Wednesday, 23 May 2012


After a very long time I have come across such a well written article which expresses the feelings of millions of people like myself…

Now we know why Allah sent over a 100,000 messengers to this region……..and it has still not made a difference….!

Saudi Arabia was almost the last to end slavery officially in 1974 yet by nature retain all the instincts of slave-running alive!

Miskeen — by Mehboob Qadir

Miskeen is a spoken Saudi equal of ‘poor wretch’ used to denote mainly the Asian labour force, coloured workers and expatriates from Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Philippines, Indonesia, etc. For those of African and North African origins, they have different titles. More than a word, it shows a whole Saudi racial, social and national attitude and a rancid hubris. In this context, Ummah is either a misnomer or merely a convenience for the Arab.

They are Saudis, Iraqis, Egyptians, Yemenis, Kuwaitis Bahrainis, Emiratis or whatever, but brothers in the Ummah. That notion is basically a political convenience. We, in the subcontinent, are emotionally more transparent and excitable. An Arab, like his camel, is emotionally frigid except when he is slighted or his female space is threatened. Despite a strangely adversarial disposition towards females, they count them among their possessions like the black tent, camels and cattle.

One realised that the Saudi men’s honour and prestige seem to be tied more to their ability to control their women by diamond necklaces and gold biscuits than any equation of a sublime human relationship. Their family canvas is a sorry mess because of institutionalised licentiousness through a flood of divorces and multiple marriages. A society short of familial affiliations and internal gravitation disintegrates sooner or later.

Saudis, and Arabs for that matter, have an obsessive love for money, matched in our part of the world by the Pathan or the Sikh somewhat, if not fully. The difference is that Pathans and Sikhs both have plenty in the lands they live in, not the Saudis. Less the oil, they have always been short of food and means of livelihood as hardly anything grew in their deserts. Their harsh unsupportive environment forced them to become highwaymen for hire, ferrying the trade goods of richer nations on the ends of the desert and beyond.

Those who were not involved in running trade caravans were busy raiding the same. Their land bridge geographical location between productive Asia, Africa and Europe helped them to become exchange traders or midway transit men. Since they produced literally nothing but had to sell others’ goods, therefore they developed excellent linguistic skills, which is why Arabic is such an eloquent language.

Arabs are racial exclusivists and the Saudis, a degree more, arrogant too. However, Kuwaitis excel in both fields. This racist arrogance does not stem from any real world class achievement but their age old ability to ply one’s merchandise to the other at exorbitant rates, making the other believe that the deal was fair, employing a clever-merchant syndrome.

The other reason has been the inelasticity of their bare bones social capsule, which was unable to absorb any external influence or people. Their mercantile ability was polished after the advent of Islam with a large dose of missionary zeal and truth on the pain of divine condemnation forever. However, a few centuries on, this zeal waned and skillful statecraft replaced the art of salesmanship. Both required nearly the same neuro transmissions.

I have been Director General (SPAFO) of Pakistan Armed Forces deputationists, mainly, doctors and engineers, to the Saudi Armed Forces from 1998 to 2002.This was one of the most privileged positions for a non-European/American military officer in the Kingdom. I used to sit in the Ministry of Defense sharing the floor with US, British and French military missions. Another unique privilege that I enjoyed was that I could move anywhere in the Kingdom without the indispensible written permission and saw them closely in both urban and rural landscapes.

That regretfully shattered many a myth that we Muslims in the subcontinent carry almost as articles of faith, and along with that a part of my better self too. However, it was an invaluable education in reality and measurement of one’s worthiness or otherwise.

Within weeks, I realised that for a self-respecting person, it was nearly impossible to work honourably with those men. But for the call of duty to the fellow deputationists and mutuality between our two countries, I seriously considered repatriation. Hardly an occasion goes by without making an expatriate realise the tentative nature of his lower stature among these stiff-lipped, stuffy men. Our best, even a PhD in Space Sciences, weighs invariably less than a Saudi camel-herder from the Empty Quarter.

Saudi Arabia was almost the last to end slavery officially in 1974 yet by nature retain all the instincts of slave-running alive. The Iqama (work permit) is the principal instrument and is issued on behalf of the Saudi employer (Kafeel) for one year at a time. This is literally a dog collar that provides the Saudi master unlimited and rather coercive powers over the hapless expatriate. Regardless of innocence, merit, right to be heard and the number of years of hard work, one could be packed off and deported within hours. An expatriate has practically no legal stature, let alone the much talked about basic human rights.

