28 02 2009

Source: MEMRI

THE MIDDLE EAST MEDIA RESEARCH INSTITUTE

Special Dispatch – No. 2265 February 27, 2009

Leading Pakistani Columnist: ‘All Pakistan’s Cities Are Within the Taliban’s Reach – Lahore, Faisalabad, Karachi, Hyderabad, Rawalpindi, and Islamabad’

On February 16, 2009, the Taliban militants and the government of Pakistan‘s North WestFrontierProvince (NWFP) signed a Shari’a-for-peace deal. Under the deal, the Taliban militants led by Maulana Fazlullah have been allowed by Pakistan to establish Islamic Shari’a in the province’s Swat district and broader Malakand region. [1]

A few days before the deal was signed, noted Pakistani columnist, senior journalist, and commentator Nazeer Naji wrote an article in the mass-circulation, Urdu-language newspaper Roznama Jang, titled “Toward Bloodshed.” In it, Nazeer Naji, who lives in Pakistan‘s cultural city of Lahore, warned that the Taliban militants are gradually taking over parts of Pakistan, and that even Islamabad is under threat.

Following are excerpts from the article: [2]

“It is Useless to Discuss Whether Pakistan Came into Being in the Name of Islam or as a Separate Homeland for Muslims; However the Process to Break Up Pakistan [Once Again] Has Started in the Name of Islam

“[In my previous columns I have hinted] at those armed groups who claim to be Islam’s Mujahideen and who have established their own states in different regions of Pakistan. In FATAs [Federally Administered Tribal Areas along the Afghan border] several administrative units have come into being which are under the control of different warlords [Taliban commanders].

“A separate administration has been established in the Swat [district by the Taliban in the North West Frontier Province, or NWFP]. All big cities of NWFP are under the influence of terrorists to some extent. Hyatabad, a posh area of Peshawar, is being vacated rapidly, as the rich are moving toward Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi – whereas those who cannot afford living costs in these cities are shifting to Peshawar Cantonment or streets in the interior of the city that appear safer than Hyatabad.”

“The Distance Between Swat and Islamabad is Not Much… All Pakistan‘s Cities are Within the Taliban’s Reach – Lahore, Faisalabad, Karachi, Hyderabad, Rawalpindi, and Islamabad

“In a column about Swat written a few days back, I warned that the distance between Swat and Islamabad is not much. Militants operating in the Swat district are active up to the Afghan borders on one hand, while on the other hand, their influence is also spreading in the opposite direction [toward Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi]. The Taliban militants are able to freely enter and leave Mansehra, a district of NWFP on the Punjab border and separated from Islamabad by the Margalla Hills, the mountains surrounding the capital city.

“In a report today, well-informed journalist Hamid Mir discloses that the Taliban leadership has decided to send fighters to Islamabad and has warned Islamic scholars in the federal capital to support the Taliban or leave the city. The Taliban have listed the names of the Islamic scholars who are refusing to support them on their hit list.

“For a long time, I have been expressing the view that all Pakistan’s cities are within the Taliban’s reach. Lahore, Faisalabad, Karachi, Hyderabad, Rawalpindi and Islamabad – indeed, there is no big city that has no madrassa in its populace. These madrassas have hundreds to thousands of students; a large number of them come from backward areas and impoverished families. Even in madrassas, they lead a life of deprivation; these students consider even the ordinary homes of the lower middle classes as wealthy. They think a television and a refrigerator are a luxury.

“This sense of deprivation can create a spirit of hate among them. Someone only needs to light the fire; the Taliban movements can easily use them. They have been inciting the madrassa students to work to establish their dominance in the name of Islam; then these people take the law into their own hands and march on the path to taste the conquering of people.

“Most of the poor youth active in the Taliban movements have indeed been using religion to show their class hatred. When Islam’s name crops up in an issue, every cruelty is seen as legitimate; and from ransacking to slitting throats, they present a reason for every action aimed at spreading terror.

“Manpower is Already Present in Every Madrassa – And Has The Capability, With a Slight Hint, To Turn into a Fighting Taliban Force”

“To my mind, such manpower is already present in every madrassa, and has the capability, with a slight hint, to turn into a fighting Taliban force. Hate for people living a prosperous life already exists in these youth. To them, all those who have been living on more than two loaves of bread have accumulated their wealth illegally. And when they find a pretext to give their wishes free rein in the name of Islam, when they get the power to use arms and rule over people, then it is not easy to stop them. We have already been experiencing this in the FATAs and Swat.

“The Qaed-e-Azam [i.e. the Great Leader Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan] must have foreseen the present situation when he said that there will be no theocracy in Pakistan. Whenever religion is used to gain control of power and wealth, the champions of religion begin finding ways to justify their power and control by interpreting religion. If politics and state are subservient to the constitution, one can hope to get arguments accepted through logic and reason. But when religion is involved, reason, infidelity and logic are seen as means to discredit religion.

“The issue does not end here; every group starts depicting such thoughts as religion on the basis of which it can lay the foundation of its own interests. What follows is what has been happening in every theocracy: Muslims do not consider it bad to kill another Muslim in the name of Islam.”

“Such a Large Number of Muslims Would Not Have Been Killed Even by Hindus in India, As Have Been Killed by [Their Fellow] Muslims in Pakistan

“If we see the examples of East Pakistan [before its creation as Bangladesh in 1971] and Pakistan’s northwestern [tribal] areas today, we realize that such a large number of Muslims would not have been killed even by Hindus in India, as have been killed by [their fellow] Muslims in Pakistan. This is the necessary result of theocracy.

