Archive for the ‘ Baitullah Mehsud ’ Category

Pakistani Taliban Splintering Into Factions

By Kathy Gannon for The Associated Press

Battered by Pakistani military operations and U.S. drone strikes, the once-formidable Pakistani Taliban has splintered into more than 100 smaller factions, weakened and running short of cash, according to security officials, analysts and tribesmen from the insurgent heartland.

The group, allied with al Qaeda and based in northwest Pakistan close to the Afghan border, has been behind much of the violence tearing apart Pakistan over the last 4½ years. Known as the Tehrik-e-Taliban, or TTP, the Taliban want to oust the U.S.-backed government and install a hard-line Islamist regime. They also have international ambitions and trained the Pakistani-American who tried to detonate a car bomb in New York’s Times Square in 2010.

“Today, the command structure of the TTP is splintered, weak and divided, and they are running out of money,” said Mansur Mahsud, a senior researcher at the FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Area) Research Center. “In the bigger picture, this helps the army and the government because the Taliban are now divided.”

The first signs of cracks within the Pakistani Taliban appeared after its leader, Baitullah Mehsud, was killed in a drone strike in August 2009, Mr. Mahsud said. Since then, the group has deteriorated steadily.

Set up in 2007, the Pakistani Taliban is an umbrella organization created to represent roughly 40 insurgent groups in the tribal belt plus al-Qaeda-linked groups headquartered in Pakistan‘s eastern Punjab province.

“In the different areas, leaders are making their own peace talks with the government,” Mr. Mahsud added. “It could help the Pakistani government and military separate more leaders from the TTP and more foot soldiers from their commanders.”

The two biggest factors hammering away at the Taliban’s unity are U.S. drone strikes and Pakistani army operations in the tribal region.

Turf wars have flared as militants fleeing the Pakistani military operations have moved into territory controlled by other militants, sometimes sparking clashes between groups. And as leaders have been killed either by drones or the Pakistani army, lieutenants have fought among themselves over who will replace them.

“The disintegration … has accelerated with the Pakistan military operation in South Waziristan and the drone attacks by the United States in North Waziristan,” Mr. Mahsud said, referring to the two tribal agencies that are the heartland of the Pakistani Taliban.

Another factor is the divide-and-conquer strategy that Pakistan‘s military long has employed in its dealings with militants. Commanders have broken away from the TTP and set up their own factions, weakening the organization. Battles have broken out among the breakaway factions, and in one particularly remote tribal region the TTP was thrown out. These growing signs of fissures among the disparate groups that make up the Pakistani Taliban indicate the military’s strategy could be paying off.

That would explain the mixed signals this month coming out of the tribal belt, where some militants are mulling the idea of peace talks with the government, others are offering to stop fighting, and still others are disavowing both peace and a cease-fire. It might also explain a steady decline in suicide attacks in Pakistan, according to the privately run Pak Institute for Peace Studies.

The U.S. is eager to see some benefits in neighboring Afghanistan, where its troops have come under attack from militants based across the border in Pakistan. NATO forces in Afghanistan are trying to break the back of the Afghan insurgency before the end of the U.S.-led coalition’s combat mission in 2014.

There is no evidence so far that fissures within the militant structure in Pakistan are helping NATO and U.S. forces.

The deadly Haqqani network, which has bases both in Pakistan and Afghanistan and is affiliated with al Qaeda, is one of the most lethal threats to coalition troops. It long has found safe haven in Pakistan‘s tribal belt and has used the Pakistani Taliban as a source of recruits. Senior U.S. officials say the Haqqanis also receive support from Pakistan‘s army and intelligence agency, a charge Islamabad denies.

Analysts predict that over time, however, the internecine feuding in the Pakistani Taliban will take a toll on militants fighting in Afghanistan, making it increasingly difficult for them to find recruits and restricting territory available to them.

Pakistan‘s military has rebuffed appeals from Washington to take on all of the insurgent groups in the tribal region, saying it has neither the men nor the weapons to do so. Instead, Islamabad has pushed its divide-and-conquer approach, which is gaining some traction in the United States, according to two Western officials in the region.

The officials say the success of this approach will be measured in Washington by its ability to curb Haqqani network attacks in Afghanistan. The officials requested to remain anonymous in order to speak candidly.

Cooperation between the U.S. and Pakistan suffered a serious setback a week ago when NATO aircraft killed 24 Pakistani soldiers at two border posts. The Nov. 26 incident seems certain to blunt any prospect of Pakistan taking direct steps to curb the Haqqani network, analysts say.

In the wake of the attack, intelligence sharing has stopped, military-to-military contact has been suspended, routes supplying nonlethal goods to NATO in Afghanistan have been shut, and Pakistan has withdrawn its offer to bring Taliban and representatives of the Haqqani network to the negotiating table.

Pakistan also announced it will boycott next month’s conference in Bonn, Germany, to find ways to stabilize Afghanistan.

There is no independent figure on how many Taliban fighters operate in the tribal regions, but it is estimated to be in the thousands. Upward of 130 groups are in the area, Mr. Mahsud said, some of them small, violent offshoots of larger groups.

They have varying loyalties to a handful of key commanders such as Hakimullah Mehsud, the current leader of the Pakistani Taliban.

Popular support dwindled for Mr. Mehsud after his group was driven out of South Waziristan by the military and relocated to North Waziristan, according to tribesmen in the area. They spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they feared reprisals from militants.

The Pakistani army has brokered agreements with some Taliban factions, according to a senior Pakistani security official who spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive topic. But there are no peace talks under way with Mr. Mehsud, who has declared war on Pakistan, the official said.

A brash and heavy-handed insurgent, Mr. Mehsud has killed former allies, defied orders from the Haqqani network’s chief and developed close links with criminal gangs who kidnap, extort and exploit the local population.

He also has made enemies of former lieutenants in other parts of the tribal region, such as neighboring Kurram Agency, where a deputy, Fazl Saeed Haqqani, split with Mr. Mehsud three months ago and formed his own Islami-Tehrik-e-Taliban group.

In yet another tribal region of Orakzai, where Mr. Mehsud once held sway, members of feuding groups are now killing one another.

Al Qaeda’s Latest Loss

By Bruce Riedel for The Daily Beast

The reported death of Muhammad Ilyas Kashmiri deals a huge hit to the terror cell, still reeling from bin Laden’s killing. Ex-CIA analyst Bruce Riedel on the impact on U.S.-Pakistan relations.

Pakistani sources are reporting the death in a drone strike this weekend of Muhammad Ilyas Kashmiri. If true, it is a big setback for al Qaeda and could help ease tensions between Pakistan and the U.S. a bit.

Kashmiri is al Qaeda’s top Pakistani operative. He was born in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir on February 10, 1964. Trained in the camps of the Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence directorate (ISI) and then the elite Pakistani commando group, the Special Services Group (SSG), he was the darling of the Pakistani army for years. He fought in the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan where he lost an eye and a finger. Then he took the war to India both in Kashmir and in New Delhi itself.

He formed his own militant group called the 313 Brigade, after the 313 fighters who joined the prophet Muhammad in an early Islamic victory. His exploits in India were legendary. He was personally decorated and thanked by the then head of Inter-services Intelligence (ISI), Mahmud Ahmad and Pakistani’s dictator, Pervez Musharraf, in 2000. But Kashmiri broke with his ISI and army friends in 2002 when Musharraf decided to give the Americans at least some help against al Qaeda.

Kashmiri took his 313 Brigade into al Qaeda’s camp and assisted in training Taliban fighters in Afghanistan and began targeting his former friends in the ISI. His teams killed at least one senior ISI officer. He was involved in an attempt to assassinate Musharraf in 2004. The United Nations credits him as a key player in the plot to murder former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in December 2007.

The Pakistani American David Headley, who has confessed to plotting the Mumbai terror attack in November 2008, says Kashmiri was his key contact in al Qaeda. The two worked on a plot to attack a Danish newspaper office in Copenhagen in 2009. That was foiled when the FBI arrested Headley, but Kashmiri continued planning to carry out Mumbai-style attacks in Europe. Another was foiled in Denmark at the end of 2010. Kashmiri would have played an important role in helping al Qaeda recover from bin Laden’s demise. He had key connections inside the Pakistani syndicate of terror groups.

Just last week one of Pakistan’s best investigative reporters Syed Salam Shahzad was murdered after finishing a new book on al Qaeda in Pakistan. According to excerpts published in India and Pakistan, Shahzad had evidence Kashmiri may have been the real brains behind the Mumbai plot and hoped it would precipitate an Indo-Pakistani war that al Qaeda could exploit.

This is not the first time Kashmiri has been reported killed by a drone attack; he has reappeared after claims of his demise. But if this time he is dead, it is a significant setback for al Qaeda just a month after American commandos killed Osama bin Laden. Kashmiri would have played an important role in helping al Qaeda recover from bin Laden’s demise. He had key connections inside the Pakistani syndicate of terror groups with both the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba, and with al Qaeda operatives in Europe and fund raisers in the Persian Gulf. And he had penetrations deep inside the Pakistani army and ISI.

So both Washington and Islamabad will be glad to see him gone. Kashmiri’s demise won’t solve all the problems in the tortured American relationship with Pakistan by any means but it will help.

Of course, if Kashmiri is not dead and reappears yet again unscathed, it will only add to his credentials. Bin Laden benefited enormously from surviving the cruise missile attack that targeted him in 1998. Recriminations could damage the Pakistani-American relationship further. Nonetheless those are risks worth taking. In either case we will know soon. Al Qaeda is quick to eulogize its martyrs. If Kashmiri’s dead, they will say so.

-Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note– Good Riddance!!!

Pakistan’s Nuclear Surge

By Andrew Bast for Newsweek

Even in the best of times, Pakistan’s nuclear-weapons program warrants alarm. But these are perilous days. At a moment of unprecedented misgiving between Washington and Islamabad, new evidence suggests that Pakistan’s nuclear program is barreling ahead at a furious clip.

