Archive for the ‘ Taliban ’ Category

Pakistan: US Participation a Must in Russia-initiated Afghan Talks

As Reported by Ayaz Gul for The Voice of America

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN —
Pakistan says that Russia-sponsored international talks on Afghanistan must involve the United States for bringing peace to the war-riven country, because Washington is the “biggest stakeholder” there.

Moscow plans to host this week (April 14) a new expanded round of multi-nation “consultations” it has recently launched with the stated goals of developing a “regional approach” for promoting Afghan security and a government-led national reconciliation with the Taliban.

But the U.S. administration has already refused to take part in the conference, questioning Russian intentions and motives.

Speaking to a local television station before the Moscow talks, the Pakistani prime minister’s foreign policy aide, Tariq Fatemi, stopped short of admitting the absence of Washington will not allow the multi-nation process to achieve its mission.

“They [U.S] have their troops present [in Afghanistan], they have invested one trillion dollars there, they are the biggest stakeholder, they have lost hundreds of their soldiers, so they have their interests there,” Fatemi explained.

While Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, China, India were represented in the last round of talks in Moscow earlier this year, former Soviet Central Asian states have been invited for the first time to attend the April 14 conference.

“We hope and desire that when any such peace initiative will enter into a next stage, America will have to be made part of it,” Fatemi told Aaj TV when asked whether the Russian-initiated process could bring peace to Afghanistan without Washington.

Pakistan believes Russia is “positively” using its influence with the Taliban to encourage them to join peace talks and Islamabad is supportive of any such efforts, Fatemi insisted.

“Russia has told us its major concerns are that if civil war conditions are there in Afghanistan, it can become a center for terrorist organizations like Islamic State, or Daesh, who will then try to infiltrate into bordering Central Asian states,” the Pakistani official explained.

The Taliban’s attacks on rival IS fighters in a bid to prevent them from establishing a foothold in the country apparently encouraged Russia to support the insurgent group. But Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Sunday again warned Moscow against maintaining contacts with the Taliban.

“Anyone who thinks they can help themselves by helping the enemy of their enemy is mistaken. Anyone who thinks that they can differentiate between good and bad terrorism is mistaken,” Ghani said.

Speaking at a news conference in Kabul, Ghani acknowledged Russia is also threatened by terrorism and sympathized with victims of recent terrorist attack in that country.

“We have an intense dialogue with all our interlocutors because a stable Afghanistan is to everybody’s benefit and unstable Afghanistan hurts everyone,” Ghani said when asked whether Kabul plans to attend Moscow talks on Friday. He added he wants Afghanistan “as a center of cooperation” in all efforts aimed at stabilizing his country.

The Russian foreign ministry, while regretting Washington’s refusal to attend the coming talks, had also underscored the United States is an “important player” in settling the Afghan conflict.

“So [the United States] joining the peacekeeping efforts of the countries of the region would help to reinforce the message to the Afghan armed opposition regarding the need to stop armed resistance and to start talks,” it maintained.

Meanwhile, Fatemi said Pakistan has also stepped up diplomatic efforts to ease tensions with Afghanistan and is seeking implementation of a proposed mechanism the two sides agreed to in talks last months that were mediated by Britain.

The mechanism, he explained, would allow establishment of a “channel of communication at different levels” between Islamabad and Kabul to help remove “any misunderstanding” and deal with any terrorist incident on either side of their shared border.

“Talks [between the two countries] at the Army level and at different other levels are currently underway, and at a final stage, if needed, foreign ministers of the two countries will also engage in frequent meetings,” Fatemi said.

Afghanistan and Pakistan each deny allegations they harbor and support anti-state militants engaged in terrorist attacks on their respective soils. Tensions have lately risen because of Islamabad’s unilateral border security measures to prevent terrorist infiltration.

Kabul disputes portions of the 2,600-kilometer border between the two countries and is opposed to fencing them, saying it will further add to problems facing divided families.

Pakistan, Afghanistan trade accusations at U.N. over extremist havens

By Michelle Nichols for Reuters

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Afghanistan and Pakistan traded accusations in the U.N. Security Council on Thursday over the whereabouts of Islamist extremists on their porous border as the United Nations described increased tensions between the neighbors as “unfortunate and dangerous.”

Afghanistan’s U.N. envoy, Zahir Tanin, told a council debate on the situation in Afghanistan that “terrorist sanctuaries continue to exist on Pakistan’s soil and some elements continue to use terrorism as an instrument of foreign policy.”

Pakistan’s U.N. ambassador, Masood Khan, said “terrorists operate on both sides of the porous border” and many attacks against Pakistan were planned on Afghan soil. He said aggressive policing and border surveillance were needed.

“I reject most emphatically Ambassador Tanin’s argument – root, trunk and branch – that terrorist sanctuaries exist in Pakistan and some elements continue to use terrorism as an instrument of foreign policy,” Khan told the council.

He told Reuters in an interview afterward that Tanin had been “ill-advised” to raise the border issues at the Security Council as Kabul and Islamabad were already talking through other channels. Khan blamed Afghan President Hamid Karzai for stoking tensions.

“When President Karzai meets our leadership, he’s most gracious, engaging, he’s a statesman. But when he talks to the media, he says things which inflame sentiment and that’s most unhelpful and destabilizing,” Khan said. “We have given very restrained responses.”

Pakistan’s role in the 12-year-old war in Afghanistan has been ambiguous – it is a U.S. ally but has a long history of supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan in a bid to counter the influence of its regional rival India.

Pakistan’s military played a key role in convincing Afghan Taliban leaders to hold talks with the United States, U.S. and Pakistani officials said, but Afghan anger at fanfare over the opening of the Taliban’s Qatar office this week has since delayed preliminary discussions.

“We were talking to multiple interlocutors behind the scenes and we have been asking them to participate in these talks, (telling them) that we think the war should come to an end,” Khan told Reuters.

‘SUCCEED OR FAIL TOGETHER’

U.S.-backed Afghan forces toppled the Taliban in late 2001 for refusing to hand over al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

Pakistan helped the Taliban take power in Afghanistan in the 1990s and is facing a Taliban insurgency itself. The Pakistani Taliban, known as the Tehreek-e-Taliban, is a separate entity from the Afghan Taliban, though allied with them.

“Stability and sanctity of Pakistan-Afghanistan border is a shared responsibility. Robust deployment of Pakistani troops on our side is meant to interdict terrorists and criminals,” Khan told the council. “This must be matched from the other side.”

A spate of cross-border shelling incidents by the Pakistani military, who said they were targeting Taliban insurgents, has killed dozens of Afghan civilians in the past couple of years.

“We are very concerned with ongoing border shelling,” Tanin told the council. “This constitutes a serious threat to Afghan sovereignty and the prospect of friendly relations between the two countries.”

U.N. special envoy to Afghanistan, Jan Kubis, told the Security Council that the heightened tensions between Afghanistan and Pakistan were a serious concern, especially at this stage of Afghanistan’s development.

“Such tensions are unfortunate and dangerous,” he said.

The NATO command in Kabul on Tuesday handed over lead security responsibility to Afghan government forces across the country and most foreign troops are due to withdraw from the country by the end of 2014.

“It is for the two countries to address these concerns and problems and their underlying reasons, to build trust and to refrain from any step that could contribute to an escalation of tensions and inflamed public sentiments,” Kubis said.

