FP Analysis: The others

April 25, 2013


On Tuesday, Aziza Mai and her two daughters living in Multan were victimized by two men who threw acid on them. There are thousands of women like Aziza Mai who live in constant fear and are often subjected to excruciating violence; their scars a constant reminder of their tragedies. Across Pakistan, in Quetta, the Hazara community was once again targeted in a bomb blast that killed 6 people. Paradoxically these helpless and cursed minorities are a force that many in Pakistan have not fully come to understand. As Pakistan hobbles towards its first democratic transfer of powers, women and minority groups have a significant role in realizing this dream.

There are a total of 36 million women in Pakistan amounting to 42% of the total voters, but they are subjected to many obstacles in the registration of their voters. The patriarchal set-up in Pakistan re-enforces female voters as offensive towards their families’ pride and status. In the last 25 years, the number of women voters with respect to male voters has been dwindling and currently approximately 10 million female voters are missing from voter lists. As for female candidates, the path is even more tough. Although it is encouraging to see Bushra Gohar, Saniya Naz, Hajiani Lanjo and Badam Zari stand up for democracy in the deeply conflicted zones of Pakistan, Gullana Bibi’s withdrawal from the race shows the gravity of security threats. Political parties have mainly had a two-sided approach on this issue. They often like to use women and other minority groups as charity cases to draw compassion from the masses but do little to empower them. Last September, the ECP proposed re-polling at stations where the female turnout was less than 10%. What would have ensured better women participation in elections was actually turned down by all political parties.

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ZoneAsia-Pk: Tsunami version 2.0

March 8, 2013

By Ahsan Waheed

Elections in Pakistan have a terrifying effect. Like a lie detector, it has been known to expose true sentiments, rivalries, morals and ruthless strategies to guarantee victories. It seems to be doing the same with Pakistan’s rising star, PTI. News about disruptive behavior and violence at PTI’s intra party elections has been popping up time and again. While rival politicians preyed on this disorder as proof of PTI’s poor management skills and experience, the civil society questioned the party’s competence in participating in elections and if elected, its ability to lead democratic processes in the country.

It wasn’t long ago when Imran Khan had taken Pakistan by storm, or in his terms, by a “tsunami”. Since then he and his party have been trying to clean the corrupt system and revolutionize democracy. So far they have introduced an economic, educational and industrial policy. They have refused to form alliances with other parties at the risk of compromising their stand against violence, corruption and inequality.

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Karachi calling

December 14, 2012


Urban violence has become a permanent affliction in Karachi. Anyone explaining the roots of this violence to you would say ‘it’s complicated’ – and that is indeed an accurate summary of the bloodshed that erupts across the city in random spurts. The plague of violence in Pakistan’s biggest city and commercial hub is multifaceted. From ethnic strife to gang wars to politically motivated crimes to just petty theft – Karachi has it all. Where does it start? And more importantly, where would it end?

This is strange because less merely 25 years, Karachi was the land of opportunity in Pakistan. Once the capital of the country, this economic hub bustled with life and activity with little thought spared to the horrors awaiting citizens a few years down the road. Fast forward to 2012, Karachi faces (in the words of Bilal Baloch) feeble security, over-population, poor public transportation and housing, weak law and order, abuse of public services by the wealthy and powerful, illegal land-grabbing and squatter settlements, pollution so pervasive that it contaminates food and water for all, ethnic divisions, sectarian divisions, meager education; in short, institutional inadequacies on a grand scale. At the same time, it is this city that allows unbridled port access to NATO, fishermen and businessmen. The city has seen the likes of Alexander the Great, Sir Charles Napier, Muhammad Bin Qasim, poets, authors, bloggers and artists. The City of Lights continues to function under such paradoxical circumstances, with violent bloodshed in one corner of the city and celebrations in another.

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Divorcing the Taliban

July 2, 2012

By Nida Afaque

The long and short of the war in Afghanistan was to eliminate terrorists and reinstall social equality for the locals so that women can have a greater say, children can acquire education and the young Afghans can find a stable source of income. The decade long war has ripped Afghanistan limb from limb; thousands of people have died, millions have incurred lifelong crippling injuries, social security is non-existent and perpetual state of chaos has taken over the nation.

The politics of withdrawal of coalition forces has seen ups and downs. The Chicago summit underscored the sincerity of the coalition forces in exiting Afghanistan. Months prior and after the summit, NATO forces have been integrating the Afghan security forces in their daily routines. NATO agreed to carry out night raids via Afghan counterparts, stop aerial attacks on Afghan residential buildings and even basic literacy camps have been set up to educate the afghan troops. A dip in Taliban attacks was also recorded.

The past few months have witnessed resurgence in violence from the Taliban. Suicide attacks, gunfire and bombs have occurred near the bases of Coalition forces and the Afghan security forces. Western embassies have not been spared the terror either. The latest attack was at a hotel in a scenic locality of Kabul on the pretext of un-Islamic activities like alcohol consumption. Soon afterwards, a cross-border attack was launched on Pakistani check-post resulting in deaths of 8 soldiers and 17 Pakistani security armed forces personnel were
beheaded after being taken hostage.

These graphic attacks have sent strong messages to coalition forces, afghan forces and even neighboring Pakistan. Taliban have been quite stubborn in working for a peace process but they did cede to form a diplomatic office in Qatar. While coalition forces have repeatedly stressed on their determination to leave the battlefield, some like the French have promised to leave even before the set date.

