Memory

Late in May as the light lengthens
toward summer the young goldfinches
flutter down through the day for the first time
to find themselves among fallen petals
cradling their day’s colors in the day’s shadows
of the garden beside the old house
after a cold spring with no rain
not a sound comes from the empty village
as I stand eating the black cherries
from the loaded branches above me
saying to myself Remember this

-W. S. Merwin.

Voices over Water

There are spirits that come back to us
when we have grown into another age
we recognize them just as they leave us
we remember them when we cannot hear them
some of them come from the bodies of birds
some arrive unnoticed like forgetting
they do not recall earlier lives
and there are distant voices still hoping to find us”

―W.S. Merwin, Garden Time

Powerful.

Old Man At Home Alone in the Morning

There are questions that I no longer ask
and others that I have not asked for a long time
that I return to and dust off and discover
that I’m smiling and the question
has always been me and that it is
no question at all but that it means
different things at the same time
yes I am old now and I am the child
I remember what are called the old days and there is
no one to ask how they became the old days
and if I ask myself there is no answer
so this is old and what I have become
and the answer is something I would come to
later when I was old but this morning
is not old and I am the morning
in which the autumn leaves have no question
as the breeze passes through them and is gone”

-W.S. Merwin, Garden Time

One Sonnet of Summer

Ive recently come across this amazing poetry book titled ‘Garden Time’ by W. S. Merwin. The poems are powerful and are all wonderfully compiled. Here is an excerpt from one which i like the most.

ONE SONNET OF SUMMER

Summer has come to the trees reaching up for it
it has come in daylight without a sound
it arrived when the trees were dark in sleep
they dreamed it and woke knowing it was there
but I am an autumn child and my first
summer I was here but was not yet born
I heard the leaves whisper on their branches
and the cicadas growing in their song
I listened to all the language of summer
in which the time was talking to itself
I was born in autumn knowing the sound of summer.

Ghani and his familiar tirades against Pakistan

Ghani and his familiar tirades against Pakistan

Here is another statement from the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at the ongoing Heart of Asia conference in Amritsar labeling Pakistan as the source of the Taliban’s sustenance over the years of the ongoing war. My response to a friend who was claiming the innocence of Ghani in the face of an allegedly conniving Pakistani state is shared below. The conversation was informal and thus uses non-academic language. I felt like posting it here because it reflected my understanding and opinion on the consistent barrage of allegations that are thrown at Pakistan.

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Me: As if Ghani and the Afghan establishment are the innocent victims of the demonic Pakistani state, and these officials are ones that have never had any kind of relations with the Taliban government during its regime and are doves for peace. Your paragraph and the statement dehumanizes the Pakistani state for something that the Afghanis themselves (whether inadvertently or not) did bring to the subcontinent. The nonsensical political atmosphere of Afghanistan which drew inspiration from the tribal codes of pashtunwali had invited the warring parties to the country, this ‘jihad’ was supported by not only Pakistan, KSA and the US but also by the so called democratic doves sitting in the Afghan parliament right now. These people believed in the same goals as the other parties of the time. Now they act as if they’ve just woken up from a cryo sleep to the realization of how inhumane and scary the Pakistani state is. You can label the Pakistani army as hawkish all you want but realpolitik dictated its support for the Taliban in the 1970s and 80s. Had India been Afghanistan’s neighbor it would’ve done the same. The Afghan state since time immemorial has been a gauntlet of warring factions vying for power by any means necessary. These very people who blame Pakistan for allegedly supporting the instability in Afghanistan forget the mediatory role that Pakistan has always tried to play in the Afghan conflict. Why is Ghani made out to be such an innocent baby face in this paragraph you’ve written? Was he not supported by Pakistan during his election campaign for the creation of a stable government? As soon as he assumed power his sights were set on creating political confusion, rather then initiating steps for stabilizing the security situation of Afghanistan. Why do people forget that when Hamid Karzai was in power his government was involved in the highest levels of corruption in cooperation with the Taliban where they squandered all the aid that was flowing in for them and only focused on filling their own pockets. The Afghan army which was suited with the best weapons and technology would desert as soon as they would realize that they couldn’t fill their pockets anymore and would rejoin the Taliban forces. When Pakistan tried to restart negotiations with the Taliban in July last year, in favor of creating a political settlement for Afghans, they decided to back out. The Afghans refuse to accept the International border that runs between their country and Pakistan, launch frequent artillery attacks across the border and protest at the Pakistani governments attempts at instigating border management systems. Their argument of Pakistan providing safe havens to militant groups is nullified when Pakistan takes the lead in trying to institute border controls which in essence benefit both countries in terms of stopping cross border terrorism and smuggling. This apathy to border management is the real issue that should be discussed. And even if the Pakistani Army has the power to bring the Taliban on the negotiating table then what is wrong with that? Should they turn a blind eye to the reality of the shithole of a place that is located in their north west (aka FATA)? Where tribal elders take pride in killing and flaunting weapons and have no respect for the writ of the Pakistani state? They’ve had to adapt and they did. And Ghani can run his mouth all he wants, people who know the reality of Afghanistan know that he is not a popular leader, only pandering to the bias of the CIA and others who want to punish Pakistan for not conforming to their interpretations of what is the solution to the war. The failed US campaign in Afghanistan, after 14 years of stalemate has refused to accept the very nature of the conflict. The Pakistani state has suffered dearly at the hands of these Taliban, who routinely attack soft targets (schools, hospitals, churches), and the state is gearing up for the 2nd anniversary of the most brutal of their attacks on 16th December, when they attacked a school in Peshawar. To allege that they (the Pakistani’s) would still support these elements is a gross mis-calculation.

