Shehzad Ghias Shaikh

Stand-up comedian/Writer/Trainer

Shehzad Ghias Shaikh, the founder of Cogito Productions and Room for Improv-ment, has a decade of experience working in the theatre and television industry of Pakistan. He is also a journalistic scholar on theatre in Pakistan.

Shehzad performs stand up comedy all over Pakistan, the United States and Canada. He also tours with his improvisational comedy troupe and writes comedy and satire for various organizations.

Shehzad has degrees in law, arts and theatre. He offers workshops, trainings and speaking sessions on confidence building, communication, personality development, idea generation, team building, writing, acting, directing, improvisational and performing.

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Why the North Waziristan Operation is like Israel’s aggression against Gaza, Why the North Waziristan Operation is NOTHING like Israel’s aggression against Gaza,

Why the North Waziristan Operation is like Israel’s operation against Gaza, Why the North Waziristan Operation is NOTHING like Israel’s operation against Gaza,

Why Compare?

                Human consciousness is not truly imaginative; it can recreate but not create, it may be innovative but it is not inventive. We can only perceive the world as we see it; any conceivable idea has to be in relation to the realm of perceivable possibilities. We can imagine Hellfire to be 70 times hotter than regular fire because we can simply imagine intensifying an experience we have felt. It is natural for the human mind to understand a new thing by comparing it to a past experience. Israel’s military aggression against Gaza has caught the world’s attention but there is another military operation closer to home for Pakistanis, the North Waziristan military operation. Can the two be compared? The point of a comparison is to point out similarities, and highlight differences; it is not to say the two are the same thing, or even similar. It is simply to use a comparative model to assess the realities of two situations; an introspective evaluative assessment of your own actions by using the other as a mirror to yourself. Such a critical exercise should not be shunned for emotional reasons. Holding down a point of reference often elucidates another experience by allowing ourselves to see one through the other.


The Birth of Pakistan and the birth of Israel

Both the nations were created on the premise of providing a safe haven for people of a particular religion against the perceived threat of future atrocities and restrictions on the freedom to practice their religion. Ideologically the states are close together. The creation of a country in the name of a religion saw a huge influx of refugees for both.  Nationality was bestowed upon people simply based on religion. As nationals, the housing of the refugees became the state’s responsibility. The difference is that the creation of Pakistan aimed at assimilating the immigrant population with the local population, with religion as the main adhesive, whereas the Jews were isolated from the locals, on account of a lack of shared history, tradition, culture or religion. These were Europeans being moved to an Arab land, whereas the people of the subcontinent shared a lot of their history, traditions and culture despite being a rich diversified mass of land. The refugees in Pakistan were largely welcomed by the locals whereas the Jewish refugees were not.  


Religious Ideological State Structure

Religion was at the center of the ideology of both the states; their raison d’etre. Muslims claimed they would not be free to practice their own religion in a Hindu led India leading to the birth of the two nation theory.  Jews were persecuted all over Europe for practicing their own. The Zionist agenda demanded that the only way to be safe from future persecution was to demand a state. Both ideologies dictate that the creation of a state is necessitated to ensure the freedom to practice their religion. Jews from all over Europe flocked to Palestine seeking that protection, whereas Muslims from all over India flocked to East and West Pakistan.

The creation of a state is not a simple exercise of drawing lines on the land. The loss of lives due to the botched attempts at creating both states lies squarely at the hands of the imperialistic British Empire; where the sun never set on the empire, and never seemingly rose on its subjects. The British occupied Palestine, and despite Israel having no claim to the land, the United Nations allowed them to establish a state with land much beyond their settlements, or numbers. On the other hand, the land given to Pakistan after partition for Muslims was seen by Muslims as being inadequate based on their numbers. History books in Pakistan accuse Cyril Radcliffe and Lord Mountbatten of serious foul play during partition. With the British largely leaving both the newly born states to fend for themselves, religion was a necessary tool to unite the populous under. Any threat to the state was seen as a threat to the very religion.

Shifting the population

The partition is a strong word, that evokes intense emotions for people of the sub-continent but it is very apt. The creation of a state a rupture of the state of affairs, a change in the grund norm, a seismic human shift; war is almost inevitable. Israel adopted a state policy of evicting Arabs from their lands whereas local paramilitary forces forced a large number of minorities out of their homes in Pakistan. Space was made for the incoming refugees by removing the locals already in place. Homes left behind by Hindus were allotted to Muslims in Pakistan and Jewish settlers were allowed to settle on Arab Lands, occupying their farms, villages and homes.

