Afghanistan stands at a crossroads. The reputation of our political leadership is under suspicion. Tens of millions of dollars are said to have been received illegally from intelligence agencies of both friends and foes. People are losing faith in the state and the prospects of democracy. The year 2014 looms large in everyone's mind, as does the Taliban's possible reemergence as a real power.
With the April 2014 presidential elections approaching, people around the world are wondering where exactly Afghanistan is headed. Has the threat of al-Qaeda really been eradicated as President Barack Obama recently announced? Is the war in Afghanistan really over? If so, is it over for Afghans, or just the international community?
Few of the promised counterterrorism and state building efforts have been delivered. In all 34 provinces of Afghanistan there are still acts of war and terrorism being committed - in some places incidents occur daily, in others weekly or monthly. Even our highway system has yet to be secured. No one is free to travel anywhere without at least some fear they will encounter the Taliban. Afghans live in fear of everything from targeted killings to suicide attacks and other forms terrorism. Our sisters and daughters have to live in fear that they will be attacked while doing something as mundane and Islamic as attending school.
Meanwhile, our politics are a mess. Our relationship with the United States and their NATO allies has deteriorated to the point where President Hamid Karzai himself is now referring to Afghanistan as a graveyard of empires, and accusing the United States and its allies of supporting rather than routing the Taliban in order to destabilize Afghanistan.
At the same time, Washington and its friends are leaking controversial details about how exactly they have been propping up President Karzai. Yes, the U.S. is now saying, the CIA is funding in unaccounted-for cash payments Karzai's inner circle.
Aside from the non-existent national security and troubled foreign policy, Afghanistan is also facing the possibility of an economic meltdown. Imagine what will happen to our aid-dependent and U.S.-contract-centric economy when the United States withdraws not just the bulk of its troops but its funds as well.
How is Afghanistan going to transition from an economy that has received hundreds of billions of dollars over the past decade-plus of war? What are the tens of thousands of Afghan companies that have come up as a result of this level of funding going to do then? Not to mention the Afghans who work for the many-times-more international companies, or the 3,000 NGOs that have sprung up during this international campaign that is about to end. If we think today's Afghanistan has an unsustainably high rate of unemployment, what will tomorrow's Afghanistan look like when all this funding ceases?
In a country with thirteen million jobless, most of whom are under twenty-five years old, and a raging insurgency with its own foreign sources of funds, training camps, intelligence and strategic support base, it's hard to imagine a stable and peaceful Afghanistan.
To survive as a nation-state resembling anything like the state we envisioned in Bonn in 2001, we have two main solutions.
First, we need to have a stable transfer of power in the form of the 2014 presidential elections. If our political system is too fragile to deliver even that bare minimum, we have much to fear from the still-raging insurgency. And we cannot have a stable transfer of power if all we do is reinstate President Karzai. Presidents for life are not the beacons of the democracy we envisioned in 2001.
In terms of domestic politics and foreign policy we need very specific programs. We need a government that delivers services. We need to change our traditional culture of a master-slave governance model in which civil servants and government officers rule over our people who they see as slaves.
In our foreign policy, we need to build friendships, not just sustain enemies or provide a battlefield for outside conflicts. The global order is transforming into a multi-polar one, we need to build on our already budding friendship with important regional players in the region such as India and we need to salvage what we can from our relationship with the United States, both of which are becoming our strategic allies.
To address our security dilemmas and challenges, we need a combination of solutions framed as a grand strategy rather than only tactical military or reconciliation ones. With the reconciliation strategy the only one being considered as a means to dealing with the insurgents, the Afghan government and the international community are using a risky black and white model. Instead we need to see reconciliation as a sub-tool in a broader political strategy for the stabilization of Afghanistan. We need to recognize that insurgencies take time and need strategic patience to combat -- every insurgency, from those fought in El Salvador to Central Asia, has taught us that. We need to oppose the Taliban not just militarily but by building public confidence through service delivery and good governance; the strengthening and effective functioning of our security establishment; support to our economic sectors; and the reconciliation and reintegration efforts already begun by NATO's counterinsurgency strategy.
And finally, we need to build our economy. We need to follow models of leadership such as General Park's of South Korea, or South Africa after apartheid. And to begin this process the first thing we need to do is get rid of politicians who see their office as the best job Afghanistan has to offer.
2013 is the year that Afghans will make a decision. Either we put ourselves on the path to a prosperous and ideal Afghanistan or we will be back on the path of war and isolation, a country sourced for strategic threats to international security.
Mohammad Arif Rahmani is a member of Central Audit and Rule of Law Committee of Lower House of Afghanistan's parliament.
Pakistan's election hopefuls have expressed strong and vocal opposition to U.S. drone strikes within the country.
Pakistan People's Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who participated in a government that visibly failed to do much to prevent drone strikes for five years, recently insisted that such strikes are "counter-productive."
Nawaz Sharif, leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and two-time former prime minister, similarly lambasted the U.S. policy saying that "Drone attacks are against the national sovereignty and a challenge for the country's autonomy and independence. Therefore, we won't tolerate these attacks in our territorial jurisdictions."
And no one has been more vocal and stringent in his opposition to drones than the chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf party, Imran Khan, the increasingly popular and charismatic contender for prime minister. Khan has even gone so far as to promise that, if elected, his government will shoot down any drone that crosses into Pakistan after May 11.
Yet, despite all the heavy pre-election posturing and rhetoric, the million rupee question remains: is Pakistan legally entitled to shoot down U.S. drones that enter its territory?
The short answer is yes. Unless it has consented to the use of drones in its territory, Pakistan most certainly can shoot them down as a matter of international law.
The United Nations Charter-a treaty which virtually all states in the world have agreed to follow and one that is sometimes touted as the "constitution of the international community"-forbids states from using force in another state unless it is used 1) in self-defense to repel an "armed attack"; 2) with the approval of the U.N. Security Council; or 3) because the state in which force is being used has consented to it.
That is, the U.S. drone war must fall within one of these exceptions to be legal.
We know the U.N. Security Council has never authorized the use of U.S. drones in Pakistan. And neither has Pakistan ever engaged in an "armed attack" against the United States, nor has the United States claimed as much. That leaves consent as the only legal justification for the program.
While, as I have previously written, claims of a denial of consent by the Pakistani government should be viewed with some skepticism-especially in light of former president Pervez Musharraf's admission that he allowed a ‘few' drone strikes to take place-publicly and for all official purposes, the Pakistani government vehemently denies that it has ever consented to U.S. drones being operated in its territory. In fact, in 2011, Pakistan shut down a CIA base which was being used to launch drones.
Further, Ben Emmerson QC, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights, has certainly been persuaded by Pakistan's narrative that there is no "tacit consent by Pakistan to the use of drones on its territory". In a recent news article, he categorically stated that drone strikes were a "violation of Pakistan's sovereignty".