I know of a senior Pakistani banker who helped set up a renowned Saudi bank, rose to the position of vice-president and after 29 years was ordered out at a week’s notice, his invaluable service and lifetime of hard work notwithstanding. His fault? None except the sweet pleasure of his employer and the weapon, the guillotine of Iqama. Once your Iqama is withdrawn you are an immediate nonentity and must leave the country posthaste before they imprison you for an indefinite period. Moreover, one could see horrible exploitation of female expatriates by their masters, particularly that of Sri Lankans and Philippinas. Pathetic insensitivity that was.  (why you people keep coming here? reply I got from a close Saudi friend)

Peculiarly, Saudis have a cold and impersonal system of designating expatriates that they hire. Miskeen is a derisive phrase of pity and loathing that tends to massage their ego in a kind of perverted manner. It tends to be a device of superiority, distancing from the mass of toiling expatriate men and women working in the Saudi households, farms, factories, shops, hotels, offices and all places where an ordinary Saudi considers it below his dignity to work.

The next lower phrase in their not so civil glossary is Siddique, which very eloquently conveys: ‘You work for me but mind your place. No liberties to be taken.’ Siddique is a belittling way of directly addressing one out of innumerable expatriates already held as miskeen. 

European and American expatriates are a different and far superior category. For them notions of pity are transformed into a view of admiration and longing. They are considered and addressed as Rafique, meaning ‘dear friend’. Americans top this list, followed closely by the British and other Europeans, depending upon how much they can benefit materially.

There are cogent reasons for this preferential treatment. Americans and Europeans negotiate their terms of reference very carefully and hard. They are better networked, bring in more lucrative business, have better work ethics and their parent governments are unrelenting should Saudis maltreat one of their citizens.
There is a third but unspoken class who are mentioned with a smile and a wink. These are fair-skinned Central Asians, Lebanese, and blonde-haired Syrians. They are neither miskeen nor rafique but have the privilege of being the pleasure mates of a superior sort but not equals. They have half an access to the privacies of Saudi households; some even married in. Late Rafique Hariri was a kinsman of the Saudi royal family.

In all this business of labelling who was who in the shoddy Saudi esteem, they missed the forest for the trees. They know but never acknowledge that all of the Kingdom’s infrastructure, services and amenities were built by expatriates from all over the world. Saudi oil money drew the best of the foreign societies into their service but tragically, they failed to absorb them into their own society. It was because they were unfortunately blind to the power of diversification, induction of new talent and ideas.

Their genetic disability had been that want and scarcity of thousands of years had made their tribal society grow inwards with no scope or space for expansion and accommodation. The net result is that not only the Saudis floundered a once in centuries chance to enrich their country and society with a mix of talented foreign men and women but also have a huge rootless foreign mass in their midst that can go out of hand any moment. The consequences could be devastating. More about this some other time.

The writer is a retired brigadier of the Pakistan Army and can be reached at

Monday, 21 May 2012

Can Pakistan step back from the brink?


Aftermath of Salman Taseer's assassination

The murder of Salman Taseer was both the start and the symbol of Pakistan's unravelling in 2011

One year ago, Pakistan was shaken when leading politician Salman Taseer was murdered by his own bodyguard. His violent death and the lack of government response were merely the beginning of a turbulent year for the country. Writer Ahmed Rashid considers whether Pakistan can step back from the brink in 2012.

The death of Salman Taseer, governor of Punjab province, now appears as both the start and the symbol of the political, economic and social unravelling of Pakistan that has taken place since that fateful 4 January day.

The gruesome aftermath of his death, when the governing Pakistan People's Party, the army, the mullahs and civil society appeared to deny the reality of what had happened, made many Pakistanis ashamed of their rulers.

Roses for a killer

Mumtaz Qadri, an elite police force member, pumped 27 bullets into the politician as he was walking back to his car after lunch at an Islamabad restaurant.

Qadri had informed his police colleagues standing nearby that he would commit murder and throw down his weapon, so there would be no need to kill him. The police obliged by giving no warning to Taseer or shooting Qadri dead.

Qadri, who belonged to a small Islamic group called Dawat-e-Islam, said he killed Taseer because of his attempts to change the controversial blasphemy law. He was showered with roses when he made his first appearance in court.