According to new commercial-satellite imagery obtained exclusively by NEWSWEEK, Pakistan is aggressively accelerating construction at the Khushab nuclear site, about 140 miles south of Islamabad. The images, analysts say, prove Pakistan will soon have a fourth operational reactor, greatly expanding plutonium production for its nuclear-weapons program.

“The buildup is remarkable,” says Paul Brannan of the Institute for Science and International Security. “And that nobody in the U.S. or in the Pakistani government says anything about this—especially in this day and age—is perplexing.”

Unlike Iran, which has yet to produce highly enriched uranium, or North Korea, which has produced plutonium but still lacks any real weapons capability, Pakistan is significantly ramping up its nuclear-weapons program. Eric Edelman, undersecretary of defense in the George W. Bush administration, puts it bluntly: “You’re talking about Pakistan even potentially passing France at some point. That’s extraordinary.”

Pakistani officials say the buildup is a response to the threat from India, which is spending $50 billion over the next five years on its military. “But to say it’s just an issue between just India and Pakistan is divorced from reality,” says former senator Sam Nunn, who co-chairs the Nuclear Threat Initiative. “The U.S. and Soviet Union went through 40 years of the Cold War and came out every time from dangerous situations with lessons learned. Pakistan and India have gone through some dangerous times, and they have learned some lessons. But not all of them. Today, deterrence has fundamentally changed. The whole globe has a stake in this. It’s extremely dangerous.”

It’s dangerous because Pakistan is also stockpiling fissile material, or bomb fuel. Since Islamabad can mine uranium on its own territory and has decades of enrichment know-how—beginning with the work of nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan—the potential for production is significant.
Although the White House declined to comment, a senior U.S. congressional official who works on nuclear issues told NEWSWEEK that intelligence estimates suggest Pakistan has already developed enough fissile material to produce more than 100 warheads and manufacture between eight and 20 weapons a year. “There’s no question,” the official says, “it’s the fastest-growing program in the world.”

What has leaders around the world especially worried is what’s popularly known as “loose nukes”—nuclear weapons or fissile material falling into the wrong hands. “There’s no transparency in how the fissile material is handled or transported,” says Mansoor Ijaz, who has played an active role in back-channel diplomacy between Islamabad and New Delhi. “And the amount—they have significant quantities—is what’s so alarming.”

That Osama bin Laden was found in a Pakistani military community, and that the country is home to such jihadi groups as Lashkar-e-Taiba, only heightens concerns. “We’ve looked the other way from Pakistan’s growing program for 30 years,” says Sharon Squassoni, a director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. What we’re facing, she says, is “a disaster waiting to happen.”

A Defense Department official told NEWSWEEK that the U.S. government is “confident that Pakistan has taken appropriate steps toward securing its nuclear arsenal.” But beyond palliatives, few in Washington want to openly discuss the nightmare scenario of terrorists getting hold of nuclear material or weapons. “The less that is said publicly, the better,” says Stephen Hadley, national-security adviser to President George W. Bush. “But don’t confuse the lack of public discussion for a lack of concern.”

The bomb lends the Pakistanis a certain diplomatic insouciance. Nukes, after all, are a valuable political tool, ensuring continued economic aid from the United States and Europe. “Pakistan knows it can outstare” the West, says Pakistani nuclear physicist Pervez Hoodbhoy. “It’s confident the West knows that Pakistan’s collapse is too big a price to pay, so the bailout is there in perpetuity. It’s the one thing we’ve been successful at.”

Pakistani leaders defend their weapons program as a strategic necessity: since they can’t match India’s military spending, they have to bridge the gap with nukes. “Regretfully, there are several destabilizing developments that have taken place in recent years,” Khalid Banuri of Pakistan’s Strategic Plans Division, the nuclear arsenal’s guardian, wrote in response to NEWSWEEK questions. Among his country’s concerns, Banuri pointed to India’s military buildup and the U.S.’s -civilian nuclear deal with India.

“Most Pakistanis believe the jihadist scenario is something that the West has created as a bogey,” says Hoodbhoy, “an excuse, so they can screw us, defang, and denuclearize us.”

“Our program is an issue of extreme sensitivity for every man, woman, and child in Pakistan,” says former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf, adding that the nukes are “well dispersed and protected in secure locations.” When asked whether the U.S. has a role to play in securing the arsenal, Musharraf said: “A U.S. role to play? A U.S. role in helping? Zero role. No, sir. It is our own production?.?.?.?We have not and cannot now have any intrusion by any element in the U.S.” To guard its “strategic assets,” Pakistan employs two Army divisions—about 18,000 troops—and, as Musharraf drily puts it, “If you want to get into a firefight with the forces guarding our strategic assets, it will be a very sad day.”

For now, the White House appears to have made a tacit tradeoff with Islamabad: for your cooperation in Afghanistan, we’ll leave you to your own nuclear devices. “People bristle at the suggestion, but it follows, doesn’t it?” says Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, formerly the CIA’s chief officer handling terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. “The irony is that the U.S. presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the money we’re giving them to fight terrorism, could inadvertently aggravate the very problem we’re trying to stop. After all, terrorism and nukes is the worst-case scenario.”

With this fourth nuclear facility at Khushab coming online as early as 2013, and the prospect of an accelerated nuclear-weapons program, the U.S. is facing a diplomatic dilemma. “The Pakistanis have gone through a humiliation with the killing of Osama bin Laden,” says Nunn. “That’s never a time to corner somebody. But with both recent and preexisting problems, we are in a race between cooperation and catastrophe. Both sides need to take a deep breath, count to 10, and find a way to cooperate.”

In Pakistan, Justifying Murder for Those Who Blaspheme

By Aryn Baker for Time

“I believe in Jesus Christ who has given his own life for us,” the doomed man said, staring straight into the video camera. “And I am ready to die for a cause.” Shahbaz Bhatti had no hesitation in his voice as he responded to a question about threats from the Taliban and al-Qaeda. “I’m living for my community … and I will die to defend their rights.” It was his last answer in a four-month-old self-produced video that was to be broadcast in the event of his death. But the radicals had the final say. On March 2, Bhatti, Pakistan’s Minister for Minority Affairs, was shot dead in Islamabad. Pamphlets scattered on the ground claimed the act for a new alliance of “the organization of al-Qaeda and the Punjabi Taliban” and asserted that other infidels and apostates would meet the same fate.

Bhatti’s death had been foretold not just by himself but also in the nation’s response to a previous assassination, that of Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer on Jan. 4. Taseer, a self-made millionaire, had turned his largely ceremonial post into a platform for a campaign to amend Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. Bhatti, the only Christian in the Cabinet, refused to be a token and swore to battle intolerance. Both men supported clemency for Aasia Noreen, a Christian woman who had been accused of blasphemy and sentenced to death. Taseer’s stance on the issue infuriated a large part of the population that, thanks to religious leaders and school curriculums, believes that blasphemy is a sin deserving of execution. In the weeks leading up to his assassination, Taseer had been denounced at Friday prayers, excoriated in the media and largely abandoned by his Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) for fears that his campaign would prove politically toxic. The witch hunt culminated in a bodyguard’s pumping 27 rounds into his head and chest in the parking lot of a popular Islamabad shopping center.

Within hours of Taseer’s death, telephone text messages celebrating his assassination made the rounds. “Justice has been done,” read one. “If you love the Prophet, pass this on.” A Facebook fan page for assassin Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri garnered more than 2,000 members before site administrators shut it down. Even the leaders of state-funded mosques refused to say funeral prayers for the slain governor. When Qadri was transferred to a local jail, he was garlanded with roses by hundreds of lawyers — the vanguard of a movement that in 2008 helped unseat a military dictator — offering to take on his case for free.

At his court appearance a few days later, Qadri told the judge that he believed in a Pakistan where loyalty to the Prophet eclipses all other rights. According to Taseer’s daughter Shehrbano, her father “wanted an egalitarian society where open debate is protected and people are not killed for speaking out.” And Bhatti dreamed of a nation true to founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s vision, one where “you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship.” Which vision prevails — Qadri’s or Taseer and Bhatti’s — will decide the future of the country.

The Roots of Extremism

 
It is not news that Pakistan has a lunatic fringe. What is disturbing is that after Taseer’s murder, when the silent majority finally spoke up, it praised Qadri, not his victim. The public reaction exploded the myth of Pakistan’s moderate Islam; Qadri belongs to a mainstream sect that routinely condemns the Taliban. “The Pakistan we saw in the wake of Taseer’s killing is the real Pakistan,” says Amir Muhammad Rana of the Pak Institute for Peace Studies. For the past two years, Rana’s organization has conducted in-depth interviews with a broad spectrum of Pakistani citizens. “They might dress Western and eat at McDonald’s, but when it comes to religion, most Pakistanis have a very conservative mind-set.”

Pakistan’s religious parties rarely do well at the polls — a fact often cited by those countering concerns that the country is going fundamentalist — but their street power is considerable. The furor over blasphemy appears to be partly in response to significant losses for the religious right in the 2008 elections. With the current government on the verge of collapse and popular sentiment against the PPP mounting, the religious parties are betting on significant gains if fresh elections are called. The case of Raymond Davis, a CIA contractor accused of killing two Pakistanis during what appears to have been a botched attempt to rob him, demonstrates the state of Pakistan’s politics. It has gone virtually unremarked in Pakistan that Qadri, a confessed murderer, has been hailed as a national hero, while Davis — who, whatever his background, seems to have been acting in self-defense — is considered worthy of the death penalty. Over the past few weeks, street rallies led by the religious right have simultaneously called for the release of Qadri and the hanging of Davis. (Read: “Pakistan’s Christians Mourn, and Fear for Their Future.”)

Using religion to shore up political support is nothing new in Pakistan. Founded as a Muslim nation carved from a newly independent India in 1947, Pakistan has long struggled to unite a diverse population divided by language, culture and ethnicity. Islam was the common denominator, but Jinnah was famously enigmatic about its role in government.

