Hope. It's certainly not the first word that comes to mind when contemplating present-day Pakistan. This is, after all, a nation convulsed by terrorism, corruption, poverty, natural resource shortages, economic distress, public health crises, and educational failures.
In recent years, when faced with these immense challenges, Islamabad has dithered. Ultimately, it's offered more shrugs than solutions. Take, for instance, Pakistan's new president, Mamnoon Hussain. In a speech on October 20, he admitted that the country "is in such a bad state that it cannot get any worse." Not really inspiring, is it?
It's especially hard to muster any hope that Pakistan's spiraling sectarian strife -- which killed more than twice as many people last year as it did in 2011 -- will end anytime soon. Pakistani public opinion demonstrates considerable support for the underlying views of sectarian militants (in recent polls, 41 percent and 60 percent, respectively, said Shi'as and Ahmadis aren't Muslims), even if not for the violent means used to express them. Additionally, sectarianism is institutionalized in Pakistan; its second constitutional amendment explicitly brands Ahmadis as non-Muslims (Ahmadis are members of a minority Muslim sect that many Pakistanis regard as heretics for believing there was a prophet after Muhammad). Pakistan has few laws that protect religious minorities, and it rarely arrests, much less prosecutes, perpetrators of sectarian violence.
In effect, deep fractures are steadily gnawing away at Pakistan's social fabric -- and could one day pose an existential threat to the state. If left unaddressed, these violently demarcated cleavages could trigger a Balkanization of sorts.
Yet here is where the narrative changes. The heroic feats of three Pakistanis -- virtual unknowns outside their country -- give reason to believe that such a descent isn't necessarily inevitable. These are Pakistanis who not only deplore sectarianism, but have also taken dramatic steps to combat it (one of them lost his life for his efforts). Most critically, their countrymen have supported them.
On the outskirts of Islamabad stands an extraordinary structure: Pakistan's first sect-free mosque. Zahid Iqbal is the businessman behind it. "We don't belong with any sect of Islam," he told the Associated Press this summer. "We only belong to Islam."
The mosque's main prayer hall can accommodate 350 people. It also holds an inter-sect religious library, and will soon open a women's section. A welcoming sign proclaims a message of tolerance: "This mosque does not discriminate between any sects and welcomes all Muslims."
Iqbal has dispatched mosque officials to other mosques, where they preach messages of tolerance and unity. He told me that he eventually plans to establish branches of the mosque elsewhere in Pakistan. "To me, Islam means Mercy, that is to do good to others," he said in an email. "So, through this mosque I am trying to live up to this message of Islam."
In early October, soon after more than 100 Christians were killed in an attack on their church in Peshawar, Christians and Muslims formed human chains around churches in several major Pakistani cities. Participants included muftis, Christian clergy, women, and children, and they displayed banners that proclaimed: "One Nation, One Blood."
This campaign was led by Jibran Nasir, a Pakistani lawyer and activist who works for an organization called Pakistan for All. "The terrorists showed us what they do on Sundays," he declared at an event in Lahore. "Here we are showing them what we do on Sundays. We unite." The intention, he told me, is "to send out a message that every house of God whether a church, temple or synagogue is as sacred as a mosque and hence protection of these places of worship is the responsibility of every Muslim." He says he was inspired by the human chains formed by Muslims to protect Coptic Christians praying in Egypt, another nation where religious minorities are often persecuted and attacked.
Nasir, who has also organized assistance for Shi'a victims of sectarian attacks, recently ran as an independent for a National Assembly seat representing Karachi. In official campaign videos and media interviews, he constantly condemned sectarianism. He also campaigned for Ahmadi rights -- a nearly unfathomable cause for Pakistani politicians to take up. Ultimately, he wasn't elected, but he vows to run again.
Last August, extremists boarded a bus in Balochistan and killed more than a dozen Shi'as. They also gunned down Ghulam Mustafa, a Sunni passenger who dared to confront them. "Why are you doing this?" the 19-year-old student reportedly said to the gunmen. "Why do you want to kill these people? Islam doesn't allow the killing of innocent people." Shortly thereafter, Mustafa was led to the side of the road and executed alongside the Shi'a bus riders.
While these three young men have fought sectarianism directly, they have also had supporting casts -- the staff that run Iqbal's mosque and guide its worshipers; the participants in Nasir's human chain campaign; and several other Sunni bus riders who, like Mustafa, refused to identify Shi'a passengers (according to one media account, two other Sunnis died along with Mustafa).
Such support extends across Pakistan more broadly as well. Iqbal told me that his mosque has not received a single threat, and that the overall response has been "encouraging and supportive." Meanwhile, Nasir told me that his advocacy has generated ample support from numerous religious scholars. He has also revealed that three major political parties invited him to join their ranks -- and continued to offer advice and support even after he declined.
Clearly, sectarian tolerance has a constituency in Pakistan. To be sure, it's a relatively small constituency, but it is one worth highlighting. Pakistan is burdened by such acute privation that many suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. The most desperate have set themselves on fire and hurled themselves in front of oncoming trains. Others redress grievances by resorting to violence. The efforts of Iqbal, Nasir, and Mustafa represent a very different type of response to the country's hardships -- yet it is one that shouldn't come as a surprise to even the most casual observer of Pakistani society.
This is because Pakistanis are famously resilient. Communities devastated by catastrophic natural disasters immediately stage fundraising drives for the displaced; doctors threatened with bodily harm by their own patients steadfastly return to work at overcrowded hospitals; and households weather electricity shortages by fashioning crude energy-generating devices from discarded appliances.
In recent months, commentators have suggested that Pakistanis are becoming even more resourceful and entrepreneurial -- just as they point to how civil society is growing more vibrant, private media more pugnacious, and courts more assertive. Additionally, decentralization reforms are devolving power long hogged by the political center and military -- hastening the country's democratization.
In effect, the heroic efforts of Iqbal, Nasir, and the late Mustafa reflect a broader phenomenon sweeping Pakistan -- one of incremental change for the better across society and politics.
Despite such progress, Pakistan's global image remains ugly -- even as it has been somewhat softened in recent months by the likes of education advocate Malala Yousafzai and Oscar-winning filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy. That's a pity, and it obscures a powerful message: There's still hope for Pakistan, angry warts and all.
Michael Kugelman is the senior program associate for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. He can be reached via email at email@example.com or on Twitter @michaelkugelman.
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At long last, it appears that the Bilateral Security Agreement between the United States and Afghanistan may be nearing the finish line. However, there are equally consequential negotiations reportedly underway between the Taliban and Afghan government. While it is still unclear what the results of these negotiations will be, Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar made the group's position clear earlier this year when he said that they will not attempt to monopolize power in Afghanistan, but that the Taliban seeks "an inclusive government based on Islamic principles."
With the U.S. troop drawdown underway, this statement needs to be fully considered by both the United States and the international community, as it will directly impact Afghan women's rights and human rights more broadly. Afghanistan's future is on the line.
Currently, things are far from stable in Afghanistan. The recent assassination of Arsala Jamal, the governor of Logar province, through a bomb hidden inside a Koran, is a new low in the militants' race to the bottom. Meanwhile, the intimidation and targeted killings of female Afghan government officials and societal leaders continues. Statements by U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay after her September trip to Afghanistan highlighted these ongoing abuses against Afghan women.
Gains have certainly been made -- women's rights are respected in ways that were unthinkable 15 years ago, there is an independent media, and political parties are active -- yet all of these are tenuous and reversible. Why? The climate of impunity, and the fact that the current Afghan constitution has effectively established a restrictive interpretation of shari'a as the law of the land. Consequently, Afghans lack both personal security and freedom of thought. Protections do not exist to safely dissent from state-imposed orthodoxy, to debate the role and content of religion in law and society, to advocate for the human rights of women and religious minorities, or to question narrow interpretations of Islamic precepts.
Despite this reality, Mullah Omar said it was not enough and his government would be based on Islamic law. His desire for more would be fatal to Afghanistan's effort to emerge from decades of war and instability.
I saw a glimpse of possible things to come first-hand during a trip to Kabul in May, when I visited the Afghan parliament during the debate on the proposed Elimination of Violence Against Women Law. The bill was introduced by the irrepressible parliamentarian Fawsia Koofi, who wanted to replace the imperfect but important presidential decree on protecting women. Koofi thought it better to have a law enjoying popular support through parliamentary passage. When I arrived at the Parliament, Koofi was being thronged by female MPs vigorously arguing that introducing legislation was foolish, as it risked giving conservative elements an opportunity to roll back protections.
Despite these protests, Koofi forged ahead. The outcome? Conservative legislators pressed for amendments based on their narrow interpretation of Islamic law, such as reducing the marriage age from 17 to 14, but the bill did not pass.
If this is happening under the umbrella of protection afforded by the United States, it should give policymakers pause as they look to engage Afghanistan after U.S. forces drawdown. From this low starting point, any consideration of Mullah Omar's offer for a government based on his retrograde interpretation of religious law would be deeply problematic.
Right now, those who think and speak freely in Afghanistan do so at their own risk. My conversations in Kabul made it clear that Afghanistan is a generation or more away from experiencing anything close to freedom of thought due to decades of war, the theological echoes of Taliban rule, poor rule of law, and weak human rights protections. Furthermore, the current environment promotes a vicious cycle: diverse thinking is snuffed out, either by state action or violent religious extremists, which amplifies extreme voices while marginalizing differing Islamic interpretations or debate about religion/state questions. Allowing Mullah Omar to constrict that discussion further would be disastrous.
Afghanistan has not only struggled to respect women's rights, it has also failed to value and protect its religious diversity. I repeatedly heard that Afghanistan is 99% Muslim, a factoid that obscures its existing religious diversity, of which many Afghans are unaware. In the Sunni majority, there are different schools of thought, including "moderate" Muslims who hold a progressive view of religion/state relations. The Shi'a community is theologically and ethnically diverse between Hazara Jafaris and Tajik Ismailis. The historic Hindu and Sikh communities continue to exist, with their distinctive dress and burial traditions providing a visible reminder of Afghanistan's historic pluralism. The hidden Christian and Baha'i communities, not acknowledged by Afghan religious leaders or government officials, live a vulnerable existence in the shadows.
Despite this challenging environment, the U.S. government needs to continue to press all the players seeking peace to protect members of the majority faith whose views contradict the religious establishment or Taliban sympathizers, as well as religious minorities. The Taliban and other militants have long used religion to advance their religio-political agenda. The United States, however, can undercut their message by offering counter narratives of tolerance and understanding, while supporting women's groups and other human rights groups.
The U.S. Strategy on Religious Leader and Faith Community Engagement, on which I informally advised, offers guidance on a way forward. It addresses the issue of advancing pluralism and human rights, including the protection of religious freedom, stating:
Building on current initiatives, the Administration will increase efforts to engage a diverse spectrum of religious leaders on the advancement of universal human rights, promoting core U.S. values like respect for the human rights of members of minority and marginalized groups, pluralism, tolerance, and sensitivity to and respect for the beliefs and traditions of others.
As endgame negotiations speed up, this strategy needs to be brought to bear in Afghanistan immediately. Religion provides a narrative and context for much of what happens in the country, and Mullah Omar wants to re-enshrine his religio-political worldview as international forces withdraw. Instead of ceding the religious space to him, the United States should take steps to protect diverse religious and political views. Doing so can support other U.S. priorities, such as women's rights and free speech, while undercutting the Taliban and other militants seeking sway over the Afghan population.
Knox Thames is the Director of Policy and Research at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. The views expressed here are his own. He can be followed on Twitter @thames22.
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With the looming withdrawal of NATO troops and a persistent insurgent threat, Afghanistan is in a precarious position. Innumerable tragedies have beleaguered rural Afghans throughout the past decades of conflict -- perpetual violence, oppression of women, and crushing poverty have all contributed to the Hobbesian nature of life in the Afghan countryside.
While the Afghan government has been able to address some of these issues since the Taliban's ouster in 2001, archaic social traditions and deep-seated gender norms have kept much of rural Afghanistan in a medieval state of purgatory. Perhaps the most deplorable tragedy, one that has actually grown more rampant since 2001, is the practice of bacha bazi -- sexual companionship between powerful men and their adolescent boy conscripts.
This phenomenon presents a system of gender reversal in Afghanistan. Whereas rural Pashtun culture remains largely misogynistic and male-dominated due to deeply-ingrained Islamic values, teenage boys have become the objects of lustful attraction and romance for some of the most powerful men in the Afghan countryside.
Demeaning and damaging, the widespread subculture of pedophilia in Afghanistan constitutes one of the most egregious ongoing violations of human rights in the world. The adolescent boys who are groomed for sexual relationships with older men are bought -- or, in some instances, kidnapped -- from their families and thrust into a world which strips them of their masculine identity. These boys are often made to dress as females, wear makeup, and dance for parties of men. They are expected to engage in sexual acts with much older suitors, often remaining a man's or group's sexual underling for a protracted period.
Evolution of Bacha Bazi
Occurring frequently across southern and eastern Afghanistan's rural Pashtun belt and with ethnic Tajiks in the northern Afghan countryside, bacha bazi has become a shockingly common practice. Afghanistan's mujahideen warlords, who fought off the Soviet invasion and instigated a civil war in the 1980s, regularly engaged in acts of pedophilia. Keeping one or more "chai boys," as these male conscripts are called, for personal servitude and sexual pleasure became a symbol of power and social status.
The Taliban had a deep aversion towards bacha bazi, outlawing the practice when they instituted strict nationwide sharia law. According to some accounts, including the hallmark Times of London article "Kandahar Comes out of the Closet" in 2002, one of the original provocations for the Taliban's rise to power in the early 1990s was their outrage over pedophilia. Once they came to power, bacha bazi became taboo, and the men who still engaged in the practice did so in secret.
When the former mujahideen commanders ascended to power in 2001 after the Taliban's ouster, they brought with them a rekindled culture of bacha bazi. Today, many of these empowered warlords serve in important positions, as governors, line ministers, police chiefs, and military commanders.
Since its post-2001 revival, bacha bazi has evolved, and its practice varies across Afghanistan. According to military experts I talked to in Afghanistan, the lawlessness that followed the deposing of the Taliban's in rural Pashtunistan and northern Afghanistan gave rise to violent expressions of pedophilia. Boys were raped, kidnapped, and trafficked as sexual predators regained their positions of regional power. As rule of law mechanisms and general order returned to the Afghan countryside, bacha bazi became a normalized, structured practice in many areas.
Many "chai boys" are now semi-formal apprentices to their powerful male companions. Military officials have observed that Afghan families with an abundance of children are often keen to provide a son to a warlord or government official - with full knowledge of the sexual ramifications - in order to gain familial prestige and monetary compensation. Whereas bacha bazi is now largely consensual and non-violent, its evolution into an institutionalized practice within rural Pashtun and Tajik society is deeply disturbing.
Pedophilia and Islam
The fact that bacha bazi, which has normalized sodomy and child abuse in rural Afghan society, developed within a deeply fundamentalist Islamic region of the world is mystifying. According to a 2009 Human Terrain Team study titled "Pashtun Sexuality," Pashtun social norms dictate that bacha bazi is not un-Islamic or homosexual at all -- if the man does not love the boy, the sexual act is not reprehensible, and is far more ethical than defiling a woman.
Sheltered by their pastoral setting and unable to speak Arabic -- the language of all Islamic texts -- many Afghans allow social customs to trump religious values, including those Quranic verses eschewing homosexuality and promiscuity. Warlords who have exploited Islam for political or personal means have also promulgated tolerance for bacha bazi. The mujahideen commanders are a perfect example of this -- they fought communism in the name of jihad and mobilized thousands of men by promoting Islam, while sexually abusing boys and remaining relatively secular themselves.
The rampant pedophilia has a number of far-reaching detrimental consequences on Afghanistan's development into a functional nation. The first -- and most obvious -- consequence of bacha bazi is the irreparable abuse inflicted on its thousands of victims.
Because it is so common, a significant percentage of the country's male population bears the deep psychological scars of sexual abuse from childhood. Some estimates say that as many as 50 percent of the men in the Pashtun tribal areas of southern Afghanistan take boy lovers, making it clear that pedophilia is a pervasive issue affecting entire rural communities. Many of the prominent Pashtun men who currently engage in bacha bazi were likely abused as children; in turn, many of today's adolescent victims will likely become powerful warlords or government-affiliated leaders with boy lovers of their own, perpetuating the cycle of abuse.
A second corrupting, and perhaps surprising, consequence of bacha bazi is its negative impact on women's rights in Afghanistan. It has become a commonly accepted notion among Afghanistan's latent homosexual male population that "women are for children, and boys are for pleasure." Passed down through many generations and spurred by the vicious cycle created by the pedophile-victim relationship, many Afghan men have lost their attraction towards the opposite gender. Although social and religious customs still heavily dictate that all men must marry one or more women and have children, these marriages are often devoid of love and affection, and are treated as practical, mandated arrangements.
While the Afghan environment has grown more conducive to improving women's social statuses, the continued normalization of bacha bazi will perpetuate the traditional view of women as second-class citizens -- household fixtures meant for child-rearing and menial labor, and undeserving of male attraction and affection.
The third unfortunate consequence of bacha bazi is its detrimental bearing on the perpetual state of conflict in Afghanistan, especially in the southern Pashtun-dominated countryside. Because pedophilia and sodomy were, and remain, a main point of contention between the Islamist Taliban and traditional Pashtun warlords, the widespread nature of bacha bazi likely continues to fuel the Taliban's desire to reassert sharia law. The adolescent victims are vulnerable to Taliban intimidation and may be used to infiltrate the Afghan government and security forces.
The resurgence of bacha bazi since the Taliban's defeat and the significant percentage of government, police, and military officials engaged in the practice has put the United States and its NATO allies in a precarious position. By empowering these sexual predators, the coalition built a government around a "lesser evil," promoting often-corrupt pedophiles in lieu of the extremist, al Qaeda-linked Taliban. Going forward, the strong Western moral aversion to pedophilia will likely erode the willingness of NATO and international philanthropic agencies to continue their support for Afghanistan's development in the post-transition period. As Joel Brinkley, a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, asked: "So, why are American and NATO forces fighting and dying to defend tens of thousands of proud pedophiles, certainly more per capita than any other place on Earth?"
Despite the grave nature of the child abuse committed across Afghanistan, this tragic phenomenon has received relatively little global attention. It has been highlighted mainly in sporadic news articles and one Afghan-produced documentary, while other Afghan issues such as women's rights and poverty are center stage.
From a human rights perspective, the pervasive culture of pedophilia deserves substantial international consideration due to its detrimental effects -- the immediate and noticeable effects on the young victims, as well as the roadblocks it creates towards achieving gender equality and peace.
The only way to tackle both bacha bazi and gender inequality is to modernize Afghanistan's rule of law system. Afghan officials have been scrutinized in multiple reports by the United Nations' Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict for their failure to protect children's rights. Although Afghan officials formally agreed to outlaw these practices in response to U.N. criticism in 2011, the government's ability and willingness to internally enforce laws protecting children has been non-existent.
If a future Afghan government can achieve a balance between the Taliban, who strictly enforced anti-pedophilia laws but harshly oppressed women, and the current administration, which has put an end to the hard-line Islamic subjugation of women but has allowed bacha bazi to reach shocking levels, Afghanistan's dismal human rights record may improve.
An additional strategy for combating bacha bazi is to attack the issue from an ethno-cultural standpoint. Identifying key tribal elders and other local powerbrokers who share the West's revulsion towards such widespread pedophilia is the first step in achieving lasting progress. As is true with women's rights, understanding Afghanistan's complex social terrain and bridging its cultural differences is necessary to safeguard the rights of adolescent boys.
The Afghan government's acknowledgement of bacha bazi and subsequent outreach into rural Pashtun communities, where the legitimacy of the government is often eclipsed by the power of warlords and tribal elders, will also be critical. The most important breakthrough, of course, will come when the Afghan government, police, and military rid themselves of all pedophiles. If the central government can ensure its representatives at the local level will cease their engagement in bacha bazi, the social norms are bound to change as well.
Eliminating this truly damaging practice will finally occur when a pedophile-free Afghan government is able to more closely connect the country's urban centers to its rural countryside. Only then will a progressive social code be established. And if this evolved social code can incorporate the tenets of Islam with social justice and effectively marginalize the archaic and abusive aspects of Pashtun and Tajik warlord culture, there is hope for Afghanistan yet.
Chris Mondloch served as an analyst for the U.S. Marine Corps for five years and directed intelligence production for the Corps' Economic Political Intelligence Cell in Helmand province in 2012.
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The two suicide bombers struck just as worshippers were leaving the morning service at All Saints Church in Peshawar on Sunday, September 22, 2013. Instantly, a scene of peace became one of carnage, with more than 80 people killed and 130 injured, though the death toll will likely climb as hospitals are unable to save the wounded.
All Saints is one of the oldest churches in Pakistan, but before Sunday, many outside observers probably were unaware that any church, let alone one holding 600 congregants, existed just miles from the Afghan border near Pakistan's tribal region. Built in 1883 during the British colonial period, its architecture resembles a mosque more than a European cathedral. Now it shows pocket marks and other scars from the ball bearings used in the attack. After years of successfully navigating the challenging political and religious terrain, the church is now the site of arguably the largest attack on the Christian community in Pakistan.
However, this was not the first act of violence against Christians in Pakistan. And unless the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif takes resolute action, it will not be the last.
For instance, the Pakistan Religious Violence Project of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) documented attacks between January 2012 and June 2013 against all religious communities in the country. Based on publicly available information, the project recorded 37 attacks against Christians, resulting in 11 deaths and 36 injuries, as well as five women who were reportedly targeted for rape. On Sunday, this body count jumped almost tenfold.
Earlier this year near Lahore, an entire Christian village named Joseph Colony was burned to the ground after an allegation of blasphemy. Instead of trying to stop the attack, police ordered the residents to flee. While the Punjabi government is rebuilding the destroyed homes and other buildings, no one has been held accountable. The incident was eerily similar to the 2009 burning of the village of Gojra, where seven Christians were burned alive. Past being prologue, all of the Gojra cases were dropped and no one was found guilty.
