System Failure

by Iftikhar Quraeshi

"Money alone will not solve our problems. Ever since the school system was nationalized 1974 to 1984, I believe, we have produced a nation of mental midgets or as my friend Saeed puts it "intellectual Pygmies" – the smart ones skipped off to Canada, USA, UK, Australia etc. The dumb ones and us old fogies are left behind trying to figure out how to survive- and then along come white collar pirates like Shaukat Abdul Aziz and milk the country dry of whatever the Zardari clan left in the kitty. Today a stockbroker who used to share an office about ten years ago can buy a 6 billion rupee property on Clifton Road. The Manshas are another such product of the Nawaz Sharif era – the list is endless and this type of corruption has no end in sight until we collapse and leave a debt ridden nation to be raped by our neighbours."

Laboratory of Jihad


David Gardner, New Statesman, Published 14 May 2009

Saudi Arabia has become a laboratory of jihad, spreading poison throughout the Muslim world. Can reform save the land of the Prophet from extremism?


At the end of last month, Prince Talal bin Abdul Aziz, son of the founder of Saudi Arabia and half-brother to its present king, made an astonishing call for reform. “We cannot use the same tools we have been using to rule the country [from] a century ago,” he told the Financial Times. “This region is roiling with turmoil and radicalism and the aspirations of a young population, and I’m afraid we are not prepared for that.”

The prince has long been a dissonant voice in a family that frowns on public dissidence, and has no decision-making power. But his words speak to a fundamental battle taking place behind the guarded walls of the kingdom’s palaces.

Will King Abdullah’s tentative steps towards reform, attempting to take back control of the judiciary, education and the religious police (the notorious mutawa) from reactionary clerics, continue? Or will the king’s recent appointment of Prince Nayef, the arch-conservative interior minister, as deputy prime minister and third in line to the throne, bring them to a halt?

For the problem facing this absolutist monarchy, which has managed to function both as the custodian of the birthplace of Islam and as a US ally sitting on a quarter of the world’s proven oil reserves, is not its immediate overthrow. (It has already seen off a proto-insurgency by al-Qaeda followers.)

It is that the very basis of the House of Saud’s legitimacy, the fusion of temporal and religious power which forms the bedrock of the Saudi state, rests on its alliance with the House of Ibn Abdul Wahhab. And Wahhabism, the puritan faith formulated by this 18th-century religious reformer, is, in its essentials, the totalitarian creed espoused by Osama Bin Laden to justify his murderous jihad.

For many years the Saudi ruling family, which is also dependent for survival on its 64-year-old alliance with the US, managed to keep any difficulties caused by its reliance on these two radically opposed sources of support concealed behind a brittle façade of modernity. All this began to change, however, after 11 September 2001.

At first the al-Saud were in denial that 15 of the 19 hijackers were their countrymen, and that the attackers had been inspired by Bin Laden, a member of one of the kingdom’s leading merchant families. A year later, Prince Nayef was still insisting to a Kuwaiti newspaper that the attacks were a Zionist plot.

When five western oil executives were killed at Yanbu, the Red Sea port, on 1 May 2004, then Crown Prince Abdullah said he was “95 per cent certain” that Zionists were behind it. Such attacks turned international opinion against Muslims: so, what other explanation could there be?

Once the jihadis turned their gunsights on the heart of the kingdom, however, the al-Saud began to accept the possibility of there being other culprits. The turning point came with the 29 May 2004 attack at al-Khobar in the Eastern Province. This is the region that contains the largest oil deposits in the world and is, in addition, the homeland of Saudi Arabia’s persecuted Shia minority.

Islamist gunmen attacked two foreign oil company office blocks and an expatriate enclave, killing three Saudi and 19 foreign civilians as well as nine Saudi policemen. They sought out Christian, Hindu and Buddhist “infidels” to murder, while setting Muslim hostages free.

As in Yanbu that same month, they were able to mount the spectacle of dragging the body of a westerner for more than a mile, spitting slogans as they went. Even though the attack turned into a siege, with Saudi security forces ringing the compound and commandos landing on the roof of a building where the gunmen were holding more than 40 hostages, three of the attackers were able to, or allowed to, escape.

The authorities finally had to acknowledge that al-Qaeda, incubated in good part by the fanatical Wahhabism the al-Saud imposed as the kingdom’s sole creed, was their problem, too. As the slaughter at al-Khobar was continuing, the then crown prince, now King Abdullah, vowed to crush “this corrupt and deviant group” in Saudi society.

