Nobody in their right mind can celebrate the anniversaries of Pakistan’s nuclear tests. There are many reasons for it, one of which is that the tests were carried out on occupied Baloch lands and the Baloch people, still to the day, suffer from nuclear radiation. Carrying out nuclear tests in Balochistan is typical of how the Pakistani state treats Baloch people: as sub-humans.
The development of the Taliban was unquestionably dictated by the Pakistan Army’s drive for undisputed hegemony in post-Cold War Afghanistan. This goal was, in part, driven by the army’s desire to seek strategic depth against India. Hence, Afghanistan under the Taliban was integrated into the South Asian security structure centred on the India-Pakistan rivalry. It would be erroneous to assume that the emergence of the Taliban was a unique effort on the part of the Pakistani military establishment. The Pakistan Army has had a long history of raising irregular forces to further its interests in South Asia. In the 1947-1948 India-Pakistan war, the Pakistani Army had inducted thousands of Pashtun tribal volunteers to fight the Indians in Kashmir. During the 1965 India-Pakistan conflict, hundreds of irregular Kashmiri Muslims infiltrated across the Line of Control in Kashmir to instigate a Kashmiri Muslim uprising in the vale of Kashmir. This covert plan entitled ‘Operation Gibraltar’ was a prelude to war with India. Later the army’s tactics and organizational skills in waging low-intensity warfare with irregular forces were perfected during its pivotal role in backing the anti-Soviet Islamic insurgency in Afghanistan from 1978 to 1992 and were to reach their culmination with the emergence of the Taliban. This capability boosted by massive US aid in terms of provision of light arms and ammunition led some Pakistani intelligence officials reportedly to boast that with assistance Pakistan received from the West in the 1980s it ‘could have conducted operations on Mars.’
The blasphemy laws can serve just about anyone with a dark design — an angry relative, an envious colleague, a neighbor with his eye on your property. But the greatest beneficiary has been the professional Islamists, who specialize in their application to encroach on both state and society.
I got a sense of this in August 2009 when I visited the torched Christian neighborhood of Gojra, a small city in the heart of Pakistan. A Muslim peasant had spread a rumor that Christian neighbors had desecrated a Quran, and it degenerated into a riot after clerics riled up Muslims with hysterical broadcasts from the loudspeakers of mosques. When the police tried to stop the mullahs, they quoted the blasphemy laws and threatened to turn the mob against the authorities for “protecting the blasphemers.” Some 60 Christian houses were set on fire and eight Christians killed.
The Islamists would have us think that all believers are susceptible to spontaneous eruptions of violence when their religion is offended. But the reality, as documented by a government report on the Gojra incident, is more treacherous and tragic. A blasphemy charge, once taken up by a religious activist, can legitimate myriad other interests, from petty personal needs to large political plans, and create an exhilarating free-for-all atmosphere. The Gojra rioters included the constituents of the local opposition politician, peasants and day-laborers from neighboring areas who joined in the looting and armed members of the now-banned Sunni militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.
Pakistan’s Islamist groups have little incentive to reform the blasphemy laws. They have even expanded the understanding of blasphemy so that it now includes any criticism of the laws themselves. This has been achieved by targeting high-profile dissenters, like Salmaan Taseer, a governor of Punjab province, and Shahbaz Bhatti, a federal minister for minorities, who were both assassinated in 2011.
After September 11 General Pervez Musharraf and the military regime believed that they could, for a time, appear to meet US demands by capturing al-Qaeda leaders while avoiding harm to the Afghan Taliban. Musharraf was always treated as a messiah by the Bush administration; but a year after September 11 well-informed Pakistanis knew that Musharraf had started playing a double game with the Americans by covertly supporting a Taliban resurgence.
What was the Pakistan military’s logic in doing so? After the war to oust the Taliban was over in 2001 the military faced the defeat of its Taliban allies and had to suffer the Northern Alliance and its backers—including India and Iran—as victors in Kabul. Musharraf felt he had to preserve some self-respect; and Bush appeared to acknowledge this when he allowed ISI agents to be airlifted out of Kunduz before the city fell to the Northern Alliance and its backers. Bush had also promised Musharraf that the NA would not enter Kabul before a neutral Afghan body under the UN took over the city. But as the Taliban fled, the NA walked into Kabul without a fight and took over the government.