Unfortunately some serious blunders have been committed by them too which has turned positive reinforcements sour and send the reconciliation process many steps behind. The burning of the Holy Quran was a major incident that brought disapproval from all over the world. Shortly afterwards, a US marine allegedly suffering from PTSD killed 17 afghan civilians. But perhaps the greatest irksome moment for the Taliban are the reports from western media that their power has been weakened.

Indeed, actions speak louder than words and these graphic images are not soon to be erased from the minds of the locals. The targets of these attacks were mainly soldiers and civilians in close proximity to these soldiers, physically and/or figuratively. It is important to realize that these attacks occurred at the same time negotiations were taking place with the coalition forces. Thereby, indicating that the 10 year war has hardened the hearts of the Taliban against foreign invaders. This could also mean that the Taliban would reassert themselves and carry out the same tribal code of ethics they followed back in their term.

Another distressing point is the attitude of the Taliban regarding aid workers and volunteers. Many foreign social workers have been kidnapped for heavy ransom which some believe funds their extremist attacks. A senior British aid worker, Khalil Dale, was even killed when the ransom was not paid. For human right activists this would signal the continuation of violations against women, children and minorities.

The Taliban also symbolize a big question mark for Pakistan’s security. The porous Pak-Afghan border will continue to remain a source of skirmishes and refuge for the militants. Some intelligence reports have claimed alliances between ISI and the afghan Taliban. Assuming that it is the truth, Pakistan’s strategy to gain the Taliban’s vote has failed. TTP, which have been marked as a terrorist group by Pakistan, has been maintaining sanctuaries in Afghanistan probably with the help of the Afghan Taliban. The latter has been terrorizing locals near the border. The TTP already idolizes the Taliban for fighting foreign forces. With a history of terrorist attacks all over Pakistan, if the afghan Taliban decide to use the TTP for their purposes, Pakistan is looking at a serious threat. The Afghan Taliban could use this to harm Pakistani forces. The Afghan Taliban have also started warming up to Indian presence, a blow to their relations with Pakistan.

After these hiccups, Pakistan has to rethink its strategy for dealing with the Taliban. It has suffered immensely from being labeled as “part of the problem”. Domestic concerns are too pressing for Pakistan to be indulging in foreign battles. It’s time to end this insecurity by completely wiping out the presence of terrorists in Pakistan. Non-interventionists would recommend a strategy of negotiation. But the peace deal with the Taliban in Swat has proved how unreliable such accords can be.

The strategy of differentiating between the “good” terrorist and the “bad” terrorist can no longer continue. Discriminatory ethnic and religious movements be those of the Sipah-e-Sahaba or the Lashkar-e-Taiba will all have to end. For such a mass scale operation, foreign powers will be willing to help Pakistan achieve their common goal of regional and global peace. Furthermore, a new holistic strategy to be applicable after the operation has to be formulated, one that encompasses the presence and activities of these groups.

Such an aggressive strategy of uprooting the terrorist elements will also prove dangerous for the country’s politicians, armed forces and other law enforcement personell as always innocent civilians. It will invariably clamp down the nations’ freedom of speech and right to privacy but then nothing comes for free. Sadly, Pakistan has reached a point where a return to normalcy will cost them dearly but a radical operation like this can give it the chance to reestablish the writ of the state and get rid of the boulder blocking its economic and social prosperity.

Malir violence: At least 22 more people killed in emerging turf war

July 25, 2011

Area 14/8

At least 22 people were shot dead in pitched gunbattles that are evolving into a fight for control of Karachi city itself. But more than the actual killings was the fear that the firing spread, especially in Malir.

Additional Inspector General of Police Saud Mirza said the police was working in tandem with the Rangers and was trying its best to contain the violence from spreading to other parts of the city. “An operation against the armed groups in Malir and Landhi is expected some time later in the evening,” he said.

In many areas, however, it remained to be seen how the law enforcers would even manage to enter. The worst affected parts were Malir, Landhi, Jaffer Tayar Society and Daud Goth, among others. At least four rockets were fired in Daud Goth but no loss of life was reported.

Rangers spokesperson Major Farooq Bilal told The Express Tribune that the force was not conducting any major operation but their personnel have been deployed in sensitive areas and were holding flag marches. He said there were reports that hand grenades were used in some of the attacks. Rangers Brigadier Waseem said the armed groups were using sophisticated weapons, including machine guns, assault rifles such as the AK-47 and .222 rifles.

Armed men attacked the houses of MNA Sher Mohammad Baloch, ex-UC 7 Malir nazim Jan Mohammad and Rasheed Baloch. Six Muttahida Qaumi Movement workers, Raheel, Owais, Salahuddin, Ali Akbar, Mohammad Hussain and Irfan were gunned down in Taimuria, Kalakot and Quaidabad, respectively. An activist of the banned Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, Noorul Islam, was killed and another man identified as Nazeer was injured in an armed attack inside Siddiq-e-Akbar Mosque in Surjani. A Mohajir Qaumi Movement-Haqiqi spokesperson said, however, that none of their people were injured or killed on Sunday.

