April 17, 2009
Taliban Exploit Class Rifts in Pakistan
By JANE PERLEZ and PIR ZUBAIR SHAH
PESHAWAR, Pakistan — The Taliban have advanced deeper into Pakistan by engineering a class revolt that exploits profound fissures between a small group of wealthy landlords and their landless tenants, according to government officials and analysts here.
The strategy cleared a path to power for the Taliban in the Swat Valley, where the government allowed Islamic law to be imposed this week, and it carries broad dangers for the rest of Pakistan, particularly the militants’ main goal, the populous heartland of Punjab Province.
In Swat, accounts from those who have fled now make clear that the Taliban seized control by pushing out about four dozen landlords who held the most power.
To do so, the militants organized peasants into armed gangs that became their shock troops, the residents, government officials and analysts said.
The approach allowed the Taliban to offer economic spoils to people frustrated with lax and corrupt government even as the militants imposed a strict form of Islam through terror and intimidation.
May 3, 2009
Selling Democracy (and Tea) in India
By NARESH FERNANDES
ON Thursday morning, my neighbors and I joined an orderly line in front of the election desk at the end of our street. We did what the public-service ads had been urging us to do for weeks: “Give them the finger.” The polling officer didn’t even raise her head. After dipping a plastic straw into a bottle of purple ink, she drew a blotchy line down the middle finger of my left hand. Then I stepped up to the voting machine to press a button in India’s 15th general election.
The scene was repeating itself across Mumbai. At another polling station, I saw Bollywood B-listers happily show off their ink-smeared digits to TV cameras. A practice that had originally been instituted to ward off electoral scams like ballot-box stuffing (we call it “booth capturing”) was transformed into a proud reaffirmation of faith in Indian democracy.
In the weeks leading up to this election, the ink smearing became a source of inspiration for a barrage of pun-studded campaigns aimed at getting normally apathetic middle-class Indians to fulfill their civic responsibility. The election — with more than 714 million voters — was also a fantastic advertising opportunity. An automobile parts company ran an ad of a finger imprinted with an ink mark in the shape of a car battery. “Vote for a trouble-free five-year term,” was its message. A purveyor of tea, India’s pick-me-up, declared: “If you continue sleeping, so will our politicians. Wake up and vote!”
On Thursday, many Indians ignored that advice. Turnout was sluggish across the city, but the figures were especially disappointing in affluent South Mumbai, which had been a particular focus of the get-out-the-vote effort. Only 43.3 percent of eligible voters in the area exercised their franchise, but that wasn’t much of a surprise. Rich Indians have long known that they command more powerful means to influence politicians than votes.
This contradicts India’s perception of itself as a deeply rooted democracy. Democracy is the superior virtue we claim as we smugly survey the chaos that military dictators have visited upon Pakistan. Democracy is our defense against China’s superior record of alleviating poverty and raising standards of health and literacy.
And yet our inability to protect religious minorities is obvious to the thousands of Muslim victims of the Gujarat riots of 2002. Our most famous painter, M. F. Husain, who lives in exile under threats from extremists for daring to paint Hindu deities in the nude, knows that we have yet to secure the right to free expression. And the brutality against ethnic separatist movements in the northeast and Kashmir demonstrates our unwillingness to make pragmatic compromises.
Our experiment with democracy has been far more successful than some others, but despite regular elections, it has failed many Indians. After all, in South Mumbai the government responds to its residents — whether they stand in the sun for that purple streak or not.
May 3, 2009
Indonesia’s Do-It-Yourself Campaign
By ENDY M. BAYUNI
IN the days and weeks after the April 9 parliamentary elections in Indonesia, employees at the mental hospital in Surakarta, in Central Java, have been working double shifts. “We’ve been overwhelmed with 200 patients a day,” said the hospital spokeswoman, Dyah Srimarwati. Other mental institutions are reporting a similar surge. Losing candidates in the election apparently account for the bulk of new patients.
All sorts of sad stories have emerged: a losing candidate in West Java hanged herself; another on Bali died of a heart attack after the polling stations announced the results; and when one man on Sulawesi discovered that most of his neighbors had not voted for him, he cut off public access to a well on his property.
About one million people from 44 parties were contesting up to 50,000 seats in the national, provincial and local legislatures. So you had an average of a 1 in 20 chance of winning. And you couldn’t expect help from your political party. You recruited your own volunteers, organized your own town hall meetings and raised your own money. If you were of limited means, this meant selling everything you had — your house, your car, your lifetime savings, even your parents-in-law’s property if you could persuade them. Or you just went deep into debt. No wonder people got very depressed as soon as they learned they had lost.
This is only Indonesia’s third free and fair election since General Suharto resigned in 1998, but April’s election, along with those in 1999 and 2004, have proven to skeptics that democracy can be practiced here, in the world’s largest Muslim nation. Over the past decade, Islamist parties have not done particularly well; most Indonesians, including the majority of Muslims, obviously feel more comfortable with the secular parties. (Preliminary counts indicate three secular-centrist parties, including the Democratic Party of the incumbent president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, will dominate the national Parliament.)
That said, things have not always gone smoothly. Although the election commission said 171 million people were registered, millions learned on April 9 that they could not vote because their names were not on the rolls. It’s not clear yet how many were disenfranchised, but if the number is sufficiently large, say 20 million or more, it would raise serious questions about the credibility of the polls and of the elected government.
Those who did vote found the task overwhelming. Typically, a voter would get four ballot papers, each as wide and almost as tall as an adult body, with the names and symbols of the parties and the lists of candidates fielded by the parties in their respective electoral districts. In my own confusion about whom to vote for, I went for women — we have not yet had a female lawmaker convicted for corruption, so I thought that was a good bet.
The names that stood out on the ballots were not of politicians but of celebrities and comedians. Not surprisingly, some of them won and some seasoned politicians lost or may lose their seats — for instance, a popular Jakarta comedian named Mandra is leading the House speaker, Agung Laksono. Presumably, after what seems like endless scandals, many people feel that if you are going to send a bunch of clowns to Parliament, then you may as well send in the real clowns this time. At least we will all get a good laugh.
Endy M. Bayuni is the chief editor of The Jakarta Post.
May 4, 2009
Pakistan’s Islamic Schools Fill Void, but Fuel Militancy
By SABRINA TAVERNISE
MOHRI PUR, Pakistan — The elementary school in this poor village is easy to mistake for a barn. It has a dirt floor and no lights, and crows swoop through its glassless windows. Class size recently hit 140, spilling students into the courtyard.
But if the state has forgotten the children here, the mullahs have not. With public education in a shambles, Pakistan’s poorest families have turned to madrasas, or Islamic schools, that feed and house the children while pushing a more militant brand of Islam than was traditional here.
The concentration of madrasas here in southern Punjab has become an urgent concern in the face of Pakistan’s expanding insurgency. The schools offer almost no instruction beyond the memorizing of the Koran, creating a widening pool of young minds that are sympathetic to militancy.
In an analysis of the profiles of suicide bombers who have struck in Punjab, the Punjab police said more than two-thirds had attended madrasas.
“We are at the beginning of a great storm that is about to sweep the country,” said Ibn Abduh Rehman, who directs the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, an independent organization. “It’s red alert for Pakistan.”
