When the United Nations declared November 10 "Malala Day," people across the globe, from Hong Kong to Islamabad, took to the streets in an outpouring of support for Malala Yousufzai, calling for reforms in access to education for girls in Pakistan. Many political parties in Pakistan took to politicking in commemorating the day, sponsoring vigils and demonstrations. But one party had already taken a commanding lead in grand public affirmations of support for Malala last month.
On Sunday, October 14, nearly a month before "Malala Day" over 20,000 people flooded the streets of Karachi in support of the young activist, who had survived a murder attempt by the Taliban just a few days earlier. A sea of photos of Malala fluttered amongst the throng of fervent supporters, united in their seething frustration with the Taliban's violent agenda and the state's status quo. The demonstration, the largest for Malala in Pakistan to date, was also dotted with images of Altaf Hussain, Chief of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), the powerful political party responsible for organizing the rally. Hussain, who pulls the MQM's strings from London where he is in self-imposed exile, addressed the rally by telephone, urging the people to stand up against the Taliban for their attack against "the daughter of our nation."
The MQM's timing was impeccable. The party channeled the public's outrage over Malala's shooting into a massive demonstration garnering worldwide media attention. The rally served as a catalyst for the MQM to wedge itself back into the political limelight, where opposition frontrunner Imran Khan had been comfortably residing for nearly a year. Khan, who heads the political party Pakistan Tehrik E-Insaaf (PTI), has emerged as a dynamic force in Pakistan's fractious politics, embodying hope and change for those in Pakistan who are concerned about the upsurge in violence, corruption, and poverty under Pakistan's current administration.
The MQM's successful and opportunistic rally overshadowed Khan's wave of rallies against the U.S. drone campaign, in which he has led thousands of his supporters and some U.S. anti-war activists in marches through the treacherous tribal regions in the north. While Khan's growing popularity and reformist reputation have drawn thousands in colossal rallies, his response to the Malala crisis fell tragically short. Khan has condemned the violence against Malala while avoiding hardline rhetoric against the Taliban, instead maintaining his position against military operations and U.S. drone strikes in the tribal regions and favoring a political solution to extremism.
Of Pakistan's prominent political parties, the MQM has taken the boldest and most precarious stance against the Taliban, fostering goodwill for the party across the nation. "MQM is trying to convey that it's a political party which is relatively liberal and progressive, unlike some of the criticism of the party as authoritarian, fascist and mafia style," said Dr. Saeed Shafqat, Professor and Founding Director of the Centre for Public Policy and Governance at Forman Christian College in Lahore, and a former Columbia University Professor. "This provided MQM with an opportunity to put forth an effort to dispel that kind of view against them if there was one."
The MQM's strategic positioning has effectively moved the political party to center stage just months before Pakistan's national elections. The party's role in Pakistani politics has always been complex, however, and its sudden resurgence as Malala's story unfolds suggests motives other than championing education rights for women.
The MQM has an uncanny knack for mobilizing residents of Karachi, the largest city in Pakistan, where it enjoys an unparalleled stronghold in local government. A year ago MQM orchestrated an enormous rally in support of sitting President Asif Zardari of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), after he was publicly disparaged by members of another party, the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N). The demonstration was rumored to have been the prize in a tradeoff arranged by the MQM and Zardari's administration. In exchange for the public endorsement, the government allegedly promised leniency in the trials of four MQM members accused of heinous crimes and the relaxing of police operations in the MQM's hub of Karachi for three days.
MQM's capacity to galvanize Karachi's citizens for a PPP public image makeover validated the party as a power player in Pakistan's politics. Yet the MQM and PPP have not always been allies, and the MQM's past involvement in political violence makes it a curious new proponent for human rights. In May 2007, a political clash between the PPP and then-President Pervez Musharraf resulted in deadly riots and violence that consumed the city, leaving at least 39 dead. At the time MQM aligned itself with Musharraf, and a Wikileaks cable later revealed that MQM may have had a hand in instigating the riots. Later that year, the murder of an MQM provincial lawmaker set off a series of revenge attacks in Karachi, where gangs torched vehicles and buildings and engaged in gunfire that killed at least 45 people. While the unrest might be attributed to ethnic and political tensions that pre-existed in the city, MQM militants were accused of fueling the explosion of violence.
Perhaps the most contentious and bloody incident in Pakistan's recent history was the raid on Lal Masjid in Islamabad in July 2007. The Pakistani military stormed a mosque they suspected of radicalism, using brute force and killing over 100 people and injuring close to 300, many of them women and children. The MQM backed Musharraf's bloody siege of the mosque and still defends the military action at Lal Masjid as questions regarding civilian deaths have recently resurfaced.
In 2010, assassinations of MQM party leaders bred more violence in the streets of Karachi. The riots stemmed from friction between the PPP and MQM, whose organized and armed paramilitary runs the city. Later the same year, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan criticized the MQM for calling for martial law and for urging "patriotic army generals" to act out against politicians. The party's consistent policy of strong-arming radical groups and the Taliban by military force is undoubtedly a motivating factor in its aggressive positions in the wake of Malala's attack.
In subsequent meetings with army commanders following the October 14th rally, MQM leaders have continued to insist on military action against the Taliban. And MQM leader Hussain issued an order that government collect information on religious leaders and institutions to be monitored by the government, a belligerent declaration that could curb religious freedom and widen the rift between religious factions and leading political groups. As Malala struggles through recovery in London, the MQM have employed their brawn, influence and resources to once again sow the seeds of divisiveness in the country. Today, in Pakistan's volatile socio-political climate, the MQM's political ploy could have a role in further aggravating ethnic tension or triggering political violence.
Some accuse the PPP and MQM of using the attack on Malala to try to portray a military operation in northern Pakistan as a strategy that serves the country's own interests, instead of one that fulfills requests by the United States for cooperation in the region. Whatever the incentive, the MQM's deft response to Malala's tragedy could in fact steer Pakistan in the direction of another war in Waziristan. And with increased military presence in the region, the Zardari administration could be opening an even wider door to U.S. intervention in northern Pakistan.
So, while most Pakistanis are staunchly opposed to the U.S. drone campaign, the unnerving reality is that launching a military campaign in Pakistan's tribal area could mean deeper U.S. entanglement, an escalation of violence against civilians, and catastrophic consequences for the already volatile region. The prospect of a bleak and turbulent future has now settled in the land where Malala so diligently planted seeds of progress and peace.
Uzma Kolsy is a freelance writer based in Southern California. She is the former Managing Editor of InFocus News, the largest newspaper in California serving the Muslim American community. Her pieces have appeared in Salon, The Nation, The American Prospect and Raw Story.
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Driving north from Mazar-i-Sharif, in Northern Afghanistan, to the Uzbek border last week was a revelation. I first lived in Mazar in 1993, while I worked for the International Organization for Migration assisting Afghan refugees returning to northern and central Afghanistan. Back then, the roadway was decrepit and insecure, and travelers feared to veer from the roadbed due to landmines. Recently, as USAID's senior-most representative focused on Afghanistan and Pakistan, I met with key leaders and observing the impact of USAID projects. This corridor of infrastructure and commerce, includes not only a new road, but a railroad line (Afghanistan's first!) and new electricity transmission lines that supply cheap, reliable power to much of the north and Kabul. A new customs facility at the border is also generating greater trade - and collecting more revenue for the Afghan government.
There is a virtuous cycle of security, commerce, investment, confidence and good governance building in the north that shows what a successful Afghanistan can look like. This virtuous cycle is essential to stability post-2014, and must be reinforced and replicated. Here is some of what we saw.
First stop: the Hairatan Customs Depot. Trucks and trains from Uzbekistan first arrive in Afghanistan at the Hairatan Customs Depot, where shippers enter their data online, and government officials review their shipments and forms, determine the value of the goods and the tax rate, and begin tracking shipments to ensure they arrive safely at their destinations. With the help of USAID's technical experts, customs officials have streamlined the process from 26 to 16 steps, cutting processing time by 40% and removing opportunities for corruption. These steps alone are estimated to have increased revenues over $7.5 million in the last year.
An increasing portion of shipments coming across the border move to the next stop -- the Naibabad Railroad Depot - via Afghanistan's first railroad. Here, shipments from Central Asia and Russia - wood, flour, steel, and cooking oil - are loaded onto trucks headed for markets and consumers in Mazar and Kabul. On average, Afghan customs officials collect $1,000 per shipment for every shipment worth $15,000 - resources that are making the Afghan government more self-sustaining.
Down the road, at the Gorimar Industrial Park, we went to a soy processing plant and an oxygen tank production facility. With support from USAID and USDA, Afghans are processing soy beans into soy flour and edible oil and using the by-product for high-protein animal feed. We watched some of this feed being loaded for export to Uzbekistan. Next door, oxygen tanks - once only imported from neighboring countries - are now produced locally and sold to hospitals in Mazar for 40 percent of the cost just a few months ago. The oxygen factory is an Afghan private investment.
Finally, our last stop of the day - the Balkh Diary Plant, is a cooperative owned and self-sustaining business located in the center of Mazar that produces milk, yogurt, butter, and cheese. USAID has been working to increase the milk yield with local dairy producers - mostly women with 1-2 animals. These efforts have been so successful, increasing milk yields five-fold, that they now have excess milk to sell to the factory. The plant can produce 8,000 half-liter bags of milk per day, each sold for 15-20 Afghanis, and pays approximately 800 farmers to supply milk to the plant, creating a profitable enterprise that is getting resources directly into the hands of Afghan farmers and milk and export grade yogurt into the hands of Afghan consumers at higher quality and lower price.
Afghans have the capacity, will, and resources to create regional hubs of commerce that will carry the economy, fund their government, employ their youth, positively engage their neighbors, and feed their population. Problems of local governance and corruption are hurdles to this dynamic, but the primary constraint at the moment is insecurity as illustrated by the horrific and senseless bombing that targeted Eid celebrants near Mazar in Faryab province last week. Improving governance and the economic environment are essential to further progress and to attracting the private sector investment critical to sustain this momentum.
