Imran Khan–His Mission

March 25, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

By Liz Hoggard

imran khan I don’t have to do this, Imran Khan tells me earnestly. “I could have a very easy existence. I could go on TV and make so much money, live like a king.” Instead the retired international cricketer, and former husband of Jemima Khan, has dedicated his life to politics back home in Pakistan. Jemima, the daughter of the late financier, Sir James Goldsmith, may just have bought a £15 million stately pile in Oxfordshire, but Imran lives hand-to-mouth on a farm outside Islamabad. He grows his own vegetables and tends cows on his land in the foothills of the Himalayas.

Since he founded his party, Tehreek-e-Insaf (the Movement for Justice), in 1996 on an anti-corruption platform, he has campaigned against the elite hogging all the resources. He personally sold all his cricketing memorabilia to fund a cancer hospital in memory of his mother, who died of the disease, and he has opened a vocational college in a poverty-stricken area of Pakistan.

Imran, 57, took nothing from Jemima’s fortune when they divorced, so when he runs out of money he does a brief stint as a TV pundit. But he is completely unmaterialistic. “You achieve inner peace when you give away what you have,” he says.

This week he is in London to talk about the crisis in Pakistan, but he has never liked city life. His parents used to take him up in the hills each summer as a boy, and now he takes his sons Sulaiman, 13, and Kasim, 10, hiking and shooting partridge when they visit his farm. He has built them a mini-cricket ground. “They are quite good,” he laughs.

Gone is the handsome playboy who spent his nights in Annabel’s and squired gorgeous women, including Susannah Constantine and painter Emma Sergeant, around town. He still has those patrician looks but these days Imran would rather stay up all night talking politics than nightclubbing.

Last week I watched him give a talk to students in London. Mostly bright, politicised young Pakistani-Muslims, they treated him like a rock star. His sense of urgency was palpable, as is his fear that Pakistan might implode at any minute.

Already, it is routinely described as a “failed state”. From day one he opposed the War on Terror and “the American puppet politicians in Pakistan”. The decision to send the army into the tribal areas of the North West Frontier, to flush out al Qaeda terrorists, simply fuelled extremism. “It’s civil war in the making,” he says shaking his head. “They were like a bull in a china shop, fighting one or two guerrillas with aerial bombing of villages. That turned people against the army and a new phenomenon was created: the Pakistan Taliban.” It’s made him believe even more passionately in socio-economic justice. “You will have no problem with extremists in Pakistan if you have democracy with a welfare state,” he tells the audience.

By the end of the evening he looked shattered. Half his life is spent in transit and his close friend tells me he is wearing jeans instead of the usual suit because he forgot to pack a belt.

When I meet him two days later at Ormeley Lodge, near Richmond Park, he is still fielding calls about a wave of bombings in Pakistan, and trying to have high tea with his sons. The Georgian childhood home of his former wife is where Imran stays whenever he is in London, as a guest of her mother, Lady Annabel Goldsmith. The wing where we meet is modest: with a pool table and well-worn sofas.

He speaks cordially — if carefully —about his ex-wife. “It’s a very tricky thing, divorce, and toughest on the children. But as divorces go, ours has been the most amicable. The anger and bitterness comes when there is infidelity. But there was no infidelity,” he says firmly. “I realised her unhappiness in Pakistan and she, after trying her best, found she just couldn’t live there. So that’s why it ended, it was just a geographical problem, and we couldn’t sustain a marriage like that. If you care for someone you don’t want to see them unhappy. My connection with the Goldsmith household is just as it’s always been. They [Jemima’s siblings, Zac and Ben] are like my younger brothers. And Annabel is as close to me.”

His marriage suffered because of his political zeal — he didn’t stand in the 2007 election, arguing that there could be no democracy while the judges were still controlled by the ruling party. But now politics is a mission for him, not a career. “If someone offered me a political career, I would shoot myself. Having to get votes through making compromises, no thank you.

“The classic example in England is Tony Blair.

How did the people go wrong with him lying all the way? He sold the idea that there were weapons of mass destruction. If there had been conscientious politicians in your assembly who weren’t worried about their political careers, he would never have got away with it.”

