March 4, 2009
For Pakistan, Attack Exposes Security Flaws
By JANE PERLEZ
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A coordinated, commando-style ambush on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Pakistan on Tuesday revealed embarrassing security gaps in an increasingly unstable country.
With eight dead in Lahore, not even cricket, a cherished national pasttime, seemed secure after 12 gunmen carrying sacks of weapons attacked a bus bearing the Sri Lankan team and then escaped in motorized rickshaws. A video of the attacks was broadcast around the world, destabilizing images for a nation under siege from an insurgency by Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
Most major cricket teams already refuse to risk playing in Pakistan, ever more isolated from the rest of the world.
“This happened in the heart of Lahore, the cultural capital of the country,” said Aftab Ahmad Sherpao, a former interior minister and a member of the Pakistan Peoples Party of President Asif Ali Zardari. “None of the attackers were shot or caught, and they were coming to the scene with big bags. That’s absurd.”
Mr. Sherpao called the attack a “total security lapse.”
The police said the gunmen — using assault rifles, grenades and even antitank missiles — assaulted the bus with the Sri Lankan team at a grassy traffic circle near the city’s main Qaddafi Stadium during a five day-match. Six police officers in an escort van were killed, and six cricketers were injured, the police said. Two bystanders were also killed.
The operation bore some similarity to the attack in November in Mumbai, India, in which 10 militants attacked hotels and other targets over three days, killing 163 people, security officials said.
In Lahore, the attackers also appeared to be in their early 20s. They wore sneakers and loose pants and carried backpacks loaded with weapons and high-energy snacks of dried fruit and chocolate, all characteristics of the Mumbai gunmen. The gunmen in Lahore walked casually as they fired, a stance that appeared to be part of the training of the attackers in Mumbai, security experts said.
The Sri Lankan team, including those who had been injured, arrived back in the capital, Colombo, on Wednesday morning. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.
President Zardari met with the army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani hours after the attack to discuss Pakistan’s security situation, according to a statement by the president’s office.
The senior official at the Interior Ministry, Rehman Malik, who is close to President Zardari, said: “We suspect a foreign hand behind this incident. The democracy of the country has been undermined, and foreigners are repeatedly attacked to harm the country’s image.”
American counterterrorism officials said that it was too early to determine which group was behind Tuesday’s attack, but that the Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba were possible suspects. One South Asia specialist also raised the possibility that Tamil Tiger rebels in Sri Lanka might have asked Lashkar-e-Taiba militants in Pakistan to attack the cricket team. If true, this would be an ominous sign of collaboration between regional terrorist groups.
American experts voiced concern that such attacks might be the new terrorist strike of choice instead of suicide bombings. “It’s likely there will be more of these kind of attacks, which are much more difficult to defend against,” said Juan Zarate, the White House’s top counterterrorism official under President George W. Bush. “Mumbai has become a terrorist exemplar.”
The attack, which began at 9 a.m. Tuesday, appeared to have been well planned. Because it occurred on the third day of the cricketers’ match, the assailants had time to carry out reconnaissance on the previous mornings.
The driver of the cricketers’ bus, Mohammad Khalil, described how a white car had swerved in front of the bus, forcing him to slow. Television images showed gunmen emerging from the large grassy traffic circle and shooting at the bus from crouched positions.
According to an account on a cricket Web site, cricinfo.com, the players ducked to the floor of the bus and shouted at the driver to speed ahead. Mr. Khalil drove through the gunshots and whisked them to the stadium.
Later, the Lahore police said they had found weapons stashes near the scene and at various points around the city, including 10 rifles, two rocket launchers, a 9-millimeter pistol and detonator cable.
Mr. Sherpao, the former interior minister, contended that it had been possible for the attack to take place because the top echelon of police officials in Lahore had been changed in the last few days.
The changes in police personnel had been ordered by the governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, who is now overseeing the province by executive order at the behest of President Zardari, Mr. Sherpao said.
Mr. Sherpao alleged that the new team of police officials was more concerned with security at political rallies staged by Nawaz Sharif, the opposition leader. “The security team was marginalized,” Mr. Sherpao said.
Late Tuesday night, Mr. Taseer acknowledged that the top police officials had been changed, but the home secretary, responsible for security in the province, had remained in office.
The director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Robert S. Mueller III, is scheduled to visit Pakistan on Wednesday on a previously planned trip. The F.B.I. offered to help in the investigation in Lahore, but had been told by the Pakistani government that its help was not needed, a senior bureau official said.
The wounded cricketers received treatment at a Lahore hospital. Two players were treated for bullet wounds, a spokesman for the Sri Lankan High Commission said. The team flew home on Tuesday night.
The Sri Lankan team had been particularly welcomed because it had agreed to play in Pakistan after other major world teams had refused to come, citing Pakistan’s poor security. Last year, the Australian, British and South African cricket teams said they would not take part in the Champions Trophy, a major world cricket event scheduled in Pakistan.
After the Mumbai attack, the Indian team refused to come for matches planned in 2009.
The series with Sri Lanka represented a sort of coming out for Paksitani fans starved of first-class cricket at home.
Cricket is as important to the sports psyche in Pakistan as baseball is in the United States. The matches with Sri Lanka were the first international cricket contests in Pakistan in 14 months.
To persuade the Sri Lankans to visit, the Pakistanis offered presidential-style security, Pakistani television reported.
But to show that the Sri Lankan cricket team did not receive the security it had asked for, the Dawn television channel on Tuesday night showed the elaborate motorcades with bulletproof vehicles traveling at high speed with flashing lights used by senior Pakistani officials.
In contrast, the television report showed bullet holes in the windows of the cricketers’ bus.
Pakistan is scheduled to host the World Cup cricket tournament in 2011. “How do you expect a foreign team to come to Pakistan now?” said Wasim Akram, a former captain of the Pakistan cricket team.
Reporting was contributed by Waqar Gillani from Lahore, Somini Sengupta from New Delhi, Alan Cowell from Paris, and Sharon Otterman from New York.
March 4, 2009
Lahore Murder Mystery
By ALI SETHI
YESTERDAY afternoon, Ali Raza went to the hospital. A 25-year-old constable in the Punjab police department, Ali Raza was accompanying an old man who needed an M.R.I. scan. In the reception area, he noticed that the waiting patients had abandoned their chairs and were standing around the television. They had been watching the same images all day: a dozen unidentified gunmen, two wearing backpacks, firing at a van near the Liberty Market roundabout. The intended victims, the TV stations had reported, were members of the Sri Lankan national cricket team, in town here to play Pakistan. The dead: eight Pakistanis, including six of Ali Raza’s fellow police officers.
“Everyone at the hospital was saying the same thing,” Ali Raza told me later that night, as we stood in line at a brightly lighted stall selling paan — a mild stimulant made with betel nuts — near the Main Market roundabout, just a short walk away from the site of the attack. “They were saying that this was done to show the Indians that we in Pakistan are also the victims of terrorism.”
“You think our own government did it?” I asked.
“No one else could get away with this kind of thing,” he insisted.
He described the attackers’ feat: they appeared out of nowhere at one of the city’s busiest intersections and fired for more than 20 minutes at the van carrying the players to Qaddafi Stadium, and then fled in rickshaws.
“I know the kind of precautions we have to take when we are in a V.I.P. motorcade,” the young officer told me. “And this was a ‘V.V.I.P.’ motorcade. Every house in that neighborhood was surrounded by the police. My friend was there and he told me the attackers didn’t receive a single wound.”
A young man in a T-shirt who was standing next to us at the paan stall asked, “Was your friend hurt?”
Ali Raza said, “He is fine, by the grace of God.”
This kind of talk was not limited to paan stalls. There had been all sorts of opinions expressed on the privately owned TV channels, which now bring live video and commentary from the sites of terrorist attacks to much of Pakistan’s urban population. The governor of Punjab Province, who last week ousted the elected provincial government on the orders of President Asif Ali Zardari, was on camera immediately after the attack, and compared it to the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, last November.
Others were more specific: a member of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League said he “had no doubt” that this was the work of the Indian intelligence agencies. A former head of Pakistan’s security service, the I.S.I., agreed with him. An analyst from Islamabad, discussing the attack later in the day on a popular chat show, said that “from every angle” it was evident that India, by attacking a foreign cricket team in Pakistan, had gained. “Who benefits?” she said. “You have to ask who benefits.”
Another guest on the show, an elderly sage in a dark blue suit and a bright blue tie, wearing spectacles and speaking with slow, slotting movements of his hand, said that the blaming of one country by another was always counterproductive because, in the end, it took the focus away from domestic troubles. He gave the example of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, which had immediately led to conspiracy theories but was still awaiting a proper inquiry. “When there is confusion,” he said, “the only people who benefit are the miscreants.”
A former intelligence official I know had a different theory. He said he had seen a report some weeks ago warning of exactly this kind of attack in Lahore, possibly against a cricket team. He said it came from the rumor mill that “leads back to Waziristan” in Pakistan’s tribal areas. “So this is a security failure,” he said. “But it’s not an intelligence failure.”