The Pakistani military was further angered at Bonn in December 2001, when the new Afghan government was unveiled and all the provincial security ministries were handed over to the Northern Alliance, with Pashtun representation at a minimum. This was the usual outcome by which the spoils of war went to the victors, but for Pakistan’s generals it was further humiliation that bred resentment and a desire for revenge.
The military was equally perplexed about why the US did not commit more ground troops to hunt down al-Qaeda instead of leaving that task to Northern Alliance warlords. The military was convinced that the Americans would soon abandon Afghanistan for the war in Iraq and leave the NA, backed by India, in charge in Kabul.
Bush’s refusal to commit even one thousand US troops to the mountains of Tora Bora where bin Laden was trapped sent a powerful message to Pakistan. By 2003 US forces in Afghanistan still amounted to only 11,500 men—insufficient to hold the country. Five years later in 2008 there were only 35,000 US troops in Afghanistan, compared to five times that number in Iraq.
The Pakistani military’s insecurity about American intentions and the growing power of the NA, India, and Iran led to its fateful decision to rearm the Taliban. It believed that the Taliban would provide a form of protection for the Pakistani military against its enemies. Instead the revamped Afghan Taliban helped create the Pakistani Taliban and the worst blowback of terrorism in Pakistan’s history. It is the Taliban’s terrorism within Pakistan rather than US pressure that altered the military’s position from backing the Afghan Taliban to its now seeking a peaceful Afghanistan.
The US, UK, and Canada indeed have a highly peculiar and candid engagement with Pakistan due to various reasons. They are allies in the Afghanistan intervention. They headquarter a highly vibrant Christian missionary in the Punjab and Sindh provinces. Additionally, they house powerful Pakistani Punjabi elite in cities like Vancouver, London and Staten Island in New York. These three cities have played a major role in lobbying for Pakistan’s Punjabi-dominated military establishment. Very few within and outside of Pakistan know the crucially important, diplomatic role these cities have due their degree of influence in Pakistan’s internal politics. The US, UK, and Canada are among the top five donors in the development and rights regime in Pakistan, where the largest amount of civil society actors is outcome of, as well as associated with, CIDA, DFID and USAID.
It is now a well-discussed fact among analysts that the state apparatus of Pakistan is non-inclusive unto its very foundations by being confined only to the ethnic Punjabis, mostly of Salafi Muslim origin. The rest of the citizens, especially the Sindhis and Balochs and religious groups like Hindus, Christians and Shia Muslims, are officially or traditionally barred from strategic positions, like the heads of the armed forces. Additionally, non-Muslims are constitutionally discriminated against by being denied their right to hold the public offices of the President and the Prime Minister.
Quite surprisingly, for civil society organisations, international development funds flow, and private entrepreneur recruitment, including for multi-national companies, usually practice ethnic bias in Pakistan because the majority of these house ethnic Punjabi employees in senior and mid-level management. Even in the oil and gas-rich province of Sindh, hardly any Sindhi can be found in technical and non-technical positions for officers and labourers.
Countries like the US, Canada, the UK, Russia and Japan can play at least one basic yet crucial three-pronged role in Pakistan. One, they can review their foreign policy and international development priorities in the socio-political context and prioritise issues like ‘ethno-sectarian participation’ in governance as well as human rights support in the context of political, economic and culture rights to Sindh and Balochistan provinces. Two, they can push Pakistan along with other stakeholders to hold a referendum in a democratic manner in Sindh and Balochistan, similar to Canada and the UK’s plans to do so in Quebec and Scotland, respectively. Three, where Punjabi-speaking Pakistani settlers in the US, UK and Canada have played a major role in Islamabad’s politics and diplomacy, the time has come for the American, Canadian and British Sindhi and Baloch diaspora to also be encouraged for a progressive role in the state chemistry and a rights regime change in Pakistan. Most importantly, native Western activists can at least show their activism sympathy for the victims of ethnic cleansing, genocide and rights violation in Sindh and Balochistan.
