Negotiating with the Taliban?

April 22, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

“Sleeping” with the Enemy”

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

Differences Between the U.S., Afghani and Indian Governments

Point Isabel, Point Richmond (Calif.)–Your author is taking his subtitle from a less than notable American film of several years ago to finish up his report on the recent Indian Ambassador to Kabul’s comments , Gautam Mukhopadhaya.

At the moment your reporter finds himself at a lovely promontory pointing into San Francisco Bay, and it seems strange to be considering so many matters so far away that I begun two weeks ago from Berkeley.  At that time I decided to divide the presentation into two parts because of its length.

Mukhopadhaya continued on how the political position amongst the American voters regarding Afghanistan was shifting away from support to criticism of official military policy in the Hindu Kush.  Therefore, the District of Columbia had to change its tactics in response.

Pakistan operates in this War as it perceives to its own interests.  Thus, the Ambassador deems that NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s) allies in the Hindu Kush consider Rawalpindi to be unreliable — which is far from the truth in your writer’s opinion. 

Both the U.S. and Pakistan are targeting the Taliban, (but Islamabad only considers one branch of the Taliban to be hostile to their interests.  The other four branches – which are within their territory, too – they do not consider a threat, and all these parties are comparatively accommodating to the other – including Pakistan.  Up to 80% of the Pakistani Taliban resides in the federally administered Northwest Provinces.)

The Americans and Pakistani Armies mutually oppose one “clan” of Taliban, and they are fully within Islamabad’s Federally Administered Territories.  Thus, Peshawar sees no threat to their survival from the Afghani Taliban. 

Further, Washington sees no alternative to the Karzai government that the District of Columbia (D.C.) perceives as militarily undependable.  At the same time, the U.S. Administration comprehends Kazai’s Presidency to be a corruptible one – an uneasy alliance to say the least! 

In the London Conference on the Afghani conflict last January (2010), the European and Canadian allies supported the “Afghanization” of the War and the “regularization” (normalization) of our relations with the Taliban!  This, hopefully, would lead to meaningful discussions and, eventually, peace within the Mountains!  These talks should be mutually respectful between each party – including the Taliban.

At same time, the Indian representative from New Delhi’s Department of External Affairs had to take a dig at their traditional competitors:  “We need leadership from the Pakistanis!”  (This struggle beyond the Khyber is an opportunity to bring these two South Asian nuclear neighbors closer together instead of tearing them further apart to the dangerous detriment to all!)  His Excellency accused D.C. of a failure of leadership during this international crisis.  To settle the military security, he urged U.S.-Pakistan operations.  (Of course, the loss of Islamabad’s national sovereignty would be totally unacceptable to its Muslim citizenry, and put the security of Pakistan’s topography under question for its Western and regional allies!)  Simultaneously, the Saudis close allies to both, are working with Islamabad and Washington to bring their policies closer together.

On the other hand, the Taliban itself is fed-up.  The London Conference approved the Taliban’s grasp of the countryside while NATO and the Afghani government would occupy the cities.  This is not the battle plan of these “Students.”  They wish to hold the total fasces within the dry, cold hills, and their mindset is far from compromise at this time.

Yet the Americans presume that they have an upper hand, and, correspondingly, are in the position of strength to negotiate with their adversaries.  Actually, it is the Pakistanis who are central for negotiating with the problem some Quetta branch of the Talibani. The Pakistani Army has already begun to begin dialogue in Baluchistan.  Rawalpindi considers it has made some progress, and the Generals at their Military Headquarters are encouraged by their discourse with the irregular tribesmen.

The U.S.A. has been following a contradictory policy in the Af-Pak itself.  While D.C. has been throwing development funds in Southern Afghanistan, it has been shoring up the military on the frontlines in Pakistan.

Ultimately, though, Ambassador Maukapadya does not discern a desire by the Taliban to parley.  In the late 1990s, the Taliban regime in Kabul led the U.S. on their intentions.  (Your essayist has some questions about this, and that is His Excellency is not separating the goals of a Nationalist Taliban and an Internationalist Al’Quaeda.)  Would the Taliban be willing to form a coalition government with Karzai or whoever may succeed him (them)?  (Whatever, a re-establishment of the regime of the 1990s is totally unacceptable to International Civil Society without the checks and balances of the partnership of all Afghani peoples and tribes!)  The Ambassador is “…not optimistic.” 

There is preparation for a major NATO assault upon the Taliban stronghold around the southern city of Kandahar, the center of Talibani power.  Maukapadya  does not feel the battle will turn the War around.

Concurrently, Europe and North America and their regional associates are employing dual strategies against the Taliban who are replying in kind.  This War is far from coming to a mutually acceptable denouement.

12-17

Female Squash Player from Waziristan

April 22, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

By Khurram Shahzad, Pakistan Link

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Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Sports Pir Aftab Shah Jillani presenting Maria Toor with a cash award as her family looks on during a ceremony to reward top players on the national circuit in Islamabad.

-Photo by APP

Pakistan’s squash champion Maria Toor Pakay cut her teeth fighting boys in a tribal district synonymous with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, defying convention to become a trailblazer in her sport.

She hails from South Waziristan, part of Pakistan’s tribal belt branded by Washington as the most dangerous place in the world. It is rife with militant groups, while tribal customs often force women to remain at home.

None of that stopped 19-year-old Pakay, however, who is now Pakistan’s top-rated female squash player and the world number 85.

“I never acted like a girl and always played and fought with the tribal boys,” she told AFP in the northwestern city of Peshawar, now her home.

“My early days roaming around the Shakai streets wearing boys’ clothes and fighting against them eventually made me an independent young woman.”

Dressed in shorts and smart T-shirt, hair boyishly cut above the neck, she would stand out in her home village of Shakai, on the outskirts of South Waziristan’s capital Wana, where many women wear the all-encompassing burka.

Muscular Pakay smacks the ball against the wall almost 30 times in a minute. Face perspiring with aggression and gripping the racket tightly, she moves swiftly across the squash court.