“Those who keep silent about the terrorists will be regarded as belonging to them,” he warned. The implication was that nothing less than a seismic reformation of the House of Saud’s relationship with the Wahhabi clerical establishment was required – a reforging of the historic agreement that is the foundation stone of the Saudi state.

This is, in fact, the third time the House of Saud has set up a state in peninsular Arabia. The epic begins in the mid-18th century, when an emir from the Nejd in central Arabia, Sheikh Muhammad Ibn Saud, took in an itinerant preacher by the name of Sheikh Muhammad Ibn Abdul Wahhab. In 1744, the compact between the two houses was sealed by the marriage of al-Saud’s son and Ibn Abdul Wahhab’s daughter.

This combination of Islam and the al-Saud has formed the basis of the Saudi kingdom ever since. Its essential promise is to banish chaos and darkness – an echo of the pre-Islamic jahiliyya, or epoch of ignorance, that God sought to end through his revelation to the Prophet Muhammad – and substitute order, both human and divine.

By this time, the al-Saud had become oasis settlers. Increasingly populous and “detribalised”, they were obliged to find an alternative formula to build up their political and military strength, both to resist the predatory tribes and to press their ambitions. The alliance with Ibn Abdul Wahhab gave them just that: the magic ingredients of religious reform and jihad – a holy war to reclaim the peninsula of the Prophet Muhammad and the birthplace of Islam for true believers.

Abdul Wahhab espoused probably the most literalist, rigorous, antique and exclusivist interpretation of Sunni Muslim orthodoxy ever attempted as a form of governance. The Wahhab-Saud forces came to be known as Wahhabis, but often refer to themselves as the Ahl al-Tawhid, people of the oneness (of God).

They regard any apparent deviation from monotheism – particularly evident to them in the practices of the Christians and the “idolatrous” and “rejectionist” (Rafadah) Shia Muslims, for whom they reserved the lowest circle of hell – as infidel or apostate. This (in the strict sense of the word) totalitarian creed anathematised all other beliefs as illicit. It defined everyone else as “the Other”, drawing up as broad a definition of “non-believers” as has ever been devised. Wahhabism thus provides limitless sanction for jihad (making it hard for jihadis or their victims to understand how al-Qaeda, as the al-Saud insist, is in any way “deviant” from this orthodoxy).

The Wahhabi claim is to have found Arabia in a tribal stew of idolatry and chaos, war and pillage, ignorance and vice. In effect, the Wahhab-Saud forces claim to have ended the second Arabian jahiliyya or age of ignorance. If true, that would put them on a par with the Prophet himself – a heady boast indeed. In fact, Saudi-Wahhabi propaganda is a mirror image of the orientalist discourse about the Hobbesian fate from which the west saved the east.

It is a self-serving myth to justify the hegemony of the al-Saud and the Nejd over a regionally and religiously diverse nation, which was unified by force only after King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud fought 52 battles across a 30-year war of conquest, ending in 1932. Tawhid came to mean not just the “oneness” of God but the oneness of Arabia under Saudi hegemony.

In return for this religious cover, the Wahhabi clerical establishment was given decisive social control, not only over religion and public comportment, but also over education and justice. Above all, it derived power from conferring legitimacy on the Saudi rulers, who had now named the land of the Prophet after themselves.

The politico-religious symbiosis of the House of Ibn Saud and the House of al-Sheikh, as it is now known, built the world’s first modern Muslim fundamentalist state.

The state created by Ibn Saud has remained essentially static, while its subjects have been dragged into a modernity that rests on the shakiest foundations, imported like the air-conditioners that cool the gleaming malls and gated residential compounds. Within loudspeaker distance of a fire-and-brimstone mosque in Riyadh, close to the hotels where I have stayed many times, a shimmering mall houses a Harvey Nichols emporium with an outlet for La Senza, the lingerie chain. It is identical, in all respects except the gaudier range, to a similar shop anywhere else.

But there is one fundamental difference. Because women may not mix with men outside their family and are kept in a mixture of seclusion and segregation, it follows that they cannot work in a lingerie boutique – which is therefore staffed entirely by men.

Saudi businesswomen, who operate with signal success but in a more or less separate environment from men, have increasingly been calling for a boycott of these kinds of arrangements, which are beyond satire.

