Posts Tagged ‘ Pakistani Taliban ’

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?

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.

Taliban Storm Pakistani Prison: Nearly 400 Freed

By Zulfiqar Ali and Alex Rodriguez for The Los Angeles Times

Pakistani Taliban militants stormed a prison in northwest Pakistan early Sunday and freed 390 prisoners, including 20 militants, local officials said.

The attack occurred about 2:30 a.m. at a prison in Bannu. The town is considered the gateway to North Waziristan, a tribal region along the Afghan border that has long been a stronghold for Taliban insurgents and several other militant groups.

Local police officials said as many as 200 Taliban militants drove up in pickups, lobbing hand grenades to break through the jail’s main gate.

Once inside, a two-hour firefight broke out between the attackers and roughly 30 jail guards. The militants began freeing prisoners after the guards ran out of ammunition, officials said. No one was seriously injured or killed in the attack.

One of the prisoners freed was Adnan Rashid, on death row for an assassination attempt on former Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf when the general was president, police said.

Officials said the jail’s 944 prisoners, including some militant commanders, recently had been moved to the Bannu jail after authorities received intelligence that Taliban militants might be planning major raids on detention centers holding insurgents.

In recent years, Pakistan has sent more than 140,000 troops to battle the Pakistani Taliban across much of the tribal region along the Afghan border. The army has retaken large stretches of territory, but the militants still cling to pockets of resistance throughout the tribal belt and continue to carry out periodic attacks on a variety of targets, including military checkpoints, mosques and markets.

Like the Afghan Taliban, the Pakistani movement is made up of factions united by the goal of toppling the government and imposing Sharia, or Islamic law. It maintains links with Al Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban and other Pakistani militant groups ensconced in Pakistan’s tribal belt.

Authorities in Islamabad, the capital, have blamed the Pakistani Taliban for some of the country’s worst terrorist attacks, including the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in December 2007.

Pakistan Leans Toward Talks With Taliban, Not Battle

By Karin Brulliard and Haq Nawaz Khan for The Washington Post

ISLAMABAD — Amid growing American frustration with Pakistan’s handling of Islamic militancy, the government here appears less willing than ever to challenge insurgent groups and is more inclined to make peace with them.

In a series of recent statements, Pakistani officials have rejected the notion of robust military action against insurgents based in its tribal belt and instead called for truces. At a recent summit, political leaders issued a resolution that did not condemn terrorism but said their policy is dialogue. The decree was widely viewed as having been rubber-stamped by the powerful military, whose top two figures briefed the conference.

The approach has puzzled U.S. officials and renewed debate in Pakistan about how to handle insurgents who have killed thousands in attacks nationwide.

Much remains unclear about the potential for peacemaking, including which militant groups would be included or willing. But some analysts say Pakistan has lost the resolve to battle homegrown insurgents who many here view as disgruntled brethren.

“Everyone went along with what the army wanted” at the recent political summit, said Rahimullah Yousafzai, a Pakistani journalist and expert on militancy in the northwest. “It became obvious that the military has no appetite for military operations.”

Many here express skepticism about talks, arguing that such efforts had failed in the past. But the idea is backed by Islamic parties and other political leaders.

In interviews, politicians and security officials said Pakistan views the Pakistani Taliban, an umbrella insurgent group that is an offshoot of the Afghan movement, as splintered enough to be open to peace deals mediated through tribal elders or clerics. And the United States, they note, is supporting a similar approach in Afghanistan.

“If by giving a chance to peace, any terror is eliminated, it’s the best option,” Interior Minister Rehman Malik, a leading ruling party figure, said in an interview. He added that he had received armistice offers from militants: “They want to talk.”

Pakistan’s fragile civilian government regularly condemns terrorism, and the army has executed several operations in the country’s northwest, including against Pakistani Taliban factions in the Swat Valley and South Waziristan. The battles have scattered some militant leaders, leaving the organization weakened but still capable of carrying out deadly attacks. But there is little public enthusiasm for large-scale military action, which could displace millions of people.

