Archive for the ‘ homegrown terror ’ Category

Norway Attacks Shatter a Nation’s Innocence

By Edmund Sanders for The Los Angeles Times

After a bombing and a shooting rampage that left 93 people dead, some believe the open and trusting attitude that’s been a hallmark of the Norwegian psyche is forever lost. The prime minister tells mourners, ‘Our answer is more democracy, more openness, more humanity, but never naivete.’

Norwegians have always taken pride in their open, trusting society.

It’s a country where you might encounter the prime minister at the grocery store and offer a hug. Many police don’t carry guns and most government buildings are unprotected. Homicide is rare, with only a handful of gun-related deaths a year.

But as Otto Lovik stood Sunday on a muddy lakeshore overlooking Utoya Island and recalled how he rescued about 60 people fleeing Friday’s massacre by a gunman, the 56-year-old prison guard, still shaking from the experience, said his country must change.

“We can’t go back to being open and trusting after this,” said Lovik, who loaded his boat with so many terrified, bleeding victims that he feared it would capsize. “This is the price we must pay.”

As Norway recovers from the initial shock of the shooting rampage and earlier Oslo bombing and begins the mourning process for 93 people who were slain, many predict the nation will never be the same.

“It’s going to have a deep, long-lasting impact,” said Atle Dyregrov, director of Norway’s Center for Crisis Psychology, which has helped other countries recover from disasters such as the 2008 China earthquake and this year’s Japanese tsunami.

“Our innocence is lost,” he said. “We used to think that these things only happened in other countries, not here. Now that illusion is shattered forever.”

He predicted that Norway’s relaxed security policies and reluctance to impinge of civil rights will give way to familiar restrictions already in place in other Western nations, including limited access to government facilities and increased surveillance of suspected extremist groups. He likened the changes to Sweden’s security tightening after the 1986 assassination of Prime Minister Olof Palme.

On Sunday, however, the nation’s focus was on grieving and healing. National flags throughout the capital flew at half staff.

At the ornate Oslo Domkirken cathedral in the heart of the capital, hundreds participated in a national mourning ceremony attended by the prime minister, King Harald, Queen Sonja and some of the young people who escaped the island attack. The suspect, Anders Behring Breivik, is expected to be formally charged Monday.

“A heavy darkness is now clouding our lives,” Bishop Helga Haugland Byfuglien told tearful mourners, urging them to maintain their faith in the goodness of Norway’s people and commitment toward an open society.

In an emotional address, Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said Norway would not be cowed. “Our answer is more democracy, more openness, more humanity, but never naivete,” he said.

Outside the cathedral, just blocks from the site of the Friday bomb blast that killed at least eight people, well-wishers laid flowers and candles in a makeshift memorial that by nightfall was spreading into the streets.

Waiting in line to enter the cathedral to pay her respects, Oslo resident Christine Arnese, a 47-year-old nurse, stood alone with tears streaming down her cheeks.

“I think this might bring us all closer together,” she said. “It’s important that we keep our country free and open.”

But as the scale of the tragedy sunk in, fears about possible future attacks were already leading some Norwegians to call on the government to bolster security. Some said that police guards who were dispatched to government facilities in the hours after the attacks should become permanent fixtures.

Others called for tougher punishments for terrorists, complaining that estimates Breivik that would face only 21 years in prison if convicted underscores the inadequacy of current law.

“We have to do more to protect ourselves,” said Julie Groseth, who works at a small market overlooking Utoya Island in the community of Hole. She said she worried about copy-cat attacks.

“Maybe that means not being as open to other countries,” she said. “This has showed us how weak Norway is in the war against terrorism. We are not prepared.”

At one of Oslo’s main mosques, many Pakistan-born immigrants expressed apprehension about how the attacks may affect Norwegian society and its tolerance of foreigners.

“When we first heard about the attacks, we all gathered together and prayed,” said mosque official Mohamed Sulieman, who moved to Norway 35 years ago. First they prayed for the victims, he said. Then they prayed that the perpetrators would not turn out to be Islamic extremists. The country has reason enough to fear retribution from overseas extremists: Its troops serve in Afghanistan, where 10 Norwegian soldiers have been killed.

Though he said they were relieved to hear authorities describe Breivik as a home-grown terrorist who acted alone, some remain concerned that any tighter security rules or rising public anxieties might nevertheless trigger a backlash against them. At times in the past, the increasing presence of immigrants and foreigners in Norway has come under criticism from conservative parties.

“We’ve never really had a problem before,” Sulieman said. “But still, it’s in the back of our minds.”

The End of AfPak

By Scott Malcomson for The New York Times

Remember how after 9/11, Osama bin Laden’s attacks on us could be linked to almost anything, from shopping habits to the rediscovery of Western values to carbon-pricing schemes? Something similar appears to be happening with Bin Laden’s death. Jihadism sure isn’t what it used to be. After 10 years, it seems, the time has come to go home. Troops are and will be coming back to the United States from Iraq and Afghanistan. The military budget will be cut. The outgoing secretary of defense feels able to openly mock NATO because, presumably, he thinks he can afford to — because it doesn’t matter all that much. The global war on terror is being downgraded from Armageddon to something more out of Leviticus: a tricked-out police action, just as John Kerry, in this magazine, always said it should be. On Sunday, Helene Cooper and Mark Landler reported that “American success in the counterterrorism campaign would seem to bolster arguments for a swift withdrawal from Afghanistan.” By Tuesday morning, they were reporting that President Obama would announce his withdrawal plans on Wednesday. Meanwhile, a Harris poll revealed that 51 percent of Americans and 54 percent of Britons believed “the death of Bin Laden meant it was time to bring troops from their countries home.”

That isn’t quite how it looked when I was in Washington a few weeks ago and spoke with about a dozen current and former American officials and with Pakistanis. The impression they each gave was that American withdrawal would be speeded not because of Bin Laden’s death but because of Pakistan’s reaction to it. After the initial shock, Pakistan’s (government-influenced) press latched onto a narrative of “national humiliation” as a result of the American raid, rather than, say, one of jubilation at the demise of a killer whose fantasies have brought Pakistan nothing but misery. A younger generation of military officers — Pakistan is dominated by its military — seemed at times about to revolt in reaction to the insult to Pakistan’s sovereignty. And the Inter Services Intelligence (I.S.I.), Pakistan’s ubiquitous military intelligence outfit, reacted, as was subsequently reported, by scouring the neighborhood around Bin Laden’s house for … evidence of how the C.I.A. found out he was there, and to determine who had been helping the Americans.

Finally, the Pakistan government did not respond to the Bin Laden raid by pressing its new advantage and rolling up terrorist networks across the land. No, it did not do that at all. So Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, went to Islamabad and on May 27 presented a list of demands. These included the arrest or elimination of Ayman al-Zawahiri (of Al Qaeda), Ilyas Kashmiri (a long-sought semi-free-agent and former Pakistani military man), Sirajuddin Haqqani (of the AfPak-border based Haqqani network) and Atiya Abdur Rahman (Al Qaeda), and the shutting down of bomb factories in Pakistan.

By June 3, Kashmiri was dead. But this promising start now seems isolated. The other wanted men are still at large. The bomb-makers might well be getting tipped off. The revolt by younger Pakistani officers seemed only to get worse.