“They share common concerns and interests in fighting terrorism. They can succeed or fail together,” he said.

Police: Principal killed in grenade, gun attack on Pakistani school

As Reported by Aliza Kassim and Laura Smith-Spark for CNN

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A principal was killed and eight other people were injured in a grenade and gun attack on a school in the Pakistani city of Karachi, a police spokesman said Saturday.

An unidentified motorcyclist hurled the hand grenade at the private middle school in the Baldia Town area of Karachi before letting off a volley of shots, police spokesman Asif Nawaz Sheikh told CNN.

The school principal, named as Abdul Rasheed, was badly hurt and later died of his injuries in the hospital, the spokesman said.

The eight others injured included a teacher and students at the school, he said. They were transferred to the Jinnah Post Graduate Medical Center and the Civil Hospital.

Caretaker Prime Minister Mir Hazar Khan Khoso condemned what he called a cowardly attack on innocent children, the official Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) news agency reported.

The targeting of school children, including girls, reflected the brutality of the terrorists, he said, according to APP.

Khoso, the former chief justice who was sworn in as interim prime minister less than a week ago, directed the local administration to give all the help needed to the families affected.

The attack is only the latest to target educators in Pakistan.

Another teacher, Shahnaz Nazli, recently died in the country’s northwestern Khyber tribal district in recent days after she was shot by two men on a motorcycle as she made her way to the girls’ school where she taught

In January, five teachers were killed near the town of Swabi in the volatile northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, the United Nations says.

In the wake of Nazli’s death, an online petition has been set up calling for Pakistan’s government to take a greater role in protecting girls and teachers to safely attend school.

First to sign it was Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai, who was herself the subject of a vicious attack last October.

The 14-year-old was riding home in a school van in the Swat Valley, a Taliban stronghold, when masked men stopped the vehicle and shot her in the head and neck.

Malala, whose campaigning for girls’ education in Pakistan gained international attention in 2009, has made a good recovery since but is still receiving treatment for her injuries in Britain.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement Thursday through his spokesman condemning the recent attacks on teachers in Pakistan.

“In addition to the tragic loss of life, violence against teachers undermines confidence in education systems, traumatizes students, and discourages parents from sending children to school,” the statement said.

“Attacks on women teachers are particularly heinous because they disproportionately affect the girl students for whom they serve as role models.”

Former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who serves as the United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education, has championed education issues in Pakistan, especially after the shooting of Malala.

In a piece written for CNN, he asked, “Can the world agree that 2013 will be the year when a girl’s right to education will finally be won — even in the most remote and once lawless corners of the globe?”

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note– Girls and women are under attack in Pakistan where they can not get an education for fear of their lives in large parts of the country. When educators and teachers have to fear for their lives for teaching the next generation of young girls and those very same girls also have to fear for their lives for simply going to school, then what does that say about the present and future of this country?

We think that one thing is certain and that is for many Pakistanis, their nation has become a real life hell hole that is easily the most disturbing and dangerous country in the world, no offense to both North Korea and Iran but neither of you are even in Pakistan’s class. Not with its mixture of being a fractious and populous nation that is behest with religious and ethnic animosity while being embroiled in poverty and extremism which is topped off by militancy and nuclear weaponry. Add to this chaotic mix numerous attacks on women and girls for pursuing education, then you simply must conclude that what you have is a nation with a horrendous present and a dreadful future.

Pakistan Releasing Taliban Detainees As Part Of Peace Process Ahead Of 2014 Withdrawal

By Rebecca Santana and Kathy Gannon for The Huffington Post

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Pakistan plans to release more Afghan militant detainees in an attempt to boost the peace process in neighboring Afghanistan ahead of the departure of international troops next year, a top Pakistani official said.

Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani said Pakistan has initiated the process of releasing those Afghan detainees in its custody who they think will help facilitate the reconciliation process. His comments were made during a press conference Friday in Abu Dhabi and relayed by the Foreign Ministry on Saturday. He did not give a timetable.

In general, Kabul has pressed hard for Islamabad to release its detainees, with some officials saying that they hope the released Taliban can serve as intermediaries. But Washington is concerned about specific prisoners who they consider dangerous.

Jilani did not specifically mention whether Pakistan would release Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the former deputy leader of the Afghan Taliban whom Kabul has been pushing Pakistan to release.

Senior U.S. and Afghan officials told The Associated Press that the U.S. has informed the Pakistani authorities that it was reluctant to see Baradar go free and asked for prior notice so it can try to track his movements.

Pakistan has upward of 100 Afghan prisoners in its custody including Baradar, who was arrested by Pakistan in the southern city of Karachi in 2010. The circumstances of his arrest, like that of most of the detainees, remain unclear. Afghanistan accuses Pakistan of providing shelter to some of the Taliban.

The U.S. and Afghan officials said a similar U.S. request for notification upon release has been made for another prisoner, Abdul Samad, according to the officials. Samad, who is from Kandahar, the former Taliban headquarters, is a specialist in making suicide jackets and came to prominence within the Taliban movement after its collapse in 2001.

Several senior Taliban have already been released by Pakistan including former governors and ministers. One of those released was the once-feared Vice and Virtue Minister Mullah Nooruddin Turabi, who oversaw a legion of Taliban fighters who roamed the streets searching for women who were not properly covered, or residents listening to music or watching television, both of which were forbidden under the Taliban.

In November Pakistan also released Anwar ul Haq Mujahed, a senior Taliban commander from eastern Nangarhar province whose release was sought by the Afghan High Peace Council although he had been implicated in several major attacks in eastern Afghanistan against coalition and Afghan forces.

The Afghan peace process has made little headway since it began several years ago, hobbled by distrust among the major players, including the United States. But it appears to be getting a new push in recent months with a high-level peace commission traveling from Afghanistan to Pakistan and Pakistani officials releasing 26 Taliban prisoners since November.

Part of the reason for the recent peace push is that Pakistani government and military officials are worried that if American troops leave without a plan in place, Afghanistan could deteriorate into another round of vicious infighting. After the Soviets pulled out in 1989, many of the militants who had helped best that superpower then turned on each other in what played out as a vicious war across the country.

A repeat of that scenario could have horrific consequences for Pakistan, such as a flood of Afghan refugees across its borders and increased fighting in Pakistan’s tribal areas, where the military is already trying to suppress a stubborn insurgency.

The Afghan and U.S. governments have long accused Islamabad of backing insurgents – an allegation Pakistan denies – and say many militant leaders are hiding in the country.

Whether the recent detainee releases will play a significant role in the peace process remains to be seen. The U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, James Cunningham, said on Thursday that although their release was a positive step, there was no indication of where the former detainees had gone.

He said the Afghan government was trying to ensure they did not return to the insurgency.

He said the Pakistanis so far have taken a “hands-off kind of approach to the people that they have released.”

All officials spoke anonymously as they were not authorized to talk to the media.

Another victim of attacks on anti-polio teams dies in Pakistan, bringing 3-day toll to 9

As Reported by The Associated Press

 

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Another victim from attacks on U.N.-backed anti-polio teams in Pakistan died on Thursday, bringing the three-day death toll in the wave of assaults on volunteers vaccinating children across the country to nine, officials said.

