New website

Abdul Nishapuri and his co-editors at Let Us Build Pakistan have moved their blog to a new website for their group Critical Supporters of Pakistan People’s Party. Be sure to update your bookmarks. If you aren’t already reading their blog, you should. Think of it this way – any blog that has Hamid Mir and Ansar Abbasi gnashing their teeth on air is a must-read.



This article by Dilawar Khan Wazir descibes the deaths of:

  1. Local Aman committee leader Ameer Saeed, found beheaded by the side of the road in Mohmand Agency
  2. One day earlier, local Taliban had surrounded his house, fired rockets at it, killed his son, Saeed, and kidnapped the father.
  3. The article also cites the earlier death of Maulana Shehzad, a former Taliban leader and later member of the Aman committee, also in Mohmand.
  4. Rasool Shah, another member of the Mohmand Aman committee
  5. This article in The News describes the death of Malik Shahpur Khan chief of the Mamond Qaumi Lashkar in Bajaur, killed on his way home from Eid prayers.
  6.″>ANP MPA Shamsher Ali Khan and his brother killed by a suicide bomber on the lawn in front of his house.

Two different standards

Check out these two video clips. The first is Talat Hussain interviewing Major General Tariq Khan, the IG of the Frontier Corps.
Hussain and Khan have had an ongoing disagreement regarding the necessity of capturing the senior leadership of the Taliban (Hussain mentions Faqir Muhammad of Bajaur and Fazlullah as the main examples). Hussain also has legitimate concerns regarding the security situation in Peshawar. With these disagreements in mind, it’s interesting to observe Hussain’s reactions to Khan’s statements.

Regarding the situation in Peshawar, Khan makes the truly appalling statement that the security situation in Peshawar is actually a positive reflection on the military action in Khyber Agency because there have not been any kidnappings or rocket attacks in Peshawar in the last week. When asked about the almost daily bombings, he replies that bombings are “very spectacular” so are more noticeable for that reason

When questioned about how Mangal Bagh has evaded capture to date he flippantly states “what can I say, Mangal Bagh is a very lucky man!”

When asked why the FC operations have not targetted the senior leadership in either Khyber or Bajaur (and the broader question of why the military has not targetted senior leadership in Swat) he says “From a military point of view, yeh Fazlullah waghera, hamaray liyay importance… they don’t have”

When asked about the recent spate of violence in Bajaur, he briefly touches on the surrender document in Mamoond which expired on October 25 and which the Taliban did not adhere to regarding disarmament. One would imagine that an aggressive anchor like Talat Hussain would question further, given this recent spate of violence in Bajaur, the declaration of victory in Bajaur in March, and the military’s record of failed peace deals and surrender agreements but Talat does not pursue it further.

The second clip featuring Mr. Hussain is today’s episode of Off the Record with Kashif Abbasi in which Abbasi and Hussain spend 40 minutes dissecting the contents of Asif Zardari’s address to the PPP. This interview is a very different one from the first one, when it comes to Talat Hussain’s demeanor towards the information minister Qamar Zaman Kaira. At several points, he interrupts Kaira and starts shouting at him about how his party doesn’t understand politics, how Zardari is unneccessarily defensive, how other governments all over the world have handled crises in a better way than Zardari’s government has, how the PPP is reduced to dealing with anchors. Talat Hussain gets very angry at the fact that the Prime Minister granted an audience to the CIA chief, the same CIA chief who has authorized drones over Pakistan. After this point, he basically does not let Kaira finish his sentence and just sits back in his seat making rude gestures. After a certain point he says “this is a live program, so we should try to make factually correct statements”

Now at least some part of this differential attitude of Hussain’s is related to the differing personalities of Maj Gen Tariq Khan and Qamar Zaman Kaira. Kaira is, unfortunately, not a great speaker and just doesn’t have the wherewithal to handle the kind of unmitigated attack that Abbasi and Hussain unleash on him from the very beginning of the show. Fair enough, no one expects the press to go easy on a politician. But my question for Mr. Hussain is, why – despite his obvious disagreements – the softball questions for Tariq Khan? Why does Tariq Khan get away with ridiculous statements regarding the security situation in Peshawar that Rehman Malik would be drawn and quartered for? Why does Talat Hussain shout and scream at Qamar Zaman Kaira (which is totally fine in my book, I wish more US politicians were subjected to this kind of grilling on cable news) but speak in a quiet, submissive way to Tariq Khan and take even his most ridiculous assertions with the passivity of a sacrificial goat?