It was Pakay’s father Shamsul Qayum, a government servant and elder of the Wazir tribe, who first noticed her athletic potential. Concerned about her days spent brawling with street boys, he decided to channel her anger into sports.

Risking the scorn of his conservative Muslim tribe, he took his daughter to Peshawar and began training her as a weightlifter.

But with few opportunities for female weightlifters in Pakistan, he was forced to disguise 10-year-old Pakay as a boy and enter her in the National Boys Weightlifting Championship under a fake boy’s name, Changez Khan.

“And Changez Khan won the championship!” Pakay says with a laugh.

“It was the first step for me, my first achievement, and then I never got scared by any pressure, restrictions or tribal tradition.”

It was a meeting soon after with former world squash champion Jansher Khan that set Pakay’s life on its current course, and in 2004 she became Pakistan’s top female squash player and started climbing the international ranks.

She has risen seven places in the world rankings in the past month, and made the semi-finals of the World Junior Squash Championship in India last year.

She is a regular player on the Malaysian circuit, and aims this year to participate in the Cayman Islands Open and the Texas Open Championship.

But her determination to defy tradition and champion girls’ sports in the conservative northwest has won her some enemies.

Taliban militants who operate across swathes of the northwest oppose co-education of girls and boys and advocate a harsh brand of law, staging bomb attacks to try and advance their aims.

“I have received some threats from unknown people who have advised me to stop playing and going out of the house, otherwise they would kill me. But they can’t detract me… I would never quit playing,” she tells AFP.

“I feel pity for other women of the area, they are confined in the walls and have no rights. I feel pity for my cousins, who don’t have rights and can’t go out, and who have to wear burkas.”

Although she is glad to be free from the restrictions of tribal customs, Pakay says she owes a great deal to her upbringing in the badlands along the Afghan border, which sit outside direct government control.

“My strong muscles are a gift from hiking the rocks of Shakai. I love the solid mountains and feel sorry that I can’t go there now,” she said.

The streets of Shakai where Pakay once fought neighborhood boys have now become a battlefield for the Taliban and Pakistan’s armed forces.

The military sent 30,000 troops into South Waziristan in October last year to try and quash Taliban strongholds, and the fighting rages on.

The instability was one of the reasons Pakay’s father wanted her to break free of the tribal region and he has nothing but pride now in his daughter’s achievements, despite the reaction from his Wazir tribe.

“They call me honorless and say you have lost pride and gone away from the traditions of Islam and the tribe,” Shamsul Qayum told AFP. “But I don’t care, I have won for my girl and her victories are my pride.”

12-17

Negotiations with Taliban? (Part 1)

April 8, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

Berkeley–March 15th–Gautam Mukhopadhaya is a career diplomat in the Union of India’s Department of External Affairs (i.e., Foreign Service). He was their Ambassador Embassy to Kabul for the first time after the Taliban victory during the 1990s.  When, after the 200l American onslaught, the Indian federation deemed it safe enough to re-establish a presence in the Hindu Kush.  In many ways, New Delhi is more of a negative influence than a positive one in that area, for they have exacerbated the Indo-Pak rivalry as it was slowly cooling down.  Succinctly, your essayist sees New Delhi pulling a geopolitical pincher movement.  Rawalpindi has moved significant Divisions of their Army into new areas facing India’s Western frontier that previously Pakistan did not judge to be essential to their security.  This, curiously, has hurt the military their campaign in the Durand borderlands, for the Pak COAS (Commander of the Army Staff) has decided to move a significant numbers of his military to counter the new Indian concentrations.  Further, your author’s sources have informed him that there is a  very secret “War” being waged between the Pakistani ISI (Inner Services Intelligence) and the Indian RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) within Afghanistan itself destabilizing the efforts of foreign forces (NATO [the North Atlantic Treaty Organization] and especially Washington).

Although (Indo-) Bharat is not an Islamic-majority country, it is the second most populous (“culturally”) Muslim land in the world.  Although he has a Hindu name, (Former) Ambassador Mukhopadhaya was raised in Calcutta, which is within the eastern (Indian) state of West Bengal, and borders the Islamic-majority nation of Bangladesh.  Slightly over a quarter of Indian (West) Bengalis are Muslims, which must have given him a great sensitivity for — and knowledge of — the Afghanistani Muslims, for he was the first Indian chief envoy to be appointed there after the fall of the Talibani State in 2002.

He made a notation which your reporter has heard from other knowledgeable people in field:  Iraq was/is a War of choice for the U.S.A. while Afghanistan is one of necessity.

Mukhopadhaya observed that President Barrick Obama of the United States of America is beginning the second year of his Afghan Policy.  Obama is now considering negotiations with the Taliban!  His Excellency America perceives Pakistan as aggravating the War in Afghanistan, for the District of Columbia (D.C.) perceives that the province Peshawar rules has not pursued the Taliban and Al-Qaida with the zeal for which they the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) hoped, (but the causality figures of Pakistani Army in the N.W.P. [the Northwest Provinces] belie the accuracy of his Excellency’s analysis.) 

The Obama Administration views not only the Pakistanis but the  Indians as “spoilers!”  Yet, whatever, the U.S. War effort entails, the assistance of Pakistan’s COAS, General Ashram Parvez (Kayani) and his staff, the North Americans with their European allies cannot do alone, for the regional nation-states are long-term stakeholders within their topography! 

12-15

American Justice?

February 11, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Yvonne Ridley

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Many of us are still in a state of shock over the guilty verdict returned on Dr Aafia Siddiqui.

The response from the people of Pakistan was predictable and overwhelming and I salute their spontaneous actions. From Peshawar to Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore and beyond they marched in their thousands demanding the return of Aafia.

Even some of the US media expressed discomfort over the verdict returned by the jurors … there was a general feeling that something was not right. Everyone had something to say, everyone that is except the usually verbose US Ambassador Anne Patterson who has spent the last two years briefing against Dr Aafia and her supporters.