Meanwhile, Pakistan is jockeying for inclusion in any Afghan political settlement, which security officials here believe will bring Afghan Taliban representatives into the government. The army therefore sees little incentive to antagonize Pakistan insurgents, who commingle with their Afghan counterparts, security analysts said.

‘A focus on peace’

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani called last month’s political conference as tensions with the United States soared over American allegations of Pakistani state support for the Haqqani network, an Afghan group based in the Pakistani tribal area of North Waziristan. Participants, in a rare show of unity, unanimously rejected the U.S. claims and called for a “new direction and policy with a focus on peace and reconciliation” with “our own people in the tribal areas.”

Two days later, Gilani told local media that a parliamentary committee would monitor talks that could include all Taliban factions, including the Haqqani network, but warned that failure could prompt military action. Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, however, suggested otherwise to reporters, saying: “Military operation is not a solution to every problem. We’re done with those operations where we had to.”

An American official said the United States was unsure what to make of the resolution. “We’ll be watching, of course, and asking through military channels what the [Pakistanis] have in mind,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive relationship.

The United States has stepped up a campaign of drone strikes against the Haqqani network, targeting the group with several strikes in recent days.

Taliban reaction to the Pakistani overture has been wary. One top commander, Faqir Mohammed, was quoted by local media as saying he welcomed talks — but that they must lead to the establishment of Islamic law. Mohammed later denied willingness to talk.

“There have been contacts between the government and militants through indirect channels,” said a tribal elder from the Waziristan region. “Both sides are seeking guarantees before starting.”

A Pakistani intelligence official pointed to the recent defection of one Pakistani Taliban commander, Fazal Saeed Haqqani, as an argument for truces, which he said exploit insurgent infighting. Pakistan, the official said, “met Haqqani’s demands,” including by releasing some of Haqqani’s imprisoned relatives.

Others bemoan the idea of talks as surrender, though many critics remain enthusiastic about reconciliation in Afghanistan. Javed Ashraf Qazi, a senator and former intelligence chief, said the Afghan Taliban is fighting a foreign occupation, while the Pakistani Taliban seeks to create an Islamic caliphate.

“These are our own citizens who have revolted against the state . . . and therefore they should be subjected to the law,” Qazi said. “They have the blood of innocent people on their hands.”

Pakistan’s numerous past attempts at peacemaking with domestic insurgent groups provide ample reason for doubt. Some analysts say a 2006 deal in North Waziristan helped create a haven in the area, from which the Haqqani network and other fighters now operate freely.

The Pakistani army has maintained truces with a few factions, including one led by Hafiz Gul Bahadur, whose North Waziristan-based forces attack U.S. troops in Afghanistan and are closely allied with the Haqqani network. Some analysts speculate that the army has struck other secret deals that it wants to avoid jeopardizing.

The military and the Taliban are “ happy nowadays because there are fewer attacks — on both sides,” Yousafzai said.

Special correspondent Khan reported from Peshawar, Pakistan.

Pakistan’s 10 Years of Chaos

As Reported by Jennie Matthew for AFP

The 9/11 attacks that thrust Pakistan into the war on terror have brought the nuclear-armed state to its knees, fighting Islamist radicals at home and risking pariah status abroad.

It was already evening in Pakistan when television channels, recently deregulated by then president General Pervez Musharraf, began broadcasting the terrifying scenes from the twin towers in New York.

Few slept that night, realising immediately that the world had changed forever and that Pakistan was in the eye of the storm after spending years fostering extremist movements for its own ends.

“My immediate thought was ‘oh my God, more trouble coming onto Pakistan’,” said author Imtiaz Gul, who has written extensively about the subsequent war and its fallout at home.

“My fears have been borne out… The 9/11 events shocked Pakistan into an unprecedented crisis of insecurity,” he said.
It didn’t take long for Musharraf to weigh up conditions imposed by Washington and announce on September 19 that Pakistan would offer its airspace, territory and capabilities to help the United States defeat terrorism.

But as America put the finishing touches to its war plans, Pakistan desperately tried to persuade its Taliban allies in Afghanistan to give up Osama bin Laden and avert catastrophic military action, to no avail.

Within weeks, bin Laden, his future successor Ayman al-Zawahiri and Taliban leaders had fled the American invasion into Pakistan.