President Obama said in a news conference last week that he was “gravely concerned” about the situation in Pakistan, not least because the government did not “seem to have the capacity to deliver basic services: schools, health care, rule of law, a judicial system that works for the majority of the people.”
More at the link provided at the beginning of the post...
May 6, 2009
Pakistani Army Poised for New Push Into Swat
By CARLOTTA GALL
PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Residents flooded out of the Swat Valley by the thousands on Tuesday as the government prepared to mount a new military campaign against Taliban militants and as a much-criticized peace accord with the insurgents fell apart.
People crammed into cars and buses and headed south after the local government told residents to leave Swat before a government military offensive. On Sunday, black-turbaned Taliban fighters seized control of Mingora, Swat’s capital.
Since then, Taliban and government forces have accused each other of scuttling the peace accord, and they traded gun and mortar fire.
The Taliban had dug in and laid mines in the streets, girding for battle, residents said.
President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan is scheduled to meet on Wednesday with President Obama in Washington, where American officials have sharply criticized the peace accord and urged the government to fight the Taliban.
Two weeks ago, the Taliban used the territory all but ceded to them under the accord to push into another district, Buner, just 60 miles from the capital, Islamabad, prompting American calls for tougher action.
A new operation in Swat may signal the harder stance American officials have been looking for. But the question remains whether the Pakistani military has the will and ability to sustain its operations against the insurgents, the vast majority of whom are Pakistani.
The American special envoy for the region, Richard C. Holbrooke, said Tuesday that the situation in Pakistan was fragile, but he welcomed the turn toward wider military action.
May 17, 2009
Governing Party in India Scores Victory
By SOMINI SENGUPTA
NEW DELHI — The governing coalition led by the Indian National Congress sailed to a surprisingly decisive victory in India’s grueling parliamentary elections, vaulting Manmohan Singh, a soft-spoken economic reformer, to a second term as prime minister, and sweeping away the prospect of political instability in the world’s most populous democracy.
Mr. Singh, 77, called the victory “a massive mandate” on Saturday afternoon, hours after the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party conceded defeat. The victory, in what is apparently a Congress landslide, signals the possibility of a stable and strong government in the face of stiff challenges: a sharp slowdown in economic growth, abiding poverty and instability in the region.
It also sidelines a slew of small, regional party bosses whose influence had steadily grown in Indian national politics, and potentially cuts down the power of Communists who had blocked economic reforms for most of Mr. Singh’s first five-year term.
The Congress Party’s showing vindicates the prime minister’s efforts to deepen a strategic partnership with the United States at a time when the Obama administration is deeply concerned about security in the region, chiefly in Pakistan and Afghanistan. A stronger government will also be better able to tackle issues of crucial importance to Washington, from economic reforms to climate change, although there is not necessarily agreement with the Americans on how to proceed.
By early evening, the Election Commission of India projected that the Congress-led alliance would win 259 of 543 parliamentary seats, while the opposition B.J.P.-led alliance was expected to take 160 seats, and a third alliance, dominated by Communists, 63. Congress alone was projected to win over 200 seats. Results were not yet final, but the government had finished counting ballots for 55 percent of the seats.
The projections are expected to dispel the fears of investors and analysts abroad. A smaller vote share for the Congress coalition would have almost surely led to protracted and painful political horse-trading with groups it would have been forced to ally with and engendered a weak government. The coalition will need partners to form a parliamentary majority, but it will not be nearly as dependent as it has been on allies with whom it disagrees.
Still, the seemingly large mandate also brings large expectations from various constituencies in a nation of 1.1 billion people, a third of whom remain among the poorest in the world.
The Confederation of Indian Industry called for reforms to be “fast tracked” along with investments in infrastructure to revive the economy. That could swell an already ballooning deficit and harm the country’s credit ratings.
But the party will also be beholden to the majority of Indians. Congress had campaigned on its record of spending on the rural poor, including a huge public jobs program in the countryside and a costly loan waiver program for indebted farmers.
The margin of victory surprised even party officials. “It exceeded our wildest expectations,” Jairam Ramesh, a Congress Party strategist, said in an interview in the party headquarters, as workers beat drums and set off firecrackers in the sizzling midday heat. Throughout the afternoon, Congress politicians trailed into the official residence of the party president, Sonia Gandhi, bearing giant bouquets.
At a somber and largely empty B.J.P. office, Arun Jaitley, a party leader, accepted defeat early in the day. “Something certainly did go wrong,” he told reporters. The party, which has a vocal Hindu nationalist base, had sought to capitalize on the incumbent Congress-led government’s handling of the economic downturn and terrorist attacks during its tenure.
The party’s new star was also its most controversial member: Feroze Varun Gandhi, an estranged member of the Nehru-Gandhi family, who had been jailed for making anti-Muslim speeches and was released on bail. He won by a large margin.
Among the biggest losers in the vote were the four separate Communist parties on whom the incumbent Congress-led coalition initially relied to stay in power. The four parties had successfully blocked several reform measures, including privatizing more state-owned companies. The Communists eventually withdrew their support, over a nuclear deal with the United States last July.
For Congress, the Communists’ weak performance brought sweet relief. “The left will not have a stranglehold,” Mr. Ramesh said. “There will be better cohesion on economic policy. Right now, the priority is to restore high economic growth.”
How fast the next Congress-led administration will further liberalize the economy is unclear. In the face of the global financial crisis, Congress leaders are not likely to want to open up India’s banking and insurance sectors, for instance, although they could reduce interest rates and increase infrastructure spending.
The election results, though preliminary, defied several commonplace assumptions. Several commentators had rued the absence of big ideas in these elections, yet Indians went to the polls in droves in the scorching heat. At nearly 60 percent, election turnout was higher than in 2004. There had also been widespread fears that small, regional parties might upstage the national parties or demand influential government portfolios in exchange for their support. But they remained small and regional, and some of them appear to have been trounced.
Ramachandra Guha, a historian of modern India, saw in that perhaps another important shift in the political landscape. After 20 years of the once-dominant Congress Party being challenged by the ascendance of small identity-based parties, these elections suggested something of a course correction, he said.
Not least, these elections were a test of credibility for Rahul Gandhi, 38, the fourth-generation scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty and his party’s inevitable leader. He became his party’s star campaigner in these elections, crisscrossing the country and attending an average of four campaign rallies a day for more than a month.
Renouncing personal power is a powerful political gesture in India, and the Nehru-Gandhi family has used it deftly. Five years ago, when Congress won a surprise victory, Sonia Gandhi renounced the prime minister’s post, bequeathing it to the professorial Mr. Singh. On Saturday, Mrs. Gandhi insisted that the top job should remain with Mr. Singh, rather than go to her son.
With a knowing smile, Mr. Singh told reporters that he would continue to try to persuade Mr. Gandhi to join his cabinet.
The Indian National Congress party cannot afford a prolonged celebration after its overwhelming election victory. Much of the postvote analysis has focused on the daunting domestic agenda. But now that Congress has a stable mandate — and can shuck a fractious coalition — it is time for India to exercise the kind of regional and global leadership expected of a rising power.
It can start with neighboring Pakistan, arguably the most dangerous country on earth. A report in The Times on Monday reminds us just how dangerous: The United States believes Islamabad is rapidly expanding a nuclear arsenal thought to already contain 80 to 100 weapons.
