Sunday, February 1, 2009

Imran Khan To Obama: Leave Afghanistan!


Famous Pakistani cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan has written an open letter to President Barack Obama urging him to withdraw US and NATO forces from Afghanistan. The letter was published by Forbes magazine on January 29, 2009. In addition to being a celebrity in the cricket-playing world, Imran Khan is a philanthropist and an idealist whose political party, Tehreek-e-Insaf, has not been able to find much traction among the average Pakistanis. Pakistan's political system, dominated by the feudal and tribal leaders, is rigged against leaders such as Imran Khan. Based on all the recent polls, however, Imran Khan's views on Afghanistan appear to reflect popular opinion in Pakistan which is overwhelmingly against the US presence in the region. It is the elected leadership that is out of step with the vast majority of Pakistanis.

Imran Khan reminds me of Ralph Nader. A recent documentary titled "The Unreasonable Man" chronicles the life of Ralph Nader. The title "The Unreasonable Man" comes from a famous quote attributed to the early 20th century British playwright George Bernard Shaw who said, "The reasonable man adapts himself to the conditions that surround him... The unreasonable man adapts surrounding conditions to himself... All progress depends on the unreasonable man." Like Nader, Khan is a well-meaning, well-respected, and honest political leader bringing out the issues of democracy, transparency, freedom from political corruption, civil rights and rule of law, that the mainstream parties do not particularly care about. But the presence of Imran Khan on the Pakistani political scene does offer hope for the future.

Here's the full text of the open letter:

Dear President Obama,

Your extraordinary ascent to the U.S. Presidency is, to a large part, a reflection of your remarkable ability to mobilize society, particularly the youth, with the message of "change." Indeed, change is what the world is yearning for after eight long and almost endless years of carnage let loose by a group of neo-cons that occupied the White House.

Understandably, your overarching policy focus would be the security and welfare of all U.S. citizens and so it should be. Similarly, our first and foremost concern is the protection of Pakistani lives and the prosperity of our society. We may have different social and cultural values, but we share the fundamental values of peace, harmony, justice and equality before law.

No people desire change more than the people of Pakistan, as we have suffered the most since 9/11, despite the fact that none of the perpetrators of the acts of terrorism unleashed on the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001, were Pakistani. Our entire social, political and economic fabric is in a state of meltdown. Our sovereignty, dignity and self-respect have been trampled upon. The previous U.S. administration invested in dictators and corrupt politicians by providing them power crutches in return for total compliance to pursue its misconceived war on terror.

There are many threats confronting our society today, including the threat of extremism. In a society where the majority is without fundamental rights, without education, without economic opportunities, without health care, the use of sheer force and loss of innocent lives continues to expand the extremist fringe and contract the space for the moderate majority.

Without peace and internal security, the notion of investing in development in the war zones is a pipe dream, as the anticipated benefits would never reach the people. So the first and foremost policy objective should be to restore the peace. This can only be achieved through a serious and sustained dialogue with the militants and mitigation of their genuine grievances under the ambit of our constitution and law. Since Pakistan's founding leader signed a treaty in 1948 with the people of the country's Federally Administered Tribal Areas and withdrew Pakistani troops, they had remained the most peaceful and trouble-free part of Pakistan up until the post-9/11 situation, when we were asked to deploy our troops in FATA.

Even a cursory knowledge of Pushtun history shows that for reasons of religious, cultural and social affinity, the Pushtuns on both sides of the Durand Line (which marks the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan) cannot remain indifferent to the suffering of their brethren on either side. The Pushtuns are proud of their history of resisting every invader from Alexander onwards, to the Persians, Moghuls, British and the Russians (all superpowers of their times) who were all bogged down in the Pushtun quagmire. So, no government, Pakistani or foreign, will ever be able to stop Pushtuns crossing over the 1,500-kilometer border to support their brethren in distress on either side, even if it means fighting the modern-day superpower in Afghanistan. Recent history shows how the mighty Soviet Union had to retreat from Afghanistan with its army defeated even though it had killed over a million Afghans.

To an average Pushtun, notwithstanding the U.N. Security Council sanction, the U.S. is an occupying power in Afghanistan that must be resisted. It is as simple as that. Therefore, the greatest challenge confronting U.S. policy in Afghanistan is how to change its status from an occupier to a partner. The new U.S. administration should have no doubt that there is no military solution in Afghanistan. As more innocent Pushtuns are killed, more space is created for new Taliban and even Al-Qaida recruits--revenge being an integral part of the Pushtun character. So, as with Iraq, the U.S. should give a time table for withdrawal from Afghanistan and replace NATO and U.S. forces with U.N. troops during the interim period.