Other high profile instances of violence include the 2011 murder of Federal Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti, the only Christian in the previous government's cabinet. He was killed by the Pakistani Taliban for his opposition to Pakistan's blasphemy law. The Zardari government did not seriously investigate his death, and the unsolved crime sent a chilling signal to the Christian community that not even their leaders will be protected. There was a recent break in the case when two Pakistani Taliban members arrested for their involvement in other crimes confessed to killing Bhatti. However, this was due to dumb luck, not a tireless investigation. Whether they will be prosecuted remains to be seen.
In addition, Pakistan's notorious blasphemy law is repeatedly used against religious minorities. Most recently, a 29-year-old Christian named Sajjad Masih was found guilty in July of denigrating the Prophet Mohammed and sentenced to life in prison, despite the accuser recanting. Reports indicate that mobs pressured the judge into the conviction and sentence. With Masih's imprisonment, almost 40 individuals are serving life sentences or sitting on death row for blasphemy - a statistic unmatched by any other country in the world - the majority of which are believed to be Christians. This includes Asia Bibi, the Christian mother of five who was sentenced to death for blasphemy in 2010, who continues to languish in jail.
But the Christian community isn't alone in its suffering. USCIRF's Pakistan Religious Violence Project also recorded the killing of 635 Shi'a in 77 separate suicide bombings and targeted shootings between the same timeframe. The Pakistani Taliban and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, another militant organization, repeatedly claimed credit. Ahmadis continue to face drive-by shootings and live under an apartheid-like legal system that criminalizes their faith, while Hindus are reportedly leaving for India to escape the religiously-inspired violence against their community.
Even members of the Muslim majority who dare encroach on the religious turf of extremists are not immune from violence. The governor of Punjab province, Salman Taseer, paid with his life for criticizing the blasphemy law, while the Pakistani Taliban tried to assassinate young Malala Yousafzai for her advocacy for women's education, which they deemed un-Islamic. The Pakistani Taliban also targeted politicians they deemed "secular" during the run-up to the May election and afterwards. Scores were killed from the more moderate Pakistan People's Party and the Awami National Party, which had a senior member murdered in August.
The Peshawar attackers are believed to be from Pakistani Jundullah, an offshoot of the Pakistani Taliban. They justified the church attack because of the ongoing drone strikes by the United States, saying that they will continue to target non-Muslims until those end. The terrorists see the churchgoers as symbols of the West, not as Pakistanis. Unfortunately, Imran Khan, whose party runs Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and Peshawar, seemed to give credence to this deeply problematic linkage in his comments after the attack, noting that a drone attack had occurred earlier that same day.
Pakistan's political leaders have condemned the All Saints bombing, as did the National Assembly in a unanimous vote. Sharif has also called off peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban as a consequence of the attack, after having recently built political consensus on negotiating with them and other militants. International condemnation was universal and swift, coming from the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, the European Union, the United Nations, and even Japan. However, talk is cheap and more must be done to prevent future attacks. Inaction will impact all Pakistanis, Muslim and non-Muslim alike.
What is needed is not complicated - it is basic law enforcement and legal reform. The federal and provincial authorities must do more to provide protection, arrest perpetrators or those inciting violence, vigorously prosecute them, and send them to jail. Turning a blind eye or continuing to enforce the blasphemy law will only further embolden militants and foster a culture of violent extremism and impunity. The international community can help create political will by insisting that Pakistan address the violence, both on human rights grounds and also because of the destabilizing effect it is having on this nuclear-armed country.
Knox Thames is the Director of Policy and Research at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. The views expressed here are his own. He can be followed on Twitter @thames22.
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What could make people resent a 14-year-old girl who was shot in the head?
This might seem like a strange question to ask yet resentment is exactly the way that many Pakistanis have reacted to Malala Yousafzai, the 14-year-old girl from Swat, Pakistan, who was shot by the Taliban on her way to school one morning last October. While voices have been raised in support of Malala across the globe, with world leaders and civil society figures from India to the United States hailing her as a symbol of hope in the struggle against extremism, many Pakistanis have lashed out at her in the aftermath of her speech at the United Nations on July 12, 2013. Malala has been accused of being a CIA agent, of shamelessly exploiting Pakistan's failures and giving the country a bad name, and of symbolizing the hypocrisy of Western countries that care about the innocent victims of Taliban violence, but ignore the innocent victims of drone attacks.
Worse still, increasingly bizarre theories have started to mushroom in Pakistan to explain what happened to her. While there is no earthly reason to doubt that the Taliban shot Malala Yousafzai, especially since they took credit for it (Adnan Rasheed, a Taliban leader, wrote an open letter to her taking full responsibility), such facts have been conveniently ignored. Instead, a number of conspiracy theories have emerged, each one more removed from reality than the next - to the point that none of the basic elements of the story are agreed upon by a majority of people. Some have suggested that Rasheed's letter was fabricated, and Malala was not shot by the Taliban at all - despite the fact that other Taliban spokesmen have also taken credit for the shooting. The simple statement, "Malala Yousafzai, an innocent schoolgirl," has become increasingly contested through a counter-narrative that labels her a "CIA agent." What use the CIA would have had for a 14 year-old girl in Swat is of course a complete mystery. Still others have speculated that she was not shot at all, because her head was not shaved during neurosurgery. How so many non-surgeons could make this determination from just looking at a picture of her head similarly remains mystifying.
What these arguments starkly illustrate is that the domestic debate surrounding Malala has almost completely disintegrated into hyper-exaggerations, polemical statements, and worst of all, conspiracy theories. But where does this sort of public debate leave the average Pakistani? How can Pakistanis make sense of a world where half-truths, conspiracies, and lies are seen lurking around every corner?
Such a debate over the facts of the Malala case may sound outlandish, the past-time of fringe groups, but it brings out an important facet of Pakistani politics today. On many issues, there are no longer any authoritative lines separating fact from fiction; it is almost impossible to have a public debate over contentious issues in Pakistan (specifically those involving Western powers), where all parties agree on the "facts" of a case. Pakistanis increasingly live in an topsy-turvy world where the lines between heroes and villains, fact and fiction, truth and lies have become so blurred that it is hard to determine what the way forward is. This is not the product of a culture war, which presumes circumscribed spheres in a conflict of different cultural or even ideological views. There are no clear camps here - a clash between "liberals" and "religious fundamentalists" is a reductionist view of Pakistani society. This is the product of a deeper problem: a complete disagreement over what sources of information are legitimate and reliable, as well as the failure of most avenues of communication between Pakistan and Western countries.
In the absence of contact and productive interaction with Western countries, it has become easier for many Pakistanis to attribute sinister motivations to the West, to the point that shadowy conspiracy theories start to seem reasonable. And the Pakistani state has not been able to rectify this situation by providing a credible narrative of the problems plaguing Pakistan; in fact, in many cases, state officials exacerbate the situation by giving credence to conspiracy theories, leading to an almost complete breakdown of any consensus on a version of the "truth." The secrecy and contradictory information surrounding many recent events - for example, the Raymond Davis affair in Lahore, the Osama bin Laden raid in Abbottabad, even recent reports on the Mumbai attacks - all feed into this spiralling de-legitimization of all sources of information. In some cases, foreign governments have been involved in Pakistan in ways that seem to justify the conspiracies - for example, the CIA's use of a hepatitis B vaccination drive to gather information about bin Laden, as well as recent revelations about the British government's secret deals with the Muttahida Qaumi Movement for intelligence gathering to limit the influence of militants in Karachi.
This growing inability to engage in reasonable debates on contentious issues, taking certain facts to be commonly accepted, has very worrying implications for Pakistan. First, by becoming entangled in murky conspiracy theories, Pakistanis are unable to engage in an informed national discussion and reflection on issues that affect everyone. This makes it increasingly difficult to build any kind of consensus on the issues facing Pakistan, whether it is terrorism, inflation, debt, the water and power crisis, or even health policy. Without such a consensus, it will be difficult to find a way forward in creating a peaceful and stable country. Second, when Pakistanis cannot agree on what constitutes a "fact," or on what future they envision for Pakistan, it becomes impossible to decide who the heroes and villains of the country are. It is ironic that, in less than a year, Malala went from being seen as a hero in Pakistan - with demonstrations of support held from Peshawar to Karachi for her fearless efforts in standing up for the right to have an education - to being seen as either a CIA agent or a hypocrite, simply because she is now associated too closely with the West.
As a step towards remedying this, it is important for Pakistanis to collectively recognize and unite behind their country's own heroes, realising that it is not the responsibility of others to celebrate their champions, or to protect their victims. Malala is Pakistan's to take pride in, to care for, to protect, to hold up as a symbol of courage - as are any other innocent victims of violence in Pakistan. If Pakistanis disagree with sectarian killings, with ethnic violence, with the current U.S. drone program, it is for them to raise these issues, to publicize them, to start a conversation both nationally and internationally. One injustice cannot be addressed by creating another. It is unfortunate that the innocent victims of such violence do not receive much attention internationally - but would it be any better to live in a world where even the shooting of a 14-year-old girl gains no reaction?
Fatima Mustafa is a Carnegie Fellow at the New America Foundation and a PhD candidate at Boston University's Political Science department, writing her dissertation on the failures of state-building in Pakistan.
Sairah Yusuf is a graduate of the University of Oxford and is currently working as a researcher at the Generations For Peace Institute in Amman, Jordan.
Andrew Burton/Getty Images
When I catch myself wondering about Pakistan's future, I am reminded of an old man I saw standing on the side of Mall Road in Lahore one hot summer evening last year. He stood there all by himself in the sweltering heat, dressed in a suit, holding up a sign that read: "We want Jinnah's Pakistan back." Watching him stand there, I found myself swept away in a moment of deep sadness - his message resonated with my own yearning for a better Pakistan, my own deep-seated desire to believe that Jinnah's dream of a prosperous Pakistan meant something. I later found out that the man had been involved in Pakistan's struggle for independence. He had fought for Pakistan in 1947 and he was clinging to the belief that his struggle had not been for nothing, that Jinnah's dream was still worth fighting for.
Today is August 14, the same day when 66 years ago Pakistan gained its independence and came into existence with the passionate words of its founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah, who promised a new beginning:
"If you change your past and work together in a spirit that everyone of you, no matter to what community he belongs, no matter what relations he had with you in the past, no matter what is his colour, caste or creed, is first, second and last a citizen of this State with equal rights, privileges, and obligations, there will be no end to the progress you will make."
Jinnah's promise of a Pakistan where caste, color, and creed did not divide people resonated after the bloodbath that had followed the subcontinent's partition. The horrific stories that accompanied the birth of the new state have been well-documented: trains full of bloodied corpses pulling up to stations, women in some villages begging to be killed to avoid being raped by rioters, neighbors slaughtering each other, and widespread rape and killing in what seemed like frenzied madness. In all, half a million people died and 10 million were displaced, a tragedy of momentous proportions that India and Pakistan struggled to deal with.
Sadat Hassan Manto beautifully captures the sense of deep angst, confusion and dislocation that partition created in his famous story Toba Tek Singh. Old identities were thrown into question and new ones were created as people found themselves separated from their lands, their homes, and their families with siblings on different sides of the same border. To some Pakistanis, Jinnah's words offered hope and solace in the aftermath of what became one of the largest forced migrations in modern history.
Yet the birth of the new state of Pakistan was not greeted with joy by many who found themselves, almost overnight, citizens of that state. The movement behind the formation of Pakistan was largely led by Muslims from the Muslim-minority regions of India, such as the United Provinces. This Muslim elite did not represent the views of the Muslim majority provinces that later became a part of Pakistan; in fact, the Muslim League had a very limited grass-roots presence in India's Muslim-majority provinces. Moreover, ethnic and religious tensions emerged quickly after partition. Baloch nationlists, for example, trace some of their grievances back to these early years, arguing that Jinnah had promised autonomy to the Khan of Kalat, ruler of the princely state of Kalat, now Balochistan, but had later forced the Khan to later accede unconditionally to Pakistan. Kashmir became an issue of lasting contention between India and Pakistan, which remains unresolved to this day. Both countries also faced the formidable task of resettling the millions of migrants who had crossed the border at partition.
While Pakistan faced considerable challenges from the very beginning, especially in terms of creating a sense of nationhood out of its diverse regions, there was enough hope surrounding the new state that Jinnah could speak of looking forward to "Pakistan becoming one of the greatest nations of the world." The real tragedy of Pakistan is that a mere 66 years later, it is now labeled the "most dangerous nation" in the world rather than one of the greatest nations. But how could things have gone so very wrong in less than seven decades?
This is a question that most Pakistanis have to grapple with today. It hangs heavy in the air during the horrifying aftermath of suicide blasts, sectarian violence, confrontations between the Pakistani military and militants, and separatist violence in Baluchistan. It is a question that plagues the growing population of Pakistanis who cannot get adequate security, clean drinking water, electricity, access to education, proper health care, and affordable food.
And yet this question resists any straightforward answers, with Pakistan's problems often blamed on a wide variety of things, including its problematic relationship with its Islamic identity, the history of military rule, incompetent leadership and bad decisions, President Zia-ul Haq's Islamization reforms, the Soviet-Afghan war, Pakistan's geo-political insecurities (especially involving India), and the U.S.-led "War on Terror," among others. Pakistanis cannot agree on a way forward and in the absence of that, there seems to be no end to the country's downward slide.
"We are in the midst of unparalleled difficulties and untold sufferings", Jinnah said in the aftermath of partition, "we have been through dark days of apprehension and anguish; but I can say with confidence that with courage and self-reliance and by the Grace of God we shall emerge triumphant." These words, spoken 66 years ago, speak just as easily to the situation that Pakistan finds itself in today. Yet, will courage, self-reliance and the Grace of God help Pakistan out of its current quandary? Pakistanis like myself often find themselves wondering - will things ever get better? Is Jinnah's dream of a utopian Pakistan just a distant relic of the country's past, no longer relevant or meaningful in the light of harsh realities?
Maybe now, more than ever, the struggle of the ordinary Pakistani is to believe that another world is possible, even in the face of harsh realities that suggest otherwise, even when the odds are stacked against it. After all, when Pakistanis stop believing that a better future is possible, that is when they have truly given up on their country. Maybe when that old man stood on the road with his banner demanding Jinnah's Pakistan, that's what he was doing - holding onto a dream when the world around him seemed to turn upside down.
Fatima Mustafa is a Carnegie Fellow at the New America Foundation and a PhD candidate at Boston University's Political Science department, writing her dissertation on the failures of state-building in Pakistan.
Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images
On Sunday, August 11, Pakistan will celebrate National Minorities Day, giving recently-elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif his first formal opportunity to recognize the value of religious minority communities to the nation.
Created in 2011, this day is a bittersweet irony for Pakistan.
On the one hand, it recalls the inclusive and tolerant vision of the past: of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Pakistan's founder, whose speech to the nation on August 11, 1947 included these words:
"You are free. You are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or any other places of worship...You may belong to any religion or caste or creed - that has nothing to do with the business of the state."
On the other hand, it highlights the stark realities of the present: how Pakistan has betrayed Jinnah's vision by failing to fulfill his words with concrete actions that protect religious minorities from harm. Indeed, Islamabad has done little to stem a rising tide of violence against members of Pakistan's Ahmadi, Christian, Hindu, Shi'a, and Sikh communities.
Last month, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released the findings from its Pakistan Religious Violence Project. Tracking publicly reported attacks against religious communities over the past 18 months, the project collected alarming data that catalogued the human toll of Pakistan's intolerance and hatred. During that time period, there were more than 200 incidents of sectarian violence that led to 1,800 casualties, including more than 700 deaths.
Many of those killed or injured were Shi'a citizens, with some of the most lethal assaults taking place during Shi'a holy months and pilgrimages. During the year-and-a-half period covered by the study, there were 77 attacks against the Shi'a, 54 against Ahmadis, 37 against Christians, 16 against Hindus, and 3 against Sikhs.
Since the publication of USCIRF's report, the death toll has continued to rise. On July 27, at least 57 people were killed and more than 150 wounded by bombs targeting a market frequented by Shi'a in northwestern Pakistan.
To his credit, Sharif raised concerns about the plight of religious minorities in his maiden speech to Pakistan's National Assembly and tasked his government to crack down on militants targeting the Shi'a. Hopefully his comments reflect a realization that the time for mere talk and symbolism has passed and that resolute action is needed to ensure that the perpetrators of violence against religious communities are arrested, prosecuted, and jailed along with the violent extremist groups that have spurred the bloodshed.
Moreover, police officers must be held accountable for thwarting justice when they turn a blind eye to attacks or refuse to file police reports when the victims are religious minorities.
With luck, Sharif's comments also intimate that the government will reconsider its enforcement of blasphemy and anti-Ahmadi laws which violate international human rights standards and encourage extremist attacks on perceived transgressors. Just recently, a Christian man, Sajjad Masih, was found guilty of denigrating the Prophet Mohammed and sentenced to life imprisonment, despite the accuser recanting. He joins nearly 40 others who either are on death row or serving life sentences for allegedly blasphemous activity.
Interestingly, Masih's sentencing occurred on the eve of the fourth anniversary of attacks against Christians in Punjab in the village of Gojra -- where Masih is from-- in which eight were killed, 18 were injured, two churches and at least 75 houses were burned, and not a single perpetrator was brought to justice.
Pakistan's surreal inversion of justice, in which some are punished for alleged words and beliefs while others commit literal acts of violence against them with impunity and without consequence, must end. Sharif's government must prove it is serious about ending this dual attack on its most vulnerable citizens. One simple step it can take immediately is to reopen the Federal Ministry of Interfaith Harmony and reaffirm its mission of promoting respect for members of all religious communities, particularly religious minoritiesIn the meantime, USCIRF will keep monitoring the situation and the Sharif government to determine whether it should continue recommending that the United States designate Pakistan a "country of particular concern," marking it as among the world's most egregious violators of freedom of religion or belief.
Sixty-six years ago, Pakistan's founding father laid a dream of equality and freedom before his nation. It is time for Pakistan's government to honor that dream not merely by repeating its words, but enacting it through deeds.
Robert P. George is the Chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).
Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images
No one knows who killed Islam Bibi. The 37-year old police lieutenant, the most senior female officer in southern Afghanistan's dangerous Helmand province, was riding a motorcycle to work in early July with her son-in-law, when she was shot and killed. During her career, she faced many threats, only some of them related to the violent insurgency and rampant narco-trafficking that threaten all Afghan police officers in the province. In April, Bibi told a journalist that her family opposed her working as a police officer, and that her own brother had tried to kill her three times.
In spite of these daily hazards, both inside and outside the home, she took great pride in her work. "I love my country. I feel proud wearing the uniform and I want to try to make Afghanistan a better and stronger country," she said. "I am a policewoman and I will be a policewoman in the future. I'd be proud if my daughter wanted to follow me."
It has been 12 years since the fall of the Taliban government but threats and attacks on Afghan women in public life provide tragic examples of how far away equal rights for women are in Afghanistan. Some Western observers, arguing for a swift disengagement from Afghanistan, seem increasingly convinced that the effort is doomed. This chorus holds that perhaps women's rights are a "Western" imposition on Afghan society that just won't stick. Or perhaps Afghans just aren't ready for these ideas. Maybe even Afghan women themselves don't believe in these rights. In such a traditional society, people say, shaking their heads, what can we do?
Unfortunately, such myopic arguments for scaling back international aid and involvement in women's rights in Afghanistan, at a time when coalition troops are preparing to withdraw from the country, is increasingly common. This thinking displays a clear lack of understanding that the frontline fighters for women's rights in Afghanistan since 2001 have been brave, resilient Afghan women who don't have the luxury of ending their struggle next year. The foreign rush-for-the exits impulse in Afghanistan, and willingness to write-off women's rights along the way, doesn't just overlook the sacrifices that Afghan women have made in fighting for their rights. It ignores the fact that the battle for women's rights has been a long, painful, and continuing process worldwide.
As Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, "Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." When did the feminist movement begin in the United States, or in the United Kingdom, or in Iceland - which has been ranked several times the best country in the world for women? How long did it take these countries to achieve full gender equality? Wait, ignore that last question - no country has yet achieved full gender equality.
In 1848, the first U.S. women's rights convention was held in Seneca Falls, New York. Seventy-one years later, in 1919, the U.S. constitution was amended to give women the right to vote, but it was not until 1984 that the last state, Mississippi, ratified this amendment. Today, women in the United States earn 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man. In the United Kingdom, women have had the right to vote since 1928, but recent research shows that women's progress towards pay equality has stalled over recent years. And Iceland, the paragon of women's rights, has topped the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report for four years. The first women's rights organization in Iceland was founded in 1894, and women gained equal voting rights in 1920. But in 2011, Icelandic women were earning 10% less than men, and in 2012, the (female) Icelandic Prime Minister warned that the pay gap had grown.
Similar to the fight for women's rights in these progressive Western countries, the fight for women's rights in Afghanistan will also be a long one. Many historians believe it began in 1880 with reforms instituted by Amir Abdul Rahman Khan and his liberated wife that included raising the age of marriage for girls and granting women the right to divorce and own property. In the 1960s through the 1980s, some Afghan women, at least in urban centers, enjoyed freedoms unheard of today. Photographs of women from that era, showing them with uncovered heads in knee-length skirts wandering about town or rapt in university studies, are akin to postcards from a lost world. But these freedoms were largely unknown in rural areas and have long been at odds with conservative male interpretations of the role of women in society.
The Taliban government that took power in 1996 aimed to, and largely succeeded at, turning back the clock on the fight for gender equality in Afghanistan. Activists kept working - running underground girls' schools, sheltering women fleeing violence, etc. - but they did so at risk of their lives and with the greatest secrecy.
When the Taliban government fell, women seized their new opportunities with joy and passion. They sent their daughters to school and joined the workforce, with many choosing to serve as police officers, soldiers, lawyers, judges, or members of parliament. By entering public life, these women demonstrated that they craved equality as much as women in, say, Iceland. And, thankfully, many Afghan men have also supported women's rights. Afghan men send their daughters to school and support their wives who work. Some have even devoted their careers to fighting for the rights of women.