Hilal Khan, 20, died a day after he was shot in the head in the northwestern city of Peshawar, said health official Janbaz Afridi

Since Monday, gunmen had launched attacks across Pakistan on teams vaccinating children against polio. Six women were among the nine anti-polio workers killed in the campaign, jointly conducted with the Pakistani government.

The U.N. World Health Organization suspended the drive until a government investigation was completed.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the killings “cruel, senseless and inexcusable.” Speaking at his year-end news conference Wednesday, Ban said the victims were among thousands across Pakistan “working selflessly to achieve the historic goal of polio eradication.”

The suspension of the vaccinations was a grave blow to efforts to bring an end to the scourge of polio in Pakistan, one of only three countries where the crippling disease is endemic.

Azmat Abbas, with UNICEF in Pakistan said the field staff would resume the work when they have a secure working environment.

“This is undoubtedly a tragic setback, but the campaign to eradicate polio will and must continue,” Sarah Crowe, spokeswoman for UNICEF, said Wednesday.

However, local officials in the eastern city of Lahore continued the vaccination on Thursday under police escort, and extended the campaign with a two-day follow-up.

Deputy Commissioner Noorul Amin Mengal said about 6,000 Pakistani government health workers were escorted by 3,000 police as they fanned out across the city.

“It would have been an easy thing for us to do to stop the campaign,” he said. “That would have been devastating.”

No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks but some Islamic militants accuse health workers of acting as spies for the United States and claim that the vaccine makes children sterile.

Taliban commanders in the country’s troubled northwest tribal region have also said the vaccinations can’t go forward until the U.S. stops drone strikes in Pakistan.

The insurgent opposition to the campaign grew last year, after it was revealed that a Pakistani doctor ran a fake vaccination program to help the CIA track down and kill Al Qaeda founder Usama bin Laden, who was hiding in the town of Abbottabad in the country’s northwest.

Prevention efforts against polio have managed to reduce the number of cases in Pakistan by around 70 percent this year, compared to 2011, but the recent violence threatens to reverse that progress.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note– Less than a week since the tragedy in Newtown Connecticut and the death of so many innocent children, we see the ill effects of the Dr Shakil Afridi incident whereby undercover CIA agents using Pakistani doctor under the guise of a polio vaccination program infiltrated and eventually found where OBL was being hidden. The great thing was that we got and killed the bastard.

The negative consequences of this however is now evident as we risk putting up to 33 million Pakistani children in harm’s way as they may not get their polio vaccinations due to Taliban distrust of any medical worker as being a foreign agent. These are horrible consequences and 1 life is not worth 33 million. Very dismayed with the current situation and hoping the Pakistani and American governments can provide better security to all medical teams and doctors if the Pakistani children are to get their critical polio vaccines. 

In Sign of Normalization, Pentagon to Reimburse Pakistan $688 Million

By ERIC SCHMITT and DAVID E. SANGER for The New York Times

Kerry Panetta

The Pentagon quietly notified Congress this month that it would reimburse Pakistan nearly $700 million for the cost of stationing 140,000 troops on the border with Afghanistan, an effort to normalize support for the Pakistani military after nearly two years of crises and mutual retaliation.

The biggest proponent of putting foreign aid and military reimbursements to Pakistan on a steady footing is the man President Barack Obama is leaning toward naming as secretary of state: Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts. Mr. Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has frequently served as an envoy to Pakistan, including after the killing of Osama bin Laden, and was a co-author of a law that authorized five years and about $7.5 billion of nonmilitary assistance to Pakistan.

The United States also provides about $2 billion in annual security assistance, roughly half of which goes to reimburse Pakistan for conducting military operations to fight terrorism.

Until now, many of these reimbursements, called coalition support funds, have been held up, in part because of disputes with Pakistan over the Bin Laden raid, the operations of the C.I.A., and its decision to block supply lines into Afghanistan last year.

The $688 million payment — the first since this summer, covering food, ammunition and other expenses from June through November 2011 — has caused barely a ripple of protest since it was sent to Capitol Hill on Dec. 7.

The absence of a reaction, American and Pakistani officials say, underscores how relations between the two countries have been gradually thawing since Pakistan reopened the NATO supply routes in July after an apology from the Obama administration for an errant American airstrike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November 2011.

Mr. Kerry’s nomination would be welcomed in Pakistan, where he is seen as perhaps the most sympathetic to Pakistani concerns of any senior lawmaker. He has nurtured relationships with top civilian and military officials, as well as the I.S.I., Pakistan’s most powerful intelligence agency.

But if he becomes secretary of state, Mr. Kerry will inherit one of the hardest diplomatic tasks in South Asia: helping Pakistan find a role in steering Afghanistan toward a political agreement with the Taliban. As the United States, which tried and failed to broker such an agreement, begins to step back, Pakistan’s role is increasing.

For a relationship rocked in the past two years by a C.I.A. contractor’s shooting of two Pakistanis, the Navy SEAL raid that killed Bin Laden and the accidental airstrike, perhaps the most remarkable event in recent months has been relative calm. A senior American official dealing with Pakistan said recently that “this is the longest we’ve gone in a while without a crisis.”

Sherry Rehman, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, said, “Pakistan-United States relations are settling down to a more stable trajectory.”

The interlude has allowed the United States to reduce the huge backlog of NATO supplies at the border — down to about 3,000 containers from 7,000 when the border crossings reopened — and to conduct dry runs for the tons of equipment that will flow out of Afghanistan to Pakistani ports when the American drawdown steps up early next year.

Moreover, the two sides have resumed a series of high-level meetings — capped by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s meeting this month with top Pakistani officials in Brussels — on a range of topics including counterterrorism, economic cooperation, energy and the security of Pakistan’s growing nuclear arsenal.

Maleeha Lodhi, a former Pakistani ambassador to Washington, concurred. “There’s greater convergence between the two countries than there has been in eight years,” she said. “It’s been a fairly quick kiss and make up, but it’s been driven by the approaching urgency of 2014, and by their shared desire for a stable outcome in the region.”

The one exception to the state of calm has been a tense set of discussions about Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. United States officials have told their Pakistani colleagues that Islamabad’s move to smaller, more portable weapons creates a greater risk that one could be stolen or diverted. A delegation of American nuclear experts was in Pakistan last week, but found that the two countries had fundamentally divergent views about whether Pakistan’s changes to its arsenal pose a danger.

The greatest progress, officials say, has been in the relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan, after years of mutual recrimination. A high-level Afghan delegation visited Pakistan in November, resulting in the release of several midlevel Taliban commanders from Pakistani jails as a sign of good will in restarting the peace process.

The United States, which was quietly in the background of those meetings, approved of the release of the prisoners, but has still held back on releasing five militants from Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, a key Taliban demand.

One American official said there was a “big push” to move the talks process forward during the current winter lull in fighting. The United States is quietly seeking to revive a peace channel in Qatar, which was frozen earlier this year after the Taliban refused to participate.

Despite the easing of tensions in recent months, there are still plenty of sore spots in the relationship.

Lt. Gen. Michael D. Barbero, who heads the Pentagon agency responsible for combating roadside bombs, known as improvised explosive devices, or I.E.D.’s, told a Senate hearing last week that Pakistan’s efforts to stem the flow of a common agricultural fertilizer, calcium ammonium nitrate, that Taliban insurgents use to make roadside bombs had fallen woefully short.

“Our Pakistani partners can and must do more,” General Barbero told a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee hearing.