Eleven more people, including Ikhlaq, Khalid and Kala Khan in Karimabad, Zafar, Furqan and Iqbal in Sir Syed and one each in Nabi Bux, Ghas Mandi, Liaquatabad, Baldia Town and Mobina Town were killed, while over half a dozen others were wounded. MQM activist Badar Afzal, who was injured in Malir on Friday, succumbed at Jinnah hospital.

Apart from Malir, fear and tension swept across Mawach Goth, Quaid-e-Azam Colony, Gulshan-e-Iqbal, Qasba Colony, Banaras, Orangi Town, Katti Pahari. Life came to a standstill in Kharadar, Napier, Ancholi, Abbas Town where intense aerial firing was reported. A funeral procession for advocate Mukhtiar Bukhari was attacked on the Super Highway. As this unfolded, Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik arrived and chaired a meeting at Governor House. Speaking to the media at the airport earlier on, he said that no operation would be conducted in the city without consulting all mainstream political parties.

Police sources told The Express Tribune that the violence in Landhi is basically a turf war between a breakaway faction of one political party and another.

The MQM’s Wasay Jalil said the party has already tabled a deweaponisation bill in parliament and wants the authorities do something concrete. The chief minister’s adviser, Waqar Mehdi, said that six people were arrested in Baldia and the law enforcement authorities have entered Malir.

An Awami National Party spokesperson said that a huge rally was organised in Landhi to promote peace in the area, but they were fired upon. The intense firing has forced people to stay indoors. “The innocent people who are dying in this wave of violence is the responsibility of [...] parties,” he said.

The Solution to Pakistan’s Problems

July 1, 2011

By Shemrez Nauman Afzal

We all know what is wrong with Pakistan. We all read the newspapers every day. We watch TV, we watch the anchors and the video clips, we listen to the radio, and with a straight face, we acknowledge that we have become immune to violence, to hatred, to inequality, to greed, and to whatever happens to Pakistan.

If you’re really not concerned or bothered about it, and would rather do something else, now is the time that you stop reading this, because it really isn’t worth your while. But if you do care, and if you do want to do something about it, but don’t know what to do or how to do it, just take a little bit of time out and listen to what I have to say. The choice is yours, but the right to know is yours as well.

Yes, there are many problems with Pakistan, and nobody knows where to start from or where to pick up. But instead of talking about what’s wrong with Pakistan, shouldn’t we be talking about how we fix it? Everyone says there’s a war being fought against us – some say it’s the Taliban, some say its America, others say it’s the mullah’s, and so on. Well, if it is a war according to that narrative, then we do need to fight a war against Pakistan’s problems, but how many wars can we fight? Do we pick up arms and fight the Taliban? Or do we join the Taliban and fight America, in Afghanistan or like Faisal Shahzad in New York? What good does protesting do if you do not get your voice heard in the end? Do numbers in the street matter when you give a speech and go home, but do not achieve anything substantive or cogent from the common platform that you all stand for and believe in?

Yes. We need to fight a war against all of Pakistan’s problems. One war that we need to fight is against apathy. And that is the biggest war we must fight. Why do we not care? We must care. If we feel sad or depressed, then we must do something about it so that it does not keep happening to us; call it survival if not altruism. We cannot sit idly by and watch our nation spiral down into further depths of chaos and anarchy. But what do we do? Do we join the police or army? Or do we join the Taliban and Al Qaeda? Do we join those who are protesting every day out in the streets, on one issue or the other? We might think of all of this, in the comfort of our drawing room, and then just move to the TV or read something on the internet. Or go out to have a cup of coffee, meet with friends, drive around, do something interesting, get tired, go to sleep, and live another day.

If you are still reading this right now, know that you are responsible for this country’s problems if you don’t do anything about it. Whenever you stop acting like a citizen of Pakistan, you do this country so much harm that it becomes hopeless for other citizens of Pakistan to live or survive. And there is a way to make amends for it. There is a way to actually undo the wrongs, the mistakes, the grievances of the past sixty-three years.

If Pakistan is your country, if you really feel for it beyond an national identity card or a passport, then own up to it – to its mistakes and to its greatness. Become its engine of change. Bring positive and meaningful change, and stop waiting for it. Stop being concerned – start being responsible. And it’s not that difficult, and if you really are worried about Pakistan and want to help change it for the better, then you won’t have to change much yourself – you will just have to become, for lack of a better term, more productive. And others who are already being responsible, or want to be responsible, will join you. If you don’t believe me, you should listen to Allama Muhammad Iqbal who said har fard hai millat ke muqaddar ka sitara; each citizen is the shining star of the nation’s destiny.

So stop cribbing about hopelessness and despair. Stop being apathetic. BE the change you want to see. Bring positive and meaningful change through democratic means, and silence all those here and abroad who say that Pakistan is a failed state. It does not matter who you vote for, as long as you vote and make your voice heard. Your political opinion does not matter in your drawing room – and contrary to popular opinion, it may matter even less on your blog – but on the ballot paper, your political opinion is your exercise in charting out the destiny of your country. It is both your privilege and your responsibility – in a democracy, the citizens rule, but if the citizens are not responsible or capable to rule, then the system falls apart. And we all see that it has.

