Posts Tagged ‘ Mumbai ’

Pakistani Militant, Price on Head, Lives in Open

By Declan Walsh for The New York Times

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Ten million dollars does not seem to buy much in this bustling Pakistani city. That is the sum the United States is offering for help in convicting Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, perhaps the country’s best-known jihadi leader. Yet Mr. Saeed lives an open, and apparently fearless, life in a middle-class neighborhood here.

“I move about like an ordinary person — that’s my style,” said Mr. Saeed, a burly 64-year-old, reclining on a bolster as he ate a chicken supper. “My fate is in the hands of God, not America.”

Mr. Saeed is the founder, and is still widely believed to be the true leader, of Lashkar-e-Taiba, the militant group that carried out the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India, in which more than 160 people, including six Americans, were killed. The United Nations has placed him on a terrorist list and imposed sanctions on his group. But few believe he will face trial any time soon in a country that maintains a perilous ambiguity toward jihadi militancy, casting a benign eye on some groups, even as it battles others that attack the state.

Mr. Saeed’s very public life seems more than just an act of mocking defiance against the Obama administration and its bounty, analysts say. As American troops prepare to leave Afghanistan next door, Lashkar is at a crossroads, and its fighters’ next move — whether to focus on fighting the West, disarm and enter the political process, or return to battle in Kashmir — will depend largely on Mr. Saeed.

At his Lahore compound — a fortified house, office and mosque — Mr. Saeed is shielded not only by his supporters, burly men wielding Kalashnikovs outside his door, but also by the Pakistani state. On a recent evening, police officers screened visitors at a checkpoint near his house, while other officers patrolled an adjoining park, watching by floodlight for intruders.

His security seemingly ensured, Mr. Saeed has over the past year addressed large public meetings and appeared on prime-time television, and is now even giving interviews to Western news media outlets he had previously eschewed.

He says that he wants to correct “misperceptions.” During an interview with The New York Times at his home last week, Mr. Saeed insisted that his name had been cleared by the Pakistani courts. “Why does the United States not respect our judicial system?” he asked.

Still, he says he has nothing against Americans, and warmly described a visit he made to the United States in 1994, during which he spoke at Islamic centers in Houston, Chicago and Boston. “At that time, I liked it,” he said with a wry smile.

During that stretch, his group was focused on attacking Indian soldiers in the disputed territory of Kashmir — the fight that led the military’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate to help establish Lashkar-e-Taiba in 1989. But that battle died down over the past decade, and Lashkar began projecting itself through its charity wing, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, which runs a tightly organized network of hospitals and schools across Pakistan.

The Mumbai attacks propelled Lashkar-e-Taiba to notoriety. But since then, Mr. Saeed’s provocations toward India have been largely verbal. Last week he stirred anger there by suggesting that Bollywood’s highest-paid actor, Shah Rukh Khan, a Muslim, should move to Pakistan. In the interview, he said he prized talking over fighting in Kashmir.

“The militant struggle helped grab the world’s attention,” he said. “But now the political movement is stronger, and it should be at the forefront of the struggle.”

Pakistan analysts caution that Mr. Saeed’s new openness is no random occurrence, however. “This isn’t out of the blue,” said Shamila N. Chaudhry, a former Obama administration official and an analyst at the Eurasia Group, a consulting firm. “These guys don’t start talking publicly just like that.”

What it amounts to, however, may depend on events across the border in Afghanistan, where his groups have been increasingly active in recent years. In public, Mr. Saeed has been a leading light in the Defense of Pakistan Council, a coalition of right-wing groups that lobbied against the reopening of NATO supply routes through Pakistan last year. More quietly, Lashkar fighters have joined the battle, attacking Western troops and Indian diplomatic facilities in Afghanistan, intelligence officials say.

The question now is what will happen to them once American troops leave. One possibility is a return to Lashkar’s traditional battleground of Kashmir, risking fresh conflict between nuclear-armed Pakistan and India.

But a more hopeful possibility, floated by some Western and Pakistani officials, is that Mr. Saeed would lead his group further into politics, and away from militancy.

“When there are no Americans in Afghanistan, what will happen?” said Mushtaq Sukhera, a senior officer with the Punjabi police who is running a fledgling demobilization program for Islamist extremists. “It’s an open question.”

A shift could be risky for Mr. Saeed: Some of his fighters have already split from Lashkar in favor of other groups that attack the Pakistani state. And much will depend on the advice of his military sponsors.

For their part, Pakistan’s generals insist they have abandoned their dalliance with jihadi proxy groups. In a striking speech in August, the army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, said the country’s greatest threat came from domestic extremism. “We as a nation must stand united against this threat,” he said. “No state can afford a parallel system of governance and militias.”

Five years of near-continuous battle against the Pakistani Taliban along the Afghan border, where more than 3,300 members of Pakistan’s security forces have been killed in the past decade, has affected army thinking, some analysts believe. Senior officers have lost colleagues and relatives, softening the army’s singular focus on India.

“This is a changed army,” said Shaukat Javed, a former head of the Intelligence Bureau civilian spy agency in Punjab Province. “The mind-set has changed due to experience, and pressure.”

But for all that, there is ample evidence that parts of the military remain wedded to jihadi proxies. In Waziristan, the army maintains close ties to the Haqqani Network, a major player in the Afghan insurgency. In western Baluchistan Province, it has used Sunni extremists to quell an uprising by Baluch nationalists — even though the same extremists also massacre minority Shiites.

And Mr. Saeed’s freedom to roam around Lahore — and, indeed, across Pakistan — suggests some generals still believe the “good” jihadis are worth having around.

Western intelligence officials say Lashkar’s training camps in northern Pakistan have not been shut down. One of those camps was the training ground of David C. Headley, an American citizen recently sentenced to prison by an American court for his role in the Mumbai attacks.

“There’s a strategic culture of using proxies,” said Stephen Tankel, an American academic and author of a book on Lashkar-e-Taiba. “And if that’s the tool you’re used to grabbing from the toolbox, it can be hard to let go.”

For all his apparent ease, Mr. Saeed has to walk a tightrope of sorts within the jihadi firmament. His support of the state puts him at odds with the Pakistani Taliban, which, he claims, are secretly supported by America and India — a familiar refrain in the right-wing media. “They want to destabilize Pakistan,” he said.

But that position leaves Mr. Saeed vulnerable to pressure from fighters within his own ranks who may still have Taliban sympathies. Western security officials say Lashkar has already suffered some defections in recent years..

“If he continues in this direction, the issue is how many people he can bring with him,” Mr. Tankel said.

But ultimately, he added, much depends on the Pakistani Army: “The army can’t dismantle these groups all at once, because of the danger of blowback. So for now they are putting them on ice. It’s too early to tell which way they will ultimately go.”

 

Mumbai Attacks: Four Years Later

By Bruce Riedel for The Daily Beast

Four years ago Monday, the Pakistani terror gang Lashkar-e-Tayyiba attacked Mumbai, killing more than 160, including six Americans, in the deadliest and most brazen terror attack since 9/11. Then and now, LeT enjoyed the support of Pakistani intelligence and al Qaeda. Today, LeT is a ticking time bomb ready to explode again.

Ajmal Kasab, the only one of the 10 LeT terrorists who survived the attack, was hung for his crimes in India this week. He had confessed to joining the organization and to being trained in its camps in Pakistan for the operation. He implicated the senior LeT leadership in the plot. LeT’s founder and leader Hafez Saeed is not only still free and at large in Pakistan, he routinely speaks at large rallies attacking India, America, and Israel. He denounces the drones and demands Pakistan break ties with America. He eulogized Osama bin Laden as a “hero” of Islam after the SEALs delivered justice to al Qaeda’s amir last year.

Saeed’s patrons include the Pakistani army and its intelligence service, the ISI, which works closely with LeT. Kasab also implicated the ISI directly in the Mumbai operation, saying it assisted with his training and helped select the targets. Two Pakistani emigres, David Headley (an American) and Tahawwur Rana (a Canadian), have also confessed in American courts that they helped LeT plan the massacre in Mumbai and that the ISI was deeply involved in it. Both were found guilty. The ISI helped bankroll their reconnaissance trips to Mumbai to set up the attack.