And there in the northwestern tribal belt, which no government has been able to subjugate, they found refuge among an extremist support network dating back to the 1990s jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan.

They regrouped, forming bases used by the Taliban to direct the insurgency in Afghanistan and training camps for Al-Qaeda to brainwash young extremists from all over the world into carrying out terror attacks.

As a result, the last decade has made the only Muslim nuclear power more unstable than ever before in its bloody and chaotic 64-year existence.

The watershed came in July 2007 when government troops cleared out extremists preaching hate from the Red mosque in the heart of the capital Islamabad.

The militants declared war and in the past four years, around 500 bomb attacks have killed 4,600 people, according to an AFP tally.
Just when it appeared things couldn’t get worse, this year the US discovered bin Laden living close to Pakistan’s equivalent of West Point, sending in Navy SEALs to kill him and sinking already fractured US-Pakistani relations.

“No doubt that this is absolutely the worst time for the country,” said Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid, whose book “Taliban” became an international bestseller after 9/11.

Rashid describes Pakistan as “completely isolated” by a war that “brought terrorism, sectarianism, a weakening of the state (and) much greater ethnic insurgencies” within the country.

But the blame — he says — is Pakistan’s for frittering away American aid money and refusing to realign its national security priorities.
“Politically, the most far-reaching mistake was the hosting and relaunching of the Afghan Taliban by the military and the intelligence agencies. That was enormously detrimental and led to the growth of the Pakistani Taliban.” Pakistan routinely proclaims to have sacrificed the most of any country fighting terror.

The government claims that 35,000 people have been killed. The army confirms the deaths of 3,019 soldiers since 2001 — more than the 2,684 Western soldiers to have died in Afghanistan.

More than three million people have been displaced by violence and counter-terrorism activities in Pakistan since 9/11, according to International Crisis Group figures released in 2010.

The army says 147,000 troops are deployed in the northwest compared to 35,000 in October 2001, a drastic reversal from the previous concentration along the Indian border in the east.

Yet extremism has increased. An average of one US drone strike every four days against militants in the tribal belt is raising fears that the campaign is recruiting a new generation of insurgents and suicide bombers.

Jihadist groups — fostered by Pakistan’s security establishment to fight India in Kashmir and maintain Afghanistan as a strategic asset — have splintered, and increasingly turned the guns on their old allies in the state.

“Pakistan is a lot less secure country now than 10 years ago, because it has become a battleground, an extension of the Afghan war. Pakistan is now facing a serious threat for its stability,” said journalist Zahid Hussain.

Yet the public discourse concentrates less on how to defeat militancy than debating the merits of the hugely unpopular US alliance.
Trust between Islamabad and Washington is at an all-time low. Cooperation between the CIA and Pakistan’s ISI spy agency is poor. Blame games on both sides are played out in the media.

Compounding the sense of crisis is the country’s economic meltdown. Pakistan says losses related to the war are $68 billion. Critics say the country has squandered up to $20 billion in aid given by the United States. “The biggest mistake was the failure to really address strategic issues in the economy. Pakistan could have changed its very weak economic structure at that point in time,” said Rashid.

Instead crippling inflation, rampant unemployment and an energy crisis with power cuts of up to 16 hours a day have left millions wondering how to fill the void.

Karachi Attack: Pakistan Officers Face Court-Martial

As reported by the BBC

Three Pakistani naval officers are to face a court martial on charges of negligence after a militant attack on a naval air base in Karachi in May.

Ten soldiers died and 15 were wounded in the attack which took place at the Mehran naval aviation base on 22 May. It took the security forces some 17 hours to secure the base.

A naval official said the three officers were facing trial because they held positions of responsibility, not because of a connection to the attack.

The accused are Cmdr Raja Tahir, base commander at the time of the attack, and two officials beneath him, at the rank of captain and commander, according to naval sources quoted by several news agencies.

Daring attack

Cmdr Tahir was replaced two days after the attack during which several foreigners were taken hostage before being rescued.

“They face charges of negligence during the attack on PNS Mehran in May,” an unnamed official told Agence France Presse.