This is the same woman who claimed I was a fantasist when I gave a press conference with Tehreek e Insaf leader Imran Khan back in July 2008 revealing the plight of a female prisoner in Bagram called the Grey Lady.

She said I was talking nonsense and stated categorically that the prisoner I referred to as “650” did not exist. By the end of the month she changed her story and said there had been a female prisoner but that she was most definitely not Dr Aafia Siddiqui.

By that time Aafia had been gunned down at virtually point blank range in an Afghan prison cell jammed full of more than a dozen US soldiers, FBI agents and Afghan police.

Her Excellency briefed the media that the prisoner had wrested an M4 gun from one soldier and fired off two rounds and had to be subdued. The fact these bullets failed to hit a single person in the cell and simply disappeared did not resonate with the diplomat.

In a letter dripping in untruths on August 16 2008 she decried the “erroneous and irresponsible media reports regarding the arrest of Ms Aafia Siddiqui”. She went on to say: “Unfortunately, there are some who have an interest in simply distorting the facts in an effort to manipulate and inflame public opinion. The truth is never served by sensationalism…”

When Jamaat Islami invited me on a national tour of Pakistan to address people about the continued abuse of Dr Aafia and the truth about her incarceration in Bagram, the US Ambassador continued to issue rebuttals.

She assured us all that Dr Aafia was being treated humanely had been given consular access as set out in international law … hmm. Well I have a challenge for Ms Patterson today. I challenge her to repeat every single word she said back then and swear it is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

As Dr Aafia Siddiqui’s trial got underway, the US Ambassador and some of her stooges from the intelligence world laid on a lavish party at the US Embassy in Islamabad for some hand-picked journalists where I’ve no doubt in between the dancing, drinks and music they were carefully briefed about the so-called facts of the case.

Interesting that some of the potentially incriminating pictures taken at the private party managed to find the Ambassador was probably hoping to minimize the impact the trial would have on the streets of Pakistan proving that, for the years she has been holed up and barricaded behind concrete bunkers and barbed wire, she has learned nothing about this great country of Pakistan or its people.

One astute Pakistani columnist wrote about her: “The respected lady seems to have forgotten the words of her own country’s 16th president Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865): “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.”

And the people of Pakistan proved they are nobody’s fool and responded to the guilty verdict in New York in an appropriate way.

When injustice is the law it is the duty of everyone to rise up and challenge that injustice in any way possible. The response – so far – has been restrained and measured but it is just the start. A sentence has yet to be delivered by Judge Richard Berman in May.

Of course there has been a great deal of finger pointing and blame towards the jury in New York who found Dr Aafia guilty of attempted murder.

Observers asked how they could ignore the science and the irrefutable facts … there was absolutely no evidence linking Dr Aafia to the gun, no bullets, no residue from firing it.

But I really don’t think we can blame the jurors for the verdict – you see the jury simply could not handle the truth. Had they taken the logical route and gone for the science and the hard, cold, clinical facts it would have meant two things. It would have meant around eight US soldiers took the oath and lied in court to save their own skins and careers or it would have meant that Dr Aafia Siddiqui was telling the truth.

And, as I said before, the jury couldn’t handle the truth. Because that would have meant that the defendant really had been kidnapped, abused, tortured and held in dark, secret prisons by the US before being shot and put on a rendition flight to New York. It would have meant that her three children – two of them US citizens – would also have been kidnapped, abused and tortured by the US.

They say ignorance is bliss and this jury so desperately wanted not to believe that the US could have had a hand in the kidnapping of a five-month -old baby boy, a five-year-old girl and her seven-year-old brother.

They couldn’t handle the truth … it is as simple as that.

Well I, and many others across the world like me, can’t handle any more lies. America’s reputation is lying in the lowest gutters in Pakistan at the moment and it can’t sink any lower.

The trust has gone, there is only a burning hatred and resentment towards a superpower which sends unmanned drones into villages to slaughter innocents.
It is fair to say that America’s goodwill and credibility is all but washed up with most honest, decent citizens of Pakistan.

And I think even Her Excellency Anne Patterson recognizes that fact which is why she is now keeping her mouth shut.

If she has any integrity and any self respect left she should stand before the Pakistan people and ask for their forgiveness for the drone murders, the extra judicial killings, the black operations, the kidnapping, torture and rendition of its citizens, the water-boarding, the bribery, the corruption and, not least of all, the injustice handed out to Dr Aafia Siddiqui and her family.

She should then pick up the phone to the US President and tell him to release Aafia and return Pakistan’s most loved, respected and famous daughter and reunite her with the two children who are still missing.

Then she should re-read her letter of August 16, 2008 and write another … one of resignation.

Yvonne Ridley is a patron of Cageprisoners which first brought the plight of Dr Aafia Siddiqui to the world’s attention shortly after her kidnap in March 2003. The award-winning, investigative journalist also co-produced the documentary In Search of Prisoner 650 with film-maker Hassan al Banna Ghani which concluded that the Grey Lady of Bagram was Dr Aafia Siddiqui

12-7

Pakistan’s Border War Grows Murkier

February 11, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Adnan R. Khan, AOL News

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Feb. 7) — Last week’s suicide attack in Pakistan’s volatile Lower Dir region, the site of Pakistani military operations against the Pakistani Taliban, has added fuel to an already raging wildfire of conspiracy theories in the country. The attack killed not only its presumed American targets but also two schoolgirls, and injured more than 100 others. But what caused the Pakistani government special discomfort was the spotlight it shone on the American military presence here.

For Pakistanis, that presence is only part of a larger and increasingly murky game being played out in the war-torn Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) and the adjoining Tribal Areas. Even as operations against militants continue, rumors of meetings between militants and the Pakistani army have clouded perceptions of the government’s strategy to confront Pakistan’s growing insurgency.

