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  • 8th November, 2009

    Event: discussion on media and Pakistan’s stability

    by Sunny at 9:02 pm    

    An event this week by the: Institute for War & Peace Reporting

    Is the increasingly media-savvy violent extremist movement in Pakistan a threat to the stability of the state?

    The discussion will be moderated by author and BBC journalist Owen Bennett Jones in conversation with:

    Continue Reading...
    6th November, 2009

    Ali Eteraz’s ‘Children of Dust’

    by Shariq at 8:51 am    

    I’ve followed Ali Eteraz’s writing closely since he started what I think was his first wordpress blog. I remember commenting on one of his first posts, which didn’t have anything to do with politics or religion, but was an assertion of Pete Sampras’ superiority over Roger Federer (naturally I disagreed). The thing which characterised Ali’s work was the sheer energy with which he was tackling issues. He was debating Islamic conservatives, challenging right-wing writers who were scared of or bigoted towards Islam, while at the same time trying to build a broad-based coalition for Islamic Reform.

    As a result, while I was desperately trying to hold on to the few readers I had on my old website, Ali managed to build up a huge readership in a remarkably short period of time. In many ways, my blogging output declined when I realised that Ali was already expressing most of what I wanted to say. Therefore, I was disappointed when eteraz.org suddenly disappeared. There was still content on the US presidential elections and his series on Islam for Comment is Free, but the constant desire to write, challenge and engage seemed to have disappeared.

    ‘Children of Dust’ gives the back story of Eteraz. From growing up in a dusty village in a remote region of Punjab, to crisscrossing America through high school, college and work, while trying to come to grips with Islam. The tagline for the book says, ‘A Memoir of Pakistan’ which I suspect was the work of some marketing person. Pakistan definitely plays a crucial role in Ali’s journey and his life allows us to see some of the ways in which it has changed over the years. However fundamentally, this book is about a personal journey. What inspired Ali to become so passionate about his religion, the ways in which this manifested itself, the contradictions it caused in his personal life, why he burned out and how he found salvation (i think).

    Continue Reading...
    4th September, 2009

    More reasons why we can’t give up on Afghanistan

    by Sunny at 3:29 pm    

    So I’ve written an article for Guardian CIF on why I think staying in Afghanistan is the right thing to do. As I’ve said before, I’ve taken a very South-Asian-stability-centric view. And I think it reduces terrorism here. Anyway, one commenter writes below my article:

    I live in Pakistan right now.
    What the ‘peace party dont recognize is that the Taliban / al-Qaida really will return to what they were doing pre 2001. That is to say – training camps for would be jihadis, executing people in public, making the lives of women hell etc etc.
    This is not scaremongering – they have done it in Pakistan. The town of Mingora was turned into a charnel house with headless bodies appearing in the central square and on trees in the town.
    Until they threatened Islamabad nobody was willing to do anything about them, despite the begging of the local population. Many Swatis wondered if they were part of Pakistan at all.
    The operation against the Taliban in Swat wasnt exactly a walk in the park – but a battle in Waziristan will be something else. They are entrenched in Waziristan. So too are the training camps and al-qaeda.
    The Afghan Taliban are (at the hardest core) not people who can be negotiated with. Nor is the Pakistan establishment open to the persuasion of reality – that is to say unless it directly threatens their arses they will do nothing about it.
    What has been seen recently is an unwillingness to hold terrorist godfathers like Hafiz Saeed, Sufi Mohammad and Abdul Aziz (of the Red Mosque fame). Rather, they are allowed to go free and live their lives doing what they will.
    The apologists for terrorism are laying low right now, they can hardly do more given what has happened since May. But make no mistake, they are still there.
    Sunny is right. Any vacuum created by the sudden withdrawal of foreign forces in Afghanistan will suck the Taliban into power, just as it did in the 1990s when they appeared (courtesy of Pakistan).
    Afghanistan is not the same as Iraq. Iraq was a smash and grab raid (the biggest in history) under the cover of the so called war on terror.
    Afghanistan is the real thing.

