With all combat troops scheduled to be withdrawn from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, the negotiations taking place in Kabul on the presence and role of U.S. troops in Afghanistan beyond that point must include a plan for a Contingency Force as part of the troop drawdown. And the United States should take the lead in establishing this Contingency Force, either under the flag of NATO, or as a new coalition concerned with security and stability in Afghanistan in coming years.
The only alternative under discussion within the Obama administration at the moment is the possibility that some Special Forces stay behind in Afghanistan to work in an advisory or training capacity. Similarly, any U.S. residual force that will stay behind following negotiations will likely have a limited role, with additional U.S. military used primarily as force protection: protecting U.S. and international trainers instead of directly assisting ANSF if needed. The residual force options that are currently being discussed are mainly related to support for training efforts and counter-terrorism operations against transnational terrorist groups. This would not be considered a Contingency Force.
In fact, a counter-terrorism residual force, consisting of Special Forces and other troops, can be much smaller if a proper Contingency Force is in place for Afghanistan. Establishing this contingency capacity means the counter-terrorism officers would not have to deal with the emergency situations described in this article.
A too rapid drawdown?
One might argue that the current NATO troop drawdown calendar (2011-2014) was based more on domestic political agendas than on-the-ground security. The result has been an extremely tight and relatively inflexible transition calendar, which leaves few options to respond to potentially changing security dynamics or attacks by the various ‘Taliban' insurgent groups.
Domestic political pressure for a rapid drawdown inside the United States, other NATO countries, and Afghanistan has been reinforced by four key factors. In the U.S. and NATO countries there are calls for ‘an end to the war and return of the troops,' combined with a repositioning toward concerns in the Middle East (particularly Iran and Syria, but also Yemen). Simultaneously, officials in the United States and other NATO countries have become increasingly disillusioned with the Karzai government, and concerned about the deeply troubling ‘insider attacks' on NATO troops.
These political dynamics have created real pressures for a fast-paced troop withdrawal - confirmed by the U.S. Senate recently voting in favour of an accelerated withdrawal - and a neglect of a larger consideration of the security risks related to the upcoming fighting seasons.
The deliberations that existed around contingency planning during the drawdown of U.S. forces in Iraq are almost completely missing in the case of Afghanistan - and those that do surface are mainly related to safeguarding security during the upcoming presidential elections in 2014 or counter-terrorism in the region. This ignores both the possible threats of the 2013 fighting season, or other security issues that might arise in the years following.
Why do we need a Contingency Force?
Firstly, a Contingency Force would provide an additional guarantee for the safety of foreign interests, infrastructure and staff, such as the diplomats at consulates and embassies, should these come under attack. The recent attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, the coordinated attack on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul in September 2011 and the Indian Embassy bombings in Kabul in 2008 and 2009 are sufficient cases in point.
Secondly, the Contingency Force would offer a safety valve while Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) grow in numbers, strength and confidence in an environment that will remain uncertain and unstable for the foreseeable future.
Will ANSF be able and willing to respond to serious insurgent attacks before and after the transition end date of 2014? Despite progress in some areas, particularly in terms of handing over responsibilities to ANSF as planned, there is a risk that increased insurgent activity in the south or elsewhere in Afghanistan could lead to unmanageable situations.
The actual strengths and weaknesses of ANSF are not the essential point. What should be the focus is proper planning to respond to the possibility that ANSF could be confronted by a manner or level of insurgent attack in the South that means they cannot hold the country together. Since the build up of ANSF is such a key element of the transition plan (and exit-strategy) ‘narrative,' we see a dynamic that any public discussion of possible future failure of ANSF, and planning for that contingency, is considered ‘off-message.' This could ultimately lead to a failure of the entire transition project.
The actual current strengths and weaknesses of the insurgency are also not particularly relevant to the calculations that a Contingency Force is needed. Contingency planning does not depend on a complex debate on the current strength of the Taliban and ANSF; one need only acknowledge a possibility that the Taliban could produce a new security dynamic, which we argue would most likely be focused in southern Afghanistan.
Possible scenarios of concern could include, for example, blockading the Kandahar-Kabul road or the road between Kandahar and Lashkar Gah, a move into the suburbs of Kandahar City, taking over Lashkar Gah and blocking the bridges over the Helmand River, or gaining control of the Spin Boldak border crossing.
For an example of a new dynamic in the insurgency, look to the complex attack on Camp Bastion in September 2012 that resulted in the destruction of six AV-8B Harriers, the death of two United States Marine Corps service staff and the wounding nine others. This single assault - using 15 insurgents, explosions to enter the base, dividing attackers in three different waves, and making use of U.S. army uniforms - resulted in a four and a half hour fire fight, and caused damages of up to $200-240 million.
Clearly this type of complex, coordinated attack was not anticipated by U.S./NATO-ISAF forces at Bastion, and it illustrates unmistakably that the evolution of the insurgency must be considered in proper planning for future security threats. The more recent coordinated attack with explosives laden vehicles on Forward Operating Base Fenty in Jalalabad in December 2012 confirms that the Bastion attack is not an incident.
Geo-political consequences of losing the south
Any serious defeat of ANSF forces or a considerable loss of terrain to the insurgency - before or following the 2014 transition - would not only be a symbolic triumph for the Taliban, it could also completely reconfigure the power structure in Afghanistan and the region.
The geo-political consequences of ‘losing the south' or a similar such scenario would be significant, not the least of which would be the destabilising effect on the wider region, particularly Pakistan, where it could provide a boost for the insurgency.
Drawdown Contingency Plan: Size, location, mandate
It is important to note that having a Contingency Force on standby is not the same as continuing an international military operation in Afghanistan. It would provide Western political leaders with options if a security crisis breaks out in the country.
Size: Given the current levels of ANSF and the continuation of ANP and ANA training and capacity building efforts after 2014, a standby Contingency Force of around 5,000 foreign troops would be sufficient. The Contingency Force would be a standard brigade-size combat team of around 3,500-4,000 soldiers, plus mobility (transport helicopters, but also some attack helicopters) and other support capabilities (intelligence, logistics, medical teams, etc.).
The Contingency Force of 5,000 should be on standby from January 2013 onwards. Given the short time frame before the next fighting season, this means the Contingency Force should initially be included in the calculations of the NATO troop drawdown. Until General John Allen has officially presented his recommendations to the White House, it is not clear how many U.S. forces will be withdrawn in coming months. But at the start of 2013, the United States could start contingency planning by delaying the troop withdrawal of around 2,000 forces until the end of the fighting season of 2013 to complement the transitioning NATO-ISAF forces. These troops would not continue fighting but would convert to contingency troops. Thus, they would still be withdrawn from combat, but would move to a different base to prepare for emergency support operations.
During the six months following the 2013 fighting season, the United States could increase its share of contingency forces to 3,000, and request that its NATO and non-NATO allies contribute a total of 2,000 forces to that group before the end of 2013. This would ensure a total Contingency Force of 5,000 under the flag of NATO before the start of the 2014 fighting season.
The graph below illustrates this scenario, which is of course only one of the many possible outcomes, included here to start a constructive discussion on a contingency system.
* The average numbers of insurgency attacks are based on statistics from previous years (NATO, ISAF Violence Trends Presentation, 30 September 2011).
When deliberating strategic options for a Contingency Force, synergies should be explored - whether in terms of providing a model or in more direct ways - with the NATO Response Force (NRF), a joint force of around 13,000 troops, preparing and training together for about a year, at the disposal of the Atlantic Alliance and with the existing EU Battlegroup (EUBG) structure which has at least 1,500 European troops on standby at any time, currently headquartered in Germany.
The allocation of the 2,000 non-U.S. troops could also be based on a rotating roster, where countries commit a small number of standby forces for a specific period, for example six months to a year (similar to the NATO Response Force which recently extended rotation periods from six to twelve months, and the EU Battlegroup system that rotates every six months). After such a period, other countries will take their place, sharing the burden and making sure a nation's contingency troops are only committed in small numbers and for a limited amount of time.
Location: The foreign Contingency Force could be stationed in or close to Afghanistan. For the latter option, contingency troops stationed in, for example, one of the Central Asian Republics, Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait or the UAE, could be logistically more challenging but politically easier to ‘sell' than troops stationed in Afghanistan. Another option is to choose several locations, increasing flexibility and linking the Contingency Force to Afghanistan's main geographical areas and the ANSF units operating in these areas.