Sindh has a special relationship with the Bhuttos, characterized by an almost devotional worship of the family even if the latter has always shown a rather haughty nonchalance towards the people. Although the party had declared Sindhi as the language of the province in the 1970s, Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto mostly used Urdu in his speeches in Sindh. Benazir, elevated to sainthood in rural Sindh after her martyrdom, was unable to go further than a few sentences in Sindhi. Bilawal Bhutto does not speak it at all. In the past, the People’s Party carefully avoided owning the nationalist grievances about the wrongs done to Sindh by the central government and the dominant Punjab province. The history and culture of Sindh as references in the political discourse of the party are a new development and they do not go back further than the defeat of the People’s Party in Punjab in the 2013 elections. The portending new milestone in the evolution of the party needs to be understood in the context of the rise of the Taliban and jihadi movements in KPK and the Punjab. The weakening of the Pakistani state under the terrorist onslaught is leading the political class of Sindh to assert the identity and interests of their province. A silent anger is brewing in Sindh against the attempts on the part of the Pakistani state to cuddle with the Taliban. Depending upon on the evolution of the situation, the developing tension between the centre and Sindh (and Baluchistan) is likely to turn into an acute confrontation. From that point on, the People’s Party could become the spokesperson of Sindh against a centre that represents the interests of a Jihadi-backed Punjab. The Taliban phenomenon could very well turn out to be a trick of history which takes the process of the dismemberment of Pakistan, started in 1971 with the separation of Bangladesh, to its logical end.
Tapped phones, hacked email accounts, comprehensive files on your “character,” and, if you are perceived as “pro-India” or “pro-America,” the odd threatening phone call or menacing car-chase—all of these are unremarkable facts of life for journalists who report or comment on the “national interest,” a euphemism for policies handled directly by the military. While you might discuss such pressure tactics with friends and family—occasionally with pride, since it shows your work is being taken seriously “at the highest levels”—you won’t likely mention them in public, partly out of fear (you’ll only aggravate “them”) and partly out of resignation (who will believe you anyway?).
So deferential is the Pakistani press in this regard that a practice has developed of referring to the military simply as “the establishment”—a large, loose word that obligingly obscures the very thing it seeks to describe. A resulting irony of political life in Pakistan is that most people are now aware of something called “the establishment”—the word has even entered the Urdu language—and its pervasive presence in Pakistani affairs, but are not sure what it represents or where its centers of power lie.
By calling out the ISI on prime-time television, Amir Mir was repudiating this culture of evasion and self-censorship and flouting the military’s institutional sanctity. So overwhelming was the backlash that it forced Geo, within a few hours, to bring together a panel of journalists to defend its position and do some damage control. But here too, in between the qualifications and rewordings, what came out repeatedly was the unwholesome nature of the ISI’s relationship with the media. “Even if the ISI is not involved in this attack,” said Asma Shirazi of Dawn News, speaking with furious lucidity,
"it is involved. That is because this country’s security, this country’s protection, is the responsibility of the government and these agencies. These agencies tap our telephones, these agencies watch us, these agencies follow us around, these agencies keep tabs on our homes, our children…. They have all our records. So they should have known that in such a big city, in broad daylight…a man was about to attack such a well-known person, a man who is a national asset, a man who has received threats.”
The veteran journalist Iftikhar Ahmad, speaking in a tone of mock-innocence, took a similarly provocative line:
"I would urge the ISI chief to disclose the names of the culprits…within the next twenty-four hours, or forty-eight hours, or seventy-two hours. After all, you are tapping our phones, you know everything about us, surely you must also know who has done this…"
Seminaries operating inside the capital are reportedly assisting Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) with the collection of extortion and ransom money by arranging deals between militants and their victims, sources in civil and military intelligence agencies said.In addition, the seminaries are also providing courier services to the TTP by arranging for the money to be transported to pre-determined locations easily accessible for TTP personnel, sources said.
The officials further stated that the groups of TTP, involved in generating funds through extortion and kidnapping for ransom, also stay at the seminaries and get assistance from there.
The officials said that intelligence reports also revealed that the extortion and ransom money remained in the seminaries before being transported to other locations by the groups’ members.
Moreover, some victims of kidnapping for ransom were also detained there before being taken to the tribal areas, they added.
Earlier, the role of religious seminaries to assist the TTP in conducting terrorism in the twin cities was unearthed last month. The report, prepared jointly by the special branches of Islamabad and Rawalpindi police, suggested that TTP got full support from religious seminaries and worship places of the likeminded Deobandi school of thought.
