Posts Tagged ‘ Swat Valley ’

Pakistan: More To Offer Than Bombs And Beards

By Asim Haneef for Al Jazeera

If you did not know anything about Pakistan and happened to pick up a newspaper or turn on the evening news, you might be forgiven for assuming that it is possibly the most broken, troubled and violent country on the face of the earth – a basket case just moments from imploding.

In the all-important arena of international public perception, Pakistan has taken an unprecedented battering in recent years, accumulating more bad headlines than nearly any other country and making places like Afghanistan and Iraq look relatively stable by comparison.

The list of challenges it faces is seemingly unending: terrorism, corruption, drone attacks, natural disasters, poverty, a deficit in leadership, discrimination against minorities, mistreatment of women, attacks on freedom of speech, mass tax evasion, match fixing, the murder of judges, politicians, union organisers and journalists – and that is just the tip of the iceberg.

So pervasive are the headlines pointing to a crisis in Pakistan that after a while they seem to blur into one another. Whether it is “hostages held in Karachi”, “al-Qaeda hideout discovered in Swat”, “floods bring pain to millions”, “suicide bomber explodes in market square”, “senior judge in blasphemy case shot dead” or “Pakistan’s ISI actively supporting Taliban in Afghan war” the message is uniformly bad news. The result is that for many the image of Pakistan is one of bombers, beards, shaking fists, distressed women and utter hopelessness. It makes for a pretty depressing picture.

I guess that is why the work of Syed Ali Abbas and his Pakistan Youth Alliance (PYA) featured in this week’s Activate, Pakistan: The New Radicals, is so refreshing. A courageous young social activist, Ali founded the PYA together with Maryam Kanwer when he was just 21 years old. It was born in the midst of severe political turmoil, as then-President Pervez Musharraf imposed emergency rule and fired the chief justice on national television, while the security forces brutally cracked down on dissenting lawyers.

Fed up with watching their country’s problems on the television, the PYA initially organised protests and rallies but quickly became more active. Its core premise and mission statement is to take a stand, to get as practically involved on the ground as possible and to exemplify the change they seek through their actions rather than merely proposing it on paper.

Their main goal is to create political and social awareness among the youth of Pakistan and to unite them irrespective of their religion, ethnicity, caste, race or language on an unbiased platform through which they can engage with one another and contribute practically to building a more progressive society in Pakistan – whether through protest, social and relief work or the arts.

Earlier this year, Ali was among a small group instrumental in organising counter protests to the hate filled ones celebrating and glorifying Mumtaz Qadri, the killer of Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab who was murdered in January over his stance on Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and his ardent defence of religious minorities like Christians and Ahmadis. Ali says he did this because: “This is not what the founder of Pakistan and ‘Father of the Nation’ Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah would have wanted for this country today, especially as he repeatedly stressed the importance of inter-faith unity and religious harmony.”

Stories like these and others bring about something much needed in international news these days – a positive, hopeful narrative against the odds, showcasing some of the good news stories coming out of places like Pakistan, which often go unreported and deserve a spotlight too. So although we appear to have an extraordinary capacity to become fixated on negative headlines, there are also good things happening too and though progress and development is not as ‘sexy’ as a suicide bomber or a train-wreck, perhaps a little balance is in order, so that we do not become as, Ali says at the close of the film, “filled with dread, being hopeless about the future”.

So do good stories actually emanate from Pakistan? And, if so, where are they? Well an initiative by brothers and social entrepreneurs Majid and Mahmood Mirza aims to answer this. They set up a website simply titled Good News (www.goodnews.pk) , which focuses solely on positive developments coming out of the country. They describe the idea behind the website via Skype as being “to highlight amazing, awesome and inspirational news stories coming from Pakistan, as opposed to the usual negativities that steal the headlines”.

And they have plenty of examples ready. For instance, did you know that Pakistan has become only the sixth country in the world to map the human genome, joining the ranks of the US, the UK, China, Japan and India, which have all successfully sequenced it. Or, how about the fact that Pakistan has the largest volunteer ambulance organisation in the world started by “living saint” Abdul Sattar Edhi in 1948. Today, the radio-linked network includes 600 ambulances that work in every corner of the country. Or how about the recent news that Dr Umar Saif, an associate professor at the School of Science and Engineering in Lahore, has been recognised by MIT Technology Review as one of the top 35 innovators in the world – joining an elite group of researchers and entrepreneurs selected over the last decade, which includes Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the co-founders of Google, Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, and Jonathan Ive, the chief designer at Apple. Now who has heard of those stories?

Then there are serial entrepreneurs like Monis Rahman, who just four years ago set-up Rozee.pk, which is now Pakistan’s largest jobs website, with 500,000 unique visitors a month; or Karachi-born freelance designer Vakas Siddiqui laying to rest the myth that Pakistani students are limited to excellence in science and the humanities by being selected as one of the top 28 designers in the world; or filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy who has just been shortlisted for an Oscar in the ‘best documentary short’ category for her film Saving Face. Whether it be in music, fashion, academia, activism, technology, sports or science these are stories that people do not usually associate with Pakistan and which might just show that there is more to the country than just bombs and beards.

Some of these unreported positive stories, along with the courage and creativity shown by people like Syed Ali Abbas and the Pakistan Youth Alliance in challenging these problems, reflect a surprising shift in the country’s growing and increasingly switched-on, globally-minded youth. They are using outlets like social media platforms and blogs to become more aware, educated and informed about their rights and more savvy to the different methods they must perfect in order to stop their country peddling even further backwards than it already has and to lead it to a brighter day, free from the same old headlines we’re all universally tired of reading and hearing about.

Asim Haneef worked extensively on Activate, a new eight part series featuring grass-roots activists from across the globe who are challenging the status quo and bringing about a change in their society. You can follow him on Twitter @asimhaneef

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 Rejects US Taliban Report

As Reported by The BBC

The Pakistani military has dismissed the findings of a US report that says it has no clear plans to defeat the Taliban insurgency.

The report assessing the war against militants in Pakistan and Afghanistan has been submitted by the Obama administration to the US congress.

But a senior Pakistan security official told the BBC that operations against militants have been a great success.

The official said that Pakistan should be proud of the progress it had made.

The White House report said that Pakistan still has no “clear path” to defeat militants on its soil.

But the senior official – who wished to remain anonymous – said that Pakistan’s plate was full enough already.

“Instead of pushing us to do more, the other side should carry out an introspection of its own operations,” he said.