Mandate: The Contingency Force would safeguard the results of past and present efforts to ensure stability and security in Afghanistan, while guaranteeing the security transition process can be completed in a sustainable and responsible way. The Contingency Force would, in essence, have the same mandate as NATO-ISAF - particularly its current ANSF support role - but it would be subject to a very specific, predefined set of conditions with regards to when and how it could be deployed. The Rules of Engagement need to be specified as soon as possible in full coordination with the Afghan government.
The Contingency Force should remain operational in Afghanistan until at least 2024, in line with the ten-year timetable envisaged during the Chicago Summit in May 2012, unless of course the security situation changes drastically. The mere existence of the Contingency Force would boost the confidence of the ANSF.
Conclusion: the Contingency Planning window is open
The moment to act is now. With the U.S. presidential elections out of the way and only two more years in the tight calendar of the security transition process a Contingency Force should be established as part of the remaining terms of withdrawal. An operational reserve Contingency Force would provide options to western political leaders when faced with a crisis situation in Afghanistan. It also represents a politically viable compromise between the two extremes currently being talked about in Washington: leaving just a few thousand troops in Afghanistan after 2014, or leaving as many as 30,000 troops.
The fewer foreign troops there are in Afghanistan, the greater the need for proper contingency planning, especially given the essentially uncertain nature of the situation before and after transition. Security transition planning should be based on a solid assessment of possible future scenarios of instability and insecurity, rather than on political hopes or aspirations for what the future will hold.
Norine MacDonald QC is the President and Founder of the International Council on Security and Development (ICOS). Jorrit Kamminga is Director of Research at ICOS and Fellow at the Netherlands Institute of International Relations Clingendael.
The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), a militant group based in Pakistan's tribal agencies, has suffered a series of major battlefield setbacks over the past year. But despite the loss of several senior leaders and a key media operative since 2011, the group remains one of the most militarily capable and media savvy militant outfits operating in the region. It maintains working relationships with a number of other Sunni militant groups active in the region including al-Qaeda Central, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), and the Afghan Taliban. The IMU has particularly close ties to the TTP, with whom it has launched joint military operations against Pakistani military targets inside Pakistan, as well ISAF and Afghan government targets in Afghanistan. In April, an estimated 150 IMU and TTP fighters launched a successful attack on Bannu Prison in northwestern Pakistan, freeing nearly 400 prisoners, including Adnan Rashid, who was convicted in 2008 of involvement in an assassination plot against then-Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf. Rashid was subsequently featured in videos released by the IMU and TTP.
Tahir Yuldashev, the group's co-founder, took over as the IMU's leader in 2001 following the killing of fellow co-founder Jama Namangani during their retreat from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan to South Waziristan. Yuldashev used his charisma as a preacher to rebuild the IMU's cadre of fighters, which had been hit heavily in fighting with the Northern Alliance and U.S. military forces in the autumn of 2001. Under his leadership the IMU turned its attention toward targeting the Pakistani and Afghan governments, as well as U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. The group also continued to issue statements about events in Central Asia such as brutal attacks on Uzbeks living in Kyrgyzstan by gangs of Kyrgyz youth in 2010.
Yuldashev forged close relations with Baitullah Mehsud, the founder of the TTP, and his successor, Hakimullah Mehsud, who took over the position of the TTP's amir in 2009 after his predecessor was killed in a U.S. drone strike. Yuldashev also oversaw the expansion of the IMU's membership base from Uzbeks, Tajiks, and Kyrgyz to multiple other nationalities and ethnicities, including Uyghurs, Turkmen, Turks, Afghans, Pashtun and non-Pashtun Pakistanis, Arabs, Chinese, Chechens, Germans, Norwegians, and Russians. A number of the IMU's senior leaders and ideologues have been non-Uzbeks, including its former Kyrgyz military commander, Abbas Mansur, and its Pakistani guiding religious authority (mufti), Abu Zarr Azzam. A number of the IMU's senior media operatives in its Jundullah (God's Soldiers) Studio, including the German brothers Yassin and Mounir Chouka, are also non-Uzbeks.
Wounded in an August 2009 U.S. drone missile strike, Yuldashev later died of his wounds. His death was formally announced by the IMU in August 2010 when it released a eulogy video for him, Banner of Jihad. In the video, Yuldashev's successor, Abu Usman Adil, was named. Adil maintained the IMU's close relations with the TTP, meeting with senior TTP leaders, including Hakimullah Mehsud, and local Pashtun tribal supporters, such as tribal chief Noor al-Islam, on numerous occasions. Hakimullah and other TTP leaders and members are featured frequently in IMU videos including the 3-part series Glad Tidings from Pakistan. Qari Hussein Mehsud, the TTP's feared ideological trainer of "martyrdom seekers" (fida‘iyin), was first shown in extensive video footage in the second installment of this series. In early August, an IMU statement reported that Adil was killed in a U.S. drone strike. He was succeeded by Usman Ghazi, another senior IMU leader.
The IMU's talented military commander, Abbas Mansur, was killed last year alongside Abdul Aziz Ukasha, a key IMU media operative and insurgent "journalist," in a U.S. drone strike. Their killings were announced in a December 2011 statement from the group along with the deaths of 85 other IMU fighters that year. And during 2010, the IMU reported that 52 of its members were killed. High battlefield losses have taken a toll on the IMU's membership, which is believed to have once numbered several thousand. Some estimates put the group's remaining fighting force at only a few hundred.
Mansur, who joined Namangani to fight in Tajikistan's civil war in the 1990s when he was either 16 or 19 years old (IMU sources have given both ages), rose through the IMU's ranks to become its chief military commander, a position to which he was appointed by Yuldashev shortly before the latter was mortally wounded. Mansur exhibited great courage on the battlefield and was chosen to undergo special training for bodyguards, eventually becoming a bodyguard to Namangani in Afghanistan. After Namangani was killed, Mansur became a bodyguard and then a close aid to Yuldashev. Known for his battlefield prowess, Mansur participated in hundreds of military operations according to IMU media, in which he was frequently shown leading military operations against Pakistani army and Frontier Corps bases and convoys.
Ukasha, a young Uzbek from Tashkent, was a member of the IMU for six years and fought in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. He was an active member of Jundullah Studio and hosted and narrated the video series What's Happening in the Tribal Areas, which is currently in its tenth installment. In the series, he took viewers around Pakistan's tribal regions, from the gun markets of Pashtun towns to the inside of teaching circles by Yuldashev and the ‘Abdullah ibn al-Zubayr "jihad school" for the children of IMU members. In addition, Ukasha also worked as a video editor. He was replaced by another young IMU media operative, Isamudeen, who eulogized both Mansur and Ukasha in the ninth installment of What's Happening in the Tribal Areas and said that he was tasked with continuing the series and the media role of Ukasha by Adil.
The IMU has been survived its many losses in part through the charisma of its chief juridical voice, Abu Zarr Azzam, a Pakistani of Burmese descent who is also known as Abu Zarr al-Burmi (the Burmese) and Abu Zarr al-Pakistani. Claiming to be a former teacher at Jami‘at Faruqiya, an Islamic university in Karachi, where he taught the TTP's Qari Hussein, Abu Zarr has been featured frequently in IMU video and audio productions. Close to both the IMU and TTP leaderships, Abu Zarr speaks fluent Urdu, Arabic, Burmese, Pashto, and Uzbek. He has stated that the goal of the IMU and other "mujahideen" in the region is to eventually retake all of the region's lands that were previously ruled by Muslims, which are currently the countries of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Burma, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, and Bhutan in a military expedition called "Ghazwat-ul-Hind," roughly translating to the "military expedition of the Indian subcontinent." Abu Zarr has also declared the Pakistani government and members of the military and police who attack the "mujahideen" in the service of the U.S. to be apostates who may be killed.
