Pakistan in Media

Opinionated Media Coverage

The next phase

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Dawn, Pakistan
Sunday, 31 May, 2009

FOUR weeks into the military operation in Malakand division, the flow of mixed news continues. Militarily, successes are being achieved; the latest good news is that Mingora has nearly been secured by the army. But on the humanitarian front troubling news continues to pour in: on Friday, the NWFP information minister claimed that the number of IDPs in the northwest has touched 3.4 million, and this at a time when international aid agencies are running short of money and supplies. Overall, the picture that is emerging is one of a reasonably successful military operation set against a humanitarian crisis of staggering proportions. Clearly, the best-case scenario from here is one in which the security forces clear and hold the various battlefields in Malakand quickly to allow as many IDPs as possible to return to their homes at the earliest. Anything short of that and a large number of IDPs may be looking at a bleak foreseeable future.

Yet, simply attaining military success and allowing some IDPs to return to their homes without concerted action to make their resettlement as smooth as possible may prove very damaging to the counter-insurgency. Thankfully, the federal government appears to be awake to the need for such aid — it has spelled out a 3R approach in which, in addition to relief operations, emphasis has been laid on rehabilitation and reconstruction. Now that phase A of the counter-insurgency — use of the security forces to clear and hold areas controlled by the militants while the local populations have evacuated — appears to be nearing an end in some areas, the government must quickly turn its attention to phase B: filling the administrative void in areas that have been retaken and helping smooth the return of IDPs to their homes. Take the case of Mingora. It is a shattered city. The electricity grid has been destroyed, the telephone network has been damaged, government offices have been looted and damaged in fighting, the local police force has absconded and stocks of food have been removed by the militants. The city may have been secured by the army, but it has been a war zone until very recently and by any standard it is a city that isn’t ready to be administered by anyone at the moment. Therefore, the provincial and federal governments must ensure that the nuts and bolts of local administration are in place as quickly as possible and that the local administration is up and running by the time the people start streaming back into the city.

Finally, a word about the leadership of the TTP. While the militants may be on the back foot generally, a handful of the top commanders have still eluded the security forces. Those commanders need to be captured or killed soon, or else they may make the rehabilitation and reconstruction phases very difficult.


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posted @ 11:22 AM, ,

CNIC advice

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Dawn, Pakistan
Sunday, 31 May, 2009

DISCRETION is the better part of effective administration. A careful administrator will always weigh the pros and cons of his decision before implementing it in order to ensure positive results and minimise the risks of a negative fallout. In advising the residents of Lahore to carry their original Computerised National Identity Cards with them at all times, are the police following this golden rule? Surely not. Issued a day after the deadly terrorist attack of May 27 on law-enforcement agencies in the heart of the city, the advice comes across as yet another knee-jerk reaction to a situation that demands a cool-headed approach and well-thought-out planning and implementation of safety measures. Nevertheless, residents might still be prepared to comply with the advice meant to stave off dangers to their city if they are sure that some good would come of it. If, in this specific exercise, policemen can distinguish between troublesome elements and ordinary peace-loving citizens, it is fairly certain that Lahore residents would not hesitate to extend their cooperation to the police. On the contrary, if it becomes yet another ruse for cops to intimidate and harass anyone they believe is in need of official mauling, then the city’s people would be justified in questioning the wisdom behind the decision.

However, in both cases, and under the current circumstances, it is not clear whether carrying the CNIC at all times would prove to be part of the solution to protect the city from crime and terrorism that are fast assuming horrendous proportions. A comprehensive security strategy that works on multiple levels including capacity-building and morale-boosting among police ranks is what is urgently required at the moment. Such a strategy cannot work through any official advice issued on the spur of the moment, without taking the medium- and long-term consequences of any such action into consideration. That there can be no substitute for a well-thought-out policy cannot be stressed enough. It is this lesson that the government needs to learn if it wants to put up an effective fight against terrorism. No piecemeal measures can resolve Lahore’s security problems.


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posted @ 11:19 AM, ,

Police & war on terror

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By Abdul Khalique Shaikh
Sunday, 31 May, 2009

WEDNESDAY’S terrorist attack on a police rescue centre in Lahore as well as earlier incidents such as the Marriott bombing and the assault on the Sri Lankan cricket team are proof enough that the war on terror is no longer confined to the tribal areas or Swat. Our urban centres are now part and parcel of the conflict.

The battle is not being fought just between militants and the armed forces. The police have become the primary target in the settled areas, which is not altogether a new trend. Police officers, academies and stations have been targeted by militants in Iraq, Afghanistan and now Pakistan. In 2008, over 180 Pakistani policemen lost their lives and 426 were injured in incidents of terrorism. These incessant attacks against the police should not come as a surprise. The police uniform is seen by many as a symbol of the state. Anger against the state and the government is thus directed against the police.

As a civilian service the police cannot choose to live in fortified seclusion. The very nature of their duties involves open access and interaction with the general public. This makes them vulnerable to planned attacks. But despite this inbuilt susceptibility — or because of it — the repeated targeting of police offices should serve as a wake-up call for both the government and the force’s senior leadership.Eliminating all chances of a terrorist attack may not be possible. The key, instead, lies in ascertaining why the police aren’t a hard target for militants and how the extent of the havoc can be reduced. It is to be ensured that policemen are not sitting ducks and can defend themselves in a professional manner. There is no margin for error here for we are already embarked on a perilous course. Pakistan’s various police forces need to enhance their capacity to prevent such incidents, improve post-incident response and revamp and augment their detection capability.

Collectively the police serve as the primary agency for establishing the writ of law and sending a message that the state is fully functional and no other force can replace it. They are mandated to maintain order in the street and assist citizens in times of distress. A weak police means a weak state. The prevailing security situation dictates that the people should be given star billing when it comes to resource allocation.

Our policymakers need to devise and adopt a clear, consistent and long-term plan regarding the police organisation. Such a strategy should accord the police organisation its due status among the country’s law-enforcement agencies. It ought to be recognised as the leading investigation agency and primary preventative arm of the law. Budget outlays and political commitment should match the force’s due status and colossal responsibility. A reasonable share of foreign aid inflows ought to be apportioned to this sector. The government must invest heavily in the police to augment their capability and make it commensurate with the enormity of the task at hand.

The terrorist groups operating in Pakistan are well organised and motivated, and as such there is need to establish specialised units dedicated to fighting this menace. At the same time regular police units must be modernised. It is imperative to sufficiently equip the police, train them, ensure their welfare, raise their morale, and provide them with the latest weapons and state-of-the-art technology. It is high time to embrace the latest surveillance equipment and techniques.

Ironically, police investigators have been denied easy access to cellphone data. From ordinary criminals to hardened terrorists, lawbreakers of every ilk frequently use mobile phones in furtherance of their activities. Yet police officers are seriously handicapped in tracking them down because of the unavailability of cellphone records. This explains, in part, the dismal performance of the so-called premier investigation agency of a state threatened by surging terrorism.

Forensic investigation is another fundamental area that has long been neglected. There isn’t even a basic DNA forensic laboratory in any province. Not a single police force has a forensic pathologist on its rolls. Inadequately trained and unsupervised chemical examiners contaminate crucial evidence even in high-profile homicide cases. Almost all our forensic laboratories have to make do with obsolete equipment. When the world has moved on to electrostatic detection apparatus and digital comparison microscopes we still use ordinary magnifying glasses to conduct the most complicated of forensic examinations.

In order to build our detection capacity we need to increase our reliance on forensic evidence. This will only be possible if police officers are trained in this field and forensic science laboratories equipped with state-of-the-art equipment. Serious and focused commitment from the government is required on this count.

Effective intelligence gathering is a prerequisite for counter-terrorism measures. The police’s Special Branch used to be the eyes and ears of provincial governments for many years. Chief ministers used to begin their day with the head of the Special Branch presenting a well-prepared and objective assessment of the political and law and order situations. Instead of strengthening and bolstering this extremely useful intelligence-gathering institution, it has been reduced to a third-rate unit. The Special Branch can be still be turned into a valuable asset if it receives a little more attention and patronage from chief ministers.

We should acknowledge the services of policemen who lay down their lives in the call of duty. At the same time effectual steps must be taken to make the police a resourceful, capable and thoroughly professional organisation. Keeping in view the crucial role assigned to this vital state institution, we need to adopt a policy that frees the police of political interference and ensures meritocracy. Long-term strategies should take preference over short-term gains. Police officers of all ranks need to be sensitised vis-à-vis the level of the threat and the enormity of the task ahead.

The police have met tough challenges in the past. If properly equipped, adequately trained, ably led and suitably supported by the government, they can eliminate terrorism from the urban centres.

The writer is a barrister and senior superintendent of police in Sindh.


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posted @ 11:15 AM, ,

Need for structural changes (Judiciary)

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Dawn, Pakistan
Sunday, 31 May, 2009

A PRESS report quotes Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry having said that the doctrine of necessity stands buried and the rule of law has returned. With full respect that is due to the views of a judge, even when expressed outside the court, it must be said that Justice Chaudhry’s optimism on both counts is misplaced.

The doctrine of necessity is yet to be put to the real test, and the law rules no better than it did before his reinstatement. Every court verdict is still received cynically.

The visible beneficiaries so far are the victims of the previous regime. To get up to the Supreme Court, nevertheless, is a long and expensive course. Or, as a British judge Sir James Mathews put it 100 years ago: “Justice is open to all like the Ritz Hotel.”

