February 2009


A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission

PAKISTAN: Fingers point towards the armed forces for the murder of journalist Musa Khankhel

The world was reminded of the tragic paradoxes that take place daily in Pakistan, when a young journalist was kidnapped and executed last month while covering a march for peace. Mr. Musa Khankhel, journalist and correspondent of Geo Television disappeared on February 18, while covering a procession led by Maulana Sufi Mohammad, a religious leader in Swat, in the NWF province. The procession was to celebrate a peace agreement with the government which would see Islamic Sharia laws implemented in the valley. He was 28 years old and had been threatened several times by government security forces for his steadfast independent reporting. He had also been kidnapped and tortured twice before by security forces. As a journalist he was not popular among militant groups either, including the Taliban and the group lead by Maulana Soofi Mohammad, Tehrik Nifa-1Shariat Mohammadi (TNSM).

After his body had turned up in the Matta sub district, the government, TNSM and the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) announced the formation of probe committees into his death. No one laid claim to the murder. The government assigned the Inspector General of police in the province to investigate the incident, but neither he nor Maulana’s committee has reported any findings so far. Only the probe committee of PFUJ appears to have started a concrete investigation, and Mr. Mohammad Riaz, the chief of the PFUJ committee, has visited the area. He reports that the atmosphere there is tense and few civilians are willing to discuss Khankhel’s death; they are scared of harassment from both the sides, the militants and the security forces. The latter are known to brutally and often arbitrarily mete out punishment in the more remote parts of the country, and disappearances here are not uncommon. There are also no police in the area. Without committed government intervention – a high judicial commission – to probe the killings, Riaz says, it will not be possible to unearth the ‘truth’. Information gathered by the AHRC points, increasingly, at Pakistan’s wayward security forces for the murder.

On the day he was murdered, friends and relatives say that Khankhel mentioned hearing that ‘today one journalist may be killed’, through sources in the security agencies stationed in the war zone. Because of this he told prominent senior journalist and anchor person, Mr. Hamid Mir, to be extremely careful, should he choose to visit the area. Mir remembers Khankel telling him: ‘you will watch the scenes of destruction in civilian residential areas of Kabal. You will show live destroyed homes and mosques, and people will equate your coverage with the bombing of Gaza by Israelis. You will become a security risk and they will kill you in the name of national interest. And the blame will be placed at Taliban’s door.’ Tragically, Khankel had not realised that he was the journalist in question.

Khankhel had survived two assassination attempts last year, both times, he said, by the security forces. In November he was kidnapped and tortured for two days in custody, and was told that should he continue his investigations, his family members would be killed. He later told Mir, his colleague, that ‘some elements in the security forces want to eliminate me physically, due to my reporting’. The journalist’s younger brother, Essa Khankhel, also a journalist, told the AHRC that his brother had managed to record a death threat from one security officer in the past.

The AHRC has learned that the day before his assassination, Khankhel was stopped and threatened by security persons at a press conference held by Mr. Bashir Bilour, the senior minister of the NWF Province. Bilour was giving a briefing on the peace pact between the provincial government and TNSM. One Major Farooq, of Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR), exchanged harsh words with Khankhel, and he was told to be careful when dealing with the armed forces.

Reports from eye witnesses in the area, particularly shopkeepers from Matta (the sub-district in Swat from where he was abducted) have pointed out that there were a good number of security personnel around when Khankhel was taken. In Matta, Musa had visited a few shops and proceeded to a spot along the route of the procession. He was trying to hail a taxi when three persons carried him forcefully away.

Provincial government ministers, including the spokespersons of Taliban Pakistan and TNSM, are all denying responsibility, and claiming that a ‘third force’ was involved. This ‘third force’, ministers concede quietly, means the armed forces. A top office bearer of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists has observed that when the Taliban kills, they claim it openly. Hamid Mir has written several articles suggesting that his colleague was the target of the army.

In the past year four journalists have been reportedly killed by the security forces in the Swat, twenty over the last two year period. Journalists, particularly reporting in the war torn NWFP on its destroyed houses, schools and hospitals, observe that security forces are generally hostile toward them, and each reporter has experiencing problems during investigations, some receiving death threats. The motive, as explained by the journalists, is to keep the reporters out of the area. Journalist Mr. Hameedullah’s house was bombed on his return to his village on 5 January, 2009. They and other residents had been forced to evacuate the area on 28 December, when the army launched an offensive against the Taliban.

Although there are conflicting reports about Khankhel’s killing; most of the reports point in the same direction. After the ‘war on terror’, the impunity enjoyed by security agencies saw a dramatic rise in cases of torture, abduction, disappearance and the murder of government opponents. There are more than 4000 persons disappeared for their resistance to military operations in different part in the country, and the AHRC last year determined the existence of 52 clandestine detention centres. Still, ‘unknown’ actors are publicly blamed for many of the area’s most violent crimes.

To specify a ‘third force’ and name it only in private, pays no tribute to the memory of Musa Khankhel, and to his family. Investigations into the torture and deaths of other journalists have sputtered and failed. Courage and an iron political will is needed from the government to tackle this blight in Pakistan: a corrupt, wayward and arbitrarily violent security force that has only been encouraged, rather than reined in, over the years. A high powered judicial commission must be formed to probe the murder, uncover the truth about the involvement of security agencies in the death of journalists, and to bring the perpetrators to justice. It must be shown that no one in Pakistan is above the law, in any part of the country.

# # #

About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

—————————–
Asian Human Rights Commission
19/F, Go-Up Commercial Building,
998 Canton Road, Kowloon, Hongkong S.A.R.
Tel: +(852) – 2698-6339 Fax: +(852) – 2698-6367

The article has been updated. Governor’s rule has been imposed on Punjab. Protest call by PML-N failed miserably all over the country and only sporadic incidents of mob violence and protest were noted in few districts of central Punjab. It should be a matter of concern for PML-N that virtually no reaction was noted in South Punjab, Sindh, Pakhtunkhaw and Baluchistan. The call of General Strike by PML-N was also met with usual failure, even Central Punjab didnt observe even a reasonable partial strike.

Shaheryar Ali

The initial reports coming from Pakistan suggest that the Supreme Court of Pakistan has passed a short order on different writ petitions challenging the eligibility of the right wing Sharif Brothers. The reports suggest that court has decided in the favor of the petitioners and have disqualified the Sharif Brothers. The implications of this decision are that Punjab is free from the highly centralized, Punjabi chauvinist and pro Taliban ministry of Mian Shahbaz Sharif. All control has shifted to the secular and progressive governor of Punjab Mr Salman Taseer.

nawaz-sharif1 Mr Shahbaz Sharif and Mian Nawaz Sharif both are convicted criminals, in a unconstitutional deal with the military dictator General Pervez Musharaf, both of them went into exile with a promise to stop participating in politics. The former Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Ch in his decision declared the deal “unconstitutional” thus paving the way of their return. Instead of going back to jail and completing the sentence Sharif brothers entered into political coalition with their political rivals the PPP. Despite the unprecedented media hype right wing PML-N of Sharif Brothers lost the elections. PML-N failed to get representation in 3 provinces and even failed to win a convincing majority in Punjab which according to the right wing cooperate media is center of their power. Refusing to accept the election results the Sharif brothers with help of shabby characters and political opportunists like Aitzaz Ahsan started an effort to politicize and divide the judicial bureaucracy. The plan was to bring Iftikhar Ch back to power and than get Mr Asif Ali Zardari disqualified and declare the entire “illegal acts of General Musharaf after 3rd November” null n void which included the “election” thus bringing the right wing back into power through back door