In researching my forthcoming book, Avoiding Armageddon: America, India and Pakistan to the Brink and Back, it became apparent that there was a third party behind the scenes in the Mumbai plot: al Qaeda. Al Qaeda deliberately kept a very low profile, but helped the LeT plan and select the targets. Al Qaeda and LeT have long been close. Bin Laden helped fund its set-up, and LeT routinely helps hide al Qaeda terrorists at its bases in Pakistan. Al Qaeda had big hopes for the 2008 plot—a war between India and Pakistan that would disrupt NATO operations in Afghanistan and the drone attacks on al Qaeda. Instead, India chose to use diplomacy and avoid a military response. We all dodged a bullet.

Since 2008 LeT has continued to enjoy a free hand in Pakistan and plot more attacks. In 2010 it planned a major attack on the 19th Commonwealth Games held in New Delhi. The plot was thwarted by good intelligence work, especially by the British intelligence services. This summer the Indians arrested a major LeT terrorist, Sayeed Zabiuddin Ansari, a.k.a. Abu Jindal, who was plotting another terror attack from a hideout in Saudi Arabia. Abu Jindal was also involved in the Mumbai operation in 2008—he was in the LeT-ISI control room in Karachi from which the orders were given by cellphone to the terrorists to kill hostages, including the Americans.

The Mumbai attack took place just after Barack Obama’s election. It was his first crisis as president-elect. In the last four years his administration has tried to rein in LeT. This year a $10 million reward was offered for information leading to Hafez Saeed’s capture, and the U.S. helped capture Abu Jindal. But the group is free to plot and plan in Pakistan and it has cells in the Persian Gulf, Bangladesh, England, and elsewhere. It will strike again sooner or later. When it does, al Qaeda and the ISI will probably be co-conspirators again.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note- It has been 4 years since the tragic days of November 26, 2008 and the alleged masterminds of the attacks, the leadership of LeT has still not been brought to justice. We at Pakistanis for Peace believe that in a good faith measure towards a lasting peace between India and Pakistan, the Pakistani government needs to apprehend the LeT leadership and extradite those remaining terrorists responsible for this tragedy to India to face their trial and punishment there. Only then, can Pakistan and India start a dialouge about peace.

Terrorist hanged over Mumbai massacre role

By Ben Doherty for The Sydney Morning Herald

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AJMAL KASAB, the lone surviving terrorist from the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people, has been executed in India.

Kasab, a 25-year-old Pakistani national, was hanged at 7.30am on Wednesday at Yerawada jail in Pune, after a plea for clemency was rejected by India’s President, Pranab Mukherjee.

On November 26, 2008, four years ago next Monday, Kasab was one of 10 Pakistani terrorists who sailed into Mumbai, armed with Kalashnikov rifles, grenades and handmade bombs, and launched 10 co-ordinated bombing and shooting attacks. They laid siege to the city, including landmarks such as the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, for more than 60 hours, killing 166 people.

Kasab was taken from his cell on Wednesday morning to the jail gallows. He was asked if he had ”any final desires”, but said he did not. He was hanged at 7.30am and buried two hours later in the grounds of the jail.

”The entire process was executed very secretly. Pakistan has been informed but there is no demand for Kasab’s body,” the home minister, Sushil Shinde, said. Kasab was convicted of 86 offences, including waging war against India.

After his execution, Mumbai dhabawallahs, who deliver home-cooked lunches to office workers, burnt his picture in celebration and set off fireworks.

Pakistan and India to Resume Cricket Matches

By Michele Langevine Leiby for The Washington Post

Whatever their differences, Pakistanis and Indians love their cricket. Their armies might fight wars and their governments may deeply mistrust each other, but sports fans and politicians in both countries see a diplomatic bright spot: a series of matches this year between the historical rivals.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India announced last week that the country would resume matches with Pakistan for the first time in five years. They will be the first bilateral games between the countries since the 2008 Mumbai attacks, which India says were launched by Pakistani terrorists who have been protected from prosecution by Pakistan’s government.

Although dates and the venue are still being worked out, the prospect of a renewed sporting rivalry has stirred optimism for rapprochement in both capitals.

“I think this will be further cementing the bilateral relationship, which is improving by the day,” Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna said. Krishna is planning a visit to Islamabad in September.

Pakistan’s president, Asif Ali Zardari, wrote a letter to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressing hope that reviving cricket matches would improve trust between the two nations, the newspaper Dawn reported.

Pakistani cricket-star-turned-politician Imran Khan also weighed in. “Anything which can bring both the countries to negotiations and normalcy is very good, and we must appreciate that,” he said.

Khan, who is running for prime minister, captained the Pakistan cricket team to its 1992 World Cup championship.

Young Pakistanis and Indians — aided by social media and unhampered by the long and contentious history — have found other ways to interact. Facebook pages such as “Romancing the Border” offer a forum for college students from both sides to learn about each other.

But online messaging and cricket diplomacy may not have much impact on a fundamentally hostile relationship; India and Pakistan fought three wars and remain locked in conflict over control of Kashmir. Their militaries are faced off on the disputed Siachen Glacier, described as the world’s highest battleground, where more men are lost due to the brutal conditions than to actual combat. In April, an avalanche at the entry to the glacier buried dozens of Pakistanis, most of them soldiers.

India and Pakistan: The Truth of the One Nation Theory

By Aakar Patel for FirstPost

The first time I came to Pakistan, I was taken aback at how good some of the infrastructure was. The airports at Karachi and Lahore were small, but they were efficient and well designed. I think my host told me the Japanese had built one or both of them, and those airports were a very different thing from the ones I had just taken off from in India.

This was when the government made the airports and as with all things the Indian government takes up, our airports were clumsy and barely functional. But a few years later this changed. Today the airports at Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore are pretty good. They’re not world class (nothing in India can ever be), but they are not embarrassing as the earlier ones were.

The differences that I had thought were significant turned out not to be so.

This led me to think of how similar we were as nations. Not in the sense that Mohd Ali Jinnah meant. I think it is fairly obvious that the character of India and of Pakistan is different when we observe their constitutions. India’s secularism is fundamentally Hindu in its nature. Pakistans constitution is Islamic by design and in appearance.

Though this is an important aspect of nationhood, however, it is only one aspect.

What I mean is how we are one nation in all the negative aspects. Our neighbourhoods and streets are among the most shameful in the world, because we are selfish and blind to the concern of others. Delhi’s drivers are as terrible as those in Lahore (and the women of Delhi and Lahore would concur on the behaviour of the loutish men of those cities). Half of us are illiterate and the half who are literate don’t really read much. The comments sections of Indian and Pakistani websites are the most dreadful in the world, without qualification. Hateful and pedantic, the product of minds who are only functionally literate. We think time will bring some big change in our society but it isn’t easy to see where this change is going to come from.

I know of few other nations where people would not be embarrassed at the thought of keeping servants. Few cultures would be so unaffected, so uncaring of privacy to not mind the constant presence of the servant in the house. I am not even talking about the bestial manner in which we treat them, because every reader of this piece, whether Indian or Pakistani already knows what I mean.

We divide ourselves into nations based on things like which animal the other eats or does not eat. The outsider probably sees no difference between us, and rightly.

We produce very little of meaning to the outside world, and it is tough to think of what our contribution is to the nations from whom we take so much. In science and technology we have nothing to offer the West, despite the boasts of Indians that we gave the world Arabic numerals and zero (I agree with that; we have given the world zero).

Pakistanis stake claim to Islams golden age. Daily Jang columnist Hassan Nisar often takes up this point. He says that the Arabs laugh when Pakistanis owns Islams achievements. What aspect of the conquest of Spain or the scientific revolution in Baghdad did Punjabis and Sindhis participate in?
To the world we are one people in that sense.