The Pushtuns then should be involved in a dialogue process where they should be given a stake in the peace. As the majority's stake in peace grows, proportionately the breeding ground for extremists shrinks.

The crucial lesson the U.S. needs to learn--and learn quickly--is that you can only win against terrorists if the majority in a community considers them terrorists. Once they become freedom fighters and heroes amongst their people, history tells us that the battle is lost.

Terrorism worldwide is an age-old phenomenon and cannot be eliminated by rampaging armies, no matter how powerful. It can only be contained by a strategy of building democratic societies and addressing the root causes of political conflicts. The democratization part of this strategy demands a strategic partnership between the West and the people of the Islamic world, who are basically demanding dignity, self-respect and the same fundamental rights as the ordinary citizen in the West enjoys. However, this partnership can only be forged if the U.S. and its close Western allies are prepared to accept and coexist with credible democratic governments in the Islamic world that may not support all U.S. policies as wholeheartedly as dictators and discredited politicians do in order to remain in power.

The roots of terror and violence lie in politics--and so does the solution. We urge the new administration to conduct a major strategic review of the U.S.-led war on terror, including the nature and kind of support that should realistically be expected of Pakistan keeping in mind its internal security interests. Linking economic assistance to sealing of its western frontier will only force the hand of a shaky and unstable government in Pakistan to use more indiscriminate force in FATA, a perfect recipe for disaster.

The stability of the region hinges on a stable Pakistan. Any assistance to improve governance and social indicators must not be conditional. For the simple reason that any improvement in the overall quality of life of ordinary citizens and more effective writ of the state would only make mainstream society less susceptible to extremism. However, if the new U.S. administration continues the Bush administration's mantra of "do more," to which our inept leadership is likely to respond to by using more force, Pakistan could become even more accessible to forces of extremism leading to further instability that would spread across the region, especially into India, which already faces problems of extremism and secessionist movements. Such a scenario would benefit no one--certainly not Pakistan and certainly not the U.S. That is why your message of meaningful change, Mr. President, must guide your policies in this region also.

Imran Khan is chairman and founder of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (Movement for Justice), and served as an elected member of Pakistan's parliament from 2002-08. The captain of the Pakistan team that won the cricket World Cup in 1992, he founded the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital and Research Center, the biggest charitable institution in Pakistan. He is chancellor of the University of Bradford, in the U.K.

Here's an Imran Khan interview video clip on CNN:

8 comments:

paki said...

great persons take great amount of time.Nelson madela got success after 40 years.Though Imran has not got much success but surely his popularity is growing.IshahAllah,one day he will be in power.

Anonymous said...

good post riaz but when did u change ur allegiance from mqm to tehreeki insaf.

Ray Lightning said...

Sealing the border is something that can never be done. The mountains along the Durand Line present no clear boundaries.

The question to ask is why are the Pashtuns divided by an artificial frontier, and why do they not have a unified political voice. Even inside Pakistan, Pashtuns are split into NWFP, FATA, the northern areas of Baluchistan and the Mianwali district in Punjab. Why do they not have a single constituency to lead strength and character to their voice.

When presented a democratic avenue, Pashtuns have long chosen secular parties with modern values over Islamists and definitely not the Taliban. So why is this democratic voice of Pashtuns being stifled ? Who are the natural enemies against this ?

It is definitely not the USA, who has no special love for Islamists and who has absolutely no stakes in pushing the Pashtuns into a medieval tribal warfare.

patfromutah said...

Why are the Pashtuns divided?

Reminds me of the Kurds and Incas. This just happens to be the first Pakistani blog I got to. I'm here to paste a notice from the United States of America:

Temporary Interruption of Service

Dear World:

We, the United States of America, your top quality supplier of the
ideals of liberty and democracy, would like to apologize for our
2001-2008 interruption in service. The technical fault that led to this eight-year service outage has been located, and the software responsible was replaced on November 4, 2008. Early tests of the newly installed program indicate that we are now operating correctly, and we expect it
to be fully functional on January 20, 2009.