Then, in 1977, Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, an Islamist military general, overthrew the democratically elected government of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was already retrenching his secular vision of Pakistan in an effort to win religious support. To further appease Muslim religious leaders, Zia-ul-Haq strengthened the colonial-era blasphemy laws, mandating that breaches should be answered by the death penalty. Since then, more than 1,274 cases have been lodged. As repeating blasphemous words could be considered to be perpetuating the crime, many cases are accepted without evidence, a system well primed for the pursuit of vendettas. That nobody has yet been executed by court order is hardly reassuring: 37 of the accused have been killed by vigilantes. (In 1929, Jinnah famously defended an illiterate carpenter who shot to death a Hindu publisher accused of blasphemy. The plea failed, and after the carpenter was hanged, Taseer’s father was one of the pallbearers.)

The Uses of Blasphemy
When a nation rises up in support of a murderer instead of his victim, it’s hard not to believe it is heading down a dangerous path. “What is happening now won’t matter in five years,” says Shehrbano Taseer. “It will matter in 25 years. What we are seeing now is the fruit of what happened 30 years ago. If people had stood up against [Zia-ul-Haq], we would not be here today. Because of that silence we have madrasahs spewing venom, a true Islam threatened by the same people who claim to serve it, and a cowed majority too afraid to speak.”

President Asif Ali Zardari, an old friend of Taseer’s, condemned the murders but didn’t go to either funeral. After paying his respects to Taseer’s family, Interior Minister Rehman Malik gave an impromptu press conference outside Taseer’s house during which he announced that he too would kill any blasphemer “with his own hands.” A few days later, the Prime Minister announced that he would drop the issue of the blasphemy laws altogether. Meanwhile, the government is under pressure to go through with Aasia’s sentence, and now her two champions are dead.

Reaction to Bhatti’s murder has been muted, characterized mostly by denial. What little newspaper coverage there was focused on security lapses or the role of the country’s Christian community rather than on the motives of the killer. On television talk shows, members of the religious parties and right-wing commentators spun a conspiracy theory that alleged that Bhatti’s murder had been “a plot” hatched by “outside forces” to “divert attention from the Raymond Davis affair.” There was no mention of the fact that Bhatti was campaigning alongside Taseer on the issue of blasphemy.

The PPP was founded in 1967 with the goal of bringing secular democracy to a nation under military rule. It vowed to give power to the people and promised to protect the nation’s downtrodden. That Pakistan’s most progressive party — one that has already endured the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto — should cave in the face of religious fundamentalism speaks volumes about the strength of the religious right. A candlelight vigil promoting a progressive Pakistan a few days after Taseer’s assassination drew nearly 1,000 supporters; a religious rally in Karachi the same day had 40,000 in the street chanting Qadri’s name. “Taseer’s murderer was tried in the court of public opinion, and he has emerged a hero,” says a woman shopping for vegetables in the same market where the governor was killed. “If someone kills me because I criticize Qadri, will he too be called a hero?” She declined to give her name. (Read: “Murder in Islamabad: Pakistan’s Deepening Religious Divide.”)

Of course, few Pakistanis would ever go as far as Taseer’s or Bhatti’s killers. But their ambivalence can easily be manipulated. “Just because we are religious does not mean we will all be reaching for guns the next time someone says something wrong,” says Malik Khan, a university student who spent a recent afternoon at a shrine in Lahore dedicated to a revered Islamic saint. “But Salmaan Taseer was an extremist as well. He should not have touched the blasphemy law.” Khan received a text message praising Qadri and exhorting him to pass it along. It posed a moral quandary: “I don’t agree with the message,” he says. “But I love the Prophet. My thumb hesitated a long time over the delete button.” In the end, he passed the hate along.

Qadri himself was the religious-minded youngest son of a family just stepping into the middle class. Like his brother, he joined the special-forces branch of the Punjab police in 2002. He had been flagged as a security risk because of his strong religious leanings but was nevertheless appointed to Taseer’s security detail when he visited Islamabad. In his confession, Qadri said he had been inspired by the teachings of his local mullah, Hanif Qureshi. At a rally a few days later, Qureshi claimed credit for motivating Qadri. “He would come to my Friday prayers and listen to my sermons,” he said. Then he repeated his point: “The punishment for a blasphemer is death.”

But is it? Two weeks after Taseer’s murder, I visited Qari Muhammad Zawar Bahadur, the head of one of Pakistan’s mainstream religious groups and a co-signer of a statement that advised Muslims not to show “grief or sympathy on the death of the governor, as those who support blasphemy of the Prophet are themselves indulging in blasphemy.” For more than an hour, he justified his group’s stance, telling me that the Koran was clear on the issue. I asked Bahadur to show me the exact verse that detailed the punishments for blasphemy. He mumbled that “there are several passages,” as if there were so many, he couldn’t decide which one to quote. When pressed further, he consulted a Koran and read aloud a passage that spoke of killing a man who had once harmed the Prophet.

That verse has routinely been dismissed by leading Islamic scholars as referring to a specific case and having nothing to do with blasphemy. They say there is no definition of blasphemy in the Koran, nor any prescription for its punishment. “Nobody challenges these mullahs, and that is our problem,” says Omar Fazal Jamil, who runs a p.r. firm in Lahore. “We can’t invoke liberal secular values anymore. I have to have the knowledge to contradict these men who distort our religion for their own political gain. I have to be able to say, ‘No, this did not happen, this is not right, and show me where it says in the Koran that blasphemers should be shot on sight.’ ”

The Sin of Silence
In the absence of such challenges, those favoring religious intolerance will continue to have things go their way. In late 2007, Benazir Bhutto released an updated manifesto for her father’s party. “The statutes that discriminate against religious minorities and are sources of communal disharmony will be reviewed,” it said. Less than a month later she was dead, killed in a bomb attack just 13 km from where both Taseer and Bhatti were murdered. Her death was an opportunity to rally the nation against the forces of extremism. Instead the party focused on consolidating power. The manifesto remains an empty promise, and two more voices of tolerance have been silenced. For evil to prevail, goes the old aphorism, all that is required is for good men to do nothing.

With reporting by Ershad Mahmud / Lahore and Omar Waraich / Rawalpindi

The Myth of ‘Moderate Pakistan’

By Sadanand Dhume for The Wall Street Journal

It’s time to bury the myth of moderate Pakistan. You know the one: the notion, repeated ad nauseam in magazine articles, think-tank reports and congressional testimony—as though saying it often enough will make it true—that Pakistan is an essentially tolerant country threatened by a rising tide of fundamentalism. Here’s a news flash: The tide has risen.

The most recent reminder of this came last Wednesday in Islamabad, when suspected Taliban militants shot dead Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s 42-year-old minister for minority affairs and the only Christian in the overwhelmingly Muslim nation’s cabinet. His crime? Supporting the repeal of a barbaric blasphemy law that makes insulting the prophet Muhammad punishable by death.

The law is often used to settle scores with hapless religious minorities, especially Christians such as Asia Bibi, an illiterate peasant sentenced to hang last year after she allegedly badmouthed the prophet during a row with Muslim coworkers. Bhatti’s assassination comes two months after a bodyguard murdered Punjab Gov. Salmaan Taseer for visiting Ms. Bibi in jail and speaking out against abuse of the law.

To be fair, Pakistan’s claim to relative moderation has been kept alive thus far by more than just wishful thinking. Overtly Islamist parties such as the Jamaat-e-Islami have rarely commanded more than a fraction of the national vote. Women enjoy freedoms in the public square that their counterparts in Saudi Arabia and Iran could only dream of. At great personal risk, a small but courageous group of activists, intellectuals and politicians speak out publicly against bigotry and religious intolerance.

Scratch the surface, however, and a bleaker picture emerges. Islamist parties may not garner large-scale electoral support, but Islamist ideas are widely tolerated by mainstream political parties. The major opposition party, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League, flaunts its closeness to sundry Islamists, including Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the parent organization of the international terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Ostensibly secular, the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party supported both Kashmiri militancy and the Afghan Taliban in the past. In its current incarnation it appears permanently cowed by the country’s legion of vocal fundamentalists. President Asif Ali Zardari failed to attend the funerals of either Taseer or Bhatti. His government has made it clear that it will not touch the controversial blasphemy law. Interior Minister Rehman Malik declared that he would personally kill anyone who dared blaspheme Muhammad’s name.

As for Pakistan’s undeniably brave activists and intellectuals, unfortunately they appear to have more admirers overseas than among their compatriots. Hand-wringing in the pages of Dawn and the Friday Times, two of the country’s leading English-language newspapers, has not prevented Mumtaz Qadri, Taseer’s murderer, from becoming a national hero.

Not surprisingly, anti-American sentiment—often a reliable shorthand for a society’s paranoia and self-loathing—is rampant. According to the Pew Global Attitudes Project, American favorability ratings stood at 17% last year, the lowest of all countries surveyed. On the streets, bloodcurdling yells for the execution of alleged Central Intelligence Agency operative Raymond Davis, accused of killing two Pakistanis in January, have prevented the government from granting Mr. Davis the diplomatic immunity that the U.S. claims he is entitled to. This despite personal pleas by President Barack Obama and Sen. John Kerry.

By now the reasons for Pakistan’s predicament are well known. They include the intolerance embedded in the nation’s founding idea of a separate “land of the pure” for Indian Muslims, the malign shadow of Saudi Arabia on religious life, blowback from the anti-Soviet jihad of the 1980s, and the overwhelming influence that the army and its thuggish intelligence wing, the Inter-Services Intelligence, wield on national life. The army’s very motto, Jihad-fi-Sabilillah, or jihad in the path of Allah, is an exhortation to holy war.

For the international community, the long road to fixing Pakistan begins with the simple recognition that the country’s true face is not the urbane intellectual making reasoned arguments, but the frenzied mob showering rose petals on a murderer for his services to the faith. Over time, Pakistan can only be saved by re- arranging the basic building blocks of the country.