My friend Col Iftikhar, from Musharrafs batch in the Pakistan Military Academy, said he discovered this horrifying fact when he went to Mecca a few decades ago for Haj. He met some Saudis, one of whom asked him where he was from. Lahore, said Ifti. Where’s that, the Saudi asked (this was in the 70s). Pakistan, said Ifti proudly. Where’s that, the puzzled Saudi asked. Ifti took out a map and pointed. Ah, said the Saudi to his friends, he’s Hindi.

Our problems are so primitive that they should make us stop and repair ourselves immediately. But they don’t seem to affect us at all. Our media carry on like we are normal people. Reading the militant bombast of the strategic affairs experts in the newspapers of these two nations, the outsider would never suspect that these were two nations unable to even keep their public toilets clean.

More than 120 Pakistani Soldiers Lie Dead in the Snow for Nothing

By Mohammed Hanif for The Guardian

Two months before President Asif Zardari’s unexpected visit to India, a newly formed political alliance, the Council to Defend Pakistan, unveiled its slogan. “What is our relationship with India?” it asked. And then in a rickety Urdu rhyme it answered: of hatred, of revenge.

The council is an alliance between recovering jihadists, some one-person political parties and the kind of sectarian organisations whose declared aim is that Pakistan cannot fulfil its destiny until every single Shia has been killed or expelled from the country.

The council is not likely to have much impact on Pakistan’s electoral politics, but it is a clear reminder that there are strong forces within the country, which want a return to the days when India was Pakistan’s enemy No 1. Back then all you had to do to malign a Pakistani politician was to somehow prove that they were soft on India. Things have changed. When President Zardari went to India, his bitter political enemy and the opposition leader Nawaz Sharif welcomed the visit.

President Zardari’s visit on the one hand was a reminder that India is right next door. If you plan carefully, you can do a day trip, have lunch, visit a shrine and make the correct, polite noises that visitors make about their future intentions.

But the president’s visit was also set against a reminder that India and Pakistan have raised their animosity to a brutal art form. As the president’s plane landed in Delhi, rescue workers were trying to reach the Siachen glacier, where more than 120 Pakistani soldiers had been buried after an avalanche obliterated their military post. Siachen is often proclaimed the world’s highest battlefront – as if it’s a Guinness world record and not a monument to our mutual stupidity. As I write this, not a single survivor or body has been found. India offered help in rescue efforts. Pakistan politely declined, because that would compromise its military posts.

President Zardari’s visit was billed as a private one, but the pageantry surrounding it was state-visit like, complete with dozens of cameras broadcasting empty skies where the presidential plane was about to appear. And, of course, the media had scooped the menu for the state lunch a day in advance.

Did the visit achieve anything? An 80-year-old Pakistani prisoner in an Indian jail was released on bail. The leaders’ sons and probable heirs – Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Rahul Gandhi – got to hang out.

There are peaceniks on both sides who have held endless candlelit vigils on the borders. They would like the borders to melt away, for all of us to come together in a giant hug and live happily ever after just like we did in a mythical past when we were all either little Gandhis or sufis and got along fine. There is another minority on both sides that would like us to live permanently in the nightmare that was partition. There are Pakistani groups who want to raise the green flag over the Red Fort in Delhi, and there are Indian hawks who go to sleep thinking of new ways to teach this pesky little country a lesson. But the vast majority – and given the size of population and ethnic diversity, that majority is really vast – would just be happy with cheaper onions from across the border.

There is another kind of coming together: Pakistani writers and artists can attend both Indian and Pakistani literary festivals and art expos, and although it’s great that they can peddle their wares to a curious audience, the rest of the population are denied that privilege. A Punjabi farmer, for example, can’t sell his often perishable produce in India, a couple of hours away, but is forced to transport it a thousand miles to southern Pakistan. If India and Pakistan could take tiny steps which weren’t just meant for the rulers and cultural tourists, it might make some difference. For instance, if there were only a couple of thousand Pakistani and Indian students studying in each others’ countries, the appetite for a war rhetoric might wane. At the moment it can’t happen because the security establishment fear infiltration. The same establishment forget that infiltrators usually don’t apply for a visa, and no suspects so far have been to an IT school in Bangalore or an arts college in Lahore.

I mention education because one in 10 children who doesn’t go to school lives in Pakistan. One in three children in the world who is malnourished lives in India. And these countries insist on sending young men to a frontline where there is no war, where there is nothing to fight over, and where 4,000 soldiers have died, mostly because it’s just too cold. Tens of thousands return with serious mental ailments because it’s so lonely and depressing. Twenty three years ago a withdrawal agreement had been agreed upon, but according to Indian defence analyst Srikant Rao, the then Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi backed out because withdrawing troops wouldn’t look very good in pictures. Well, troops buried under miles of snow don’t look very good either.

If India and Pakistan can’t leave each other alone, they should at least leave those mountains alone.

Pakistan Leader’s India Visit Hailed For Its Symbolism

By Mark Magnier for The Los Angeles Times

Pakistan’s president arrived in India on Sunday, the first official visit one leader of the wary neighbors has paid to the other nation in seven years. No breakthroughs were announced, but both sides hailed the meeting as a sign of easing tensions along one of the world’s most dangerous borders.

Spinmeisters on both sides worked overtime to lower public expectations of the “private” trip that saw Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh discuss the 2008 terrorist attack on the Indian city of Mumbai, modest if expanding trade links, the disputed territory of Kashmir and efforts to bring various militants to justice.

The Pakistani president then visited a famous Muslim shrine for Sufi saint Moinuddin Chishti, offering a $1-million contribution.

“I am very satisfied with the outcome of this visit,” Singh said. “The relations between India and Pakistan should become normal — that is our common desire.”

The rapid-fire luncheon and shrine visit weren’t enough to overturn long-standing distrust between the nuclear neighbors, however, as summed up in a headline in India’s Mail Today tabloid newspaper: “Eat, Pray, No Love.”

The meeting is part of an apparent effort to follow the diplomatic model in place between India and China, which fought a war in 1962 over their disputed border: Put aside the most nettlesome issues for the time being and focus on building investment and trade links that benefit both sides.

This year, India and Pakistan approved a most-favored-nation agreement, lowering taxes that impede trade. Although India had offered this benefit to Pakistan in 1996, it wasn’t reciprocated until recently. Official two-way trade of about $2.6 billion is heavily weighted in India’s favor.

Sunday’s one-day visit was heavy on symbolism if not on substance. Zardari invited Singh for a reciprocal visit to Pakistan, which the Indian leader accepted, although no date was set. Zardari’s 23-year-old son, Bilawal, invited ruling Congress Party General Secretary Rahul Gandhi to Pakistan, which was also accepted, again with no date set.

On other fronts, both sides agreed in principle to ease visa restrictions. India offered its assistance in the wake of this weekend’s massive avalanche in the Siachen Glacier area, which buried about 130 people on the Pakistani-controlled side of the border in disputed Kashmir. And both sides did lots of glad-handing for the cameras.

“We had fruitful bilateral talks,” Zardari said. We “hope to meet on Pakistani soil very soon.”

But any bid to bring to justice those who planned the 2008 Mumbai attack that killed at least 166 people was sidestepped. India has long blamed Pakistani-based groups for plotting the attack.

Last week, Washington offered a $10-million reward for information leading to the capture of one Pakistani militant leader, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, who enjoys widespread support in Pakistan.

Analysts on both sides of the divide welcomed the gradual thaw even as they acknowledged its slow pace. That no date was set for a return visit, and that Congress Party head Sonia Gandhi — characterized by some as India’s real leader behind the scenes — didn’t meet Zardari or attend the lunch, suggests the Indian government is wary of getting too far ahead of public opinion, some observers said.

“There have been some useful steps forward,” said B. Raman, director of Chennai’s Institute for Topical Studies and a former Indian intelligence officer on the Pakistan desk. “But the government has taken a cautious line.”

The fact that Zardari, 56, made the trip at all suggests that Pakistan’s military realizes improved relations are in its interest, added Talat Masood, an analyst and retired Pakistani general.

