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Showing posts from June, 2011

Devolution of power

The 18th Amendment is this parliament’s historic achievement. The federal cabinet has approved the devolution of the remaining seven ministries – among the 17 ministries to be devolved– under the third and final phase of the 18th Amendment devolution. Now one of its major promises, that of abolishing the Concurrent List, has been fulfilled. “It is for the first time in the country’s history that the federation has devolved its powers to the provinces to make them autonomous,” said Minister for Information and Broadcasting Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan. From July 1, the provinces will be in charge while the federal government will control five subjects now, i.e. communications, defence, foreign affairs, finance and revenue. The government and all parliamentarians must be lauded for this achievement, especially 18th Amendment Implementation Commission Chairman Senator Raza Rabbani. Rabbani took on a tough task but was able to deliver. Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has declared July 1 to be …

TTP split

The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) now has an offshoot, Tehrik-i-Taliban Islami (TTI). Fazal Saeed, a TTP commander from Kurram Agency, declared that he was parting ways with the TTP leadership and along with his 500 fighters he is forming his own group, TTI. “We abhor killing innocent people through suicide attacks and bomb blasts, attacks on our own army and destruction of social infrastructure. The new organisation will not attack our own security forces,” Saeed said in a statement on Monday. Saeed protested at “suicide attacks against mosques, markets and other civilian targets”. It is important to note that Saeed vowed to continue jihad against foreign forces in Afghanistan and anti-Islam elements within Pakistan. Even though Saeed’s splinter group might not have much of an impact on the TTP’s terrorist activities, it is an indication that the TTP is not a solid and cohesive organisation.

When Hakeemullah Mehsud became Baitullah Mehsud’s successor, it was said that he was hot-h…

Moral policing by IJT

A group of the Islami Jamiat-i-Talaba (IJT) hooligans beat up students and later opened fire in Punjab University’s (PU’s) Hostel No 7 on Sunday night, injuring several teachers, students and guards. They fled the scene before they could be apprehended. Such incidents of senseless violence are a norm as far as the IJT is concerned. It all began when a student from PU’s philosophy department was beaten up by IJT members because he was talking to his female class fellow. The IJT nazim threatened that the Jamiat will take action against ‘immoral activities’. Female students at PU staged protest rallies against the IJT’s moral policing and highhandedness twice last week. Many other students and some teachers also joined their protest rallies where “Go Jamiat Go” and “Taliban Murdabad” slogans echoed.

The IJT is the student wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and just like the JI, it promotes its own brand of Islamic ideology at the PU campus. Progressive and secular ideas are thwarted by IJ…

Bloody battles rage on

Twelve policemen lost their lives on Saturday when two Taliban militants attacked a police station in Dera Ismail Khan. “The attackers were a husband and wife. We will keep carrying out attacks with different strategies,” Ehsanullah Ehsan, a Pakistani Taliban spokesman, told Reuters. There was a five-hour standoff between the police and the two terrorists who were dressed in burqas. During the siege, there were reports that between seven and 20 attackers were involved but as it turned out, only two Taliban militants carried out the attack. Five policemen were shot dead while seven others lost their lives when the couple blew themselves up at the end. The fact that a man wore a burqa to deceive the policemen is nothing new. Maulana Abdul Aziz of Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) fame tried to escape from the mosque in a burqa back in 2007. The Taliban are not getting innovative; they are just following in the footsteps of their fellow radicals. What is worrying though is the frequency of attacks…

Moving slowly towards peace

India and Pakistan have completed foreign secretary level talks on June 23-24 in Islamabad. Before the talks started, there were no high expectations on both sides of the border. Nevertheless the talks seem to have gone well. The atmospherics were good and cordial. The two foreign secretaries, Pakistan’s Salman Bashir and India’s Nirupama Rao, held a joint press conference on Friday. The joint statement was positive and “both sides reiterated their intention to carry forward the dialogue process in a constructive and purposeful manner”.