“We have been trapped in this game. Poverty and ignorance happen to be the biggest sources of power for a theocracy. We have provided this power; and the U.S. and [Pakistani] military dictators, in their attempt to further their own interests and needs, have armed and trained those [the Taliban] who use this power in the name of religion. They have now found a way to establish their own governments too. Al-Qaeda has further expanded their aspirations. They have been using modern technology.

“They have also established infidel [objectives] [to fight against], in the shape of the U.S. Helped by the U.S., they can now declare any one or any party as infidel who wants to stop them in order to establish law and order. They [Taliban militants] have also been exploiting the spirit of [Pakistani] nationalism to further their movements.

“Further Down the Road, [The Taliban] Will Also Try to Establish a Nuclear Islamic Power”

“It is useless to discuss whether Pakistan came into being in the name of Islam or as a separate homeland for Muslims; however, the process to break up Pakistan [once again] has started in the name of Islam.

“Yahya Khan [the former Army chief and president of Pakistan] had together with religious parties led a military raid on East Pakistan in the name of Islam. As a result, East Pakistan became Bangladesh. [Pakistan’s former military dictator] Zia-ul-Haq fought the U.S.’s war in the name of Islam [during the 1980s in Afghanistan] and the same Mujahideen of Islam are now trying to break up Pakistan.

“An Islamic Emirate of Waziristan [in Pakistan’s tribal district] has been established [by Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud], while another is in the offing in the Swat district under a new Emir [Maulana Fazlullah]. Further down the road, they will also try to establish a nuclear Islamic power.

“An international battle front had to be established [by the U.S.] against the war on terror. [We] did not anticipate that this battlefield will be in Pakistan. The bloodiest war in the history is going to begin in our homeland and some say that the fate of Afghanistan too will be decided in Pakistan. It is, however, not clear when this decision will be made. But [when we think of] how and what decision will be made about the fate of Pakistan, different maps emerge in mind…”


[1] Roznama Express (Pakistan), February 17, 2009.

[2] Roznama Jang (Pakistan), February 12, 2009.





Suicide blast kills 30 at Pakistan Shiite funeral

20 02 2009

Source: AFP
54 minutes ago
PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AFP) — A suicide bomber attacked a funeral procession for an assassinated local Shiite Muslim leader in northwest Pakistan on Friday, killing 30 people and putting furious mobs on the rampage.
The explosion took place near a Shiite mosque in Dera Ismail Khan, a town on the edge of Pakistan’s restive tribal areas with a history of sectarian violence, which has been on the rise in the Sunni-majority country.
“Thirty people have died and 65 are injured,” Saadullah Khan, a police official in the town, told AFP by telephone.
Hospital and police officials earlier put the death toll at 20, with dozens of others wounded. Police said the attack was carried out by a suicide bomber.
Soldiers were ordered to deploy and a curfew enforced after intense volleys of gunfire from panicked mourners at the funeral for the late Sher Zaman degenerated into angry riots.
The attack came two weeks after 35 people died in a suspected suicide bombing against Shiite worshippers in the Punjab town of Dera Ghazi Khan on February 5 in one of the country’s deadliest sectarian attacks.
Around 90 people have been killed in suicide and bomb attacks across Pakistan so far this year and more than 1,600 since government forces besieged militants holed up in a radical mosque in Islamabad in July 2007.
Much of the violence has been concentrated in northwest Pakistan, where the army has been bogged down fighting Taliban hardliners and Al-Qaeda extremists, who fled there after the 2001 US-led invasion of neighbouring Afghanistan.
In Dera Ismail Khan, mobs pumped bullets into the air, pelted stones at cars, ransacked shops, torched buses and set up road blocks with burning tyres in the dusty, low-rise town, residents told AFP by telephone from the town.
“A curfew has been imposed in the city,” district administration chief Syed Mohsin Shah told AFP.
“The military has been called in to support police for restoration of law and order,” he said.
Zaman, the local Shiite activist who was being buried on Friday, was shot dead by unknown gunmen riding on the back of a motorbike in a busy Dera Ismail Khan market on Thursday, a local police official said.
He had been a prominent member of the town’s Shiite community and organised community gatherings, police said.
Previously, an explosion ripped through a Sunni Muslim mosque on February 3, killing one person and wounding 18 others in Dera Ismail KHan.
Shiites account for about 20 percent of Pakistan’s 160-million-strong population.
The fellow Muslims usually coexist peacefully but sectarian violence has killed more than 4,000 people across Pakistan since the late 1980s.





Window on Pak Press: ‘Swat deal not sign of weakness’

18 02 2009

Source: Indiatoday

As the liberals inside Pakistan and the Western governments felt that the Zardari-Gilani government has fallen into the deadly Taliban trap by signing the deal with the militants to allow Sharia law to be imposed in the Swat Valley, the two leaders clarified that it (the deal) should not be seen as a ‘sign of weakness’. The newspapers on Wednesday splashed the meeting between President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani to review the Swat peace deal and hoped it would pave the way for permanent peace in the whole country.

The Dawn, Daily Times among others said that the two leaders were of the view that the deal signed with Tehrik Nifaz Shriat-i-Muhammadi (TNSM) should not be construed as a ‘weakness’ as it was inked to restore peace for benefit of local people.

