Archive for the ‘ Iran ’ Category

Pakistan-Iran pipeline work ‘to begin on 11 March’

As Reported By The  BBC

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Work on a gas pipeline between Iran and Pakistan will begin on 11 March, Pakistani officials say.

The project has led US officials to warn that it may fall foul of sanctions on Iran’s nuclear programme.

The long-delayed project is seen in Pakistan as a way of combating the country’s chronic energy shortages with supplies of Iranian gas.

Officials told Pakistani media they hoped the presidents of both countries would attend a ceremony on 11 March.

President Asif Ali Zardari visited Iran earlier this week, meeting his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, and finalised the multi-billion dollar deal.

Officials say the pipeline on the Iranian side of the border has been completed, and that this month will see the start of work on the project in Pakistan.

On Wednesday, the US warned Pakistan to “avoid any sanctionable activity” in connection with the project.

“We think that we provide and are providing the Pakistani government and people a better way to meet their energy needs,” State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell told reporters on Wednesday.

Last year Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar insisted the pipeline was “in Pakistan’s national interest and will be pursued and completed irrespective of any extraneous considerations”.

Power shortages have become a major issue in Pakistan, with the government ordering an investigation into a nation-wide power cut on Sunday blamed on a technical fault in a plant in south-western Balochistan province.

Why Do They Hate Us?

By Mona Eltahawy for Foreign Policy

In “Distant View of a Minaret,” the late and much-neglected Egyptian writer Alifa Rifaat begins her short story with a woman so unmoved by sex with her husband that as he focuses solely on his pleasure, she notices a spider web she must sweep off the ceiling and has time to ruminate on her husband’s repeated refusal to prolong intercourse until she too climaxes, “as though purposely to deprive her.” Just as her husband denies her an orgasm, the call to prayer interrupts his, and the man leaves. After washing up, she loses herself in prayer — so much more satisfying that she can’t wait until the next prayer — and looks out onto the street from her balcony. She interrupts her reverie to make coffee dutifully for her husband to drink after his nap. Taking it to their bedroom to pour it in front of him as he prefers, she notices he is dead. She instructs their son to go and get a doctor. “She returned to the living room and poured out the coffee for herself. She was surprised at how calm she was,” Rifaat writes.

But let’s put aside what the United States does or doesn’t do to women. Name me an Arab country, and I’ll recite a litany of abuses fueled by a toxic mix of culture and religion that few seem willing or able to disentangle lest they blaspheme or offend. When more than 90 percent of ever-married women in Egypt — including my mother and all but one of her six sisters — have had their genitals cut in the name of modesty, then surely we must all blaspheme. When Egyptian women are subjected to humiliating “virginity tests” merely for speaking out, it’s no time for silence. When an article in the Egyptian criminal code says that if a woman has been beaten by her husband “with good intentions” no punitive damages can be obtained, then to hell with political correctness. And what, pray tell, are “good intentions”? They are legally deemed to include any beating that is “not severe” or “directed at the face.” What all this means is that when it comes to the status of women in the Middle East, it’s not better than you think. It’s much, much worse. Even after these “revolutions,” all is more or less considered well with the world as long as women are covered up, anchored to the home, denied the simple mobility of getting into their own cars, forced to get permission from men to travel, and unable to marry without a male guardian’s blessing — or divorce either.

Not a single Arab country ranks in the top 100 in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, putting the region as a whole solidly at the planet’s rock bottom. Poor or rich, we all hate our women. Neighbors Saudi Arabia and Yemen, for instance, might be eons apart when it comes to GDP, but only four places separate them on the index, with the kingdom at 131 and Yemen coming in at 135 out of 135 countries. Morocco, often touted for its “progressive” family law (a 2005 report by Western “experts” called it “an example for Muslim countries aiming to integrate into modern society”), ranks 129; according to Morocco’s Ministry of Justice, 41,098 girls under age 18 were married there in 2010.

It’s easy to see why the lowest-ranked country is Yemen, where 55 percent of women are illiterate, 79 percent do not participate in the labor force, and just one woman serves in the 301-person parliament. Horrific news reports about 12-year-old girls dying in childbirth do little to stem the tide of child marriage there. Instead, demonstrations in support of child marriage outstrip those against it, fueled by clerical declarations that opponents of state-sanctioned pedophilia are apostates because the Prophet Mohammed, according to them, married his second wife, Aisha, when she was a child.

In a crisp three-and-a-half pages, Rifaat lays out a trifecta of sex, death, and religion, a bulldozer that crushes denial and defensiveness to get at the pulsating heart of misogyny in the Middle East. There is no sugarcoating it. They don’t hate us because of our freedoms, as the tired, post-9/11 American cliché had it. We have no freedoms because they hate us, as this Arab woman so powerfully says.

Yes: They hate us. It must be said.

Some may ask why I’m bringing this up now, at a time when the region has risen up, fueled not by the usual hatred of America and Israel but by a common demand for freedom. After all, shouldn’t everyone get basic rights first, before women demand special treatment? And what does gender, or for that matter, sex, have to do with the Arab Spring? But I’m not talking about sex hidden away in dark corners and closed bedrooms. An entire political and economic system — one that treats half of humanity like animals — must be destroyed along with the other more obvious tyrannies choking off the region from its future. Until the rage shifts from the oppressors in our presidential palaces to the oppressors on our streets and in our homes, our revolution has not even begun.

But at least Yemeni women can drive. It surely hasn’t ended their litany of problems, but it symbolizes freedom — and nowhere does such symbolism resonate more than in Saudi Arabia, where child marriage is also practiced and women are perpetually minors regardless of their age or education. Saudi women far outnumber their male counterparts on university campuses but are reduced to watching men far less qualified control every aspect of their lives.

Yes, Saudi Arabia, the country where a gang-rape survivor was sentenced to jail for agreeing to get into a car with an unrelated male and needed a royal pardon; Saudi Arabia, where a woman who broke the ban on driving was sentenced to 10 lashes and again needed a royal pardon; Saudi Arabia, where women still can’t vote or run in elections, yet it’s considered “progress” that a royal decree promised to enfranchise them for almost completely symbolic local elections in — wait for it — 2015. So bad is it for women in Saudi Arabia that those tiny paternalistic pats on their backs are greeted with delight as the monarch behind them, King Abdullah, is hailed as a “reformer” — even by those who ought to know better, such as Newsweek, which in 2010 named the king one of the top 11 most respected world leaders. You want to know how bad it is? The “reformer’s” answer to the revolutions popping up across the region was to numb his people with still more government handouts — especially for the Salafi zealots from whom the Saudi royal family inhales legitimacy. King Abdullah is 87. Just wait until you see the next in line, Prince Nayef, a man straight out of the Middle Ages. His misogyny and zealotry make King Abdullah look like Susan B. Anthony.

So: Yes, women all over the world have problems; yes, the United States has yet to elect a female president; and yes, women continue to be objectified in many “Western” countries (I live in one of them). That’s where the conversation usually ends when you try to discuss why Arab societies hate women.

“Why extremists always focus on women remains a mystery to me,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said recently. “But they all seem to. It doesn’t matter what country they’re in or what religion they claim. They want to control women.” (And yet Clinton represents an administration that openly supports many of those misogynistic despots.) Attempts to control by such regimes often stem from the suspicion that without it, a woman is just a few degrees short of sexual insatiability. Observe Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the popular cleric and longtime conservative TV host on Al Jazeera who developed a stunning penchant for the Arab Spring revolutions — once they were under way, that is — undoubtedly understanding that they would eliminate the tyrants who long tormented and oppressed both him and the Muslim Brotherhood movement from which he springs.

