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Showing posts from May, 2011

Saleem Shahzad: the price of truth

The body of Syed Saleem Shahzad, one of Pakistan’s best investigative journalists, was found yesterday from Mandi Bahauddin. Mr Shahzad was Pakistan bureau chief of Asia Times Online. He went missing on May 29, 2011 from Islamabad when he was on his way to a local television channel to participate in a talk show but he never made it there. Reports suggest that he disappeared between 5:30-6:00 pm from a high security area in Islamabad. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), Mr Shahzad had voiced his concerns that a sensitive intelligence agency could harm him. In an interview with TIME magazine, HRW’s Ali Dayan Hasan said: “To date, no intelligence personnel have been held accountable for frequently perpetrated abuses against journalists. Tolerance for these practices has to end, now.” Saleem Shahzad’s last story for Asia Times Online revealed how al Qaeda had penetrated the Pakistan Navy. The attack on PNS Mehran took place “after talks failed between the Navy and al Qaeda over the re…

Playing the patriotic card

On May 28, 1998, Pakistan became the world’s seventh nuclear weapons state. Yesterday, while commemorating the 13th anniversary of the nuclear tests, there were many self-congratulatory messages from our leaders and officials. In all this chest-thumping, we forgot to ask ourselves one question: have we secured our country by going nuclear? Back in 1998, then prime minister Nawaz Sharif and the military decided that it was time to declare ourselves a nuclear-armed state weeks after India’s nuclear tests while ignoring the fact that India actually went nuclear in 1974. The argument given in favour of the tests was that it would serve as a deterrent and make our defence impregnable. Those opposing the tests were of the view that nuclear ambiguity was itself a deterrent. The sanctions and international isolation that followed, apart from the local foreign currency accounts being frozen, could have been avoided. On top of that, nuclear proliferation made us a pariah state while India came …

May 28, 2010: Black Friday

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the deadly attacks on two places of worship of the Ahmediyya community during Friday prayers. The Punjab wing of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the attacks. More than 80 people died and over a hundred were injured on that fateful Friday. It is with great disbelief that today most Pakistanis are celebrating ‘Yaum-e-Takbeer’ to commemorate the 13th anniversary of Pakistan going nuclear while completely forgetting what happened just a year ago on that same day. It is not surprising that just like the rest of our nation, thePakistani authorities too have a short memory span. Apart from the initial investigations and a few arrests made in this regard last year, no details of what happened to the arrested or any new developments have been made public. This is the height of irresponsibility. It also shows the apathy our state as a whole shows towards the minorities.

Pakistan declared the Ahmedis non-Muslims back in 1974 …

LeT-ISI ties

In one of the most important terrorism trials being held in Chicago these days, Pakistani-Canadian Tahawwur Hussain Rana, a co-accused in the 26/11 Mumbai attack case, is being tried. The star witness is David Headley, a Pakistani-American and Rana’s best friend. Headley confessed to his ties with the ISI and Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT), a Pakistan-based banned terrorist organisation. He revealed some shocking details of how the Mumbai terror plot was planned and carried out with their help. Headley also told the court there was a plan to attack the Danish paper, Jyllands-Posten, after blasphemous cartoons were published in it. “Lashkar wanted to plan something. We were all infuriated,” Headley told the court. When the LeT put the Danish terror plot on hold, Headley turned to Ilyas Kashmiri, who is known to have ties with al Qaeda.