Dasht e Tanhai

SO its been a while since ive posted anything on this blog. Ill try to make a comeback to blogging by posting one of my favorite Urdu ghazals. The poem is titled ‘Dasht e Tanhai’, and it is by the most iconic Urdu poet of Pakistan, Faiz Ahmed Faiz.

Faiz was a man whose love for his country and people cost him his freedom. The poem was written during one of his tenures under incarceration, and conveys his longing for the times gone by, times when public opinion and freedom of expression weren’t met with oppression and subjugation.

The poem is historic and has been reproduced in various forms over the years, forever maintaining its ominous message and relevance.

Dasht-e-tanhaai mein, ai jaan-e-jahaan larzaan hai
Teri awaaz ke saaye, tere honthon ke saraab
In the desert of my solitude, O love of my life, quiver
The shadows of your voice, the mirage of your lips

Dasht-e-tanhaai mein
doori ke khas-o-khaak talay
Khil rahe hain tere pehloo ke saman aur gulaab
In the desert of my solitude
Beneath the dust and ashes of distance
Bloom the jasmines and roses of your proximity


Uth rahi hai kahin qurbat se teri saans ke aanch
Apni kushboo mein sulagti hui, madhdham madhdham
From somewhere very close, rises the warmth of your breath
Smoldering in its own aroma, slowly, bit by bit

Door ufaq paar chamakti hui, qatraa qatraa
Gir rahi hai tere dildaar nazar ki shabnam
Glistens, far away, across the horizon, drop by drop
the falling dew of your beguiling glance

Kis qadar pyaar se ai jaan-e-jahaan rakhkha hai
Dil ke rukhsaar pe is waqt teri yaad ne haath
With such tenderness, O love of my life
On the cheek of my heart, has your memory placed its hand now

Yoon gumaan hotaa hai, garche hai abhi subhaa-e-firaaq
Dhal gayaa hijr kaa din, aa bhi gayi vasl ke raat
It looks as if, though its still the dawn of adieu
the sun of separation has set, and the night of union has arrived.

A ‘Terrorized’ State of Terror?

A ‘Terrorized’ State of Terror?

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Brandishing latest assault rifles, and dressed from head to toe in black camouflage uniforms and gear – the ‘Shock Troops’ of ISIS are the representation of an elite new contingent of the terrorist organization. The Shock Troops have recently been seen in ISIS’s propaganda videos, epitomizing the sinister nature of the self – proclaimed ‘Islamic State’. Resembling a SWAT Team, these soldiers are some of most elite and brutal members of the terror group, and surprisingly comprise of not just local and regional militia, but also foreign fighters, including people from the U.S and the U.K. Their role in the activities of the group is quintessential, and their tactics seems to have been drawn up after studying some of the fiercest fighting forces the world has ever seen.

The videos of these Shock Troops follow a pattern of a provocative Propaganda campaign. The situation in the Middle East seems to be worsening by the second, with a looming humanitarian catastrophe just waiting to unfold as a result of the destruction caused by the so called Islamic State. But the recent involvement of Russia in the mix has had a significant impact on the conflict, and seems to have stalled the steady advance of ISIS.

But let’s discuss the fearsome ISIS Shock Troops first. The elite contingent is popularly known as the ‘Inghemasiyoun’, which is an Arabic word, in literal terms meaning ‘those who submerge themselves’. The title is befitting, to say the least, as it does justice to their cause of leaving no stones unturned in accomplishing their objectives. Their tactics include the use of explosive chemical devices against civilians, chopping off the heads of prisoners, the use of dead bodies as human shields and ‘suicide’ when faced with adverse circumstances. The Inghemasiyoun’s suicide tactic seems to have been inspired by the famed Japanese Kamikaze pilots of World War 2, who would smash their planes into the sides of Allied warships when crashing or out of ammunition.  The brutality of these tactics would instil fear in the hearts of the Allied soldiers, if not stop their advances altogether. ISIS seems to be employing those same brutal methods in the deserts of Iraq and Syria with the help of the Inghemasiyoun.