I could find you a host of crackpots sounding off on Woman the Insatiable Temptress, but I’m staying mainstream with Qaradawi, who commands a huge audience on and off the satellite channels. Although he says female genital mutilation (which he calls “circumcision,” a common euphemism that tries to put the practice on a par with male circumcision) is not “obligatory,” you will also find this priceless observation in one of his books: “I personally support this under the current circumstances in the modern world. Anyone who thinks that circumcision is the best way to protect his daughters should do it,” he wrote, adding, “The moderate opinion is in favor of practicing circumcision to reduce temptation.” So even among “moderates,” girls’ genitals are cut to ensure their desire is nipped in the bud — pun fully intended. Qaradawi has since issued a fatwa against female genital mutilation, but it comes as no surprise that when Egypt banned the practice in 2008, some Muslim Brotherhood legislators opposed the law. And some still do — including a prominent female parliamentarian, Azza al-Garf.

Yet it’s the men who can’t control themselves on the streets, where from Morocco to Yemen, sexual harassment is endemic and it’s for the men’s sake that so many women are encouraged to cover up. Cairo has a women-only subway car to protect us from wandering hands and worse; countless Saudi malls are for families only, barring single men from entry unless they produce a requisite female to accompany them.

We often hear how the Middle East’s failing economies have left many men unable to marry, and some even use that to explain rising levels of sexual harassment on the streets. In a 2008 survey by the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights, more than 80 percent of Egyptian women said they’d experienced sexual harassment and more than 60 percent of men admitted to harassing women. Yet we never hear how a later marriage age affects women. Do women have sex drives or not? Apparently, the Arab jury is still out on the basics of human biology.

Enter that call to prayer and the sublimation through religion that Rifaat so brilliantly introduces in her story. Just as regime-appointed clerics lull the poor across the region with promises of justice — and nubile virgins — in the next world rather than a reckoning with the corruption and nepotism of the dictator in this life, so women are silenced by a deadly combination of men who hate them while also claiming to have God firmly on their side.

I turn again to Saudi Arabia, and not just because when I encountered the country at age 15 I was traumatized into feminism — there’s no other way to describe it — but because the kingdom is unabashed in its worship of a misogynistic God and never suffers any consequences for it, thanks to its double-whammy advantage of having oil and being home to Islam’s two holiest places, Mecca and Medina.

Then — the 1980s and 1990s — as now, clerics on Saudi TV were obsessed with women and their orifices, especially what came out of them. I’ll never forget hearing that if a baby boy urinated on you, you could go ahead and pray in the same clothes, yet if a baby girl peed on you, you had to change. What on Earth in the girl’s urine made you impure? I wondered.

Hatred of women.

How much does Saudi Arabia hate women? So much so that 15 girls died in a school fire in Mecca in 2002, after “morality police” barred them from fleeing the burning building — and kept firefighters from rescuing them — because the girls were not wearing headscarves and cloaks required in public. And nothing happened. No one was put on trial. Parents were silenced. The only concession to the horror was that girls’ education was quietly taken away by then-Crown Prince Abdullah from the Salafi zealots, who have nonetheless managed to retain their vise-like grip on the kingdom’s education system writ large.

This, however, is no mere Saudi phenomenon, no hateful curiosity in the rich, isolated desert. The Islamist hatred of women burns brightly across the region — now more than ever.

In Kuwait, where for years Islamists fought women’s enfranchisement, they hounded the four women who finally made it into parliament, demanding that the two who didn’t cover their hair wear hijabs. When the Kuwaiti parliament was dissolved this past December, an Islamist parliamentarian demanded the new house — devoid of a single female legislator — discuss his proposed “decent attire” law.

In Tunisia, long considered the closest thing to a beacon of tolerance in the region, women took a deep breath last fall after the Islamist Ennahda party won the largest share of votes in the country’s Constituent Assembly. Party leaders vowed to respect Tunisia’s 1956 Personal Status Code, which declared “the principle of equality between men and women” as citizens and banned polygamy. But female university professors and students have complained since then of assaults and intimidation by Islamists for not wearing hijabs, while many women’s rights activists wonder how talk of Islamic law will affect the actual law they will live under in post-revolution Tunisia.

In Libya, the first thing the head of the interim government, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, promised to do was to lift the late Libyan tyrant’s restrictions on polygamy. Lest you think of Muammar al-Qaddafi as a feminist of any kind, remember that under his rule girls and women who survived sexual assaults or were suspected of “moral crimes” were dumped into “social rehabilitation centers,” effective prisons from which they could not leave unless a man agreed to marry them or their families took them back.

Then there’s Egypt, where less than a month after President Hosni Mubarak stepped down, the military junta that replaced him, ostensibly to “protect the revolution,” inadvertently reminded us of the two revolutions we women need. After it cleared Tahrir Square of protesters, the military detained dozens of male and female activists. Tyrants oppress, beat, and torture all. We know. But these officers reserved “virginity tests” for female activists: rape disguised as a medical doctor inserting his fingers into their vaginal opening in search of hymens. (The doctor was sued and eventually acquitted in March.)

What hope can there be for women in the new Egyptian parliament, dominated as it is by men stuck in the seventh century? A quarter of those parliamentary seats are now held by Salafis, who believe that mimicking the original ways of the Prophet Mohammed is an appropriate prescription for modern life. Last fall, when fielding female candidates, Egypt’s Salafi Nour Party ran a flower in place of each woman’s face. Women are not to be seen or heard — even their voices are a temptation — so there they are in the Egyptian parliament, covered from head to toe in black and never uttering a word.

And we’re in the middle of a revolution in Egypt! It’s a revolution in which women have died, been beaten, shot at, and sexually assaulted fighting alongside men to rid our country of that uppercase Patriarch — Mubarak — yet so many lowercase patriarchs still oppress us. The Muslim Brotherhood, with almost half the total seats in our new revolutionary parliament, does not believe women (or Christians for that matter) can be president. The woman who heads the “women’s committee” of the Brotherhood’s political party said recently that women should not march or protest because it’s more “dignified” to let their husbands and brothers demonstrate for them.

The hatred of women goes deep in Egyptian society. Those of us who have marched and protested have had to navigate a minefield of sexual assaults by both the regime and its lackeys, and, sadly, at times by our fellow revolutionaries. On the November day I was sexually assaulted on Mohamed Mahmoud Street near Tahrir Square, by at least four Egyptian riot police, I was first groped by a man in the square itself. While we are eager to expose assaults by the regime, when we’re violated by our fellow civilians we immediately assume they’re agents of the regime or thugs because we don’t want to taint the revolution.

SO WHAT IS TO BE DONE?

First we stop pretending. Call out the hate for what it is. Resist cultural relativism and know that even in countries undergoing revolutions and uprisings, women will remain the cheapest bargaining chips. You — the outside world — will be told that it’s our “culture” and “religion” to do X, Y, or Z to women. Understand that whoever deemed it as such was never a woman. The Arab uprisings may have been sparked by an Arab man — Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire in desperation — but they will be finished by Arab women.

Amina Filali — the 16-year-old Moroccan girl who drank poison after she was forced to marry, and beaten by, her rapist — is our Bouazizi. Salwa el-Husseini, the first Egyptian woman to speak out against the “virginity tests”; Samira Ibrahim, the first one to sue; and Rasha Abdel Rahman, who testified alongside her — they are our Bouazizis. We must not wait for them to die to become so. Manal al-Sharif, who spent nine days in jail for breaking her country’s ban on women driving, is Saudi Arabia’s Bouazizi. She is a one-woman revolutionary force who pushes against an ocean of misogyny.

