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Friday, 6 February 2009

Interview: Amra Tareen of allvoices

By Kamla Bhatt                                        Muslim India

Amra Tareen heads Allvoices, a San Francisco-based citizen media startup. After months of being their beta version, AllVoices released its brand new website a few days ago. Allvoices raised $4.5 million in venture capital funding last year.

Prior to founding Allvoices, Amra was with Sevin Rosen, a venture capital firm and before that she worked with various telecom companies in Silicon Valley.

KB: What does Allvoices do?

AT: Allvoices is a citizen media Web site that is the first to weave together traditional and new media sources to create a forum for sharing news, videos, images and blogs. We aggregate, contextualize and categorize a broad base of breaking stories and individual perspectives through unedited points of view. Using a set of proprietary algorithms, Allvoices has created a technology platform that utilizes more than 3,500 mainstream feeds and online sources of news to provide relevancy and context for user generated news.

KB: How did you come up with the idea for Allvoices?

AT: Allvoices spawned from a trip I took last year to Pakistan where I witnessed the devastation of the 2005 earthquake. I felt her own pictures and experiences were not enough to make a difference back home and decided to create a platform where individuals, no matter where they were in the world, could report on what they know and see first hand, and share their experiences via photos, video and stories. Having lived in three different countries (Pakistan, Australia and America), I used my personal experiences and education to start Allvoices with the idea that in order to solve the world’s problems, we need to appreciate different perspectives.

KB: How are you leveraging technology to gather and distribute news?

AT: With a unique set of algorithms, Allvoices has created a technology platform that searches more than 3,500 mainstream and online sources of news to provide relevancy and context for user generated news. Story rank on the home page is determined by the number and diversity of other sources citing the particular news item and the number of community comments generated by the story.

KB: Right now your service is offered in English. Do you plan to expand that to include different languages like Urdu, Hindi, Mandarin, Arabic or Persian?

AT: Yes, the Allvoices content will soon be available in a number of languages.

KB: You mentioned that there will be no human intervention in the collating and distributing of news. Do you think that could change?

AT: No. One of the core concepts in creating Allvoices was for it to remain unedited by humans and we intend to uphold that mission.

KB: What business will Allvoices disrupt?

AT: Like any social media or online news source, Allvoices will have an effect on the traditional media industry such as newspapers, broadcast, etc. However, our goal is not to continue the diminishment of these industries, but to build them out and merge traditional with digital. We want to revolutionize the media industry by bringing everyone together to share content, create discussion and fill the gaps in global and local news.

KB: How are you different from other players like Associated Content, NowPublic, GlobalVoices or other mainstream media that have citizen news embedded in their programs?

AT: Allvoices distinguishes itself as an unedited forum that offers multiple individual perspectives on a local and global news event. For example, GlobalVoices is a blogger platform for bloggers that get paid to report and all submitted material is summarized and edited by a team of regional editors. Allvoices, on the other hand, provides an unedited platform for anyone wishing to report a story and we validate user generated contributions with professional media sources to create context and relevance. Professional news sources package a story well, but Allvoices gives readers access to broader individual perspectives. Allvoices is revolutionizing media by bringing together traditional and new media. It offers unedited news and community perspective validated through multiple professional news sources and no other Web site is doing that right now.

KB: Which country do you think is able to harness the power of citizen media? I am thinking UK since the news media out there seems to be doing a great job of including citizen media.

AT: Agreed that the UK will be able to harness the power of citizen media, but even more so in countries where there is no freedom of expression. In these countries, there are many people who want to get their voices out, but they have no platform for this. There is a strong need for citizen media, and we have seen that getting voices out into the public can change the course of a country.

KB: You mentioned at the core of Allvoices is this notion of fostering Democracy and ironically you also got the idea when you were in Pakistan about a year ago. How do you think Allvoices will work towards fostering Democracy in Pakistan or other states that do not have a democratic form of government?

AT: We are providing a global platform where everyone has the right to be heard. Making the flow of information easier and showing people’s real emotions can really help to connect the world and have a huge effect on democracy.

KB: How are you prepared to handle a situation where a particular government may block Allvoices during a time of crisis? In the past there have been instances where governments have blocked certain online sites within their country?

AT: When there is a will, there is a way. If people want change badly enough, they will find out a way to make it happen. We witnessed this in Pakistan, where people went around the system and found ways to get content out of the country by passing it to friends and family and having them upload, etc… The government can block the Internet, but again, when there is a will, there is a way and people will find those ways to get their compelling content out to the rest of the world.

KB: What is your revenue model?

AT: At this time, we are operating under venture funding that we received last year from VantagePoint Venture Partners. However, like most Web sites, we plan to move toward an ad-supported model in the near future.

KB: What features or developments can we expect to see from AllVoices for 2008?

AT: If you want to light up the world, you can only do that if you have global reach through phones. Allvoices is the only company that has the infrastructure to report from anywhere in the world, because of its mobile capabilities.

