Posts Tagged ‘ World News ’

Pakistan’s Other Taliban

By Malik Siraj Akbar for The Huffington Post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It turned out to be true.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will India Win Coveted UN Seat?

By Sunil Sharan for The Huffington Post

Indian foreign secretary Nirupama Rao says Pakistan is hypnotically obsessed with India but she and her bosses too are fixated on a coveted prize, a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council. The mandarins of New Delhi must be pleased as punch to have had over to visit leaders of all five permanent member countries in quick succession. Inexorable appears the march but will India find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow? And, if it does, what are the implications for itself as well as for Pakistan?

First in was David Cameron of Britain, who arrived during the summer and offered unstinting support, whetting local appetite for the main American course. And, did he fail to disappoint? No sir, Barack Obama set the cat amongst the pigeons by endorsing India for the seat, the first time ever by the US. India rejoiced while Pakistan recoiled.

But a careful examination shows him adhering closely to what he told Bob Woodward in the book, Obama’s Wars. In lieu of the seat, he expects India to resolve Kashmir. At a press conference with Manmohan Singh, Obama characterized Kashmir as a long-standing dispute making the latter stutter that the K-word was not scary. Only then did Obama hand over the endorsement in India’s Parliament but couched in such diplomatese that countless local hair were split over when “the years ahead” would dawn.

Next waltzed in Nicolas Sarkozy of France. The French, like the British, have consistently seen merit in India’s case. Sarkozy though, true to type, proved an enigma. He first tagged on the applications of Africa, the Arabs and pretty much the rest of the world onto India’s, befuddling his hosts, who are willing to concede as equal aspirants only “self-appointed frontrunners” Germany, Japan and Brazil. Just as they were about to give up on him, Sarkozy warmed the cockles of India’s heart by throwing in 2011 as early as when it could make it.

But soon came the caveat. Sarkozy, just like Obama before him, cautioned that with great power status came great responsibilities. Whereas Obama wanted India to be more mindful of human rights violations of countries such as Iran and Myanmar, Sarkozy wanted India to send military forces to keep world peace. With India already being one of the foremost contributors to UN peacekeeping missions throughout the world, the mandarins of New Delhi must have been left wondering what more was being asked of them.

No matter, three down, two to go. By now the state jets were landing at Delhi airport almost on top of one another. Wen Jiabao, the leader India was least looking forward to, came with the master key to entry. Shortly before his visit, WikiLeaks revealed China’s opposition to any council expansion. Indian hopes were up nevertheless but Wen remained inscrutable, willing only to acknowledge an understanding of India’s aspirations. No one in India knew quite what to make of him and since Wen was off to Pakistan next, all the country could do was wait with clenched teeth to hear what he would say there.

Rounding off the passage to India was Dmitry Medvedev. Relations between Russia and India have frayed considerably since the heady days of the cold war, so much so that Russia has waffled on India’s bid. Medvedev signaled that the waffle still needed baking, voicing support for India while reiterating that reforming the council was tough and required consensus.

All the while Pakistan protested vociferously against what it deemed an indulgence of Indian hegemonism. But what will India gain with a permanent UN seat? Could it block Pakistani claims on Kashmir? True a permanent member wielding veto power can stonewall but the veto seems unattainable for seekers since they themselves have forsaken it. And, while India sees red when the K-word is uttered in the UN by Pakistan, no ascension to permanency can make it strangle the latter. Nor can it efface any past security council resolutions.

So then, what is it? Nothing comes to mind but the obvious, the acceptance that any arriviste craves. Even that appears a false hankering because ever since its early years, Gandhi’s legacy and Nehru’s charisma burnished the country with global influence disproportionate to its economic and military capabilities. A bee once in one’s bonnet is hard to get rid of though. And, as every journey must have a fitting end, India has found a destination to its liking.

Flush with cash, New Delhi wants to beef up its military. All of the recent visitors bar China are major suppliers of defence equipment to India. As bees flock to honey, they arrived armed with catalogues of the most terrifying stuff. Inherent was a delicate diplomatic quid-pro-quo. The more arms you buy from us, the more we will push your candidacy. As Islamabad keeps raising the bar for India’s seat, so too will India have to up its arms binge.

Lost in Pakistan’s current rhetoric was its vote in October to put India in the security council for two years beginning January 1, 2011. Once on, we will never get off is the new mantra of India’s brave. India seemingly returned the favor by taking in stride the sale of Chinese nuclear reactors to Pakistan. Is there more afoot than meets the eye?

Every country is entitled to its obsession. Pakistan’s is obvious. By continually thumbing its nose at a NATO mired in Afghanistan, it has put the K-word in spotlight, albeit on the backstage. A deal has been blessed by the powers that be. Both the seat and Srinagar are not far away.

The writer edits a website on India: http://www.scooptime.com.

Time to Win Hearts in the Deluged Pakistan

By Saad Khan for The Huffington Post

There has been a great deluge in northern and western Pakistan that has now spread to the southern parts, uprooting more than 14 million people and killing at least 1,600 . No one can remember a time when there has been such extensive flooding in the northwestern province of Pakistan, now renamed Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP). The last major flooding was in 1929 and that too cannot hold a candle in front of the inundation that the present flooding has unfurled. Whole villages and even major cities and towns have been inundated with not a dry space in sight, water flowing as high as 20 feet. Pakistani houses are generally single story, especially in villages, and almost all have caved in due to surging waters.

Help is too little and too late to arrive. KP is the worst hit province and being the hotbed of extremism and suicide bombings, the little infrastructure that was left has been washed away by floods. As the information minister of the province, whose only son also lost his life recently in an extremist attack, aptly said, their province is now a mere shadow of what was once a lush green and relatively developed region.

During the massive flooding, federal government’s response was slow and cautionary at best. Prime Minister Gillani first paid an aerial visit of the submerged areas and did not bother coming down and talking with the people. He has just recently visited some areas and a medical camp that later turned out to be a fake and dummy one. President Zardari has not even done that. A federal relief fund was set up five days after the flooding and donations and contributions are little and far between. People simply don’t trust the government and prefer private organizations for their donations.

There was speculation in the Pakistani media that President Zardari would cancel his foreign trip to Britain and France after the flooding but he didn’t. Opposition leaders lashed out at him for not canceling the Britain trip because Premier Cameron had taken jibes at the ISI and the Pakistan Army. The ISI chief already canceled his trip but Zardari is on the last leg of his trip and has already met Cameron.

Amid this mayhem and chaos, the United States did respond rather quickly. American choppers are participating in the evacuation and have expanded their operations into the southern parts of Punjab besides KP.

Perhaps this is the time for the Americans to interact with the troubled and grief stricken Pakistanis and boost their image. American response after the 2005 earthquake was swift and exemplary and created a positive feeling among many Pakistanis. Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa is the haven of the Taliban and an extended rescue operation by the US will certainly change some minds, if not all.

There is a fear that the poor and stranded Pashtuns will turn to the Taliban if help does not arrive swiftly; extremist organizations have already started their relief operations. People are wary of the slow response and negligence of Pakistani officials. Taliban have an excellent opportunity to brainwash them and recruit them and they have already embarked on that path. The US can launch a counter strategy of winning hearts and minds. This is the perfect time for it and people are eager to hear the American side of the story. The US relief efforts so far are exceptional and they are apparently ahead of the extremists in the relief and rehabilitation process.

P.S. President Zardari has since returned to Pakistan but has not visited the flooded areas yet.

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