Justice Chaudhry, however, was on the mark when he said that it was the inability of the state to dispense speedy justice that had led to the “war-like situation” in Swat — the “time-tested” judicial system was not to be blamed. There he went wrong again.

Delay is built into our laws and procedures. And the judges, lawyers, litigants (except for the unfortunate ones who rot in jails or are otherwise deprived of their rights) all revel in it.The people of the Malakand division have risen in revolt because for generations they were accustomed to speedy, if not always even-handed, justice dispensed by the princes, fief-holders or political agents by invoking the Sharia, usage or colonial regulations — whatever suited the occasion best or was preferred by the parties.

The people in the settled parts of the country have been putting up with the delays in the belief that the final dividend will be a just finding. That belief having been shaken to the core and delays only aggravating, it appears to be a matter of time before the settled, as opposed to the tribal, people too rebel against the “time-tested” system, not for its delay alone but also for its injustice.

In support of this apprehension, this writer may be permitted to recall some personal experiences spread over half a century, first in working the system and later in suffering its torment. Theories can be moulded to one’s liking but not the actual happenings.
Driving through a wayside bazaar in Swat state (as it then was) I killed a goose and hurt the child chasing it. As a crowd gathered a man more authentic than the rest appeared on the scene. He was the local qazi.
He heard both sides in his ‘court’ nearby and ruled that I should pay Rs20 for killing the goose (that I did) and a similar sum for hurting the girl — that her father graciously declined. Within half an hour I was again on the road.
Now the other side of the picture. A few days after that incident, I was sitting in my magistrate’s court in Nowshera when a foreign tourist came complaining that driving through the town his car was badly damaged by a negligent truck driver. The police had registered a case and asked him to appear in my court after a week.
Recalling how grateful I was to the Swat qazi under similar circumstances, I heard the case the following day and convicted the truck driver ignoring his protestations.
“What about compensation for my damage?” the foreigner asked. For that, I told him, he had to go to civil court where it might take a year or more. He left, cursing the system and its operators.
It is a long-established tradition in Chitral that a husband has the right to kill his adulteress wife if caught red-handed. The state’s judicial council upheld that right in rather uncertain circumstances. As the government’s chief adviser to the state I wouldn’t agree despite repeated pleas of the council. The following day the woman was found dead in the woods. Custom, and not order,
During my stay in the state not a single heinous crime was reported. The worst offender was a state police official who hunted down a snow leopard — a protected species — to present its skin to me as a memento.
In 1994, my wife and I both were kidnapped and robbed by a gang of four. The chief gangster was convicted after a five-year long trial but instantly released as the sessions court set his sentence off against detention during trial.
The punishment prescribed in the law being life imprisonment, the advocate general on behalf of the state filed a revision petition in the Sindh High Court. It still lies there somewhere for seven years now.
On the report of a cleric, I was prosecuted for misrepresenting my religious faith. It took appearances before a number of sessions and high court judges spread over six years before a lady additional sessions judge, Nuzhat Alvi, took half an
hour to hear and dismiss the complaint.
That intrepid woman, combined with my recollection of the late formidable Suraya Pai who was additional district magistrate when I was district magistrate of Karachi in the 1970s, convinces me that for expeditious and just disposal of criminal cases, perhaps, all our trial courts should be headed by women.
I long pleaded with the government to make another stern woman — Rukhsana Salim — a district magistrate. She wasn’t, though later she was made a secretary.
Justice Chaudhry’s instincts, words to the judges and the bar, visits to jails with officials will make little difference to the quality and speed of justice. The system needs structural changes; some laws and even court rulings have to be struck down for they violate human rights and impede the course of justice. This is a long and tedious task needing humility not protocol.
Above all, the judges must be well-paid stern recluses. The role model at the top should be Justice Cornelius. His only foray in public out of his hotel room was on Sundays driving his sports MG all by himself. Then, in later years, my friend Justice Shafiur Rehman, when on official duty, would take a bus to Lahore as it didn’t make sense to him to spend four times as much public money to travel by air to save just an hour.
At the lower end, in my childhood I knew a sub-judge who at the district club would join the executive officers in tennis but not in their gossip.
To be popular and impartial at the same time is a hard balancing act for any public official; it is harder for a judge.


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posted @ 11:08 AM, ,

Militancy in mainland Pakistan

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Daily Times, Pakistan
ANALYSIS: Dr Hasan-Askari Rizvi

The on-going Swat operation has inflicted serious damage on the Taliban and the myth of their invincibility has been damaged to such an extent that new recruits will think twice before signing up

The massive May 27 terrorist bombing in Lahore is the latest evidence — as if further evidence is still needed — of the Taliban’s growing challenge to Pakistan’s internal stability and security. The Lahore attack was followed by two more bombings in Peshawar and a suicide-attack in Dera Ismail Khan the next day.

Deputy chief of the Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan, Hakimullah Mehsud, claimed responsibility for the Lahore attack and asked people to vacate Lahore, Rawalpindi, Islamabad and Multan as the Taliban were planning “major attacks on government facilities in the coming days and weeks” in these cities.

Pakistan now faces a serious internal war, something its official circles denied in the past, spearheaded by religious militants that are attempting to overwhelm the Pakistani state, government and society. These extremists use religion to cover up their actual agenda of establishing a territorial domain to pursue their international religious-ideological plans.

The Taliban and their allied groups based in Punjab have resorted to these bombings in order to deter the government and the army from pursuing the Swat operation. They also want to restrain Pakistan from taking similar action in the tribal areas. The militants think that a number of bombings in quick succession will build enough public pressure to stop military action in Malakand.

The other message from the Taliban is that they will take their war to any part of Pakistan if the security forces do not pull back. They have connections with local militant and sectarian groups that act as their hosts and facilitators in cities across Pakistan. These local facilitators could be a local extremist/sectarian group, based at a mosque or a madrassa where the terrorists park themselves and work towards completing their terrorist mission.

Punjab, especially Lahore, has been selected for some major terrorist attacks in the recent past because of the province’s (and the city’s) importance in Pakistan politics and economy. Punjab is also well-represented in the army, the bureaucracy and intelligence agencies. From the Taliban perspective, instability in Punjab will have negative implications for a large number of people and would deeply affect the Pakistani civil and military establishment.

Militancy has developed deep roots in Punjab over the years. Some of the most well known militant and sectarian groups are based in the province. These groups have cultivated links with the Taliban for training and safe havens in the tribal areas. Some Punjabi militants are said to be fighting with the Taliban in the tribal areas and Afghanistan. Naturally, it is easy for the Taliban to operate in the Punjab through these linkages.

The strongest opposition to the current security operation in Malakand is coming from Islamist elements in Punjab. The Jama’at-e Islami, spearheading opposition to the Swat operation, has its headquarters in Lahore. A number of other religious parties opposed to military operations are also primarily based in Punjab. A good number of religious leaders demanding an end to the Swat operation also hail from the Punjab. Most non-Pashtun militant groups, such as the Lashkar-e Tayba and Sipah-e Sahaba, have a strong Punjabi background.

It is interesting to note that a large number of journalists, political commentators and writers in the vernacular press that express varying degrees of support to militancy and oppose the current military operation hail from Punjab. They raise a host of themes, i.e. direct or indirect opposition to military operation, sympathy for the Taliban, accusing Pakistani authorities of killing its Muslim citizens in order to satisfy the US or to get economic assistance, and that Pakistani rulers should be afraid of God rather than the US.

There are similar dynamics of opposition to US drone attacks in the tribal areas. Most vocal criticism comes from the activists of Islamist political parties all over Pakistan or from political activists from Punjab. The issue does not resonate so much with political activists from other provinces that do not identify with Islamist parties.

This does not mean that there is no support for the Swat operation in Punjab. In fact, this support is more pronounced than the opposition by Islamist parties. Similarly, there is enough evidence available to suggest that politically active circles, societal groups and others oppose religious extremism and militancy. This sentiment has increased against the backdrop of the political developments leading up to the operation and the pushing back of the Taliban by the military in Malakand. The only exceptions to this approach are Islamist parties, a section of pro-Taliban religious leaders and Imran Khan’s PTI.

The key issue is that sympathy and support for Islamist militancy and the Taliban, and criticism of the Swat operation, is also pronounced in Punjab. A logical follow up of this argument is that anti-Americanism is equally pronounced in the province.

Given the centrality of Punjab in Pakistani politics and administration as well as the dynamics of support for Islamist militancy, the Taliban leadership made an understandable decision to take the internal war into Punjab. More attacks can take place here in the future; and the Taliban, through these attacks, hope to compel the government to review its counterinsurgency policy.

The Swat operation has for the first time dislodged the Taliban from some areas. They are expected to lose effective control of the Swat valley and adjoining areas very shortly. This setback will have three major implications for the Taliban movement.

First, the Taliban will find it difficult to find new recruits. In the past, participation in the Taliban movement gave status and power to the poor and dispossessed. There was hardly any cost for the militants because the Pakistani state did not fully challenge them. The on-going Swat operation has inflicted serious damage on the Taliban and the myth of their invincibility has been damaged to such an extent that new recruits will think twice before signing up.

Second, the success of the Swat operation will be a morale booster for the security forces and the government. The top civilian and military leadership appears to have come to the conclusion now that the Taliban and similar groups can no longer be allowed to function in defiance of the state.