Hundreds of lawyers pledged to defend him and he was treated as a celebrity by many.

Pakistani lawyers hold rose petals as they voice support for Mumtaz Qadri

Qadri was showered with roses when he appeared in court

Qadri was later tried and sentenced to death but he has appealed against the sentence.

Meanwhile Asia Bibi, the jailed Christian woman whose case of alleged blasphemy had so appalled Taseer, continues to grow weaker in jail and more isolated. There are fears that a zealous prisoner or guard in jail may try to kill her.

When Taseer's funeral was held, no cleric could be found in Lahore who would read his funeral prayers out of fear of the extremists - some of whom declared that the dead Taseer was no longer a Muslim.

The country's few liberal civil society members tried to counter the wave of intolerance that swept the country by holding small but ultimately meaningless demonstrations.

More important was the reaction - or total lack of it - by the government, the army, parliament and the political parties. There was no public condemnation of the murder by the highest authorities in the land, except for politician Sherry Rehman, now ambassador to the US.

More sectarian attacks

As if the family had not suffered enough, Taseer's son Shabaz was kidnapped by an extremist group in August and has not been heard of since.

Taseer was a multi-dimensional politician, businessman, writer and raconteur but he seemed to move to another level when he became governor, taking up controversial issues and defending human rights which even the government was too scared to do.


US-Pakistan downturn

  • 30 Sept 2010: Nato helicopters kill two Pakistani soldiers, prompting nearly two-week border closure in protest
  • 22 April 2011: Supplies to Nato forces in Afghanistan halted for three days in protest over drone attacks
  • 2 May: US announces Bin Laden's death and says Pakistan not warned of raid
  • 2 June: Top US military chief Adm Mike Mullen admits "significant" cut in US troops in Pakistan
  • 10 July: US suspends $800m of military aid
  • 22 Sept: Outgoing US Adm Mullen accuses Pakistan of supporting Haqqani militant group in Afghanistan; denied by Pakistan
  • 26 Nov At least 24 Pakistan troops killed when Nato forces fire over the border hitting an army check post

His death a year ago has brought many consequences.

During the past year, no politician has dared raise the issue of reforming the blasphemy law. Intolerance by extremists against both Muslims and non-Muslims has increased enormously and there has been a dramatic rise in the number of sectarian attacks, which are usually perpetrated by Sunni extremists against Shia citizens.

The Pakistani Taliban has continued to carry out brutal suicide attacks against the army and civilians and appears to be in control of more territory in Pakistan and also in Afghanistan's Kunar province.

The meltdown in relations between the US and Pakistan started just two weeks after Taseer's death, when Raymond Davis, a CIA operative, killed two gunmen in Lahore. The wave of anti-Americanism that followed prepared the ground for a much wider outbreak months later.

The killing of Osama Bin Laden by US special forces in May resulted in the biggest crash in US-Pakistan relations.

After that, alleged leaks from Pakistan's intelligence agency, the ISI, forced two successive CIA station chiefs in Islamabad to leave the country.

Later, the US stepped up confrontation by demanding the ISI curb attacks inside Afghanistan by the Pakistan-based Haqqani network.

When Islamabad shut down the Nato supply route through Pakistan after Nato mistakenly killed 24 Pakistani troops, all links between the two military establishments were severed.

Looking ahead

A road sign, photographed from atop gridlocked trucks, shows the distance to cities in Afghanistan after traffic was halted at the Pakistani border town Torkham November 27, 2011

Pakistan shut down the Nato supply route through after a Nato raid killed Pakistani troops

The government steadily lost credibility, authority and power as its conflict with the army and the opposition became worse, the economic crisis deepened and the country suffered severe energy shortages. The army also lost credibility. and the government accused the army and the Supreme Court of ganging up against it.

Taseer's killing is a watershed from which the government has not seemed able to recover and from which the extremists drew strength, increasing their defiance against a state that was deemed weak and vulnerable.

In the new year, the fear of more political assassinations lingers as do deepening divisions between the army and the government which would make the country ungovernable.

It is clear that the 50-year-old source of Pakistan's continuing instability - civil-military relations - is going to determine the course of 2012.

The army appears determined to oust President Asif Ali Zardari while he and his government appear determined to hang on. Taseer would have made a good mediator between the two because he had solid relations with both; however, there is no such figure in the political spectrum now.