The implications of this trial for Pakistan are going to be immense. LeT and the ISI have long been known to have ties. The ISI is said to have nurtured and tr…

Back to the barracks

The attack on PNS Mehran in Karachi has shaken the people of Pakistan. When the country’s most powerful institution, the armed forces, is not safe from such a brutal attack, how can the common man feel safe? Unfortunately, the armed forces do not seem to be ready to take stock of the deteriorating security situation. It was with incredulity that we heard Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Noman Bashir assert that the 16-hour long attack on our naval airbase was not due to any security breach. If losing 10 soldiers, two Orion aircraft and being under siege for 16 hours does not constitute a security failure, then our guardians must share their ‘wisdom’ with the rest of the nation and let us know what they consider ‘failure’. Admiral Bashir’s response is typical of all high officials in this land of the pure. They never accept their mistakes. But this culture of impunity, particularly where the armed forces are concerned, must be changed. Instead of opaque and unaccountable impunity, all inve…

Horror, of which I am dying

On May 22, reports broke out late night that Pakistan Naval Station (PNS) Mehran in Karachi had been attacked by terrorists. When images of the attack on the naval airbase started streaming on our television screens, no one was left unaffected by its horror. At least 10 soldiers were martyred in the ensuing fight, with 15 injured. Grenades, rockets, gunfire, suicide vests – the terrorists resorted to everything. That this attack was the result of a huge security lapse cannot be denied. Four attacks (two on April 26) against the naval forces within a month; the latest one carried out despite warnings of such an attack in recent intelligence reports. The PNS Mehran attack was reminiscent of the GHQ attack back in October 2009. Such attacks cannot take place without help from the ‘inside’. This should be a cause for worry. If elements within our armed forces are aiding the terrorists in carrying out attacks against the security forces, they need to be identified and dealt with.

The opera…

The battle for Pakistan

The worst terrorist attack of the year was carried out in the heart of Karachi, the largest metropolis of Pakistan. The place was PNS Mehran, our naval airbase. Fire blazed from the area while explosions and gunfire were heard. It all began around 10:30 pm on May 22. It ended after more than 15 hours on May 23. The brutal terrorist attack on the naval airbase turned out to be the worst nightmare for our security forces after the October 2009 attack on the GHQ. We lost 10 brave men at the hands of the terrorists while 15 others were injured. “It was the revenge of martyrdom of Osama bin Laden. It was the proof that we are still united and powerful,” claimed a spokesman of the Pakistani Taliban. The mind boggles at the state of security of an area that should have been a fortified place but instead turned out to be an easy target for the terrorists. Initial reports suggested that around 10-15 terrorists had penetrated PNS Mehran but after the operation, Interior Minister Rehman Malik sa…

A leaking bucket

A leading English daily in Pakistan has started publishing the ‘Pakistan Papers’, a set of WikiLeaks cables related to Pakistan. In a secret cable sent by the then US Ambassador Anne Patterson on February 11, 2008, she wrote that Chief of Army Staff General Kayani had requested that the Americans provide “continuous Predator coverage of the conflict area” in South Waziristan during a meeting with US CENTCOM Commander Admiral William J Fallon. The ISPR has denied these reports. According to an ISPR press release, “In the past, there has only been sharing of technical intelligence in some areas. No armed drone attack support has ever been asked for our operations, which have been conducted using own resources.” The revelations surrounding drone attacks are not surprising. Many in Pakistan had been talking about the state’s complicity in such strikes. In the past, some WikiLeaks cables had revealed how our politicians told the US that they would publicly make a noise about the drone atta…

Gwadar port’s future

China has “acceded to Pakistan’s request to take over operations” of the Gwadar port as soon as the contract with the incumbent Singapore Port Authority (SPA) expires, revealed Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar. He thanked the Chinese government for building the Gwadar port but said that Pakistan “will be more grateful to the Chinese government if they agree to build a naval base at Gwadar for Pakistan”. As per reports, it is still not clear when China will take over the port, since the agreement between the PSAI-AKD group and the Gwadar Port Authority is valid until 2047. The reason for Pakistan’s request to the Chinese to take over is that the SPA has not done much since taking over the Gwadar port. The port is in almost the same condition as it was when they took over four years ago. None of the contractual commitments have been fulfilled since the agreement was signed in February 2007. Given this poor performance, there is no question of continuing with a non-functioning par…