Source: Kamla Bhatt Blog


Sunday, 1 February 2009

End the US romance before it destroys us

By Dr. Shireen M Mazari*
                                   Muslim India

Two drones fired on the same day soon after Obama’s swearing in have made the new US administration’s intentions towards Pakistan clear – there will be no respect for international law in this part of the world. This is the historic duality (recall the Monroe Doctrine) that prevails in the very foundations of the much-touted US values! So it is time for our leaders to accept certain ground realities and shape their policies accordingly.

Accept that Obama has nothing positive to offer Pakistan. On the contrary, following the drone attacks, he moved to name Holbrooke as Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to cut off a major chunk of money owed to Pakistan for military services rendered. And what has our reaction been? Without looking at Holbrooke’s record, we have welcomed his appointment, and in response to the cutting of money owed, we have declared that we will appeal to them again–as if this is part of a bargain hunt or a sale! Is this what a nuclear sovereign state does?

For heaven’s sake, our military and civilian ruling elites need to salvage some national dignity. It is time the military stopped acting as a mercenary force for the Americans. The price we are paying is simply too high–not simply in money terms but in social and political terms. This is as good an opportunity as any to reclaim our bases and applaud the US in gaining a new route for NATO supplies (though that is not yet a done deal), which we should stop immediately. This supply route has been a major factor for violence and instability in Peshawar and beyond.

It is not simply the cutting off of payments that is a pointer to the new Obama-Biden policies. Biden, much touted as Pakistan’s friend, has begun sounding a more strident tone vis-a-vis this hapless country with its bunch of servile leaders. This new aggressive tone on Pakistan was all too apparent in his Jan 25 interview on CBS where he reiterated Obama’s election campaign viewpoint that if there is an actionable target in Pakistan the US would send its troops there.

And to clarify any doubts about what the US thinks of Pakistan’s sovereignty, he refused to answer the question whether the US would notify the Pakistan before a potential US troops’ cross-border movement. He also predicted increasing US casualties, which clearly means the US intends to up the military ante and in all probability send troops across the international Pakistani-Afghan border.

As for Holbrooke, it would do well to recall that the much-touted Dayton Accord was only put in place when NATO had replaced the UN in Bosnia, and the Bosnians had been militarily abused so much by the Serbs that they eventually accepted a truncated Bosnian state. I met Holbrooke at a conference in Kazakhstan a few years earlier alongside the arch-neocon Richard Perle. And I was surprised by the similarity of views they both held towards the Muslim world in general, and towards what the US was doing post-9/11 in Afghanistan. Also, if we remember that Holbrooke was Hillary Clinton’s senior policy advisor, we will understand where he is really coming from. After all, Hillary Clinton supported the Iraq war till it became unpopular in the US!

Again, it was Holbrooke, as the US ambassador at the UN, who arranged for Israel to be admitted into a regional grouping of Western European and other nations–to allow Israel access to membership of crucial committees and other privileges. Interestingly, Scott Ritter, a UN Weapons’ Inspector in Iraq (1991-1998), has recalled how, in a television discussion in October 2001, Holbrooke had rejected any form of diplomacy in Afghanistan and had favoured only military action. Hardly the sort of man who will be open to the sensitivities of Pakistan!

The hard reality is that the US is going to become an increasingly hostile state towards Pakistan under Obama. So it is time to alter course. We need to renegotiate the entire cooperation with this new US administration, keeping in mind the now-established Indo-US strategic partnership. We need to find our own means of countering the drone attacks–rather than helplessly waiting for US goodwill.

Our Air Chief had declared we have the technical capability, and we certainly do, including our cruise missiles. So use them to attack the drones in defence of our territory. If the military is too timid for this defence of our national soil, then at least stop the mercenary intelligence sharing, close the clandestine CIA stations and troop actions in FATA and our western border. Reclaim the bases and end access to NATO supplies. All these moves can be done incrementally and we will realise the limitations of US ability to move against us without damaging their own cause. The most painless beginning can be made by recalling our ambassador to the US “for consultations.”

Meanwhile, it would be more relevant if we began focusing on national policies for Swat and FATA. The military needs to be withdrawn from both these areas and paramilitary forces under civilian command need to be put in place within an overarching political framework. We need to differentiate between Swat and FATA also, since the ground realities are different in the two areas. It would appear that in FATA the locals have coalesced with the militants and “foreigners” as a result of the erroneous policies of the Pakistani state, whose military is seen as fighting America’s war, and also as a result of the drone attacks, which have increased the operational space and recruitment of the militants.

In Swat Fazlullah initially got support from the local people. However, with the bloodshed and attacks on schools and the horrific killings and mutilation of bodies, the present relationship between the locals and the militants in Swat is one based primarily on fear and on a distrust of the military. They see the military as having failed to protect them against a Taliban force that primarily comprises outsiders, local criminals, and the unemployed and war-affected–that is, those who have lost family as a result of military action.

Unless we seek truthful answers to some crucial questions, we will not be able to restore peace in Swat. Where is the funding for the militants coming from since it runs into tens of millions? Reports from people on the spot put the daily payment for Taliban fighters anywhere between Rs300 and Rs1,000. Add to this cost of food, arms and ammunition and transport. And if we accept that there are between 5,000-10,000 Taliban, this is a costly enterprise even if we calculate on averages. Secondly, where are the weapons coming from, along which supply routes? Why, when the media can access the militant leaders, the intelligence and military seemingly cannot act against them? Is it inability or unwillingness and, if it is the latter, then the crux question: Why?

