Wednesday, December 7, 2016
President Obama’s Powerful Message to PEOPLE Readers: This Election Should Not ‘Negate All the Progress That’s Been Made’
After an election season marred by displays of misogyny, racism and bigotry among a divided American public, many people are left feeling the country has taken a huge step backwards.
But not President Barack Obama.
In a joint interview with First Lady Michelle Obama for this week’s PEOPLE cover story, the president reflects on how far the nation has come since his own 2008 election — and insists our progress overshadows our current struggles.
“I’m somebody who never believes the hype when things are going good and doesn’t despair when things don’t work out your way,” the president tells PEOPLE. “The truth of the matter is that when I got elected, there was still racism and misogyny and, you know, anti-gay sentiment in America.”
“In the wake of this election, those elements are still there, but it doesn’t negate all the progress that’s been made,” he continues. “It just means that elements of our culture get amplified sometimes.”
- Watch the full episode of People at the White House: The Final Interviewhere now on the new People/Entertainment Weekly Network (PEN). Go to PEOPLE.com/PEN, or download the PEN app on Apple TV, Roku Players, Amazon Fire TV, Xumo, Chromecast, iOS and Android devices. To read more on the Obamas’ interview, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE on newsstands Friday
Although Donald Trump‘s presidency threatens to unravel some of the progressive accomplishments Obama made during his eight years in office — including actions on climate change and universal health care — the president remains hopeful that his legacy will endure.
“This is a big, complicated country. And history doesn’t move in a straight line,” he says. “It zigs and zags, and it goes backwards and forwards. So you can never just say, ‘All right, we’re finished with that.’ The battle to be vigilant, on behalf of kindness and tolerance and fairness and equality, that’s a day-to-day thing that each of us is responsible for. That doesn’t change because of one election. It’s something that has to be tended to all the time.
The president adds that he remains “hugely optimistic” about the future — in part because of the next generation of Americans, including his own daughters, Malia, 18, and Sasha, 15.
“You talk to Malia and Sasha. The idea that you’d discriminate against somebody because they had a different sexual orientation? It’s crazy to them,” Obama says.
“That generation right behind us, and I believe each successive generation, as long as we’re doing our job of being good models for it, they’re going to move this country forward in a better direction,” the president adds.
A video showing Christian boy being brutally tortured by a mob reveals horrifying scenes of religious intolerance in the country. Media reports detailed that the boy was beaten for drinking water from a mosque.
The video emerged few days back, which sowed a Christian boy brutally beaten up for purportedly drinking water from a fountain located inside a mosque. The boy was being physically assaulted by a mob in the public. Nevertheless, the video has also sparked controversy as doubts and questions surround the authenticity of the video. However the Christian boy was certainly beaten and physically tortured by a mob.
The United States Commission for International Religious Freedom stated in its annual report 2015: “Pakistan represents one of the worst situations in the world for religious freedom for countries not currently designated by the U.S. government as ‘countries of particular concern.’ In the past year, the government grappled with a challenging security environment and initiated efforts to fight the Pakistani Taliban.
However, despite these efforts, Pakistan continued to experience chronic sectarian violence targeting Shi’a Muslims, Christians, Ahmadi Muslims, and Hindus. Despite positive rulings by the Supreme Court, the government failed to provide adequate protection to targeted groups or to prosecute perpetrators and those calling for violence. Pakistan’s repressive blasphemy laws and anti-Ahmadi laws continue to violate religious freedoms and to foster a climate of impunity. USCIRF again recommends in 2015 that Pakistan be designated a ‘country of particular concern,’ or CPC, under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA), as it has recommended since 2002.”
Ordinarily, naming a physics centre and physics scholarships after the only Nobel Laureate a country has in physics or any other field of knowledge would not be deserving of praise, since it would be the most natural thing to happen. But Pakistan is far from an ordinary country. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the government have done themselves honour by taking this step. For many decades some of the leading centers of excellence in science in Italy, Germany, UK, India and other places have carried the name of the man who changed his field forever. Dr Abdus Salam was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics back in 1979, by which time he had already left the country after Ahmadis were declared non-Muslims in 1974. From 1960 to 1974, Abdus Salam served his nation as a teacher and as a key scientific adviser to the government helping to set up the PAEC and Pakistan Space and Nuclear Programme.
When he attempted to visit educational institutions in his home country after claiming the Nobel Prize he was prevented from entering Punjab University and other centres by the Jamaat-e-Islami’s student wing, Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba, and associated groups. The huge loss we inflicted on ourselves has never really been understood. The only hint of government recognition Abdus Salam got was the issuance of a stamp in his name in 1998 after the testing of nuclear weapons. We must answer for how we have tried to erase Abdus Salam from our history. Even as the rest of the world was updating textbooks in light of his theories, we were pretending as if he didn’t exist. Our mistreatment of Abdus Salam is a blight that cannot be washed away by one tiny and belated action.