“They’re overstretched, realize the economy’s in a shambles and that you can’t have a genuine defense without a good economy,” Masood said. “It’s very sad in a way, that the process has been held hostage to jihadi groups and hard-rightists on both sides.”

Singh, 79, heading a weak government beset by corruption scandals, has pushed for improved ties with Pakistan in a bid to secure a legacy, analysts on both sides said. “Prime Minister Singh realizes he’s only going to be there a few more months,” said Masood. “He wants to do something positive so he’s remembered.”

Why President Zardari’s Visit Is A Small Bonus

By Soutik Biswas for The BBC

Hope is not a policy, but neither is despair, as South Asia expert Stephen Cohen says in a recent essay on Pakistan.

So it is with relations between India and Pakistan.

The past few days have shown how fragile the relationship can be – even as India welcomed President Asif Ali Zardari’s private trip to India on Sunday – the first by a Pakistani head of state for seven years – and PM Manmohan Singh invited him for lunch, the $10m US bounty for Hafiz Saeed, the founder of Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, provoked the cleric to openly launch a fresh attack against India (and the US).

But people live in hope, so Indian media is gung-ho about Mr Zardari’s visit.

They say the Pakistani president must be applauded for trying to end trade discrimination against India, easing petroleum imports from across the border, and moving towards a liberal visa deal.

“Under Mr Zardari’s watch, India and Pakistan are considering a sweeping agenda for economic co-operation for the first time in decades. The prime minister has every reason to welcome Mr Zardari warmly and consider the next steps in consolidating the unexpected movement in bilateral relations,” the Indian Express wrote.

Analyst C Raja Mohan believes Mr Singh must make an official trip to Pakistan after his meeting with Mr Zardari. “For his part,” he wrote, “Mr Singh should convey to Mr Zardari his readiness to move as fast and as far as the Pakistan president is willing to go.” Others like Jyoti Malhotra actually find Mr Zardari’s visit to the shrine of a famous Sufi Muslim saint in Rajasthan loaded with symbolism in these troubled times. “Clearly, Mr Zardari has stolen an imaginative moment from the bitter-sullen history of India-Pakistan, by asking to come to pay his respects to a cherished and much-beloved saint across the Indian subcontinent,” she wrote.

The relations between two neighbours remain complex. A 2010 Pew survey found 53% of the respondents in Pakistan chose India as the greater threat to their country, and only 26% chose the Taliban and al-Qaeda. At the same time 72% said it was important to improve relations with India, and about 75% wanted more trade relations and talks with India.

Pundits like Mr Cohen believe that it will “take the [Pakistan] army’s compliance, strong political leadership, and resolutely independent-minded foreign ministers to secure any significant shift of approach towards India”.

None of this appears to be in much evidence at the moment.

Both countries have seriously weakened governments that makes them unable to move towards any radical confidence building measures. In the current circumstances, President Zardari’s visit can only be a small bonus. And as scholars like Kanti Bajpai suggest, India must remain patient (even if faced with another Mumbai-style attack), continue to engage with Islamabad, help the civilian government in Pakistan politically, try to resolve a few outstanding disputes like Siachen and Sir Creek, build a relationship with the army and explore the possibility of cooperating with Islamabad on the future of Afghanistan. Despair does not help mend a stormy relationship.

Pakistani militant taunts US: ‘I will be in Lahore tomorrow’

By Sebastian Abbot for The Associated Press

One of Pakistan’s most notorious extremists mocked the United States during a defiant media conference close to the country’s military headquarters Wednesday, a day after the US slapped a $10 million bounty on him.

“I am here, I am visible. America should give that reward money to me,” said Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, referring to the fact that the bounty was given to a man whose whereabouts are not a mystery. “I will be in Lahore tomorrow. America can contact me whenever it wants to.”

Analysts have said Pakistan is unlikely to arrest Saeed, founder of the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, because of his alleged links with the country’s intelligence agency and the political danger of doing Washington’s bidding in a country where anti-American sentiment is rampant.

Saeed, 61, has been accused of orchestrating the 2008 attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai that killed 166 people, including six American citizens. But he operates openly in Pakistan, giving public speeches and appearing on TV talk shows.

He has used his high-profile status in recent months to lead a protest movement against US drone strikes and the resumption of NATO supplies for troops in Afghanistan sent through Pakistan. The supplies were suspended in November in retaliation for American airstrikes that accidentally killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.

Hours before Saeed spoke, US Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides met Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar in the nearby capital, Islamabad, for talks about rebuilding the two nation’s relationship. In a brief statement, Nides did not mention the bounty offer but reaffirmed America’s commitment to “work through” the challenges bedeviling ties.

Increasingly ‘brazen’ appearances
The US said Tuesday it issued the bounty for information leading to Saeed’s arrest and conviction in response to his increasingly “brazen” appearances. It also offered up to $2 million for Lashkar-e-Taiba’s deputy leader, Hafiz Abdul Rahman Makki, who is Saeed’s brother-in-law.

The rewards marked a shift in the long-standing US calculation that going after the leadership of an organization used as a proxy by the Pakistani military against archenemy India would cause too much friction with the Pakistani government.

This shift has occurred as the US-Pakistani relationship steadily deteriorated over the last year, and as the perception of Lashkar-e-Taiba’s potential threat to the West increased.

Bounty backfire?
The US may be hoping the bounty will force Pakistan to curb Saeed’s activities, even if it isn’t willing to arrest him. But the press conference he called at a hotel in the garrison city of Rawalpindi on Wednesday was an indication that is unlikely, and the bounty may even help him by boosting his visibility.

At the hotel, located near the Pakistani army’s main base and only a half hour drive from the US Embassy in Islamabad, Saeed was flanked by more than a dozen right-wing politicians and hardline Islamists who make up the leadership of the Difa-e-Pakistan, or Defense of Pakistan, Council. The group has held a series of large demonstrations against the US and India in recent months.

Some in the media have speculated the movement has the tacit support of the Pakistani military, possibly to put pressure on Washington.

“I want to tell America we will continue our peaceful struggle,” said Saeed. “Life and death is in the hands of God, not in the hands of America.”

Denies involvement in Mumbai massacre
He denied involvement in the Mumbai attacks and said he had been exonerated by Pakistani courts.

Pakistan kept Saeed under house arrest for several months after the attacks but released him after he challenged his detention in court. It has also resisted Indian demands to do more, saying there isn’t sufficient evidence.

The bounty offers could complicate US efforts to get the NATO supply line reopened. Pakistan’s parliament is currently debating a revised framework for ties with the US that Washington hopes will get supplies moving again. But the bounties could be seen by lawmakers and the country’s powerful army as a provocation and an attempt to gain favor with India.

Origins in the Kashmir dispute
Saeed founded Lashkar-e-Taiba in the 1980s allegedly with ISI support to pressure India over the disputed territory of Kashmir. The two countries have fought three major wars since they were carved out of the British empire in 1947, two of them over Kashmir.

Pakistan banned the group in 2002 under US pressure, but it operates with relative freedom under the name of its social welfare wing Jamaat-ud-Dawwa — even doing charity work using government money.

The US has designated both groups foreign terrorist organizations. Intelligence officials and terrorism experts say Lashkar-e-Taiba has expanded its focus beyond India in recent years and has plotted attacks in Europe and Australia. Some have called it “the next Al Qaeda” and fear it could set its sights on the US

* Associated Press writer Asif Shahzad contributed to this report from Islamabad.

Rushdie Coming, Imran Backs Out

By Imtiaz Ahmad for The Hindustan Times

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan has refused to attend a function in New Delhi later this week after learning that British author Salman Rushdie will also be a participant.

Senior PTI leader Shireen Mazari said in a statement on Wednesday that Khan cancelled his participation as keynote speaker at the event, stating that he could not even think of taking part in a programme that included Rushdie, who has caused “immeasurable hurt to Muslims across the globe”.

Quoting Khan, Mazari said the party leader received the full programme of the event on Tuesday night and took his decision on Wednesday morning.