This is the fundamental hypocrisy about journalists like Talat Hussain that needs to be addressed. There are a few different reasons for it. The first and most obvious one is of course a basic lack of respect for the elected government and a complete lack of interest in its survival. The second one is a bit more complicated and is related to Hussain’s threat perceptions regarding India and the very different roles that Tariq Khan and Qamar Zaman Kaira play within his threat perception framework. If you have watched his unbelievable shows following the Mumbai attacks, you can understand what drives him at a very primal level. But the frustrating thing is that there is no one who is willing to ask these questions of our opinion makers, so snugly wrapped as they are in the warm cocoon of our nationalist rhetoric.

Update: somewhat related to this post: a great post by Mr. Tambourine Man on the PPP’s media face

Last gasp?

Right after the GHQ attack and the Meena Bazaar car bomb, there was an idea circulated around that the Taliban were getting desperate and lashing out wildly. This suggested that the South Waziristan operation was achieving its stated purpose. Another interpretation was that there were warring factions within the Taliban and that some groups had gone rogue. It did not seem to make any sense for the TTP to be blatantly massacring civilians in such large numbers, especially when public opinion was turning against them the way it was. But I was thinking about things today and I realized that the Taliban is not like other political groups. How would you modify your political strategy if you were acting in a space in which there were strong societal barriers to any intellectual criticism of the ideology that you represented? How would you adapt your tactics to maximise your benefit from this situation?

It seems clear that the Taliban understands and exploits the quandary that most Pakistanis find themselves in when confronted with terror attacks within their own country by the ideological brothers of a group that their country supports in Afghanistan. Just watching the Jirga clip in the post below, one can see Qazi Hussain Ahmed’s immediate and forceful denial that the attacks being carried out in Pakistan are being carried out by Muslims. For Qazi, these attacks have to be carried out by enemies of Islam because if he admitted that they were carried out by the TTP, the righteousness of the Afghan Taliban would immediately become a gray area instead of an absolute black and white distinction as it currently is. I am not suggesting that Qazi believes what he is saying, in my opinion, people like him and Ahmed Ludhianvi are too entrenched in militancy and extremism to believe the garbage they peddle. Nope, they are part of the same propaganda machine that basically works to pad and expand the space of deniability inside which the Taliban can continue the most effective (in terms of terrorizing the population) attacks while having the luxury to disregard the loss in political currency that these attacks would otherwise entail since they are able to successfully blame them on outsiders so easily.

Here’s a relevant excerpt from Mullah Omar’s Eid greeting which suggests that he understands this situation perfectly:

The cunning enemy wants to attack people’s congestion places like religious centers, mosques and other similar places in order to malign Mujahideen. They also launch sanguinary attacks under the name of martyrdom-seeking operations to mar the good name of Mujahiden. The Mujahideen should be on guard against these activities of the enemy and fully avoid from carrying out any analogous activity. Well-being and prosperity of people should make your priority.

I’ve always been really impressed with the political savvy of these Taliban bulletins. One can accuse the Taliban of a lot of things, but what one can’t accuse them of is the willful blindness that clouds much of the political thinking of the rest of Pakistan. Anyway, this particular form of deniability is not specific to the Taliban alone: an impartial observer observing the different names by which religious organizations in Pakistan go would be forgiven for thinking that Pakistanis are extremely forgetful people who don’t really bother why an organization known as Sipah-e-Sahaba can become an organization known as Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat and then a few years later show up under yet another name. Many Pakistanis today speak of the “Mehsud group” of Taliban as an evil that needs to be eradicated and believe that Mullah Omar has distanced himself from them in disgust. New stories like this one, from February, strengthen this belief. But it might be beneficial to compare this situation to the tactical break between Sipah-e-Sahaba and the more violent Lashkar-e-Jhangvi in the 90s and the political freedom that that gave Sipah-e-Sahaba.

Islamists and democracy – Algeria

Allama Amin Shahidi’s comment regarding the benefits of democracy (that a leader is elected by popular will) that I cited in the last blog post reminded me of an excellent article regarding Algerian Islamists and their concept of democracy by Yahya H. Zoubir that I’ve been meaning to share. Zoubir pays special attention to Malik Bennabi’s work “Democracy in Islam”:

Bennabi is critical of Western democracies because, in his opinion, they do not contain social rights, since one can become a slave to powerful interests; he is also critical of the former Eastern bloc because it granted social rights to the citizens but at the expense of political freedom. Thus, Islam, in his eyes, provides true democracy, for it constitutes a synthesis between political democracy and social democracy. Malek Bennabi believes that the Zakat (the giving of mandatory alms) is a good example of Islam’s social legislation posited by the Qur’an. The communication that he believes prevailed between rulers and ruled in the time of the first Caliphs is proof that there existed a “democratic consciousness shaped by Islam.”(38) But, the real basis of democracy remains human beings and the value that is conferred upon them by God.