    Sorry but I’m not going to be persuaded anytime soon that we must pull out of Afghanistan. The Taliban are among the worst religious fanatics on the planet. They should not be allowed to get back into power by force.

    21st June, 2009

    UK Hizb ut-Tahrir activist calls Taliban “brothers”

    by Sunny at 3:34 pm    

    I’ve been alerted to a video of a television discussion on the Iranian channel Press TV, where Taji Mustafa of the extremist group Hizb ut-Tahrir refers to the terrorist killers in Pakistan as “brothers”. See the video here (ffwd by 9min). He says:

    Today, this action is on behalf of America. Today you have Pakistan - the sons of Pakistan in the army are turned against their brothers the sons of Pakistan, living in the tribal areas. [interrupted by Pakistan high commissioner] So this idea that a few thousand Taliban or whoever could threaten several hundred thousand, a several hundred thousand army, the seventh largest army in the world, could be overrun by a few thousand people in the tribal areas was a nonsense, and I think it was designed to get us to where we are today - to give in from pressure from America and get Pakistani fighting Pakistani.

    There are of course the same militants who have been blowing up innocent people across Pakistan for months. These are the same people a Hizb ut-Tahrir activist in the UK calls “brothers”. Now we know his sympathy lies with terrorists.

    There was also a good photo-journalism piece by Declan Walsh yesterday in the Guardian about people fleeing the Swat Valley. (hat tip: zakk)

    28th May, 2009

    Taliban blamed for Lahore attack

    by Sunny at 4:06 am    

    New update: Two more blasts have hit Peshawar.

    This is probably one of the biggest terrorist attacks in Pakistan in recent times. And I was in Lahore less than six months ago and it was so peaceful:

    Pakistan’s government has blamed Taliban fighters for a bomb attack in Lahore which killed 23 people and left hundreds more injured. A group of men shot at police officers before detonating a powerful car bomb, damaging buildings belonging to the police and intelligence agency the ISI.

    A group calling itself Tehrik-i-Taliban Punjab claimed responsibility for the bombing in a Turkish-language statement posted on jihadist websites, the SITE monitoring group said.

    As I’ve said repeatedly this is why I supported the ousting of the Taliban and now Obama’s attempts to sort out the mess that George Bush made. The Taliban are expansionist, terrorist scum. If left alone they would have eventually moved to destabilise the whole of the Indian sub-continent. In other words provoke war between country in possession of nukes. Trying to sort out Aghanistan may be a near-impossible task, but it is still preferable to letting the Taliban rule it.

    I hope that Pakistanis quickly realised the true nature of the Taliban, and every indication is that they’re waking up to this, because that’s the only way to ensure the Taliban’s downfall.

    13th May, 2009

    The human angle to the story of a war

    by Fe'reeha at 6:21 pm    

    While the news focus of Pakistani media has shifted from the debates on Swat peace accord to the war zone, one must commend the national and international news outlets for concentrating on the internally displaced people.

    There is active and vociferous coverage of thousands of people who have been displaced from their homes. In the past, Pakistani government faced acute criticism for not meeting the demand of the IDPs on time and for being somewhat insensitive to the needs of those whose home towns were under attack. This time round, it seems the government is also keener on making sure the “human angle” of this war story is not over looked hence a plethora of statements by political pundits has targeted the issue of IDPs.

    Yet the tragic reality looms on our heads. In a few days time, the story of IDPs like any other story will become old news. Editors will grapple to find new angles and aid agencies will have to shift their focus elsewhere. But the damage to the hearts and minds of those internally displaced may be irreversible.

    Continue Reading...
    8th May, 2009

    Life in the Frontier Constabulary

    by Rumbold at 12:22 pm    

    Being a member of Pakistan’s Frontier Corps, a paramilitary force based throughout the country, sounds grim:

    “Sher Afzal is a young soldier who joined the FC seven years ago and belongs to Tank in Pakhtoonkhwa province. He leaves for duty [in Islamabad] in the morning after having only one cup of tea and nothing else. No, it’s not about any freaky dietary habit but a compulsion of poverty.