Daily Times quoting President Asif Ali Zardari said the implementation of the Nizam-e-Adl Regulations 2009 in Malakand division will not affect the government’s policy on the war against terror, President Asif Ali Zardari said on Tuesday. During a meeting with visiting Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith, he said the agreement between the Taliban and the NWFP government was one part of an overall strategy for peace, a private TV channel reported.

Dawn explained that there have been mixed reactions from different quarters within the country and the international community over the deal. Some have termed it a ray of hope in restive Malakand Division and eventually in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) but some consider it a defeat for the government and security forces who. They say, are bowing their heads before militants and allowing them to implement their self-styled Shariat (Islamic laws) in the area.

According to Dawn, the President told Chinese newsmen that the government was pursuing a multi-dimensional policy in the war against terrorism and using economic, political and military options to eliminate the menace of extremism and terrorism. However, he added that, limited resources were compounding problems for the government.

He was of the view that force alone could not win the war against terrorism. “Maintenance of peace in Fata and the NWFP is the foremost responsibility of the government and providing protection to people is a challenge,” Zardari said.

But the Daily Times said Pakistan has gambled that an offer to implement Sharia in parts of the northwest will bring peace to the troubled Swat Valley, but analysts fear any lull won’t last long and appeasement is likely to embolden the Taliban.

Western officials fear Pakistan is taking a slippery road that would only benefit Al Qaeda and the Taliban, but Pakistani authorities believe the alternative of using overwhelming force on people who are, after all, Pakistanis poses a greater danger. The central government has said the Sharai Nizam-e-Adl – or the judicial system governed by Sharia – would be implemented in the Malakand division of NWFP, which includes Swat, unless the guns fall silent.

Islamic Law – Part of Constitution: Dawn also reported that the US State Department said on Tuesday that there’s provision for the Islamic law in the Pakistani constitution and the government’s decision to introduce religious laws in the Swat Valley was not an issue for anyone outside Pakistan. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was equally careful when asked to comment on an agreement between Pakistani authorities and the Swat militants that allows for the implementation of sharia in the valley.

She told reporters in Tokyo that the United States was studying the agreement and was trying to understand the Pakistani government’s ‘intention and the actual agreed-upon language. But the secretary warned that ‘activity by the extremist elements in Pakistan poses a direct threat to the government of Pakistan as well as to the security of the United States, Afghanistan and a number of other nations not only in the immediate region.’

The News on the other hand said the US State Department spokesman said, “We are in touch with the government in Pakistan, we are discussing the issue, but that is all I have for you at the moment.”

The News also reported that NATO too has expressed concern on Tuesday after Pakistan signed a pact with TNSM to introduce Islamic law in the Swat valley. “We would all be concerned by a situation in which extremists would have safe haven,” Nato spokesman James Appathurai told a news briefing. Nato heads an international force battling Taliban militants in Pakistan’s neighbour Afghanistan and Appathurai said he did not know if the pact would make its task more difficult. However, he added: “It is certainly reason for concern.”

But peace was still elusive in the militancy-ravaged valley. The Nation reported as many as eight people including two assailants were killed and 17 others got injured, many of them critically, when a bomb planted in a car blew up outside the house of Union Nazim Bazid Khel, Faheemur Rehman, in Badabair area here Tuesday, police said. As many as eight people including two assailants were killed and 17 others got injured, many of them critically, when a bomb planted in a car blew up outside the house of Union Nazim Bazid Khel, Faheemur Rehman, in Badabair area on Tuesday, police said.

The blast occurred a day after the NWFP government signed a peace deal with pro-Taliban militants in Swat. The blast damaged outer walls of the Nazim’s house and two neighbouring homes, besides two other cars, however, the nazim remain unhurt.

The deceased included Zar Muhammad, Ali and Qari Khalid, while the names of the killed attackers could not be confirmed till the filing of the report. The attackers were killed when people sitting in the residence of Faheemur Rehman opened fire at them.

The police the local people had apprehended three suspected persons who were being interrogated. The police also said that no one had claimed the responsibility for the attack so far. Around 15 to 20 kg explosive had been used in the blast, he added.

The other side of the story: Meanwhile, Dawn headlined an Associated Press story as “Pakistani Taliban militants publicly flog an alleged narcotic smuggler in Charbagh in Pakistan’s troubled Swat valley”

The story said: Pakistan has gambled that an offer to introduce Islamic law to parts of the northwest will bring peace to the troubled Swat valley, but analysts fear any lull won’t last long and appeasement will embolden the Taliban. Western officials fear Pakistan is taking a slippery road that will only benefit al-Qaeda and the Taliban, but Pakistani authorities believe the alternative of using overwhelming force on people who are, after all, Pakistani posed a greater danger.

The central government has said the Sharia Nizam-i-Adl, or the judicial system governed by Islamic sharia law, won’t be implemented in the Malakand division of North West Frontier Province, which includes Swat, unless the guns fall silent.

The Taliban announced a 10-day ceasefire on Sunday, while the NWFP government has said that while the military will remain deployed in Swat, there won’t be any offensives, only reactive actions.

Amnesty International estimates that between 250,000 and 500,000 people have fled their homes since late 2007, when the Taliban revolt began in Swat, an alpine region 130 km northwest of Islamabad. Tens of thousands have fled since August last year after an earlier peace deal broke down.

Public Beheadings: Known as Pakistan’s ‘Switzerland’ and once a popular tourist destination, Swat has become associated with sickening sights.

People in the scenic valley witnessed public beheadings and summary executions by Taliban fighters administering their brand of justice.

