Posts In Category

Terrorism and Security

Compared to the Taliban era of the 1990s, Afghanistan has made impressive gains in the sphere of human rights, especially women’s rights. The Afghan constitution prohibits discrimination between citizens “whether man or woman”. Consequently, Afghan women have a visible presence in parliament, cabinet, civil administration and media. As pillars of civil society activism, they have played a crucial role in expanding female education across the country. For the moment, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission keeps the government under scrutiny and the country’s vibrant media promotes a culture of free enquiry in what is still a predominantly tribal society. What Afghanistan has been able to achieve in the middle of a war, with international help, was virtually unthinkable over a …

The recent controversy over Salman Rushdie’s non-appearance at the Jaipur Literary Festival has been widely understood in the stereotyped terms of a threat to the freedom of expression. The belligerence of those Muslims protesting Rushdie’s presence, of course, as well as the eagerness of some Indian authorities to humour them, was entirely reprehensible. But lost in the anodyne narrative about free expression was also the controversy’s political meaning, which I will argue had little to do either with Rushdie or indeed the offended religious sentiments of certain Muslims. Instead this celebrated author has been reduced to a kind of billboard upon which almost any cause can be advertised, and it is in this purely functional guise that he is recognized …

As Ishtaiq Ahmed mentions in a recent blog post on the annual Pakistan Future Leaders’ Conference, held in Oxford earlier this month, Pakistani students in the UK have definitively shown that progressive thought is alive and well within the Pakistani community. For example, this student-driven event was unafraid to pick up sensitive issues such as the Balochistan separatist movement amply demonstrating the capacity of young Pakistanis to be fearless and independent in their thinking. Students vowed to work towards making Pakistan a progressive, truly democratic state where people of all creeds can enjoy the fruits of freedom and liberty. Dr. Ahmed, covered numerous topics in his piece; but I want to highlight a few areas in more detail. As mentioned above, …

For three days (February 3-5) Oxford University was the venue for the Pakistan Future Leaders’ Conference (PFLC), attended by some 300 student-delegates hailing from around 50 universities and colleges in the United Kingdom. This major event was organised by Oxford University’s Pakistan Society, in collaboration with the Oxford Union, and the Pakistan societies of Cambridge University and the School of Oriental and African Studies. Such a large gathering of young Pakistanis in Oxford was reflective of an emerging ‘youth moment’ currently setting the course of politics in Pakistan. Cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, who is also an Oxonian, has already tapped into this phenomenon. His recent political rallies in Lahore and Karachi attracted exceptionally large crowds of younger people, forcing the country’s …

In the New Hampshire debate, Mitt Romney trumpeted his willingness to engage China in a trade war. Romney’s longstanding efforts to paint himself as someone willing to stand up to China exemplify an alarming trend of China-bashing in U.S. politics. Rick Santorum, among others, has echoed Romney, declaring, “I want to beat China.” Such statements are primarily targeted at shoring up political support and secondarily at painting President Obama as being soft on China. We should not take them as an accurate indication of future policy. And despite this overriding political calculus, these remarks are on to something – Beijing’s currency manipulation gives China a competitive advantage in global trade, and its abuse of intellectual property rights ought to be …

Margot Wallstrom, the United Nation’s special representative on sexual violence in conflict, referred to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as ‘the rape capital of the world’. If my Google search was any indication (registering a disturbing 4,640,000 hits for the term), the sensationalist phrase stuck among members of the civil society and aid agencies in the Global North. The eastern DRC has alternately been described as ‘the worst place in the world for women’ by The Guardian and ‘hell’ by American feminist playwright Eve Ensler. US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called rape in the DRC ‘evil in its bases form’ during a visit to the region in 2009.  There is something to be said about the damaging …

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” – Voltaire. Over Christmas I visited Boston and had the occasion to walk the famous freedom trail: 3 miles of sights commemorating American independence. As I walked this hallowed ground I pondered on those fighting for freedom today, in the streets of Cairo, Homs and Tunis. Having met some of these people, I wondered at the suspicion we direct at the Islamic parties now gaining power, as if we forgot our own history. American democracy was born of Puritan principles of self-government, but that did not prevent it from evolving into the (more or less) secular body it is today.  Ignoring this …

The Iraq war was not a success. It was a failure. A dismal failure, and Western governments should learn from their mistakes. Of course, nobody can deny the brutal crimes that Saddam Hussein was responsible for. The savage attacks against the Kurdish population in Northern Iraq, the invasion of Kuwait and the terrorising of innocent civilians in the town of Dujail after an assassination attempt serve as prime examples of the sadistic nature of the Iraqi dictator. The world is definitely safer without him, but this in no way outweighs what the world, and in particular the Iraqi people, have had to give up. Transparency International’s most recent Corruption Perception Index (measured in 2010) ranked Iraq as having 175th most …