Many people think his involvement in politics is a way to keep alight the adulation he craved as a cricketer, but after leaving Aitchison College in Lahore (the equivalent of Eton), he studied politics at Keble College, Oxford. Former cricketing colleagues — Imran played for Worcestershire and Sussex — recall an intense young man who hated pubs (as a Muslim he doesn’t drink) and public speaking. He returned to cricket once more at the World Cup in 1992, aged 39 when he captained Pakistan to victory.

But his spiritual awakening had come in his early thirties after witnessing his mother’s agonising death from cancer, without access to proper treatment and painkilling drugs. “She was in such agony that after she passed away I had to consciously discipline myself to shut out the memory of her pain.”

He consulted a mystic who “made me realise I had a responsibility to society because I was given so much. It created selflessness.” Imran approached Pakistan’s richest men — many had been schoolfriends — for help in raising £25 million to build a cancer hospital, but quickly learned that wealth and generosity don’t always go hand in hand. Instead, he took to an open jeep and toured 29 cities in six weeks, asking ordinary people for help. “In those six weeks I changed. I realised the generosity of tea boys, taxi drivers, the poorest people bringing 10 rupee notes and also their faith. I collected £14 million in those six weeks.” Today the hospital treats 70 per cent of patients for free.

Although the dictatorial president, Pervez Musharraf, resigned in 2008, Imran has no faith in the current “democratic” government, now headed by Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of Benazir Bhutto. Imran talks passionately about how the rich in Pakistan travel by jet and have tax-evading bank accounts in Switzerland.

He may insist that support for his Movement for Justice party is growing, but the truth is he is still perceived as a maverick outsider. And his romantic past hasn’t helped. Conservative voters bring up the love child with Sita White (Imran has never publicly acknowledged Tyrian, now 17, as his daughter; but since her mother died in 2004, he has been involved in her upbringing). And of course there’s his marriage to Jemima, a half-Jewish, half Catholic heiress.

Despite converting to Islam and learning Urdu, Jemima — 20 years Imran’s junior and still at university when they met — was accused (falsely) of trying to smuggle antique tiles out of Pakistan. The final straw, says Imran, was in 2002 when she was accused of studying under “the blasphemer Salman Rushdie” because his book, The Satanic Verses, had appeared on her university reading list. Protesters torched posters of Jemima. “She was really shaken up by that and moved to England, so that was a big crisis for me.”

Two years later the marriage ended. Jemima has continued to impress as Unicef special representative — and a passionate advocate for democracy in Pakistan. “Frankly I never understood the media image of her as a socialite,” Imran tells me. “I never thought she would fit into that role because she’s very bright, she’s very political.”

But then Imran is a mass of contradictions himself. In the past, he has argued that the pressure on women to work has contributed to the breakdown of society in the West: “My mother was the biggest influence on my life, a proper mother.” Yet he believes that “a woman should be able to reach her full potential”, and he set up his university in a remote, conservative part of Pakistan precisely so local women could get an education for the first time in the region’s history. And he reminds me his three sisters are high-powered career women with children.

Pakistan is Imran’s passion and he feels little nostalgia for London — except as the place where his sons live: “Fatherhood has given me the greatest pleasure in my life. And hence it was very painful, the divorce, because that [being separated from them] was the main aspect. But I am basically a goal-orientated person, it’s never been about making money or a job. My passion is there so I only come to England to see my children.” Imran has a core group of friends he has known for 40 years here. Setting up this interview, I came across a devoted group of Londoners — from lecturers to hairdressers — who give up time and money to support his party. “They know I do not have to do this, that it’s a big personal sacrifice,” he says.

He finds it desperately sad that he has to defend being a Muslim. “The most important thing to understand is what’s happening in Pakistan, and this war on terror is not a religious issue, it’s a political issue.” No religion allows terrorism, Imran insists, but “people pushed into desperate situations will do desperate acts”.

It doesn’t make him popular. He’s been dubbed a Taliban supporter by the same enemies who once called him a Zionist sympathiser. Critics say his politics are idealistic and unworkable in a country bailed out of chaos periodically by military regimes, but Imran insists democracy can be a street movement: “Yes there’s a fear, will Pakistan survive? But in a way it’s very encouraging because you can see the politicisation of the youth. That’s how it starts, in the campuses. Sixty-five per cent of Pakistanis are below the age of 25.”

This probably explains why four days ago, with the help of Jemima, Imran set up his own Twitter page. Back home, he says current affairs programmes get higher ratings than Big Brother.