Anti-American sentiment has surged in recent days with the conviction in New York of Pakistani neuroscientist Aafia Siddiqui on terrorism charges, a judgment the Pakistani government and the Taliban alike have condemned as proof of U.S. prejudice against Muslims.

If that weren’t enough, American intelligence sources claimed this week that a drone attack last month killed Hakimullah Mehsud, a key Pakistani Taliban leader. Officials in Pakistan, where drone attacks are another daily unwanted reminder of Islamabad’s highly unpopular cooperation with U.S., have pointedly not confirmed the death.

That disconnect highlights what has become a deadly public relations exercise, pitting a nervous U.S. administration keen to win over Pakistani public opinion against a Pakistan army that is trying both to maintain its links with shady militant groups it considers useful and at the same time appease U.S. demands that it crack down on them.

For years, Pakistan has refused to let go of its links to the militants while Washington has turned a blind eye to Pakistan’s duplicity, fearful of losing a crucial ally in its war on Islamic extremism. The net result has been confusion and chaos. Even beneath that U.S.-Pakistani tension, the war in NWFP, on the Afghanistan border, is treacherous and bewildering even to those in its midst.

“No one knows what exactly is going on,” says Faheem Urrahman, the 42-year-old mayor of Bazi Khel, a dusty town just south of Peshawar, capital of NWFP, and bordering the Khyber tribal agency. “I don’t know who exactly I’m supposed to be fighting anymore.”

Urrahman has seen first-hand how the game is played and how men like him can turn suddenly from favored ally to expendable pawn. A few short months ago, he was the darling of the Pakistani military, which lavished him with praise for raising a small army to take on Taliban-linked militants in his war-torn region of Khyber. Today, Urrahman fears for his life, and he blames not just the Taliban, but also the Pakistani Army.

A few miles from his heavily guarded compound, his sworn enemies, the Lashkar-i-Islam (LiI), an Islamist group now considered part of the Pakistani Taliban, are re-grouping. A military operation against them that began in August last year has done little to weaken their presence. The leader, Mangal Bagh, one of the most wanted men in Pakistan, remains at large, yet that operation appears to be winding down.

“I don’t understand it,” Urrahman says. “If the Pakistani army made a sincere effort to get rid of these guys, it could be over in a month.”

The abortive operation in Khyber suggests to him and others that Pakistan’s war against Islamic militancy is sometimes more a public relations exercise than a legitimate push to cleanse the country of its fundamentalist threat.

According to one senior agent with Pakistani Inter-services Intelligence, or ISI, Bagh, an illiterate former bus conductor, is only the latest in a long line of Pakistani militants groomed by ISI agents. As Taliban influence rises throughout Pakistan’s tribal areas, the ISI has struggled to maintain its influence over an ever more complex array of militant groups formed in the wake of the war in Afghanistan. “Mangal Bagh was supposed to be our man in Khyber,” says the ISI source. “But it hasn’t quite worked out that way. “

That is putting it mildly. Since Bagh took control in Khyber, Taliban influence there has skyrocketed, with violence spilling over into Peshawar itself. In August last year, the Pakistani army began a major operation, listing Bagh as one of Pakistan’s most-wanted militants and promising to rid Khyber Agency of the LiI. Months earlier, Faheem had set up his own anti-Bagh militia, after attacks against his men in Bazi Khel forced his hand. “We had the support of the military then,” he says. “I’d like to think we still have the support of the military now.”

But that appears less and less likely. The Pakistani military recently announced a moratorium on military operations and has strongly backed an initiative by Afghan President Hamid Karzai seeking reconciliation with low- to mid-level Taliban commanders. Al Jazeera recently reported that meetings were under way between the United Nations and the Quetta Council, the Afghan Taliban’s central authority, including Mullah Omar, which has been operating out of the Pakistani city Quetta bordering Afghanistan’s restive Kandahar province.

“This Khyber operation has been a game,” says one officer of Pakistan’s Frontier Corps. “I can tell you from what I saw: there is no operation. Not in Khyber and not in other places the military claims it is taking on the Taliban.”

In fact, the officer says the army is still on speaking terms with Bagh, even as it claims publicly to be hunting him down.

“I saw [Bagh] meet with senior generals at Bala Hisar in the middle of December,” he says, referring to the British-era fort in Peshawar’s old city . “I don’t know what the meeting was about but I saw him come in with a convoy of military officers.”

The Pakistani military could not be reached for comment, but a former senior officer with Inter-services Public Relations, the army’s media wing, told AOL News that no one there would “ever confirm such a meeting took place.”

So where does that leave Urrahman , so recently hailed as an anti-Taliban patriot? Nervously glancing around his compound, he admits he is uneasy. Two attempts on his life in recent months have left him on edge. He never stays at the same place for more than one night. On November 8 last year, Haji Abdul Malik, another anti-Taliban militia commander operating just a few miles south, was assassinated by a suicide bomber. Urrahman senses he might be next.

“Of course I have reservations,” he says, blaming the government for not doing enough to protect him. “How can I trust the authorities after all that has happened? They haven’t arrested a single person linked to the attacks on me, even though they know who was behind them.”

12-7

Taliban to Execute US Soldier if Aafia Not Released

February 11, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Mushtaq Yusufzai

PESHAWAR: The Afghan Taliban on Thursday demanded the release of Dr Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani scientist who has been convicted by the US court on charges of her alleged attempt to murder US soldiers in Afghanistan, and threatened to execute an American soldier they were holding currently. They claimed Aafia Siddiqui’s family had approached the Taliban network through a Jirga of notables, seeking their assistance to put pressure on the US to provide her justice.

“Being Muslims, it becomes our religious and moral obligation to help the distressed Pakistani woman convicted by the US court on false charges,” said a senior Afghan Taliban commander. The commander, whose militant network is holding the US soldier, Bowe Bergdahl, called The News from an undisclosed location in Afghanistan and threatened to execute the American trooper if their demand was not met. He claimed AafiaSiddiqui’s family had approached the Taliban network through a Jirga of notables, seeking their assistance to put pressure on the US to provide her justice.