We have consistently supported appropriate military aid and increased economic aid to help Pakistan fight the Taliban and Al Qaeda, strengthen democratic institutions and improve the life of its people. Squandering precious resources on nuclear bombs is disgraceful when Pakistan is troubled by economic crisis and facing an insurgency that threatens its very existence.
Trying to keep up to 100 bombs from extremists is hard enough; expanding the nuclear stockpile makes the challenge worse. Officials in Washington are legitimately asking whether billions of dollars in proposed new assistance might be diverted to Pakistan’s nuclear program. They should demand assurances it will not be.
India is essential to what Pakistan will do. New Delhi exercised welcome restraint when it did not attack Pakistan after the November 2008 attacks in Mumbai by Pakistani-based extremists. But tensions remain high, and the Pakistani Army continues to view India as its main adversary. India should take the lead in initiating arms control talks with Pakistan and China. It should also declare its intention to stop producing nuclear weapons fuel, even before a proposed multinational treaty is negotiated. That would provide leverage for Washington and others to exhort Pakistan to do the same.
It is past time for India — stronger both economically and in international stature — to find a way to resolve tensions with Pakistan over Kashmir. If that festering sore cannot be addressed directly, then — as Stephen P. Cohen, a South Asia expert at the Brookings Institution, suggests — broader regional talks on environmental and water issues might be an interim way to find common ground. Ignoring Kashmir is no longer an option.
India has played a constructive role in helping rebuild Afghanistan, but it must take steps to allay Islamabad’s concerns that this is a plan to encircle Pakistan. It should foster regional trade with Pakistan and Afghanistan. More broadly, India must help to revive world trade talks by opening its markets. It could use its considerable trade clout with Iran, Sudan and Myanmar to curb Tehran’s nuclear program, end the genocide in Darfur and press Myanmar’s junta to expand human rights.
May 19, 2009
Young Pakistanis Take One Problem Into Their Own Hands
By SABRINA TAVERNISE
LAHORE, Pakistan — The idea was simple, but in Pakistan, a country full of talk and short on action, it smacked of rebellion.
A group of young Pakistani friends, sick of hearing their families complain about the government, decided to spite them by taking matters into their own hands: every Sunday they would grab shovels, go out into their city, and pick up garbage.
It was a strange thing to do, particularly for such students from elite private schools, who would normally spend Sunday afternoons relaxing in air-conditioned homes.
But the students were inspired by the recent success of the lawyers’ movement, which used a national protest to press the government to reinstate the country’s chief justice, and their rush of public consciousness was irrepressible.
“Everybody keeps blaming the government, but no one actually does anything,” said Shoaib Ahmed, 21, one of the organizers. “So we thought, why don’t we?”
COMMENT: Redeeming Pakistan’s madrassas —Saleem H Ali
Although some of the radical madrassas will still need to be weeded out, embracing Islamic education with an integrated reform strategy is more likely to reduce militancy, rather than lamenting madrassas as arcane institutions
As policy-makers and the media abroad agonise over the situation in Pakistan’s Swat valley, madrassas are back on the front page in papers such as The New York Times. The linkage between extremism and education should be fairly obvious but it seems to still elude most analysts. Indeed the word “Taliban” means “students” in Pashto, suggesting an inherent connection of these militants with some form of “learning”.
Incendiary information at these Islamic seminaries is once again being considered both a symptom and a cause of Pakistan’s problems. The latest mantra appears to be that because government schools have failed, madrassas are filling a social void that offers free education and sustenance for the rural poor but causes massive radicalisation at the same time.
Madrassas in Pakistan are certainly a matter of concern but rather than finding ways to diminish their recruitment, they need to be engaged and internally reformed. These seminaries already have a major physical and financial infrastructure in the country that can be harnessed positively alongside investments in government schools.
Only four years ago, famed terrorism analysts Peter Bergen (among the few western journalists to have interviewed Osama bin Laden) and Swaty Pandey had argued in The New York Times that concern over Islamic education was all a ‘madrassa myth’. Basing their analysis on a controversial World Bank study (co-authored by two Pakistani-American academics) about the actual number of madrassas in Pakistan, Bergen and Pandey had argued that “while madrassas are an important issue in education and development in the Muslim world, they are not and should not be considered a threat to the United States” because of their relatively small number and since terrorists who attacked the West had largely not been educated in madrassas.
However, as many of the suicide bombers in recent months have been traced back to madrassas, the pendulum has swung again, as now analysts discover that civil strife in Afghanistan and Pakistan can be just as dangerous for Western interests. Focusing on the core problem of curricular reform can provide us a path out of this ambivalence about madrassas.
While growing up in Pakistan, I attended a private English-medium school but every afternoon, I would also receive Islamic learning from a religious scholar who hailed from a prominent madrassa in Lahore. As I reflect back on that time, the core problem of contemporary Islamic education remains a general antipathy towards critical thinking.
Similar concerns have existed in other religions as well, but Islamic schools in Pakistan have contended with a host of circumstances that compounded these challenges. The sectarian divide between Shias and Sunnis in Pakistan was accentuated by funding from Iran and Saudi Arabia to specific strains of madrassas, particularly in southern Punjab. Exclusionary doctrines rather than pluralistic interpretations of Islamic texts were preached by both sides to gain more adherents. Religious political parties as well as the Pakistani government and security organisations capitalised on the fruits of radicalisation since unquestioning allegiance was easy to achieve with curricula that portrayed the world in stark terms of good and evil.
But the radicalisation of madrassas should not lead us to give up in despair. In other parts of the world, madrassas have served an appropriate educational purpose. For example in West Bengal, India, a survey of Islamic schools in January 2009 found that because of the higher quality education at madrassas, even non-Muslims were actively enrolling in them. This was remarkably akin to how in Pakistan many Muslim families send their children to Christian schools because of the high quality of teaching and discipline.
Hindu enrolment in several Bengali madrassas, for example, was as high as 64 percent because many of these institutions offered vocational training programmes. Such examples can certainly be emulated in Pakistani madrassas as well. We should not give up on madrassas but rather help bring them back to their heyday of pluralistic learning.
The strategy of ‘draining the swamp’ by establishing sparkling government schools alongside madrassas, which appears to be the current approach from development donors, is likely to have limited success. Madrassas will immediately resort to a defensive strategy of labelling the government schools in conspiratorial terms and still be able to recruit students quite zealously from religious families. Investment to improve education is needed across Pakistan in all kinds of schools, including madrassas.
The only way to solve the madrassa problem is to engage in a process of reform that focuses on pluralism and conflict resolution skills that should be facilitated by the Pakistani government with the assistance of other Muslim countries and ulema.
There are already some positive moves from the ulema in Pakistan. Religious clerics from both the Deobandi Tablighi Jama’at and the Barelvi Sunni Tehreek have publicly rejected the Taliban approach to Islam. Madrassas such as the venerable Jamia Ashrafia in Lahore are now willing to initiate specific teaching modules that stress the importance of non-violence and respect for other faith traditions.
Momentum elsewhere towards such efforts is exemplified by reforms in places such as Indonesia’s Guluk-Guluk pesantren, where Islamic environmental education is being used to develop peace-building skills. During my visit to central Java last year, I visited several Islamic schools that are producing very balanced and employable young professionals. Indonesia, which is the world’s largest Muslim country, should share some of its success in improving madrassa curricula with Pakistan.