“We are quite satisfied with our counter-insurgency campaign in the Swat and Malayan regions and parts of the tribal areas. We can safely say this has been a great success story.”

The BBC’s Shoaib Hasan in Pakistan says that the White House report has been released at a time when relations between the security establishments of the two countries have been strained.

Our correspondent says that the report is likely to raise the ire of the Pakistan military – which says it has lost more men than any other country in the fight against militancy in the region.

‘Vexing’

The White House report said that in spite of “tremendous human sacrifices” made by Pakistani security forces and increased military co-operation between Pakistan and US in the last three months, the fight against militancy was making little progress.

Pakistan claims to have lost more men than any other country in the fight against militancy It cited the example of the this January’s third operation in two years to clear insurgents from Mohmand and Bajaur tribal agencies.

The Pakistani military’s efforts have been hobbled by resistance from the militants, bad weather and the need to settle internally displaced people.

“What remains vexing is the lack of any indication of ‘hold’ and ‘build’ planning or staging efforts to complement ongoing clearing operations,” the White House report said.

“As such there remains no clear path to defeating the insurgency in Pakistan, despite the unprecedented and sustained deployment of over 147,000 forces.”

The report said that Pakistan and Afghanistan needed to co-operate more to destroy insurgent havens on both sides of the border.

The US has long expressed frustration about Pakistan’s reluctance to take on militants in the tribal areas.

43 Dead in Pakistan Mine Blast, No Survivors

As Reported by The Associated Press

All 43 miners in a colliery in southwest Pakistan that was hit by a blast at the weekend have been confirmed dead, officials said Tuesday, as rescuers ended their search operation.

“All 43 bodies have been recovered,” Iftikhar Ahmed, provincial chief inspector of mines for the insurgency-torn Baluchistan province, told AFP.

“There are no survivors and the mine is being sealed,” Ahmed said.

President of Pakistan Mines Workers Federation Bakht Nawab confirmed the final toll.

The mine in the far-flung Sorange district of the troubled southwestern province was poorly ventilated, allowing poisonous gases to accumulate and trigger blasts that led to a collapse on Sunday, officials said.

The mine is run by the state-owned Pakistan Mineral Development Corporation and officials said they will launch an investigation into why the warnings to stop mining were not heeded.

Rich in mineral wealth, Baluchistan is plagued by an insurgency blamed on nationalist tribesmen demanding more jobs and royalties from the region’s natural resources. Hundreds of people have died in the violence since 2004.

Most coal mines in the impoverished province are notorious for overseeing poor safety standards and similar deadly accidents have occurred in the past.

 

How to Win Back Pakistan

By Michael O’Hanlon for Foreign Policy

Nine years into the war in Afghanistan, the United States should have a clear idea of Pakistan’s interests there. It’s time to take these lessons to heart — and start applying the right incentives. As recent intelligence findings reported in late October confirm, Pakistan remains at the heart of the U.S.-led coalition’s problems in Afghanistan — where the war is hardly lost, yet hardly headed for clear victory either. Indeed, Pakistan arguably remains the most complex ally the United States has ever had in wartime, making President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s challenges in dealing with Stalin (a far worse leader, but at least one who knew the outcome he wanted) seem simple by comparison.

Nine years into the campaign, we still can’t clearly answer the question of whether Pakistan is with us or against us. America needs bold new policy measures to help Islamabad — in all its many dimensions and factions — make up its mind.

The crux of the problem is this: Despite allowing massive NATO logistics operations through its territory and helping the United States pursue al Qaeda operatives, Pakistan tolerates sanctuaries on its soil for the major insurgencies fighting in Afghanistan. These include the Afghan Taliban (otherwise known as the Quetta Shura Taliban because its principle base remains in Quetta in the Pakistani province of Baluchistan) as well as the Haqqani and Hezb-i-Islami Gulbuddin (HiG) networks. The Haqqanis straddle the border between the Afghan provinces of Khost, Paktia, and Paktika as well as North Waziristan and other tribal areas within Pakistan; HiG is further north, operating in and around the Khyber Pass connecting Kabul and Jalalabad in Afghanistan with Peshawar and points east in Pakistan. Thus, all three major Afghan insurgent groups have home bases in Pakistan, and despite the occasional drone strike are generally beyond NATO’s reach as a result.

Pakistan has done some worthy things against extremists in its remote northern and western areas in recent years. Specifically, it has recognized the so-called Pakistani Taliban (the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP) as a mortal threat to the Pakistani state and responded accordingly. After suffering hundreds of bombings and assassination attacks by the TTP, including the killing of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007 and several thousand casualties a year to its troops and citizens since roughly that time, it has responded in force, particularly over the last year and a half or so. It has swung about 100,000 troops previously guarding the border with Pakistan’s nemesis India to the northwestern tribal regions and cleared several major areas including South Waziristan, Bajaur, and the Swat Valley. This is all to the good.

Pakistanis argue, however, that limited numbers of ground troops combined with the past year’s admittedly devastating floods prevent them from doing more. Quetta, North Waziristan, and other key places remain dens of iniquity, havens for extremists who continue to attack NATO and Afghan troops across the border and then return home for rest, regrouping, and fresh recruiting. Major command-and-control hubs are permanently located within Pakistan as well, and key insurgent leaders like Mullah Omar (to say nothing of Osama bin Laden) probably remain safely ensconced on Pakistani territory where U.S. forces cannot get at them.

But even if limited Pakistani capacity is part of the problem, there’s more at stake. Pakistan worries that President Barack Obama’s promise to start reducing U.S. troops in Afghanistan come July will lead to anarchy and civil conflict next door, and it is retaining proxies that it can use to ensure that its top goal in Afghanistan — keeping India out — can be accomplished come what may. Pakistan would rather have the Taliban and the Haqqanis back in power, especially in the country’s south and east, than any group like the former Northern Alliance, which it views as too close to New Delhi. It is this strategic calculation, more than constrained Pakistani resources, that constitutes Obama’s main challenge in Afghanistan. And it could cost him the war.

Under these circumstances, part of the right policy is to keep doing more of what the Obama administration has been doing with Pakistan — building trust, as with last month’s strategic dialogue in Washington; increasing aid incrementally, as with the new five-year $2 billion aid package announced during that dialogue; and coordinating militarily across the border region. But Obama also needs to think bigger.