“Our Paxmans are the most watched in Pakistan today.” Is he handing over the baton? He smiles wearily. “Basically I want the young to come in and upset the whole equation.”

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Could Pakistan’s NorthWest Frontier Province Become Afghania?

January 21, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Dr. Mohammad Taqi, Pakistan Link

At this time in the constitutional history of Pakistan, there apparently is a lot in a name; a name for the NWFP, that is.

Two major political parties of Pakistan, viz. Awami National Party (ANP) and Pakistan Muslim League- Nawaz (PML-N), have nominated a five-member committee each, to meet, and hopefully agree, upon rechristening the NWFP.

In and of itself this may not be a major development for the rest of Pakistan, but on its resolution apparently hinges the forward movement in repealing the 17th Amendment to the 1973 Constitution. The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) is likely to bless the consensus developed by the ANP and PML-N.

The North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) was so named, when in November 1901 the Viceroy of British India, Lord George Nathaniel Curzon, the First Marquess of Kedleston, carved out the Peshawar, Dera Ismail Khan, Bannu, Kohat and Hazara districts from the Punjab province and consolidated them into one administrative entity and appointed Sir Harold Deane as its first Chief Commissioner.

The chief commissionerate was abolished in 1932 and the NWFP became a Governor’s Province with the then Chief Commissioner Sir Ralph Griffith continuing as the first Governor. Sir Sahibzada Abdul Qayyum became the province’s first minister. The first general elections under the Government of Indian Act 1935 were held in 1937 and Sahibzada Abdul Qayyum was elected the first chief minister of the province.

Four of the districts originally incorporated into the NWFP had sizable non-Pashtun and/or non-Pashto speaking populations, Hazara being the most important such district. However, large proportions of the Hindko speakers of Hazara and Peshawar City trace their lineage to Pashto or Persian-speaking Afghans.

While the demographic makeup of the Peshawar city, Kohat and Dera Ismail Khan has changed favorably towards the Pashtun ethnicity and language over the last thirty years, the Hazara – now a division – remains very much a Hindko-speaking region.

Hazara has also been the bastion of various incarnations of the Pakistan Muslim League and remained so in the 2008 elections, returning six Muslim Leaguers to the National Assembly of Pakistan from its seven allocated seats; hence the PML-N’s intense focus on Hazara in the renaming process.

The ANP, on the other hand, has been consistently demanding a change in the province’s name since the party’s inception in 1986. The term Pukhtunkhwa was introduced in its current political context right around that time.

Pukhtunkhwa certainly is a term that has not only been used politically to describe the land of the Pashtuns but was also deployed frequently by the twentieth century Sufi poet Amir Hamza Shinwari and later by the more politically attuned poets like Ajmal Khattak, Qalandar Momand and Rehmat Shah Sael who gave it currency. It thus has significant cultural and popular history in contrast with the exonym NWFP.

The ANP had proposed this name as an alternative to the more political – and to some a secessionist – term Pashtunistan. Pashtunistan had its origin in the duel between the All-India Muslim League and the Khudai Khidmatgar Movement, where the latter proposed that the NWFP and FATA remain independent – under the Pashtunistan banner – than join Pakistan or India.

The Pashtun nationalist movement and its leaders remained ‘outsiders’, from 1947 through the mid-1980s, as far as the power politics of Pakistan go. The call for renaming the NWFP had then remained one of the rallying points for the ANP’s “National Democratic Revolution”, a neo-irredentist modification of the Leninist theory of the same name. Irredentism by definition being “a policy directed towards the incorporation, of irredentas – territories historically or ethnically related to one political unit but under the political control of another-back into their historically or ethnically related political unit”.

In due course the Pashtun nationalist movement, which in the NWFP essentially meant the ANP, was absorbed into the mainstream Pakistani politics, after forming a coalition with the PML of Nawaz Sharif in 1990, the party was formally initiated into the Islamabadian realpolitik and its leaders rehabilitated as “patriotic” Pakistanis from a hithertofore “traitor” status.

The issue of renaming the NWFP has, however, continued to be a point of contention between the ANP and the PML-N not least because of the different ethno-linguistic demographic that each draws its support from. Each side had its reservations entrenched in the irredentism – real or perceived – of the other.