Where Western donors can help is to provide vocational training and apprenticeship programs for madrassa graduates that will be consistent with their religious values. Careers as healthcare apprentices and disaster relief professionals are particularly appropriate in this regard.
Although some of the radical madrassas will still need to be weeded out, embracing Islamic education with an integrated reform strategy is more likely to reduce militancy, rather than lamenting madrassas as arcane institutions to be eroded by naively creating an alternate market for schools.
Dr Saleem H Ali is associate professor of environmental planning and Asian Studies at the University of Vermont. His most recent book is Islam and Education: conflict and conformity in Pakistan’s madrassas (Oxford University Press, 2009). www.saleemali.net
May 25, 2009
Peaceful Evolution Angst
By ROGER COHEN
HO CHI MINH CITY, VIETNAM — The Vietnamese Communist Party, like its fraternal party in China, has identified the No. 1 threat it faces. The looming danger is called “peaceful evolution.”
That may sound like the weatherman warning of the menace of clear, sunlit skies. But the architects of Market-Leninism, who have delivered fast-growth capitalism to one-party Asian states, are in earnest. The nightmares they have are not about revolutionary upheaval, but the drip, drip, drip of liberal democracy.
Twenty years after Tiananmen Square, revolt is dormant and students docile from Beijing to Hanoi. They’ve bought into development over democracy for the foreseeable future. They may want more freedom, but not to the point that they will confront the system, as the Tiananmen generation did.
“The major task for China now is development,” a Peking University ecology major named Song Chao told my colleague Sharon LaFraniere. That’s the mood here in Vietnam, too, where moving up from motorbikes to cars is more likely to occupy the next generation than pushing for multiparty democracy.
As in China, this pragmatic sentiment is related to trauma. Both countries saw civil wars in the second half of the 20th century that exacted tremendous tolls. So stability is prized, especially as it has brought fast-rising living standards.
But there’s more to the shift that has made “peaceful evolution” the specter keeping Asian politburos awake at night.
Technology has taken the “total” out of totalitarian. The Stalinist or Maoist dark night of the soul has been consigned to history by wired societies. Neither China nor Vietnam is free. At the same time, neither is so un-free as to make their citizens ache for liberty.
Shi Guoliang, who researches the social outlook of young people at Beijing’s China Youth University for Political Sciences, told the Financial Times that: “Students don’t do sit-ins, they blog and use Twitter.”
Of course, the Chinese authorities block some Web sites deemed hostile. Internet freedom is limited. Here in Vietnam, where things are generally more tropical-lax than up north, that freedom is far greater. (Vietnamese rivalry with China is a constant beneath all the official fraternity.)
In both countries, communication and the online world serve as safety valves for one-party states where Communism is little more than the brand name given to power retention.
In general, I’d say the era of revolutions is over. Google has gobbled the insurrectionary impulse. That is the main difference between the Tiananmen generation and Asia’s rising “Generation Global.” Heat rises in a confined space. When walls and borders are porous, it gets dissipated.
So what’s a party functionary, having digested the lessons of Mao and Ho, to fret about if not “peaceful evolution?”
The almost noiseless implosion of the Soviet system and the velvet revolutions of central Europe have made an indelible impression on the architects of 21st-century soft repression. They’re alert not to bangs but to whimpers.
Their systems are quiet. They are based not on terror and Gulags, but on the establishment of red lines that only impinge on freedom where freedom begins to mean the right to denounce or organize against the authorities.
So what the custodians of repression-lite Communism with a capitalist face fear are not revolutionary cells armed with AK-47s but harmless-sounding nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). They’re on the watch for puffy-faced, over-educated Western idealists who, behind talk of human rights and the rule of law, may be blurring those red lines and sucking the fiber of a Communist cadre.
“You can register a company here in a day, but forget about registering an NGO or charity,” Jonathan Pincus, who runs a branch of Harvard’s Kennedy School in Ho Chi Minh City, told me. A Russian delegation was in Vietnam recently giving advice on how to counter the NGO menace.
That’s regrettable but hardly disastrous. The best should not be the enemy of the good. The rapid rise of China and Vietnam, accounting between them for some 20 percent of humanity, has ushered hundreds of millions of people from poverty since totalitarian Communism fell. The West is in no position to say it knows better.
Something there is about a single doctrine that rubs humanity the wrong way. For a brief moment, after the Berlin Wall fell, free-market, multiparty liberal systems seemed set to sweep everything in their triumphant path. But from Moscow to Beijing to Hanoi, reaction came. Markets and nationalism trumped freedom and the vote; the noble spirit of Tiananmen and Berlin faded.
America, born as a liberating idea, must be true to that and promote its values. But, sobered and broke, it must be patient. As the emergent middle classes of Vietnam and China become more demanding of what they consume, they will also be more demanding consumers of government.
They will want more transparency, predictable laws, better health care, less corruption, broader education, freer speech and fewer red lines.
One-party states will be hard pressed to provide that. Another quarter-century down the road, I’d bet on more democracy and liberty in Beijing and Hanoi, achieved through peaceful evolution, no less.
June 5, 2009
Taliban Stir Rising Anger of Pakistanis
By SABRINA TAVERNISE
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A year ago, the Pakistani public was deeply divided over what to do about its spreading insurgency. Some saw the Taliban militants as fellow Muslims and native sons who simply wanted Islamic law, and many opposed direct military action against them.
But history moves quickly in Pakistan, and after months of televised Taliban cruelties, broken promises and suicide attacks, there is a spreading sense — apparent in the news media, among politicians and the public — that many Pakistanis are finally turning against the Taliban.
The shift is still tentative and difficult to quantify. But it seems especially profound among the millions of Pakistanis directly threatened by the Taliban advance from the tribal areas into more settled parts of Pakistan, like the Swat Valley. Their anger at the Taliban now outweighs even their frustration with the military campaign that has crushed their houses and killed their relatives.
“It’s the Taliban that’s responsible for our misery,” said Fakir Muhammed, a refugee from Swat, who, like many who had experienced Taliban rule firsthand, welcomed the military campaign to push the insurgents out.
The growing support for the fight against the Taliban could be an important turning point for Pakistan, whose divisions about its Islamic militancy seemed at times to imperil the state itself.
But it is an opportunity that could just as quickly vanish, analysts and politicians warn, if Pakistan’s political leaders fail to kill or capture senior Taliban leaders, to help an estimated three million who have been displaced, or to create a functioning government in areas long ignored by the state. “This is a profound moment in our history,” said Javed Iqbal, the top bureaucrat in the North-West Frontier Province, the area of fighting. “My greatest fear is whether there is sufficient realization of this among people who make decisions.”
On Wednesday, in an audiotape, Osama bin Laden specifically cited the fighting in Swat and Pakistan’s tribal areas, blaming the Obama administration for the campaign and for sowing “new seeds to increase hatred and revenge on America.”
American officials are keenly aware of the potential of the refugee crisis to spawn militancy. Less than a quarter of the $543 million the United Nations has requested for refugees has arrived, according to Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry.
On Thursday, Richard C. Holbrooke, the American special envoy, visited refugee tents as part of a three-day trip to spread the message that the United States was trying to help. The Obama administration had requested an additional $200 million, he said, noting that it was providing more aid than all other countries combined.