Given the inherent challenges of the transition through 2014, getting the Afghan people to see and embrace the demonstrable progress they've made as a society is essential. It is critical to engage the population around the vision of sustaining these investments - and the progress in the north provides an important window into what that looks like.
Alex Thier is the Assistant to the Administrator for the Office of Afghanistan and Pakistan Affairs at the U.S. Agency for International Development.
JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images
In a remarkable act of 'pin the war on your opponent' Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday evening worked to portray Paul Ryan as the candidate most in favor of continuing the unpopular fight in Afghanistan, a conflict President Barack Obama once called the "war that has to be won" and to which he added 33,000 American soldiers.
Biden said that Ryan and his GOP running mate Mitt Romney support a timeline for drawdown of the remaining troops in Afghanistan that is based on conditions on the ground. And then he proceeded to ridicule that idea.
"My friend and the governor say it's based on conditions, which means ‘it depends,'" said Biden of the Afghan war's promised 2014 end. "It does not depend for us. It is the responsibility of the Afghans to take care of their own security."
"Our goal should be to complete a successful transition to Afghan security forces by the end of 2014," Romney said in September. "We should evaluate conditions on the ground and solicit the best advice of our military."
Ryan Thursday tried to defend his ticket's position and clarified that "we don't want to extend beyond 2014." Instead, he said, he and Romney want to be certain that American troops still in the field have enough strength in numbers to pursue their fight.
"We want to make sure that 2014 is successful," Ryan said. "That's why we want to make sure that we give our commanders what they say they need to make it successful."
Of course Biden's own Pentagon sounded a lot like Ryan last November.
"We've repeatedly said that the nature of the drawdown after the surge troops come home will be conditions-based," Pentagon spokesman George Little said, according to Reuters. "No decisions have been made."
But Biden said that it was now up to Afghans, not Americans, to fight this war.
"Because that's the Afghan responsibility. We've trained them," said Biden. "We should send Americans in to do the job, instead of the -- you'd rather Americans be going in doing the job instead of the trainees?"
America's longest war won little attention in the first presidential debate and even less at either party's convention this summer. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has struggled to define his position on Afghanistan and how it differs from the president's. The major distinctions: Romney does not favor Taliban negotiations and while he supports President Obama's 2014 drawdown he says he would not have announced it as Obama did.
But in the 90-minute vice presidential showdown, the candidates wrangled on Afghanistan multiple times, both at the start and toward the end of the evening.
And Biden made it clear, again and again, that the war's end was in sight regardless of what happens on the ground.
"We are leaving. We are leaving in 2014. Period," said Biden.
Sec. Clinton says every time she speaks of Afghanistan - most recently at last week's meeting of the US-Afghanistan Bilateral Commission - that the United States "has made an enduring commitment to Afghanistan." In Afghanistan last May the president said the Strategic Partnership Agreement between the two countries sent "a clear message to the Afghan people: as you stand up, you will not stand alone."
But no such reassuring language came from Biden as he sought to make Ryan look more hawkish on a war that his administration pursued and to which it added 33,000 "surge" forces in 2009.
Five years ago then-candidate Obama called Afghanistan the ‘right' war when compared to Iraq. And he said that might alone would not bring victory.
"The solution in Afghanistan is not just military - it is political and economic," Obama said at the time. "Above all, I will send a clear message: we will not repeat the mistake of the past, when we turned our back on Afghanistan following Soviet withdrawal. As 9/11 showed us, the security of Afghanistan and America is shared."
On Thursday Biden made clear that the only mistake of the past he sees is embracing a bloody and expensive war that a majority of Americans now say is not worth its costs. And he tried to make Ryan look more hawkish on a war that his president advanced and the public no longer backs. It is unlikely war-weary voters will pay much attention to the vice president's policy waltz on the country's long-enduring conflict. Most Americans simply want out, and, like Biden, the "how" is now far less important to them than the "when."
Gayle Tzemach Lemmon is a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of The Dressmaker of Khair Khana.
Less than half of Americans approve of Obama's job as president. According to Gallup's most recent poll, his job approval rating is 49 percent. However, there is one area where President Obama gets high marks: drone warfare. In June the Pew Research Center reported that 62 percent of Americans approve of the President's use of drone strikes.
Targeted killings by drones were first introduced under President Bush in 2002 when a Hellfire missile slammed into a Jeep in Yemen, killing Qaed Senyan al-Harithi, a key conspirator in the 2000 attack on the USS Cole. And yet it is President Obama who has consistently made headlines for authorizing hundreds of attacks in Pakistan, and recently dozens more in Yemen. According to a recent CNN article based on data compiled by the New America Foundation, President Obama has carried out six times more strike during his first term than Bush did during his entire eight years in office.
On its face these numbers would seem to suggest that President Obama is the more aggressive commander-in-chief, that he is uniquely unencumbered by concerns for Pakistani sovereignty, a stronger proponent of drone warfare and disproportionately committed to killing al-Qaeda members. However, analyzing Obama's drone policy in isolation from larger geopolitical issues, obscures that which is truly radical about his foreign policy.
The rate of drone strikes was already increasing exponentially when Obama took office. He continued that trend and made the politically unpopular decision to give Afghanistan the resources he thought it deserved, while using drones to deny terrorists safe haven in Pakistan and targeting al-Qaeda and Taliban rank and file rather than just their commanders.
During his tenure, George W. Bush did not fail to use drones effectively; rather he was preoccupied with Saddam Hussein. From 2002 to 2008, the Bush administration devoted a preponderance of the United States' military assets, political capital and administrative attention to Iraq. In 2005, the Air Force had just two Predator drones monitoring the whole of Afghanistan, a country the size of Texas, to say nothing of resources in Pakistan. It was not until the summer of 2008, seven long years after 9/11, that they began to shift their focus back to al-Qaeda and the Taliban. From January to June 2008 U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan nearly doubled, going from 26,000 to 48,000.
At the same time, the Bush administration made a critical decision to stop requesting Pakistani authorization prior to each strike. With a new government taking over in Pakistan and a renewed sense of urgency brought about by a Presidency quickly coming to a close, the White House seized the opportunity to re-write the diplomatic rules of the Predator program. The impact was immediate. During the first half of 2008 Bush authorized a modest five drone strikes. In his last six months he approved 31. Had he served a third term, we can reasonably expect, based on this trend, he might have carried out 62 strikes a year, if not more. Obama's annual average is 75.
This shift was facilitated not just by domestic factors, but by a
fundamental change in Pakistan. Just as Bush and the U.S. military were pivoting
their attention back to Afghanistan, domestic security in Pakistan was
deteriorating. In December of 2007 Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister of
Pakistan and then opposition party leader was assassinated in a combined sniper
and suicide bomb attack. Bhutto's death was just one of many. Prior to 2007,
there were less than ten suicide attacks a year, however, according to the Pakistan Institute for Peace, by 2009 there were 87
suicide attacks and 2,586 terrorist, insurgent and sectarian related incidents
of terrorism. Afghanistan succumbing to a Taliban coup would be tragic, but in
Pakistan, a country with over 100 nuclear warheads, it would be
catastrophic. Thus domestic terrorism and political insecurity presumably made
the Pakistanis more hospitable to drone strikes, while making intervention an
From the outset of his presidency Obama identified Afghanistan as not only a just war, but a strategic necessity. Within a month of entering office, President Obama announced the deployment of 17,000 additional troops to Afghanistan and within a year he announced a surge of 30,000 more. Shortly after the reinforcements arrived, in September of 2010, the military launched a major offensive in Kandahar province. Drone strikes in Pakistan immediately skyrocketed from an average of 7 per month to 24 in September. This remains the deadliest month on drone record, with approximately 140 militants reported killed and zero reported civilian deaths.
This aggressive pursuit is a marked difference from Bush's Battle of Tora Bora, during which bin Laden and dozens of his followers escaped into Pakistan.
While Bush sought to decapitate the leadership ranks of al-Qaeda, Obama has sought to cut their legs out from under them, destroying the foot soldiers, rather than just the officers. According to data compiled by the New America Foundation, while a third of all strikes by President Bush killed a militant leader, under President Obama, that number has fallen to 13 percent and leaders account for only 2 percent of all total drone related fatalities.
However a war of militant attrition is not without advantages. Drone attacks based on patterns of activity rather than individual identity have decimated the ranks of low-level combatants, forcing would-be terrorists to look to their own survival rather than plotting the next attack. The omnipresent threat of a missile strike has restricted freedom of movement, impeded communication and destroyed dozens of training camps.
Under Obama drones have not only been a tactic to hunt terrorists leaders, they are also a tool for preventing spillover into Pakistan at a minimum cost of U.S. blood and treasure, and, despite some civilian casualties, with minimal disruption to the state of Pakistan.
Finally, there is also evidence to suggest that many of the attacks were designed to appease Pakistan, in that drones have pursued Taliban leaders who were more threatening to Pakistan than to the United States. In the first eight months of 2009 the United States carried out 32 drone strikes, 19 of which targeted Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban and alleged mastermind behind the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Thus some portion of the increased targeting of the Taliban may simply reflect the costs of doing business.
What Obama deserves to be lauded for is not increasing drones strikes, but rather a willingness to give Afghanistan the attention and resources it deserved while confronting the spread of violence in Pakistan. Facts on the ground indicate that the drone program has been an operational success. Under Obama's watch drone strikes in Pakistan have killed 1,332 to 2,326 combatants and the number of monthly terrorist attacks in Pakistan has fallen by over 50 percent since the high in 2008.