“We tried our best to make the family understand that our role may create more troubles for the hapless woman, who was already in trouble. On their persistent requests, we have now decided to include Dr Aafia Siddiqui’s name in the list of our prisoners in US custody that we delivered to Americans in Afghanistan for swap of their soldier in our custody,” explained the militant commander.

He claimed family members of Dr Aafia told the Taliban leadership that they had lost all hopes in the Pakistan government and now Allah Almighty and the Taliban were their only hope. Later, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid also called The News from somewhere in Afghanistan and owned a statement given by the Taliban commander.

The militant commander alleged that the US soldier, whom his fighters kidnapped from Afghanistan’s Paktika province near the border with Pakistan’s troubled South Waziristan in June 2009, had admitted his involvement in several raids in Afghanistan. “Since he has confessed to all charges against him, our Islamic court had announced death sentence for him,” the Taliban leader claimed.

The same Taliban faction released a video of the captive US soldier on Christmas Day. Taliban said they had been shifting the soldier all the time due to the search operations by the US and Afghan forces. He said the only way Americans could save life of their soldier was to release 21 Afghan prisoners and the “innocent” Pakistani lady.

Most of their prisoners, he claimed, were being held at the Guantanamo prison. “We believe that like the Israelis, the Americans would be ready soon to do any deal for taking possession of the remains of their soldier, but it would be late by then,” he stressed. Dr Aafia’s family could not be approached for comments on the Taliban claim.

12-7

Taliban Reward Fighter for Shooting Down US Drone

February 4, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Malik Mumtaz Khan & Mushtaq Yusufzai, TheNews.com

MIRAMSHAH/PESHAWAR: Taliban in North Waziristan Monday rewarded one of their fighters with a new model car for shooting down the US drone on Sunday evening.

Also, government officials in the restive tribal region finally confirmed the downing of the US spy aircraft by Taliban militants. The militants led by Hafiz Gul Bahadur had claimed on Sunday shooting down the drone in Hamzoni village.

Tribal sources in Miramshah said the militants congratulated each other on Monday for shooting down the drone, known as `bangana’ locally due to the thundering sound of the pilot-less aircraft.

The militant was given a new car by the Taliban leaders as reward to shoot down the drone. The militants from adjoining villages thronged Hamzoni to have a look at the wreckage of the drone. Such drones have claimed lives of many militants and are considered the most fatal weapon.

The militants wanted to meet and congratulate their fellow fighter who accurately fired and hit the spy plane to the ground. Taliban sources confirmed that the man behind the downing of the drone had been gifted a car, but declined to name the fighter. They said he would be remembered as a `hero’ among the Taliban.
“The shooting down of the drone has lifted the morale of our fighters. It’s a huge success for the poorly armed Taliban against a powerful enemy,” remarked a senior Taliban commander, but pleaded anonymity.

He also claimed that four missiles were fitted on the drone when it was hit and shot down, but the missiles did not explode. Taliban said friends of the six tribal militants killed in the US drone attack on January 19 in Deegan village of Dattakhel tehsil had taken a vow to avenge the killing by shooting down the spy plane.
“Since then, a group of four well-trained militants had been waiting to hit the drones. They had also installed an anti-aircraft gun on their double-cabin pickup truck,” a Taliban source said.

The sources said six militants were killed on that occasion when the drone had struck a house and a car, which was about to enter the building. “They honoured their commitment made after the killing of their friends by the US drone,” said a Taliban fighter. Meanwhile, government officials in Miramshah said five spy planes were seen flying over various villages of South Waziristan Monday evening.

12-6

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.

12-4

Sir Syed Day 2009 in the San Francisco Bay Area

December 3, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Ras Hafiz Siddiqui

SIRSYED

The annual Sir Syed Day 2009 gathering in the San Francisco Bay Area once again brought together south-Asian Alumni of this esteemed university and a rainbow of enthusiasts of the Urdu language at the India Community Center in the city of Milpitas on Saturday November 14th. And once again great pains were taken during this two part educational and literary gala to keep the legacy of a great man alive and to highlight the efforts of the Aligarh Muslim University Alumni Association of Northern California (AMUAA-CA) in raising funds to offer educational opportunities to several disadvantaged students to enable them to attend AMU.

Sir Syed Ahmad Khan (1817 to 1898), the founder of the Mohammedan Anglo Oriental (MAO) College which became a full-fledged university in 1920 was a remarkable individual who defied the odds and was able to provide an avenue for Indian Muslims to get a scientific-modern education at a time when the community was shunning progressive ideas. And because of him and the institution he founded this event became possible because Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) is recognized today for its academic and not to forget artistic contributions (e.g. Indian Actor Naseeruddin Shah).

The evening started with fine food from Chandni and some valuable networking opportunities as both the “Old Boys” and now “Old Girls” who have had the privilege of attending this unique institution located in Aligarh, India caught up on their current lives, the past, and speculated on the future. AMU, which started off as a somewhat exclusive Muslim university has now acquired a more religiously diverse student population whose its ethnic diversity has remained legendary. Scions of families from Peshawar to Dacca (Dhaka of the old) and from Kashmir to Hyderabad Deccan all have attended AMU from the early 1900’s onwards and some graduates have gone on to lead countries, states and other educational institutions. Today, the university population is global and they including over two hundred in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Sitting at the table with Prof. Munibur Rahman and Prof. Steven Poulos was indeed an honor. We will revisit Prof. Rahman later in the report. His friend Dr. Poulos who has been Director of the South Asia Language Resource Center at UC Berkeley and the University of Chicago and did research at AMU in the late 1960’s also shared his feelings on his visit there and where things stand today. The program at the University of Chicago has been instrumental in creating the first online Pashto dictionary and has created a Pashto proficiency test and also offers online courses in elementary Sindhi and intermediate Urdu.