Pakistani religious leaders on Taliban violence inside Pakistan

This two-part debate on Saleem Safi’s show, Jirga, is very interesting (sorry about the ad banners of women in bras):

In both parts, Saleem Safi basically asks the same question, which is, do you think that violence and specifically suicide bombing is permissible in Pakistan against the current government. His guests are Qazi Hussain Ahmed, the former amir of Jamaat-e-Islami, Sajid Mir, Ameer Markazi Jamiat Ahlehadith, Ahmed Ludhianvi, the leader of Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (formerly the Sipah-e-Sahaba-e-Pakistan), Sarwat Ejaz Qadri the leader of Sunni Tehreek, Allama Amin Shahidi, the general secretary of majlis-e-wahdat ul muslimin, Hamid Saeed Kazmi, the minister of religious affairs, Dr. Khalid Masood the chairman of the Council of Islamic Ideology and religious scholar Dr. Muhammad Farooq Khan.

Of these scholars, the three who are consistently most equivocal about the Pakistani Taliban and suicide bombing in Pakistan and most supportive of the Afghan Jihad are Qazi Hussain, Sajid Mir and Ahmed Ludhianvi. The most vociferous opponent of individual Jihad and suicide bombing is Dr. Muhammad Farooq Khan. Interestingly, every single one of the three most “extreme” leaders claims that the bombing in Pakistan is part of a foreign conspiracy (Israeli, Indian and American). The closest any of these three come to acknowledging the religious nature of the Pakistani Taliban is when Ahmed Ludhianvi gets carried away describing the unislamic nature of the Pakistani government (especially the unislamic antics of Punjab governor Salman Taseer!) after a few leading questions by Saleem Safi. He ends up admitting that although suicide bombing under such a regime is not technically allowed by Islam, it is a natural reaction.

The most interesting sub-debate is the one between Qazi Hussain Ahmed and Dr Muhammad Farooq Khan. Qazi reacts very quickly to Khan’s claim that Jihad without an Imam is unislamic. According to Qazi, this would make Kashmir, Palestine and Afghanistan unislamic Jihads and this, to him, is ridiculous. The two go back and forth for a long time with Qazi reciting Medinite verses and Khan countering them with Meccan ones advocating restraint until one has a state.

One of the more interesting comments is made by Allama Amin Shahidi. When asked by Saleem Safi whether Imam Hussain should have refrained from resisting during the caliphate of Yazid since there was a state at that time too, Shahidi replies that that time was different from today because today governments are elected on the basis of popular support and don’t just assume power.

The blog Jihadica has a post describing an article by Jordanian writer Yasir al-Za’aterah which describes some problems with the revisionist Islamists who reject violent Jihad by using the argument of religious legitimacy. The most salient example in this debate above of someone who uses this approach is Dr Muhammad Farooq Khan. But the interesting thing is that to some extent almost all the leaders (with the exception of Ahmed Ludhianvi) subscribe to this. Dr. Muhammad Farooq Khan is the most extreme, even suggesting that the Palestinian struggle is useless and counter-productive. But even Qazi Hussain Ahmed is unwilling to acknowledge that it’s just to fight against the Pakistani regime, and Sarwat Ejaz Qadri argues that the Pakistani army makes individual Jihad unneccessary and simply “thuggery”. In the article cited in the Jihadica post, the author argues that this rejection of violence is more of a practical move in the face of impossible and does not represent a fundamental intellectual rejection of the ultimate aims of the violence.

It’s fascinating to watch how Qazi rejects any suggestion that the Pakistani Taliban are misguided muslims, as the other more moderate leaders seem to think. It’s because for Qazi it’s imperative that the ideas of suicide bombing and violent resistance against Kaafir regimes must remain unsullied from any sort of doubt or gray areas. One wonders how long Qazi can hold out.

A big mess

The Blackwater story has somewhat eclipsed the other story from yesterday which was the revelation that the US has been engaged in backchannel talks with senior Taliban. Among the four individuals acting as mediators from the Taliban/Saudi side are Abdullah Azzam’s son-in-law who lives in the UK but maintains close links with the Afghan Taliban and Al-Qaeda as well as the current leader of Hizbul Mujahideen.

Things are pretty dysfunctional when these talks with the Afghan Taliban are continuing in parallel to the seemingly endless debate on troop escalation in Afghanistan to fight the, well, you know, Afghan Taliban. I am reminded of Amrullah Saleh’s blunt assessment of US policy in Afghanistan vis-a-vis Pakistan in the recently aired Frontline documentary on the war. He said, “you cannot incentivize good behavior”. Regardless of the outcome of these talks, we can be certain of one thing and that is that these talks will vindicate every backup plan that the Pakistan army ever came up with regarding the Afghan Taliban.