Nawaz-Qadeer deal

Nawaz-Qadeer deal

The cat was out of bag when Qazi Hussein Ahmad , Ameer of Jamate Islami today in his initial reaction to judgement said what was in their heart for a long time, that “we have always maintained that the general elections were unconstitutional”. This was the precise reason that PML-N and Aitzaz Ahsan and Co were bitterly opposing a “constitutional solution” to judicial crisis. The constitution plan would have given indemnity to certain acts of PCO like General Elections and NRO thus giving the democratic setup an immunity from Iftikhar Ch’s politically motivated and selective judicial activism. The shameful and so called “democratic and constitutionalist” lawyer movement put on stage murderous fascists like General Hameed Gul and notorious nuclear proliferator Dr Qadeer Khan on central stage.  Instead of asking Jamate Islami to  pay for the murder and genocide of East Pakistanis our secular democrats  gave Jamate Islami a central role in their movement.  The meetings of Air Marshal Asghar Khan and General Hameed Gul with Chief Justice Iftikhar Ch were reported in media and were commented on by progressive writers.  The Pakistani Right Wing has this long history of using unelected state institutions to subvert democracy, first they used Army, after General Mushraf the public opinion was strongly against Army hence they planned to use judiciary to control democracy. The plan backfired and the present judges fed up with constant abuses and threats by Sharifs acted and disqualified both Sharif brothers. Its not an act of establishment rather it was result of conflict of interests between two sections of Judicial Bureaucracy , the clash which took a personal turn due to Farah Dogar case and continuous use of personal abuses  against sitting judges by PML-N and a section of Lawyers . Whilst I considers the Judicial Bureaucracy of Pakistan , both section one in power and other out of power and on the lap of Jihadis as inherently corrupt, anti people and politically motivated , I  nevertheless welcome the outcome of this decision in Punjab which has resulted in fall of the pro- Taliban ministry. The media and all representatives of upper and middle classes of Punjab have tried to develop Shahbaz Sharif as a “great leader” of Pakistan, the facts unfortunately are very bitter. A virtual authoritarian Mr Shahbaz Sharif first act of government was to “re instate” the colonial mode of governance by restoring the “Babu Raj” of commissioners and collectors. He was leading a highly centralized government which was non democratic, the politicians were powerless, he hardly held cabinet sessions, and whole government was being run by him with the help of chief secretary.

Jihadis in PML-N

Jihadis in PML-N

This was the continuation of the highly centralized post colonial state which Muslim League built in 1947 and the mode of governance which has resulted in all the ills of Pakistan. With Mr Sharif’s non political and bureaucracy dominated government the Saraiki South Punjab which voted for PPP was increasingly becoming isolated. Already disenfranchised and in grip of Talibanization the inherent Punjabi chauvinism of Sharif was pushing Southern Punjab to the brink. A small example of Sharif’s inherent hatred of Saraiki people is the fact that the Prime minister Mr Yousaf Raza Gilani announced declaring Multan a “big city” in a public meeting saying that Chief Minister on his next visit will issue the notification. Next day Chief Minister visited Multan and to the utter disbelief of workers and labour activist of Multan refused to follow the PM’s order.

There was a virtual police state in Punjab, trade unions were harassed, protesting doctors were beaten up by police on his direct orders, his party was resisting the lifting of ban on student unions in Punjab. This despite the fact that Peoples Party Government had announced lifting the ban on trade and student unions. A more disturbing aspect was Talibanization of Punjab, situation was worse in neglected and isolated Saraiki Southern Punjab; Taliban put posters as far as Multan asking women not to come out of homes and ordering the music centers to shut down. Mr Shahbaz Sharif instead of checking this pushed their agenda forward just like the MMA government of NWFP. On his direct orders police burned CDs and DVDs on Hall Road Lahore, he banned stage dance in Punjab against which the dancing girls of Lahore held a strike. He ordered the administration to check “obscenity in name of Arts and Culture”. All this typical  right wing  hypocrisy of “Apply Sharia- on- every- one- apart -from -me“. Mr Sharif himself is known to be a Mujra Lover and tales of his flings with Herra Mandi’s dancing girls have always been in circulation.

If this continued we were afraid that South Punjab could have turned into next Swat.[It has all the ingredients  along with an adjoining tribal area] We welcome fall of Taliban Ministry in Punjab and we hope that a democratic government is formed in Punjab replacing the existing one.

Mr Nawaz Sharif after his statement of pushing things “beyond” dharna left nothing for imagination, with Punjab  government sponsored Long March , Islamabad was to be put under siege to cause either a fall of Gilani government or restoration of Iftikhar and subsequent judicial coup d’e’tat and fresh election. This is a crisis of Right wings own making, and contrary to popular middle class opinion , no sky will fall, there was virtually no people’s agitation in the 3 provinces and isolated cases of mob violence in central Punjab .   All they could do was to trample posters of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto in front of Governor House under their feet forgetting it was her which in first place brought the Sharifs out of the trash bin of history when escaped to Saudi Arabia leaving people in grip of dictatorship.  We all know how active PML-N workers are when it comes to any “protest movement”  which is not state sponsored, we all remember 12 people who reached Air Port to receive Mr Sharif and when he was sent back against his wishes  and they couldn’t even secure a general strike in Model Town market the next day.

Hopefully peoples party will again invite Sharifs for negotiations on a  “constitutional package” which will give both parties some thing , people unfortunately will remain starving thats what Capitalist democracy in colonial countries is.

Today in the historic city of Multan there was an inauguration ceremony of the latest book written by famous Pakistani Marxist intellectual and IMT activist Dr Lal Khan.The book is called “Pakistan’s Other Story: The Revolution of 1968-69”. This book is one of the most important texts to have emerged from Pakistan. It for the first time has put the positions of traditional left of Pakistan under a Marxist critique and has identified flawed ideology as the main reason for the failure of revolution of 1968 which resulted in emergence of Pakistan’s Peoples Party. In this event my dear friend read his paper on the book , the paper raises some important points regarding the history of philosophy and the errors committed by Communist Parties. We are publishing this paper which is an important read for all progressives from Pakistan

Dr Lal Khan is editor of Asian Marxist Review and have wrote 29 books. He was part of the revolutionary resistance against fascist General Zia-ul-Haq . Orders of “shoot at sight” were issues against him by the military high command but he was able to leave the country. He returned after Benazir Bhutto restored democracy.

Shaheryar Ali

Pakistan’s Other Story: Strategies of  Subversive Historiography

Dr Ahmad Arslan

pakistan_1968-69_bookIt’s really a great honor for me to be here today on the inauguration of the book by Dr Lal Khan. A lot has been written and said on the book which is called “The Other Story” of Pakistan. A lot have been said on the content of the book, its political importance and the narrative of the Revolution of 1968/69 but I would like to highlight yet another side of this book. What does it means in the field of Historiography and general history writing in Indian subcontinent. Not only this book highlights the “other side” of Pakistan, it in itself is the “other side” of History writing. Challenging the established discourse in history writing, not only the one which is termed as “bourgeois” but also the one which has long held the claim to be a pro people one .The book is not only a critique of events it is also a critique of history writing.

The general trends within the left wing history writing in the Indian Subcontinent have utilized Historical materialism in understanding and describing major turning points of Indian history and the associated social changes. This has been often hailed as well condemned as a ‘Marxist Historiography”. Marxist Historiography in Indian subcontinent is not a monolithic tradition; its not only the most advance methodology of history writing its also one of the most diverse. On one side it has contributed a lot in understanding the ancient history of India and has challenged a lot of European myths regarding “stagnation of History in India” and on “Asiatic Mode of Production” it has also provided the tools to understand history of forests in India and development of more contemporary schools like that of “Environmental History” .etc.

In more contemporary times the writing of history has been controversial even within the Marxist historians. The dominant school of Marxist historians in Indian subcontinent have increasingly come under an academic attack from new left historians who have demonstrated that their work is plagued by the “Nationalism” of Indian national congress. Eqbal Ahmad, Hamza Alvi and Ayesha Jalal have put forward a brilliant critique of Indian Nationalism and the history writing which evolved around it in order to legitimize it. Hamza Alvi is critical of Communist Party of India for failing to develop an independent position in India and putting all its eggs in Nehru’s basket. He is also critical of the Soviet Historians who went out of length in trying to prove the bourgeois character of All India Muslim League. Ahmad has analyzed and criticized Gandhi for “spiritualizing” the Indian politics and the analysis of “communalism” by the self proclaimed Marxist historians of India who have rested all the blame of partition on MA Jinnah . In his critique Congress and Gandhi emerge as the main proponents of Partition. Jalal has selected Jinnah for her work and demonstrated that contrary to the ideological myths in India and Pakistan Jinnah never perused Pakistan as an ideological objective rather it was just a political tactic used by him to gain political leverage.

While all three of these historians attempt to give an “advance” critique of  the more established Marxist history and politics now  branded as “Nehruvian Socialist” school from a Marxist left perspective, their critique is silent on “Muslim Nationalism” which emerges as a winner of a sort in their attack on Congress. The result is that though more advance, their analysis remains incomplete. Lal Khan first in his book “Partition and how it can be undone” and now in his book “Pakistan’s Other Story” have put all three positions ie those of Congress, Muslim Nationalists and Communist Party of India under a class critique. The result is emergence of a pro- people perspective on Partition and the later democratic struggle of the people in both nation states establishing essentially the people as “others” of States and Party. The historiographical implications of this work are:

1) What is the relationship between Party and the Working class

2) In any Marxist analysis primacy should be given to the interest of working class or the interest of Party

3) The interests of Party and that of working class is same or can it be demonstrated that at various critical turns of history a clear conflict of interest exists between the Party and working class evident by even a simple empirical analysis of events.