Over the last several years, efforts have been made by many to arrive at a consensus name for the province. The proposed alternatives have ranged from Gandhara – the ancient name of the region, Khyber, Abaseen, Neelab, Peshawar and Afghania. Each of these names has had its supporters and critics.

Going back to Gandhara is considered by some to ignore centuries of sociological evolution that the people of this region have gone through. Khyber, Abaseen, Neelab and Peshawar represent a geographical nomenclature that is devoid of the ethnic, linguistic, religious and cultural connotations.

While geographical renaming has been a common practice in the post-colonial nation-states, it is rather a reverse sociological evolution to use geographic landmarks to name regions where a peoples’ identity is also an issue. The Pakistani provinces like Punjab or Sindh did not gain their names in this fashion. The geographical landmarks developed their significance over the ages and people inhabiting those regions subsequently drew their name and identity from these landmarks and regions.

Within the last two weeks, the PML-N has proposed a slate of three names, i.e., Abaseen, Neelab and Pukhtunkhwa-Hazara whereas t he Chief of the ANP, Asfandyar Wali Khan has given a mandate to his committee to agree upon Pukhtunkhwa, Pashtunistan or Afghania.

Among all the names proposed by the two parties Afghania is one entity that has no political baggage attached to it. Indeed Afghania is the word represented by the letter ‘A’ in the acronym PAKISTAN as originally coined by Chaudhry Rehmat Ali in his 1933 pamphlet “Now or Never”.

In his later book “ Pakistan : the fatherland of the Pak nation”, Chaudhry Rehmat Ali calls the word NWFP an “official but nondescript” term used for the province of Afghania.

In addition to the ANP President’s standing offer to accept Afghania as the province’s new name, its central leader and key ideologue Senator Afrasiab Khattak had also written a well-argued article supporting this name.

There could potentially be a question about having a province named Afghania right at the border of Afghanistan and a few may balk at this. However, from Allama Iqbal and Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah to the religious parties of Pakistan, everyone has acknowledged the strong ties of languages, culture, religion and trade between the two adjoining regions. If anything, Afghania would only strengthen and bolster these relations.

Afghania as the new name for the NWFP will not only be acceptable to all people of this region but will also bring to close a chapter of imperial history. It is in sync with the wishes of the founding fathers and the will of the people today. ANP and PML-N have the initiative in their hands; now or never, as Chaudhry Rehmat Ali would have said.

The author teaches and practices medicine at the University of Florida and can be reached at mazdaki@me.com.

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US vs. Taliban in Afghanistan

November 12, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Inter Press Service, News Analysis, Muhammad Idrees Ahmad

2009-11-01T035748Z_200158948_GM1E5B10X8201_RTRMADP_3_AFGHANISTAN PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Oct 30 (IPS) – To the west of Peshawar on the Jamrud Road that leads to the historic Khyber Pass sits the Karkhano Market, a series of shopping plazas whose usual offering of contraband is now supplemented by standard issue U.S. military equipment, including combat fatigues, night vision goggles, body armour and army knives.

Beyond the market is a checkpoint, which separates the city from the semi-autonomous tribal region of Khyber. In the past, if one lingered near the barrier long enough, one was usually approached by someone from the far side selling hashish, alcohol, guns, or even rocket-propelled grenade launchers. These days such salesman could also be selling U.S. semi-automatics, sniper rifles and hand guns. Those who buy do it less for their quality—the AK-47 still remains the weapon of choice here—than as mementos of a dying Empire.

The realisation may be dawning slowly on some U.S. allies, but here everyone is convinced that Western forces have lost the war. However, at a time when in Afghanistan the efficacy of force as a counterinsurgency tool is being increasingly questioned, there is a newfound affinity for it in Pakistan.

A survey conducted by the International Republican Institute (IRI) in July 2009, which excluded the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and parts of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP)—the regions directly affected by war—found 69 percent of respondents supporting the military operation in Swat.

A different survey undertaken by the U.S. polling firm Gallup around the same time, which covered all of Pakistan, found only 41 percent supporting the operation. The Gallup poll also found a higher number—43 percent—favouring political resolution through dialogue.