On a related note, check out this fascinating archive of declassified US government documents on the subject of the Afghan Taliban from 1996-2001.

Joan Baez – Bangladesh

(Words and Music by Joan Baez)

Bangladesh, Bangladesh
Bangladesh, Bangladesh
When the sun sinks in the west
Die a million people of the Bangladesh

The story of Bangladesh
Is an ancient one again made fresh
By blind men who carry out commmands
Which flow out of the laws upon which nation stands
Which is to sacrifice a people for a land

Bangladesh, Bangladesh
Bangladesh, Bangladesh
When the sun sinks in the west
Die a million people of the Bangladesh

Once again we stand aside
And watch the families crucified
See a teenage mother’s vacant eyes
As she watches her feeble baby try
To fight the monsoon rains and the cholera flies

And the students at the university
Asleep at night quite peacefully
The soldiers came and shot them in their beds
And terror took the dorm awakening shrieks of dread
And silent frozen forms and pillows drenched in red

Bangladesh, Bangladesh
Bangladesh, Bangladesh
When the sun sinks in the west
Die a million people of the Bangladesh

Did you read about the army officer’s plea
For donor’s blood? It was given willingly
By boys who took the needles in their veins
And from their bodies every drop of blood was drained
No time to comprehend and there was little pain

And so the story of Bangladesh
Is an ancient one again made fresh
By all who carry out commands
Which flow out of the laws upon which nations stand
Which say to sacrifice a people for a land

Bangladesh, Bangladesh
Bangladesh, Bangladesh
When the sun sinks in the west
Die a million people of the Bangladesh

The Gilgit-Baltistan elections

Yesterday, Chaudhry Shujaat fired Marvi Memon from her role as head of the PML-Q’s election campaign in Gilgit-Baltistan. The reason was that she had decided to make a number of pro-Musharraf speeches and had put up election banners with Musharraf’s pictures all over them, a bit embarrassing for Chaudhry Shujaat since his party recently decided to oppose the NRO, and would, it seems, prefer to put Musharraf behind them. In any case, there was an interesting article in The National about crowds apparently cheering wildly for Musharraf in Karimabad, Hunza. I am guessing this banner is one of the ones that alarmed Chaudhry Shujaat:

PML-Q isn’t the only national party feverishly campaigning in Gilgit-Baltistan. MQM has fielded 19 candidates (out of 23 seats being contested) for various legislative assembly seats and has claimed that it hopes to win 6 or 7. MQM’s campaign is centered around a strong anti-sectarian message as well promises of further constitutional rights and given the area’s history of sectarian violence starting from the 1988 Shia massacre in the Jalalabad village of Gilgit, it would not be surprising if MQM managed to do well based on this platform. PPP’s campaign is being run by Qamar Zaman Kaira who is not only the acting governor of Gilgit-Baltistan but also the Federal Minister for Kashmir Affairs and Northern Areas and the Federal Information Minister.

It’s not surprising why all the national parties are converging on this particular election since it’s the first major test of the various parties’ popularity since the February 2008 general elections. However, it is somewhat ironic that a region that does not even have any representation in the National Assembly, despite the much-touted constitutional package (you have to scroll to the bottom of the page to read the text of the ordinance) has become a battleground for the popularity of the various national parties. Murtaza Razvi writing in the Dawn Blog had a nice article about how pleasant it was to see politicians campaigning without being surrounded by bullet-proof glass and high security, but perhaps we are a little too quick to project a rosy image of nascent democracy on Gilgit-Baltistan. The political bigwigs descending on the people of Gilgit-Baltistan are not doing the voters any favours by outspending local candidates running on issues important at the local level.

In its report on the Northern Areas, the International Crisis Group noted that during Musharraf’s rule, certain members of the Legislative Council, especially from the PML-Q considered that political rights were secondary to gifts of developmental aid. One such politician claimed:

“I tell those clamouring for political rights that it is not rights that matter but development. Once we are developed, we can ask for rights. Until then, let us be content with the development that Pakistan has undertaken on our benefit”

It’s such a great quote because it really characterizes the cavalier attitude towards political rights that the centre has adopted towards areas like the Northern Areas and FATA throughout Pakistan’s history. Even a cursory look at the Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self Governance Ordinance shows that the political rights granted to the people of the area, while a step beyond the Legal Framework Order of 1994 are nowhere near the rights accorded to the citizens of Pakistan. Most of the power is vested in the Governor (who is appointed by the President) and the Gilgit-Baltistan Council, half of which consists of appointed members of the federal government. The Chief Election Commissioner, the Advocate-General, and the Auditor-General are all appointed by the Governor.