    “What else do you expect me to eat on my salary? It costs me Rs12 just to go to Aabpara and I have to maintain my family back home. It has been one year since I received my ISD (special allowance to serve in non FC area), and now from this summer this special allowance will also be stopped as Islamabad is now an FC area. At times I wonder what I am doing here. Some of my colleagues here have not received ISD for the past four years”, laments an otherwise proud looking Afzal.

    Continue Reading...
    Filed under: Pakistan
    30th April, 2009

    Taliban target Sikh homes in Pakistan

    by Sunny at 9:53 pm    

    The Tribune in India reports:

    Taliban militants have demolished 11 homes of members of the minority Sikh community in Pakistan’s troubled Aurakzai tribal region after they failed to pay jiziya or a tax levied on non-Muslims.

    Though the Sikhs have been living in Aurakzai Agency for centuries, the Taliban asked them earlier this month to pay Rs 50 million a year as jiziya. The militants claimed this was being done as Shariah or Islamic law had been enforced in the area and all non-Muslims had to pay “protection money”.

    50 million rupees? It’s obvious that the Taliban are trying to drive out or kill anyone non-Muslim in Pakistan.

    Filed under: Pakistan,South Asia
    28th April, 2009

    The Pakistan situation

    by Rumbold at 7:04 pm    

    Quite a bit has been happening in Pakistan recently. We’ve had Taliban advances to within 100km of Islamabad (though they then abandoned that position), the increasing adoption of Sharia law in various parts of the country, and renewed contempt for a government that seems incapable of dealing with this threat. Oh, and don’t forget an economy hit by the world recession (though not as badly as one might think), widespread corruption and heightened tensions with India. However bad the government has been though, I am not sure whether any power could solve these problems easily.

    (Hat-Tip: Jai)

    13th April, 2009

    Pakistanis are angry? How dare they?

    by Sunny at 12:50 pm    

    So, Sadiq Khan MP goes on a fact-finding trip to Pakistan. To absolutely no surprise he finds that many Pakistanis are angry over the unmanned-drone raids by US forces that end up killing lots of civilians.

    Blogger ‘habibi’ on Harry’s Place is outraged! How dare Sadiq Khan express any sympathy for these people and suggest our foreign policy should care for the lives of innocent Pakistanis? Don’t these wogs realise we’re doing them a favour by bombing them to hell/heaven/72 virgins? This is how you get democracy kimosabi. Personally, I just get tears in my eyes when I think how courageously freedom-loving democrats here want to fight for a sense of peace and justice in South Asia.

    6th April, 2009

    The Pakistani flogging, and the Taliban

    by Sunny at 11:54 pm    

    In the Taliban thread earlier, Platinum786 posted this link to the letters page in Pakistan’s The News, all of them condemning the Taliban’s actions.

    We need to stand up to the Taliban. Now is the time for every Pakistani to say no to this kind of cruelty and violence before it is too late. Whenever such atrocious acts are committed and exposed, we start blaming foreign powers or call it a conspiracy against Islam — it is neither — the scourge is within us.

    Muhammad Farhan
    Up till now I was a supporter of the Taliban — no more. After watching the public flogging of the young girl in Swat all I can say is that I am ashamed. This is not the Islam of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH).

    Muhammad Naeem Tanoli

    So what should be done about the Taliban? I doubt Obama will be able to ‘save Afghanistan’ even with more troops, as many others have pointed out (it’s a shame European leaders did not pledge more troops for the region). But nevertheless I think it’s the right strategy. The continuing battle in Afghanistan between NATO and the Taliban is likely to further destabilise Pakistan as the Taliban grow more daring in their fight against the Afghani and Pakistani governments. That is a given, but not necessarily the worst medium term outcome.

    The Taliban need to be eradicated and fought - militarily and ideologically. And the only way that can be done is when most Pakistanis realise that the Taliban present a threat to their own nation. More than religion, the one thing that unites Pakistanis is their nationalism. Only when a big majority see the Taliban as a threat to their nation will they stand up against it and force the intelligence services to stop aiding them. In the medium term then, it’s almost necessary for the long term good of the region that the Taliban keep fighting for their survival by attacking the Pakistani state. That’s the only way, in the long term, that the Pakistani establishment will cut its ties with the Taliban. That clash needs to happen otherwise it will come back later.