No date was given for the start of the court martial.

“They are being tried because they were at a responsible position, and were responsible for the security and other affairs of the base,” an unnamed official was quoted as telling Reuters.

The Pakistan Taliban said the raid was to avenge Osama Bin Laden’s killing by US special forces in the Pakistani town of Abbottabad on 2 May.

The attack at the heart of Karachi, the country’s economic hub and Pakistan’s largest city, underlined the military’s vulnerability.

Two attackers were killed and a third blew himself up during the attack when militants disguised as naval officials stormed three hangars housing aircraft at the naval base.

During the daring raid, they used rocket-propelled grenades to damage and destroy several warplanes, including two multi-million dollar anti-submarine and marine surveillance aircraft – the US-made P-3C Orion.

The planes were believed to be crucial for Pakistan’s maritime surveillance capabilities. A former Pakistani navy commando, Kamran Ahmed, has been detained along with his brother in connection with the attack.

Gunmen Storm Pakistan’s Naval Aviation Base

By Faisal Aziz for Reuters

Gunmen attacked Pakistan’s naval aviation base on Sunday, starting fires, setting off explosions and fighting pitched gunbattles inside one of the country’s most heavily guarded military installations.

Officials said at least four people had been killed in the attack on PNS Mehran in the southern city of Karachi. Between 15 to 20 gunmen were inside and had attacked hangars housing aircraft, officials said. Witnesses said they could hear gunshots and see smoke rising from the base.

“They were equipped with sophisticated weapons,” navy spokesman Commodore Irfan ul-Haq told Reuters. Another spokesman said that one P-3C Orion, a maritime partrol aircraft, had been destroyed. “The attackers are still inside and intermittent firing is continuing.”

Interior Minister Rehman Malik said the militants had attacked from the rear of the base. “We have been able to confine them to one building and an operation is underway either to kill or capture them.” The Karachi attack evoked memories of an assault on Pakistan’s army headquarters in the town of Rawalpindi in 2009, and revived concerns that even the most well-guarded installations in the country remain vulnerable to militants.

Taliban militants, who have vowed to avenge the killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden by U.S. special forces, have carried out several attacks since his death on May 2.

Officials said the gunmen had attacked three hangars housing aircraft. Nine explosions were reported from the base, with jet fuel tanks possibly catching fire and exploding. Almost three hours after the start of the attack, gunbattles between presumed militants and commandos continued.

A least a dozen ambulances were parked outside the base, waiting to take wounded to hospital. Pakistani military and paramilitary reinforcements were pouring in, with four vehicles carrying about 10 troops each moving into the base. An intelligence official said four people had been killed and five wounded in the Karachi raid.

Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani condemned the “terrorist” attack. “Such a cowardly act of terror could not deter the commitment of the government and people of Pakistan to fight terrorism,” Gilani said in statement.

Pakistan has faced a wave of bombings and gun assaults over the last few years, some of them claimed by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), or Pakistani Taliban. Others have been blamed on al Qaeda-linked militant groups once nurtured by the Pakistani military which have since slipped out of control.

The discovery that bin Laden was living in the Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad, not far from the Pakistan Military Academy, has also revived suspicions that militants may be receiving help from some people within the security establishment.

Pakistan and the United States say the senior leadership in the country did not know bin Laden was in Abbottabad.

On April 28, suspected militants detonated a roadside bomb in Karachi, killing four members of the navy, the third attack on the navy in a week. The attack came two days after two bombs hit buses carrying navy personnel, killing four people and wounding 56. Taliban insurgents took responsibility for the twin attacks.

Florida Men Accused of Aiding Pakistani Taliban

By Gardiner Harris for The New York Times

The F.B.I. on Saturday arrested three Pakistani-Americans, including father and son imams from South Florida mosques, charging them with providing financing and other material support to the Pakistani Taliban.
Related

Three people living in Pakistan were also charged in the indictment, which was made public by Wilfredo A. Ferrer, the United States attorney for the Southern District of Florida. The F.B.I. said that the indictment grew out of a review of suspicious financial transactions and other evidence and not from an undercover sting operation. The arrests seem to be unrelated to the raid that killed Osama bin Laden a week ago.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

War in Afghanistan is Destabilising Pakistan, Says President

By Simon Tisdall for The Guardian

The war in Afghanistan is destabilising Pakistan and seriously undermining efforts to restore its democratic institutions and economic prosperity after a decade of military dictatorship, Pakistan’s president, Asif Ali Zardari, has told the Guardian.