The total failure of the state to protect its citizens and assert its writ has led to the present despicable situation where the most vulnerable are being targeted: women and girls in particular, and children in general. While the militants are blowing up schools, the military is using schools as their trenches, and thereby as targets for the militants. If one looks at the casualty figures one will see who is really suffering, who is losing and who is winning. Approximately 12,000 civilians have so far been killed in Swat–again, according to the local viewpoint, mainly by firing from security forces. Around 200 security forces (FC, army and police) have been killed while approximately 75 Taliban have been killed.

The biggest losers are the civilians caught in the middle and the military, which is not only suffering high casualty rates but is being undermined in the long term by a growing chasm between itself and the nation’s civil society. This is what Pakistan’s enemies want; why are we seeking the same?

Tailpiece: The hypocrisy of the BBC is truly legendary. They refuse to broadcast a humanitarian appeal for Gaza but BBC World was broadcasting ads for the Indian army immediately before and after their news services during the Kargil crisis.

* The writer is a defence analyst based in Pakistan


Will Obama Policies Bring Real Change For The Muslim World?

Abdus Sattar Ghazali                                                                           Muslim India

Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Executive Editor of the online magazine American Muslim Perspective: email:

In a bid to repair relations with the Muslim world that were damaged under the Bush administration, President Barack Obama told the Muslim world Tuesday that “Americans are not your enemy.”

In an interview with Al-Arabiya TV channel, Obama said: “My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy — we sometimes make mistakes — we have not been perfect.”

He spoke about Afghanistan, Iran, the Middle East, Al-Qaeda and Guantanamo Bay Prison. On the Middle East conflict Obama said he believes “that the moment is ripe for both sides to realize that the path that they are on is one that is not going to result in prosperity and security for their people. “Instead, it’s time to return to the negotiating table.”

“If we start the steady progress on these issues, I’m absolutely confident that the United States, working in tandem with the European Union, with Russia, with all the Arab states in the region ... can make significant progress,” Obama told the Al-Arabiya TV network.

The interview is part of the President’s broader outreach to the Muslim world, which includes a promise to make a major address from the capital of a Muslim nation.

There has been mixed reaction to Obama’s interview. While many in the Muslim and Arab world welcomed the interview but some looked at it differently by pointing out that his interview was rich in rhetoric but poor in content. He did not offer any change of policy and failed to mention the Israeli carnage of Gaza while reaffirming America’s support to Israel: “I will continue to believe that Israel's security is paramount.”

This says a lot to the Arabs and Muslims who have fresh memories of the US-backed 22-day Israeli carnage in Gaza that massacred about 1400 Palestinians, of whom 412 were children and a hundred were women. More than 5,000 were injured, 1,855 of whom were children and 795 were women, according to UN sources.

While the tone appears to have changed quite substantially, Obama has yet to make clear that policy changes on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will follow, according to Jim Lobe of IPS.

A reader of Lebanon’s The Star newspaper described the interview a window dressing: “The fact that Obama gave this interview to the house media of Saudi sheiks and the Egyptian dictator (some "moderates"!) shows that he is insincere. The Arab masses watch and believe in Al Jazeera. By choosing to grant the interview to this State Department allied media company he gave an unmistakable message; he talks only to the discredited Arab elites.”

"We have to lower our expectations that he has a magic wand to solve all our problems," Reuters quoted a Mideast analyst, Mustafa Alani, as saying. "The Arab attitude is basically optimistic that Obama will turn a new page and his inaugural speech reached out to Muslims but the devil is in the detail."

"I heard Obama, his tone is different, but I can't believe that any U.S. president can be different when it comes to the Arab-Israeli conflict," Haytham Rafati, in Ramallah told the Associated Press. "I will believe Obama is different in his approach to the Islamic world only when I see him pulling out his forces from Iraq and pressing Israel on the Palestinian rights."

At least 100 comments were listed on Al-Arabiya TV website about Obama’s interview, most of them welcoming his new approach to the Muslim World but many did not see anything new. The following comment perhaps represents the sentiments of those who do not see any change in Obama’s policies:

“So now Obama expected us to believe that the us is not the enemy and thus we should forget about the millions of dead souls and years of death and destruction at the hands of the Americans directly or through proxy. He was saying: Muslims are not the enemy, it is only Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas and Iran that we are trying to "isolate". My response to him: America is not the enemy, it is only the US Military, the CIA and their proxies that we are trying to get them off our backs. The most ridiculous item in his speech is that while he was trying to please Israel in every step of the speech, he adds insults to injuries by trying the divide Muslims and splitting hair and telling us whom we should support and whom we should not. To me it is the same old sh*t.”