In short, the U.S. and Pakistan are really not getting along. Among members of Congress, beating up Pakistan has become ritualized; Senators McCain and Rogers were doing it again on the Sunday programs. I wondered: How many times can Pakistan be abandoned? As Bruce Riedel, a former C.I.A. officer and the head of President Obama’s first major AfPak review, shows in his excellent new book, “Deadly Embrace: Pakistan, America and the Future of Islamist Jihad,” embrace and abandonment have formed the pattern of American-Pakistani relations since the majority-Muslim nation was formed out of the breakup of British India in 1947. Harry Truman’s lack of interest yielded to Dwight Eisenhower’s enthusiasm for Pakistan as an anti-Communist bulwark and a base for spying on the Soviets. The relationship was and remained built around security and intelligence. Lyndon Johnson reversed course when India and Pakistan went to war in 1965; he cut off both, but Pakistan had, unlike India, been a strong ally, and it felt betrayed. This set the pattern: ultimately, Pakistan was tactical and India was strategic.

Now, after almost 10 years of intense engagement, Pakistan and the U.S. appear set for another split; at least that was the consensus among the officials I spoke with. There was a pervasive sadness in these conversations. It was due in part to the sheer human effort that has gone into the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. A lot of spies and soldiers and diplomats and politicians have put years of their lives into making “AfPak” work, which requires making Pak work. A lot (not all) of that effort seems to be going down the drain, along with much of the billions of taxpayer dollars that financed it.

There is also personal sadness in that the AfPak effort was associated toward the end with Richard Holbrooke, whose death late last year brought the foreign-policy world up short. Holbrooke did not take great care of himself, so objectively his death could not be entirely a surprise, and among people over 70 the reactions I heard were more of the well-what-did-you-expect variety. But in the 35-to-65 range it was different. Holbrooke represented, very attractively, the assertion of youth and hope against experience. Even at 69 he had a distinct eagerness, even boyishness, alongside the baritone gravitas. He attracted bright young people. He could be young and old at the same time. Once he was gone, that sort of generational bridging disappeared. (Older figures are few in this administration.) The sense of continuity (as well as of optimism) is weakening. There’s something missing now.

There was also a sense of ideological loss of direction. For all their differences, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush shared a tangible optimism about American governmental involvement abroad. President Obama is different, and even if he weren’t the national mood is. The people’s representatives in Congress are vying to bring troops home faster, and if there is an internationalist remaining in the House he or she is keeping quiet. The Republican candidates for president seem to have settled on anti-war isolationism as a winning position. Obama’s great strength in foreign policy — his ability to repackage, and optimize, American power in a multipolar world — is the strategy that dare not speak its name, or it will bring accusations of “declinism.”

Finally, there is the tremendous sadness of Pakistan itself. The country doesn’t have enough water. It lacks the electricity to develop its industries. Literacy, by some reckonings, is actually declining. Democracy has been restored but the government is hardly stable. The one truly semi-stable institution, the military, is struggling against itself, just as Pakistanis are dividing, and attacking each other on an increasing scale (which is saying something).

But, in a way, the saddest thing of all, from a foreign-policy point of view — Pakistani or American — is that the one great card Pakistan has to play is to make itself a problem. Pakistan formed itself into a regional player through building its army, running terrorist proxies in Kashmir and Afghanistan, indulging in enough Islamist millenarianism to make itself frightening, and developing nuclear weapons. None of these strategies have a good future. But in the absence of a long-term committed relationship — what Holbrooke promoted as a “strategic partnership” — with the United States or, perhaps, with China, Pakistan is left with fear as its most successful export.

There was some discussion in Washington as to whether Mullah Omar’s name was on that list that Clinton and Mullen presented in Islamabad. It almost doesn’t matter. The doubt itself is the message: Pakistan stays valuable because it has terrorist “ties” or “links” or “proxies” or whatever. As national existential dilemmas go, Pakistan’s is particularly nightmarish. The U.S. will leave them to it — abandonment again — and choose the happier relationship with India. Secretary Clinton will be at the regional forum of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in late July, helping to take her longtime initiative of eastward Indian engagement, and the integration of the United States into East Asian political structures, to a new level. This is part of a long-term strategy of accommodating the rise of China and of India.

And Pakistan, after 10 years, will be left behind; as the line in Washington goes, “There is no good solution.”

Florida Men Accused of Aiding Pakistani Taliban

By Gardiner Harris for The New York Times

The F.B.I. on Saturday arrested three Pakistani-Americans, including father and son imams from South Florida mosques, charging them with providing financing and other material support to the Pakistani Taliban.
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Three people living in Pakistan were also charged in the indictment, which was made public by Wilfredo A. Ferrer, the United States attorney for the Southern District of Florida. The F.B.I. said that the indictment grew out of a review of suspicious financial transactions and other evidence and not from an undercover sting operation. The arrests seem to be unrelated to the raid that killed Osama bin Laden a week ago.

The four-count indictment charges that the six sought to aid the Pakistani Taliban’s fight against the Pakistani government and its allies, including the United States, by supporting acts of murder, kidnapping and maiming in Pakistan and elsewhere in order to displace the government and establish strict Islamic law known as Shariah.

“Today, terrorists have lost another funding source to use against innocent people and U.S. interests,” said John V. Gillies, the special agent in charge of the F.B.I.’s Miami office.

Five of the six people charged are related. Arrested in the United States were Hafiz Muhammed Sher Ali Khan, 76, of Miami; and two of his sons, Izhar Khan, 24, of Miami; and Irfan Khan, 37, of North Lauderdale.

Hafiz Khan is the imam at the Miami Mosque, also known as the Flagler Mosque. Izhar Khan is an imam at the Jamaat Al-Mu’mineen Mosque in Margate, Fla. Hafiz and Izhar Khan were arrested Saturday in South Florida, while Irfan Khan was arrested in Los Angeles. All three are originally from Pakistan.

The three people residing in Pakistan who were charged were Amina Khan, Hafiz Khan’s daughter, and Alam Zeb, her son, as well as Ali Rehman, also known as Faisal Ali Rehman. A statement from prosecutors said that the defendants were assisted “by others in the United States and Pakistan.”

The indictment said that the six transferred money to the Pakistani Taliban that was intended to buy guns and sustain militants and their families. Hafiz Khan is also accused of supporting the Pakistani Taliban through a madrasa, or Islamic school, that he founded and controlled in the Swat Valley region of Pakistan. He was charged with using the madrasa to provide shelter and other support for the Pakistani Taliban and sending children from his madrasa to learn to kill Americans in Afghanistan.

The indictment does not charge the mosques with any wrongdoing. The Muslim Communities Association of South Florida announced that that Hafiz Khan had been suspended indefinitely from his mosque.

“Our organizations, together through the Coalition of South Florida Muslim Organizations, has been working with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Miami F.B.I. office,” the association said in a statement released Saturday afternoon, “and appreciate the efforts of law enforcement to root out potential sources and supporters of terrorism.”

“We stand together with the U.S. attorney, Wilfredo Ferrer, and the men and women of the F.B.I., and have been and will be cooperating with law enforcement to our fullest ability,” it added.