Later at night it was reported that the government had found bags that held guns, hand grenades and almonds. This was followed by the televised funeral of one of the slain policemen. His female relatives were sitting around his corpse, wailing and beating their chests. His father, surrounded by cameras, was looking at the floor and saying that he was proud of his son for serving his country.
Again at the paan stall, now surrounded by listeners, I asked Ali Raza if he thought there was a chance that the attack was the work of terrorists or criminals. “There is a chance,” he admitted. “But it could be the agencies. It could be the government. It could be India also.”
I asked, “What about other people?”
“Which other people?”
I said, “The people who kidnap journalists and bomb the homes of politicians and slit the throats of government spies.”
He was thinking about it.
The man operating the paan stall was lining moistened betel leaves with spices and condiments. He had on a tattered apron, which is worn by men like him to keep the notoriously messy paan juice from staining their clothes. He smiled at us and said, “Whoever has done this has a lot of intelligence.” He paused. As he did, I looked over the crowd, and thought that for all our various theories, it was a point we could agree on. And then he finished, “For poor people, everything is the same.”
Ali Sethi is the author of the forthcoming novel “The Wish Maker.”
March 13, 2009
As Indian Growth Soars, Child Hunger Persists
By SOMINI SENGUPTA
NEW DELHI — Small, sick, listless children have long been India’s scourge — “a national shame,” in the words of its prime minister, Manmohan Singh. But even after a decade of galloping economic growth, child malnutrition rates are worse here than in many sub-Saharan African countries, and they stand out as a paradox in a proud democracy.
China, that other Asian economic powerhouse, sharply reduced child malnutrition, and now just 7 percent of its children under 5 are underweight, a critical gauge of malnutrition. In India, by contrast, despite robust growth and good government intentions, the comparable number is 42.5 percent. Malnutrition makes children more prone to illness and stunts physical and intellectual growth for a lifetime.
There are no simple explanations. Economists and public health experts say stubborn malnutrition rates point to a central failing in this democracy of the poor. Amartya Sen, the Nobel prize-winning economist, lamented that hunger was not enough of a political priority here. India’s public expenditure on health remains low, and in some places, financing for child nutrition programs remains unspent.
Yet several democracies have all but eradicated hunger. And ignoring the needs of the poor altogether does spell political peril in India, helping to topple parties in the last elections.
Others point to the efficiency of an authoritarian state like China. India’s sluggish and sometimes corrupt bureaucracy has only haltingly put in place relatively simple solutions — iodizing salt, for instance, or making sure all children are immunized against preventable diseases — to say nothing of its progress on the harder tasks, like changing what and how parents feed their children.
But as China itself has grown more prosperous, it has had its own struggles with health care, as the government safety net has shredded with its adoption of a more market-driven economy.
While India runs the largest child feeding program in the world, experts agree it is inadequately designed, and has made barely a dent in the ranks of sick children in the past 10 years.
The $1.3 billion Integrated Child Development Services program, India’s primary effort to combat malnutrition, finances a network of soup kitchens in urban slums and villages.
But most experts agree that providing adequate nutrition to pregnant women and children under 2 years old is crucial — and the Indian program has not homed in on them adequately. Nor has it succeeded in sufficiently changing child feeding and hygiene practices. Many women here remain in ill health and are ill fed; they are prone to giving birth to low-weight babies and tend not to be aware of how best to feed them.
A tour of Jahangirpuri, a slum in this richest of Indian cities, put the challenge on stark display. Shortly after daybreak, in a rented room along a narrow alley, an all-female crew prepared giant vats of savory rice and lentil porridge.
Purnima Menon, a public health researcher with the International Food Policy Research Institute, was relieved to see it was not just starch; there were even flecks of carrots thrown in. The porridge was loaded onto bicycle carts and ferried to nurseries that vet and help at-risk children and their mothers throughout the neighborhood.
So far, so good. Except that at one nursery — known in Hindi as an anganwadi — the teacher was a no-show. At another, there were no children; instead, a few adults sauntered up with their lunch pails. At a third, the nursery worker, Brij Bala, said that 13 children and 13 lactating mothers had already come to claim their servings, and that now she would have to fill the bowls of whoever came along, neighborhood aunties and all. “They say, ‘Give us some more,’ so we have to,” Ms. Bala confessed. “Otherwise, they will curse us.”
None of the centers had a working scale to weigh children and to identify the vulnerable ones, a crucial part of the nutrition program.
Most important from Ms. Menon’s point of view, the nurseries were largely missing the needs of those most at risk: children under 2, for whom the feeding centers offered a dry ration of flour and ground lentils, containing none of the micronutrients a vulnerable infant needs.
In a memorandum prepared in February, the Ministry of Women and Child Development acknowledged that while the program had yielded some gains in the past 30 years, “its impact on physical growth and development has been rather slow.” The report recommended fortifying food with micronutrients and educating parents on how to better feed their babies.
A World Food Program report last month noted that India remained home to more than a fourth of the world’s hungry, 230 million people in all. It also found anemia to be on the rise among rural women of childbearing age in eight states across India. Indian women are often the last to eat in their homes and often unlikely to eat well or rest during pregnancy. Ms. Menon’s institute, based in Washington, recently ranked India below two dozen sub-Saharan countries on its Global Hunger Index.
Childhood anemia, a barometer of poor nutrition in a lactating mother’s breast milk, is three times higher in India than in China, according to a 2007 research paper from the institute.
The latest Global Hunger Index described hunger in Madhya Pradesh, a destitute state in central India, as “extremely alarming,” ranking the state somewhere between Chad and Ethiopia.
More surprising, though, it found that “serious” rates of hunger persisted across Indian states that had posted enviable rates of economic growth in recent years, including Maharashtra and Gujarat.
Here in the capital, which has the highest per-capita income in the country, 42.2 percent of children under 5 are stunted, or too short for their age, and 26 percent are underweight. A few blocks from the Indian Parliament, tiny, ill-fed children turn somersaults for spare change at traffic signals.
Back in Jahangirpuri, a dead rat lay in the courtyard in front of Ms. Bala’s nursery. The narrow lanes were lined with scum from the drains. Malaria and respiratory illness, which can be crippling for weak, undernourished children, were rampant. Neighborhood shops carried small bags of potato chips and soda, evidence that its residents were far from destitute.
In another alley, Ms. Menon met a young mother named Jannu, a migrant from the northern town of Lucknow. Jannu said she found it difficult to produce enough milk for the baby in her arms, around 6 months old. His green, watery waste dripped down his mother’s arms. He often has diarrhea, Jannu said, casually rinsing her arm with a tumbler of water.
Ms. Menon could not help but notice how small Jannu was, like so many of Jahangirpuri’s mothers. At 5 feet 2 inches tall, Ms. Menon towered over them. Children who were roughly the same age as her own daughter were easily a foot shorter. Stunted children are so prevalent here, she observed, it makes malnutrition invisible.
“I see a system failing,” Ms. Menon said. “It is doing something, but it is not solving the problem.”
Women in burqas and children from the Bajaur and Mohmand agency areas wait to be registered at a refugee camp near Peshawar in January. Today a full-scale war is being fought in FATA, Swat and other “wild” areas of Pakistan, with thousands dying and hundreds of thousands of displaced people streaming into cities and towns.
FOR 20 years or more, a few of us in Pakistan have been desperately sending out SOS messages, warning of terrible times to come. Nevertheless, none anticipated how quickly and accurately our dire predictions would come true. It is a small matter that the flames of terrorism set Mumbai on fire and, more recently, destroyed Pakistan’s cricketing future. A much more important and brutal fight lies ahead as Pakistan, a nation of 175 million, struggles for its very survival. The implications for the future of South Asia are enormous.
Today a full-scale war is being fought in FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas), Swat and other “wild” areas of Pakistan, with thousands dying and hundreds of thousands of IDPs (internally displaced people) streaming into cities and towns. In February 2009, with the writ of the Pakistani state in tatters, the government gave in to the demand of the TTP (Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, the Pakistani Taliban Movement) to implement the Islamic Sharia in Malakand, a region of FATA. It also announced the suspension of a military offensive in Swat, which has been almost totally taken over by the TTP. But the respite that it brought was short-lived and started breaking down only hours later.
The fighting is now inexorably migrating towards Peshawar where, fearing the Taliban, video shop owners have shut shop, banners have been placed in bazaars declaring them closed for women, musicians are out of business, and kidnapping for ransom is the best business in town. Islamabad has already seen Lal Masjid and the Marriot bombing, and has had its police personnel repeatedly blown up by suicide bombers. Today, its barricaded streets give a picture of a city under siege. In Karachi, the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), an ethnic but secular party well known for strong-arm tactics, has issued a call for arms to prevent the Taliban from making further inroads into the city. Lahore once appeared relatively safe and different but, after the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team, has rejoined Pakistan.