We apologize for any inconvenience caused by the outage. We look forward to resuming full service and hope to improve in years to come. We thank you for your patience and understanding,

Sincerely,
THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

That's supposed to be a joke, but the truth is Obama isn't about to withdraw from Afghanistan. The Iraq war required the removal of the top ranks of the military. Those who had any knowledge or integrity had to go. The Afghanistan war however is seen by many of the mainstream 'realists' (Obama's appointments are largely students of history - cold war, oil, Vietnam etc, big change from the neo-con morons)as a justified war.

Thanks for letting me in.
I'm in Logan Utah USA

Riaz Haq said...

Anon:

You ask, "when did u change ur allegiance from mqm to tehreeki insaf."

I have no allegiance to any political party in Pakistan. I personally admire people who are active philanthropists in Pakistan and support charities including Edhi, Shaukat Khanum, HDF, Hidaya, etc.

Anonymous said...

Imran khan is my hero indeed inspite of his personal life flaws; he speaks the truth and is extremely brave/truthful/patriotic in his straight forward logical comments. But in the real world (*full of corruption and injustice) unfortunately this kind of pure mentality with lack of diplomacy leads to a complete disaster or a dead end. Remember history, remember Tipu Sultan what his fate was. I hope my philosophy is totally wrong and for the sake of Pakistan I pray Imran succeed in his quest for Justice, ameen.

Anonymous said...

Imran looks better than others but thinking of making it top with such instability in views is impossible.What plan does he have to save his country people from taliban is US leaves?He is not an Obama anyday to base views on logic.Already pak army is filled with religious zealots-thanks to Zia.Political success is based on neutrality and ability to think beyond ones religion and nation in decisions.Imran needs great help here-but who will do that?May be then he will stop supporting talibana as he spoke recently and not be considered a idiot.It important to understand that current situation is out of hand of Pakistan as society and it needs international help to survive-This is not to disregard his social services which are inspiring in a nation filled with religious stink.

Riaz Haq said...

Lately, there have been some arrests of American-Muslim and Pakistani-American youths on suspicions of terror. The Internet has been identified as a tool for radicalization and proposals made to deal with it. Here's an interesting post by Reem Salahi in HuffingtonPost on this subject:

Yet even in cases where agent provocateurs were not employed, the reality is that the government and media have too long treated Islam and Muslims as a homogeneous, non-dynamic, suspect group. Whenever a Muslim engages in a criminal act, the individual is always qualified by his religious background. Very rarely do we see similar treatment of non-Muslims. For example, I have never read an article describing Timothy McVeigh as the Christian white man. But nearly every article on Nidal Hasan qualifies him as a Muslim and Palestinian within the first few sentences.

As a consequence, Muslims are forced to account for the (negative) actions of a fourth of the world's population. Ironically, I have never been congratulated for the positive actions of other fellow Muslims. The acts of a few bad apples or even a few misguided youth become the norm and not the exceptions. Put differently, it would be like suspecting that every White high school student was prone to commit a massacre as Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the killers at Columbine High School, did.

The reality is that the discourse on radicalization and homegrown terrorism is fundamentally racist and Islamophobic. It is based on seeing Muslims as the "other" and viewing our actions through an "orientalist" lens which frames any Muslim's questionable action as terrorism. Hence, a Muslim overstaying an immigration visa or improperly filing taxes or even paintballing becomes evidence of terrorism and radicalization, justifying the government's infiltration of our mosques, surveillance of our youth groups, and mapping of our populations. Maybe, just maybe, Muslims don't need to be understood by a different rubric than other populations. Further, by framing Muslims as terrorists and as the internal enemy within, the government and media have alienated and disenfranchised many law-abiding Muslims who seek nothing more than to actually live "unremarkable" lives.

Those in the media, in the government, and in Muslim organizations who have jumped on the bandwagon, you have missed the boat. Muslims and Muslim youth are not intrinsically prone to radicalization through the aid of the internet, just as White youth are not intrinsically prone to commit massacres or lynch ethnic minorities in solidarity with the KKK. Rather, the problem is the media and the government's continued vilification and the consequential disenfranchisement of the Muslim community. It is the government's infiltration of mosques and community centers with informants and agent provocateurs. It is the FBI's prolonged fishing expeditions and false prosecutions of many innocent Muslims. And it is an ever-worsening foreign policy that wastes away our tax dollars on killing innocent civilians throughout the world. So please stop parroting the misguided construct of homegrown terrorism and Islamic radicalization as the problem, when the real problem is xenophobia couched in politically correct terms.