The F.B.I. news release took pains to describe the charges as reflecting only the actions of the defendants, not of their mosques or Islam. “Let me be clear that this is not an indictment against a particular community or religion,” Mr. Ferrer said. “Instead, today’s indictment charges six individuals for promoting terror and violence through their financial and other support of the Pakistani Taliban. Radical extremists know no boundaries; they come in all shapes and sizes and are not limited by religion, age or geography.”

“The indictment does not charge the mosques themselves with any wrongdoing,” it continued, “and the individual defendants are charged based on their provision of material support to terrorism, not on their religious beliefs or teachings.”

The inclusion of those statements were “well appreciated” by the Muslim community in South Florida, said Asad Ba-Yunus, who is a legal adviser to the Muslim Communities Association of South Florida.

“We have been working with the U.S. attorney’s office over last few months” to improve relations, Mr. Ba-Yunus said, adding that he had spoken with the office Saturday morning before the indictment was announced.

The charges against the Florida men accusing them of supporting the Pakistani Taliban but not actually carrying out operations themselves are the most common types of terrorism prosecutions that United States authorities have pursued since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Of the 50 leading terrorism cases since those attacks, about 70 percent have involved financing or other support to terrorist groups, according to the Center on Law and Security at the New York University School of Law.

The Pakistani Taliban were officially designated as a terrorist organization by the State Department on Aug. 12, 2010.

The Pakistani Taliban are closely allied with Al Qaeda, and is responsible for a series of attacks against Pakistani police and military targets in recent years. Pakistani authorities believe a splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban was responsible for the suicide attack in northwestern Pakistan on Friday that killed more than 80 cadets from a government paramilitary force. According to American officials, the Pakistani Taliban have been involved in or claimed responsibility for attacks on United States interests, including an attack on a military base in Khost, Afghanistan, along the border with Pakistan, and a suicide bombing against the consulate in Peshawar, Pakistan.

American officials say the failed attempt to detonate a car bomb in Times Square last May was developed and financed by the Pakistani Taliban. The convicted bomb plotter, Faisal Shahzad, contacted the Pakistani Taliban via computer to confer with handlers over what he had done, the government wrote in court papers in September.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s NoteAs peace loving Americans of Pakistani descent, we are upset to hear that some members of the US Muslim community would want to do the great nation of the Unites States harm. If found guilty, we hope that they are severly punished and a message is sent to anyone else intending to do us harm. We commend the FBI and the Department of Justice in these arrests and in keeping the American homeland safe.

With Friends Like Pakistan…

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

Many people in Pakistan these days are wondering why their nation often finds itself on the wrong side of recent history. First, there is the continued and unjust imprisonment of a Christian Pakistani woman named Asia Bibi who has been languishing in jail for nearly two years. She has been given a death sentence for allegedly making derogatory remarks about the prophet Muhammad.

Then there was the killing of Salman Taseer, who was the then sitting governor of Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province, by one of his own bodyguards for his outspoken support for Asia’s rights and her freedom. Instead of swift punishment and public outcry at his actions, the killer, Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, was showered with rose petals by some cheering members of the bar association of Lahore when he came to the courthouse for formal charges of murder. Yes, members of the judiciary were cheering his unilateral action of murdering another human being simply for his support towards a condemned non Muslim woman’s rights.

You can only imagine the warped sense of logic and justice in a country where lawyers cheer the cold blooded murder of an innocent man whose only crime was to come at the aid of a condemned Christian mother of two children.

Fast forward to a few months later, the extremists managed to assassinate the only Christian member of President Asif Ali Zardari’s government when the Minister for Minority Affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti, was killed in a hail of bullets by unknown gunmen who then managed to escape on their motorcycle. Bhatti being a Christian as well as a minister in the government, had campaigned for the release of Asia as well as for the repeal of the blasphemy laws in Pakistan that at help promote a culture of state sanctioned hatred against religious minorities in Pakistan.

The culture of fear and hatred as well as violence against the religious minorities has progressively gotten worse along with the security situation inside the country in the last ten years. If there is anything that has been proven by some of these recent events in Pakistan, it is only that the country has become the undisputed global hotbed of extremism, fanaticism, and Islamic militancy in the Muslim world. It has now morphed into a country where the Wahhabi and Salafi fanatics have successfully used fear and hate to silence the majority moderate Barelvi and Sufi Muslims of Pakistan.

When powerful moderate voices like those of Bhatti and Taseer are silenced despite having heavy protection, how safe can the common man feel about his life if he chooses to speak up against the radicals within Islam? To kill someone is against Islamic belief at its core, unless it is done in self defense but you would be hard pressed to hear that view from the religious fanatics in Pakistan. They have justified killing others over many insane reasons such as making derogatory remarks about Islam or the prophet Muhammad. They also rationalize the killing of someone over a family’s honor, thus honor killings where often young women are killed if they are deemed to have brought dishonor to their family. These radical Islamists will even want someone dead for simply uttering disparaging remarks against Islam or its prophet. It is both ironic and hypocritical to see that the same derogatory remarks towards other figures such as Jesus, Moses, Abraham or other prophets of the Quran do not meet the same outcry nor receive the same impassioned response from the masses as when Islam or its prophet Muhammad are criticized.

The seeds of this current fanaticism fanning the flames of hatred were planted during an earlier conflict, this one involving the Soviets against an under matched adversary in Afghanistan. It was during this time in the ‘80’s when the Pakistani dictator, General Zia ul Haq, was in power and he accepted American aid from the Reagan administration in thwarting the threat from the 1979 Soviet invasion of neighboring Afghanistan. At the time, Pakistan’s ISI worked very closely with these “freedom fighters” waging what many thought was a just jihad against a communist foe who disallowed all religious worship. In fact, a good movie to rent right now to put some of these current events in perspective would be Charlie Wilson’s War starring Tom Hanks which details this era of Pakistan-US relations and cooperation against a common enemy in the Soviets.

The trouble now however is that in this current uneasy alliance between Pakistan and the US, there is not a common enemy, at least not as how it is viewed by many in Pakistan, which recently was polled to be the most anti-American nation in the world. Even though radical Islam and fanaticism is as much a threat to Pakistan’s sovereignty and prosperity as it is to the United States, India has always been seen as the big threat by its army and rulers. Pakistan has long seen Afghanistan as a country offering it strategic depth in any future wars with India. Thus, its interests in Afghanistan do not coincide with those of the United States.

The Pakistani media also constantly feeds a steady news diet of bombings by the Taliban/Haqqani network as well as any one of the other fill-in-the-blank militants groups seemingly operating freely from within its borders. There is also the regular news reports of US drone attacks and NATO actions in the AfPak region, as well as the all ubiquitous and constant threat faced from India, who is still seething from the Mumbai bombings in 2008, which were blamed on Pakistani trained terrorists. To further add insult to their injury, not a single leader of the Lashkar E Taiba has been convicted in Pakistan for the attacks in Mumbai that claimed 174 deaths and seriously injured several hundred others.

