stalking me.

  80. Desi Italiana — on 24th January, 2008 at 8:05 pm  

    “And stop stalking me.”

    You are not the only one. Sunny is being stalked by me as well.

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