This means backing provincial autonomy and linguistic identity as an alternative to the centralized pan-Islamism used by the military and its supporters to weld the country together. It means deploying social networks and satellite television to open the door to reasonable discourse about religion. It means channeling aid to ensure that children are no longer taught to glorify Islamic conquest and reflexively mistrust the West and India. It means accepting that the most poisonous madrassas—such as Jamia Binoria in Karachi and Darul Uloom Haqqania outside Peshawar—must be shuttered if they can’t be reformed.

Needless to say, none of this will be easy. But the consequences of the alternative—pandering to fundamentalists while blaming outsiders for all the country’s ills—can be seen in the freshly turned soil of Bhatti’s grave.

-Sadanand Dhume is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a columnist for WSJ.com.

Sindh Saves the Day

By Nadeem F Paracha for Dawn

Plans are afoot to build the world’s first ever international Sufi university near Bhit Shah in Sindh. The main purpose of the institution would be to promote interfaith and intercultural education to tackle extremism in the country.

Such a thought and project could only have come about in Sindh. Especially in the context of what Pakistan has beengoing through in the last many years.

Not only have the country’s other provinces – especially the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) – become central targets of horrid terrorist attacks by extremist organisations, the Punjab in particular has also been witnessing a steady growth of faith-based conservatism within its urban middle and lower middle-classes.

When extremists (calling themselves ‘Punjabi Taliban’) attacked the famous Sufi shrine, Data Darbar in Lahore late last year, economist and political analyst, Asad Sayeed, made a rather insightful observation.

He said that had such an attack on the Darbar taken place twenty years ago, thousands of Lahorites would have poured out to protest.

But not anymore. The attack on one of Punjab’s most popular Sufi shrines was simply treated as just another terrorist attack.

Though it is now clear that the Wahabi/Deobandi extremists have been going around blowing up Sufi shrines frequented by the majority Barelvi Muslims, the Barelvi leadership has looked elsewhere, putting the blame on the ever-elusive ‘foreign hands.’

Journalist and intellectual Khaled Ahmed once wrote a telling tongue-in-cheek article about the annual gathering of the Dawat-i-Islami in Multan.

The Dawat is the Barelvi equivalent of the Deobandi Tableeghi Jamat. Both these outfits are considered to be non-political organisations who are more interested in evangelizing their respective versions of Islam and its rituals. One should also mention that both these (sub-continental) strains of Islam accuse one another of being ‘flawed Muslims.’

Ahmed wrote how after Dawat’s huge congregation in Multan, when police found some bullet-riddled bodies of Dawat members, the outfit’s main leadership simply refused to acknowledge the glaring evidence that pointed towards the involvement of an opposing Sunni sect’s organisation in the murders.

Ahmed adds that Dawat leaders began babbling about ‘outside forces (RAW, CIA, Mossad)’ who wanted to create disharmony between Pakistan’s Barelvi majority and the Deobandi and Wahabi sects.

Barelvis: From moderate to militant

One can understand the above-mentioned episode as an example of the confusion Barelvi spiritual leadership has gone through since the 1980s.

From its inception in the 18th century and until about the mid-1980s, the Barelvi sect was largely apolitical in orientation, non-Jihadist and followers of some of the most relaxed dictates of the Hanafi madhab – the first of the four main Islamic schools of law that is also considered to be the most moderate.

‘Barelvi Islam’ (as it is sometimes called) is purely a sub-continental phenomenon that fuses elements of Indian Sufism with the folk and populist strains of various cultures that exist in the sub-continent.

It is also called the ‘folk Islam’ of the region in which a high degree of tolerance exists between various faiths, sects, classes and ethnicities and in which the puritanical aspects of other Islamic sects are eschewed and even rejected.

The Sufi shrine and an intense reverence of the Prophet (PBUH) play a central role in Barelvi Islam. Its populist and moderate make-up helped it become the majority Sunni sect amongst the Muslims of the sub-continent.

Two of its leading opponents have been the Sunni Deobandi sect (also a product of the subcontinent) and the Saudi-inspired Wahabism.

Both have accused Barelvis of ‘adopting Hindu rituals and practices’ and assorted ‘heresies.’

In spite of being the majority sect amongst Sunni Muslims in Pakistan, ‘Barelvi Islam’ hardly ever had a coherent political expression in shape of a mass-based political party or organisation.

Its spiritual leadership remained pro-Jinnah (unlike Deobandi organizations of undivided India), and various Pakistani political leaders have continued to appeal to the symbolism and lingo associated with various populist aspects of Barelvi-ism.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and his Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) was the most successful in this respect.

Bhutto was also one of the first leading Pakistani political figures to undertake the act of regularly visiting various famous Sufi shrines in Sindh and Punjab.

Barelvis are in the majority in Sindh and the Punjab, whereas Deobandis are largely centred in Khyber Pakthunkhwa and in the Pushtun-dominated areas of Balochistan.

Until the 1970s Barelvi-ism also prevailed among many of Sindh and Punjab’s urban middle-classes, especially those who considered themselves to be progressive and likely supporters of secular politics.

However, the arrangement in this context was suddenly disturbed with the arrival of the Ziaul Haq dictatorship in 1977.

Dipped in the political Islam of scholar and Jamat-i-Islami (JI) chief Abul Ala Mauddudi, Zia soon moved towards infiltrating the spiritual and political nerve centres of Barelvi-ism in an attempt to ‘reform’ them.

Barelvi dominance across the country’s religious landscape reminded him of Z A. Bhutto’s populism (which he, like JI, considered to be ‘vulgar’ and ‘un-Islamic’), and from 1979 onwards Pakistan under Zia also became one of the leading client states of Saudi-generated Wahabi propaganda and aid.

Stunned by the ‘Islamic revolution’ in the Shia-dominated Iran in 1979, Saudi Arabian monarchy and its Wahabi Sunni religious elite began seeing Pakistan’s Barelvi-dominated make-up as venerable to Shia-ism’s revolutionary symbolism and also of socialist propaganda, especially with the arrival of Soviet forces in Afghanistan.

At least that was one of the reasons used by Zia and his Saudi allies to draw the United States into giving Pakistan billions of dollars worth of aid and arms.

With the aid also came Wahabi propaganda literature and preachers who along with Pakistani Deobandi and Wahabi spiritual and political groups began setting up madressas and mosques.

These madressas operated as institutions that would indoctrinate young Pakistanis – most of whom were immersed in the non-Jihadi traditions of Barelvi-ism – and prepare them for Jihad against Soviet forces in Afghanistan.

Bralevi tradition had also not been very kind to the ulema and the clergy.

To address this, Zia also began describing famous Sufi saints as ulema and banned (in the media) all criticism and humour aimed at the clergy.

The Afghan war, Saudi propaganda, the mushrooming of Deobandi and Wahabi madressas and televangelists, and a concentrated campaign by the Zia regime to equate the dictatorship’s capitalist-Islamist makeup as something in accordance with the Shariah and with ‘Jinnah and Iqbal’s vision,’ had a telling impact on Pakistan’s religious sociology.

In the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa many moderate and progressive Deobandi strains that had prevailed in the province began sliding into the sect’s more radical dictates, coming closer to the puritanical Wahabi and Salafi ideas about faith.

This slide was celebrated by the Punjab-dominated military as a successful blow to the secular and ‘treacherous’ Pukhtun separatist tendencies.

In the Punjab, the province benefited the most from Zia’s Punjab-centric capitalist maneuvers. This coupled with unprecedented remittances coming from Pakistanis who had begun going to Arab Gulf states to work from the 1970s onwards, gave birth to new moneyed classes.

Many from the petty-bourgeoisie and bourgeoisie sections began moving away from their Barelvi heritage and towards more puritanical strains of faith.

Their Barelvi past now reminded them of their lower status and economic modesty, whereas they began relating their enhanced economic standing with the adoption of the more puritanical strains of Islam.

That’s why the growth of puritanical Islamist and sectarian organizations that Punjab saw under Zia, a lot of their local funding came from Punjab’s nouveau-riche and petty-bourgeois trader classes.

Interestingly, it was also the same classes that also pushed the Barelvi leadership to become more conservative and radical. Those sections of the Punjabi petty-bourgeoisie that stuck to Barelvi-ism encouraged their spiritual leadership to compete with the Puritanism and radicalism of the growing number of Deobandi and Wahabi groups.

This trend saw the first ever emergence of radical Barelvi groups. In the early 1980s, the Dawat-i-Islami was formed to counterbalance the growth of the Deobandi Tableeghi Jamaat that had begun making deep inroads into Punjab’s bourgeoisie and the military.

The Dawat discouraged the Barelvis from indulging in antics associated with the region’s folk Islam, emphasising an increased reverence of holy personalities and encouraging holding of recitals of naats and milads instead of quwalis and dhamals. The last two became associated with the practices of the lower-class Barelvis.

In 1992, emerged the Sunni Thereek (ST). A Barelvi outfit that emerged from the splintering of the oldest Barelvi Islamic political party, the Jamiat Ulema Pakistan (JUP).

Such occurrences did not really help the Barelvi sect defend its traditions in the face of the state-sponsored Deobandi and Wahabi onslaught –  rather, these organisations began turning Barelvi-ism into an equally anti-pluralistic and militant political phenomenon.

Sindh saves the day?

By the 1990s, Zia’s manoeuvres and Saudi involvement in reshaping Pakistan’s religious tradition had seen Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab become hostage to various violent Deobandi/Wahabi outfits and new-born Barelvi reactionary-ism.

The Punjab also saw a rise in the use of reactionary political and religious narratives within its lower-middle and middle-classes, whereas in Balochistan attempts were being made (by intelligence agencies) to neutralize secular Baloch nationalist militancy with the help of puritanical evangelical outfits. The agencies had already done this successfullyin Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the 1980s.

But what happened in Sindh? Barelvi-ism in Sindh (outside Karachi) has always been a lot more secular and pluralistic than the Bareilvi-ism in the Punjab.

Its  sociology  in Sindh heavily revolves around the staunchly secular historicity that the province’s famous scholar, GM Syed’s literary work generated.

He described a highly pluralistic and secular reading of Sufism as being the cultural and religious make-up of the Sindhis and it is this narrative that still rules the roost in the province’s social and religious psyche.