First, he needs to make clear America’s commitment to South Asia, to wean Pakistan away from its current hedging strategy. Obama has frequently used general language to try to reassure listeners in the region that there will be no precipitous U.S. withdrawal next summer. But few fully believe him. Hearing stories like Bob Woodward’s accounts of how the vice president and White House advisors have generally opposed a robust counterinsurgency strategy in favor of a counterterrorism-oriented operation with far fewer U.S. troops, they worry that next summer’s withdrawal will be fast. Obama needs to explain that he will not revert to such a minimalist “Plan B” approach under any imaginable circumstances. More appropriate would be a “Plan A-minus” that involves a gradual NATO troop drawdown as Afghan forces grow in number and capability, without necessarily first stabilizing the entire south and east, should the current strategy not turn around the violence by next summer or so. This would represent a modification to the current plan rather than a radical departure. The president can find a way to signal that this is in fact his own thinking, sooner rather than later — ideally before the year is out.

Second, Obama should offer Islamabad a much more expansive U.S.-Pakistani relationship if it helps win this war. Two major incentives would have particular appeal to Pakistan. One is a civilian nuclear energy deal like that being provided to India; Pakistan’s progress on export controls in the wake of the A.Q. Khan debacle has been good enough so far to allow a provisional approval of such a deal if other things fall into place as well. Second is a free trade accord. Struggling economically, Pakistan needs such a shot in the arm, and a trade deal could arguably do even more than aid at this point.

But the key point is this: Pakistan should be told that these deals will only be possible if the United States and its allies prevail in Afghanistan. Small gestures of greater helpfulness are not adequate; bottom-line results are what count and what are needed. If Afghanistan turns around in a year or two, the deals can be set in motion and implemented over a longer period that will allow the United States to continually monitor subsequent Pakistani cooperation in the war.

It may seem harsh to Pakistan that America would put things in such stark terms — but in fact, it is not realistic that any U.S. president or Congress would carry out such deals if the United States loses the war in Afghanistan partly due to Pakistani perfidy. As such, these terms are really just common sense, and they are based on political realism about America’s domestic politics as well as its strategic interests.

America’s current strategy for the war in Afghanistan is much improved. But it is not yet sound enough to point clearly toward victory. The most crucial problem is the role of Pakistan in the war, and so far, the Obama administration is not thinking creatively enough about how to fix it.

Pakistan Extends Gen. Kayani’s Term

By Zahid Hussain for The Wall Street Journal

Pakistan’s civilian government late Thursday extended the term of army chief General Ashfaq Kayani for three more years to ensure continuity in the military leadership at a crucial stage in the country’s battle against Islamic militants.  The announcement was made by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani in a televised speech.

“The decision is taken to maintain continuity in the military’s command as the country is passing through very critical times,” Mr. Gilani said. Gen. Kayani, 58 years old, was appointed army chief in December 2007 and was to retire at the end of the year under normal tenure limitations.

The general has won praise for leading two successful military operations against Islamic militants last year in Pakistan’s Swat Valley and South Waziristan tribal region. But militants have regrouped in many areas and continue to unleash suicide strikes across the country.

More than 50,000 Pakistani troops are still engaged in fighting al Qaeda backed Islamic militants in the Pakistan’s troubled northwestern region, which borders Afghanistan. They are aided by unmanned U.S. drone strikes.

The war is seen as a crucial piece of the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan as many Taliban fighters use Pakistan’s tribal regions as a safe haven.

A senior government official said Gen. Kayani’s good rapport with Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces in Afghanistan, and other American military leaders was a major factor in the decision to extend his term.

“He has worked closely with the current American military leadership and it is important for both Pakistan and the U.S. at this point for Gen. Kayani to stay at the helm,” said the official.

Other analysts agreed continuity was important at the current juncture of the war. “His leadership is crucial at the time when Pakistani army is fighting a decisive battle against the militants,” said Hasan-Askari Rizvi, an independent defense analyst.

Still, the extension of his tenure is likely to raise concerns among some pro-democracy activists about the pre-eminent role of the military in Pakistan.

The country has a democratically elected civilian government under President Asif Ali Zardari. But the country has been ruled more by military leaders in its 63-year history, most recently between 1999 and 2008.

Mr. Zardari’s government faces growing opposition and some analysts fear the army may step in again if they deem it necessary. Gen. Kayani, though, has focused on fighting militants. “We have to defeat them decisively,” he said during a recent discussion with a group of journalists.

Gen. Kayani received his commission in the Pakistani army in 1971. He served as the chief of Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan’s powerful spy agency, before his elevation to army chief.

Clinton, With Initiatives in Hand, Arrives in Pakistan

By Mark Landler for The New York Times

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton arrived here Sunday for high-level deliberations with Pakistani leaders, the latest in a series of encounters that the Obama administration hopes will chip away at decades of suspicion between Pakistan and the United States.

Hillary Rodham ClintonMrs. Clinton will announce a raft of initiatives to help Pakistan in public health, water distribution and agriculture, to be funded by $500 million in American economic aid. Among other things, the United States will build a 60-bed hospital in Karachi and help farmers export their mangoes.

Yet these projects, however beneficial to this economically fragile country, do not disguise several nagging sources of friction between the two sides. American officials still question Pakistan’s commitment to root out Taliban insurgents in its frontier areas, its motives in reaching out to war-torn Afghanistan and its determination to expand its own nuclear program.

Pakistan plans to buy two nuclear reactors from China — a deal that alarms the United States because it is cloaked in secrecy and is being conducted outside the global nonproliferation regime. Administration officials said they did not know if Mrs. Clinton planned to raise the purchase.

Relations could be further tested if the Obama administration decides to place a major Pakistani insurgent group, the Haqqani network, on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations. Islamabad maintains ties to the group through its intelligence service, and it is seeking to exploit those connections as a way to extend its influence over Afghanistan.

For all that, tensions between the two sides have ebbed since Mrs. Clinton’s last visit here in October, when she was peppered with hostile questions in public meetings and bluntly suggested that people in the Pakistani government know the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar.

“We needed to change the core of the relationship with Pakistan,” said Richard C. Holbrooke, the special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan. “The evolution of the strategic dialogue, and the fact that we are delivering, is producing a change in Pakistani attitudes.”

Mr. Holbrooke noted a U-turn in Pakistan’s policy on issuing visas to American diplomats. For months, Pakistani officials had held up those applications, creating a huge backlog and frustrating the United States. But Pakistan issued 450 visas in the last five days, he said.