The West didn't introduce Afghans to women's rights or push them to adopt an unwanted system of gender equality. The main contribution of the international community to women's rights in Afghanistan over the last 12 years has been creating a space -- by putting the government under international scrutiny and providing extensive funding -- that has helped the Afghans fighting for women's rights begin to take back all that was stolen from them by the Taliban.
But today, as foreign military forces and donors withdraw from Afghanistan, there are inescapable signs that the space is shrinking and a rollback in women's rights is under way. Since mid-May, opponents of women's rights - including one of the men Afghan President Hamid Karzai recently appointed to head the country's human rights commission - have been fighting to repeal a key post-2001 law that punishes violence against women.
Then in July, a court reversed the 10-year prison sentences handed down to the in-laws of tortured 13-year-old bride Sahar Gul, unknown assailants assassinated Islam Bibi, a 25% member quota for women on the country's 34 provincial councils was reduced to 20% (after the lower house of parliament tried to ban it entirely), and a new law passed by the lower house of parliament and pending in the upper house could effectively end prosecutions for underage and forced marriages and domestic violence by banning victims and witnesses from testifying against family members in court.
The countries that have committed significant amounts of their national "blood and treasure" to Afghanistan should remember that the road ahead in the struggle for women's rights is a long one - as it has been in every other country. But continuing to put political pressure on the Afghan government to protect these rights, and providing financial support for schools, clinics, hospitals, shelters and legal services for women and girls can make the road shorter and less harrowing in Afghanistan.
Heather Barr is the Afghanistan Researcher at Human Rights Watch.
SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images
June 18, 2013, marked a day of starkly contradictory events in Afghanistan. President Hamid Karzai and visiting NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced the fifth and last tranche of the security transition, with NATO forces handing over the complete ownership and leadership of all military operations across Afghanistan to their Afghan counterparts. Ordinary Afghans welcomed this development as a major step forward in their quest to consolidate Afghanistan's democratic gains.
On the same day, it was also expected that an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned, and Afghan-executed peace initiative would be launched with the opening of a temporary venue in Doha, Qatar, facilitating the start of peace talks between the Afghan High Peace Council and Taliban representatives. It took the Afghan government almost two years to reach this critical point and to form a national consensus on the principles that would govern the peace process. Many consultations were also held with regional and international stakeholders, including the United States and Pakistan, which as two members of the "Core Group" agreed on the governing principles, clearly articulated in the Peace Process Roadmap to 2015.
The "Core Group" members agreed that in order for the peace process to succeed with sustainable outcomes, the Taliban must accept the Afghan Constitution and respect the democratic gains of the Afghan people, including the Constitutionally-protected rights of women. They must also cut ties with al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups, while verifiably renouncing violence. And it has been emphasized time and again that any external interference intended to influence the peace talks would jeopardize and stall the process.
However, as Afghanistan's leading strategic partner, the United States provided the Afghan government with specific guarantees against any possible violation of the above basic principles. The name of the venue in Doha was agreed to be the "Political Bureau of the Afghan Taliban," nothing more than a political address to be later relocated inside Afghanistan. But much to the dismay of the Afghan people and government, as they were still cheering the last phase of the security transition, Al Jazeera enthusiastically began broadcasting an elaborate inaugural ceremony for the "Office of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" in Doha as its top news story.
Qatar's Deputy Foreign Minister, Ali bin Fahad Al-Hajri, and Taliban representatives unveiled the plaque that bore that name -- under which the Taliban had committed unspeakable atrocities against the Afghan people, systematically destroying their cultural heritage and economically isolating their country from the rest of the world. And a white flag -- under which the Taliban and al-Qaeda had masterminded the 9/11 terrorist attacks that killed more than 3,000 American citizens -- was hoisted on a tall pole outside the venue in an area of Doha that houses most diplomatic missions.
Symbolically speaking, the premeditated event that unfolded before the eyes of the international community betrayed not only the ongoing sacrifices of the Afghan people, but also those of their regional and international allies and friends for the institutionalization of peace and democracy in Afghanistan. The Afghan people were shocked by, and continue to express their outrage against, the way the event was organized and took place. To Afghans and most of their key allies, it seemed as if the forces of terrorism were being rewarded at the expense of the democratic gains made in Afghanistan, a remote possibility that no one could have logically predicted would happen.
But it unashamedly did, inviting a strong international reaction in support of Afghanistan's peace conditions. The people and government of Afghanistan are particularly thankful to India and Russia for their immediate, principled reactions against the blatant violation of their peace conditions. The government of India has rightly cautioned against creating "equivalence between an internationally recognized government of Afghanistan and insurgent groups," which would legitimize insurgent groups or "convey the impression of two competing state authorities for Afghanistan." Similar statements of support from Canada, China, Iran, Germany, Italy, and others have called on the Taliban to accept the Afghan Constitution, cut ties with terrorist networks, and cease violence against civilians, all while cautioning against any imposed measures on the Afghan-led peace process.
In Afghanistan, the unexpected Doha events have unprecedentedly unified the Afghan people in support of their elected government's efforts to reject any peace deal that infringes on their sovereignty and the democratic achievements of the past 12 years. The Afghan people have not been losing their children day after day, year after year, just to return to the same foreign-installed "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" that violated the very basic human rights of Afghan women, and that harbored al-Qaeda, which first terrorized the Afghan people and then masterminded the tragedy of 9/11.
Afghans remain disappointedly astounded at the way radicalism has been allowed to triumph over their new democracy. But they hold the moral high ground, and are firmly determined to consolidate the strategic gains of the past decade against the terrorism that continues to find a home and institutional support in Pakistan. Now is the time for the international community to recommit to standing by the Afghan people and helping them realize their democratic aspirations for an Afghanistan free from the dark forces of extremism and terrorism.
Afghans deserve moral and material support and respect for their decade-long sacrifices to institutionalize peace and democracy in their country. Failure to deliver on these basic expectations would surely take Afghanistan back to the 1990s, a scenario few want to repeat. The only way forward is to help sustainable peace take root in Afghanistan, and to protect it from any previously tried and failed shortcuts that cost both democracy and liberty.
Shaida M. Abdali is Afghanistan's ambassador to India, and formerly served as his country's deputy national security adviser.
FAISAL AL-TIMIMI/AFP/Getty Images
Today, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) issued its 2013 Annual Report, focusing on Pakistan and 28 other countries around the world, including Afghanistan. As an independent U.S. government advisory body separate from the State Department, USCIRF's Annual Report identifies violations of religious freedom, as defined by international conventions, and provides policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and the Congress.
Based on our monitoring over the past year, we have concluded that the situation in Pakistan is one of the worst in the world.
The report found that "sectarian and religiously-motivated violence is chronic, especially against Shi'a Muslims, and the government has failed to protect members of religious minority communities, as well as the majority faith." An array of repressive laws, including the much abused blasphemy law and religiously discriminatory anti-Ahmadi laws, foster an atmosphere of violent extremism and vigilantism. The growth of militant groups espousing a violent religious ideology that undertake attacks impact all Pakistanis and threatens the country's security and stability.
In the face of increasing attacks against Shi'as and consistent violence against other minorities, Pakistani authorities have failed to provide protection and have not consistently brought perpetrators to justice or taken action against societal actors who incite violence.
In light of these particularly severe violations, USCIRF recommends that Pakistan be designated a "country of particular concern," or CPC, by the U.S. Department of State for these systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom. The CPC designation is a special blacklist created when Congress passed and President Bill Clinton signed in 1998 the International Religious Freedom Act. Unlike some other ‘blacklists,' the CPC designation does not carry any specific penalties for the countries on the list. What it does do is assign a framework through which U.S. officials can encourage the designated country's government to address the egregious violations of religious freedom. This can come in the form of a binding roadmap of agreed actions, a waiver, or punitive steps if progress is lacking.
Countries currently named by the State Department include: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Uzbekistan. Pakistan represents the worst situation in the world for religious freedom for countries not currently designated as "countries of particular concern," and USCIRF has concluded it overwhelmingly meets the threshold established in the Act.
The facts speak for themselves. As the report states:
The Pakistani government failed to effectively intervene against a spike in targeted violence against the Shi'a Muslim minority community, as well as violence against other minorities. With elections scheduled for May 2013, additional attacks against religious minorities and candidates deemed "unIslamic" will likely occur. Chronic conditions remain, including the poor social and legal status of non-Muslim religious minorities and the severe obstacles to free discussion of sensitive religious and social issues faced by the majority Muslim community. The country's blasphemy law, used predominantly in Punjab province but also nationwide, targets members of religious minority communities and dissenting Muslims and frequently results in imprisonment. USCIRF is aware of at least 16 individuals on death row and 20 more serving life sentences. The blasphemy law, along with anti-Ahmadi laws that effectively criminalize various practices of their faith, has created a climate of vigilante violence. Hindus have suffered from the climate of violence and hundreds have fled Pakistan for India. Human rights and religious freedom are increasingly under assault, particularly women, members of religious minority communities, and those in the majority Muslim community whose views deemed "un-Islamic." The government has proven unwilling or unable to confront militants perpetrating acts of violence against other Muslims and religious minorities.
Designating Pakistan as a CPC would make religious freedom a key element in the bilateral relationship and start a process to encourage Islamabad to undertake needed reforms.
There are a range of issues that should be on the bilateral agenda, whether or not Pakistan is designated a CPC. The U.S. government should include discussions on religious freedom and religious tolerance in U.S.-Pakistan strategic dialogues and summits, as well as urge Pakistan to protect religious minorities from violence and actively prosecute those committing acts of violence against Shi'as, Ahmadis, Christians, Hindus, and others; unconditionally release individuals currently jailed for blasphemy; repeal or reform the blasphemy law; and repeal anti-Ahmadi laws. The United States can also highlight to the new government how the Federal Ministry for National Harmony is an institution unique among other nations, and maintaining it would keep a partner to discuss ways to promote religious tolerance and freedom. For sure, none of these are easy, so naming as a CPC would cut through the distractions and help create the political will to act.
The situation in Pakistan is acute, with the increasing violence against diverse religious communities and a system of laws that violate human rights. With a new government soon coming to power, there is a unique opportunity to work together to confront these threats to Pakistan. At the same time, negative pressures could tilt the new government in the wrong direction. For instance, the Pakistani Taliban's targeting of "secular politicians" could give traction to their offer from late 2012 to cease violence in exchange for constitutional amendments to install their religious vision over the country. The CPC process would support Pakistanis who want a better future for their country and counterbalance these pressures -- if the Pakistani government fails to address these issues concretely, penalties could follow after a CPC designation.
The United States is Pakistan's only friend that has the heft and desire to encourage it to tackle these difficult challenges. For sure, the U.S.-Pakistani relationship is complicated and designating a CPC would likely complicate things further. However, to protect all Pakistanis, these issues cannot be ignored and must be confronted and addressed.
Knox Thames is the Director of Policy and Research at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Any personal views expressed are his own and may or may not reflect the views of the commission. He can be followed on Twitter @thames22.
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Most people remember the harrowing cover of TIME in late July 2010 depicting the 18-year-old Afghan woman whose nose and ears were cut off following a Taliban sentence for her attempt to flee from an abusive husband. Many can recall the penetrating glare of the green-eyed Afghan girl in a refugee camp on the cover of National Geographic. Both images are powerful reminders of the past atrocities, present humanitarian strife, and future aspirations of millions in Afghanistan as the international military presence draws down. Many Afghans ask, "Can my country avoid a relapse into civil war?" Even those who assess this question with some optimism still find themselves asking, "Will Afghanistan be safe enough to raise my children and build a livelihood?"
Preventing an outright civil war is directly related to the national interests of the coalition countries engaged in Afghanistan. A civil war would strengthen the hands of the numerous terrorist groups that operate on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Moreover, destabilizing spill-over effects would weaken an already fragile Pakistan, exacerbating the internal cleavages and security threats confronting the state with the world's fastest growing nuclear arsenal. Therefore, the primary objective of the U.S.-led coalition is to ensure a stable and cooperative Afghan political order that denies terrorist groups the capacity and opportunity to conduct large-scale attacks against Western interests.
Human rights perspectives, beyond those necessary to achieve this primary objective, are at best second order issues. If human rights were a primary objective, the international community would have intervened earlier and stayed longer-something that is unfeasible and not in the interest of any of the coalition countries currently engaged in Afghanistan. But this does not and should not preclude an effort to advance human rights in Afghanistan while the international coalition is present. Though a second-tier objective, the international community has an interest in and a moral duty to improve human rights, or at least to do no harm.
The problem is that the human rights agenda has been undermined by unrealistic goals and ineffective efforts, too often driven by a desire to please domestic, Western audiences rather than to help the Afghan population. International rhetoric has often elevated the drive to promote human rights-in particular the equality of women-as a goal on par with the primary security agenda. This reflects measures of both idealism and cynicism. Some have held sincere yet naïve visions of Afghanistan's social and political transformation. Others have simply used the human rights agenda as an instrument to garner political legitimacy and justify the human and material costs.
Both views have led to vast amounts of foreign aid and political attention being squandered. Many schools and clinics have been built irrespective of the local demand. Foreign aid has been conditioned by counterproductive gender quotas. Incredible amounts of time and resources have been spent on largely symbolic cases such as legislation on women's shelters or on Shiite marriages or the recent appointment of the new intelligence chief, Asadullah Khalid. But battling atrocious laws or a controversial appointment is the wrong fight. What matters is what affects the human rights that Afghan's exercise in their daily lives.
This raises the question: What is the right fight? What is the realist perspective on human rights in Afghanistan? Without reverting to naïve aspirations and while maintaining a realistic order of objectives, how can the international community more effectively advance human rights?
The single most effective thing the international community has done to promote human rights in Afghanistan and empower women is to send Afghan boys to school. This should certainly not be understood as an argument against girls' schools or female education in general. But under conditions tantamount to patriarchal totalitarianism, the key to promoting human rights resides in the hands of Afghan men. Save a rebellion by Afghan women, only a voluntary shift in the attitudes of Afghan men can empower women and advance the human rights of every Afghan. All Afghan girls should get an education, but unless the men ease their repressive dominance, half of the population will never have the opportunity to exercise their human rights. Such attitudinal shifts are more sustainable if nurtured indigenously and voluntarily through education. Conditioning aid on gender quotas and human rights principles mostly leads to counterproductive tension or symbolic gestures by Afghan counterparts.
In theory, conditioning aid could perhaps entice a shift in Afghan behavior but unless the international community is ready to withhold aid entirely if conditions are unmet-and be willing to jeopardize their national interests at stake-it is very unlikely to occur in practice. Afghans know this. Besides, once the international presence in Afghanistan recedes, human rights gains will erode in the absence of the indigenous preference shifts necessary to sustain them. For change to last, Afghans must want it.
The good news is that primary education is one of the greatest legacies of the international effort in Afghanistan since 2001. Fewer than 1 million children were in school before the intervention and virtually no girls received primary education. Today, some 9 million children receive primary education and about 40 percent are girls. This is a monumental achievement. Unfortunately, it is not mirrored in the higher education sector. Although progress has undoubtedly occurred-Kabul, for instance, has witnessed a surge in newly established universities-the capacity of the higher education sector is still far from sufficient to absorb the influx of students from the primary sector. A more concerted international effort to improve the higher education sector would significantly increase the opportunity of the youth to fulfill their potential and, in doing so, improve conditions for advancing human rights and greater gender equality.
A realistic time horizon is also important to establishing an effective human rights effort. Too much, too soon is too risky. Some say clocks tick slower in Afghanistan. It is safe to say, at least, that past attempts to quickly roll out vast social reforms have triggered civil unrest. Modernizing efforts by King Amanullah Khan ignited revolts and eventually a civil war in 1928. He was forced to abdicate the next year. Only the Soviet intervention in 1979 kept the Communist rule from the same fate after it had introduced its radical reform agenda in 1978.
The lesson is that sustainable social change in Afghanistan is slow. The human rights agenda must therefore be attuned to a long-term perspective. Here is great potential. Navigating between currents of modernization and conservatism, between forces of societal change, tradition, and stagnation, Afghans will chart their own course on human rights after 2014. In doing so, the Afghan youth can be decisive. In a country stricken by an adult illiteracy rate around 70 percent, and where 43 percent of its 30 million inhabitants are aged 14 or younger, the 9 million children currently in school have truly transformative potential.
Surely the lives of too many Afghans can still be described in Hobbesian terms as brutish, nasty, and short. Immediate and concerted action remains necessary as human rights violations and humanitarian strife across the country must be addressed. It is because of this that many international actors take a short-term view when assessing how to advance human rights and show legible results. This has a persuasive logic, but it also has counterproductive implications. In particular, this short-term lens has led to a strong inclination in the international community to focus on the near-term ebbs and flows of the human rights agenda in insulated Kabul.
International pushback against proposed legislation and specific cabinet appointments has often dominated the human rights agenda. Highly visible international intervention in a specific political or legal case may resonate well with Western audiences, but through Afghan eyes it risks tainting the human rights agenda as an avenue of international social engineering and a principle question of Afghan sovereignty. Such perceptions render Afghan advocates of human rights much less effective and undermine the local ownership which is so difficult to nurture, but so important in order to sustain change.
An incremental, low-profile, long-term international effort holds the greatest chance of success in the promotion of human rights in Afghanistan. A more realistic and effective approach must cultivate and support Afghan agents of change, particularly the educated youth. But their potential can only be unleashed if they are given the opportunity to do so by a stable environment. As security is the basis of any human rights progress in Afghanistan, the primary objective of a stable country bereft of terrorist havens both meets and complements the human rights agenda.
Christian Bayer Tygesen is a Ph.D. student in Political Science at Copenhagen University. He conducted field research and diplomatic assignments in Kabul in 2011 and 2012.
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Despite cultural differences, the countries of South Asia share a strong connection through trade, history, and, of course, Indian film. Bollywood is no stranger to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Posters of Indian actors adorn streets from Kabul to Karachi, and bootleg movies are widely available.
But Indian cinema is a male-dominated industry, meaning the portrayal of women in films is a reflection of the woman's role in Indian society from a man's viewpoint. These films mold opinions, and often encourage the poor treatment of women. Often, Bollywood productions focus on the plight of wealthy women, whose treatment at the hands of the men in their lives is offset by their comfortable lifestyles. At the same time, though, most of them omit the difficulties that women of lower socio-economic backgrounds face on a daily basis, such as the harassment on buses and streets that showed itself at its worst in the recent mob rape of two young women. While Bollywood seems to have no problem showing men how women should be treated, it has so far shied away from investigating the repercussions of this behavior.
As a woman of Afghan descent, I watched from a young age as heroines suffered at the hands of the patriarchal society. Even the "good" or "virtuous" women, the traditional housewives, were second-class citizens. The good woman would argue with her husband begging him not to force their daughter to marry a man she didn't love, but he would tell his wife to stay out of matters that didn't concern her. His word was final.
The "bad women," the courtesans that entertained members of the high society, would dance the night away and recite poetry only to be sold to the highest bidder at the end of the night. Sought after for their beauty; they are shown to intoxicate men with their skills, dancing in such a way that would only be seen in such settings. Countless movies display this, such as Umraoo Jaan, Pakeezah, Sharafat and Mughal-e-Azam. They depict men who sitting on cushions, smoking, and chewing betel leaves. The only women in their scenes were the courtesans and the madame who gives her prized possession, the courtesan, to the man offering the most money, displayed in gold coins.
The madame in these films loves her young possessions and raises them as daughters. She appears to do the girls a favor by taking them off the streets where they would otherwise beg for food and shelter. Instead, they become dancers for elite men, regaled with gifts and beautiful clothes. Most of these women were trafficked domestically as young girls and then raised to dance and entertain with a poise not found in other areas of society.
Powerful men in these films visit such establishments with little repercussion, but it is the women who are left to face the real blowback. The men still marry well, hold high ranks in society, and have their lawful wives accept the fact that they have a second life with other women. The most a woman could do was approach the courtesan dancer and ask her to stop luring her husband.
Deemed unclean, these courtesans were not even permitted to enter places of worship. In movies like Mehbooba, the townspeople react with public outcry when the dancer enters the temple to pray. Another movie, Suhaag, portrays a young girl who kills a man about to rape her. She recognizes the realities of the local judiciary procedures where, should she be found out, she would have no due process or justice, given that she was both poor and a female. She escapes her village only to be taken in by a "motherly woman" to become a dancer. Luckily for her, she does not sell her body at the end of the night. Although the main character's story in this movie has a happy ending, women who find themselves in her situation in reality do not share her fate.
According to a New York Times blog post published last December, India has the highest number of human trafficking victims in the world. While authorities have closed hundreds of brothels where occurrences of human trafficking of underage females have been found, prostitution and trafficking continues. Because of the stigma, women who have been forced to live and work in brothels aren't able to escape that life even if given an opportunity. Were they to return to their villages, they would most likely be rejected by their families. .
But with regard to other women's issues, Bollywood has done a much better job of portraying reality. Prostitution and brothels are not the only way Indian women fall victim to the patriarchal society. Widows in India are ostracized and deemed financial burdens. Their presence is considered bad luck. According to tradition they have to flee to the holy city of Vrindivan where they live until they die. Several Bollywood movies, such as the 2005 film Water, portray the lives of such widows. At Vrindivan, they must live a life without pleasure of any sort in order to abide by the traditions. This lifestyle begins with the shaving of their heads. Vrindivan is said to have about 15,000 widows that have been forced to reside there.
In India and parts of Pakistan, female feticide, the act of aborting a fetus because it's a female, is practiced. When medical technology made it possible to determine the sex of a fetus, clinics across the country advertised their ability to perform sex-related abortions. Before the advent of such technology, female babies were often left at doorstops or murdered upon birth. A national census reveals a shocking ratio of 914 girls to 1000 boys under the age of seven. The 2004 film Mathruboomi: A Nation without Women, examines the impact of female feticide and infanticide.