Even so, anti-American feelings still run high in Pakistan. Many Pakistanis blame the United States and the war in Afghanistan for their current troubles.
Pakistanis have long supported the Taliban as allies to exert influence in neighboring Afghanistan. Unlike Afghans, they have never lived under Taliban rule, and have been slow to absorb its dangers.
But that is changing, as the experience of those Pakistanis who have now lived under the Taliban has left many disillusioned.
Over more than a year of fighting, the militants moved into Swat, by killing or driving out the wealthy and promising to improve the lives of the poor. Finally, the military agreed to a truce in February that all but ceded Swat to the Taliban and allowed the insurgents to impose Islamic law, or Shariah.
The prospect of Shariah was alluring, said Iftikhar Ehmad, who owns a cellphone shop in Mingora, the most populous city in Swat, because the court system in Swat was so corrupt and ineffective. But the Taliban’s Shariah was not the benign change people had hoped for. Once the Taliban took power, the insurgents seemed interested only in amassing more, and in April they pushed into Buner, a neighboring district 60 miles from Islamabad.
“It was not Shariah, it was something else,” Mr. Ehmad said, jabbing angrily at the air with his finger in the scorching tent camp in the town of Swabi. “It was scoundrel behavior.”
Daily life became degrading. A woman was lashed in public, and a video of her writhing in pain and begging for mercy stirred wide outrage. Taliban bosses ordered people to donate money. Cosmetics shops and girls’ schools were burned.
By the time the military entered Swat last month, local people began leading soldiers to tunnels with weapons and Taliban hiding places in hotels, the military said. “These people, six months back, weren’t willing to share anything,” said a military official who was involved in planning the campaign. “Gradually they’ve been coming out more and more into the open.”
There has also been a change in other parts of Pakistan, like Punjab, the most populous province, where people used to see the problem of militancy as remote, said Rasul Baksh Rais, a professor of political science at Lahore University of Management Sciences. Now the province has become a target of suicide attacks, most recently last week in Lahore. Mr. Rais cited changes in news coverage of the military campaign and a strong stand by the political parties, even some of the religious ones, as evidence of the shift. “The tables are turned against the Taliban now,” he said. “They are marginalized.”
But the underlying causes that have allowed the Taliban to spread — poverty, barely functioning government, lack of upward mobility in society — remain. Mr. Iqbal is now working frantically to fill those gaps. New judges have recently been identified for Swat, he said, and about 3,000 new police officers will be selected this week.
The Pakistani military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss future operations, said troops would have to remain in Swat for at least six months. Support for the Taliban has not evaporated entirely.
Early this week, on a searing hot street in Mardan, a town south of Swat that has absorbed many of the people churned up in the fighting, a tall man with a long beard, Muhammed Tahir Ansari, grew angry when asked whether the refugees approved of the military operation. “It is illogical to think that people would be happy about this tense situation,” he said curtly.
He was from a charity run by Jamaat-e-Islami, one of the principal religious parties that tacitly support the Taliban, and was directing a frenzied effort to distribute water and hand-held fans.
The government, meanwhile, was nowhere in sight.
Irfan Ashraf contributed reporting from Swabi, Pakistan, and Mardan, Pakistan.
June 10, 2009
Militants Strike Hotel in Pakistan, Killing 11
By ISMAIL KHAN and SALMAN MASOOD
PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Militants opened fire on security guards and rushed a small truck packed with explosives through the gates of a five-star hotel in this northwestern city on Tuesday, detonating the payload in the parking lot and killing at least 11 people and wounding 55, Pakistani officials said.
The blast, powerful enough to leave a crater 6 feet deep and 15 feet wide, collapsed the western wing of the hotel, the Pearl Continental, one of the few in the city that cater to Western visitors. Pakistani television broadcast images of wounded people, panicked and dazed with blood-soaked clothes, being helped out of the smoke-filled lobby. The hotel’s registry was swollen at the time of the attack, which occurred about 10 p.m. local time, with officials working for United Nations agencies and other aid groups tending to the large refugee population that has been displaced by the recent fighting in Pakistan between the Pakistani Army and Taliban insurgents.
June 10, 2009
Attacked, Pakistani Villagers Take On Taliban
By SABRINA TAVERNISE and IRFAN ASHRAF
PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Villagers are rising up against the Taliban in a remote corner of northern Pakistan, a grass-roots rebellion that underscores the shift in the public mood against the militants and a growing confidence to confront them.
More than a thousand villagers from the district of Dir have been fighting Taliban militants since Friday, when a Taliban suicide bomber detonated his payload during prayer time at a mosque, killing at least 30 villagers.
Enraged by the bombing, men from surrounding villages began looking for Taliban militants and their supporters, burning houses and killing at least 11 men they identified as Taliban fighters, according to accounts from seven local residents, including one who took part in the fighting.
The uprising is not the first time that Pakistanis have formed their own militias to stand up to the Taliban, and previous efforts have often collapsed largely because the government and military did not come to their aid.
But the latest attempt is significant, revealing the determination of the people of Dir to keep out both the Taliban and the military and to prevent their area from turning into another war zone, like the nearby Swat Valley, where millions have fled fighting.
The rebellion, locals said, gives the government a chance to demonstrate to the Pakistani people that it is serious in supporting them this time.
Local government officials asked for help from the military, which came in the form of helicopter gunships Tuesday morning. Most missed their marks, said local people, many of them wary of inviting a larger military operation, fearing the blunt tactics the military has used elsewhere. Two villagers interviewed by telephone said people had begun to flee.
“If they are going to use indiscriminate fire, then we’ll have to leave the area, and that will give the militants safe passage,” said an elder from the village of Siah Kater.
If it can be sustained, the Dir uprising could prove strategically important as the insurgents come under increasing pressure from the Pakistani military in places like Swat and seek to preserve their havens.
Close to the border with Afghanistan, the area is used by the Taliban as a passageway to fight American forces in southern Afghanistan, local people said.
The Pakistani district, like Swat and Buner, is yet another in North-West Frontier Province where the Taliban have infiltrated in recent months from the lawless tribal areas on the Afghan border, moving to within 60 miles of Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad.
The militants had quietly been building up their strength in northwest Dir, locals said, living among what Pakistani officials and local people described as a group of Afghans who had been in the area for years. Their commander, an Afghan named Khitab, is believed by Pakistani officials to be linked to Al Qaeda.
The Taliban group, estimated to comprise 200 to 400 people, did not enjoy broad support, local people said in telephone interviews. Just 4 of the 25 villages in the area, a valley called Dog Darra, sheltered them. Village elders tried for months to persuade them to leave, under pressure from government authorities.
That is why, local people believe, the Taliban set off the bomb at the mosque on Friday.
“They wanted to tame these people and attack them,” said Abdul Kalam, a supporter of the militia fighters. “Instead of leaving the area, they retaliated in the form of this attack.”
The bomb changed everything, and even some of those who had supported the Taliban joined the hunt, local people said.
“This bomb blast proved the last straw,” said Jamil Roghani, a man from the area who is providing medicine to the wounded. “This made the people violent.”
By Tuesday, the ranks of the local people who had joined the militia to fight the Taliban had swelled to many more than 1,000 from 700 last week, according to a local police official. They had pushed the Taliban to the highest northwestern edge of the valley, into an area called Ghazigeh, and had encircled them there with trenches.