In his work Lal Khan has tried to demonstrate this “conflict of interest” between the working classes and the party which claimed to be its Vanguard. First of this critical point is the “Second great imperialist War” where the struggle of colonial people against imperialism was sacrificed resulting in nationalist degeneration of revolution all over the world. Second time this conflict of interest is demonstrated on Partition where all 4 apparently conflict engaged parties , the British, The National-Socialists, the Muslim Nationalists and the Communist agreed on partition of India on religious grounds. The people got genocide and a continuous communal and sectarian violence which got new and more murderous turn with the emergence of Taliban. The fact that it has been identified as main cause of state crisis and terrorism in Pakistan by even non Marxist academics like Dr Robina Saigol demonstrates its simple and empirical nature. Third time this conflict of interest is demonstrated at time of revolutionary explosion of 1968 when masses took to street and demanded end of the oppressive system for ever but the party from France to Pakistan helped the ruling classes to diffuse the revolution, this resulted in emergence of second wave social democracy in Europe and populism in colonial countries like Pakistan.

By demonstrating this Lal Khan provides the historiographical frame work for analysis of Pakistan Peoples Party as a phenomenon with it roots in the discontent which emerged from desire of the people to become masters of their destiny and the position of communists who analyzed the situation to be “non revolutionary”. Why this “distance” occurred between the interests of people and the Party? Lal Khan sees it in the Stalinist degeneration of Marxism, its conversion into a dogmatic nationalist ideology; the result was that the party instead of being vanguard of working class became a pawn in game of foreign policy wars between USSR, China and USA. Most of the revolutionary movements were abandoned in colonial countries to further foreign policy state interests of either USSR or China, weather it was Second World War or revolution of 1968.

The implications of this kind of politics on history writing have been extensively studied by academic Left wing in universities of advance capitalist countries. The communist historians as result of this turn engaged in down playing of resistance all over the globe. The rebellion of peasantry, Dalits, soldiers; trade unions in India during the time of communist collaboration have been suppressed in historical texts. The Spanish civil war was reduced to the status of a war of Artists, writers and poets. Communist historian as eminent as Eric Hobsbawm recently again repeated this position on Spanish Civil War. The movement of 1968 becomes a petty bourgeois reaction of students and lumpen proletarians with only cultural implications, ie development of counter culture, rock and pop music and sex revolution. In Pakistan it’s explained as labour unrest and part of United States agenda against Ayub Khan and China.

Legendary French historian Marc Ferro in his book ‘Uses and Abuses of History” have traced this change in communist historiography under Stalin and Mao where “party” replaced “class struggle” as the motor of history. While Marx and Marxist historiography have always understood class struggle to be the motor of history, later the position was put forward that because party is vanguard of working class, its positions represents the “correct class position” hence Marxist historiography became an attempt to historically justify various positions of communist Parties instead of documenting the class struggle. The result was this kind of history writing against which Lal Khan’s emerges as a Marxist critique.

With this Lal Khan’s methodology appears closer to Subaltern Historians who developed under the traditional communist historians but who  have put their histories under critique for ignoring the struggles of the “others” the peasants, students, Dalits, Women, Gender non conformists in developing an essentially pro people critique of upper classes as well as traditional progressives who were insensitive to natives and “others”. Though Lal Khan has highlighted the “others” and their struggles, he differs from the Subalterns by projecting his analysis into the future, thus in the book the suppressed struggle of 68 becomes essentially a symbol for a future 1968. Thus Lal Khan is writing history for the future and in this regard his work can be compared to writing of Trotsky when he wrote Results and Prospects after revolution of 1905 thus developing the theory of permanent revolution which echoed in April thesis and resulted in Glorious Revolution of 1917. Thus Lal Khan’s is “history of a revolution for a future revolution”. This in its essence a subversive task A radical approach towards history writing one which essentially links past to a future goal , A revolution which will be logical conclusion of tragedies of Partition and failure of 68.

Thanks for your patience

Dr Ahmad Arslan is a Marxist political activist and intellectual based in Multan , he associates himself with the working class tradition of PPP and is a medical doctor by profession. He has an interest in Marxist philosophy, History and Literature.

This blog has long been critical supporter of Baluch Liberation as well as the other oppressed nationalities of Pakistan. We have been writing against the injustices , murder and torture of the Baluch people. A large number of Pakistani progressives hold the Baluch nationalist cause very dear to their heart. A whole generation of Pakistani progressives have been trained in NAP where they have worked closely with Baluch nationalists and Marxists. We have also been writing about the “post-nationalist” turn of Baluch resistance and its unfavourable implications on Baluch cause. This blog has showed its concern on kidnapping of Mr Solecki and the disturbing aspects it may represent for Baluch cause.  The fact that Vetran Baluch leader Mr Kher Bux Marri has appealed for the release of Mr Solecki and so far it hasnt been given a positive response : our fears about the “real captors” of Mr Solecki are slowly gaining grounds. Asian Human Rights Commission has now appealed for the release of Mr Solecki. We want to remind the Baluch resistance that Asian Human Rights Comission has been a friend of Baluch people. They have highlighted the plight of Ms Zarrina Marri and other Baluch Captives , we appeal that Baluch resistance must listen to its friends. Acts of individual terrorism have never been hallmark of Left wing liberation struggles. The Baluchs have always been democratic progressive people, we appeal to them to release Mr Solecki and save Baluch cause from a bad name. It will have serious consequences on Baluch cause. We also appeal that Pakistani authorities should unconditionally release thousands of Baluch political prisioners from their torture cells. We condem in strongest possible terms Pakistan’s colonialism in Baluchistan, we strongly condem People’s Party’s government’s lack of interest in these cases and the foolish denials by Interior minister Mr Rehman Malick.

Shaheryar Ali

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE AHRC-STM-038-2009 February 20, 2009

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission

Mr Solecki with family

Mr Solecki with family

PAKISTAN: Appeal to the abductors for the release of UN officer Mr. John Solecki, who heads the United Nation’s refugee agency UNHCR’s Quetta office in Pakistan, was abducted on 2nd February, 2009, by a militant group, fighting for political autonomy of the Southern province, Balochistan. He has still not been released. The group, the Balochistan Liberation United Front (BLUF), is demanding the release of 6,000 disappeared people by the state intelligence agencies including 141 women who, according to the group, are still being held in Pakistan military torture cells in exchange for Mr. Solecki’s release. During the period from the 2nd February to the date of preparing this statement, the Pakistan authorities have not made any serious efforts to secure his release. Instead, the advisor of the prime minister on interior affairs, while holding the position of federal minister on a visit to the capital of the Balochistan to meet with the provincial authorities, has refused to meet the demands of the group. He claims that there is only a list of 800 missing persons, and that it is incomplete, with only 200 names verified as officially disappeared. The minister in question has also challenged the claim of the captors that 141 were in custody of security agencies and has rejected the list of the women as unrealistic. After two days of the statement of the federal minister, on Monday the 16th February the group, BLUF, gave 72 hours for its demands to be met before the UN official would be killed. But due to an appeal from Mr. Harbiyar Marri, a Baloch nationalist leader seeking asylum in England, the captors have postponed their deadline indefinitely. In the meantime, on the 13 February, a local television channel, the Dunya News, telecasted footage of Mr. Solecki, blindfolded, in which he asked the government of Pakistan to meet the demand of the captors. Almost 18 days have passed since his abduction but the government has not made any moves to talk to the parliament of Balochistan, nor to the nationalist groups who are seeking provincial autonomy according to the constitution of Pakistan. The newly elected government is following a similar policy to that of the former military dictators with the Balochistan province, by making it a colony of the federal government. During the one year the elected government, there have been reports of more than 500 persons arrested by the state agencies and their whereabouts are unknown. After the kidnapping of the UN official the security agencies have arrested about 150 persons and their whereabouts remain unknown. The government has promised several times to initiate probes into the matter of military operations in the province and the cases of disappeared persons, but nothing has been done to even start a dialogue with nationalists groups or political parties. The Asian Human Rights Commission urges the government to secure the release of the UN official and immediately start a dialogue with the militant group holding him captive. Denying the legitimacy of the missing persons list will not help in securing the release of the UN official. The government should also announce the formation of a high powered judicial commission, which will probe the cases of missing persons, and in particular, allegations of Baloch women held in military torture cells and used as sex slaves. The AHRC appeals to the BULF to release Mr. John Soleck, head of the UNHCR, based at Quetta and provide him with medical facilities. Any harm to him in captivity will not serve any purpose, for the cause of legal and constitutional movement, or for the fundamental rights of the Balochi people. The AHRC hopes that Mr. Soleck will be released immediately and that the government will take a rational approach to the matter of the rights of small and neglected nationalities.

