Posts Tagged ‘ Pakistani Taliban ’

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

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.

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