Bollywood movies have shed light on the plight of Afghan and Pakistani women as well (though they continue to play to the stereotypes). The Afghan woman is often portrayed as a warrior, able to fight next to a man. On the other hand, she is still a prize to be won. In the movie Khuda Gawa, the heroine, an Afghan woman, promised her hand in marriage to the hero if he would kill her worst enemy, the man who murdered her father. She was a Buzkash, a champion of the extreme Afghan sport of buzkashi; she had power within her community. Yet, at the end, she was still weaker because she needed this man to carry out her mission, and she was willing to give herself to him should he be successful.
Veer Zaara provides a classic example of the subjugation of Pakistani women. It portrays a loud and quirky girl whose father listens to all her demands in other facets of life, yet her outgoing character cannot overpower her father's decision to marry her off to the son of an influential figure whose election depends on the marriage. When, as a Muslim, she falls in love with a Hindu man, she is ordered not to see him again.
In Indian circles it is common to hear women saying that their daughter's wedding costs their life's savings. According to tradition, the bride's family is to pay a dowry to the groom's family. Women are often criticized, ridiculed and even beaten for not having a large enough dowry. Although India outlawed dowries in 1961, they still exist, and the exchange of the dowry is a common scene in Bollywood films. Lajja is the perfect example of a movie that portrays the pressure a family is under to pay a dowry.
Pakistan has a similar problem with the burdens of the dowry, mostly among the Urdu-speaking communities or those of Punjabi origin, who can trace their lineages back to India. Many women are left unwed simply because their parents aren't able to afford the increasing demands from the groom's family. In Afghanistan, and amongst the Pashtun cultures of Pakistan, there is a reverse dowry system, or the mehr, which is to be paid to the female's family. With it comes the cost of the wedding and all expenses thereof. Thus, females are not a financial burden in Pashtun Pakistani communities, nor throughout Afghanistan.
That doesn't mean that females are necessarily better off. Many families negotiate their daughter's price, giving her not to the best man, but to the one that can pay the higher price. Laila Majnu depicts the true story which later evolved into Arabic literature and then consecutively into Persian literature. It is indeed dubbed the Romeo and Juliet of the Muslim World, because it is the story of two lovers from enemy tribes, both of whom end up dead, Majnun at the hands of an enemy and Laila taking her own life. In the scene of the "Juliet's" marriage to a King in which the vows are exchanged, the mullah asks the groom if he agrees to pay the one lakh or one hundred thousand for her, and it is agreed upon.
What is the connection between a rape victim and a woman portrayed in Bollywood films? The movies are dramatized reflections of the realities of life in South Asian societies, where the poor are second class citizens and women are what men decide them to be. More importantly, the movies can shape societies' viewpoints, reinforcing the discrimination; over time people can and have accepted that women are inferior.
Bollywood plays an important role in shaping ideologies in India and South Asia as a whole. Lollywood, Pakistan's movie industry, has had its ups and downs in recent years due to increasing levels of violence and militancy in the country. It is, however, slowly recovering, and Pakistani soap operas are widely watched in the region.
For their part, Bollywood films have changed somewhat in recent years to depict the woman as more of an equal to her male counterpart and less of an object; their roles are more career-driven and less subservient. Women are standing up to society and their families where injustices such as forced marriages exist.
These trends are not enough. Bollywood can become more progressive on women's issues by portraying lives of ordinary women living in South Asia, and the challenges they have to face on a daily basis. Behind the opulence that is often portrayed in Bollywood films, the troubling reality of Indian and Pakistani societies is that the injustices against the women of the top 1% most often do not reflect the same gender discriminations of the vast majority of women within society. After all, the wealthiest individuals are not the ones who ride the bus every day.
Humira Noorestani is a Human Rights Activist and the Founder/Director of Ariana Outreach, an NGO dedicated to building bridges between the United States and Afghanistan, primarily through connecting women of both countries.
Last Wednesday night, four members of Pakistan's paramilitary Rangers force were killed when an attacker threw a grenade at their vehicle in Korangi Town, a neighborhood on the east side of Karachi. Despite the Pakistani government touting its historic democratic victory, concern over escalating violence in Karachi, a sprawling metropolis of 18 million people, continues to grow. A permeating sense of instability has only worsened a deteriorating economic crisis, both of which are stark reminders of the failure of the government and security apparatus to maintain law and order in a city that promises to spiral out of control. In light of upcoming elections, it seems likely that the violence will continue to increase.
According to estimates from the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, close to 2,284 people were killed in violent attacks in Karachi in 2012. By some media estimates, targeted killings and a string of deadly bomb blasts cost the lives of 500 people in 72 days of this year alone. Victims range from civilians to policemen, the paramilitary Rangers to development workers, journalists to lawyers.
Pakistan as a whole has recently witnessed a sharp rise in brutal attacks by Sunni extremists on the minority Shia group, which constitutes close to 20% of the population. These attacks have been concentrated primarily in the southwestern province of Balochistan, but Karachi has seen its own wave of sectarian killing and ethnic strife. The city came to a standstill when on March 3, a powerful blast ripped through AbbasTown near a Shia Imambargah, destroying two apartment buildings and leaving 50 people dead, more than 200 injured, and innumerable homeless.
Law enforcement agencies remained conspicuously absent for up to four hours from an area engulfed by flames after the attack, raising serious questions about the government's commitment to protecting citizens from militant attacks, and the functioning of the city's security apparatus. The mourning families endured further injustice and humiliation when two men were killed and a dozen injured in armed clashes that occurred at the funeral procession a day later. Authorities continue to arrest suspects, and many believe that Sunni extremist groups Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), which claimed recent massive attacks on Hazara Shias in Quetta, Balochistan, are behind such incidents.
On March 6, just days after the March 3 blast, the entire city of Karachi was abruptly shut down in a matter of just 22 minutes, during which seven people were killed in separate incidents of violence, gunshots were reported, and people scurried to safely get home. Social media was abuzz with those transmitting real-time updates on areas that were blocked or unsafe to travel. Amid the violence, Karachi's biggest and most influential political party, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), called for all businesses and educational institutions to remain closed until the Abbas Town culprits were arrested. Most Karachiites were disgruntled by the ‘indefinite' strike, which they feared would damage the city's economy even further. Daily wagers like Shahnawaz Shahzad, a fruit seller near Karachi's area of Lyari, complained, "I have a family of six to feed. This daily business of strikes affects us very strongly. If I can't make a selling, my family has to sleep hungry."
Businesses and public transportation closed quickly, and hospitals were put on high alert. For a city that is, unfortunately, used to daily violence such as thefts, robberies, and car snatching, Karachi seems to have sunk even further into abyss.
Earlier this month, an attempted kidnapping of a young girl at Karachi's high-fashion Dolmen Mall raised chilling concerns about the collapse of the security apparatus in even the wealthier urban centers. Social media has also been flooded with rumors about the infamous "Black Prado" that preys in Karachi's affluent areas of Defense, Clifton and Zamzama. Gangs of men, traveling in Black Prados with tinted windows were said to be kidnapping two young girls every day. Though no official complaints have been registered, rumors were rife that young girls from elite families were gang-raped, videotaped and then blackmailed.
Whether actual or rumor, violent incidents and petty crime have made Karachi's citizens more cautious about their movements. Many of those living in affluent areas of the city have resorted to enrolling in self-defense classes, particularly the women. Not surprisingly, many citizens feel that with the run-up to elections, bomb blasts, targeted killings, kidnappings and petty crime are expected to worsen, making the city more unsafe. Following the surge of violence in Karachi, an opinion poll conducted on March 9th by the Express Tribune asked whether citizens considered purchasing a gun given Karachi's law and order situation. From a sample of 1,078 respondents, 69% responded affirmatively
In one of the most recent cases of violence, unidentified assassins shot a prominent Karachi social worker, Parveen Rehman, inside her car at a traffic intersection. Rehman was the director of the Orangi Pilot Project, and dedicated her life to working for the vulnerable and disadvantaged in Karachi's Orangi slum. While no particular group has claimed responsibility, suspicion has fallen on Karachi's ruthless land mafia, against whom she remained a vocal critic. Shortly after her death, students and media outlets paid homage to the courageous worker, hailing her as the "Mother of Karachi."
Just two weeks ago, on March 30, the principal of a Karachi girl's school in Ittehad Town, the Nation Highway School, was shot dead, and six girls between the ages of 8 and 10 were injured, in a brazen attack on the premises during an award distribution. Two militants threw a grenade at the wall and entered while opening fire. Attacks such as this continue to raise concern over girls' education, even in urban centers. While physical attacks on girls' schools are so common that they appear to be hardly even newsworthy in areas considered to be backward and militant-ridden like Swat and FATA, similar attacks in Karachi are on the rise, a disturbing trend in Pakistan's largest city.
Many Karachiites claim that the city, instead of being secured by police and law enforcement agencies, is now a level playing field for criminals and militants. Given the mounting security concerns and lack of a healthy investor climate, many businesses have relocated to foreign countries, while close to 5,000 traders and businesses have completely closed down. Moves such as this can have a devastating impact on what is believed to be the country's economic and industrial hub. According to State Bank figures, Foreign Direct Investment stood at an admirable $5.410 billion dollars in 2008. The PPP's five-year tenure has failed to boost the figures. FDI fell to a mere $820 million during the 2012 fiscal year, and the Pakistani rupee dropped in value by more than 63%.
Citizens have called for a military operation against militants and gangs in Karachi, a move that the government has staunchly opposed. Many feel that the PPP government refused to turn to the Army for fear of admitting its inability to maintain law and order right before elections. And a defense source recently admitted that Chief of Army Staff, General Kiyani had taken note of the deteriorating situation of Karachi saying that, "the situation in Karachi has deteriorated to alarming proportions and violence could get out of control if urgent action is not taken immediately."
Unfortunately, the violence in Karachi does not stem from any one particular root. The city is plagued by militancy, ethnic and sectarian strife, land mafia, gangs and petty criminals, amongst others. The dire situation in Karachi is only made worse by a leadership unwilling to conduct major reforms in governance and enforce prompt accountability. The inadequate training and motivation of law enforcement agencies such as the police, partly composed of persons accused of crimes and appointed/re-appointed on partisan grounds, along with a lack of co-ordination between intelligence agencies and effective, pre-emptive actions has led to a complete failure of law and order.
Pakistanis doubt that the new government elected on May 11 will be able address the rampant and swift deterioration of Karachi's security. Many extremist groups have strong bases in Pakistan's largest province of Punjab. A strong contender to form the next government, Nawaz Sharif's PML-N, has had no qualms about forming electoral alliances with the Ahl-e Sunnat Wal Jammat (ASWJ) organization, a political faction believed to have ties to broader and banned jihadi networks such as the deadly sectarian group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and the Tehrik-eTaliban Pakistan (TTP). Nawaz is currently the frontrunner to become Pakistan's next Prime Minister, and alliances such as this further illustrate the improbability of political parties taking concrete actions against terrorist groups, whether before or after elections.
The escalating violence and disorder has also raised concerns about the likelihood of having free, fair and transparent electoral procedures in Karachi in May. Poor governance will continue to enable disorder, further compounded by the heat and strife of election fever. The interim government, limited by its mandate, will be unable to address the growing crisis. The only alternative seems to be bringing in the Army for a limited period of time to stabilize the situation and reduce violence before polling takes place. However, given the Army's notoriously power hungry history, this, too, seems like an unlikely proposal. Understandably then, most Karachiites feel like they're on their own.
Without a doubt, Pakistan has made history with its first ever civilian government to finish a complete term. However, bad governance and a surge in large-scale violence and petty crime have left many citizens questioning the price they have paid to usher in democracy.
Arsla Jawaid is Assistant Editor at the monthly foreign policy magazine, SouthAsia. Arsla holds a BA in International Relations from Boston University, with a focus on foreign policy and security studies. She can be followed on Twitter @arslajawaid.
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Sectarian violence is raging in Pakistan, and some commentators are now describing the relentless assaults on Shia Muslims as genocide. Predictably, many observers fear that this unrest-coupled with a dangerous overall security situation-could delay Pakistan's May 11 national elections.
It's an understandable, yet ultimately misplaced, concern. As was recently pointed out, Pakistan has held elections under much more trying conditions-including one in Swat in 2008, during the height of the Pakistani Taliban's insurgency there.
Few commentators, however, are talking about another possible impact of sectarian strife on the elections: Shias-roughly 20 percent of the Pakistani population-mobilizing en masse to vote the ruling political party out of power.
Their motivations would be obvious. Shias-like Ahmadis, Christians, and other religious minorities in Pakistan-are incensed at the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) for failing to protect them, and for taking no meaningful action against those who terrorize them. In the blunt words of Abdul Khaliq Hazara, a prominent Hazara Shia in Quetta who heads the Hazara Democratic Party, "the government doesn't have the will to go after them."
Under this scenario, who would the Shia vote for? Probably not the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N)-Pakistan's chief opposition party and the current favorite to lead the next governing coalition. The PML-N's bastion is in Punjab Province, which is also the home base of some of Pakistan's most vicious sectarian extremist groups, including the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ). Yet instead of confronting the LeJ, the PML-N is seemingly courting it. Last year, the law minister of Punjab's provincial government (led by the PML-N) campaigned with the leader of Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), LeJ's parent organization. And just days ago, the secretary general of Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ)-like the LeJ, a splinter group of SSP- bragged: "We have thousands of voters in almost every constituency of the South and Central Punjab and the PML-N leadership is destined to knock at our doors when the elections come."
Rumors have abounded that, with the election in mind, the PML-N is negotiating a "seat-adjustment" agreement with ASWJ. (The Express Tribune, in an article later removed from its website, described the deal as follows: the PML-N will support the ASWJ in races for three National Assembly seats, while in return the ASWJ, "whose votes often play a vital role in helping candidates win," will withdraw its candidates from contesting about a dozen National Assembly seats in Punjab) Last month the PML-N denied the rumors-only to be contradicted just days later by SSP's leader. Regardless of who's telling the truth, the PML-N has done little to dispel the expectation that, if it leads the next government, it will do little to address the Shias' plight.
A more likely choice for the Shias might be voting for Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party. The PTI, more so than the PML-N or PPP, has gone out of its way to condemn the country's sectarian bloodshed and its chief instigators. Pakistani analysts have contrasted Khan's strong and unequivocal denunciations with the "obfuscations and meaningless remarks" uttered by the Pakistani government. After an LeJ bombing killed nearly 90 people in a Quetta market last month, Khan declared at a press conference: "I tell you by name, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi...there can be no bigger enemy of Islam than you." He also accused the LeJ of exhibiting "the worst kind of enmity towards Islam." Such strong language is rarely used by the PPP or PML-N. In January, Khan even endorsed Shia demands for targeted operations against religious militants.
Admittedly, the PTI has no plans to take aim at the root causes of sectarian violence. For example, reforming-much less repealing-Pakistan's blasphemy laws (which are often used as a pretext to persecute religious minorities) is a move no political party in Pakistan dares make; the late Punjab governor Salman Taseer was assassinated for merely criticizing them. Nonetheless, compared to the two major parties, the PTI gives the impression of genuinely caring about, and wanting to help, Pakistan's besieged minorities (along with other vulnerable segments of the population; the party recently released a new manifesto to protect the disabled). Tellingly, after an attack on a Quetta snooker hall targeting Hazara Shias left more than 100 dead in January, Khan visited the victims' grieving families-a meeting that occurred before the arrival of Pakistani government officials. Shias in Lahore and other areas of Punjab-home to 148 of Pakistan's 272 national assembly seats-could cause significant damage to the PML-N's electoral prospects if they vote as a bloc for the PTI.
But there's little reason to believe Pakistan's Shias will actually turn out in droves to vote for the PTI. Many Shias are suspicious of Khan because of his support for talks with the Taliban and other gestures perceived as sympathetic to religious militants. Such suspicions intensify when PTI officials (including party vice chairman Ajaz Chaudhry) share the stage with hardline Islamist figures-including members of the ASWJ-during rallies of the Pakistan Defense Council, a collective of conservative religious parties. A recent video produced by the Shia rights group ShiaKilling.com captures the contempt that Pakistani Shias harbor toward the PTI (and toward the PML-N as well). One Shia cleric (who does not appear to enjoy a large following) has even peddled an elaborate conspiracy theory involving Saudi Arabia and the ISI colluding to install Khan as the leader of a new "Saudi-Wahhabi Islamic State" of Pakistan.
There's also little reason to believe Shias will band together and vote en masse for any other political party. Formal research on Pakistani Shia voting patterns is limited, but based on informal conversations and anecdotal evidence, it's safe to say that such patterns are far from monolithic. On May 11, some will vote along ethnic lines. Others will opt for the PPP; in a by-election last year in the Punjab city of Multan, the PPP candidate triumphed-and analysts noted that he earned Shia votes (in fact, according to research by Andrew Wilder, Shias in Punjab tended to vote for the PPP as far back as the 1990s -because of the perception that it was more liberal and tolerant of religious minorities than were other parties). Others still will vote for the MQM. This is a party that has controlled Karachi politics for decades-and has traditionally received many Shia votes (though given Karachi's violent political culture, many of them were probably cast under pressure). Some will simply choose a sympathetic patron. Finally, many Shias-due to fear, apathy, or sheer disgust-probably won't vote at all.
This isn't to say Shias aren't joining forces to pursue political goals. Last November, a top official with the Majlis-e-Wahdat-e-Muslimeen (MWM), a collaborative of Pakistani Shia religious scholars, announced that the organization would be establishing a Shia Solidarity Council "to promote harmony" among the country's Shias. The MWM, he added, "has been making all-out efforts to unite all Shia parties of Pakistan at one platform." (MWM party leaders, incidentally, have also said they seek to "counter [the] nefarious designs of the imperialist forces" against Pakistan, and the MWM has staged U.S. flag-burnings in front of the American embassy in Islamabad.)
Several weeks ago, the MWM registered as a political party with Pakistan's Election Commission, and has now decided to contest elections. Party officials have vowed to field candidates for 100 parliamentary seats (60 of them in the national assembly), mostly representing Shia-majority areas in Punjab and in Pakistan's other three provinces. However, owing to a variety of factors-such as the lack of electoral success of Pakistani religious parties, and the MWM's dearth of political resources-the party's big-picture prospects appear dim.
The takeaway? Pakistan's sectarian violence is unlikely to delay this year's election. And, owing to the strong likelihood of a PPP or PML-N victory on May 11, the votes cast by those in the crosshairs of that violence will fail to delay the inevitable-the arrival in power of another fragile coalition unable or unwilling to protect them.
Michael Kugelman is the senior program associate for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @michaelkugelman
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The long agony for Afghanistan's women ended with the fall of the Taliban in 2001. This past January, Ms. Saira Shikeb Sadat, whose husband disappeared under the Taliban rule, assumed office as Afghanistan's first female district administrator in Jawzjan province. She recently told media that one of her top priorities was to empower women and girls. She said this can be achieved through the development of her district, Khawaja Do Koh, which is home to a population of 5,000 whose access to education, healthcare, and employment assistance, such as income-generation schemes, has been very limited. But she is determined to address these problems during her tenure in office, and the Afghan government supports her in these efforts.
Like Ms. Sadat, thousands of women are politically and socially active in Afghanistan in various capacities. The first female provincial governor and district mayor in Afghan history are currently in office. The key ministries of public health: women's affairs, and labor, social affairs, martyrs and disabled are led by women, as is Afghanistan's Independent Commission on Human Rights. At the same time, the Afghan Parliament continues to convene with a higher percentage of female representatives, 27.3 percent, than the legislative bodies of many of the most established democracies, including the U.S. Congress (15.2 percent) and British Parliament (19.7 percent).
Yet despite these important advances, the condition of women in Afghanistan is in need of urgent attention. One woman dies every 29 minutes in childbirth, the second-highest maternal mortality rate in the world (1,600 deaths per 100,000 live births). Mountainous terrain and weather conditions prevent timely medical attention to patients and pregnant women. Severe food shortages have resulted in chronic malnourishment among children, and 48 percent of Afghan women are iron-deficient.
Millions of girls cannot attend school because of security concerns or restrictive social norms. Just 12 percent of women 15 years and older can read and write, compared to 39 percent of men. The overall literacy rate for women between the ages of 15 and 24 stands at 24 percent, compared to 53 percent for men in Afghanistan.
This troubling situation is a legacy of decades of war and state collapse in the country. During the past 30 years of conflict, the needs of women stood neglected because Afghanistan did not have effective state institutions that could provide services to the people. Under the Taliban, women were relegated to the confines of their homes and deprived of education and basic human rights.
Afghanistan today is making efforts to recover from the effects of decades of utter desolation and destitution. Improving the condition of women is a priority in our national development strategy. In 2008, we launched a national action plan for the women of Afghanistan to provide a comprehensive, cross-ministerial approach to improving the condition of women. Indeed, we have a long way to go before we can catch up with the rest of the world, but we are working hard.
In the past eleven years, schools and universities have opened their doors to a record number of women. Of nearly 5 million children in grades one through six, 36.6 percent are girls. The number of girls in high school almost doubled from 2007 to 2008, from 67,900 to 136,621 students. Some 8,944 university students graduated in Afghanistan in 2008. Of them, 1,734 were female students. These numbers have continued to rise in 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012, despite a spike in the number and frequency of terrorist attacks across Afghanistan, often targeting schools, teachers, and students, with most victims being girls.
Public health also has seen tremendous improvement over the past eleven years. Up to 80 percent of the Afghan population has access to basic health care, a massive increase from just 8 percent in 2001. More than 1,650 professional midwives are employed by the ministry of public health, providing health care and childbirth services across Afghanistan. This has helped reduce infant mortality rates by 23 percent, saving 80,000 newborn lives each year.
In addition to taking these concrete steps, we are working to change societal mind-sets. In some parts of Afghanistan's most traditional areas, attitudes hamper the progress of women. Unlike most governments in the world, the Afghan government not only makes and implements policies, but also functions as an agent of social change, working to ameliorate the traditional views that hold women back from fully developing their abilities and contributing to society. We are partnering with local elders and religious figures to ensure that attitudes change through a community-centered approach. Through the National Solidarity Program, more than 22,000 Afghan women are actively participating along with men in more than 10,000 community development councils to assess local needs, receive and implement grants from the ministry of rural rehabilitation and development and lead project design and implementation.