The formal evening proceedings started off with an invocation and Ms. Huma Abidi made the necessary introductions, welcoming back Aligarians to Sir Syed Day and reminiscing about her own past experiences at the historic campus. She then invited AMUAA President Nihal Khan to present his thoughts. Khan Sahib highlighted facts on how the Sir Syed’s memory and the Aligarh tradition has been kept alive for the past decade in the San Francisco Bay area but also reminded everyone that there was a dual purpose for the evening which is to raise funds to provide students in need to get an education, making the purpose of this Mushaira (Poetry Recital) broader. He also thanked a list of sponsors for making this gathering possible.

Next, Keynote Speaker Dr. Aslam Abdullah who wears many hats including that of leading both American and Indian Muslims in thought, started by stating that in cities all over the world Aligarh Alumni pay tribute to that giant of a man (Sir Syed). Quoting from poet Allama Iqbal looking through Sir Syed’s eyes, Dr. Abdullah explained how Sir Syed’s efforts started when the Muslims of India were at their lowest self-defeating point. Modern scientific education was negated by the religious leadership of the time to the point when they defined the poor Muslim conditions post 1857 as a divine scheme to be accepted. “Sir Syed challenged that view,” said Dr. Abdullah. He gave the example of how at one time England was debating how many teeth a chicken had. The debate went on and on till Francis Bacon simply asked why don’t you open the chicken’s mouth and find out?  He said that Similarly, Sir Syed promoted analytical thought. “He wanted to inspire the younger generation,” he added. He wanted his community in India, especially the young to understand both the Holy Quran and modern thinking. . “He did not want to build an ordinary university,” said Dr. Abdullah. This was a revolutionary movement inclusive of others but people mistakenly made it a minority issue, which is not correct. “Today, we need to re-awaken that dream,” he said.

After a brief ceremony for a local Aligarh Cricket League where the “Man of the Tournament” and the winning team was presented awards, everyone was reminded of the fundraiser (www.aeef.net) and the first part of the event came to its conclusion with the traditional singing of the university anthem the “Tarana-e-Aligarh” in which many in the audience participated.

The second part of this program was once again the Urdu poetry recital or “Mushaira” which draws on the essence of a culture, which is associated with the Urdu language. Dr. Nausha Asrar from Houston, Texas conducted the proceedings and introduced all the poets and invited Prof. Munibur Rahman to preside as the most senior person present. And from that point started a literary journey of wit, humor, reason, wisdom and in the end emotion moved many listeners.

Starting with local San Francisco resident Engineer Vasmi Abidi who questioned why neighbors who share walls here don’t know each other, to India ’s Tahir Faraz asking why trees of friendship have little support from even a gentle wind while the trees of hate today are so full of fruit? And then Abbas Tabish from Lahore, Pakistan explained how his own condition has started to reflect the condition of his house and the lament of those who sell their village land and soul to big cities for a song. Nausha Asrar next added both his wisdom and humor while Khalid Irfan from New York was at his satirical best about donkeys in public places and the government and why one more mule would not make a big difference. He was also for the exchange of female Indian Bollywood dancers with extremists from across the border for better Pakistan India ties (We don’t believe that the Indians would agree).

Senior poet Meraj Faizabadi from India next brought the audience back down to earth speaking of glass houses and dashed hopes amidst betrayals. On Aligarh he asked what is a flame without its spreading light? On India-Pakistan friendship he explained that he was all ready to reach across the gap that divides the two people, but strangely he was still trying to find where that gap really was?

The other senior poet, Waseem Barelvi also from India requested that other avenues of expressing sadness be found, since his tears are now too old to express his feelings anymore. He spoke about the human relationship with God and the uniqueness of the Aligarh culture or “Tehzeeb”. He said that one should try to give up on expecting generosity from others to protect one from painful disappointment but on the other hand, one should be ready to hit a wall if the cause is just. And yes on the topic of love without which the language of Urdu poetry would remain incomplete, if you have lost in love, your loss is painful but in that loss it is still a gain, he said.

Last but not least the President of this Mushaira, Michigan resident Prof. Munibur Rahman, who holds two Masters Degrees from Aligarh, in History (1942) and Persian (1944) and a contemporary of this writer’s father, shared his thoughts. Prof. Steven Poulos was quite accurate in describing him earlier as he turned out to be an amazing presenter. Someone who can think in English, Urdu and Farsi simultaneously, he moved us all to an emotional level seldom reached. The pain of old age, the parting of his beloved wife, visiting a relative with Alzheimer’s disease, all this reporter can say is “Maan Gayay Sahib” (We knew that we were in the presence of excellence). Several people were moved to tears with his Nazm “Guftugu” (Conversation) written for his late wife in which he tries to bridge a gap between his current life and her death. Down to her “Chabi Ka Guccha” (Key Ring) a stark reminder of her, we found out what true love was. Prof. Rahman also highlighted his trials and tribulations on aging, trying to reach out to busy children and losing one’s old friends in a unique and beautiful manner. His standing ovation was certainly well deserved. All this writer can add is that I was humbled in his presence and Prof. Munibur Rahman is one fine example of some of the people who graduated from and taught at Aligarh.

In conclusion, this was possibly one of the finest evenings that the local AMUAA has put together in the past decade or so. Our congratulations to all the local volunteers who put this event together and a word of thanks to Nihal Khan, Dr. Shaheer Khan and their team for continuing to keep us in mind when Sir Syed Day comes around every year. It was almost surreal but this time “Mehfil Ka Mahol Bahot Khoobsoorti Say Ban Giya” (the environment of the event came to a beautiful medium naturally). Bahot Khoob!

Readers are encouraged to contact the AMUAA at http://www.amualumni.org/

11-50

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.

11-47

US ‘Biggest’ Threat, Say Pakistanis

August 13, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Owen Fay, Al Jazeera

2009-08-09T151039Z_01_AAL113_RTRMDNP_3_PAKISTAN

Men pray during rally in the northwest Pakistan city Peshawar August 9, 2009. Over 500 supporters of the Islamic political party Jamaat-e-Islami gathered in a park in Peshawar to protest against military operations in Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan. 

