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Posts from — May 2009

Balochistan and the Centre: Edit in The Dawn, May 18

TRUE, the government has much on its plate but that cannot be an excuse for ignoring issues that need to be addressed urgently. The past week has seen at least four statements by senior politicians regarding the situation that has been festering in Balochistan for decades. Last Monday, the Balochistan Assembly speaker spoke of a “trust deficit” between the provincial leadership and the government in Islamabad. This lack of faith, he said, was a major impediment in the way of restoring peace in Balochistan and normalising province-centre relations. He added that many among the Baloch are of the view that the Frontier Corps is running a “parallel government” in the province. The same day, an influential Baloch nationalist leader accused Islamabad of hypocrisy and failing to honour its commitments. On Tuesday, the chairman of the parliamentary committee on national security urged the prime minister to hold talks with Baloch leaders without further delay. The veteran PPP politician from Karachi also shared 15 recommendations which he felt made “a good basis for initiating a dialogue with angry Baloch leaders”. And on Friday, a key senator from Balochistan again brought up the trust-deficit issue, asking the centre to hold talks with both Baloch nationalists and separatists.

Islamabad does indeed have a lot to answer for. The sense of alienation and deprivation that is part and parcel of the Baloch psyche took root soon after the creation of Pakistan. Since then Balochistan has seen its natural resources stripped by the centre without a hint of shame. What could arguably have been the most prosperous province in the country is today its most backward. It has suffered ruthless military operations and seen its people tortured, killed or ‘disappeared’. In recent years, successive governments found it fit to negotiate with Taliban barbarians but did little to bring the Baloch nationalists on board and address their genuine grievances. Apologies for past atrocities committed against the Baloch ring hollow when words are not matched by actions. Development packages become meaningless if they are not delivered forthwith. Promises of provincial autonomy find few takers when months go by without even a hint of their implementation. It was in March 2008 that the prime minister pledged that the concurrent legislative list would be scrapped within a year, thereby giving the provinces greater control over their own resources. Nearly 14 months later there has been no real movement on this count. When will the centre wake up?  http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/the-newspaper/editorial/balochistan-and-the-centre-859

May 18, 2009   No Comments

Pakistan On The Edge

by Farooq Ganderbali

Pakistan’s existence as a separate country is becoming bleak with the changing security scenario in this beleaguered country. The Islamic nation is grappling with the never ending cycle of violence.  The continuous high profile guerrilla attacks in Lahore, Islamabad, NWFP and areas in the space of a month have heightened fears of Islamist militancy engulfing Pakistan. The attacks are showing the depth of insecurity in Pakistan, while television channels carry the news of attacks to the entire world.

Think tanks, policy makers and media around the world are describing entire Pakistan as an unstable country. They had been warning earlier too in the run up of this situation that the Pakistani security agencies are patronising terror groups like Al Qaeda and Taliban in the tribal areas. This is true to a significant extent. But that’s not the whole picture. The truth is that the border regions of Pakistan have a plethora of factors that make the area the perfect operating base for Islamic militants. Some of these have to do with geography, others with corruption, and still yet with Pakistan’s long history of communal violence and hatred of Hindu India.

Pakistan’s leaders know al Qaeda is encouraging a Taliban insurgency in Pakistani tribal lands bordering Afghanistan, and seeking to destabilise the Muslim nation of 170 million people. Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, an al Qaeda ally based in the South Waziristan tribal region has claimed responsibility for the assault on the Lahore police school, which killed eight cadets.

The Tribal areas have effectively slipped out of the control of Pakistani authorities. The writ of Pakistan government no longer rules here. Number of factors are responsible for reaching this situation. Pakistan suffers from high levels of corruption within the ranks of its police and security services. On top of that, the police often do not carry out their assigned duties of investigating crime and protecting the populace. Instead, it works the other way around, where the police are often engaged in criminal activities themselves, particularly in remote areas of the country where official investigation of mistreatment is almost unheard of.