Assuming then that consent has not been given by Pakistan, the use of drones in its territory would prima facie be an illegal use of force against a sovereign nation. Pakistan would thus be well within its rights, under international law, to destroy any drone that crosses into its airspace.
Now, here's where things do get slightly complicated. Sometimes when military force is used abroad in countries which have not really attacked the "defending state," new theories can be innovated to justify such force; and the drone war in Pakistan is no exception.
Some U.S. lawyers, including Eric Holder, John Brennan, and John Bellinger have argued that drone strikes in Pakistan are a legal form of "self-defense" because Pakistan is "unwilling or unable" to prevent threats to the United States.
This is also one of the main messages of the Department of Justice memo which essentially argues that the United States has a right, under international law, to kill persons in other countries-via drones or other means-that it determines are "associated" with al-Qaeda and who pose an "imminent threat" to the United States if the country where such individuals are allegedly based is "unwilling or unable" to do so itself. Consent is desirable but not necessary.
As I wrote in a recent journal article, this argument is very controversial and has little legal traction. Pakistan could, if it wanted to, easily challenge this doctrine as being of dubious and weak legal pedigree.
First, international law does not allow a state to unilaterally attack targets within another state to eliminate potential "threats." An armed attack must have occurred or at least be imminent against the self-defending state for an argument of self-defense to have any legal grounding.
Second, while Pakistan is legally obliged to use "best efforts" to prevent individuals on its territory from launching armed attacks against other states, unless it can be proven that Pakistan has in fact supported these individuals by, for example, supplying them with weapons or other forms of assistance, Pakistani territory cannot be attacked simply because Pakistan is allegedly "unwilling or unable" to suppress such individuals.
To be sure, Pakistan may still be liable for reparations or other measures for failing to prevent an attack against another state, but this failure does not translate into a right for another state to conduct lethal drone attacks in its territory as a unilateral "self-help" measure.
Third, prominent American legal scholars, including Mary Ellen O'Connell and Eric Posner, have rejected the international legality of the "unwilling or unable" doctrine. In fact, apart from the United States, only three countries-Israel, Russia, and Turkey-have explicitly invoked some variant of this theory in the past fifty years or more. But even these countries, on the rare occasion when they have done so, have never justified their actions as motivated by a legal obligation.
And most importantly, the International Court of Justice-the principal judicial organ of the United Nations and popularly known as the "World Court"-agrees. It has on two recent occasions-one concerning Uganda and the other Israel-passed judgment that weak states cannot be attacked and invaded because they failed to prevent individuals in their territory from launching attacks abroad.
And for good reason too. A theory that permits the use of force in a state such as Pakistan because it is "unwilling or unable" to do something opens up far too many loopholes for aggression and makes the prohibition against the use of force contained in the U.N. Charter somewhat redundant.
To put it succinctly, if the new Pakistani government were to argue that the use of drones within its territory are illegal and were indeed bold enough to take the unprecedented step of shooting one down, it would have a strong case under international law that it was acting in "self-defense," provided it has not consented to drone strikes.
Of course, just because an action is legally sound does not mean that it is politically feasible. The Wall Street Journal previously reported that "Pakistan has considered shooting down a drone to reassert control over the country's airspace but shelved the idea as needlessly provocative." And one can see why.
Unfortunately, that is one limitation that smaller states sometimes face when they try to assert their international legal rights against a far more powerful state.
Nevertheless, as far as international law goes, yes Mr. Khan, absent consent, you are free to shoot down any drones that enter into Pakistani territory.
Dawood I. Ahmed is a lawyer and a doctoral candidate in international law at the University of Chicago. He is the author of the forthcoming article "Defending Weak States Against the ‘Unwilling or Unable' Doctrine of Self-Defense," which can be found online here
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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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On Sunday, former military dictator Pervez Musharraf was at last given permission to run in the parliamentary elections scheduled for May 11, but only in the northern district of Chitral. Two other districts rejected his nomination papers, and his application in Islamabad is still pending. Elections officials in Pakistan, acting under directives of the country's Supreme Court, have excluded several candidates -- among them Musharraf -- from running in the elections. This pre-selection of candidates is based on controversial Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution, decreed by military ruler General Zia ul-Haq in 1985 as part of his Islamization agenda. These articles forbid anyone who does not meet the test of being a good Muslim or patriotic Pakistani from becoming members of Pakistan's parliament. Until now, the highly subjective criteria of these provisions have never been implemented in practice.
This time around, the Election Commission of Pakistan has allowed officials in each parliamentary district to vet candidates. The result is a mish-mash of arbitrary decisions. Almost 100 members of the out-going legislatures, many of them deemed popular enough to win re-election, have been disqualified for producing fake college degrees at the last poll, when the generals mandated the possession of one as a pre-condition for membership in parliament. The law was changed by parliament in 2008 and it is questionable why, after serving for five years, these politicians are being challenged now.
Former Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf was disqualified on grounds of unproven corruption allegations. Musharraf was barred from running in two districts while being found sufficiently sagacious in another. The leader of the opposition in the outgoing parliament, Chaudhry Nisar Ali, was similarly found to be lacking in the criteria in one district where he filed his nomination papers, while being allowed to run in another.
The last few days have witnessed the spectacle of Election Officers asking candidates to recite specific verses from the Quran, prove that they pray five times a day, and in the case of a female candidate, even respond to the question "How can you be a good mother if you serve in parliament and are too busy to be fulfill your religious duties as a wife and mother?"
The pre-qualification conditions have adversely affected liberal candidates while favoring Islamist ones. Columnist Ayaz Amir, who is part of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League, has been disqualified from running as a candidate because he wrote articles that were "disparaging" about the ‘ideology' of Pakistan. Militant and terrorist leaders have had no problem in meeting the litmus test of religiosity and commitment to Pakistan's ideology. Nomination papers for Maulana Mohammad Ahmad Ludhianvi, who heads Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, a reincarnation of a banned terrorist organization, were cleared even though he has publicly acknowledged his role in the killing of Shias in the country.
In addition to facing discrimination from election officials, liberal politicians must also contend with threats from terrorists - threats that have not persuaded the judiciary or the permanent state apparatus to enhance security for these politicians. Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has warned that candidates and rallies of ‘secular' parties like the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), Muttahida Qaumi Movement, and Awami National Party (ANP) would be targeted, and the targeting has already begun. The ANP lost one of its finest leaders, Bashir Ahmed Bilour, a few months ago. The TTP took credit for the murder.
The elimination of liberal political figures must be seen as part of the process of creeping Islamization, as well as the permanent militarization of Pakistan, which began during Zia ul-Haq's military dictatorship. Using Islam and a narrow definition of patriotism to limit the options available to voters is nothing new. It is a direct outcome of Pakistan's long history of dominance by unelected institutions of state, euphemistically referred to as the ‘establishment.' In addition to existing under direct military rule for half its life as an independent country, Pakistan has always lived in the shadow of the ubiquitous influence of generals, judges, and civil servants.