Mr. Holbrooke conceded that public-opinion polls toward the United States had yet to show much of a change. Mrs. Clinton may receive more criticism on Monday at a town-hall meeting in Islamabad. Her visit, which was not announced due to security concerns, is being conducted under tight security.

Vali Nasr, a senior advisor to Mr. Holbrooke, said it was unrealistic to expect “to change 30 years of foreign policy of Pakistan on a dime.” But he said, “On foreign policy issues, we’re seeing a lot more convergence.”

The United States is encouraged by the burgeoning dialogue between President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and Pakistani leaders, including the chief of the staff of the army, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. Any resolution of the war, Mr. Holbrooke said, must involve Pakistan.

While American officials would like to see a more aggressive Pakistani military push in North Waziristan, the stronghold of the Haqqani network, they praise the military’s campaigns in South Waziristan and the Swat Valley, where Taliban insurgents had also made gains.

Pakistan’s battle against insurgents has exacted a fearful civilian toll. Last week, a suicide bomber killed 45 people, and injured 175, in an attack on a 1,000-year-old Sufi shrine in Lahore. Many Pakistanis blame the American-led war in Afghanistan for fomenting anti-Pakistan terrorism.

A coalition of protest groups issued a statement Sunday, timed to Mrs. Clinton’s arrival, which calls for an end to the war in Afghanistan and for Americans and Pakistanis who are involved in clandestine air strikes on Pakistani targets to be tried for war crimes.

Mrs. Clinton is to meet General Kayani on Monday, after meetings on Sunday with President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani. She was also scheduled to meet Pakistani business leaders and the head of the Pakistani opposition, Nawaz Sharif.

Mrs. Clinton has brought a shopping-bag full of commitments for Pakistan, drawn from the $7.5 billion in non-military aid, over five years, pledged by Congress last year. The emphasis is on basic services like electricity and water, politically-charged issues in this country, particularly during the hot summer.

“Our commitment is broad and deep,” said Rajiv Shah, the administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, who is with Mrs. Clinton. “We will not do what we’ve done in the past.”

Administration officials said the project to upgrade Pakistan’s creaky power grid, which involves building hydroelectric dams and rehabilitating power plants, had helped reduce chronic power outages. But on the day Mrs. Clinton landed, television reports here warned of further outages.

India, Pakistan and the Musical Gurus of Peace

By Varun Soni for The Huffington Post

In July, India and Pakistan will begin a new round of talks in hopes of reviving their diplomatic efforts and renewing their peace process. While there are many pressing political issues to discuss, these talks could also be a remarkable opportunity for an innovative public diplomacy initiative between the nuclear neighbors. Although public diplomacy is often thought of as a form of state-to-state engagement, it also has the power to engage populations on a person-to-person level as well, especially in the age of social media and networking. Given the fact that many Indians and Pakistanis sing the same songs and listen to the same music, there is a unique opportunity now to promote popular music as a form of public diplomacy.

Although India and Pakistan are politically divided, their cultural roots still bind them together. Nowhere is this more apparent than Punjab — a region that was partitioned to create the modern nation-states of India and Pakistan in 1947, and further divided into the Indian states of Haryana and Himachal Pradesh in the 1960s. Despite these geopolitical divisions, Punjabis in both India and Pakistan remain united by “Punjabiyat,” a shared cultural heritage that has developed over millennia.

The historical Punjab is the only region in South Asia where Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs are all represented in large numbers. Even as Punjab’s history is one of conflict and communalism, it is also one of overlapping musical and religious traditions. For example, the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh canonical text, contains within it not only the devotional compositions of Guru Nanak and his Sikh successors, but also verses from poets now considered Hindu and Muslim, such as Namdev and Baba Farid. Likewise, the Sikh devotional music of kirtan draws from similar lyrical sources and employs a similar instrumentation as Hindu bhajan music and Sufi qawwali music. For contemporary musicians, the devotional syncretism of Punjab remains a powerful model for how music can provide an encompassing framework for both unity and diversity.

Earlier this year, I interviewed the Sufi rock star Salman Ahmad as part of a USC book launch series focused on religion, popular culture, and diplomacy. As the founder of Junoon, Pakistan’s most popular rock band, Ahmad discussed his experiences performing in both India and Pakistan and explained how rock and roll empowers and connects the youth in both countries. In the name of rock-and-roll diplomacy, Ahmad organized last year’s Concert for Pakistan at the UN General Assembly Hall as a way of raising money and awareness for the three million internally displaced people of the Swat Valley in Pakistan. Inspired by George Harrison and Ravi Shankar’s famous Concert for Bangladesh, the Concert for Pakistan brought together prominent Indian and Pakistani musicians, diplomats, and entrepreneurs in solidarity and support for Swat.

Another powerful moment in India-Pakistan musical diplomacy occurred in August of 1997, when India and Pakistan celebrated their fiftieth anniversaries of independence as nation-states. In order to commemorate this occasion, the virtuoso Indian music composer A.R. Rahman recorded with the late great Pakistani qawwali singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Together, the most famous musician from India and the most famous musician from Pakistan composed “Gurus of Peace,” an impassioned plea for peace between India and Pakistan. “Gurus of Peace” proved prescient, as the following year both India and Pakistan tested nuclear weapons, prompting President Clinton to call the India-Pakistan border the world’s most dangerous region. But A.R. Rahman and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan had reminded the region the year earlier that India and Pakistan could unite through musical fusion instead of divide over nuclear fusion.

In the 1950s, the US State Department began sponsoring jazz luminaries, such as Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie, to perform concerts overseas and serve as American cultural ambassadors. This public diplomacy initiative was aimed at winning the hearts and minds of potential allies in the Cold War, but the concerts also connected communities and ideas at a person-to-person level, and inspired artistic movements throughout the world. Likewise, India and Pakistan should sponsor and promote a series of musical concerts, workshops, and exchanges as a way of creating connections and engaging communities on a non-state level. Musical diplomacy certainly has its limits and should only be one part of a broader public diplomacy strategy, but after more than 60 years of missed public diplomacy opportunities, it’s time for India and Pakistan to follow the lead of A.R. Rahman and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and give music a chance.

Freelance Journalist Missing, Feared Kidnapped from Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province

By Nayana Jayarajan for International Press Institute

A freelance journalist and filmmaker has gone missing under suspicious circumstances from the tribal areas around the city of Kohat in the Northwest Frontier Province of Pakistan according to a senior editor for a broadcaster with whom the reporter was working, and a source at Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper.

The senior broadcast editor asked that neither he nor the broadcaster be identified out of concern for the safety of the reporter.