There is the decades-old problem of collusion with the Islamic militants. This largely has its roots in the long-standing conflict between India and Pakistan and the fraternization between Pakistan and the Mujahideen during the Soviet-Afghan War. During that conflict, the Pakistani intelligence services demanded that any weapons destined for the guerrillas pass through them. All in all, Pakistan’s security forces have been sympathizing with and aiding Islamic fighters, whether in Kashmir or Afghanistan, for well over two decades and such sympathies are difficult to simply reverse on a moments notice, especially in a nation like Pakistan.

U.S. Military commanders have made public accusations that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has maintained ties with groups close to al Qaeda and the Taliban. Nuclear-armed and a hiding place for al Qaeda, Pakistan has become a foreign policy nightmare for the United States and other allies in the West. The government in Pakistan doesn’t want to launch a massive overwhelming assault on the terrorists hiding out in its border provinces. Pakistan knows the gravity of the internal threat but its army would be uncomfortable taking troops away from the eastern border with India, particularly on the Jammu and Kashmir where they have assumed the role of Terror facilitators.

Even if the terrorists are breathing down their throats Pakistan is not changing its military strategy. Many other countries facing terrorism have effectively dealt with the situation. Egypt, for example, has largely suppressed the threat of widespread terrorism in their country through a perpetual state of emergency. It’s true that the Egyptian security forces are corrupt in the extreme and frequently resort to torture to extract information, but they differ from the Pakistanis in that they are loyal to the secular government and they have no love for terrorists.

Thus, they have no problem implementing massive widespread crackdowns in force to suppress extremism. In the absence of such determination, Taliban and related groups have increased their control in the border provinces, subsidized by drug profits from neighboring Afghanistan. The Pakistani government frequently wavers between wanting to wipe out the al Qaeda elements in their country and making deals with them. The common perception about the government and the military is that they are facing a crisis of credibility. There is no strategic plan or vision over how to deal with extremism and terrorism. As a show off Pakistani security agencies have been carrying out some operations against terrorists, but it is on record to say that none of its operations has ever achieved the success due to some obvious reasons.  They have been giving huge concessions to the terrorists, which most of the time amount to the surrender. In 2006 the government gave up control of large portions of Waziristan to the Taliban and released hundreds of hard-core fighters from their prisons. South Waziristan was under open rule by the Taliban in 2006 after the Pakistanis essential threw up their hands in frustration.

Rooting out terrorists from the region is difficult enough, but the prospect of the Pakistani government simply quitting the battle has been a nightmare to US and NATO forces. Sooner or later, depending on how the situation plays out, cross-border strikes may be necessary to deal with the problem once and for all. In the meantime, unable or unwilling to get its act together, Pakistan continues to suffer from routine attacks and the subversion of central authority.

The government in Pakistan too has not been able to perform upto mark. It is ruled by a weak and manipulative leadership that is without much public support. Its leaders are trying to survive through political manipulations. This is aggravating the already serious security vacuum in the country and is providing fresh oxygen to the various terrorist groups operating from the Pakistani territory.

May 6, 2009   No Comments

Confronting Terrorists

By Farooq Ganderbali

Abdul Aziz, a radical cleric and chief of the Red Mosque, has been released  on bail.

Abdul Aziz, a radical cleric and chief of the Red Mosque, has been released on bail.

Over the last few months Pakistan has been helplessly sliding into chaos and violence. The gun battles and suicide attacks have become a norm of those terrorists who were once pets of Pakistan government. It seems that the sins of the past seem to be visiting Pakistan. All the Frankensteins created by Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence are now attacking their creator. Buoyed by gaining sway over Swat, the Taliban is on a high. And, they would try to advance deeper into Pakistan in a bid to establish their writ. In this, they would get ample support from groups like Al Qaeda, LeT and Jaish which espouse global jihad. This would destabilize the region and make it more insecure than it already is.

US has a major role to control this situation before it goes out of hand. Unless and until the US takes the initiative for such a strategy focused on eradicating all terrorist sanctuaries in Pakistani territory India, Afghanistan and other sovereign nations will continue to bleed at the hands of jihadi terrorists spawned in Pakistan and the US will meet the same fate in Afghanistan as the erstwhile USSR did in the 1980s.