No elected parliament was ever allowed to complete its full term until this year. But instead of allowing voters to choose the new government in a free and fair election, the establishment wants to make sure that the voters have only limited choice at the polls. A direct military coup is no longer feasible. The politicians, led by President Asif Zardari, have foiled bids by the judiciary to virtually become the executive. The battle between elected leaders and unelected judges has come at great cost to several outspoken individuals in the country's politics. Now, an election with pre-qualification could ensure the establishment's supremacy without overtly pulling back the democratic façade.
From the establishment's perspective, Pakistan's politicians cannot be trusted to lead or run the country even if they manage to get elected by popular vote. The political system must somehow be controlled, guided, or managed by the unelected institutions who deem themselves morally superior and even more patriotic than those supported by the electorate. This patrician approach is reflected in the assertions of Generals Ayub Khan (1958-69), Yahya Khan (1969-71), Zia ul-Haq (1977-1988) and Musharraf (1999-2008) at the time they took power in coups d'état. It can also be found in the constant efforts by Supreme Court judges and civil servants to second-guess the people by deciding who is and who is not eligible to run in elections.
General Zia ul-Haq created structures for limiting democracy that would outlast him. He drastically changed the constitution and legal regime in ways that have proved difficult to reverse, even a quarter century after his death. The outgoing Pakistani parliament completed its term and amended the constitution to make it closer to what it was originally intended to be. But the Islamic provisions introduced by Zia ul-Haq persist, enabling the establishment to use Islam as an instrument of control and influence over the body politic.
Article 62 demands that a candidate for parliament demonstrate that "he is of good character and is not commonly known as one who violates Islamic Injunctions; he has adequate knowledge of Islamic teachings and practices obligatory duties prescribed by Islam as well as abstains from major sins; he is sagacious, righteous and non-profligate, honest and ameen, there being no declaration to the contrary by a court of law; and that he has not, after the establishment of Pakistan, worked against the integrity of the country or opposed the ideology of Pakistan."
Article 63 disqualifies a Pakistani from becoming an MP if "he has been convicted by a court of competent jurisdiction for propagating any opinion, or acting in any manner, prejudicial to the ideology of Pakistan, or the sovereignty, integrity or security of Pakistan, or morality, or the maintenance of public order, or the integrity or independence of the judiciary of Pakistan, or which defames or brings into ridicule the judiciary or the Armed Forces of Pakistan."
Both constitutional provisions provide considerable leeway to an ideological judiciary to influence the electoral process and exclude critics of the establishment from the next legislature. The recent celebration and positive commentary over parliament completing its term should not distract us from an ugly reality. Pakistan's establishment may have refrained from another direct coup, but it is still far from accepting the basic premise of democracy - the supremacy of parliament among institutions and the right of the people to vote for whomever they choose.
Farahnaz Ispahani is a former member of the Pakistani parliament and former Media Advisor to President Asif Ali Zardari, as well as a writer and minority rights advocate.
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The Pakistan People's Party (PPP) coalition government is the first in Pakistani history to complete a full term, making PPP well-deserving of the credit many are giving it. PPP receives high marks for its improvements to the constitution, specifically in returning powers to the Prime Minister that were unduly given to the president during Pervez Musharraf's military rule, and devolving powers to the provinces.
But the accolades do not match up with the sentiments of voters. Several pre-election polls indicate that the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) will be the clear winner in Pakistan's upcoming general election. The PPP has been hurt by strong anti-incumbency sentiment among the electorate. Apparently, voters do not care that the PPP just made history.
The PPP's record on a host of issues fails to live up to the ambitious framework it laid out in its 2008 party manifesto, a pre-elections document outlining the party's principles and positions on policy priorities. Here we look at successes and failures in two areas - the economy and defense - that have garnered a great deal of attention since the beginning of PPP's term.
Ask anyone in Pakistan and they will tell you that the PPP did not deliver on its economic promises. However, some basic comparisons of the economy since 2008 show more mixed results.
The PPP did follow through on its promise to lower inflation. In November 2008, just two months after President Asif Ali Zardari's inauguration, inflation rose to a thirty-year high of 25%. At the end of 2012, inflation dropped to 6.9%, the lowest in four years. This doesn't mean that Pakistanis can expect price stability for the foreseeable future. The International Monetary Fund warned that inflation could return to double digits in the 2012-2013 fiscal year because of continued government borrowing from the State Bank. This especially bad habit of the PPP government has had multiple adverse economic consequences; as a result, PPP majorly failed in its promise to ensure sound macro-economic policies.
The PPP has followed through on aspects of its promise to bring progress to the doorstep of the workers, farmers and small businesses. Supported partially by the assistance of multilateral and bilateral donors, the government launched the Benazir Income Support Program (BISP). This initiative distributed more than $1 billion in cash transfers to 3.5 million families in poverty. BISP, combined with higher commodity prices and cash from bumper crops, contributed to the economic boom over the past several years in Pakistan's rural areas, where spending on both consumer products is higher than ever before. However, comparisons of household income during the first three years of the PPP's term show a more uneven growth for the rural poor, with incomes of urban households rising by 1.1% annually while those in rural areas declined by 0.8%.
The 2008 manifesto promised to ensure that energy shortages are eliminated. Under the PPP's watch, Pakistanis experienced some of the worst energy shortages in the country's history. Protests over power cuts turned violent. Senior government officials refuse to pay their personal electricity bills, a practice some government agencies also seem to engage in. The PPP attempted to initiate large-scale initiatives, such as the recently launched Iran-Pakistan oil pipeline and Daimer-Basha dam project, but to no avail. These projects require major capital investments and will take a long time to show results; their inauguration was viewed as more political stunt than genuine attempt to eliminate energy shortages. Other efforts to eliminate energy subsidies and increase fuel prices faced challenges in parliament by both opposition and coalition members.
The PPP promised to rid Pakistan of violence, bigotry and terror and to ensure a strong defense. But under its watch, persecution of minorities has gone up. In the past year, Pakistan witnessed an unprecedented number of Shia killings all over the country: in Baluchistan, Karachi, Lahore, and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. The debate over amending the blasphemy law unraveled, leading to numerous instances of violence against Christians who allegedly engaged in blasphemous behavior. Even Pakistan's ambassador to the United States, Sherry Rehman, has been accused of blasphemy.
The PPP's other security problem is the domestic insurgency in northwestern Pakistan, with multiple attempts to negotiate with or pressure the Pakistani Taliban falling flat. In spirit, the PPP does not support persecution of minorities, nor does it have a history of being ideologically soft on militants (in comparison to other political parties). But its unwillingness and inability to challenge the nation's big security demons shows its limitations in a political environment dominated by competing interests. The military's links to sectarian groups in Punjab are well known; it has used them as proxies in its conflict with India. Civilian leaders have been hard pressed to truly challenge such groups, fearing possible backlash from the security establishment.