This is one of the reasons why Zia completely failed to impose his version of Islam here. Also, just like the majority of the Baloch who equate puritanical Islam with the ‘Punjabi civil-military elite,’ so does the socio-political discourse in Sindh.

On the other hand, in Karachi, though Zia-backed Deobandi and Wahabi radical outfits did manage to find a foothold, two things have always worked against these outfits here.

The first is the fact that the sprawling ethnic, sectarian and religious diversity found in Karachi actually absorbs and neutralizes any attempt by an outfit to impose its version of Islam.

Secondly, MQM, a party that first emerged as a mohajir nationalist group, adopted almost the same populist Barelvi symbolism and lingo as Bhutto did in the 1970s.

Also, the other two big political parties in the city too are secular: the PPP and ANP.

Though the Sunni Thereek (ST) has managed to infiltrate some sections of MQM’s support, ST is Barelvi and anti-Taliban (albeit reactionary).

In spite of the rampant crime and ethnic tensions that are a constant in Karachi, it will not be an overstatement to claim that Karachi along with the rest of Sindh today stands to be perhaps the only (ragged) sanctuaries in present-day Pakistan that are (comparatively-speaking) largely free of the factors that have created opportunities in the Punjab and KP for violent extremist activity as well as for reactionary conservatism to now become a mainstay in Punjab’s bourgeois psyche.

Peace In One Pakistani Tribal Valley Offers Hope

Reported by Abubakar Siddique for Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty
A fragile peace is taking root in Pakistan’s western Kurram tribal region after nearly four years of sectarian warfare between Shi’ite and Sunni Muslims.

Some have criticized a recent peace pact by saying that it is less about forging a lasting peace than about facilitating insurgents’ infiltration into neighboring Afghanistan. But the local population appears committed to making it work.

Success could have far-reaching implications. If peace is possible in a hotbed like Kurram, then it could serve as a model for millions suffering from war in other tribal areas.

‘Many People Were Injured’

Resident Noor Janan’s situation is typical. He lost his budding business in 2007 when clashes broke out between Shi’a and Sunnis in Parachinar. Rioting in the small border city, which serves as the headquarters of Kurram, soon devolved into sectarian war.

As the Sunni population of Parachinar was forced out, the city’s mostly Shi’a population was hemmed in — trapped by retreating Sunnis who blocked the main road to the outside and set siege on the city.

Janan’s priorities changed remarkably. For the past four years his main obligation has not been to look after his wife and four children, but to man frontline trenches and care for the sick and the injured.

Children displaced by fighting stand in line and wait for handouts in 2010.

“Many people were injured and many houses were destroyed,” he said. “I did all in my power to help my people.”

Janan is Turi — a tribe of 500,000 whose adherence to Shi’ite Islam makes it unique among Pashtuns. The Turis occupy a sliver of tribal territory known as the Parrot’s Beak that extends westward across Afghanistan’s eastern border. On the Pakistani side, Parachinar is positioned within striking distance of Kabul, which is just 100 kilometers to its east.

For the most part, the Turis lived in harmony with neighboring Sunni tribes for centuries, with a handful of exceptions. In the 1980s, predominantly Sunni Afghan Islamist guerillas attempted to overrun the strategically important region.

In 2007, a fierce sectarian war broke out when the Sunni Taliban attempted to conquer the Parachinar. More than 3,000 people have died and thousands more injured in the ensuing fighting. Some Sunnis blame Iran for the development, claiming the clerical regime supported and radicalized their Shi’a neighbors.

Both Sides Committed

Animosity remains high, but a cease-fire worked out in early February and backed by Islamabad offers proof that Shi’a and Sunni alike are committed to peace.

Middle-aged businessman Munir Khan Orakzai, who represents the Sunni population of the lower half of Kurram in Pakistan’s parliament, said that both sects realize that they have fought a useless cause that killed many innocent people. “There can be no logical end to this [sectarian violence],” he said. “That’s why people concluded this agreement.”

Tribal elders and government representatives attend a peace conference in Parachinar in 2008.

A peace agreement was signed before, in 2008, but it lacked government support and rival factions had one eye on possible military gains.

Under the new agreement, Islamabad is promising rehabilitation for the thousands of displaced families, and the deployment of additional troops to guard key routes.

Work Of The Haqqanis?

Skeptics abound. Pakistani pundits suggested that the deal was worked out by the Haqqanis — a large Pashtun family from Afghanistan whose elderly patriarch Jalaluddin Haqqani emerged as one of the most effective guerilla commanders in the 1980s.

His son, Sirajuddin Haqqani, now controls thousands of fighters and facilitates relations between Al-Qaeda Arabs, extremist Afghans, Pakistanis, and Central Asians out of his sanctuary in North Waziristan, which adjoins Kurram to the south. Considering the Haqqanis anti-Shi’ite bent and outsider status, any role in an agreement would be rejected by Kurram’s Shi’a.

Sajid Hussain Turi, a young lawmaker representing the region’s Shi’ite population in the Pakistani parliament, adamantly rejected any Haqqani role. “We, the Turis, have lost 1,200 people and more than 5,000 of our people were injured in this,” he said. “There is no question of involving people in this process that would ultimately harm us.”

Turi said that the weakened position of the Taliban, in disarray after years of military operations, opened the door to peace. He said that even local Sunni allies of the Taliban now see the futility of their military campaign.

Key intermediaries have high hopes for sustainable peace in Kurram. Waris Khan Afridi, a respected tribal leader from the neighboring Khyber tribal district, was among the mediators who put in countless hours bringing the two sides together.

Unforgettable Scene

On February 5, Afridi led the first civilian convoy of hundreds of vehicles to mark the break of Parachinar’s siege. He described an unforgettable scene of thousands of Sunni and Shi’ite villagers welcoming his entourage. “It was like they all were freed from prison that day,” he said.

Now, Afridi said, Pashtun tribes in neighboring tribal valleys are poised to follow the Kurram example. “We have always said that force is not a solution for anything and that the military operations will not solve our problems,” he said.

“Peace in Kurram,” Afridi said, “will positively affect all the tribal areas, the [neighboring] province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and the whole country.”

Thou Shalt not Mock or It May Cost You Your Life!

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

In the wake of the murder of Salmaan Taseer, the Governor of Punjab a couple weeks back, I did a great deal of contemplation about the situation in Pakistan and the current state of affairs of Pakistan and indeed in much of the Muslim world.

The current situation, especially in Pakistan and when it concerns the rights of the non-Muslims, is apparently the worst of anywhere in the Muslim world. Indeed, the plight of Asia Bibi, (also known as Aasia, Ayesa Noreen) Islam and Islamic Blasphemy laws have come under rightful scrutiny as of late.

One question that tugs at the heart of the debate for me is why is it that Muslims seem to get so very offended to the point they want to KILL you over a remark or something that comes out of your mouth? As Americans, we wonder to ourselves, “Haven’t they ever heard of sticks and stones may break my bones, but words don’t hurt me?!

Sadly, what the fundamentalist preachers at all the podiums of their Friday sermon or khutbah, nor any of their brethren on the run and in caves like the Taliban and Al Qaeda fail to realize that we are all God’s children. And God, Allah, Yahweh, Jesus, or whatever name you assign him, he is One and the same God of all religions. He is too big to fit into just one religion, concept, version or story of him.

And we all are his creations. Not one of us is superior over the other in his eyes and he judges us all equally. To him, the children of these three religions and its offspring’s are all related to each other. Adam being the first man, then Eve, and then all the Biblical figures and names such as Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, yes especially Jesus. He is their Messiah too!

Jesus, in fact is mentioned some 28 times in the Muslim holy book, Qu’ran whereas their own prophet Muhammad is mentioned only 4 times. And the fact that Jesus is also considered by Muslims to be the Messiah, it is sad that his followers should get such abject treatment in Pakistan and sadly, many Muslim countries.

If only the bad guys realized the connections between Christians and Jesus only then would a Pakistani Christian woman, suffering needlessly in a cell tonight going on 2 years away from her children in solitude, and constantly fearful for her life, would see her horrific ordeal come to an end.

These people are incapable of understanding basic rights, freedoms and even the unhindered concept of free will. No, they are primitive minded in their their spiritual and daily lives. They fail to see that a Christian’s God and a Muslim’s God are the one and the same. And he never would agree to laws like Pakistan’s Blasphemy laws at all. Why? Well because the Muslim God is known first and foremost as a Gracious, Merciful, Compassionate God.

In fact, the Arabic phrase Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim is a beautifully poetic phrase which offers both deep insight and brilliant inspiration to the average Muslim who says it countless times as he or she starts each day and till they rest their head to sleep. “ It has often been said that the phrase Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim contains the true essence of the entire Qur’an, as well as the true essence of all religions. Muslims often say this phrase when embarking on any significant endeavor and the phrase is considered by some to be a major pillar of Islam. This expression is so magnificent and so concise that all except one chapter of the Qur’an begins with the words Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim.”

The common translation:”In the name of God, most Gracious, most Compassionate” essentially is saying that God is compassionate, and full of grace. So how would this God punish Asia Bibi? What would he do if he is so full of compassion and mercy? Would he even punish her? And if he is such a gracious and a compassionate God, then wouldn’t he feel that nearly a two year jail sentence in solitary is already far more than her crime not to mention being away from husband and children and being worried about mob vengeance on her or the death penalty?

That God may act in a multitude of ways and we cannot ever know till said Judgment Day. That is what Judgment Day is all about after all. In fact, this is probably one day when the man upstairs works overtime judging all of us mankind, from the beginning with Adam to the last standing comes till Tribulation and the End of Days. It is only he, the Creator who will do the judging and this is something that the men with the loudspeakers who climb to the top of the minaret five times a day to call the faithful to prayers, just do not really understand, in my opinion. They apparently constantly seem to forget and pass judgment from the pulpit and this in turn helps set the “popular” opinion amongst the ultra-religious faithful of Pakistan’s society.