To the Indians, the perpetrator of their version of 9/11 is not an Arab from Yemen named Osama, but rather a whole nation state with whom it has fought three wars in 60 years and who is a long time sworn enemy with which it shares a long border. Too often it is rightly assumed by many that Pakistan will not act against Lashkar E Taiba and other openly anti-Indian militant groups because these groups are seen as a strategic asset for use against India. Only the fear of an all out nuclear war between the two nations by a trigger happy Pakistan placated India enough so that New Delhi did not immediately take military action against Pakistan after the Mumbai attacks.

So this culture of fear from all enemies both foreign and domestic to Pakistan’s sovereignty is now at an all time high within the nation. With a several decade long war on its western border in Afghanistan as well as the constant threat from its arch enemy to the east in India, Pakistan has never felt more threatened or squeezed. This pressure is now only going to get ratcheted higher since last week’s killing of Osama Bin Laden at a compound in a suburb of Islamabad, Pakistan. Living for five years undetected in the compound, Bin Laden was less than a mile away from the Kakul Military Academy in Abbottabad, Pakistan’s version of the famed American military college of West Point, when he was killed by a US Navy Seal team.

For the world’s most wanted terrorist to hide in plain sight in such a manner and for so many years, rightly points a lot of suspicion on Pakistan. Long suspected by many intelligence analysts, elements within Pakistan’s spy agency, the ISI, naturally now attracts a lot of suspicion in their possible involvement in the whole affair. There are strong voices and calls within the US Congress to halt all aid to Pakistan in light of Bin Laden’s death. We certainly can assume that any other country in the world found to be harboring terrorists would already have been labeled a state sponsor of terrorism and would be facing immediate sanctions from the international community. “You are either with us or against us” were the words so famously uttered by then President Bush to Pakistan specifically after 9/11. But due to Pakistan’s importance for a successful pullout from Afghanistan of US troops, as well as its strategic position within the Islamic world, neither side can afford to cut off relations with each other.

Although the Obama administration stopped short of claiming that the corrupt civilian government of Zardari was directly involved in protecting and sheltering Bin Laden, all signs point to complicity to some extent by some segments within Pakistan’s hierarchy. There is near unanimous agreement among many in Washington, and this is true on both sides of the aisle, that there are many sympathizers of the Taliban and Al Qaeda within the ranks of the army and the intelligence agencies of Pakistan.

Having driven the Soviets out of the region with the help of militant jihadi groups like the Taliban, no doubt a cadre of army and intelligence officers must have come to espouse the belief that it is in Pakistan’s best interests to have a religiously frenzied force available to use as a weapon against India in a future conflict also. In fact, Pakistan has always had this policy of seeking strategic depth in Afghanistan against India.

The death of Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan by Special Forces of the American military illustrates just what a duplicitous game the country has been playing with the United States and more importantly with itself. In the war on terror America lost nearly 3,000 citizens in the attacks on 9/11. In that same period stretching the last ten years, Pakistan has lost nearly 31,000 citizens to terrorist attacks by the Taliban, Al Qaeda and other militant groups. So it has always been in Pakistan’s best interests to fight the militant threat brewing in its borders the last two decades that has claimed so many lives and caused so much instability.

The murders of Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti illustrates the dire situation within Pakistani society where many young underprivileged men gravitate towards Osama Bin Laden’s ideology of hate against the US, which is seen by many, as the aggressor in an already very anti-American country. Also western ideas, religious and political liberties, and freedoms, such as those for women in western society, are all seen by the Islamic clergy and religious establishment as being against Islamic doctrine and clashing with the Muslim way of life. Therefore, the madrassahs and the masjids continue to espouse rhetoric against the American and European way of life which is seen as contradicting the teachings of the Quran. Even moderate Muslims and their sites of worship have come under heavy attack by the militants as witnessed by a new strategy of attacking Sufi Muslim shrines and mosques. Pakistan may not want to admit it, but there is a raging war going on within itself for the control of Islam and the attack on moderate Islam by the extremists within the religion.

The Bin Laden killing makes Pakistan seem either highly incompetent about knowledge his whereabouts or at the very least appear to be deeply complicit in sheltering and keeping him hidden while the United States launched the biggest manhunt in US history. At this point, the United States justly feels betrayed and distrustful towards anyone in the Pakistani establishment. After all, how are they to know who now to trust in the army or the civilian government?

It is imperative that Pakistan mount an immediate and urgent investigation that has the full cooperation and assistance of the US so that both countries can discover the source of this support system that Bin Laden has had from within Pakistan. Certainly, some heads do need to roll in Islamabad over this. Whether those resignations be of the current ISI chief, Ahmad Shuja Pasha, head of the army, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, or Zardari and Gilani themselves, as some accountability needs to occur. This is important not just for the sake of American-Pakistani relations, but just as importantly for the benefit of the Pakistani populace who is both deeply embarrassed by breach of Pakistan’s sovereignty, but also for the intelligence failure by the government of Pakistan at Osama’s whereabouts. Until and unless Pakistan makes this investigation a top priority, USA and Pakistan relations will continue to slide downhill and will mire further in distrust.

Pakistan must realize that in this global war against religious Islamic fanaticism, it cannot continue to speak from both sides of its mouth. Not when everything, including its very existence is at stake. It cannot at once be both a front line ally in the war against terror and receive billions of dollars in US aid, and at the same time, be found to shelter or allow terrorists and militant organizations safe havens and allow them to operate within its territory.

It is up to Pakistan to salvage a quickly deteriorating situation. However at the time of publication of this article, it seems that President Asif Ali Zardari’s government is off to a horrible start in mending fences with the US. First the name and identity of the CIA station chief in Pakistan was leaked by someone in the ISI to members of the local press. This leak compromised his mission and even poses a danger to his life as the anonymity of all operatives is a necessary requirement in intelligence work.

Then later in the day, in remarks given by Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to its Parliament, he defiantly stated that neither Pakistan’s army nor its intelligence agency should be suspected by the Obama administration for providing support to Bin Laden. Gilani also went as far as to say that any future unilateral action by the US or any other nation inside Pakistan’s territory will be met with like force. I thought to myself, did he really just that? Did Pakistan just threaten the United States? It is appalling to see the political posturing now being done by the Pakistani government and the long term negative consequences they will have on the nation.

For a country that is receiving nearly $3.5 billion in US aid yearly, these are very tough words that will undoubtedly only make the strained relations between the two countries worse. Pakistan should realize that United States wants to feel that it can trust it to be a full partner in the fight against militancy and extremism. And unless this distrustful and at times, very adversarial relationship changes, the United States cannot help but feel that with friends like Pakistan, it does not need enemies!

-Manzer Munir, a proud Pakistani American and peace activist, is the founder of Pakistanis for Peace and blogs at http://www.PakistanisforPeace.com as well at other websites as a freelance journalist and writer. 

Why Pakistan’s Taliban Target the Muslim Majority

By Omar Waraich for Time

Although Pakistan’s headlines are dominated by the violent excesses of Taliban extremists, the majority of Pakistanis subscribe to the more mystical Sufi tradition of the country’s Barelvi school of Islam. And attacks on their places of worship are becoming depressingly familiar. Last Sunday, two bombers attacked the 13th Century Sakhi Sarwar shrine, near the southern Punjabi town of Dera Ghazi Khan, slaughtering 50 people and injuring twice as many. Mercifully, two other bombers failed to detonate their devices, preventing even higher casualties. Still, it was the deadliest assault yet on a Sufi shrine in Pakistan — and the sixteenth in the last two years.