Despite our better judgment, we have made this mistake again, and again, and again. This has happened in all elections that Pakistan has experienced – most of them have been labeled as rigged, while the one in 2008 had high hopes, but ended up with results that also accounted for 46% bogus votes in the final tally. The citizens of Pakistan are capable to rule themselves – if they were not, sovereignty would have no point in our country, and some already believe it doesn’t – but in order to properly exercise this capability, the citizens of Pakistan must be responsible about electing their leaders and representatives. To do this, they must vote responsibly – because someone who has come to power without your vote (whether it is a general or a politician) will not be accountable to you in any way. Pakistan must prepare for elections in late 2012, or early 2013. Or even before that. The timing of the election matters very little – what matters is the result, and what matters even more is that if it reflects the general will of the people of Pakistan. How must Pakistan prepare for this? By being aware about the political system of the country and of the political options available in any given electoral situation. Since education has suffered immensely in Pakistan, even electoral knowledge in the voting populating is found wanting. Constituents must responsibly elect their representatives, and they must know how to be responsible during election campaigns as well as during voting procedures. Bringing change by the ballot is the only chance Pakistan has; change by the bullet is something the residents of Swat would repeatedly warn you about.

It is time for you to become responsible; responsible about Pakistan, responsible about its problems, responsible about what you can do about it, responsible about actually doing something about it, and by doing so, encouraging others to be responsible in the smallest ways that they can. Once we are able to understand how to convert our concerns and depressions into innovative ideas and solutions, we can share these small solutions to help our communities deal with bigger problems. For Pakistan right now, community mobilization is the most important element of recovering a national and local ethos that is becoming victim to suspicion, mistrust, and other social impediments. Communities must become aware of their living environments, and they must responsibly handle the problems that they and their neighbors face. This cannot happen in a day, but for it to succeed, it must continue to happen every day, and you must do your part for your community even if others don’t. And when it is time for you to decide who gets to govern us and determine the future of our country, make sure you vote, and vote responsibly.

The future of Pakistan depends on it.

Indian forces have to leave Kashmir: Geelani

August 5, 2010

Suhasini Haidar, CNN-IBN

Srinagar: There will be no peace in Kashmir until it’s “free of Indian forces”, hardline separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani has said.

“Our message of peace is different from the one you in India understand. India thinks control and silence and the absence of violence is peace. When we call for peace, we believe there is no peace until Kashmir is free of Indian forces,” Geelani told CNN-IBN’s Suhasini Haider when he was asked why had he on Wednesday urged people in the Valley not to engage in arson and violence like stone pelting.

Geelani was asked if young people in Kashmir will heed his call. “Inshallah, I believe they will because they know me and they know what I say is in the best interest of our movement,” he replied.

Geelani insisted he opposed the ‘quiet dialogue’ Home Minister P Chidambaram held with members of the Hurriyat Conference in December because he was against talks that would have no “outcome”

“I am opposed to dialogue that has no outcome, quiet or public. The dialogue in December had no outcome. The Centre sent me emissaries in Chashmashai jail, and I told them until the government accepts that Jammu and Kashmir is a disputed area, until we see a withdrawal of the Army, until we see laws like AFSPA and TADA go, and the release of our prisoners in jails across the country the atmosphere cannot be built for dialogue.”

Geelani, chief of the hardline faction of Hurriyat Conference, was rearrested on Tuesday as he tried to take out a march from the hospital in Srinagar, where he had been admitted, to the Eidgah grounds. “Violence and acts of arson have no place in our struggle against Indian rule,” he said after being released on Wednesday.

Agencies report the violence in Kashmir claimed its 47th victim since June 11 when a civilian on Thursday succumbed to a bullet injury he received during protests in Srinagar on Wednesday.

Forget regionalism, unite as Hindus: Thackeray

November 20, 2009

By – Kiran Tare
Full Story can be found at http://www.dnaindia.com/report.asp?newsid=1314011

Only a few days ago, he reprimanded Sachin Tendulkar for saying, “Mumbai belongs to Indians.” But on Thursday, the Shiv Sena chief himself advocated nationalism. He appealed to the Hindus all over India to set aside their regional differences and unite to combat the “calamity of Islam.”

Thackeray, who admits to being a “staunch Hindu”, had once suggested that a memorial of Mangal Pandey, the hero of the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, be erected at the disputed area in Ayodhya. However, on Thursday he said that Sena would complete building the Ram temple in Ayodhya. He claimed credit for the makeshift Ram temple that is there now in an editorial in party mouthpiece Saamna. “Ayodhya today has a Ram temple just because of the Shiv Sena. The Sena will fulfil its promise of completing the temple by building its dome,” he stated.

“Everyone knows who removed the Babri Masjid, which was a blot on Ayodhya. The Kothari brothers, who demolished the domes of masjid and hosted a saffron flag there, were Shiv Sainiks. I am proud of them.”

Thackeray came down heavily on Samajwadi Party MLA Abu Azmi for his “desire to rebuild the Babri Masjid”. He said, “The Sena still has the guts to shatter his dreams of rebuilding Babri. The country is being crushed by a Muslim python… In this country, there are Marathis, Bengalis, Gujaratis, Kannadigas, Assamese and Hindis. But are there Hindus? Instead of unifying, they have decided to spill the blood of their Hindu brothers in the name of regionalism.

“We must stand together as Hindus to fight this Islamic attack. Otherwise, our future generations will be seen offering namaaz instead of celebrating Dussehra and Diwali. Radical Muslims are the biggest threat to our country. Except for a few, such as Salim Khan, Javed Akhtar, Mukhtar Abbas and Farooq Abdullah, the rest of them are trying to destroy our country. We will have to fight them. We can win the battle only if we unite as Hindus.”

