Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
from The Great Debate:
Of the many posters held aloft in angry demonstrations about plans for an Islamic cultural centre and mosque in New York, one in particular is worth noting: "All I ever need to know about Islam, I learned on 9/11."
As an example of wilful ignorance, it's in a class by itself. It passes judgment, in just 12 words, about a sprawling universe of 1.3 billion adherents of Islam (in 57 countries around the world) who come from different cultures, speak a wide variety of languages, follow different customs, hold different nationalities and believe in different interpretations of their faith, just like Christians or Jews. Suicidal murderers are a destructive but tiny minority.
But for the people waving all-I-ever-need-to-know posters in front of national television cameras two blocks from "ground zero," site of the biggest mass murder in American history, Islam equals terrorism. No need for nuance, no need for learning, no need for building bridges between the faiths. The mindset epitomized by the slogan mirrors the radical fringe of Islamic thought, equally doubt-free and self-righteous.
Both sides have data to back up their assertions. The Islam-equals-terrorism school of thought can point to 3,000 victims of the attacks on New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Those who preach that the U.S. is waging war on Islam itself, and terror acts are therefore a form of self-defence, can argue that Christian soldiers have been killing Muslims through history, from the Crusades to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari has once again spoken of the danger of hardline Islamists exploiting the misery of the flood-affected to promote their cause, which must be cause for worry for security forces in not just Pakistan but over the border in Afghanistan as well, fed by the same militant fervour. Zardari called it the ” ideal hope of the radical” that the floods would discredit Pakistan’s government and warned that some of these extremist groups aimed to scoop up orphaned children and “create them into robots.”
Such fears, though, didn’t stop Zardari from proceeding on a heavily criticised foreign tour just as the flooding was getting worse, even though that was exactly the sort of thing that would fuel public anger and hand the initiative to the Islamist groups.
from Tales from the Trail:
Afghan President Hamid Karzai is taking a page from the playbook of American politicians campaigning for public office: talk to the taxpayers.
Karzai is on a campaign to give the boot to tens of thousands of foreign private security guards working in Afghanistan. He's already put the U.S. government on notice that the private security firms operating in his country will be disbanded within four months.
Pakistan’s catastrophic flood continues to boggle the mind, both in terms of the human tragedy and the damage it has inflicted on a fragile, unstable country. One official has likened the disaster to the cyclone that devastated what was once East Pakistan, setting off a chain of events that eventually led to its secession and the birth of Bangladesh.
Not even that spectre, raised by Pakistan’s ambassador to Britain, can however dent the steadfast hostility between India and Pakistan. For a full three weeks as the floods worked their way through the spine of Pakistan from the turbulent northwest to Sindh in the south, Islamabad made frantic appeals to the international community not to ignore the slow-moving disaster, and instead help it with emergency aid, funds. But next-door India, best-placed to mount a relief effort probably more because of the geography than any special skill at emergency relief, was kept at arm’s length. An Indian aid offer of $5 million, which itself came after some hesitation and is at best modest,was lying on the table for days before Pakistan accepted it. ”There are a lot of sensitivities between India and Pakistan … but we are considering it very seriously,” a Pakistani embassy spokesman told our reporter in New Delhi earlier this week. Things appeared to have moved faster only after Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called his Pakistani counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani expressing sympathy and reminding him of the offer of aid. Millions of Pakistans meanwhile continued to struggle for food.
Pakistan’s army has said it won’t be diverting forces from the fight against Islamist militants while it helps deal with the country’s worst floods in 80 years . Troops who were on training have been called back to lead the flood relief effort, leaving those deployed on the Afghan front to continue operations against militants, the army said.
But with the floods devastating the trunk of Pakistan running from the northwest to Sind, through the growthengine of Punjab, disrupting the lives of an estimated 20 million people - which is 12 percent of the population – and delivering a serious blow to an already enfeebled economy, it’s hard to imagine that there won’t be any impact on the deadly, costly battle to win back ground from the extremists, bothinside Pakistan and Afghanistan. It is hard enough for any nation to fight a war such as the one Pakistan is engaged in, willingly or otherwise, against an enemy that it once nurtured. But to be at war when a third of the land is affected by the most devastating floods yet, crops worth a $1 billion are damaged in a country in a country where agriculture is the mainstay and popular anger is running high, calls for nerves of steel. And all this when it is already on a $11.3 billion IMF bailout programme whose stringent conditions Pakistan was struggling to meet even before the floods struck.
Below is a Reuters video roundup of the start of Ramadan in Turkey, Malaysia, Indonesia, China and Afghanistan:
Civilian casualties in the worsening war in Afghanistan are up just over 30 percent in the current year, the United Nations said in a mid-year report this week, holding the Taliban responsible for three-quarters of the deaths or injuries.
More worrying, women and children seem to be taking the brunt of the violence directed by a resurgent Taliban, which will only stoke more concern about the wisdom of seeking reconciliation with the hardline Islamist group.
Pakistan’s floods are now considered to be more damaging than the massive earthquake that devastated its part of Kashmir in 2005, not least because of the inability of the administration to respond quickly to the crisis. Pakistan is not alone in the region ill-prepared to cope with natural disasters. Bigger, richer India is just as unable to either eliminate or limit the destruction that its bountiful rivers unleash each monsoon, and you hear the same chorus of criticism of government apathy. Bangladesh, too, gets more than its share of cyclones and floods each season, and yet successive governments are overwhelmed each time disaster strikes.
But the one difference in Pakistan is that Islamist charities, some believed linked to militant groups, are ready to step into the breach. And that is worrying a lot of people, as the flood waters sweep over Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa, the province in northwest Pakistan which has been the main battleground in the fight against militants, down to the heartland province of Punjab and into Sindh.
PAKISTANI President Asif Ali Zardari’s bleak assessment that the international community is losing the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan created ripples this week, but it is perhaps better seen as a riposte to Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron questioning Islamabad’s willingness to choke support for Afghan Taliban insurgents.