# # # About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984

Asian Human Rights Commission 19/F, Go-Up Commercial Building, 998 Canton Road, Kowloon, Hongkong S.A.R. Tel: +(852) – 2698-6339 Fax: +(852) – 2698-6367

Shaheryar Ali

Aafia Siddique

Aafia Siddique

Finally the cat is out of sac. The latest “victim” of Islamophobia, Eurocentricism, Secular Fascism and other such terms which Pakistani right wing, liberal and confused progressive misuse turns out to be a Jihadi. For months now Pakistani Right wing media have lamented the “innocent muslim girl” the great scientist of MIT, the “good mohajir” girl Dr Aafia Siddiqui, the “daughter of Islam” and “Pakistan” who is being abused at the hands of non muslims. Comparisons were drawn with the mythical story of alleged abuse of Arab women at the hands of Sindhis which resulted in invasion of Sindh by barbaric Muhammed Bin Kassim. The fact was lamented while in those times 17 y old Kassim heard the cry of the “abused” sister and invaded Sindh and spread the glorious message of Islam [with not so glorious genocide of Sindhis], our 17 y old boys are busy in music and dancing whiles the daughter of Islam the innocent naïve girl Aafia Siddiqui is being sexually molested.

The day Dr siddiqui was produced before a court of law In USA I became suspicious of the whole story of “disappearance”. The fact that she was produced in a court of law indicated that US administration had a case. Many others remain disappeared and are not produced in courts. Now Dr Aafia Siddiqui’s ex husband has finally broken his silence and have spoken to BBC. He has told BBC Urdu that the innocent naïve AAfia was an ideologically motivated islamist. She wanted to go to Jihad. Mr Amjad Aziz Khan told BBC urdu that during their marriage he kept trying to convince Dr Aafia Siddiqui that Islam doesn’t allow “extremism” and she should not indulge in extremist activities but she refused. He further told the reporter that Dr Siddique had contacts with Pakistani extremists and terrorists. He named Aamar Baluchi , Aziz Paracha and Majid Khan with whom she was continuously in contact. It is to be noted that all these are terrorists and Mr Paracha was convicted by a court In United States for providing material support to Al Qaidia and was sentenced to 30 years in prison…

Victim of Jihadi mother

Victim of Jihadi mother

Mr Khan asserted that after the 9/11 attacks on United States Dr Siddique kept forcing him to go to Afghanistan and participate in Jihad against United States but he kept refusing. Mr Khan says that these were the reasons their marriage didn’t worked. Mr Khan took Dr Siddiqque to a big Maddrassa in Karachi and consulted with the eminent Mufti Rafi Usmani [Duo bandi /Wahabi cleric] who tried to persuade Dr Siddique that Jihad is not an immediate duty for both of them. Refusing to accept the advice she divorced Mr Khan in few weeks and left with the Kids.

The chilling fact that Dr Sidique was an ideologically motivated Islamist in contact with Al-Qaidia puts a lot of things in perspective, the people whom she identified with have blood on their hands, and they are responsible for heinous crimes against humanity, suicide bombings which have killed innocent civilians, woman and children. The want to bring a system in which there will no human rights and fascist states will be formed. She agreed to all this and was an active supporter of this monstrous ideology. Despite this Pakistani secularists and human rights activists climbed on the band wagon of Pakistani Right wing. The dispassionate interest of Pakistani human rights activists in this should only have been on making sure that Dr Siddique gets a fair trial. But even people like Senator Iqbal Haider became a party to this Jihadi propaganda by engaging in the emotional circus constructed by the family. Pakistani secularists went out of line and ignored the warning signals which were always there.

The fact that this whole story was broken by a person whose mental health itself is under question mark and who is a Taliban supporter they should have been cautious but caution is a thing Pakistani modernists don’t know. Yvonne Ridley could be suffering from Stockholm syndrome or she could be an Islamic fascist herself. Than the section of media and society which rallied to her cause and the degree of response left nothing secret of whose “girl” Dr Siddiqui was. The fact that same people havnt said a word about the fate of “Zarina Marri” shows that all this has nothing to do with human rights but was ideologically motivated.

Iqbal Haider

Iqbal Haider

Not only Dr Siddique left her husband she put the life of her children in danger by taking them with her in Jihad. This is an extraordinary case of neglect of parental duties and putting the life of children in danger. Mr Khan have stated in his statement that she was not kidnapped but was hiding on purpose with the children trying to get into Afghanistan from where she was finally captured. This gets further confirmation from the article written by Mr Farooqi who is maternal uncle [Mammu] of Dr Siddiqque in which he wrote that Dr Aafia Siddque met him in 2008 and stayed at his home in 2008 and told him that she wanted to go to Afghanistan for Jihad.

Now Dr Sidiqque is mentally unfit to undergo trial , she is not going to pay for her crimes or prove her innocence, But Pakistani secularists instead of working on Jihadi agenda should work to give Dr Siddique’s children safe environment. The fact that her sister and mother are close to Jihadi quarters will keep the children constantly under threat of abuse which they suffered at the hands of their mother so their father be given the custody of these poor kids. They have a right to grow up free of abuse.

Now that facts are coming out on Aafia I am suspicious of yet another “Islamist human rights” activist, Amna Janjua who is wife of an ex ISI mercenary who has “disappeared”. While we must always condemn illegal acts of states we must never become a party in crime with these fascists. The BBC urdu report can be reached here.

Shaheryar Ali

“Every Kiss Begins With Kay Jewelers”

With Pakistani Liberal’s new found love for Capitalism during General Mushraffs golden age of “Enlightened Moderation” Valentine Day has become the latest new festival in Pakistan. Now Islamists and religious fanatics in their usual opposition to any thing western have opposed Valentine’s Day on the premise that it promotes “obscenity”. The expression of Love is outrageous in their eyes and it erodes the moral and social fabric of the society, which if I decode means “that some how it dilutes the forced ‘gender segregation” in the Pakistan. Religious Right in Pakistan is not the only one in this their counterparts in India the Saffron brigade behave similarly

This opposition is not on Valentine’s Day rather it is to some thing which this day is thought to be representing that is Love and opposition to War, Violence and State authority. Modern day practices of Valentine’s days have nothing to do with the spirit of this day. Like every thing else Capitalism has converted this expression of Love into its anti-thesis. On onside Capitalist consumerist degeneration has resulted in “commoditization of Love” essentially equating love with wealth. The card industry, cosmetic industry, Diamond industry, Fashion Industry, the media Industry all in order to exploit the most beautiful of human emotion have contributed in building stereotypes, promoting prejudices and cultural hegemonies. The first victim of this is Love itself which is reduced to the category of a commodity which can be bought. This assault on Love is compounded by the market built sexism and promotion of highly loaded “stereotypical gender roles”. A general survey of the promotion campaigns around the world on Valentine Day reveals that it promotes a very shallow and sexist role of a woman. Most of it is based on the premise that woman can be wooed into love by showering her with expensive gifts. Diamond and Gold monopolies have shamelessly promoted this image of woman virtually equating love with a form of prostitution. Overall this approach enhances the already existing male chauvinist attitudes towards the women who are considered commodities themselves and “pleasure-toys” which can be bought by a DeBeers ring.

Muslim Gay Pride

Muslim Gay Pride

A shameful example is this commercial which states “every kiss starts with Kay Jewelers”. In most of the promotion activities “men” are shown to be buying gifts for the “women” thus enhancing yet another of male chauvinist myths that “Men are the bread winners” reducing women to a mere dependent of the male who remains happy with a constant supply of diamonds, roses and chocolates. Yet another stereotyping this Valentine’s Day industry is building is what I call the “Jock and the Cheerleader” complex. A particular image of a boy Jock and a Cheerleader is repeated over and over again. This creates a complex in other boys and girls who don’t subscribe to this image. The societies governed by capitalism live on “conformity” carefully constructed resemblances which assures ones survival at social and economical level. There is an immense pressure on young people especially teenagers to “fit-in” otherwise they fall in “nerd”, “sissy” , “freak” and other “un-kool” categories. These in advanced countries have resulted in high teenage suicide rate, campus violence and murder. This complex is than banked upon by the “cosmetic mafia”, the “fashion industry”, “drug trade” and medically unregulated and monstrous “cosmetic surgery industry”. All these mafias are busy in their exploitation in Pakistan’s Valentine day boom. The hair transplant and plastic surgery clinics have mushroomed in Urban Pakistan and are unregulated and engaging in malpractice. They perform procedures ranging from liposuction to hymenoplasty. This to provide the Pakistani males the “Virgins” they want to marry. The image of male which is portrayed on Pakistani Valentine related media is a fair post teen urban male clad in Levi with an expensive multi media mobile phone, bulging muscles and an Ipod listening to western music. He is surrounded by admiring females they too fully urban dolls manufactured in some latest in vogue saloon. This is against which most young Pakistani has to compete and look up to the result is frustration, street crime and campus prostitution.