The question is not whether the next administration, be it a Romney or Obama one, will continue to use drones. The question is whether drones have reached the limits of their tactical utility. The core of al-Qaeda is in disarray and drone firepower had begun to focus on regional affiliates in Yemen, Somalia and beyond. However, killing militants will not cure the world of terrorism, it can only help to restrain it. The solution lies in committing the diplomatic and financial resources to address the political and economic instability upon which Islamic extremism feeds. A truly courageous commander-in-chief must know when to prioritize statecraft over armed force.
Meg Braun is a Rhodes Scholar and MPhil candidate in International Relations at Oxford, where she is researching the evolution of U.S. drone policy.
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
[Below is Part Two of David H. Young's analysis of the summer uprisings in eastern Afghanistan. Read Part One here]
It remains unclear why Afghans appear more resistant to Taliban rule this summer than in the past. Perhaps the Taliban have been making even more burdensome demands than usual, increasingly aware that American and NATO forces are heading for the exits. Or perhaps Afghans are seeing the drawdown as a wake-up call that ensuring their own security is more vital than ever. Both explanations are simplistic, if only because the uprisings taking place across Afghanistan are, like nearly every other phenomenon in the country, occurring in isolation from one another, ever dependent on local actors and factors.
Still, with the Taliban as resilient as ever, it is understandable for American and Afghan officials to capitalize on the uptick in local resistance to Taliban predation. Given that there are certainly not enough resources to support all the uprisings, examining options in Kabul becomes a game of odds determined by how far into the future officials care to look. Where, for example, should they invest their precious resources: in the less capable popular revolt that is organic and loyal to the government, or the proficient uprising that aggressively fights the Taliban, despises the government and is brimming with former Taliban members and others with a history of fighting the government? It all depends on one's perspective.
With most ISAF tours lasting nine months to a year, it's tempting to play the short game and prioritize capability over loyalty, hoping the next brigade commander can control the fallout. Similarly, Afghan security officials, while there for the long term, are also under tremendous pressure to show results or be shown the door. And though it is difficult to discern loyalty and capability when any given uprising has so many moving parts, there are, inevitably, a number of telltale signs.
While most budding revolts beg the government and ISAF for support, many in Ghazni's Andar District, where the most robust rebellion is taking place, claim they do not need help, particularly from the government. Daud Sultanzoi, a former member of parliament from Ghazni told RFE/RL, "Anti-Taliban movements cannot have a sponsor and be identified with this government. As soon as this government touches anything it turns into evil. The government doesn't have the credibility to be the backbone for such uprisings. These uprisings need energy, which has to come from the people." While certainly an insightful observation, to not have to rely on the government for resources is a luxury that actually makes their endeavor more suspicious, not less. More than 250 Ghazni rebels have reportedly engaged the Taliban in 33 firefights since late May, and even if exaggerated, the fact that they have cleared more than 50 villages representing more than 4000 people and held those areas for several months is a testament to their firepower and supplies. Not even wealthy locals in Ghazni can afford to sustain that kind of campaign. Yet their supplies are coming from somewhere.
According to the Daily Telegraph, Asadullah Khalid, currently the Minister of Border and Tribal Affairs, is helping the rebels secure ammunition "independently of the government" because his family is from Ghazni province, though not the rebelling districts. (Khalid fought alongside the Northern Alliance, he has been governor of Ghazni and Kandahar, and President Karzai recently appointed him Chief of NDS. He has also been accused of running drugs and abusing detainees in private Kandahar prisons.) Afghan officials often have a destructive tendency of wearing multiple hats (Khalid is also serving as "Chief of Security for the Southern Zone"), and it is likely that men like Khalid are plugging rebels into their respective procurement networks to facilitate this rebellion without official sanction or government funds. Khalid even brought in allied commanders from other parts of Ghazni to lead the uprising, much to locals' chagrin. Unsurprisingly, then, the revolts have spread southward through Ghazni, closer to Khalid's home district of Nawa more than 100 miles to the south. And this potential hijacking may run deeper still.
An additional likely sponsor (either through or in addition to Khalid) is Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin (HIG), one of the lesser-known Afghan insurgent groups prevalent in the north and east with a long history of fighting Soviets and other Afghan groups. After many senior figures of HIG broke off to form an influential political party, its militant wing continues using proceeds from an extensive criminal network to attack ISAF and Afghan forces. HIG has been active in Ghazni for decades and regularly engages the Taliban in turf wars. The question, then, is whether this uprising started as an organic rebellion, remains one, or was never one to begin with. Granted, much like in the rest of eastern Afghanistan, if you have stockpiles of weapons and you are fighting the Taliban independent of the government, locals out of old habit will usually assume you are HIG, so reports of the group co-opting the rebellion may be exaggerated. Then again, there is plenty of evidence that HIG is deeply involved in this effort. Clouding matters further is the tendency among ‘rebels', ‘militants' and ‘criminals' to mix roles and networks, almost to the point where many of these gunmen are loyal only to themselves, the next buck and a hint of glory.
Faizanullah Faizan-a former Hezb-e Islami commander, governor of Ghazni, and Andar native-is reportedly raising money and political support for the rebellion on behalf of his party in Kabul, as well as arranging logistics on the ground. He recently acknowledged that the rebellion's fighters come from "all the old groups" but insisted that the effort is "100% civilian." (The fact that Faizan was ambushed and nearly killed by three men (including a Pakistani suicide bomber) for his role in facilitating the uprising illustrates that the Taliban are not willing to concede the territory without a fight.)
Other indicators suggest the rebellion was never organic. The New York Times and Newsweek noted that much of the resistance was the result of a split within the Taliban in Ghazni, when some members turned on their brethren for their particularly brutal tendencies originating in Pakistan. This, too, is quite normal. In any given village cluster, there are local Taliban and foreign Taliban (frequently Pakistanis, or Afghans who have spent much of their lives in northwest Pakistan). The foreigners control the money flow and thus everything else, and they frequently bring a brand of Islam with them that the local Taliban cannot justify within their communities, causing tremendous friction. Yet these are hardly reformed insurgents. Al Jazeera reported that in an attempt to bribe the Taliban into opening the schools in Ghazni, locals offered to fight ISAF forces side-by-side with the insurgents, but the Taliban refused. Nor does such an offer sound like much of a sacrifice or particularly abnormal; the overall Ghazni commander, Lutfullah Kamran, is reported to have told local elders that "he would fight the Americans, but his first priority is securing his people's future." And once those bigger fish are fried?
With the U.S. combat mission ending in 2014 and an unknown number of residual forces remaining afterwards, rural Afghans in the east are hedging their bets by providing ‘passive' support to the Taliban-i.e., failing to report Taliban activities for fear of retaliation. Yet for key members of the Ghazni resistance to be so willing or eager to ‘actively' support the insurgency by attacking U.S. and Afghan forces suggests that this particular rebellion is of an altogether different nature than those sprinkled across the rest of the east. Ironically, then, the rebellions that draw the least attention are frequently the ones worth supporting the most.
ISAF Commander General John Allen recently described a more robust and legitimate government assistance being provided to uprisings in Kamdesh, Nuristan, one of the least accessible places on Earth. The Afghan National Army is "resupplying in Kamdesh using Afghan Army helicopters," he said. "They're getting up there. [The Afghan Army is] doing it. They've inserted commandos up there. They're resupplying local elements up there. They're maintaining the ANP [Afghan National Police] in some key checkpoints and strong points." Unquestionably, this is the proper way of assisting an uprising and a security force under siege, not by giving a Karzai loyalist a wink and a nod to do everything quietly and with zero accountability. Sadly, as I saw with uprisings in Nuristan, the terrain makes sustained governmental support almost impossible, and inevitably the population submits to the Taliban's will until the next time the group goes too far. The formula, however, is sound and has worked in areas with more favorable terrain, such as in neighboring Laghman, where another rebellion is underway. Mysteriously, Laghmani rebels have only received food and a small amount of ammunition from their government.
Regardless, despite a wave of optimism sweeping ISAF, these uprisings do not (nor will they ever) collectively resemble the Anbar Awakening in Iraq; these rebellions are isolated, have always been widespread and are rarely resilient enough to stave off the Taliban for long. In fact, nearly all of these summer revolts will not have staying power, and despite its resources, the revolt in Ghazni may be among them. The resistance is facing violent internal and external threats, leaders of the resistance are being targeted, and at least 8% of their 250 rebels have already been killed. Village clusters along the AfPak border have a history of defending themselves with traditional defense forces like arbakais and lashkars, but their opposition is similarly equipped with a finite number of small arms, not the arsenal that the Taliban brings to bear. With an enemy like the Taliban, rural Afghan communities will rarely be able to defend themselves indefinitely without legitimate, robust, and overt government support. True, areas like eastern Ghazni welcome whichever militant group can keep the peace and permit daily life to continue, but exploitation and widespread abuse is inevitable once the honeymoon ends. Andar also welcomed the Taliban years ago because it brought a reprieve from daily threats and bloodshed. Until it didn't.
The ultimate trajectory of the Ghazni uprising remains unknown, but ISAF and Kabul officials are failing to allocate vital resources through legitimate channels to the less prominent and organic rebellions throughout the east. For better or worse, the Ghazni rebels have what they need for now. Kabul should not leave the others to rot.
David H. Young is a conflict resolution expert based in Washington, DC, and was a civilian advisor to the US Army in eastern Afghanistan. His website is www.justwars.org.
A soldier patrols Sub Jail Jutial, where Baba Jan is incarcerated. Photo by author.
Last year, human rights activist Baba Jan Hunzai spoke out as an advocate for the former residents of Hunza Valley, whose homes were swept away by the lake formed after a 2010 land slide blocked the flow of the Hunza River. Named the Attabad Lake, it displaced over 1,000 people who lost their homes, livelihoods and access to the world. When these displacements did not get the government's attention, and Pakistani authorities declined an offer of help from China, the hungry and homeless took to the streets to demand reimbursement.
Eventually, the government compensated the aggrieved families. But 25 of them were reportedly overlooked and denied funds. Baba Jan, who is known in the G-B community for his determination to protect human rights, encouraged the local people to demand action, and was eventually thrown in jail accused of being a "terrorist."