REUTERS/Ali Imam

A survey commissioned by Al Jazeera in Pakistan has revealed a widespread disenchantment with the United States for interfering with what most people consider internal Pakistani affairs.

The polling was conducted by Gallup Pakistan – a separate organisation affiliated with the US-based Gallup Inc – and more than 2,600 people took part.

Interviews were conducted across the political spectrum, and represented men and women of every economic and ethnic background.

The resentment was made clear when residents were asked if they support or oppose Pakistan’s own military offensive against Taliban targets.

Keeping with recent trends a growing number of people, now 41 per cent, support the campaign.

About 24 per cent of people remain opposed, but an additional 22 per cent of Pakistanis remain neutral on the question.

That number changes quite significantly when people were asked if they would support government-sanctioned dialogue with Taliban fighters if it were a viable option.

The same 41 per cent said they would still support the military offensive. But the number of those supporting dialogue leaps up to 43 per cent.

So clearly, Pakistanis are, right now, fairly evenly split on how to deal with the Taliban threat.

However, when asked if they support or oppose the US military’s drone attacks against what Washington claims are Taliban and al-Qaeda targets, only nine per cent of respondents reacted favorably.

A massive 67 per cent say they oppose US military operations on Pakistani soil.

“This is a fact that the hatred against the US is growing very quickly, mainly because of these drone attacks,” Makhdoom Babar, the editor-in-chief of Pakistan’s The Daily Mail newspaper, said.

“Maybe the intelligence channels, the military channels consider it productive, but for the general public it is controversial … the drone attacks are causing collateral damage,” he told Al Jazeera.

The consensus of opinion on US military involvement is notable given the fact that on a raft of internal issues there is a clear level of disagreement, which can be expected in a country of this size.

When asked for their opinions on Asif Ali Zardari, the Pakistani president, 42 per cent of respondents believe he is doing a bad job. Around 11 per cent approve of his leadership, and another 34 per cent have no strong opinion either way.

That pattern was reflected in a question about the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).

Forty-one per cent of Pakistanis say they support the offensive against the Taliban

Respondents were asked if they thought the PPP is good or bad for the country.

About 38 per cent said the PPP is bad for the country, 20 per cent believe it is good for the country and another 30 per cent said they have no strong opinion.

Respondents were even more fractured when asked for their views on how the country should be led.

By far, the largest percentage would opt for Nawaz Sharif, a former prime minister, as leader. At least 38 per cent back him to run Pakistan.

Zardari received only nine per cent support, while Reza Gilani, Pakistan’s prime minister, has the backing of 13 per cent.

But from there, opinions vary greatly. Eight per cent of the population would support a military government, 11 per cent back a political coalition of the PPP and Sharif’s PML-N party.

Another six per cent throw their support behind religious parties and the remaining 15 per cent would either back smaller groups or simply do not have an opinion.

Babar told Al Jazeera that Zardari’s unpopularity was understandable given the challenges that the country had faced since the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US.

“Any president in Pakistan would be having the same popularity that President Zardari is having, because under this situation the president of Pakistan has to take a lot of unpopular decisions,” he said.

“He is in no position to not take unpopular decisions that are actually in the wider interests of the country, but for common people these are very unpopular decisions.”

The level of diversity disappears when broader questions of security and military intervention are posed.

In the same way that most Pakistanis right now reject what they see as US military interference, they strongly oppose US policies as a whole.

The respondents were asked what they consider to be the biggest threat to the nation of Pakistan: 11 per cent of the population sees the Taliban as the largest threat, while 18 per cent believe it comes from India.

But by an overwhelming margin, 59 per cent of respondents said the greatest threat to Pakistan right now is, in fact, the US.

That is a number worth bearing in mind the next time the US claims its military campaign is succeeding.

11-34

What Now, Pakistan?

August 21, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

Courtesy Peter Symonds

2008-08-18T142847Z_01_ISL38_RTRMDNP_3_PAKISTAN-POLITICS-RESIGNATION

Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf salutes as he leaves the presidential house after his resignation in Islamabad August 18, 2008. Musharraf announced his resignation on Monday in the face of an impending impeachment motion by the ruling coalition government. 

REUTERS/Mian Khursheed

Effectively abandoned by his domestic allies and international backers, Pakistan’s military strongman Pervez Musharraf formally resigned yesterday as the country’s president rather than face impeachment proceedings that were due to commence this week.

Musharraf’s resignation followed more than a week of behind-the-scenes manoeuvres involving US, British and Saudi officials as well as the Pakistani army to pressure the government to grant the former dictator immunity from prosecution. While Musharraf denied that he had been given any favours in return for his resignation, there is little doubt that a deal has been reached to allow him a “dignified exit."

The writing has been on the wall since Musharraf’s Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) suffered a humiliating defeat in national elections in February at the hands of opposition parties—the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). Musharraf is widely hated for his nine years of dictatorial rule and support for Washington’s “bogus war on terrorism” that has triggered what amounts to a civil war in Pakistan’s tribal border areas with Afghanistan.

For months, the Bush administration and its allies pressed the PPP-led coalition government to collaborate with Musharraf, which the PPP endeavoured to do. The PML-N and its leader Nawaz Sharif, who was ousted as prime minister by Musharraf in a military coup in 1999, sought to exploit popular opposition by demanding impeachment and the reinstatement of 57 supreme court judges sacked by Musharraf last year. Sharif pulled the PML-N ministers out of the cabinet in May and threatened to leave the coalition completely if agreement could not be reached on these issues.

Confronting a steady loss in support for the government, PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari finally announced plans on August 7 to impeach Musharraf. Opinion polls showed overwhelming popular support—some 75 percent of respondents—for ousting the president, which was reflected yesterday in spontaneous celebrations in the streets of Pakistani cities. While Zardari declared impeachment would commence, no formal charge sheet was presented to parliament, however, allowing time for a deal to be worked out behind the scenes.