American officials have also all but given up on Pakistan’s carrying out a clearing operation in North Waziristan, a major militant safe haven.

“Pakistan’s continued acceptance of sanctuaries for Afghan-focused insurgents and failure to interdict I.E.D. materials and components continue to undermine the security of Afghanistan and pose an enduring threat to U.S., coalition and Afghan forces,” a Pentagon report, mandated by Congress, concluded last week.

Declan Walsh contributed reporting from Islamabad, Pakistan.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note– Kerry for Secretary is a great choice now that Susan Rice did not work out. We love Hillary Clinton and as a Democrat and Liberal through and through, as much as we wish Secretary Clinton a speedy recovery and look forward to voting for her as the first woman President of the United States, it is high time to have a man in there as a Secretary working together with Secretary Panetta. John Kerry is a good and honorable soldier who is a patriot and will uphold American interests but will be a person who is very familiar with Pakistan and the need to have a dialogue with the men who man the barracks in Rawalpindi, regardless who happens to be the Prime Minister in Islamabad. We hope he has a speedy confirmation and no obstructionism by the Do Nothing GOP~

The Brazen, Beautiful Humanity of Malala Yousafzai

By Karen Angela Ellis for Urban Faith

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It is easy to imagine Malala Yousafzai gracing the cover of TIME magazine as its Person of the Year . Her soft brown eyes peek at us from pictures that have surfaced from the ripples of a sudden plunge into the spotlight. Her story is so dramatic, so much the essence of the human rights struggle that the it continues to fascinate and inspire worldwide. Her hair, side-parted and modestly covered, Miss Yousafzai demonstrates a hunger for peace well beyond her 14 years. In 2011, she was awarded the National Peace Award by the Government of Pakistan for her courage in seeking restoration of peace and education services. In a short span of time, this tiny girl has become a towering figure in her pursuit of justice for herself and 50,000 other schoolgirls who lost the right to education in their Pakistani communities.

Millions more are now familiar with Miss Yousafzai, who was forced off of her school bus, shot in the head, and critically wounded along with two other young schoolgirls at the hands of the Taliban. She continues to heal in the safety of a UK hospital, the government and the world watching over her as if she were the little sister of us all.

Since 2009, when Miss Yousafzai was a mere tween in the Swat Valley of Pakistan, the hope for education has burned in her heart. While other girls in freer societies tweeted their obsessions with fashion and musical heart throbs, Miss Yousafzai dodged daily threats to become internationally known for her blog that promoted the restoration of the education stolen from her and her classmates.

Her opponents brazenly confessed planning her demise for at least a year. This time they were mercifully denied satisfaction, though they threaten further attempts will be made until her voice is silenced. With ironic justice, the public magnification of her courage has likewise magnified her opponent’s cowardice, exposing grown men who will go to such lengths to snuff out any beacon of light that pierces the darkness of their own souls.

Nothing New Under the Sun
As a Christian woman, when I think of the social conditions that were in place when Christ walked the earth, I am forced to see how little a young girl’s plight has changed in many areas of the world. Centuries may have passed, but the fundamental flaws in our human character remain the same, and they are often unavoidably woven into the fabric of our societies, both free and restricted.

Knowing this, Christ’s counter-cultural treatment of women stands out in relief. In the first-century Roman Empire, a woman held very little sway on matters political or civil; their social plight two thousand years ago foreshadows the Taliban’s restrictions on a woman’s movements today, be they physical, psychological, political or intellectual.

Converse to these gaping holes in our societal fabric, the Bible’s high esteem for women and girls is recorded throughout its narrative. Indeed, many accounts in the Gospels tell us that Christ’s constant consideration of women was radical indeed for its day — His high view of women is perhaps best displayed and recorded in Luke 24 in the first witness of His resurrection and victory over hell, death and the grave; His greatest triumph was first revealed to a group of women (Luke 24:1-12).

These women gathered at his empty tomb were entrusted with the first knowledge of the risen Savior; an affirmation of God’s high estimation of the word, witness and worth of a woman (Mark 16:1-8, Matthew 28:1-10). There is one sole Entity who could first assess, and then restore a woman’s social worth properly as beings who bear the very image of God ; that is the Creator of that image, God, Himself (Genesis 1:26-31). These women were divinely commissioned to tell His disciples that Christ had risen, and the news of Hope for all humanity began to spread. “Go, tell the others what you have seen….” What a humbling honor, indeed, to be charged with bearing what has become a life-altering message for so many — including myself.

Salute
Today, Miss Yousafzai’s story is known worldwide; it was a proverbial “shot heard ’round the world.” It’s doubtful that life for this young woman will ever be the same, yet she and her family have accomplished more as ordinary citizens than many politicians have been able to do collectively. From her tormentor’s perspective, she must seem as one of the foolish things of the world that has confounded the self-proclaimed “wise.” In her courage, she has shown wisdom that they cannot comprehend. A mere and simple girl, who should have been easily silenced, now heals from her wounds with the protection of the world. She stands defiant in her innocence, large in the power of her perceived weakness.

I salute the courage of Miss Yousafzai and her classmates; they have stirred a passion in the world, and made us consider and confront our own humanity. May they be victorious in their quest not only for education and a just society, but also in their larger quest for recognition and in understanding the fullness of their humanity. May they also receive the full dignity and significance that is their right by the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, and may they come to know the One in whose majestic image they are made.

Eleven Long Years Of War

As Reported by The Japan Times

Eleven years have passed since America and its coalition allies launched Operation Enduring Freedom against the Taliban government in Afghanistan on Oct. 7, 2001, a little less than a month after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States that killed some 3,000 people.

The Taliban government fell within two months, but the fighting dragged on. As the U.S. turned its attention to Iran, the Taliban regained its strength and took control of the southern and eastern areas of Afghanistan. The U.S. has attempted to engage in peace talks with the Taliban but discussions have soon broken down. Nevertheless, it is clear that a negotiated settlement is the only way to bring peace to Afghanistan. It is hoped that the U.S. will make strenuous efforts to resume talks with the Taliban.

On Sept. 20, the U.S. Defense Department announced that, as President Barack Obama had promised, the U.S. completed the withdrawal of some 33,000 soldiers dispatched by the Obama administration during a surge two years earlier. Now about 68,000 U.S. soldiers remain in Afghanistan and form the core of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which is led by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

The Obama administration plans to fully transfer authority over peace and security to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) by the end of 2014. Even after foreign combat forces are withdrawn from Afghanistan, about 20,000 foreign soldiers will remain stationed in Afghanistan to train the ANSF.

This year has witnessed a surge of “Green on Blue violence” — attacks on ISAF soldiers by Afghan soldiers and police officers who have fallen under the influence of the Taliban — resulting in the deaths of more than 50 ISAF soldiers.

Combat and other attacks by Afghans, including suicide bombings and the use of improvised explosive devices, have taken the lives of some 2,000 U.S. soldiers and another 1,000 ISAF soldiers since hostilities began. These casualties and the dragging on of a conflict with no possibility of victory in sight has resulted in war fatigue among the public in the U.S. and Europe.

In January, the Taliban announced that it had accepted an invitation to participate in peace talks with the U.S. and agreed to open a contact office in Qatar. But 10 weeks later it announced that it had suspended the talks. Apparently the Taliban did not like Washington’s considerate attitude toward Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who had expressed disapproval of the talks.