Slowly, we are seeing progress. As the success story of Ms. Sadat and others reminds us, women are the pillars of Afghanistan. With enhanced attention to women's issues, more than half of the Afghan population can be socially, economically and politically empowered to make a significant contribution to Afghanistan's long-term development. The international community must help the Afghan government approach the task of empowering Afghan women as a continual process rather than as a single benchmark, for international experience shows us that even legal equality does not translate into equal treatment.
M. Ashraf Haidari is the deputy chief of mission of the Afghan Embassy in India. He formerly served as Afghanistan's deputy assistant national security adviser, as well as deputy chief of mission of the Afghan Embassy in the United States.
In January, Afghan forces shot grenades and bullets at a remote village in Nangarhar province, in eastern Afghanistan. One civilian died, and villagers rushed six other injured residents to the hospital in Jalalabad. Nasir saw it all happen. He then had to beg $11,000 from friends and relatives to cover medical care for his injured family members.
Several days later, Nasir asked the district chief of police why Afghan forces fired on the village. "We had an intelligence report that insurgents were in the village and we wanted to scare them, so we just started firing on the village," the police chief told him. Furious, Nasir complained to the Afghan Army Regional Corps Commander and the Provincial Governor's office to no avail. He went to the Governor's office itself to demand an investigation and financial help for the medical bills. An official there told him to rewrite his complaint letter to blame opposition forces. When Nasir refused to lie, he was turned away.
Unfortunately, this is not an isolated case. Of the hundred or so families I interviewed with my colleagues for a report by Center for Civilians in Conflict, most say they've received nothing from their government for deaths or injuries caused by Afghan forces.
One major reason these families are ignored is that Afghan officials often refuse to acknowledge that its security forces cause civilian casualties in the first place. Over the past year, Center for Civilians in Conflict interviewed other civilians harmed by the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) whose complaints were ignored by their government. And we're not the only ones to notice. In its latest protection of civilians report, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) noted: "UNAMA is concerned by the reluctance of ANSF leadership to acknowledge civilian casualties caused by ANSF. Senior ANP [Afghan National Police] and ANA [Afghan National Army] senior officers consistently asserted that ANSF do not cause civilian casualties."
Like Nasir, some of the civilians we interviewed appealed to Afghan officials for an investigation and assistance in response to deaths and injuries caused by Afghan forces. But local Afghan officials frequently denied that harm had been done, cast blame on other warring parties, or were wholly indifferent. While Afghan government programs exist in principle to ease the suffering of all civilian victims of the conflict, in practice the government rarely investigates, holds accountable, or offers assistance to those harmed by its own security forces.
This is a disturbing trend, and eerily similar to how the United States and other international forces dealt with civilian casualties at the start of their time in Afghanistan. The civilian casualties they caused-and ignored-generated anger and harsh criticism from ordinary Afghans and President Karzai. Commanders eventually recognized that their mission was undermined every time Afghan civilians are killed or injured by international forces.
Civilian harm caused by Afghan forces hasn't yet generated the same level of local anger, nor had the same strategic effect, for two main reasons. First, Afghans have historically been opposed to the presence of foreign forces on their soil. Civilian harm caused by international forces played into these anti-foreigner sentiments. In contrast, many Afghans I have met expressed pride in their security forces, particularly the Afghan army. Second, the ANSF have not yet caused as many civilian casualties as international forces or the Taliban, primarily because they have not been in the lead during combat operations. As could have been predicted, ANSF-caused civilian casualties are increasing as Afghan forces assume control of their country.
Civilian deaths caused by Afghan forces are beginning to spark some protests, albeit less frequently than when international forces are responsible for such incidents. Over time, it's easy to see how Afghan forces could lose the support of their people. Three weeks ago, an elder from Nangarhar told me, "[Afghan forces] call us insurgents. That is why they kill us. Some Taliban are in our villages, but many are ordinary civilians. The Afghan army chases them and when they go to the villages [the Afghan army] shoots civilians...We are upset with both sides-the government and the Taliban. They shouldn't be killing us. The Taliban and the ANSF are the same."
To be fair, the Taliban and other armed opposition groups are responsible for the overwhelming amount of civilian casualties. Many Afghan officials are quick to highlight this fact in an apparent strategy to deflect criticism. But, that is no excuse for the Afghan government to ignore civilians harmed by its own security forces. The population is looking to them not only for security but also to be an honest broker-capable of protecting, serving, and taking responsibility for its actions. That means Afghan forces, and the government behind them, need to avoid civilian harm and respond with integrity when civilian casualties do happen.
Best practices can be found close to home. In 2008, international forces began noticeable efforts to better prevent and respond to civilian casualties they caused. Instead of frequently denying responsibility for them and not offering any assistance in the aftermath, international forces started building up policies and practices that sought to avoid civilian casualties and dignify the families left behind when civilians were killed or injured. They saw this shift as both a strategic and a humanitarian imperative.
To start, ISAF instituted a mechanism within command headquarters to track and investigate civilian harm, analyze it for lessons learned to help prevent recurrence, and respond to allegations of civilian casualties with timely information rather than denials. Some international forces began offering monetary payments to civilians in recognition of their losses and as a culturally appropriate gesture of dignity.
These practices are by no means perfect and we still meet many civilians harmed by international forces who are not offered the assistance they deserve. But ISAF policies to track, analyze, and respond to civilian casualties have meant fewer civilians are harmed and the response to many incidents of civilian harm has improved. In 2012, UNAMA found that international military forces caused 491 civilian casualties, a marked reduction from 2009, when they were responsible for 1008 civilian deaths and injuries. For the Afghan government not to enact similar policies is a wasted opportunity to learn from past mistakes.
It's not too late. There are two ways to prove to the Afghan people that their forces are there to help, not to cause more harm.
First, Afghan forces need to own up to the harm they cause. They need a fully operational civilian casualty mitigation team-similar to what ISAF created-housed in the National Security Council. It should be staffed professionally and be responsible for tracking, investigating, and responding to civilian harm. Last summer, the Afghan President's Office began a worthwhile effort to track civilian casualties caused by Afghan forces. But the main input to this system is reporting from Afghan forces spread out in the provinces-a dispersed system that is woefully weak. The effort will certainly fail unless this reporting structure is strengthened and all data gets from the countryside to the capital. Investigations and harm response procedures need a major overhaul, as both are inadequate to actually identify and help civilians harmed. (Civilian harm that violates international or domestic law should be dealt with through separate legal channels.)
Second, the Afghan government should offer financial help to civilians harmed by Afghan forces. There are already two programs in effect to assist war victims, but they don't go nearly far enough, and civilians harmed by Afghan forces are rarely offered help. One program-called the Code 99 Fund-is housed in President Karzai's office and gives payments of about $2,000 for family members killed and about $1,000 for conflict-related injuries. Another program, under the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, Martyrs, and Disabled, offers smaller monthly sums for conflict-related losses. In our interviews, we found that nearly all recipients of this aid were harmed by the Taliban or international forces.
One simple reason civilians harmed by Afghan forces don't get as much help is that the forces responsible don't have a way of referring people to these assistance programs. That's an obvious fix that's needed and could be immediately rectified by creating protocols for what to do once a civilian has been harmed. When I met with the spokesperson for the Afghan Ministry of Defense several weeks ago, he agreed that such procedures should be developed for the Afghan Army. The Ministry of Defense, Interior, as well as the National Directorate of Security-all of which oversee elements of the ANSF-should act without delay to create these channels for getting civilians through the system.
The United States and its allies shifted tactics to better avoid and respond to civilian casualties in Afghanistan, but they're not off the hook yet. They can and should do more to ensure that the security forces they leave behind are professional and accountable, including supporting the Afghan government in creating a civilian casualty mitigation team and fixing its assistance programs. The US and NATO allies currently offer $6 billion each year to pay for the ANSF, so they have plenty of leverage. Donors should strongly encourage the Afghan government to direct a small amount of those funds towards these civilian-centered initiatives. Whether or not Afghan forces are prepared to avoid and respond appropriately to civilian harm will ultimately reflect on the U.S.-led mission in Afghanistan.
As Afghan forces take the lead, ordinary Afghans will judge their security forces by how they treat civilians. That means both their ability to avoid harm to civilians during operations, and their response when civilian casualties occur. The Afghan government has something to prove, too, as its immediate and long-term legitimacy will very much depend on whether people like Nasir and his family are cared for, not ignored.
Trevor Keck is a Kabul based field researcher with Center for Civilians in Conflict.
*Names have been changed
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images
At about 5:30 PM local time on February 16, a massive bomb ripped through a bustling street lined with grocery stores, schools, and tuition centers in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta. A water tanker packed with an estimated 2,200 pounds of improvised explosives had been detonated in the middle of busy crowds of children leaving their classrooms, and men and women buying groceries for their evening meals.
According to initial media reports, the blast killed at least 79 people and wounded 180 others, mostly women and children. A Hazara activist I spoke with two days after the attack claimed that the death toll had reached 110, as some of the wounded succumbed to their injuries and more bodies were recovered from the rubble of the shops brought down by the blast. The victims were members of the Hazara community, an ethno-religious minority that is becoming the symbol of Pakistan's drift into horrors of sectarian conflict and extremist violence.
Like much of the past attacks against Hazaras, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), an extremist Sunni militant group ostensibly banned in Pakistan since 2001, claimed responsibility for the attack on Saturday. Abu Bakar Siddiq, its spokesman, called local media outlets to claim the attack and reiterate LeJ's stated mission of "making Balochistan a graveyard for the Shias." He blatantly declared "either we or the Shias will live in Quetta."
Sectarian violence is neither new nor rare in Pakistan. Beginning in the 1980s, the country has witnessed an escalation of violence between militant groups of its Sunni majority and Shiite minority population. The growth of these jihadist outfits cannot be disentangled from strategic rivalries between Iran and Saudi Arabia over the leadership of the Islamic world. Saudi Arabia's decades-old policy of promoting puritanical Wahabi Islam, along with the Islamic Republic of Iran's efforts to promote its own version of revolutionary Shiite Islam, was central to the mushrooming of fanatical groups such as the LeJ.
Founded in 1996, LeJ has its roots in the Sipah-e Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), a Sunni-Deobandi militant organization which was established in 1985 amidst the rise of international militant Islamism and sectarian violence following the Islamic Revolution of Iran in 1979 and the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan in the 1980s. For several years, the SSP fought violent battles against its Shiite equivalent Sipah-e Muhammad (SM).
Pakistan's domestic sectarian conflict has grown in tandem with and as consequence of its military and intelligence establishment's use of extremist groups as a weapon in its foreign policy arsenal. While the Shiite militant organizations such as SM over time disappeared in the face of an inhospitable political environment in Pakistan, groups funded and armed by Saudi petro-dollars became a convenient instrument in the hand of Pakistani political and military establishments in its conflict with India over Kashmir, and in the war in Afghanistan.
In Afghanistan, LeJ was one of several foreign militant groups that aided the Taliban movement that emerged with Pakistan's support in the second half of 1990s. These groups along with Al-Qaeda provided the Taliban with an endless supply of external firebrand jihadists and financial resources. LeJ maintained a militant training camp in the Surobi district of Kabul under Taliban rule and participated in the militia's campaigns of ethnic cleansing and scorched-earth operations against its opponents.
The devastating blast in Quetta on Saturday was the latest in a series of targeted attacks on Hazaras that have over recent years been escalating rapidly to become a full-fledged campaign of ethnic cleansing. According to Hazara Organization for Peace and Equality (HOPE), an organization of Hazara activists that has maintained and updated a list of victims of such sectarian violence since 1999, the targeted violence against the Hazaras has taken over 1,300 lives and injured more than 3,000 others.
LeJ attacks against Hazaras intensified after the group distributed a pamphlet in Quetta in June 2011 designating Hazaras as wajeb-ul-qatl (those whom Muslims have a duty to kill). It declared:
Just as our fighters waged a successful jihad against the Shiite Hazaras in Afghanistan, our mission is the elimination of this unclean sect and people, the Shiite and Hazaras, from every city, every village and every corner of Pakistan.
Hazaras make up about a half-million-strong community in Baluchistan's restive capital of Quetta, and are distinguished by their distinctive Central Asian facial features, their distinctive dialect of Persian, and their practice of Shiite Islam in a predominantly Sunni country. In the complex political and security environment of Pakistan, and South Asia more broadly, where blatant violence holds sway, the Hazaras do not carry much political weight. In a country of 180 million people, they have neither the sufficient voting power to threaten Pakistan's key political parties ahead of the forthcoming general elections, nor the capacity to take the fight against LeJ into their own hands.
Operating in an environment of virtual impunity, LeJ has over time improved its tactics to increase the number of victims per episode. The new tactics include the ambush and mass murder of Hazara passengers on Baluchistan's highways, and brazen attacks at the heart of Hazara neighborhoods. On September 20, 2011, a bus carrying 26 Hazaras as intercepted in the Mastung district of Baluchistan, and its passengers were shot to death execution-style. LeJ claimed responsibility for the attack and released a video of the gruesome killing in the internet. And less than six weeks before this month's blast in Quetta, on January 10, a double bomb attack targeting a snooker club on Alamdar Road (another primarily Hazara neighborhood) claimed more than 90 lives and wounded more than 150, mainly Hazaras.
Attacks targeting individual businessman and ordinary Hazaras over the past years have effectively driven much of the Hazaras from the main economic and social centers of the city, pushing them further into their ethnic enclaves in the west and east of the city. And these two massive attacks in the span of less than two months targeted the hearts of these enclaves, indicating that LeJ will not just be satisfied by pushing isolating and terrorizing the Hazara community.
The impunity with which outlaw groups such as LeJ conduct a campaign of ethnic cleansing raises fundamental questions about the nature and future direction of Pakistan as a country. Allegations of Pakistani military and intelligence agencies' collusion with extremist and violent groups, in particular when these groups served its political or security interests in the conflict over Kashmir or in Afghanistan, are neither new nor rare.
Despite the scale and brutality with which these attacks have been carried out and the implications they have for the image and credibility of Pakistani state institutions, not a single culprit has been arrested or brought to justice. At best, the situation of Hazaras in Quetta illustrates a disturbing incompetence of Pakistani state institutions in the face of small groups of fanatics such as the LeJ. And at the worst, it may represent their collusion with groups bent on killing its own citizens.
Hazara activists have regularly accused Pakistani authorities of turning a blind eye to their killings, and they have good reason to distrust Pakistani institutions. Malik Ishaq, one of the key leaders of LeJ, was released from prison in Lahore in July 2011, apparently for lack of evidence. He was detained in 1997 on charges of involvement in dozens of murder and violent activities. Usman Kurd and Shafique Rind, two of the ringleaders of LeJ death squads in Baluchistan who are allegedly responsible for much of the violence against Hazaras, escaped under mysterious circumstances from a high security prison in Quetta's military cantonment in 2008. Ishaq was detained on Friday, less than a week after his organization claimed responsibility for last weekend's attack. But if history is any sign of what is to come, he will not be in custody for long.
Desperate and disappointed with Pakistani political and security response, Hazara activists in Pakistan and around the world have sought to attract international attention. After every major attack, they have organized peaceful street demonstrations, gone on hunger strikes and written letters to world leaders. But a United States struggling to end a decade-long costly military intervention in Afghanistan and trying to adjust with a tumultuous Middle East is yet to take notice of the killing of a small, isolated and powerless community in Baluchistan. The key question that remains is, will the world continue to turn a blind eye to a tragedy of this scale? And if LeJ succeeds in turning Baluchistan into a Hazara graveyard, or empty the city out of its Hazara population, who will be the next victim of Pakistan's unbridled forces of terror and bloodshed?
Niamatullah Ibrahimi is an analyst based in Kabul, Afghanistan. He has researched and written extensively about the Hazaras in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
BANARAS KHAN/AFP/Getty Images
Pakistan's war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in the northwest is taking a tremendous toll on the local population. The military's killing of civilians, collective punishment of locals, and continued detention of thousands has produced an unprecedented level of animosity toward the federal government and security forces.
Last month, minority Hazaras in the restive southwestern city of Quetta used a new tactic to draw attention to the systematic killing of their community members by Sunni extremists. They took the latest victims' bodies to the center of the city and staged a sit-in, refusing to bury the bodies until the military took over security in the city.
The tactic inspired locals in the northwestern Federally Administered Tribal Regions (FATA) to stage a similar protest in Peshawar, refusing to bury 18 of their dead until the Pakistani government looked into the latest killings by security forces. Locals say Pakistani security forces killed the civilians during a house to house search on the night of January 15th in Bara, a district in the Khyber Agency of FATA, just south of Peshawar. Thousands of local tribesmen held a jirga, and decided to take the bodies to Peshawar, where they sat in front of the state government building. When a member of the national parliament showed up to talk, the protesters attacked him, forcing him to flee. The tribesmen wanted the military to admit they killed civilians, compensate families of the dead, and pull out of their areas.
The military agreed to investigate the killings and compensate the families. But if the tribesmen wanted the military to leave the region, they would be collectively held responsible for any problems involving militants in the future.
Two days after the Bara killings, Pakistani helicopter gunships struck homes near Mir Ali, a town in North Waziristan, killing five civilians, including two women and two children. According to locals, the Pakistani military carried out the attack in response to an IED that destroyed a tank and killed two soldiers in Miran Shah. North Waziristan's major tribes held a jirga and decided to observe a complete three day strike, demanding reparations and an end to civilian killings, and threatening to march on Islamabad.
Safdar Dawar, a journalist from North Waziristan and head of the Tribal Union of Journalists, says the killings of civilians in Bara and Mir Ali are not unprecedented, but the widespread, well-organized response of the tribesmen has surprised many.
While the Hazara protest in Quetta drew massive media attention and the eventual ear of the national government, the hundreds of tribesman who protested in Peshawar were dispersed with batons and tear gas, the bodies of their family members forcibly buried by security forces. The heavy-handed approach quickly drew condemnation from opposition political parties like the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and Pakistan Muslim League (N), who have maintained for years that the war against militants in FATA has killed too many civilians and should be abandoned. Pakhtuns living across the country have held rallies of their own in cities like Lahore and Karachi decrying the ongoing military offensives in the Pakhtun-dominated tribal areas of Pakistan's northwest.
Nearly 700 people have been killed in Khyber Agency in 2012, making it the most violent agency in FATA. (North Waziristan saw about 346 people killed in the same period, mostly from drones). It has the bad luck of being a strategically important area, sitting next to Peshawar and hosting an important supply route for Afghanistan.
Like Khyber, many parts of FATA have seen multiple military operations since 2002, when soldiers were first deployed to the region to support NATO activities across the border. Since then, the Pakistani military has played a cat and mouse game with militants that has had a serious impact on locals. The military often employs artillery, jets, and helicopters that pound suspected militants, but as the example of Mir Ali shows, they occasionally end up killing civilians too. Millions of people have been forced to settle in other parts of the country, leaving many towns empty. After carrying out its operations, the military usually announces it is safe for locals to return to their homes, but the conflict continues.
In FATA, there is little legal recourse for civilians on the receiving end of the Pakistani military operations. Instead of being treated as individuals, residents can legally be held accountable for the actions of others belonging to their tribe, a policy that dates back to British colonial times. In 2011, the federal government announced a package that restricted collective punishment to males aged 16-65, and allowed for a military and civilian oversight board to review complaints of abuse, but human rights groups like Amnesty International say these measures have yet to be enacted, and would still allow the military to have the final say. Under pressure to effectively combat militancy in the region, other legislation has given the military sweeping powers to detain individuals indefinitely.
South Waziristan was once the primary base for militant groups in Pakistan. After several military operations, the area is one of the quietest. But as an Amnesty International report form 2010 explains, the peace came at a heavy price. While launching operations to retake the area from Taliban-aligned Mehsud tribesmen in 2009, the Pakistani government issued a blanket order to arrest any Mehsud and confiscate their property. As hundreds of thousands tried to flee towns that were being shelled by the military, witnesses recount how Mehsud refugees were turned around at military checkpoints. According to a government report, in a single month the military destroyed more than four thousand homes belonging to Mehsud tribesmen in South Waziristan.
Tribes that support the federal government have not fared much better.
Two years ago, the government recruited 250 local tribesmen to help fight Taliban militants in a village adjacent to Peshawar, but only gave them 87 rifles. So in late December, 2012, when hundreds of Taliban from a neighboring district carried out a sophisticated attack on checkpoints in the area, the local recruits were easily defeated. Two recruits were killed and twenty two taken hostage. The military issued an ultimatum to the local Taliban militants: turn over the kidnapped men or we will punish the entire village. Tribal elders said the situation was out of their hands, and a few days later twenty one bodies turned up. The village was embargoed and a curfew was imposed that lasted weeks. The military carried out several raids, destroying homes and detaining scores of men. A month later, the government finally admitted they had not adequately equipped locals to defend themselves against the Taliban, and offered financial compensation to the victims' families.
Dawar, the journalist from North Waziristan, offers a whole list of ways the war has made life unbearable in FATA. He says that residents of Bara have lived under a general curfew for three years. A similar curfew has been imposed on Mehsuds in South Waziristan. And in North Waziristan, there has been a long-running curfew every Saturday and Sunday. Amnesty International has documented how curfews are often imposed in areas where there are ongoing military operations, making it difficult for civilians to leave the area.
Perhaps the most egregious abuses in FATA involve extra-judicial detentions, torture, and the killing of suspected militants by security forces. "As the state's practices have moved away from large-scale military operations to sporadic clashes with armed groups over the last three years," a December 2012 report from Amnesty International explains, "the authorities' attention has shifted to search operations resulting in thousands of arrests and detentions."
It is difficult to even get a good estimate for the number of detainees in FATA. Detainees are shuffled from one security agency to another, and many seem to be held in unofficial prisons - hotels and other civilian buildings seized by security forces. In June 2012, the Peshawar High Court ordered the release of 1,035 detainees. According to the 2012 Amnesty report, the government has provided the names of about 1,000 people it is keeping in detention. But 2,000 cases of missing persons are still pending in the Peshawar High Court, brought by people suspecting their relatives are in government custody. The Amnesty report details many cases where families only learned the fate of their missing relatives once they had been released, sometimes after being severely tortured or even killed by interrogators.