Our political revolutions will not succeed unless they are accompanied by revolutions of thought — social, sexual, and cultural revolutions that topple the Mubaraks in our minds as well as our bedrooms.

“Do you know why they subjected us to virginity tests?” Ibrahim asked me soon after we’d spent hours marching together to mark International Women’s Day in Cairo on March 8. “They want to silence us; they want to chase women back home. But we’re not going anywhere.”

We are more than our headscarves and our hymens. Listen to those of us fighting. Amplify the voices of the region and poke the hatred in its eye. There was a time when being an Islamist was the most vulnerable political position in Egypt and Tunisia. Understand that now it very well might be Woman. As it always has been.

Mona Eltahawy is an Egyptian-American columnist. In November 2011, Egyptian police beat her, breaking her left arm and right hand, and sexually assaulted her. She was detained by the Interior Ministry and military intelligence for 12 hours.

Pakistan Wins Its First Oscar

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

Pakistan won its first Oscar Sunday night when director Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy’s film, Saving Face, won at the 84th Academy Awards at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles, California.

The film was directed by Daniel Junge and Pakistani born Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy and won in its category for the Best Documentary (Short Subject), making it the first win for Chinoy and for Pakistan. Earlier in the evening, Asghar Farhadi of Iran won that country its first Oscar when his movie, A Separation, won in the Best Foreign Language Film category.

Sharmeen’s film, Saving Face, follows London-based Pakistani plastic surgeon, Dr Muhammad Jawad, on his travels to Pakistan where he performs reconstructive surgery on survivors of acid violence. The short film features two women who were attacked by acid and their struggles for justice as well as healing. It is estimated that over 100 such attacks occur each year in Pakistan and many more are feared unreported as under-reporting of this ‘acid violence‘ due to the many inequalities that women face in Pakistan.

Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy earlier won an Emmy for her documentary, Pakistan: Children of the Taliban in 2010. “To all the women in Pakistan working for your dreams, this is for you”, Sharmeen said at her acceptance speech Sunday night in front of the packed star studded audience in the Kodak Theatre.

It is hoped by many in Pakistan that this Oscar win will bring more attention to the plight of women in their beleaguered country.

Peace Pipeline Moves Closer To Fruition

By Mohammed Aasim Saleem for Deutsche Welle

Officials from India and Pakistan have announced they are moving closer to inking a deal to import gas from Turkmenistan via a pipeline through Afghanistan. The 1,700-kilometer “TAPI” duct will transport over 30 billion cubic meters of gas annually from fields in Dauletabad in southeastern Turkmenistan.

In high-level talks in New Delhi this week, Indian Oil Minister S. Jaipal Reddy said “considerable progress” has been made on the project. His Pakistani counterpart, Asim Hussain, added at the meeting that “the issue of transit fees is being discussed with Afghanistan. A joint strategy is also being created between India and Pakistan.”

When the four countries signed a framework agreement back in 2008, the Asian Development Bank estimated the cost of the TAPI pipeline project at around $7.6 billion.

After the talks in New Delhi, the Indian oil minister emphasized that the pipeline would help address the energy needs of the region. Reddy also clarified that security concerns were discussed with Afghan officials, who themselves sought to provide reassurance that necessary measures would be taken to protect the TAPI project.

“We consider it a pipeline of peace,” Reddy said. “Everyone needs gas.”

Improving cooperation between the nuclear armed and traditionally hostile neighbors is seen as a positive development towards establishing long term stability in South Asia.

Pakistan gave India a “Most Favored Nation” trading status when the countries’ commerce secretaries met in New Delhi in November last year to discuss energy and bilateral trade. Indian commerce chief Rahul Khullar expressed his desire to boost bilateral trade to $6 billion within the next three years. Currently, total trade amounts to $2.7 billion.

Reddy said that Pakistan had pledged to also consider a proposal to import Indian petroleum products, highlighting the cost advantages for Pakistan. India, meanwhile, offered electricity to Pakistan through its power plants in Punjab and Gujrat.

The Indian oil minister went on to express disappointment over a failed Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project. With the US leaving no stone unturned in trying to corner Iran over its nuclear ambitions, any possibility of India, Afghanistan or Pakistan going against the Obama administration is somewhat remote. India imports 12 to 14 percent of its oil from Iran, making the Islamic Republic India’s second largest source of oil after Saudi Arabia.

There was significant domestic pressure in India as the analysts and masses called for a stern stand against the US in determining trade relations with Iran. With other regional countries, including China, also refusing to follow US directions, India is still continuing with the import of oil from Iran. In this regard, Reddy said that New Delhi would continue importing oil from Iran and was not bound by new sanctions imposed by the European Union on the Islamic Republic earlier this week.

“We, as a member of the UN, are obliged to follow UN sanctions. Other sanctions imposed by big blocs of countries, we can have some freedom there,” he added further.

Improving relations and cooperation in the energy sector between India and Pakistan will go a long way to establishing harmony and stability in the region. Pakistan is experiencing a severe energy crisis whilst India needs to feed its rapidly developing economy. Mutual dependency and cooperation in this sector with projects such as the TAPI pipeline can also ensure smoother political ties.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note- A Peace pipe was often used between the Native American tribes when they ended their wars and called a truce. A different sort of peace pipe between Turkmenistan and India via Pakistan can do great wonders for the bilateral relations of the two feuding neighbors and must be encouraged to fruition.

New Year’s gift: Obama signs bill freezing aid to Pakistan

As Reported By Reuters

President Barack Obama signed a sweeping US defense funding bill on Saturday which includes new sanctions on financial institutions dealing with Iran’s central bank, and curtailing up to $850 million in aid to Pakistan. The bill was signed despite concerns about sections that expand the US military’s authority over terrorism suspects and limit his powers in foreign affairs.

The massive defense bill Congress passed on earlier in December freezes 60 per cent of the $850 million aid, or $510 million, until the US defense secretary provides lawmakers with assurances that Pakistan is working to counter improvised explosive devices (IEDs). US lawmakers say that many Afghan bombs that kill US troops are made with fertilizer smuggled by militants across the border from Pakistan into Afghanistan.

“The fact that I support this bill as a whole does not mean I agree with everything in it,” Obama said in a statement, citing limits on transferring detainees from the US base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and requirements he notify Congress before sharing some defense missile information with Russia as problematic.

The bill, approved by Congress last week after its language was revised, aims with its Iran sanctions to reduce Tehran’s oil revenues but gives the US president powers to waive penalties as required. Senior US officials said Washington was engaging with its foreign partners to ensure the sanctions can work without harming global energy markets, and stressed the US strategy for engaging with Iran was unchanged by the bill.

The bill may also prove problematic for Pakistan in ways other than providing assurances of concrete steps to counter the manufacture of IEDs. The sanctions placed on dealing with Iran’s central banks may weigh on Pakistan’s plans for the Iran-Pakistan pipeline which aims to provide gas to Pakistan.

Pakistan needs the gas supplies from Iran to augment its own gas reserves which have been shrinking fast, leading to widespread gas shortages affecting its industry and daily life.

Analysis: Pakistan’s Double-Game: Treachery or Strategy?

By John Chalmers for Reuters

Washington has just about had it withPakistan.

“Turns out they are disloyal, deceptive and a danger to the United States,” fumed Republican Representative Ted Poe last week. “We pay them to hate us. Now we pay them to bomb us. Let’s not pay them at all.”