The organisers of the event announced on Tuesday that Rushdie would deliver a speech titled The Liberty Verses —I Am What I Am And That’s All That I Am.

Rushdie’s works are banned in Pakistan. He is seen to have committed blasphemy in his book, The Satanic Verses.

Several people in Pakistan have been killed in the past couple of years on suspicion of blasphemy, the most high-profile case being that of Punjab governor Salman Taseer, who was shot dead in 2011 by a member of his security detail.

Taseer opposed Pakistan’s blasphemy law and had backed a mercy petition for Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy.

Khan’s party recently aligned with the Difa-e-Pakistan council — a collection of religious parties, including many banned outfits — which has been campaigning against US drone attacks and allowing transit passage for Nato supplies.

The Pornification of New India

By Damayanti Datta for India Today

On February 7, three Karnataka ministers were captured on television poring over a phone screen, watching a woman in a petticoat gyrating wildly. They lost their jobs for watching pornography in the sacred precincts of the Legislative Assembly. The incident is a high-profile sample of a definitive reality: porn is pervasive through the Internet across India, easily and freely available, not just to leery politicians but to children and adults in millions of ordinary homes.

It is a sign of the times that the most famous international porn star has Indian roots and was on Indian television. Sunny Leone, 30, appeared on the reality show Big Boss 5 and has now launched a clothes-on Bollywood career. Her fake breasts, that won the 2010 fame Award for Favourite Breasts in Los Angeles, have brought her the honour of being named among the 50 Most Desirable Women by the nation’s biggest daily this month.

The organised $12 billion (Rs.60,000 crore) American adult entertainment industry, to which Leone belongs, has bred explicit images beyond the limits of imagination. And they are free. Fuelled by the Internet and facilitated by high-speed data service, pornography, born in dozens of studio lofts around the world, has entered teenagers’ mobile phones with the force and sweep of a dangerous flood. It threatens to swamp conventional notions of morality, raise tensions in bedrooms, lure children into a world they do not understand, and initiate a culture that threatens the mores of family life as we know it.

The writing is on the wall. Google Trends show the search volume index for the word ‘porn’ has doubled in India between 2010 and 2012. With instant Net connectivity and flexible payment options, online porn is increasingly affordable, accessible and acceptable. Seven Indian cities are among the top 10 in the world on porn search, reports Google Trends, 2011. One out of five mobile users in India wants adult content on his 3G-enabled phone, according to an 2011 IMRB Survey. Over 47 per cent students discuss porn every day, says a public school survey by Max Hospital in Delhi. Porn tops the list of cyber crimes in India, according to the National Crime Records Bureau.

Rape, penetration, oral, anal, lesbian, gay or group porn are yesterday’s news. There is now a hectic crossover of porn subcultures on the World Wide Web. Consider MILF (or Mothers I Like to F***) porn. “Check out the most notorious hot, mature moms going crazy and getting f****d by young studs,” invites one of the 40,600,000 MILF websites. “A hot and sexy bride is getting raped brutally,” says a ‘ravished bride’ porn site. There is ‘pregnant porn’ (“Are you ready to see these moms-to-be in action?). There is ‘incest porn’ that welcomes you to sites with “xxx videos full of mother and son, dad and daughter”. Child porn blends with ‘teen porn’, promising “fascinating porn actions starring our young models”.

New jargon and innovative formats, borrowed from foreign cultures, are trendy on the web. For the uninitiated, chikan (“to grope” in Japanese) porn is all about public molestation in trains. ‘Bukkake’ parties involve repeated ejaculation on a woman by several men. Shemale and futanari porn mean “live action” with transsexuals. Anime and manga refer to Japanese formats of sexually-explicit comics and animation. A new focus is the service sector, with “shy massage girls” seducing clients, doctors and “hot babes in nurse uniforms” getting wild. In ‘corporate porn’ “busty secretaries” go down on their knees to pleasure their boss.

Sunny Leone (or Karen Malhotra) takes credit for the ‘pornification’ of India. “My presence on Bigg Boss has empowered a lot of people to be open about their sexuality,” she tells India Today. One of the richest adult actresses in the industry, with her SunLust Pictures in Los Angeles reporting a top line of over $1 million (Rs.5 crore), she is now getting ready to debut in filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt’s Jism 2, playing a professional body double. The most-searched Google celebrity-powered by India, Bangladesh and Pakistan-she has 1,47,326 Twitter followers.

Leone’s success indicates the greater acceptability of porn in daily life. Internet is the new tool, exploding every embarrassing sexual adventure of public personalities and making every lurid detail an item of private consumption. Coming after the midwife Bhanwri Devi’s sex cds with Rajasthan politician Mahipal Maderna in November 2011, public reaction to the Karnataka fiasco has ranged from indignation to amusement, but not shock: if political parties engaged in a morality-in-politics war, social activist Anna Hazare demanded the ministers be sent to jail and media professional Pritish Nandy summed up Bollywood’s reaction by calling them the “3 idiots”.

“A porn star doesn’t automatically mean prostitute,” says Leone, now seeking respectability. She talks about her parents’ initial shock turning into respect, how they taught her to be a “good person”, years of hard work, restrained personal life, professionalism and lack of regrets. Like the girl-next-door, she tweets how she is learning Hindi, cooking sabzi and massaging hair oil. Her endeavour will not be too difficult. Young adults, who grew up with cable TV, DVD players and the Internet, have been exposed to much more adult material than their parents. As filmmaker Pooja Bhatt points out, “Young people don’t respond negatively to Sunny because they have already logged on to her website.”

She is not wrong. Even school students discuss porn. Dr Samir Parikh, chief psychiatrist, Max Healthcare, calls it “risky indulgences”. In a survey on 1,000 children from top public schools in Delhi in 2010, he found 47 per cent boys and 29 per cent girls visiting porn sites and talking about it in school. “I understand sexual inquisitiveness and peer pressure around sexuality, but pornography on the Internet is fake, unreal, often violent and downright perverted,” he says. “Moreover, a new technology in young hands could lead to irresponsible behaviour and ruin their lives.” He obviously has in mind the stream of MMS scandals that have hit campuses across the country since 2004, when two Class XI students of a school in Delhi created a sensation. In many of these cases, either one partner was not aware of being filmed or did not anticipate the videos would get circulated-as in May 2011 when JNU student Janardan Kumar, 22, made a video of the girl he was intimate with and used it to blackmail her after being rejected.

Campus porn is a thriving subterranean culture. Try talking to students in various campuses of Delhi: “Have you ever heard of MMS videos of students being circulated on the campus?”

Diksha Singh, 20: “Every couple of months there is a fresh case. It’s so common, I don’t even blink.”

Raghav Verma, 19: “All the time. It’s shocking to see a classmate’s intimate details on video camera.”

Mehak Suri, 18: “My ex-boyfriend tried that with me, and when it didn’t work he sent me threatening emails and messages.”

Amaira Kapoor, 20: “You will be surprised to know how many cases go unreported and unaccounted for.”

Sakshi Wakhlu, 21: “A year ago, one girl got high, went with a group of boys and had sex with them. The men came back and talked.”

The arrival of smartphones is changing the country’s porn landscape further. India has the lowest penetration of smartphones, 10 per cent, among the youth globally. But with email, social networking, chatting, messaging and gaming, it is a device every youth craves for. And now there are even porn applications. Imagine a ‘pocket’ girlfriend or boyfriend, who can strip, talk dirty, make sexual noises. “These are some of the ‘apps’ that can be downloaded on smartphones,” says Pranesh Prakash, programme manager with Bangalore-based think-tank Centre for Internet and Society. “App download data shows the popularity of sex-themed apps on smartphones, apart from the adults-only stores,” he says. Age restrictions for applications? Mostly a pop-up asking if one is over 17. With over 50 per cent of all Internet users in the country accessing the web via mobile phones already, as estimated by TRAI, smartphones are the future of anytime-anywhere porn.