The Pakistani Taliban swiftly claimed responsibility for the attack, as they have done for each previous one. Pakistan’s Taliban claims the mantle of the hardline Deobandi tradition, with many beliefs in common with the austere Wahabism of Saudi Arabia. They regard the Barelvi, who comprise more than three quarters of Pakistan’s Sunni Muslims, as irredeemable heretics. The Barelvis favor a more tolerant approach to Islam, promoting a cult of the Prophet and incorporate folkloric traditions such as seeking intercession from rural saints. Sakhi Sarwar, a mystic who is also revered by some Hindus and Sikhs, is said to grant women a son — a local legend that rouses anger among Islam’s more literalist adherents, who ascribe such powers only to Allah.

Tensions between Deobandis and Barelvis have punctuated most of Pakistan’s history. But with the arrival of al-Qaeda in the country a decade ago, local militants forged links with the global jihadists, their sectarianism sharpened to accept al-Qaeda’s “takfiri” worldview that deems adherents of other strains of Islam as deviant apostates worthy of death.

One reason for the uptick in sectarian-based terror attacks may be that the militants’ ability to strike the high profile urban targets that once grabbed global headlines has been diminished by Pakistani military offensives in their strongholds over the past two years. “It has become harder for the militants to strike hard targets,” says security analyst Ejaz Haider. “Some lessons have been learned from the previous attacks.”

So, the militants have, over the past two years, more keenly focused on sectarian attacks. Traditional Shi’ite processions are now routinely targeted by suicide bombers. In May 2010, two mosques of the minority Ahmedi sect were targeted in Lahore, killing 93 people. And there’s been an escalation of bombings directed against the majority Barelvis. After attacks on two of their most prominent shrines, Data Darbar in Lahore’s old city and Abdullah Shah Ghazi in Karachi, Barelvis came out on to the streets, wielding weapons and vowing revenge against the Taliban. They did not extend blame to the broader spectrum of Deobandis, perhaps wisely evading the beginnings of a more gruesome sectarian conflict that Pakistan can ill-afford.

Not all Barelvis are the models of peace and tolerance that some have portrayed them to be. It was a Barelvi, Mumtaz Qadri, that assassinated Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer in January, for his opposition to Pakistan’s prejudicial blasphemy laws. The assassination was applauded by 500 Barelvi scholars in a joint statement. And the Sunni Tehreek, a Barelvi militant outfit, rewarded Qadri’s family and threatened Taseer’s daughter. While they may favor a more permissive vision of Islam, certain Barelvis are quite capable of violence where they feel the Prophet has been dishonored.

The campaign to defend Pakistan’s blasphemy laws from reform has, in fact, united Barelvis and Deobandis since last November. Barelvi anti-Taliban rhetoric was also put on pause. “We had seen the Barelvis getting ready to organize a campaign against the Taliban,” observes analyst Nasim Zehra, “but they got sidetracked by the blasphemy issue and this was forgotten.” Until last month’s assassination of Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, the religious right was able to frequently draw tens of thousands on to the streets.

Sectarian hatred aside, rural shrines are a far easier terror target than the more heavily guarded state and economic targets in the cities. Suicide bombers, especially the teenage boys favored by militants, can often evade notice before they reach the target. A crowded space helps secure the militants’ aim of causing high casualties. In the case of the Sakhi Sarwar bombers, they only had travel to a relatively short and unimpeded distance from North Waziristan to the edge of Punjab.

The bombings may also be an attempt to relieve pressure from sporadic Army actions against militants in the northern tip of the tribal areas. “Just to remain alive there, the militants have to try and force the government’s hand into diminishing pressure,” says analyst Haider. “To counter that pressure, they mount attacks in the mainland in the hope of securing some deal back in the tribal areas.” By targeting shrines across the country, the militants are able to demonstrate their enduring geographical reach and expose the state’s vulnerabilities.

The bad news is that the state is in a poor position to respond. After the latest bombings, Barelvi leaders denounced the Punjab provincial government for failing to provide security at shrines. The Punjab government dismisses the charge. “It’s happening all over,” says Ahsan Iqbal, a leading politician from the Pakistan Muslim League-N, the ruling party in Punjab. “This is not something that is province-specific.” Iqbal casts blame on the federal government for failing to share intelligence. The federal government reverses the charge, and argues that the law and order is a provincial responsibility. What no one seems to be focusing on is the desperate need to enhance the police’s capacity, with better equipment, counterterrorism training and an intelligence gathering network that reaches deep into Pakistan’s remote areas.

Teen says 400 Pakistan suicide bombers in training

As Reported by The Deccan Chronicle

A teenager arrested as an accomplice to Pakistan’s deadliest suicide bombing of the year has said that up to 400 suicide bombers are being groomed to wage carnage in the nuclear-armed nation.

Umar Fidayee, 14, said the would-be bombers were being trained in North Waziristan, the premier Al-Qaeda and Taliban fortress in Pakistan’s tribal belt where US officials want Pakistan to flush out militant strongholds.

He made the remarks in an interview aired Friday from his hospital bedside, where he is being treated after detonating a hand grenade in the April 4 attack that killed 50 people at a 13th-century Sufi shrine.

It was Pakistan’s deadliest bomb attack since November.

Police arrested Fidayee as an alleged accomplice and said they removed his own suicide vest, which he failed to detonate in a crowd of hundreds in Dera Ghazi Khan just minutes after two other bombers blew themselves up.

Shown covered in tubes and bandages, the teen appeared to express remorse and lifted the lid on harrowing details of his training at the camp in the Mir Ali district of North Waziristan, which lies on the border with Afghanistan.

“Three hundred and fifty to 400 would-be suicide bombers are getting training in Mir Ali in North Waziristan,” he said in the interview broadcast by Pakistani television channels Samaa, Express, ARY and Geo.

“I was trained for two months and saw many boys being trained there,” he said, going on to appeal on Pakistanis to “please forgive me”.

“God has given me a new life but I am sad that we killed innocent people, innocent children,” he said.

Fidayee said he was initially recruited on the understanding that he would be smuggled into Afghanistan to kill non-Muslims.

“But they brought me here to Dera Ghazi Khan. I told them ‘there is no kafir (non-believer) here’,” he said.

“They told me these people are worse than kafirs,” Fidayee said.

Exposing an apparently disturbing recruitment at the gates of an ordinary school in North Waziristan, the teenager claimed a man he identified as Qari Zafar convinced him to begin a life of militancy.

“He told me that all this education is useless and said ‘become a fighter and you will go to heaven’,” Umar told the reporters.

He said he was told to attack the shrine 30 minutes after the other two detonated their bombs, in order to cause maximum carnage among those rushing to aid casualties of the first two blasts.

In a message to other potential suicide bombers he said: “Please refuse to carry suicide attacks. Such attacks are forbidden in Islam.”

Islamist militants have increasingly targeted Sufi worshippers, who follow a mystical strain of Islam, in Muslim-majority Pakistan.

Dera Ghazi Khan is close to Pakistan’s tribal belt which is described by Washington as the most dangerous place on Earth and an Al-Qaeda headquarters.