The Dawn newspaper source also requested anonymity for security reasons. He identified the journalist as freelance reporter and filmmaker Asad Qureshi.

According to Dawn, which first reported the story, Qureshi was traveling with two retired officers from Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

The Dawn source told IPI that Qureshi and the two former ISI operatives had been returning from a meeting with Taliban representatives when they were all intercepted and kidnapped by unknown individuals. The two officers have been identified by local media as Col (R) Imam and Sq Leader (R) Khalid Khawaja.

So far, the source told IPI, no group has claimed responsibility. “Everything is shrouded in mystery,” he said.

The senior broadcast editor said: “I think we can say that something has happened.” He said that the journalist and the two retired ISI operatives had been believed to merely have been delayed until yesterday morning, when it was suddenly reported that they had gone missing and had been kidnapped.

When IPI called a mobile phone number for Qureshi listed on his website, it was switched off.

A reporter working in the NWFP told IPI that the son of one of the missing ISI operatives had spoken to his father before the kidnapping, and had been told that the trio would return in about two hours time. They have not been heard from since. The source was not able to confirm the exact time of the kidnapping, but estimated it to have taken place two to three days ago.

“We are gravely concerned for Qureshi’s well-being and safety”, said IPI Director David Dadge. “We call on the authorities to investigate his disappearance and to do everything possible to ensure his safe release.”

The North West Frontier Province has witnessed a long-running battle for control between the Pakistani military and tribal and Islamist political factions.

On Monday 5 April, forty people were killed and over a 100 injured in a suicide bomb attack at Timergarah of the Lower Dir district in the northwest province. The bomb was planted at a party meeting of the ANP, the Awami National Party, which is in a ruling coalition in the NWFP, along with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari’s ruling Pakistan People’s Party.

The rising levels of violence have made the region one of the world’s most dangerous for journalists.

According to IPI’s Death Watch, in the last two years alone 14 journalists have been killed in Pakistan. Seven of the deaths occurred in the Northwest Frontier Province. In August 2009, Aaj TV correspondent Sadiq Bacha Khan was gunned down in broad daylight on his way to work in Mardan, a town in the province. On 4 January 2009, Muhammad Imran, 20, a trainee cameraman with Express TV, and Saleem Tahir Awan, 45, a freelance reporter with the local dailies Eitedal and Apna Akhbar, were killed when a suicide bomber blew himself up in front of The Government Polytechnic College in Dera Ismail Khan in the North West Frontier Province. And on 18 February 2009, Musa Khankhel, a reporter for Geo TV and the English-language newspaper The News, was shot dead by unidentified gunmen while on assignment covering a peace march led by Muslim cleric Sufi Muhammad in the Swat valley.

-Read more about Asad Qureshi in his own words from his website prior to his disappearance at http://www.asadqureshi.com

Hamid Karzai Is Losing All His Marbles and His Credibility

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

Kabul, Afghanistan- President Hamid Karzai’s troubling remarks this past Saturday that he would join the Taliban if he continues to come under pressure to reform by the United States and other “outsiders” has caused a stir in Washington DC.  Karzai’s comments came a week after President Obama’s surprise visit to Afghanistan at the end of March to pressure Karzai’s government to reform the political system, end corruption, and do a better job of fighting the Taliban.

Instead, what Karza delivered was a threat of the worse kind and quite possibly the most offensive and troubling thing one can say to a country that is risking countless soldiers lives daily to secure the country from the Taliban and other militant warlords in Afghanistan. In 8 short years, Hamid Karzai has gone from being the special guest of honor at George Bush’s State of the Union address to a leader who threatened to join our worst enemy. All because he feels that the US needs to stop badgering him to be a more responsible, fair, and an equitable leader as well as an effective partner in fighting the Taliban.

Karzai apparently made these unusual comments at a closed door meeting of lawmakers on Saturday, just days after accusing “foreigners” presumably the Unites States of being behind the fraud of the disputed elections of 2009. “He said that if I come under foreign pressure, I might join the Taliban”, said Farooq Marenai, a lawmaker from the eastern province of Nangarhar.  Mareni also stated that Karzai appeared nervous and demanded to know why parliament last week rejected legal reforms that would have strengthened Karzai’s authority over the country’s electoral institutions. Several other lawmakers confirmed that Karzai twice threatened to join the insurgency and the Taliban.

Karzai’s comments are troubling on many levels. First and foremost, he gives legitimacy and strength to the Taliban as his comments present the Taliban as an alternative option to American support or view on the situation. Karzai’s statement will no doubt have traveled the length and breadth of Afghanistan as word will spread that there is a weakness in the American-Afghan coalition that has been fighting and hunting the Taliban since October of 2001, post 9-11. The remarks by Karzai also puts every American, NATO, and Pakistani soldier at risk as instead of liberators, the foreign armies would be thought of as invaders, literally overnight. Lastly, Karzai’s remarks prove to the fact that Karzai is no longer an ally nor a credible partner for the US , NATO, and Pakistani army that have been fighting the Taliban with all their might.

There are reports of widespread nepotism, corruption, fraud, looting of the treasuries, and even drug trafficking, as Karzai’s brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, has been alleged to be a prominent figure in Afghanistan’s world leading illegal heroin production, cultivation and its global distribution. These facts along with his inability to rule effectively and assist the United States in its exit strategy out of Afghanistan by end of 2011 has made the Obama administration weary of dealing with Karzai. Also his typically slow response in instituting political and social freedoms along with a renewed focus in fighting the Taliban, has also been a factor in displeasure from Washington.

The Obama administration has refocused on the Afghan war with 30,000 additional troops to help with the war effort and that initial surge has helped the commanders on the ground in running the Taliban out of certain areas. There have also been great recent victories by the Pakistani army to go after the Taliban militants on its side of the border and in helping cut down the bases of support for the Afghan Taliban from the Pakistani tribal areas sympathetic to their cause. So these comments come at the worst possible time when the Taliban are on the run both in Afghanistan and Pakistan and a strong coalition of US-Afghan-Pakistan resistance against them could help eliminate or destroy the militants for good. But instead, the US and its allies are left wondering what to do with Karzai and how much he could be trusted in this tenuous partnership against the Taliban.