Obama’s Al-Arabiya TV interview came five days after he singed an executive order to close down the Guantanamo Bay prison within a year. That order was one of three the President signed on that day. Another formally bans torture by U.S. interrogators, and the third establishes an interagency task force to set policies for the “apprehension, detention, trial, transfer or release of detainees.” These orders were signed on the first day of his office (January 22) when he also called President of the Palestinian National Authority Mahmoud 'Abbas first, followed by calls to Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, President Mubarak of Egypt, and Jordan's King Abdullah.

On his second day (January 23), the President named former Senator George Mitchell, an Arab American and the architect of the peace accord in Northern Ireland, as special envoy to the Middle East. He also appointed Richard Holbrooke as special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

George Mitchell

Interestingly, whilst announcing George Mitchell's appointment, the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did not even mention Palestine and stated that Mr. Mitchell would undertake to negotiate between Israel and the Arab States. It was only after Mr. Mitchell clearly mentioned Palestine as being the key to the region, did Hillary refer to the matter.

Appearing with Mitchell, President Obama made his first substantive comments on the Middle East conflict since Israeli massacre of Palestinians in Gaza. He first mentioned his commitment to Israel’s security, without affirming his commitment to Palestinian security. He condemned Palestinian rocket attacks on southern Israeli towns, but didn’t criticize the US-backed Israeli bombings of densely populated Gaza.

In carefully crafted words, President Obama said: “Let me be clear: America is committed to Israel's security. And we will always support Israel's right to defend itself against legitimate threats.” The President concluded his remarks with an endorsement of the Arab peace initiative saying: “the Arab peace initiative contains constructive elements that could help advance these efforts. Now is the time for Arab states to act on the initiative's promise by supporting the Palestinian government under President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad, taking steps towards normalizing relations with Israel, and by standing up to extremism that threatens us all.”

Obama's remarks warrant examination. To borrow Noam Chomsky: “So the thrust of his remarks, is that Israel has a right to defend itself by force, even though it has peaceful means to defend itself, that the Arabs must—states must move constructively to normalize relations with Israel, very carefully omitting the main part of their proposal was that Israel, which is Israel and the United States, should join the overwhelming international consensus for a two-state settlement. That’s missing.”

In short, both President Obama and Hillary Clinton, to whom Mitchell will report, have made clear their support for the 22-day Israeli onslaught on Gaza.


Deliberate Acquiescence to Israeli Terrorism

By Dr. Shireen M Mazari*                                                     Muslim India

Even as we in Pakistan are confronted with multiple developments and issues, the slaughter of innocent Palestinians in Gaza at the hands of a murderous Zionist state has focused our emotions of anger, helplessness and frustration alongside similarly displayed emotions across the civil societies of the world. For the Muslims in particular the attempted genocide of the Gaza populace is yet another reminder of the self-imposed helplessness of their rulers. The fact that many Muslim states continue to maintain their diplomatic relations with Israel when a non-Muslim leader in Latin America, Hugo Chavez, has had the moral courage to break these ties, should be a source of shame for Muslim ruling elites everywhere.

What has also come to the fore once again is the total acceptance of this Israeli murderous rampage by the USA. Obama’s silence on the issue speaks louder than any hypocritical statements he made earlier on human rights and anti-terrorism. Clearly, Israel’s state terrorism is as acceptable to him as it is to all other US politicians and the general US public. And the mutterings of the British leadership have once again shown the subservient role they are content to play to the US. Surely at this time it is indecent of Miliband to visit us and talk about extremism and terrorism – when there is a large-scale commission of unabated Israeli terrorism taking place in Gaza. Frankly, if the Zardari government had a modicum of self-respect they would refuse to receive Miliband at this time when we are mourning the daily murders of innocent Palestinians. But then, if we can continue awarding high national awards to the supporters of the murderers of Palestinians, like Biden, how will we have the gumption to stand up to Miliband’s brand of neoimperialism?

But can nothing really be done against these new Israeli killings? Is the Muslim World really so helpless in the face of this brazen display of Israeli state terrorism? No, except in a psychological sense of being unable to stand up to the US. So, what could be done if the will was there within the Muslim ruling elites? There is always the option of the oil-rich states finally taking their assets out of Western institutions, but that does not seem a viable option given the self-interest of the rulers of these states. Then there is another option through the OIC collectivity – that is a military option whereby the high tech military hardware accumulated by many rich Muslim states can be used in defence of the Palestinians. After all, what is to stop the OIC from sending a multinational force to combat this Israeli aggression similar to the Allies effort against Nazism? After all, the OIC itself was formed as a response to the aggression of the Zionist state against Al Quds in the first place so it would be within its international legal mandate.

If the Muslim World is unable to pick up the moral courage to do any of the above, then there is also a way now provided for, ironically, by the UN Security Council itself through Resolution 1373 passed in the aftermath of 9/11. This resolution begins by condemning the acts of terror of 9/11, but then goes beyond to deal with the issue of terrorism in general. The resolution gives its context as the binding chapter VII of the UN charter and the operative paras are 1 and 2 of the resolution. Para I, demands that states “Criminalize the wilful provision or collection, by any means, directly or indirectly, of funds by their nationals or in their territories with the intention that the funds should be used … in order to carry out terrorist acts.” Para 2 demands that states “Refrain from providing any form of support, active or passive, to entities or persons involved in terrorist acts … and eliminating the supply of weapons.” Nowhere does this Resolution declare that it is only with reference to non-state actors and the reference to entities can also be applied to states. Clearly, under these paras the US stands guilty of abetting terrorism because it has allowed Jewish groups in the US to raise money for Israel and has itself supplied weapons to Israel. Now, if Pakistan is expected to deal with non-state actors or face international consequences under this resolution, surely OIC states can also hold the US to these provisions? Or we should simply declare this UNSC resolution as having been breached by a permanent member the US, and thus having lost its credibility as so many other UNSC resolutions.