When the problem of sustenance of capitalism was being discussed in Western Europe after the war it was identified that Capitalism also operates in the realm of ideology by creating conflicting identities and it is the key to its sustenance. This “operation in contradiction” is visible in the pseudo-conflict between the pro-capitalist seculars and Islamic fascists around the Valentine’s Day. It is to be noted that forces like Jamate Islami in Pakistan and Hindu Nationalists in India who are notorious for their disruption of Valentine Day’s activities are vehemently Anti-communist and Anti-Left and pro-Capitalism. Jamate Islami has been on the forefront of resisting anti capitalist reforms of PPP in 70s and has supported “free market economy”. Thus first they allow the capitalization of Love and than protest on its “cultural manifestations”. The extreme fear, violence and confusion this phenomenon creates results in “de-humanization”, “dejection” and a sense of “de realization”. A poetic expression of this de-realized love in time of violence has been done by Awais Aftab the brilliant young Pakistani blogger. By expressing his torment on loss of love in age of violence and confusion Mr Aftab has emerged as an “alternate voice” in otherwise cooperate and Jihadi dominated discourse on Valentine day. The poem is called “Vitriolage” and it opens with these lovely lines

No Shiv Sena threatens me
Nor do Talibans bind my hands
Yet in the miasmatic world
In which i breathe
There is no Valentine’s Day
For you, for me

The entry can be reached here. Whilst the Pakistani blogsphere is conformist to a strangulating degree, a dear friend “freethinker” has deconstructed Valentine’s discourse by celebrating Love and Subversion..

Gay Valentine stereotypes

Gay Valentine stereotypes

The dominant discourse on Valentine’s Day around the globe is “segregationist”, “totalizing’ and “de-humanizing”. This is extremely hegemonizing defining love in a strict “heterosexual” relationship. Love is only an emotion which is present between a “biological male” and a “biological female”. This corporate capitalist agenda disenfranchises whole of Homosexual humans. Reducing them to the status of “perverts” and “deviants” they are deprived of their humanity and rights, the political expression of this corporate and capitalist bigotry can be seen especially in United States where the corporate and its political allies the Moral Majority and Republicans have started a witch hunt against homosexuals by “defining” categories like “marriage”, “inheritance” and “family” in strict heterosexual terms. This in this sense becomes a strictly “fascist phenomenon”. By bombarding retinas and minds with pictures and visuals of love as a “heterosexual only” phenomenon, minds are being slowly transformed for annihilating a whole deviant population. Unfortunately even the self proclaimed “liberals” and “secularists” of Pakistan are insensitive to politics of gender and sexuality and even their notions of “human rights” and “pluralism” are plagued by essentialist prejudices of modernity. None of the major aggregation of Pakistani bloggers or Blog-zines has dared to challenge the conformity or protest at the segregationist interpretation of Love on Valentine’s Day. Across the border situation is batter. Blogbharti the aggregator of Indian Blogosphere published an article by an Indian Gay blogger Crazy Sam on Valentine’s Day. By doing so Blogbharti subverted the segregationist and exclusionary discourse on Love. Blogbharti should be congratulated for this act. Sam’s passionate plea is for “Equal Love”, he speaks about the segregated society and segregated love, reminding the straight heterosexual couples that the “fear” they feel on Valentine’s Day due to threat from the fascist goons is everyday reality of Gay of Life in India.

“Now just think about a small percentage of population who always has felt this unfairness that you are all feeling right now, every single day! Yes I’m talking about gays. For us gays, we could never think of celebrating Valentine’s Day with our special person in open places because we never felt secure to express our love. There is this fear always echoing in our minds (and not on Valentine’s Day alone) about what others would think and react if they see us holding hands or sitting across a table looking into each others eyes or giving a peck on the cheeks. It is not a good feel to always search for a secluded place to exchange such small tokens of love” Read the full article here

Sam maintains his own blog by the very “deconstructive” name of “The Straight Friendly Gay Blog”. It must be understood that

Jihad For Love

Jihad For Love

“exclusion” is the sole of a fascist society. Nothing is more dangerous than “exclusionary discourse” especially in Pakistan. Taliban couldn’t be defeated by pseudo-secularist discourse which is conformist and exclusionary. The Liberal Muslim’s insistence on constructing an “enlightened spiritual Islam” fails precisely because it becomes apart of dominant “Islam is the greatest and most democratic and liberal religion in the world” discourse in which Taliban and Liberal Muslims are united. The subversion is thus not achieved and all resistance becomes futile. This discourse insists on keeping “the others” invisible, the invisibility slowly evolves into amnesia and at this stage Genocide begins. How these apparently contradictory discourses merge can be demonstrated. While the Islamic Fascist says Homosexuals must be killed or there are no homosexuals in muslim world thus pushing gays towards genocide. This will result in protest by many even from western world who will focus on Islam’s objection to homosexuality. The Liberal muslim while vehemently oppose to Taliban will brand it “Islamophobia” and Euro-centricism giving examples of historic tolerance of homosexuality in the Past. To the general public which hears to “consensus opinion” message goes “Its all west’s fault they are enemies of Islam” because this is what both Mullah and secular is saying. The marginalized group is forgotten and keeps becoming victim of the dominant discourse. Ahmedin Nijad declared there are no homosexuals in Iran. This is a dangerous exclusionary discourse. Muslim Gay filmmaker Pervez Sharma has subverted this by making documentary recording “same gender love” in Muslim Societies. The film has got critical acclaim and awards and it challenges exclusionary discourse as well Islamophobia. The title itself is deconstructive “A Jihad for Love”

“Fourteen centuries after the revelation of the holy Qur’an to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), Islam today is the world’s second largest and fastest growing religion. Muslim gay filmmaker Parvez Sharma travels the many worlds of this dynamic faith discovering the stories of its most unlikely storytellers: lesbian and gay Muslims.

Filmed over 5 1/2 years, in 12 countries and 9 languages, “A Jihad for Love” comes from the heart of Islam. Looking beyond a hostile and war-torn present, this film seeks to reclaim the Islamic concept of a greater Jihad, which can mean ‘an inner struggle’ or ‘to strive in the path of God’. In doing so the film and its remarkable subjects move beyond the narrow concept of ‘Jihad’ as holy war.”

The film has been criticized for not challenging the theological objections to homosexuality but at least it has tried to challenge the strangulating invisibility imparted on Muslim Gays by Ahmedinijad and likes.

The Pakistani secularists or liberals who becomes tear eyed at the “barbarity” of ignorant Mullahs who wont allow the “love” who hate flowers and chocolates should keep in mind while they defend a corporate degenerative, exclusionary, stereotypical caricature of Love , they can Love even in most fascists of the societies, Taliban’s Afghanistan didn’t banned straight marriage nor did Hitler but in Iran these two teenage boys were hanged only because they loved each other and with Sharia in place in Swat this is the fate which awaits us , the Pakistani Gays if you people remained conformists

Hanged for Love, Iranian gays

Hanged for Love, Iranian gays

The distinguished historian William Dalrymple have written in New York Review of Books an article which reviews Pakistan with the texts of Ahmad Rashid’s “Decent into Chaos: United States and the failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia.. Rashid is perhaps most distinguished Journalist from Pakistan whose work on Taliban is considered most authoritative. He also mentions Shuja Nawaz’s insights into Pakistan Army. What emerges is the critique of United States and Islamic Republic of Pakistan who created Islamic Fascism which is now threatening Pakistan itself. Rashid has long been exposing ISI’s continuous support of Taliban even under General Musharaff, One of ISI’s blued eyed and white bearded boys is now in control in Swat. Pakistani security establishment has learnt nothing and PPP and ANP are just silent hostages of War of Terror. The brilliant piece of writing exposes Pakistan’s lies and ISI’s continuous support for the Jihadis. The continuous working of banned organization and Pakistan’s continuing descent in chaos. When United States and its stooge the Islamic Republic were busy creating these Islamists monsters to kill the Saur Revolution and Modern Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, people kept warning them that these monsters will not leave any civilization but anti-communist mania blinded Pakistani patriots. Rule of Taliban started with direct support of Pakistani Army and hanging of President Najib and his brother, the hangings now continue in Islamic republic, A month before his martyrdom President Najid told a reporter which now seems a prophecy , one which has now set in on Pakistan and United States.

