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What Does Egypt Mean for Pakistan?

One of the nicest compliments I’ve ever received for my work was when a Pakistani journalist, a young woman, told me I’m not afflicted by what she called “Have pen will write syndrome.” I write when I have something to say, or a story to tell, that I believe others will find helpful and worth reading. Lately I’ve been itching a little to write about Egypt, but so far I’ve concluded that the world doesn’t need my gratuitous drop in the ocean of commentary, particularly given that I’ve never been to Egypt.

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One of the nicest compliments I’ve ever received for my work was when a Pakistani journalist, a young woman, told me I’m not afflicted by what she called “Have pen will write syndrome.” I write when I have something to say, or a story to tell, that I believe others will find helpful and worth reading. Lately I’ve been itching a little to write about Egypt, but so far I’ve concluded that the world doesn’t need my gratuitous drop in the ocean of commentary, particularly given that I’ve never been to Egypt.

But I have been to Pakistan, many times since 1995, and I’m going there again for three weeks starting February 18. And I can’t help wondering what kinds of conversations I might have there in the wake or context of the Egyptian revolution.

This will be my first trip to Pakistan since the visit almost exactly two years ago that resulted in my book Overtaken By Events: A Pakistan Road Trip. I flatter myself that, whatever its other merits, my book has a well-chosen title. As Zaka Shafiq, a young man I met in Karachi, told me at the end of the trip and the start of the book: “It’ll be out of date by the time it’s published.” But I’m not worried about being overtaken by events, because I’ve resigned myself to it as a condition of being alive in this world, especially these days. I figure my job is to listen, pay attention, and take notes. There’s a lot to be learned about where we’re at and where we’re headed, if you stay alert.

My coming trip hasn’t even started, and it’s already been overtaken by events. When I began planning it several months ago, its purpose was to witness and write about the grossly under-reported effects of last summer’s historically severe flooding – and that remains an important goal. But then, in early January, Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer was assassinated and, in a shockingly parallel incident, US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot in Tucson. And, now, Egypt is in upheaval.

But what does Egypt have to do with Pakistan? Well, I’m hoping you can help me answer that question. Particularly if you’re Pakistani, but even if you’re not, I invite you to post a comment on this article or on my Facebook page or, if you prefer, to write to me privately with your thoughts. And please forward this article far and wide. I want to read and hear as many voices as you can help me gather about Pakistan’s future and the implications – for Pakistan, for the Muslim world, and for all of us – of the Egyptian revolution.

My starting point is that, in what I’ve been reading, Western writers are starting to speculate – ominously and/or hopefully, depending on their loyalties – on the wider implications of Egypt for the Arab world. Even factoring in the Western public’s fuzziness on the distinction between Arabs and Muslims, it’s striking to me that few seem to be wondering, in this context, about Pakistan. The American public has had a lot on its plate lately, what with Egypt, severe winter weather, and the Super Bowl all happening at the same time, but Frank Rich’s bracingly unsparing February 6 column acknowledges the stakes:

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The consequence of a decade’s worth of indiscriminate demonization of Arabs in America — and of the low quotient of comprehensive adult news coverage that might have helped counter it — is the steady rise in Islamophobia. The “Ground Zero” mosque melee has given way to battles over mosques as far removed from Lower Manhattan as California. Soon to come is a national witch hunt — Congressional hearings called by Representative Peter King of New York — into the “radicalization of the American Muslim community.” Given the disconnect between America and the Arab world, it’s no wonder that Americans are invested in the fights for freedom in Egypt and its neighboring dictatorships only up to a point. We’ve been inculcated to assume that whoever comes out on top is ipso facto a jihadist.

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Rich notes the release of Donald Rumsfeld’s memoir and remembers that, like the events in Cairo, the bombardments of Iraq that Rumsfeld ordered

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were spectacular to watch from a safe distance — no Iraqi faces, voices or bodies cluttered up the shots. We [Americans] lulled ourselves into believing that democracy and other good things were soon to come. It took months, even years, for us to learn the hard way that in truth we really had no idea what was going on.