Antagonistic neighbours

The Arab armies of neighbouring states constantly threatened Israel’s existence with wars akin to Pakistan’s existence being challenged by wars with India. The difference is that Israel possessed the military supremacy in the area. The Haganah, a Jewish paramilitary organization was well trained and well equipped. They ruthlessly carried out ethnic cleansing on the land. Israel began its military operation of the West Bank and Gaza after the Six-Day war with the Arab states in 1967 under the pretense of needing to protect itself from antagonistic neighbours. Despite the United Nations Resolution asking Israel to withdraw troops from the occupied land, Israel is yet to comply.

The persecution of minorities in Pakistan was never state sanctioned and there are no massacres that compare to instances in Palestine such as the Deir Yassin massacre that took place on April 9, 1948. The fight for land between the Arabs and Jews during this time may only find a comparison in the subcontinent experience in Kashmir, or later in Bangladesh. The difference once again being that the Pakistani military’s actions were an attempt to keep land but Israel’s actions were to gain land. The targeting of civilians in either instance is unjustifiable but within the current International law regime, states have some impunity within its own borders. Pakistan may engage in covert operations in India but the military has not been directly engaged often to illegally occupy any land. Pakistan’s actions against its much larger neighbor have not been anywhere near as aggressive.

Military States

                The physical location of both countries surrounded by actual, or perceived, threats to the very existence of the state necessitated a strong military presence. Pakistan has been engaged in an arms race with India since its existence. India’s military might serves as the primary reason for a large chunk of Pakistan’s budget going to the strengthening of the armed forces every year. Where Pakistan has struggled to keep up, Israel has moved way beyond the military capacity of all of its Arab neighbours combined. The military supremacy is largely due to the help by Israel’s strong allies; the people of Palestine paying the price for Europe’s guilt about the holocaust.

 Ironically, Hitler was crucial to the creation of both Israel and Pakistan. The holocaust gave birth to the Zionist agendas, whereas America hinged their involvement in the war on the promise from the British to forego their colonies after the war. Post world war two, the world moved from under the British shadow to under the American shadow, with both Israel and Pakistan, striving for the favour of the American and the Americans largely equipping both the armies with all their military equipment.  


Military engagements

                The militaries of both the states have been engaged in constant skirmishes, none more crucial to Israel than the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, when five different armies attacked the newly created state. Pakistan’s existence was challenged in 1965 and 1971, when East Pakistan declared its independence and Bangladesh was created. The actions of the military in Pakistan in Bangladesh mirrored those of Israel in Gaza with civilian populations targeted with an aim at ethnically cleansing certain areas. More so than the North Waziristan operation, the operation in Bangladesh by Yahya Khan holds more similarities to Israel’s action in Gaza. However, Pakistan cannot be said to have illegally or militarily occupied another state, since East Pakistan was still a part of Pakistan. Due to constant military engagements, the military of both the states are the largest stakeholders in the state itself.


The People

                The states may be run by the military but they consist of people, the way to control them is to control the information; to create an ideology accepted by the masses. Religion is the massive uniting factor in both the countries. In Israel, any anti-state sentiment is seen as being anti-Semitic, with constant references to the horrors of the holocaust to hammer the point. Especially Post Zia-ul-Haq’s imposition of martial law, anti-state sentiments in Pakistan are also painted as being anti-Islam with numerous false charges of blasphemy filed in courts, which serve as death warrants for the accused. Dissent against the actions of the military is not accepted in both the countries. Both the countries have repeatedly prosecuted people criticizing the state actions, or the actions of the military of the state. Dissent and protests may result in prolonged incarceration, often without any due course of justice.

 Both the nations are defined as much by who they are not, as they are by who they are. Israelis constantly differentiate themselves from the Arab, painting the Arabs as savages who want to crush the Israeli state. The Indians have classically served the role of the villainous other in the story of Pakistan. All information outlets in the country constantly perpetuate these ideas in the country. The people of Pakistan largely unaware of the atrocities committed by the state in Bangladesh, still largely blame India for the loss of East Pakistan. Sadly, some people in Pakistan believe that every Indian wants to see Pakistan burn and some people in Israel believe that every Arab wants to see Israel burn. More important than whom the other actually is, it is who the other is believed to be. The state perpetuates the idea of painting the other as the enemy since it serves as a justification for strict state control over the population. He, who controls the ideology and the information, controls the people.