The PPP should be given partial credit for beginning to normalize security ties with the United States. Regardless of what side you sit on, the cloak and dagger relationship built by former presidents George W. Bush and Pervez Musharraf was politically unsustainable in both Washington and Islamabad. It was only a matter of time before other stakeholders in the relationship angled to get involved. In Pakistan, this was most visible in July 2012 when a parliamentary committee demanded that it review the state of U.S.-Pakistan relations before ending a NATO routes closure that had been triggered by a deadly cross-border NATO attack that killed more than twenty Pakistani soldiers. There was nothing legally binding about the parliamentary review, but the simple act of civilian officials debating sensitive security policy is meaningful on a symbolic level. On Afghanistan policy, the more visible role of Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar and Afghan Foreign Secretary Jalil Jilani, especially in conversations with the United States, was also indicative of stronger civilian engagement, if not ownership, on security matters.
But the PPP's strengths on security, few as they were, did almost nothing to win gains against the Pakistani Taliban and its friends, who continue to target the government and its citizens. The ambitions, motivations, and power of these groups are clearly in flux and in many ways getting stronger. No amount of enhanced civilian engagement alone can alter their flight path. Furthermore, any government would have to make similar trade-offs when determining which national security policies to pursue and which ones it knows it cannot influence.
It is exactly this "trade-offs" focused approach, in both security and economic matters, that has limited PPP's implementation of its objectives that it laid out so ambitiously in 2008, meaning its chances of electoral victory are getting smaller by the day.
Shamila N. Chaudhary is a South Asia analyst at the Eurasia Group and a senior fellow at the New America Foundation. She served as director for Pakistan and Afghanistan at the White House National Security Council from 2010-2011.
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Last Sunday afternoon, Pakistan's leading English daily newspaper, Dawn, published headline news of the arrest of a militant tied to Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), a domestic sectarian militant group: "Former LeJ chief involved in Daniel Pearl murder arrested in Karachi." The article trumpeted the arrest as "yet another success" of "security forces" in their "ongoing targeted operation against militants and lawbreakers in Karachi."
The story made its way around the world, landing on CNN within two days. The New York Times declared: "Suspect in Daniel Pearl killing is arrested in Pakistan."
Most certainly, the news that Pakistan's elite Rangers force arrested Pakistani militant Abdul Hayee is important. He has a long criminal record, linked to bombings, sectarian assassinations against Shia targets and domestic mayhem. U.S. President Barack Obama, the Justice Department, and the State Department should press for Hayee to be prosecuted.
But as important as Hayee's prosecution, is understanding the events that precipitated his arrest, and recognizing that amidst the drawdown of U.S. forces in Afghanistan we must put a magnifying glass to militancy in Pakistan on the street, village and individual level. The case of Abdul Hayee is illustrative of Pakistan's failure to adhere to the rule of law in any meaningful, sustainable way.
Hayee was arrested before, in 2003, and presumably released. On May 29, 2003, Dawn, the same Pakistani English daily that trumpeted Hayee's arrest last week, reported, "Terrorism convict arrested," chronicling Hayee's arrest. A few days later, The News, another English daily, reported with the headline, "Pearl kidnapping suspect appears in Pakistan" that Hayee had been charged. A detailed report by the United Nations Higher Commission for Refugees chronicled Hayee's arrest and disappearance from public record.
This cat and mouse game has become business as usual, described by one U.S. official as "catch-and-release, catch-and-release." For those who have watched the case closely, who have lived with it for years, there are many vexing questions: Did Pakistani forces secretly have Hayee all along? Are they going to prosecute? If so, why now? Why not the first time they picked up him? If they do, will they actually get a conviction? Or is there something even more unsettling going on? Is this an effort to release Omar Sheikh, the mastermind of the scheme to trap Pearl, convicted to death but his case pending appeal?
In a hyperbolic exaggeration of Hayee's role, the Pakistan Press Foundation reported that Hayee was the "mastermind" of Pearl's murder. But it seems that the news of Hayee's arrest is meant to influence as much as inform, to borrow from a concept used by intelligence analysts. Hayee wasn't directly involved in Pearl's murder, as the headlines suggest, but rather had a cameo, bit role in the kidnapping that amounted to a quick sighting of Pearl as he arrived at the compound where he was held, and then a shopping trip to a local flea market to buy the odd track suit Pearl's kidnappers made him wear.
In "The Truth Left Behind," a report published in early 2011 by the Pearl Project, a faculty-student investigative reporting project at Georgetown University, we found that 27 men were allegedly involved in Pearl's kidnapping and murder; of them only four were convicted, while others were killed in extrajudicial shootings or held in detention, and 14 remained free. Among them: Hayee. In a detail that Pearl would have appreciated, Hayee's trail leads back to a secret meeting with militants involved in the kidnapping at a popular Karachi hangout: Snoopy Ice Cream Parlour.
In the spring of 2008, we obtained a copy of a 5-page Pakistani police report, written in Urdu, detailing Hayee's involvement in Pearl's kidnapping. The police report reveals a very detailed profile of Hayee as one of Pakistan's many "sons of darkness," as journalist Massoud Ansari calls them, born in the 1960s and 70s with roots in the northeast Punjab Province heartland, where radicalism is often fostered by an austere interpretation of Sunni Islam called Deobandism.
The men came of age in the 1980s just as Afghan fighters, fueled by their Islamic fervor and covert aid from Pakistan and the United States, were defeating the mighty Soviet military. After the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) tapped the new Islamist fervor in Pakistan to create militant groups such as HUM (Harkat ul-Mujahideen), LeJ (Lashkar-e-Jhangvi), JeM (Jaish-e-Mohammed), SSP (Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan), HUI (Harkat-ul-Islamiya), and LeT (Lashkar-e-Taiba), based in Punjab Province, as proxies in Pakistan's war against India for the state of Kashmir. Through the 1990s, Hayee crisscrossed Pakistan into Afghanistan, training other militants, plotting attacks on members of the Shia minority and recruiting new members.
Many of the young men involved in Pearl's kidnapping had joined these groups and trained at Afghanistan-Pakistan border camps tied to Pakistan's spy agency, the ISI, and were drawn to the radical views of the Taliban fighters who subsequently took control of Afghanistan. In an ironic twist of events, it was the ISI's public affairs arm that confirmed Hayee's arrest to reporters this week. Hayee's group, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, is now considered part of a loose collection of militant groups dubbed the "Punjabi Taliban."
Now in their 30s and 40s, these militants are eager foot soldiers and officers in what some regard as a growing industry, ‘Jihad Inc.', many of them living in dicey Karachi neighborhoods, such as Nazimabad and Gulshan-e-Iqbal, both neighborhoods that Hayee called home in the police report.