As for the issue of state terrorism – just like any form of terrorism, it has also been defined to some extent in UNSC Resolution 1566 (2004), para 3, which states, inter alia, that “criminal acts, including against civilians, committed with the intent to cause death or serious bodily injury … with the purpose to provoke a state of terror in the general public or in a group of persons or particular persons, intimidate a population …are under no circumstances justifiable by considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or other similar nature….” Surely this describes Israel’s massacre of the Palestinians perfectly and therefore Israel stands guilty of state terrorism and should be subject to the same penalties that other perpetrators of terrorism are to be subjected to.

So why is no Muslim state moving against Israel within the wide scope now offered by the anti-terrorism UNSC resolutions. Also, there is the whole gamut of international humanitarian law codified in the four Geneva conventions and its two additional protocols, which Israel has breached with this aggression against the whole Palestinian population of Gaza – with even UN schools and medical assistance teams being targeted. So that is another tool available for dealing with the latest Zionist aggression. And, finally, it may be worth reminding our psychologically paralysed Muslim leaders that the International Criminal Court had put out a warrant for the Sudanese president despite the fact that Sudan is not a party to the ICC, citing Darfur and other incidents involving human rights abuse and killings in Sudan. Surely the attempted genocide of the Gaza Palestinians is a crime against humanity; so why has the ICC failed to issue warrants against the Israeli leadership? Or are there two standards: One for Muslims and another for non-Muslims?

It is indeed a supreme irony that those that Hitler massacred have turned to do the same to the Palestinians! In fact there are haunting similarities between the Nazis and the Zionist state. After all, if the Zionists can refer to the UN as a source of their state’s legitimacy – although nowhere did the UN seek to throw out Palestinians from their lands and have them periodically butchered at the hands of the Zionist entity – Hitler had even a greater claim to political legitimacy since he had elections to cite as his claim to power! And just as the Jewish holocaust (unless we accept revisionist history that it never took place) was part of his agenda, clearly Israel’s agenda is the Palestinian holocaust, albeit in stages. Just as British prime minister Chamberlain followed a policy of appeasement towards the Nazis till it was too late, so the US and its allies have been following a similar appeasement policy towards Israel as it becomes ever more ruthless in its violence against the Palestinians.

From the continuous killings of Palestinians by the Israeli military to Sharon’s acts of terrorism unleashed on the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps to the present state terrorism in Gaza, the killings have become more audacious and we now know that Israel is using chemical weapons (white phosphorous bombs) as well as other inhumane weapons as described by two Norwegian doctors against which there are international conventions. Yet the US, including its president-elect Obama, continues to allow this holocaust of the Palestinians.

And Muslim governments continue to maintain a deadly silence – beyond a few whimperings and mutterings – even as their people rise in protest. Is it any wonder the Muslim street is becoming increasingly radicalised? They said the League of Nations was too discredited to provide an international response to Hitler, but the UNSC is now armed with powerful anti-terror resolutions and mechanisms for their implementation. So why is the international community mute on Israel? Or are these resolutions only for Muslims while the rest of the world is free to commit all manner of acts of terror unhindered?

* The writer is a defence analyst.


A Pulverised Muslim Leadership

By Dr. Shireen M Mazari*                                                         Muslim India

Once again the tragic pulverization of the Muslim leadership has revealed itself in the mumblings and fumblings that have followed the launch of the new Israeli military campaign to annihilate the Palestinian people that dare to seek an end to Israel’s illegal occupation of their lands – or even those that simply dare to exist with a modicum of self-respecting defiance of Israeli fascism. Over 400 people killed so far by Israel’s military machine, so carefully aided and abetted by the US and its European allies. So where are the voices of the Muslim world? Where is some action to show that they will not allow Israel to commit genocide of the Palestinians? A few muted declaratory protests are all that have come so far. Is the Muslim World really so helpless in the face of Israeli abuse backed by the US?

No. The helplessness of the Muslim world is a myth. The reality is that the Muslim leadership – primarily Arab in the context of Palestine – has chosen to be pulverized into submission to the US and its more belligerent western allies. After all, despite numerous incidents of aggression and abuse at the hands of the US and Israel, the Arab leadership – barring some exceptions like Syria – continues to rely financially and militarily on the US and Europe. Their weapon systems are from these parts and their financial assets continue to lie primarily in the banking systems of the west. Both these facts could, of course, be used as a source of pressure also but that would require a strong and defiant Arab leadership and that does not seem to be on the horizon. Yet just imagine what a withdrawal of financial assets from the west would do! And just imagine how many arms industries would feel the pinch, and maybe even go under, if the Arab states did not buy their weapon systems! And one has not even begun to see the already-demonstrated-in-the-seventies power of oil.