My only prayer to this Creator is that may he keep Asia Bibi safe tonight and continue to give her strength. And if God should call her home and have her die a death at the hands of the real savages those that not only kill but shockingly, in your name, then please Allah grant her heaven just as you should governor Salmaan Taseer, a man who was only defending the rights of all your children, including those of other faiths. He was being compassionate and gracious towards a fellow human being God, as he was only trying to emulate his creator, You Lord. Ameen.

And while you are at it Lord, will you also please let the imam at the microphone know that “Thou shall not mock, should not cost you your life.” Afterall, “Thou shall not kill is one of your top 10 commandments, whereas mocking prophets or religious figures does not make the list!

Manzer Munir, a proud Pakistani American and peace activist, is a Sufi Muslim who is also the founder of Pakistanis for Peace and blogs at www.PakistanisforPeace.com and at other websites such as www.DigitalJournal.com, www.Allvoices.com, www.Examiner.com and www.open.salon.com as a freelance journalist and writer. He asks that you like the Official Facebook Page of Pakistanis for Peace to get the latest articles as they publish here: http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/pages/Pakistanis-for-Peace/141071882613054

The Illiteracy of Hate

A News and Opinion Special Report by Manzer Munir for Paksitanis for Peace

Alleged Taliban Member pic courtsey of Boston Globe

The Taliban are not just simply a bunch of illiterate thugs and bullies for they too often prove to be even worse than animals and barbarians.

Nowhere else in the world has a country experienced a more tragic and callous attack as the one on Christmas day, the birth day of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, than the one Pakistan experienced. In an attack described by President Obama as an “affront on humanity”, the cowards attacked helpless women, children and men while they queued up in food and aid distribution site such as the WFP depot, people who mind you are already suffering from the ongoing war, once in a lifetime floods, and the poverty and radicalism of a generation of desperate, hopeless and increasingly uneducated young men brainwashed by the Taliban and other radical Muslim extremists.

I am still disturbed by the disdain for basic human life that this new attack proves about this radical and extreme enemy. I imagine another one of their brain washed ‘walking zombies’, this time purportedly a woman suicide bomber, a first, even for Pakistan, killed in excess of 43 people in Bajur Pakistan at a World Food Program rations and aid storage and distribution center.

The Pakistani authorities and several domestic and foreign NGO’s who provide food aid at various centers in the area are temporarily closing these centers in order to have increased security. This means that aid distribution will come to a crawl and up to several hundred thousand people will now have to suffer at the hands of the attacker and their backers, the Taliban who have claimed responsibility. The authorities will have to ensure the safety of aid organizations and their personnel for both Pakistani and non Pakistanis relief workers involved in getting food, water and medicine to many people who are either suffering from the war or from the floods.

This catastrophe, although not of near Biblical proportions, does present both a security and humanitarian problem to both the government of Pakistan as well the suffering citizens in the northwest areas of the country where; Taliban fighters take sanctuary from the war in Afghanistan to regroup and return to the fight in warmer weather after the winter months as we have seen in years past. In fact, the reach of the Taliban in Pakistan is now not only reputed to be in the headquartered areas such as in Quetta Pakistan among the restive Baluchi population, now they are so often found to be in major cities like Karachi, Lahore, Rawalpindi, Peshawar and many points in between as they use their religious cover to endear themselves to certain impressionable, weakened or illiterate individuals that are so commonly found in throughout the country. 

Here are the some of the depressing facts. Pakistan, a nation approaching 180 million people at current estimates, perhaps only boasts to having about 60-65% of the male population at a literate level and at best, the females to be only at 40-45% of the total female population. Sadly, what this means is that 4 out of 10 Pakistani males are completely illiterate while up to as many as 6 out of 10 women are not able to read or write. Poverty breeds extremism since there is no support from any government programs or hope for any solution.

Time and time again throughout history and not just of Pakistan’s, we can see that the role of the church, synagogue or mosque in building the community is deeper than that of any government initiatives or other measures. The poverty for these young men along with the lack of jobs like for those individuals who are either very poorly paid construction site workers, household labor or servants, or beggars and sewer workers, a job sadly almost seems to have been reserved for Pakistan’s Christian community members as many can attest in Pakistan of their unfortunate and depressing state. One does not need to remind the reader of the plight of Asia Bibi (also Aasia and Ayesa), the Christian Pakistani woman who is still awaiting her fate in Pakistani courts after more than a year and a half since first being accused of a BS blasphemy charge and being in jail ever since. 

The medieval mentality of these radical extremists is not something that needs to be described as the evidence is here in this latest attack . Certainly anyone alive in any part of the world outside Pakistan and Afghanistan with eyes, TV, radio or newspaper within their reach can see plenty of near daily reminders of the carnage that many natives of these lands see, and to what they have painfully become accustomed.

 The Pakistani and Afghani Talibans have by all the various reports in newspapers and media sources over the last several years have pointed out to the fact that these groups all have too often similar goals. Not only that, these groups all share the same characteristics. The anti-Americanism, the pro-Wahaabi or Orthodox version of Islam, the need for justice for the ‘suffering of the Palestinian people’ , and the anti-colonial and often times anti western sentiment amongst these groups. The radicalization of certain Muslim groups be they Hamas and Hezbollah in the Mideast or Lashkar e taiba, or any other militant outfit operating in this part of the world as mentioned in this quote a few days before he passed, the late Richard Holbrooke of the US State department said that there are a range of militant groups such as the Afghan Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban, the Haqqani Network, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and that “an expert could add another 30.” His exact words are in quotations. 

The radical Muslim groups who take prey of the weaker, cannot think for themselves because they are scions of those abjectly illiterate segments of the society who are only educated in the madrassahs of Pakistan. This is the de facto way of educating Pakistan’s poorer children in little mosque schools which consist of nothing but Qu’ranic surahs and words of ‘wisdom’ or ‘interpretation’ by the local mullah of the said mosque/school. Most probably these children in many Pakistani madrassahs, especially the ones who live near the border areas within the NWFP or North West Frontier Province of Pakistan as this is the part of the country most affected by its close proximity to Afghanistan.

The people in this area of Pakistan, as well as their cousins in Afghanistan have been fighting one enemy or another for the better part of 100 years now. Whether to them the enemy be the British, during the height of the British Raj rule in India, or to the Soviets and the Red army and the Cold War, then in chronological order came the infighting after the Russian withdrawal as various Tajik, Afghani, Uzbek, Pakistani warlords came in to try and consolidate power to now us Americans and the Pakistanis who are our allies in this war.

Granted we do often hear that the Pakistanis can be doing more. By all accounts, the Pakistani government can do more in terms of fighting this war on terror. Numerous western reports and articles in respected dailies have alleged that small elements within both Pakistan’s Army as well as the spy agency, the ISI, have sympathizers to either the Taliban’s cause or they want to be on favorable terms with a powerful entity that most in Pakistan’s establishment believes that Pakistan will be dealing with and not a weakened Karzai once the US begins to draw down troops and end the war by 2014. If this is indeed true, then these ‘officers’ and supposed ‘leaders’ of Pakistan should realize that the colluding with the enemy, which in this case is the Taliban, is tantamount to treason, and the members of the armed forces of Pakistan as well as the intelligence community should not be assisting the enemies of all concerned: Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United States. 

Of course we must not kid ourselves and assume that only alleviating the illiteracy and poverty of the Pakistani youth will and bettering the education system of the Pakistani poor, particularly that of the refugees and residents of the northwest areas near the Afghan border. No there needs to be a study and introspection by the people of these two countries where this hatred breeds. To to get out of this darkness, the population needs be provided not only safety when delivering food aid and or medicine but aldo most importantly give them a book, a pen, and a paper. And teach them how to fish for knowledge with basic comprehension and deductive reasoning skills that can reject a radical and violent view of Islam too often manipulated by the clergy. This is the only way we can come to end this illiteracy of hate.

Manzer Munir, is a proud and patriotic Pakistani American, an author, who plans to write a book on Pakistan, who is also a blogger and journalist, and as the Founder of Pakistanis for Peace  can be found at www.PakistanisforPeace.com, www.DigitalJournal.com ,www.Open.Salon.com, www.Examiner.com, as well at other websites as a freelance journalist and writer.

Pakistan Police Officers to be Arrested Over Death of Benazir Bhutto

By Delacn Walsh for The Guardian

A Pakistani court has ordered the arrest of two senior police officers in connection with Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, reviving hopes for a breakthrough in Pakistan’s most pressing political mystery.

An anti-terrorism court ordered the arrest of Rawalpindi’s former police chief, Saud Aziz, and his deputy Khurram Shahzad, who ordered the crime scene to be washed down less than two hours after the killing, destroying critical evidence.

“They were responsible for Bhutto’s security,” said special investigator Chaudhry Zulfiqar. “They ordered the crime scene to be hosed down despite resistance from other officials.”

A strongly-worded UN report into Bhutto’s death last April said the decision to wash the crime scene did “irreparable damage” to the subsequent investigation. Investigators speculated that Aziz had been influenced by powerful military intelligence agencies.

Aziz and Khurram, who are now retired from the police, could not be contacted today. They are due to be formally charged on 11 December along with five men already in custody.

The warrants are the latest twist in a torturously slow police investigation. Three years after Bhutto was killed in a suicide blast as she left an election rally in Rawalpindi on 27 December 2007, Pakistanis have little idea of who was behind her death.

Pervez Musharraf, who was president at the time, initially blamed Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, but officials from Bhutto’s party, the PPP, have said that other forces, possibly including elements of Pakistan’s powerful military, played a role in her death.

Bhutto’s widower, President Asif Zardari, has vowed to unveil her killers, but made little progress in an investigation bogged down by controversy, recrimination and conspiracy theories – one popular rumour in Pakistan has it that Zardari himself was responsible.

The three-man UN investigation into the killing, headed by Chilean diplomat Heraldo Muñoz, published its report last April in an effort to bring some clarity. It dismissed the allegations against Zardari and blamed Musharraf for failing to protect Bhutto, while accusing police and intelligence officials of hampering the investigation into her death.