Bombs have targeted security forces, schools have been torched as part of a campaign against female education, and aid workers running immunisation programmes for children have been chased away by militants.

“If peace comes through this agreement, then we wholeheartedly accept it. After all, we’re Muslims and want Islamic system,” said Mohammad Naeem, a teacher in Mingora, the main town in Swat, whose own school was destroyed.

Analysts, however, see the pact as little more than a tactic to buy time, as the government seeks a firmer foothold in a region over which it had lost control.

They fear reluctance to permanently deal with reactionary forces will lead to greater problems later on. That has certainly been Swat’s history in the last two decades.

“I think this is going to be another blunder by the government,” said Khadim Hussain of the private Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy. “There may be a lull for awhile, but I think the government will again be trapped in more fighting. There will be more violence.”

Monday’s agreement was the third such pact signed by Pakistani authorities with Sufi Mohammad, a radical cleric who began a violent campaign for the enforcement of Islamic sharia law in the region in the 1990s.

The first agreement provided for the appointment of a Qazi, or an Islamic jurist, to assist a judge in deciding disputes in line with Islamic injunctions, though the jurist’s advice was non-binding.

In the second pact signed in 1999, the advice of the jurist was made binding though it was never enforced.

The latest accord, sets time limits on how long a court can take to decide a case, and establishes a designated appellate bench, meeting two key desires by the people for better justice.

Analysts say the government may be trying to drive a wedge between hardline followers of the elderly Mohammad and even more radical militants led by his young son-in-law, Fazlullah.

Bad precedent? They said: It is a risk.

Even if the laws being brought are far softer interpretation of sharia than the harsh Taliban version, giving ground to religious hardliners would set a ‘bad precedent,’ analysts said.

It could convince the most irreconcilable militants that their violent campaign was working.

“The present Talibanisation is not just a movement for enforcement of sharia,” Asad Munir, a former military intelligence official who served in NWFP and adjoining tribal areas wrote in a Pakistani daily. “The mullahs want power, authority and a defined role in decision-making in the social system of Pashtun society.”

Pakistani authorities have struck a number of deals in the past with militants in the tribal areas, known sanctuaries for al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Generally, the violence dies down for awhile and then flares again. Analysts didn’t foresee Fazlullah and his fighters staying quiet for long.

“The militants are not going to give up their control…They will be getting more capability to launch more strikes, more violence if the agreement does not work,” Hussain said.





Pay-up time

12 02 2009

Source: Frontline
NIRUPAMA SUBRAMANIAN

Pakistan: None of the first steps of the Obama administration has given the kind of unconditional reassurance that the Pakistanis want.

SHERIN ZADA/AP

A MAN CARRIES his elderly mother on his back as the family flees from the troubled Swat valley on February 1 as fighting between the militants and the security forces escalates.

THE bad news arrived quickly. Just three days after the Obama inauguration, the new United States administration made it plain to Pakistan that the winds of change sweeping America would not travel as far the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, at least not in the way that the rulers in Islamabad desired. If anything, the relationship might grow more difficult. The message came riding on two missile attacks on suspected militant compounds, within hours of each other, on the evening of January 23: one in North Waziristan and the second in South Waziristan.

The number of people killed in the attacks may have been 20. It is likely that there were both civilians and militants among the dead. It has always been impossible to verify such information. In Pakistan, the question is not so much if Al Qaeda operatives were among the dead. The missile attacks, launched from unmanned Predator aircraft, generically known as drones, are seen as violations of the country’s air space, territorial integrity and sovereignty.

There have been more than 30 such attacks since August 2008. Despite the Pakistani government’s protests against such incursions during the days of the Bush administration, the attacks continued, increasing in frequency and appearing to gain in precision. It led to the widespread belief that Pakistan’s civilian government was complicit in them. A Washington Post report in November 2008 said the Pakistan People’s Party-led government had given the Bush administration the green signal to carry out such attacks in the tribal areas. The understanding, according to the Post, gave Islamabad the right to protest against the attacks to keep domestic public opinion satisfied. Obama’s Defence Secretary Robert Gates told a congressional committee recently that the drone attacks would continue and that the decision had been conveyed to the Pakistani leadership.

The government has strenuously denied any secret understanding with the U.S. on the attacks. From President Asif Ali Zardari to Prime Minister Yusouf Raza Gilani to Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, all Pakistani leaders have made the point that the missile attacks were “counter-productive”: they fanned the flames of militancy that is eating the region – when civilians get killed, their fellow tribesmen, looking for revenge, swell the ranks of the Taliban and pro-Al Qaeda elements.

Pakistan’s influential media even went so far as to advise the government to stop the drones militarily, and, for a few days last year, the Pakistan Air Force flew sorties over the tribal areas in a sort of show of force. But as Qureshi once told reporters in his hometown Multan, when they asked him why the country could not stand up to the drone attacks in the same way that they had dealt with the alleged air space violations by the Indian Air Force in the wake of the Mumbai attacks: “Pakistan cannot equate the U.S. with India.” An indication that there was a limit to how far the government could go in challenging the drones. This also became evident when drones attacked a target in Bannu, which is not a territory in the lawless tribal region known as FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Area) but a “settled” district in North West Frontier Province (NWFP).

Some days before the Obama inauguration, Gilani told the National Assembly, the lower house of the Pakistan parliament, that the incoming administration would not carry out missile attacks inside Pakistani territory. That turned out to be an incorrect reading of the new U.S. administration’s intentions.