Third, this will also help remove doubts at the international level about the capacity and willingness of the Pakistan military and government to take on the Taliban. This will also weaken the propaganda that the Taliban might one day overwhelm the Pakistani state and gain access to nuclear weapons and materials.

Pakistan’s civilian and military authorities must be pleased about the successes in Swat. But there is a long way to go to restore the primacy of the state and remove the causes of extremism and militancy. Challenges exist not only in the tribal areas but also in mainland Pakistan where some militant groups continue to hold ground and disparate Islamist elements tend to support or sympathise with them for one reason or another.

Dr Hasan-Askari Rizvi is a political and defence analyst.

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posted @ 11:03 AM, ,

The siege of Peshawar

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Daily Times, Pakistan
Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Taliban retaliated in Peshawar after their defeat in Peochar in Swat and an explosive fixed to a bicycle was detonated via remote control in a crowded bazaar. On Friday, the provincial capital wore a deserted look as security was notched up in anticipation of further attacks. The city is under Section 244 for the coming month and all educational institutions have been closed down. Peshawar, more than the rest of the country, is waiting for some kind of storm.

The plight of Peshawar in some ways precedes that of Swat and some will call it much worse than Swat despite the events that have shocked the world. The capital of the NWFP has been falling under the influence of a number of warlords and criminals riding under the banner of the Taliban. When the ANP government came to power in 2008 it discovered that it hardly governed the city. Peshawar had already been divided up in areas of control by warlords and criminal gangs located outside the province in the tribal areas.

What was further discovered was the tolerance that had been shown earlier to the spread of the power of the external warlords inside the city. Criminal gangs in the city, seeing exemption in it, joined up with the warlords and began to organise their extortions around so-called “Islamic” injunctions. They in turn ensured massive ownership of property in the city by the warlords. For instance, the properties owned by one warlord in Khyber run into scores of locations. The police was, and is today, hardly capable of facing up to these outlaws.

Peshawar is still suffering the aftermath of the “exemption” of the earlier MMA and Musharraf years. The city is inadequately defended against the enemy who is already inside it. “Summons” are daily received by businessmen asking them to present themselves in the Taliban courts inside the city to answer charges of “anti-Islamic” activities. Sensitive to the weakness of the government, doctors and teachers are obeying newly imposed dress codes and waiting for the tables to turn against the terrorists. *


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posted @ 10:59 AM, ,

The fall of Peochar

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Daily Times, Pakistan
Sunday, May 31, 2009
The Pakistan Army has taken control of Bahrain in Swat and moved on to clear Peochar, known as the Taliban’s den. The terrorists have fled the stronghold, yielding 28 dead, including their infamous commander Khushmir Khan alias Abu Huzaifa, while seven Taliban have been arrested. Despite a lot of unnecessary hype on some TV channels about civilian casualties, only two were injured during the operation. Yet, before Peochar fell, Bahrain saw some of the heaviest fighting to date.

The goods discovered at the Taliban headquarters for Swat included 12 UN-registered vehicles that the Taliban had snatched. There were the typical tunnels where the warlords hid when they were attacked with heavy fire. There was a madrassa complete with four tunnels for storing rations stolen from NGOs and a huge cache of arms. Unfortunately, this victory has come at the cost of over 2 million internally displaced persons (IDPs). The unfortunate dilemma, however, is that without this movement of people away from the battlefield, the victory over the Taliban would not have been possible.

Almost half the people of Malakand Division have fled their homes to enable the Pakistan Army to come in and kill over 1000 Taliban while suffering 80 soldiers dead in the fight in Lower Dir, Buner and Swat. The situation now faced by the country is no doubt grim but it could have been saved had the Musharraf regime decided in 2007 to stand up to the challenge of the terrorists. Even during 2008, the new civilian government dilly-dallied in the face of bad news from Swat and allowed the innocent Swatis to surrender their will to the Taliban.

Regrettably, those who supported the Taliban as “a legitimate reaction to the invasion of Afghanistan by America and Islamabad’s enslavement to American designs” have not given ground even after they were faced by a national consensus against the atrocities of the Taliban and their violation of the Nizam-e Adl accord. For instance, Ambassador Rustam Shah Mohmand insists that the report of the violation of the accord by the Taliban in Buner was actually an “exaggeration” on the part of the government: “But the fear of the Taliban taking control was so vociferously projected in the wake of two vehicles being driven into Buner by a few disorganised youths that it seemed like a deliberate move to create justification for a strong government intervention” (The News, May 30, 2009). The problem is that the resistance the army faced in Buner when it went in to clear the area could not have caused by “two vehicles being driven into Buner by a few disorganised youths”.

It is interesting that Mr Mohmand thinks that the 1994 imposition of shariat in Swat was not fully explained: “It was not explained to the people and to the world that the government is only re-enacting a law that was adopted by the governments of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif”. But the truth is that this point was drilled home by the press and by the ANP government that backed the Nizam-e Adl accord. If there is one thing that is now well known, it is the fact that the Nizam-e Adl Regulation was a legacy of the 1990s.

What supporters of the Taliban keep insisting on is the “nexus” with America: “Which other nation would get involved in a genocidal war for obtaining [foreign] assistance? Indeed the whole pattern of the [sic!] events would seem to fit in [sic!] the overarching strategic goals of some distant imperial power”. What is ignored is the fact that Peochar was where Baitullah Mehsud sent in the salaries for the warriors of Fazlullah, his “foreigner” warriors from the Uzbek and Chechen jihadi organisations, and the automatic and heavy weapons used against the innocent people of Swat and the Pakistan Army.

The government in Islamabad is unfortunately divided between the Taliban it faces at home and the US-Indian pressure it is facing from across the Durand Line. After every terrorist attack, the first accused are the US and India until the Taliban warlord Baitullah Mehsud in South Waziristan owns up to the deed. There is much talk of Indian involvement. If that is a fact and Mr Mehsud and his fighters are doing India’s work then this should be proved. However, this would also prove wrong those analysts who insist that the state should not be fighting its own people. This is a “strategic dichotomy” that might hurt Pakistan in the long run as the military operation drags on and the state successfully deals with the challenge to its internal sovereignty. *


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posted @ 10:55 AM, ,

The bottle brigade

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The News International, Pakistan
Sunday, May 31, 2009

The LHC has taken up a case in which the petitioner has expressed concern over the quality of water sold in bottles and apprehended that in many cases it is merely filtered tap water. The matter of toxins leaked by plastic bottles into the water has also been taken up.

The tabling of the issue reflects growing consciousness on the part of consumers over what is being sold to them. A similar case, involving the quality of milk sold in Lahore, had also attracted the notice of the top provincial court. What that case proved is that we still lack effective means to regulate the quality of food items sold in the market. The questions raised in that case are still to be resolved.

The fact that more and more such cases are reaching courts and indeed being accepted by them suggests the higher expectations of people from manufacturers including the giant multinationals involved in the marketing of milk, water and other products. The fact also is that most of those who buy the items they have brought into markets do so in the quest for quality and high standards. We need more mechanisms in place to ensure these are delivered. Indeed, the process of adequate testing should not be one dependent entirely on the courts. We need a reliable, independent authority to carry this out as a matter of routine and by doing so make sure that people are indeed getting the goods they pay for. The issue also involves health and welfare. This is a sphere in which the government needs to step in and offer people the peace of mind they seek when it comes to the question of the food they eat or the water they guzzle down each day.


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posted @ 10:52 AM, ,

The IDP issue

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The News International, Pakistan
Sunday, May 31, 2009

During a visit to a camp in Swabi on May 29, President Asif Ali Zardari has made it clear he sees the IDPs as people who deserve the attention of the entire nation. The comments come at a time when controversy over the entry of the displaced persons into Sindh continues. In cities of Punjab too, vague allegations that unemployed young men from Swat and elsewhere may be involved in armed crime has led to hesitation on the part of people regarding their attitudes towards the IDPs. The entire situation needs to be looked at rationally and realistically. There is every possibility that some of the IDPs may not be able to return home for several months. Meanwhile there is also a distinct likelihood of further displacements as fighting continues and its arena is expanded to Waziristan and other stretches of the northern areas such as the Kurram Agency.

There can be no doubt at all that the IDPs deserve all possible help and the support of other citizens. The UN has termed the displacements, which the Pakistan government says has brought three million people out of their homes, one of the largest and most rapid in recent times.. Health experts visiting camps have stressed the need for immediate measures to stem the rapid onslaught of disease and to improve the living conditions. Reports say many IDPs continue to live in abject misery, often with host families, and have little awareness about the benefits of registering themselves. Others at Jallozai complain about long delays holding up the registration process. In short, there seems to be little doubt that there is still a great deal that needs to be done. The immediate requirement is for better sanitation at camps and more facilities for people who may be forced to live in their inhospitable environs for months. This alone will help lessen the sense of trauma.

But we need also to think about the question of the relationship between the IDPs and local communities. The generosity of ordinary people in Mardan and elsewhere has been immense. But is it fair to continue to count on it to sustain the IDPs? Beyond relief, we also need to think of providing some kind of income generation or work facilities for those in camps. The need for cash is said to be acute. It is also unrealistic to expect so many people to sit idle week after week without some occupation. Specialized NGOs and micro-credit institutions may be able to assist in this. We need innovative thinking combined with solid implementation. In the absence of this there is a real risk that the IDP issue will become more and more complicated and create a new spectrum of problems. The government then needs to anticipate the problems and work to avert them.