Mr. Roghani said three Taliban commanders had been killed. He identified them as Chamtu, Sultan Rehman and Musa. Four villagers have been wounded. He said local fighters saw bunkers and tunnels that had been dug deep into the earth.
“We are not quitting the area until we destroy them,” Mr. Roghani said. “We know this is not Islam. These are criminals.”
The accounts were impossible to verify because the fighting took place in a remote area to which journalists had no access.
A Pakistani military official said that the weather had stopped the helicopters from identifying their targets, but that the army would send a paramilitary unit on Wednesday, a prospect likely to worry villagers.
Many of those interviewed want the government’s involvement to remain limited to air power against the Taliban’s mountain hide-out. But others, infuriated by the brutality of the Taliban attack, favor a stronger government response.
“Now the people have the spirit, and they will support the government in all its moves to flush these people out,” Mr. Roghani said.
Fayaz Ahmad Khan Toru, an official with the government of North-West Frontier Province, said that officials knew that the government response was being closely watched, and that they were working with local people. “Failure is not an option,” he said.
Syed Muhammad, 30, a civil servant from the village of Mian Dog in the valley, said that without the military’s help, the uprising would fail. The militants were dug in too deep for the local militia to dislodge them on its own with just guns.
But he expressed cautious optimism that the local people would not be ignored, as they had been in most other operations, and that the military, now pressing ahead with its campaign against the Taliban, might be learning.
“I think that the military has now realized that the locals should be involved in these operations,” he said. “Without the support of the local people they cannot wipe out the militants.”
Taliban Threaten Ismaili Community and their institutions in Pakistan
leave a comment
Taliban has threatened the Ismaili Community of Pakistan to be bombed if they continue their religious, organizational and social activities in the country. The government of Pakistan has started tightening the security of the community in the country. Upon the news on different media channels in Pakistan, the Ismaili community could not offer even their daily prayers in the prayer halls. The banned Tahreke Taliban Pakistan, has threatened the community to be attacked in Islamaabad,Rawalpindi, Chitral, Gilgit and other areas if they do not shut their offices, mosques and social establishments immediately. Law enforcement agencies have been advised to critically check the vehicles going to Chitral and Gilgit areas which possibly can transport explosive material to the regions. However, the densely populated areas of the Ismailie community ironically lie along with the Afghan border in Chitral and Yasin Valley. Chitralies used to travel through Afghanistan during the times when Lawari Top, the only access route to the Pakistan, closed in Winters. There are several passes that connect the ismaili populated areas with those of the Taliban held including the Darkot Pass, which connects the Yasin Valley, with Chitral and Afghanistan through Broghil Pass.
Another route that connects Ghizer District, mostly Ismaili inhabitants, is through Batheyrate Nala to Tangir and Darel where the sympathizers of Taliban exist. During the Red Masque Operation many students from Darel and Tangir areas either were arrested or killed. The residual effect of the Red Masque and Taliban sympathy exist in the region.
The Direct threat could be through Karakuram Highway which can be used to carry arms and explosive to the region. At Besham, KKH has a direct connection to Shangla and Sawat, the trouble areas of the day.
During the “good Taliban” age, there were many people in Gilgit, Chilas, Darel, Tangir who boasted to be the proud Taliban. In “Tough Taliban” age most of them apparently went into hide. The famous Taliban weekly News Paper, Zarb-i-Momin, an anti Ismaili journal, sold like a hot cake in the regions including, Gilgit,Chilas, Bar Jungle.
In Afghanistan, Ismailies were ruthlessly attacked during the Taliban government. Rumours were circulated through Zarb-i-Momin that Ismailies intend to establish an Ismilie State in the Baghlan Province. In September 6,1998, the Taliban blasted the Eagle symbol with dynamites and bombs because in their opinion the making of statue of any living being falls under idolatry which is repugnant to the basic principles of Islam.
Ismailies were tortured, properties were confiscated and their religious prayers halls and sacred places were closed. The Afghan Ismailies, mostly, Dari speaking took refuge in Pakistan and Canada.The same Taliban funded Zarb-i-Momin for the first time propagated that the Ismailies intend to make their own state in the Gilgit Baltistan region. Religious clergy reiterate the same propaganda in their speeches, articles and audios in Pakistan until few days ago which could be one of the reasons that Ismailies are under a great threat now. Pushing Ismailies into the Ahmadi’s category has always remained a favourite political slogan.
The Shia Ismaili Muslims are a community of ethnically and culturally diverse peoples living in over 25 countries around the world, united in their allegiance to His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan (known to the Ismailis as Mawlana Hazar Imam) as the 49th hereditary Imam (spiritual leader), and direct descendant of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family). Ismailies considered respected citizen’s world wide for their economic contribution, peace loving behaviour and perfect discipline. Ismailies have a great contribution to the economy of Pakistan. They have banks, multinational companies, donar agencies like AKF, Five Star Hotels, Hospitals, Universities and Colleges, Cultural organization, tourism promotion services, Rescue and Disaster management agencies etc.
Sources said that security also has been tightened at the offices and other establishments of Ismailies in Gilgit and Chitral Areas.
NOW that the army has turned serious, Baitullah Mehsud cannot expect to stroll down Constitution Avenue any time soon, nor hope to sit in the presidency.
A few thousand mountain barbarians, even if trained by Al Qaeda’s best, cannot possibly seize power from a modern, well-armed state with 600,000 soldiers. The spectre of Pakistan collapsing in six months — a fear expressed by a senior US military adviser in March — has evaporated.
But there is little cause for elation. Daily terror attacks across the country give abundant proof that religious extremism has streamed down the mountains into the plains. Through abductions, beheadings and suicide bombings, Taliban insurgents are destabilising Pakistan, damaging its economy and spreading despondency.
Look at Islamabad, a city of fear. Machine-gun bunkers are ubiquitous while traffic barely trickles past concrete blocks placed across its super-wide roads. Upscale restaurants, fearing suicide bombers, have removed their signs although they still hope clients will remember. Who will be the next target? Girls’ schools, Internet cafes, bookshops, or western clothing stores with mannequins? Or perhaps shops selling toilet paper, underwear, and other un-Islamic goods?
The impact on Pakistan’s women is enormous. Throwing acid, or threatening to do so, has been spectacularly successful in making women embrace modesty. Today there is scarcely a female face visible anywhere in the Frontier province. Men are also changing dress — anxious private employers, government departments and NGOs have advised their male employees in Peshawar and other cities to wear shalwar-kameez rather than trousers. Video shops are being bombed out of business, and many barbers have put ‘no-shave’ notices outside their shops.
If public support were absent, extremist violence could be relatively easy to deal with. But extremism does not lie merely at the fringes. As an example, let us recall that 5,000 people crammed the streets outside Lal Masjid to pray behind the battle-hardened pro-Taliban militant leader, Maulana Abdul Aziz, the day after he was released from prison on the orders of interior minister Rehman Malik.