Baba Jan and two other youth activists, Amir Khan (37), and Iftekhar Hussain (34), have been in jail since August 2011. Their arrests a year ago this month were made based on Anti Terrorism Charges brought against them for leading a mass movement across the country against the inaction of the government during the Attabad incident.
During his first private interview -- conducted in the visitors' room in Sub Jail Jutial -- Baba Jan maintained that he committed no crime when he protested against what he sees as the Government's persistent human rights abuses. "It is not ignorance anymore, it is a deliberate violation of the rights of common man. And this cruelty needs to be shattered."
Appearing noticeably malnourished, he limped back and forth in the visitor's room, enumerating the challenges that many in Gilgit have been facing for the two and a half years that have passed since the Attabad incident. The signs of torture still resident on his arms, his shaved skull, and swollen feet compelled me to interrupt him and ask about the details of his multiple jail experiences.
Nervously, he showed some of his scars. Advocate Ehsan Ali, Baba Jan's lawyer, later confirmed details of recurrent torture, including both physical and mental abuse.
"His ear lobes pulled with pliers, his body hanged upside down and beaten with wooden stick and chairs. His shoulder-length hair shaved off. And an abusive language by jailers, who'd say horrible things to mentally torture him" said Ehsan Ali.
Baba Jan said he had never imagined torture would bring him so close to death, so many times, and yet not close enough stifle his voice. He continues to raise his voice against the Government of Pakistan's failure to provide for the victims of the Attabad Lake disaster, as well as other disadvantaged segments of the population. And there have been protests on the streets of Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Rawalpindi and Peshawar to ‘Free Baba Jan.' There has even been international support for this 35-year-old senior leader of Pakistan Youth Front G-B, including a petition signed by human rights activists such as Noam Chomsky, Tariq Ali, Sadia Toor and many more.
The text of my conversation with Baba Jan follows:
Kiran Nazish: What had happened the day you were arrested?
Baba Jan Hunzai: When a 22-year-old student, Afzal Baig was killed in front of his father, Mr. Baig [Afzal's father] protested and wailed at his innocent son's killing. The police pierced his body with a dozen bullets and killed him on the spot.
Both father and son were victims of the Attabad Lake disaster, and were peacefully protesting at a demonstration with the other victims of the lake, asking the Government to compensate them.
As we protested at KKH, and had been rallying across the country to raise awareness about the Attabad victims, the police arrested us on strict terrorism charges, including attempt of terrorism. There was a ‘criminal case' registered against me under Anti Terrorism Act (ATA).
And this is how the government treats its citizen. Most prisoners here with me in jail have done no crime except to speak. People don't speak out many times just because of fear. Why shouldn't we stand with the people who have been maltreated, beaten up and killed. This is a massacre.
KN: The police say you have been training prisoners to carry out "terrorist activity"?
BJH: Well all I have been doing is gathering the Sunni and Shia sects in the jail in a single group and making them sit and breathe with each other. I have tried to make them understand each others' problems instead of fighting based on sect. And I am glad that there are great developments in the prison now. They now indulge in long conversations with each other, which was almost an impossible thing to imagine when I had come here exactly one year ago. Some of them also share their meals with each other, which they otherwise thought of as a sin.
The police and the government have long taken advantage of the sensitive Shia-Sunni relationship in Gilgit-Baltistan. Agencies deliberately create fights among the people so that G-B stays as instable as possible.
Now that they see them living in harmony with each other in the jail, it annoys them. Anything that has to do with protest and raising one's voice becomes terrorist activity for the government. They are not ashamed of maltreating citizens in the first place, they even charge them with fake cases of terrorism and then torture them for the crime of speaking, calling them terrorists.
KN: They also say you have created a support system within the jail, which is why the JIT [Joint Investigation Team] had to relocate you several times. How many supporters do you have?
BJH: Well, firstly the JIT "abducted" my fellow inmate Iftikhar Hussain and myself on 20th July for the same reason too. It happened many times. They move us to torture us further, whenever our fellow prisoners start supporting me. Let me assure you, they never had to relocate us because we were creating any nuisance in the prison, but because they couldn't deal with listening to our demands.
It's funny what they say each time they have to pick us up to torture us. It must really frustrate them to have us alive even after so much torture that my fellows in jail have gone through with me. I do have supporters, yes. They support my idea of speaking out against human rights abuse.
Every prisoner supports me.
KN: Have you not been organizing prison rebellions?
BJH: They don't give meals for several days. Most prisoners have their families deliver food to cook, but there are no stoves. After a week of protests by the prisoners, they provided a single stove. Then for two days there was no gas. The prisoners speak out of hunger.
Various prisoners need immediate medical attention. In spite of court orders the administration does not allow them to be treated. Nor do they provide them medicine. One of my friends here is a cancer patient and has a court order for chemotherapy, but he is denied that right too. He is literally on the ground. They don't provide beds to prisoners who are ill, not even to serious patients. Do you think witnessing all this won't outrage fellow prisoners?
KN: Some officials made visits to Gilgit, including the Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani. Were these visits fruitful?
BJH: The Prime Minister's visit was interesting. It was heavily highlighted in the media and that was the only successful part of the visit; the media coverage that is. There was nothing actionable done by the government. Essentially the visit was futile since there was no public gain out of it.
KN: But didn't he give some significant donations, including the distribution of Benazir Langar (Rashan) [Langar or Rashan are relief goods. The current PPP-led Government has a name for their Rashan, called Benazir Langar, named after the late Benazir Bhutto]?
BJH: During the protests, the Red Cross and Agha Khan Foundation had set up camps and had made provisions for rashans (food and supplies) to help the victims of the Attabad Lake disaster. PM Gilani took those provisions to inaugurate the Benazir Langar, and for the photo-ops. Locals were watching and observing all this, and since protests were going on, the environment allowed them the confidence to retaliate [they felt that the redistribution of rashan was unfair, and that they should be given food and supplies separately from the Government. They "retaliated" by fighting the police with sticks and attacked police vans and other state vehicles.] The protesters included both men and women, who walked down the valley to KKH (Kara Koram Highway). They were eventually beaten up. Since journalists were equally threatened, no media outlets were able to report on this. Benazir Langar was a mere redistribution of rashans.
KN: Has reporting been fair on the series of these incidents [i.e. the Attabad incident, the government's non-response, the torturing of detained protesters in prison] so far?
BJH: That is also very interesting. There has always been lack of coverage about G-B issues, in the mainstream media. We do have a local paper that covers issues according to its own bias. The sectarian divide in G-B controls the way coverage is given to the issues of the common man.
Our own protests were not covered in the mainstream [Pakistani media], and only local and online papers like Paamir Times would give us proper reporting. That really disconnected G-B from the rest of Pakistan.
KN: What do you want the government to do?
BJH: It is very simple. The government should give the people what they deserve. Reimburse the losses they incurred due to the failure of the Government's negligent behavior. Even though some destruction had been predicted and the people were warned months prior to the land slides, the state did not take any precautionary measure.
Shahra-e-Karakoram, the road that conjoins small towns and villages to the main cities has been in-operational. Since all the banks, businesses and hospitals are only in the main cities, local citizens from these towns and villages have to face great difficulty making it through the mountains. Patients who need to get to the hospitals usually don't make it in times of emergency. The government needs to look into this.
KN: What would you do when you get out of jail?
BJH: I will continue to work for the cause of the people. I will make sure their problems are heard by the government and help them stand united against violence and neglect.
Kiran Nazish is a journalist and activist based in Pakistan.
Photo by Kiran Nazish
Pakistan's Deputy Attorney General Khurshid Khan has made news and not everyone is happy about it.
DAG Khurshid Khan became embroiled in controversy when, deeply shaken by the beheading of a Sikh man by the Taliban in Pakistan in 2010, he decided to seek atonement for the sins of the Taliban by cleaning the shoes of Sikh worshippers outside shrines in India and Pakistan. While Sikh leaders and organizations have praised DAG Khan for his actions, Pakistan's Supreme Court Bar Association did not take such a kindly view of the situation, and issued DAG Khan a show-cause notice asking him to explain his actions. The Bar Association has argued that DAG Khan's actions "defamed" the country, while DAG Khan insists that his actions were only meant to present his religion and country in a positive light, by showing that the Taliban do not represent the views of the whole country.
This is not the first time that Pakistani officials, worried about the country's image in the world, have taken measures to protect that image. One stark example of this was then-President Pervez Musharraf's treatment of Mukhtar Mai, a woman gang-raped in her village Meerwala and subsequently prevented from leaving the country for fear that she would publicize stories of her rape and damage Pakistan's image abroad. Echoing government claims, some journalists at the time also termed Mai's heart-wrenching accounts of her rape as "propaganda against Pakistan." General Musharraf eventually allowed Mai to travel abroad, but only after intense domestic and international pressure.
While Mukhtar Mai's case is an extreme example of an incredibly misguided attempt to protect Pakistan's image abroad, it aptly illustrates how censuring its citizens may not be Pakistan's best shot at protecting its image. DAG Khurshid Khan's case may raise valid questions about the code of conduct appropriate for government officials, but it remains questionable whether the SCBA is doing the country's image any good by taking action against someone who did, at the end of the day, want to show that Pakistanis stand against terrorism, and empathize with the sufferings of Pakistan's religious minorities. Through his service to the Sikh community, DAG Khan only sought to encourage a form of communication between Pakistan's majority Muslim population and other religious communities, an effort that the Bar Association has attempted to halt.
Most strikingly, such efforts to protect Pakistan's image seem bizarre in light of the glaring fact that much of the negative opinion about Pakistan around the world stems from some very real challenges that Pakistan faces: international and domestic terrorism, corruption, poor governance, and human rights violations. Government officials not only unwittingly reinforced these negative perceptions about Pakistan in both the cases of Mukhtar Mai and of DAG Khan, but also completely failed to acknowledge the larger, more significant reasons for the country's negative perception in the world.