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posted @ 10:49 AM, ,

Tunnel vision

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The News International, Pakistan
Sunday, May 31, 2009

The deconstruction of a briefing given by Major General Athar Abbas and its subsequent reporting in the media bears close study. The briefing was interesting in that for the first time it made reference to four tunnels constructed by the Taliban in Peochar, and the contents thereof. The Taliban have been busy looting not just the UN convoys but goods intended for the relief of IDPs as well. They had also collected pre-packed military rations (which are unlikely to be halal) and other comestibles not locally available. Additionally there was a large cache of sophisticated weapons – on which Major General Athar commented…"We are not surprised if these weapons slip out from Afghanistan and many of them are found in Swat and are being used against our troops." He later made the point that the outside world should stop worrying its silly little head about our nuclear assets and instead turn its attention to more pressing business – like how come all these modern weapons are finding their way over the border and who is it that is providing material and financial support to the insurgents we are currently fighting?

The weapons he was referring to were primarily American, and represented equipment considerably in advance of that used by our own forces. What he did not say was that this cross-border leakage was part of a long-established clandestine (but never really interdicted by our own agencies) trade in arms from the various Afghan conflicts over the last thirty years. This is neither new nor unexpected – and the Americans are in something of a double-bind. They are committed to arming and training the Afghan army. They arm them with modern American weapons. The Afghan army has, from time immemorial, traded-out a proportion of its weapons. Pas-de-probleme for Uncle Sam.

What Major General Athar Abbas was talking about was nothing more or less than the product of routine banditry. Banditry on a very large scale, perhaps, but banditry nonetheless. The Taliban are not fussy about where they get their supplies – but they prefer good quality reliable equipment. Neither would they be concerned at taking food from the mouths of the needy – the IDPs who are very much a by-product of Taliban activity in the first place. Stealing UN and NATO and American goods means that they are getting the best that thievery can get. That they then cache the proceeds of crime in tunnels where they have strategic bases is precisely what you would expect any organized and disciplined fighting force to do. Attempting to present this as a part of the activity of some hostile foreign agency is simply disingenuous. We cannot pretend that there is never any foreign hand in the tangled events now unfolding in our borderlands, because they have had foreign fingerprints all over them for centuries - but to try and lay off the whole sorry business into foreign laps smacks of the denial of reality that tumbles so glibly from the mouth of anybody speaking from a position of authority.


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posted @ 10:39 AM, ,

Pakistan religious schools get scrutiny

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The madrasas, schools that teach the Koran and little else, are suspected of nurturing extremism. Under U.S. pressure, the Pakistan government has pledged to reform the system.

By Mark Magnier
May 30, 2009

Reporting from Akora Khattak, Pakistan -- The Darul Uloom Haqqania campus is a sprawling labyrinth of ashen buildings where young men in black beards and white skullcaps spend their days and nights on hard concrete floors learning all 77,701 words of the Koran. Some people call it the University of Jihad.

The fact that some of Haqqania's graduates go on to become Taliban fighters and suicide bombers isn't the school's concern, said Syed Yousef Shah, the head of the 3,000- student madrasa, or Islamic seminary.

One person may become a journalist, another a driver," he said as he reclined on a pillow in a small meeting room in the school. "We can't control what people do afterward."

Yes, the madrasa gave the one-eyed Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar an honorary doctorate. And why shouldn't it? "We did it because he's smart, upright and has many distinguishing qualities," Shah said.

Under heavy pressure from the U.S., President Asif Ali Zardari pledged recently to reform the madrasa system, in a campaign against militancy that has included a Pakistani army offensive in the Swat Valley.

Most Pakistanis had not been too concerned about the burgeoning influence of the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the frontier and tribal areas. But as militants have moved closer to the capital since a controversial deal in the Swat Valley allowed the imposition of Sharia, or Islamic law, the public has become increasingly wary of extremism. That could strengthen domestic pressure to reform madrasas, some analysts say.

Shah isn't worried; he's heard it before. He rattles off a string of past national leaders, including Gen. Pervez Musharraf, assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

"They all said they would change us," he said, wearing a gold watch and juggling two cellphones. "We are too strong, and it will never happen. This is just talk for the Americans."

Experts tend to agree. The madrasa curriculum and routine -- studying the Koran and other religious texts to the exclusion of much else, with a strong focus on rote memorization and strict obedience -- has resisted change for centuries.

The vast majority of Pakistan's estimated 20,000 or so Islamic seminaries are benign. Several hundred, however, teach extreme forms of Islam that experts say provide a training ground for militancy and jihad, or holy war. Haqqania, 30 miles east of Peshawar in North-West Frontier Province, is on that list.

In 1997, a telephone call from Mullah Omar asking for help sent several hundred of its students traveling through the Khyber Pass to Afghanistan to help Omar's Taliban forces capture the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif.

Reports that the entire school closed in support of the struggle were inaccurate, Shah said. "Smaller madrasas with 20 or 40 students closed," he said. "But with 3,000 students to look after, we couldn't shut down completely."

Rubina Saigol, an education specialist and human rights activist who did her doctoral thesis on Pakistan's textbooks, said extremism in the madrasa system is a concern. But the broader problem, she said, is that the system has the tacit support of the Pakistani military, which has viewed young extremists as potential recruits for its proxy war against India over Kashmir.

Until the military decides that the madrasas are no longer useful, she said, meaningful reform is unlikely.

"They've viewed these people as a parallel army," she said.

Although madrasas have had a role in churning out extremists, some experts said it's important not to give them too much credit for the discontent, militancy and anti-Americanism seen in Pakistan.

In fact, the roots of displeasure go far deeper, and are frequently closely tied to Pakistan's government, which is often corrupt and fails to provide security or basic services in the border region, creating a vacuum.

Furthermore, less than 2% of enrolled Pakistani students attend madrasas, most of which are not in the ultra- extreme camp. "The madrasas are a symptom, not the cause," said C. Christine Fair, an analyst with the Santa Monica-based Rand Corp. think tank.

Economics as much as fanaticism can be a factor in a family's decision to enroll their children. Most madrasas offer free room, board and clothing, attractive for large, impoverished families.

Saeed Ahmed, 29, said he realized how narrow his education was only after he left.

"My father worked at a madrasa and believed all you needed to know was the Koran," Ahmed said, dressed in a shalwar kameez and skullcap. "And we didn't have much money. Later, when he saw me struggle to start a company without math, basic business vocabulary, computer skills, he admitted he'd made a mistake."

Ahmed now helps finance a broader education for his four younger brothers who return the favor by assisting him in managing his liquefied natural gas company.

Shah, taking a pinch of snuff from a plastic bag, denied that the rigid curriculum of his madrasa fails to prepare graduates for the real world.

As evidence, he gestured toward a computer room with a few desktops that he said was accessible to the 3,000-member student body. It was locked.

Qaiser Mehmood Butt, a preacher and founder of the Jamia Sabeel-ur-Rehmat madrasa in Peshawar, which is among the few mixed-curriculum institutions in Pakistan, said reform by state fiat won't work.

A better approach, he said, would be to set up a handful of "charter" dual-curriculum madrasas. Once families start seeing the benefits of teaching English and other "elite" skills to impoverished students, they will pressure other madrasas to follow suit, he believes.

Madrasas don't teach students to be militants or attack Americans per se, Butt said. Rather, because their graduates emerge obedient, sheltered and narrowly focused, they're easily manipulated.

"I could go into a rural area right now, tell some young boy this small piece of paper is his ticket to paradise and get him to go to some place with a suicide bomb," he said. "If I tried that among city children exposed to so much more, I'd need a whole pile of certificates and they'd still refuse."

Shah said the cost of running Haqqania is about $220,000 annually. The money comes from donations and God, he said. They've never taken a rupee from the Pakistani or Saudi governments, he said, sitting beside a closet-size safe. Who donates? Just people, he said, holding up an inch-thick wad of cash he said had just arrived from a donor.

As many as 300 students as young as 6 sit cross-legged in long rows in each classroom on concrete floors covered by thin carpeting. The system doesn't encourage questioning, doubt or real understanding, critics say, until the highest levels.

Ten students apply for every four accepted, school officials said, and as many as 40 boys are crammed into small dorm rooms. Students wake at 5 a.m., pray until 7, then intermittently pray and study religious materials until as late as 11:45 at night.

"I like coming here," said Moheed Ullah, 19, a student. "It's a peaceful place."

Shah leaned back on his pillow, adjusted his stylish gray head scarf and spoke too about peace, and how pleased he was to receive guests and exchange ideas.

Then he was asked to verify reports that the madrasa endorsed a fatwa, or religious edict, in 1998 by Osama bin Laden to kill Americans. His face paled, the smile disappeared, and for the first time he seemed at a loss for words.

"I can't say if this is true or not," Shah said.

A few minutes later, he signaled that the interview was over. "You are our guest, you are most welcome," he said. "But you media must be fair, stop lying and spreading untruths."


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posted @ 10:33 AM, ,

A Better Bargain for Aid to Pakistan

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By C. Christine Fair
Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Obama administration pledged more than $100 million in aid last week to Pakistanis fleeing the fighting between the Taliban and the military in the Swat Valley. All told, since 2001, the United States has spent about $12 billion to help Pakistan. Yet last month, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared Pakistan a "mortal threat" to international security.