Despite suffering significant battlefield losses in its leadership, media department, and rank-and-file fighting force, the IMU has proven itself resilient. It continues to work alongside other regional militant movements, particularly the TTP, which has allowed it to continue to project significant military force in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. It continues to also be actively engaged in targeting the Pakistani military with the TTP. Jundullah Studio consistently produces high-quality videos that play an integral role in the IMU's multi-layered media operations, which also include the publication of audio and written statements, and newsletters in Uzbek, Russian, Persian, Arabic, German, Burmese, Urdu, and Pashto. With an eye on ensuring its survival beyond the current generation of members, the group has also invested significant time and material resources in raising the next generation of IMU fighters, particularly the children of current members, who are taught military tactics, how to use firearms and other weaponry, and to value self-sacrifice and martyrdom. In spite of its losses, the IMU remains active both inside Afghanistan and Pakistan's tribal agencies.
Christopher Anzalone is a doctoral student in the Institute of Islamic Studies at McGill University where he studies modern Muslim socio-political movements, contemporary jihadi movements, Shi'ite Islam, and Islamist visual cultures. He blogs at Views from the Occident and Al-Wasat.
A month ago today, Rimsha Masih was unknown to the world. A month later - probably the worst of her life - the 14-year-old Christian girl from a slum near the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, has stirred up a storm not only at home but the world over, putting Pakistan's notorious blasphemy laws in the spotlight like never before.
Born and raised in a family of ‘sweepers' - a term synonymous to Christians in mainstream discourse in Pakistan - Rimsha Masih was arrested in mid-August for allegedly burning pages from a religious instruction book containing verses from the Holy Quran, along with pages of the holy book itself - a serious act of blasphemy punishable by death under the Pakistan Penal Code. The prime witness: her Muslim landlord's 23-year-old nephew, Amad Malik, who, according to Pakistani media reports, ‘by chance' caught her carrying a polythene bag with the desecrated pages.
In close to no time, a furious mob of hundreds, led by the Imam of the local mosque, Hafiz Mohammad Khalid Chishti (commonly referred to as Hafiz Jadoon), surrounded the Masihs' one-room dwelling, demanding that the girl be handed over. The mob wanted to burn the Christian girl alive for committing the ‘heinous' crime of disrespecting the Quran. However, in a surprising turn of events, the same mob handed her over to the police for further prosecution.
In the aftermath of Rimsha's arrest, almost all terrified Christian families of the area, including hers, fled to other already over-crowded Christian slums in and around the Pakistani capital, and the enraged mob temporarily dispersed.
But if Rimsha was to be granted bail and returned to Mehrabadi - a place she could no longer call home - "that could change," Jadoon was found saying on international TV. "Maybe they will leave her alone. Maybe they will kill her," he added. Rao Abdur Raheem, the prosecution lawyer in Rimsha's case reaffirmed by saying, "The girl is guilty. If the state overrides the court, then God will get a person to do the job." In any case, justice was to be done. Predictions appeared similar to the harrowing incident of mob justice a few months ago in July in Southern Punjab, where another infuriated mob mercilessly beat a deranged man accused of sacrilege and burnt him alive.
Introduced by British colonial rulers of the subcontinent in the late 1920s to maintain communal harmony in a multi-ethnic population, the law was retained by Pakistan as it gained independence in 1947 under its moderate founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah.
However, the lowest point in the devolution of the blasphemy law in Pakistan came under the military dictatorship of Zia ul Haq between late 1970s and early 1990s - a period that can easily be termed Pakistan's dark ages. Zia, a dictator remembered most for intensifying Islamic policies to radicalize the country and for manipulating Islam for the survival of his own regime, made several additions to the country's laws. This included the bill adopted by the Senate in 1992, where death penalty was made mandatory upon conviction on charges of blasphemy.
A harsh punishment considering an offence for which, to this day, no preliminary investigation is required before the filing of the First Information Report (FIR) by a local police officer. Even more disturbing is how the law is still framed to cover not only intentional but also unintentional blasphemy, completely undermining the principle that "a criminal act requires a criminal intention".
Consequently, under the Pakistan Penal Code today, all one needs is a testimony - genuine or otherwise - and the FIR is filed and the person arrested. Rimsha's testimony, however, vanished into thin air after her arrest. Amad Malik fled to "avoid unnecessary interrogation and questioning by the police and media," Jadoon was found saying on a Pakistani talk show.
Infamous for his fiery anti-Christian sermons at Friday Prayers week after week, 30-year-old Jadoon was appointed a lead cleric in the local mosque of the area 10 months prior to the incident. Very vocal about his dislike for Christians and their practices, Jadoon was often found contemplating ways to rid the area of them. Casting himself a holy man ‘incensed' at the desecration, Jadoon was heard saying that the Christians had committed blasphemy to "provoke Muslims, like they have with their noisy banging and singing from their churches," adding that he'd be pleased if the Christians didn't come back to Mehrabadi. And he pretty much made sure that doesn't happen, even if that meant desecrating the Quran himself.
Two weeks into the case, in a rare show of courage - one that could have cost him his life - the prayer-caller at the same mosque, Hafiz Zubair, came forward as a witness to testify against Jadoon. According to Zubair, the prime witness Malik brought the plastic bag into the mosque and handed it over to Jadoon. After examining the contents of the bag, Jadoon tore up a few pages of the Quran and added them to the bag, to make sure the evidence against the Christian girl was not just blasphemous, but "blasphemous enough".
Even though Rimsha has been released on bail and has, under heavy security, been moved to an unknown location via government helicopter to be reunited with her family, while Jadoon remains in custody awaiting prosecution, one can't help but feel mind-boggled at the turn of events.
In the 58 years between 1927 and 1985, only 10 blasphemy cases were reportedly heard in court. But since Zia's Islamic reforms in Pakistan, more than 4,000 have been handled. In the year 2000 alone, the National Commission for Justice and Peace recorded 16 blasphemy cases against Christians and Hindus and at least 36 against Muslims. Although no death sentences have been carried out in Pakistan to date - most of those handed down have been overturned during the appeal process - the spree of mob justice persists as religious leaders practice their own violent, eye-for-an-eyeversion of Islam.
The World Minority Rights Report 2011 ranked Pakistan the sixth worst country with respect to the safety and rights of minorities - non-Muslims, those the state has dubbed non-Muslim, and women.
For the Christians of Mehrabadi, memories of the Christian massacre in 2009 in neighboring city of Gojra are still fresh. Thousands of Muslim radicals burned down around 40 Christian houses, brutally killing eight, after a mere rumor that a page from the Holy Quran had been desecrated during a wedding. For the Hindus of Sindh, there appears to be no other way to prevent forced conversions to Islam and forced marriages - nearly 600 FIRs lodged last year across 40 districts of Pakistan, with the majority in Sindh - than to migrate to India.
For Ahmadis all over the country, facing persecution since the very creation of Pakistan, the nail on the coffin was being declared a non-Muslim minority in 1974 by then prime minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Considered a revolutionary of his time -- though probably not when it came to minorities -- Bhutto's decision kick-started the widespread societal discrimination and persecution of Ahmadis, including the violation of their places of worship, banning of burial in Muslim graveyards and denial of freedom of faith, speech, and assembly - all backed by the then sitting government of Zia ul Haq.
Today, the Ahmadi community is still recovering from an incident in 2010, in which extremist Islamist militants attacked two Ahmadi places of worship in the central Pakistani city of Lahore with guns, grenades, and suicide bombs, killing 94 people and injuring well over a 100. And if that wasn't terror enough, the injured from the incident were attacked yet again at the ICU of Lahore's Jinnah Hospital - a take-two which consumed at least a further 12 lives.
Whether it is the outraged mob of Mehrabadi, the security guard who shot the Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, in January last year, the killers of Pakistan's only Christian federal minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, later in March, or the mullahs and maulvis like Hafiz Jadoon who "direct them towards the light," it is but one big rage-brigade. Why are we so angry, so violent, and so unforgiving?
Has violence become an integral part of the Islamic social discipline, or has it always been?
And if so, the question is, why? Is it, as many suggest, that Muslim countries are by and large economically imbalanced, undemocratic states with large swathes of unemployed, frustrated men who find release in religious expression? Or is it because of our fear of persecution at the hands of the West, demonstrated in both intellectual and popular discourse as well as policy - most clearly represented by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Palestinian occupation? Or is it simply because we are taught since childhood of an era gone by, when Islam was a uniquely powerful, progressive and just empire and which has now fallen on bad times.