The Obama administration is also reluctant to appear as being soft on the Taliban during this election year, but it has made it clear that it is willing to engage in talks with the Taliban if the latter severs ties with al-Qaida and accepts the Afghanistan Constitution, which guarantees the rights of women and minorities. This reasonable position at least opens the door to a negotiated end to the war in Afghanistan.

Malala Attack Fuels Pakistani Conspiracy Theories

As Reported By The Daily Times

It’s a well-known fact in Pakistan that Osama bin Laden died in 2006 and that the US commando raid on his compound in May 2011 was merely a “drama” orchestrated by US President Obama to help win re-election, according to a report in The Washington Post.

Of course, if that were true, Obama might have waited until after the first presidential debate of the campaign season to fake the al Qaeda leader’s killing. But no matter. Pakistanis love a good conspiracy theory.

According to the report, some national newspapers and TV cable outlets routinely report the US is behind terrorist attacks and supports the war the Pakistani Taliban are waging against Pakistan’s government and military. The US Embassy in Islamabad has to regularly churn out “Corrections for the Record” that take Pakistani media to task for carrying outrageous claims.

Now, the latest conspiracy theory to gain traction is the notion the US was behind the Taliban attack this month on Malala Yousufzai, the student from Swat who criticised the extremist group for denying girls access to education. The purported purpose of the ruse: to make the Taliban look really bad and, thus, generate public sympathy for drone strikes – and whip up support for a Pakistan Army invasion of North Waziristan to rout Haqqani network based there.

A Taliban spokesman was quick to assert responsibility for the attack on the schoolgirl and her two classmates. Yet, the idea of US involvement has spread widely, even generating its own meme on Facebook. The Washington Post says a photo of Obama sharing a hearty laugh with members of his staff is making the rounds, being circulated and “liked” by thousands on social media sites. Its caption reads, “Sir, they still believe that Taliban attacked Malala.”

The newspaper states to many Pakistanis, Malala is a national hero. But others say she is a spy because she once met with then-US envoy Richard Holbrooke – another photo shared on the Internet.

Part of the reason there’s so much conspiracy thinking is because Pakistanis live in a security state many believe is controlled by the shadowy spy apparatus known as the Inter-Services Intelligence agency. It is widely seen – and feared – as a hidden force capable of steering domestic and foreign affairs.

AZ Hilali, chairman of the University of Peshawar Political Science Department, said politics is also behind much of the conspiracy mongering. “When the incident happened with Malala, the people thought the security establishment might be involved because there is pressure from the USthat they have to take action against the Haqqani network,” Hilali said. “That perception was already existing in Pakistan. Right-wing parties just exploited the situation.”

But now, WP quotes Hilali as saying, “right-wing parties are in a great crisis because Malala has deep sympathies from the common people… they believe the Taliban have crossed a boundary. Malala has become this symbol, and the right wing is losing support”.

Nasreen Ghufran, an international relations professor at the university, said a common sentiment in Peshawar is the horrendous deed had to serve other agendas. “They think that Taliban on their own would not do anything unless the ISI and the army are behind it,” she said.

The paper says as for the theories that besmirch Malala as an agent of the West, they will ultimately come to naught and even enhance her stature, Hilali said. The Islamists “were already against that girl, but there is not just one Malala, there are many Malalas”.

Why Our Pampered Teens Need A Role Model Like Malala

By Sinead Moriarty for The Independent

Most teenagers getting the bus home from school chat to each other, play on their phones or try to get some of their homework done. Not so for Malala Yousafzai.

This Pakistani teenager was shot in the head on her way home from school. A man boarded her bus and shot her at point blank range for daring to stand up for her basic human right of an education.

A friend recently told me of her teenage daughter’s refusal to go to school, apparently she wasn’t “in the mood”. What are you going to do? I asked. “What can I do,” she said. “She’s two feet taller than me. I can’t drag her there.”

Perhaps she should tell her daughter the story of this Pakistani heroine who risked her life for an education. Perhaps we need to take down the posters of Cheryl Cole and Rihanna from our teenagers’ bedrooms and replace them with posters of Malala Yousafzai.

Our children’s role models now fall into two categories — sports stars or popstars (with the occasional WAG thrown in).

They watch talentless wannabes on reality TV, selling their souls to the devil for fame. Ask teenagers what they want to be when they grow up and the majority will say “famous”. Nobody seems to remember all the people who won the ‘X Factor’ and are now back working in their local fish shop.

In this post-feminist world, girls have become commodities. Where are the young women who want to shatter glass ceilings?

Where are the girls who want to change the world, not the size of their breasts? Where are the teenagers who want to grow up and rule the world, not the tabloids?

Nowadays teenage girls look at footballers’ wives and think, ‘I want that’. I want to live in a big house, drive a flashy car and shop in designer boutiques.

But what about the fact that so many of these husbands sleep with other women, prostitutes and even sometimes their brothers’ wives? None of the teenage girls ever seems to notice that side of the equation. If he provides you with a plush lifestyle, diamonds and furs, then he can do whatever he wants. And these young wives grin and bear it. They say nothing and they do nothing. No divorce is called for, because they know that once they’re dumped their ‘life’ is over. The limelight will shift to the new Mrs X. They’ll be ‘normal’. Who the hell wants to be ‘normal’ when you can be a famous doormat?

Just when you despair for young women, just when you wonder if your teenager will ever find a decent role model, a girl like Malala comes along and puts us all to shame. Her shooting was not the action of a random gunman. It was a carefully planned assassination attempt on a young lady the Taliban found threatening.

Malala’s crime was to be a female who wanted an education. In 2009, when the Taliban seized control of the area she lived in, the women were forced to wear burquas and banned from going to the market and girls were banned from going to school. But Malala spoke out.

In an anonymous blog for the BBC’s Urdu service, she said the ban on going to school was choking her and so she: “decided to stand against the force of backwardness.”

As she continued to blog, complaining of the terrible plight of women under the Taliban, fellow students recognised her and her anonymity was blown. But she still continued to speak out and now she lies in a hospital in Birmingham that was built to deal with injured service personnel. It is fitting that this young woman will lie side by side with injured soldiers as she begins her long road to recovery. After all, Malala is the heroine of a war, the war on human rights.

We in the West take for granted the rights for which Malala almost died. We need to tell our children her story. We need to show them that life is not about being on TV or having the latest phone, boots or bag . . .

We all want to protect our children from the difficulties that life will throw at them, but stories of courage like Malala’s will surely inspire them.

Her story might actually make our teenagers stop texting for five seconds and think about how lucky they are. They may still dread being ridiculed by fellow classmates for having the ‘wrong’ bag, but at least they know they won’t get shot in the head for it.

Her ‘Crime’ Was Loving Schools

By Nicholas D. Kristof for The New York Times

Twice the Taliban threw warning letters into the home of Malala Yousafzai, a 14-year-old Pakistan girl who is one of the world’s most persuasive advocates for girls’ education. They told her to stop her advocacy — or else.

She refused to back down, stepped up her campaign and even started a fund to help impoverished Pakistani girls get an education. So, on Tuesday, masked gunmen approached her school bus and asked for her by name. Then they shot her in the head and neck.

“Let this be a lesson,” a spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, Ehsanullah Ehsan, said afterward. He added that if she survives, the Taliban would again try to kill her.