Washington needs to strike a far better bargain for its billions.

Faced with a Taliban offensive and the threat of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal falling into jihadists' hands, the United States is proposing to spend an additional $1.5 billion each year until 2013 on civilian aid programs and to increase funding for Pakistan's security forces. Last month in Tokyo, international donors pledged $4 billion to help Pakistan.

U.S. officials and the public want to know whether these massive sums will be spent wisely. "We've sent money in the past," House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman (D-Calif.) told an interviewer this month. "It has been stolen."

How can the United States ensure that the new funds won't disappear into the pockets of well-connected kleptocrats and their cronies instead of helping Pakistanis in need? First, it's important to understand how so many billions have been spent for so little apparent positive effect.

One likely reason is that aid itself corrupts and corrodes. Foreign aid lessens the requirement for a government to forge a bond with its citizens by raising revenue and redistributing those funds as services. Such a social contract is fundamental to Pakistan's emergence as a robust democracy that provides for its people.

Some estimates suggest that of 180 million Pakistanis, fewer than 1.5 million pay taxes. Pakistan should be encouraged to reform its tax code and commit to collecting what is owed -- even from recalcitrant politicians, savvy business executives, feudal landlords and other well-connected tax evaders.

The massive infusion of foreign aid has also allowed Pakistan to avoid having to choose between guns and butter. Such choices define the democratic process. But successive Pakistani governments have successfully wagered that chronic instability and the imminent dangers of terrorism and nuclear black-marketeering would leave the world with no choice but to bail them out, regardless of their failures.

The world needs a smarter way to help Pakistan. There is little time: The government in Islamabad has developed a sense of entitlement to international assistance.

Yet ensuring transparent and effective assistance is more than just fiscally responsible. It is critical to securing the support of the Pakistani people.

During several trips to Pakistan in recent months, I have heard from many citizens that they believe Washington is deliberately aiding corrupt people and institutions to ensure that Pakistan remains a vassal state beholden to Washington.

There is a better way: a well-structured trust fund administered by a trusted body such as the World Bank. A similar fund operates successfully in Afghanistan. This trust fund should require Pakistani entities to contribute to their own aid programs, develop a robust plan for execution and adhere to international accounting standards. Information on expenditures should be transparent and available to all, especially Pakistanis.

Such a trust fund offers several advantages over direct aid. First, it would be truly international, mitigating the view that Pakistan is being turned into a client state of the United States. Second, it would shame countries that promise assistance but fail to deliver. Third, it would ensure that programs meet the actual needs of Pakistanis rather than fund pet projects that satisfy domestic concerns of donor countries.

In addition, Pakistan should be expected to undertake fiscal reforms, including tax reform, tax collection and anti-corruption measures. Pakistan must begin to pay its own way. Providing for one's citizens is a key element of sovereignty.

To be sure, such an approach will trouble Pakistani civilian and military leaders. They can be expected to decry demands for accountability as signifying a lack of trust and to claim that such a trust fund would undermine Pakistan's sovereignty. They may also argue -- less persuasively -- that without unfettered access to international funds, the fragile civilian government will fall. But it is failure to govern well that poses an even greater risk to Pakistani democracy.

U.S. taxpayers should get value for their investment. They should have confidence their contributions have helped Pakistan, not rendered it ever more corrupt, insecure and ineptly governed. Most important, Pakistanis should see tangible benefits in their daily lives when their government works with -- and is not merely subsidized by -- the international community.

C. Christine Fair is a senior political scientist at Rand Corp., a nonprofit, nonpartisan research institution.


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posted @ 10:07 AM, ,

Fallout of military operation

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Dawn, Pakistan
By Zahir Kazmi
Saturday, 30 May, 2009

A FEW weeks after the military offensive was launched in Swat it is time to take stock of the issues that have cropped up as a result of it. The army’s success in Operation Rah-i-Raast has come at a great cost — the displacement of an estimated 2.5 million people from the war-torn areas.

This is a great challenge not only for the government but also for the people of Pakistan as they have to provide for the latter. The army is straining to keep vigil on two fronts: an active hunt for militants in Swat — in which many soldiers have laid down their lives — and trying to avoid civilian casualties.

Is there an end in sight? Will we be successful in ridding the country of the cancer of militancy? Will the emerging broad-based political resolve last or fizzle out? No one has a crystal ball to predict the future regarding Pakistan’s fight against extremism but an empirical view of such conflicts indicate that the people have to brace themselves for more sacrifices and a long-drawn campaign that should also aim at defeating the Taliban on an ideological plane besides physically humbling them.

This battle cannot be won by the government and its military instrument alone. In fact it calls for a synergistic approach marked by the declaration of ‘jihad’ by every individual in this country against those who have distorted religion — be it the Taliban, their supporters within our ranks or outsiders who provide them with needed material support.

The ongoing battle to regain control of Mingora is taking place in the form of a bloody house-to-house clearance that is showing signs of success as the Taliban have reportedly started retreating to regroup elsewhere. According to the director-general ISPR, this Taliban stronghold may take some more days to demolish and destroy. The army faces the challenge of plugging the holes from where these militants can withdraw and fight elsewhere later.

It is difficult to tell apart a Taliban from a common citizen except if he is a Tajik or Uzbek. There have been claims of some non-state actors and non-Muslims amongst the Taliban ranks, fighters who are well-trained mercenaries and who stand their ground and fight until their last breath.

While most of Buner has been cleared and the citizens are relieved due to fewer hours of curfew, Dir and Shangla are reportedly still under Taliban influence. The long hours of curfew have created enormous difficulties for the poor inhabitants of the area. These are places that are in urgent need of resources for the survival of locals. The police and district management of these areas are in a dysfunctional state and need to be replenished to bring some semblance of peace and order to the conflict-hit areas.

The army and paramilitary forces will have to reinforce and support them in wresting control from the Taliban. The already Spartan civic facilities have been razed to dust by the Taliban. Thus the army will not only have to help rebuild these structures but also keep their engineers and medical services in these areas for a longer period of time.

The key political and military challenge will be to not let the impetus of these operations die. If this happens it will give the Taliban some much-needed space and allow them to regroup and fight elsewhere. While the army may be able to milk its resources and extend its operations to Waziristan and other areas; will the government, media moguls and the general population have the appetite and stamina to do their part? Such operations will be dictated by resource constraints like the handling of the growing number of IDPs.

The present crisis situation of provisioning the IDPs demands generous public support. The displaced people need to be sheltered, fed and psychologically supported. While the people have managed to absorb the shock of displacement due to natural disasters like the 2005 earthquake, in this case of conflict they can easily become disaffected. One would not like to see these embittered people fall into the Taliban’s fold and it is incumbent on all to stand with the displaced families in their hour of need. These people are not acclimatised to harsh summers and hence donations should include electricity generators, fans and adequate shelter.

Let us understand that this crisis cannot be handled by the military

alone, which can only clear and secure Swat and other areas. It asks people to leave the comfort of their homes and help their countrymen displaced by war. We will be worse than the Taliban if we fail to support them until conditions allow them to return to Swat and make a fresh start — lest there are more Taliban ready to drive us out of our abodes.


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posted @ 11:32 AM, ,

Cities under threat

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Editorial, Dawn, Pakistan
Saturday, 30 May, 2009

ON consecutive days two of Pakistan’s largest cities, Lahore and Peshawar, have been attacked by terrorists, killing dozens and sowing the seeds of terror in an unprotected, vulnerable population. Connecting the dots between suicide attacks and bombings in cities and towns to the operation under way in Malakand division and the one perhaps imminent in South Waziristan is not very difficult: under pressure and under siege by the security forces, the militants are hoping to break the will of the state by attacking soft targets elsewhere. The police are a primary target, but the bombing of a historic bazaar in Peshawar suggests that the general population may soon become a regular target too. Hard choices confront the state today. The more it goes after the militants, the more they will lash out against the population in the hope that short-term political calculations will cause the state to back down. And securing the cities always has a trade-off: a total security clampdown, even if possible in theory, would leave life for ordinary citizens unbearable and make cities unliveable.

Equally, however, without striking at the roots of militancy in the country, the pipeline that churns out suicide bombers and terrorists can never be shut down. And that would leave all the security arrangements in the cities redundant; a steady stream of terrorists determined to attack cities would suck the state into an endless game of cat and mouse that it can never win. So the military option in the northwest and Fata is the correct one, but it comes with two caveats. One, the military option must be effective: destroying entire areas and the lives of local populations in the effort to eliminate militants is counterproductive. If the state acts clumsily, it may well succeed in killing today’s crop of militants, but it would do so at the cost of possibly creating a new generation of militants culled from among the disaffected and abused local populations. So, without doing everything it can to protect the local populations, the state may find itself facing an even greater problem of militancy.

Second, intelligence-gathering and policing in the cities must be stepped up. At the moment, riddled as they are with inefficiencies, the police forces in the cities are not up to the task of counter-terrorism activities. Arrests are made frequently and alleged terrorist cells have been broken up in cities on a regular basis. But there is a gnawing sense that the intelligence apparatus and police set-ups in the cities are severely overstretched. They may be doing their best, but their best is limited by the resources, manpower and training at their disposal. More of everything is needed, and the federal and provincial governments must work to ensure it reaches the right hands at the earliest.