In fact, none of the first steps of the Obama administration has given the kind of unconditional reassurance that the Pakistanis want from their patron country. In keeping with the new President’s campaign promise to focus on the “war on terror” in Afghanistan, his agenda for foreign policy, announced the day after his January 20 inauguration, gave top billing to Afghanistan and Pakistan, but not in the way Pakistan wanted.

The agenda document spoke about refocussing American resources to deal with what the document described as the “greatest threat” to U.S. security: “the resurgence of the Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan”. It spoke of increasing troop levels in Afghanistan and asking the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) to do the same, while promising more money for economic development to the war-torn country. The new administration has said it will make the Afghan government “do more” in terms of cracking down on the illicit opium trade and on corruption. For Pakistan, the new administration has promised more “non-military” aid, while holding it “accountable” for security in the border region with Afghanistan.

Hussain Haqqani, Islamabad’s Ambassador to Washington, told Geo television that if U.S. policy was not “positive”, Pakistan “will have to review its options”. He expressed the hope that President Obama would give a “patient hearing” to Pakistan’s concerns.

The increase in non-military aid is expected to come via the Biden-Lugar Bill, a bipartisan draft legislation sponsored by Joseph Biden – now the U.S. Vice-President – and adopted by the Senate in September 2008.

The Bill, which the House of Representatives is yet to take up – it lapsed with the inauguration of the new administration and will need to be reintroduced in the Senate – proposes tripling Pakistan’s non-military financial aid over the next five years in recognition of the need to stabilise the country’s economy and democratic institutions, making the bilateral relationship more oriented towards Pakistan’s people rather than its military. It also makes military aid conditional on greater accountability from the Pakistan security forces.

Specifically, the proposed legislation authorises $7.5 billion over the next five fiscal years ($1.5 billion annually) under the Foreign Assistance Act. It also advocates an additional $7.5 billion over the subsequent five years, subject to improvements in the political and economic climate.

ASIF HASSANAFP

JAMMAT-E-ISLAMI ACTIVISTS demonstrate against the missile strikes after Barack Obama took over as President, in Karachi on January 25.

It makes military assistance beginning in 2010, and new military sales beginning in 2012, conditional on certification by the U.S. Secretary of State that Pakistani security forces “are making concerted efforts to prevent Al Qaeda and associated terrorist groups from operating in the territory of Pakistan; are making concerted efforts to prevent the Taliban from using the territory of Pakistan as a sanctuary from which to launch attacks within Afghanistan; are not materially interfering in the political or judicial processes of Pakistan”.

The increased non-military aid would address Pakistan’s contention that militancy must be tackled not by the military alone, but through economic development of the border regions, giving people education and jobs and “mainstreaming” them.

Pakistan had also hoped that Obama’s promised special envoy to the region would be mandated to work with India as well to press for a solution to the Kashmir issue. During his campaign, Obama said in an interview that a solution to the Kashmir problem was vital for peace in Afghanistan. The reasoning: the Kashmir issue is the cause of Pakistan’s insecurity with India, leading to its continuing quest for “strategic depth” in Afghanistan through jehadist proxies. Therefore, a resolution of the problem is as vital for the stability of Afghanistan as it is for peace between India and Pakistan.

In the event, the appointment of the tough-talking Richard Holbrooke as Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan caused disappointment in Pakistan that Obama had backed down, in the face of aggressive Indian diplomacy, from his resolve that the U.S. must help find a solution to Kashmir. But Pakistani leaders have continued to emphasise that Holbrooke’s mandate must be expanded to include India and Kashmir. In fact, the Foreign Ministry press release welcoming his appointment studiously avoided mentioning the two countries included in his mandate, stressing instead the word “region”.

The concern in New Delhi is whether Holbrooke will lean towards Pakistan’s view of the Afghan crisis or whether he will lean on the Pakistan military to produce the keys that can unlock the puzzle. Accepting Pakistan’s position would be no less than accepting jehad and terrorism as legitimate instruments of foreign policy. Leaning on the Pakistan military, on the other hand, would amount to challenging the nature of the Pakistani state.

Finally, the realisation that jehad is unviable has to come from within Pakistan, as it now has over the Taliban takeover of Swat. The picturesque valley in the NWFP, once a holiday destination for tourists, is now under the grip of a Taliban group under the leadership of Fazlullah, a mullah with extreme views who has thrown in his lot with the South Waziristan-based warlord Beithullah Mehsud.

Fazlullah’s marauding militants run a virtual parallel government in Swat. They brook no defiance and have imposed their extreme version of Islam on the people, making men wear beards and salwars that must end above the ankles, and women wear the shuttle-cock burkha, which was once unknown in that part of the world. Disobedience means death, with the body hanging in the main square in Mingora, the big town in Swat. The chowk itself has come to be known as “khooni chowk” (bloody square) or “chowk zibakhana” (slaughterhouse square). The valley was known for its vibrant singing and dancing, but that has ended, and an estimated 300,000 people of the total population of 1.6 million people have fled the district. No elected representative from Swat has dared to step into his constituency in months.

After a national outcry against the Pakistan Army for doing nothing to bring the situation under control, Army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani visited the valley in a prelude to a fresh round of operations.

But Pakistanis still tend to see the situation in Swat in isolation, as if it has no connection with the larger issue of jehadist militant groups raised by the Pakistani state for proxy wars in Afghanistan and Kashmir.