The threshold of what can be called ‘pornography’ is shifting. Mainstream and hardcore entertainment are coming closer. The Dirty Picture, biopic of south siren Silk Smitha, raked in Rs.50 crore in its very first week in December 2011, with its noisy orgasms, titillating cleavage and fiery dialogues. It’s also hard to draw the line between porn and art in raunchy item numbers, from Sheila ki Jawani to Munni Badnam Hui. “What heroines do in films today is what vamps did yesterday,” says filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt. Some item numbers are more obscene than nudity, he feels. “People tell me, how can someone who made Saaransh, Arth and Zakhm, make films like Jism and Murder” he adds. “I say, get off the high horse.”

Kolkata certainly is getting off the high horse. A city with the least taste for pornography, going by India Today Sex Surveys, is also one of the top seekers of porn online, reports Google Trends. Leone’s CDs are bestsellers here. Teenage boys creep up and ask, “Sunny Leone ka CD chahiye?” (Want Sunny Leone’s CDs?), at Chandni Chowk market in central Kolkata, the city’s piracy hub. Step inside the dingy alleys between shops selling electronic goods, and piles of pirated blue film come out of hiding-Rs.120 for just a CD and Rs.250 for one with Leone on the cover. Ask too many questions and they show you the door. The police are their friends, although motorcycles stand ready for sudden crackdowns. “Sunny’s CD is selling like hot cakes, 200 a day,” says one. Leone is not pleased. “If you are stealing my movies in Kolkata, that is flipping horrible,” she has tweeted. But who cares? A 33-year-old customer puts away her CD in his plastic bag with quiet satisfaction. “I will have to watch when the wife is not looking,” he grins.

If a married man watches porn,is it considered cheating??

My husband secretly watches porn. Why are men like this? He knows I hate porn.

My husband watches porn alone. He refuses to watch it with me.

My husband watches porn very often. Should I be worried?

I feel insulted whenever my boyfriend watches porn.

There are 2,690,000 such postings on Google, from wives and girlfriends globally, on a range of sites on the web-health, marriage, empowerment, agony.

Watching porn alone is a rising trend among men, thanks to the Internet. Check out India Today Sex Surveys: in 2009, with video as the most popular porn format, just 10 per cent men out of 2,661 watched porn alone. This year, with smarter access and gadgets, it zoomed to 44 per cent. “It is usually a sign of cybersex addiction,” says Dr Vijay Nagaswami, Chennai-based expert on sexual psychotherapy. “Compulsive pornwatchers often become dysfunctional. They stay up late for online porn to get active on instant messengers, webcams, demand more private time, neglect family, work and normal sexual activity.”

Even five years back, it was difficult to get locals to dub foreign porn films in Gujarati. But now, mobile shop owners in Ahmedabad do brisk business in porn, supplying primarily to youngsters. They download content on hard discs and then transfer those to the memory cards of eager youngsters-Rs.100 to Rs.200 for a 30-minute film. “It’s good business. Sometimes I get more than six customers, all boys,” says Rajesh Patel, a porn-provider.

It’s good business in Chennai, too. In a small shop opposite the high court in Burma Bazaar, the hub of pirated movies in Chennai, Ramu is doing his puja. He throws flowers at the gods, and looks at his customer. “English, Tamil also.” His voice goes an octave lower, “Triple.” Who cares for storylines? Many of these films are shot in the city or taken off the Net. Ramu sells at least 100 discs a day, mostly to distributors. The CDs are mostly of Indian couples having sex, sometimes verging on rape. “This business can’t be hit by recession,” Ramu says. “People will always buy porn.”

The buzz is, although the Karnataka ministers claimed they were watching clips of a real-life gang-rape at a rave party, they were either watching Indonesian hardcore ‘abik’ porn or model Poonam Pandey’s YouTube video, Bathroom Secrets. But what do most Indians watch? Google Trends indicates that the average Indian pornwatcher opts for more tame keywords, ‘sex’ and ‘how to kiss’, the most. New research by computational neuroscientists Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam from Boston University, US, on a billion porn and erotic web searches across the world, shows that the five most popular porn sites for men are webcam or video sites featuring anonymous graphic sex, with a monthly traffic of 7-16 million visitors. For women, the most popular is the “erotic” site fanfiction.net, which gets over 1.5 million visitors a month and has more than two million stories, 50 per cent being “romance”.

How big is pornography in India? Of the 500 top Indian websites this month ranked by the leading global web information company Alexa, at least 24 are porn sites. Nearly a dozen porn sites are more popular than some leading news sites and that of the Bombay Stock Exchange. Leone, one of the top five global porn stars, says 80 per cent of her web traffic and 60 per cent of her “high six figures” revenue come from India. The content, she says, is “everything and above”. “I can sell anything you want as long as you have a credit card.”

The only other major-league porn actor of Indian origin in the US, Priya Anjali Rai, also says she has a lot of fans in India, but not many paying customers. Adopted from New Delhi by American parents and brought up in Arizona, Rai keeps her Indian name for her work: “That’s what makes me different from everybody else.” Both Leone and Rai insist they only do “vanilla” porn, “boy-girl stuff”. The US, specifically the Los Angeles area, has the biggest porn industry in the world, followed by London and Budapest, estimated between $4 billion (Rs.20,000 crore) and $15 billion (Rs.75,000 crore) annually. Top porn stars easily earn a quarter of a million dollars annually.

Those who think production and distribution of pornography in India are not allowed, think again. “A lot of amateur videos are being produced,” says Namita Malhotra, author of Porn: Law, Video and Technology. “They have been there for long. But now from print they have gone digital. Amateur videos are a new phenomenon,” says a lawyer associated with Alternative Law Forum in Bangalore. “It’s unorganised,” says a Bangalore-based photographer involved with the porn industry. There are a few big houses who run multi-crore businesses. The small players use small video cameras so that they can be seen on mobile phones. “Ever since the mms scandal, we make false scandal videos, called kaand,” the photographer says. “It’s normal sex. Not like those foreign videos where they use horses and 10 men at the same time.” Do they go online? Sometimes they are sold, but always with the permission of the model, “No force,” he insists. “The money is good, so that we don’t tell anyone.” His best moment? When a model asked him to shoot her in different ways, to try to create a scandal and get noticed.

Has the battle against porn been lost? Anti-porn feminists in the US have admitted defeat. India is not quite there. Despite the hyper-sexualised climate, ministers do get thrown out over porn. To cyber law expert and senior associate of SNG & Partners Rahul Sud, India is on the right track. “Personal consumption of porn has never been an offence,” he points out. “Child pornography, publishing and transmitting are.” Press Council of India Chairperson Justice Markandey Katju has rolled out the red carpet for Leone, but not before comparing her to history’s “fallen women”, Amrapali or Mary Magdalene.

Does Leone care? She is busy stretching, bending and sweating. Not in a girl-boy-girl orgy online but on a Bikram Yoga mat in Hollywood. “OMG, I’m so tired,” she tweets. She has the same vital statistics as Marilyn Monroe, 36-24-34, and she is determined to look her best for those semi-nude scenes in Jism 2. “We Indians are proud of you!,” tweets one of her admirers. “Thank you,” she tweets back. She has every reason to be grateful.

- With Indira Kannan, Nishat Bari, Kiran Tare, Gunjeet Sra, Shravya Jain, Avantika Sharma, Lakshmi Kumaraswami, Uday Mahurkar and Tithi Sarkar contributing.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note- The porn phenomena is not isolated to just India in the subcontinent. Across the border, Pakistan was recently ranked as first in the world in terms of pornographic Google searches. This is a result of two conservative societies where sex is a taboo. One can only hope that these ancient and slow changing cultures can adapt to the new realities regarding sex.

Satirical Song, a YouTube Hit, Challenges Extremism in Pakistan

By Salman Masood for The New York Times

 

A satirical song that takes a tongue-in-cheek swipe at religious extremism, militancy and contradictions in Pakistani society has become an instant hit here, drawing widespread attention as a rare voice of the country’s embattled liberals.

The song, “Aalu Anday,” which means “Potatoes and Eggs,” comes from a group of three young men who call themselves Beygairat Brigade, or A Brigade Without Honor, openly mocking the military, religious conservatives, nationalist politicians and conspiracy theorists.