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So there is a lot of work to do, to continue educating the American public – I include myself – on our steep learning curve about the Muslim world in general and Pakistan in particular. What do Americans need to know about Pakistan? And, most pressingly at the moment, what are the similarities and differences between Pakistan and Egypt? And what might the events in Egypt portend for Pakistan?

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ETHAN CASEY is the author of Alive and Well in Pakistan: A Human Journey in a Dangerous Time (2004) and Overtaken By Events: A Pakistan Road Trip (2010). He is currently writing Bearing the Bruise: A Lifetime of Learning from Haiti, to published in fall 2011, and collaborating with filmmaker Naeem Randhawa on a collection of stories by and about Muslims living in America. Web: www.ethancasey.com or www.facebook.com/ethancaseyfans

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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this writing are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of League of India, its Editorial Board or the business and socio-political interests that they might represent.

This article was first published on the author's website on Feb 07 here

Ethan Casey
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In his books, articles and blogs, Ethan Casey uses his position as an American traveler, journalist and author with 15 years’ exposure to Pakistan to help foster historical and geographical perspective, human connections, and conversation between Americans and Pakistanis. He is also co-author, with Michael Betzold, of Queen of Diamonds: The Tiger Stadium Story (1991). He grew up in Wisconsin and now lives in Seattle.


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INTERNATIONAL

Massive Anti-Army Pashtun Rally in Lahore Rattles Pakistan

The rally on Sunday was held in defiance of a government ban.

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LAHORE (Pakistan): Thousands of Pashtuns defied authorities and held a mass rally in Lahore on Sunday, chanting anti-military slogans just hours after security forces cracked down on their leaders.

The rapidly growing Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) has rattled Pakistan’s military since it burst onto the scene three months ago with a nationwide campaign against alleged abuses against ethnic Pashtuns by security forces.

The Pashtuns are a fiercely independent ethnic group that straddle both sides of the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The April 22 rally was organized by the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM), or Pashtun Protection Movement, a group started mainly by young ethnic Pashtun activists denouncing perceived high-handedness by security forces.

Manzoor Pashteen, the founder leader of the PTM, delivered an address criticizing the country’s military and its actions in Pashtun-dominated regions of Pakistan.

“I urge professional soldiers not to follow the command of the generals and brigadiers. Refuse to obey their orders because they [generals] can get you killed like they did with people of Waziristan and other parts of the country,” Pashteen said.

The rally on Sunday was held in defiance of a government ban.

The provincial government denied permission for the rally “due to specific threats to the security of organisers of PTM”, according to a statement.

Police also briefly detained at least five PTM leaders, including vocal military critic Ali Wazir, on Saturday evening.

The crowd at the Lahore rally, which included non-Pashtun supporters, chanted slogans critical of the military during pauses in Pashteen’s speech, which he delivered in both Urdu and Pashto.

“We do not accept the Pakistan that is for the generals and the mullahs, we want a Pakistan for the Sindhis, for the Baloch, for the Pashtun and for the working class of Punjab,” said PTM supporter Fanoos Gujar, referring to the country’s major ethnic groups.

PTM has protested since the January killing of 27-year old Naqeebullah Mehsud during what Pakistani police described as a raid on a “terrorist hideout” in the port city of Karachi.

Pakistani police claimed Mehsud was a member of the Pakistani Taliban, which his relatives in his native South Waziristan region deny.

The PTM has been calling for the removal of military checkpoints in tribal areas and an end to “enforced disappearances” in which suspects are detained by security forces without due process.

In the northwestern city of Peshawar on April 8, as many as 60,000 people took part in a demonstration to demand the protection of the rights of Pashtuns.

Pakistan’s government rejects allegations that security forces or its intelligence service are responsible for enforced disappearances.