No doubt efforts are being put by the state department to make anti terrorism operations more effective. In his famous Af-Pak policy President Obama announced annihilation of al Qaeda its principle objective. To meet that objective one has to look beyond the borders of Afghanistan. There are elements in Pakistani security apparatus who openly support these terrorists. Be it Afghanistan’s intelligence chief or the Richard Holbrooke himself, all have accused ISI of helping Taliban militants to carry out attacks in the two countries.

Overwhelmed with the complex politics in US, Obama’s strategy for the Af-Pak region is still unfolding in bits and pieces. He has already announced the expansion of US troops by 16,000. Predator strikes on terrorist hide-outs and training camps in Pakistani territory are also being systematically intensified. The implementation and gradual intensification of these two components will determine the success of other strategies. One good thing related to drone strikes has been that the US administration has been expanding their geographic and target spread. From North and South Waziristan and the Bajaur Agency in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), the geographic area of the strikes has been extended to the Kurram Agency in the FATA. The Bannu area in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), which was already targeted once by the Bush Administration, has been receiving more attention from the advisers of Obama.

The cancer of terrorism has spread too much in Pakistan and its diseased spots are not only confined to some border areas. Balochistan is becoming a hub of terrorist activities patronised by ISI. A report carried by the New York Times in March 2009, indicates that the Obama Administration is also examining the advisability of hitting at the hide-outs and training camps of the Afghan Taliban in Quetta and some other areas of Balochistan adjoining the border with Afghanistan. Mulla Mohammad Omar, the Amir of the Neo Taliban, and his advisers are thought to be operating from sanctuaries in these areas.

The policy already being followed by Obama and the change now recommended cover only attacks on the sanctuaries of Al Qaeda and its associates, the Neo Taliban, the TTP and the Hizb-e-Islami. They do not cover the group of five organizations–the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM), the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET), the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI), the Jaish and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ)–which are commonly referred to in Pakistan as the Punjabi Taliban.

There is need of quick review into the scenario. US has a habit of letting the monster grow and then confronting it with more resources and a lot more collateral damage. Why not nip the evil in the bud. The Punjabi Talibans have the potential to become a threat equivalent to Al Qaeda in a short course of time. They has been helping the TTP in the Swat Valley of the NWFP. The LET has been helping the Neo Taliban and the Hizb-e-Islami in the Kabul area. It was involved in the explosion outside the Indian Embassy in Kabul in the first week of July last year. The HUM, the HUJI and the LEJ have been active in the tribal belt since the 1990s.

It is not that these terrorist groups have not attacked people beyond the borders of Pakistan. Some of the attacks taking place in Afghanistan have been loosely traced to these groups. These organizations have been behind most acts of jihadi terrorism in the Indian territory. Unless the new US counter-terrorism strategy covers the terrorist infrastructure of the Punjabi Taliban too, the results will not be satisfactory.

In spite of Pakistan now facing the brunt of terror attacks, ISI’s patronage to Taliban and motley terror groups it nurtured to bolster its anti-India mission of death by a thousand cuts is unlikely to wilt away any time soon.

Even though the political establishment of Pakistan is uncomfortable about this truth about the ISI, they hardly have any control over the agency. Thus the task of eliminating these terrorists rests with the free and democratic world. It is their duty to take up this painful cleaning operation before it’s ill effects spread to peaceful world.

May 6, 2009   No Comments

Threat To World Security

By  Farooq Ganderbali

The terrorist attack of Lahore police academy has opened a new and dangerous chapter in the history of terrorism in Pakistan. The lightly armed terrorist groups are able to attack highly guarded targets with much ease. After attacking the Sri Lankan Cricket team, this is the second attack on highly protected asset. Such is their training and incapability of Pakistani security agencies that most of these terrorists are able to escape unhurt as happened with cricket attack.

