How the Serenity of Swat Was Vandalized

July 16, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Javed Akbar, The Canadian Charger

Nightmarish scenes in the valley of Swat in northern Pakistan – a major tourist attraction known for its ‘indescribable beauty and serenity’ mark the latest stage of that nation’s crisis, brought to a boil by the U.S. escalation of its war in Afghanistan, which is spilling across the border.

But the turmoil is also a sign of the deepening contradictions of Pakistani politics following the downfall of the U.S.-backed strongman, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, last year amid growing unrest.

The rise of extremism, militancy and the Taliban are a reaction to the American-led “war on terror” and the occupation of Afghanistan. So big has been the displacement of people (1.7 million according to the UN) due to the latest military operations in Swat that UN officials are already comparing the unfortunate situation prevailing in Pakistan with that of Rwanda, the Central African country where genocide in 1994 forced large-scale dislocation of communities.

The resulting disequilibrium of Pakistani society has as its latest consequence an increasing influx of the internally displaced people of Swat.

The refugees from Swat are victims of a Pakistani Army offensive, backed by the U.S., against forces of the Taliban, which operate in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. Under pressure from the U.S., the Pakistani military broke a ceasefire arrangement with the Taliban and carried out a scorched-earth assault — with the excuse that this is the only way to flush out Taliban fighters.

But the civilian population is paying a terrible price. The Pakistani military will never be able to win over those people who actually experienced what is happening on the ground. And certainly those people are not Taliban supporters either, since they have experienced their terror.

The U.S. has created the bizarre new moniker “Af/Pak” as a way to cover over its expansion of the war from Afghanistan into Pakistan. Building consent for this expansion has been what all the State Department, Pentagon and media propaganda has been about before the onslaught of this military expedition.
Leading counterinsurgency theorist John Nagl, an Iraq combat veteran and now the head of the Center for a New American Security, writes that “there is a growing realization that the most likely conflicts of the next fifty years will be irregular warfare in an ‘Arc of Instability’ that encompasses much of the greater Middle East and parts of Africa and Central and South Asia.”

That goes a long way towards explaining U.S. strategic planning.

The U.S. wants to wind down its occupation in Iraq, which it sees as a distraction, and push ahead with a much larger scenario — ‘in the arc of instability’ from North Africa to the Middle East to South and Central Asia. The U.S. is gearing up for, in the shocking words of Nagl, 50 years of warfare in this area.

Such imperial-style strategic concepts echo the “Great Game” of rivalries in the region over who’s going to control the oil and natural gas resources. Beyond that geopolitical battle, the military industrial complex has a material interest in perpetual warfare.

This is the new Great Game involving the U.S., Russia, China, India, Pakistan and Iran. It’s all about the resources that we have been observing since the beginning of the war in 2001. The U.S. had planned a pipeline to go from Central Asia through the Pakistani province of Balochistan. Planners saw Afghanistan as strategically important in these designs. The strategic importance was considered high enough to open a new front on its open-ended “war on terror.”

Despite eight years of war, occupation and counter-insurgency, and seeing that war and occupation aren’t working and are, in fact, backfiring, U.S. thinking doesn’t seem to be shifting at all. The Obama administration is certainly trying to repackage its essential continuity with the Bush administration’s policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

But there isn’t a whole lot of finessing that needs to be done to sell this to the American public, since there is a widespread impression that the Afghan war is a moral war, a necessary response to the 9/ll attackers, and that Pakistan is an untrustworthy and reluctant ally that is crawling with militants.
The real alternative for President Obama should be to maintain a deterrent posture while immediately accelerating diplomacy to address legitimate Muslim concerns, from a Palestinian state to genuine progress on Kashmir.

By not recognizing that the unresolved Kashmir issue is a cause for promoting militancy in the region, Washington has opted for selective engagement with the underlying causes of militancy and terrorism in the region.

The anti-war movement should not let Obama continue this imperial policy of aggression into Afghanistan and Pakistan (and potentially many other states).

The heart of the crisis is that this has become a multiple-front war, and the main theater has spawned a second, more diffused arena for potentially disastrous outcomes.

Meanwhile the sufferings of the people of the Northern Pakistan continue, with the rest of country adversely affected due to a war imposed upon its people.
Barack Obama has been bombing Pakistan since the third day of his presidency, and on the ground the Pakistani army has been acting as his country’s mercenaries.

* Javed Akbar is a freelance writer based in Toronto.

An Inspiring Story: Rwanda Turning to Islam

November 26, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

Courtesy Arab News

capture11-25-2008-5.21.35 PM

Many Rwandans turned to Islam after the genocide because of the good example given by Rwandan Muslims during the genocide.  This is a portrait of a Muslim Rwandan girl visiting a mosque for a wedding (photo shown to document Rwandan Muslims, but does not to our knowledge directly relate to the genocide).

Courtesy “Samer!” on Yahoo/Flickr

DUBAI, 30 September 2007 — The life story of Umugwaneza Sulaiman, a contestant for the Dubai International Holy Qur’an Award, is truly inspirational since he has risen from rubble to create a renaissance.

Even though he is only 19, this young man from Rwanda has survived a life of hardship. As a young child he survived the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. He still has horrific memories of hiding in forests from militias that were killing people. The rivers and roads they walked through were littered with bodies. Later on he lost his father and had to lead a harsh life in one of the poorest countries in the world.

Despite all his hardships, Sulaiman was determined to become a hafiz and was rewarded by becoming the first Rwandan to take part in the Dubai International Holy Qur’an Award competition. Sulaiman’s quest with the sacred book started when he converted to Islam at the age of 11.

“Even though my family were Catholics I was never interested in the church. The Azan from the mosque in my neighborhood fascinated me and I started attending classes there,” he said.

When asked if he faced any resistance from his family, Sulaiman said that his family had no issues with him becoming a Muslim, as Islam is a held in high regard in Rwanda after the 1994 genocide. His whole family followed him a few years later and converted to Islam.

Since the genocide, Rwandans have converted to Islam in huge numbers. Muslims now make up 14 percent of the 8.2 million people in Africa’s mostly Catholic nation, twice as many as before the killings began. The reason behind the conversions lies in the fact that Rwandan Muslims did not take part in the genocide and played a key role in the humanitarian efforts that followed.

Muslims have been honored by the national government for their roles in saving the lives regardless of their faith. Many people attribute the recent spread of Islam to these humanitarian acts.

It took years of dedicated work for Sulaiman to memorize the Qur’an. The lack of qualified teachers in Rwanda made him make up his mind to travel to Kenya as there are good Qur’anic schools there.

“I was 15 when my five friends and I decided to travel to Kenya to seek knowledge. Two of my friends were converts like me,” he said.

The six young men packed their bags and traveled to the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, to find the school. They enrolled themselves in a free boarding school, which accepts students from all over East Africa. There they studied under the tutelage of Qur’an scholars. It took Sulaiman two years to memorize the whole Qur’an.

Now back home in Rwanda, Sulaiman works as a part time Imam and Qur’an teacher to supplement his income while studying at the only Islamic seminar in Kigali.

Masha Allah, there are so many Muslims now in my country. We are working hard at teaching the Qur’an to the new generation of Muslim children,” he said.

After finishing his education, Sulaiman hopes to get a scholarship to study Islam. “We get Muslim scholars coming from Uganda to spread the word of Islam in Rwanda. I hope that through my knowledge of Islam I will be able to help spread peace in my country,” he said.

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