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.

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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.”

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