The details of the kidnapping chronicled in our Pearl Project report reveal these networks of trusted relationships through which militants such as Hayee operate. In January 2002, living in Karachi, Hayee got a call from Attaur Rehman, another young terrorist king pin. He and other militant buddies hailed from the same Nazimabad neighborhood that Hayee had called home. Rehman had taken over as amir of LEJ in Karachi when Hayee traveled to Afghanistan, according to the police report.
Rehman told Hayee to arrive at a compound where an "American journalist" was to be held. The journalist: Pearl. He had arrived in Karachi to conduct an interview. But it was actually a trap set by the mastermind of the kidnapping, Omar Sheikh, a Pakistani-British London School of Economics dropout who had been bitten by the jihad bug, prompting him to join Harkat ul-Mujahideen in the early 1990s, heading to India where he was arrested in 1994 for kidnapping tourists, including an American. (In 1999, India freed him in exchange for passengers on hijacked Indian Airlines Flight 814.)
Rehman and Hayee were old acquaintances; they had collaborated on a 1998 attack against Iranian engineers, according to the police report. After checking out the compound, Rehman told Hayee to meet him after the sunset prayer called maghrib at Snoopy Ice Cream. The two militants ate ice cream as they waited for their co-conspirators to arrive. "A red car arrived, most probably an Alto, in which there were two people and the other was the driver who was recognizable but don't know the name," Hayee said in the police report. "He had a long beard, they got ice cream and left. We also left after them." Police suspect that Pearl was also in the red car that showed up outside the Snoopy Ice Cream parlor.
From another suspect's police report, the Pearl Project established that soon after arriving at the compound, Rehman told his underlings, "The guest is coming. Get ready." Rehman took two Russian-made TT-30 semiautomatic pistols from a side compartment of his Hero Honda C-70 motorcycle, giving one to a guard and keeping the other. He turned to one of the men, Fazal Karim, a low-level militant with five daughters, and told him to watch the gate and open it as soon as a car arrived.
"Soon after that, the journalist's car came in," Hayee is reported to have said in his police report.
When the red Suzuki Alto pulled up, Pearl was in the front seat. Karim opened the gate. Rehman opened the front door and led Pearl out of the car, holding him, according to the police report, "by his neck and in the other hand held the pistol." Hayee stood nearby.
Hayee said the militants "took the journalist at gunpoint to the room where everyone undressed him and searched his belongings completely." The red Suzuki "left right away." Rehman "picked up Daniel Pearl's belongings," Hayee said. According to other suspect reports, Rehman told Pearl to take off his clothes and hand over his belongings, including his camera, tape recorder, mobile phone, wristwatch, glasses, glasses case, wallet, four to five mobile phone cards, shoes, and a Citibank credit card. Pearl complied. Rehman asked Pearl what he wanted to eat. The guards suggested a hamburger, according to another suspect report.
Together, Hayee and Rehman went to a neighborhood called Sohrab Goth. From the flea market there, they "got clothes, beddings, food to eat," the police report said. Then he said: "I left for home."
And that appears to have been the extent of Hayee's involvement. It might be in Hayee's interest to minimize his role in the kidnapping, but his chronology is collaborated by the police reports of other suspects.
Later, Attaur Rehman and Faisal Bhatti, another alleged militant also involved, came to Hayee's house, he said, and told him: "We have completed Daniel Pearl's job."
Hayee's story demonstrates how militants make a career out of terrorism. During his interrogation, Hayee told police he had been considering a few other terrorist attacks. With regard to one of these, he said he met with a colleague, "Asif," at a mosque called Baitul Mukarram in Karachi "to make plans against Americans." Hayee and Asif knew that containers destined for American troops in Afghanistan would be passing through Pakistan. The plan: "Snatch the containers near Afghanistan, fill them with explosives, send a suicide bomber inside, and let him explode at the designated spot."
Police also tied Hayee to bombs sent to police officers in Karachi in 2003.
As the Pearl Project showed, this single arrest of Abdul Hayee won't be enough. Pakistan needs to prosecute all of the 14 men allegedly involved in Pearl's kidnapping, and it needs to shut down, dismantle and destroy the "jihad factories," as one regional security expert calls them, that created them and support them today. In a prescient article published in the last days of December 2001, after reporting in the city of Bahawalpur in south Punjab, home to many militant groups, Danny Pearl himself cast a jaundiced eye at the announcement of the arrest of 50 "extremists or terrorists," noting that despite Pakistani government claims that the offices of extremists had been shut down, "posters praising holy war still hung inside."
In an email, Pearl told his mother about the article he'd just written on the militancy in Pakistan, still alive, and, knowing any mother's normal worries for her child, cautioned her: "Don't freak out too much about my story in today's paper."
Asra Q. Nomani is a former Wall Street Journal reporter and the co-director of the Pearl Project. Kira Zalan is an associate editor at U.S. News & World Report and former Pearl Project fellow. Barbara Feinman Todd is Georgetown University's journalism director and the co-director of the Pearl Project.
The Pearl Project was funded by the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation. Pakistani police reports were translated from Urdu to English by Sajida Nomani and Dr. Zafar Nomani, translators for the Pearl Project.
Sharing an elevator the other day, a colleague suddenly turned to me and asked: "So, just how much longer does Pakistan have?" My interlocutor is not the first person to pose that question, but coming from a savvy veteran of the international arena, his out-of-the-blue query was jolting.
Pakistan, after all, is not Laos or Sierra Leone. It is a real country, too large and too centrally located to be casually written off. It will soon have the fifth-largest population in the world, with 40 million more people than Russia. It already has the seventh-largest army in the world, and is closing in on the United Kingdom to become the fifth-largest nuclear power.
Yet Pakistan gives the appearance of a state not merely in decline, but in terminal decline. Its institutions are broken, its economy lagging, its government finances slipshod, its social indicators deplorable. Corruption is rampant, while tax evasion is the national sport; a Pakistani investigative reporter last fall discovered that two-thirds of federal lawmakers paid no taxes in 2011, nor had the president. Journalists are regularly detained or murdered because their reporting has come too close to truths those in power prefer to obscure-the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom index has found that for the second consecutive year, Pakistan is the most dangerous country in the world for journalists. Assassination is also an ever-present danger for politicians who espouse progressive views or challenge the authority of extremists. Political and civic leadership is absent, while sectarian violence against Shi'as and other minorities is all too present - witness, for instance, the anti-Christian rampage in Lahore earlier this month.
To be sure, Pakistan has faced even graver crises in the past, most notably when the country split apart in 1971 and the eastern half of the state broke away to form the separate country of Bangladesh. But the systemic decay one sees in Pakistan today surpasses even the breakdown that preceded the 1971 crisis.