Perhaps the only solution is early elections, possibly by the late spring or early summer, rather than in 2013. Pakistanis can only hope that by taking Taseer's life and death as an example, all sides in the present crisis in Pakistan can step back from the brink.

Ahmed Rashid's book, Taliban, was updated and reissued recently on the 10th anniversary of its publication. His latest book is Descent into Chaos - The US and the Disaster in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia

Absurdity, Thy Name Is...


Posted: 20 May 2012 12:28 PM PDT

Must Pakistan - or perhaps one should say specifically its government, its political leaders, its judiciary, its military and its bureaucrats - continue to make an ass of itself? Must it circumvent any attempt to make the world forget that we can be the most absurd cretins in the world?

Graphic by Nick Bilton (Source: New York Times)

Barely had the memory of the Lahore High Court-imposed Facebook ban faded from the collective global 'News of the Weird' consciousness that we were struck with the Twitter ban, which the Ministry of Information Technology people told us was because of "blasphemous and inflammatory content" on the site.

(Update: I had almost finished writing this post when news came in that the Twitter ban had been lifted but am posting this in any case in the off-chance that someone within the corridors of policy-making might read and prevent a recurrence of such ineptitude.)
According to this Express Tribune story:

"Pakistan’s government had asked Twitter to stop a discussion on Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), which was considered derogatory, [PTA Chairman Dr Mohammad] Yaseen said, adding that “Twitter refused our request.”"

Now, you would have to be totally unaware of what Twitter is and how it works to think the above statement makes any sense whatsoever. Imagine, if you will, the government asking a cell phone company to stop people SMS-ing each other anything derogatory about the Prophet. The only way it would be possible for the cell phone company to enforce such a 'request' would be to either read each and every single SMS from the billions that go out from within its network or to simply ban any SMSes that used the word 'Prophet' or 'Muhammad' or 'Mohammad' or 'Mohd' or any other possible variation (and there would still be ways to circumvent it), which would of course block all Islamic SMSes as well. Any cell phone company would obviously 'refuse' the government's request, simply because it would not be possible to implement.
Of course I am not even touching upon the concept of 'free speech' (and which particularly protects 'speech' that one disagrees with or finds offensive) which is integral to rational societies and which would be another reason for Twitter to refuse to censor something even if it could. But this is a concept which is obviously is too lofty an argument for the cretins in officialdom to understand.
In any case, I am more than sure that there is not a single person within the so-called 'Ministry of Information Technology' who is on Twitter or even has a passing knowledge of it.
In all likelihood, given the storm of outrage and mocking it has unleashed, the ban will not last very long. But let's look at what this ban has actually achieved:

1. It has given free global publicity to offensive material that most people - including us - were not even aware of.

2. It has shown that those in Pakistan who are supposed to manage information technology actually have no clue what they are in charge of. They are obviously also clueless about the ease with which such bans can be circumvented (it took us and others a total of five minutes to get around it.)

3. It has made Pakistan a target of mocking all around the world yet again as a country that cannot be rational, trust its citizens or tolerate any opinions that don't fit in with its own.

4. It has made an issue out of a non-issue (most people were unaware of the material as pointed out above) and in that given oxygen to precisely those obscurantist elements who use these things to fan the flames of bigotry and intolerance, both within Pakistan and abroad. Note that there had been NO protests before the Ministry of Information Technology drew attention to this 'issue' but that with its ineptitude it has ensured that it is now on the radar for all rent-a-crowd mullahs and will embolden those racists who enjoy provoking all Muslims.

5. It has shown that any flimsy excuse can be used to censor opinions, particularly political opinions, that the government of the day is uncomfortable with. Because at the end of the day, it's not alleged blasphemers and pornographers who suffer from Pakistani bans, but common people expressing their personal views, on Twitter, Facebook or on blogs, outside the more easily controlled corporate media.

Let me draw another analogy for our esteemed policy makers. If, on the street, someone were to go around particularly eavesdropping on conversations among random groups of people to check if anyone were using foul language so that he could berate them, or more closely, telling everyone to shut up because he had heard some people using foul language, we would consider such a person a lunatic. Unfortunately, that is exactly what the people at the Ministry of Information Technology have proved themselves to be, overzealous lunatics. It's about time bureaucrats realize that we cannot police the entire world and, more importantly, that there is no need to.