Surprisingly, a majority of the people that sign up to become a part of the Inghemasiyoun are foreign fighters, mostly belonging to the US, the UK and other western countries. The appeal that ISIS enjoys within these developed countries is nothing less than phenomenal. One aspect that distinguishes ISIS from other terrorist organizations is their use of modern means of communication, and their massive presence on Social Media is what gives them the edge over others.

Another aspect which needs to paid attention to is the fact that over 70% of Inghemasiyoun recruits have been teenagers. As startling as that may sound, the reasons behind this trend are hardly settling. Most of the teenagers who decide to join the terror group have had to deal with unemployment issues in their home countries, in some cases a lack of purpose, and a plethora of other psychological difficulties. Many of these kids become resentful of their families and society, and thus develop suicidal tendencies. They are an easy target for the group’s manipulative propaganda machines, which capitalizes on their insecurities and promises them a ‘purpose’ to work towards. A former CIA Agent, Patrick Skinner is quoted to have said: ‘People go to ISIS to die, and ISIS is always happy to oblige’. The propaganda machines are well aware of the abundance of prospective recruits available at their disposal, and thus employ all kinds of strategies in trying to recruit them.

The no holds barred approach that the Inghemasiyoun employ has been lauded as a key component to the terror group’s offensive, and these shock troops have been credited with some of the biggest ISIS victories in Iraq and Syria. ISIS wants the world to know, with the help of these images of the Shock Troops and others like them, that they are dealing with a legitimate cause, with all kinds of offensive capabilities at its disposal. It projects itself as a formidable entity, a state with a conventional army and separate units, rather than a regular militant group. Such images have been used as trade-off’s in the past as well to the advantage of the terror group, which would depict massive weapon arsenals, torture of civilians and also beheadings of captives. But while the latest images of the Shock Troops have the Iraqi, Syrian and other western observers concerned, many believe that this show of force is part of a propaganda campaign aimed at diverting world attention from the losses that ISIS has suffered over the course of the past year.

The images come at a time when ISIS has suffered major setbacks on the battlefield, credited to a joint U.S and Turkish aerial offensive in late July and September, and also to the recent Russian aerial and cruise missile strikes that began a few weeks ago. The terror organization has been under significant pressure as a result of these offensives and is believed to be shell shocked at the sudden involvement of Russia in the foray. The group reportedly has had to deal with ‘mass defections’ as a result of the changing scenario, with many field commanders abandoning their positions.  The commanders would allegedly promise multiple wives and an adventurous lifestyle to the new recruits, but would soon face backlash and rebellions upon failure to deliver. A general lack of coordination, wide-spread corruption and unfulfilled promises, aided by the recent aerial offensives, has further hampered the group’s momentum, and are leading to desertions on the battlefield.

The involvement of Russian military elements is further exasperating the situation for the self-professed Islamic State.  Russia has moved an estimated 28 fighter aircraft to a government airbase in Syria and is launching precision airstrikes aimed at destroying the command and control centres of the terror organization. One could argue that due to consistent U.S diplomatic and military failures in the region, and due to their untethered support to so – called rebellious elements within Syria, Putin felt it was high-time to protect his strategic interests in the region, and that his sudden interest in launching an aerial campaign within Syria is aimed at safeguarding the Syrian Government and their allies. It was alleged that the air strikes conducted by Russia were actually aimed at anti-Syrian government rebels, and not at ISIS strongholds. These allegations seem to strengthen Russia’s geopolitical narrative of selfish gains, whereby it looks to re-impose Soviet era ideals of expansionism and world domination. No substantial proof has been presented yet in support of these allegations, however.

Whether or not the Russians will engage ISIS on the ground is yet to be seen, but reports from within Syria speculate a joint Iranian – Hezbollah ground offensive against the group in the wake of the air strikes. Iran undoubtedly has a huge stake in the region, and would benefit greatly by the stabilizing role currently being played by Russia. The Iranian’s have increasingly found themselves landlocked in a region filled with deep sectarian sentiments, and would sooner or later have had to deal with the conflicts in its neighbourhood spilling into its own territory. Therefore, it would look forward to the strengthening of the pro-Russian government of Bashar al Assad, and would appreciate the annihilation of ISIS as well. Now, as a result of Russia’s direct involvement, Iran can finally provide open support to the Syrian government in restoring its authority over the country. Not to forget the much under-appreciated Kurdish Peshmerga, which is already locked in heated battles with ISIS in the north of Syria and had reportedly sent ISIS fighters in a hasty retreat towards the hills surrounding Kirkuk earlier last month. The Kurds would also want to defeat ISIS, mostly because it would strengthen their narrative of being a nation and would highlight their plea for a Kurdish state.