Pakistanis-many of whom will hate this article-will correctly point out that the Pakistani people are extraordinarily resilient. (They will also, quite properly, retort that an American should be the last person to be lecturing them on political gridlock or fiscal probity.) Indeed, that quality of sheer plodding resilience is inescapable to anyone with more than the barest familiarity with Pakistan.
Resilience, however, is not rejuvenation, and it is far more difficult to find convincing evidence that Pakistan is capable of genuine rejuvenation.
Not all is lost; Pakistan's present ills need not be terminal. History offers examples of floundering states that have turned their fortunes around. Not many years ago, informed observers described Colombia, which was riven by narcotics mafias, multiple guerrilla forces, paramilitary groups, and surging numbers of displaced people, as a failed state in waiting. Yet in the last 15 years, Colombia has witnessed a profound transformation: the security situation has vastly improved, the economy is growing smartly, and the army and police are professional and operate within the bounds of the law.
Indonesia offers the example of a Muslim-majority country that has dramatically revitalized itself in recent years (although Indonesia was never as seriously troubled as Pakistan is today). Other countries-Germany, Japan, or somewhat earlier, the Ottoman forerunner to today's Turkey-have parlayed the catastrophe of military defeat to reverse their fortunes and build a successful polity.
What (besides the sting of defeat) did these countries have that today's Pakistan does not? Surely Pakistan does not lack for talented, entrepreneurial individuals, idealistic youth, or a core constituency for creating a modern, rules-based state. And in recent years it has developed a feisty media and a judiciary willing to challenge traditional power brokers.
But Pakistan has failed abysmally in cultivating leadership, vision, and a national commitment to turn around the fortunes of an ailing state. Equally bad, the people of Pakistan have for too long tolerated shoddy governance, venal politicians, failing institutions, and second-best performance. The equanimity with which Pakistanis accept bad governance and reward those culpable with new terms of office remains astonishing. One current minister, for instance, the official whose portfolio includes law and order, is credibly reported to have blamed Karachi's abominable history of sectarian murders on angry wives and girlfriends. Rather than incensed indignation, his eccentricities have inspired little more than amused tolerance.
How to explain this collective shrug of indifference, this fatalistic acceptance of conditions and behaviors that ought to be unacceptable? That is a complicated question that defies easy answer. Part of the explanation might lie in a feeling of powerlessness that reflects the daily experience of most Pakistanis, who see themselves as having little control over the decisions and processes that shape their day-to-day lives. Hence the widespread belief in Pakistan in the ‘hidden hand,' in conspirators hiding in the shadows.
Can Pakistan continue to muddle through? Will Pakistan exist more or less in its current manifestation ten years from now? In all probability, yes.
But is muddling through good enough? Decay is a cumulative process and not easily reversed. Equally to the point, today's Pakistan displays few signs that any of its current power centers are serious about trying to reverse the country's rot. There are exceptions, to be sure. But that's precisely the problem: they are exceptions.
So what does all this mean for Pakistan's friends and well-wishers? In fact, one need not even be a friend of Pakistan to hope that it succeeds; the consequences of a wholesale Pakistani collapse-terrorism, poverty, loose nukes, refugees, deteriorating human rights, especially for women and girls, heightened tensions with its neighbors-are too fearful to wish on even an adversary. Think of a nuclear-armed Lebanon, where violent extremists wield more power than the formal government.
Yet the sad reality is that outsiders can do precious little to staunch Pakistan's slide to disfunctionality unless Pakistanis decide to seize control of their own destiny. The United States-and the rest of the international community-can be only bit players in this drama. America's influence in Pakistan, for reasons good and bad, is vastly exaggerated. As Pakistan confronts its challenges, foreigners can make a difference only at the margins.
Ultimately, Pakistanis must do this themselves. They must demonstrate an unaccustomed willingness to face hard realities, to make difficult choices, to accept short-term pain in the hope of laying the groundwork for longer term success. In other words, they must do all those things that we Americans find it impossible to do.
This is a troubling conclusion, if for no reason beyond the fact that most people find it easier to tolerate the status quo, no matter how unsatisfactory, than to jump off a cliff into an unknowable future. Until that moment when a fed-up Gdansk electrician runs out of patience, a charismatic ayatollah unexpectedly emerges to rally his fellow aggrieved, a spontaneous protest takes on a life of its own. At which point anything can happen, and not only in ways that are constructive or beneficial.
That's a risky strategy for reform in Pakistan, if it's a strategy at all. Perhaps more prudently, Pakistanis (and Americans) should start by demanding accountability from their political leaders-and be prepared to fire those leaders when they fail to deliver. Pakistanis must no longer be content with observing some of the forms of democracy-periodic elections, multiple political parties, a parliament. Instead, they must demand the realities of good governance-honesty, transparency, and accountability. Until that time, outsiders can do little more than stand by as horrified spectators, watching a train wreck in slow motion.
Robert M. Hathaway is director of the Asia Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
RIZWAN TABASSUM/AFP/Getty Images
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
Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) is right to worry about perpetual war, but wrong to worry about drones killing Americans in America. His concerns about domestic drone strikes unfortunately obscured a far more pressing debate about how to manage and regulate surveillance via drones and other techniques such as wiretaps and Internet traffic monitoring.
The truth is, drones are not actually all that good at killing people, nor at bringing them to justice. The reason they are used in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia is because no better alternatives are readily available. Within the United States, the president has far more capable means at his disposal for using force. In terms of surveillance, however, drones are among the most effective tools in existence.
During his 13-hour filibuster on Wednesday, Paul proposed a resolution against the use of drones to "execute or target American citizens on American soil." The resolution is superfluous because the chief limitation on the use of drones is how well they work -- not legal, moral, ethical, or constitutional considerations.
The question is not what drones themselves are capable of, but how those capabilities compare to the alternatives available to military, intelligence, and law enforcement officials. Compared to other means the American government has at its disposal for the domestic use of force, a drone-launched missile is a crude, blunt, and ineffective instrument. It is not possible to deploy the FBI to Pakistan's tribal areas or to rural Yemen. Drones are being used in these countries because they provide a capability that is better, in the eyes of the national security apparatus, than the alternatives of inaction or bombing from manned aircraft.
The reason for "signature strikes" in Pakistan and Yemen -- where patterns of behavior are targeted instead of specific individuals -- is because of a paucity of information. It is far easier for the U.S. government to gather information inside the United States than it is in Waziristan.
Drones, will, of course, grow more technologically capable of flying for a longer time, seeing with keener sight, and aiming explosives still more precisely. But even the apotheosis of these efforts will do no more than replicate the abilities of a trained sniper. There is no reason to be more fearful of a drone-based assassin than one armed with a rifle. The same existing laws and norms that prevent the president from capriciously bombing, say, Texas or ordering commando squads to assassinate American citizens, also apply to domestic drone attacks.