With skewed representations of wars and military actions, the people generally view the other as the enemy, the perpetrator and the aggressor whereas the actions of the military are seen as a legitimate response to the violence. The media glosses over any state sanctioned atrocities. Hate begets hate, and the people are taught to hate. By dehumanizing the enemy, the people are desensitized to the casualties of war on the other side of the imagined line. The role of the media bias is crucial to understanding the complicity of the people of the collateral damage of the military operations of their states.


The changing landscape

                9/11 changed the world, for the worse if I might add. The United Nations after the Second World War was meant to lead to a more peaceful world. After the end of the cold war, an America led world was meant to uphold principles of democracy and human rights. However, with the two towers, the democratic spirit of America, and the values of liberty that the country was founded came crashing down. Terrorism was the new buzz world, and the world needed to reunite against this global problem. The words of George W. Bush,’ Either you are with us or against us´ still resonate around the world.

Under the veneer of fighting the global war on terror, Afghanistan and Iraq were flattened with tomahawk cruise missiles and B-52 bombers. There have also been numerous military operations in Pakistan to root out terrorism. The people of Pakistan criticize America’s military operations and the painting of the global media of Muslims as terrorists but generally support military operations of Pakistan in Pakistan. There has also been a terrifying increase in Pakistan of associating a certain ethnicity with terrorism in Pakistan. To the extent that two provinces refused to accept IDPs from North Waziristan. A minister from the ruling party in Pakistan also claimed that the police of the largest province kept a close eye on people of certain ethnicity to ensure a lack of terrorist activities. The behavior of Pakistan mirrors the action of the United States of America, a microscopic duplicate.

                The oft quoted cliché o ‘One man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist’ holds true in the modern world. It is not as simple as the world uniting against a singular global problem. The freedom struggle for Pakistan was seen as a secessionist movement by Indians, who saw it as a movement seeking to break up India. The British saw the 1857 war of independence as a sepoy mutiny. What Bangladeshis celebrate as their independence, we call the fall of Dhaka in Pakistan. Hamas is seen as a terrorist organization by Israel but are the recognized elective government in Palestine. When people are being bombed, they are unlikely to sympathize much with the loss of lives of the enemies, whatever the means used to achieve that goal. Terrorists feed off the desperation of the needy. The ideology gains more ground as people are persecuted further. Hamas uses pictures of dead civilians and children to fuel the propaganda and recruit more militants. Similar tactics are used by the Taliban in Pakistan with victims of drones. People become useful to these terrorist organizations than they would have been alive. A vicious cycle of martyrdom is born.

The Right to Self Determination

                Max Webber claims that only the state has the monopoly on violence, or the legitimate use of physical force. However, the entire notion of the modern nation-state was born out of the treaty of Westphalia in 1648. Despite Aristotle’s claim that a man is a political animal, the state is not crucial to human existence. The constant creation of nations and break up of empires also suggests at the fluid lives of nations. What are borders but imagined lines? Does that make all nations ‘Imagined Communities’, a concept expounded by Benedict Anderson?

I argue that the world is moving from a state-centric model, to a human-centric model. At least in theory, state sovereignty does not give the state immunity anymore to commit crimes against its own people within its own borders. It is under this pretense that humanitarian interventions took place in Kosovo and Sudan. These ideas must be weighed against actual imperialistic agendas of superpowers and empires but in theory, the United Nations charter grants people the right of self-determination; a right to live as they wish to. We argue for the right of self-determination of the Kashmiris in the United Nations but we refuse to grant the same right to liberation movements in other parts of the country, especially Balochistan. People struggling for freedom in those places are seen as terrorists. To compare, Bhagat Singh who led a similar movement against the British is recognized as a national hero in India and Pakistan.

Illegitimate violence of any kind, shape or form anywhere in the world should be criticized but people deserve the right of self-determination; dissent should not be criminalized. The state does not have a right to use violence and unnecessary force against its citizens for disagreeing with the policies of the state, or protesting against it, or seeking to exert some control over their own lives. When the state uses violence against these people, there is a backlash from the people leading to a bloody tug of war. The entire nation suffers at the hands of such a tug of war when terrorists use illegitimate and violent means to attack the state.