If the first step to recovery is admitting there is a problem, Pakistan has yet to really take that step. Pakistani officials and media frequently blame outside forces for Pakistan's misfortunes. Yet, it is crucial for Pakistan to acknowledge the faults and mistakes that have led it to its current quagmire if it is to improve its image. The slow response of the international community to the 2010 floods in Pakistan, partly attributed to Pakistan's negative image in the world, was a tragic reminder that a country's image matters immensely. Recognizing the importance of the way the world sees a nation, Pakistan spends a $100,000 dollars per month, a total of about $1.2 million dollars a year, on American lobbying firms to help improve its image in the United States. Yet, according to a recent BBC poll, it remains one of the most negatively viewed countries in the world, second only to Iran.
Pakistan's failure to improve its image does not only lie in its inability to accept responsibility for and address its problems. Pakistan has also failed to effectively use channels of communication with the outside world, such as movies, literature, art and music, to show a perspective on Pakistan that more closely reflects the way in which Pakistani citizens experience their country. Experiences of painful uncertainty and horror in the face of terrorism, violence, corruption, and state incompetence comingle with very "normal" day-to-day experiences to form a nuanced image of Pakistan in the minds of its citizens. These complicated experiences can best and most eloquently be portrayed through movies, art, literature and music, providing a window into Pakistan to outsiders who may see the country only through a security lens.
Yet the arts are not the only means through which Pakistan can challenge the narrow, security-focused narrative about the country. Allowing Pakistani citizens the freedom to broadcast their experiences to the world, even negative ones, is important in not only encouraging the process of self-reflection but also in allowing outsiders to understand the range of different life-experiences that shape the human landscape of Pakistan. At the very least, a greater understanding of the region will allow the international community to move past black and white generalizations about the "Pakistan problem" and to appreciate the nuances that underpin issues confronting the region. In the long run, this will translate into a more empathetic view of Pakistan, and might help the country's image in the world.
In fact, Pakistan's neighbor, India, has done an excellent job of exploiting such channels of communication to give the world a glimpse into the various facets of life in India. The Indian film industry produces the largest number of movies in the world, with export revenues increasing drastically over the years. The Economist points out the wide influence of Indian movies which are popular not only in countries like the United States, but also in other parts of the world, such as Japan. Anyone who has seen Bollywood films knows how impressive a job it does of portraying different "Indias" - the romanticized India of dancing and singing locals, but also the more somber and serious India of movies like "Rang de Basanti" that explore India's past. India's effective use of these modes of communication is undoubtedly one of the reasons it has maintained a positive image in the world.
Clearly, there are also other reasons for India's pleasant appearance. India has more going for it than Pakistan does, given that India is the world's largest democracy and a rising economic power. On top of that, India is one of the most diverse countries in the world, with hundreds of different languages spoken across the country. Moreover, unlike Pakistan, India's domestic problems have not also posed a threat to countries around the world. All these factors allow India to maintain a positive image, despite the fact that India also shares many of the problems of other developing countries, such as corruption, poor governance, massive poverty and domestic terrorism in the form of a Naxalite-Maoist insurgency. India not only has achievements, it has also managed to capitalize on these achievements through the use of various modes of communication with the rest of the world.
While a country's real problems and achievements essentially define its image in the world, to some extent, image is also a product of what the world even knows about a country. The censorship of both DAG Khan and Mukhtar Mai, although misguided and counter-productive, illustrates Pakistan's attempts to control what the world knows about it. Instead of censuring DAG Khan, Pakistani officials could have used DAG Khan's case as a way to show their stance against terrorism and their empathy for the sufferings of Pakistan's minorities. There is hardly a Pakistani, however removed from Pakistan's troubled tribal areas, who has not felt the consequences in some shape or form of Pakistan's battle against terrorism, and there are many who have suffered the direct destruction and pain that terrorism has brought on the country. It is this pain and sense of loss that DAG Khan sought to express through his service to a religious community that has also suffered at the hands of terrorism. Pakistani officials should celebrate such actions, and see them as a means through which to open channels of communication with other communities and countries. Ultimately, it is the DAG Khans of Pakistan that will help its image.
Fatima Mustafa is a PhD candidate at Boston University researching issues of state-building in the developing world.
NARINDER NANU/AFP/Getty Images
Last month saw a major step forward for the proposed TAPI natural gas pipeline. Regarded as a perennial pipe dream by many energy analysts, many critics of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India project were silenced by the signing of a gas sales and purchase agreement between Turkmengaz, Inter State Gas Systems of Pakistan and the Gas Authority of India (GAIL). With the backing of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the deal set important specifics, including payment and transit terms. But the ambitious project still faces daunting hurdles before it can become reality.
Not least of these challenges is its proposed 750 kilometer route through some of Afghanistan's most war-torn provinces such as Herat and Kandahar. TAPI has received strong support from the United States as part of Washington's "New Silk Road" strategy to bring development to Afghanistan through regional infrastructure connections, and as an alternative to the proposed Iran-Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline. As part of the recent agreement, GAIL will be responsible for managing the pipeline's security -- from the Turkmen border to end consumers in Indian homes -- and Pakistan's participation in the project may spare it some attacks. Despite this factor, there is no question that security will remain a major concern throughout the pipeline's construction and operation.
However, it may not be the greatest challenge to the realization of TAPI. That challenge may come simply from the size and focus of the project. Feasibility studies have been conducted, most notably by the ADB. But if the consortium does not concentrate on quickly constructing a commerc?ally-or?ented pipeline on a manageable scale, it risks repeating the mistakes of the now infamous Nabucco pipeline, which was to have connected Turkmenistan on its Caspian side with natural gas consumers in Central Europe. After close to a decade and a half of discussion, Nabucco is now being scaled back to half its size, and may not go forward at all. Nabucco's faults were that it was a geopolitical project, aimed at busting Russian gas dominance in Eurasia, and that at 3,000+ km it became an unwieldy mess of multiple transit countries and stakeholders. Aimed at providing a massive 31 billion cubic meters of gas each year, it was in danger of becoming technically unfeasible, as well as transporting more gas than could realistically be consumed downstream.
Current plans for TAPI call for a 1700 kilometer line bringing up to 33 billion cubic meters of gas per year to consumers along the route. This is already very ambitious for a route traversing dangerous territory, and following last month's agreement, Bangladesh expressed interest in joining the project, potentially extending it to 2500 kilometers, with an increased capacity. Projected costs, calculated by the ADB, have also grown from $7.5 billion to $12 billion, even without the proposed Bangladesh extension.
The Afghanistan portion is undeniably critical to TAPI's construction: there is no other route for Turkmen gas to reach South Asia. It could bring major benefits to the feeble Afghan economy, especially if plans are realized for spin-off projects to serve local communities along the way. But, TAPI will fail if it becomes a "peace pipeline," whether for Afghanistan or between India and Pakistan. To their credit, the U.S. State Department officials working on the project have consistently stressed that it must first and foremost be commercially viable. But that does not stop regional actors, whether part of the consortium or not, from politicizing an already sensitive trans-national project.
TAPI must also maintain a reasonable scope. The construction of a record-breaking pipeline through a conflict zone with too many regional cooks in the kitchen is an insurmountable task. A relatively modest gas link with sound commercial underpinning and adequate security provisions may stand a chance at becoming reality. The current plan still resembles the second option, but there have been indications recently that we could end up with the first. New partners, whether Bangladesh or others, can join later, once pipe has actually been laid. Technical provisions can be made for the pipeline's capacity to be expanded down the road. The key is to have the pipeline built, not to continually talk about building it.
TAPI should move forward on the basis of this past month's agreement. The current partners have been working together for years and, according to the ADB, have finally overcome the majority of the sticking points that stood in the way of implementation. The focus should be on progress towards construction, not expansion of the project. Eurasia has seen its fair share of pipe dreams. It is time for one to become reality. The region does not need another Nabucco.
Alexandros Petersen is author of the The World Island: Eurasian Geopolitics and the Fate of the West and Advisor to the European Energy Security Initiative at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. His current research is available at www.chinaincentralasia.com.
BANARAS KHAN/AFP/Getty Images
President Obama's surprise speech in Kabul on May 1 was a political stunt filled with the kind of mischaracterizations typical of a campaign, but the actual U.S.-Afghan Strategic Partnership Agreement that he signed while there was something of greater substance.
Much of the agreement echoed the language and intent of the earlier 2005 Strategic Partnership Agreement. Both agreements sought to reassure the Afghans of the United States' staying power, and articulate broad principles on which the bilateral relationship rests. They are both "executive agreements," which lack the power of formal treaties ratified by the Senate. To that extent, the agreements are like cotton candy: pleasant, fluffy, but easily torn apart. That may explain why the Afghans, having the 2005 agreement in hand, felt the need to pursue further reassurances once Bush left office.
According to some reports, the Afghans were looking for a full-fledged mutual defense treaty. Such a treaty would have obligated the United States to treat an attack on Afghanistan as an attack on itself. If so, the Afghans are surely disappointed, but they were also unrealistic in their hopes. It is difficult to envision Americans accepting a defense treaty obligating American intervention in South Asia in perpetuity when most no longer welcome our actual intervention in Afghanistan to fight a war that two presidents have argued is vital to our national security. The Afghans probably got the strongest expression of support possible in the current U.S. political climate.
The crux of the long-term U.S. commitment to Afghanistan in the new agreement is this: "The Unites States shall designate Afghanistan a ‘Major Non-NATO Ally.'" The Major Non-NATO Ally (MNNA) designation was created by Congress in 1989 as a way of identifying America's major strategic partners without the burdensome requirements of a formal treaty. It confers a range of benefits, including participation in U.S. Defense Department research and development projects, preferential access to U.S. military surplus supplies, the use of U.S. loans to finance weapons purchases, and expedited applications for space technology exports. More importantly, the designation has a powerful symbolic value: it is a public affirmation of a country's affiliation with the United States, a global badge of American approval. Although the designation does not technically carry a security guarantee or legally obligate the United States to come to the defense of a designee, the label of "ally" implies as much. Only 14 states and Taiwan have been given the MNNA status.