For many in America, Islamabad has been nothing short of perfidious since joining a strategic alliance with Washington 10 years ago: selectively cooperating in the war on extremist violence and taking billions of dollars in aid to do the job, while all the time sheltering and supporting Islamist militant groups that fight NATO troops in Afghanistan.

Pakistan has angrily denied the charges, but if its critics are right, what could the explanation be for such duplicity? What strategic agendas might be hidden behind this puzzling statecraft?

The answer is that Pakistan wants to guarantee for itself a stake in Afghanistan’s political future.

It knows that, as U.S. forces gradually withdraw from Afghanistan, ethnic groups will be competing for ascendancy there and other regional powers – from India to China and Iran – will be jostling for a foot in the door.

Islamabad’s support for the Taliban movement in the 1990s gives it an outsized influence among Afghanistan’s Pashtuns, who make up about 42 percent of the total population and who maintain close ties with their Pakistani fellow tribesmen.

In particular, Pakistan’s powerful military is determined there should be no vacuum in Afghanistan that could be filled by its arch-foe, India.

INDIA FOCUS

Pakistan has fought three wars with its neighbor since the bloody partition of the subcontinent that led to the creation of the country in 1947, and mutual suspicion still hobbles relations between the two nuclear-armed powers today.

“They still think India is their primary policy,” said Talat Masood, a retired Pakistani general and prominent political analyst. “India is always in the back of their minds.”

In an interview with Reuters on Tuesday, Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani – unprompted – complained that Washington’s failure to deal even-handedly with New Delhi and Islamabad was a source of regional instability.

Aqil Shah, a South Asia security expert at the Harvard Society of Fellows, said Islamabad’s worst-case scenario would be an Afghanistan controlled or dominated by groups with ties to India, such as the Tajik-dominated Northern Alliance, which it fears would pursue activities hostile to Pakistan.

“Ideally, the military would like Afghanistan to become a relatively stable satellite dominated by Islamist Pashtuns,” Shah wrote in a Foreign Affairs article this week.

Although Pakistan, an Islamic state, officially abandoned support for the predominantly Pashtun Taliban after the 9/11 attacks on the United States in 2001, elements of the military never made the doctrinal shift.

Few doubt that the shadowy intelligence directorate, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), has maintained links to the Taliban that emerged from its support for the Afghan mujahideen during the 1979-1989 Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

Until recently, there appeared to be a grudging acceptance from Washington that this was the inevitable status quo.

That was until it emerged in May that al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden – who was killed in a U.S. Navy SEALs raid – had been hiding out in a Pakistani garrison town just two hours up the road from Islamabad, by some accounts for up to five years.

Relations between Pakistan and the United States have been stormy ever since, culminating in a tirade by the outgoing U.S. joint chiefs of staff, Mike Mullen, last week.

Mullen described the Haqqani network, the most feared faction among Taliban militants in Afghanistan, as a “veritable arm” of the ISI and accused Islamabad of providing support for the group’s September 13 attack on the U.S. embassy in Kabul.

The reaction in Islamabad has been one of stunned outrage.

Washington has not gone public with evidence to back its accusation, and Pakistani officials say that contacts with the Haqqani group do not amount to actual support.

However, Imran Khan, a Pakistani cricketer-turned-populist-politician, said this week that it was too much to expect that old friends could have become enemies overnight.

He told Reuters that, instead of demanding that Pakistan attack the Haqqanis in the mountainous border region of North Waziristan, the United States should use Islamabad’s leverage with the group to bring the Afghan Taliban into negotiations.

“Haqqani could be your ticket to getting them on the negotiating table, which at the moment they are refusing,” Khan said. “So I think that is a much saner policy than to ask Pakistan to try to take them on.”

REGIONAL GAME

The big risk for the United States in berating Islamabad is that it will exacerbate anti-American sentiment, which already runs deep in Pakistan, and perhaps embolden it further.

C. Raja Mohan, senior fellow at New Delhi’s Center for Policy Research, said Pakistan was probably gambling that the United States’ economic crisis and upcoming presidential elections would distract Washington.

“The real game is unfolding on the ground with the Americans. The Pakistan army is betting that the United States does not have too many choices and more broadly that the U.S. is on the decline, he said.

It is also becoming clear that as Pakistan’s relations with Washington deteriorate, it can fall back into the arms of its “all-weather friend,” China, the energy-hungry giant that is the biggest investor in Afghanistan’s nascent resources sector.

Pakistani officials heaped praise on Beijing this week as a Chinese minister visited Islamabad. Among them was army chief General Ashfaq Kayani, arguably the country’s most powerful man, who spoke of China’s “unwavering support.”

In addition, Pakistan has extended a cordial hand to Iran, which also shares a border with Afghanistan.

Teheran has been mostly opposed to the Taliban, which is dominated by Sunni Muslims while Iran is predominantly Shi’ite. But Iran’s anti-Americanism is more deep-seated.

“My reading is the Iranians want to see the Americans go,” said Raja Mohan, the Indian analyst. “They have a problem with the Taliban, but any American retreat will suit them. Iran in the short term is looking at the Americans being humiliated.”

ARMY CALLS THE SHOTS

The supremacy of the military in Pakistan means that Washington has little to gain little from wagging its finger about ties with the Taliban at the civilian government, which is regularly lashed for its incompetence and corruption.

“The state has become so soft and powerless it can’t make any difference,” said Masood, the Pakistani retired general. “Any change will have to come from the military.”

Daniel Markey, a senior fellow for South Asia at the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations, said the problem lies with a security establishment that continues to believe that arming and working – actively and passively – with militant groups serves its purposes.

“Until … soul-searching takes place within the Pakistani military and the ISI, you’re not likely to see an end to these U.S. demands, and a real shift in terms of the relationship,” Markey said in an online discussion this week. “This is the most significant shift that has to take place.”

Eid ul-Fitr 2011

How Many Sufis Are There in Islam?

By Stephen Schwartz for The Huffington Post

Devotees of Sufism, the spiritual interpretation of Islam, face problems wherever they are found. In the West, many self-styled Sufis have never become Muslim, know little of the religious background of the Sufi way, and give Sufism a reputation as simply another flavor of New-Age, “weekend” mysticism. In Muslim lands, especially in the Arab core countries, classic Sufi authors may be praised while living Sufi teachers are derided as un-Islamic charlatans. And in some places, Sufis are imprisoned and murdered.

As a Muslim Sufi adherent, however, I am troubled especially by another expression of contempt very widely cast against Sufism by Islam-hating amateur experts in the West. That is the claim of Sufi irrelevance. Since the horror of Sept. 11, now almost a decade past, the identification of a moderate and contemplative form of Islam, which can oppose radical and fundamentalist doctrines, has seemed of considerable importance both for the moral health of Muslim believers and for the security of non-Muslims and Muslims alike. But the Sufi alternative to Islamist extremism is neglected or even disparaged, typically, by Muslim and non-Muslim commentators.

Western misperception of the importance of Sufis in Islamic life is complicated by lack of clarity as to who and what Sufis are. Sufis often enjoy great prestige with the mass of Muslims, based on Sufi examples of personal humility in fervor for God and Sufi preaching of love for humanity. But Sufis are not, mainly, other-worldly, exotic individuals or groups that spend all their time absorbed in semah (ecstatic turning on one foot and other forms of dance).

Some Sufis withdraw from the daily affairs of society, but others pursue satisfaction of the Creator by seeking social justice through improvement of popular education and services to the needy, such as housing of the homeless and free distribution of food. Rather than disappearing in a misty aura of meditation, numerous Sufis around the Muslim world contribute actively to defense of the victims of oppression.