During his filibuster, Paul worried that the government might "kill people in America without even knowing their name." This worry is baseless. National security hawks can save face by agreeing that using drones to kill American citizens in the United States would be wrong and unconstitutional. But other infringements on constitutionally protected freedoms are not notional. By grandstanding on the issue of drone attacks, Paul loses the credibility that he and other advocates for limitations on the executive's power need to hold the president to account on the use of present-day surveillance technologies.
Unfettered surveillance from drones would be useful to law enforcement, just as it would be useful to not require search warrants. It is easy to convince the military, and law enforcement authorities, to give up capabilities that were never that useful to begin with. This is why the United States ratified the international treaty banning chemical weapons with comparatively little controversy -- chemical weapons never were all that effective as a tool of war (there was a heated debate about tear gas, which is useful). But the international treaty against land mines remains unsigned despite decades of effort by human rights advocates (and a Nobel Peace Prize), because land mines are seen as a useful force multiplier. The true challenge is to place limitations on tools that are genuinely useful to authorities but whose use infringes on the rights of citizens.
As the ACLU's Jay Stanley and Catherine Crump have written, the domestic use of drones by various state, federal, and local law enforcement agencies is already widespread, and is not effectively regulated. "Because of their potential for pervasive use in ordinary law enforcement operations and capacity for revealing far more than the naked eye, drones pose a more serious threat to privacy than do manned flights," they wrote in a 2011 report. Since then, the domestic use of surveillance drones has only increased, with only a scant patchwork of regulation by some states. (Bills have been introduced into the legislatures, though not yet passed, in Florida, Maine, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Virginia, Montana, and Texas, according to the ACLU.) None of those state-level regulations would restrict federal efforts.
The 5th Amendment's due process protections are not at risk from drones within America's borders for the simple reason that drones are an ineffective tool for bringing people to justice -- as was shown when Navy SEALs were sent to apprehend Osama bin Laden, rather than a drone. But the power of drones that can loiter indefinitely overhead, tracking the past and future movements of all who pass below, is real. The questions of how the 4th Amendment's prohibition of unreasonable searches applies to drones, and of privacy concerns more broadly, are vexing ones that Senator Paul can help us, as a nation, come to terms with.
Konstantin Kakaes is a Schwartz fellow at the New America Foundation and can be found on Twitter @kkakaes.
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Pakistani Finance Minister Hafeez Shaikh resigned last week - a curious move since the government will soon dissolve in the coming weeks after it announces a date for national elections. It has been speculated that he left because of economic policy disagreements with the government, but Shaikh himself told several sources that he left because he is under consideration for the post of caretaker prime minister. If so, he joins a well-respected group of professionals considered for the post; Supreme Court Bar Association President Asma Jehangir, Pakistan People's Party (PPP) politician Raza Rabbani and former Supreme Court justice Nasir Aslam Zahid are among the names that have already floated.
The caretaker prime minister will assume charge of an interim government as soon as the PPP coalition announces an election date, at which point the caretakers have up to ninety days to govern before elections.
Much ado has been made about the candidates and the process to set up a caretaker government, perhaps even more than the elections date itself. There are two reasons why such emphasis is warranted: because of its importance to the future of procedural democracy in Pakistan and because of the possible impact on the country's short-term economic stability.
First, the current procedure to establish a caretaker government requires agreement between the sitting government and the opposition, as mandated by the historic 20th amendment passed in 2012. Given the acrimonious past the PPP and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) share, this is no small feat. So far the two sides seem to be committed to cooperation, if not full reconciliation.
In the event the participants cannot reach agreement on a candidate - still a very real possibility - the 20th amendment has delineated specific steps to resolve the gridlock. The process would involve each side forwarding two names to a parliamentary committee that includes equal representation from the government and opposition. The committee can then take up to three days to settle on a name. If the committee is also unable to reach agreement, the Election Commission, as the final arbiter, must decide on a candidate within two days.
Unique to this process is the required engagement and opposition approval throughout, as well as the finite amount of time allotted for decision-making. The 20th amendment is a truly historic piece of electoral reform legislation that, if implemented correctly, can help begin to course-correct a democracy that has been off the rails since the country's inception.
Second, the caretaker government could be leading the charge to reinvigorate discussions with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on a new program to help Pakistan manage some of its macroeconomic challenges. Depleting foreign reserves combined with almost $2 billion in loan repayments due to the IMF by May foreshadow tough times ahead. Staying afloat remains too dependent upon uncontrollable factors such as lower oil prices, remittances from overseas Pakistanis staying at record high levels, and external aid like the U.S. Coalition Support Funds program, which periodically helps to offset low revenue generation elsewhere.
The Pakistani government has plenty of credible and internationally recognized economists who foresaw the current situation as unsustainable, and acknowledged the eventual likelihood of a new IMF program. But the political leadership would not commit to anything before elections. It now appears to believe discussion of such a program can begin through the caretaker leadership, which will likely be comprised of technocrats familiar to the IMF. Moeen Qureshi, a former Vice President of the World Bank who also worked at the International Finance Corporation and IMF, led the 1993 caretaker government that assumed charge between the tenures of Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto. Former Finance Minister Shaikh, if nominated, would fit into the same category given his World Bank credentials.
If, and it is a big "if," the government can get all political parties to agree to the terms of a possible program, the IMF has indicated it would be amendable to some kind of arrangement. This makes the question of who leads the interim setup even more important to Pakistan's short-term economic stability. It must be someone who has the support and backing of all political actors and, to an extent, institutions with vested interests, such as the military, Supreme Court, and business community. Under these circumstances, a caretaker Prime Minister could potentially be a credible go-between for the IMF and a government in transition.
There is one obvious challenge - the caretaker government will not be in a position to follow up on or enforce any commitments made by political parties once its tenure is over. Beyond this specific obstacle, there is broader political uncertainty surrounding the potential caretakers. For several months now, political analysts in Pakistan have been warning of indirect military support for the extension of the caretaker government beyond the legally mandated 90-day term, postponing elections indefinitely. While such a scenario is unlikely, the persistent rumors swirling around a possible "soft coup" show the pervasiveness of the military's influence in Pakistani politics. Clearly, no amount of engagement with the opposition, electoral reform or credible technocrats has been able to fully challenge that narrative just yet.
Shamila N. Chaudhary is a South Asia analyst at the Eurasia Group and a senior fellow at the New America Foundation. She served as director for Pakistan and Afghanistan at the White House National Security Council from 2010-2011.
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
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.
Early last month, while the United States was in its own pre-election haze, Americans giddily re-tweeting whatever incremental shift Nate Silver's model had just spat out, CNN personalities with their Magic Wall, nightly groping at some Ohio precinct, over in Kabul, Karzai was making his move. With the West's gaze averted, he quietly set in motion his plan to control Afghanistan's next election.