The suicide bomber and the masked abductor have crippled Pakistan’s urban life and shattered its national economy. Soldiers, policemen, factory and hospital workers, mourners at funerals, and ordinary people praying in mosques have been reduced to hideous masses of flesh and fragments of bones. The bearded ones, many operating out of madrassas, are hitting targets across the country. Although a substantial part of the Pakistani public insists upon lionising them as “standing up to the Americans”, they are neither seeking to evict a foreign occupier nor fighting for a homeland. They want nothing less than to seize power and to turn Pakistan into their version of the ideal Islamic state. In their incoherent, ill-formed vision, this would include restoring the caliphate as well as doing away with all forms of western influence and elements of modernity. The AK-47 and the Internet, of course, would stay.
But, perhaps paradoxically, in spite of the fact that the dead bodies and shattered lives are almost all Muslim ones, few Pakistanis speak out against these atrocities. Nor do they approve of military action against the cruel perpetrators, choosing to believe that they are fighting for Islam and against an imagined American occupation. Political leaders like Qazi Husain Ahmed and Imran Khan have no words of kindness for those who have suffered from Islamic extremists. Their tears are reserved for the victims of predator drones, whether innocent or otherwise. By definition, for them terrorism is an act that only Americans can commit.
Why the Denial?
To understand Pakistan’s collective masochism, one needs to study the drastic social and cultural transformations that have made this country so utterly different from what it was in earlier times. For three decades, deep tectonic forces have been silently tearing Pakistan away from the Indian subcontinent and driving it towards the Arabian peninsula.
This continental drift is not physical but cultural, driven by a belief that Pakistan must exchange its South Asian identity for an Arab-Muslim one. Grain by grain, the desert sands of Saudi Arabia are replacing the rich soil that had nurtured a rich Muslim culture in India for a thousand years. This culture produced Mughal architecture, the Taj Mahal, the poetry of Asadullah Ghalib, and much more. Now a stern, unyielding version of Islam – Wahabism – is replacing the kinder, gentler Islam of the sufis and saints who had walked on this land for hundreds of years.
This change is by design. Twenty-five years ago, under the approving gaze of Ronald Reagan’s America, the Pakistani state pushed Islam on to its people. Prayers in government departments were deemed compulsory, floggings were carried out publicly, punishments were meted out to those who did not fast in Ramadan, selection for university academic posts required that the candidate demonstrate knowledge of Islamic teachings, and jehad was declared essential for every Muslim.
Villages have changed drastically, driven in part by Pakistani workers returning from Arab countries. Many village mosques are now giant madrassas that propagate hard-line Salafi and Deobandi beliefs through oversized loudspeakers. They are bitterly opposed to Barelvis, Shias and other Muslims, who they do not consider to be proper Muslims. Punjabis, who were far more liberal towards women than Pashtuns, are now also beginning to take a line resembling the Taliban. Hanafi law has begun to prevail over tradition and civil law, as is evident from recent decisions in the Lahore High Court.
Pakistan’s Ministry of Education estimates that 1.5 million students are getting religious education in 13,000 madrassas. These figures could be quite off the mark. Commonly quoted figures range between 18,000 and 22,000 such schools. Here, students at the Jamia Manzoorul Islam, a madrassa in Lahore.
In the Pakistani lower-middle and middle-middle classes lurks a grim and humourless Saudi-inspired revivalist movement which frowns on every expression of joy and pleasurable pastime. Lacking any positive connection to history, culture and knowledge, it seeks to eliminate “corruption” by regulating cultural life and seizing control of the education system.
“Classical music is on its last legs in Pakistan; the sarangi and vichtarveena are completely dead,” laments Mohammad Shehzad, a music aficionado. Indeed, teaching music in public universities is violently opposed by students of the Islami Jamaat-e-Talaba at Punjab University. Religious fundamentalists consider music haram. Kathak dancing, once popular with the Muslim elite of India, has no teachers left. Pakistan produces no feature films of any consequence.
As a part of General Zia-ul-Haq’s cultural offensive, Hindi words were expunged from daily use and replaced with heavy-sounding Arabic ones. Persian, the language of Mughal India, had once been taught as a second or third language in many Pakistani schools. But, because of its association with Shiite Iran, it too was dropped and replaced with Arabic. The morphing of the traditional “khuda hafiz” (Persian for “God be with you”) into “allah hafiz” (Arabic for “God be with you”) took two decades to complete. The Arab import sounded odd and contrived, but ultimately the Arabic God won and the Persian God lost.
Genesis of Jehad
One can squarely place the genesis of religious militancy in Pakistan to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and the subsequent efforts of the U.S.-Pakistan-Saudi grand alliance to create and support the Great Global Jehad of the 20th century. A toxic mix of imperial might, religious fundamentalism, and local interests ultimately defeated the Soviets. But the network of Islamic militant organisations did not disappear after it achieved success. By now the Pakistani Army establishment had realised the power of jehad as an instrument of foreign policy, and so the network grew from strength to strength.
The amazing success of the state is now turning out to be its own undoing. Today the Pakistan Army and establishment are under attack from religious militants, and rival Islamic groups battle each other with heavy weapons. Ironically, the same Army – whose men were recruited under the banner of jehad, and which saw itself as the fighting arm of Islam – today stands accused of betrayal and is almost daily targeted by Islamist suicide bombers. Over 1,800 soldiers have died as of February 2009 in encounters with religious militants, and many have been tortured before decapitation. Nevertheless, the Army is still ambivalent in its relationship with the jehadists and largely focusses upon India.
Education or Indoctrination?
Similar sentiments exist in a large part of the Pakistani public media. The commonly expressed view is that Islamic radicalism is a problem only in FATA and that madrassas are the only jehad factories around. This could not be more wrong. Extremism is breeding at a ferocious rate in public and private schools within Pakistan’s towns and cities. Left unchallenged, this kind of education will produce a generation incapable of living together with any except strictly their own kind. Pakistan’s education system demands that Islam be understood as a complete code of life, and creates in the mind of the schoolchild a sense of siege and constant embattlement by stressing that Islam is under threat everywhere.
The government-approved curriculum, prepared by the Curriculum Wing of the Federal Ministry of Education, is the basic road map for transmitting values and knowledge to the young. By an Act of Parliament, passed in 1976, all government and private schools (except for O-level schools) are required to follow this curriculum. It is a blueprint for a religious fascist state.
The masthead of an illustrated primer for the Urdu alphabet states that it has been prepared by Iqra Publishers, Rawalpindi, along “Islamic lines”. Although not an officially approved textbook, it has been used for many years by some regular schools, as well as madrassas, associated with the Jamiat-ul-Ulema-e-Islam (JUI), an Islamic political party that had allied itself with General Pervez Musharraf.
The world of the Pakistani schoolchild was largely unchanged even after September 11, 2001, which led to Pakistan’s timely desertion of the Taliban and the slackening of the Kashmir jehad. Indeed, for all his hypocritical talk of “enlightened moderation”, Musharraf’s educational curriculum was far from enlightening. It was a slightly toned-down copy of that under Nawaz Sharif which, in turn, was identical to that under Benazir Bhutto, who inherited it from Zia-ul-Haq.
Fearful of taking on powerful religious forces, every incumbent government refused to take a position on the curriculum and thus quietly allowed young minds to be moulded by fanatics. What might happen a generation later has always been a secondary matter for a government challenged on so many sides.
The promotion of militarism in Pakistan’s so-called “secular” public schools, colleges and universities had a profound effect upon young minds. Militant jehad became part of the culture on college and university campuses. Armed groups flourished, invited students for jehad in Kashmir and Afghanistan, set up offices throughout the country, collected funds at Friday prayers, and declared a war without borders. Pre-9/11, my university was ablaze with posters inviting students to participate in the Kashmir jehad. After 2001, this slipped below the surface.
For all his hypocritical talk of “enlightened moderation”, General Pervez Musharraf’s educational curriculum was far from enlightening. It was a slightly toned-down copy of that under Nawaz Sharif which, in turn, was identical to that under Benazir Bhutto, who inherited it from Zia-ul-Haq. (From left) Zia-ul-Haq, Benazir Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif and Musharraf.
The primary vehicle for Saudi-ising Pakistan’s education has been the madrassa. In earlier times, these had turned out the occasional Islamic scholar, using a curriculum that essentially dates from the 11th century with only minor subsequent revisions. But their principal function had been to produce imams and muezzins for mosques, and those who eked out an existence as “moulvi sahibs” teaching children to read the Quran.
The Afghan jehad changed everything. During the war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, madrassas provided the U.S.-Saudi-Pakistani alliance the cannon fodder needed for fighting a holy war. The Americans and the Saudis, helped by a more-than-willing General Zia, funded new madrassas across the length and breadth of Pakistan.
A detailed picture of the current situation is not available. But, according to the national education census, which the Ministry of Education released in 2006, Punjab has 5,459 madrassas followed by the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) with 2,843; Sindh 1,935; Federally Administrated Northern Areas (FANA) 1,193; Balochistan 769; Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) 586; FATA 135; and Islamabad capital territory 77. The Ministry estimates that 1.5 million students are getting religious education in the 13,000 madrassas.