Another aspect which needs to be paid attention to is the recent takeover of the city of Kunduz in Afghanistan by the Taliban, the biggest Taliban victory since the American intervention in 2001 which drove them out. The Taliban have resurfaced as a result of the American troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, and are already in control of major parts of the country. The U.S President Barak Obama claimed to have ended the war in Afghanistan in a recent Senate committee dinner; the Taliban would beg to differ. Almost surprisingly, the Taliban have expressed deep anti-ISIS sentiments, at one point calling them un-Islamic and later denouncing their barbarous practices. It is clear that Taliban would look to disrupt the advance of ISIS in Afghanistan. Now as the Taliban begin to regain lost ground, one could argue that ISIS has yet another enemy to its east to deal with, one which is not only popular but also enjoys immunity from sectarian divides.

There are a plethora of battles that now confront ISIS, and they seem to be taking their toll.

Dr. Afzal Ashraf, a researcher and Counter-Terrorism analyst at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) was recently quoted to having said that the Russian airstrikes combined with the staggering advances of the Kurds have obliterated the group, both in terms of equipment and morale. He believes that if a coordinated offensive is launched within the next few days against the so called Caliphate, it would ‘disintegrate within a matter of hours’. This would come as a welcome relief for the West as well as for Syria’s neighbours, which have had to deal with the problem of the conflict spilling over into their countries. It would also signal a respite for European governments having to deal with the influx of thousands of Syrian refugees fleeing the conflict. The refugee inflow would see a significant drop in case the terror group is decisively defeated in a battle.

Most important to note is the fact that the Russian intervention comes at the opportune time of the 70th session of the UN General Assembly. By striking ISIS in the heartland of its long-term ally, the Russian’s intend to substantiate their President’s claims of being a balancing factor in the Middle East quagmire, and looks to send a message to the rest of the world that Russia intends to counter all kinds of terrorism. Russia has stepped up to the task in order to fill the vacuum created by the ineffectiveness of western powers in fighting ISIS,  and they have done so with the consent of the world powers, something until recently, no one thought would be possible. One could argue that by the application of its surgical interventionist strategy, Russia has won not only in the geo-politics of Europe (in the case of its annexation of Crimea), but now also in the Middle East. Currently, western influence is non-existent in Crimea and is now crumbling in Syria as well. By engaging ISIS, the Russian projection of power in the region has become a new force to be reckoned with, and has diminished the potential of the Islamic State to sabotage the crumbling state of affairs in Syria.

But how can the fearsome Islamic State suddenly appear so vulnerable? Dr. Ashraf believes that the only reason that ISIS has had such a ‘Superhero’ status since its inception was because of the way the Iraqi Army virtually collapsed when it was faced by the terror group. That too, was not due to the superior fighting capabilities of ISIS, but in fact due to the mediocre standards of the Iraqi Army. An army which fails to inspire can never succeed, especially once its General’s flee from the battlefield. The same was the case with the Iraqi Army.

Furthermore, the reluctance of the U.S and its allies to combat ISIS highlighted a sense of apprehension on their part, mostly because of the toll the Iraq and Afghanistan wars had taken on the U.S economy.  This acted only to further embolden ISIS, which viewed their averseness as nothing short of pure weakness. The inability of the West to appropriately engage ISIS and other such diplomatic failures lead to the belief that the terror group was far stronger than it actually is.

But this change in perspectives is not only due to the recent military offensives against the group. ISIS had dealt itself a great blow by directly trying to battle the West and others in an attempt to portray its strength and legitimize its proclaimed statehood. By doing so, it had single-handedly achieved what the international community had been unable to do for the past 3 years: galvanise world opinion against the group. Not long ago, the West viewed Bashar Al Assad’s government in Syria as its foremost enemy. Now however, with its recent beheading spree and Shock Troops depicted in propaganda videos, ISIS has captured the attention of the world as the sole aggressor in the conflict, and Russian engagement of the terror group is a clear indication of that fact.

Surely, if such precision attacks (as implemented by the Russians) had been carried out when ISIS was still nascent, the problem might never have exasperated to the extent it has in the last few years. The Russian offensive has been hailed as making major inroads in the effort to defeat the terror group. It is a well-known fact ISIS is neither Islamic nor a state. Apart from its alleged sponsors, any kind of sympathy from other Muslim countries therefore, is unlikely. Whether or not the world will once again succumb to ISIS propaganda machines is unknown. However, the need of the hour is a coordinated, unified offensive aimed at destroying and disarming the group once and for all.

Has the time finally come for the world to rid itself of this poison?
Will peace finally return to Iraq and Syria?
Has the ground finally shrunk under the feet of the self-professed Islamic State?