The report also identified 20 seminaries, all located in Rawalpindi, which were used by Taliban for terrorist attacks in the city.
"Pakistan’s media community is effectively under siege," said David Griffiths, Amnesty International?s Deputy Asia-Pacific Director.
"Journalists, in particular those covering national security issues or human rights, are targeted from all sides in a disturbing pattern of abuses carried out to silence their reporting."
Covering almost any sensitive story leaves journalists at risk from one side or another — militants, intelligence agencies or political parties — putting them in an “impossible position”, Amnesty said.
"The spy agency has been implicated in several abductions, torture and killings of journalists, but no serving ISI official has ever been held to account —allowing it to effectively operate beyond the reach of the law," Amnesty said.
ournalists face threats from a host of sources, according to Amnesty, including ISI, the Pakistani Taliban, Al-Qaeda-linked groups, ethnic Baluch rebels, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) militants and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), a political party dominant in Karachi.
Soon after he condemned a Taliban attack on an Express TV crew in Karachi, Rana Muhammad Azeem, the president of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, received a call from someone claiming to be from the Taliban.
"He scolded me for speaking out against them and told me ‘a bullet has been chosen for you’," Azeem said in the report.
The total number of Shia killed in militant attacks since Pakistan’s inception is believed to be around 20,000 with over 10,000 of them in direct attacks on the Shia community according to Global Human Rights Defense on Pakistan’s report in 2012.
Shia genocide has for long been dubbed a ‘sectarian conflict’ – implying that it’s a two-way war– and has been showcased as a legacy of the Zia era and a corollary of the Saudi-Iran proxy war. While the proliferation of Deobandi madrassas aggravated the conflict in the 1980s, the first act of Shia genocide after Pakistan’s creation can be traced all the way back to 1963’s Therih massacre. Dubbing it a sectarian war, despite the prodigiously skewed numbers, would have bordered on veracity till the 1990s when the Shia militant organisation Sipah-e-Muhammad targeted anti-Shia organisations as a response to the manoeuvres of the Malik Ishaq led Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) that was formed in 1995, and SSP. Even so there are no indiscriminate attacks attributed to Sipah-e-Muhammad that was banned along with other terrorist organisations in 2001 by Pervez Musharraf. Since 2001 the ‘sectarian war’ has quite unambiguously transformed into Shia genocide, especially after the advent of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) as a major terrorist organisation.
As Imambargahs and Shia processions have regularly become targets of bombings over the past decade or so, our media continues to pay lip service to the outdated claims of the Shia killings being a part of a sectarian proxy war. And so even though there are Shia killers, murdering the Shia for being Shia, using the word ‘Shia’ when a member of the community is targeted owing to their faith, has become a media taboo ostensibly to not ‘fuel’ the non-existent ‘sectarian conflict’.
As Pakistan collectively witnesses ethnic cleansing the bystanders – hordes and hordes of them, including the media – won’t muster the ‘courage’ needed to call a spade a spade. Over 20,000 Shia killings and apparently there still are question marks over it being a veritable genocide.
Apart from the war on our own people, whether they be Shia, Ahmadis or Christians, or even Deobandis/Barelvis for that matter, there is the softer, passive, therefore more disturbing face of Wahhabism. Among the women, this started out initially as an outward manifestation in an increasing trend of wearing of the hijab, niqab, burqa – and the culturally alien abaya – and the rise of the mehfils of dars, by televangelists like Farhat Hashmi of the Al-Huda Foundation, Amir Liaquat Ali and Zaid Hamid, who often espouse extremist opinions, albeit in liberal garb, appealing to conscientious middle-class pieties.
This trend has been helped by the born-again conviction of many of Pakistan’s famous cricket and music icons. Thousands of members of this group propelled Imran Khan, himself a born-again Muslim, and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf to prominence in the national elections last year. Interestingly, Khan has been nicknamed ‘Taliban Khan,’ and this has gone hand-in-hand not only with his own views about the role of women and form of justice in Pakistan, but also in the totally unpredictable compromises his party’s provincial government has had to make in Khyber Pakhtunkhuwa, kowtowing to and defending the inexcusable actions of the Taliban.