Why the North Waziristan Operation is like Israel’s aggression against Gaza, Why the North Waziristan Operation is NOTHING like Israel’s aggression against Gaza,

It is impossible to succinctly analyze all historical occurrences that have brought us to present historical epoch.  Both the countries have taken complicated, often clouded in secrecy, routes to reach where they have. They are both engaged in military operations under the pretense of protecting the ‘state’, targeting organizations that they perceive as being terrorists. The occurrence of both the operations at the same time has led to many comparisons between the two. Here are some of the factors leading to such comparisons:

1.       Disproportional response

The present waves of Israeli atrocities were triggered by the murder of an Israel at the hands of two Palestinian youth. The military operation against TTP has been a long time coming with the terrorist organization committing numerous terrorist attacks and activities throughout the country for over 8 years. In terms of proportionality, the actions of Israel are way worse. The threat posed by Hamas does not warrant the full on military operation by Israel. Israel claims that it seeks to root out militants and terrorists from Gaza. Similarly, the Pakistan seeks to do the same in North Waziristan

Hamas is an alien terrorist organization to Israel whereas Pakistan has worked with terrorist organizations, such as the TTP, to further our state’s agendas in the past. These paramilitary forces were created and equipped by the state. The monster that we created has gone beyond our control warranting an operation against the militants. Our cooperation with America in the war of terror turned a lot of the Islamist militants against Pakistan, who they saw as an ally to their enemy.  Israel is also indirectly responsible for the creation of Hamas. Israel constantly committed crimes against the people of Palestine creating the need for a terrorist organization to offer any response. Both the terrorist organizations see themselves as exercising self-determination. The states defend their operations against them under self-defense.  

I argue both the responses are not proportional because they do away with the need to hold people accountable for individual actions. The entire premise of the modern world, post-World War II, was based on establishing laws holding people responsible rather than many paying for the crimes of the few. By doing away with the cornerstone of all modern legislation, the actions of any state using illegitimate force against an entire population of people go against the principles of law. It is much worse in the case of Israel, who has committed sustained crimes against the people of Palestine defying several United Nations conventions and International Law rulings. Pakistan has covertly supported drone strikes in North Waziristan but Israel has directly engaged in air strikes in Gaza. Israel is also said to use advanced military equipment, using phosphorous bombs, which have been banned by international law.

2.       Denial of human Rights

Israel has flagrantly denied the people of Palestine basic fundamental rights. There are selective curfews where only Jews are allowed the freedom of movement. The people of Palestine are subjected to humiliation and degradation on a daily basis. The people of Palestine are forced to the brink of starvation, denied education or health care or basic human freedoms. The discrimination is based purely on ethnicity, whereas the discrimination in Pakistan against people is based on social class. On a national level, funds are unfairly allocated between different provinces whereas an urban centre would be adorned with modern infrastructural marvels, other provinces would be unable to feed a majority of its population. People in Palestine look out of their broken windows to a hustling bustling Tel-Aviv with all the luxuries of life, similarly, the people of North Waziristan look at people in the urban centers of Pakistan enjoying the basic human rights denied to them.  The uneven distribution of wealth leads to feelings of resentments against the elite, and an inferiority complex in their own identity. Whether the denial of basic fundamental rights is based on religion, ethnicity, class or race, it leads to a rupture within the civilian populations with a potential of civil war breaking out. The Palestinians resent Israelis for possessing the luxuries that they are denied, whereas the growing economic gulf between the poor and the rich of Pakistan result in the same. The problem is exacerbated by certain provinces in Pakistan being visibly more affluent than other provinces, and the less affluent provinces constantly suffering military operations against their people by an army that they start associating with the economically rich province.

3.       Civilian casualties

Despite the claims of both the militaries that civilians are not targeted, there are widespread reports of civilian casualties in both operations. On a technical side, both militaries view people harbouring terrorists as terrorists i.e. the people of a village where terrorists operate out of from are all seen as being guilty of the crimes of the terrorist. The military in Pakistan ordered people to evacuate North Waziristan before the operation began; the assumption is that anybody who chose not to is guilty. Non-combatants are constantly targeted, it is impossible to achieve precision with air strikes and air bombing. Civilian lives are often lost, including children. Entire villages are destroyed, the lives of people uprooted and their homes flattened. The loss of life is not even filed under collateral damage, they are labelled as terrorists; a grave disrespect of the dead. There was no accountability of the actions of Pakistan in Bangladesh in 1971, which meant that there was no change in policies and civilians were continued to be targeted for being anti-state.