These groups and their virulent ideologies are eating at the very vitals of the country, threatening to tear it apart politically and socially, while their actions abroad threaten to push Pakistan out of the comity of civilised nations.

The message from Swat is that it is easy to start a jehadist war but containing it means a systemic overhaul that is not possible only by pasting a democratic face to the state. And in this lies the challenge for U.S.-Pakistan ties, as much as it does for the India-Pakistan relationship.•





Forget GAZA care about SWAT

12 02 2009

Source: The news
Thursday, February 12, 2009
By by Fasi Zaka
I think it would be absolutely inhuman not to care about the massacre in Gaza, the flagrant violation and cruelty demonstrated by the Israelis. But after talking to an old friend of mine, I can see how someone would be unmoved by the plight of the Palestinians.

A friend of mine called recently from the UK to announce the birth of his son. He was with me in university in Peshawar, and is a most amiable fellow. He is from Swat, and I had a good number of friends from that place during my student years.

The people of Swat are an extremely good looking people, and of a much more demure nature than most Pakhtuns, who are known to be boisterous. Several years after the completion of my education I went to Swat on a research project for the first and only time looking into the value chain of apple growers for the export market. I met many farmers, intelligent family men who were seeing hard times in agriculture but were optimistic about the future. Despite their hardships, they conformed to the gentleman farmer mould. If you had asked me at the time what would be the main concerns of Swat several years into the future I would have said it was the decimation of the population of bees due to pollution that was affecting the pollination of fruit-bearing trees. How wrong I was.

My friend who just had a son is in the UK, working; his wife and newborn are still in Swat. When he called he told me he was going to a protest in London to urge for action in his city. Several of his extended family had been murdered by the Taliban, and others threatened. The beauty of the valley is now irrigated by the blood of its slain innocents.

He asked me with what conscience could Pakistanis protest Gaza and be vocal about the atrocities there while remaining silent on Swat. He is right, it is unconscionable. More than the trouble in the tribal areas and FATA, Swat is problematic because it is indigenous Taliban without the benefit of being close to Afghanistan. When Swat goes, only a matter of time before Peshawar, and ultimately Islamabad too, if not the rest of the country, if the government does not detain these people.

How hard is it to take out a radio station there that Fazlullah uses to terrorise the citizens every night, announcing the roster of targets in his bloody workweek? What are the army and government thinking on this? There is already a report in the press that one of the ministers in the NWFP took out an advertisement in the local papers of Swat asking the Taliban to forgive him. Why is he still in office. The government has been shameless in only lauding Afzal Khan Lala, an octogenarian, the only resistance there is in the valley. Why is the burden of Swat on this old man?

The press has been irresponsible. Many commentators have romanticised the movement. But what is the core of the demands of the Taliban, other than regression of progress? Despite the horrific violence of the Communists, at least they gave their people education and quality healthcare that eventually helped undo the totalitarianism. The only way to undo the Taliban if they ever take over will not be education because there will be none. We will hark back to the days of brutes, leading short violent lives. There will not even be a noble savage amongst us. The moral relativism needs to end. They are massacring the people of Swat; the people live in terror every day while the army and the government watch on.

The Taliban have already issued their hit list to the media of politicians from the once serene valley. How long before they become even more ambitious and issue death verdicts to members of the legal fraternity, human rights lawyers and media men? Expect that soon. Where we can negotiate we should, no need for loss of life, even if it is enemies of the state, we need to preserve the sanctity of what is living. But sadly, we have moved beyond that phase because of the inaction of the both Musharraf and the current government.

The killing machine that the Taliban have become has created a new theatre of blood lust. They exhume graves of people to put corpses on display, they publicly kill people for minor offences, they fear education and ostracise it, they cut off people’s noses and ears. What kind of humanity is that? It’s not Islam, that’s for sure. It is an aberration.

Of all the coverage I have seen, the best came from unexpected quarters and in a totally different setting. While Hamid Mir is often criticised for being sensationalist, his reporting from Gaza was an unbelievable tour de force of mature and thought-provoking reportage. While surveying the damage in Gaza, he looked at the schools that were destroyed by the Israelis and pondered about Swat and the same that the Taliban manage to do with impunity. Without thinking everyone will denounce Israel, but hesitate to denounce what is happening in Swat. Why?

Gaza has been covered well by the world media and for the first time from both the west and the east there is tandem consternation over Israel, concentrating on it and ignoring our own plight is not sensible. The tragedy of Gaza doesn’t need to be replicated in Pakistan. We need to heal Swat, for the people of the valley and as a duty to our fellow citizens. The next generation will not forgive us for our silence.

The writer is a Rhodes scholar and former academic. Email: fasizaka@ yahoo.com





Pak to stop broadcast of Taliban radio in Swat, FATA

12 02 2009

Source: Merinews

During a meeting, officials from ISPR, PEMRA and Radio Pakistan informed the Information Minister of the Pakistan government’s ongoing efforts to procure equipment for jamming illegal radio transmissions in Swat and FATA..

PAKISTAN GOVERNMENT has said that it will intensify the government’s public outreach and strategic communications efforts to counter extremist propaganda and prevent terrorism.

Officials also said that they were procuring high tech equipment to stop the broadcast of Taliban radio in Swat and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

“Pakistan is confronted with a war of ideas – between tolerance and extremism, and between democracy and anarchy,” said federal minister for information and broadcasting, Sherry Rehman, while chairing a high-level public outreach and communications meeting held today at the Information Ministry to assess the government’s counter-terrorism communications strategy.