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posted @ 11:28 AM, ,

Victim of acid attack

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Editorial, Dawn, Pakistan
Saturday, 30 May, 2009

THE recent acid attack in Jhang that permanently blinded the victim is illustrative of how poor police performance and the influence of the feudal elite combine to perpetuate a backward social set-up where the extremes of brutality go unpunished. The victim, Halima, was reportedly attacked by a disappointed suitor and his father. The young woman’s father claims that he was earlier set upon and injured by the same men. Although a case had been registered, the police did not arrest the assailants who apparently have connections with an MPA. Halima was subsequently attacked in her own home. A second case was registered. While the police arrested two of the nominated accused this time, the men were later released, reportedly upon the MPA’s intervention. The crime reflects an intensely retrogressive social set-up where even the smallest act of defiance can invite dire penalties. It also underscores the extent to which women in a backward patriarchal system are denied their most fundamental rights and targeted as prime victims. By default the same system condones a male mindset which hardly recognises crimes against women as punishable. Acid attacks are not uncommon after all. Neither are practices such as karo-kari, vani and swara, all of which are regularly reported from Sindh, southern Punjab and other areas.

Moreover, as the victim’s father legitimately pointed out, had the police taken action on his earlier complaint the attack on his daughter may have been prevented. Evidence of the police’s failure to perform their duty lies in that the FIR for the acid attack reportedly omitted invoking certain relevant sections of the law. This worked to the advantage of the accused party. The incident exposes the bias of the police and the manner in which the politically well connected can expect to get away with practically any crime. The rule of law invoked by political parties must be applied in its real sense. It must be ensured that lawbreakers are punished according to the gravity of their crime. Until the police and justice system are cleansed of political influence, the rights of people such as Halima will continue to be violated with impunity.

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posted @ 11:26 AM, ,

Just the beginning

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Daily Times, Pakistan
Saturday, May 30, 2009
COMMENT: Shaukat Qadir

The political government must move swiftly to rehabilitate the IDPs at the earliest possible, rebuild all required facilities, provide a local civilian administration and improve socio-economic conditions to win the war for hearts and minds

It does seem that, finally, the Asif Zardari-led government has found the courage to stand up to the threat that was beginning to surround Pakistan. However, this is only the beginning of the first battle; there is a long way to go if we are to win the war.

To begin with, the military can never win this war, or any other for that matter, by itself; but least of all can it win a war against its own citizens. All it can do is to create an environment for the political government to bargain from a position of strength. It is up to the political government to use that space and the opportunity provided by the military to find a lasting solution. After all, this war is solely about winning the hearts and minds of the people!

Although I numbered among the minority that opposed the Swat peace deal, it appears to have had an upside to it as well. On the one hand, it silenced most critics of the military option and, on the other, it appears to have convinced the local population — which, while opposed to Taliban rule, was becoming reconciled to it in the belief that no other option was left — of the fact that any other option is better than the Taliban.

A vast majority of the people displaced by the military operations have stated unequivocally that they are prepared for any sacrifice if their valley is finally rid of the Taliban. However, if the Pakistani nation, supported by the international community, fails to look after them, and the military action becomes prolonged, these sentiments might undergo a not very surprising change. Already, apprehensive of militants entering camps intended for the IDPs, the special cell created for them is taking five to seven days to ‘clear’ families before allowing them to enter the camps.

In an earlier piece, I had likened the movements of the various chapters of the Pakistani Taliban as a ‘multiple pincers movement’. Faced with such a move, any military begins delaying operations against the other branches of the pincers, while eliminating one. Quite obviously, the opponents attempt to use this opportunity to accelerate the other branch(es) of their operation so as to avoid being dealt with piecemeal.

Thus far, the Pakistan Army appears to have been the more successful of the two opponents. The army also began its operations on May 8 in a tactically sound manner: surrounding Swat from different directions, it first cleared all the areas surrounding Swat, which the Taliban had occupied within a span of ten days, before moving into the Swat valley from all accesses to it. Massive use of air power preceded their entry, but it was confined to known militant strongholds so as to minimise collateral damage. This is the first operation by any military on either side of the Durand Line that has confirmed the killing of a number of acknowledged ‘high value’ targets.

Hemmed in from all sides and pounded from the air, the Taliban now sought refuge in the town of Mingora. It is at this stage that military operations slowed down, as was to be expected. Mingora is a town where the army will have to conduct urban guerrilla warfare, a far more difficult task than in rural areas, particularly since in many areas, the militants were well entrenched in well constructed residential areas.

Surprisingly, however, most of Mingora has fallen very quickly, probably because the local population is supporting the military operations. In fact, according to my unofficial sources, Fazlullah is dead. This contention is given some credence by the fact that his spokesman, Muslim Khan, has called upon their Taliban not to contest the military in Mingora.

However, the military operation is only going to lead to a political success if a permanent military presence is established in each recaptured region, strong enough to reassure the locals and prevent a return of the Taliban.

The political government must also move swiftly to rehabilitate the IDPs at the earliest possible, rebuild all required facilities, provide a local civilian administration and improve socio-economic conditions to win the war for hearts and minds. Time is of the essence. I have expressed my concerns regarding the methodology of the reconstruction effort, which must, in the words of Sun Tzu, “flow along the path of least resistance until it becomes an inexorable force before which no boulder, however strong, can withstand”.

Militarily too, Swat is only a beginning. Unless all other areas under control of the other chapters of the Taliban are similarly dealt with, the war will never be won. In each case, the socio-political vacuum will have to be filled in accordance with the wishes of the people as soon as the military operation succeeds, followed by a socio-economic restructuring of the region.

The US, the CIA (which I believe to be the only real rogue intelligence agency), Israel and India, whichever of them is active in the region, will have to be persuaded to give the Pakistani government and its military the much needed time necessary for success. And finally, the US will have to begin to succeed doing the same in Afghanistan, else our western borders will need permanent protection.

This article is a modified version of one originally written for the daily National. The author is a retired brigadier. He is also former vice president and founder of the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI)


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posted @ 11:17 AM, ,

A good decision by Federal Shariat Court

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Second Editorial, Daily Times, Pakistan
Saturday, May 30, 2009

In contrast to the lashings and beheadings being meted out to innocent Pakistanis by the Taliban in the territories under their control, the Federal Shariat Court (FSC) on Thursday declared that the drinking of alcohol was a bail-able offence. The FSC has also changed the punishment meted out to drunks from whip-lashes to strokes by a stick of the date-palm tree. A petitioner had challenged the punishment for drinking, praying that flogging was an incorrect punishment. He had maintained that according to the Islamic law and the “fiqh”, a person accused of involvement in drinking could be given the right of bail.

This is a brilliant example of “ehsan” in Islamic jurisprudence, to look at the accused from a humane point of view, to take into account his social disabilities, his state of suffering in an unequal society, etc. When we look at the social matrix within which people drink we find both the poor and the rich taking alcohol. No one can deny the truth of how the law against drinking is enforced. The poor man drinking a low quality brew is caught; the rich man remains outside the reach of law. Another social aspect that no one can overlook is the use of far more lethal narcotics like heroin among the poor against which there is virtually no enforcement. There is no justice in keeping a poor man locked up for drinking while the rich man remains exempt and hundreds of heroin addicts called “jahaz” in Lahore remain sprawled on the streets of the inner city. Therefore the date-palm stick should be lightly applied. *


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posted @ 11:14 AM, ,

Editorial: Worrying over South Asia’s bombs

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Editorial, Daily Times, Pakistan
Saturday, May 30, 2009

The world (read the West and Japan) is worried over the weapons of mass destruction accumulating in South Asia where India and Pakistan cannot give up their conflictual relationship and are ramping up their nuclear programmes. As the Washington Post wrote on Thursday, Pakistan is supposed to start “churning out plutonium for its nuclear arsenal, which will eventually include warheads for ballistic missiles and cruise missiles capable of being launched from ships, submarines or aircraft. India is designing cruise missiles to carry nuclear warheads; it is also trying to equip its Agni missiles with such warheads and to deploy them on submarines”.

On the other hand, Pakistan was celebrating the anniversary of its nuclear test of 1998 the same day, calling its programme “the safest in the world” which had provided the nation with “an unshakeable defence against any enemy”. Both Indian and Pakistani experts have debunked the fear expressed in the US and other capitals that the two programmes in South Asia are vulnerable to “theft” by “a rogue scientist or a military officer”. It is argued that any rollback of their programmes is not possible because of the national consensus behind them. Therefore it would not be wrong to say that in part their mutually hostile nationalisms are driven by their “collective pride” in these nuclear weapons.

India and Pakistan have been gradually accepted as non-Non Proliferation Treaty signatory nuclear powers. Last year the United States concluded a nuclear cooperation treaty with India allowing it to import uranium and allowing the military to draw on enriched uranium produced by eight reactors that might otherwise be needed for civil power. The world cried “foul” half-heartedly before accepting it as part of the new global reality. Another step towards the regularisation of the status of the two nuclear South Asia powers was taken this month when France agreed to supply Pakistan with civilian nuclear technology “the same way America had done to India” (that’s not possible because the Nuclear Suppliers Group is not involved in the France-Pakistan deal in the way it is solidly behind the US-India deal).