More than 4,200 people have been killed across Pakistan in attacks blamed on homegrown Taliban and other Islamist extremist networks since government troops stormed a radical mosque in Islamabad in July 2007.

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.

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

Pakistan Confronts Deepening Radicalism in Wake of Assassination

By Sarah A Topol for AOL News

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — When Vice President Joe Biden made his surprise visit to Pakistan this week to shore up the battle against the Taliban and al-Qaida, he warned against the implications of increasing radicalism in Pakistani society in light of the assassination of a liberal governor by his bodyguard.

“The governor was killed simply because he was a voice of tolerance and understanding,” Biden said at a news conference Wednesday. “As you know all too well … societies that tolerate such actions end up being consumed by those actions.”

But when President Barack Obama meets Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari later today in Washington to discuss counter-terrorism in Pakistan’s lawless frontier, he greets a president facing a new fight against radicalism deep in the heart of Pakistan’s urban centers.

Since Mumtaz Qadri unloaded over two-dozen bullets into Salmaan Taseer’s back because the outspoken liberal called the country’s blasphemy laws a “black law,” ecstatic crowds have flocked to shower Qadri with rose petals at his court appearances. Facebook fan pages and a fawning YouTube video cropped up within hours of the murder.

The glorification of a confessed killer by the masses has shocked the country’s small liberal minority. But most troubling has been the reaction of Pakistan’s urban middle class, whose support the United States needs in its war against terror and against the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan.

From lawyers to tech-savvy Web users, the reaction of the educated middle class has most clearly illuminated the toehold that Islamic extremists have found when it comes to religious issues in Pakistan, even as the country continues to resist the allure of Islamic militants. Some see the reaction of the middle class as the expression of latent social outrage over how Islam is treated by the West, combined with a growing confusion over how to follow their faith in the modern world. This dormant indignation has found an outlet in the murder of a liberal governor.

“Taseer is a victim of religious extremism, but this religious extremism is wrapped up in a class and culture war, between the have-nots and the have, between the socially disposed and the possessors of society, between the globally connected and the globally disconnected,” Mosharraf Zaidi, a political analyst and policy development adviser in Islamabad, told AOL News.

Zaidi sees the convergence of educated Muslims around Qadri as a sign of confusion among the middle class over how to rationalize their modern lifestyle with Islamic tenets, prompting them to defer to radical right-wing mullahs when it comes to certain religious issues, like blasphemy.

“The Islamic narrative in Pakistan is dominated by a small religious establishment who has no viability electorally and who has limited social appeal. But on a number of specific issues they’re able to tap into something much deeper than what’s apparent in a day-to-day situation that awakens the inner radical,” Zaidi said. “The middle class is increasingly susceptible to the symbolism of the little guy taking on the big guy.”

Among Qadri’s most stalwart supporters are some of the same jurists who staged months of protests against Pakistan’s military dictator in 2007 and 2008, when Gen. Pervez Musharraf removed the country’s chief justice.

“We were supporting rule of law, the supremacy of the constitution and the independence of the judiciary,” said Mohammad Faisal Malik, who notes he was an active participant in the movement. “It was the most memorable year of my life.”

Dressed in a dapper black suit, Malik has a neat mustache and carefully styled sideburns that don’t suggest a picture of extremism taking root in Pakistan’s judicial system. But today he is among the group of lawyers who have been throwing garlands and chanting slogans in support of Qadri outside the district courthouse in Rawalpindi, and he is also one of the 500 lawyers signed on to represent Qadri.

Malik does not see a contradiction in supporting both the rule of law and a man who took the law into his own hands.

“Mr. Qadri reacted under certain provocation, feeling hurt from the remarks of the deceased governor. He acted like any Muslim will act when anyone uses filthy language against our prophet. … We were chanting and raising slogans against all those sectors that are using objectionable language against Muslims, against our holy prophet and against our religion. That was our message,” Malik explains in nearly flawless English, expressing a sense of global victimhood common among his compatriots.

In Pakistan, the day-to-day injustices in an impoverished society find no legal outlet. Corruption here is rife, and the rich can bribe their way out of anything. The lawyers supporting Qadri express an understanding of why the security guard picked up a gun.

“He took the law into his own hands when he thought he was helpless. He’s not in a position to initiate criminal proceedings against Mr. Taseer, so he reacted in this manner,” Malik said.

But some say the passivity of the educated class toward radical strains is not merely a product of a class and culture struggle but part of a larger generational gap in Pakistani society. Under the rule of Gen. Mohammad Zia ul-Haq in the 1980s, Pakistan underwent an Islamization campaign as the military dictator sought to unify the country and encourage jihadists to fight against Indian control of Kashmir and the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Today, some suggest, the younger generation is the product of state-sponsored radicalization.

“The state as a machinery is supporting and promoting religious extremism, and it happens through various means. It happens through media messages, it happens through textbooks,” said Marvi Sirmed, a human rights activist and blogger.

“The literate, quasi-educated urban population is the most vulnerable to these extremist propagandas, because they are exposed to electronic media and the outside world through social networking,” Sirmed said. “And I see a lot of stuff coming out through these sources that if you are naive, they can make you a suicide bomber very easily.”

It is this middle class, struggling with its faith in an age of global media and inter-connectivity, that the U.S. needs to win over, and it is precisely this sector it appears to be losing.

Pakistan’s middle class sees the United States not as a model of liberal values to be followed but rather as a country that inflicts repeated indignities upon Pakistanis’ culture and sense of worth with its military forays into the region in the past 10 years.

“We have to pay attention to the narrative of indignity, because it’s fueling things that start only as rhetorical and verbal but could very well link to Faisal Shahzad’s Nissan Pathfinder,” said Zaidi, referring to the failed Times Square bomber, an educated Pakistani who knew the United States only too well.

Pakistan: The Voices of Reason Must not be Silenced by Fear

By Sadiq Khan for The Independent

The news that Salman Taseer, the powerful governor of Pakistan’s most populous province, had been gunned down by his own security guard for standing up against the country’s draconian blasphemy laws, came as a bleak reminder of political fissures that divide the country.

The sickening scenes of Taseer’s murderer, Mumtaz Qadri, being showered by rose petals as he entered court to lodge his guilty plea were starkly juxtaposed with images of candlelit vigils at the spot where he was shot 27 times in the back.  These contrasting responses to Taseer’s assassination are illustrative of a fundamental split between those who want to see Pakistan fulfill her potential as a thriving, liberal and tolerant democracy and those that want to terrorize and isolate Pakistani citizens under a misguided and perverted interpretation of Islam.

While denouncement of last week’s criminal act was muted amongst Pakistan’s clerics and politicians – including those from the Pakistan Peoples Party, to which Taseer belonged – British citizens of Pakistani descent have been vocal in our condemnation and our mantra is clear – this death due to terrorism, as with the 25,000 others in Pakistan in recent years, is not in our name. It is not in the name of Islam and it is not in the name of Pakistan.  And while saddened by this loss, the real tragedy of Salman Taseer’s murder would be if it stopped other progressive, liberal people in Pakistan speaking up for fear of violent repercussions.