Sufis may also take on the risky challenge of overt political engagement. This has been seen most strikingly in Turkish developments over the past two decades. Turkish Sufis were suppressed by the secularist regime established in the 1920s, but flourished in clandestinity, and have now emerged to lead Islamist parties and to assume positions in government. How the relations between Turkish Islamist politicians and Turkish and Kurdish Sufis will evolve remains to be seen.

Essential principles shared by most Muslim Sufis include emphasis on commonalities with other faiths and traditions, which has contributed to improved relations between Muslims and Jews, Christians, Buddhists and other non-Islamic believers. Commentators concerned to denigrate Islam altogether have asserted that Sufis, even if they embody moderation and mutual respect among people of religion, comprise no more than 5 percent of the world’s Muslims. Since the importance of Sufism stands, in the minds of many Westerners, on demographic measurement, let us therefore ask: How many Sufis are found in the Muslim world?

I would first observe that Sufis are present, persistently, in every Muslim population, including those where they were persecuted the longest: Saudi Arabia. Although the Saudi kingdom prohibited and punished possession of Sufi books and the practice of Sufi observances, the country always possessed a thriving Sufi underground with access to the heights of power. Before his elevation to the throne in 2005, then-Saudi Crown Prince, and now King Abdullah, who favored Sufis, gained them the right to hold zikr (remembrance of God by vocal or silent chanting, singing and bodily movements) in their homes.

In some countries Sufism is praised as an item of a proud heritage while it is repressed in daily life. The most obvious such example is that of Iran. The clerical regime established by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini could not act easily against Sufis, since so many famous Sufis — such as Jalaladdin Rumi, the 13th century author believed by many to be, currently, the most widely read poet in the West — wrote in Persian, and Sufi texts became the national literature of the Iranians.

But while the Tehran clerics honor the Sufis of the past, they repress Sufis in the present. Sufis have most often functioned as an alternative to clerical authority in Islam, and widely represented Iranian Sufi bodies like the Nimatullahi-Gonabadi dervish order and the “hidden,” Kurdish-speaking Ahl-e Haqq or “people of truth” have sustained a difficult challenge to the Iranian authorities. Iranian Sufis have been arrested and disappeared into the obscurity of the prisons, with some doubtless dealt a fatal destiny.

As certain Islamic countries are ambivalent about Sufism, in other Muslim societies we see variations in the intensity of Sufi “activism.” Analyzing Islamic Sufism, I have generally divided Muslim territories between those in which Sufism has a deep but informal influence in local Islam, in contrast with those where it has a well-established institutional presence.

In the great Eurasian expanses, Islam is widely permeated by Sufi teachings and customs. From my travels, observation and participation in Muslim life, I have seen and experienced that Sufi-oriented Islam is prevalent among Slavic and Russian Turkic Muslims, dominant in Central Asia, and widely-represented in South Asia and in Southeast Asia. Across this heartland, Sufi authors are studied and throngs of pilgrims visit Sufi shrines or otherwise commemorate the lives of Sufi saints.

Elsewhere the spiritual heritage is maintained by powerful, organized orders, sometimes called “brotherhoods” although they typically include female disciples. These are prominent in North Africa, French-speaking West Africa, East Africa, the Albanian lands, plus Syria, Iraq, Kurdistan and Iran.

In Turkey, most Muslims are Sufi either by identification with the normative Sunnism subsidized by the state, which exalted Sufis and places the works of Rumi in all Turkish mosques, or by participation in Sufi orders as well as widespread, part-time study circles and other voluntary communities that teach an esoteric Islam. Others are involved in more singular phenomena like the Turkish-Kurdish, Shia-Sufi-shamanist Alevi movement. As a different variant in the Sufi continuum, Indonesia possesses a Sufi civic movement of national scope — the Nahdatul Ulama (NU) organization. Returning to South Asia, organized Sufism there is enacted with a backdrop of a broader, “cultural” Sufism and is under bloody attack by radicals.

Aggregating Sufi-influenced Muslims with active Muslim Sufis from Senegal to Singapore, I believe it is realistic to claim a large plurality, at least, of the world’s 1.3-plus billion Muslims. This should be a source of optimism for those who seek conciliation, rather than confrontation, between the world’s religions, affecting positively both the direction of Islam and the image of Islam among non-Muslims. For these reasons, more concentrated attention on the Sufis by social-science investigators and other experts would be welcome.

US Charges Iran with al-Qaeda Links

By Anna Fifield for The  Financial Times

The US government has accused Iran of allowing al-Qaeda operatives to funnel a “significant” amount of money through its territory to the group’s leaders in Pakistan and Afghanistan, making the strongest allegation yet of a link between Tehran and the terrorist network.
The Treasury Department on Thursday imposed sanctions on six men that it says are operating through Iran as part of a “critical funding and facilitation network for al-Qaeda”.

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The designation was also a direct hit at the theocratic regime in Iran, said David Cohen, the Treasury’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.

“Our sense is that this network is operating through Iranian territory with the knowledge of and at least the acquiescence of the Iranian authorities,” Mr Cohen said. “They are not operating in secret. It is pursuant to an agreement.”

The Treasury targeted Ezedin Abdel Aziz Khalil, a senior al-Qaeda facilitator who it said has been living and operating in Iran since 2005 under an agreement between the network and the Tehran regime.

It said that the Iranian authorities were allowing Mr Khalil to move both money and recruits from across the Middle East through Iran to Pakistan. He required each operative to deliver $10,000 to al-Qaeda in Pakistan, it said.

The Treasury also designated five others who were linked to former al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden or to al-Qaeda in Iraq, or who had helped deliver money or extremists to the network’s base in Pakistan.

They include Atiyah abd al-Rahman, a Libyan who is the network’s overall commander in Pakistan’s tribal areas. The US is also offering a $1m reward for information leading to his arrest.

The designations ban Americans from financial dealings with the men, and freeze any assets that they might have in the US.
The actions expose “Iranian support for international terrorism,” Mr Cohen said. It is the first time the US has identified signs of agreement between Iran and al-Qaeda.

Suggestions of links between Iran and al-Qaeda are often questioned because Iran’s theocratic regime is from the Shia sect of Islam while the terrorist network is entirely Sunni. Iran is said to have detained Bin Laden’s oldest son, Saad, for several years before releasing him in 2009.
But there have been persistent reports of co-operation between the two given that they share a mutual enemy: the US.
A report for the congressional anti-terrorism caucus in May said that Iran’s elite Al-Quds force, part of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, was offering support to al-Qaeda, including helping it “counter” American interests.

In taking the action, the Treasury criticised Kuwait and Qatar for being “substantial facilitators for al-Qaeda” and for having “permissive” financial environments that allowed money to flow from both Gulf countries to Iran.

“There is a substantial amount of money flowing out of Kuwait and Qatar through Iran to al-Qaeda’s or their leadership in Pakistan for all of their activities in the Afghanistan/Pakistan area,” Mr Cohen said.

The US would work with the UN’s al-Qaeda sanctions committee to push for multilateral sanctions.

Arab Spring Hardening Into Summer of Stalemates

As Reported by USA Today

Among the protest banners in Cairo’s Tahrir Square was a hand-drawn map of the Arab Spring with black target symbols covering each country hit by anti-government uprisings since the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt were ousted earlier this year.