While there are positives to be taken out of this repulsive episode - the bravery of the apprentice, the role of Pakistan's social, broadcast and print media, and the efforts of the authorities to keep Rimsha safe - the truth remains that the blasphemy laws in Pakistan continue to be as politically and socially toxic and as untouchable as they were before Rimsha began to matter.
With no government in Pakistan - past or present - willing to rid the country of these frail laws or raise a voice against those who exploit them in ways that are neither constitutional nor Islamic, there seems to be only one place left to turn to for hope: the upcoming general elections in November.
This year has witnessed a flood of educated young people coming forward in great numbers, willing to vote for political parties bearing promises to transform Pakistan from a religiously and socially intolerant nation to a progressive, more conforming democracy. For these political parties, a model exists in the form of a bill introduced last year by former minister for information and Pakistan Peoples' Party legislator, Sherry Rehman, to amend the controversial laws in Pakistan.
Rehman's private bill proposed the substitution of the death penalty with a 10-year sentence, and the substitution of life imprisonment with a five-year sentence. But the strongest directive of her bill was the castigation of anyone making false or frivolous accusations under any section of the law. Such a person was not only to be punished "in accordance with punishments prescribed in the section under which the false or frivolous accusation was made," but was also to be arrested "without a warrant" and tried in court.
Using the bill as a guide and Rimsha Masih's case as a stepping stone, there is no better time to amend the precarious weaknesses of the blasphemy laws that leave room for people like Hafiz Jadoon to use it as they please. Ideally, a party with this on their manifesto would come into power. However, with the majority of Pakistan's population - rural and uneducated - who shower men like Mumtaz Qadri with rose petals for killing a moderate politician who showed concern for a Christian blasphemy convict, hope fades.
But Rimsha Masih's case feels like a hint of light at the end of the tunnel. If Hafiz Jadoon is convicted and taken to task, one can be certain others will think twice if not more before pointing fingers. Maybe that's the first step. Maybe there will be more.
-- Rabail Baig is a Pakistani journalist based in Boston.
The Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) signed by President Obama and President Karzai in the dead of night in Kabul on May 2nd, and the recently concluded Chicago Summit, have sent an important message that the international community is not abandoning Afghanistan, and that Afghanistan's stability and security remain a key objective of the United States and its NATO allies. The Chicago summit has ratified crucial details of the security strategy to meet these objectives. But the last decade in Afghanistan has shown that security strategies in the absence of political strategies do not translate into peace and stability. The international community's political strategy has always been muddled or murky at best, or missing altogether. But politics is happening in Afghanistan, providing new opportunities even as international troops withdraw. After Chicago, there is an urgent need to ensure that a strategy for the upcoming political transition in Afghanistan, and in particular the 2014 presidential election, receives similar policy attention as has been devoted to the security transition and the SPA.
We've just returned from a few weeks in Afghanistan, where we perceived both a new and energized spirit of politicking for the 2014 presidential elections, as well as baldly stated fears of a return to civil war. For many we interviewed, the two are inextricably linked - a massively flawed election in 2014, or a failure to hold an election at all, could easily result in a destabilizing situation where there is no legitimate civilian control, and security forces could break down and begin competing for power along ethnic and factional lines. If so, the tens of billions of dollars devoted to building the Afghan security forces, under the assumption that they would come under civilian control, could amount instead to an investment in a more ruthless and costly civil conflict that further destabilizes Afghanistan and its neighbors. Given this huge risk, not only for Afghans but also for core U.S. national security interests in the region, it is imperative to rectify the major imbalance between the time and effort devoted to planning the security transition vs. the political transition - especially given that the fate of both are so deeply intertwined.
In Kabul, the political transition discussions we had often boiled down to one question: what will Karzai do? He has repeatedly stated publicly that he will not be president after 2014. But there are few examples in Afghan history of orderly and peaceful transitions of power, and many Afghans refuse to take President Karzai at his word. If it is true, as Thomas Jefferson is reported to have said, that "information is the currency of democracy", then rumor is the currency of Afghan democracy (some might say, more simply, that currency is the currency of Afghan democracy). Karzai's statements have been dismissed by many Afghans with a raft of conspiracy theories on how he will extend his power. These range from the Constitutional (declaring a state of emergency-though this could only last two months before it would need to be ratified by the parliament), to the coercive (convening a rigged loya jirga to change the constitution), to the too-clever-by-half (resigning with his two vice-presidents before his term is up and running a few months later on the ground that he had not completed two terms).
President Karzai's recent proposal to hold elections in 2013, ostensibly to take advantage of the larger number of international troops, only fueled the suspicions of those who refuse to believe that he will respect the Afghan Constitution. At the same time, many of those we spoke to say that Karzai recognizes that any attempt to subvert the Constitution will lead to demonstrations in Kabul. One political figure said that the regime can only fall as a result of unrest in Kabul, not insurgency in the provinces. The one thing that would bring rioting to Kabul's streets, he argued, would be an attempt to hold onto power unconstitutionally, and that Karzai is aware of this and would not risk it.
If President Karzai does give up power constitutionally, there are several plausible scenarios. The first would be for the political elite, including Karzai and major opposition figures, to settle on a single candidate. An elite consensus along these lines would turn the election into a sort of referendum, and minimize the probability that electoral fraud would be as destabilizing as it was in 2009. The second scenario is that Karzai backs a candidate who many opposition figures find unacceptable, but a broad-based opposition coalition is able to agree on a single rival candidate. In the event of a hotly contested race that this scenario could result in, the quality of the election would play a crucial role in ensuring a legitimate transfer of power. A third scenario would be for Karzai to back a candidate while the opposition is unable to unite. This could allow Karzai to perpetuate his hold on power through the election of a political proxy-many in Kabul called this the "Putin-Medvedev scenario".
What happens next depends as much on the opposition as on President Karzai. At crucial moments, opposition figures have lost their nerve, preferring to be co-opted by the palace rather than face the real risks of confronting the existing power structure. Even now, the opposition is divided between those who claim that Karzai has become so powerful that he-or any candidate he backs-is invincible, and those who claim that he is intrinsically weak but that the international community's deference has made him artificially strong. The opposition appears to be waiting for signals-from Karzai that he will allow a fair election (for example, by setting an election date soon and by ensuring the appointment of independent election commissioners), and from the international community that they will insist on it. The danger of on-going ambiguity about the commitment to support and hold credible elections is that Afghan political figures will not take the required risks to participate constructively in the consensus-building process. It would not be surprising if Karzai tested the nerve of his opposition, in the hopes that it collapses under the test. It has worked in the past.
Nonetheless, there are encouraging signs of political activity aimed at the presidential election. Candidates and parties are organizing, opposition parties are making specific demands for electoral reforms, and a process to reform the election legislation has begun.
The international community, however, has greeted this activity with extreme caution. The common talking point of senior U.S. government officials is that elections in Afghanistan are a sovereign matter. Opposition figures listen to this in dismay, arguing that the sovereignty the internationals are protecting is not Afghanistan's, but Karzai's and the corrupt and predatory political mafias with strong links to the palace. A true respect for Afghan sovereignty, they argue, would require the promotion of a level political playing field. They have a point: it is curious at least that the presence of 130,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, and the provision of assistance worth about the equivalent of the country's GDP, is somehow not an infringement on sovereignty, while pressure to hold fair elections in accordance with the Afghan Constitution is perceived to be too intrusive and risky. The greater risk is that such misplaced sensitivities that are often interpreted by Afghans as lukewarm international support for democratic elections, and/or undue skepticism that credible elections can be held, will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
There are, however, good reasons for international caution. Government and opposition figures alike noted that the international community's legitimacy on elections was undermined in 2009 by the perception that the late U.S. State Department Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, backed individual candidates against Karzai rather than supporting the process. President Karzai has used this to frighten the international community away from its legitimate concerns about the process, whereas the key lesson from 2009 should be to forcefully support the process but not individual candidates. Furthermore, a fundamental difference between the 2009 and 2014 presidential elections, which should reduce some of the sensitivities regarding international support for the process, is that Karzai has publically stated on numerous occasions that in accordance with the Constitution he will not be contesting the next election.