But none of these elements of defiance will come into play so the Israelis will have a free hand in killing Palestinians by the hundreds – unless some western states with a genuine conscience and commitment to human rights, like some of the Nordic states or Canada, move forcefully but their power is limited partly by politics and partly by their still existing guilt over the Jewish Holocaust at the hands of the European monster of Nazism. It is indeed a supreme irony that the belated rejection of this European crime is allowing states to accept attempted genocides today – be it of the Bosnian Muslims, the Palestinians or the Muslims of Gujarat.

Perhaps an even greater tragedy is that the Muslim leadership has lost its will to stand up against all this abuse. If the Arabs would have taken their resources out of the west and invest it effectively in the Muslim World, especially the poorer but more technically competent Muslim states, the global picture would have been different today. If the Arab world would have stopped hosting US armed forces, so many murderous global designs of this unilateralist imperial power would have been undermined. For those Arab states that have security fears from their neighbourhood, surely dialogue and security pacts with strong Muslim states could have been a more viable alternative. As for purchasing of western weapon systems, if they are truly needed and alternatives are not considered viable, the dependency works both ways and could be exploited by the purchaser also.

But all this is mere day dreaming or wishful thinking. Or is it? After all the uplifting example of Hezbollah’s success against Israel; the Iranian nation’s steadfastness against US bullying; and even Syria’s dignified and assertive reaction to one US bombing attack on its territory that should put a militarily much stronger Pakistan to shame. At another plane, there is the Mahatir economic miracle and political assertiveness. Again, at a time when Pakistan’s leadership continues to bow ever lower to the US, a look in the easterly direction of Malaysia would not be amiss. Of course, if we could only have learnt some lessons from our long standing Chinese friends, we would have perhaps traversed less tumultuous paths.

But today we have reduced the country into a place where the rich and influential break all rules; where their children defy any institutional standards or procedures for jobs; and where repression and power grabbing are the norms, with rulers wanting absolute power – be they in uniform or in civvies. Is it any wonder then that there is no spirit left to defend against external or internal threats to our existence? The powerful grab all and move back to their nests abroad while the rest turn in despair to prayer and the life hereafter in their pillaged state.

Coming back to the self-created helplessness of the Muslim world in the face of the incessant abuse and violence unleashed by Israel and the US, one may well ask where the UN is today. Clearly it’s Security Council has been reduced to an organization that is here to defend only the US and its allies and their agendas. That is why Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has been reduced to whimpering a protest against the latest Israeli attempt at genocide of the Palestinians in Gaza. First they starved them of all amenities including basic health, food and water and now they are moving in with military attacks while the US prevents any international condemnation through the UNSC.

But the UNSC has become a highly contentious political body for some time now – especially in the face of the demise of bipolarity. After all, look at its absurdities on the terrorism issue. While the UNSC’s Committee on Taliban and Al Qaeda is Muslim-specific, the Counter Terrorism Committee is not. Yet one has seen no efforts to put the Hindu RSS and VHP violent extremist groups on the terrorist list. Nor has any thought even been given to state terrorism that the US is perpetrating in Iraq and Pakistan; that Israel is carrying out in Palestine; and that India is continuing in Occupied Kashmir. It is no wonder then that the UN feels under siege and has to barricade itself behind concrete in countries like Pakistan despite the fact that our soldiers die for the UN in the largest numbers and we continue to pay our UN contribution which helps pay the fattened salaries of the UN personnel that seem to regard Pakistan as a hostile land! Even the windows have been bricked up. What a farce! The UN may as well leave Islamabad since at the moment it is merely adding to our already many miseries. If it distrusts the people of Pakistan so much it should also look elsewhere for Blue Berets in the future.

But which Pakistani leader will have the national dignity to stand up for Pakistan? Where is the voice of protest on these counts by affected states like Pakistan? Our official voice is too busy seeking subjugation before the US grand design. That is why when US Secretary of State Rice calls India she calls her equivalent external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee (who seems to have discovered the true spirit of Islam suddenly); but when she calls Pakistan she calls the president directly!

Yes, like so many of the resource-rich and financially powerful Muslim states, the militarily powerful and potentially resource-laden Pakistan has also been pulverized psychologically into a state with a muted and whimpering voice. Despite the military capability, our leaders are not prepared to defend their people against the daily US drone attacks, that are shrinking the space for moderation in the country (the frivolities of our leaders was so clearly laid out by Farrukh Saleem in his last column, but even that was simply one part of a much wider absurdity gripping our leaders). How are we expected to effectively raise our voice for the Palestinians then? And is it any wonder that Muslim people are being massacred with impunity today?

* The writer is a defence analyst based in Pakistan.


Saturday, 31 January 2009

Why Do Vice-Chancellors Fail At Aligarh Muslim University?