Sena’s ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party, refused to give it full credit for the makeshift Ram temple. BJP spokesperson Madhav Bhandari, who was jailed twice during the temple movement, said, “Like me, lakhs of kar sevaks had spontaneously gathered at Ayodhya from all over the country. They did not have any relation with the Shiv Sena. I will not deny that there were some Shiv Sainiks too. But no one can claim the sole credit for building the makeshift temple.”= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
For news updates throughout the day, visit dnaindia.com
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Shia groups form new alliance excluding Iraqi PM

August 26, 2009


The Iranian-backed Shia parties that helped propel Iraq’s PM into power three years ago dumped him as their candidate for re-election, forming a new alliance to contest the January vote.

The move dealt a blow to Nouri al-Maliki’s chances to keep his job next year and set the stage for a showdown between competing factions in the Shia coalition that had dominated Iraq’s government since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Al-Maliki now faces pressure to make a deal with minority Sunni parties to strengthen his position. Because his Dawa party is relatively small, he has never been able to rely on a loyal political base. Instead, he has developed a reputation as a strong leader by crushing militias loyal to anti-American Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in Baghdad and in the southern city of Basra.

The Shia prime minister’s efforts to win public confidence by portraying himself as a champion of security have taken a battering in recent weeks. A wave of horrific bombings has called into question the government’s ability to protect the Iraqi people two months after most U.S. forces pulled out of urban areas.

In the latest violence, bombs attached to two buses en route from Baghdad exploded less than an hour apart near the mainly Shia city of Kut on Monday, killing at least 11 people and wounding 20, police and hospital officials said. Local police chief Brig. Gen. Raed Shakir Jawdat said the explosives were detonated with timers.

Monday’s political announcement – made with fanfare at a news conference – represents a major realignment.

The new bloc, called the Iraqi National Alliance, will include the largest Shia party, the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council, or SIIC, and al-Sadr’s bloc, which both have close ties to Tehran.

Although some small Sunni and secular parties are joining the alliance, many Sunnis consider the Supreme Council as little more than an instrument of Shiite Iran.

If the alliance does well in the Jan. 16 vote, Tehran could gain deeper influence in Iraq as U.S. forces pull back, with a full American withdrawal planned by the end of 2011.

Al-Maliki’s Dawa Party also has close ties to Iran, but the prime minister has tried in recent years to persuade Tehran to stop interfering in Iraq. Iran is accused of supporting Shiite militias, despite its denials of the allegations.

Al-Maliki, who took office in May 2006 with the blessing of the Supreme Council and the Sadrists, has become increasingly assertive as his popularity has grown with the sharp decline in violence. He has taken on the Americans, the Iranians, the Sunnis and fellow Shias alike.

His loyalists ousted the Supreme Council from control of the oil-rich southern Shia heartland in provincial elections earlier this year, raising concern among other Shia politicians that internal divisions could cost them seats to Sunnis in the upcoming parliamentary elections.

But the unrelenting explosions – including two suicide truck bombings against the foreign and finance ministries that killed scores last week – have weakened his position at a crucial time.

He stayed out of the new alliance because leaders refused to guarantee him the prime minister’s spot, officials said. Rumored possibilities for the job include new alliance members ex-Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, current Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi and even Former Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi, a one-time Pentagon favorite.

The realignment does not immediately threaten al-Maliki’s position as prime minister, but points to stormy politics in the election campaign and beyond, as U.S. troops begin scaling back their presence.

Supreme Council lawmaker Reda Jawad Taqi said a last-ditch meeting was held on Sunday to try to bring al-Maliki into the fold but it failed to overcome the differences.

One of al-Maliki’s advisers, Hassan al-Sineid, said in a televised response that the prime minister and the leaders of the new alliance differed over “the mechanism of participation in the alliance and the need to open this alliance to include a broad range of political powers.”

The prime minister instead is working to form an alternate coalition. He is reaching out to a prominent Sunni sheik in Anbar province, whose followers include fighters who joined forces with the Americans against al-Qaida in Iraq.

Sheik Ahmed Abu Risha said his representatives met with al-Maliki’s advisers on Sunday to discuss forming “a national and nonsectarian alliance.”

He praised al-Maliki for cracking down on Shia militias and supporting the anti-al-Qaida movement that has spread nationwide and is considered a key factor in a sharp decline in overall violence over the past two years.

Despite Monday’s announcement, the new Shia alliance was careful to leave the door open for the Dawa Party to join later.

Abdul-Mahdi, a top SIIC member, was among those reaching out to Dawa, saying it was important to present a strong united front that can address the overwhelming challenges facing the country.

The coalition will replace the United Iraqi Alliance, which won control of parliament in the last parliamentary elections in December 2005 but began to unravel later with the withdrawal of two major factions and the bitter rivalry between al-Maliki and the Supreme Council.

The list includes several Sunnis, comprising a smaller Awakening Council faction from the western Anbar province that won several seats in provincial elections earlier this year.

Absent from the press conference was the Supreme Council’s leader Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, who suffers from lung cancer and was hospitalized this weekend in Iran after officials said his health deteriorated. Al-Sadr also is believed to be in Iran.