The UN team said that Aziz stalled the investigation for two days after Bhutto’s death, deliberately prevented a postmortem on her body, and gave the order to sanitise the crime scene just 100 minutes after Bhutto’s death. As a result crucial DNA evidence was lost and investigators gathered just 23 pieces of evidence instead of the “thousands” that would be expected, Muñoz’s team noted.

The UN focused on the actions of Aziz, who witnesses said was “constantly talking on his mobile phone” as doctors scrambled to save Bhutto’s life in a Rawalpindi hospital.

The UN received “credible information” that the Pakistani intelligence agencies had intervened. But Aziz refused to say who he spoke with, and tried to blame the failure to carry out an autopsy on Zardari – something that was “highly improper”, the UN said. “It suggests a preconceived effort to prevent a thorough examination of Ms Bhutto’s remains.”

The strongly-worded report represented a watershed in moribund efforts to solve the mystery of Bhutto’s death – Pakistan’s greatest political trauma since the dictator General Zia-ul-Haq died in mysterious circumstances in 1988. But it fell short of identifying those behind her death, and government efforts to advance the probe has since floundered.

Bhutto’s own party has been split by divisions. Last week Zardari suspended the membership of Naheed Khan, Bhutto’s confidante, following simmering tensions that included criticism of his failure to find Bhutto’s killers. Critics have also raised questions about the role of Rehman Malik, Bhutto’s security chief and now Pakistan’s interior minister.

The main suspect in custody remains a teenager from the tribal belt accused of helping the Bhutto assassins. His case, and those of the police officers, will be heard in camera at Adiala jail outside Rawalpindi.

But the government has not probed the role of the other parties mentioned in the UN report – former president Pervez Musharraf, currently in exile in London, and the intelligence services that are considered beyond the control of the civilian authorities.

How to Win Back Pakistan

By Michael O’Hanlon for Foreign Policy

Nine years into the war in Afghanistan, the United States should have a clear idea of Pakistan’s interests there. It’s time to take these lessons to heart — and start applying the right incentives. As recent intelligence findings reported in late October confirm, Pakistan remains at the heart of the U.S.-led coalition’s problems in Afghanistan — where the war is hardly lost, yet hardly headed for clear victory either. Indeed, Pakistan arguably remains the most complex ally the United States has ever had in wartime, making President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s challenges in dealing with Stalin (a far worse leader, but at least one who knew the outcome he wanted) seem simple by comparison.

Nine years into the campaign, we still can’t clearly answer the question of whether Pakistan is with us or against us. America needs bold new policy measures to help Islamabad — in all its many dimensions and factions — make up its mind.

The crux of the problem is this: Despite allowing massive NATO logistics operations through its territory and helping the United States pursue al Qaeda operatives, Pakistan tolerates sanctuaries on its soil for the major insurgencies fighting in Afghanistan. These include the Afghan Taliban (otherwise known as the Quetta Shura Taliban because its principle base remains in Quetta in the Pakistani province of Baluchistan) as well as the Haqqani and Hezb-i-Islami Gulbuddin (HiG) networks. The Haqqanis straddle the border between the Afghan provinces of Khost, Paktia, and Paktika as well as North Waziristan and other tribal areas within Pakistan; HiG is further north, operating in and around the Khyber Pass connecting Kabul and Jalalabad in Afghanistan with Peshawar and points east in Pakistan. Thus, all three major Afghan insurgent groups have home bases in Pakistan, and despite the occasional drone strike are generally beyond NATO’s reach as a result.

Pakistan has done some worthy things against extremists in its remote northern and western areas in recent years. Specifically, it has recognized the so-called Pakistani Taliban (the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP) as a mortal threat to the Pakistani state and responded accordingly. After suffering hundreds of bombings and assassination attacks by the TTP, including the killing of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007 and several thousand casualties a year to its troops and citizens since roughly that time, it has responded in force, particularly over the last year and a half or so. It has swung about 100,000 troops previously guarding the border with Pakistan’s nemesis India to the northwestern tribal regions and cleared several major areas including South Waziristan, Bajaur, and the Swat Valley. This is all to the good.

Pakistanis argue, however, that limited numbers of ground troops combined with the past year’s admittedly devastating floods prevent them from doing more. Quetta, North Waziristan, and other key places remain dens of iniquity, havens for extremists who continue to attack NATO and Afghan troops across the border and then return home for rest, regrouping, and fresh recruiting. Major command-and-control hubs are permanently located within Pakistan as well, and key insurgent leaders like Mullah Omar (to say nothing of Osama bin Laden) probably remain safely ensconced on Pakistani territory where U.S. forces cannot get at them.

But even if limited Pakistani capacity is part of the problem, there’s more at stake. Pakistan worries that President Barack Obama’s promise to start reducing U.S. troops in Afghanistan come July will lead to anarchy and civil conflict next door, and it is retaining proxies that it can use to ensure that its top goal in Afghanistan — keeping India out — can be accomplished come what may. Pakistan would rather have the Taliban and the Haqqanis back in power, especially in the country’s south and east, than any group like the former Northern Alliance, which it views as too close to New Delhi. It is this strategic calculation, more than constrained Pakistani resources, that constitutes Obama’s main challenge in Afghanistan. And it could cost him the war.

Under these circumstances, part of the right policy is to keep doing more of what the Obama administration has been doing with Pakistan — building trust, as with last month’s strategic dialogue in Washington; increasing aid incrementally, as with the new five-year $2 billion aid package announced during that dialogue; and coordinating militarily across the border region. But Obama also needs to think bigger.

First, he needs to make clear America’s commitment to South Asia, to wean Pakistan away from its current hedging strategy. Obama has frequently used general language to try to reassure listeners in the region that there will be no precipitous U.S. withdrawal next summer. But few fully believe him. Hearing stories like Bob Woodward’s accounts of how the vice president and White House advisors have generally opposed a robust counterinsurgency strategy in favor of a counterterrorism-oriented operation with far fewer U.S. troops, they worry that next summer’s withdrawal will be fast. Obama needs to explain that he will not revert to such a minimalist “Plan B” approach under any imaginable circumstances. More appropriate would be a “Plan A-minus” that involves a gradual NATO troop drawdown as Afghan forces grow in number and capability, without necessarily first stabilizing the entire south and east, should the current strategy not turn around the violence by next summer or so. This would represent a modification to the current plan rather than a radical departure. The president can find a way to signal that this is in fact his own thinking, sooner rather than later — ideally before the year is out.

Second, Obama should offer Islamabad a much more expansive U.S.-Pakistani relationship if it helps win this war. Two major incentives would have particular appeal to Pakistan. One is a civilian nuclear energy deal like that being provided to India; Pakistan’s progress on export controls in the wake of the A.Q. Khan debacle has been good enough so far to allow a provisional approval of such a deal if other things fall into place as well. Second is a free trade accord. Struggling economically, Pakistan needs such a shot in the arm, and a trade deal could arguably do even more than aid at this point.

But the key point is this: Pakistan should be told that these deals will only be possible if the United States and its allies prevail in Afghanistan. Small gestures of greater helpfulness are not adequate; bottom-line results are what count and what are needed. If Afghanistan turns around in a year or two, the deals can be set in motion and implemented over a longer period that will allow the United States to continually monitor subsequent Pakistani cooperation in the war.

It may seem harsh to Pakistan that America would put things in such stark terms — but in fact, it is not realistic that any U.S. president or Congress would carry out such deals if the United States loses the war in Afghanistan partly due to Pakistani perfidy. As such, these terms are really just common sense, and they are based on political realism about America’s domestic politics as well as its strategic interests.

America’s current strategy for the war in Afghanistan is much improved. But it is not yet sound enough to point clearly toward victory. The most crucial problem is the role of Pakistan in the war, and so far, the Obama administration is not thinking creatively enough about how to fix it.

For Better or Worse, White House Bets on Pakistan’s Civilian Government

Reported by Josh Rogin for Foreign Policy magazine

The Obama administration has always been clear that the path to winning the war in Afghanistan goes through Pakistan. But if Bob Woodward’s new book is accurate, the White House considers its war effort much more dependent on the success and survival of Pakistan’s civilian government than was previously known.

Woodward’s “Obama’s Wars,” which hit bookstores Monday, sheds new light on the Obama administration’s vast outreach to the Pakistani civilian government led by President Asif Ali Zardari. It paints a picture of an administration working hard to court the Pakistanis while remaining somewhat confused about Pakistani thinking on a range of issues.

Obama himself was confused about the nature of Pakistani intentions during two crucial decision points in his administration’s Afghan policy — the March 2009 strategy rollout and the deliberations in November 2009, which resulted in a troop surge and a huge expansion of covert operations in Pakistan. However, based on advice from the majority of his key advisers, he nonetheless tried to entice Pakistan to commit to a deep and long-term partnership with the United States by offering the Zardari government incentive after incentive, with relatively few pressures.

According to Woodward’s account, the centrality of Pakistan was championed early on by Bruce Riedel, the Brookings scholar who was brought on as a key figure in the Obama administration’s March 2009 Afghanistan strategy review.

Riedel, who referred to Islamist extremists in Pakistan as the “real, central threat” to U.S. national security, personally convinced Obama, only two months after he took office, that Pakistan needed to be the centerpiece of his new strategy. Riedel’s plan involved arming the Pakistani military for counterinsurgency and increasing economic and other forms of aid to the civilian government. This marked the beginning of the term “Af-Pak,” which drove the administration’s belief that stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan were inextricably linked.

Riedel’s Pakistan focus was not due to his confidence that the civilian government could control the military and intelligence services. In fact, he referred to Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani as a “liar” with regards to the activities of the secretive Inter Services Intelligence agency (ISI), which is widely suspected of aiding the Taliban insurgency. Then Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair reportedly echoed Riedel’s views on this matter.

Inside the administration, Blair argued that Obama was approaching Pakistan with too many carrots and not enough sticks. He at one point advocated bombing inside Pakistan and conducting raids there without the Pakistani government’s approval. “I think Pakistan would be completely, completely pissed off and they would probably take actions against us … but they would probably adjust,” he once told Obama.