By KALEEM KAWAJA                                                                       Muslim India

Kaleem Kawaja, lives in Washington DC where he is an engineering manager at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Goddard Space Flight Center. He led the formation of the Association of Indian Muslims of America (AIM), a Non Government Organization that continues to be focused on uplifting India’s Muslim community. For the last twelve years Mr Kawaja has been in the Board of the Muslim Community Center, the largest Islamic Center in metropolitan Washington DC, where he was president for a few years and where he is a trustee now.

If we look at the tenures of Vice Chancellors (VCs) at Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) in the last couple of decades we find that most of them, even though they were distinguished and competent managers, ran into substantial problems of indiscipline, students’ strikes, violence, arson, forced shutdown of university, indifferent academic achievement, lack of pursuit of excellence and discontent in the community that AMU serves. That brings up the question as to why VCs fail at AMU.


The basic expectation from a VC at AMU is that he solve the problems of the students and teachers, improve the quality of education, quality of research, quality of relationship between teachers and students, campus discipline, and ensure that most of the grants and funds allocated to AMU by the Government and Foundations are actually expended within the stipulated time period and for the intended purpose. Today AMU has a vast and sprawling campus, a variety of professional colleges, teaching faculties and departments, with about 26,000 students living in hostels at the campus. Overcrowding in hostels and classrooms and competition among students and teachers for the scarce resources is a gnawing reality. A variety of factors prevent AMU from achieving pursuit of academic excellence and be ranked among the nation’s top universities. Thus while expansion of AMU academic programs is a laudable goal, upgrading the existing infrastructure and learning systems in order to improve the functioning of AMU is a primary need of the community that AMU serves.


All of the last four Vice chancellors, Mr Naseem Ahmad IAS, Mr Hamid Ansari IFS, Mr Mahmoodur Rahman IAS, Prof MN Farooqi, faced much campus violence, personal threats to their physical well-being, repeated student strikes, cancellation/postponement of examinations, major disturbances in the residential hostels, non-cooperation from the teachers and arson/murders at the campus.
Why did the handpicked, distinguished Prof MN Farooqi, former Chairman of the Electronics Department at the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur, despite his innovations, face unending disturbances, serious problems in the enrollment to the university’s professional colleges, strikes, turmoil at the campus that forced him to finally resign well before the end of his term?

Why did the politically savvy and tough guy IAS officer Mahmoodur Rahman face so much campus violence, threats from the students and the campus shopkeeper community, and become an unacceptable official at AMU, despite his hard work and penchant for discipline and scores of new initiatives?

The sophisticated and suave diplomat, IFS officer Hamid Ansari had to leave after serving only 2 years upon reaching the mandatory retirement age of 65. That saved him from further troubles at the campus. In the short period of his 2 year tenure he faced violence and police raids against the then well entrenched SIMI elements at the University campus which threatened the shutdown of the university.

Why did the politically efficient and very personable IAS officer Naseem Ahmad, who even experimented with writing Urdu poetry to help bond with the AMU ethos, face not only murder of students at the campus but also threats on his life, and finally had to leave in a hurry?

The above four VCs were capable and experienced managers who brought a diversity of strengths and qualities to manage AMU. Some of them were very experienced government administrators and others were very experienced academic managers. Yet, all of them were unable to meet the basic expectation from them of trouble free operation of the university, orderly semesters, admissions, classes, examinations and some growth and improvement.
Why the failures?

Some of the factors that bedeviled all of these otherwise capable VCs are:

a. The expectation of the North Indian Muslim community and the Central and UP governments is that the Aligarh Muslim University VC be an ex-officio leader of the Indian Muslim community, a sort of central minister for the Muslim community’s higher education. That in addition to managing AMU he should manage the expectations and issues in the area of higher education of the 150 million strong Muslim community. The VC is given a signal that his next assignment after AMU may be a Central Cabinet Minister or Ambassador to a Muslim country or Governor of a state. Everyone is reminded of Dr Zakir Hussain Khan who after AMU ascended to the offices of governor of Bihar, Vice-President and President of India.

b. Thus after about a year as VC at AMU, the gentlemen start spending considerable time, effort and strategy with the top politicians and political parties in New Delhi and in international political circles. The Indian government itself propels the AMU VC in that slot. Thus the administration of the sprawling AMU campus, discipline at the campus and in the departments, the struggles of the students and teachers etc get much smaller time and attention from the VC. Most AMU VCs feel that they are not like the VCs of other big universities, because they are expected to carry the heavy burden of leadership of the Muslim community, which they think is their unofficial assignment. That results in the compounding of AMU’s core problems and periodic blowups.

c. Being short of time due to his pre-occupation with external functions the VC typically does not go beyond the department chairmen in the management of the various teaching departments. That transforms the department chairmen into sort of czars of the affairs of teachers, students, research scholars and research programs in their departments. Many a lecturers, readers, research scholars and research programs sometimes suffer from the whims of the chairmen and the VC remains blissfully disconnected from it. The department chairmen and senior professors start to control the hiring of new teachers to candidates from their ethnic sub-communities or extended clans leading to significant in-breeding. The net result is frequent frustration among the students and junior teachers and stagnation of the quality of academic output and pursuit of excellence.

d. The students, many of whom have high expectations of a bright new beginning in their lives, most of whom have just left their homes for the first time and who are trying to survive in the badly overcrowded AMU hostels, find that there is no official at AMU whom they can approach to get their many problems looked at. I recall that a few years ago a niece of mine, upon joining one of the AMU hostels, found herself living with five other girls in a crowded room in the girls’ hostel. She had just one bed and no desk, to spend her days and nights including studying daily and for tests and examinations. Often the food in the dining halls is not satisfactory, the instructions in the classrooms are indifferent and the teachers do not pay attention to students. As I said earlier many students suffer at the hands of the feudal attitude of senior professors but have no real recourse.