These figures could be quite off the mark. Commonly quoted figures range between 18,000 and 22,000 madrassas. The number of students could be correspondingly larger. The free room, board and supplies to students, form a key part of their appeal. But the desire of parents across the country is for children to be “disciplined” and to be given a thorough Islamic education. This is also a major contributing factor.
Madrassas have deeply impacted upon the urban environment. For example, until a few years ago, Islamabad was a quiet, orderly, modern city different from all others in Pakistan. Still earlier, it had been largely the abode of Pakistan’s hyper-elite and foreign diplomats. But the rapid transformation of its demography brought with it hundreds of mosques with multi-barrelled audio-cannons mounted on minarets, as well as scores of madrassas illegally constructed in what used to be public parks and green areas. Now, tens of thousands of their students with little prayer caps dutifully chant the Quran all day. In the evenings they swarm around the city, making bare-faced women increasingly nervous.
Women – the Lesser Species
Total separation of the sexes is a central goal of the Islamists. Two decades ago the fully veiled student was a rarity on Pakistani university and college campuses. The abaya was an unknown word in Urdu; it is a foreign import. But today, some shops in Islamabad specialise in abaya. At colleges and universities across Pakistan, female students are seeking the anonymity of the burqa. Such students outnumber their sisters who still dare show their faces.
While social conservatism does not necessarily lead to violent extremism, it does shorten the path. Those with beards and burqas are more easily convinced that Muslims are being demonised by the rest of the world. The real problem, they say, is the plight of the Palestinians, the decadent and discriminatory West, the Jews, the Christians, the Hindus, the Kashmir issue, the Bush doctrine, and so on. They vehemently deny that those committing terrorist acts are Muslims or, if faced by incontrovertible evidence, say it is a mere reaction to oppression. Faced with the embarrassment that 200 schools for girls were blown up in Swat by Fazlullah’s militants, they wriggle out by saying that some schools were housing the Pakistan Army, who should be targeted anyway.
This high school at Qambar in the Swat valley was among the 200 schools for girls destroyed by the Swat Taliban led by Mullah Fazlullah.
The immediate future is not hopeful: increasing numbers of mullahs are creating cults around themselves and seizing control over the minds of worshippers. In the tribal areas, a string of new Islamist leaders have suddenly emerged: Sufi Mohammad, Baitullah Mehsud, Fazlullah, Mangal Bagh…. The enabling environment of poverty, deprivation, lack of justice, and extreme differences of wealth is perfect for these demagogues. Their gruesome acts of terror and public beheadings are still being perceived by large numbers of Pakistanis as part of the fight against imperialist America and, sometimes, India as well. This could not be more wrong.
The jehadists have longer-range goals. A couple of years ago, a Karachi-based monthly magazine ran a cover story on the terrorism in Kashmir. One fighter was asked what he would do if a political resolution were found for the disputed valley. Revealingly, he replied that he would not lay down his gun but turn it on the Pakistani leadership, with the aim of installing an Islamic government there.
Over the next year or two, we are likely to see more short-lived “peace accords”, as in Malakand, Swat and, earlier on, in Shakai. In my opinion, these are exercises in futility. Until the Pakistan Army finally realises that Mr. Frankenstein needs to be eliminated rather than be engaged in negotiations, it will continue to soft-pedal on counter-insurgency. It will also continue to develop and demand from the U.S. high-tech weapons that are not the slightest use against insurgents. There are some indications that some realisation of the internal threat is dawning, but the speed is as yet glacial.
Even if Mumbai-II occurs, India’s options in dealing with nuclear Pakistan are severely limited. Cross-border strikes should be dismissed from the realm of possibilities. They could lead to escalations that neither government would have control over. I am convinced that India’s prosperity – and perhaps its physical survival – demands that Pakistan stays together. Pakistan could disintegrate into a hell, where different parts are run by different warlords. Paradoxically perhaps, India’s most effective defence could be the Pakistan Army, torn and fractured though it may be. To convert a former enemy army into a possible ally will require that India change tack.
To create a future working alliance with the struggling Pakistani state, and in deference to basic democratic principles, India must be seen as genuinely working towards some kind of resolution of the Kashmir issue. It must not deny that the majority of Kashmiri Muslims are deeply alienated from the Indian state and that they desperately seek balm for their wounds. Else the forces of cross-border jehad, and its hate-filled holy warriors, will continue to receive unnecessary succour.
I shall end this rather grim essay on an optimistic note: the forces of irrationality will surely cancel themselves out because they act in random directions, whereas reason pulls in only one. History leads us to believe that reason will triumph over unreason, and humans will continue their evolution towards a higher and better species. Ultimately, it will not matter whether we are Pakistanis, Indians, Kashmiris, or whatever. Using ways that we cannot currently anticipate, people will somehow overcome their primal impulses of territoriality, tribalism, religion and nationalism. But for now this must be just a hypothesis.
Pervez Amirali Hoodbhoy is Professor and Chairman of the Physics Department at Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad.
March 14, 2009
Bangladeshi Premier Faces a Grim Crucible
By SOMINI SENGUPTA
DHAKA, Bangladesh — Sheikh Hasina survived when gunmen executed her father and extended family late one summer night in 1975. She survived again when assassins hurled 13 grenades at her political rally in 2004, killing two dozen people.
Today, about two months into her tenure as prime minister of this fractious, poor and coup-prone country, she confronts her greatest crucible yet: an unusually savage mutiny by border guards last month that left soldiers buried in mass graves and widened the gulf between her fragile administration and the military.
Altogether, 74 people were killed, mostly army officers in command of the border force.
Two separate investigations are under way to identify those responsible: one by the army, another by Mrs. Hasina’s government. Whether either will yield credible results is unknown. Mrs. Hasina’s fate and the stability of the country depend on the outcome.
In an interview this week, Mrs. Hasina called the mutiny “a big conspiracy” against her agenda to establish a secular democracy in this Muslim-majority nation of 150 million. She struck a note of defiant resolve.
Pakistan’s president, Asif Ali Zardari, made the right choice on Monday in agreeing to reinstate the independent-minded former Supreme Court justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. Unfortunately, it took huge street protests and the threat of chaos to persuade him to do the right thing. Mr. Zardari will have to do a lot more to calm the political turmoil and confront the extremists who threaten Pakistan’s survival.
Mr. Zardari made a major concession in agreeing to Mr. Chaudhry’s return and is weaker as a result. Nawaz Sharif, the opposition leader, was already the country’s most popular politician, and he gained even more by championing the cause of the chief justice, who was ousted by Pervez Musharraf, the former president.
Mr. Zardari and Mr. Sharif led a coalition government after Mr. Musharraf was pushed out last year but broke up ostensibly over the Chaudhry issue. With that resolved, they should try again to put aside their corrosive rivalry and work to combat the Taliban and Al Qaeda and address Pakistan’s many other urgent problems.
We are relieved that the protests led by Mr. Sharif and a vigorous lawyers’ movement ended without significant bloodshed. Pakistanis successfully demanding change from their leaders is an unpredictable new factor in the country’s politics.
Yet the process was flawed. It was unsettling to watch police officers in Lahore, Mr. Sharif’s power base, allow Mr. Sharif to escape house arrest. Pakistan’s coup-prone Army did not try to seize power. Instead, the chief of staff prodded Mr. Zardari and Mr. Sharif to compromise. That is certainly an improvement over the past. But it is also a reminder of the weakness of Pakistan’s democratic institutions.
One of the biggest questions is how Mr. Chaudhry, now a national symbol of democracy and the rule of law, will use his influence and his restored powers. Mr. Zardari supposedly opposed his return out of fear that the jurist would revive a corruption charge against him. We hope Mr. Chaudhry opts to advance the cause of impartial justice, not political retribution. Pakistan’s leaders have walked the country back from the brink. They must go much further before it reaches solid ground.
March 17, 2009
Touting Religion, Grabbing Land
By PATRICK FRENCH
THE demonstrations across Pakistan last week that forced President Asif Ali Zardari to reinstate the nation’s former chief justice, following the attack by militants on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore, were simply the latest phase in the broad destabilization of the country.
This was hardly to have been anticipated 18 months ago, when I flew to Islamabad with Nawaz Sharif, the former prime minister. At that time, the prospects were good: Mr. Sharif had made an agreement with his main rival, Benazir Bhutto, to return the country to democracy. “I am not afraid,” Mr. Sharif told me. “I am going home after seven years. My primary concern is to put an end to the curse of dictatorship and give some relief to the people of Pakistan.”
After we landed in Islamabad, I had dinner with the family of my brother-in-law, Sana Ullah. Sana’s family comes from the Swat Valley, a religiously conservative and beautiful region in the north known as the Switzerland of Pakistan. It is, or was, a prosperous holiday destination, attracting tourists from places like Japan because of its ancient Buddhist heritage, and it was where Pakistani film makers would go to shoot movies in a romantic mountain setting.
But the stories I heard that evening were full of foreboding. The Swat Barbers’ Federation had just forbidden “English-style haircuts” and the shaving of beards. Strange visitors — possibly Uzbeks — were engaged in military training in the forests. A teenage boy told me, almost in passing, that his female cousin’s school had been blown up.