Even now there are reports of Prime Minister Gilani promising, at a rally in Azad Kashmir, that the autonomy provided to Gilgit-Baltistan does not mean that he does not consider it as part of Kashmir for the purposes of the Kashmir dispute, a sentiment that is deeply unpopular in Gilgit-Baltistan and which indicates that the autonomy and political rights of the people of the Northern Areas continue to be held hostage to the Kashmir dispute.

The history of the Northern Areas since 1988 is a troubled one. The state embarked on a policy of demographic change based on its paranoia of the only Shia-majority province-like region of the country. In addition to the ongoing sectarianism that has restarted in 2008 after a brief respite, the Kargil war of 1999 was largely undertaken by members of the Northern Areas based Northern Light Infantry paramilitary force. Christine Fair notes that this use of the Northern Light Infantry in Kargil had a very harmful impact on the people of the Northern Areas. It’s interesting that it was planned and executed by the same Musharraf who benevolently promised developmental aid to Gilgit and who, according to Marvi Memon, is remembered with such fondness by the people of the area. Perhaps no other incident better illustrates the exploitative relationship of the centre with the Northern Areas than the army’s use of Northern Light Infantry for the Kargil invasion and the subsequent denial:

Panic reportedly set in the area by early June when dead bodies began arriving. The residents told Khan that the bodies were delivered at night. According to a local Pakistan People’s Party leader and a former member of the Northern Alliance Council, Dr. Parveen Ashraf, “All of the martyrs had beards, and they were mostly buried in the same civilian clothes in which they had left for the front line. They were not given any military protocol at the time of the funeral.”

The locals were particularly outraged as stories began to filter back to the Northern Areas about the ammunition shortage and starvation suffered by the NLI troops at the front line. This occurred despite specific promises from the NLI high command to establish and sustain effective supply lines. Nor did the NLI high command establish second-line forces, according to a veteran of the Kargil conflict.18 The NLI paid a high cost. By mid-June 1999, both the 6 NLI on the Kargil front and the 12 NLI had taken massive casualties. Feelings of betrayal among Northern Area residents took on a very different color when the Pakistan government began asserting that the conflict was a militant operation. One resident told Khan, “When I first heard in the Pakistani media that the Kargil was being fought by the mujahideen, I was shocked. . . . My children were being killed, but the laurels went to Qazi Hussain Ahmed [The Amir of Jamaat-e-Islami].”


Guest post by takhalus

The news from Peshawar is not good, wherever I went and whomever I spoke to I heard tales of sadness and tragedy. Whether it was of victims of blasts who were virtually unidentifiable by family, people who narrowly escaped being torn apart by ball bearings from blasts by tripping at the right moment, to the self employed and government employees whose cars, motorbikes and bicycles have been destroyed in blasts and now have no means of earning money or getting to work. Or the IDP’s who wept when, after walking barefoot from the hills of Landi Kotal and Bajaur wept as they were finally given sandals to wear by local charity workers.

What about the bomb victims of the attack on Gulshan Rehman colony for government employees in Peshawar? The victims haven’t received one penny in compensation from the govt..even the houses damaged in the attack haven’t been repaired yet! It seems like the federal and provincial government has given up on compensating people for all the attacks that have been happened.

The effect of all these attacks has been devastating, Peshawar airport has been the target of constant attacks by militants and all international flights to Peshawar have been cancelled. The local economy is in ruins with many businessmen relocating, restaurants are empty and schools are closed.

It’s not only civilians who have been hit, the military’s casualties have put immense strain on military medical services in Peshawar. Stories of patients being relocated to Rawalpindi because of bed shortages amidst rumours doing the rounds of an attack on Combined Military Hospital Peshawar.

Then you have the loss of pearl continental hotel, unlike Islamabad and the Marriott where there was a determined effort to rebuild the hotel and boost the morale of the locals… poor Peshawar has been abandoned and is now the only provincial capital to not have a five star hotel.

There is also the sale of whats left of pearl continental hotel to the US govt for a new consulate. Presently American aid organisations and consular staff are spread over the city but the purchase will conveniently place the US consulate next door to the Peshawar Corp commanders home. All of this has added grist to the rumours of “Blackwater” renting out large number of places and foreigners driving around at high speeds who are well armed.

The plight of the IDP’s is another issue, while many of the Swatis have returned to Swat, the story of the IDP’s is far from over..thousands more have been displaced from Khyber agency and now Waziristan.