Surgeons have removed a bullet from Malala, and she remains unconscious in critical condition in a hospital in Peshawar. A close family friend, Fazal Moula Zahid, told me that doctors are hopeful that there has been no brain damage and that she will ultimately return to school.

“After recovery, she will continue to get an education,” Fazal said. “She will never, never drop out of school. She will go to the last.”

“Please thank all your people who are supporting us and who stand with us in this war,” he added. “You energize us.”

The day before Malala was shot, far away in Indonesia, another 14-year-old girl seeking an education suffered from a different kind of misogyny. Sex traffickers had reached out to this girl through Facebook, then detained her and raped her for a week. They released her after her disappearance made the local news.

When her private junior high school got wind of what happened, it told her she had “tarnished the school’s image,” according to an account from Indonesia’s National Commission for Protection of Child Rights. The school publicly expelled her — in front of hundreds of classmates — for having been raped.

These events coincide with the first international Day of the Girl on Thursday, and they remind us that the global struggle for gender equality is the paramount moral struggle of this century, equivalent to the campaigns against slavery in the 19th century and against totalitarianism in the 20th century.

Here in the United States, it’s easy to dismiss such incidents as distant barbarities, but we have a blind spot for our own injustices — like sex trafficking. Across America, teenage girls are trafficked by pimps on Web sites like Backpage.com, and then far too often they are treated by police as criminals rather than victims. These girls aren’t just expelled from school; they’re arrested.

Jerry Sandusky’s sex abuse of boys provoked outrage. But similar abuse is routine for trafficked girls across America, and local authorities often shrug with indifference in the same way some people at Penn State evidently did.

We also don’t appreciate the way incidents like the attack on Tuesday in Pakistan represent a broad argument about whether girls deserve human rights and equality of education. Malala was a leader of the camp that said “yes.” After earlier aspiring to be a doctor, more recently she said she wanted to be a politician — modeled on President Obama, one of her heroes — to advance the cause of girls’ education.

Pakistan is a country that has historically suffered from timid and ineffectual leadership, unwilling to stand up to militants. Instead, true leadership emerged from a courageous 14-year-old girl.

On the other side are the Taliban, who understand the stakes perfectly. They shot Malala because girls’ education threatens everything that they stand for. The greatest risk for violent extremists in Pakistan isn’t American drones. It’s educated girls.

“This is not just Malala’s war,” a 19-year-old female student in Peshawar told me. “It is a war between two ideologies, between the light of education and darkness.”

She said she was happy to be quoted by name. But after what happened to Malala, I don’t dare put her at risk.

For those wanting to honor Malala’s courage, there are excellent organizations building schools in Pakistan, such as Developments in Literacy (dil.org) and The Citizens Foundation (tcfusa.org). I’ve seen their schools and how they transform girls — and communities.

One of my greatest frustrations when I travel to Pakistan is that I routinely spot extremist madrassas, or schools, financed by medieval misogynists from Saudi Arabia or elsewhere. They provide meals, free tuition and sometimes scholarships to lure boys — because their donors understand perfectly that education shapes countries.

In contrast, American aid is mainly about supporting the Pakistani Army. We have tripled aid to Pakistani education to $170 million annually, and that’s terrific. But that’s less than one-tenth of our security aid to Pakistan.

In Malala’s most recent e-mail to a Times colleague, Adam Ellick, she wrote: “I want an access to the world of knowledge.” The Taliban clearly understands the transformative power of girls’ education.

Do we?

Nation Shocked: Hate Targets Hope

By Umer Farooq and Hazrat Ali for The Express Tribune

The ideology of hate has proven that it will target anything that comes in its way – even if it is a 14-year-old girl.
In a harrowing incident that shocked the nation on Tuesday, three armed men intercepted a van carrying schoolgirls, identified their target and then shot her, point blank.

Their target: iconic child activist and National Peace Award winner Malala Yousafzai.
An outspoken critic of the Taliban and vociferous proponent of female education, Yousafzai won international recognition for highlighting Taliban atrocities in Swat with a blog for the BBC three years ago when militants, led by radical cleric Maulana Fazlullah, burned girls’ schools in the valley.

Yousafzai was 11 when she started writing the blog in late 2008.

On Tuesday, she was on her way back home after sitting for a midterm examination paper, when the gunmen attacked and critically injured her. She is currently in critical condition. Three of her friends were also injured.

Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the attack, saying Yousafzai criticised the group, and called her a ‘Western-minded girl.’ In a chilling warning, TTP’s spokesman said that there would be follow up attacks if she survived.

As condemnations and expressions of shock and outrage poured in from all quarters, doctors in Peshawar battled to keep her alive.
Van ambushed

According to details, three armed men intercepted the van carrying Yousafzai and other female students near Sharifabad area of district Swat.
The armed men asked about Yousafzai, said Usman Ali, the driver of the van while talking to reporters.

“The man who stopped the vehicle signaled to his other armed accomplices that Yousafzai was inside. Another armed man went to the back of the vehicle, and started firing inside,” Ali said.

Yousafzai and her three friends –– Shahnaz, Kulsoom and Shabnam –– sustained injuries.
She was initially rushed to Saidu Hospital, where Medicinal Superintendent Lal Noor said that, despite head injuries, Yousafzai was in stable condition.

He said a bullet is still inside her body but added that Yousafzai could talk, and answered his questions.
She was shifted via helicopter to Combine Military Hospital (CMH) Peshawar where a team of senior doctors completed her medical examination, and stated her condition as critical.

“We have thoroughly examined her, she is in critical condition. The bullet travelled from her head and then lodged in the back shoulder, near the neck,” a doctor in CMH told AFP, requesting anonymity.
“The next three to four days are important for her life. She is in the intensive care unit and semi-conscious, although not on the ventilator,” he said.

TTP claims responsibility

Taliban spokesperson Ehsanullah Ehsan told AFP that his group carried out the attack after repeatedly warning Malala to stop speaking out against them.

“She is a Western-minded girl. She always speaks against us. We will target anyone who speaks against the Taliban,” he said by telephone from an undisclosed location.

“We warned her several times to stop speaking against the Taliban and to stop supporting Western NGOs, and to come to the path of Islam,” he said.
“This is a clear a message for the rest of the youth as well. Whoever is found following Yousafzai, will meet the same fate,” Ehsan said, adding the TTP will conduct follow-up attempts if Yousafzai survived this time.
The 14-year-old received the first-ever national peace award from the government last year, and was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize by advocacy group KidsRights Foundation in 2011.

Condemnations

Condemnations flew in from all quarters, including the president, prime minister, the opposition chief, even the US State Department.
President Zardari strongly condemned the attack, but said it would not shake Pakistan’s resolve to fight militants or the government’s determination to support women’s education.

The president also directed that Yousafzai be sent abroad for medical care.
Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Information Minister Iftikhar Hussain, who lost his only son to militants, termed Taliban’s act ‘cowardice’ and called for a sweeping military offensive against all militants in northwest Pakistan. “A team of neurosurgeons is examining her condition and they said there are 70% chances that she will survive,” Hussain said at a late night press conference on Tuesday. The minister asked the nation to pray for her life.