Obama, however, opted to pursue a less confrontational path. He concluded the central task would be convincing the Pakistani leadership to throw its lot in with the United States He said at the time of the initial strategy review in March 2009, “that we had to have a serious heart-to-heart with Pakistani civilian, military and intelligence leaders.”

Later that year, when making the decision to send an additional 30,000 “surge” troops to Afghanistan, Obama knew that his plans to also expand the U.S. military presence in Pakistan and widen drone strikes would be a hard sell to the Zardari government. In an attempt to sweeten the deal, Obama framed the policy as a new “strategic partnership” with Pakistan, even tying the success of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan to the survival of Zardari and the legacy of his deceased wife Benazir Bhutto.

“I know that I am speaking to you on a personal level when I say that my commitment to ending the ability of these groups to strike at our families is as much about my family’s security as it is about yours,” Obama wrote in a letter to Zardari delivered by National Security Advisor Jim Jones and counterterrorism advisor John Brennan.

Zardari’s response to that letter reinforced what many in the administration already suspected: Pakistan’s government was in the grips of an internal struggle over whether to embrace the United States. Zardari’s initial response focused heavily on India, though the Pakistani president only referred obliquely to his country’s strategic rival. Woodward reports that the White House believed the letter was written by the Pakistani military and the ISI. However, the Zardari government did end up accepting Obama’s offer.

Obama’s top advisors told the U.S. president that he would have to accept something short of complete success in convincing Pakistan to turn away from its longstanding obsession with the military threat it perceives from India.

When Obama had a meeting with Zardari in May 2009, he told the Pakistani president the he did not want U.S. taxpayers to be funding Pakistan’s military buildup against India “We are trying to change our world view,” Zardari told Obama, “but it’s not going to happen overnight.”

At times, Obama was downright puzzled by his advisors’ advice regarding Pakistan. For example, intelligence reports confirmed that Pakistani officials were afraid that the United States would leave Afghanistan too early, as they believed had occurred after the end of the resistance to the Soviet regime in the 1980s. On the other hand, Pakistan worried that if the United States was too involved in Afghanistan, it might aid in the establishment of a larger Afghan army than Islamabad was comfortable with.

“What am I to believe?” Obama asked his senior staff. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Special Representative Richard Holbrooke, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates all told him these were the types of contradictions that were commonplace when dealing with Pakistan.

For its part, the Pakistani government was just as confused and puzzled by the Obama administration. Woodward recounts one anecdote, in which Zardari tells the former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad that he believed the United States was involved in orchestrating attacks by the Pakistani Taliban against the Pakistani civilian government.

Pakistan’s Ambassador to Washington Husain Haqqani, a key go-between, tried several times to explain to the Obama administration how to court Pakistani leaders, comparing the dynamic to “a man who is trying to woo a woman.”

“We all know what he wants from her. Right?” Haqqani said in a meeting with Jones, Deputy National Security Advisor Tom Donilon and the NSC’s Gen. Doug Lute.

“But she has other ideas. She wants to be taken to the theater. She wants that nice new bottle of perfume,” Haqqani told them. “If you get down on one knee and give the ring, that’s the big prize. And boy, you know, it works.”

Haqqani said the “ring” was official U.S. recognition of Pakistan’s nuclear program as legitimate. He also warned that the Pakistanis would always ask for the moon as a starting point in negotiations. He compared it to the salesmanship of rug merchants.

“The guy starts at 10,000 and you settle for 1,200,” Haqqani told the Obama team. “So be reasonable, but never let the guy walk out of the shop without a sale.”

Although the Obama administration has had some success improving the relationship between the two governments, Pakistan’s civilian leadership still faces a series of difficulties in its goal of exerting control over its entire national security structure. Stability has also been threatened by the enormous pressures resulting from the war that it is waging inside its own borders, and political attacks leveled against it from the media and the courts. Zardari’s perceived sluggish response to the devastating flood crisis has cost him even more credibility among the Pakistani public.

But while the end of Zardari regime has often been predicted, it appears that he will remain in place for the foreseeable future. The Obama administration, meanwhile, is aware of how crucial his cooperation remains for the success of the mission in Afghanistan.

When Woodward sat down for his interview with Obama earlier this year, he asked the president if the situation was still that Pakistan is the centerpiece of the U.S. strategy. “It continues to this day,” Obama replied.

What Can Happen in a War

By Andrea Woo for The Vancouver Sun

She looks back from the cover with an inscrutable gaze, her dark eyes intensified by the black hair that spirals out in thick curls from under her patterned purple head scarf. Her top is red and sequined; her mouth expressionless and slightly agape.

Where 18-year-old Aisha’s nose should be, however, is a hole: After attempting to flee abusive family members in Afghanistan, a Taliban commander sentenced Aisha to have her nose and ears cut off.

The powerful portrait is the front cover of the Aug. 9 Time magazine, accompanied by a story titled, “What Happens if We Leave Afghanistan.” In it, author Aryn Baker argues that the withdrawal of the U.S. military and its allies could result in a revival of the Taliban at a devastating cost to the nation’s women.

Christopher Schneider, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of B.C. whose research includes media studies, said the image is an obvious — and effective — attempt to garner attention.

“Things like sex and violence, our culture is so saturated with these kinds of images and symbols that people have become somewhat accustomed to them,” Schneider said.

“Something like this would probably tend to capture people’s perspectives or views in a way that, say, scantily clad woman on the cover of Time magazine might.” Photographer Jodi Bieber said in a video posted on the magazine’s website that Aisha’s beauty struck her.

“I said to her, ‘You know, you are really such a beautiful woman, and I could never understand or know how you’re feeling by having your nose and ears cut off,'” Bieber said.

“‘But what I can do is show you as beautiful in this photograph.’ I could have made a photograph with her looking or being portrayed more as the victim, and I thought, ‘No. This woman is beautiful.'”

In an accompanying editorial, managing editor Richard Stengel defended the image selection, saying he thought “long and hard” about whether to use it for the cover. “Bad things do happen to people, and it is part of our job to confront and explain them,” he wrote.

“In the end, I felt that the image is a window into the reality of what is happening — and what can happen — in a war that affects and involves all of us. I would rather confront readers with the Taliban’s treatment of women than ignore it. I would rather people know that reality as they make up their minds about what the U.S. and its allies should do in Afghanistan.”

Donald Gutstein, an adjunct professor at Simon Fraser University’s school of communications, whose research includes media analysis, said the image is unquestionably powerful, but its message misleading.

“It says that if Canada and the U.S. leave Afghanistan, this [mutilation] will be happening all over the place,” Gutstein said. “However, it happened while the U.S. and Canada were there, so what does that really tell us?”

Aisha is now in a secret women’s shelter in Kabul and is protected by armed guards, Stengel noted in his editorial. She will soon head to the U.S. for reconstructive surgery sponsored by the Grossman Burn Foundation.

Karzai Questions Allies’ Willingness to Act on Pakistani Terror Havens

As Reported by the Voice of America

Afghan President Hamid Karzai is questioning the willingness of Western allies to go after terrorist sanctuaries in neighboring Pakistan.

Mr. Karzai said Thursday that the war against terrorism is “not in Afghanistan’s homes and villages” but in the sanctuaries and training centers that lie outside the country.

The Afghan leader told reporters in Kabul that only international forces have the ability to tackle such insurgent forces.

President Karzai’s comments come after the website WikiLeaks released thousands of classified U.S. military documents that allege Pakistan’s intelligence agency was actively collaborating with Afghan Taliban militants.

Pakistan has dismissed the allegations.

Pakistani foreign ministry spokesman Abdul Basit called Mr. Karzai’s remarks “incomprehensible.”  He said Pakistan’s ambassador in Kabul was seeking clarification, noting the neighboring nations have been closely cooperating against terrorism.

President Karzai on Thursday also condemned  WikiLeaks’ release of the military documents and said their leak endangers the lives of Afghans who worked closely with NATO forces.  He said he has ordered a government review of the files.

The 91,000 documents also contain details of civilian casualties allegedly caused by coalition forces.  

U.S. officials have also condemned the documents’ release and launched an investigation into the source of the leak.

Pakistan Suicide Bomber Targets Mourners

As Reported by BBC News

A suicide bomb near Peshawar has killed seven people near a gathering mourning a cabinet minister’s son murdered in a suspected Taliban attack, police say.

About 20 people were also injured when the bomber struck on foot near the home of Provincial Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain in the town of Pabbi. Three policemen and four civilians died. The minister was not among the mourners.

The Taliban has told the BBC it killed his 28-year-old only son two days ago. The suicide bomber detonated his explosives near a mosque where people had gathered in mourning on Monday.

Police said the attacker was dropped off by a man on a motorcycle near the minister’s home in the town, 26km (16 miles) east of Peshawar.

“He [the bomber] was a young boy,” senior police officer Liaquat Ali told news agency Reuters.

“He was trying to cross the checkpost but when our policemen caught him, he exploded himself.”

Mian Iftikhar Hussain is considered the provincial government’s most outspoken critic of the Taliban militants who have carried out dozens of bombings in the area.

BBC Islamabad correspondent Ilyas Khan, whose hometown is Pabbi, says the minister and other VIPs were probably not the direct targets of this blast, as it was well known they were gathering at a college building several kilometres away.

Our correspondent says the militants may have been sending a message that they can reach Mr Hussain’s home should they choose.

A spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, Ehsabullah Ehsan, has told the BBC the group was responsible for gunning down the minister’s son, Rashid Hussain, near his home in Pabbi on Saturday.

The town is close to the home village of Pakistani-American Faisal Shahzad, who admitted to trying to blow up New York’s Times Square in May.

Bombs and attacks blamed on Taliban and al-Qaeda-linked militants have killed more than 3,500 people across Pakistan, it is estimated, since government troops besieged a radical mosque in Islamabad in July 2007.

Much of the violence has focused on north-west Pakistan’s border area with Afghanistan, where US and Nato troops are battling to turn around a nine-year war against the Taliban.

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