In this war for hearts and minds, Pakistan’s vulnerable population segments are exposed to terrorists’ message,” said the Information Minister.

“Our poor and uneducated youth become hapless recruits to their sinister recruiting techniques. Only a well-coordinated and synchronised national and international framework of public outreach and strategic communications undertaken by government departments and agencies will counter and thwart extremist propaganda that represents a major challenge to our country today.”

During the meeting, officials from ISPR, PEMRA and Radio Pakistan informed the Information Minister of the government’s ongoing efforts to procure equipment for jamming illegal radio transmissions in Swat and FATA.

The Minister was informed that the necessary equipment will be procured and installed in the sensitive regions in the next two weeks, followed by launch of an elaborate and aggressive FM radio campaign in the region to counter extremists’ transmissions.





‘Pakistan must close Taliban bases that train anti-India militants’

3 02 2009

31 Jan 2009, 1240 hrs IST, IANS

WASHINGTON: Getting Islamabad’s cooperation to close Taliban sanctuaries in its tribal areas may be Washington’s single hardest challenge as Pakistan has always used them to train people to operate in Kashmir or India, says a leading US expert.
Bruce O. Riedel, an expert on South Asia who has worked for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Pentagon and National Security Council, says new special envoy Richard Holbrooke needs to reverse the negative momentum in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The Taliban’s military successes in Afghanistan have to be reversed and Islamabad must help close their sanctuaries on Pakistani territory, he said in an interview at the Council on Foreign Relations, a Washington think tank.
But Riedel says “trying to get that cooperation out of the Pakistani government in my judgment will be the single hardest test that Ambassador Holbrooke faces and in fact may be the single hardest foreign policy challenge President (Barack) Obama faces”. The Pakistani military is of two minds about the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) along the border with Afghanistan, he said.
It has always used FATA “as the place where it could create groups like the Taliban, or encourage the development of the Taliban, where it could train people to operate in Kashmir or to operate in India”.
“But now that it sees that it’s losing control of that area, it’s increasingly concerned about the future,” Riedel added.
US Predator attacks on al-Qaida targets in that area had scored some important successes, but they had also helped further the alienation of the Pakistani people away from the US and badly eroded American brand image, Riedel said.
“Polling in Pakistan shows that a majority of Pakistanis blame America for the country’s internal violence. India comes in second place, and the al-Qaida and militancy comes in third place,” he said. “Any time that you are outpolling India as the bad guy in Pakistan, you’re in deep, deep trouble.”
Pakistan’s concerns in Afghanistan derive in large part from its concerns about India, the expert said.
“It can’t try to deal with these problems in isolation. But you also have to deal with them with a great degree of subtlety and sophistication, because there are decades-old fears among all the parties about American intentions,” Riedel said.





US anti-terror aid for Pakistan cut by $50m

29 01 2009

Source: Daily Times, India Today

LAHORE: The United States has paid Pakistan $100 million for its frontline-state role in the war on terror, against an originally planned amount of $150 million, a private TV channel reported on Monday. Talking to the media in a ceremony of Pakistan Microfinance Network in Islamabad, Finance Adviser Shaukat Tareen said the reason for the reduced funding was a new payment system in the US. He said the government was in contact with the US administration and was expecting to receive a positive response in this regard, the channel said. –daily times monitor.

The US has deducted $55 million out of the $156 million bill set by Pakistan for rendering its military services to fight against Taliban and Al Qaeda in volatile bordering tribal areas adjacent to war-torn Afghanistan.

Shaukat Tarin, a financial advisor in the prime minister’s office, said the US had “changed the format” for money released under the Coalition Support Fund (CSF) for Islamabad, resulting in a “massive” deduction.

Pakistan, a key US ally in the fight against terrorism, has mobilised its more than 100,000 troops in tribal areas to contain Islamic militants launching cross-border attacks on international forces in Afghanistan, and bills US for the expenditure.

The cut in its reimbursements is a setback to the civilian government led by President Asif Ali Zardari, widower of assassinated former Pakistani premier Benazir Bhutto.

Tarin said Islamabad had taken the matter of the deducted money with Washington.

Pakistan joined the US-led international alliance against terrorism after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US, with Islamabad getting some $297 million every year since 2003, in the form of Foreign Military Grants to quell the Taliban militancy.

But the authorities in Washington have said repeatedly that Islamabad was not doing enough to control Islamic insurgency in its ungoverned tribal region.

The new US government, led by President Barack Obama, has vowed to focus more on Pakistan in its policy to defeat Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. In its efforts, the new administration would link Pakistan’s aid with the security in the border region in Afghanistan, the White House said in a policy statement last week.

Pakistan, which has recently avoided default by obtaining a $7.6 billion loan package from the IMF, is relying heavily on US to revive its economy.

The US has so far provided between $10 and $11 billion of aid for social development as well as in form of military aid. But Pakistan says it has suffered financial losses many times more than it has collectively received aid from American and its western allies after becoming front line state in the ongoing war against terrorism.





USAID projects in FATA (Pakistan) shelved over security

29 01 2009

Source: Daily Times Monitor

LAHORE: Around 25 projects operated by USAID in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and settled areas of the NWFP have been temporarily closed over security concerns, a private TV channel quoted its sources on Wednesday.

According to the channel, staff members working on several projects in Tank, DI Khan, and North and South Waziristan agencies have been called back due to worsening security in those areas. The work on the projects would resume once the law and order situation improves, the channel said.