Today the political situation is very different: Ms. Bhutto was killed in a suicide attack in December 2007, Mr. Sharif has been banned from public office, and Swat has become a killing field.
The region has been handed over to the Pakistani Taliban in a foolish bargain made on behalf of Mr. Zardari’s government. Like most violent revolutionary movements, the Taliban use social injustice and a half-understood philosophy as an excuse to grab land and power. Houses and property have been taken over, and the Taliban have announced that people should pay 40 percent of their rent to their landlords and 60 percent to “jihad.”
In the district capital, Mingora, decapitated corpses were dangled from lampposts with notices pinned to them stating the “un-Islamic” action that merited death. At least 185 schools, most for girls, have been closed. Government officials, journalists and security troops have had their throats slit. Little wonder that most of my brother-in-law’s family has fled, along with 400,000 others.
What many Westerners fail to understand is that the Swat Valley is not one of Pakistan’s wild border areas. It is only 100 miles from Islamabad. In the words of Shaheen Sardar Ali, a cousin of Sana’s who is a law professor at Warwick University in England and was the first female cabinet minister in the government of North-West Frontier Province, “Swat is not somewhere you could ever see as being a breeding ground for extremism.” She remembers going to school unveiled as a child in the 1960s and studying alongside boys. But today, any girl who goes to school is risking her life.
Shariah law has been imposed, allowing elderly clerics to dictate the daily lives of the Swati people. President Zardari’s foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, describes this as “a local solution to a local problem,” but the deal with the Taliban represents the most serious blow to the country’s territorial integrity since the civil war of 1971, when the land that became Bangladesh was given up. When territory is surrendered in this way, it is very difficult for the state to recover it. The central premise behind the war on terrorism was that extremist groups should not be allowed sanctuaries from which to threaten the rest of the world. In that context, the loss of Swat offers the Taliban and other extremist groups a template for the future.
Pakistan’s slide toward anarchy is similar to the conditions in Afghanistan in the 1990s: it was easier then for the Afghan elite to pretend that the political situation was likely to improve than to face the truth and do something about it. The bickering factions in Kabul allowed the Taliban to take control of large areas of southern Afghanistan, refusing to see that this would only embolden the Islamists to march on the capital.
Similarly, millenarian Islamists are now seeking to destroy Pakistan as a nation-state, and realize that they have won a strategic victory in Swat. President Obama’s hope of weaning “moderate” elements in Afghanistan and Pakistan away from violence, as happened with Sunni militants in Iraq, is stymied by the fact the Pakistani Taliban know they are winning. Making a deal with them now is appeasement.
Worse, the Islamabad government has gained nothing from it. The Lahore shootings showed how fragile the security situation remains. Radical Sunni groups are more powerful than ever in the Punjab.
The Pakistani Army has been given billions of dollars by American taxpayers to defeat the Taliban, and it has failed. Some of the money even appears to have been diverted to the militants. The army has limited skill in counterinsurgency tactics or in winning hearts and minds; its main achievement over the last two decades has been in training militants to fight Indian troops in Kashmir.
“The people in Swat have no employment, no money, and they are terrified of the army,” Professor Ali told me. “Force is not an alternative, it’s too late.” Pakistan’s civilian law enforcement agencies need to be urgently reformed and strengthened.
The only way forward is for the government and those opposition politicians, such as Mr. Sharif, who still have popular support to unite with progressive elements inside the Army, and to recognize the real and immediate danger of the Islamist threat. If they do not, their country risks becoming a nuclear-armed Afghanistan.
Patrick French is the author, most recently, of “The World Is What It Is: The Authorized Biography of V. S. Naipaul.”
ISLAMABAD -- Pakistan's prime minister said in an interview he would seek to tip the balance of power back toward parliament and away from embattled President Asif Ali Zardari, a move that could help restore democratic checks and balances in the turbulent nation and possibly help bring the opposition into the ruling coalition.
Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani vowed to return to parliament authority that it lost in 2002 when former leader Pervez Musharraf gave sweeping powers to the presidency, including the power to dismiss parliament.
Opposition leader Nawaz Sharif, a former prime minister, describes the current distribution of powers as Pakistan's biggest obstacle to a smoothly functioning democracy.
"We are committed to changing the system," a confident Mr. Gilani said. "My main endeavor is to end the politics of confrontation."
He added that he planned to cooperate with Mr. Sharif. Protests led in part by the opposition leader helped force President Zardari this week to allow the restoration of a former Supreme Court chief justice who had become to many Pakistanis a symbol of rule of law in the nascent democracy.
"I am sure we can work with Nawaz Sharif in strengthening the democratic process," Mr. Gilani said. "We have to return to parliamentary democracy on the lines of Westminster."
Mr. Musharraf took from the premiership and gave to the presidency the powers to appoint the chief of the armed forces, Supreme Court judges and the chief of the election commission, as well as send back for review any bill passed by parliament. Mr. Musharraf also made the president the supreme commander of the armed forces.
Restoring those powers to the prime minister would return the presidency to its earlier, largely ceremonial position.
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Opposition leader Nawaz Sharif
That shift would also give more power to Mr. Gilani himself. As prime minister, however, he must answer to the legislature in a way that the president doesn't.
"The presidential system concentrates too much power in one individual whereas a parliamentary system means strengthening institutions," says Maleeha Lodhi, a former ambassador to the U.S. and a political commentator.
Mr. Zardari, the widower of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, has pledged to rescind the enhanced presidential powers. A spokesman for Mr. Zardari said the president wants to implement changes that rescind the broad powers of the office "but that requires a constitutional amendment," which calls for a two-thirds majority vote in parliament.
Mr. Zardari, as leader of the Pakistan People's Party, picked Mr. Gilani to be prime minister after elections in February 2008, but in recent months their relationship has cooled, according to people close to both men.
Mr. Gilani said he would offer Mr. Sharif the opportunity to rejoin the governing coalition. Mr. Sharif's party was part of the coalition after the elections but he quit over disagreements with Mr. Zardari.
"I hope we will go back to our relations," Mr. Gilani said. "I can offer Nawaz Sharif to join the coalition at an appropriate time.... That shows our resolve for the reconciliation."
Mr. Gilani's remarks come after his own political credibility received a big boost this week when he helped to defuse the political turmoil that threatened to engulf the nuclear-armed nation. His new assertiveness stems in part from the backing he has received from opposition parties.
As Mr. Sharif and hundreds of thousands of protesters were descending on the capital for demonstrations, Mr. Zardari agreed to reinstate the Supreme Court justice and to petition the court to lift a ban that bars Mr. Sharif from holding elected office.
Mr. Gilani was a key player in negotiations to defuse the crisis, according to members of the opposition and of the government. During those talks, Mr. Gilani said, he spoke frequently with Mr. Sharif by phone and met army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani several times. Athar Abbas, chief military spokesman, declined to comment.
"We need to implement the charter of democracy signed by two former prime ministers," Mr. Gilani said, referring to an agreement signed by Ms. Bhutto and Mr. Sharif in 2006 that pledged to strike down the constitutional changes made by Mr. Musharraf's military-led government.
Shias under siege in NW Pakistan
Thu, 26 Mar 2009 04:27:14 GMT
Human rights groups protest against Shia blockade in Parachinar
Taliban have imposed a crippling blockade on Shia communities in northwestern Pakistan raising concerns of a 'dire humanitarian crisis'.
In a Tuesday peace summit held in northwestern city of Parachinar in Kurram Agency, political and religious leaders said the lack of government control had allowed the Taliban to pursue their aggressive agenda in the region.
The summit comes after reports of grave human rights abuses against Shias in Parachinar, which later turned in to a complete siege.
Although Shias are the majority in Kurram, they are surrounded by the Taliban-linked aggressive militants who have gone so far as to cut off roads over the past few months. The militants are also accused of kidnapping or killing those trying to deliver supplies to the Shia areas.
Shia farmers have been forced to sell their agricultural produce in Afghanistan instead of the markets in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province.
Taliban-linked militants in Parachinar, Hangu district and much of the Kurram tribal agency have killed 25 to 30 people on a daily basis over the last six months. Some local media say more than 1,300 Shia community members have been killed in the region since 2007.
They claim that security forces in the tribal regions are 'under the influence of local Taliban groups', adding that law enforcement officers have 'willingly or unwillingly' launched a clamp down on Shia Muslims.
The killing of Shias is to such extent that has caused international outrage with rights groups and regional countries including Iran expressing concern over the 'genocide'.
The leading Shia figure in Iraq, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has issued a ruling (fatwa) with respect to the treatment of the Shia in the Parachinar. The fatwa encourages all Shia Muslims in Pakistan to do everything within their power to help their "brethren."
Shias say they make up one-third of Pakistan's 160 million-strong population. Since the 1980s, thousands of people have been killed in violence-related incidents in Pakistan by extremist groups - who have embarked on an 'ominous mission' to 'eliminate' Shia elites across Pakistan.
They have killed hundreds of Shia medical doctors, university professors, lawyers and police officers across the violence-wracked country over the past few years.