With terrorist acts becoming more dare devil in Pakistan, it is matter of time before they will strike a nuclear installation in this only nuclear armed Muslim state. It is not only the problem for Pakistan but for the entire world as to how they will deal with terrorists after they succeed in getting hold of a nuclear weapon in Pakistan. World should take a pro active measure to stop that nightmare. One wonders that if it was so easy for a group of 10 to 12 terrorists wearing police uniforms and wielding assault rifles to raid and occupy for seven hours a heavily-guarded establishment like the Police Academy in the Lahore area, then why a nuclear plant cannot be their next target.

The level of training of these terrorists has gradually moved to a higher level and they don’t have crunch of resources. Al Qaeda must be the happiest of all in this emerging scenario. After all they have had long ambition of getting hold of a nuclear weapon and even succeeded in roping in some top Pakistani scientists and army generals for their cause.

Pak Army Chief Gen Kayani with Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman, US Joint Chiefs of Staff

Pak Army Chief Gen Kayani with Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman, US Joint Chiefs of Staff

In late 2001, US officials investigating the activities of Osama bin Laden discovered that the al-Qaeda head had contacted some Pakistani nuclear experts for assistance in making a small nuclear device. US officials sought two veteran Pakistani nuclear scientists in particular, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood and Abdul Majid, for interrogation. The two admitted working in Afghanistan in recent years, but said they had only been providing “charitable assistance” to Afghans.

This was just a tip of the iceberg and many more scientists and other lower level technical persons too were involved. Mahmood was a top level scientist. He was one of Pakistan’s foremost experts in the secret effort to produce plutonium for atomic weapons. In 1999 he publicly said that Pakistan should help other Islamic nations build nuclear weapons. He also made some public statements in support of the Taliban movement. After more interrogation, both Mahmood and Majid admitted that they had met with bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri during their visits to Afghanistan and held long “theoretical” discussions on nuclear weapons.

Then the trail went cold. After months in Pakistani custody, both Mahmood and Majid were quietly released. Fearing that Mahmood’s charity organization, Ummah Tameer e-Nau, could be a front for al-Qaeda, the US government placed the entity in its terrorist list and designated Mahmood himself “a global terrorist”. Pakistan’s government never put the two scientists on trial, and they are free men today.

Now with terrorists running free in major cities of Pakistan, the concern arises from the possibility of a group of terrorists to raid and occupy a Pakistani nuclear establishment. The terrorists have repeatedly seen in Kabul and Lahore how easy it is to surprise and overwhelm at least temporarily the security personnel guarding the buildings targeted by them. More such incidents involving a similar strategy are to be apprehended.

At government level Pakistan too has never remained true believer of nuclear non proliferation. It is reported to have shared its nuclear technology with North Korea, and possibly with Myanmar and Saudi Arabia for number of benefits.
A nation that is penetrated by Islamic radicals and that possesses dozens of nuclear weapons and proliferates them to other dictatorial countries poses a tangible and immediate problem. Till date U.S. policy towards Pakistan does not reflect that reality. In the absence of pressure from the United States, Pakistan has not found it necessary to take serious action against Islamic extremists, who are salivating at the possibility of getting rewarded with nuclear bombs.

Recently a Taliban leader warned that Washington will be over next target and the attack would be much bigger. One wonder are Talibans talking about mounting a nuclear attack. Are they planning to get it by attacking Pakistan’s nuclear installations or have they manufactured a dirty bomb with the help of heavily indoctrinated Pakistani scientists. In both cases the situation is going from bad to worse and it needs to be checked before it gets out of hand. This year is going to be a period of high tension for the world in general and Pakistan in particular, with multiple threats of terrorist attacks by al-Qaeda and its affiliates on Pakistan’s very soul of existence. As horrific as the September 11 attacks on the US were, many terrorism experts have been warning that the next terrorist attacks could be much worse. It appears that US policymakers are unresponsive to a more alarming threat from Pakistan.