    Update: Just found that on Sunday the MQM party held a country-wide protest against the Taliban. Pictures here. Very encouraging stuff.

    26th March, 2009

    Situation worsens for minorities in Pakistan

    by Rumbold at 8:53 pm    

    Before the latest round of violence, the situation was already bad for minorities in Pakistan. But now increased numbers are fleeing as more of them are targeted by religious extremists.

    3rd March, 2009

    Nothing in Pakistan is sacred anymore

    by Shariq at 3:59 pm    

    In 1996, Gaddafi Stadium Lahore was the scene of Sri Lankan cricket’s greatest triumph. Beating Australia in the final of the World Cup meant that they had finally gotten rid of their status as cricketing minnows. Not only did they win, but they did so playing exhilarating cricket which won the support of neutrals everywhere.

    What added extra spice to the final (not that it needed it), was the fact that earlier in the tournament, Australia had refused to play against Sri Lanka in Colombo because of security concerns.

    Ironically, it was Sri Lanka’s history of having to deal with reluctant tourists that influenced their decision to play in Pakistan, when India pulled out of their tour after the Mumbai atrocities.

    Continue Reading...

    Gunmen attack SL cricket team in Lahore

    by Sunny at 1:31 pm    

    This is the top news story right now:

    Eyewitnesses to Tuesday’s attack on Sri Lanka’s cricketers described scenes of shock and horror as gunmen opened fire in the heart of the Pakistani city of Lahore. “As the Sri Lankan team was approaching the stadium for the test match this morning, about a half a kilometre away from the stadium, two cars entered the roundabout… and fired a grenade,” said Graham Usher, a British journalist, who was approaching the area just as the attack took place.

    “As they did this, three other gunmen ran into the roundabout, where the bus was, opened fire on a police vehicle - where a police officer was killed - and then opened fire on the bus, spraying the bus we understand with machine gun fire,” he told the BBC’s Today programme.

    “The gunmen targeted the wheels of the bus first and then the bus,” Sri Lankan cricketer Mahela Jayawardene told Cricinfo website. “We all dived to the floor to take cover.”

    WTF? Lahore used to be a relatively safe city as well… I was there only a few months ago. Now it seems these militants can get everywhere. News on this is still developing.
    [hat tip Shamit]

    Update: Fe’reeha sent me this news transcript from Pakistan.

    Continue Reading...
    27th February, 2009

    Pakistan’s Talibanisation is a serious problem

    by Fe'reeha at 9:05 am    

    Pakistan has agreed to introduce Islamic law in Swat valley, and neighboring areas of the northwestern region, in a bid to take the steam out of a Taliban uprising raging since late 2007.

    The reasoning behind this move, according to the government is to use Sufi Mehammed, a cleric backing the movement to restore peace in Swat as a touch-stone for bringing stability to the region. However, as many critics have rightly warned this maybe a delusion and a short term measure which will only aggravate the situation further.

    First of all, one needs to understand what are the teachings of the clerics working in North Western areas? The sad reality remains, there is plenty of confusion about the teachings of Islam throughout the world. I found it in the sophisticated English-speaking British Pakistani Muslims I met in the UK, and I find it in all the sections of Pakistani society.

    Continue Reading...
    10th February, 2009

    Is this supposed to be an anti-terrorism strategy?

    by Sunny at 5:06 pm    

    How do we deal with terrorism guys? I know, let’s have an ad campaign in Pakistan highlighting successful British Pakistanis. That will really get the Taliban thinking twice! I’m assuming that’s how the conversation before they launched this:

    Prominent British Muslims are being recruited to star in a government-backed advertising campaign aimed at preventing people in Pakistan from engaging in extremist activity, the Guardian has learned.

    The three-month public relations offensive, called I Am the West, consists of television commercials and high-profile events in regions such as Peshawar and Mirpur. It is being funded by the Foreign Office which is paying up to £400,000 for a pilot project.