Considerable international pressure was bought to bear to end the impasse without initiating impeachment proceedings. While reluctantly recognising that the president had to go, the last thing that Washington wanted was any public airing of Musharraf’s crimes and anti-democratic methods. Any such probe threatened to expose the extent of US involvement with the Pakistani security forces in the suppression of Islamist groups inside Pakistan and war being waged against armed militia in the Afghan-Pakistani border areas supportive of anti-occupation insurgents inside Afghanistan. The CIA and FBI may well be implicated in the hundreds of “disappearances” for which Musharraf and the army are allegedly responsible.

Having relied on Musharraf since the US occupation of Afghanistan in 2001, the Bush administration was also concerned that the fragile Pakistani government would fail to continue to back military operations against Islamist militias in the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA). After winning the February election in part by branding Musharraf as a US stooge, the coalition government initially proposed to end the fighting by reaching peace deals with the various armed groups—a move that was sharply opposed in Washington.

Senior Bush administration and Pentagon officials have mounted an intense campaign to pressure the Pakistani government into taking military action in the border areas. There is every sign that Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani was issued with an ultimatum during his trip to Washington in July—either take action against anti-US guerrillas, or the US military would. In response, Gilani declared that the US “war on terrorism” was “our war”.
Just one day before impeachment proceedings were announced, the Pakistani military launched a major offensive into Bajaur agency. Intense fighting is now taking place in areas from the Swat district, through the Peshawar districts, to the Bajaur and Kyber agencies. After 12 straight days of air and ground bombardment, it is estimated that up to 300,000 people have fled the border areas. The timing points to a tacit understanding with Washington to initiate extensive military action in return for US backing to remove Musharraf.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was fulsome in her praise of the former Pakistani dictator yesterday. Musharraf, she declared, had been “a friend of the United States and one of the world’s most committed partners in the war against terrorism and extremism”. It was precisely Musharraf’s decision to withdraw Pakistani support from the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and his backing for the ongoing US occupation that was one of the major factors in the collapse of his initial post-coup support.
British and Saudi officials have also been engaged in closed-door talks to secure a deal that would allow Musharraf to resign in return for immunity from prosecution and other assurances. Saudi Arabia’s powerful intelligence chief Prince Muqrin bin Abdul Aziz arrived in Islamabad over the weekend and was reported to have threatened to withdraw oil subsidies worth $5 billion a year unless Musharraf was allowed to leave gracefully.
Likewise the Pakistani military, while publicly insisting that it would stay above politics, nevertheless quietly made clear its opposition to impeachment proceedings—a point underscored yesterday by the decision to give Musharraf a final guard of honour.

If Musharraf were to be tried for breaches of the constitution and other crimes, then the army top brass on which he rested during his nine years in power also risked being implicated. As Najam Sethi, editor of Pakistan’s Daily Times, commented to the Guardian: “Nobody wants the Pandora’s box opened up. The issue of impeachment is really a non-starter.”

An unstable government

While Musharraf has now stepped down, the political crisis in Islamabad is certain to intensify. The two major coalition parties—the PPP and PML-N—are longstanding and bitter rivals. As a number of commentators have noted, opposition to Musharraf was the main glue holding their alliance together. Even on the immediate issue of Musharraf’s future, there is no agreement.

PPP officials have hinted that a deal was reached to give legal immunity to the former president as long as he agreed to go into exile. At this stage, spokesmen for Musharraf have indicated that he wants to remain in Pakistan and has plans to take up residence in a villa being constructed outside Islamabad. In his hour-long televised speech yesterday, Musharraf delivered a strident defence of his period in office, insisting that he had done nothing wrong and blaming the government for the deterioration of the country’s economy. The PPP certainly does not want Musharraf within striking distance as opposition grows to its rule.
The PML-N continues to insist, publicly at least, that Musharraf should be charged and prosecuted for his crimes. Last week Sharif told a meeting in Lahore: “How can safe passage be given to someone who has done this to Pakistan?” There are also differences between the two parties over the reinstatement of supreme court judges, in part because PPP leader Zardari fears that the judges may allow the revival of corruption convictions against him.

Another immediate bone of contention will be Musharraf’s replacement as president. He has been formally succeeded by the chairman of the Senate, Mohammed Mian Soomro, a close ally who was prime minister until the election in February. A new president will be elected via country’s electoral college—the national assembly and four provincial assemblies meeting together. Zardari is known to have ambitions to fill the post, but such a move will be forcefully opposed by Sharif. The constitution drawn up by Musharraf gives the president considerable power, such as to sack the government and to make key appointments, including the army commander.

More fundamentally, the government now faces the same dilemmas that confronted Musharraf. It is under intense pressure from Washington to intensify military operations in the border areas with Afghanistan where the army has largely lost control. Gilani faces the prospect of being branded a US puppet and rapidly losing support. Any retreat risks the prospect of unilateral US military action, which would also trigger a popular backlash against the government.

At the same time, the Pakistani economy is being hit by rising oil and food prices as well as weakening demand in the US and Europe for its exports. The annual inflation rate is running at a 30-year high of nearly 25 percent; the Pakistani rupee has fallen 22 percent against the declining US dollar this year; and in the past five weeks, the country’s foreign exchange reserves have dwindled by nearly $US1.1 billion to $10.15 billion, mainly as a result of the cost of imported oil. The trade deficit has ballooned by 53 percent to $20.7 billion for the 2007-08 fiscal year that ended in June. The share market has slumped by 30 percent since April.
Share values and the rupee rose yesterday on news of Musharraf’s resignation, but further political turmoil will rapidly reverse those gains. Rising prices will only fuel social unrest and opposition to the government. While Musharraf’s resignation is being presented in the Pakistani and international media as a step toward democracy in Pakistan, both the PPP and PML-N have a record of autocratic rule. Whatever its final makeup, the regime holding the reins of power in Islamabad will not hesitate to use anti-democratic methods to suppress any political opposition to its policies.

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