“If fundamentalism comes to Afghanistan, war will continue for many more years. Afghanistan will turn into a center of world smuggling for narcotic drugs. Afghanistan will be turned into a center for terrorism.”

Shaheed President Najid to NewYork Times, One month before his murder at the hands of United States and Pakistan’s monsterous creation , The Taliban

Shaheryar Ali

NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS.

Volume 56, Number 2 · February 12, 2009

Pakistan in Peril By William Dalrymple

Descent into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan , Afghanistan , and Central Asia by Ahmed Rashid

Viking, 484 pp., $27.95. Lahore , Pakistan

William Dalrymple

William Dalrymple

The relative calm in Iraq in recent months, combined with the drama of the US elections, has ma nag ed to distract attention from the catastrophe that is rapidly overwhelming Western interests in the part of the world that always should have been the focus of America ‘s response to September 11: the al-Qaeda and Taliban heartlands on either side of the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan .

The situation here could hardly be more grim. The Taliban have reorganized, advanced out of their borderland safe havens, and are now massing at the gates of Kabul , threatening to surround and throttle the capital, much as the US-backed Mujahideen once did to the Soviet-installed regime in the late Eighties. Like the rerun of an old movie, all journeys out of the Afghan capital are once again confined to tanks, armored cars, and helicopters. Members of the Taliban already control over 70 percent of the country, up from just over 50 percent in November 2007, where they collect taxes, enforce Sharia law, and dispense their usual rough justice; but they do succeed, to some extent, in containing the wave of crime and corruption that has marked Hamid Karzai’s rule. This has become one of the principal reasons for their growing popularity, and every month their sphere of influence increases.

The blowback from the Afghan conflict in Pakistan is more serious still. In less than eight months, Asif Ali Zardari’s new government has effectively lost control of much of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) to the Taliban’s Pakistani counterparts, a loose confederation of nationalists, Islamists, and angry Pashtun tribesmen under the nominal command of Baitullah Mehsud. Few had very high expectations of Zardari, the notoriously corrupt playboy widower of Benazir Bhutto. Nevertheless, the speed of the collapse that has taken place under his watch has amazed almost all observers.

Across much of the North-West Frontier Province—around a fifth of Pakistan—women have now been forced to wear the burqa, music has been silenced, barbershops are forbidden to shave beards, and over 140 girls’ schools have been blown up or burned down. In the provincial capital of Peshawar , a significant proportion of the city’s elite, along with its musicians, have now decamped to the relatively safe and tolerant confines of Lahore and Karachi . Meanwhile tens of thousands of ordinary people from the surrounding hills of the semiautonomous tribal belt—the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) that run along the Afghan border—have fled from the conflict zones blasted by missiles from unmanned American Predator drones and strafed by Pakistani helicopter gunships to the tent camps now ringing Peshawar. (See the map.)

The tribal areas have never been fully under the control of any Pakistani government, and have always been unruly, but they have now been radicalized as never before. The rain of armaments from US drones and Pakistani ground forces, which have caused extensive civilian casualties, daily add a steady stream of angry footsoldiers to the insurgency. Elsewhere in Pakistan , anti-Western religious and political extremism continues to flourish.

The most alarming manifestation of this was the ease with which a highly trained jihadi group, almost certainly supplied and provisioned in Pakistan, probably by the nominally banned Lashkar-e-Taiba—an organization that aims to restore Muslim rule in Kashmir—attacked neighboring India in November. They murdered 173 innocent people in Bombay , injured over six hundred, and brought the two nuclear-armed rivals once again to the brink of war. The attackers arrived by sea, initially using boats based in the same network of fishing villages across the Makran coast through which a number of al-Qaeda suspects are known to have been spirited away from Pakistan to the Arab Gulf following the American assault on Tora Bora in 2001.

In November, on a trip to Pakistan , I tried to visit Peshawar , which functions as both the capital of the North-West Frontier Province and the administrative center for FATA. But for the first time in twenty-five years, I was warned by Pakistani journalist friends not even to attempt going. In one week, an unprecedented series of events made up my mind for me.

On Monday, November 11, some sixty militants identified with the Pakistani Taliban looted thirteen trucks carrying military supplies and a fleet of Humvees going up the Khyber Pass to US troops in Afghanistan . Twenty-six people were kidnapped. The next day, a suicide bomber narrowly missed killing the governor and some of the ministers of the North-West Frontier Province , as they left a stadium. Three people were killed in the attack. On Wednesday of that week, unidentified gunmen shot dead Stephen Vance, a US aid worker, and kidnapped an Iranian diplomat, who joined the Chinese engineers, Pakistani truck drivers, and Afghan diplomats now being held in Taliban captivity. On Thursday, two journalists—one Japanese, the other Afghan—were shot at and wounded. Peshawar suddenly seemed to be becoming as violent as Baghdad at the height of the insurgency three years ago.

All this took place in the vacuum created by the temporary flight from the province of the chief minister and leader of the ruling Awami National Party of the NWFP, Asfandyar Wali Khan. This followed a suicide bombing on October 2 that killed three guests and a member of his staff while he was greeting visitors during Eid celebrations marking the end of Ramadan. Immediately after the bombing, a rattled Asfandyar fled from the province in a helicopter sent to him by Zardari, then flew straight on to Britain . He was persuaded to return only with some difficulty. In February 2008, Asfandyar’s party had been elected with a huge majority, breaking the power of the MMA Islamist alliance, a coalition of Islamic groups that has been a major force in Frontier politics, and that had ruled the province for the previous five years. The election seemed to mark a moment of hope for Pakistani secular democracy; but that hope was soon shattered by the apparently unstoppable advance of the Pakistani Taliban out of FATA.

Sharia Law, Herat.Thanks RAWA

Sharia Law, Herat.Thanks RAWA

Since then there have been several more suicide bombings and a number of daring attacks on US convoys and depots in and around Peshawar , including one that led to the burning of two hundred trucks and dozens of Humvees and armored personnel carriers, and another that led to the capture by the Taliban of fifty containers of supplies. Other civilian convoys have been allowed to continue, but only after paying a toll to the Taliban, who now, in effect, control the Khyber Pass, the key land route between Pakistan and Afghanistan . At the moment more than 70 percent of supplies for the US troops in Afghanistan travel through the NWFP to Peshawar and hence up the Khyber Pass. The US is now trying to work out alternative supply routes for its troops in Afghanistan via several Central Asian republics—Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan, which has the important Manas Air Base—all of which have themselves been markedly radicalized since 2001.

Far from the frontier, in Pakistan’s artistic capital of Lahore, at the heart of the prosperous Punjab, the usually resilient members of the liberal elite were more depressed than I have ever seen them, alarmed both by the news of the Taliban’s advances and by the economic difficulties that have recently led Pakistan to seek a $7.6 billion IMF loan. The night I arrived I went to see Najam Sethi and his wife Jugnu, editors of the English-language Daily Times and Friday Times newspapers, who now found themselves directly in the Taliban’s crosshairs. Three weeks earlier they had begun to receive faxes threatening them with violence if they didn’t stop attacking Islamist interests in their columns. One such fax had arrived that morning. The two have bravely survived years of harassment by various governments and agencies, but now felt powerless to respond to these anonymous threats.

Another old friend in Lahore , the remarkable human rights campaigner Asma Jahangir, had also received fax warnings—in her case to desist helping the victims of honor killings. Asma, who had bravely fought successive military governments, was at a loss about what to do: “Nobody is safe anymore,” she told me. “If you are threatened by the government you can take them on legally. But with nonstate actors, when even members of the government are themselves not safe, who do you appeal to? Where do you look for protection?”

These events dramatically illustrate Ahmed Rashid’s central contention in his brilliant and passionate book Descent into Chaos. Throughout the book Rashid emphasizes the degree to which, seven years after September 11, “the US-led war on terrorism has left in its wake a far more unstable world than existed on that momentous day in 2001”:

Rather than diminishing, the threat from al Qaeda and its affiliates has grown, engulfing new regions of Africa, Asia, and Europe and creating fear among peoples from Australia to Zanzibar . The US invasions of two Muslim countries…[have] so far failed to contain either the original organization or the threat that now comes from its copycats…in British or French cities who have been mobilized through the Internet. The al Qaeda leader…is still at large, despite the largest manhunt in history….