Pakistan stands to gain from this new development, which has gone without much comment internationally. The US-India nuclear deal was finalised after the 45-strong Nuclear Suppliers Group declared its approval of it. One must note here that assent to the deal was given both by China and France. China has always been in favour of treating Pakistan at par with India on the provision of civilian nuclear technology. In other words, if India is to be exempted from the NPT conditionality of signing it before buying this technology, then Pakistan should also qualify. Now France too has adopted this point of view. It is also possible that France has moved forward after realising that China will ultimately come forth for Pakistan. On the other hand, there is no bar on Pakistan signing a nuclear treaty with more than one state provided the Nuclear Suppliers Group okays it. All this goes in favour of “equalising” Pakistan with India as a recognised nuclear power.

Pakistan’s non-reconciliation with India and its reluctance to allow the freezing of the status quo delays the process of “equalising the unequals” which lies at the core of nuclear possession. India’s unwillingness to return to peace talks in 2009 is adding to the problems of an unstable deterrence which scares the world. Pakistan has been politically unstable over the past thirty years because of its efforts at living up to its status of a revisionist state. In the new millennium it has been destabilised internally by uprisings and territorial losses to terrorist militias that contain men from as near as the Gulf and as far as Algeria, to say nothing of the Uzbeks and Chechens from areas nearer the region.

But a nuclear bomb is the best bargain counter for an agreement on peace and related economic arrangements that consolidate and perpetuate normal relations with perceived enemy states. In that sense the bomb is a weapon of peace, not of war. Today, the only unchanging element in Pakistan’s strategy is the perception of India as a permanent enemy. At the same time it is accepted on all hands that India cannot attack Pakistan because of the latter’s nuclear deterrence. This deterrence, however, will not be stable as long as the two countries remain daggers drawn against each other. That is why Pakistan wants the United States and its allies to persuade India to come to the negotiating table, because that is the only way forward to achieving stability in the region. *


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posted @ 11:08 AM, ,

Mayhem in our midst

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Editorial, The News International, Pakistan
Saturday, May 30, 2009

Within two days of the Lahore blast, they have struck again – multiple times, in Peshawar and DI Khan. At least 14 people have died; hundreds have been injured. The trauma in terms of the panic that hit Qissa Khwani bazaar in Peshawar, where two of the blasts took place, followed by a gun-battle in the alleys of the city's biggest market is immeasurable. There is a limit to what we can do to safeguard ourselves. Measures announced, such as the checking of all trucks as they enter cities, will be effective only if they are properly implemented. In the past this has not happened even in Islamabad. There is also a need to seek public vigilance and ask citizens too to keep a watch out for potential bombers. It has been seen that in the aftermath of every attack, as blood stains streets, there is chaos first at the site of the incident and later at hospitals. This is an area that can be corrected. Rescue services can be bolstered and given better training, as can hospital staff. Trauma care is a specialized sphere. Our allies overseas can help us improve the limited expertise we currently have.

The war being fought in the north has entered our cities as well. The militants have in the past used their ability to strike here as a tactic of blackmail. This time round there can be no question of giving in to them. The COAS has stated Pakistan will not give in to terror. The resolve is a welcome one. But we must also face up to the fact that the fighting will continue for some time; that the Taliban will not simply disappear. Even now, though we hear that they have 'retreated' from a specific area, one wonders where they have gone – and whether they are hoping to save men so they can one day, strike again. Until they are finally vanquished, we will see more mayhem in our cities. We must do all that is possible to secure them, and take measures, like any nation caught up in war, to minimize casualties and ensuring victims of bomb attacks receive the best possible care.


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posted @ 9:50 AM, ,

Still no right to choose

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Editorial,The News International, Pakistan
Saturday, May 30, 2009

Even a decade after the Supreme Court ruled that an adult woman had a right to choose her spouse, the issue lingers on. The latest case to come up before the LHC involves Kulsoom Baloch, a 25-year-old who has a post-graduation degree, and her husband Fazal Abbas. Abbas and his family have faced repeated harassment since he wed Ms Baloch last year. The LHC ruled after hearing his wife that the latest FIR lodged against him, accusing him of kidnapping Kulsoom, was false and ordered that he be released from police custody. The court upheld the right of the couple to live where they please.

The question is whether they will be allowed to. Kulsoom Baloch's family has made it obvious they are ready to go to any length to prevent this. In the past, couples have faced death for doing nothing more than choosing their partners in marriage despite court rulings in their favour. The problem too is that the police are often unwilling to protect such couples, or succumb to bribery and the use of influence on the part of families desperate to thwart them. Couples have found they must flee the country to be safe. Even Saima Waheed, the young woman whose decision to marry her tutor led to the landmark victory being delivered in favour of 'love' marriages by the apex court, today lives overseas. In the most recent case, the LHC has offered Ms Baloch security. But this cannot be practical over a long period of time. There have been cases in which revenge has been extracted by families years after the marriage. The core issue is that of attitude. Women continue to be treated as possessions, whose lives are controlled by male relatives. The hold of patriarchy in society needs to be challenged. To do so, orders must be given to officials at local level. They must also be made aware of the law and their duty to uphold it – so they can be dissuaded from playing a part in actions that cause so much suffering to people who have not committed any crime.


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posted @ 9:47 AM, ,

Future shocks

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Editorial, The News International, Pakistan
Saturday, May 30, 2009

General Petraeus came calling again last Tuesday, this time to discuss the implications of an upcoming surge in US forces in Afghanistan. There can be little doubt that an increase in US military activity in southern Afghanistan is going to be bad news for Pakistan; we are going to see the war in Afghanistan spill over into and commingle with the war we are already fighting in NWFP and elsewhere. It is probable that another 21,000 US troops are going to arrive in Afghanistan over the next few months. Our own military spokesperson, Maj-Gen Ather Abbas said he knew nothing about the visit of General Petraeus – which if true is a poor reflection on those who brief him.

The very real fear that we have is that an upsurge in fighting in Afghanistan and pressure being brought to bear on the Taliban there, is going to drive them not just over the Durand Line and into NWFP, but into other towns and cities as well. They are already active in every province, have a strong presence in south Punjab and parts of Balochistan, and for them to be reinforced by battle-hardened fighters fresh from tangling with the Americans is a prospect we view with some despair. The somewhat threadbare strategy for dealing with the inevitable comes down to another handout - $700million would be at the disposal of the US military and more specifically to CENTCOM each year till 2013 under the Pakistan Counter-insurgency Capabilities Fund to meet the country's needs in its fight against extremists. The fund is designed to allow the Centcom chief to work with our military to strengthen counter-insurgency capability.

With the greatest of respect we have to tell you, General Petraeus, that this is peanuts, and rubbish peanuts at that. At the moment we are beginning to get to grips with the concept of the war we are now fighting as being 'ours' – which is difficult enough; but adding into the brew elements of a war that is 'yours' not 'ours' is going to make the fighting of our own war that much more difficult. This $700 million is not going to buy us anything other than cosmetics for the face of modern warfare, and no amount of promises to share intelligence gathered by drones and other cooperative military activity is going to mitigate the contribution to our own insecurity and instability that the fighting of 'your' war brings to our nation. The price we are going to pay in terms of lost incomes, another surge of Afghan refugees to add to the 1.7 million already here as well as the three million IDPs generated by our fight to take our country back from the Taliban, far outweighs the paltry $700 million you offer us. Come and visit us again. Bring better peanuts next time. And more of them.


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posted @ 9:28 AM, ,

Pakistan army spokesman fights media war

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By Dan Rivers
May 29, 2009

RAWALPINDI, Pakistan (CNN) -- The office of Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas has a bank of six flat-screen televisions covering most of one wall, showing all the main international English-language news channels, and several local ones besides.

This is one of the rooms where Pakistan's media war is being fought, and Abbas, the Pakistan army's main spokesman, is a key part of the battle.

I kid with him that CNN isn't among the channels on his screens, and he seems slightly hurt, insisting it is.

He's right and I'm wrong -- CNN was on a commercial break.

In fact, I rather get the impression Abbas, who has become the face of the army's operation against Taliban militants in the Swat Valley, watches our coverage closely. One of his subordinates complains about one of our reports -- not the accuracy, but something in the general tone. Perhaps CNN has been just a little too questioning of the army's daily press releases, which claim hundreds of enemy fighters killed, and tightly controlled media trips.

Whatever Abbas thinks of CNN, he is more than willing to explain how the Pakistan army sees the broad picture as it fights in the Swat Valley.

The current conflict there is intricately linked to the situation in Afghanistan, in his view.

He sees Swat as a political problem, which can only be partially solved by military intervention.

He claims many of the Taliban's arms are coming across the border from Afghanistan. I ask if that includes NATO weapons, as suggested in recent reports, and he agrees.

He says Washington is too focused on the safety of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal.

The United States should "stop worrying about the nukes and start worrying about the weapons lost in Afghanistan," he says.

A U.S. government report last month warned that the Pentagon did not have "complete records" for about one-third of the 242,000 weapons the United States had provided to the Afghan army, or for a further 135,000 weapons other countries sent.

The Afghan army "cannot fully safeguard and account for weapons," the Government Accountability Office found.

I ask how well armed the Taliban are, and he says they are "very well equipped from the border area."

He also conspiratorially suggests they also are getting weapons and support from "foreign intelligence agencies."

When I ask what that means, he smiles and says he can't elaborate -- declining to repeat the speculation in the press here that India, Pakistan's traditional rival, may be somehow involved in stirring up trouble on Pakistan's northwestern border.

India denies that.

But the very suggestion plays to a military strategist's nightmare scenario -- the Pakistan army bogged down in the northwest, unable to focus on the disputed province of Kashmir, a key element of its conflict with India.