Qadri, though responsible for his own deplorable actions, was spurred on by inflammatory rhetoric from extremists preaching hatred and inciting violence against all those who stand up for the pluralist founding ideals of Pakistan. It is not only in Pakistan where irresponsible political language has repercussions beyond the boundaries of discourse and spill over into violence, but in Pakistan there is a danger that the voices of reason will be drowned out by the increasing clamor of hate, or silenced in fear.

Moderation and liberalism in Pakistan must not be allowed to die with Governor Taseer. Right-minded politicians and religious leaders must speak up, knowing that the UK as well as Muslims and non-Muslims around the world, are behind them.  Addressing a distinguished audience at the memorial meeting for Taseer at the Pakistani High Commission in London this week, MPs from all major British political parties spoke in solidarity with Pakistan and I was encouraged by the various Pakistani leaders who attacked those who corrupt Islam’s peaceful message and sought to assure Christians and other minority groups that they will be defended and protected.

If a society is ultimately judged by how it treats its most vulnerable and marginalized, then Pakistan is at a crossroads. Those, like Salman Taseer, who believe in a modern, peaceful Pakistan, governed by the rule of law, under which all people are equal and all faiths are free to worship, need to speak out in defense of it and in condemnation of the alternative.

After being struck by a natural disaster that swept away the lives, crops and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people in Pakistan last year, there is the potential that Pakistan could slip into a political disaster of its own making. Salman Taseer paid the ultimate price in trying to ensure this didn’t happen, but let that not be in vain.

Islamists Rally for Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws

By Zahid Hussain for The Washington Post

Tens of thousands of Islamists rallied Sunday in Pakistan’s southern port city of Karachi in support of the nation’s controversial blasphemy laws, and clerics threatened to kill anyone who challenged them.

Security was tightened around the house of Sherry Rehman, a former federal minister, who was threatened with death by radical clerics for moving a bill in the parliament last month to amend the blasphemy laws, which currently sentence to death anyone found guilty of insulting Islam.

The blasphemy laws have been in the spotlight since the murder last week of Salmaan Taseer, governor of Punjab province and a critic of the laws, who was shot by a member of his security detail. The shooter, Mumtaz Qadri, later said he killed Mr. Taseer because of the politician’s opposition to the laws. Mr. Taseer was a member of the Pakistan People’s Party, which runs the governing coalition, and was close to President Asif Ali Zardari.

The killing highlighted the extent to which extremist Islam has permeated Pakistan’s middle class and those close to the political elite even as the country grapples with an insurgency from the Pakistan Taliban and other violent Islamist groups. And it has deepened the polarization between moderate and radical Muslims throughout Pakistan. Radical clerics have seized the opportunity to whip up a campaign against moderate and progressive politicians, intellectuals and journalists.

Speakers at the Karachi rally sought to justify Mr. Taseer’s assassination, saying the killer fulfilled his obligation as a Muslim. “We will defend the assassin in the court,” declared Fazalur Rehman, the leader of Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam, a radical Islamic group that recently quit the coalition government after one of its ministers was sacked after publicly accusing a cabinet colleague of corruption.

The rally was organized by an alliance of hard-line Islamic groups including Jamaat-ud-Dawa, which the United Nations has said acts as a front for the outlawed terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba. Lashkar-e-Taiba is accused of masterminding the November 2008 terrorist attacks on Mumbai, which left more than 160 dead. Many demonstrators Sunday carried portraits of Mr. Qadri, who killed Mr. Taseer in a fashionable shopping district of Islamabad. Mr. Qadri has been hailed by Islamists as a great Islamic warrior.

Mr. Taseer had provoked the ire of radical clerics for publicly supporting a Christian woman who has been sentenced to death by a Pakistani court for allegedly making derogatory remarks against Islam’s prophet. The controversial laws have often been used against Christians and other non-Muslim communities, something that Ms. Rehman is seeking to prevent with a private bill she introduced last month.

A cleric of the Sultan Mosque in Karachi in his sermon on Friday called Ms. Rehman an “infidel” for suggesting changes in the blasphemy laws. A pamphlet signed by several Islamic clerics named her for supporting blasphemy. And some hard-line clerics have issued a “fatwa” demanding death to Ms. Rehman, a senior member of parliament of the Pakistan People’s Party.

Ms. Rehman said she is under pressure from the administration to leave the country until the situation calms down. “I am not going anywhere and [will] face the threat,” she said in a telephone interview.

In Pakistan, Another Assassination and the Lessons Unlearned

By Natasha Fatah for Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

The Lion of Punjab is dead. Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab in Pakistan, was assassinated in Islamabad on Tuesday by one of his own security guards.

When the guard later turned himself in to the police, he said that he killed the man he was supposed to be protecting because he considered Taseer’s campaign against Pakistan’s blasphemy laws an insult to Prophet Muhammad.

The blasphemy laws, which have been around since the 1980s, have been at the heart of a huge religious debate in Pakistan recently after a 45-year-old Christian woman was sentenced to death, allegedly in a dispute over drinking water among farm hands.

Most human rights observers say that the woman did nothing wrong, did not break any blasphemy law, and that the law is just being used to make some kind of example out of her.

Taseer stood by the side of this Christian woman, Asia Bibi, both literally and figuratively.

He stood next to her in the courtroom, which was a brave and dangerous move for any Muslim in Pakistan, but particularly so when you are a member of government and have a profile.

He had also waged an attack on those who wanted her dead by constantly criticizing the mullahs and hard-liners on his very active Twitter account these past weeks.

In response, Islamic fundamentalist politicians and imams were constantly attacking Taseer, even going as far as to say that criticizing the blasphemy law is an act of blasphemy itself, thus making Taseer an apostate.

A member of the Pakistan People’s Party and closely tied to President Asif Ali Zardari, Taseer had dedicated his life to social and political liberalism and to taking on the fundamentalists. But now that bravery has cost him everything.

According to witnesses, the guard who killed Taseer jumped out of a car, pointed his Kalashnikov and blasted away. He then continued his rampage, shooting the governor at least nine times.

Dropping his weapon, the man then gave himself up to police, saying later he was “proud” that he killed the blasphemer.

Another disturbing aspect to this story is that the assassin had managed to get himself into the police force and then, barely four months into the job, was transferred to the unit assigned to protect the governor.

It makes you wonder who was doing the vetting and whether some other even more devious plan was afoot. But how deep and powerful this doctrine of hate must be when someone who is paid to protect you ends up being the one to take your life?

Still, while it was the guard who pulled the trigger, it was the culture of hatred, ignorance and bigotry that put the idea in his head in the first place.

And it will no doubt be the disease of apathy among the majority of Pakistan’s comfortable middle class that will ensure nothing changes, which means more good men and women who want to reform Pakistan’s society will lose their lives.

After all, it was only three years ago that the world lost Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister and leader of the Pakistan People’s Party, for the same reasons.

She, too, was an advocate on behalf of liberalism and democracy and an enemy of religious extremists and she, too, paid for it with her life. If her death could not motivate the wealthy, powerful and influential in Pakistan to stand up and change things, then I’m not sure what will.

There is strange culture in Pakistan of blaming the victim. When Benazir Bhutto was murdered, many middle-class Pakistanis, in effect blamed her for her own assassination.

They criticized her for knowing the risks and continuing to speak out. Some said that as a mother she was being selfish for putting herself in the public eye.