    Starring in the first three adverts are Sadiq Khan, the communities minister, Jehangir Malik, the UK manager of Islamic Relief, English cricketer Moeen Ali and the Lord Mayor of Birmingham, Chaudry Abdul Rashid, who is from Mirpur. Mirpuris represent around 70% of Britain’s Pakistani population.

    Wow, they really have run out of ideas haven’t they? The Guardian’s Riazat Butt has an amusing article on it, but there’s questions to be asked about the government’s anti-terrorism strategy. Is this really the best they can come up with?

    Filed under: Media,Pakistan,Terrorism
    23rd January, 2009

    Revealed: Obama’s drug-infested Pakistani connection!

    by Sunny at 4:21 pm    

    LOL. Who says Obama has no love for Pakistanis? This picture, posted on the NY Times blog, was amusing I thought, for both their hairstyles.

    Continue Reading...
    27th December, 2008

    India & Pakistan tensions rise

    by Sunny at 4:41 pm    

    I don’t know why this is happening but it’s worrying:

    Pakistan has begun moving some troops away from its western border with Afghanistan and has stopped soldiers from going on leave amid rising tensions with India, Pakistani officials said Friday. Two of the officials said the troops were headed to the border with India in the east.

    The move is likely to frustrate the United States, which has been pressing Pakistan to battle militants in its lawless northwest territories and working hard to cool tempers in the two nuclear-armed countries, following terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, last month. Indian officials have blamed a Pakistani militant group for the attacks. By late Friday there was little to indicate that the troop movements constituted a major redeployment.

    This shows little sign of turning into a full scale war yet, but accusations are certainly still being thrown around. An Indian minister has accused Pakistan of war hysteria, while Pak President is trying to lower tensions.

    In a reference to the US and India, Zardari said, “I want to tell the oldest democracy and the largest democracy of the world-listen to us, learn from us. We have experiences to share with you. We have lost our people-we do not not talk about war, we do not not talk about vengeance”. Without directly naming India but in an obvious reference to it, the President said, “in case there are people in the region who feel that they want to test our mettle, I would like to tell them that this mettle has been tested many times. Please do not not test it again.”

    My feeling is that the Indian govt is raising tensions because it has paid off recently with Pakistan acting against its militant groups, and because many Indians are still angry at their government for failing to protect them adequately.

    Filed under: India,Pakistan
    6th December, 2008

    Pakistan faces terrorist attack

    by Sunny at 8:10 pm    

    i did say earlier Pakistan had its own terrorism problem. A bomb by militants in Peshawar has killed over 20 people. The International Herald Tribune reports:

    A powerful explosion struck a crowded central bazaar in the chaotic city of Peshawar in Pakistan’s northwest Friday, killing at least 22 people and wounding more than 90, Pakistani officials said.

    The chief of police in Peshawar, Malik Naveed, told a television station that the explosion occurred in an area in the center of the city at a time when many people were out shopping for a coming festival. He said that the explosion, which took place at 7:20 p.m. local time, struck near a Shiite mosque and that he expected the number of dead and wounded to rise.

    Maybe it’s time for Pakistan to acknowledge its own problem too now?

    Filed under: Pakistan,Terrorism
    5th December, 2008

    Thinking about Kashmir

    by Shariq at 4:48 pm    

    After the Mumbai attacks, several people including William Dalrymple have argued for the need to ‘solve’ Kashmir. Before the attacks, even Barack Obama hinted at trying to achieve something there. Since then, reports suggest Richard Holbrooke will be the new envoy to South Asia. Given the difficulties, I’m trying to look at what should be aimed for and what isn’t possible. Sumantra Bose is possibly the best authority on the subject so if you want to read more check out this set of seminars or better than that his book.

    Continue Reading...
    2nd December, 2008

    Indians: blaming Pakistan is not the answer

    by Sunny at 11:45 am    

    The international media’s glare is much stronger on India this time than earlier atrocities. It’s also likely India wants to influence Obama’s approach to South Asia - always a source of frustration because of America’s support for Pakistan while it is a key ally in Afghanistan. And finally, during earlier atrocities such as the terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament in Dec 2001, Bush intervened to ease tensions. But now Bush is a lame-duck while Obama hasn’t assumed power.