"The tribal areas have lost their leadership," Dawar explains. Under the laws governing FATA, tribes appoint representatives called maliks to talk to the federal government. "Thousands of maliks have been killed or forced to leave since 2001 in South Waziristan, North Waziristan, Bajaur, all over," Dawar says. The federal government only extended voting rights to FATA in 1997, and just last year it allowed political parties to operate in the region. Major political parties like the Pakistan People's Party and the Awami National Party routinely see their representatives in FATA killed. But without a constitutional amendment, future members of parliament will continue to be powerless. Article 247 of the Pakistani constitution puts FATA entirely under the power of the President, saying "No act of Parliament shall apply to any federally administered tribal area or to any part thereof, unless the President so directs."
The Pakistani military continues to be the most trusted power in the region, ahead of the Pakistani government, the Taliban, or the United States. But Dawar says tribal leaders are asking the military to leave their areas, and let them deal with the militants themselves. When it comes to the Pakistani military, Dawar explains, "in many tribal areas, they have lost their confidence in it, and are now trying to regain it."
Tribesmen have often banded together to expel al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or other extremist groups from their land. But they have also consistently claimed that the source of their current problems lies in Afghanistan and the U.S. invasion of 2001.
"If you are asking about Americans," Dawar says, "100% [of the people] here are hating Americans. They are thinking that this whole drama is from the side of America, because they came to Afghanistan. That is why they are demanding America leave Afghanistan."
"The elders and the people recall the situation before 2001, [when] they had their own culture, unity, lashkars [militias], and peace committees," he explains, which they know were more effective than any tools from "these stakeholders in the Great Game."
Umar Farooq is an independent journalist based in the United States. He is on twitter: @UmarFarooq_.
A Majeed/AFP/Getty Images
Close observers of Afghanistan are not likely to be surprised by recent allegations contained in a United Nations report that the Afghan National Security Directorate, the CIA's leading counterterrorism partner in South Asia, used whips and electric shocks to squeeze confessions out of suspected insurgent detainees. There are many ways to describe the directorate, or NDS as it is locally known, but a model of modern intelligence gathering and investigative efficiency is not one of them.
The report, which was quietly published on the website of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan on Sunday, details a grim pattern of abuse and mistreatment in NDS prisons, and has put yet another dent in NDS's reputation at a time when the Afghan intelligence agency has never been more vulnerable. A key partner in the ongoing U.S. quest to contain transnational terrorism in South and Central Asia, NDS seems to have fallen on very hard times of late. Yet, few in Washington appear ready to confront the implications of NDS's downward spiral, a trend that seems to be accelerating as NATO marches toward the exit.
Last week, in an unprecedented show of force at least half a dozen Taliban fighters charged the gates of NDS headquarters in central Kabul, set off a suicide truck bomb and nearly blasted their way straight into the central nervous system of the Afghan intelligence agency. Some 32 civilians and security personnel were injured, and at least one NDS officer was killed on the spot. The attack might have been a little less demoralizing, however, had it not been for another purported Taliban assault in Kabul only a month earlier on an alleged NDS safe house in central Kabul that severely wounded the agency's well-known chief, Asadullah Khalid.
Both incidents beg a couple of questions that US, NATO and Afghan officials must all be asking themselves these days. First, just how safe is an Afghan intelligence agency safe house if a suicide bomber can gain entry and blow up the director of said intelligence agency? And, what do the latest assaults mean for NATO's transition out of the country? Like many things in Afghanistan, the answer is both simple and complex.
In the "simple" column: Asadullah Khalid, the newly ordained head of Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security, probably has about as many enemies-personal and political-as he does friends. The December 6 attack on Khalid was the fifth in as many years. A two-time governor who served in the volatile and politically pivotal provinces of Kandahar and Ghazni, Khalid is a high roller with deep ties to mujahideen elites. His close associates run the gamut from hardcore Islamist conservative Afghan elites such as Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, a cagey Pashtun commander who trained 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, to Ahmed Wali Karzai, the late and legendary glad-handing southern brother of President Hamid Karzai.
Originally from Ghazni, a part of Afghanistan whose political, ethnic and religious paroxysms most closely parallel that of Florida, Khalid has counted coup in innumerable Afghan skirmishes spanning from the late 1980's to the present. Before President Karzai appointed him governor of Ghazni in 2002, Khalid served as head of NDS's provincial affairs department, and, several of his colleagues aver, was a first runner up to replace NDS's first director, Engineer Arif Sarwary when Sarwary stepped down in 2004. Instead, however, Karzai's inner circle eventually decided in 2005 that Khalid would be a better fit as governor of the president's home province, Kandahar.
It was in Kandahar that Khalid burnished a reputation for applying tough tactics to insurgent detainees after Canadian diplomat Richard Colvin alleged in testimony before the Canadian parliament in November 2009 that Khalid "personally tortured people" in a "dungeon" beneath his residence. Khalid has repeatedly denied the Canadian claims.
An ethnic Pashtun who also briefly served as minister of borders and tribal affairs before his appointment to NDS, Khalid has rejected similar allegations lodged in the British high court late last year. Khalid's denials aside, the most recent UN report on NDS torture practices would certainly seem to bear out a persistent pattern in the Afghan presidential palace of ignoring the obvious when it is convenient to do so.
In the "complex" column, a combination of hubris, insouciance, and vanity peculiar to many of Kabul's leading powerbrokers seems to have left Khalid especially vulnerable to violent fissures that are slowly rendering the once relatively effective Afghan intelligence agency ineffective and deeply compromised. Shortly before the bombing, Khalid coupled his denials of involvement in torture with equally vehement and venomous anti-Taliban rhetoric. During his testimony before Afghanistan's lower house of parliament before his appointment was confirmed in September, he alternately promised to exterminate Taliban outliers who refuse to accept Karzai's reconciliation terms and to support cross border operations into Pakistan in response to cross border shelling by the Pakistani army along the country's eastern border.
Khalid at one point purportedly took control of the CIA-backed Kandahar Strike Force, an aggressive local militia that was accused in 2010 by Afghan officials of assassinating the southern province's local police chief. Not long after his adventures in Kandahar, Khalid got involved in backing a controversial anti-Taliban uprising in Ghazni by provincial locals. Not exactly the best way to win friends and influence people in a tough neighborhood where the biggest house on the block is owned by the Pakistani military, a key supporter of the Afghan Taliban.
All of the above without doubt made the NDS chief especially susceptible. But there are two other critical factors that also played important roles in the attack on Khalid and the one-two-punch assault on NDS headquarters a month later. The first factor is factionalism. Factionalism within the official state Afghan security services has been a fact of life since they were created, but the phenomenon has worsened considerably since the onset of NATO's transition out of the country, and it has not left Afghanistan's chief intelligence agency untouched. Karzai has hired and fired a total of four NDS chiefs since 2002, including two within the last two years -- Khalid and Karzai's former personal security chief Rahmatullah Nabil. Each changing of the guard has been followed by purge and counter-purge of various networks affiliated with the new chiefs, leaving deep wells of mistrust, particularly between the largely non-Pashtun retinue of NDS officers allied with the Northern Alliance and Pashtuns affiliated either with Sayyaf, warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar or others of a more Islamist bent.
Meanwhile, growing concerns among NDS leaders about increased infiltration of insurgents and Iranian and Pakistani double agents within their ranks has resulted in the reported arrests of a little more than a dozen NDS officials in the last year. These problems have been known for sometime but only really started turning heads at the headquarters of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) when in April 2012 the NDS failed to accurately analyze scads of tips about an impending attack on Kabul that was billed as one of the largest in the entire war. Conflicts between Pashtuns and the primarily Panjshiri Tajik dominated officer corps of the NDS have been cited as among the main reasons that information about that attack did not reach the right people at the right time in Kabul.
The second factor is Khalid's personal blind spot. At 43, Khalid cuts quite the dashing figure, and a one-time colleague of Khalid told me recently that he is known amongst his peers as having a predilection for a bit of flash and panache. Indeed, the guesthouse where the suicide bomber struck is situated in one of the tonier areas of the capital, and for several months before the incident in question and well before Khalid's appointment to NDS it was thought to be his personal playhouse. Neighbors recall hearing raucous music blaring out of the so-called NDS safe house Khalid had occupied and some distinctly recall the party until dawn atmosphere that the property frequently appeared to witness on Thursday nights. It is unclear whether the NDS chief was mixing business with pleasure at the house, but it is undeniable that his address, his presence and his seeming love of loud music was well known to most in the neighborhood well before the bombing.
Some of Khalid's associates also apparently knew in advance that the intelligence chief had been expecting a very special visitor the day of the bombing at the house. As one longtime friend of Khalid's explained -- and several media outlets have reported -- the suicide bomber was a former Taliban prisoner who was allegedly acting as a messenger for Mullah Omar's Quetta Shura.
Like his one time colleague and elder statesman, former president and High Peace Council chairman Burhanuddin Rabbani, it seems Khalid could not resist the temptation to amplify his political profile as leading dealmaker cum peace negotiator. So when the freed Taliban prisoner arrived at Khalid's guest house cum safe house in the Taimani neighborhood of Kabul Khalid hardly expected the young man to come bearing a bomb in his underpants. But, much like Rabbani's assassination in October 2011, it was that close "personal touch," that dealt the big blow.
All this will, of course, require a lot of chewing over in the coming weeks and months ahead as NATO continues its accelerated withdrawal from Afghanistan. As for Khalid, he'll have plenty of time to think it through while he convalesces at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. And, at least he won't be lonely while he's meditating on his future and the prospects for NDS; Khalid has already received visits from President Obama, Leon Panetta, and, naturally his old friend Hamid Karzai in recent weeks.
And, perhaps while Khalid gets some rest and everyone's giving the latest turn of evens with NDS good long think, NATO and U.S. officials will finally sit down to hash out what to do next with America's top partner in the fight against terrorism in South and Central Asia. The White House in particular, might want to consider whether it can continue to tie America's fortunes to intelligence outfits like NDS without first figuring out how (and whether it's possible) to help governments like Karzai's to clean these agencies up. The Obama administration might also want to calculate the overall impact of its continued uncritical support for regimes that employ torture to ensure state security and how that might in the long-term hinder its efforts to unring the bell rung by a panicked Bush administration the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. If anything the most recent series of attacks in Kabul should have demonstrated to Washington, it is time for a serious rollback and reset where NDS is concerned.
Candace Rondeaux lived and worked in Afghanistan for nearly five-years, first as the Afghanistan-Pakistan bureau chief for The Washington Post and more recently as senior analyst for the International Crisis Group in Kabul. She is a research fellow at the Center on National Security at Fordham University Law School in New York, and she is currently writing a political history of the Afghan security forces from 2001 to 2014.
Just after Christmas, the Pakistani Taliban (Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP) offered a peace deal of sorts to the Pakistani government. In exchange for a cessation of TTP violence, they demanded Pakistan's constitution be brought into conformity with their version of Islamic law and the government break ties with the United States. In response, a senior Pakistani government official reportedly called the offer "preposterous."
Yet it may not be, especially regarding the implementation of religious law. Similar demands were met in 2009 after the TTP took the Swat valley, with the Pakistani government giving away these very rights. The local government led by the Awami National party agreed to establish sharia law in Swat and the broader Malakand Division, which was approved by the national parliament and signed by President Zardari. It was only when the Pakistani Taliban pushed for more territorial gains that the government responded with force of arms. If past is prologue, the government may bend to get a deal now.
However, the status quo arguably meets TTP demands regarding religious law, as much of what they seek already exists - Islamic law plays a major role in governance, and militants are free to violently force their religious interpretations on the population.
This slide towards religious governance goes back to the country's founding. From the outset, the Objectives Resolution of 1949, which preceded the first of several constitutions, tilted Pakistan towards an Islamic state where citizens and their rights were defined by religion. This occurred despite Jinnah's famous speech two years earlier to the Constituent Assembly, in which he said, "You are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed -- that has nothing to do with the business of the State." The Objectives Resolution went in a different direction, and while it recognized the presence of religious minorities, it only promised "adequate provision" of basic rights, while defining the entire state in Islamic terms. Constitutions that followed built off and expanded this foundation.
The biggest leaps came from Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Pakistan's secular Prime Minister from 1973-1977, and General Zia ul Haq's reign from 1978-1988. Under Bhutto, the Ahmadis were effectively outlawed through constitutional changes that created a definition of a Muslim that excluded Ahmadis. The constitution was also amended to establish the Council of Islamic Ideology to advise on whether proposed laws are compatible with Islam. Not considered particularly devout, he took these and other steps to shore-up his flagging political fortunes, currying the support of religious leaders.
Zia went even further, setting into place much of what the TTP wants today, changing both statutory law and constitutional provisions. He amended the blasphemy law, a colonial era holdover, and increased the penalty to include death, but without requiring the provision of evidence. This alone has had far-reaching effects. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) where I work knows of at least 17 people on death row in Pakistan for blasphemy and 20 others serving life sentences. Many more are in jail awaiting trial or appeal. The surprising outcome of the Rimsha Masih case is an exception to the sad norm.
In addition, Zia altered the penal code to criminalize the basic acts of the Ahmadi faith. He amended the constitution to create the Federal Shariat Court to review legislation that may conflict with sharia law, creating an unclear legal structure that appears to run parallel to or oversee the secular system. In addition, Zia Islamicized the education system, the banking system, and the penal system through the Hudood ordinances.
And today, for what the law does not forbid (which is much), militants have free reign to impose their religious views at the point of a gun.
This was shockingly evident last week, with the January 10 attack that killed 81 Shi'a Muslims in twin bombings in a Shiite area of Quetta. The attack was tragically predictable, as the targeting of Shia Muslims steadily increased throughout 2012, with rights groups estimating (before this attack) more than 400 murdered. The TTP, and fellow travelers like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, regularly claim responsibility. Human rights organizations continue to criticize government inaction, but the body count keeps rising.
Another case in point is the TTP murder of Shahbaz Bhatti, the Federal Minister of Minority Affairs and the only Christian in Zardari's cabinet. Working bravely against the blasphemy law, the TTP answered Shahbaz's efforts in 2010 by assassinating him steps from his mother's Islamabad home in broad daylight. The TTP were so brazen as to leave fliers at the scene claiming responsibility, but no one has been held accountable and the investigation fizzled.
Ahmadis continue to suffer discrimination, abuse, and violence. 80 Ahmadis were killed in May 2010 when two of their mosques were attacked by the TTP. Violence continues today throughout the country - in July of this year the president of a local Ahmadi community outside Karachi was murdered and in December over 100 Ahmadi graves desecrated in Lahore. Hindus too are among the victims of Pakistan's climate of intolerance. The forced conversion and marriage of Hindu girls has increased in Sindh Province, and in 2012 upwards of 250 Pakistani Hindus from Sindh and Baluchistan Provinces have migrated to India to avoid increasing violence. Christians remember the violence of Gojra in 2009, where an entire village was burned to the ground and no one held to account, and last year the National Commission for Justice and Peace found nine places of worship were damaged, destroyed or vandalized, including 5 churches and 3 Hindu temples.
Clearly, the Pakistani Taliban's demand for enforcement of their version of Islamic law is not far from reality. In the current environment, Pakistani law is used to enforce religious views, and militants act with impunity against those they consider un-Islamic. Both the majority Muslim population and minority religious communities are at risk. Pakistan's active civil society must continually retreat and retrench to protect the small openings for peaceful debate and human rights work. Consequently, the very fabric of Pakistan is being torn, and if this "preposterous" ask is implemented, it could unravel more.
Knox Thames is the Director of Policy and Research at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. The views expressed here are his own and may or may not reflect the views of the Commission. He can be followed on Twitter @thames22.
As Afghan President Hamid Karzai visits Washington to discuss a bilateral strategic agreement between the United States and Afghanistan, policymakers and the public are debating the pace of troop drawdown and the residual force post-2014, when the security handover to Afghan authorities finishes. Missing from these discussions is a focus on the political and economic transitions underway in Afghanistan - areas that will serve as greater determinants of Afghan stability than whether there are zero, 4,000, or 9,000 U.S. troops. Politics ultimately drive the Afghan conflict, and its resolution will require a broader political consensus and stronger economic foundation than currently exists.
President Karzai's visit offers an opportunity for the Obama administration, members of Congress and others to drill down and express support for a number of political and economic priorities, which could assist in strengthening the legitimacy and competence of the Afghan state as the United States and NATO drawdown. The current Afghan state is deeply flawed and has alienated many Afghans due to its exclusive and predatory nature. The constitutional system, which vests great power in the hands of the executive without real checks and balances, lends itself to abuses of authority. Officials often use formal state institutions to support their patronage networks, fueling high levels of corruption, cronyism, and nepotism on the national and local levels. What's more, the dependency of the Afghan government and its security forces on high levels of international assistance for the foreseeable future, especially in a time of global austerity, threatens to undermine a sustainable transition.
Creating a stronger political consensus and a more solid economic foundation for the Afghan state will be required for long-term stability in Afghanistan. In their meetings with President Karzai and his team, senior U.S. officials must state their expectations about these political and economic processes, clarifying that long-term security support is contingent on Afghan progress on these efforts. Expectations should include the following:
First, a free, fair, inclusive and transparent presidential election is required in which President Karzai transfers power to a legitimately elected successor. President Karzai must work to ensure that the electoral bodies, including the Independent Electoral Commission and an electoral complaints mechanism are independent and credible. The United States hopes to see parliamentary approval of the electoral laws and the implementation of a plan to ensure a successful election.
Second, the United States supports an inclusive political reconciliation process, led by Afghans. The United States supports outreach by President Karzai to more Afghan stakeholders, including the political opposition, women, and civil society groups, in addition to Taliban insurgents. The United States and Afghanistan should create a bilateral mechanism to coordinate their peacemaking, public statements regarding negotiations and outreach to stakeholders, as well as to establish a venue, where representatives of the parties to the conflict can meet outside of Afghanistan or Pakistan to discuss a political settlement.
Third, the United States remains committed to the agreements made at the Tokyo conference in July 2012 by the Afghan government and the international community. In addition to agreeing to provide $16 billion in civilian assistance through 2015, the international community committed to improving the effectiveness of its aid, aligning its assistance with Afghan priority programs, and providing more aid through the Afghan government's budget rather than through outside contractors. However, the disbursements of these dollars depends on the Afghan government progressing on its own commitments, including:
Fourth, the United States supports the development of Afghanistan's mineral sector, in a way that benefits the Afghan population and not a select few. While Afghanistan is already a candidate member of the Extractives Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), the Karzai administration should develop an Extractive Industries Development Framework that governs Afghanistan's natural wealth through an "accountable, efficient and transparent mechanism which builds upon and surpasses international best practices", as agreed to in Tokyo. The Ministry of Mines should continue to engage with civil society in order to increase transparency in the mining sector and to respond to the needs of communities affected by mining.
The Obama administration must focus on political and economic priorities during President Karzai's visit. Military aspects-troop numbers, training of the Afghan forces, and financial support to the security services-won't be enough to ensure Afghanistan's security and stability over the long term. Leaving behind an unprepared and expensive force to battle an insurgency that NATO has struggled to contain is more likely to create instability than lasting security. Instead, U.S. efforts must be focused on building a more sustainable Afghan state.
John Podesta is Chairman and Caroline Wadhams is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress.
Pakistan has accepted an Afghan "roadmap" for peace, according to news reports this week. If true, this would be quite a breakthrough given the setbacks of the last year, such as the suspension of talks by the Taliban in March, cross-border shelling into eastern Afghanistan, and recent allegations that Pakistan was involved in an assassination attempt on the Afghan intelligence chief last week. Ending a conflict that has claimed so many thousands of Afghan lives is desperately needed, and signs of a shift in Pakistan's attitude to talks could be a positive step towards that. However, a recently leaked copy of the Afghan High Peace Council's "Peace Process Roadmap to 2015,"[posted here], which has not yet been made public, lays out a trajectory that does little to assuage fears that a deal with the Taliban could erode women's rights and human rights in general.
The roadmap contains five steps. The first includes an end to cross-border shelling, the transfer by Pakistan of Taliban prisoners to Afghanistan or a third country, and pressure on the Taliban to sever ties with al-Qaeda. Phase Two (slated for the first half of 2013) includes safe passage for Taliban negotiators to unspecified countries, contact with Taliban negotiators, agreement on the terms of a peace process, and further delisting of Taliban by the United States and the United Nations.
Phase three, in the second half of 2013, envisages a ceasefire. Taliban prisoners would be released in exchange for renouncing violence. The plan proposes that the Taliban could transform into a political movement, and prepare to contest elections (presumably including the Presidential elections in 2014). While the emergence of a political party from the Taliban is conceivable, and desirable, the hope that this could be achieved next year seems remote. There are clearly reformers within the Taliban, but many who have engaged in preliminary negotiation efforts have been killed by hardliners or imprisoned by Pakistan, while Afghan negotiators have been assassinated. Consequently the breadth of commitment to politics and peace within the Taliban movement remains uncertain.
Step three also contains the most frank description I've seen so far about non-elected appointments of Taliban as an incentive to reconciling. This will likely include critical governorships, potentially legitimating some of the shadow provincial governments of the Taliban. Appointments remain one of the primary means of patronage in Afghanistan, so it's hard to imagine jobs not being a part of a peace deal, however unpalatable it may seem to those bearing the brunt of the ongoing Taliban violence against civilians. But the roadmap contains no red lines here, such as the exclusion from government jobs of commanders suspected of war crimes and other serious human rights abuses. There's a pragmatic argument for this -a peace process is more likely to last if it can defuse the enmity created by atrocities committed by both the Taliban and the government. Unfortunately, whenever I raise the basic human rights principle of "no peace without justice," I usually get a withering dismissal from Afghan and international officials. This year, though, the principle seemed oddly vindicated when the Taliban cited the corruption of the Afghan government as a reason for not negotiating with them.
When consulted, a majority of Afghans tend to support calls for justice and accountability. But it's not until step four of the roadmap, when the real deal-making has already been done, that the Afghan government plans to "mobilize" support from its citizens. There is much more that the government could do now to reassure its citizens -particularly women -that their protection is the primary goal of any peace agreement.
