Argument

We Are All Malala

Why can't Pakistanis condemn the Taliban for shooting a 14-year-old girl?

KARACHI — On Oct. 9, masked Taliban gunmen stopped Malala Yusufzai, a 14-year-old Pushtun girl from Pakistan's scenic Swat area, identified her, and then shot her. A day later, the girl lies in a hospital bed, battling for life after doctors removed the bullet from her head. As Pakistanis, all of us, in some way, are fighting the same broader struggle with misogyny and ignorance. We are all Malala.

In the eyes of the Taliban, Malala's crime was campaigning for the rights of women to get an education. She shot to fame by writing on the BBC's website about the horrors of living amid a Taliban insurgency, and openly condemned the Taliban for prohibiting girls from going to school. She nearly paid for it with her life. A Taliban spokesman called her crusade an "obscenity," and said that if she survived, the Taliban would try to kill her again.

The Taliban blow up Sufi shrines; worshippers at mosques; and men, women, and children in markets. They go for maximum carnage, taking dozens of lives either with the help of remote-controlled bombs or by luring in dazed, brainwashed nutcases to commit suicide in public by detonating dynamite strapped around their waists. The Taliban have also targeted specific individuals: senior police officials, politicians, captured soldiers, journalists, and even some religious scholars belonging to Muslim sects and sub-sects that the Taliban consider heretical. Now, add to this list of victims a 14-year-old schoolgirl specifically targeted because the Taliban think she ridiculed and defied the dictates ordained by God and his scriptures.

Who is responsible for the Taliban's murderous rage? A number of TV journalists, talk-show hosts, religious parties, and even some non-religious ones have continued to connect U.S. drone attacks in the tribal areas of northwest Pakistan with the spree of death unleashed by the Taliban and the sectarian outfits allied to them. Fearing both the extremists and losing support from those swept up in the anti-American wave, they find it difficult to condemn Taliban atrocities without mentioning drones.

Pakistani moderates have accused Taliban supporters of being naive, or worse, of being apologists. The so-called apologists have retaliated by labeling their accusers "liberal fascists," or even "American-CIA agents." They complain that these "liberal fascists" are always quick to condemn attacks from the Taliban, but remain quiet when U.S. drone strikes kill innocent people.

This argument contains enough rhetorical power to win instant approval from a people squirming in a country ravaged by economic crises, crime waves, unabashed corruption, terrorism, a civil war in the north, a government and military dangerously ambiguous toward the Islamists and the Taliban -- a society whose soul is being constantly pulled from all sides by the growing ranks of revivalists claiming that their understanding and interpretation of Islam is the most correct and accurate.

This argument starts to seem somewhat hollow when those claiming to fight a holy war against the United States and Pakistan are caught flogging women in public and blowing up schools. It starts to sound somewhat superficial when Taliban gunmen storm a schoolbus, shooting a 14-year-old girl in the head and neck amid the screams of terrified schoolchildren.

In the late 1960s, leftist intellectuals locked horns with right-wing Islamic ideologues to debate the ideology of their country and what it meant to be a Pakistani. The ideologues, with the help of mighty usurper Gen. Zia ul-Haq, won. Through textbooks, media, and politics, they advocated a Pakistan for which jihad was required.

But when such a jihad for a pious, powerful, and just Pakistan mutated into a mad grab for street and state power by violent sectarian organizations and outfits like the Taliban, the country plunged into an awkward existentialist and identity crisis.

Today, even the most educated Pakistani (especially if he or she is young), cannot differentiate between articles of faith ordained by God and the discourses of Islamic ideologues, who emerged at the end of the 19th century with the desire to Islamize society from below so that an Islamic state could be constructed from above. Secular or moderate Islamic scholars can distinguish between what the Prophet Mohammed taught, and the more modern laws that condemn blasphemers to death or the hudood laws that have imprisoned thousands of women in jails for rape. Their rape. But very few Pakistani Muslims are willing or able to make the same distinction.