Moderate Pakistani Sunni groups believe that leaving Shias at the mercy of the Taliban is a conspiracy against the country.
Chinese scholars say constitution must be respected
By Thomas Jolicoeur, Canwest News ServiceMarch 28, 2009
it has been 50 years since the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai lama, went into exile.
Photograph by: AFP-Getty Images Archive, Canwest News Service
Negotiations with the Dalai Lama cannot proceed unless the exiled Tibetan holy man acknowledges the constitution of China, Chinese experts say.
At a Friday news conference at the Chinese Embassy, scholars in Tibetology from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences spoke of the Dalai Lama's request for Tibetan autonomy, which they view as a thinly veiled attempt to establish Tibet as an independent nation.
These demands--detailed in a memorandum of understanding issued last year -- violate not only Chinese law, but also the historical development of Tibet, the scholars asserted.
"The so-called (memorandum of understanding) on Tibetan autonomy runs contrary to Chinese constitution and Chinese laws concerning regional and ethnic authority in China," said Prof. Hao Shiyuan, the director of Tibetan Historical and Cultural Research at CASS.
The delegation said Tibet has historically been under the rule of China and, as such, any independence the region experienced before the most recent occupation by China in 1959 was illegitimate.
The delegates acknowledged Tibet's spiritual leader has never demanded outright independence from China, but that his desire to see the region as an autonomous province not directly ruled by Beijing amounts to the same thing.
"The Dalai Lama has never given up his pursuit and position in seeking whole independence of Tibet," said Hao.
Through an interpreter, Hao said the Dalai Lama has grown overly ambitious due to his influence over-seas and his immersion in western and popular culture.
As a result, he is making demands he knows contravene the Chinese constitution.
"I think the memory of the culture of Tibet of the Dalai Lama stopped 50 years ago," said Hao. "He himself has even forgotten what he was and what he did 50 years ago in Tibet."
The news conference also aimed to refute comments made by the Dalai Lama earlier this month on the 50th anniversary of China's invasion of Tibet, where he claimed the region has been a "hell on earth" since its occupation.
Hao said Tibet has seen unprecedented growth in the 50 years since the Dalai Lama's departure, and that western cultures must educate them-selves on the feudal history of Tibet before they can judge the current situation there.
April 2, 2009
An Unsure China Steps Onto the Global Stage
By MICHAEL WINES and EDWARD WONG
BEIJING — Let the rest of the world dither over whether this week’s economic summit meeting in London will save the planet from economic collapse.
China arrives at the meeting with a sense of momentum, riding a wave of nationalism and boasting an economy that, more than any other, is surfing the trough of a crippling recession. While other major economies shrink this year, China’s is expected by some economists to pass Japan’s as the world’s second largest, if it has not already.
The most talked-about new book here, “China is Unhappy,” combines hypernationalism with biting criticism of Western mismanagement and of China’s reluctance to grasp its place in history.
China’s normally faceless vice president, Xi Jinping, achieved cult status in late February after cameras caught him in an unguarded moment in Mexico, attacking “foreigners who had eaten their fill and had nothing better to do, pointing their fingers at our affairs.”
It has not dampened this spirit that China — and its $2 trillion in exchange reserves — are viewed around the world as the solution to a host of problems, whether by shoring up the capital base of the International Monetary Fund or by becoming a bigger engine of growth for Asian economies long dependent on the United States market.
Yet even as Presidents Hu Jintao and Obama had their first meeting on Wednesday on the sidelines of the summit proceedings, the Chinese appeared torn between seizing their moment in the geopolitical spotlight and shying from it.
Government censors quickly deleted Mr. Xi’s remarks from Chinese news reports last month. On Wednesday, the front page of China Daily, the English-language newspaper that telegraphs government positions to the outside world, warned that China “is not as strong an economy as some people think.”
“Bailing out China is our most important contribution to bail out the world,” Tang Min, an economist at the state-financed China Development Research Foundation, was quoted as saying.
Such is the quandary of a nation whose rise to power appears both inevitable and, in the view of many experts, still a bit premature.
“China is a major global economy now. That is a fundamental reality,” Chu Shulong, who directs the Institute of Strategic Studies at Tsinghua University in Beijing, said in an interview. “What China says and does has an effect on international finance, international economics and other economies.”
But just as real, Mr. Chu and others said, are the factors that hamstring China: widespread poverty, authoritarian rule, a culture shrouded by decades of isolation and poorly understood intentions. China’s global ambitions are unlikely to be realized until it resolves those issues.
Even then, China’s economic fortunes remain deeply entangled with those of the United States, its biggest customer, rival, debtor and still — by far — the world’s biggest economy.
So although Beijing may agitate for changes in the global financial structure, and relish some schadenfreude at Washington’s expense, its interests lie very much in getting America back on its economic feet.
That does not negate China’s newly enhanced status. With most of the world in financial collapse, China’s economy has suddenly become too big — and too healthy, expected to grow by at least 6.5 percent this year — for the rest of the world to ignore.
Evidence of China’s ascension is everywhere. Three years ago, China did not have a single bank among the world’s top 20, measured by market capitalization. Today the top three are Chinese. (In 2006, the United States had 7 of the top 20 banks, including the top 2; today it has 3, and the biggest, Morgan Stanley, is rated fifth.)
China’s government-owned enterprises are buying companies, technology and resources worldwide. This year they have spent $13 billion in Europe, and plan new investments in the United States. China has struck long-term oil contracts with Brazil and Russia, and is angling for a more than $20 billion stake in three Australian mining companies.
China holds $1 trillion in United States government debt, and that is but half the foreign reserves generated by its huge trade surplus and investment inflows. The rest of the West owes China money, too.
Just as clearly, China harbors global ambitions. Military spending has grown for years at a double-digit clip, though as a share of gross domestic product, it is half of the United States’ military spending. China is slowly building a blue-water navy, and in December it sent three ships to the waters off Somalia to patrol against pirates, in the first modern active deployment of its warships beyond its home waters.
Foreign analysts uniformly say they are struck by China’s new assertiveness in diplomatic and military affairs, from tart critiques of American fiscal policy to verbal sparring over control of the South China Sea.
Kenneth G. Lieberthal, a Brookings Institution scholar who oversaw White House Asia policy from 1998 to 2000, said the Chinese traditionally deferred to Washington on major economic and strategic issues, assenting or differing only after Washington made its case.
But “in meetings with the Chinese on several issues in the last two months, I’ve been quite surprised that Chinese are sitting there talking the way you would expect a major power to talk,” he said. “They are beginning to appreciate that when countries emerge from this current economic crisis, China is likely to be either the first to emerge or right after the U.S., and that China will be one of the very few countries at the end of this crisis to emerge without having high levels of government debt.”
“There is a palpable change taking place here,” Mr. Lieberthal added, “with a sense of greater confidence that China has now become an important place and needs to act that way.”
But economic importance does not automatically translate into geopolitical heft. In China’s case, most of the other components of true global power — moral sway, military clout, cultural influence, to name a few — are in the assembly stage, or missing altogether.
Even China’s unquestioned economic clout comes with an asterisk. While Chinese megacities boom and the country’s coast has become the world’s factory, 800 million of the nation’s 1.3 billion citizens remain farmers, many mired in poverty. China remains a developing nation, still vying for first-world status.
“I would be careful calling China a superpower. It is not one,” David Shambaugh, who directs the China Policy Program at George Washington University in Washington, wrote in an e-mail message. “It has no global military reach, its soft power is limited, and its diplomatic reach, while now global, is still limited in areas such as the Middle East and Latin America.”
April 2, 2009
China Vies to Be World’s Leader in Electric Cars
By KEITH BRADSHER
TIANJIN, China — Chinese leaders have adopted a plan aimed at turning the country into one of the leading producers of hybrid and all-electric vehicles within three years, and making it the world leader in electric cars and buses after that.
The goal, which radiates from the very top of the Chinese government, suggests that Detroit’s Big Three, already struggling to stay alive, will face even stiffer foreign competition on the next field of automotive technology than they do today.
“China is well positioned to lead in this,” said David Tulauskas, director of China government policy at General Motors.
To some extent, China is making a virtue of a liability. It is behind the United States, Japan and other countries when it comes to making gas-powered vehicles, but by skipping the current technology, China hopes to get a jump on the next.
'Taleban flogging of girl' filmed A video showing suspected members of the Taleban flogging a teenage girl is being circulated in Pakistan.
The provincial government in the north-western Swat valley recently agreed to implement Sharia law as part of a peace deal with militants there.
The video shows men who appear to be from the Taleban holding down the girl and hitting her with a strap for about two minutes as she cries out in pain.
PM Yusuf Raza Gilani has strongly condemned the "shameful" incident.
He ordered an enquiry, saying the government was taking serious notice of the flogging, which had tarnished the country's image.
Local sources said the girl had been accused of illicit relations with a man and that the flogging incident took place about three weeks ago.
The language in the video is of the Swati dialect of Pashto, says the BBC's Abdul Hai Kakar.
The woman is heard crying throughout and at one point swears on her father that she will not do it again.