Their YouTube video has been viewed more than 350,000 times since it was uploaded in mid-October. The song is getting glowing reviews in the news media here and is widely talked about — and shared — on social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook.

The name of the band is itself a satire of Pakistan’s nationalists and conservatives, who are often described in the local news media as the Ghairat Brigade, or Honor Brigade.

Local musicians have produced work in the past vilifying the West, especially the United States, but rarely do they ridicule the military or religious extremists, and none have had Beygairat Brigade’s kind of success.

Sung in Punjabi, the language of the most populous and prosperous province, the song delivers biting commentary on the current socio-political milieu of the country, in which religious radicalism and militancy have steadily risen over the years and tolerance for religious minorities is waning.

Just this year, a governor who opposed Pakistan’s contentious blasphemy law was killed by one of his guards. The assassin was then celebrated by many in the country, including lawyers who greeted him with rose petals and garlands.

The song rues the fact that killers and religious extremists are hailed as heroes in Pakistan, while someone like Abdus Salam, the nation’s only Nobel Prize-winning scientist, is often ignored because he belonged to the minority Ahmadi sect.

“Qadri is treated like a royal,” wonders the goofy-looking lead vocalist in the song, referring to Malik Mumtaz Qadri, the elite police guard who killed the governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, in January after he challenged the blasphemy law.

Another line in the song, “where Ajmal Kasab is a hero,” makes a reference to the only surviving Pakistani gunman involved in the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India. Still another line, “cleric tried to escape in a veil,” alludes to the head cleric of Islamabad’s Red Mosque — which was the target of a siege in 2007 by the Pakistani government against Islamic militants — who tried unsuccessfully to break the security cordon by wearing a veil.

The song even makes fun of the powerful army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, for extending his role for another three years.

Potatoes and eggs “never tasted so good,” wrote Fahd Husain in a commentary on Tuesday in The Daily Times, a newspaper based in Lahore. “They will always be credited for being politically incorrect when most needed, and giving voice to all those Pakistanis who live in fear.”

The popularity of the song on the Internet has made it a sensation across the border in India as well, surprising the band members, who have been incessantly asked whether they feel they have put their lives in danger by ridiculing the mighty.

There are certainly enough provocations to rile nationalists and conservatives. At one point in the music video, the lead singer holds a placard that reads, in English: “This video is sponsored by Zionists.”

The band members chose to upload the song on YouTube instead of handing it to television networks because they said the work was too offbeat and might be censored. Not surprisingly, some have criticized the song and its taunts as pedestrian and in bad taste.

“We were not expecting such a huge response,” said Ali Aftab Saeed, 27, the lead vocalist, who lives in Lahore, a city that is often considered the country’s cultural capital.

He said the assassination of Mr. Taseer was the inspiration for the song and its lyrics.

Resistance poetry and literature are not new to Pakistan, and they raised spirits during the somber years of military dictatorships.

During the protest rallies of the seminal lawyers movement in 2007, when they led the campaign to oust the president, Pervez Musharraf, the lawyers would sing and dance to a poem written by Faiz Ahmad Faiz, considered a giant of Urdu literature. Habib Jalib, another famous Pakistani poet, wrote several poems against Gen. Mohammad Zia ul-Haq, the military dictator in the 1980s.

But “Jalib is irrelevant to the generation of urban, young, middle-class kids that Beygairat Brigade is addressing,” said Nadeem Farooq Paracha, a culture critic based in Karachi.

“This band is offering an alternative narrative to the one this generation has grown up on, and provides a counternarrative to establishmentarian and conservative notions of politics, history and society advocated by televangelists, conspiracy theorists and, of course, the right-wing electronic media,” Mr. Paracha added. “And what better and more effective way to do this than by using satire and pop music.”

The band members, on the other hand, have no pretensions of being revolutionaries, activists or intellectuals, though they do feel that the song represents those who do not believe in extremism and want to live peacefully.

“At the end of the day,” said Mr. Saeed, the lead vocalist, “we are just musicians who raised some questions.”

Pakistan, India take Another Cautious Step Forward

By Alex Rodriguez and Mark Magnier for The Los Angeles Times

 

In cautious increments, nuclear archrivals Pakistan and Indiahave been easing the pall of tension that has overshadowed the two nations in recent years, as Islamabad increasingly worries about another neighbor: volatile Afghanistan.

The latest move toward rapprochement came last week, when the Pakistani Cabinet announced it would normalize trade relations with India by granting its longtime foe “most favored nation” status.

The designation has practical ramifications, including the elimination of discriminatory pricing and mutual imposition of lower tariffs and high import quotas. More important, however, it marks the latest in a series of decisions and events that signals a warming in relations between two countries that have fought three wars since their independence after the 1947 partition of British India.

Driving the move toward improved relations with India is Pakistan’s belief that strained ties with traditional allies such as the U.S. and Afghanistan are leaving it increasingly isolated, analysts say. India and Afghanistan signed a strategic partnership pact last month that included the training of Afghan troops by Indian forces — a move that rankled Islamabad.

The steps between the two South Asian neighbors have been small yet striking.

After an Indian military helicopter flying in bad weather strayed into Pakistani-controlled territory Oct. 23, Pakistani troops promptly released the aircraft and its crew and returned them to India, averting a crisis. Earlier this year, the two countries also resumed peace talks scuttled by the 2008 attacks in Mumbai that killed 166 people. Pakistani militants carried out the attacks, and India has accused Pakistan’s ISI spy agency of involvement in the assault.

Both countries are also discussing a deal that would allow Pakistan to import electricity from India to relieve massive power shortages crippling the Muslim nation’s economy. In addition, India didn’t oppose Pakistan’s nonpermanent seat on the United Nations Security Council last month, which passed by a single vote. And, earlier this year, New Delhi didn’t fight a European Union bid to allow duty-free imports of Pakistani textiles, even though it would cost competing Indian textile makers an estimated $1 billion a year in lost sales.

Experts warn that major roadblocks still loom. At the top of that list is the divided Himalayan region of Kashmir, claimed by both countries and the cause of two wars since 1947. A dispute over water rights remains unresolved, and New Delhi continues to accuse the ISI of backing militant groups that target India.

Still, bolstering trade relations between the two countries, said Zafar Hilaly, a former Pakistani ambassador to the U.S., “is a good first step. It shows a genuine feeling within Pakistan that the relationship should be normalized.”

Particularly significant is the Pakistani military’s decision to endorse granting MFN status to India. Foreign policy remains the purview of Pakistan’s security establishment, especially when it comes to the country historically regarded by the military as its chief enemy.

“All the stakeholders, including the military … are on board,” Pakistani Information Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan said in announcing the decision. “Such a big step could not be taken alone.”

The military’s backing of MFN status for India, Hilaly said, likely represents a realization that an easing of tensions with New Delhi may now be in Pakistan’s best interests, particularly at a time when relations with Washington and Kabul have soured. Both the U.S. and Afghanistan assert that their efforts to battle Afghan Taliban insurgents have been hampered by Pakistan’s backing of the insurgency there, a charge that Islamabad denies.

“What has happened is that, with respect to issues that the military faces, the priorities have changed,” Hilaly said. “India is still the main culprit as far as security is concerned, but the eastern front is much less active than the one developing in Afghanistan.”

Officials in Washington have been encouraged by the movement toward trade normalization between Islamabad and New Delhi, especially because economic interdependence is seen as an ideal path toward stability in South Asia. Testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee last month, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called the Pakistan-India relationship “the real game-changer in the region.”

“We have in Pakistan today a leadership, both civilian and military, that wants to see progress with India, and we have the same on the Indian side,” Clinton told lawmakers. “I firmly believe greater regional economic integration would revolutionize the economy in Pakistan.”