USAID was working on a comprehensive programme to support short, medium and long-term objectives of the government of Pakistan’s FATA Sustainable Development Plan (FSDP) 2006-2015. USAID’s objectives included enhancing the government’s legitimacy and writ in FATA, improving economic and social conditions for local communities, and supporting sustainable development. To achieve the objectives, USAID had expanded its earlier programmes and initiated new activities that included, building the capacity of FATA institutions to deliver services to citizens; improving livelihoods; strengthening health and education services; and developing FATA’s infrastructure.





analysis: Swat under siege —Abbas Rashid

24 01 2009

Source: Dailytimes

Both India and Pakistan do not seem optimally positioned in terms of internal dynamics to deal with the pressing issues they face. The dissensions within will allow the militants to secure even greater space

One indicator of the state of Swat is the fate of its schools. According to one estimate, over the last fortnight, around twenty schools have been burnt down — more than one a day on average. The total number of schools in Swat that have been destroyed has now exceeded 150. Most are girls’ schools. In fact, few schools in the area are actually functioning because of understandable concerns on the part of parents and teachers for the safety of the children.

There are doubts expressed sometimes as to who is responsible for this. Obviously, it is not possible to rule out the involvement of more than one element. But the Taliban have often enough made clear their aversion to girls’ education and the experience of their rule in Afghanistan provides ample testimony as to their determination in this regard.

But what are we doing about the havoc being wreaked in Swat?

Earlier this week members of parliament passed a resolution expressing solidarity with the people of the valley, pledging to “stand up for the protection of their rights in the face of the onslaught by non-state actors”.

We are not quite sure just how this will happen. On Thursday, President Asif Zardari met security chiefs and politicians to discuss the violence in Swat and elsewhere in the northwest, and said the government was following a “three D” policy of dialogue, development and deterrence.

The problem, however, is that dialogue and short-lived peace deals have been tried before, only to have the Taliban return to the area stronger than before. Development interventions are not possible unless preceded by peace and a modicum of stability. And so far, the fairly substantial presence of military and paramilitary forces in the area has somehow not deterred the Taliban from terrorising the people of Swat and FATA, forcing large numbers to leave their homes and flee the area. The majority of the police force is no longer performing its duties and even the security advisor suggested as much when he declared Thursday that the police would have to work at restoring their credibility.

But Swat is now in the grip of a broader Taliban-led insurgency challenging the writ of the state in FATA and increasingly in the settled areas of the NWFP. And a successful counter-insurgency strategy operation cannot be carried out by a demoralised police force. While the military and paramilitary forces have carried out successful operations in the area, there is a general sense that the initiative still rests very much with the Taliban who seem to be running short neither of arms, men or money in what is nothing less than an unrelenting drive to take effective control over large areas of Pakistan and force millions of its citizens to do their bidding.

An ISPR spokesman Wednesday blamed the situation in the area partly on the two months of truce agreed by the new provincial government with the militants, giving them a chance to regroup and tighten their grip. That may be so. Earlier, this was a strategy followed by the military under President Pervez Musharraf as well.

Now, again, the federal government has sought the services of JUIF chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman to negotiate with the Taliban. It is unlikely that the latter will agree to anything less than exercising effective control in large parts of the NWFP and imposing their own version of sharia that, among other things, rules out education for women and polio shots for children.

Clearly, a negotiated peace is the best option but it should not be a synonym for the surrender of the writ of the state. In the alternative, force has to be judiciously but effectively used to restore confidence in a terrorised populace. And while the Maulana may be the right person to negotiate with the Taliban, he might need reminding that his party lost in the last elections, held less than an year ago, and the ANP and the PPP won convincingly in the area: it says something about the preferences and aspirations of the people as opposed to those of the militants and terrorists.

Meanwhile, there is a level of uncertainly created by the fallout from the bomb blasts that killed so many innocent people in Mumbai last November. As the threats from India mounted, Pakistan made it clear that it would move troops fighting the insurgency to its eastern border and some were reportedly redeployed.

A major redeployment would obviously provide the Taliban with the opportunity to consolidate their gains and advance further. But, the pressure from India now seems to be receding and with the new US administration headed by Barack Obama, it is likely that there will be an attempt to put a regional initiative in place with regard to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

Richard Holbrooke has been reported as Obama’s choice for the position of US special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan But an important part of his mandate could be Pakistan-India relations as well. President Obama spoke during his campaign about the need to resolve the Kashmir issue and the recent remarks made by British Foreign Secretary David Miliband are indicative of the thinking in western capitals that a ‘regional’ solution may not be entirely possible without some kind of a settlement on Kashmir.

Pakistan, for its part, has made it clear that it will go along with any settlement acceptable to the Kashmiris, while India remains deeply suspicious of any third party involvement as indicated yet again by its sharp reaction to the Miliband’s remarks. However, India needs to resolve the Kashmir issue not for Pakistan but for itself just as Pakistan has to meet the challenge posed by the Taliban in FATA and the NWFP not in support of the US war on terror, but for its own integrity and survival as a nation-state.

For now, however, both India and Pakistan do not seem optimally positioned in terms of internal dynamics to deal with the pressing issues they face. The dissensions within will allow the militants to secure even greater space. To deal effectively with the growing menace of militancy and terrorism, both countries need to allow for a regional approach to the issue.

Abbas Rashid lives in Lahore and can be contacted at abbasrh@gmail.com