Authorities say military checkpoints are necessary in the tribal areas in order to combat Islamic extremist militants, including Pakistani and Afghan Taliban fighters.

While public criticism of the army is rare, the PTM’s rallies have been marked by the openness of its leaders to call out the security forces.

For its part, the army has been critical of the movement.

Last week, army chief General Qamar Bajwa said the protests were “engineered” by foreign forces, and said his concern was they could reverse the military’s gains against armed groups.

Pashteen denied the claim on Sunday, saying the PTM was “not anti-Pakistan” and was only demanding constitutional rights for the Pashtuns, who make up 15 percent of Pakistan’s 207 million people.

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Swaraj meets Jinping on the Sidelines of SCO Foreign Ministers Meet

Sushma Swaraj is in China to participate in the two-day SCO foreign Ministers meeting currently underway in Beijing.  

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BEIJING (China): External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj continued her engagement with the Chinese leadership on her second day of China visit.

She also met Chinese President Xi Jinping and other leaders and discussed the strengthening of bilateral ties. She called on the Vice President of China Wang Qishan in Beijing.

Sushma Swaraj is in China to participate in the two-day SCO foreign Ministers meeting currently underway in Beijing.

After holding bilateral talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Sunday, External Affairs Minister had announced that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be travelling hold talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping during an informal meeting on 27 and 28th of this month in Wuhan city in central China.

In a major development, India and China on Sunday agreed to resume the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra through the Natha Lu route in Sikkim, 10 months after the pilgrimage was stopped through Nathu La.

Kailash Mansarovar Yatra was stopped by China in the aftermath of the military face-off with India last year at Doklam. Ministry of external affairs organises the yatra from June to September each year through two different routes – Lipulekh Pass in Uttarakhand and Nathu La Pass in Sikkim. The yatra, which holds religious value, cultural significance, is undertaken by hundreds of people every year.

China also agreed to resume sharing of hydrological data of the Brahmaputra and Sutlej rivers. Sharing of hydrological data crucial to predicting floods in India’s northeast region, prone to natural calamities.

China provides flood season data of the Brahmaputra river between May 15 and October 15 every year.

Speaking at a function organised by the Indian embassy in Beijing Swaraj asked Indians and Chinese to learn each other’s languages as it will help them overcome the communication barriers, which could further strengthen relations between the two neighbours.

Meanwhile, defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman also reached Beijing on Monday to participate in the SCO defence minister’s meet, who is visiting Beijing to take part in the foreign ministers meet.

Ahead of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Summit Meet to be held in China in June this year, the ministers of the group countries are meeting to exchange views on cooperation on the multilateral arena and from counter-terrorism to climate change and sustainable development.

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China Promises ‘Positive Voices Against Protectionism’ at Modi-Xi Summit

China on April 23 said Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping will discuss globalisation and the threat of rising protectionism.

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BEIJING (China):  India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on Sunday announced that PM Modi and President Xi will meet in the central Chinese city of Wuhan on April 27-28 to improve bilateral relations.

At Wuhan, the two leaders will “exchange views on overarching long-term strategic issues as well as the latest trends of the world so that the world will develop in a more stable way,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said.

“As to the background against which this meeting is held, I believe you are clear that the world is faced with rampant unilateralism as well as the rising protectionism in the process of globalisation,” Lu said.

All these new trends in the world have been closely followed and debated, Lu said in apparent reference to a host of measures initiated by US President Donald Trump in his ‘America First’ policy leading to a lot of protectionist measures including the current trade spate between the China and US.

He was responding to question whether there will be a joint message related to trade and protectionism, especially against US unilateral protectionism after the meeting between PM Modi and President Xi.

“So against such a backdrop China and India have a lot to discuss. We are all newly-emerging markets as well as developing countries with big populations,” Lu said.

“So we believe that the two countries will continue to uphold the globalisation so that it will be more inclusive. So we have a lot of shared interests, concerns and propositions,” he said.

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