May 7, 2009

by Ghalib Sultan

Most Afghan rulers have met ignominious ends. Irrationality and betrayal usually precedes such ends. Speaking at the Brookings Institution in Washington DC Mr Karzai said that the problem in Afghanistan was from Pakistan -implying that if Pakistan was fixed there would be no problem in Afghanistan. This is an opinion that is not shared by the majority of the people in Afghanistan.


Pakistan girds for battle with Taliban after final collapse of fragile truce

May 7, 2009


ISLAMABAD — A bloody confrontation looms between Pakistan’s army and the Taliban after the collapse of a peace deal yesterday threatened to engulf the region in violence, prompting thousands to flee the war-ravaged Swat Valley.

“Pray for Swat,” implored school principal Zia-ud-Din Yusufzai, speaking by phone, as he drove southwards from Mingora to safety and an uncertain future with his wife and three children. “You may say the city has fallen to the Taliban. “Not everyone could leave. Those who stay will be hostage.”

Swat, about 150 kilometres from Islamabad, looks set to turn into the battle zone where the course of Pakistan’s struggle with Islamic extremism could be decided. A February deal with the Pakistani Taliban, under which Islamic law would have been imposed in the valley and which led to a ceasefire, ultimately broke down, but it gave the militants a three-month breathing space that has allowed them to entrench.

The final collapse of the uneasy truce with the Taliban came on the eve of a three-way summit in Washington between U.S. President Barack Obama and the leaders of Pakistan and Afghanistan, Asif Ali Zardari and Hamid Karzai.

The violence in Swat, and Pakistan’s seeming inability to regain control of the region from the militants, will give an added urgency to the talks today, which are aimed at devising a strategy to counter the growing tide of militancy that is undermining both Pakistan and neighbouring Afghanistan.

NATO troops, including Canadians, are struggling to counter a tenacious insurgency in Afghanistan that is known to receive support from militants inside Pakistan.

“We need to put the most heavy possible pressure on our friends in Pakistan to join us in the fight against the Taliban and its allies,” Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said yesterday. “We cannot succeed in Afghanistan without Pakistan’s support and involvement.”

While Mr. Holbrooke expressed support for Mr. Zardari, he called on Pakistan to “demonstrate its commitment to rooting out al-Qaeda and the violent extremists within its borders.”

Speaking separately at a Washington think tank, Afghan President Hamid Karzai made a similar point, the Associated Press reported. He said the key to the Taliban’s resurgence in recent years is its haven across the border in Pakistan.

The government lifted the curfew in Mingora for five hours yesterday afternoon to allow residents to flee, though no official help was provided for the abrupt evacuation. Those with private vehicles or who could afford public transport abandoned their homes. The provincial government, appealing for emergency assistance, estimated that 500,000 people would leave Swat to become refugees in their own country.

Nuclear-armed Pakistan, a key Western ally, is already fighting Taliban extremists in Dir and Buner districts, which lie either side of the vast Swat Valley. Swat is the militants’ stronghold, where thousands of Taliban are thought to be established. Washington would welcome the end of the peace pact in Swat, which it regarded as abdicating to the Taliban, but the Pakistani army has failed in two previous offensives in Swat in the past 18 months and any new operation would be likely to fail on an even greater scale, with the stakes much higher.

From Swat and Buner, the militants pose a strategic menace. The area lies close to the capital, two important highways, the huge Tarbela dam and the second largest city in the northwest, Mardan.

With the insurgency in Pakistan growing by the month, fighting in Swat could ignite the tribal area, which runs along the Afghan border and is mostly in the hands of the al-Qaeda-linked Taliban. In a nightmare scenario, it could trigger a sympathetic uprising from Islamic extremist groups based in Punjab province, the heart of Pakistan.

The Pakistani army has been criticized at home and abroad for lacking the will and capacity to battle the militants, but for the first time since the country allied with the United States in the campaign against global terrorism, public opinion has suddenly swung behind a military solution to the extremist challenge. This week, even a hard-line religious group, Sunni Tehreek, held an anti-Taliban march through Islamabad.

One benefit of the failed peace deal in Swat, analysts say, is that it demonstrated to the population that the militants are not interested in a negotiated settlement or fulfilling their stated demand of Islamic law. They never disarmed and disbanded as envisaged in the accord, instead expanding their base last month with an invasion of Buner district. Previously, the fight had been portrayed as Pakistan’s participation against its own people in “America’s war.”

“This is the first time that the Pakistani nation has identified that Talibanization is a threat,” Asad Munir, a former head of military intelligence for northwest Pakistan. “If we say that this is our war, then we can win it. If the nation is not behind the army, then the army cannot fight.”

Residents reported that the Taliban have now mined the roads into Mingora to block the expected arrival of army reinforcements. The militants also took up positions on the roofs of buildings. Previously, the Taliban had only been in the suburbs and their numbers were much smaller.

Monday night, intense firefights between security forces and Taliban left locals cowering in their homes. According to Shaukat Saleem, a human-rights activist based in Mingora, 21 civilians died after being caught in the crossfire. Others gave lower figures. There was no official word on the casualties.

“The streets are empty. I haven’t seen any security forces today, just the Taliban patrolling in great strength,” said Saleem, speaking by phone from Mingora, adding he had decided to stay. “I cannot abandon my people.”