Towards the end, when she stands up, an off-camera man believed to be directing the public beating, becomes angry.
Our correspondent says it is probably because the other men let the woman stand among them, something of which the Taleban do not approve.
Relatives of the man involved in the incident told the BBC he had gone to the house of the girl in the village of Kala Kalay to do repairs as an electrician but was accused of the relationship by militants.
They dragged him from the house and flogged him before punishing the girl, the relatives said.
The Taleban made her brother hold her down during the flogging, they said.
After the incident, the Taleban forced the couple to marry and instructed the man not to divorce his wife. His relatives say he has been left mentally scarred.
The incident happened shortly after the new Sharia courts approved by the provincial government were being introduced in Swat.
Mr Gilani said that the incident was contrary to Islamic principles, which taught Muslims to treat women politely and gently.
The prime minister said the government believed in the rights of women and would continue to take every measure to protect their rights.
The Sharia system was agreed in Swat to try to stop the Taleban from imposing their harsh brand of vigilante justice, the BBC's Islamabad correspondent Barbara Plett says.
Previously they had beheaded dissidents and killed women they had accused of un-Islamic behaviour.
That seems to have significantly decreased after the Taleban leader officially accepted the Islamic courts.
However, it is not clear whether this new justice system will replace Taleban rule in practice.
The courts seem to be operating with some effect in Swat's main city of Mingora but not in outlying rural areas.
There witnesses say the militants continue to exercise control, if not as brutally as before.
April 4, 2009
Video of Taliban Flogging Rattles Pakistan
By SALMAN MASOOD
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The video shows a young woman held face down as a Taliban commander whips her repeatedly with a leather strap. “Leave me for the moment — you can beat me again later,” she screams, pleading for a reprieve and writhing in pain.
Paying no heed, the commander orders those holding her to tighten their grip and continues the public flogging. A large group of men quietly stands and watches in a circle around her.
The woman in the video is a 17-year-old resident of Kabal, in the restive Swat region in northwestern Pakistan. The images, which have been broadcast repeatedly by private television news networks in Pakistan, have caused outrage here and set off bitter condemnation by rights activists and politicians.
They have also raised questions once again about the government’s decision to enter into a peace deal in February that effectively ceded Swat to the Taliban and allowed them to impose Islamic law.
The two-minute video is the first known case of a public flogging of a woman in Swat. Apparently shot on a cellphone and widely circulated in the picturesque valley, it demonstrates vividly how the Taliban have used public displays of punishment to terrify and control the local population.
It was not clear what the young woman was accused of.
One account said she had stepped out of her house without being escorted by a male family member, according to Samar Minallah, a rights activist. Ms. Minallah said she distributed the video to local news outlets after it was sent to her by someone from Swat three days ago.
Another account said a local Taliban commander had falsely accused the teenager of violating Islamic law after she refused to accept his marriage proposal.
A Taliban spokesman defended the punishment to the Geo Television Network but said it should not have been done in public.
Mian Iftikhar Hussain, the information minister of North-West Frontier Province, where Swat is located, also tried to play down the flogging by claiming that the video was recorded in January, before the peace agreement. He called it an attempt to sabotage the peace agreement.
Not many seemed willing to countenance the argument.
“This is absurd,” Athar Minallah, a lawyer who campaigned for the restoration of Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, said in a telephone interview. “No one can give justification for such an act. These handful of people have taken the population hostage, and the government is trying to patronize them. If the state surrenders, what will happen next?”
Asma Jahangir, one of the country’s leading rights activists, condemned the flogging as “intolerable.”
“This is an eye-opener,” she said in a televised news briefing in Lahore. “Terrorism has seeped into every corner of the country. It is time that every patriotic Pakistani should raise a voice against such atrocities.”
She said she would join other rights activists and citizens in a rally against terrorism on Saturday in Lahore, where militants stormed a police academy this week.
“It will be a peaceful march to show that the people of Lahore will not stay silent,” she said.
Jugnu Mohsin, a peace activist and publisher of Friday Times, the country’s most popular weekly newspaper, blamed the military for allowing the Taliban to gain strength and giving the militants a free hand to commit such atrocities.
Ms. Mohsin said she had received threats from Islamic extremists.
“I know that the federal and provincial governments are innocent victims and bystanders,” she said. “The military has handed over the ownership and refuses to fight.”
In February, after 20 months of losing battles against the Taliban in Swat, the government and the military accepted a peace deal and the establishment of Islamic courts in the region.
In return, Maulana Fazlullah, the leader of the Taliban in Swat, pledged to lay down the weapons and end the violence.
Those who opposed the deal said it would strengthen the militants and give them time to regroup and tighten their control in Swat.
The government said the agreement would end the violence.
Hundreds of schools have been destroyed in Swat, several government officials beheaded and education of girls banned under the Taliban.
Both President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani condemned the flogging and ordered an investigation.
Taking notice of the video, Mr. Chaudhry formed an eight-judge panel in the Supreme Court to examine the case, a news release by the Pakistani court said.
The justice ordered the interior secretary to bring the young woman before the court on Monday.
Sherry Rehman, the former information minister and a member of the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party, demanded immediate action by the government.
“Ignoring such acts of violence amounts to sanctioning impunity,” Ms. Rehman said in a statement. “The fire in the Swat Valley and our northern regions can engulf other parts of the country, if we do nothing to put it out.”
Time Is Short as U.S. Presses a Reluctant Pakistan
By JANE PERLEZ
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — President Obama’s strategy of offering Pakistan a partnership to defeat the insurgency here calls for a virtual remaking of this nation’s institutions and even of the national psyche, an ambitious agenda that Pakistan’s politicians and people appear unprepared to take up.
Officially, Pakistan’s government welcomed Mr. Obama’s strategy, with its hefty infusions of American money, hailing it as a “positive change.” But as the Obama administration tries to bring Pakistanis to its side, large parts of the public, the political class and the military have brushed off the plan, rebuffing the idea that the threat from Al Qaeda and the Taliban, which Washington calls a common enemy, is so urgent.
Some, including the army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, and the president, Asif Ali Zardari, may be coming around. But for the military, at least, India remains priority No. 1, as it has for the 61 years of Pakistan’s existence.
How to shift that focus in time for Pakistan to defeat a fast-expanding Islamic insurgency that threatens to devour the country is the challenge facing Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Richard C. Holbrooke, the special envoy to the region, as they arrive in Pakistan for talks early this week.
Strengthening Pakistan’s weak civilian institutions, updating political parties rooted in feudal loyalties and recasting a military fixated on yesterday’s enemy, and stuck in the traditions of conventional warfare, are generational challenges. But Pakistan may not have the luxury of the long term to meet them.
Selective abortion causes huge gender imbalance in China
Agence France-PresseApril 10, 2009
Selective abortion in favour of males has left China with 32 million more boys than girls, creating an imbalance that will endure for decades, an investigation released today warned.
The probe provides ammunition for those experts who predict China's obsession with a male heir will sow a bitter fruit as men facing a life of bachelorhood fight for a bride.
"Although some imaginative and extreme solutions have been suggested, nothing can be done now to prevent this imminent generation of excess men," says the paper, published online by the British Medical Journal (BMJ).
In most countries, males slightly outnumber females--between 103 and 107 male births for every 100 female births.But in China and other Asian countries, the gender ratio has widened sharply as the traditional preference for boys is reinforced by the availability of cheap ultrasound diagnostics and abortion.
This has enabled Chinese couples to use pregnancy termination to prevent a female birth, a practice that is officially condemned as well as illegal.
In China, an additional factor has been the "one-child" policy.
In general, parents who have a second child are liable to pay a fine and contribute disproportionately toward the child's education.
But in some provinces, a second child is permitted if the first is a girl or if parents are experiencing "hardship." And in a few others, couples are allowed a second child and some-times a third, regardless of sex.
In the paper, Zhejiang university professors Wei Xing Zhu and Li Lu and Therese Hesketh of University College London found that in 2005 alone, China had more than 1.1 million excess male births.
Among Chinese aged below 20, the greatest gender imbalances were among one-to four-year-olds, where there were 124 male to 100 female births, with 126 to 100 in rural areas, they found. The gap was especially big in provinces where the one-child policy was strictly enforced and also in rural areas. Jiangxi and Henan provinces had ratios of over 140 male births compared with female births in the one to four age group.
Among second births, the sex ratio was even higher, at 143 males to 100 female. It peaked at a massive 192 boys to 100 girls in Jiangsu province.
Only two provinces--Tibet and Xinjiang, the most permissive in terms of the one-child policy--had normal sex ratios.
"Sex selective abortion accounts for almost all the excess males," the paper said. "...Enforcing the existing ban on sex selective abortion could lead to normalization of ratios."
Other policy options are to loosen enforcement of the one-child policy so couples can have a second child if the first child is a girl, it said.
The paper does not deal with the social consequences of the extraordinary imbalance, but suggests there are rays of light. Since since 2000, the government has launched policies aimed at countering the imbalance, with a"care for girls"awareness campaign and reforms of inheritance laws, it says.