How Pakistan has treated it most illustrious son is equalled by how we have treated science in this country. Those who banished the likes of Abdus Salam are still around in our educational institutions and still stifling genuine research. Dr Salam’s former pupil, Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy, has been among the few who have bravely and tirelessly campaigned for genuine science, pointing out how scientific thinking has been decimated in the country with money spent on superstitions parading as scientific research while real scientific research is hardly existent. We can show real respect to Abdus Salam by showing a commitment to rational scientific thought over superstition.
For this a lot more is required than renaming a centre after him. There has to be a deliberate and uncompromisingly aggressive movement to introduce reason and true science in our minds, particularly those of our young ones. This means fighting bigotry on many fronts. This is made difficult by a climate of political opportunism, where every problem facing this country becomes a means to get to the top of the ladder without trying to change people’s consciousness and with every effort made to turn our youth into fanatic worshippers of false charisma. For a while now, we may perhaps see Dr Abdus Salam celebrated in the media – the same media whose role has been nothing short of criminal in building false heroes and promoting and championing superstition and pseudo-science. The best way to honour Abdus Salam’s memory is to be rid of hypocrisies and committing ourselves to a struggle for true change.
Increasing meddling by the Prime Minister House in the foreign affairs – that too without professional input from the diplomatic corps and relevant quarters – has of late left Pakistan red-faced.
Close aides and diplomatic authorities had advised Premier Nawaz Sharif against Pakistan’s participation in the Heart of Asia conference in Amritsar, India, where Pakistan’s delegation in general and Foreign Affairs Adviser Sartaj Aziz in particular were mistreated, The Express Tribune has learnt.
The PM House’s plan to send Aziz to Amritsar in a bid to break the ice with India backfired, prompting him to address a hard-hitting news conference against India and Afghanistan, shortly after landing back home from the two-day moot that concluded on Sunday. “Worldwide, key decisions on sensitive diplomatic issues are taken keeping in view the input of the missions concerned functioning abroad, intelligence reports and advices of the diplomatic establishments,” said an official privy to the issue. “In this particular case, our diplomatic mission in New Delhi, the security agencies and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, etc were of the view that ground conditions in the host country are hostile and signing up for an event in such a situation would not be without repercussions,” the official added. As per the policy, sources said, the Foreign Office gets input from the security establishment on key policy decisions of national security and it is made sure that the stakeholders are on the same page prior to taking crucial decisions. Interestingly, the officials said, the new security establishment was not taken into the loop as far the decision to send Aziz to Amritsar was concerned. “It was a bizarre attempt to assert control and convey a message that the government is in charge of foreign policy. This went horribly wrong. We went to the Heart of Asia and now we are cribbing and crying over the humiliating attitude of India and Afghanistan.”
Speaking to The Express Tribune, foreign affairs analyst and ex-diplomat Rustam Shah Mohmand said the prime minister is the authority in granting permission on the issues concerning to countries like India and Afghanistan. “For all practical purposes, the PM is at the helm as far as the policy decisions are concerned. This is a routine practice. The crucial foreign policy issues of national importance seek PM’s vigorous intervention. Apart from the FO, such issues can be taken up at the cabinet meetings and even in parliament.” To a query regarding adviser’s participation in HoA, the ex-ambassador said Sartaj Aziz performed his responsibilities professionally but the Afghanistan president “played very smart.”
“I think the adviser shouldn’t have bilaterally met the Afghan president—who levelled wild allegations against Pakistan right in the middle of the conference—in front of the delegates from 14 states—there was no need to hold a bilateral meeting with him—and it was uncalled for on part of our foreign affairs advisor to say that the meetings were ‘productive’ and ‘useful’.” PM’s Adviser Amir Muqam also defended the decision regarding participation in HoA moot. “By default, prime minister is also the foreign minister. If he is dealing with diplomatic issues, it’s because he is fully authorised to—and not to forget that Heart of Asia conference is a multilateral forum that has representation of over a dozen states. It was not an India-specific conclave. Our boycotting the event would have fingers of criticism pointed at us,” he said, when approached.
PM’s spokesman Musadik Malik did not respond to comment on the issue. Prior to the HoA moot episode, the telephone call between PM Nawaz Sharif and US President-elect Donald Trump made headlines globally. In an unprecedented move, the PM House released the transcript of the call, which did not go down well with Trump transition team as well as Western media, with many questioning this motive.