Speaking during an exclusive interview in the imposing presidential residence in Islamabad, Zardari also pointed to widespread concern in Pakistan at the slow pace of efforts to end the Afghan conflict, and said some US politicians showed limited understanding of the impact of American policies.

“Just as the Mexican drug war on US borders makes a difference to Texas and American society, we are talking about a war on our border which is obviously having a huge effect. Only today a suicide bomber has attacked a police compound in Baluchistan. I think it [the Afghan war] has an effect on the entire region, and specially our country,” Zardari said.

Asked about harsh criticism of Pakistan’s co-operation in the “war on terror” published in a White House report last week, Zardari said Pakistan always listened to Washington’s views. But he suggested some members of Congress and the US media did not know what they were talking about when it came to Pakistan.

“The United States has been an ally of Pakistan for the last 60 years. We respect and appreciate their political system. So every time a new parliament comes in, new boys come in, new representatives come in, it takes them time to understand the international situation. Not Obama, but the Congress, interest groups and the media get affected by ‘deadline-itis’ [over ending the Afghan war],” Zardari said.

“I think it is maybe 12 years since America has become engaged in Afghanistan and obviously everybody’s patience is on edge, especially the American public, which is looking for answers. There are no short-term answers and it is very difficult to make the American taxpayer understand.”

With less than three months left before Barack Obama has promised to begin withdrawing US troops from Afghanistan, the White House recriminations reflected the growing pressures on all three governments to agree a workable, long-term strategy. The report complained bitterly that after years of US funding of the Pakistani military, “there remains no clear path towards defeating the insurgency” inside Pakistan.

It criticised as ineffectual Pakistani army operations in some areas of the western tribal belt bordering Afghanistan, which are believed to be used as safe havens by Afghan Taliban and al-Qaida elements.

A congressional panel also weighed in this week, urging the Obama administration to abandon Pakistan in favour of India. “Pakistan is about to go broke or collapse,” said Gary Ackerman, a New York Democrat.

Zardari suggested that if that assertion were true, the interventionist policies of the US and other foreign governments in south Asia would be a significant contributory factor. Pakistan had been in a state of “security alert” for several decades, he said.

“Our emphasis has been on security rather than our commerce and we need commerce for our survival.

“We have all the gas in the world waiting to go through to markets in India and the Red Sea but it cannot be brought in until Afghanistan is settled. So Afghanistan is a growth issue for us. I think most of the time, the quantification of the effect of the war is not calculated [by the US].

“Prices are going up, obviously we are a high fuel-importing country, and fuel prices are going up. Because of the war situation, the industry in one of our provinces has practically closed down … When one whole sector is not working, there is an effect on the other sectors.”

According to senior intelligence officials, the “war on terror” has cost the Pakistani economy approximately $68bn (£42bn) since 2001.

More than 33,300 Pakistani civilians and military personnel have been killed or seriously injured. Last year’s record-breaking floods added to the strain on the economy.

Zardari said the security situation was also undercutting efforts to strengthen democratic institutions bypassed or overturned during the military rule of his predecessor, General Pervez Musharraf. “Democracy is evolving. It’s a new democracy. It takes time to bring institutions back. Destroying institutions during a decade of dictatorial regime is easy … So there is a political impact as well as an economic impact.”

Pakistani officials say relations with the US reached a “low ebb” following the recent row over Raymond Davis, a CIA contractor who shot dead two Pakistanis; a CIA drone attack in Pakistan’s tribal areas last month that accidentally killed dozens of civilian elders meeting in a jirga (council), and Pakistan’s suspicions that it is being excluded from discussions about an Afghan peace deal.