Afghanistan is once again staring down the abyss of state collapse, despite billions of dollars in aid, forty-five thousand Western troops, and the deaths of thousands of people. The Taliban have made a dramatic comeback…. The international community had an extended window of opportunity for several years to help the Afghan people—they failed to take advantage of it.

Pakistan …has undergone a slower but equally bloody meltdown…. In 2007 there were 56 suicide bombings in Pakistan that killed 640 people, compared to just 6 bombings in the previous year….

In 2008, American power lies shattered…. US credibility lies in ruins…. Ultimately the strategies of the Bush administration have created a far bigger crisis in South and Central Asia than existed before 9/11.

It is difficult to disagree with any of this. Eight years of neocon foreign policies have been a spectacular disaster for American interests in the Islamic world, leading to the rise of Iran as a major regional power, the advance of Hamas and Hezbollah, the wreckage of Iraq, with over two million external refugees and the ethnic cleansing of its Christian population, and now the implosion of Afghanistan and Pakistan, probably the most dangerous development of all.

Ahmed Rashid’s book convincingly shows how the Central and Southern Asian portion of this tragedy took shape in the years since 2001. Rashid has long been an authority on the politics of Pakistan , Afghanistan , and Central Asia, and his welcoming house in Lahore has for many years been the first port of call for visiting journalists and writers. An urbane, witty, bookish, Cambridge-educated bon viveur, with a Spanish Galician wife, he is a writer whose high spirits can easily make one forget both the immense bravery of his consistently fearless reporting in such a dangerous environment over thirty years—Rashid was recently sentenced to death in absentia by the Pakistan Taliban—and the deep scholarship and research that give his work its depth. Rashid, a contributor to TheNew York Review, came to world attention after the Islamist attacks on America when his book Taliban1 was recognized to be virtually the only serious work on the regime that had given shelter to al-Qaeda. As a result it quickly sold nearly 1.5 million copies in twenty-six languages across the world.

In his new book, Rashid is particularly perceptive in his examination of the causes of terrorism in the region, and the way that the Bush administration sought to silence real scrutiny of what was actually causing so many people in South and Central Asia violently to resist American influence. Serious analysis was swept under the carpet, making impossible

any discussion or understanding of the “root causes” of terrorism—the growing poverty, repression, and sense of injustice that many Muslims felt at the hands of their US-backed governments, which in turn boosted anti-Americanism and Islamic extremism…. Bush did more to keep Americans blind to world affairs than any American leader in recent history.

Instead, terrorism was presented by the administration as a result of a “sudden worldwide anti-Americanism rather than a result of past American policy failures.” Bush’s speech to Congress, claiming that the world hated America because “they hate our freedoms—our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote,” ignored the political elephant standing in the middle of the living room—US foreign policy, especially in the Middle East, with its long history of unpopular interventions in the Islamic world and its uncritical support for Israel’s steady colonization of the West Bank and violent repression of the Palestinians. As the Department of Defense Science Board rightly pointed out in response to Bush’s speech: “Muslims do not ‘hate our freedom,’ but rather they hate our policies.”

It was partly the intense hostility to Islam emanating from both the press and the government of the United States that made it so difficult for moderates in the Islamic world to counter the propaganda of the extremists. How could the moderates dispute the notion that America was engaged in a civilizational war against Islam when this was clearly something many in the administration, and their supporters in the press, did indeed believe? It also had a strongly negative effect on policy decisions. By building up public hysteria and presenting a vision of an Islamic world eaten up with irrational hatred of America , an unspoken feeling was generated among Americans that, as Rashid puts it,

if they hated us, then Americans should hate Muslims back and retaliate not just against the terrorists but against Islam in general. By generating such fears it was virtually impossible to gain American public attention and support for long-term nation building.

It also made possible the comprehensive pattern of human rights abuses that the administration presided over—the torture and “rendition” program—that Rashid describes here with shocking and uncompromising clarity. As well as the damage this did to the image of the US abroad, it also encouraged repression among its regional allies: “By following America ‘s lead in promoting or condoning disappearances, torture, and secret jails, these countries found their path to democracy and their struggle against Islamic extremism set back by decades,” Rashid writes.

But while laying part of the blame for the current disaster on the “arrogance and ignorance” of the American administration, Rashid is also well aware of the large share of responsibility that must be put at the door of Pakistan ‘s army and its Inter-Services Intelligence Agency, or ISI. For more than twenty years, the ISI has, for its own purposes, deliberately and consistently funded and incubated a variety of Islamist groups, including in particular Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Taiba. Since the days of the anti-Soviet Mujahideen, the Pakistani army saw the jihadis as an ingenious and cost-effective means of both dominating Afghanistan—something they finally achieved with the retreat of the Soviets in 1987—and bogging down the India n army in Kashmir—something they succeeded in achieving from 1990 onward.

Martyardom of President Najib by Taliban

Martyardom of President Najib by Taliban

As Hamid Gul, the director of the ISI who was largely responsible for developing this strategy, once explained to me, if the ISI “encourages the Kashmiris it’s understandable.” He said, “The Kashmiri people have risen up in accordance with the UN charter, and it is the national purpose of Pakistan to help liberate them. If the jihadis go out and contain India , tying down their army on their own soil, for a legitimate cause, why should we not support them?” Next to him in his Islamabad living room lay a large piece of the Berlin Wall presented to him by the people of Berlin for “delivering the first blow” to the Soviet Empire through his use of jihadis in the 1980s.

For Gul the usefulness of the jihadis was self-evident, and in this view he had plenty of company. As Steve Coll put it in Ghost Wars :

Every Pakistani general, liberal or religious, believed in the jihadists by 1999, not from personal Islamic conviction, in most cases, but because the jihadists had proved themselves over many years as the one force able to frighten, flummox, and bog down the Hindu-dominated India n army. About a dozen India n divisions had been tied up in Kashmir during the late 1990s to suppress a few thousand well-trained, paradise-seeking guerrillas. What more could Pakistan ask?[2]

It is for this reason that many in the army still believe that the jihadis make up a more practical defense against India n dominance than even nuclear weapons. For them, supporting a range of jihadi groups in Afghanistan and Kashmir is not an ideological or religious whim so much as a practical and patriotic imperative—a vital survival strategy for a Pakistani state that they perceive to be threatened by India ‘s ever-growing power and its alliance with the hostile Karzai regime in Kabul.

The army’s senior military brass were convinced until recently that they could control the militants whom they had fostered. In a taped conversation between then General Pervez Musharraf and Muhammad Aziz Khan, his chief of general staff, which India released in 1999, Aziz said that the army had the jihadis by their tooti (their privates). Yet while some in the ISI may still believe that they can use jihadis for their own ends, the Islamists have increasingly followed their own agendas, sending suicide bombers to attack not just members of Pakistan’s religious minorities and political leaders, but even the ISI headquarters at Camp Hamza itself, in apparent revenge for the army’s declared support for America’s war on terror and attacks made by the Pakistani military on Taliban strongholds in FATA. Ironically, as Rashid makes clear, it was exactly groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, which were originally created by the ISI, that have now turned their guns on their creators, as well as brazenly launching well-equipped and well-trained teams of jihadis into India n territory . In doing so they are severely damaging Pakistani interests abroad, and bringing Pakistan to the brink of a war it cannot possibly win.

Turning of Tide,Taliban Justice in Pakistan

Turning of Tide,Taliban Justice in Pakistan

It was the military dictator General Zia ul-Haq, between 1978 and 1988, who was responsible for initiating the fatal alliance between the conservative Pakistani military and the equally reactionary mullahs that led to the use of Pakistan ‘s Islamic radicals in the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan . Their recruitment was always controlled by the ISI, but was originally jointly funded by the CIA and Saudi intelligence. Militant mosques such as the Lal Masjid near the ISI headquarters in the center of Islamabad were turned into recruiting centers for potential Mujahideen, and places where the intelligence services could be in touch with young radicals.