In the political arena, the extremists have high-profile cheerleaders like Imran Khan, Qazi Hussain Ahmad and Hamid Gul who rush to justify every attack on Pakistan’s people and culture. To them it makes no difference that Baitullah Mehsud proudly admits to the murder of Allama Dr Sarfaraz Ahmad Naeemi, the recent Peshawar mosque bombing, the earlier Wah slaughter and scores of other hideous suicide attacks. Like broken gramophone records, they chant “Amrika, Amrika, Amrika” after every new Taliban atrocity.
Nevertheless, bad as things are, there is a respite. To the relief of those who wish to see Pakistan survive, the army finally moved against the Taliban menace. But, while the state has committed men to battle, it cannot provide them a convincing reason why they must fight.
For now some soldiers have bought into the amazing invention that the Baitullahs and Fazlullahs are India’s secret agents. Others have been told that they are actually fighting a nefarious American-Jewish plot to destabilise Pakistan. To inspire revenge, still others are being shown the revolting Taliban-produced videos of Pakistani soldiers being tortured and beheaded.
That the enemy lacks an accurate name typifies the confusion and contradiction within. In official parlance they are called ‘militants’ or ‘extremists’ but never religious extremists. It is astonishing that the semi-literate Fazlullah, on whose head the government has now placed a price, is reverentially referred to as ‘maulana’. On the other hand there is no hesitation in describing Baloch fighters — who fight for a nationalist cause rather than a religious one — as rebels or terrorists.
A muddled nation can still fight, but not very well and not for too long. Self-deception enormously increases vulnerability. Yet, Pakistan’s current army and political leaders cannot alone be blamed for the confusion; history’s baggage is difficult to dispense with.
To say what really lies at the heart of Pakistan’s problems will require summoning more courage than presently exists. The unmentionable truth — one etched in stone — is that when a state proclaims to have a religious mission, it inevitably privileges those who organise religious life and interpret religious text. It then becomes difficult — perhaps impossible — to challenge those who claim to fight for religious causes. After all, what’s wrong with the Taliban mission to bring the Sharia to Pakistan?
If there was one solid unchallengeable version of the faith, then at least there would be a clear answer to this question. But conflict becomes inevitable once different models and interpretations start competing. Whose version of the Sharia should prevail? Whose jihad is the correct one? Who shall decide? Lacking a central authority — such as a pope or caliph — every individual or group can claim to be in possession of the divine truth. The murder of Dr Naeemi by the Taliban comes from this elementary fact.
For now the Baitullahs, Fazlullahs, Mangal Baghs, and their ilk are on the run. Yet, they could still win some day. Even if killed, others would replace them. So, while currently necessary, military action alone can never be sufficient. Nor will peace come from merely building more roads, schools and hospitals or inventing a new justice system.
Ultimately it is the power of ideas that shall decide between victory and defeat. It is here that Pakistan is weakest and most vulnerable. A gaping philosophical and ideological void has left the door open to demagogues who exploit resource scarcity and bad governance. They use every failing of the state to create an insurrectionary mood and churn out suicide bombers. Only a few Islamic scholars, like Dr Naeemi, have ventured to challenge them.
The long-term defence of Pakistan therefore demands a determined ideological offensive and a decisive break with the past. Nations win wars only if there is a clear rallying slogan and a shared goal. For this, Pakistan must reinvent itself as a state that is seen to care for its people. Instead of seeking to fix the world’s problems — Kashmir, Afghanistan and Palestine included — it must work to first fix its own.
A nation’s best defence is a loyal citizenry. This can be created only by offering equal rights and opportunities to all regardless of province, language and, most importantly, religion and religious sect. Navigating the way to heaven must be solely an individual’s concern, not that of the state.
The author teaches at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.
July 23, 2009
Terror Creeps Into the Heartland
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
It was the home of a Muslim religious teacher, but he was stockpiling more than copies of the Koran. His house blew up this month in a thunderous explosion that leveled much of his village and could be heard six miles away. Police reported that he was storing explosives, rockets, grenades and suicide vests.
But perhaps what was most dispiriting was that this arsenal, apparently intended for terror attacks, was not in the tribal areas in the northwest of Pakistan where the Taliban and Al Qaeda have long conducted operations. Rather this was in the southern part of Punjab, the Pakistani heartland.
The explosion was a reminder of what some call the “creeping Talibanization,” even of parts of Pakistan far from the formal fighting. Militants seem to be putting the entire country in play, and that’s one reason Pakistan should be President Obama’s top foreign policy challenge.
Think of it this way: It would be terrible if Afghanistan or Iraq collapsed, but it would be unthinkably catastrophic if Pakistan — with perhaps 80 to 100 nuclear weapons — were to fall into chaos.
Even here in Karachi, the pragmatic commercial hub of the country, extremists have taken over some neighborhoods. A Pakistani police document marked “top secret,” given to me by a Pakistani concerned by the spreading tentacles of jihadis, states that Taliban agents sometimes set up armed checkpoints in one such neighborhood here.
These militants “generate funds through criminal activities like kidnapping for ransom, bank robbery, street robbery and other heinous crimes,” the report says.
The mayor of Karachi, Syed Mustafa Kamal, confirms that Pashtun tribesmen have barred outsiders from entering some neighborhoods.
“I’m the mayor, and I have three vehicles with police traveling with me. And even I cannot enter these areas or they will blow me up,” Mr. Kamal said, adding, “Pakistan is in very critical condition.”
Lala Hassan of the Aurat Foundation, which works on social issues, said: “There’s no doubt militancy is increasing day by day, not only in Karachi but all over Pakistan.”
On this trip, I also traveled in South Punjab and found it far more troubled than in my previous trips to the area. Some music shops and girls’ schools have been threatened by fundamentalists, local residents said. In the city of Bahawalpur, home to a notorious militant, my interpreter asked me not even to step out of the vehicle.
The Daily Times of Pakistan described the situation as “terror’s free run in South Punjab.”
But the militants may have overreached. Their brutality, including the flogging of a teenage girl before a large crowd, has shocked and alienated many Pakistanis. It is just possible that the tide is turning as a result.
A poll of Pakistanis released this month by WorldPublicOpinion.org found that one-third believed that the Taliban intended to gain control of all of Pakistan, but 75 percent thought that would be a bad result. Two years ago, only 34 percent of Pakistanis believed that Islamic militants constituted a “critical threat.” Now, 81 percent do.
Unfortunately, the United States has acted in ways that have often empowered the militants. We have lavished more than $11 billion on Pakistan since 9/11, mostly supporting the Pakistani Army. Yet that sum has bought Pakistan no security and us no good will.
In that same poll, 59 percent of Pakistanis said that they share many of Al Qaeda’s attitudes toward the United States, and almost half of those said that they support Al Qaeda attacks on Americans.
One reason is that America hasn’t stood up for its own values in Pakistan. Instead of supporting democracy, we cold-shouldered the lawyers’ movement, which was the best hope for democracy and civil society.
If we want to stabilize Pakistan, we should take two steps. First is to cut tariffs on manufactured imports from Pakistan. That would boost the country’s economy, raise employment and create good will. Cutting tariffs is perhaps the most effective step we could take to stabilize this country and fight extremism.
Second, we should redirect our aid from subsidies to the Pakistani military to support for a major education initiative. A bill in the Senate backed by the Democrat John Kerry and the Republican Richard Lugar would support Pakistani schools, among other nonmilitary projects, and would be an excellent step forward.