After the Mumbai attacks, the dialogue process had been suspended. The ice was broken in Sharm el-Sheikh by the Indian and Pakistani premiers. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was widely criticised after those talks but his response was, “I sincerely believe it is our obligation to keep the channels of communication open.” It is important for India and Pakistan to resolve their longstanding issues bilaterally. War is no longer an option after the nuclear…

Endgame in Afghanistan

US President Barack Obama is finally going to deliver on his promise of pulling out US troops from Afghanistan. Apart from announcing that 10,000 troops will be removed by the end of this year and some 23,000 next year, Mr Obama said that by 2014, “this process of transition will be complete, and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security”. The US’s NATO allies welcomed this decision and will also proceed with a gradual drawdown of their troops. Even though many in Afghanistan are wary of this decision, it has all but established that this war cannot continue endlessly. It is for this reason that the western forces are now negotiating with the Afghan Taliban to reach a political settlement before they leave. When the US invaded Afghanistan back in 2001, the more perceptive analysts had warned that the US would not succeed. By now this has been proved despite the US’s insistence that it has been successful. While the US was able to overthrow the Taliban government and…

Journalists at peril

Last month we lost journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad to faceless murderers because of his hard-hitting reporting. It is alleged that the ISI, Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency, is behind his death. Last week Waqar Kiani, who works for the Guardian, was badly beaten up by men in police uniform in Islamabad who wanted to ‘make an example’ of him. This took place less than a week after Mr Kiani went public with his account of how he had been picked up and tortured back in 2008 by “suspected Pakistani intelligence agents” as per a report published in the Guardian. A journalist from Shujabad, Khalid Mehmood, was picked up last week by unknown men. Mehmood’s family blames the security agencies for his disappearance. Imtiaz Alam, Secretary General South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA), has received direct threats to his life from a sensitive agency. Mr Alam is no stranger to threats and attacks by the agencies but to receive such threats from the highest quarters in the present climat…

Important developments

“The US believes that the new sanctions regime for Afghanistan will serve as an important tool to promote reconciliation, while isolating extremists,” is what US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice said in a statement after the UN Security Council (UNSC) split the UN sanctions list for Taliban and al Qaeda figures into two. This distinction, however small, is very significant. It comes at a time when the US is said to be holding talks indirectly with the Taliban in preparation for withdrawal. Afghan President Hamid Karzai disclosed: “Talks with the Taliban have started...the talks are going on well. Also foreign forces, especially the US, are carrying out the talks themselves.” The western forces have finally understood that leaving Afghanistan without negotiating with the Afghan Taliban is just not possible under the circumstances. This is visible from the fact that a four-member delegation of German parliamentarians want to invite the Taliban to the second Bonn Conference in December. T…

Booting out the Butt

Rising tempers, idiotic mess, chaos, madness, directionless people zigzagging around with no end in sight. No, we are not talking about the state of Pakistan – even though it is much the same. Welcome to Pakistan cricket and all that it entails. Former skipper Shahid Afridi led a debilitated team in the World Cup 2011 and managed to reach the semi-finals despite the odds against us. In spite of this achievement, and a 3-2 ODI win against the West Indies, Chairman Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) Ijaz Butt unceremoniously removed Afridi from the captaincy. This was probably the last nail in the coffin as far as Afridi was concerned, who suddenly announced his retirement from international cricket. “There is nothing bigger than a man’s respect. I cannot play under a board that does not respect its players. Because of this, under protest, this is a conditional retirement,” said Afridi. This was one of the biggest blows to Pakistani cricket fans who are no strangers to controversy. What ensue…

Defending the indefensible

Journalists from all over Pakistan staged a dharna (sit-in) at the call of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) outside the National Assembly on Wednesday to protest against the murder of Syed Saleem Shahzad. The unprecedented solidarity by the media community might have forced the government to finally form a five-member commission to probe the gruesome murder of a journalist but in reality this so-called commission was announced in order to sabotage the dharna. In the wee hours of the morning, Information Minister Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan announced that Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, a judge of the Supreme Court, would head an independent judicial commission to investigate Mr Shahzad’s murder. What Ms Awan forgot to mention was that neither Justice Nisar nor Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry were consulted in this regard. As happened with the Abbottabad Commission, Justice Nisar refused to lead the commission because of these reasons. It is unbelievable that the government chose t…