A rebel fighter walks in a old and abandoned Catholic Church used by Gadhafi forces as a military camp near Misrata, Libya, on May 25.
But the bull’s-eyes could easily be replaced with question marks as the groundswell for change has splintered into scattered and indecisive conflicts that have left thousands dead and Western policymakers juggling roles from NATO airstrikes in Libya to worried bystanders in Syria and Yemen.
The stalemates could shift into a deeper holding pattern in August during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, when the pace of daily life traditionally slows as the Islamic world observes a dawn-to-dusk fast and other customs such as temporary truces.

It’s a huge and traumatic undertaking to shove aside regimes with decades in power — and sway over nearly every decision down to who gets hired as street sweeper. Iran did it with the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and the American-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein cleaned the slate for Iraq and ushered in years of near civil war.

But no such wholesale change appears in the pipeline with the present revolts. That has raised concern that even if the leaders fall, the pillars of the regimes could survive, as happened when military rulers took temporary control after Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak stepped down.
“Half revolution doesn’t work,” a headline last week in Egypt’s Al-Ahram Al-Massai newspaper said after demonstrators returned to Tahrir Square to press for swifter political reforms and bolder legal action against officials from Mubarak’s regime who were accused of corruption and killing protesters.

But even a halfway mark appears farther along than most of the rebellions against the Mideast’s old guard. Cores of loyal security forces in Yemen and Syria keep the regimes hanging on despite relentless protests. In Libya, Moammar Gadhafi could face a moment of truth as rebels press closer to the capital Tripoli and NATO warplanes hammer military sites, yet the anti-Gadhafi militias have no clear leader to prevent possible power grabs to control the country’s oil riches if he is ousted.

The country where the Arab Spring began, Tunisia, has been shaken by unrest — including a rise in ultraconservative Islamists — ahead of planned elections in October to elect an assembly that will write a new constitution. Some political groups are urging further delays in the election to give new parties a chance to organize.

Egypt, meanwhile, is questioning when — or if — the ruling military council will surrender power. The caretaker rulers effectively announced a delay of the elections on Tuesday when they said preparations for the vote would start Sept. 30.

“Bring down the military junta,” chanted some of the 30,000 protesters Tuesday in Tahrir Square. Hours later, the military made clear its patience was wearing thin — with Maj. Gen. Mohsen el-Fangari wagging his finger and warning protesters against “harming national interests.”

Mubarak is under arrest and faces trial next month over the deaths of nearly 900 protesters in the uprising that ended his 29-year-rule in February. In a transcript of his interrogation published by two newspapers Thursday, he claimed to have had no control over security forces who attacked demonstrators.

“No one would have paid any attention to me or my orders,” he said when asked why he did not stop the violence. He claimed he gave clear orders that no force be used against the protesters, and blamed top aides for keeping him in the dark about the gravity of the protests that led to his downfall.
Only in tiny Bahrain have authorities apparently tipped the scales clearly in their favor. Security forces — aided by Saudi-led reinforcements — smothered an uprising by the kingdom’s majority Shiites seeking greater rights from the Sunni rulers. A so-called “national dialogue” began this month, but it’s unlikely that the 200-year-old ruling dynasty will give up any significant hold on power and may need a heavy hand to keep Shiite-led protests from reigniting.

“It’s not over, but we are in an ugly situation now,” said Christopher Davidson, a lecturer on Middle East and Gulf affairs at Britain’s Durham University.

That’s why the definition of the Arab Spring is increasingly being stretched. It’s both about the current showdowns and the long-term spillover. The upheavals — supercharged by the instant communications of the Web — have given the region a crash course in the clout of the streets. The view from the top is suddenly less comfortable.

Even monarchs have acted swiftly after relatively small-scale clamor. Oman’s Sultan Qaboos bin Said promised 50,000 new civil servant posts and allocated $2.6 billion for job programs. Jordan’s King Abdullah II has set in motion plans for an elected government in coming years.
In the tightly ruled United Arab Emirates, officials have opened the vaults to fund development programs in poorer regions outside Dubai and Abu Dhabi and plan to expand voting rights in September’s balloting for a federal advisory council. It’s been trumpeted as a “great leap” for democracy in a country that jailed five activists just for posting Internet appeals to form a true parliament.

“No matter what happens, countries gripped or just touched by the Arab Spring will never go back to what they were,” said Marina Ottaway, director of the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. That leads to the bigger question: How deep can the changes go?
Syrian protesters, for example, know that even if President Bashar Assad falls, the underpinnings such as the rank-and-file military and public works staff cannot be purged as well without sending the country into a tailspin.

Omar Idilbi, a spokesman for the anti-Assad Local Coordination Committees, which track the protests in Syria, said the opposition has no plans to dissolve the army or even the ruling Baath Party if he is overthrown but will seek to weaken the powers of security agencies. “At the beginning of the uprising when we chanted, ‘the people want to bring down the regime,’ we did not mean President Assad, but the security agencies that interfere in everything from a marriage certificate to the opening of a shop,” said Idilbi, who is based in Beirut.

Yemen’s president isn’t even in the country, yet his regime fights on. A blast last month sent Ali Abdullah Saleh to Saudi Arabia for extensive medical treatment, including more than eight operations. But his son, Ahmed, kept the regime’s crucial Republican Guards forces intact.
Washington believes no credible alternative exists for the current regime as an ally to fight Yemen’s al-Qaida affiliate, which has been declared a major threat to U.S. interests. But President Barack Obama’s counterterrorism chief, John Brennan, has urged Saleh to accept a proposal that would transfer power to his vice president in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

“The current crisis showed that neither side can win,” said Ahmed Obeid bin Dagher, the deputy secretary general of the ruling party. “If there is no national consensus through dialogue, then al-Qaida will be the alternative.” Jordan-based political analyst Labib Khamhawi sees such calls by regime insiders as bids for survival: Protect the system, not necessarily the leader.

“I think it will be very difficult to imagine that the Libyan, Yemeni or Syrian presidents will remain in power,” he said. “The faces will be changed, but the system might continue to exist.” Among the kings and sheiks in the Gulf, however, there’s not even room for those concessions.
The region’s anchor power, Saudi Arabia, which has not seen protests take off, is staking out a role as “sort of the Arab Spring counterrevolution,” said Shadi Hamid, director of research at The Brookings Doha Center in Qatar.

“The Arab Spring revolutions may have their moments of self-doubt or seem stalled at times, but they are authentic expressions for change and, to use an overused phrase, on the right side of history,” said Hamid. “What began in Tunisia and Egypt is a long, long way from being finished.”

John Lennon- Imagine

Anthony Weiner: Sex, Lies, and the Pakistan Connection

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

On Monday night’s Daily Show with Jon Stewart, the host, a former roommate of the congressman, confessed that Weinergate and the entire episode involving pictures of his friend Rep. Anthony Weiner of NY, was “killing” him.

Jon Stewart was clearly not sure how to react to his friend’s confession that he had indeed himself been responsible for sending sexually suggestive photos of himself via Twitter.“I don’t know what to do anymore! It’s killing me, “he said on last night’s “Daily Show”, which was taped in New York after the congressman had already given his press conference earlier in the day admitting to the indiscretions after having denied them for a week.

I must admit, I am also deeply saddened by this story as it too is killing me. No I didn’t room with Anthony Weiner in a summer house in Delaware in the 1980s as did Stewart. However I was a fan of the representative from New York who was the first Democrat in a long time that seemed to have balls in Congress when it came to speaking his mind and standing up to the other guys across the aisle. He didn’t have to go and practically show them to prove it though.