Zardari, who is expected to visit Washington next month, said he would ask Obama to share drone technology with Pakistan so future attacks could be planned and directed under a “Pakistani flag”. Although this request had been turned down in the past, he said he was hopeful the Americans would be more receptive this time, given the huge anger and rising anti-American feeling that the drone attacks were causing.

Zardari and other senior government officials said all parties felt a sense of growing urgency about forging an inclusive peace settlement in Afghanistan, but the process must be “Afghan-led”. Pakistan was ready to play its part, consistent with its national interest, they said.

Salman Bashir, Pakistan’s foreign secretary, said: “Everybody is gradually coming round to our point of view that this requires greater diplomatic pressure. There is no military solution in Afghanistan.”

Why Pakistan’s Taliban Target the Muslim Majority

By Omar Waraich for Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not much Islamic about Islamic Pakistan

By Haroon Siddiqui for The Toronto Star

In the failing state of Pakistan, a junior cabinet minister is killed. Shahbaz Bhatti was a member of the Christian minority. He had taken up the cause of a poor Christian woman condemned to death for allegedly defaming Islam. He knew he was a marked man. But on a recent visit to Canada, where his brother lives, he said he was determined to carry on.

Eight weeks ago, a veteran politician was gunned down for the same sin. He, too, had championed the woman’s cause and condemned the blasphemy law that imposes the death penalty for insulting Islam or the Prophet Muhammad. Salman Taseer was the governor of Punjab, the most populous and prosperous province, and an influential billionaire tycoon, a socialite and an unrepentant liberal in a society that’s becoming militantly conservative. He was a Muslim.

Bhatti was gunned down by unknown assailants. Taseer was assassinated by a member of the elite security unit assigned to guard him. More shockingly, the assassin was hailed a hero. Hundreds turned up at his house, chanting “we salute your bravery.” About 500 clerics signed a statement calling him “a true soldier of Islam.” When he appeared in court, young lawyers showered rose petals and kissed him. At a rally in cosmopolitan Karachi, marchers waved his portrait.

This is a sick society. There’s little Islamic about the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

The blasphemy law may have been enacted by the British colonials in 1860. But it was toughened by the Muslim rulers of Pakistan in the name of Islam. And both in its wording and implementation, the law violates the most basic principles of Islamic jurisprudence. In allowing hearsay evidence and innuendo, it ignores the necessity of incontrovertible proof for a finding of guilt.

The act is allowed to be abused in personal and property disputes. (A majority of those charged have been Muslims, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, a voluntary organization). Or it is wielded as a weapon in political and religious vendettas. In one particularly horrific case, two Christian brothers were framed with a handwritten note defaming the Prophet, found in a marketplace with their home address and phone number.

Yet local police and magistrates dare not toss out such trumped-up charges. Cases have to be taken to higher courts to be overturned. Not a single person has been executed under the act. Yet more than 30 people charged or acquitted have been killed.

Under Islamic law, such jungle justice constitutes a greater crime than the alleged original one. It is deemed particularly egregious when the innocents prosecuted are poor and powerless.

The blasphemy law is just one of many flashpoints.

Christian churches have been bombed. So have been mosques belonging to the minority Ahmadi sect, deemed heretic. So also mosques of the minority Shiite Muslim sect. So also Sufi shrines, along with the devotees who turn up for the anniversary festivals of dance and music dedicated to those saints.

Not just that.

Pakistani Taliban and other militants have been killing fellow Muslims who won’t side with them. Such attacks were once restricted to the remote Afghan-Pakistan border but now they are routine in the populated south. Tens of thousands have been killed, including Benazir Bhutto, assassinated in December of 2007.

Yet the government is too weak to provide basic security and too corrupt to care — both egregious Islamic crimes. The politicians and the bureaucrats are not the only ones on the take. Too many clerics are also money-grabbing machines.

Several reasons are proffered for this sad state of affairs.

One is that Pakistan has had too many military dictators, and that the longest-serving one, Zia ul-Haq (1977-88) Islamized Pakistan, which he did. But he did so in tandem with the American-led effort to Islamize the war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Another inconvenient truth is that while the military used jihadist proxy militias against India and Afghanistan, political parties use them as vote banks and to flex street muscle.