This vital period under Zia, when the jihadis were first harnessed to the use of the Pakistani state, is brilliantly described in a history of the Pakistani army by Shuja Nawaz, the Washington-based brother of a former Pakistani army chief of general staff. One of the most telling passages in the book describes the “strange non-military atmosphere” in the ISI in the early 1990s at the end of the reign of one of the most overtly Islamist directors of the agency, the Zia-appointed Lieutenant General Javed Nasir. When his successor turned up to take over, he found that “the corridors were filled with bearded civilians in shalwar kameez,” the pajama-like traditional dress, “many of them with their shalwar hitched up above the ankle, a signature practice of the [ultra-orthodox] Tablighi Jamaat to which Nasir belonged.”

He was shown a strong room that once had “currency stacked to the ceiling” but was now empty as adventurist ISI officers had taken “suitcases filled with cash” to the field, including to the newly independent Central Asian republics, ostensibly to set up safe houses and operations there in support of Islamic causes. There were no accounts or any receipts to these money transfers….Most officers were absent from their offices for extended periods, often away for “prayers.”[3]

Rashid’s book takes up the story where Shuja Nawaz leaves off. Descent into Chaos breaks entirely new ground in making explicit, in strikingly well-researched detail, the degree to which the army and ISI continued this duplicitous and risky policy of supporting radical Islamic groups after September 11, 2001, despite President Musharraf’s many public promises to the contrary. The speed with which the US lost interest in Afghanistan after its successful invasion and embarked on plans to invade Iraq , which clearly had no link with al-Qaeda, convinced Pakistan ‘s military leaders that the US was not serious about a long-term commitment to Karzai’s regime. This in turn led to them keeping the Taliban in reserve to be used to reinstall a pro-Pakistani regime in Afghanistan once the Americans’ attention had been turned elsewhere and the Karzai regime had been left to crumble.

So it was, only months after Septem-ber 11, that the ISI was giving refuge to the entire Taliban leadership after it fled from Afghanistan . Mullah Omar was kept in an ISI safehouse in the town of Quetta , just south of the tribal areas in Baluchistan, near the Afghan border, while his militia was lodged in Pashtunabad, a sprawling Quetta suburb. Gulbuddin Hikmetyar, the leader of the radical Mujahideen militia Hizb-e- Islami, was lured back from exile in Iran and allowed to operate freely outside Peshawar , while Jalaluddin Haqqani, one of the most violent Taliban commanders, was given sanctuary by the ISI in north Waziristan, a part of FATA.

In order to keep contact with such groups beyond the radar of Western intelligence, the ISI created a new clandestine organization, staffed by former ISI trainers and retired Pashtun officers from the army, who armed, trained, and supported the Taliban in camps around Quetta . In view of the high level of military training of the Lashkar jihadis who attacked Bombay , it may well be that some similar arrangement involving former ISI officers was used to prepare the Bombay terrorists for their mission too.

By 2004, the US had filmed Pakistani army trucks delivering Taliban fighters to the Afghan border and taking them back a few days later, while wireless monitoring at the US base at Bagram picked up Taliban commanders arranging with Pakistani army officers at the border for safe passage as they came in and out of Afghanistan. By 2005 the Taliban, with covert Pakistani support, was launching a full-scale assault on NATO troops in Afghanistan . As Rashid notes in his conclusion:

Today, seven years after 9/11, Mullah Omar and the original Afghan Taliban Shura still live in Baluchistan province. Afghan and Pakistani Taliban leaders live on further north, in FATA, as do the militias of Jalaluddin Haqqani and Gulbuddin Hikmetyar. Al Qaeda has a safe haven in FATA, and along with them reside a plethora of Asian and Arab terrorist groups who are now expanding their reach into Europe and the United States .

The foot-dragging response of Zardari to the attacks on Bombay last November shows the degree to which the two-faced dual-track policy of courting both the US and the various jihadi groups remains effectively in place with the Pakistani military. For the last decade Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba, has been allowed to operate from Muridke, near Lahore . Although, in reaction to US pressure after September 11, Lashkar has officially been banned, in reality it continues to function under the name of Jamaat-ud Daawa, while Saeed continues openly to incite attacks on India and Western targets. The speeches quoted by Rashid show how easily such attacks could have been anticipated, and how they should have been stopped: “The powerful Western world is terrorizing Muslims,” Saeed told an Islamabad conference in 2003. “We are being invaded, humiliated, manipulated and looted…. We must fight against the evil trio, America , Israel and India . Suicide missions are in accordance with Islam. In fact a suicide attack is the best form of jihad.”

Even now, after the mass murder in Bombay , although Saeed is himself now under house arrest for masterminding the attacks (an accusation that he denies), his organization’s madrasas and facilities remain open and appear to benefit from patro nag e offered by Pakistan ‘s authorities. Only this year the Zardari government cleared the purchase of a bulletproof Land Cruiser for him. Zardari does indeed seem to be in what the India n foreign minister, Pranab Mukherjee, calls “a state of denial” about the involvement of Pakistani jihadi groups in the Bombay massacres.

Yet viewed in the light of Pakistani power politics, Zardari’s position has a certain dangerous logic. Army insiders say that General Ashfaq Kiyani, the current chief of staff, who is already involved in a full-scale conflict with the Pakistani Taliban in the frontier tribal areas, does not feel sufficiently strong to open a second front with the jihadis in the Punjab; while Zardari, even though he may wish to be rid of Lashkar and the Punjabi jihadis, cannot afford to be seen to cave in to India n pressure. It is a classic South Asian catch-22, which allows Lashkar to continue functioning with only cosmetic restrictions, whose main function is to impress the US . Yet the fact remains that until firm action is taken against all such groups, and training camps are closed down, the slow collapse of the Pakistani state will continue, and with it the safety of Western interests in the region.

Several factors will determine the future. Rashid makes it clear that only a radically changed policy by the United States under Barack Obama can hope to begin turning things around. He writes:

South and Central Asia will not see stability unless there is a new global compact among the leading players…to help this region solve its problems, which range from settling the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan to funding a massive education and job-creation program in the borderlands between Afghanistan and Pakistan and along their borders with Central Asia .

As Obama has hinted, such an approach could be coupled with negotiations with some elements of the Afghan Taliban.

The second factor, of course, has to be reform of the ISI and the Pakistani military. The top Pakistani army officers must end their obsession with bleeding India by using an Islamist strategic doctrine entailing support of jihadists, and realize that such a policy is deeply damaging to Pakistan itself, threatening to turn Pakistan into a clone of Taliban-dominated Afghanistan rather than a potential partner of a future India n superpower.

A third factor, which Rashid does not discuss in this book, is somehow finding a way to stop the madrasa- inspired and Saudi-financed advance of Wahhabi Islam, which is directly linked to the spread of anti-Western radicalization. On my last visit to Pakistan , it was very clear that while the Wahhabi-dominated North-West was on the verge of falling under the sway of the Taliban, the same was not true of the Sufi-dominated province of Sindh , which currently is quieter and safer than it has been for some time. Here in southern Pakistan , on the India n border, Sufi Islam continues to act as a powerful defense against the puritanical fundamentalist Islam of the Wahhabi mullahs, which supports intolerance of all other faiths.

Visiting the popular Sufi shrine of Sehwan in Sindh last month, I was astonished by the strength of feeling expressed against the mullahs by the Sindhis who look to their great saints such a Lal Shabaz Qalander for guidance, and hate the Wahhabis who criticize the popular Islam of the Sufi saints as a form of shirk, or heresy: “All these mullahs should be damned,” said one old Sufi I talked to in the shrine. “They read their books but they never understand the true message of love that the prophet preached. Men so blind as them cannot even see the shining sun.” A friend who visited shortly before me met a young man from Swat, in the North-West Frontier Province , who said he had considered joining the militants, but their anti-Sufi attitude had put him off: “No one can deny us our respected saints of God,” he said.

The Saudis have invested intensively in Wahhabi madrasas in the North-West Frontier Province and Punjab , with dramatic effect, radically changing the religious culture of an entire region. The tolerant Sufi culture of Sindh has been able to defy this imported Wahhabi radicalism. The politically moderating effect of Sufism was recently described in a RAND Corporation report recommending support for Sufism as an “open, intellectual interpretation of Islam.” Here is an entirely indigenous and homegrown Islamic resistance movement to fundamentalism, with deep roots in South Asian culture. Its importance cannot be overestimated. Could it have a political effect in a country still dominated by military forces that continue to fund and train jihadi groups? It is one of the few sources of hope left in the increasingly bleak political landscape of this strategically crucial country.

January 15, 2009

Notes

[1]Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil, and Fundamentalism in Central Asia ( Yale University Press, 2000).

[2]Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA , Afghanistan , and bin Laden from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 (Penguin, 2004), p. 495. See also the review in these pages by Ahmed Rashid, May 27, 2004.

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