Appeal for prayers

Yousafzai’s father, former Swat Peace Jirga spokesperson Ziauddin Yousafzai, made an appeal to the nation to pray for her recovery.
“She is a daughter of the nation, and represents the country’s female folk. I request the nation to pray for her recovery,” Ziauddin said.
District Police Officer (DPO) Swat Rasool Shah told The Express Tribune that an FIR of the incident has been registered, and a number of suspected persons have been arrested in search operation in different areas of Mingora.

Pakistan’s Other Taliban

By Malik Siraj Akbar for The Huffington Post

The sectarian war in Pakistan between militant Sunni and unarmed Shia Muslims is turning uglier by the day. A bomb blast targeting Shia pilgrims on September 18 in southwestern Balochistan province killed three people and also injured security guards who were officially assigned to protect the pilgrims from a terrorist attack. Sectarian offensives are expected every day but thwarted very infrequently.

The Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), an underground Sunni extremist group that allegedly receives support from units of Pakistani intelligence agencies, has accepted responsibility for most of such attacks in the recent past.

The LeJ has extraordinarily increased its violent operations during this year. It has emerged as a dangerous force after succeeding in recruiting a new cadre of homegrown extremists. The freshly inducted fighters enjoy unmatched knowledge of local geography and safe hideouts. They are sophisticated shooters who are deeply motivated to live and die for what they deem as a “religious cause.” Theirs is a cause designed to cleanse Pakistan of Shias.

The LeJ asks Shias to either quit Pakistan or convert into Sunni Islam. Both of the demands seem unacceptable considering the fact that Pakistan has the world’s second highest Shia population. Many Shias serve as top-ranking professionals and enormously contribute to Pakistan’s politics and economy.

The LeJ is rising as a confident, self-reliant, invincible and ambitious power that will lead in the near future Balochistan’s march toward Islamization and expulsion or persecution of religious and sectarian minorities. There are scores of reasons why we should fear the rapid rise of the LeJ and Pakistani government’s inaction against it.

Pakistan’s handling of the LeJ is very similar to its disastrous experience of dealing with the Pakistani Taliban during the initial days. The country’s security establishment created and patronized radical Islamic groups but kept underestimating them until they transformed into such monsters that become impossible to micromanage or dismantle.

On August 30, the LeJ target killed Zulfiqar Hussain Naqvi, a judge in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan province, along with his driver and security guard.

Besides sectarian reasons, the larger motivation behind Mr. Naqvi’s killing was to intimidate and influence government institutions. Extremist groups carry out such attacks to dissuade government personnel from participating in counter-terrorism operations.

A LeJ spokesman says his organization would even target the Chief Justice of Pakistan if he takes stern action against some of the organization’s detained operatives.

“Any judge who sentences our arrested activists will meet the fate of Naqvi,” the spokesman warned in a statement published in the local media, “the Chief Justice and all other judges will be on our hit-list if they harden their attitude toward our activists whose cases are currently pending in the courts. We do not only issue warnings but also do what we warn to do.”

It turned out to be true.

Only a week after murdering Judge Naqvi, the LeJ killed a top police officer in Quetta on September 7, 2012. The slain officer, Jamil Ahmed Kakar, had newly been promoted as the superintendent of police (Investigation branch). Colleagues in the police department and foes in the LeJ unanimously agree that Mr. Kakar was instrumental in painstakingly investigating the Lashkar’s activities and taking action against key leaders of the terrorist outfit.

“Jamil Kakar was involved in the martyrdom of our colleagues,” confirmed the LeJ spokesman.

LeJ’s dramatic rise is perturbing for the following reasons.

All top LeJ commanders in Balochistan come from lower-middle class Baloch families. The Balochs have historically remained a secular people with rare connections with forces that fought in the name of religion. Hundreds of Muslim religious schools established across Balochistan with the covert funding of Saudi Arabia and Pakistani government to counter the ongoing Baloch separatist movement richly provide manpower to Muslim extremist groups.

Left-wing Baloch nationalists admit that self- Jihadist groups are actively engaged in employing young Balochs from religious schools for their unholy battles. The regional nationalists describe this phenomenon as a “deliberate policy” of the Pakistani intelligence agencies to undermine their movement. Radical Islam, they say, is used as an antidote to address mounting anti-Pakistan sentiments in Balochistan.

At present, there are no overt tensions between Baloch nationalists and neo-Jihadists in the Baloch-populated districts. The nationalists say they are already engaged in a full-fledged battle against the Pakistani government and cannot afford to open another front against extremist Islamic groups. But the current non-interference policy in each other’s operations may not last long. Tensions have been brewing, although slowly.

According to LeJ accounts, all of the organization’s key leaders come from Baloch families.

The growth of Sunni extremism has come with new dimensions and fresh techniques of terrorism. For example, direct suicide blasts on Shia processions reduced in 2012 but the year witnessed an upsurge in mass killings of Shia pilgrims by intercepting passenger buses in various parts of Balochistan. The LeJ is actively involved in attacks on NATO supplies, too. In 2010, as many as 34 drivers were killed in Balochistan while attempting to transport goods to foreign forces stationed in Afghanistan.

The LeJ is steadily growing so big in Balochistan that, at one point, it will start considering its anti-Shia operations as an inadequate match with its huge infrastructure and extended network of operatives and sanctuaries. The organization is already closely connected with Taliban in Afghanistan and has renewed connections with Jundullah, the anti-Iran Sunni militant group. In common, all these groups share abhorrence for the Shias.

The sectarian killers are, in fact, Pakistan’s other Taliban. Most of their top leaders do not face official action. They roam freely and make hate speeches across the country and incite violence against the Shias.

After the persecution of its chief, Abdolmalek Rigi, in the summer of 2010 by the Iranian authorities, Jundullah is too weak to continue with the robust suicide blasts it once used to conduct in Iranian cities under the leadership of Rigi. So, the Jundullah now continues (what Cricket fans call) ‘net practice’ with LeJ inside Pakistan until it fully regains the lost strength.

While the forces of Islamization consolidate their grip in Balochistan, there seems little interest on the part of the government or the regional opposition parties to cooperate with each other to collectively fight religious extremism. Promoting radicals may temporarily assist Pakistani government in fighting the nationalist-separatist insurgency but, in the long run, it is going to multiply the causes of unrest in Balochistan, making conflict resolution further impossible.

Pakistan and its Image Problem

By Eric Schmidt for Google

Pakistan, a Muslim country, has spent about half of its independent life under military governments. Today, Pakistani leadership celebrates the ruling coalitions success in almost finishing the first five year term in history (previous leaders indicted by the courts, assassinated by extremists or brushed aside by the generals.) In meetings last week with the senior General, Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister, they made the case for a new and updated image of Pakistan: one of the largest democracies in the world, with a vibrant and open press, an upcoming demographic dividend of hardworking young people, and a highly educated elite leadership of the country. Islamabad and Lahore, where we visited, were relatively safe and certainly safer than Afghanistan. It was clear to us that Pakistan has an image problem.

Pakistan also has a power problem, as in electric power. Power is now off two hours out of three all day and all night. Estimates are that the country has enough generation capacity (hydro and oil based) to handle all the load, but corruption, power stealing, poor payment rates and the classic mistake of underpricing power compared to its real generation cost means that industrial production is threatened. Everyone of means has a UPS, and the air-conditioning seldom works on a 45 Celcius day. Our meetings often were literally in the dark, a common enough occurrence that people did not even remark about it.