Critics may argue that MNNA status is merely symbolic, but symbols are important. Afghanistan is now in the same category as Japan, Australia, Israel, and Pakistan. And the agreement goes beyond the symbolic, stipulating that the United States will train and equip the Afghan National Security Forces "consistent with NATO standards and [will] promote interoperability with NATO forces." To cement relations between the newly-minted "allies," the Agreement commits the United States to negotiating a Bilateral Security Agreement with Afghanistan over the next year, and the administration is also initiating talks on a Status-of-Forces Agreement (SOFA) and a defense cooperation memorandum of understanding (the timing allows the Obama administration to delay decisions on difficult issues like detentions and night raids until after the election).
Collectively, these provisions communicate a relatively strong U.S. commitment to Afghan security and begin to undo the damage done by the Obama administration's various and shifting deadlines for the Afghan mission. In a best-case scenario, in ten years or so the Afghan Army could become one of the key developing-world partners and force-multipliers for U.S. and Western military forces in contingency and peacekeeping operations. Afghanistan could become the next Bangladesh, providing the manpower for peacekeeping missions that Western nations are willing to fund but not man, in exchange for which the Afghans get valuable operational experience and funding. (The Agreement won't, however, be a help in any future U.S.-Iran war, as it expressly prohibits the U.S. from using Afghan territory to attack another country. The clause, reflecting an understandable concern by the Afghans, may also complicate the U.S.'s ability to attack terrorist targets inside Pakistan).
Of course, these assurances only matter if Kabul defeats the Taliban insurgency, a topic on which the Agreement is oddly silent. The Agreement affirms the joint goal of defeating "al-Qaeda and its affiliates," the closest it comes to referring to the Taliban. There is vague language restating the long-standing reconciliation policy-that unspecified "individuals and entities" must sever ties with al-Qaeda, renounce violence, and accept the constitution-but fails to identify at whom the policy is aimed. The United States just pledged a decade's worth of security cooperation to a country in the middle of a civil war, but managed to avoid talking about the civil war.
The silence is probably calculated to protect the Strategic Partnership in the event the Taliban join the government following a negotiated peace. Kabul and Washington can claim that the Agreement is not aimed at the Taliban, who therefore have nothing to fear from it. In other words, out of fear of what the Taliban might do in a hypothetical future scenario, the Americans and Afghans gave them a seat at the negotiating table in the Strategic Partnership talks, effectively rewarding them for their threat of continued violence. This is a poor negotiating strategy. Instead, the Agreement should have identified the Taliban, committed the parties explicitly to its defeat, and only then reiterated the reconciliation policy.
The Agreement has other weaknesses. For example, it commits Afghanistan to providing the United States with continued access to military facilities through 2014 "and beyond as may be agreed," needlessly requiring Kabul and Washington to re-negotiate access to Afghan facilities again in two years. The 2005 agreement contained no expiration date on American access to Afghan facilities (like Bagram and Kandahar air fields), a much simpler arrangement that still respected Afghan sovereignty under the obvious understanding that the Afghans could ask the United States to leave at any time.
Similarly, the Agreement pledges the United States to "seek funds on a yearly basis" for Afghan assistance, a weak and unenforceable clause. The Agreement failed to commit the United States even to an aspirational target of financial aid to Afghanistan. For example, the United States could have promised to seek at least $2 billion per year for security assistance and $1 billion per year for civilian assistance, which would have afforded a small amount of protection for Afghan aid after 2014, when donor fatigue and Congressional inattention set in.
The most troubling aspect of the agreement, mirroring the overall weakness of the Obama administration's Afghan policy, is the evident imbalance between the military and civilian aspects of U.S. engagement there. For years, the United States has invested massively in building up the Afghan Army and police but comparatively little in building the Afghan government. The result is a strong Afghan Army and a weak Afghan state, a highly unstable and dangerous combination. If the Afghan Army ever successfully defeats the Taliban, it could itself suddenly become the greatest threat to Afghan national security.
The new agreement only perpetuates this unhelpful dynamic. After several pages detailing U.S.-Afghan security cooperation and a decent section on economic assistance, it contains a brief, vague, throw-away section on governance. Afghanistan promises to improve itself, and the United States promises to help, with no details, no promise of new resources, and no promise of training up to international standards. The one or two solid ideas regarding governance in the agreement-that the U.S. will channel more of its aid through the Afghan government, and align its aid to Afghan priorities-may be unachievable precisely because the capacity of Afghan institutions continues to lag and suffer from endemic corruption. Compared to the detailed, specific, and increasingly dense U.S.-Afghan security partnership, the U.S.-Afghan governance partnership is almost non-existent. The United States risks replicating the same error in Afghanistan that characterized U.S. policy towards Pakistan for the last six decades.
Nonetheless, as a whole, the new U.S.-Afghan strategic partnership is a strong signal of enduring American commitment to help one of the world's most failed states, and secure American interests in South Asia. After more than ten years of effort with halting progress and fragile, reversible gains, such commitment is welcome. The partnership is arguably one of Obama's best achievements on Afghan policy (after the 2009 military surge), and showed some political courage considering the increasing unpopularity of the war among the American electorate, especially in his own political base. The very fact that there is a strategic partnership agreement will help to buy time for Obama, or his successor, to improve on its weaknesses in 2014 and beyond. That will go a long way to upholding America's promise to the Afghans.
Dr. Paul D. Miller is an Assistant Professor of International Security Studies at the National Defense University's College of International Security Affairs. The views expressed here are his own, and do not reflect those of the U.S. government.
Afghan Presidential Palace via Getty Images
On November 13, 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, would be tried in federal court alongside four co-defendants, reversing the 2008 Bush administration decision to try the 9/11 conspirators before a military commissions tribunal. On April 4, 2011, after an avalanche of criticism based on legal and security concerns, Holder sheepishly announced a reversal of policy. The country was now back where it had started: Khaled Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) would be tried by military commission at Guantanamo Bay. Perhaps because of the evident unease of the administration's turn about, ostensibly in response to political pressure, the debate over military versus federal tribunals for Guantanamo's High Value Detainees is still very much alive.
Recognizing this, William Shawcross's Justice and the Enemy: Nuremberg, 9/11, and the Trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed joins the debate on the side of the military commissions. His somewhat standard reasoning begins with a relatively new, and somewhat flawed premise: that today's military commissions are but the current version of the "remarkable achievement" of the Nuremberg Trials, the international military tribunal which tried twenty-two Nazi defendants accused of war crimes and over which the American Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson presided as chief prosecutor. Shawcross, whose father was the chief British prosecutor at Nuremberg, insists that at Nuremberg, "Justice was done." From the start, Shawcross sets up Jackson as his hero, the unquestionable voice of wisdom, carrying the message from Nuremberg to terrorism.
To justify his reliance on Nuremberg as the determinative precedent, Shawcross asserts a foundational principle - that al-Qaeda is but the most recent example of the evil that evidenced itself in the Nazi atrocities, an evil that "did not die" with the twelve men condemned to death at Nuremburg, an evil that "reinvents itself in every age" and that "struck America on September 11." From this, he extrapolates that, when it comes to al-Qaeda defendants, it is only right to try them by military commissions.
From the trial of Zacarious Moussaoui, who pled guilty in 2005 to charges of conspiracy in the 9/11 attacks, to the reading of Miranda rights, albeit after a delay, to the Christmas Day bomber, Shawcross echoes the oft-repeated opinion that in these cases, "justice was not done." No case, to his mind, has demonstrated this more clearly than the trial in 2010 of Ahmed Ghailani on charges of conspiring in the 1998 Embassy Bombings in East Africa. Taking place twelve years after the crime, during which time Ghailani was tortured at a CIA black site and held at Guantanamo, the Ghailani trial was the Obama administration's attempt to test the federal court system. When the jury found Ghailani not guilty on 284 of 285 charges, Holder's reversal became inevitable. Although Ghailani was sentenced to life in prison without parole, Shawcross is far from satisfied at what he considers a decision "perilously close to acquitting [Ghailani] altogether." He cringes at the notion that "either the government would have had to let him go," causing "immense strategic consequences," or they would have to "detain him despite the verdict of innocence." Justice Jackson, he tells us, would have agreed that terrorism detainees should not be released. Jackson, he reminds us, had opined that prosecutors "must never put a man on trial unless you are prepared to see him walk free," - a notion that Shawcross finds unthinkable in these cases, ignoring the fact that under Jackson's supervision, three of the Nuremberg defendants, were acquitted, and indeed, did walk free. Here, as elsewhere, Shawcross is shamelessly certain about prophesizing what Jackson would have done, telling us at one point that Jackson would have condoned not just the trial of KSM in a military tribunal but Obama's targeted killings policy as well. He cites Jackson on the matter of executing war criminals, "'If it is considered good policy for the future peace of the world, if it is believed that the example will outweigh the tendency to create....a myth of martyrdom, then let them be executed. But...let the decision to execute them be made as a military or political decision,'" not a judicial one. Shawcross's logic, shaped by its usefulness for his argument, fails to consider that the crimes of Imam Anwar al-Awlaki -- the American and Yemeni citizen who led al-Qaeda's efforts to recruit Americans -- as well as the crimes of Osama bin Laden's were those which both the criminal justice system and Guantanamo had prosecuted, and that bin Laden, indicted in federal court, was already squarely within the trajectory of the criminal justice system.