Sending salacious pictures of yourself to strange women across the country while being married, in itself, is not a crime. But had he fessed up to his martial indiscretions and not gone about for a whole week giving interviews to the national media denying everything and claiming to have had his twitter account hacked, might have been enough for him to be forgiven by many of his constituents. Perhaps he would not have been so easily forgiven by his American born Pakistani wife, Huma Abedin. Needless to say, the congressman would surely have saved himself a great amount of grief and further humiliation.

Instead after a week of denials, and as new pictures and allegations surfaced regarding other women, Rep. Weiner finally came clean and called a press conference on Monday afternoon and confessed to having sent the pictures himself.

Congressman Weiner is not the first politician to have been involved in a sex scandal and God knows he certainly will not be the last. And yet, of all the politicians I have followed over the years, Anthony Weiner of New York seemed like the only Democrat who had the wits to match the guts when it came to fighting for his party’s principles in Washington. A few months ago when he showed great anger on the House floor arguing for healthcare benefits and a fund for the 911 First Responders, he further cemented my belief in him as an outstanding up and coming member of the House of Representatives.

Weiner’s chutzpah and boldness in many interviews and House sessions had indeed endeared many Democrats across the country of all faiths and backgrounds who have been clamoring for a Democrat with a backbone. Rep. Weiner seemed to fit the bill. His recent marriage to long time top aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Huma Abedin, a Muslim American of Pakistani decent, only further solidified him in my eyes as one of “our own”. The marriage of an up and coming Jewish Congressman from NY and a Muslim American top aid to, arguably one of the most powerful women in the world, in Hillary Clinton, certainly seemed like an odd pairing.

By all accounts the couple was in love and a long happy union seemed destined for them as President Bill Clinton officiated their wedding almost a year ago last July. Now one of the brightest stars of the Democratic party is facing a House investigation into ethical violations as well as a tremendous fallout from his lies and infidelity.

To many people, including myself, I am not only upset that we have lost one of the stars of the Democratic party to this scandal, but I am also upset for Huma, as she is the one who is suffering the worst end of the entire situation. For her to be dragged into this mess like this will surely test their nascent marriage. As a one time supporter of Rep Weiner, I hope that his career, and more importantly, his marriage survive this entire ordeal.

However, as has been the case with other scandals, there is usually more information that will come out that will be damning to Rep. Weiner. I only hope that at some point the representative from the great state of New York realizes that it is foolish to further humiliate his spouse and all his former supporters by resigning from his office immediately.

-Manzer Munira proud American of Pakistani descent, is the founder of Pakistanis for Peace and blogs at www.PakistanisforPeace.com as well at other websites as a freelance journalist and writer.

Pakistan Army To Restore “Peace” in Bahrain?

By Aijaz Ahmed for Indus Herald

Pakistan and Bahrain are seriously considering ways and means and possible repercussions of Pakistan’s military and intelligence agencies’ help to the later in restoring “peace” in politically disturbed areas. Foreign Minster of Bahrain Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa is to arrive in Pakistan on Tuesday to discuss the matter, highly placed sources have confided to Indus Herald. The Saudi led Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has already approved deployment of Peninsula Shield Force in the Kingdom of Bahrain to crush the movement for democracy that is getting stronger with every passing day. Assurances from King Hammad to introduce some reforms with regards to civil liberties and democratic and human rights have not succeeded so far to calm down anger among people demonstrating for a democratic system. Interestingly the reaction of the world community, the United States, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan is totally different on the situation as compared to the reaction demonstrated on the situation in Libya.

Pakistan has already expressed its support for the GCC decision, and that too on Saudi pressure, a source at the foreign office revealed. The economically hard-pressed Pakistan had no other way but to follow the Saudi demands as the holy kingdom has assured a sizable support in meeting the economic challenges ahead, the foreign office source added. However, Pakistan’s nauseating defense of its endorsement to GCC intervention in Bahrain to deploy Peninsula Shield Force isn’t finding any takers. Majority of foreign policy commentators and experts are not ready to buy Pakistani endorsement but people having close relations with PML-N including the likes of Shamshad Ahmed Khan, Tariq Fatmi and Riaz Khokhar are intriguingly silent on the support that Pakistan has diplomatically provided to Bahrain on the behest of Saudi Arabia. The sole reason for the silence of these former ‘babus’ of Foreign Office and some other “well informed experts” lies behind the special relationship that PML-N leader Mian Nawaz Sharif enjoys with the Royal family of the holy land.

Pakistan desired return of peace, security and stability to Middle East that had been hit by political upheaval, the newly designated foreign office spokesperson Ms Tahmina Janjua observed while briefing the media the other day. “As far as Bahrain is concerned, it was an internal decision of the GCC. The GCC decided on the basis of its founding principles that security forces would go to Bahrain,” said Foreign Office Spokesperson in her stammering voice while replying to hard hitting questions on Bahrain though her words did not match the principles of ‘non-intervention and non-interference in domestic affairs of others’ that she had painstakingly learnt during her 27 years long diplomatic career. This was not the first time that Foreign Office stood up for Bahrain’s monarchy. Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir had earlier praised the Bahraini Monarch on March 1. While the protestors were being tear-gassed and shot at, he had said: “We … admire the progress made by Bahrain under the leadership of His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa.”

The current political upheaval is a geniune cause of concern for Pakistan as there are some 65,000 Pakistanis in Bahrain, some of whom are working with Bahraini security services, the FO sources maintained adding that the security of King of Bahrain, the major installations, the Royal Family and the state dignitaries is prime responsibility of the Pakistanis employed in the Bahraini security services. Perhaps this was the reason that a number of Pakistanis became vistims of the public anger and some of them were seriously injured earlier this month during the violent protest of people on streets. Reports received from the tiny Gulf Kingdom suggest that the xenophobic attacks against Pakistani expatriates earlier this month were commited as Pakistani policemen had been at frontlines of riot police that attacked demonstrators.

In an atmosphere where common Pakistanis are quite unsafe in the Kingdom, Pakistan has not only quietly endorsed the intervention, but allowed the welfare wings of its military forces – Fauji Foundation and Bahria Foundation – to recruit about 1000 guards to bolster Bahrain’s security apparatus and the recruitment was not made secretly, instead the process was completed in very open way.

The reasons for the uprising in Bahrain are said to be more than just the political, the sources further revealed. The detailed analysis of the situation reflects that the political upheaval is being financed by some external factors and the sources point their fingers towards some hard core religious elements having strong presence in Pakistan and also towards the Iranian Government, thus both Saudi Arabia and Bahrain intend to use good offices of Pakistan Army and its intelligence wings to play their ole in bringing in peace and stability in the Gulf State.

Foreign Office has confirmed that the The Foreign Minister of Bahrain will discuss security cooperation and internal political situation of the country with Pakistani leadership. During his hectic visit, he will meet President Zardari, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gillani, State Minister for Foreign Affairs, and the military leadership in a very short span of time. The two sides will discuss further strengthening security cooperation and additional steps, sources revealed. Bahrain may formally furnish a request for Pakistan army contingents to be deployed with the GCC Shield Force in troubled areas as well as a request to ISI and Military Intelligence (MI) for using their good offices to establish contacts and facilitate parlays between the Bahrain Government and the right wing forces as well as in direct talks between Iran and Bahrain, sources confided with confidentiality. ‘Pakistan is the only country that can help Bahrain in bringing in the political stability in the country and thus a request is expected to be made for an active Pakistani role in the greater regional and trans regional interest’, sources said. But any decision will be taken keeping the sensitivities and threats in mind, the sources assured.