The U.S. government was particularly cautious about antagonizing Karzai, including by raising election-related issues, during the long and drawn-out process of negotiating the SPA. Many Afghans expressed concern that this caution will continue during the negotiation of the Status of Forces Agreement, which must be completed in the next 12 months, giving Karzai at least another year of tranquility on electoral matters. The U.N., which took positions in both the 2009 and 2010 elections that angered Karzai, is similarly reticent, and in public at least echoes the "sovereign process" talking point.
Given this reticence to date, the widely reported meeting President Obama had with President Karzai on the sidelines of the Chicago Summit, during which issues of electoral reform and planning for the 2014 elections were raised and discussed, are a very encouraging sign that the U.S. will now be prioritizing the political transition and supporting and advocating more publically for credible elections in 2014. While international support for elections must be done sensitively and respectfully, too quiet and soft of an approach would be a big mistake. The majority of Afghans who respect the Constitution and want a democratic future for their country need to be assured that the international community led by the U.S. is committed to doing everything possible to ensure relatively free and fair elections. The stakes of the 2014 election are very high, and the future stability of Afghanistan - ultimately the core strategic interest of the U.S. - is likely to depend on the perception of the election's legitimacy. While the challenges to holding credible elections in 2014 are undoubtedly great, and the risks considerable, the much greater risk is to continue to pay scant attention to the political transition, and to pin hopes on a stable and secure Afghanistan solely on the abilities of the Afghan National Security Forces. One need not look far in the region to see the negative consequences for peace and stability, not to mention democracy, of relatively strong security institutions and very weak civilian institutions.
For better or for worse, the international community has inherited a partial responsibility for ensuring that the next elections play the role of consensus-building and state legitimation that would be the most likely way to save the country from civil war. The international community can fulfill this responsibility by doing the following:
Given the recent history of Afghan elections, it may seem implausible to bet on Afghan democracy as a means of solving Afghanistan's deep-rooted problems, but almost everyone we spoke to were clear that it was the only bet to make. Democratic processes might not succeed, but everything else will surely fail without them.
Scott Smith is the Deputy Director for Afghan Programs, and Andrew Wilder the Director for Afghanistan and Pakistan Programs, at the United States Institute of Peace. The views reflected here are their own.
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images
A recent wave of complex attacks in Kabul, Paktia, Logar, and Nangarhar has stirred strategic debate about the future of the war in Afghanistan. But they also pose tactical and operational questions closer to home. Security officials and police throughout the West have long worried about complex attacks like the assault that kicked off the Taliban's latest offensive. The mostly professional response by Afghan security forces and NATO troops demonstrates the limits of complex attacks, but the intelligence failures that allowed them to occur illustrate the general principle that sound tactics are only one part of the greater operational picture.
Since the 2008 Serena Hotel attack, Kabul has been plagued by repeated complex urban assaults. Deadly gun and bomb attacks in Pakistan and India have also become an unfortunate fact of life in the last decade. Counterterrorism planners, however, focus most on the 2008 Mumbai attack. Mumbai has powerfully shaped police and intelligence services' perception of future terrorist threats. In part, police have married specific training to combat complex attacks to existing prevention and response measures for "active shooters" in crowded areas. Police envision Mumbai while in practice trying to stop killers like the Virginia Tech shooter.
There is little novelty to the Mumbai attacks or armed assaults writ large. Terrorists have always sought to effect attention-grabbing assaults in public places. Adam Dolnik's work on modern hostage operations and armed assault marks the sicarii and hashashin sects of antiquity as the earliest terrorists employing assault techniques for strategic purposes. The Cold War saw numerous armed attacks, including deadly attacks by the Japanese Red Army and Palestinian groups throughout the 70s and 80s. The rise of religious terrorists also fueled strikes on targets ranging from Egypt's Luxor resort to the Oasis residential complex in Saudi Arabia. Mumbai is not the only target terrorists have hit in India; the Red Fort and even Parliament has been attacked.
Unlike the Tet Offensive, an abject failure of its own professed strategic ends with a high (unintentional) symbolic power, the explicit goal of the complex attack is televised gore for strategic effect. Attackers-prepared by fanatical beliefs--fight to the death as suicide commandos, although not all necessarily seek death as the terminus of the operation. In turn, the operational design of complex attacks synergizes disparate killing technologies and finds tactical harmony in off-the-shelf command and control systems. Just like military special operations, attackers aim to gain and maintain relative superiority early on. Body counts and media attention are the primary metrics of tactical success, and hostage-taking and barricading elongates the duration of the raid. Complex attacks, however, require a degree of preparation, training, and coordination that cannot simply be downloaded from a jihadist chat room. Logistics, discipline, and operational deception differentiate group threats from individual attackers like the Fort Hood killer.
Mumbai exemplifies these deadly operational trends. The terrorists used cell phones, blackberries, and satellite phones to coordinate their operations in real-time in cooperation with an offsite handler. They continued killing until Indian forces wiped them out to a man, inflicting a toll of 165 dead and 304 wounded. With an open-ended goal of killing and gaining attention, their operations could be tactically fluid. An attacker can change a scenario from an "active shooter" operation that triggers an immediate police response to more drawn out barricaded hostage siege, or detonate explosives to generate more casualties. Both happened during the course of the Mumbai assault. The attackers also effectively disguised their preparations and tactical ingress from Indian intelligence until it was too late.
Complex attacks pose significant difficulties for law enforcement command and control. As John P. Sullivan has observed, police are optimized to respond in a piecemeal manner to calls for service. Police also concentrate in space, whereas distributed attackers like the Mumbai teams concentrate in time over large urban expanses. A distributed assault strains police resources and fragments the response, putting in question the ability of police command and control to keep pace with rapid events.
Since 2008, police and counterterrorism elements have developed new operational methods and intelligence collection methodologies. Mumbai-style attacks targeting Europe have been foiled. In the United States, police in major metropolitan areas are broadly familiar with the complex attack template due to their extensive experience with active shooter response. This training has been mainly tactical, as elite units are unlikely to be the first responders. Regular police must be prepared to deny attackers relative superiority. It remains to be seen, however, whether the command and control problems involved in suppressing an attack that might unfold over a large metropolitan region have been resolved.
The Kabul strikes, despite breathless media coverage, did not constitute a Mumbai or a Tet 2012. The attack, mounted by the Haqqani Network, featured 40 attackers in Kabul and smaller attacks in Paktia, Logar, and Nagarhar. Afghan security forces, with air support, intelligence, and logistics support from NATO, handily suppressed the assault. Though Afghan and NATO tactics during past armed assaults have sometimes been haphazard, the Haqqani Network's operatives did not inflict anything close to the damage the Mumbai attackers wrought nor survive for as significant a duration. Insurgent adaptation is often hailed, the Afghans and NATO have also roughly adapted through years of hard fighting. But a focus on tactical professionalism hides more disturbing operational failures.
First, as Thomas Ruttig noted, the scale and distribution of the attack across multiple provinces with heavy NATO presences is without precedent in the current conflict. The Afghan and NATO failure to observe the sophisticated reconnaissance, planning, and logistics phases of the operation is also a serious intelligence failure. The attackers adapted to sophisticated intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and NATO tactics, but the Afghan government did nothing to enhance security at the unoccupied buildings Kabul attackers often use as fortified high ground. NATO and the Afghans were still taken by surprise despite having forewarning of a general offensive, and the attack once again demonstrated the ability of a handful of armed men to briefly hold an entire city hostage and dominate the news cycle.
So will we see a complex attack in a major Western city? The jury is still out. There's a world of difference between operating in a South Asian warzone like Afghanistan or a troubled state with a history of terrorism like Pakistan and causing havoc in a Western city. Kenneth Boulding's "loss of strength gradient" applies to non-state actors too, as actors based halfway around the world face substantial challenges in projecting force into heavily fortified and intelligence-protected cities in the Western heartland. Could local networks gain a foothold? Complex attacks depend heavily on training and logistics networks that present plenty of rich intelligence targets, and if "jihobbyists" training in backwoods forests get snapped up by the FBI, the prospects for more serious operations appear dim. The failure to realize Mumbai-style attacks in Europe, an operational environment with greater potential for extremist penetration than the United States, also suggests some cause for skepticism.