May 6, 2009   No Comments

Zardari under US pressure to ‘work’ with Sharif

Pak President ZardariPresident Asif Ali Zardari is under US pressure to work with PML (N) leader Nawaz Sharif, whom Washongton has been courting in recent days, a report from Washington says.

US President Barack Obama will convey the new thinking personally to Zardari on the sidelines of US-Pak-Afghanistan summit this week

While the details of the  US Plan are still shrouded in mystery, it is said the Obama Administration is trying to work out a power-sharing deal between Zardari and Nawaz sharif in its bid to strengthen the civilian government in combating the Taliban challenge.

Both Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have spoken with Nawaz Sharif by telephone; they have urged Zardari’s “increasingly unpopular government” to work closely with Sharif.

May 5, 2009   No Comments

Christians Accused of ‘Blasphemy’ in Sahiwal

Several Christian families in a village of Sahiwal are on the run after allegations that they committed ‘blasphemy’ by throwing ink on the Holy Quran, the  Daily Times of Pakistan reports.

Some neutral locals of the area  said that 12 Christian families had left their houses in Chak 190/9-AL – a village of Christians with at least 6,500 voters – and taken shelter at an unidentified place over the last seven days, in a bid to save their lives.

A week ago, unidentified people broke into Harrappa Government Community Model Girls Primary School in the village. In the morning, students found on the ground a page of the Holy Quran smeared with black ink and gum. The blackboard had the following words written on it: “I am don”.

Locals and  police said  the words on the blackboard led to the assumption that a Christian named Shani was responsible for what had happened, as he was also called ‘don’. “It could have been a conspiracy against Shani,” they said.

Mosques in the area made announcements saying “it is matter of respect of Islam and all of them should rise and crush the vice”.

On Thursday, a large number of Christians and Muslims protested at the arrival of Shahbaz Sharif in Sahiwal, demanding the arrest of Shani. Later the charged mob started shouting slogans against Shani and tried to torch his house and those of his friends and relatives who had already fled the area. However, police intervened and stopped the mob.

On Friday, a mob from a neighbouring village tried to burn the houses of the accused, but some influential people stopped them.

Harrapa SHO Allah Ditta told Daily Times that with help from influential people of the area, he had convinced people that it was not a case of blasphemy. He said he had told them that if somebody had dropped some pages of the holy Quran during a robbery in the dark, it did not imply that blasphemy had been committed. He said that above all, it was not clear who had broken into the school. He said that a case had not been registered yet. The sources said that Ashfaq Gill, Nasir, Imran Qasai and Raju – all friends and relatives of Shani – are in police custody, but police denied that.

May 2, 2009   No Comments

Pakistan On Religious Freedom Watch List

United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) –  has put Pakistan on ‘Watch List’ saying  it is a country of particular concern (CPC)

AUS  government-funded agency, USCRIRF, monitors the status of freedom of thought, conscience and religion across the world.

In its annual report released on Friday, the Commision termed Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, China, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Vietnam as amongst the worst violators of religious freedoms.

It said these countries either discriminate against people for religious reasons or are unwilling or unable to stop religious violence by their citizens.

According to the report, in Pakistan Year 2009 has seen the largely unchecked growth in the power and reach of religiously motivated extremist groups, said the report, referring to the Taliban in the NWFP. Sectarian and religiously motivated violence continues, particularly against the Shias, Ahmadis, Christians, and Hindus, and the government’s response continues to be insufficient.

Quoting Pakistani and international observers,. the report says elements of Pakistan’s intelligence services maintain ties with and provide support to the Taliban and other violent extremist groups, such as the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba.

Many madrassas in Pakistan, the US report notes provide ideological training and motivation to those who take part in violence targeting religious minorities in Pakistan and abroad. Most of these madrassas were registered in mid-2005. This, however, had little if any effect on the content of the schools‘ curricula, and there are still no government controls on the madrassas’ sources of funding.

Ahmadis, Christians, and Hindus also have been targeted in attacks by Sunni extremists and in mob violence conducted with apparent impunity.

May 2, 2009   No Comments