The two polls also offer a useful perspective on how Pakistanis perceive the terrorist threat. If the country is unanimous on the need to confront militancy, it is equally undivided in its aversion for the U.S. Yet, both threats are not seen as equal: the Gallup survey found 59 percent of Pakistanis considering the U.S. as the bigger threat when compared to 11 percent for the Taliban; and, according to the IRI poll, fewer saw the Taliban (13 percent) as the biggest challenge compared to the spiralling inflation which is wrecking the economy (40 percent).

In 2001, when the United States launched its ‘war on terror’, many among Pakistan’s political elite and intelligentsia supported it, miscalculating the public mood, which was overwhelmingly hostile. This led to the protest vote which brought to power the religious alliance Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) in two of the frontier provinces. The MMA had been alone in openly opposing U.S. intervention.

However, as Afghanistan fell, things went quiet and passions subsided. Pervez Musharraf, the military dictator, was able to present his decision to participate in the “war on terror” as a difficult but unavoidable choice. Internationally, his isolation ended, and as a reward the various sanctions imposed on Pakistan after the nuclear tests of 1998 were lifted.

The economy grew, so did Musharraf’s popularity. When under intense U.S. pressure in 2004 he sent the Pakistani military into the restive FATA region, people barely noticed. He managed to retain his support despite reports of atrocities, which, according to Human Rights Watch, included indiscriminate use of force, home demolitions, extrajudicial killings, torture and disappearances. Indeed, if he was blamed at all, it was for not going far enough.

Things changed when on Musharraf’s orders, soldiers stormed a mosque in Islamabad held by Taliban sympathizers in August 2007, which resulted in the deaths of many seminarians. The Taliban retaliated by taking the war to the mainland and terrorist attacks hit several major cities.

Musharraf was blamed, and with an emerging challenge from the civil society in the form of a lawyers’ movement and an insurgent media, his popularity went into terminal decline. Meanwhile, in the Malakand region, Swat and Dir emerged as new flashpoints. The threat from Taliban militants could no longer be ignored, but opinions differed as to how best to confront it. The majority supported a negotiated settlement.

The turning point came in May, when, after a peace deal between the government and militants had broken down, the military embarked on a major offensive in Malakand. Though the truce had temporarily brought calm to the region, both sides had failed to live up to their commitments.

Yet, in the aftermath the Taliban alone were blamed, and in the media a consensus developed against any further negotiations with the militants. The operation was hailed as a success despite the loss of countless lives and the displacement of up to three million people.

However, in the frontier itself, analysts remained less sanguine. Rahimullah Yusufzai, deemed the most knowledgeable commentator on frontier politics, considered it an “avoidable” war. Another leading analyst, Rustam Shah Mohmand, wondered if it was not a war against the Pakhtuns, the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan and the NWFP, since no similar actions were considered in other lawless regions.

Roedad Khan, a former federal secretary, described it as an “unnecessary war” which was “easy to prevent … difficult to justify and harder to win”. In the political mainstream all major parties felt obliged to support the war for fear of being labelled unpatriotic. The opposition came mainly from religious parties, and from cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (Movement for Justice).

Opinions were reinforced in favour of a military solution when militants launched a wave of terrorist attacks in anticipation of the Pakistani army’s new operation in FATA.

While the effects of the terrorist atrocities were there for all to see, the consequences of months of aerial bombing and artillery shelling that preceded the operation were less known.

A third of the total population of South Waziristan—site of the government’s newly launched anti-Taliban offensive—has been displaced, and it has received little relief. When an Associated Press crew met the refugees, they expressed their anger at the government by chanting “Long live the Taliban”.

Instead of winning hearts and minds, the Pakistani government is delivering them to the enemy.

Despite the best efforts of sections of the elite to take ownership of the war, the view persists that Pakistan is fighting an American war. That the military operation in South Waziristan follows an inducement of 1.5 billion U.S. dollars from the U.S. government, and is supported by U.S. drone surveillance, does little to disabuse skeptics of their notions.

Following the bombing of the International Islamic University in Islamabad last week, an Al Jazeera correspondent—a Scot—was accosted by an angry student who, mistaking him for an American, held him responsible for the attack.

Pakistanis are acutely aware that before 2002 there was no terrorist threat, and they remain equally convinced that the threat will vanish once U.S. forces withdraw from the region. But before that happens, some fear, Pakistan will have compromised its long-term stability.

Muhammad Idrees Ahmad (m.idrees@gmail.com) is the co-founder of Pulsemedia.org.

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