A similar absurdity arises from the ban on women driving, which in practice has required the importation of more than a million foreigners to serve as drivers. In other words, a prohibition supposedly intended to keep women from temptation by denying them any independence leads to them being thrown into daily contact with male strangers. Only a society that has living memory of the social conventions of slavery could be capable of countenancing such a paradox.

But it is probably in the field of education that this schizophrenia is most vividly and wrenchingly lived out. On the one hand, Saudi Arabia has an educated middle class, almost one million of whom have studied abroad. The kingdom has schooled its girls for nearly two generations. Saudis often have an intellectual depth to them that is less readily encountered in many Arab countries, where political and commercial pressures have debased and ground down the currency of ideas to convenient and remunerative cliché and myth. “There is something curiously uncalloused about the Saudis,” says a veteran diplomat to the kingdom.

But then turn to school textbooks, drawn up under the authority of the Wahhabi establishment. These drill into impressionable young Saudi minds the religious duty to hate all Christians and Jews as infidels, and to combat all Shias as heretics. A theology text for 14-year-olds, for instance, states that “it is the duty of a Muslim to be loyal to the believers and be the enemy of the infidels. One of the duties of proclaiming the oneness of God is to have nothing to do with his idolatrous and polytheist enemies.”

The history textbooks typically emphasise the al-Saud hegemonic myth, burying any attempt to weave regional specificity or religious breadth into national identity under a suffocating narrative of Nejdi supremacy and Saudi redemption.

“It is really not very difficult to understand how we got to where we are,” says one reformist intellectual, asking rhetorically if there was any difference between the sectarian bigotry of Osama Bin Laden and the intolerant outpourings of the Wahhabi establishment. Saudi Arabia is a laboratory for jihad – that is its strategic dilemma.

While mosques and classrooms continue to spew out this fanaticism, Saudi Arabia has also been exporting these ideas for decades. Just during the reign of the late King Fahd, Riyadh claimed to have established 1,359 mosques abroad, along with 202 colleges, 210 Islamic centres and more than 2,000 schools.

In addition, it episodically supported pan-Islamist movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood and sponsored jihad abroad from Afghanistan to Bosnia. Jihadis were able to establish a base in Iraq partly because Wahhabi proselytisers had established bridgeheads in cities such as Mosul in the final years of Saddam Hussein’s rule.

As king, Abdullah has introduced some incremental change. He has started rewriting textbooks, changing teaching methods and vetting teachers. He demanded the active co-operation of the clerical establishment in curtailing the flow of Saudi volunteers to Iraq.

He has instituted de-radicalisation programmes for groups of jihadi prisoners who are willing to reintegrate into Saudi society. The king has also built tentative bridges to the Shias, and tried to foster a more pluralist conception of Islam.

In 2003, he launched a “national dialogue”, which held out the prospect of more open government, tighter financial controls on the royal family’s share of national wealth, greater rights for women, even the gradual introduction of elections. The king at least appeared to recognise the need for a more open society. But his brothers (the succession has always passed along the line of King Abdul Aziz’s elderly sons) did not share this view at all.

No sooner was the national dialogue under way than Prince Nayef summoned dissidents to his office where, according to one reformer present, they were told: “What we won by the sword, we will keep by the sword.” Crown Prince Sultan said publicly, in March 2004, that the kingdom was not ready for an elected parliament, because voters might choose “illiterates”. Sheikh Saleh bin Abdulaziz al-Sheikh, then minister of Islamic affairs, rejected even the term “reform” as being pregnant with liberalism and licentiousness.

It is inescapable, however, that the al-Saud need to curb the corrosive power of the religious establishment and lead the kingdom towards a form of modernity that its religious heritage can sustain. And the most feasible way forward is to enlist Islamist progressives.

This loosely connected group of Islahiyyun or “reformers” has rediscovered the thinking of Islamic revivalists and reformers of more than a century ago, and turned it into a devastating critique of Ibn Abdul Wahhab.

Encouraged by Abdullah, the newspaper al-Watan (the nation, or homeland) became a forum for this debate, as did internet discussion groups, such as Muntada al-Wasatiyya, set up by the dissident Islamist Mohsen al-Awajy.

This still embryonic force has already achieved three major changes. First, the groups have presented their demands collectively, instead of petitioning individually at the majlis or court of the prince. The turning point was a 2003 petition signed by leading Islamist reformers and liberals.