Of incursions and contradictions

Two NATO helicopters violated Pakistani air space on Tuesday in North Waziristan Agency according to a statement by the Pakistan Army, which went on to add: “The troops at the post fired upon the helicopters and, as a result of [the] exchange of fire, two of our soldiers received injuries. Pakistan Army has lodged strong protest and demanded a flag meeting.” The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) says it will look into the matter and decide accordingly. NATO forces claim that their helicopters came under fire from across the border and thus had to resort to retaliatory fire. Pakistani officials claim that the helicopters were fired upon because they were about to enter our border. Whatever the truth may be, such ‘incursions’ are not unheard of since North Waziristan is known to be a hotbed of terrorist safe havens. In the past, NATO helicopters have violated Pakistani air space during hot pursuit of militants, which is allowed under the international rules of enga…

Pressing the ‘reset’ button

US Senator John Kerry visited Pakistan in an obvious attempt to continue with the US’s carrot and stick policy. The mistrust between the two sides had always been there, before and since 9/11, but after Osama bin Laden was killed in the garrison town of Abbottabad, the gulf has further widened. Senator Kerry has been one of the few ‘friends’ of Pakistan in the US. Thus it is all but obvious why he would have been chosen to deliver the ‘friendly fire’ in light of the Abbottabad raid. While assurances were given from both sides of bilateral cooperation in the war on terror, Senator Kerry warned the Pakistani authorities: “The road ahead will not be defined by words. It will be defined by actions.” This was diplomatic parlance for ‘put your money where your mouth is’. Senator Kerry made it clear that many in the US Congress are “raising tough questions” about the US’s economic assistance to the government of Pakistan “because of the events as they unfolded and because of the presence of …

Nakba Day: let us not forget

Palestinians around the world observed Nakba (catastrophe) Day on May 15 to commemorate the displacement of the Palestinian people following the formation of Israel in 1948. In their usual display of unwarranted aggression, the Israeli forces opened fire on hundreds of Palestinians who had gathered along its frontiers with Syria, Lebanon and Gaza to peacefully demonstrate on Nakba Day. At least 13 people were killed. “We encourage maximum restraint on all sides,” was the mealy-mouthed response from the world’s sole superpower, the US. When Israel came into being in 1948, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were forcefully expelled from their homes and land onto the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Lebanon, Syria and surrounding countries. In their ‘holy escapade’, the Zionists acted through terrorist gangs and the Israeli armed forces. The western world, particularly the British who held the Palestinian territory as a mandate, looked the other way while this was going on. This was the beginni…

The game is up

The joint session of parliament on May 13 was nothing short of a historic turning point in civil-military relations. The in-camera briefings given by the military top brass to the parliamentarians in order to explain what happened in the Abbottabad raid is a new precedent. Before this incident, it would have been unimaginable to think that the ISI chief could ever answer scathing questions from the politicians for many hours. In the face of trenchant criticism for their obliviousness to Osama bin Laden’s presence near a military academy, our armed forces finally decided to brief the parliamentarians. Only time will tell whether the decision to do this was a tactical retreat by the military or reflects a real mind change. One thing is clear though: the ‘game’ is up. Pakistan’s military cannot afford to play its usual double game anymore because the world’s, and particularly the US’s, patience has finally run out. Despite their denials and having confessed to incompetence and an intelli…

Horrible massacre

On Friday, two suicide bombers attacked the Frontier Constabulary (FC) Training Centre in Shabqadar area of Charsadda district, killing 89 people as per the latest reports and wounding at least 140. The death toll is likely to rise. Of those who have died, 69 were paramilitary cadets who were heading home for a break after six months of training. The double suicide bombing took place within a gap of minutes when the young FC men were piling their luggage on buses parked outside the gates of the training centre. The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the deadly attack and vowed to carry out more such attacks in an act of retribution for the killing of al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.

It is very unfortunate that in the aftermath of Osama’s assassination, our security forces have not shown alertness of mind. The open threat that the TTP issued after Osama’s death should have led to more precautions but it seems to be business as usual. Official vehicles parked out…