At times, one can find a Pakistani hesitating to condemn a killer who murdered another person for suspected blasphemy. Though a tragically large number of people jumped with joy when a man assassinated the supposedly blasphemous governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, in January 2011 (he had spoken out against the country's blasphemy laws), even more Pakistanis were thrown into a mental quagmire, trying to figure out if the killer did the right thing.

Forget about comprehending the matter through secular reasoning: A man who commits cold-blooded murder deserves to be tried. It was as if many felt that condemning the killer or his act amounted to condemning Islam itself.

In Malala's case, thankfully, no one showered rose petals on the perpetrator, like some lawyers did after Taseer's murder. A flood of statements condemning the young girl's shooting came pouring in from politicians, military men, journalists, and common people. But only few were ready to explicitly mention, or even condemn, the perpetrator: the Taliban.

Some of Pakistan's gallant politicians and wise ulema refused to speak out from fear. Others kept silent to safeguard their belief that the drones are bigger culprits than men who have thus far killed more than 36,000 civilians, soldiers, and police in our country.

I hope it is Malala's fate to convince a confused population that the crisis facing Islam today results not from the intrigues of other faiths or different ways of life, but from those claiming to be its most vehement defenders.

FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP/Getty Images

Argument

China's Oil Investment Is Not a Threat

The Chinese purchase of a Canadian oil company is something U.S. officials should welcome, not fear.

This July, China National Offshore Oil Corp. (CNOOC), the state-owned giant that dominates exploration and production off China's coast, announced the $15.1 billion acquisition of Nexen, a Canadian oil company with assets in the United States and around the world.

The announcement made surprisingly few waves in the United States, given that, if successful, this transaction would be the largest foreign acquisition by a Chinese company anywhere in the world. But that may be changing as American lawmakers eager to prove their nationalist bona fides get a closer look.

Chinese investments in North America often come under intense scrutiny. After a roughly 18-month investigation, the U.S. House Intelligence Committee warned in a report this week that the Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE, the world's second- and fourth-largest telecommunications-equipment suppliers, respectively, "could undermine core U.S. national-security interests" and recommended that the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) block mergers or acquisitions involving Huawei and ZTE. In late September, based on CFIUS's recommendation, President Barack Obama blocked the sale of four Oregon wind farms to Chinese-owned Ralls Corp. in only the second time a sitting U.S. president has prohibited a foreign transaction. Given that CFIUS is currently assessing the national security risks of CNOOC's proposed acquisition -- a process that should take six weeks -- company executives in Beijing are likely paying rapt attention.

Although Nexen accounts for less than 0.5 percent of oil production in the United States, its announced takeover by CNOOC has sparked some congressional opposition. New York Sen. Charles Schumer has asked CFIUS to withhold approval of the transaction until China provides better access to the Chinese market for American companies. Massachusetts Rep. Edward Markey has requested that CFIUS block the deal unless CNOOC agrees to pay royalties on production from two of Nexen's leases in the Gulf of Mexico. And Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe said in a statement that he has "serious national security concerns with the Chinese government, acting through one of its corporations, purchasing a company that will give it control over significant U.S. oil and gas resources."

The Nexen acquisition is a friendly one; there are no rival bids, and Nexen's board of directors and the company's shareholders have already approved the deal. Mistrust of Chinese companies is prevalent in Washington, however, and the specter of CNOOC's failed 2005 hostile takeover bid for the U.S. oil firm Unocal (now part of Chevron) still haunts the company and its domestic peers. That's too bad, because a larger Chinese presence in the U.S. oil patch could actually be good for U.S. economic and geopolitical interests. Here are four reasons to welcome CNOOC's proposed takeover of Nexen.

1. It gives the United States leverage over Iran.

As Washington has used tougher sanctions to increase the pressure on Iran to curb its nuclear ambitions, U.S. policymakers have grappled with the question of how to elicit more cooperation from China. The U.S. sanctions regime aims to shrink Iran's oil income, which accounts for about half of the Iranian government's revenue, by prescribing penalties for entities that help Iran produce and sell its oil. Getting China on board is challenging not only because Beijing regards sanctions as an ineffective tool of statecraft but also because China has energy ties to Iran: Chinese companies are the largest foreign players in the Iranian oil fields and the largest buyers of Iranian crude, importing an average of roughly 426,000 barrels a day.