The military wants to get done in Swat as soon as possible, but the general acknowledges its troops will be there for some time.

He estimates that 10 to 15 percent of the Taliban there are foreign fighters: "Well-trained Arabs, Afghans, with a sprinkling of central Asians and North Africans."

He also says there are Yemenis, Saudis and Uzbeks fighting, as Pakistan has become the destination du jour of the international jihadist, with Arabs in commanding positions and the other foreign fighters bringing in expertise.

He thinks that perhaps Mingora, the main town at the gateway to the Swat Valley, may be secured in 48 hours, but it may be much, much longer before the area is totally pacified.

"First you have to disarm the Taliban and then re-establish the writ of government," he says.

He admits that Swat and neighboring Bajur Districts "were lost to the state" and that now "we are paying in blood for areas we had already occupied." Now, he says, the army is set for a long fight. "We are prepared for that -- we are mentally prepared."

But they are also prepared for the conflict to be taken to other parts of Pakistan. A building belonging to the country's powerful intelligence agency, the ISI, was bombed in Lahore this week. The Taliban claimed they carried out the attack and Abbas says the security services expect more attacks.

Just hours after I left him, his fears were confirmed, as details came in of more bombings in Peshawar.

And then there is also the risk of the Taliban using the mass exodus of civilians from the Swat Valley as cover to penetrate other towns and cities. Already almost 3 million people have flooded out of what was once a tranquil tourist destination, and the military fears that among the mass movement of humanity there will be those plotting to strike at the heart of Pakistan's cities.

"It's a very big issue -- a serious concern," Abbas says.

He describes the conflict in Swat as "an existential threat" -- a fight for the very existence of Pakistan in its current form. And he seems acutely aware that the portrayal of that conflict to the West will be critical.


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posted @ 9:20 AM, ,

Extremism does not pay

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Editorial, Dawn, Pakistan
By Asghar Ali Engineer
Friday, 29 May, 2009

RELIGION is basically a spiritual experience and must be valued as such. Politics, on the other hand, is a game of power which is often played with no holds barred.

Truly religious persons who are inspired by core religious teachings and fundamental values should critique the power holders who do not deliver rather than becoming power wielders themselves. When religious organisations or personalities become participants in the power game they betray religious teachings and create fanaticism, arousing extreme emotions to better their chances of winning the power game.

We have seen in Islamic history how the controversy about the ‘createdness’ of the Quran was used by Abbasid rulers to win the power game. They persecuted eminent theologians who refused to endorse their doctrine of the ‘createdness’ of the Quran. Similarly, in our own time we see the phenomenon of fundamentalism and terrorism, fuelled by the politicisation of religion. All religions stand on ethical and moral foundations and the power game is often won by weakening this base.

Imam Abu Hanifa refused to accept the office of the chief qazi under the Abbasids because he feared that he would have to endorse the misdeeds of the rulers; he did not want to pollute his pure soul. He withstood all coercion, including a cruel prison term imposed by the caliph, but he did not accept the office offered to him.

How can one critique the powerful (mustakbirun) and stand by the weaker sections of society (mustadifin) if one becomes part of a ruling establishment? Those who run after power can never be truly religious in spirit. The Sufis kept themselves aloof from power when they saw how religion was becoming a tool of the powerful, and destroying all values. When a Delhi sultan wanted to visit Nizamuddin Auliya in his hospice he told Khusro there were two doors to his hospice; if the sultan entered from one, he would leave from the other.

Religion should never be politicised. Its politicisation produces disastrous results. In recent years, the Indian polity was thoroughly communalised by the BJP using the Ram Mandir–Babri Masjid controversy. It brought unprecedented communal polarisation in India. Demolition of the Babri Masjid was followed by communal riots in Mumbai and several other places. It was Mr Advani who was the architect of this controversy which paid him short-term dividends but with disastrous consequences for the longer term.

In the recently concluded Indian elections, the people reasserted their case for a secular polity. The election results came as a pleasant surprise for many and as a shock for communal forces. The people do not want extremists and communalists; they want moderates who can address their problems. Yes, it is also true that once in a while the people’s religious emotions can be played up but the masses soon see the political misuse of religion and stop responding to such forces.

Mr Advani was all ready to take over as prime minister and the media was repeatedly referring to him as a favourite. We were holding our breath. If in this election communal forces had come to power, not only would secular values have suffered, many secular institutions would have been infiltrated by communal forces which in turn would have weakened India’s secular democracy, if not destroyed it.

However, not much credit goes to the Congress for winning these elections. The credit rests with the people of India. The BJP was a bit unsure how much the Hindutva factor would pay but was under pressure from extremists to use Hindutva as a main plank and when Mr Varun Gandhi made a highly communal speech in Pilibhit, UP, from where he was to be nominated as a BJP candidate, BJP leaders saw in it an opportunity. Even Mr Advani, who was posing as a moderate in order to become prime minister, rushed to support Varun Gandhi and ignored the Election Commission’s notice not to nominate him as a candidate in view of his highly communal speech. But the BJP went ahead and nominated him.

Many BJP leaders after the results said that it was a mistake and that they should not have backed Varun Gandhi. It sent a wrong message to the people. Similarly, the BJP banked much on Narendra Modi who is not only an extremist but also directly responsible for massacring 2,000 Muslims in Gujarat. BJP leaders thought he was an asset and was much in demand for the campaigning. In fact, he became a liability. BJP analysts later maintained that they lost the elections because of him.

Let us learn a lesson from history and not allow politicians to play with our religious sentiments and emotions.

The writer is an Islamic scholar who also heads the Centre for Study of Society & Secularism, Mumbai.


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posted @ 7:00 PM, ,

The humanitarian dilemma

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Editorial, Dawn, Pakistan
By Maheen A. Rashdi
Friday, 29 May, 2009

THE Sri Lankan government might have forced the Tamil rebels to lay down their arms but the destruction which the intensive military action wreaked hardly spells peace for the region. In fact the morality of the action is being questioned by Tamil communities in the West.

In Canada, as the action between the Sri Lankan military continued to rage, supporters of the Tamil Tigers thronged the streets in Canada’s main cities protesting against the ‘genocide’ being perpetrated by Sri Lanka on Tamil civilians. Who are the Tamils? Why do they call themselves Tigers? Why are their innocent family members being killed by their government? These and many other questions were soon raised and the local media scrambled to educate itself on the Sri Lankan-Tamil conflict.

And that began their dilemma. The LTTE they realised was not only an internationally banned outfit but its early members were the ones to conceptualise and perfect the ‘art’ of suicide bombing. But being painfully correct in their ‘humanitarian’ outlook, the Canadian government — despite acknowledging the LTTE as a terrorist organisation — could neither ignore the call for humanitarian assistance nor condemn LTTE supporters in Canada for critically disrupting life on an almost daily basis.

When Tamil Canadians decided to protest by picketing on the main streets, especially in densely populated Toronto, the workforce was held up by many hours for consecutive days. When the police began to intervene with force, they were immediately condemned for hindering a Canadian’s ‘freedom of expression’. Editorials and columns began commenting on the right of these ‘free’ Canadians to protest peacefully and the intolerance and apathy of the average Canadian to the problems of lesser mortals outside their safe haven. Canada’s commitment to diversity was deemed superficial.

The police eventually found a middle ground and in the name of protecting the protesters continued to ‘surround’ Tamil Canadians every time they came out. Mounted police were deployed, guardsmen monitored the traffic flow and Tamil Canadians were allowed their space despite frowns from many inconvenienced civilians who could not care two hoots for the freedom of expression if it constrained their daily existence. The Toronto police has now forwarded a bill of CAD$900,000 to the federal government as cost for manning the protests.

Being a Pakistani one can’t help but draw a parallel with the situation in Swat. What if immigrant ‘supporters’ of the Taliban decide to start picketing in Ottawa against the innocent civilian deaths in Swat, Lower Dir and Mingora? What if they too start shouting slogans of ‘stop military action in Swat’ and hold Tamil Canadian-style peaceful protests in downtown Toronto? Will this too be looked upon as ‘freedom of expression’ by the western media with protesters given police protection? Or will they be put behind bars and sent to an unknown prison as ‘supporters of Taliban and Al Qaeda’ and presumed culpable?

Freedom of expression has many expressions of its own. Diversity and inclusiveness cannot escape the hidden undertones of discrimination — and it is tricky being politically correct at all times. It would be most uncomfortable to see ‘polite Canadians’ facing the humanitarian dilemma if protesters came out on the streets to stop the operation in Swat.

Many international calls for ‘restraint’ were issued to the Sri Lankan military but the action raged on and has now ended in victory declared by the Sri Lankan government. But much depends on what the Sri Lankan authorities do next and the extent to which they win Tamil trust. Currently the Tamils are garnering much sympathy and the military action could have given birth to a new generation of Tamil supporters, both within Sri Lanka and the Tamil diaspora. The crowds of protesters were proof of this — the majority were students.

The same fears could apply to the military action in Swat. Like the Lal Masjid debacle when Pakistanis settled in foreign countries could only see the belligerent military action being perpetrated on women and children in the mosque, so too the humanitarian crisis arising out of the Swat action might find a new generation of supporters being created for the Taliban whose barbarism might be overshadowed by the civilian casualties and human tragedies caused by the ongoing operation.


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posted @ 6:57 PM, ,

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