However, one lesson from the sophisticated assault on Mumbai is the increasing leveling power of technology in empowering destructive small groups. In London and other cities wracked by political turmoil over continuing economic issues, mostly unarmed rioters augmented with peer-to-peer technologies created urban paralysis. The emerging informatization of public infrastructure in the West paradoxically enhances the vulnerability of Western cities to new forms of disruption. Even if a denuded al-Qaeda and affiliates lack power projection abilities today, it would be unwise to foreclose the possibility of future urban assaults and disruption by it or other potential adversaries.
Debates about the future aside, the cities of South Asia will continue to burn as urban assaults continue unabated. The terrorist attacks in Kabul, Mumbai, and Pakistan constitute gruesome evidence of the important role of sound command and control and intelligence in dealing with the urban adversary's potential for operational disruption in crowded cities.
Adam Elkus is a PhD student at American University in the School of International Service and an editor at the Red Team Journal. He is also an Associate at the Small Wars Journal's El Centro profile, and blogs at Rethinking Security.
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images
Friendly fire: A man wearing an Afghan army uniform and another wearing civilian clothes killed two NATO troops in southern Kandahar on Thursday, the latest in a string of attacks on international troops by Afghans believed to be members of the security forces (AP, AFP, Reuters, WSJ, CNN, BBC, Guardian, NYT). The attack came just hours after NATO allowed its personnel to return to work at Afghan ministries, following their evacuation in response to the killing of two U.S. servicemen inside the Interior Ministry in Kabul.
The special representative for the U.N. secretary general in Afghanistan, Jan Kubis, echoed Afghan President Hamid Karzai's calls on Thursday for "disciplinary action" to be taken against the U.S. troops responsible for the burning of Qurans that sparked widespread protests in Afghanistan last week (Reuters). Three different investigations into the incident have been launched, one by the U.S. military that could result in legal action, as well as an Afghan inquiry, and a joint Afghan-American inquiry (NYT).
NATO commander Gen. John Allen said Wednesday that the protests over the Quran burnings were a "setback," but "it doesn't push the relationship back," as President Barack Obama told ABC News that he is "confident" the United States will be able to adhere to its withdrawal plan (BBC, AFP). And NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen urged Karzai on Wednesday to speed up the signing of a strategic partnership agreement with the United States, because it would have a "good impact" on a conference on Afghanistan to be held in Chicago in May (AFP).
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday in testimony before a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee that Pakistan would face serious consequences if it were to go ahead with a natural gas pipeline deal with Iran (WSJ, ET, Dawn, ET). Clinton also said that Pakistan has "no basis" on which to continue detaining Dr. Shakil Afridi, who allegedly helped the CIA with a plan to use a vaccination drive to get access to Osama bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad before the al-Qaeda leader was killed in May of last year (AP).
Pakistani military jets bombed militant hideouts in Kurram and Orakzai Agencies on Thursday, killing 18 suspected militants (ET, Dawn). Interior Minister Rehman Malik said on Wednesday that the perpetrators of Tuesday's massacre of 18 Shi'a Muslims had been tracked down and would soon be shown to the public (Dawn). And the Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry scolded the country's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate and Military Intelligence on Thursday, saying they had failed to provide legal justification for their year-long detention of eleven civilians (ET). Chaudhry also called the intelligence agencies "arsonists" because they had "set Balochistan on fire" with their methods in the restive southern province.
Pakistan's Federal Investigation Agency sent a formal request to Interpol on Wednesday for an arrest warrant to be issued for former president Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who is accused of failing to prevent the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto (Dawn, ET). A Pakistani-born Guantánamo Bay detainee, Majid Khan, pleaded guilty on Wednesday to being a courier for al-Qaeda and training to carry out suicide attacks, becoming the first high-value detainee to accept a plea deal, which guarantees Khan a lighter sentence in exchange for his testimony against other terrorist suspects (AP, BBC, NYT, ET, AJE, CNN, Reuters, Post).
Five current and former Pakistani field hockey players have defied international regulations to travel to India for the World Series Hockey tournament (ET). The tournament, which has a grand prize of $3 million, is not sanctioned by the International Hockey Federation because it is sponsored by the rogue Indian Hockey Federation, instead of the officially recognized Hockey India.
-- Jennifer Rowland
PUNIT PARANJPE/AFP/Getty Images
Audiences around the world were horrified to see the image of Bibi Aisha, a young Afghan girl whose nose had been cut off by her husband and his family, on the cover of an August 2010 issue of TIME Magazine. Western media outlets largely attributed Aisha's case to the Taliban, and portrayed it as a warning ofwhat is to come for Afghan women once the international community withdraws from Afghanistan. The unfortunate reality is, though, that there are many other cases like hers happening today in Afghanistan, despite the presence and efforts of foreign troops and the international community over the last decade. The most recent case to make headlines was that of 15-year-old Sahar Gul, who had been locked in a basement and tortured for five months by her in-laws, allegedly because she refused efforts to force her into prostitution. These crimes were not perpetrated by the Taliban, but instead some of the most extreme manifestations of domestic violence in Afghanistan.
As former Taliban Minister of Foreign Affairs Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil said to me in an interview a year ago when I asked what he thought about the case of Bibi Aisha: "Even when the West are in Afghanistan, these things are still happening. It seems to me to be a family matter, what happened to this woman."In Afghanistan, everything is a family matter, and familial ties will continueto govern Afghan society long after international troops have left the scene. While attention is focused in Kabul on signing documents ensuring women's political participation and securing women's rights, there is very little trickle down from such progress to the majority of Afghan women living in rural areas. Instead of working from the top down, sustainable progress that can take root in conservative Afghan households can only be made by accepting the realities of rural Afghan society and working within existing cultural boundaries.
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In this month's issue of FHM India, an international men's magazine, Pakistani actress Veena Malik made worldwide headlines with a risqué nude photo shoot. While much of the attention has been on what Malik wasn't wearing, one of the most powerful elements of her photo shoot was what she was sporting: a big, bold tattoo on her left arm, stating very simply, "ISI," for Pakistani's secretive Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate.
The cover headline: "Pakistani W.M.D. Veena Malik Shows You How to Throw a Grenade!"
Indeed, the cover has been explosive; PakAlertPress.com, for instance splashed a headline on its blog: "India and Pakistan Are Going Nuclear Over Provocative Political Tattoo." And the photo has elicited a furious reaction in Pakistan's media and in its living rooms.[[Break]]
In one fell swoop, the enormous tattoo on a bare woman's body managed to demystify, emasculate and parody the ISI -- something most people have been afraid to do in public since the inception of the agency a year after the birth of the nation in 1947. Founded with a mission of coordinating intelligence in the country after Pakistan's loss to India in the 1947 war in Kashmir, the agency has become a feared, though privately mocked, enterprise, its hands allegedly in every back-room Pakistani deal; rigging elections, training militants for battle in India and Afghanistan, and monitoring its own citizens. The tattoo's location on Malik's body takes on special meaning in light of retired Adm. Mike Mullen's statement in September that the militant Haqqani Network, considered by most Western analysts and experts to be based in the tribal areas of Pakistan, is a "veritable arm" of the ISI.
All the while, the ISI works in the cloak of darkness. In 2002, when I was trying to find my kidnapped Wall Street Journal colleague Daniel Pearl, I met an ISI officer in my living room in Karachi who acknowledged his employer, but introduced himself as "Major." "Major what?" I asked. "Major Major," he said. Nice. Really helpful.
To scholars on Pakistan, the ISI tattoo is emblematic of an important new civil discourse occurring in Pakistan over issues that were formerly taboo, such as the role of the ISI in society. Hassan Abbas, the author of Pakistan's Drift into Extremism: Allah, the Army, and America's War on Terror, about growing militancy in Pakistan, said new media freedoms are eliciting rich debate in the country on deep, contested issues "such as the role of religion in society and the interference of the military in political arena." He adds, "These issues are being openly debated in Pakistan, and that is, overall, a healthy development."
Kabeer Sharma, editor of FHM India, says the ISI tattoo was meant to be a sardonic reflection of India's own conspiracy theories about the intelligence agency. "In India, you say, 'The milk has gone bad. The ISI did it,' They blame all of their problems on ISI," says Sharma.