Some 46 paramilitary soldiers remain surrounded by Taliban at the town’s electricity grid station. The army denied that Mingora was in the hands of the Taliban, though a spokesman based in the town, Major Nasir Khan, admitted that they were present in “outlying areas.”

“Our purpose is to eliminate them,” said Major Khan. “They don’t want Islamic sharia. They want to establish their reign of terror.”

Faltering US strategy – PII

April 28, 2009

Masood Sharif Khan Khattak

The new US policymakers led by President Obama must now shelve the messy canvas that was left for them by George W Bush. That canvas is in shreds and beyond repair. In order to redeem the image of the great American nation in the eyes of the world the Obama’s administration will have to carve a new legacy for themselves distinctly different from the Bush legacy.

First, A resolution must come forth from all the stakeholders-i.e., the USA, the UN Security Council, NATO, the UK, other major EU and NATO countries, and from Russia, China, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan and India-that they all resolve to bring peace to southwest Asia by replacing military activity with developmental activity. A unilateral ceasefire should be announced by US and NATO Forces saying that military operations, henceforth, will only be undertaken in self-defence. Simultaneously, the offer of peace talks must be made to the Taliban.

Secondly, The USA must also announce unilaterally that after the preliminary rounds of peace talks it shall relocate its forces in a non-combat posture as a prelude to an eventual and complete military evacuation within a foreseeable time frame.

Thirdly, the upcoming presidential elections in Afghanistan must be treated as a window of opportunity and it should be conducted by the Afghan people themselves, with the help of observers and expert teams from Islamic countries chosen by the Afghans, for the sake of neutrality. The US, although militarily present in Afghanistan, should voluntarily adopt the role of a non-interfering observer after having made it clear that violence will not be tolerated. The US should let it be the fairest of elections. Let anyone who the people of Afghanistan genuinely want to elect win those elections. Let even the Taliban put up their candidate(s) and let them all contest freely. Whatever government then comes into existence in Afghanistan must take up nation building activity of that war- ravaged nation in right earnest.

Fourthly, the US should order all Indian presence out of Afghanistan as this is seen by Pakistanis as an outright hostile act against Pakistan. It cannot be said in any other way because the US and NATO facilitation of the Indian intelligence agencies to operate against Pakistan’s interests from outposts in Afghanistan can only be seen as detrimental to Pakistan’s integrity. Ask a man on the street anywhere in Pakistan’s remotest corner and he will wonder why the government of Pakistan is not protesting to the US in terms loud enough to be heard. Being an ally in what is called by the Americans themselves “a common war” the US has no alternative but to put a stop to Indian activities in Afghanistan forthwith in order to win the friendship of the Pakistani nation. Let Afghanistan become sovereign again and then decide for itself how much Indian presence they would want in Afghanistan. The Indians should also know that if they accept any military role in Afghanistan they will get a taste of unconventional warfare that they will not be able to sustain for even a few weeks. Occupied Kashmir violence will be so dwarfed that the Indians will be wonderstruck if they ever choose to accept any military role in Afghanistan.

Lastly, if it wants Pakistan to be on its side as an ally, the US should immediately stop badmouthing the Pakistani military establishment. The allegations against the ISI and the Pakistani army are unwarranted. Who has suffered more casualties in hostilities at the hands of the Taliban, the Pakistani army or the US and NATO forces in Afghanistan?

Pakistan has already done enough at the cost of its own national fabric being torn to shreds. It is now time for peace in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the entire region for which long strides will have to be taken by the new US administration headed by Barack Obama so that southwest Asia can bury violence forever and start a new era of peace, progress, prosperity and harmony within the region and with the world at large. If such steps are not forthcoming and the only words the world continues to hear are surge, drone attacks, and do-more, then I am afraid this region, along with USA, is headed towards a complete disaster.

It is in the long-term interest of the USA itself to seek peace rather than continue to destabilise the region through a heavy military presence in a combat role. It is also not going to be long before the cash starved US public starts calling for an end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; a call no US administration will be able to ignore. This region will then be lost to the USA for many decades to come.

The above exit strategy will have enormous dividends for all the stakeholders-i.e., the USA, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Contrarily, indefinite US military occupation of Afghanistan will create a devastating turmoil in the region. Resultantly, the US will lose its present foothold in Afghanistan and Pakistan just like it lost its foothold in post-1979 Iran. Without a doubt, it is now time for the USA to spread a new canvas and paint afresh a picture of peace which has goodwill, development, fraternity, tranquillity and inter-faith harmony painted clearly if it wants its influence and diplomatic presence in this region to remain.

The writer is former director-general of the Intelligence Bureau and former vice-president of the PPP Parliamentarians. Email: masoodsharifkhattak@gmail.com

We agree with Admiral Mullen for a change

April 17, 2009

PERHAPS for the first time the US military chief has made a statement reflective of the ground realities in Afghanistan. As Washington is preparing to send additional troops to Afghanistan in what is being called ‘surge’, Admiral Mike Mullen has said in an interview that violence in Afghanistan was set to rise in coming months.