The roadmap, though, doesn't even mention women until the final paragraph, when a government pledge to uphold constitutional guarantees of freedom is repeated. Given President Hamid Karzai's proclivity for casting off women's rights when there's a political incentive, this isn't enough, and certainly doesn't measure up to the Tokyo declaration of July 2012, which has far stronger promises to respect rights. But the Tokyo declaration was signed when 16 billion donor dollars were on the table, so the roadmap may be the more accurate indicator of the government's commitment to women.
Those foreign dollars can still be made to count. In steps four and five, the roadmap talks of international support in implementing the peace process. It would be better if it allowed for international monitoring of the peace process and its implementation, with a place for women at the negotiating table. Only if women are there to argue for their own protections can this not result in a significant setback. It is areas where the Taliban are active, and where the roadmap might formalize their power, that women in public life are most at risk. One woman I met recently, whom I'll call "Shamsia,"was from a conflict ridden area of southeastern Afghanistan. Before we'd finished our introductions, Shamsia launched into her worst fears about the 2014 transition: "Everyone is afraid. Everyone talks about it, particularly women who are working. After 2014, when the Taliban come back, they will kill those who are working with the government." Earlier this week the head of the women's affairs department in Laghman province, Najia Sediqi, was killed by gunmen, five months after her predecessor was assassinated by the Taliban.
Persuading the Taliban to embrace politics over violence, and equality over segregation will take more than prisoner release and government jobs. It will take leadership, and probably many more years than the current roadmap envisages. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been the clearest international voice supporting women's rights in the peace process, but will soon step down. A female activist recently described her as the "conscience of the world" on this issue. When the U.S. Senate holds confirmation hearings for her successor, they can help ensure that the next secretary will also act as a strong "conscience" for the peace process. The international community should also make sure that the roadmap doesn't abandon justice. If peace rewards all Taliban commanders, no matter how terrible their crimes, and doesn't make room for women in the process, this roadmap could be a dead-end for human rights.
Rachel Reid is the Senior Policy Advisor on Afghanistan and Pakistan for the Open Society Foundations.
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.
RIZWAN TABASSUM/AFP/Getty Images
screams tore through the sky, travelling the deep lengths of haunting silence guarded
by military men at River Neelum. She wanted to grab her son, Ali Ahmad, from
the other side of the border and run. Instead, Jamila saw him being dragged
away by Indian soldiers, away from the river, away from the border, away from
her sight. The cross-border meeting time was over.
Ali Ahmad is 20 years old and was raised in the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir by one of his mother's relatives, who had looked after him since he was an infant. He was left or forgotten on the Indian side of the border when his mother was swept up in the mad rush to flee to Pakistan during the violence of the early 90s. He now lives and studies in New Delhi, and made the long journey to the border for the rare opportunity to see his mother. In fact, it was the rarest of opportunities, as she stood in front of him for the first time across the border at River Neelum -- also known as Kishanganga -- that splits the Kashmir region between India and Pakistan; the place where all the wars in his life began.
Jamila still lives in the beautiful, isolated valley of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir very near to the Line of Control (LoC) that divides the two countries and continues to be their single most threatening bone of contention.
"Return my son", she pleaded as people held her from trying to cross over the river. "Forgive me for leaving India. I was scared. Please return my son before I die."
Jamila uttered gibberish and let go of her last scream, before the sun slipped
behind the dark green mountains splitting Kehran into what Pakistanis generally
call ‘Azad [free] and Occupied Kashmir.'
For 20 years, Jamila had waited to meet her son, attempted to reach him, and since the recent initiation of cross border permits, has made dozens of visits to the permit office. All to no avail. Her application to cross the border has never been rejected, "they don't reject or give a reason for delay. They just don't grant us the permit," Jamila later told the AfPak Channel. "I have been trying for several years, and have spent hundreds of thousands of rupees just making incessant visits to the office, sometimes bribing officials who never really helped. Those who do get their permits must be really lucky, but I have never met anyone like that."
Jamila has no family on the Pakistani side of the border. Her father and husband were killed during the massacres of the 1990s in Indian-held Kashmir a few months after her marriage. The Indian army is accused of committing thousands of extra-judicial killings, and "stories of arrests, torture, killings, and secret burials were rife in Kashmir" at the time.
Jamila's town of Zachaldara, Handwara in North Kashmir's Kupwara district was infamous for such violence, and her "only hope was to escape." Her son was just a year old when she decided to go to Pakistan with a group from her village that was "fleeing to Azad Kashmir for freedom." "It sounded like a miraculous imagination, a dream, at that time to be able to live freely," Jamila said. "But freedom is pointless if it separates you from your own child." Today she is 45 but looks a decade older, perhaps aged by a lifelong desperation to live with her son again.
"I want to see him graduate from college and find a nice girl to marry. For
years I have dressed him for school in my head and I have imagined tucking him
to bed. But like the dreams we have had of freedom in Azad Kashmir, these
dreams I have for him are not real and I fear they shall never become." She
says she is "very tired" and fears dying from this wait.
What do Kashmiris want?
It seems for many Kashmiris that there is nothing more horrible than having a family and knowing that you will never meet them. Jamila is one of thousands of such Kashmiris in Pakistan, who are now speaking out about their issues through protests and demonstrations. On July 10th and August 5th of this year protesters gathered on both the Pakistan-controlled (Azad) and Indian-controlled sides of Kashmir bordering the Neelum Valley, and caught the attention of local and foreign media outlets. Chanting in demand for freedom from the armed forces of the two countries, they held banners that said "India, Pakistan, leave us alone." "Kashmir belongs to Kashmiris," and "Kashmir is burning, leave us alone."
Among the various difficulties that Azad Kashmiris face when trying to meet with their families on the other side of the border, the topmost include: (a) being unable to communicate with their relatives either via mobile phones or land lines; (b) being unable to send and receive mail, letters and packages, "It is also commonplace, that our mails and letter never really reach our families on the other side, and if they ever do, they are always open," pointed out Jamila; and (c) being unable to commute and meet their families across border.
The question is, why do these Kashmiris have to gather in dissent when India and Pakistan seem to be having rather healthy negotiations and agreeing on confidence building measures (CBMs) that often focus on relaxing regulations for Kashmiris? Kashmiris are now nominally permitted to meet their families as often as three times per year, for as long as 30 days per visit. And Kashmir now has five transit routes at the LoC for Kashmiri-born traders.
The most recent CBMs discussed by the two countries have resulted in landmark developments, including increasing the number of trading points along the Line of Control, increasing the number of days on which trading can occur, the launching of a new bus service to operate via new routes between northwestern Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and southern Indian-occupied Kashmir, and an increase in the frequency of the bus service between Muzaffarabad (the capital of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir) and Srinagar (the capital of Indian-controlled Kashmir). However, there is clearly a vast different between agreeing to a policy and implementing it on ground.
Local analyst and professor Khalil Sajjad, who works in the Peace Studies department at the University of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, believes that CBMs are merely a marketing tool to flaunt improving relations between India and Pakistan, and are not really delivering on the promises made to Kashmiris. "Even though new developments such as re-opening and regularizing of bus routes seems to provide unstinting opportunity to traders and people, if thousands of families have still been unable to meet their relatives for the past two decades, then in essence the impermeability is intact."
The core issue: Who gets the cross border permits?
Jamila is one of the approximately 10,000 applicants who have been seeking cross border permits since 2005. There are no exact numbers on how many applicants actually receive permits every year. The bus using the route between Chakoti in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir and Srinagar in Indian-controlled Kashmir carries around 40 passengers every Monday. Major Iftikhar from the Chakoti Military check post says, "90% of valid applicants get their permits. Only those declined by our verification procedure have to wait."
The verification procedure is long, and includes various levels of checks and double-checks. When applications are submitted, the individual's biographical details are initially verified by different government departments. "If their records are clean, we then give these details to about five agencies that are part of the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI)," Major Iftikhar told the AfPak Channel. "We are very careful with who we are allowing to the other side of the border. This develops a feeling of neglect and hostility among many applicants who await permits, but we need to be fastidious since our relation with India is still very sensitive" he added.
Officer Mubarak Abass, who manages the Chakoti Crossing Point and looks after
the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service on the Pakistani side, says "40 percent
of the total permits are currently pending. Many applications are held because
they do not qualify the verification procedure. Some submissions are incomplete;
others are marked red based on security concerns. For example, if we find the
applicant to have suspicious links or the data submitted by candidates is unverifiable
then we hold such applications. One needs to be chary of
the risks involved."
Are these limitations
violating civil rights? Broadcast
journalist Aurangzeb Jarral, who works for the private national channel Dunya
TV, says, "[the most] genuine and the most bland applicants with unblemished
records don't get their permits. I have met and interviewed many people who
have nothing to do with militancy or have the thinnest possibility of something
mistrustful, but they don't get their permits for years if not decades. This is
a clear-cut abuse of human rights, when the government has a system in place
just for these people but they are still not able to avail it. Many of them die
According to Wadood Ahmed,
who is currently conducting academic research on the Kashmir conflict, "It is
tacit knowledge that India and Pakistan do not want to provide absolute cross-border
access to Kashmiris on either side. And Kashmiris on both sides of the
border are well aware of this. More than any militancy threats, the real fear
has to do with a fair people's access." For India, the fear is that more
Kashmiris coming from the Pakistani side may create pressure for freedom, and
in the worst-case scenario, they may join liberation armies in Indian-held
Kashmir. For Pakistan, the fear is of spies sent by the Indian government. "As
long as India and Pakistan want to hold on to their sides of Kashmir, neither
of them will provide fare permits freely, even to the most authentic
Indian journalist Jahangir Ali told the AfPak Channel, "An old lady died in July this year of cancer. She had communicated her last wish to the [Indian] government; it was to meet her son. Her daughter and family tried to urge the government to let her son come to meet her from Pakistan. The government refused to give him the cross border permit. It was heart breaking to watch her die without seeing him. What good are such CBMs if they can't be serviced for genuine cases like this?"
Does this mean that India and Pakistan are only nominally applying the CBMs? Is Kashmir just a convenient rallying point for both countries? And is there is a strong interest on both sides of the border in keeping Kashmir alive?
"Look, absolute peace is really not in the interest of
either of the two countries," researcher Wadood Ahmed told this author. "Neither
of them wants to see Kashmiris independent because that would mean [one] of
them loses their territory." Both governments have failed to provide the
populace with welfare, development or infrastructure. Visa permits are just one
example of how the two states continue to put off the difficult task of giving Kashmiris'
their right to self-determination while giving the world the impression that
real progress is being made.
Kiran Nazish is a journalist based in Pakistan, currently covering the country's conflict areas to report on issues of human rights. She can be followed @kirannazish.
Much like the rest of the world, Pakistan initially responded to Malala Yousufzai's shooting by the Taliban on October 9 with widespread uproar and outrage. In the immediate aftermath of the incident, officials and the population displayed a rare show of unity against the Taliban, in stark contrast to the country's response to the assassinations of the Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer and Federal Minister Shahbaz Bhatti by extremists last year. As I wrote in an op-ed for the Express Tribune last week, this reaction against the Taliban in the wake of Malala's shooting offered a glimmer of hope for Pakistan. But what should have been a powerful opportunity for the country to silence its inner demons and focus on development has turned to a dangerous pastime: finding someone else to blame.
The shift in the national conversation began with questions about the extensive media coverage Malala received: "why such focus on just one girl," some said, "what about U.S. drone strikes that kill innocent people." Fingers started being pointed everywhere but inward. Afghanistan was blamed for harboring the Pakistan Taliban after the Pakistani army operation against the militant group in March 2009. Elaborate conspiracy theories were hatched, the most insane of which held the United States responsible for first mentoring Malala and then having her shot narrowly enough to ensure her survival, in order to garner support for a potential Pakistani army offensive against the Taliban in North Waziristan.
This is not the first time a productive national conversation in Pakistan has been hijacked by convoluted, paranoid thinking. Why does this happen time and again? Perhaps because looking inward is painful and difficult for Pakistanis. According to the 2012 Pew Global Attitudes survey in Pakistan, a meager 12 percent of respondents are satisfied with the way things are going in the country. Pakistan is in a state of malaise, at war with itself, and in a perilous economic decline, and its view of this shooting and the correct response to it have become blurred. Let's be clear about the facts and what Pakistan needs to do.
First, the war against the Tehrik-e-Taliban-Pakistan is Pakistan's own war. The Taliban, and no one else, is responsible for shooting a girl who had the audacity to go to school. Pakistanis must get it straight: this incident has nothing to do with drone strikes. If drone strikes were to stop tomorrow, the Taliban would still exist in Pakistan, and they would still be burning down girls' schools, targeting innocent women and children, brutally silencing anyone who dares to raise her voice. This is not speculation or conjecture: the group wreaked havoc over Swat in 2008 and early 2009, before the current level of drone strikes began.
Second, Pakistan needs to invest in development, and in particular, in education. In fact, the long-term solution to rooting out radicalization and militancy in Pakistan lies in girls' education, precisely the thing which threatens the Taliban. The development dividends of female education are clear: a great deal of empirical evidence from across the world demonstrates that investments in female education give rich benefits in terms of economic, educational, and health advancements for the entire population, not just women. Importantly, my recent research establishes that the education of girls also makes them less supportive of terrorism and militancy. Specifically, I use data from a recent, large-scale public opinion survey in Pakistan to show that while uneducated women exhibit higher support for militant groups relative to uneducated men, educated women show much lower support for militant groups relative to educated men. These are militant groups like the Taliban and al-Qaeda. No wonder the Taliban are so frightened of girls' schooling.
It is a fact that the Pakistani government has not prioritized the country's development. Last year development spending in Pakistan was a paltry 2.8 percent of GDP. It is then no surprise that education, let alone girls' education, has not been a priority. A new UNESCO report shows that two-thirds of children not attending school in Pakistan are girls, and the poorest girls in Pakistan are twice as likely to be out of school as the poorest girls in India, almost three times as likely as the poorest girls in Nepal and around six times as likely as the poorest girls in Bangladesh. Pakistani women desperately want their daughters to be educated, regardless of whether they are poor or illiterate themselves. I heard this from every woman I interviewed in Punjabi and Sindhi villages for a World Bank study I helped conduct a few years ago. The supply of schools is a problem for girls in Pakistan because the government builds one girls' school for every two boys' schools. Compounding the problem of access to schooling are cultural challenges to girls' mobility, because girls cannot travel alone, especially after they reach puberty.
However, building more schools is by no means the entire answer. For the lucky ones who get to go to school, often the education they receive is poor and their learning is very limited. According to a large survey in Punjab, children at the end of third grade are functionally illiterate and innumerate. They are not able to perform basic mathematical operations, unable to write simple sentences in Urdu, and unable to recognize simple words in English. In addition, it is no secret that Pakistan's national curriculum is biased and does not promote critical thinking. The education system as it currently stands perpetuates the cycle of poverty because the youth in Pakistan do not get the skills they need to get good jobs and lead productive lives.
Instead of getting mired in a murky conversation about the world machinating against Pakistan, it is time for Pakistanis to think about what we need to do to advance its development and to invest in girls' education in particular. The government is blundering in its response to half of its population's most basic and fundamental rights: to education, to speech, to work, to a dignified and purposeful life. This is a time for introspection: it is time for Pakistanis to take a long, hard look inward, and to get to work.
Madiha Afzal, a Pakistani citizen, is an Assistant Professor of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, and a Non-Resident Fellow at the Brookings Institution.
Above, children sift through the debris of a school destroyed by the Swat Taliban in 2009.
All the claims about Pakistan's most successful military offensive against militants in the country came to naught when armed assailants targeted a 14-year-old schoolgirl in Swat on October 9.
Hours later, while the country's political and military leaders were issuing statements of condemnation along with the usual promise of "bringing the culprits to justice," a Taliban spokesman daringly claimed responsibility for the attack, and warned that they would again target Malala Yousafzai if she survives.
As the ‘Swat Diary Girl' -- known for writing articles during the dark days of Taliban rule in Swat in 2008-9 -- slowly recovers at a hospital in Britain, the entire Pakistani nation from Khyber to Karachi is simmering with anger. The most frequently asked question during the public and private discussions, TV talk shows, and newspaper columns is: Are the Taliban staging a comeback in Swat?
Following the ill-planned and haphazard attack on the students and teachers of the Red Mosque in Islamabad ordered by then-President Pervez Musharraf in mid-2007, the Swat-based Mullah Fazlullah, aka FM Mullah, backed his armed Taliban volunteers, unleashed a reign of terror in the serene valley that lasted almost two years. Their rule culminated in April 2009 with the occupation of Mingora, the commercial capital of Swat, and their advance on the neighboring district of Buner.
It was a time when Swat's women were forced to stay inside the four walls of their houses, girls were banned from attending schools, police stations were bombed, music shops were forcefully closed, barbers were forbidden from shaving men's beards, parallel courts were established to solve private disputes, and public executions of policemen, government officials and those disobeying Taliban became the order of the day.
Under immense pressure at home and abroad, and encouraged by the public outcry over the fact that the Swat Taliban were only 70 kilometers from the capital Islamabad, the Pakistani army launched Operation Rah-e-Raast (Right Path) in May 2009. Earlier, the failure of the first and second phases of the military operation Rah-e-Haq (Just Path) in Swat had forced an influential elder and political leader from the area, Afzal Khan Lala, to tell the army chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani that the army and Taliban were "two faces of the same coin."
Lala, who survived an attack believed to have been carried out by the Taliban, earned praise for his exceptional courage by staying put while much of the rest of the population (nearly 2.5 million people) left the area for fear of the Taliban and the looming military operation.
The nearly two-month-long Rah-e-Raast operation, closely covered by this writer, successfully ousted the Taliban from Swat and helped return the displaced population to their villages by restoring public order. However, like what happened with other militant and Taliban leaders, including Mangal Bagh in Khyber, Faqir Muhammad in Bajaur, and Hakimullah Mehsud in the Waziristan tribal agencies, the leader of the Swat Taliban, Mullah Fazlullah, miraculously survived and escaped the valley.
Within a few months of the military operation, the Taliban attempted to stage a return, targeting and killing a member of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa assembly, Shamsher Ali Khan, in a suicide attack outside his house in Swat on December 1, 2009. Since then, any tribal elder, politician, social worker or journalist who dared to criticize the Taliban or pointed out the Army's failure to root out the militants -- or at least block their entry back into Swat -- was kidnapped, beaten, threatened or killed, by either the Taliban or sometimes even the Army.
One such voice was that of Zahid Khan, president of the Swat Hotels Association and one of the leading figures of the Swat Qaumi Jirga, an organization striving for peace and development in the valley. Khan used to criticize the Taliban for their inhumane practices both in public and in private. I still remember my last meeting with him in November 2009 at his home in Swat. During our conversation, Khan showed me an AK-47 assault rifle that was left behind by armed men who ambushed him near his house after he had returned from a meeting with army officials at the Circuit House in Swat.
Khan's family members exchanged fire with the unidentified attackers in the dark of night, and forced them to flee and leave the AK-47 behind. After the restoration of calm (though not peace) to Swat, Khan began to criticize the Pakistani security forces as well as the Taliban, for what he called the army's failure to kill or arrest the Taliban's leadership.
Zahid Khan is now on a hospital bed after receiving severe injuries in an armed attack in August this year. According to police accounts, the unidentified attackers managed to escape. Khan is no longer likely to attend meetings to discuss peace and development in Swat, nor will he be talking to the media.
Two months before the attack on Zahid Khan, armed men gunned down a local leader of the Pakistan Muslim League party in Swat, Muhammad Afzal Khan, spreading fear among Swat's people. While speaking to this writer soon after the attack on Malala Yousafzai, a number of Swat's notable elders and political leaders questioned the role of army troops stationed in the valley, if not to prevent such devastating attacks on civilians.
Just like the outspoken Zahid Khan, Malala Yousafzai and her father Ziauddin Yousafzai were the real voices for peace in Swat; both of them criticized the Taliban for their medieval practices, and the military for not restoring real peace in the valley. Though a shadow Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility for attacking Malala, many Swat observers believe that the aim of the shooting was really to silence her father, who is also the spokesman for the Swat Qaumi Jirga.
So what does all this mean for the people of Swat, Pakistan and the wider world, who believed in 2009 that the Taliban, led by Mullah Fazlullah, had been expelled from Swat once and for all? Are the Taliban gradually staging a comeback? "No", said Mukhtar Khan Yousazai, leader of the Swat Qaumi Jirga. But the threat of their return will continue to haunt the people of Swat, who bravely fought back against the ruthless militants by supporting the army in 2009.
To believe that the Taliban cannot regain power in Swat is not without reason. Before the emergence of Mullah Fazlullah, Swat was a modern and well developed district of Pakistan, not because the government of Pakistan carried out exceptional developmental work there, but because it was a tourist destination, and had enjoyed a golden period as the State of Swat until a merger with Pakistan in 1969.
The level of education among Swat's population is higher than several districts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Banr Bazaar, the narrow street of two-story houses in Mingora, has been popular for its dancing girls since the period of the princely state. Such was the secular trend among Swatis that one of the rulers of Swat married one of the dancing girls, in an effort to mix the families of musicians and dancing girls into the rest of the population.
Unlike the people of the tribal areas, who are suffering both under the threat of Taliban violence for their non-compliance as well as the fear of arrests and interrogations by the Pakistan army, the people of Swat united more than three years ago to fight back and forced the Pakistani military leadership to carry out a serious operation against the militants. And when the militants were defeated in July 2009, the people rushed back to settle into their villages without giving a second thought to security concerns or the threat of destruction of their houses and businesses in Taliban attacks and army operations.
Further hit and run attacks such as the one carried out on October 9 cannot be ruled out, but a full return or the establishment of a base in any part of the valley by the Taliban seems to be a distant possibility, mainly because the militants have lost support among the population. Their organizational structure has been shattered, their leadership in hiding, and they have been unable to re-establish a single strong base anywhere in Swat.