The VC, busy with his pursuit of high level educational problems of the Muslim community and making visits to New Delhi, has little time for the mundane daily issues of the students, and gets disconnected from the masses of students. Thus when some leaders of the students’ union sometimes politicize the core grievances of the students, the VC looses patience and reacts. This cycle which has so often caused indiscipline, turmoil and violence at AMU repeats itself every few years. Unfortunately successive VCs have continued to downplay this issue and it has come back to blow up in their face.

e. Many a retired Muslim government officials and extended family members of AMU teachers, who have settled down in Aligarh, some of whom have business interests with the university, have vested interests in AMU and they expect the VC to pay attention to their needs. Also they want to have a role in the management of the affairs of AMU. In recent past some of them have taken undue advantage of the AMU land and properties. Efforts of some VCs to stop this abuse has resulted in some of these folks’ instigating turmoil and violence at the campus. Many a VCs have overlooked this problem which got compounded with some nefarious elements taking residence in the university’s hostels, operating unauthorized businesses and muscling the students and teachers. The lesson is that the VC should give enough attention to these issues, unpalatable as they may be.

f. The many alumni of AMU and their vast global network often want to have a role in the management of the affairs of AMU, yet they provide limited resource support for the development of AMU. The Alumni with either excessive praise or excessive criticism, but either way a significant demand on the time and attention of the VC, make the VC’s life complicated. The VC has to manage the role of the AMU alumni with a proper perspective.

g. To cope with all these expectations from the AMU community, the government and the nation’s Muslim community, the VC starts to juggle a large number of balls in the air and fights with lots of fires simultaneously. At the same time the possibility of the next assignment as a senior political leader representing the Muslim community distracts the VC’s attention away from the university’s routine issues.

Unlike the VC of any other university in India, who is not burdened with such diverse expectations, instead of being a good academic administrator of AMU who spends time improving across-the-board quality of education, the VC becomes a semi-political leader who practices the politics of expediency and gives too many promises that he has no chance to keep. Most of the time the core issues of students and teachers get short shrift and low priority from the VC , and finally they come back to harm AMU and bite the VC himself.
The end result is that as the VC steps into the last year of his term he notices that most of the visions and goals that he had set for AMU in his first year have either not survived the many controversies and political in fights that erupted, or he compromised them so much that he can not recognize them any more. One reason is that the VC detaches himself from the two communities that matter most for the welfare of AMU– the students and the teachers.


For instance with the current HRD minister’s encouragement AMU VC Prof Abdul Azis has launched an ambitious program to build five AMU extension centers remote from Aligarh. By itself it is a visionary program to improve college level education in the Muslim community. But managing this program is going to be a full time job in itself. It will take a lot of the VCs time, resources and attention, that will necessarily come out of the time that he needs to spend on the issues and programs of AMU itself. That may very well result in intensified problems at AMU. If the HRD ministry wants this program implemented it should first look at the constitution and charter of AMU that does not allow AMU to be a multi campus educational entity.

If the Government really wants to make AMU a multi campus university it should first implement proper legislation to revise the charter of AMU to give it the legal authority to be a multi-campus university, and change the office of VC into an “AMU System Director General”. The legislation should ensure that AMU’s minority status is not compromised by non-minority colleges in Aligarh district or elsewhere demanding affiliation with AMU. Failing to do that first will land AMU in lawsuits and much waste of AMU’s resources. Furthermore, the task of expanding AMU into a multi-campus higher education entity should be assigned to someone other than VC. May be to some top Muslim educationist or some former VC, or IAS official, so that the AMU VC is not sidetracked from his main responsibility of running AMU and is over-burdened. All of us should realize that with its massive student body and many colleges, AMU needs a dedicated full time VC to manage and improve AMU into a superior academic institution; not a part time VC who is also a part time leader of the Muslim community.

The VC’s job being a heavy burden he should delegate many of his responsibilities by appointing a set of Pro-Vice Chancellors (PVCs) and Officers on Special Duty (OSD). The system will work much better if people for these positions are recruited from the IAS or IPS cadres on term appointments and given sufficient responsibility to carry out their functions. In the past recruiting these positions from among the AMU teachers has led to instances of influence peddling and politicking within the community of AMU teachers.

It can not be over-emphasized that the VC has to not only pay enough attention to the teachers and students, he also has to ensure that the relationship between these two sub communities is good. In view of the failures of several successive AMU VCs in the last two decades it is time that the Indian Muslim community, the Government and the AMU community introspect on the situation and makes suitable adjustments in the role of the AMU VC.


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