Second, the document proposed allowing diversity in matters of faith and politics – in a country where uniformity on both has long been imposed. And third, it broke the taboo about speaking against Wahhabism, and implied that it was this distorted form of Islam that was preventing Saudi Arabia from becoming a successful modern state all its citizens could easily support.

It is important to realise that the petition, titled “A vision for the present and future of the homeland”, draws on sources of renewal that are and will remain Islamic and, in important ways, Islamist. However alien this fusion of religion and politics may seem to secular westerners, it is key to any possibility of change, because it provides reformers with an authenticity and a legitimacy that deflects charges of foreign influence and intrusion.

Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Qassim, a former Saudi judge and reformer, is an authority on this. “Al-Qaeda and the clergy are essentially doing the same thing in different ways – putting pressure on the House of Saud for being less devout than it should be. This paralyses reform,” he tells me. “The only way out is to dilute the link with Wahhabi fanaticism.

“The only way forward is to win the legitimacy of society itself – through political reform that does not depend on the approval of the clergy. If you make society part of reform you can overcome the clergy. It is the only way.”

The demands of the Islamist reformers include free elections, freedom of expression and association, an independent judiciary, a fairer distri­bution of wealth, and a clearer foreign policy arrived at through open debate – in short, a constitutional monarchy, if nowhere near a bicycling monarchy.

“We are limiting our demands to very specific issues, and reiterating the al-Saud’s right to stay at the top of the tree,” says Mohsen al-Awajy. “They think it’s for tactical reasons, but the fact is there is no real alternative.”

Just how fundamental it is that liberals and Islamists take on Wahhabism cannot be overstated. But the liberals are an infinitesimal minority, tainted in the eyes of the masses with corruption and decadence. As one senior prince puts it, with a certain melancholy: “We liberals sit around a bottle of scotch and complain to each other, and then, the next morning, do nothing. Yet if we don’t get real progress, economically, socially and politically, we are going to be in a terrible mess in five to ten years.”

He, at least, shows an awareness alien to much of a bloated royal family that affects not to understand where a privy purse ends and a public budget begins, and continues to squander fabulous public wealth. Military spending, for example, is about three times the average for a developing country and is used as a mechanism for distributing power and wealth within the top ranks of the House of Saud – which is more than 5,000 princes strong.

No wonder that it is the Islamist reformers, numerically and ideologically, who are the real force for change. They can credibly argue that they intend no separation between mosque and state, but a redefinition of the relationship between the al-Saud and the al-Sheikh.

“Saudi Arabia has to be an Islamic state; it is the birthplace of Islam. The question is which Islam?” says Jamal Khashoggi, editor of al-Watan and adviser to Prince Turki al-Faisal, the former Saudi intelligence chief and ambassador to Washington and London. “The alliance should be between the state and Islam, not between the House of Saud and the House of al-Sheikh.”

Awajy, whose candour lost him his job as a university professor, argues: “The contract between the two houses is no longer in the interests of the Saudi people; if we tolerated it in the past it does not mean we will in the future. Real reform cannot take place within the Wahhabi doctrine.”

The Wahhabi establishment has pumped the poison of bigotry into the Saudi mainstream throughout the existence of the kingdom. After the attacks of 11 September 2001, it became impossible to ignore that its ideas and al-Qaeda’s were pretty much the same. It is hard to imagine how the House of Saud will survive unless it breaks decisively with these ideas. Or, as one Saudi reformer put it: “If this clerical establishment is incapable of imagining the solutions we need to modern problems, then the answer is clear – we have to find another establishment.”

Militant Madrassas – This is the time to fix them.

Dr Ishaq Inqilabi
For Developing Pakistan

Some may feel that the state must allow the northern campaign against the Talibans to succeed before opening another front.  This thinking is flawed on several counts.  There may be under 5000 Talibs but probably two orders of magnitude (ie 500,000) supporters of the Talibs spread across Pakistan’s madrassas that teach them violent Wahabi Islam with money from Saudia and elsewhere.
The Pakistani public is slowly beginning to see the nastiness of the radicals.  Sad events like the callous bombing of Lahore on May 27th, makes them more receptive to eliminating the corrupted madrassas which preach violence.
We suggest the following urgent, doable 9 steps:

  1. The ISI and other agencies of the state compile a list of madrassas countrywide which encourage violence – they probably already have it.  The largest ones are, for example, Maulana Sami ul Haq’s at Okara Khattak and the Binori Mosque in Karachi.  Touch these biggies at the end.
  2. Estimate the number of students in the smaller and medium sized violent madrassas and establish how many orphans are studying in them.
  3. Send the military to all the madrassas almost simultaneously (yes, pull them away from the Indian border) so that within at most a week all the violent madrassas are cleared of the offending mullahs. 
  4. Those kids who have parents must be asked to immediately claim their wards and have them sent to a school in their neighborhood.  They must return to living with their parents.  In the short term the state should support the kid to the extent that he/she was being supported by the madrassa.
  5. The orphans be kept in their cleaned-up madrassas under new management.
  6. Our school education in govt schools is rotten and that in madrassas worse.  Once the steps 1-5 are completed, and with proper planning this can be done within a month (don’t laugh, it is possible with the right will), one must in parallel devise a training program for the teachers in the madrassa using the best available technology and materials to make them capable of imparting modern education, including enlightened religious education. 
  7. The AIOU, Virtual Univ and all the TV channels should be mandated to produce 2 hrs of educational programming each for these transformed madrassas.  This ought to be supplemented with master trainers, imported in large numbers in the short term.
  8. The same electronic media sources should be manadated to produce the same amount of programming for govt schools, with the same kind of human (imported) and material resouces as in 7, only more so as here one is dealing with a much larger number of students.
  9. Starting with the madrassa reform, we will have moved to reforming education in the govt schools as outlined in 8.

All this may seem like a pipe-dream, but given the best talent in Pakistan, supported by foreign experts, this worthwhile transformation can be achieved well before the fighting in the north ends.
The question is whether the public & the thinking media is smart enough to push the govt and the military to go along with what’s suggested.

NB: Yes, we are aware that the above ideas need to be fleshed out.  Work has already been done so that will hardly taken any time to make it available to the govt. 

It will however need to be sold persuasively via the media to the publci at large.  The pro-active role of the government and its supporters is essential.  Let the money coming in for development be used for something as revolutionary as this.  If not then most of it will be wasted!

Khalifas from the hills

Feisal’s column

People who oppose the ongoing operation in Swat normally make two types of arguments.

The first argument is practical, that military force should only be utilised as a last resort and that this is not the time.

The second argument is philosophical. As one news anchor put it to me, how can we oppose the imposition of sharia law in Swat when Jinnah founded Pakistan in the name of Islam?

The essence of the first argument is that using the army to crush militants is the equivalent of using a sledgehammer to kill a fly. So while it may be effective, military action also comes with a massive cost. Innocent people get killed, families get displaced and entire towns get destroyed.

The answer to this argument is provided, however, by the military action itself. Operation Rah-e-Rast has been underway for almost four weeks. Sixty soldiers have died in the fighting while, according to ISPR, more than 1,100 militants have been killed. And yet, the operation is far from over. As I write these words, soldiers of the Pakistan Army are going door to door in Mingora, trying to blast out the militants who have been using 20,000 Swatis as human shields. And as for the financial cost, who knows?

The ongoing military operation is therefore self-evidently not excessive. Had that been the case, the operation would already have been over.

Opponents of military action can respond in one of three ways. The first is to argue that the army is incompetent. The second is to argue that the entire operation is a sham, the product of a giant conspiracy between Mossad, the CIA and RAW to break up the country and steal Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. And the third is to say that the army was sent in too soon.

I hold no brief for the Army and I know very little about its competence. But to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, you fight with the army you have, not with the army you want. Since we have no other army, accusing the army of incompetence is neither here nor there. Logically, the only other alternative would have been to invite American forces over from Afghanistan to invade Swat for us. In the absence of any support for that option, we have no option but to stick with General Kayani and his men.

So far as the grand conspiracies are concerned, I have no doubt that the CIA, Mossad and RAW would all breathe easier at night if we did not have nuclear weapons. But the fact that they do not want us to have nuclear weapons does not mean that they want to break up Pakistan. An exploded Pakistan would be exponentially more problematic for the international community than Pakistan in its current state.

If anything, the heads of CIA, Mossad and RAW are all praying to their respective deities to keep Pakistan solvent and stable because that is the only way our weapons will stay in sane hands as opposed to being in the hands of those who think that a nuclear exchange is a good idea because all the Muslims who die in the resulting holocaust will go straight to Paradise.

The final contention is that we should have waited longer. My question is: why? Is it not serious enough when a group of armed men rejects our Constitution, attacks our army and kills our citizens? And if that is not the issue, what would extra time have bought us? If anything, extra time would have given greater opportunity to the militants to entrench their positions.