The questions and concerns of the people of Swat remain, with one question coming above all others: was there any truth to the military's tall claims about the successful military operation? The Swatis also question the role of those hundreds of intelligence operatives and the surveillance devices deployed to spy on local journalists, politicians, notables of the area, and common people.
In addition to the Swatis, other Pakistanis are searching for meaning in the recent back-to-back statements from Pakistan's Army Chief Gen. Kayani and the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee in which they reiterated that the country's security forces are ready "to render any sacrifice" in the fight against extremists.
A similar statement was issued by the Army Chief on Independence Day this year, and the Pakistani nation hoped for a while that their all-powerful military forces now meant business. Nothing came of their promises. But perhaps Malala's cry, which awakened Pakistanis from Khyber to Karachi, will compel the top brass to make a decision. Let's keep our fingers crossed!
Daud Khattak is a Pakistani journalist currently working as a senior editor of Radio Mashaal of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Prague. Khattak has worked with Pakistan's English dailies The News and Daily Times, Afghanistan's Pajhwok Afghan News, and has also written for Christian Science Monitor and London's Sunday Times. The views expressed here are the author's own and do not represent Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
The Taliban's shooting last Tuesday of a 14-year old girl, Malala Yousafzai, a tireless campaigner for girls' access to education, has plunged the entire Pakistani nation into a state of disbelief. Many in Pakistan and around the world have lauded her bravery, and some have questioned whether this incident is going change Pakistan, or is just another example of the ignored militant threat. The assault on Malala raises questions about the safety of female activists all over Pakistan.
In this article, we discuss ten major incidents over the past decade, all involving women, which shook the foundations of Pakistani society and increased public expectations for improved conditions for Pakistani women. These tragedies involve many different forms of violence against women, along with lax official responses that encourage a culture of impunity among the perpetrators of the assaults.
Malala Yousafzai: Taliban gunmen singled out Malala on October 9, 2012 in a school van full of girls returning home for the day. They shot her in the neck and head. She had infuriated the Taliban with her blog posts for the BBC that exposed the insurgent group's ban on girls' education in her native Swat, in the northwest of Pakistan. The Taliban consider girls' education to be un-Islamic and they began to destroy schools as a tactic to stop education for girls. According to TIME Magazine, they destroyed 473 schools between 2007 and 2009. The destruction and closure of local schools compelled Malala to speak up against the Taliban's actions. She met personally with top officials, including senior U.S. diplomats, to request them to help Pakistani girls receive uninterrupted education. The Taliban have vowed to kill Malala if she survives, and she currently remains under treatment in a hospital in England. Malala has emerged as a child hero epitomizing resistance against the Taliban.
Ramsha Masi is a teenaged Pakistani Christian girl, who according to some reports suffers from Down syndrome, and who was detained by authorities in Islamabad on blasphemy charges in August 2012 for allegedly burning pages of the Quran. She could face the death sentence if charges against her are proven. Ramsha's case spotlighted the vulnerability of Pakistan's religious minorities, who can easily be subjugated by Muslim clergymen under the controversial blasphemy law. It turned out that a Muslim cleric had actually planted evidence against the Christian girl but he was eventually granted bail by a court. Ramsha's physical safety still remains a major concern.
Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, a filmmaker, made her country proud in 2012 by becoming the first Pakistani to win an Oscar award. Saving Face, her award-winning movie, however, stunned the world as it courageously exposed the despicable phenomenon of acid attacks on women. The movie instilled courage among the victims of acid assaults and drew international attention toward the unknown ferocious practice employed by abusive husbands, angry fathers, and Taliban militants alike.
Rankil Kumari: The case of this 17-year old Hindu girl has helped to draw public attention to another disquieting practice: Forceful conversion of Hindu girls into Islam, and their subsequent forced marriages with Muslim boys. On February 24, 2012, an influential Muslim politician kidnapped Ms. Kumari from her residence in Sindh province. When the girl resurfaced after a few days, she, apparently concerned about personal safety, said she had ‘willingly' embraced Islam and married a Muslim man. The Hindus, on their part, say young girls from their minority community are wholly unsafe in Pakistan, where each month at least 20 to 25 girls are forcefully converted to Islam and compelled to marry Muslims. According to one estimate, 300 Hindu girls are forcefully converted in Pakistan each year.
Asia Bibi is another Christian woman who became a victim of the blasphemy law. In November 2010, a court in Punjab handed her a death sentence for committing blasphemy against Islam. If the superior courts uphold the judgment, she will become Pakistan's first woman to be killed under the blasphemy law.
Ms. Bibi's case also indicates the improbability of abolishing or reforming the blasphemy laws. For example, Salmaan Taseer, the Punjab governor, was shot dead by his own security guard when he publicly spoke in support of Asia Bibi and proposed a review of the draconian law. His killing was immediately followed by another high-profile murder of the minister for minority affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti. The killings in the wake of Asia Bibi case have nearly silenced the debate over scraping the discriminatory blasphemy law.
Chand Bibi: In April 2009, a YouTube video showed the Taliban publicly flogging a 17-year old girl, Chand Bibi, in Swat Valley. The video shocked the nation by exposing the Taliban's barbaric ‘justice system'. The teenaged girl was flogged on charges of adultery in front of hundreds of people. A spokesman for the Taliban confirmed the incident, depriving the Taliban of public support in the area. Public backlash to the video was so intense that it paved the way for the Pakistani army to carry out an operation against the local Taliban in Swat.
The Baba Kot Girls: In August 2008, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) reported that five young girls had been shot and buried alive on the instructions of a powerful tribal elder in Baba Kot town of Balochistan province. The girls, whose number is often disputed, were buried alive after they opted to marry for love instead of accepting marriages arranged by their families. When the tragedy was reported in the media, it triggered a massive public outcry. A Pakistani senator, surprisingly, defended the incident in the Senate and justified it as "our tribal custom". The perpetrators of the Baba Kot murders were never punished. Every year, hundreds of girls are killed in the name of honor, mostly by their own male family members.
Benazir Bhutto inspired a full generation of Muslim women in 1988 when, at the age of 35, she became the first Muslim woman to head a government. Ms. Bhutto was twice elected as Pakistan's Prime Minister, and became a symbol of female courage. On December 27, 2007, Bhutto was assassinated after an election rally in the garrison town of Rawalpindi. Many Pakistanis, including Bhutto's opponents, believed their country would never be the same again after her tragic murder. Despite a United Nations investigation, who exactly killed Bhutto remains a mystery, and her murderers remain at large until today.
Dr. Shazia Khalid, 32, is a physician who was raped on January 2, 2005 in the gas-rich town of Sui, allegedly by a Captain in the Pakistani military. While the Pakistani army headed by General Pervez Musharraf endeavored to cover up the case, the incident was eventually made public and triggered cacophonous reactions from the powerful Bugti tribe, considered the captain's action an assault on the local customs.
General Musharraf publicly declared the captain "100 percent innocent" and went on to say, "a lot of people say if you want to go abroad and get a visa for Canada or citizenship and be a millionaire, get yourself raped." Dr. Khalid's rape triggered the country's worst conflict between the Pakistan army and the Baloch tribesmen, which continues today seven years later. The Pakistani army never put the captain on trial, and faced with death threats, Dr. Khalid had to flee Pakistan to England.
Mukhtaran Mai is Pakistan's most high-profile victim of gang-rape. In June 2002, a tribal council in Punjab Province endorsed her gang rape. She was paraded naked in front of hundreds of people and raped by men belonging to a powerful tribe. Unlike many rape victims in Pakistan and throughout the world, Mai chose to speak up against her rapists and pursue a legal battle. Her courage unsettled Pakistan's military dictator, General Pervez Musharraf, so much that he imposed travel restrictions on Mai by putting her name on Pakistan's Exit Control List (ECL) for fear that if she would tell her story abroad and add to the country's negative image in the world. She was also not allowed to meet with her lawyer. Glamour Magazine called Mai "The Bravest Woman in the World" and featured her as the 2005 "Woman of the Year." She has since then become a role model for Pakistani women by setting up her own organization to work for the welfare of rural women.
Malik Siraj Akbar, based in Washington DC, is an exiled Baloch journalist who founded The Baloch Hal, the first online English language newspaper in Balochistan, Pakistan. Formerly, he was a Regan-Fascell Democracy Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and a Hubert Humphrey Fellow at Arizona State University.
SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images
A month ago today, Rimsha Masih was unknown to the world. A month later - probably the worst of her life - the 14-year-old Christian girl from a slum near the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, has stirred up a storm not only at home but the world over, putting Pakistan's notorious blasphemy laws in the spotlight like never before.
Born and raised in a family of ‘sweepers' - a term synonymous to Christians in mainstream discourse in Pakistan - Rimsha Masih was arrested in mid-August for allegedly burning pages from a religious instruction book containing verses from the Holy Quran, along with pages of the holy book itself - a serious act of blasphemy punishable by death under the Pakistan Penal Code. The prime witness: her Muslim landlord's 23-year-old nephew, Amad Malik, who, according to Pakistani media reports, ‘by chance' caught her carrying a polythene bag with the desecrated pages.
In close to no time, a furious mob of hundreds, led by the Imam of the local mosque, Hafiz Mohammad Khalid Chishti (commonly referred to as Hafiz Jadoon), surrounded the Masihs' one-room dwelling, demanding that the girl be handed over. The mob wanted to burn the Christian girl alive for committing the ‘heinous' crime of disrespecting the Quran. However, in a surprising turn of events, the same mob handed her over to the police for further prosecution.
In the aftermath of Rimsha's arrest, almost all terrified Christian families of the area, including hers, fled to other already over-crowded Christian slums in and around the Pakistani capital, and the enraged mob temporarily dispersed.
But if Rimsha was to be granted bail and returned to Mehrabadi - a place she could no longer call home - "that could change," Jadoon was found saying on international TV. "Maybe they will leave her alone. Maybe they will kill her," he added. Rao Abdur Raheem, the prosecution lawyer in Rimsha's case reaffirmed by saying, "The girl is guilty. If the state overrides the court, then God will get a person to do the job." In any case, justice was to be done. Predictions appeared similar to the harrowing incident of mob justice a few months ago in July in Southern Punjab, where another infuriated mob mercilessly beat a deranged man accused of sacrilege and burnt him alive.
Introduced by British colonial rulers of the subcontinent in the late 1920s to maintain communal harmony in a multi-ethnic population, the law was retained by Pakistan as it gained independence in 1947 under its moderate founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah.
However, the lowest point in the devolution of the blasphemy law in Pakistan came under the military dictatorship of Zia ul Haq between late 1970s and early 1990s - a period that can easily be termed Pakistan's dark ages. Zia, a dictator remembered most for intensifying Islamic policies to radicalize the country and for manipulating Islam for the survival of his own regime, made several additions to the country's laws. This included the bill adopted by the Senate in 1992, where death penalty was made mandatory upon conviction on charges of blasphemy.
A harsh punishment considering an offence for which, to this day, no preliminary investigation is required before the filing of the First Information Report (FIR) by a local police officer. Even more disturbing is how the law is still framed to cover not only intentional but also unintentional blasphemy, completely undermining the principle that "a criminal act requires a criminal intention".
Consequently, under the Pakistan Penal Code today, all one needs is a testimony - genuine or otherwise - and the FIR is filed and the person arrested. Rimsha's testimony, however, vanished into thin air after her arrest. Amad Malik fled to "avoid unnecessary interrogation and questioning by the police and media," Jadoon was found saying on a Pakistani talk show.
Infamous for his fiery anti-Christian sermons at Friday Prayers week after week, 30-year-old Jadoon was appointed a lead cleric in the local mosque of the area 10 months prior to the incident. Very vocal about his dislike for Christians and their practices, Jadoon was often found contemplating ways to rid the area of them. Casting himself a holy man ‘incensed' at the desecration, Jadoon was heard saying that the Christians had committed blasphemy to "provoke Muslims, like they have with their noisy banging and singing from their churches," adding that he'd be pleased if the Christians didn't come back to Mehrabadi. And he pretty much made sure that doesn't happen, even if that meant desecrating the Quran himself.
Two weeks into the case, in a rare show of courage - one that could have cost him his life - the prayer-caller at the same mosque, Hafiz Zubair, came forward as a witness to testify against Jadoon. According to Zubair, the prime witness Malik brought the plastic bag into the mosque and handed it over to Jadoon. After examining the contents of the bag, Jadoon tore up a few pages of the Quran and added them to the bag, to make sure the evidence against the Christian girl was not just blasphemous, but "blasphemous enough".
Even though Rimsha has been released on bail and has, under heavy security, been moved to an unknown location via government helicopter to be reunited with her family, while Jadoon remains in custody awaiting prosecution, one can't help but feel mind-boggled at the turn of events.
In the 58 years between 1927 and 1985, only 10 blasphemy cases were reportedly heard in court. But since Zia's Islamic reforms in Pakistan, more than 4,000 have been handled. In the year 2000 alone, the National Commission for Justice and Peace recorded 16 blasphemy cases against Christians and Hindus and at least 36 against Muslims. Although no death sentences have been carried out in Pakistan to date - most of those handed down have been overturned during the appeal process - the spree of mob justice persists as religious leaders practice their own violent, eye-for-an-eyeversion of Islam.
The World Minority Rights Report 2011 ranked Pakistan the sixth worst country with respect to the safety and rights of minorities - non-Muslims, those the state has dubbed non-Muslim, and women.
For the Christians of Mehrabadi, memories of the Christian massacre in 2009 in neighboring city of Gojra are still fresh. Thousands of Muslim radicals burned down around 40 Christian houses, brutally killing eight, after a mere rumor that a page from the Holy Quran had been desecrated during a wedding. For the Hindus of Sindh, there appears to be no other way to prevent forced conversions to Islam and forced marriages - nearly 600 FIRs lodged last year across 40 districts of Pakistan, with the majority in Sindh - than to migrate to India.
For Ahmadis all over the country, facing persecution since the very creation of Pakistan, the nail on the coffin was being declared a non-Muslim minority in 1974 by then prime minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Considered a revolutionary of his time -- though probably not when it came to minorities -- Bhutto's decision kick-started the widespread societal discrimination and persecution of Ahmadis, including the violation of their places of worship, banning of burial in Muslim graveyards and denial of freedom of faith, speech, and assembly - all backed by the then sitting government of Zia ul Haq.
Today, the Ahmadi community is still recovering from an incident in 2010, in which extremist Islamist militants attacked two Ahmadi places of worship in the central Pakistani city of Lahore with guns, grenades, and suicide bombs, killing 94 people and injuring well over a 100. And if that wasn't terror enough, the injured from the incident were attacked yet again at the ICU of Lahore's Jinnah Hospital - a take-two which consumed at least a further 12 lives.
Whether it is the outraged mob of Mehrabadi, the security guard who shot the Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, in January last year, the killers of Pakistan's only Christian federal minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, later in March, or the mullahs and maulvis like Hafiz Jadoon who "direct them towards the light," it is but one big rage-brigade. Why are we so angry, so violent, and so unforgiving?
Has violence become an integral part of the Islamic social discipline, or has it always been?
And if so, the question is, why? Is it, as many suggest, that Muslim countries are by and large economically imbalanced, undemocratic states with large swathes of unemployed, frustrated men who find release in religious expression? Or is it because of our fear of persecution at the hands of the West, demonstrated in both intellectual and popular discourse as well as policy - most clearly represented by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Palestinian occupation? Or is it simply because we are taught since childhood of an era gone by, when Islam was a uniquely powerful, progressive and just empire and which has now fallen on bad times.
While there are positives to be taken out of this repulsive episode - the bravery of the apprentice, the role of Pakistan's social, broadcast and print media, and the efforts of the authorities to keep Rimsha safe - the truth remains that the blasphemy laws in Pakistan continue to be as politically and socially toxic and as untouchable as they were before Rimsha began to matter.
With no government in Pakistan - past or present - willing to rid the country of these frail laws or raise a voice against those who exploit them in ways that are neither constitutional nor Islamic, there seems to be only one place left to turn to for hope: the upcoming general elections in November.
This year has witnessed a flood of educated young people coming forward in great numbers, willing to vote for political parties bearing promises to transform Pakistan from a religiously and socially intolerant nation to a progressive, more conforming democracy. For these political parties, a model exists in the form of a bill introduced last year by former minister for information and Pakistan Peoples' Party legislator, Sherry Rehman, to amend the controversial laws in Pakistan.
Rehman's private bill proposed the substitution of the death penalty with a 10-year sentence, and the substitution of life imprisonment with a five-year sentence. But the strongest directive of her bill was the castigation of anyone making false or frivolous accusations under any section of the law. Such a person was not only to be punished "in accordance with punishments prescribed in the section under which the false or frivolous accusation was made," but was also to be arrested "without a warrant" and tried in court.
Using the bill as a guide and Rimsha Masih's case as a stepping stone, there is no better time to amend the precarious weaknesses of the blasphemy laws that leave room for people like Hafiz Jadoon to use it as they please. Ideally, a party with this on their manifesto would come into power. However, with the majority of Pakistan's population - rural and uneducated - who shower men like Mumtaz Qadri with rose petals for killing a moderate politician who showed concern for a Christian blasphemy convict, hope fades.
But Rimsha Masih's case feels like a hint of light at the end of the tunnel. If Hafiz Jadoon is convicted and taken to task, one can be certain others will think twice if not more before pointing fingers. Maybe that's the first step. Maybe there will be more.
-- Rabail Baig is a Pakistani journalist based in Boston.
On Sunday, there will be a "splendid ceremony" marking the handover of the United States' Bagram prison. Yet despite the pomp, the handover hides the real story - the Afghans wanted this to mark the end of U.S. detention power in Afghanistan, while the U.S. has other ideas.
Remaking Bagram: The Creation of an Afghan Internment Regime and the Divide over U.S. Detention Power, a new report from the Open Society Foundations, revealed that while Afghan officials say they will have complete control over the Bagram detention facility-also known as the Detention Facility in Parwan (DFIP)-by September 9, 2012, the United States is likely to continue to control a portion of the facility. The Afghan government says that no detentions will be carried out by the U.S. military, while the United States maintains that it "still retains the authority to capture and detain."
This partial handover has come at a high cost for Afghanistan: the creation of a new internment regime that will allow the Afghan authorities to detain without trial. A number of Afghan officials have called this new regime unconstitutional and fear it will be subject to abuse.
The creation of an Afghan internment regime appears to have been introduced largely at the behest of the United States, in order to facilitate the handover of U.S. held detainees, and satisfy the U.S. desire for a lasting internment system on the Afghan side into which it could continue to transfer future captures. The system, created last March, closely resembles the U.S. system at Bagram. It was not introduced through legislation or even consultation with Parliament-instead it was created last March through a secret "inter-ministerial agreement" and unpublished presidential decree that are vaguely worded and ripe for abuse.
There is a danger that this will be the real legacy of Bagram--the creation of a flawed system of detention without trial in a country already wracked with decades of internal conflict, impunity, and weak rule of law. The Open Society Foundations learned that U.S.-Afghan disagreements over these issues led to a temporary suspension of detainee transfers from U.S. to Afghan control, which was resolved only days before the handover deadline.
And yet the "handover" ceremony will go on. In fairness, the majority of U.S.-held detainees have been transferred to the Afghan authorities at enormous speed over the past six months, and U.S. officials in Afghanistan are confronted with genuine challenges to transferring detainees responsibly. Handling of detainees by the Afghan government carries the potential for politicization and corruption of detainee releases. The capacity of the current government to process and properly prosecute detainees' cases is weak, and there is risk of detainees suffering torture and abuse, concerns that were compounded by a controversial new appointment to head the intelligence directorate. But differences between the United States and Afghanistan also reflect a central, long-lasting tension between Afghan sovereignty and U.S. strategic interests that has yet to be resolved, and that the March 9 handover merely papered over.
With the ISAF troop drawdown underway, the United States is trying to thread a tough needle: put Afghans in the lead on security, while at the same time continuing U.S. military operations, and protecting U.S. personnel. The role of special operations forces, and the reliance on detention operations like night raids, remain central to U.S. military strategy. Despite Afghan demands for sovereignty over night raids, there has been no sign of a decrease in these detention operations or the number of detainees sent to Bagram. The Open Society Foundations learned that since March, the United States has sent an additional 600 detainees into U.S. detention at Bagram, which President Karzai's National Security Advisor Dr. Rangin Spanta said was "not in accordance with our agreement."
Not only is this at odds with Afghan officials' unqualified insistence on complete control of the DFIP, and an end to U.S. detentions there, but it highlights another, related disagreement: how long the United States can detain an individual before handing over to Afghan authorities. "After the signing of the [Detentions] MoU the time limit to hold detainee is 72 hours and should be respected," Presidential Spokesperson Aimal Faizi told us. National Security Advisor Dr. Spanta reiterated that "There is a big difference in perception between them and us on this issue. ...I have discussed this with Karzai...and there is no tolerance with him on this issue."
Another unresolved issue is that of "third country nationals," or non-Afghan detainees. They remain in U.S. custody at the DFIP, their fate uncertain, and at risk of falling into a legal limbo of indefinite detention. The stalemate on these detainees ensures that the United States will continue to retain at least some portion of the DFIP for the foreseeable future, raising the troubling specter of another Guantanamo in Afghanistan.
Not wanting to rob President Karzai of a key political victory, the Afghan government appears, for now, to be turning a blind eye to these issues, and to the serious rule of law concerns that they raise. However, one of the principal criticisms of Bagram was its lack of legitimacy in the eyes of many Afghans-its secrecy, prolonged detention without trial, lack of access for lawyers and fears of detainee abuse. One has to wonder whether this is precisely what the United States has handed over to Afghanistan.
Agreeing to vaguely worded agreements that permits the U.S. and Afghan governments to interpret their obligations in starkly different ways may serve immediate political interests, but it is no way to build a lasting, legitimate, or lawful framework for detentions and ongoing military operations. Both governments have failed to resolve fundamental differences over the future of U.S. detention power in Afghanistan, and have presented the Afghan and American publics with very different pictures. These tough questions will be answered another day, it seems, as is often the case in Afghanistan.
Chris Rogers is a human rights lawyer for the Open Society Foundations specializing in human rights and conflict in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images
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