And now, with Taseer’s murder, there are murmurs about him bringing this on because he provoked the Islamists through his criticism of their agenda. These are the risks you take when you stand behind a Christian blasphemer, some are saying.

It is only in an upside-down world like Pakistan’s self-absorbed middle class where those who die for being brave are considered irresponsible.

And it’s not like these moderate politicians such as Taseer don’t represent the values of the ordinary Pakistani.

Overwhelmingly, whenever given the election opportunity, the people of Pakistan vote in liberal, moderate and middle-of-the-road parties. Hardline Islamist parties do not win majorities in any of the country’s provinces.

Still, there seems to be a disconnect between what the Pakistani middle class say they want — stability and democracy — and what they are willing to work for.

Yes, in the case of Taseer, they will mourn the loss of another great leader. But Pakistan has lost far too many moderate leaders like this while everything goes on as before.

Wealthy Pakistanis will continue to go to their luxurious parties at fancy hotels, where the poor and their servants are not even allowed to enter. They will continue to justify the economic divide that keeps so many of their fellow citizens in squalor. And they will continue to argue that the Islamist militants are just a creation of the Western media.

Fortunately, there are still a handful of journalists, lawyers and politicians in Pakistan who are fighting the good fight and putting their lives on the line to try to push back against the extremists who think that violence is the only way to get their ideas across.

But unless Pakistan’s elites joins this fight, nothing will change.

For Pakistan, with the current government coalition in danger of crumbling and its Taliban launched on a terror campaign in the capital Islamabad itself, Taseer’s murder is a horrible start to a new year.

Yes, there will be vigils throughout Pakistan and around the world this week for this fallen hero. But vigils are temporary and the underlying problem that Taseer was taking on will likely still be around long after the vigils have wrapped up.

The Real Blasphemers

As Reported by Cafe Pyala

Mera azm itna buland hai ke paraye shaulon ka dar nahin

Mujhe khauf aatish-e-gul se hai, ye kaheen chaman ko jala ne de

[My resolve is so strong that I do not fear the flames from without

I fear only the radiance of the flowers, that it might burn my garden down] 

— Shakeel Badayuni couplet referenced by Salmaan Taseer on Twitter, 8 hours before his assassination 

I had been hoping that I could post something light-hearted, more entertaining at the start to the new year, but today’s Pakistan it seems is not the place for these sort of things any more. Four days into January and we already have yet another tragedy that has evoked not only pain and sadness but also immense amounts of disgust at the depths to which we, the unfortunate inhabitants of this blighted country, have sunk.

Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer‘s brutal and senseless murder in Islamabad today (Tuesday) is not only an intensely heavy blow for his family and friends – to whom our thoughts go out to – but also to the hopes for a saner public discourse about issues that certain people endeavour to keep out of the conversation altogether. He often said things that many think but are unwilling to say in public out of fear or aversion to stoking argument. Whatever anyone may have thought about Taseer’s personal life (not that it’s any of anyone’s concern) or his business practices, there is absolutely no doubt that he was a brave and outspoken man who did not compromise his personal beliefs for the sake of cowardly politics. Along with barely a couple of other politicians on the national level (Sherry Rehman being one), his was a rare voice that was willing to take on the rightist mullah mindset in the public domain.

And contrary to what his detractors claimed, he did so with full awareness of the moral responsibilities of a public figure. In a recent interview, he was asked why he chose to raise the issue of the unjust blasphemy laws when he knew that he would receive brickbats from the rightist parties and become the target of the extremists. He replied: “Because if even I don’t, how will others get over their fears?” On December 31, he tweeted: “I was under huge pressure sure 2 cow down b4 rightest pressure on blasphemy.Refused. Even if I’m the last man standing”

In Salmaan Taseer’s untimely death we have all lost a truly courageous individual. Those within his party who opposed his just stand on the abhorrent misuse of blasphemy laws, moral pygmies such as Babar Awan, should hang their heads in shame.

At the same time, one must also feel disgust at those who have either valourized Taseer’s self-confessed lunatic murderer Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, or used their weasely arguments to somehow try and justify the outrage. So-called-intellectuals like Irfan Siddiqui and bigots like Jamaat-e-Islami‘s oily Fareed Parachaand the ever-slimy Ansar Abbasi tried their best to claim (on Geo) that Taseer was somehow himself responsible for his fate because he had raised a “sensitive” issue.

I am not of the opinion that one should not speak ill of the dead only because he or she is dead, curse Zia ul Haq with every breath as far as I am concerned. But these gentlemen’s basic argument was this: even expressing your opinion about a warped law made by a warped dictator and endorsed by his warped proteges is enough to condemn you to death, so everyone should keep quiet about the misuse of religion and leave it all up to the mullah brigade. It’s time to tell them to shut the hell up themselves.

But the disgust does not end with a couple of morons trying to silence all discussion about religion to and other fanatics praising a criminal. The bigger issue, as we have been saying all along, is the refusal of society to see the inter-linkages of such acts of terrorism with the mindset that has been cultivated through the military establishment’s promotion of jihadi outfits, the propping up of so-called religious parties whose only agenda is bigotry, the pusillanimous and opportunistic silence over the treatment of minorities such as Ahmadis, Shias, Hindus and Christians and indeed all dissenters (religious scholar Javed Ghamdi being one), the valourization of criminals such as the illiterate Ilm Deen (dubbedshaheed [martyr] because he was hanged in 1929 for murdering a publisher), the rejection of rationality and logic, the marginalization of the arts and cultural traditions as something alien to our society, and the tolerance for hate-speech and incitements to violence such as that of this monkey.

It is this mindset, which has been cultivated by the state looking the other way at – if not directly promoting – acts of radicalization, that allows an entire police squad to see nothing wrong in one of their own planning to commit the murder of someone they are assigned to protect. (We now hear via Geo that Qadri had in fact confided to his colleagues in the Punjab ‘Elite Force’ about his plans and had even requested them not to shoot at him, a request they honoured.)

Our real disgust should be directed at all those parts of society that cannot put two and two together despite the evidence staring them in the face. We will inevitably hear a lot in the media about security lapses and administrative efficiency lapses that led to a criminal being part of a protective force (incidentally, Geo is also reporting through its sources that Qadri had been sacked from the Punjab Police’s Special Branch a few months ago because he was dubbed a ‘security risk’). But the only void that I think we really need to focus on is the one in our society’s collective brain.

So how do we deal with all this? I have heard a lot of dismay and hopelessness today and I can completely understand the feeling. For many people, this is another nail in the coffin of the idea of a viable future for Pakistan. The only option to counter this feeling of despondency, in my opinion, is to become more assertive and louder and to shame those who would stifle dissent.

The problem of course is that wishy-washy liberalism cannot fight fanaticism. Sometimes you have to fight fire with fire. Simply put, we can either shut up, resign ourselves to our fate and disconnect from this country and society or we can fight back and refuse to cede the space that the bastards want us to. Nobody ever said it would be easy.

As a start, let us declare Qadri, all those who support Qadri and murderers like him, the Khatm-e-Nabuwatmovement and its ilk as outside the pale of Islam. Let’s see how they like being referred to as blasphemers andmurtids

Nobody said this fight would not be dirty.

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