In this matter too, the FO is said to have been bypassed by the PM House and not consulted in the issuance of the related press release. Reportedly, the PM House’s media wing took the matter in its own hands without having the relevant expertise and professional training, in apparent disregard to the delicacies and sensitivities involving diplomatic affairs. Dr Hasan Askari Rizvi, diplomatic and strategic affairs analyst, termed the move as ‘undiplomatic and unprofessional’. “You don’t release the actual text of a conversation without clearance from the other side. This is very professional behaviour. Whosoever did this; Foreign Office or PM House, tended to behave in a highly unprofessional manner,” he told The Express Tribune. http://tribune.com.pk/story/1255939/pm-houses-diplomacy-leaves-pakistan-red-faced.
It is the dire need of the time that the government should go ahead and get the bill passed by both houses without any further delay.
Federally Administrative Tribal Areas (FATA) has been ruled by the British implemented law, the Frontier Crime Regulation (FCR) act for the last one century. The FCR was enacted in some parts of the then Northwest Frontier Province (now Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa), Balochistan, and FATA by the British Raj in 1901 for their own protection. In 1947, when Pakistan came on the world map, the FCR was a great challenge for the then Pakistani government. In the constitutions of 1956 and 1973, the FCR was removed from parts of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. The people of FATA, however, are still subjected to this draconian law. The FCR is a complete violation of universal human rights and contradicts the Constitution of 1973. The people of the area raised even their voices against the black law but to no avail. In the past, several committees were formed to make some reforms in FCR, but all of them failed in bringing any possible reforms.
Last year, the parliamentarians from FATA submitted a bill to the National Assembly, demanding the merging of FATA with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and the extension of the jurisdiction of courts to the area. In this regard, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif formed a five-member committee to finalise reforms in the tribal areas, on 8 November 2016. The committee, under the supervision of the advisor to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs, Sartaj Aziz, presented the FATA Reforms Report to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the National Assembly.
The committee finally came up with a comprehensive report, which was submitted to Prime Minister and also in the National Assembly for discussion. The committee report consists of some practical recommendations and proposals. The most important one was to merge FATA with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa within a transition period of ten years. Merger with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was also the demand of the majority of parliamentarians from FATA. However, the ten years period is too long and can have adverse effects on the implantation of the proposed bill. Reforms in FATA and merging with KP were a timeworn ambition of the people of the area. It is an excellent opportunity for both government and tribal people to avail this opportunity as soon as possible.
However, there are some political parties and their leaders including the JUI-F and PkMAP, who have rejected the report of the committee and demanded a referendum in the tribal areas. Both these parties and their leaders call themselves the true representatives of Pashtuns. But they still are opposing the reforms in FATA. I think in the current circumstances, the referendum is wastage of time and money. This is because half of the population of FATA is living outside FATA in IDP camps in different parts of the country. Secondly, more than 20 percent of the population has been living outside the country that has left for earning bread for their families. In the absence of half of the people of the area, a referendum is meaningless and a wastage of time. The leadership of PkMAP and JUI-F need to set aside personal agendas and support the FATA-KP merger.
Whatever are the demands of the political parties and the local people, the government should take these necessary steps before the implementation of any reforms in the tribal areas. Firstly, without taking women onboard, all reforms and changes will be meaningless. The opinion of people should be listened to, instead of discussions with few pro-governments bureaucrats. Secondly, without the presence of the local population in the areas, any reforms are a wastage of time. To make the reforms practicable, all the IDPs should return before the implementation of any reforms. The government should make all possible efforts to provide the necessary facilities to the returning people including health, education and other necessities.
Thirdly, agenda should be prepared for the local body elections, and steps should be taken so that in the upcoming 2018 general elections the local people are able to elect their representatives for the KP assembly.
Fourthly, there is no need to replace the FCR with Rivaj act because the conservative nature of Pashtun society will misuse the act and there is a possibility of violations of basic human rights. A complete abolishment of FCR and direct extension of the jurisdiction of courts and constitution will be easier and a better option. All administrative machinery should be from FATA because the local people are well aware of the local customs and tradition.
Fifthly, change in the status of Fata will affect relations with Afghanistan, and in this regard, there should be a better border management with Afghanistan, especially due to the presence of the majority of the Pashtuns on both sides of the frontier.
Last but not the least, FATA should be included in the CPEC project so that the people of FATA will get the same benefits from the project as the rest of the country. FATA reforms committee report was already presented in the National Assembly and Senate with the hope that very soon it will be passed by both houses. It is the dire need of the time that government should go ahead and get the bill passed by both houses without any further delay.