    All these factors mean that the sabre-rattling the Indian government and media are doing could rapidly spiral out of control into a full-scale war. Don’t doubt for a minute there aren’t hardliners on either side itching to teach the other side a lesson ‘once and for all’. Pakistan has already indicated it may move troops to the border if the latter made any “aggressive moves”, most likely to get the US to step forward but this may not materialise.

    While blaming Pakistan is the easy option, it’s futile.

    Continue Reading...
    Filed under: India,Pakistan,Terrorism
    30th November, 2008

    Lashkar-e-Taiba لشكرِ طيبه

    by Sid (Faisal) at 2:00 pm    

    Lashkar-e-Taiba (Urdu: لشكرِ طيبه laškar-ĕ ṯaiyyiba, literally Army of the Pure or Righteous, also transliterated as Lashkar-i-Tayyaba, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba or Lashkar-i-Taiba) is one of the largest and most active Islamic terrorist organizations in South Asia. The group was founded by Hafiz Muhammad Saeed in Afghanistan’s Kunar province in the late 1980s becoming especially active after 1993 and has close ties to Al-Qaeda. The aim of the group is the end of Indian rule in Kashmir and establishment of an Islamic caliphate in Central Asia.

    Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) is believed to be based near Lahore and is said to operate several militant training camps in Pakistani-administered Kashmir and is believed to receive support from Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence agency (ISI). The group also receives support from South Asians Muslims living in the Persian Gulf region and through “Islamic charities.” Lashkar e-Taiba purports to train its hundreds of thousands of young members for an Islamic Jihad in the troubled region of Kashmir & Jammu.

    Continue Reading...
    16th November, 2008

    ‘Honour’ killing supporters rewarded

    by Rumbold at 6:00 pm    

    In July, five women were buried alive in Baluchistan, three of them teenagers who wanted to marry men of their choice, along with two elderly relatives. Despite international condemnation, Israrullah Zehri, a senator for Baluchistan, defended the action by claiming that:

    “These are centuries-old traditions, and I will continue to defend them.”

    Now Israrullah Zehri has been promoted to the national cabinet by Asif Ali Zardari, as Federal Minister for Postal Services:

    “The PPP should not forget that Zehri had ‘informed’ the Senate in August that the killing or burial of women alive for ‘honour’ is a tribal tradition of Balochistan province and should not be portrayed negatively. When the issue of five women being buried alive in Balochistan in the name of honour was raised in the Senate, Zehri asked the senators not to politicise the issue, as it was a matter of safeguarding the tribal traditions.”

    Continue Reading...
    4th November, 2008

    Sunny on Pakistan

    by Shariq at 1:46 am    

    Since he’s obviously very busy working on the Obama campaign, I thought I’d point you to Sunny’s way, way, too optimistic Comment is Free post on Pakistan. He finishes with the following,

    But as one prominent media executive said under the condition of anonymity, it may take a few more big blasts like the Marriott before Pakistanis realise the true nature of the Taliban. And then a new direction will surely have to be found. As the country’s celebrated Urdu poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz once said, the danger is that Pakistan will continue as it has always done.

    Unfortunately a world in which there are going to be more devastating bombings before public opinion turns around is a best-case scenario. Even then, the Jihadist forces in the border regions are pretty well entrenched. A military solution to the problem will be difficult because the morale of the troops is extremely low and they don’t want to be fighting people they see as fellow Muslims. Its also worth remembering that the right wing in Pakistan is anti-war.

    Continue Reading...
    30th October, 2008

    Bomb Blasts and an Earthquake

    by Shariq at 3:45 pm    

    Given that the news right now is entirely dominated by Jonathan Ross, Russell Brand and Barack Obama, I thought I’d link to these two pieces of news.

    Firstly, over 200 people have died in an earthquake which has hit parts of Baluchistan in Pakistan. Oxfam’s report is here.

    Secondly, 61 people died in bomb blasts in Assam in India. Apparently the United Liberation Front of Assam hasn’t taken responsibility. I don’t know much about this but as I said in my last post, its a reminder that India’s rise isn’t inevitable.

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