Ultimately, Shawcross rests his position on the belief that terrorism defendants are categorically different from those accused tried in criminal proceedings. As such, they are undeserving of the precious protections offered by the U.S. Constitution. When it comes to terrorism, he cannot understand applying the age-old dictum, "it is better for ten guilty men to go free than to have one innocent man convicted." Why, he wonders, must "that generous principle" be extended to terrorists, those who would "murder their way to a destruction of the rule of law and its replacement by a sectarian dictatorship?" "The idea that the Nazis should have had the protections afforded to Americans by the United States Constitution never occurred to Justice Jackson or any of the other jurists involved in the tribunal." Showing no allegiance to political correctness, Shawcross goes so far as to ask, "Why is one religion being accorded so much more deference than all the others?" Here, it is not just Shawcross's logic which is faulty but his misunderstanding of the law which posits that guilt and innocence must be tested in a fair, evidence-based trial and that ideological leanings do not alter that access to the system of law.
For the untoward "generosity" on the part of those who defend the use of the federal courts and who seek to defend Guantanamo detainees, Shawcross blames the Left, specifically the Center for Constitutional Rights and the ACLU, both organizations which have been devoted to creating defense strategies for the Guantanamo detainees, largely through habeas petitions or aid to defense counsel at Guantanamo. In Shawcross's words, "Some of the lawyers, at times, seemed more concerned about the alleged injustices done to the detained terrorists than they did to those perpetrated by them." But it is not just the Left that he blames; the criminal justice system itself as well is to be blamed. Failing to distinguish law enforcement in terms of intelligence gathering and preventive police work from criminal prosecutions of terrorists accused of specific plots, Shawcross sees 9/11 as proof for his argument. "The very fact that 9/11 happened at all spelled failure for the law enforcement approach to terrorism." Viewed this way, denial of the right to hold trials in federal court seems almost like just punishment to Shawcross. Quoting Justice Scalia's dissent In the Boumedienne ruling which granted the detainees the right to habeas corpus, Shawcross reasserts his fears of the inadequacies of the legal system: the question of "'how to handle enemy prisoners in this war will ultimately lie with the branch [the judiciary] that knows least about the national security concerns that the subject entails."
Those who came of age politically during the Vietnam War might find themselves surprised by William Shawcross's ready acceptance of policies that have consistently bypassed the legal system amidst secrecy, fears of exposure for illegal policies, and without regard for either expediency or efficiency. His 1979 book Sideshow provided an unparalleled contemporary critique of the foils of power gone wrong. Confident, immensely detailed, and persuasive, Sideshow was journalism in the service of opposition politics, and as such, became one of the seminal works on the Vietnam War. Now, nearly twenty-five years later, Mr. Shawcross has given us a book which is eons away from the spirit of his earlier work. Instead of a critique of those in power, Justice and the Enemy is a defiant embrace of decision-making that yields to political pressure whatever the stakes. Rather than see this books as a novel argument in defense of military commissions, Shawcross's book is perhaps best viewed as a reminder of the fading spirit of those determined to check the use of power in the name of national security.
Karen Greenberg is director of the Center on National Security at Fordham University's School of Law and author of The Least Worst Place: Guantanamo's First 100 Days.
The last two years have not been kind to al-Qaeda Central (AQC). U.S. drone strikes over Pakistan's Pashtun tribal regions have decimated its leadership ranks, killing a number of senior operational leaders and ideologues. These killings have eroded the ability of AQC and the transnational Sunni jihadi current to propagate its message. Despite these losses, however, AQC still has a number of charismatic voices that it is able to, and frequently does, deploy. One of these is the group's chief juridical voice, Abu Yahya al-Libi. A second is the Kuwaiti preacher Khalid bin ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Husaynan, a much lesser-known ideologue who has played an increasingly prominent role in AQC's media productions since his debut in an often comedic "quiet dialogue." This "dialogue" was actually a rhetorical monologue aimed at U.S. president Barack Obama, released by the group's al-Sahab Media Foundation in August 2009.
Since then, al-Husaynan has emerged as both the spiritual guide to AQC's armed cadres in the AfPak region and the group's missionary ambassador tasked with wooing new recruits from abroad. These roles have been emphasized in his repeated appearances in al-Sahab's Diary of a Mujahid video series, which presents a holistic picture of the jihadi-guerilla lifestyle by showing jihadis engaged in military attacks, physical and doctrinal education, and leisure activities such as fishing. The Diary of a Mujahid series highlights the important but often neglected social aspects of "mujahideen" life, through which bonds are created among jihadis, reinforcing the group's ideology and dedication. Al-Husaynan has appeared more frequently in a quasi-military capacity, filmed with firearms delivering lectures and sermons in the field to AQC's frontline troops, emphasizing his role as a "mujahid" or warrior theologian and missionary preacher. The publication of several of his essays and full-length books on weighty theological and juridical topics by the al-Fajr Media Center, the shadowy media network that coordinates the online distribution of all media materials produced by AQC, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), solidified his credentials as a jihadi juridical voice and religious scholar.
Unlike Abu Yahya, al-Husaynan has not attracted a significant amount of attention from scholars and analysts -- with a couple of notable exceptions -- despite being one of the most vocal advocates for the transnational jihadi missionary campaign. While it is true that AQC's operational and media abilities have been significantly hampered by its recent losses, the group retains prominent voices, such as al-Husaynan's, urging Muslims around the world to support its "jihad" against the U.S. and its allies and regional clients in countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, and Yemen. These voices should not be ignored by al-Qaeda analysts because they continue to provide a valuable window into the ideological machinations of a certainly weakened, but still living transnational militant movement.
In addition to his personable oratorical style, which runs the gamut between fire-and-brimstone preaching to (more frequently) a conversational tone, al-Husaynan is also able to deploy his credentials as a religious scholar and preacher prior to his joining AQC. The transnational jihadi current suffers from a relatively small number of bona fide religious scholars (‘ulama), and the presence of ideologues such as al-Husaynan enables it to claim much-needed juridical and theological cover for its actions. Specifically, jihadis are able to use voices of "frontline scholars" (‘ulama al-thughur) such as al-Husaynan to counter the criticisms of AQC and its sister groups by other, more mainstream, ‘ulama, such as the Saudi Salafi scholar Salman al-‘Awda.
A former preacher employed by the Kuwaiti Ministry of Religious Endowments and Islamic Affairs, al-Husaynan began his formal religious education in 1986 with a number of prominent Saudi Salafi scholars, including the prominent Saudi jihadi-Salafi scholar Suleyman al-‘Ulwan, who has been imprisoned since April 28, 2004, and the mainstream Saudi Salafi jurist Muhammad al-‘Uthaymin, one of the most influential Salafi scholars in modern history. The Kuwaiti ideologue provided a detailed sketch of his educational and biographical background in a lengthy interview with Hittin, an Urdu-language jihadi Internet magazine named after a famous battle in which the medieval Muslim ruler Saladin defeated the army of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1187, which was published in the January issue.
Information posted online by al-Husaynan's supporters sheds additional light on his biographical background. After graduating with a degree in theology from Imam Muhammad bin Saud Islamic University in Saudi Arabia, he worked as a prayer leader (imam) and preacher at the mosque of the Sa‘d al-Abdullah Academy for Security Sciences, an institution which is responsible for training Kuwaiti police officers. He later worked at a number of other mosques controlled by the Ministry of Religious Endowments and Islamic Affairs where has was a popular preacher and a prolific writer of religious pamphlets on issues such as supplicatory prayers (du‘a), the Day of Judgment, and women's issues. Even at this point in his career, al-Husaynan was known for employing humor in his lectures in order to better connect to his audience. The preacher emphasized his use of humor as a means for reaching out to Muslim youth, which he identifies as the primary target of his and other Kuwaiti preachers' missionary work, in his Hittin interview.
By the mid-1990s, he was a vocal advocate for Muslim fighters, or "mujahideen," presumably in places such as Chechnya and Bosnia. At this time in his life, al-Husaynan worked with the Salafi Movement of Kuwait, whose spokesman, Fahid al-Haylam, is quoted by al-Husaynan's supporters as having described him as a "missionary man" who was active in the organization of religious seminars for students at summer camps. Al-Husaynan was eventually removed from his position as an imam and preacher (khatib) at the academy's mosque because of fears that he would influence the cadets politically, and he was moved at a mosque in Bilqis in the Jalib region. In either 2006 or 2007, al-Husaynan left Kuwait to travel to the "battlefields of jihad" in Afghanistan, the land of "glory and pride." The date he gives in his Hittin interview is the Islamic lunar year 1427, which corresponds to the Gregorian years 2006 and the beginning of 2007.
Al-Husaynan's emergence as an AQC ideologue was slow but steady. In November 2009, al-Sahab released a video recording of his sermon for the Eid al-Fitr, the holiday ending the month of Ramadan, in which the preacher's demeanor was no longer as cartoonish as in parts of his August debut. Throughout Ramadan the following year al-Sahab released a series of brief, daily video lectures by al-Husaynan on a variety of issues ranging from proper belief (‘aqida) and theology to ritual practice and the proper behavior of a pious Muslim. Some of the lectures included references to political and ideological topics, such as one on the signs of hypocrisy, which include, according to the preacher, backbiting against the "mujahideen."
In October 2010 al-Husaynan, who is known in jihadi circles by the nom de guerre Abu Zayd al-Kuwaiti, was referenced briefly in the fifth installment of al-Sahab's masterfully produced martyrology video series The Wind of Paradise, which chronicles the life stories of AQC fighters and leaders killed in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In April 2011 the series of video "propagation lessons" (al-durus al-da‘iyya) that began with the Ramadan 2010 lecture series continued, and a month later al-Husaynan was being referred to by a new title, the "missionary" or "propagating" sheikh (al-sheikh al-da‘iyya), the same title used in AQAP's media to describe the role of the militant American-Yemeni preacher Anwar al-Awlaki.