Taliban 201- The Rise of The Pakistani Taliban

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

Peshawar, Pakistan- Taliban militants attacked the U.S. consulate in the Pakistani city of Peshawar on Monday, using  powerful bombs and rocket launchers in a sophisticated and daring attack killing 8 people, just hours after a suicide bomber killed 48 people elsewhere in the Swat valley. The attacks came as the United States has increased its airstrikes on targets both inside Afghanistan and Pakistan. The nearly decade long war waged against the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan since 9-11 has created safe areas inside Pakistan for these militants to regroup and band with Pakistani militants sympathetic to their cause. Often, the militants on the Pakistani side and the Afghani Taliban share the Pashtun tribal and ethnic links among the border areas of both countries.

The US bombing of Afghanistan since late 2001 had pushed the Taliban and Al Qaeda militants to the mountains near the border with Pakistan. With help from sympathetic militant tribal warriors from the Pakistani side, the Taliban were able to dig in and have been able to fight the American forces for nearly a decade now. The onslaught by US and NATO forces continues in Afghanistan, but now for most of last year and certainly this year, the war has shifted to the streets and cities of Pakistan.

Now, much like Afghanistan, Pakistan too is a country that finds itself engulfed in the flames of religious extremism at the hands of determined and highly disciplined thugs. It used to be back during the Soviet-Afghan War, the only place perhaps not entirely safe inside Pakistan was Peshawar. Now, not one city or town of Pakistan has been spared from the violence by the Taliban. Back then, Peshawar was a city where attacks would happen frequently and often. During the 1980’s, the city became a haven for both jihadi militants fighting against the godless system of communism, and a base for spies as both the United States and Saudi Arabia funded a mujahedeen guerrilla war to defeat the Soviet troops from Afghanistan. President Reagan and General Zia of Pakistan used the fervor of religion to incite able bodied boys and men of Afghanistan and their distant cousins from the border area in Pakistan, along with thousands of volunteer Muslim fighters from across the Arab and Muslim world, to come and fight the Soviet Red Army. It was seen as a duty to come defend a Muslim land from occupation by a regime that would not allow the worship of Allah as communism discourages religion and encourages a sectarian society.

That strategy by General Zia ul Haq to promote the fight against the Russians as a holy war or jihad was brilliant at first. It mobilized not just every Muslim male in Afghanistan to stand and fight for his faith and their way of life, while also defending the country from invaders, but it also garnered the sympathy and enlistment of thousands upon thousands of Pakistani and Arab Muslim fighters to join the cause of these mujahedeen, as one who engages in jihad is called. The riling up of religious fervor and militant Islam was deemed necessary by both Reagan and Zia at the time as they sought to defeat the communists at all costs from succeeding in Afghanistan. It would not seem likely at the time, that this very same entity would become enemy number one of both the US and Pakistan a decade later.

It was monumental, it was historic,” retired Pakistani general Hamid Gul, who headed the ISI military spy agency from 1987-1989, said of Reagan’s role in defeating the Soviets. “We were receiving arms and logistics from the CIA, we were partners in this struggle,” Gul said, estimating the CIA spent up to $7bn in supplying arms and logistics to Islamic fighters or “jihadis.” “The jihadis he supported. It was their resistance against the forces of occupation and repression – that’s what jihad is – that Reagan identified himself with,” Gul said. “His greatest achievement was that he stood behind the Islamic world when it was arrayed against the Soviet empire.”

Pakistani analyst Hasan Askari Rivzi stated that “Al-Qaeda and the Taliban took shape later on, but they grew from this period of jihadism against the Soviets and with the initial help of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia along with the military and economic assistance from the United States to fight the Soviets during the ‘80’s. Rizvi sees the roots of the militancy that now ravages Pakistan and Afghanistan as having its beginnings from this period of war against the Soviets army.

That war with the Russians lasted almost 10 years. By the time the USSR pulled out all its troops from Afghanistan in 1989, the country had been completely destroyed. What was left of any government or authority of any sort was now held in the hands of a few militias and various warriors who commanded thousands of tribal and other ethnic fighters under them. These militias immediately started warring amongst themselves for more and more control of the country. The already weak, nonexistent central government of Afghanistan, post Soviet pullout was not able to cope and quickly capitulated. During the power vacuum that resulted, Pakistan’s spy agency, the ISI, realized the chance to wield power inside Afghanistan and threw its support behind a religious student movement based out of Kandahar. The ISI had previously assisted the cause to fight the Soviets by helping gather and organize radical Muslims from around the world to come and assist the Afghani mujahedeen in fighting the Soviets and had therefore developed good contacts with various religious groups including the young Taliban students and the fast growing movement.

The Afghani population initially welcomed the Taliban as they represented fairness and a rule of law over the notorious corruption, brutality and constant infighting of the warlord militias. Soon, with popular citizen support, along with Pakistan’s help, the Taliban became the dominant group within the country and soon held the seat of power in Kabul. Its leader Mullah Omar, was a friend of Osama Bin Laden and when the US forces came to Afghanistan in the hunt for Bin Laden, he gave the Al Qaeda leader refuge and in essence, became a fugitive of the US in the process for harboring America’s Most Wanted.

Fast forward to nearly nine years later as the war in Afghanistan continues against the Taliban and remnants of Al Qaeda responsible for the 9-11 attacks. However, the Taliban have grown and laid roots inside Pakistan also now as the nearly decade long war at the border with Afghanistan has ratcheted up sympathy by locals Pakistani Pashtun tribes for their brethren being bombed by both Pakistani and American forces. The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan known as the Pakistani Taliban formed soon after the US invasion of Afghanistan and the Pakistani army’s offensive at the tribal areas near the border to combat the militants. The Pakistani Taliban led by the recently killed Baitullah Mehsud, has been largely responsible for hundreds of attacks in all major cities of Pakistan including Monday’s bombing of the American consulate in Peshawar.

The war in Afghanistan by the US against the Taliban that harbored and sheltered Bin Laden and the 9-11 killers of Al Qaeda is much the same as the war between the Pakistani army and the Pakistani Taliban in the Swat valley and the North West Frontier Province as well as in various cities of the country. This war has been brought home to the citizens of Pakistan. Over the last few months, bomb blasts in Lahore, Karachi, Islamabad and various other cities have now personalized this conflict for the average Pakistani as no longer a battle or skirmish at the border far away in the northwest of Pakistan near its border with Afghanistan.