Sharma, the son of an Indian satirist and New Delhi bookstore owner, says that a dilemma on the subcontinent is that folks don't laugh enough over the absurdities of politics. "The problem," he says, "is that we all blame our problems on this imaginary force. Who is this ISI?" Meanwhile, on the Pakistan side, everything is blamed on RAW. "We collectively have no sense of humor. We have no sense of irony," he says.
As a media image, the Malik photo was a genius expression of a real counterculture movement taking root in Pakistan, taking a dig at the secretive "Major Major" culture of the ISI, by literally exposing the agency -- and by extension, the government -- to the light of day, if just in a simple tattoo. (Malik says that the photo was altered, and both Malik and FHM are engaged in a legal battle over the issue.)
While a Pakistani newspaper said the country "yawns"at the Malik photo, it chronicled columns, commentaries and jokes circulating in the nation, including one that goes like this: "Her arm says ISI but the picture is RAW," a reference to India's intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing.
But this isn't just a conspiracy hatched in India (though the magazine was produced there), feeding the siege mentality behind so much of the rhetoric in Pakistan. In a country where the "ghairat brigade," or honor squad, of talking heads takes regularly to the airwaves to defend Pakistan's honor against enemies -- perceived and imagined -- the photo shoot was a victory for a new movement that is emerging in Pakistan: the beghairat brigade, or the squad "without honor," or more aptly the "shameless brigade."
To many, the beghairat brigade offers a counter to the conspiracy theories that so permeate debates in Pakistan. Josh White, a scholar on Pakistan at the U.S. Institute of Peace, says, "I think the significance of the small but interesting beghairat movement is that it is trying to forge a way of being genuinely nationalistic without accepting the narrative that all of Pakistan's problems are the result of someone else's meddling."
Malik and her generation in Pakistani society illustrate a deeper battle that is playing out in Pakistan and Muslim communities on issues of honor, or ghairat, and shame, called sharam. Flagging this evolution, the acerbic Pakistani columnist Nadeem Paracha wrote earlier this year, "Goodbye ghairat."
With a sense of wit, irony and humor, the beghairat brigade offers the nation an opportunity to expunge itself of the corrosive relationship with traditional honor-shame culture, by challenging the warped sense of honor and dishonor that has defined much of the country's ethos on issues from corruption to nuclear non-proliferation, "honor killings" of women and men, homegrown militant networks, and the ISI. And the beghairat's work is rooted in Pakistani tradition with sardonic 20th century writers such as Saadat Hasan Manto, the author of the must-read book, Letters to Uncle Sam, and a favorite of Malik's.
The Pakistani military's public relations office reportedly sent a text message to local journalists from the Pakistani grousing that the photo was "the height of humiliation for Pakistan, done by a Pakistani on Indian soil." In a Pakistani socialists' listserv, one Pakistani writer, giving the ISI acronym new meaning, wrote, tongue-in-cheek,"Is this part of a grand conspiracy to implicate the great International Soldiers of Islam (ISI) in a controversy by the enemies of Islam...." If so, he joked, "every soldier of Islam would be eyeing to be part of the investigation team."
What is ironic is that while there have been calls to revoke Malik's Pakistani citizenship (rejected, fortunately, by the courts), there are some less-than-exemplary characters who have been lauded in the country by the "ghairat brigade." For instance, Faisal Shahzad, the would-be Times Square bomber, is considered a victim by many in Pakistan, despite having confessed to the crime for which he has been imprisoned, the attempted murder of a number of innocents.
Then there is A.Q. Khan, the Pakistani nuclear scientist who signed a confession in 2004 that he gave nuclear secrets to the North Koreans, Iran and Libya, in violation of international nonproliferation agreements; he was pardoned, and today he is a hero in the country. Years ago, Pakistanis took to the streets when American agents caught and extradited Mir Amal Kansi, a Pakistani who shot and killed CIA employees in 1993 as they sat in their cars at a traffic light in Langley, Va. And, then, lest we forget, there is the serious homegrown militancy problem of a Punjabi Taliban and a Pakistani Taliban that includes tens of thousands of militant soldiers, based on many estimates, freely living in the country without much harassment.
Finally, there is Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani MIT graduate known as "Lady al-Qaeda." She was convicted last year in a U.S. court for attempting to shoot a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan, but, in a country where the average income is about $450 a year, the government of Pakistan allocated some $2 million for her defense, and Pakistanis in the "Free Aafia" movement march regularly on the streets.
Deborah Scroggins, a journalist and author of the provocative forthcoming book, Wanted Women: Faith, Lies and the War on Terror: The Lives of Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Aafia Siddiqui, says, "If Aafia Siddiqui is Pakistan's 'daughter of the nation,' Veena Malik is her perfect alter ego. The 'ghairat brigade' holds up Aafia as the symbol of Pakistan victimized by the West. Veena mocks their pretentions to purity and challenges their obsession with sex."
Scroggins lays out the contrast that is symbolic of the divide that has engulfed Pakistan: Born in 1972, Siddiqui comes from the rigid, puritantical, Deobandi interpretation of Islam, and came of age during the 1980s, when jihad was celebrated in Pakistan as the source of the great defeat over the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. "She's revered by the 'ghairat brigade' because although she went to the U.S. to study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Brandeis University, she never 'went over to the other side,' so to speak" Scroggins adds. "She never stopped raising money for jihad. She continued to view the U.S. as the enemy of Pakistan and of Muslims. When she was captured in Afghanistan, Pakistan's right-wing pundits and politicians rushed to accuse the country's democratically elected government of selling her to the U.S. in exchange for money, even though there was no evidence that the government had anything to do with it."
Born in 1984, "Veena is a symbol of another Pakistan, one that has existed since the founding of the state, but that we've seen less and less of with the rise of Islamization," says Scroggins. "It's an irreverrant, mocking, creative, secular Pakistan -- the voice of writers and poets like Ahmed Faiz," a biting 20th century intellectual. "Unfortunately it tends to be confined to the upper classes and is very much under threat these days," she says.
Both Malik and Siddiqui "broke the rules about the way Pakistani women are supposed to behave," Scroggins says. Siddiqui was divorced from her doctor husband and remarried a younger man, 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammad's nephew, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, another 9/11 facilitator. Her activities endangered her children; she was caught shooting at a U.S. soldier. "But she is forgiven for all of that because Pakistanis believe she did it for Pakistan and Islam," says Scroggins. "It's assumed that Veena, on the other hand, is only having her nude picture taken for money. And that's the way the ‘ghairat brigade' always portrays the motives of Pakistan's secularists."
Aisha Chowdhry, a 24-year-old Pakistani-American journalist who produced a documentary, "Inside the Tinder Box," about Pakistan, says the Malik cover, whether nude as it appeared or topless, as Malik insists the photo was originally, "should not come as a surprise" to those watching the counterculture movement in Pakistan. "Art always has been a way for Pakistanis to showcase how they feel," she says. "Today, there are songs criticizing the government, paintings depicting terrorism in Pakistan, and now a racy photo of one of the country's most famous models with an ISI tattoo."
Chowdhry says, "In a country where journalists get killed if they dare to investigate sensitive issues, music videos and plays are one of the few ways to connect the young generation with what is going on in their country, and maybe even make a positive change someday."
In a piece on al-Jazeera before the Malik controversy, Syed Ali Abbas Zaida, founder of the Pakistan Youth Alliance, asked, "Can the youth of Pakistan inspire change and turn into pro-active citizens who agree to disagree peacefully?" The next month, the aptly-named band "Beghairat Brigade," uploaded its catchy new tune, "Aalu Anday" (or "Eggs and Potatoes"), calling out the politicians and military for their ineptitude in running the country.
Pakistani singer Ali Azmat just put out a new song, "Bomb Phata," ("Bomb Exploded"), that chronicles the major actors that play a part in Pakistan's instability, from President Asif Ali Zardari to army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. It speaks to the daily worries about electricity and food shortages that vex Pakistanis while bombs explode in Lahore, Karachi, and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).
And people regularly slam the government's inability to contain the domestic terrorism that is striking the country. This year, Pakistani artist Imran Qureshi won a prestigious award for his art installation, "Blessings upon the land of my love," describing his work as showing "the bloody aftermath of a bombing."
