Speaking Truth to Power

By Ali Imran

The end of Cold War in 1990 was supposed to herald a new era of cooperation and reconciliation in the world.

But, as the world would have it, that was not to be. The confrontations and media onslaughts ensued almost immediately with the senseless notion of clash of civilizations. These left scars of despair on the minds of thinking and moral human beings, who were hoping to see a resplendent future for all.

It also took a generation of intellectuals by storm of disbelief and disaffection that instead of common efforts towards peace, the world witnessed specters of new wars in the media, sudden upsurge in militancy in several Muslim countries, and elsewhere a hideous scramble for sketching up new ghost enemies.

That is the background, which helps in understanding some of the themes appearing in Mowhaid Hussain Shah’s recently published book Will and Skill, particularly the period covering the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States and Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

The writer has lived in the United States for more than three decades. Shah is one of those intellectually honest thinkers and moral beings who have seen the world descent into new conflicts and wars with excruciating pain.

A US Supreme Court Attorney and a prominent Pakistani expert on international affairs, Mowahid Shahhas traversed intellectually in the best of both Western and Eastern worlds.

English: Mowahid Hussain Shah at a banquet in ...

English: Mowahid Hussain Shah at a banquet in Washington, DC (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Over the years, he has assimilated the most vital lessons from some of the tumultuous periods and cataclysmic events in international relations, wars, conflicts, insurgencies and civil society movements.

Therefore, it was appropriate that readers of his writings in Pakistan, the Middle East, America and elsewhere got a chance to look at his thoughts in their totality.

That came in the form of his book “Will and Skill,” which landed in Washington D.C. last week. The two back to back book launch ceremonies – by Siddique Sheikh, head of Pakistan American Business Association at Springfield Rotary Club  and Ravi Kabab Arlington – drew unusually big attendance, a harmonious blend of a cross-section of the Washington community, including a significant presence of American intelligentsia.

The gatherings represented  a hunger to know more and to connect more along with a genuine desire to exchange ideas between Pakistanis and Americans  That the book was nearly sold out at the Arlington launch ceremony made it a unique event.

The readers of the book can get a wholesome flavor of the book in Shah’s comments on wide-ranging subjects including South Asia, the US foreign policy and politics, the Middle East, sports, some Pakistani and American personalities, social and education issues, relations between Islamic world and the West, corruption of the political elite and moral questions surrounding many decisions of Eastern and Western power players.

A recurring theme in his writings is the Middle East peace and quest for South Asian stability.

In both regions, the author advocates that the world powers must hit at the root-cause sof problems to stem militancy, in South Asia by resolving the longstanding Jammu and Kashmir dispute and in the broader Middle East and the world by addressing the Palestinian question fairly.

That telling the truth requires consistency and courage is the takeaway from writings on these contentious issues. This combination of traits is common to both contemporaries, Mowahid Shah and James Zogby, President of American Arab Institute and a fearless analyst of Middle Eastern policies and issues.

Mowahid Shah’s sensitivity to issues can be seen by a look at the intensity of thought at the start of the column entitled “Dialogue or Death” penned down for The Nation in November 2001, the year that marked George W Bush’s war on terror:

“America – the world’s richest country – pounding Afghanistan – the world’s most destitute and devastated land- is not the most auspicious curtain raiser to usher in the 21st century.”

As a journalist, who has covered rise and fall of some contemporary political figures, I know the cost of speaking the truth in corridors of power. Telling the powers that be what is right – in contrast with what their advisors paint –shuts off opportunities that come in the way of experts and technocrats.

Mowahid Shah did serve as advisor to head of the largest Pakistani Punjab provincial government but he did not sign on to every policy the governments, both in Islamabad and Lahore adopted, as is apparent from his commentaries.

So what is the panacea?

At the world level it is peaceful co-existence, as highlighted by Javed Elahi, a prominent Pakistani businessman, who told launch ceremony of the Will and Skill that Pakistanis are not against Americans, they just don’t like American unilateral policies. Similarly, the U.S. and Americans offer tremendous opportunities to Pakistanis for economic and intellectual growth.

Javed Elahi addressing book launch ceremony.

As for the Muslim world, where corruption and West-backed dictators have played havoc with the natural democratic process that has swept the world in last one hundred years since World War I, Mowahid stressed human resource development.

In Mowahid’s world of ideas it is ‘will and skill’ that is lacking on part of well-meaning intellectuals, writers and movement leaders, even people, who are striving for democracy in the Muslim world.  Something, which I feel, is closely linked to lack of inquisitive education and creative environment.

“It is the moral idea that prevails. But the moral idea does not automatically prevail. Meeting the challenge requires constant striving. It is a matter of skill and will,” Shah concludes.

His message of hope and confidence, in this time of economic recession and conflicts, emanates explicitly from the title of the book where one letter ‘L’ of the world ‘SKILL’ is in inscribed in the form of a pen.

“The ink of the scholar’s pen is more precious (sacred) than the blood of the martyr,” he also cites this inspiring pronouncement by Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, Peace Be Upon Him.

To me this positive lockstep between “Will and Skill” also means statesmanship, diplomacy of the highest caliber, which in the world of bombs and bullets is becoming a dying art.  Somebody, at the helm of affairs, must revive it for the world to bequeath peace and stability to succeeding generation

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