Though India extended MFN status to Pakistan in 1996, Pakistan had not reciprocated until now. Observers in India wondered why it took Islamabad so long to see the value in the move. “Not allowing MFN status hurt Pakistan more than India and was shortsighted,” said Satish Chandra, an analyst and former Indian ambassador to Pakistan. “It was an exercise in cutting your nose to spite your face.”

With trade normalization, experts estimate two-way trade could triple to $8 billion within five years. Official trade flows currently run nearly 7 to 1 in New Delhi’s favor, with Indian exports to Pakistan totaling about $2.33 billion versus $332 million in the other direction.

“When trade picks up, there’s more and more confidence to ease political and other differences,” said Shaqeel Qalander, a furniture maker and former president of a business group on the Indian-held portion of Kashmir. “It’s a very good decision.”

Growing Hope for Trade Ties Between India and Pakistan

By Shahzeb Jillani

Business leaders from India and Pakistan say there’s new optimism about the efforts their governments are making to improve trade ties. But critics warn that overcoming decades of mistrust may not be that easy.

For the first time in 35 years, a Pakistani commerce minister led a business delegation to India last week. The entourage included nearly 80 leading industrialists, traders and high-ranking officials.

Peace talks between the two nuclear-armed neighbours broke down in 2008 after the attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai, which India blamed on Pakistan-based militants.

Nearly three years on, as if to emphasise a sense of normalcy, the Pakistani Commerce Minister, Makhdoom Amin Fahim, stayed at the city’s Taj Mahal Hotel – which was one of the main targets of the 2008 attacks.

There, leading Pakistani traders got a chance to mingle with their equally eager-for-business Indian counterparts.

Between them, they spoke not just of the profits their individual businesses could make if their governments removed the long standing hurdles in their way. But also of how much the people of their two countries, and indeed the wider region, stand to benefit from freer movement of goods, money and commodities.

The only way I see realisation of trade potential between our two countries is for India to remove its non-tariff trade barriers and for Pakistan to reciprocate by granting the MFN status to India”

Vijay Kalantri, president of All India Association of Industries, said traders on both sides feel business between India and Pakistan is a win-win situation for everyone.

“Why are Indians and Pakistanis forced to trade unofficially via third countries like Dubai or Sri Lanka?” he tells the BBC from Mumbai.

“All we are asking is, let there be direct business-to-business contact between us.”

After the talks in Delhi, ministers from the two sides announced their agreement to boost their annual bilateral trade from current $2.7bn (£1.7bn) to $6bn by 2015.

They also pledged to ease business travel and promote bilateral trade through the land route.

For Pakistan, a significant announcement was a pledge by India to drop its opposition to the European Union’s plan to grant Pakistan tariff waiver on select commodities to help it recover from the devastation of 2010 floods.

There was hope that Pakistan might reciprocate and grant India the Most Favoured Nation status (India granted Pakistan MFN status way back in the 1990s).

Even though no such announcement came, Pakistan committed itself to a road map to implement preferential trade ties with India, as prescribed under the South Asia Free Trade Agreement (Safta).

Trade barriers
There are a number of explanations why Pakistan has so far withheld the MFN status from India.

At present there are a number of barriers to prevent trade between Indian and Pakistan
First is political. Pakistani leaders have often linked it to the resolution of the core issue of Kashmir.

It’s a stance which has long been propagated for mainly domestic consumption.

But there is a sense in Pakistan that while the country should continue to push for a negotiated settlement of the Kashmir issue, trade and commerce should not be held hostage to resolution of political disputes.

The second is protectionism. For years, domestic industry in Pakistan has feared it would be swamped by imports from India. But even there, the mood appears to have shifted.

Senator Haji Ghulam Ali, president of Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry, says there’s a consensus that Pakistan should open up to Indian business.

“Everyone now recognises it will be beneficial for both sides. It’s just a matter of time before it’s done,” he tells the BBC from Delhi.

Business leaders say that less trade barriers would benefit firms in both countries, However, the last, and more plausible, obstacle is the issue of non-tariff barriers.

“In my experience, India has one of the most restrictive trade regimes in the region,” asserts Dr Ashfaq Hasan Khan, a former advisor to Pakistan’s Ministry of Finance. His view matters, given has decades of dealings with South Asian governments on trade liberalization.

He explains that despite granting Pakistan the MFN status, India has a variety of non-tariff barriers in place – such as, stringent certification codes, customs rules, security clearances and movement restrictions – which make it virtually impossible for Pakistani traders to do business in India.

“The only way I see realisation of trade potential between our two countries is for India to remove its non-tariff trade barriers and for Pakistan to reciprocate by granting the MFN status to India,” says Mr Khan.

He adds: “Unless there’s political will to do that, everything else is just talk and photo op.”

Anna’s Trip to Pakistan: Should He Or Shouldn’t He

By Akshaya Mishra for Firstpost

Should he or shouldn’t he?

The supporters of Anna Hazare are in a bind. Two days after the Gandhian accepted the invitation of a human rights delegation from Pakistan to visit that country, the public opinion in India stands divided.

The Shiv Sena was first off the block opposing Anna’s move. Its argument follows the usual political theme. Islamabad must stop sponsoring terrorist activities in India first. The anti-corruption crusader should have taken cognisance of the sentiments of people before even considering such an invitation, it said.

Others are likely follow the Sena’s line soon. The hard line Hindutva followers, who have been silent so far, may erupt in anger, putting a communal spin to the visit.

Anna might just have put his feet in uncharted territory, and a minefield of potential controversies. Pakistan is not an easy proposition even for seasoned politicians to handle. He could be risking his reputation.

So, should he or should not he? There are no easy answers.

Anna is not just an individual, he is a phenomenon. He is an idea that easily transcends boundaries. The massive support to his anti-corruption movement across the social spectrum was a pointer to the fact.

“I will go to Pakistan. In fact, I will go anywhere for the sake of peace and poor people,” he said while meeting the Pakistani delegation, which included former judge of Supreme Court of Pakistan Nasir Aslam Zahid and founder of Pakistan India Forum for Peace and Democracy Karamat Ali.

Anna might just have put his feet in uncharted territory, and a minefield of potential controversies. PTI
“I believe in the religion of humanity, and humanity should begin with your neighbour. Like Indians, Pakistanis too are suffering due to widespread corruption in their country,” he added.

The statements reflect the man as he is — simple, honest and innocent of concerns that bother others so much. It’s possible he would not have given a serious thought to the troubled India-Pakistan equations. It is possible he would be worried about people and their happiness only, not issues or borders.

Isn’t corruption a big issue in Pakistan too? Don’t people suffer because of that? That would be his line of thinking. He would be oblivious to the fact that any movement there guided by him would amount to challenging the rulers in Islamabad and that any intention to help the country would inflame passions in India.

Sena chief Bal Thackeray has sounded the warning note. “Be it Anna or anyone else, they should first speak to kin of those killed in the Mumbai and Delhi blasts, before anointing themselves Nishan-e-Pakistan (Pakistan’s highest civilian award),” he wrote in the party mouthpiece Saamna today.

“Whether Anna goes to Pakistan or not is another matter, but it would have been better had he given a thought to the country’s sentiments on the issue,” he added.

Earlier, the party’s spokesperson Sanjay Raut had made his disapproval clear. “Anna should have told the visiting delegation to go back to Pakistan and create awareness among the people about the Pak-sponsored terrorism in India. The entire world may have praised the anti-corruption movement in India, but Anna cannot ignore sentiments of the people in his own country vis-a vis Pakistan,” he had said.

Anna is likely to lose most of his following in India if he goes ahead with his Pakistan trip, which for all practical purposes would be a symbolic one. Worse, notwithstanding the nature of his visit he would turn a political entity, without intending to be so.

His biggest achievement so far has been that he has managed to stay apolitical despite the desperate efforts from parties to align with him. He represents the common Indian and the other India, which stays out of the power circle that rules the country.

But the other India hates Pakistan too. This is where Anna is likely to run into a problem. Questions could be raised about his intention — the ordinary follower is not expected to understand and appreciate the nuances of his high thinking. The adulation for him is likely to shrink.

Anna should not let that happen. Pakistan can wait.

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