Malik's photo is a little more subtle, but in its nuance, it's likely to become an iconic symbol of a moment when one Pakistani decided to, quite literally and shamelessly, strip bare the truth of how institutions in Pakistan, are focused on the wrong priorities. "My dear patriots, there are far graver issues than this which need your serious consideration," wrote Pakistani economist and writer Raza Habib Raja, after the photo spread earned the rancor of the honor brigade. "The biggest issue is perhaps your screwed up mind set which gets riled up on these trivialities while completely ignoring much serious problems like rising extremism, sectarian killings and massive inequality."
Raja concluded: "...I loved that ISI tattoo. Now that was really liberating and bold!!!"
Asra Q. Nomani, a former reporter at the Wall Street Journal, is the author of Standing Alone: An American Woman's Struggle for the Soul of Islam. She teaches journalism at Georgetown University.
INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP/Getty Images
Relations between the United States and Pakistan continue tospiral downwards following the cross-border incident that resulted in the deathof 24 Pakistani troops along the border with Afghanistan last month. In fact, overthe past several months, Pakistan has, according to some accounts, engaged in aseries of actions that ought to worry U.S. decision makers. Far from shiftingits policy on providing support and sanctuary for externally focused militantgroups, Pakistani officials have potentially sought to strengthen their tieswith militants and have reportedly started negotiations with a key militantcommander Wali ur-Rehman,a Waziristan-based commander on the U.S. State Department's list of foreignterrorists, and MaulviFaqir Mohammad, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban in Bajaur Agency. Apeace deal with Rehman and other Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) would be atroublesome development, and was noted with some concern by White Housespokesperson Caitlin Hayden over the weekend, although TTPspokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan and Pakistan'spolitical leadership have both issued denials.
In November, reporting indicated that militants havedeclared a nation-wide ceasefirewith the Pakistani government while both sides talked, though again, the TTPand government both deniedthese claims. In past peace deals, the Pakistani government has allowedmilitant commanders to control Taliban "mini-states" in exchange forshifting their jihad across the border into Afghanistan. For Pakistan's seniorleadership, turning anti-state or "bad Taliban" into Afghanistan-focused or"good Taliban" would be a major achievement. For U.S. and coalition forces fightingto stabilize Afghanistan and rid the region of al-Qaeda and its affiliates, itcould be a nightmare.
It is widely believed that influential elements within Pakistan'ssecurity apparatus have unsuccessfully tried to convince the TTPto shift their focus to the fight in Afghanistan -- but their fortunes may be changing.These reported peace talks were a product of the All Parties Conference hostedby Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gailani earlier this fall, which wasconvened to address Pakistan's national security situation following recentU.S. allegations of direct, state-sponsored support for Afghan-focusedterrorist groups, such as the Haqqani network. The conference produced adeclaration seeking peace with militants throughout the tribal areas, evenreferring to militants as "ourown people" -- the same people that are largely responsible for over 200suicide attacks, killing at least 3,600 people since the beginningof 2008. Privately, the declaration reflects the military's long-heldbelief that even anti-state militants, such as the TTP, can be turned into proxies,a key component in the military's policy of state-sponsored exportation ofterror in neighboring territories, such as Afghanistan.
The TTP is a loose confederation of militant organizations primarilyfocused on targeting the Pakistani state, with the shared goal of overthrowingthe government and imposing sharialaw. Anti-state activities in Pakistan's Federally-Administered Tribal Areasregion have a long history, and as early as 2004, some militant groups begandescribing themselves as "PakistaniTaliban." In late 2007, several anti-state militant commanders formallyorganized themselves as the TTP under the leadership of South Waziristan-basedBaitullah Mehsud, launching a series of attacks and suicide bombings throughoutthe country. Rather than a single, unified entity, the TTP is a movementcomposed of independent commanders and their allied fighters. Consequently,factions within the TTP sometimes compete for resources and differ in theirprioritization of jihad against the Pakistani state or combating U.S. andcoalition forces in Afghanistan. In the ongoing peace talks, TTP militants aredemanding the cessation of Pakistani military operations against the TTP, therelease of jailed militants and compensation for civilian hardships duringmilitary operations in exchangefor their pledge to cease attacks against the Pakistani state.
The most troubling figure in the reported talks between thePakistani government and the TTP is Wali ur-Rehman -- who is much morecommitted to the ongoingfight against U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan than the fight againstthe Pakistani state. After the death of his cousin and former TTP leaderBaitullah Mehsud by a CIA drone strike in August 2009, Rehman remarked that the TTP and hisfighters in particular werecommitted to helping the fight in Afghanistan and consider U.S. President BarackObama their "No. 1 enemy." Rehman is a Mehsudtribesman leading the TTP in South Waziristan, a role he assumed afterBaitullah was killed. Unlike numerous other TTP commanders in Pakistan's tribalregions, such as current TTP head Hakimullah Mehsud, Rehman is said to have wanted to end the TTP's warwith the Pakistani government, saying it has destroyed the Mehsud tribe in South Waziristan. At onepoint, Rehman was reportedly in secret negotiations with elements ofthe Pakistani government in Peshawar or Khyber. Rehman is reported to be afavorite of the reclusive Afghan Taliban chiefMullahMohammad Omar. For years, both Omar and thesenior leadership of the Afghanistan-focused Haqqaninetwork have urged the TTP to abandon their waragainst the Pakistani state and instead throw their weight behind the AfghanTaliban.
Even more troubling than Rehman's links tothe Afghan Taliban is his relationship with al-Qaeda and his support for theirinternational agenda. In a September 2010 interview, Rehman explained how his TTPis in complete agreement with the ideology and agenda of al-Qaeda, claimingthat the TTP would expand their war effort during the nextdecade, presumably in close partnership with al-Qaeda. The following month, theUnited Nations placed Rehman on aninternational sanctions list, for "participating in the financing, planning,facilitating, preparing, or perpetrating activities of Al-Qaida. According tothe State Department, who has issued a five million dollar reward forinformation leading to Rehman's capture, Rehman is directly linked to the suicide bombing thatkilled seven CIA employees at Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost,Afghanistan in December 2009, and Faisal Shahzad's failed bombing of TimesSquare by on May 1, 2010. None of this has discouraged Rehman from his agendaor support for al-Qaeda. After the death of Osama bin Laden on May 1, 2011,Rehman threatened the West, saying, "soon youwill see attacks against America and NATO countries, and our first prioritiesin Europe will be France and Britain."
Should talks move forward, any eventual peace deal and thesubsequent reorientation of TTP fighters towards the fight against U.S. andcoalition forces in Afghanistan could prove problematic. The TTP has manytrained, hardened fighters which the Afghan Taliban would certainly welcome asforce multipliers -- making the campaign to weaken them all the more difficult,especially as U.S. and coalition forces seek to draw down and transition thefight to the Afghans. Perhaps even more troubling than a growing partnershipbetween Afghanistan and Pakistan Taliban would be a newly established sanctuaryfor al-Qaeda and affiliated movements under the protection of Waliur Rehman inSouth Waziristan and other TTP commanders throughout Pakistan's tribal areas. Ifthe Pakistani government continues to pursue peace with international al-Qaedaaffiliated jihadists such as Rehman, it could potentially negate or evenreverse much of the progress the United States has made against al-Qaeda overthe past several years in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Greater sanctuary andthe ability to communicate and transit the tribal areas under the protection oflocal enablers will allow the continued spread of al-Qaeda and its affiliatedmovements that will be difficult to contain.
Jeffrey Dressler is a senior analyst at the Institute forthe Study of War, where he studies security dynamics in Afghanistan andPakistan.
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Prolonged conflicts are particularly difficult to resolve, often depending on the opening of a window of opportunity that must be seized before it closes again. Afghanistan has been mired in conflict for the past 32 years, and warring parties, foreign intervention, and imbalances of power among different groups have made finding a negotiated solution to this series of wars difficult to achieve. One opportunity was missed in 1989 when, following the Soviet withdrawal, the United States and Pakistan did not pursue the possibility of reaching a settlement between then-President Najibullah and the anti-Soviet mujahideen. When in early 2000 I was appointed the U.N. Secretary-General's Personal Representative for Afghanistan, the Taliban regime was in control of over 90 percent of the country and, despite their diplomatic isolation, had little incentive to seek a political accommodation with Ahmad Shah Massoud, whose Northern Alliance (NA) was confined to the country's extreme northeast.
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