What Admiral Mullen has said carries a lot of weight because he has the necessary experience and background to see things in the right perspective, of course, if he wants to. His forces have been fighting in Iraq and despite claims of positive impact of the surge there, credible reports suggest that the United States met total defeat in that country and has created Afghan bogey as a face-saving to divert attention from that ignominious defeat. We totally agree with the assessment of the US Admiral and think that it is good of him to have raised alarm bells for consideration of his administration. However, we would like to add that the surge would result into an unending process of action and reaction and the occupation forces are going to be the ultimate losers. This fact is known to all foreign invaders who tried their luck during any period of human history and it is more so in the case of the United Kingdom, the coalition partner of the United States in Afghan aggression, but unfortunately they are unable to learn the lesson or draw right conclusions. The power-drunk West has failed to appreciate that wars cannot be won with the use of latest and lethal weapons against nations that are determined to regain their lost sovereignty. Afghans have a legitimate cause to fight for but the occupation forces have no such conviction or cause to wage an unending war. Otherwise too, Afghan history is replete with instances when its valiant people beat back invaders. This is because the history and terrain are in their favour but these are very inhospitable for foreign aggressors. In our view, mere expression of apprehension was not enough on the part of the US military chief and he should advise his Government to take actions to rectify the situation. Like other people, Afghans too are entitled to decide their own future and the foreign occupation forces should vacate the country, which is the only way out of the quagmire that the West is in these days.

Asking for too much

April 16, 2009

By Mazhar Qayyum Khan

For the Obama administration to insist that as a committed ally in the fight against terrorism, Pakistan must put in its best to root out the spreading scourge would be quite justified. The quantum of aid is relevant, but to what extent is an open question. After all, the frightening phenomenon it not just a US concern; it visits Pakistan much too often for it to have any reservations about countering it.
Nevertheless, it is logical to expect that as the Americans, with the horrific memory of 9/11 very much alive in their minds, are mortally scared of its recurrence and believe that in the “safe havens” near Pak-Afghan borders lie the threatening potential, they should be extending all possible help to Pakistan to get out of its current economic and political predicament. Only once freed from this nagging worry, it would be in a position to utilise the capabilities it has to meet the challenge. Political stability and economic revival will engage people in healthy pastimes, make for security of life, create more jobs and provide better healthcare and good schooling and would thus serve as a natural restraint on the fanatical pursuit of militancy.

Trying to exploit Pakistan’s weaknesses by attaching conditions to the American assistance would reinforce the uneasy relationship already existing between the two countries. The US is unhappy with Pakistan because it believes that it is not doing enough to contain militancy; Pakistan, on the other hand, has a valid grouse about the growing US trend to pamper India without taking into account its vital interests. For the people of Pakistan and Kashmir, the hope that candidate Barack Obama created about the resolution of the Kashmir dispute has vanished after he entered the White House.

The question now is that if he could give way to the pressure from the Indian lobby and take the Kashmir issue out of the equation of militancy from the region and yet believe that he could block all channels of the phenomenon to develop and grow, is he not deceiving himself? This fateful compromise would prove too formidable an obstacle to overcome in the context of bringing about good neighbourly relations between India and Pakistan, so necessary to eliminate the chances of its resurgence.

Defying all hope that President Obama would bring a breath of fresh air to the subcontinent, he has tamely eschewed any reference to Kashmir, which remains a constant source of Indo-Pakistan hostility and tension. In the process, President Obama’s efforts to neutralise the hatred of the US that Mr Bush’s anti-Muslim policies had caused among an overwhelming population of Pakistan would not make much headway. The drone strikes that are being carried out in a more determined spirit would make matters worse.

On the other hand, the loud trumpeting of financing development works – schools and colleges, hospitals and clinics, roads and bridges, and other infrastructural projects to make employment opportunities available – through the tripling of the economic aid to $1.5 billion a year ($7.5 billion in the next five years) has finally appeared in the form of the Pakistan Enduring Assistance and Cooperation Enhancement (PEACE) bill. Tagged to the bill (also known as the Kerry-Lugar bill) introduced by Democratic Representative Howard Berman from California are certain unsavoury conditions that any government in Islamabad could accept at the peril of survival.

Buying the Indian line, it demands Pakistan “not to support any person or group that conducts violence, sabotage, or other activities meant to instil fear or terror in India’. Apparently, there is an indirect assumption that at present Pakistan is involved in supporting such activities. That would give a whip in New Delhi’s hand to lash at Islamabad whenever it wishes to blame it for a terrorist incident in the country or even the disputed state of Jammu & Kashmir and demand the suspension of aid.

Another condition obliges Pakistan “to ensure access of United States investigators to individuals suspected of engaging in worldwide proliferation of nuclear materials, and restrict such individuals from travel or any other activity that could result in further proliferation.” The reference indisputably is to Dr A Q Khan, and providing access to him is a highly sensitive issue that would provoke nation-wide adverse reaction, which would be difficult to contain. Time and again, Islamabad has assured the US and the international community that all relevant information has been rendered to them and time and again the suggestion of access has been turned down. To raise it once again and make the aid contingent upon its compliance, an aid that is ostensibly being given to help Pakistan improve its economic prospects to be able to fight the terrorist menace yet would also ultimately go to serve Washington interests, is highly uncalled for. Insistence on its compliance would prove futile and queer the pitch of US-Pakistan relations.
It is good, however, to hear Senator John Kerry, who is Chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee and is currently on a visit to Islamabad, hold out the assurance to Pakistani authorities, which had taken exception to the wording of the bill, that the assistance would not have any strings. It raises the prospect of the deletion of these clauses when the bill is debated in the Senate.

E-mail: mqkay@yahoo.co.uk


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