And so, increasingly, Saudiisation among Pakistan’s younger generation goes viral, manifesting itself in the ‘new’ car plates flashing Arabic and Arabised variants of the country’s name, and in the replacing of ‘Khuda Hafiz’ by ‘Allah Hafiz’ in our lexicon. The Saudis’ attempt to buy Islamabad with more handouts is ostensibly to lure them into their own camp for their Cold War against a resurgent Shia Iran in the two current Arab flashpoints in Syria and Bahrain. In reality, Saudi politics and strategies might prove to be a dangerous trap which could lead to a debilitating conflict resulting in democracy for the benighted citizens of Riyadh sooner, rather than later. Good as that may be, in the process, it could also seriously push back the chances of a burgeoning democracy in Pakistan for some time.
If you condemn prejudice, abuse and violence as categorically as those who perpetrate it, you are the other side of the same “extremist” coin. And the terrorist somehow is better because he is “indigenous and authentic” whereas the liberal extremist is a sinister Western Plant. This bogeyman is neither the creation of a state propaganda machine nor the murderous religious extremist. He is a creation of influential hate-mongering opinion-makers, their acolytes, apologists and understudies. It is a delegitimizing, dehumanizing term, and this villainous monster is made real by widespread social acceptance of his existence. This acceptance is no misunderstanding. It allows for a fictional place of ostensible social dignity, balance and moderation between sane humanism and nihilistic rage. It is also clearly nonsense. Unfortunately, it is murderous nonsense.
Liberal extremists love claiming they are under threat, they say. It is a hoax, pretention, paranoia, an attention-seeking device, a ploy to get donor funding. You almost want to believe it yourself. To be a fraud is easier than to adopt the lifestyle of constantly looking over your shoulder. But then it gets real. Raza’s 25-year old driver, Mustafa, did not survive the attack. Every one of the 12 odd bullets that hit him was intended for Raza. Mustafa supported an extended family of 10. Raza has elderly parents, young children—the usual web of family and responsibility that makes us all vulnerable and fearful and human.
The diversionary and obfuscating tactics of the media and the political campaign have taken interesting twists and turns over the past decade. The first attempt at diversion and obfuscation started with the construction of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban. The next phase of obfuscation was initiated with the claim of a ‘foreign hand.’ It was claimed that no Muslim could inflict such destruction on other Muslims. It was then that the construct of the Taliban as a manifestation of ‘Pashtun nationalistic aspirations and frustration’ started doing the rounds. This construct was permeated despite the fact that most of the destruction was inflicted on the Pashtuns by the militant network.
The recent theory in this regard emerged in the narrative of ‘revenge.’ It was claimed that all the terrorist activities by the militant network are carried out to avenge drone strikes and demonstrate repugnance to the presence of NATO forces in Afghanistan. A self-contradictory discourse of the Pakhtun culture-specific revenge was constructed to support this incongruous narrative. Nobody bothered to question why the people of Federally Administered Areas (FATA) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had not avenged the death and destruction of their near and dear ones at the hands of militant organisations.
The alliance of the militant network and the extreme right in Pakistan brought the already constructed discourses of ‘the enemies out there adamant on wiping out Pakistan from the map of the world’ and ‘Pakistan as a fortress of Islam’ to their best use. The use of jihad to allow private armies to carry out jihadist activities in the neighbourhoods provided a useful spring board to the alliance of the militant network and the extreme right. Leaving FATA outside the domain of the constitutional, legal and administrative framework provided the militant network and international jihadists with physical space for their military infrastructure.
It is now the mainstream Pakistani state and society which seems to be on the defensive with respect to the demand for a ‘free zone’ and ‘legal office’ for TTP. Keeping in view the fact that the alliance has achieved considerable influence, authority and hegemony in the culture, polity and society of Pakistan through their discourse, strategies and tactics, one can expect that the alliance is fast moving from social control to state control of Pakistan. Thus, quantitatively speaking, the alliance might not account for even five per cent of the whole population of Pakistan.
Hence, it is not a matter of ‘only dialogue’ with ‘only military operation’ against the militant network that will lead to the so-called peace. A full-fledged reconstruction of the whole discourse of statehood, state security and human security might put the state and society of Pakistan on track to a sustainable peace.