One solution is to roll out the red carpet for China's oil companies. Investing in the United States provides them with an opportunity to diversify their portfolios, grow reserves, and gain expertise in shale gas development. Since 2010, CNOOC and its domestic peer, Sinopec, have spent $5.6 billion buying minority stakes in U.S. shale gas projects. And the more China's oil companies are invested in the United States, the more likely they are to refrain from doing business in Iran. After the Unocal debacle, Chinese oil executives are acutely aware of how getting on the wrong side of politics in Washington can doom a deal. They know that CFIUS will review any proposed acquisition that would result in Chinese control of an energy company in the United States and ask about the acquirer's activities in Iran; winding down any activity there would almost certainly be a precondition for approval. China's oil majors are likely to choose the U.S. market over the Iranian one provided they have the opportunity to do so.

2. It won't help CNOOC in the South China Sea.

After CNOOC announced its plans to buy Nexen, the Wall Street Journal and Reuters published articles asserting that Nexen's operations in the Gulf of Mexico would provide CNOOC with deepwater drilling expertise applicable to disputed areas of the South China Sea. This vast body of water, potentially rich in oil and natural gas, is the subject of overlapping claims to territory and maritime rights by six governments, including China's.

The argument is that CNOOC's deployment of its newly acquired deepwater expertise to these areas could increase instability in the region and might prompt other claimants to further entangle the United States in a territorial dispute; therefore, CNOOC's takeover of Nexen is inimical to American interests. CNOOC itself hasn't helped matters. In May, the company's chairman, Wang Yilin, said large deepwater drilling rigs are "mobile national territory" and a "strategic weapon" for developing China's offshore oil industry.

Nexen, however, does not possess the technical capabilities that CNOOC needs to operate in the deep waters of the South China Sea. The Canadian firm is a newcomer to deepwater exploration and production. It does not own any drilling rigs and relies on outside contractors to perform most of the technical work involved in exploring and developing its acreage in the Gulf of Mexico -- contractors that CNOOC could legally hire anytime it wants. In any case, the geological differences between the Gulf of Mexico and the South China Sea limit the portability of U.S.-gained expertise.

3. Nexen's oil will continue to flow to Americans.

Americans worried that CNOOC might ship whatever U.S. oil it pumps on the first slow boat to China can rest assured: All the output from Nexen's U.S. assets will remain in U.S. hands. Under U.S. law, oil companies can only export crude oil with the explicit written permission of the U.S. government, and the government can only give permission if it finds exporting crude oil in the national interest. Consequently, CNOOC will continue to sell Nexen's production to Gulf Coast refineries. The only thing that will change is the name on the barrels.

4. It will signal that the United States is open to investment from Chinese companies.

Chinese executives and officials inside and outside the energy sector took CNOOC's rebuffed 2005 bid as a sign that the United States is hostile to Chinese investment. Many Chinese firms would like to invest in the United States but worry that politics will foil their attempts to enter the U.S. market. If CFIUS approves CNOOC's takeover of Nexen, it will send a strong signal that America is open for business.

Creating a more welcoming investment climate for Chinese firms benefits the United States in at least two ways. First, Chinese companies can provide capital to develop oil and natural gas resources, rebuild infrastructure, and create jobs in the United States. Chinese investments in the United States, which totaled more than $16 billion from 2000 to 2011, support 27,000 U.S. jobs today and could create up to 400,000 U.S. jobs through 2020, according to a study released in late September by the Rhodium Group, a consulting firm.

Second, welcoming Chinese companies to invest in the United States might even persuade China to reciprocate. If CNOOC's proposed acquisition of Nexen gets a green light from CFIUS, it would strengthen the hands of U.S. negotiators pressing China to open wider to U.S. companies. Given the fragile state of the U.S. economy, who could argue with that?

AFP/AFP/Getty Images