The secular-Islamic divide is also cited. Yet both religious and secular elites have pandered to extremists. It was the wine-sipping prime minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto who in the 1970s restricted liquor and declared the Ahmadi sect non-Muslim. It is his People’s Party, once again in power, that abandoned backbencher Sherry Rahman after she proposed amendments to the blasphemy law.

Meanwhile, the economy is in ruins. Inflation is rampant, the currency is losing value and the central bank is printing more rupees.

Don’t be surprised if Pakistanis begin clamouring, yet again, for the return of the military to power.

Haroon Siddiqui is the Star’s editorial page editor emeritus. His column appears on Thursday and Sunday. hsiddiqui@thestar.ca

Assassinations are a blemish on Pakistan’s soul

By Shahina Siddiqui for The Montreal Gazette

The assassination by terrorists of Pakistan’s federal minister for minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, follows the brutal killing of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer a couple of months ago. Both were targeted by extremists because they called for the reformation of Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws. These and other attacks on Christians and Muslims in the name of blasphemy laws is a blemish on the national soul of Pakistan that cannot be washed away by empty rhetoric and the muted cowardly condemnations by the political and religious leadership in Pakistan.

There is no place for laws in Muslim countries that are the very antithesis of the spirit, soul, and letter of Islamic law. Prophet Muhammad in his lifetime was insulted, ridiculed and physically hurt, and yet he never ordered, condoned or recommended the killing or even harming of these individuals. There are documented cases where the prophet intervened to save the perpetrators from the wrath of his companions. We do not honour the prophet by murdering the innocent in his name. We honour him by practising compassion and dealing with mercy toward all of God’s creation, yes, even those who hurt us.

There is no justification for the blasphemy laws in the form they exist in Pakistan. The misuse and abuse of these laws have caused the security of religious minorities to deteriorate and be exploited, and it has become a licence to kill people, to destroy property and to create havoc for personal and political interests.

The terrorists are using this law to paralyze an entire nation into submitting to their whims through fear and trauma. The inept political leaders of Pakistan are more interested in maintaining their power and control on the country’s wealth then in actually working for the betterment of their country. The few who dare to stand up to this injustice find themselves isolated and without support.

The genuine religious leaders, on the other hand, are afraid to be labelled by these pseudo-religious terrorists as supporters of blasphemers, and thereby fear losing their own support base, their lives and their reputations. The socalled religious political parties are supporting these laws unconditionally, manipulating the love the masses have for their faith and their prophet, to ensure their own popularity and political gains.

In such a vacuum of moral, religious and human courage the terrorists thrive, the extremists dance in the streets and the ordinary Pakistanis struggle to survive. This ugly situation in Pakistan calls for an uprising of the silent majority. But the disconnect between rural and urban, rich and poor, and the excruciating poverty and illiteracy are barriers that make this an unlikely scenario.

Pakistanis, unlike their coreligionists in the Middle East, face brutality on many fronts: the war on terror that is consuming the country’s resources, the drone attacks that are killing hundreds of innocent civilians, the Talibanbacked terrorists who kidnap, torture, brainwash and blackmail poor rural youth into becoming suicide bombers who target fellow Pakistanis on an alarmingly frequent basis.

The indifference of the ruling elite – political and feudal – and the tyrannical pseudoreligious extremists seem to have paralyzed this nation into a pathological resignation to its “fate.” There is no credible leadership at the national level that is nurturing national pride, identity and vision. The people are adrift, holding on to any straw, no matter how fragile, that will keep them afloat.

In spite of these many challenges, however, I am confident – having observed firsthand the courage, resilience and moral strength of non-governmental organizations, selfless philanthropy by the affluent, and the development and growth of civil society – that Pakistanis will rise and can defend their nation. They must, however, break the chains of fear that are choking their conscience, and stand up for justice.

My prayer is for Pakistan to realize the vision of its founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah: a vision in which all Pakistanis are granted freedom and security to practise their religions and maintain their places of worship, and where all Pakistanis thrive together, as equals under the law, regardless of ethnicity, gender and religion.

The Illiteracy of Hate

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

Alleged Taliban Member pic courtsey of Boston Globe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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