Al-Husaynan has undeniably become one of AQC's most frequently broadcast ideological voices and his importance to the group is likely to only increase with the thinning of the group's ranks of ideologues over the past two years. Despite the fact that al-Sahab has steadily pushed al-Husaynan to the forefront of its media campaign since late 2009, his impact on the broader transnational Sunni jihadi current is unclear. Measuring influence in the jihadi universe is difficult, but one way is to see who is quoted by other jihadi groups in different geographical areas of operation and how often they are quoted. Unlike Abu Yahya, ‘Atiyyatullah al-Libi, Usama bin Laden, and Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Husaynan is not yet quoted frequently by jihadi movements such as Al-Shabaab in Somalia and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, or even AQIM and AQAP. Cyber artwork produced independently by online jihadis is another indicator and a field of jihadi media that the author has followed closely for several years. Al-Husaynan has only recently appeared in such artwork. While this uncertainty as to al-Husaynan's standing within the broader jihadi current should be considered, his promotion by AQC itself and the increasingly prominent role he has played in the group's recent media productions are compelling reasons to pay attention to his contributions to contemporary jihadi thought and discourse.
Christopher Anzalone is a doctoral student in the Institute of Islamic Studies at McGill University where he studies modern Muslim socio-political movements, Shi'ite Islam, and Islamist visual culture. He blogs at Views from the Occident and Al-Wasat.
Wonk watch: Antonio Giustozzi, "Hearts, Minds, and the Barrel of a Gun: The Taliban's Shadow Government," (NDU).
Easy catch?: Officials at Cairo International Airport on Wednesday detained a man who had arrived from Pakistan called Mohamad Ibrahim Makkawi, a name listed as an alias by the FBI for a wanted al-Qaeda leader, Saif al-Adel, who is thought to be in Pakistan's tribal regions (Post, AFP, AJE). Egyptian Interior Minister Marwan Mustapha later clarified that the man who had been arrested is wanted on terrorism charges in Egypt, but is not Saif al-Adel.
After a 13-year break, Pakistan's Supreme Court on Wednesday resumed hearings into allegations that the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) distributed $6.5 million to several opposition politicians in an effort to sway the 1990 election (NYT, ET, ET, DT, Dawn, The News). However, Wednesday's hearing was cut short when it was revealed that important evidence, including the 1998 testimony of three key witnesses, had been lost.
Director General of Inter-Services Public Relations, Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas on Wednesday termed allegations that Osama bin Laden had been in regular contact with Pakistani intelligence officials while living in Pakistan "rubbish" (ET). And Iran has offered Pakistan 80,000 barrels of oil per day on a three-month deferred payment plan, a deal that would help alleviate Pakistan's energy crisis as well as temper the effects of international sanctions on Iran (Reuters, The News, Dawn).
Protests were seen across Pakistan on Wednesday against the brutal killing of 18 Shi'a Muslims by gunmen dressed in Pakistani military uniforms the day before (Dawn, ET). India's Home Minister P. Chidambaram said Wednesday that Indian police had foiled an attack planned by members of the Pakistani-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) (AFP). Two women and a child were killed in Khyber Agency when a bomb struck their vehicle on Wednesday (Dawn). And an elementary school in the northwestern Pakistani district of Chabqadar was blown up early Wednesday morning (ET).
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen on Tuesday praised NATO troops for their "remarkable restraint" during the violent protests that rocked Afghanistan for several days last week (AP). Meanwhile, a senior Afghan defense official told Reuters that preventing infiltrators from entering the country's armed forces and attacking NATO troops is a "challenge" that must be met (Reuters).
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton defended the United States' mission in Afghanistan on Tuesday in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, members of which expressed exasperation with the ongoing conflict and rising American death toll (AP). The United States has received permission from several Central Asian countries to move supplies out of Afghanistan through their territory during the withdrawal phase, relieving some of NATO's heavy dependence on Pakistan for supply routes (WSJ).
Caught on tape
The Election Commission of Pakistan on Monday withheld the results of a provincial election in Tando Muhammad Khan due to reports of voter intimidation (ET). Candidate Waheeda Shah Bukhari had been declared the winner, but video footage of her slapping two polling workers rendered the results unclear, and landed the candidate in hot water.
-- Jennifer Rowland
MICHEL MOUTOT/AFP/Getty Images
For a fallen figure -- one reduced to self-imposed exile in Dubai and London, and dismissed by many as apolitical has-been -- Pervez Musharraf sure is hogging an impressive share of the spotlight.
In late 2010, after announcing (from London) the formation of his new political party, the All Pakistan Muslim League (APML), and revealing his intention to return to Pakistan to contest the 2013 elections, the former president and army chief hit the lecture circuit. In Washington, he spoke to beyond-capacity and often supportive crowds. Watching him glad hand and back slap people outside the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington last July, after having delivered an address to hundreds of people, I was struck by his resemblance to a U.S. political candidate.
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My article criticizing certain rituals in the Shi'a Muslimtradition in Pakistan's Express Tribune on December 8 spurred a firestorm ofcontroversy, as a number of commentators deemed it inappropriate or worse. Myargument was that religious adherents need to repudiate rituals that infringeon collective rights, and which can escalate sectarian conflict; these includethe rituals during the commemoration of Muharram, that can involve men and evenchildren flagellating themselves withknives on chains, and processions of bleeding men as a display of adoration forthe martyred Imam Husain (this is byno means reflective of all Shi'a practice, but is widely practiced amongSouth Asian Shi'a).
The controversy grew more intense on Twitter, and evennotable commentators such as NasimZehra asked for an immediate apology from the Tribune on grounds that thearticle was "outrageously offensive."To her credit, Ms. Zehra later noted thatafter the apology the matter should be closed. However, hate mail from all over followed,including several messages to the president of the University of Vermont (whereI teach) asking for my dismissal, a surprising torrent against free speech evenfrom highly educated writers. The university noted that the article was wellwithin the confines of free speech and was in fact condemning violence. Insteadof admonishing me, the university offered me police protection.
Under pressure from sponsors and amid fears that other mediahouses would use this episode to spur a consumer boycott, Tribune decided tofirst edit and then completely remove the article, and noted that I was"banned" from writing in their pages again. My intention was never to rebukeShi'ism itself, but rather such rituals whose practice further leads toacrimony between Shi'a and Sunnis. Furthermore, a ritual with so much bloodbeing spilled in a procession can be a public health issue, and has been repeatedlyquestioned and curtailed in Iran, Syria, and Lebanon.
Ireposted the article on my site with a clear apology for specificstatements which were, in retrospect, inflammatory for Pakistan's religioussensibilities. The newspaper's "ban" on my writing was later edited out of the apology statement posted onthe Internet, but this episode left me deeply troubled about the state ofjournalistic independence in Pakistan. The country has a vibrant civil societyand promising career track for journalists and independent writers, but therehas been a rapidrise in abductions and murders of journalists whose views were consideredantithetical to certain religious perspectives.
This episode highlighted for me a larger issue of mediafreedom in a country which often prides itself in having private TV channelswith fiery talk shows blasting politicians. Yet religious debate, often socontentious and even violent in Pakistan, remains off limits. Pakistan as asociety needs to understand that the right to offend in journalism is afundamental right. I don't mind getting hate mail despite the norms of freespeech, but what surprised me was that educated people questioned my right tocriticize a cultural practice by referring to it as "hate speech." I wasrepeatedly asked what my point was if criticism could further cause conflict. Stillanother asked, "could you criticize Jewish rituals the same way in America?" Thiskind of reaction could have taken place in many Muslim societies -- and Sunnisare equally culpable on such matters as Shi'a.
Pakistan's infamous blasphemylaws are a result of exactly this kind of oversensitivity and pattern ofraising ire following any hint of criticism about religious rituals or edicts.The valorization of extreme religious edicts by the State has unfortunatelybeen successful in co-opting the sensibilities of even many educated citizens. Thisin turn has strengthened the religious establishment's efforts toinstitutionalize a radical inertia within the political system. Perhaps unwittingly, liberal commentators whowould rather avoid tougher issues of dissent scorned my article, and by doingso strengthened the same kinds of arguments that fanatics use to marginalizeminorities or their opponents.
Ironically, in my article, I clearly stated that lawsagainst hate speech must be enforced. Speech that directly urges violence towardsany particular person or group of people must be avoided at all costs. Yet tounderstand sectarian conflict, which is often compared to "cancer," we have tolook at both proximate and systemic causes. Just as one treats cancer withchemotherapy, groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi(LeJ) need to be hunted down for terrorist crimes. But we also need to searchfor systemic causes of sectarian strife, which in Pakistan can be traced totheology in both Shi'a and Sunni doctrines as well as political interventionand alleged statesupport for sectarian groups like LeJ or Sipah-e-Sihaba Pakistan (SSP).
In a pluralistic society, the limits of what is allowed insuch cases can be debated and questioned, and laws can be passed and changedthrough democratic processes. For example, there are laws in some Europeancountries against questioning the historical validity of the Holocaust, but inthe United States, such historical questioning is protected by the firstamendment to the U.S. constitution (despite the repeated accusations by many Pakistanisthat American law and politics reflect undue Jewish influence). While Idisagree with the limitations on free speech in Europe, there is at least aworkable legislative pathway for repeal of these laws. In Pakistan, the prospectof any legislative change to errant laws is stifled by precisely the kindof bullying about religious sensitivity exhibited in this episode.
The duty of any socially conscious writer is to push theenvelope and challenge people to question their assumptions. This will makepeople uncomfortable, but incremental social change always happens through sucha dialectical process. If people were always trying to stray from controversy socialchange would never take place. Cultural sensitivity is far too often used as anexcuse for maintaining the status quo in places like Pakistan, and this needsto change if the country is ever to overcome the polarization that continues toimpede communitarian peace.
Saleem H. Ali is professor ofenvironmental studies at the University of Vermont's Rubenstein School ofEnvironment and Natural Resources and the director of the Institute forEnvironmental Diplomacy and Security at the James Jeffords Center for PolicyResearch. He can be followed @saleem_ali
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