I come now to the question of morality: how do I justify making war on those who are supposedly seeking only to fulfil Pakistan’s destiny?

Simply put, Pakistan’s destiny was not — and is not — to serve as the handmaiden for morons. Mohammad Ali Jinnah was not just a lawyer but one of the finest lawyers produced in the entire history of British India. His vision for Pakistan was not one in which self-proclaimed khalifas descended from the hills to unilaterally impose a vision of Islam in which the worship of God was reduced to beards of stipulated lengths and blowing up women’s schools.

At the same time, I freely concede that it is the prerogative of a sovereign nation to decide how it wants to govern itself. And if the majority of the people in this country decide through some democratic process that they actually want to be governed by Sufi Muhammad and his ilk, so be it. But they have not done so. Instead, whenever they have been given the option, the people of this country have resoundingly rejected religious parties. Pakistanis have drafted three constitutions for themselves: not one of them has set up a theocratic state.

So, Mr Anchorman, here is my answer: these people deserve to have war waged on them because they reject our Constitution, because they reject the values which Pakistan was founded upon, and because they are trying to stuff a different legal system down the throats of unwilling citizens.

The Muck we are in….

by Khurshid Anwer

On the subject of Bhutto having made a study of world leaders,  I missed out Emperor Babar. Bhutto had learned from the Mughals that no ordinary mortal dare approach the monarch unannounced. Dr Mubashar Hasan writes that when he first went to meet the president and CMLA, the liveried person at the entrance asked him to wait while he was announced to the president. Mubashar however kept walking wondering whether his close comrade of a whole year’s struggle had already forgotten his name. When he reached Bhutto, the latter said, “aap ko intezar karna chaheay tha”.

No wonder people thus treated did not stay with him for long. Can any good have been expected from a megalomaniac who steam-rollered over all who stood in his way – political rivals, industrialists, factory owners, bankers, even his own comrades.

Pakistan is like a sewer which has been collecting muck from successive deluges – the Bhutto deluge, the two of Benazir and the one ongoing. Benazir embraced and carried forward all the muck left over by Bhutto, and Zardari is embracing and carrying forward all that of Bhutto and Benazir. Layer upon layer of muck. Unless the Bhutto and Benazir layers are not dredged out the sewer will remain a sewer, hence the continuing attack on those two.

The muck: The same squandering of national resources on the poor for immediate political gains. The same unproductive employment of Jialas in thousands upon thousands. The same indiscipline in industry, education and public sector. The same lack of development of industry or agriculture, the only thing developing is the PPP vote bank.

Let me end with Bhutto’s ‘Unkindest cut of all’. Some political analysts insist that all Pakistan’s problems stem from the population explosion – poverty, unemployment, lack of education, lack of housing, lack of power, lack of water, you name it and the cause is the same, even the increase in terrorism.

Ayub Khan had taken on the Mullahs, made salutary changes in  the Family Laws and installed Family Planning Clinics all over the country. A brake was being put upon the exploding population. Bhutto in his megalomaniac opposition to Ayub Khan and to gain the support of the orthodox elements in the society, did not spare even the family planning clinics which were all trashed and the staff scared into running away.

I myself witnessed this happening in Rawalpindi. Obviously having shut them down he was not going to reopen them during his seven years. Add to this 11 years of Zia’s rule who was a religious fundamentalist himself. Hence 18 years were lost before any government could take corrective measures.

It is also doubtful whether Benazir in her two years would have undone what her father had done. In these 20 years the population increased from 6.5 crore to over 11 crore, an increase of nearly 5 crore. By this time the Mullahs had made a come back making it difficult for any subsequent government to rectify the damage. The result is 17 crore people to feed today. Can any Bhutto aficionado defend this ‘Unkindest cut of all’ of his.

The Strength of a Nation

By Steve Maraboli

The strength of a nation is not found in the blind commitment to a political party.

It is found in the undying devotion to one’s family and country.

The strength of a nation is not found in the celebration of the rich and famous.

It is found in the acknowledgement and assistance of its poor and forgotten.

The strength of a nation is not found in banks, stores, safes, boardrooms, and conventions.

It is found in homes, in schools, and in the heart of each individual willing to make a difference.

The strength of a nation is not found in the ability to wage war or keep peace.

It is found in the wisdom and purity that sees no need for either.