Aid to Pakistan under scrutiny

The US Congress’ House Appropriations Committee has decided to withhold 75 percent of the $ 1.1 billion in US aid to Pakistan until the Obama administration reports to Congress on how it would spend the money. This is an important development given how fraught the ties between the two allies in the war on terror have been in recent months. From public criticism on drone strikes by political and military leaders alike to the Raymond Davis saga, tensions between the US and Pakistan gradually increased but the final nail in the coffin was when Osama bin Laden was found residing in Pakistan near its premier military academy in Abbottabad last month. Ever since the unilateral US raid that killed OBL, the debate on giving aid to Pakistan has taken a sharp turn. Now more and more voices are being heard talking about Pakistan’s duplicity vis-à-vis the war on terror and whether there is any reason to trust an unfaithful ally.

The US has given billions of dollars in military and developmental …

Hate-crimes against the Ahmedis

Pamphlets giving a call to kill members of the Ahmediyya community in the name of Islam are openly being distributed in Punjab. Not only do these pamphlets glorify the killing of innocent people but the addresses of many prominent Ahmedi businessmen, senior teachers and doctors who reside in Faisalabad have been published. Despite the fact that there are laws in our statute books against incitement to violence and murder, no action has so far been taken against the publishers of these pamphlets, i.e. the department of publications and broadcasting, International Organisation of Protection of Prophethood Mediation of Muhammad (PBUH), All Pakistan Students Khatam-e-Nabuwat Federation. The PML-N’s Senator Pervaiz Rashid was not aware of these pamphlets but assured that the Punjab government will investigate and take action against the hatemongers. It is imperative that the authorities take strict measures against the bigots who are spreading hate literature and make sure that such acts d…

Diplomatic niceties amongst mistrust

Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s recent visit to Pakistan was full of diplomatic niceties and terms of endearment from both sides. “Pakistan is ready to support whatever support they [the Afghans] want...it is in the interest of Pakistan to have a stable, peaceful, prosperous, independent and sovereign Afghanistan,” said Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani. While our premier may have the best intentions at heart, his government has no power whatsoever to actually decide what goes on in Afghanistan. It is an open secret that when it comes to foreign policy and especially when it comes to ties with our neighbours, the military calls the shots. It is because of this very reason that there is so much mistrust on both sides, particularly on the Afghan side. They do not trust us after what we have put them through for the past four decades. From the jihad against the Soviets to the imposition of Taliban rule in Afghanistan, we have done all that we could to destabilise that country. On the oth…

M F Husain: an artist par excellence

Maqbool Fida (M F) Husain, born in 1915, was one of India’s greatest modern artists. He was celebrated the world over for his contemporary art. Last week, the world mourned his loss when Husain passed away at the age of 95. M F Husain’s paintings and drawings were full of life and colour, just like the man who made them. A tall, lanky man, Husain was a prolific artist. While he was respected both by Indians and the international community for his work, he was forced to live in self-imposed exile since 2006. The controversy started when some of his paintings of Hindu deities in the nude were made into a religious issue in 1996. The fact that he painted them back in the 1970s was completely ignored. There was a motivated campaign by Hindu fundamentalists against Husain. His house was attacked and so were places where his art was being exhibited. “I have not intended to denigrate or hurt the beliefs of anyone through my art. I only give expression to the instincts from my soul. India is …

Monopoly of force

During the budget debate in the National Assembly, the PML-N has come out in full force against military spending and the war on terror. “The chiefs of staff who travel in cars worth eight crore rupees each cannot fight,” said PML-N’s Khwaja Mohammad Asif. In an interview given to a private television channel, PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif said that if his party comes to power, they would bring the military budget to parliament. That, of course, remains to be seen because it is easier to make such claims while in opposition. For the past few years, the PML-N has taken a correct stand on civil-military relations. Whether this has to do with the PPP’s recent proximity to the PML-N’s original mentors or because PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif’s bitter experience with General Musharraf has made his party wary of the military cannot be ascertained but one thing is for sure: it is time for the civil-military imbalance to end in Pakistan.