The difference is that Pakistan is targeting people of its own country, whereas Israel is illegally occupying another state. If we ignore the history of Balochistan, and the claim of some of its people that the occupation of Pakistan on Balochistan is illegal, then Pakistan is not in violation of international law technically. It also has the favour of the world for claiming to target terrorists, as does Israel. However, based on notions of human security rather than state security, the veil of the state should no longer be used to allow the state to commit violence against its own population. If a military operation is needed then if any civilian casualties take place as part of that operation, the state should be held responsible for those crimes. There is a need to eradicate terrorist and terrorism but only the people who have committed, or conspired to commit, terrorist activities rather than a mass quarantine of people. We should not accept mass judgments against a mass of people.

It is due to the painting of a mass of people as all being terrorists that the Israelis view all Arabs as being terrorists. The people of Palestine are driven out of their homes, they are not allowed to come back, and they are not allowed to freely move in Palestine, or visit Israel. Every part of their lives is controlled by Israel. The need to occupy land by Israel to feed its occupation goals cannot be compared to Pakistan. The Gaza strip is also a tiny piece of land compared to the vast North Waziristan; the people have no option to leave their homes since they have the sea on one side and Israel on the other.

Whatever the merits of both wars, the civilian damage to the lives to a multiple generations of people cannot be ignored. It should be condemned and the world should come together to help these people because if we do not then they fall prey to the ideologies of terrorism.

It can be argued that Israel has a policy of targeting civilians whereas the Pakistan military does not. There is evidence of Pakistan doing so in Bangladesh. However, nothing compares to the atrocities committed by Israel in Gaza and the West Bank. We may deny IDPs freedom of movement but that is a temporary measure rather than a permanent restriction. The people of Palestine are required to get permits to move within their own country, or go to Israel for universities, or a job. Jews are systematically preferred to Arabs, often their homes given to Jew settlers. Israel is constantly expanding whereas Pakistan is only seeking to gain control over its own territories.

4.        The Merits

Whatever you believe is the moral thing to do, the merits of both the operations can be questioned. If the aim is the total eradication of an entire land mass of people then may be successful in doing so but if the aim is to eradicate terrorism then they may just be simply fuelling terrorist tendencies even more. Israel’s crimes have led Hamas into power, these latest wave of terror will only result in Hamas gaining popularity. The basis of the popularity of Hamas’s popularity is the denial of the existence of Israel, which makes it near impossible for them to accept a ceasefire.

You cannot win an ideological war with bombs. If you define yourself as the enemy to a group then they will try everything within their means to bring you down. Terrorism cannot be justified but without sympathizing with it, you can understand why people being bombed, their homes destroyed and their families murdered want to do the same to the enemy. If we target civilians, look to bomb a mass of people because we have suffered at the hands of some of them then what is the difference between us and them?

Israel’s actions seem to be aimed at eradicating an entire population; an ethnic cleansing. The aim of the military in Pakistan genuinely seems to be eradicating, or at least reducing terrorism rather than any form of ethnic cleansing but only a specific terrorist organization is targeted rather than militancy all over the country. People of Pakistan will not accept Karachi being bombed but accept North Waziristan being bombed, despite both the cities having strong militancy headquarters. Certain terrorist organizations, such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and the Haqqani Network, are offered protection by the state of Pakistan. I would support eradicating all terrorists’ outfits by targeting individuals responsible for them then seeking to wipe out one single area. Both Israel and Pakistan, should prepare themselves for a backlash of terrorist activities as a result of their actions. Pakistan has already proved itself ill-equipped to deal with the problem of IDPs. Israel has turned Gaza into a de-facto refugee camp; I fail to understand any justifiable end goal that Israel wishes to achieve by its continued military occupation of Gaza.  

     In conclusion, both the military operations are obviously not the same. They differ in methodology, aim, the targets, the logistics and most importantly history but the worst part for me personally is to see the inhumanity of the victorious. Pictures emerging of Israelis’s celebrating the bombing of Gaza and the people of Pakistan celebrating the bombing of North Waziristan leads me to believe that certain people do not want a just war, they want a massacre. The modern militaries of the world have replaced the ancient Roman gladiators. It is ironic how we frequently we amplify the inhumane cultures of the past and we call the repeat progress. It is easy to see the inhumanity in the actions of incidents, and people, further removed from yourself rather than critically evaluating your own behavior but nations that fail to do so, fail to evolve. Our nation’s resolve has been constantly tested, it does not matter who wins at the end so much so as to what place we all find ourselves in together once it all ends, everything must end.