Pakistanis are on their way to full mobile penetration with more than 110 million users, and all effective political communication programs now rely on SMS. 3G licenses are underway and the start of a real software industry can be seen.

Against this backdrop, another side of Pakistan emerges. The consensus is that the military drives the foreign policy of the country with unforeseen consequences. Alleged use of extremist groups to fight in Kashmir enables a criminal element to flourish, and the hosting of the Taliban in the autonomous regions (called FATA) to the north and west in the mountains turned an ungoverned area into a very dangerous area. The Army Generals explained the difference between fundamentalism (which they support) and extremism (which they fight), and the political leadership explained that the extremism now comes from “seminaries” where youth are indoctrinated, housed and fed in the rural areas where there are no opportunities at all.

Until recently a strong US ally, Pakistan is now on very good terms with China, and has improving relations with India (with whom they have had three wars.) The development of a nuclear stalemate between India and Pakistan seems to have forced them to pursue accommodation and trade is now increasing rapidly. The press are generally hyper-critical of the United States policies in the region and take the view that the India-US relationship is driving much of our countries behavior. The drone strikes are universally condemned as a violation of sovereignty and their constitution and are subject to much negotiation between the two countries. The bin Laden raid is viewed with strikingly different perspectives in the two countries.

The son of the chief of the Supreme Court is under investigation for corruption, and the media in turmoil after the appearance of staged interviews. In return, the Supreme Court has ruled that the Prime Minister is unable to govern after he was sentenced to a 30 second (yes, that’s right) detention for failing to investigate a corruption case against the President. The Prime Minister, so proud of the stability of the political system in his comments a week ago, is now the former-Prime Minister. The lack of trust within the society weakens both the real and perceived effectiveness of the government on security, corruption and good government matters.

We met a number of impressive Pakistanis, none more so than Masarrat Misbah of Smile Again. Every year, hundreds of young rural women have acid thrown on their faces by men as punishment for some dishonor, including being raped by the men who pour acid on her. This horrific crime, which often leads to death or blindness, requires painful rehabilitation and rebuilding of the woman’s life. Masarrat Misbah’s home in Lahore provides a temporary safe house. The perpetrators, most often direct family members, are seldom prosecuted and almost never convicted of anything. I will never forget the faces of these shy, young women so grievously injured in such an evil way.

Much of what people say and think about Pakistan is absolutely true for most of the FATA provinces (autonomous areas) and for Baluchistan. Pakistan’s image problem results from the fact that people outside the country believe the realities of North and South Waziristan and Quetta are reflective of what the larger country looks like. Islamabad and Lahore are certainly safer than people realize, unless you are a politician (many prominent politicians still suffer assassination attempts and threats inside these cities).

Pakistan’s major security challenge comes from having two many fronts. FATA represents a Haqqani network and Taliban problem, threatening the establishment in Islamabad. Baluchistan is a persistent separatist movement. Afghanistan is a threat because Pashtuns are allowed to go back and forth undocumented. All of this, including India, is simply too much for a government like Pakistan to take on right now.

We ultimately see three Pakistans: 1) The places where the security issues are true (FATA, Baluchistan, parts of SWAT Valley, and Kashmir); 2) the rest of Pakistan for the average citizen, much larger than the first and which is reasonably misunderstood and relatively safe; 3) The politician’s and military’s Pakistan, which whether in FATA or Islamabad, is turbulent, unsafe, and complex.

There is a good case for optimism about Pakistan, simply because of the large emergent middle class (#2). The country, vast, tribal and complicated, can follow the more successful model of India. Connectivity changes the rural experience completely.. illiteracy at 43% can be overcome relatively quickly, and providing information alternatives can dissuade young males from a life of terrorism. The well educated elite can decide to further reform the countries institutions to increase confidence in the government. The war in Afghanistan, destabilizing to Pakistan in many ways, winds down after 2014 and buys time for Pakistan to address its real and continuing internal terrorism threat (more than 30,000 civilian terror deaths in the decade.)

Technology can help in other ways as well. The power problem is mostly a tracking problem (tracing corruption and mis-distribution). The problem of extreme crimes (like acid, or stoning) in poorly policed regions can be mitigated with videos and exposes that shame authorities into prosecution. The corruption problem can be tracked and traced using mobile money and transparent government finances. We met with clever Pakistani entrepreneurs who will build large, new businesses in Pakistan in the next few years and global multinational will locate sales and eventually manufacturing in the country.

The emergent middle class of Pakistan won’t settle for a corrupt system with constant terrorism and will push for reforms in a burgeoning democracy. Here’s to the new civil society of Pakistan, who will use connectivity, information and the Internet, to drive a peaceful revolution that brings Pakistan up to its true potential.

Pakistan Elects ‘Rental Raja’ as Prime Minister

By Ben Doherty for The Sydney Morning Herald

A turbulent week in Pakistani politics has ended with the election of a new prime minister, but one who appears unlikely to stay long in the top job.

The past seven days have seen a long-serving prime minister sacked by the Supreme Court for contempt, his putative replacement felled by an arrest warrant for drugs importation and, finally, a stopgap candidate elected, with the country now almost certainly headed for early elections within months.

The new prime minister is Raja Pervez Ashraf, a 61-year-old from Sindh, who was water and power minister in the previous government. That job made him unpopular in a country stricken by chronic power shortages that only worsened on his watch. Some parts of the country are blacked out 22 hours a day. Mr Ashraf has also been accused of corruption over the importation of short-term power stations. Known as ”rental power” projects, they were costly and produced little power.

He is accused of making millions on the side from the deals and his derogatory nickname ”Rental Raja” was shouted by opponents in Parliament yesterday even as he was showered in rose petals on his election. Mr Ashraf won the parliamentary vote for prime minister 211 votes to 89.
In his first speech to Parliament, Mr Ashraf called on Pakistani Taliban militants to lay down their arms. ”The irresponsible behaviour of religious extremists has ruined Islam and Pakistan. I, as prime minister of Pakistan, appeal to them to lay down arms and join the mainstream of life.”

And he said his government would look to rebuild its relationship with key ally and aid donor, the US. ”We will develop cordial relations with the United States and international community on the basis of equal rights and dignity,” he said. Relations between the countries have rarely been worse, and show little scope for improvement.

Pakistan is refusing to reopen its border to Afghanistan to American trucks, after a botched US attack killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. And the US will not countenance abandoning its drone attack program in Pakistan’s north-west.

Regardless, few in Pakistan believe Mr Ashraf will have time to deliver even a fraction of what he promised in his maiden address. His government has, at most, nine months before elections are due, but they are expected now before the end of the year. ”This year will be the year of new elections, and we are going for the elections,” senior Pakistani People’s Party member Khursheed Shah said.
Raza Rumi, director of the Islamabad-based Jinnah Institute, said Mr Ashraf was a ”cynical choice” for PM. ”Whoever takes over as prime minister will be in for a very short time. Obviously the Pakistan People’s Party will not choose its best for this stint. They will choose people who can be dispensed with.”

On Tuesday, the former prime minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, was dismissed by the Supreme Court for refusing a direction to write a letter allowing Swiss authorities to investigate corruption allegations against Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari (the same demand is likely to be made of Mr Ashraf). Then, the man tipped to fill the PM’s post, Makhdoom Shahabuddin, had an arrest warrant issued for him over the illegal importation of the chemical ephedrine, used to make methamphetamine.

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