Partially as a result, the sex ratio of birth did not change between 2000 and 2005, and in many urban areas, the ratio for the first and usually only birth is now within normal limits.
By Mike Blanchfield, Canwest News ServiceApril 10, 2009
Pakistan security forces discuss matters during a siege by terrorists at a police training school last month. Pakistan is a safe haven from which terrorists can strike Canadian and allied troops in Afghanistan.
Photograph by: Nadeem Ijaz, Getty Images, Canwest News Service
As much as he dislikes being labelled a Cassandra, Stephen P. Cohen, senior fellow in foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution, can't shake the conclusion of a book he wrote six years ago--that American inaction could transform Pakistan into its "biggest foreign policy problem."
That has proven largely true, forcing U. S. President Barack Obama to focus on Pakistan as part of his overarching strategy on winning the lingering war in Afghanistan. But Cohen realizes his country needs help in Pakistan and he is looking farther east: to India.
As South Asia's one true powerhouse, India needs to "step up to the plate" and help stabilize Pakistan, the fragile nuclear power that has become the safe haven from which al-Qaeda and Taliban terrorists can strike Canadian and allied troops in Afghanistan. That means India must set aside 62 years of enmity with its fellow nuclear neighbour, one with which it has gone to war three times, and a source of much mistrust and paranoia.
"There's been a real gap in Indian leadership on that matter," Cohen explained in an interview prior to a speech at the International Development Research Centre in Ottawa on Thursday. "I think everyone should welcome an Indian role in Afghanistan, a creative and constructive role. But it should be done in such a way that it does not add to Pakistani paranoia."
Cohen, a senior analyst and author with the Washington-based think-tank, was far less diplomatic as he described the challenges ahead.
India is playing a role in Afghanistan, spending $1 billion on foreign aid, which is good. But Cohen said it needs to take a leadership role -- "step up to the plate and start batting more than .150" -- as the leading democracy and economic powerhouse in the region.
That won't be easy.India's economy might be strong, with thriving middle and political classes, but its poorest regions are more destitute than the poorest parts of Pakistan, he noted.
Nonetheless, Pakistan has fallen well behind its neighbour economically, which only exacerbates historical antagonism, and rekindles fear that India's main goal in Afghanistan is to essentially surround Pakistan.
The two countries have been bitter enemies since India's partition in 1947,and they remain divided on their disputed border region of Kashmir. November's terrorist attack on the Indian financial centre of Mumbai has been traced back to Pakistan.
But Cohen is buoyed that the two sides avoided hostilities in the aftermath and are talking to each other --albeit through intermediaries.
April 11, 2009
Graft in China Covers Up Toll of Coal Mines
By SHARON LaFRANIERE
ZHONGLOU, China — When an underground fire killed 35 men at the bottom of a coal shaft last year, the telltale signs of another Chinese mining disaster were everywhere: Black smoke billowed into the sky, dozens of rescuers searched nine hours for survivors, and sobbing relatives besieged the mine’s iron gate.
But though the owner and local government officials took few steps to prevent the tragedy, they succeeded, almost completely, in concealing it.
For nearly three months, not a word leaked from the heart of China’s coal belt about the July 14 explosion that racked the illegal mine, a 1,000-foot wormhole in Hebei Province, about 100 miles west of Beijing.
The mine owner paid off grieving families and cremated the miners’ bodies, even when relatives wanted to bury them. Local officials pretended to investigate, then issued a false report. Journalists were bribed to stay silent. The mine shaft was sealed with truckloads of dirt.
“It was so dark and evil in that place,” said the wife of one miner who missed his shift that day and so was spared. “No one dared report the accident because the owner was so powerful.”
Indeed, the Lijiawa mine tragedy might still be an official non-event, but one brave soul reported the cover-up in September on an Internet chat site. The central government in Beijing stepped in, firing 25 local officials and putting 22 of them under criminal investigation. The results of the inquiry are expected this month.
Such a wide-ranging cover-up might seem unusual in the Internet age, but it remains disturbingly common here. From mine disasters to chemical spills, the 2003 SARS epidemic to the past year’s scandal over tainted milk powder, Chinese bureaucrats habitually hide safety lapses for fear of being held accountable by the ruling Communist Party or exposing their own illicit ties to companies involved.
Under China’s authoritarian system, superiors reward subordinates for strict compliance with targets set from above, like reducing mine disasters. Should one occur, the incentive to hide it is often stronger than the reward for handling it well. A disaster on a bureaucrat’s watch is almost surely a blot on his career. A scandal buried quietly, under truckloads of dirt, may never be discovered.
China’s lack of a free press, independent trade unions, citizen watchdog groups and other checks on official power makes cover-ups more possible, even though the Internet now makes it harder to suppress information completely.
In a supposedly secular state, India's religious minorities find themselves in an increasingly precarious position
Kapil Komireddi guardian.co.uk,
Sunday 5 April 2009
As India prepares for the 15th general election since it became a republic in 1950, the country's religious minorities are anxious. The impressive economic growth that put India on the covers of major western news weeklies has not touched their lives, and they are acutely aware of their precarious position in a country that is routinely celebrated by the rest of the world as a redoubt of western-style modernity in a region associated with backwardness.
Indian Muslims in particular have rarely known a life uninterrupted by communal conflict or unimpaired by poverty and prejudice. Their grievances are legion, and the list of atrocities committed against them by the Indian state is long. In 2002 at least 1,000 Muslims were slaughtered by Hindu mobs in the western state of Gujarat in what was the second state-sponsored pogrom in India (Sikhs were the object of the first, in 1984).
Gujarat's chief minister, Narendra Modi, explained away the riots by quoting Newton's third law. "Every action," he said on television, "has an equal opposite reaction." The "action" that invited the reaction of the mobs was the torching of a Gujarat-bound train in which 59 Hindus pilgrims, most of them saffron-clad bigots who were returning home from a trip to the site of the Babri Mosque that they had helped demolish a decade earlier, perished. The "equal and opposite reaction" was the slaughter of 1,000 innocent Muslims for the alleged crime of their coreligionists.
Such an event, had it occurred anywhere else, would have destroyed that country's reputation. But, astonishingly, the years since 2002 have witnessed a steady stream of books, mostly by western authors, extolling India. The unwillingness on western intellectuals' part to engage honestly with the violent reality of India, or offer a sincere portrayal of its transformation, has much to do with their own assumptions of history and modernity; but glossing over India's treatment of its Muslims – or omitting it substantially from their analyses – must have at least something to do with the insidious apathy towards Muslim tribulations that has characterised western attitudes since 9/11.
The rise of Hindu chauvinism in India has a complex history, but the absence of any meaningful sanction from the rest of the world has certainty emboldened Hindu bigots. Last week, Varun Gandhi, the Hindu-chauvinist BJP's London-educated parliamentary candidate from the Pilibhit constituency in Uttar Pradesh, India's largest state, made remarks of a kind that even European neo-Nazi leaders would hesitate to make in public.
Addressing an exclusive gathering of Hindu voters, Gandhi talked about the injustices faced by Hindus; then he told his enthusiastic listeners that he would sever any hand that was raised against a Hindu; that the lotus (the BJP's election symbol) would chop off Muslim heads; that Muslim names were scary; that his opponent's name sounded like "Osama bin Laden".
The name of his opponent, Riaz Ahmed, does not sound remotely like bin Laden's; but listening to a "Gandhi" make such an inflammatory speech should, if it hasn't already, shatter complacent Indian liberal notions about the country's experiment with secularism. Varun Gandhi is not a fringe figure: he is the great-grandson of India's first prime minister, the staunchly secular atheist Pandit Nehru.
For decades Indian intellectuals have claimed that religion, particularly Hinduism, is perfectly compatible with secularism. Indian secularism, they said repeatedly, is not a total rejection of religion by the state but rather an equal appreciation of every faith. Even though no faith is in principle privileged by the state, this approach made it possible for religion to find expression in the public sphere, and, since Hindus in India outnumber adherents of every other faith, Hinduism dominated it. Almost every government building in India has a prominently positioned picture of a Hindu deity. Hindu rituals accompany the inauguration of all public works, without exception.
The novelist Shashi Tharoor tried to burnish this certifiably sectarian phenomenon with a facile analogy: Indian Muslims, he wrote, accept Hindu rituals at state ceremonies in the same spirit as teetotallers accept champagne in western celebrations. This self-affirming explanation is characteristic of someone who belongs to the majority community. Muslims I interviewed took a different view, but understandably, they were unwilling to protest for the fear of being labelled as "angry Muslims" in a country famous for its tolerant Hindus.
The failure of secularism in India – or, more accurately, the failure of the Indian model of secularism – may be just one aspect of the gamut of failures, but it has the potential to bring down the country. Secularism in India rests entirely upon the goodwill of the Hindu majority. Can this kind of secularism really survive a Narendra Modi as prime minister? As Hindus are increasingly infected by the kind of hatred that Varun Gandhi's speech displayed, maybe it is time for Indian secularists to embrace a new, more radical kind of secularism that is not afraid to recognise and reject the principal source of this strife: religion itself.
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