No, the nearly daily attacks all over the country by the militants on government installations, public institutions like universities, factories and residential areas as well as markets and restaurants has made the country much less safer than at any time in its 63 year history. Many Pakistanis now are beginning to realize that the Taliban, operating with impunity all over Pakistan, pose a much bigger threat to the sovereignty and republic of Pakistan than any threat from anywhere else, including from that eternal archrival to the east, India. It is now well understood by both partners in this fight that only a sustained and vigorous fight taken to the militants inside both countries by the US and Pakistan over a long period of time can hope to defeat this disease known as the Taliban.

For an earlier report titled Taliban 101- Origins and History, Please click on this link:

https://pakistanisforpeace.wordpress.com/2009/05/25/taliban-101-origins-and-history/

Progress, For a Price, in Pakistan

By Doyle McManus for The Los Angeles Times

In 2001, on the eve of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, President George W. Bush gave Pakistan’s then-leader, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, a choice: He was either with us or against us. Musharraf chose to become an ally, but the question ever since has been whether that shotgun marriage can mature into a healthy adult relationship. At times, the prospect has seemed far from reach.

The world’s second-most-populous Muslim country is caught in a brutal internal struggle between extremism and moderation. Most of its people tell pollsters they don’t like the United States and wish we’d go away. The tribesmen of its western frontier shelter Osama bin Laden and the leaders of Afghanistan’s Taliban. And the United States can’t forget how, in the 1980s, Pakistan built nuclear weapons — and then later exported nuclear technology to North Korea and Iran.

But in recent months, there has been progress in the relationship. Military and intelligence cooperation between the United States and Pakistan has increased significantly. Pakistan has allowed the CIA to increase its missile strikes against Al Qaeda and Taliban targets in Pakistani territory. Pakistani authorities have arrested several Taliban leaders and allowed U.S. intelligence officers to question them. And now Pakistan is offering to increase its own military operations in North Waziristan, the presumed lair of Bin Laden. All that cooperation came at a price, of course: a flood of U.S. military and economic aid.

And last week, the Pakistanis came to Washington to press for more. The academic criticism of the U.S.-Pakistani relationship is that it is “transactional” — nothing more than a series of bargains between buyers and sellers who don’t trust each other much. That’s still mostly true. Pakistan’s delegation arrived with a 56-page shopping list covering everything from military equipment to education and cultural exchanges. And one Pakistani official, asked during the visit whether his government was truly willing to act against the havens that allow the Taliban to maintain bases in Pakistan, replied frankly: “Yes — but at a price.”

After a series of meetings with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Pakistan’s ebullient foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, declared: “I think we are going to move from a relationship to a partnership.” But he used the future tense. In the meantime, there are things to work out. Pakistan is clearly worried about what happens when the United States begins pulling troops out of Afghanistan in 2011.

Although Obama administration officials have tried to reassure Pakistan that Washington’s commitment to the region is for the long haul, uncertainty remains. “Our fear is . . . that we get into a fight with these guys [the Taliban], and you walk away, and we’re still there,” a Pakistani official said. Pakistan’s powerful army chief of staff, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, spent part of his time in Washington visiting Congress with PowerPoint slides to show that Pakistan has committed more troops to its fight against insurgents than the United States has on the ground in Afghanistan, and that it has suffered almost 30,000 killed and wounded in the process.

According to U.S. officials, Kayani made a strong case that Pakistan can do more if it gets more modern military equipment from the United States, especially helicopters to ferry troops into the rugged badlands where Al Qaeda and the Taliban hide. The United States has helped Pakistan acquire some helicopters, but not as many and not as quickly as the Pakistanis would like. U.S. officials said they would try to speed the delivery of more. In the past, U.S. officials complained that Pakistan used much of its U.S. military aid to bolster its eastern front with India instead of its fight with internal insurgents; but since Pakistan’s 2009 offensive in the Swat Valley, that criticism has been stilled.

The delegation also added a new item to Islamabad’s wish list: a nuclear agreement under which the United States would help Pakistan develop its civilian nuclear energy industry — to mirror a similar U.S. agreement with India, Pakistan’s longtime enemy. The United States told the Pakistanis that would have to wait. The memory of having to clamp sanctions on Pakistan for its nuclear weapons program is still too fresh. But it was a sign of improving relations that the idea wasn’t rejected completely.

 In 2001, the United States sought a new relationship with Pakistan mostly because it was next to Afghanistan — and thus a country we would need for moving military supplies and basing drones. But that thinking has slowly evolved. In the long run, with its population of 170 million people — not to mention its cache of nuclear weapons — Pakistan is more important than Afghanistan.

“We’re engaging with Pakistan because we’re afraid of it,” says Christine Fair, a Pakistan expert at Georgetown University. “It’s the scariest country in the region. Because of Afghanistan, it’s been treated as if it were a subsidiary issue. But Pakistan should be the primary issue.” The Americans are working hard to convince the Pakistanis that they are interested in Pakistan’s stability for its own sake, not just because it’s next door to Afghanistan. The Pakistanis are working hard to convince the Americans that they are committed to defeating the extremists in their midst. It’s not a strategic relationship yet. If it’s a partnership, it’s still a wary one. But that’s progress.

United States Pledges Millions in Emergency Aid for Pakistani Refugee Crisis

Islamabad, Pakistan- The United States pledged an additional $110 million in aid to Pakistan on Tuesday as over two million Pakistani citizens fled the onslaught from the Pakistani army on the Taliban in the Swat region and northern areas of Pakistan. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the new aid package which includes radios, tents, blankets, emergency generators, medical supplies and food aid for the people who have left their homes in the region due to the heavy fighting between the Pakistani army and the militants.

Most of the aid will be given directly to the United Nations and its humanitarian agencies operating in the region as there is still suspicion on the part of the Obama administration that giving it directly to Pakistan may risk in having some of it being squandered as it has happened in the past. The administration is also urging average Americans and especially Pakistani Americans to aid the effort by donating aid to relief agencies operating in Pakistan.

The Obama administration has also set up a texting service by which people can use their cellphone to pledge $5 to the people of Swat by texting the word “Swat” to 20222 on any cellphone in the US. Secretary Clinton herself contributed $5 by using the same service from her cell phone. A million people giving $5 through this service would equal an additional $5 million for the people of Swat she said and it would be a significant contribution from ordinary citizens to show they care about what is happening.

She praised the Pakistani government in fighting the Taliban and taking the fight to them. This was in stark contrast to her earlier assessment of the situation last month when she told Congress that “the Pakistani government was abdicating to the Taliban.” She stated that there is a real national change in mood within Pakistan and that both the people and the government now realize that the threat from the Taliban is not only isolated to the remote northern areas of Pakistan, but that rather their reach and their violence has recently extended to all the major cities like Lahore and Karachi as well which are mega cities of millions of people.