Meanwhile some brain storming is being done between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia for revival of an already expired defense agreement between Pakistan and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and an initial discussion has been made during the recent visit of Saudi National Security Chief, however few changes will be made in the previous agreement if any progress in this regard is made, sources in the diplomatic circles maintained.

Iran Calls Saudi Troops in Bahrain ‘Unacceptable’

By Ethan Bronner and Michael Slackman for The New York Times

A day after Saudi Arabia’s military rolled into Bahrain, the Iranian government branded the move “unacceptable” on Tuesday, threatening to escalate a local political conflict into a regional showdown with Iran.

“The presence of foreign forces and interference in Bahrain’s internal affairs is unacceptable and will further complicate the issue,” Ramin Mehmanparast, the Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman told a news conference in Tehran, according to state-run media.

Even as predominantly Shiite Muslim Iran pursues a determined crackdown against dissent at home, Tehran has supported the protests led by the Shiite majority in Bahrain.

“People have some legitimate demands and they are expressing them peacefully,” Mr. Memanparast said. “It should not be responded to violently.”

“We expect their demands be fulfilled through correct means,” Mr. Mehmanparast added. Iran’s response — while anticipated — showed the depth of rivalry across the Persian Gulf in a contest that has far-reaching consequences in many parts of the Middle East.

On Monday, Iranian state-run media went so far as to call the troop movement an invasion. Saudi Arabia has been watching uneasily as Bahrain’s Shiite majority has staged weeks of protests against a Sunni monarchy, fearing that if the protesters prevailed, Iran, Saudi Arabia’s bitter regional rival, could expand its influence and inspire unrest elsewhere.

The Saudi decision to send in troops on Monday could further inflame the conflict and transform this teardrop of a nation in the Persian Gulf into the Middle East’s next proxy battlefield between regional and global powers. On Tuesday, there was no immediate indication that the Saudi forces were confronting protesters in the central Pearl Square — the emblem of the Bahrain protest much as Cairo’s Tahrir Square assumed symbolic significance in the Egyptian uprising.

Several hundred protesters camped out there on what seemed initially to be a quiet day with little traffic on the streets as the details of the deployment by Bahrain’s neighbors — and their mission — remained ill-defined.

On Monday, about 2,000 troops — 1,200 from Saudi Arabia and 800 from the United Arab Emirates — entered Bahrain as part of a force operating under the aegis of the Gulf Cooperation Council, a six-nation regional coalition of Sunni rulers that has grown increasingly anxious over the sustained challenge to Bahrain’s king, Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa. “This is the initial phase,” a Saudi official said. “Bahrain will get whatever assistance it needs. It’s open-ended.”

The decision is the first time the council has used collective military action to help suppress a popular revolt — in this case a Shiite popular revolt. It was rejected by the opposition, and by Iran, as an “occupation.” Iran has long claimed that Bahrain is historically part of Iran.

The troops entered Bahrain at an especially combustible moment in the standoff between protesters and the monarchy. In recent days protesters have begun to move from the encampment in Pearl Square, the symbolic center of the nation, to the actual seat of power and influence, the Royal Court and the financial district. As the troops moved in, protesters controlled the main highway and said they were determined not to leave.

“We don’t know what is going to happen,” Jassim Hussein Ali, a member of the opposition Wefaq party and a former member of Parliament, said in a phone interview. “Bahrain is heading toward major problems, anarchy. This is an occupation, and this is not welcome.”

Rasool Nafisi, an academic and Iran expert based in Virginia, said: “Now that the Saudis have gone in, they may spur a similar reaction from Iran, and Bahrain becomes a battleground between Saudi and Iran. This may prolong the conflict rather than put an end to it, and make it an international event rather than a local uprising.”

An adviser to the United States government, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the press, agreed. “Iran’s preference was not to get engaged because the flow of events was in their direction,” he said. “If the Saudi intervention changes the calculus, they will be more aggressive.”

Though Bahrain said it had invited the force, the Saudi presence highlights the degree to which the kingdom has become concerned over Iran’s growing regional influence, and demonstrates that the Saudi monarchy has drawn the line at its back door. Oil-rich Saudi Arabia, a close ally of Washington, has traditionally preferred to operate in the shadows through checkbook diplomacy. It has long provided an economic lifeline to Bahrain.

But it now finds itself largely standing alone to face Iran since its most important ally in that fight, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, has been ousted in a popular uprising. Iran’s ally, Hezbollah, recently toppled the Saudi-backed government of Lebanon — a symbol of its regional might and Saudi Arabia’s diminishing clout.

But Bahrain is right at Saudi Arabia’s eastern border, where the kingdoms are connected by a causeway.

The Gulf Cooperation Council was clearly alarmed at the prospect of a Shiite political victory in Bahrain, fearing that it would inspire restive Shiite populations in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to protest as well. The majority of the population in Saudi Arabia’s eastern provinces, where the oil is found, is Shiite, and there have already been small protests there.

“If the opposition in Bahrain wins, then Saudi loses,” said Mustafa el-Labbad, director of Al Sharq Center for Regional and Strategic Studies in Cairo. “In this regional context, the decision to move troops into Bahrain is not to help the monarchy of Bahrain, but to help Saudi Arabia itself .”

The Bahrain government said that it had invited the force in to help restore and preserve public order. The United States — which has continued to back the monarchy — said Monday that the move was not an occupation. The United States has long been allied with Bahrain’s royal family and has based the Navy’s Fifth Fleet in Bahrain for many years.

Though the United States eventually sided with the demonstrators in Egypt, in Bahrain it has instead supported the leadership while calling for restraint and democratic change. The Saudi official said the United States was informed Sunday that the Saudi troops would enter Bahrain on Monday.

Saudi and council officials said the military forces would not engage with the demonstrators, but would protect infrastructure, government offices and industries, even though the protests had largely been peaceful. The mobilization would allow Bahrain to free up its own police and military forces to deal with the demonstrators, the officials said.

The Gulf Cooperation Council “forces are not there to kill people,” said a Saudi official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the press. “This is a G.C.C. decision; we do not violate international law.”

But the officials also acknowledged that it was a message to Iran. “There is no doubt Iran is involved,” said the official, though no proof has been offered that Iran has had anything to do with the political unrest.

Political analysts said that it was likely that the United States did not object to the deployment in part because it, too, saw a weakened monarchy as a net benefit to Iran at a time when the United States wants to move troops out of Iraq, where Iran has already established an influence.

The military force is one part of a Gulf Cooperation Council effort to try to contain the crisis in Bahrain that broke out Feb. 14, when young people called for a Day of Rage, fashioned after events in Egypt and Tunisia. The police and then the army killed seven demonstrators, leading Washington to press Bahrain to remove its forces from the street.

The royal family allowed thousands of demonstrators to camp at Pearl Square. It freed some political prisoners, allowed an exiled opposition leader to return and reshuffled the cabinet. And it called for a national dialogue.

But the concessions — after the killings — seemed to embolden a movement that went from calling for a true constitutional monarchy to demanding the downfall of the monarchy. The monarchy has said it will consider instituting a fairly elected Parliament, but it insisted that the first step would be opening a national dialogue — a position the opposition has rejected, though it was unclear whether the protesters were speaking with one voice.

The council moved troops in after deciding earlier to help prop up the king with a contribution of $10 billion over 10 years, and said that it might increase that figure. But if the goal was to intimidate Iran, or the protesters, that clearly was not the first response.

Bahrain’s opposition groups issued a statement: “We consider the entry of any soldier or military machinery into the Kingdom of Bahrain’s air, sea or land territories a blatant occupation.”

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.

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