Addressing a seminar titled ‘People’s tribunal on accountability…

“Great transformation” in Peru

Ollanta Humala, a left-wing former army commander, has won Peru’s presidential election. He defeated right-wing lawmaker Keiko Fujimori by a narrow margin. Humala’s success is reflective of the wave of left-wing governments that are being elected left, right and centre in Latin America. From Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador to El Salvador, Nicaragua, Uruguay, Venezuela, the rise of leftist politicians is quite apparent. The sorry history of ethnic cleansing and destruction of ancient cultures by the colonialists haunts Latin America. Oppression is nothing new to them but when armed struggle did not meet with much success due to the neo-colonialist policies of the US post-World War II, many leftists decided to engage with parliamentary democracy in a bid to challenge the class system. Inspired by Cuba, most countries in Latin America are aware of the repercussions of adopting a capitalist or neo-capitalist model. Even if these countries can no longer turn towards communism in…

Balochistan: heal the wounds

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has once again come up with yet another rhetorical statement on Balochistan. He was in Quetta for a briefing on the security situation by the interior minister, provincial finance minister, Balochistan chief secretary and interior secretary. Mr Gilani said that his government is ready for a political dialogue with the estranged leaders of Balochistan in the larger national interest. On paper, this sounds good but realistically speaking, he was only saying what he thought the people of Balochistan wanted to hear. There is no sign whatsoever that his government has even tried to make any contact with the estranged Baloch leadership. And even if the government had tried to initiate a dialogue, was there any guarantee that the Baloch would have wanted to come to the negotiating table under the current circumstances? Every single day Baloch people are being picked up, taken to unknown places, tortured and then killed. The Baloch blame the Frontier Corps (F…

Breaking our silence

The death of Syed Saleem Shahzad sent shockwaves throughout the journalist community, not just in Pakistan but all over the world. Mr Shahzad’s gruesome murder served as a grim reminder to Pakistani journalists how difficult it is to do honest reporting in a harsh environment where your enemies can get away with bloody murder. But now is not the time to remain silent. Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency, the ISI, is accused of killing Mr Shahzad. In its defence, an ISI official denied the reports. “The reported e-mail of Mr Saleem Shahzad to Mr Ali Hasan Dayan of HRW [Human Rights Watch], which is being made the basis of baseless allegations levelled against the ISI has no veiled or unveiled threats in it,” said the ISI official. Debunking the ISI’s statement, President All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS) Hameed Haroon confirmed that the e-mail was “indeed one of the three identical e-mails sent by Mr Shahzad to HRW, his employers (Asia Times Online) and to his former employer, …

Ilyas Kashmiri: end of a terrorist

Ilyas Kashmiri, one of the most notorious Pakistani terrorists, was reportedly killed in a drone strike on Friday night in South Waziristan. Kashmiri’s name was on the list of top five militants handed over to Pakistan by the US authorities recently. He was head of the banned terrorist organisation Harakat-ul-Jihad al-Islami (HuJI), which has close links with al Qaeda. A statement from HuJI’s 313 Brigade confirmed that in Friday’s drone attack at 11:15pm their commander-in-chief, Ilyas Kashmiri, was killed and vowed to avenge his death from the US. “Our only target is America,” said the statement whereas the attacks carried out under Kashmiri’s notorious command were mainly against Pakistanis, Indians and Afghans. According to slain journalist Saleem Shahzad’s last report, it was Kashmiri’s group that carried out the audacious attack on PNS Mehran last month.

Trained by our intelligence agencies for fighting in the Afghan jihad to carrying out militancy in Indian Kashmir, Ilyas Kashm…

Pak-US relationship: limited options

Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, might have given a tough message to Pakistan when he recently visited the country but in Washington he made it clear that abandoning Pakistan was a “dangerous” option to pursue. “I think the worst thing we could do would be cut them off,” said Admiral Mullen. If the US distanced itself from Pakistan, “10 years from now, 20 years from now, we go back and it is much more intense and it's much more dangerous,” he asserted. It is obvious that Admiral Mullen does not want the US to repeat the same mistake as in 1989 after the Soviet troops withdrawal from Afghanistan. As soon as the Soviets left, the US left Pakistan to fend for itself vis-à-vis the Afghan jihad. From 1989-2001, Pakistan indulged the jihadists in Afghanistan for its own strategic depth doctrine. That this policy turned out to be not just self-destructive but had negative results for the region and arguably the world is no secret. In the aftermath of 9/11, the …