The strength of a nation is not found on a flag or in its written history.

It is found in the love, compassion, kindness, and generosity of each of its citizens.

Casualty of War

By Aryn Baker Thursday, May. 21, 2009

Illustration for TIME by Edel Rodriguez

Pakistan's media

A few weeks ago a group of Pakistani journalists and foreign correspondents based in Pakistan gathered to meet visiting representatives of the Washington-based think tank Center for American Progress. Its members were "on a listening tour," they said, and wanted to hear the journalists’ perspectives on the U.S. and Pakistan. The response was caustic. Correspondents and editors belonging to Pakistan’s top local print and TV outlets let loose with accusations and complaints, particularly about American concerns that Pakistan was failing as a state.

"There is no Taliban threat," said one Pakistani journalist. "Do you really think a bunch of hillbillies from the tribal areas can take on our military?" sneered another. "It’s all propaganda," said a third, designed "to weaken us, so the U.S. can fulfill its agenda to break Pakistan into pieces."

In the course of my reporting on Pakistan, I hear conspiracy theories all the time: that the Pakistani Taliban fighting in Swat are funded by Indian intelligence; that the Americans are assisting the Taliban in Afghanistan to justify and secure a Central Asian foothold against China; and the old chestnut that Israel’s Mossad and the CIA were behind the 9/11 attacks on the U.S. While no press in any country is without flaw or bias, I count on fellow journalists everywhere to be more enlightened and sensible than average folk. But in Pakistan’s case, sections of the media are reinforcing the nation’s paranoia at a critical time when it faces a threat to its very existence.

Rumor reported as fact is an epidemic in Pakistan. Very recently the English-language daily the News ran the front-page headline PLANS READY TO TAKE OUT PAK NUCLEAR ARSENAL. The unbylined story, about a secret U.S. commando force tasked with infiltrating Pakistan to secure its nuclear weapons, was based on a Fox News online report describing a worst-case-scenario contingency plan should Pakistan be taken over by extremists.

There were no named sources in the News story, and much of the reporting depended on e-mailed comments to the website. Nevertheless, it fueled hysterical discussions on TV chat shows and cemented a national conviction that the Americans want to eliminate Pakistan’s "Islamic bomb." Another furor erupted over a three-year-old American academic study that posited a greater Middle East divided along ethnic lines — proof, railed the Pakistani press, that the Americans were pursuing a policy of balkanization in the country. On May 18, the Nation published a story that said: "Former prime minister of Pakistan Benazir Bhutto was assassinated on the orders of the special death squad formed by former US vice-president Dick Cheney … The squad was headed by General Stanley McChrystal, the newly-appointed commander of US army in Afghanistan."

The story was sourced to an interview by an unnamed Arab TV channel with American investigative journalist Seymour Hersh. Hersh immediately denounced the report as "complete madness" to another Pakistani paper, the Daily Times, saying, "Vice President Cheney does not have a death squad … I have never suggested that [McChrystal] was involved in political assassinations or death squads." Yet at a press briefing the same day, Pakistan’s Information Minister Qamar Zaman didn’t rule out the possibility.

In 2002, the then President, General Pervez Musharraf, permitted private TV stations to broadcast news instead of just the state-owned Pakistan Television Corp. At the time, Musharraf’s deregulation was hailed as a significant step for the nascent free-press movement; indeed, today there are more than 30 nongovernment TV stations in the country. As TV stations proliferated, I argued that increased competition would force the emergence of a strong, ethical and responsible media corps. But there simply aren’t enough well-trained and -informed local journalists to supply the dramatically greater number of media outlets.

I also assumed that consumers would gravitate toward truth. Instead the bulk of readers and viewers seem comfortable with sensationalism and xenophobia — as reflected by an April poll conducted by Gallup Pakistan revealing that 76% of Pakistanis "believe Pakistani media [are] unbiased to a great or somewhat extent." In other words, Pakistanis like their media the way they are.

Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. envoy to the region, is working on a media plan for Pakistan. It aims to develop the government’s ability to disseminate information via new technologies such as cell phones. The idea is not to promote propaganda but to facilitate public-service messages, like emergency information or registration for refugees.

The plan also allows for training government officials to become more open press officers, and to fund independent radio stations to counter those run by extremists. All this is good, but it’s not enough. Pakistan’s press needs to take a hard look at itself and its level of professionalism. Only then will it live up to its potential, and only then will Pakistan get the media it deserves.