Indeed the earlier actions of the government of President Asif Ali Zardari ranging from making treaties that did not last with the Taliban to relinquishing control of parts of the Swat valley to the them as well as allowing Islamic Shariah law to appease the Islamic extremists, only showed the inconsistencies and failures of their policies. There is a saying in Pakistan that translates into “Those who are swayed by physical punishment, do not change with words.” The Taliban have shown that they are not fit to be dealt with through diplomacy and dialogue but rather only understand the power of the fist.

It is very encouraging that both the Pakistani government is finally seemingly serious about tackling the Taliban inside its borders and also that the US is earnest in helping assist the Pakistanis in this battle. Secretary Clinton herself acknowledged that US policy towards Pakistan the past three decades has been very “incoherent.”

With a dedicated, determined and ever growing mutual threat like the Taliban as a common enemy, it is high time that both sides got their resources together and went after the militants with all their might.

It is never too late to stand up to evil and we at Pakistanis for Peace are very encouraged that the fight is finally being brought to the Taliban. It seems the recent meeting between Zardari and President Obama yielded some very good agreements and we hope that there is no letting up until the Taliban are destroyed and disbanded. This is where the global “War on Terror” will be fought and where it will be won.

Reporting by Manzer Munir for http://www.PakistanisforPeace.com

Pakistan government accepts defeat by Taliban in Swat Valley and allows Sharia Law in region

 

Swat Valley, Pakistan- In a move roundly criticized around the world, Pakistan announced that it had reached a deal with the Taliban militants to allow them to implement Sharia, or Islamic Law, in the Swat Valley of Pakistan in return for a truce with the Taliban militants in the region. Sharia law refers to the Islamic system of law and the totality of the Islamic way of life. An example of Sharia law is the allowance of getting revenge by an injured plaintiff to exact revenge-physical eye for a physical eye, and a tooth for a tooth. It allows for a thief to be punished by cutting off their hand. It allows for adulterers to be stoned to death by a mob as another example of what is allowed under Sharia law.

The Swat Valley which is a naturally beautiful area of Pakistan has for many years been immensely popular with domestic and foreign tourists. However in recent months, increased offensives by the Taliban and attacks on girls schools, civilians appearing to be too western in attire and mannerisms and anything or anyone that is deemed anti-Islamic has come under indiscriminate attacks by them. The once popular tourist industry in the area has all but evaporated as foreigners and Pakistanis alike are staying away from a region that is now engulfed in violence.

There has also been a rash of beheading by the Taliban of locals who have spoke up against their bullying and their savage tactics. This violence is not only isolated to the people living in the Swat region. Recently, a New York Times article reported that even Pakistani Americans living in the New York area from the Swat region are now being signaled out for ransoms and kidnapping by the Taliban in the region. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/17/nyregion/17swat.html

According to a former CIA official, the Taliban in the region perhaps number 3000 militants. They have been able to take on a force of roughly 12,000 Pakistani Army soldiers due to their brazen and indiscriminate attacks. Also, the Pakistani Army has not helped matters by firing at the Taliban positions from a great distance and often in the process killing local civilians who now do not know which side to trust for their safety. This decision by the Pakistani government to capitulate to the Taliban and agree to impose Sharia law in the region leads some international observers to claim that this demonstrated the weakness of the Pakistani army in facing and defeating the much smaller Taliban fighters. The Information Minister of Pakistan, Sherry Rehman, denied that the state made any “concessions” to the militants. “It is in no way a sign of the state’s weakness. The public will of the local population of the Swat region in wanting Sharia law is at the center of all efforts and it should be taken into account while debating the merits of this agreement.” The Pakistani government is now hoping that the agreement with the Taliban will prompt them to now disarm in the Swat valley and the violence will stop.

Unfortunately, two previous agreements with the Taliban have failed to materialize any peace in the region and each time the treaty was broken in exchange for fresh violence. Each time, the Taliban have gotten very brazen and they are acting with impunity knowing that they now have the upper hand in the fight with the Pakistani army. US and NATO forces have criticized previous deals with the militants and stated that each time they saw an increase in suicide attacks on international and Afghan forces across the border in Afghanistan. It seems obvious to this reporter that each time the Taliban reach an agreement with the Pakistani forces they are then able to better concentrate their attacks and and violence against the US, NATO and Afghan forces inside Afghanistan. Allowing the Taliban to circumvent the rule of law in Swat and parts of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) in exchange for a fragile peace is a foolish policy that not only does not work in the long run but actually allows these militants to become emboldened and stronger as a result. Also, this sends a clear message to the Taliban and militants in other parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan that the state is willing to compromise their principles and given enough of a fight, will relent and accept defeat.

We at Pakistanis for Peace are extremely disappointed by the government of Pakistan’s decision to acquiesce to the demands of these same militants who on one hand behead people who disagree with them and on the other hand destroy girls schools because somehow in their narrow and closed minded interpretation of Islam, teaching girls education is deemed by them to be un-Islamic. This decision not only makes these militants stronger but also further has the effect of having people in the region and around Pakistan lose faith in the government’s ability to fight and protect the civilians from what are nothing more than thugs with guns who profess to be “Talibs” or students of Islam. If one was truly a student of Islam and a follower of the religion of peace, then brutal acts of violence against women, foreigners, and Pakistani citizens would not be a routine course of action by them.

The Taliban are enemy number one for the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan and of Islam itself and of Islam and Islam’s image both at home and abroad. How else but to categorize them as savages after they bombed two of the oldest Buddhist statues of Bamyan Afghanistan in 2001? Does Islam not teach respect for all religions and respect for differences of opinion? Where in the Koran does it say it is okay to throw acid on a woman’s face so you can intimidate other women in not attending school? Where does it say it is okay to behead a young man and make an example out of him because he did not repeatedly heed your warning to stop listening to western music? All these actions by the Taliban is a clear indication of the absence of logic in the minds of these people. And for the Pakistani government to fool itself into thinking that any agreements with them will bring peace to the region is absurd. We at Pakistanis for Peace urge the Pakistani government to break this foolish treaty with the Taliban as there should never be any compromises with these people as one can not reason with someone who has no reason. Common sense in not very common among the Taliban and the Pakistani government is doing itself and the people of Swat and of Pakistan a disservice by compromising with these militants.


Reported for www.PakistanisforPeace.com by Manzer Munir

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