Sunday, December 30, 2007

Worst Is Yet to Come For Pakistan

Original on:
The Question: After Benazir Bhutto's assassination on Thursday, what's next for Pakistan?

Benazir Bhutto's assassination is not only a terrible loss to the political process and the nation of Pakistan - it also shows how fragile the country is to the acts of militants. Her tragic death must be viewed in the context of Pakistan's political and security situation: this is clearly a sign of worse things to come.

First and foremost, it is highly unlikely that the elections will be held as scheduled on January 8, 2008. That might the rallying point for both Benazir's Peoples Party (under the leadership of Amin Fahim) and Nawaz Sharif's Muslim League to seek sweeping changes and a return to the rule of law. This is a huge blow to the U.S., as it backed her and General Musharraf and now will be hard-pressed to handle the political process in Pakistan.

Clearly Benazir Bhutto's killing shows the telltale signs of an al-Qaeda style attack. It sends two messages: one to the Pakistani politicians that they should soften their tone against terrorism, and another to the Americans that their political support will be hacked down from the top. This is a huge embarrassment for General Musharraf, because all his claims of victory against terrorism have come to naught. If nothing else, now that he is out of uniform one cannot rule out the Army seeking to remove him, either through constitutional means or otherwise.

There are already reports of violence in the interior of Sindh, where Benazir was very popular, and it would seem that the situation may get out of hand: people will take to the streets, blaming Musharraf for the failure to ensure security in the country. On balance, I would predict that with elections postponed it is highly possible that conspiracy theories will emerge that will weaken President Musharraf and amplify calls for his removal. In the light of civil strife, it would seem that a major change is more likely than ever.

I knew Benazir personally, and the few times we met and discussed politics, although we may have disagreed on issues, I never had a doubt that she was one of the most astute political figures in the country. Her opponent Nawaz Sharif now carries the responsibility of bringing reason into the country and may even suggest a joint government for national reconstruction.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Kite Runner

‘Kite Runner’ Threats Reveal Afghanistan’s Hypocrisy
(this is my post to Postglobal Washington Posts online blog where I am a panelist)
and the main page is on

The Question: The producers of the movie "The Kite Runner" had to evacuate three boy actors from Afghanistan because they were involved in a scene portraying homosexual rape. Who's at fault here: the movie producers who exposed the boys to danger, or the Afghan culture that threatens them?

I am a Pathan from the tribal areas of Pakistan, so perhaps this question poses difficult issues. From a modern perspective there is no doubt that the lack of tolerance, especially on artistic expressions, has been a matter of concern for people like me. I question whether the Afghans who have threatened the actors are suggesting that homosexuality doesn't happen in Afghanistan, or whether they are suggesting that exposing its existence is a crime. The reality is that homosexuality has been prevalent in Afghan culture for centuries, and proliferated especially during the Taliban years when contact between women and men was very difficult. In The Kite Runner, the homosexual rape is the contentious issue especially because a boy who later grows up to be a Taliban official commits it. The portrayal highlights the fact that often in Afghan society during times of war, captured enemy men were sodomized. As British officers from the Afghan wars would say: ‘Better to put a bullet through your own head then be taken prisoner.’

Clearly the reaction towards the actors is not acceptable, but we have to understand that such a reaction was pretty much expected, even though the film was made outside Afghanistan. There are a number of taboo issues for these societies; homosexuality is clearly one of them, even though a famous Pashtu poet wrote elaborate poems praising boys over men. This is indeed the hypocritical side of society, and in times such as this they will take the religious view that homosexuality is a sin – just like the Catholics and conservative Christians would react to the idea of same-sex marriages. The difference, and a fundamental one, is that here it is not the homosexuals who are being threatened, but the actors who portrayed the characters. This is where the lack of tolerance shows up.

On the other hand, the filmmakers have much to answer for: from reportedly paying the key actors only $18,000 (the going rate for a small side role in a regular Paramount movie, perhaps), to not anticipating that the response from within Afghan would threaten the safety of the actors. One of the actors, Zekaria Ibrahmi, (who plays Amir as a child) had expressed his desire to study and live in the U.S. Perhaps that wish should have been built into the contract, to ensure the actors were safe.

The sad part is that as a modern thinking Pathan, I can see both sides of the equation. While I vehemently disagree with fundamentalism and intolerance, I also understand that this reaction should have been expected – and the filmmakers should have had a contingency plan.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Sher View: Clinton Library Funding

The Washington Post yesterday has raised the issue of foreign, which should imply all foreign sources, but names mostly Middle Eastern sources, and implied there was something sinister about the donations to the former presidents' presidential library. For Senator Obama to also be mentioned that the wishes to bring in strict legislation to donations for such foundations shows that both the Washington Post and Senator Obama are way off the mark. First why question donations from the Middle East only, surely the British and European donors also appear on the list, indeed why not also question US donors too, after all they would have a greater vested interest to use donations for a political cause.

Most importantly, why would someone want to 'bribe or influence' a former President of the US? I can see it being an issue funding a presidential hopeful as being a major issue, (not that US special interest groups don't do that), but why would I pay say $10 million for a lovely library to a man who is no more in office, other than out of goodwill or friendship?

Secondly this is an old issue, as far as I see it dead and buried but brought up by Washington Post perhaps to support the Obama cause, consider the Post seems to like the Obama camp more than anyone else.

Thirdly, instead of celebrating such donations as a triumph of understanding and diplomacy its being looked down up either because the source of funding is not politically convenient or sounds sinister enough for respectable numbers to behave like weekend rags. Come on guys this was not like the Middle East funding some clandestine subversive group within America.

Fourthly, the Middle East donates alot of money to alot of causes, when you produce a daily cash flow of billions and need to only spend a fraction of that money, you do have alot of people lining up for donations. If reporters want to really do their homework then do mention the donations made elsewhere by these same Middle Eastern personalities. I know from personal experience, being an ex banker, that the late Sh Zayed of Abu Dhabi alone funded two major hospitals, one airport, a whole road network system in two towns, and a rural development program in Pakistan that ran into billions. Many will find fault with that, so if he then also gave say a million dollars to an EX presidents library big deal.

Finally, political motives could abound anywhere, the reality is that be fair, name all donors, and suggest the motives from all parties, and don't just bash the Middle East.

I marvel at the ability of the human mind to take something good and twist it into something sinister.