In rural Pakistan, you regularly see madrassas established by Islamic fundamentalists, typically offering free tuition, free meals and even scholarships to study abroad for the best students. It’s clear that the militant fundamentalists believe in the transformative power of education — and they have invested in schools, while we have invested in the Pakistani Army. Why can’t we show the same faith in education as hard-line Muslim fundamentalists?
July 28, 2009
Landowners Still in Exile From Unstable Pakistan Area
By JANE PERLEZ and PIR ZUBAIR SHAH
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Even as hundreds of thousands of people stream back to the Swat Valley after months of fighting, one important group is conspicuously absent: the wealthy landowners who fled the Taliban in fear and are the economic pillar of the rural society.
The reluctance of the landowners to return is a significant blow to the Pakistani military’s campaign to restore Swat as a stable, prosperous part of Pakistan, and it presents a continuing opportunity for the Taliban to reshape the valley to their advantage.
About four dozen landlords were singled out over the past two years by the militants in a strategy intended to foment a class struggle. In some areas, the Taliban rewarded the landless peasants with profits of the crops of the landlords. Some resentful peasants even signed up as the Taliban’s shock troops.
How many of those peasants stayed with the militants during the army offensive of the last several months, and how many moved to the refugee camps, was difficult to assess, Pakistani analysts said.
But reports emerging from Swat show that the Taliban still have the strength to terrorize important areas. The army continues to fight the Taliban in their strongholds, particularly in the Matta and Kabal regions of Swat, not far from the main city, Mingora, where many refugees have reclaimed their homes.
In those regions, the Taliban have razed houses, killed a civilian working for the police in Matta and kidnapped another, worrying counterinsurgency experts, who fear that the refugees may have been encouraged by the Pakistani authorities to go back too soon.
The rebuilding of Swat, a fertile area of orchards and forests, is a critical test for the government and the military as they face Taliban insurgencies across the tribal belt, particularly in Waziristan on the Afghanistan border.
In a sign of the lack of confidence that Mingora was secure, the Pakistani military declined a request by the Obama administration’s special envoy to Pakistan, Richard C. Holbrooke, to visit the town last week.
There was nervousness, an American counterinsurgency expert said, that the plans by the Pakistani authorities to build new community police forces in Swat would not materialize quickly enough to protect the returning civilians, who are also starved of basic services like banks and sufficient medical care.
“There is no apparatus in place to replace the army,” said an American counterinsurgency official. “The army will be the backstop.”
About two million people have fled Swat and surrounding areas since the military opened its campaign to push back the Taliban at the end of April. The United Nations said Monday that 478,000 people had returned to Swat so far, but it cautioned that it was unable to verify the figure, which was provided by the government.
Assessment trips by United Nations workers to Swat scheduled for Monday and Tuesday were canceled for security reasons, and the United Nations office in Peshawar that serves as the base for Swat operations was closed Monday because of a high threat of kidnapping, a spokesman said.
The landlords, many of whom raised sizable militias to fight the Taliban themselves last year, say the army is again failing to provide enough protection if they return.
Another deterrent to returning, they say, is that the top Taliban leadership, responsible for taking aim at the landlords and spreading the spoils among the landless, remains unscathed.
If it continues, the landlords’ absence will have lasting ramifications not only for Swat, but also for Pakistan’s most populated province, Punjab, where the landholdings are vast, and the militants are gaining power, said Vali Nasr, a senior adviser to Mr. Holbrooke, the American envoy.
“If the large landowners are kept out by the Taliban, the result will in effect be property redistribution,” Mr. Nasr said. “That will create a vested community of support for the Taliban that will see benefit in the absence of landlords.”
At two major meetings with the landlords, the Pakistani military and civilian authorities requested that they return in the vanguard of the refugees. None have agreed to do so, according to several of the landowners and a senior army officer.
“We have sacrificed so much; what has the government and the military done for us?” asked Sher Shah Khan, a landholder in the Kuz Bandai area of Swat. He is now living with 50 family members in a rented house about 60 miles from Swat. Four family members and eight servants were killed trying to fight off the Taliban, he said.
At one of the meetings, Mr. Khan said he had asked the army commanders to provide weapons so the landlords could protect themselves, as the landowners had in the past.
The military refused the request, he said, saying it would fight the Taliban. Yet Pakistani soldiers had failed to protect his lands, he said. Twenty of his houses were blown up by the Taliban after the army ordered him and his family to leave their lands on two hours’ notice last September, he said.
A letter he sent last month to Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the head of the Pakistani military, asking for compensation has gone unanswered, he said. In the meantime, one of his tenants called asking if he could plant crops on Mr. Khan’s property. He refused but had little idea what was happening back home, Mr. Khan said.
Other landlords are equally frustrated. The mayor of Swat, Jamal Nasir, fled after his father, Shujaat Ali Khan, regarded as the biggest landlord in Swat, narrowly avoided being killed by the Taliban. Mr. Nasir, a major landowner himself, now stays in his house in Islamabad.
The top guns of the Taliban are still in Swat, or perhaps in neighboring Dir, Mr. Nasir said. “These people should be arrested,” he said. “If they are not arrested, they are going to come back.”
Another landlord, Sher Mohammad, said he was still bitter that the army refused to help as he, his brother and his nephew fought off the Taliban last year for 13 hours, even though soldiers were stationed less than a mile away. Mr. Mohammad was hit in the groin by a bullet and lost a finger in the fight.
At one of the meetings with the military in Peshawar, Mr. Mohammad, a prominent politician with the Pakistan Peoples Party, said he told the officers that he was not impressed with their performance.
“They said, ‘We will protect you,’ ” he recalled. “I said, ‘We don’t trust you.’ ”
August 3, 2009
Trying to Heal, Pakistan Valley Fears New Battles
By JANE PERLEZ and PIR ZUBAIR SHAH
MINGORA, Pakistan — Schools have officially reopened. Soldiers stand guard at checkpoints and have established a semblance of order. Many thousands have returned here to a town that is mostly intact, if still under a military presence.
But Mingora, a battle-scarred city in the Swat Valley, remains tense. Pakistan’s efforts to restore normalcy — a vital test of the government’s resolve to stand up to the Taliban — waver between fear and hope, leaving an enduring victory over the militants a distant goal.
Beneath the surface of relative calm, there is the sense that a new and more insidious conflict may be afoot, one that could take many months to play out before the fate of this once-prosperous region is ultimately decided.
August 3, 2009
Hate Engulfs Christians in Pakistan
By SABRINA TAVERNISE
GOJRA, Pakistan — The blistered black walls of the Hameed family’s bedroom tell of an unspeakable crime. Seven family members died here on Saturday, six of them burned to death by a mob that had broken into their house and shot the grandfather dead, just because they were Christian.
The family had huddled in the bedroom, talking in whispers with their backs pressed against the door, as the mob taunted them.
“They said, ‘If you come out, we’ll kill you,’ ” said Ikhlaq Hameed, 22, who escaped. Among the dead were two children, Musa, 6, and Umaya, 13.
The attack in this shabby town in central Pakistan — the culmination of several days of rioting over a claim that a Koran had been defiled — shows how precarious life is for the tiny Christian minority in Pakistan.
You cannot post new topics in this forum You cannot reply to topics in this forum You cannot edit your posts in this forum You cannot delete your posts in this forum You cannot vote in polls in this forum