Through the ministry of justice, Karzai pushed a draft amendment to the country's election law that would add sweeping new restrictions to candidate eligibility for the Afghan presidency. The law now sits in Parliament awaiting debate, but if it passes, it would disqualify anyone who has a disability -- physical or psychological, anyone who can't speak and write in both Dari and Pashtu, anyone who doesn't have ten years of work experience in the administration, anyone who doesn't have a university degree, anyone who can't pay one million Afs (the equivalent of $20,000), and anyone who can't come up with 100,000 signatures cumulatively from at least twenty different provinces.
A contrast, to be sure, with the comparatively modest 35 years of age and a citizen required of U.S. presidential candidates. But is it a necessary one? After all, superficially the law would seem to weed out warlords, as well as especially ethnocentric candidates, for whom the inability to speak one of the languages that half the country speaks may indicate undue animus towards them, and for whom signatures from twenty provinces would seem to demand at least some appeal beyond just an ethnic powerbase which, in the fractious ethnic politics of the country, could be enough to propel a candidate into a run off election. Besides,
"Afghanistan is very unsettled," as Ambassador Ronald Neumann, the U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan from 2005 to 2007, told me. "It is not clear whether a brokered election coming out of agreement among power brokers would be more or less destabilizing than a contentious fight among multiple candidates with highly partisan ethnic or tribal political bases."
And perhaps that's what's going on here; perhaps Karzai knows better than anyone how to promote a peaceful transition, and, in furtherance of that goal, what kind of people should be disqualified.
Or perhaps he knows exactly which people he wants to disqualify. The timing, after all, is curious. Eighteen months before an election is awfully late to introduce laws that restrict who can stand for them. And when you look at the names that began to circulate in the rumors about the upcoming elections, an explanation emerges: he had to wait that long because he had to see who might run before designing laws to disqualify them.
Haneef Atmar, the highly regarded bureaucrat who served ably in three different ministries, lost a leg while fighting in Jalalabad in ‘88. The disability provision would disqualify him-and many others, given that Afghanistan has the world's second highest proportion of disabled people (behind only Cambodia) and has its most heavily mined capitol city. Yunos Quanooni, who came in second behind Karzai in the 2004 elections, and is a former Minister and speaker of the parliament, was disabled by a car bomb in 1993. Also disqualified. Zalmay Khalizad, an American of Afghan extraction who has served as U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan and to the UN (and therefore whose candidacy would require an awkward -- though not unprecedented -- citizenship change) has no lack of expertise in government, but does not have the requisite ten years in Afghanistan's. And the list goes on. Is Karzai's law tailor-made to disqualify specific challengers?
That is, of course, is the most conspiratorial analysis. It's famously difficult to decipher Karzai's political calculus, but if he is trying to assure maximal control over his successor, how better than to cast doubt over who will be eligible to run? That would be vintage Karzai. In earlier cycles, it was the date of the election he delayed announcing and then moved up, which kneecapped opponents who hadn't been able to plan for the elections without knowing when they would be, and now only had two months to campaign. Indeed, today, potential candidates, and those who might support them, are sitting on their hands. No one wants to cast his or her lot without knowing who will actually be eligible. Every day the qualifications for office requirements to run are unknown, candidates without Karzai's blessing see their chances fade. There will simply not be enough time for an alternative to make himself (or, more improbably, herself) known to the Afghan electorate before the election.
Though Karzai's intentions are not apparent, the practical effects the law would have are clear. The "ten years in government administration" probably won't include Taliban or pre-Taliban government experience, which means what the law is really saying is that candidates must have been in government between 2001 and 2014-all the years Karzai was in charge. In practice, the clause is a lazy euphemism for "must have worked for Karzai."
Or, take the university degree requirement. At first blush, an apparent assurance that the president will not hail from the country's deep stable of power-hungry warlords. And yet in practice, it would be better at eliminating regular Afghans from the field than especially violent ones. A college education was a luxury unavailable to most who remained in the country during the thirty years of on again, off again war, so the requirement would reduce the field of homegrown candidates in favor of émigrés to Western countries who returned after the worst of the fighting-a species Afghans have historically had a hard time trusting. Nor would the degree requirement even be all that effective at preventing warlords from running, since they could sue for exception given their military rank, or their knowledge of Sharia, as many have before in order to qualify for ministerial posts or Parliamentary seats. Some actually have essentially honorary university degrees, granted by Iran or Pakistan as part of the patronage relationships those countries have with their clients in Afghanistan.
Then there is the filing fee. The average income in Afghanistan is about $1,000 a year; the filing fee is twenty times that. It would virtually guarantee that all the candidates either be from the country's small financial urban elite, or have external backing. Or, have Karzai's. By way of comparison, there is no filing fee for an American presidential candidate, and other developing or post-conflict countries that do have filing fees have very small ones, designed to insure some accountability from those who run for office-not eliminate everyone who isn't already wealthy.
And every single one of these stipulations, by the way, militates against the participation of women, because they all depend on access. Work experience, financial resources, education level, and even the mobility required to get signatures in twenty-five different provinces for the requisite 100,000 signatures, raise a bar still difficult for women in Afghanistan to clear.
So how should the international community respond? Does it matter whether these are the cynical machinations of a despot desperate to hold on to as much power as possible after he leaves office? To install a seat warmer loyal to him for five years so that he can run again in 2019 (though constitution sets a limit of two consecutive terms, it does not mention a limit on non-consecutive terms)? Or are these the considered steps of a leader who knows better than anyone how to prevent the kind of violence possible when a presidential election comes along to inflame ethnic tensions, at exactly the same time the troops that might quell them are pulling out?
Certainly, the law is anathema to real representative democracy, and potentially, to the legitimacy of a post-Karzai president who will already, regardless of who he is and to which ethnic group he belongs, have a severe mandate problem in large parts of the country.
Fortunately, the law is still pending. At weakening the field, though, its effect is not contingent on its ratification, since no one can start a campaigning in earnest without knowing whether they'll be able to run. Meanwhile, the United States has begun negations with the Karzai government about the terms of the U.S. military withdrawal, with particular tension over immunity for the U.S. troops that remain. We need to think seriously, though, about what it is those troops that stay behind will be protecting. And how do we balance the tension between one man's idea of how to maintain stability, and a people's right-a right which comprised part of the justification for this nation sacrificing no shortage of blood and treasure-to choose their leader, from a field of candidates unfiltered by one man notorious for cronyism?
Jeffrey E Stern--www.JeffreyEstern.com--is a writer and development worker whose reporting from Afghanistan, Kashmir, and elsewhere has appeared in Esquire, Time, newsweek.com/The Daily Beast, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and other publications.
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images
Over 1,300 years after the brutal killing of the Prophet Mohammad's grandson Hussein in what is now Karbala, Iraq, Shi'a Muslims still mourn their loss. One group of Muslims at the time wanted the Islamic Caliphate to be handed down along hereditary lines, while another group wanted the Muslim community to elect a leader. This difference in political beliefs led a split between the groups into Sunni and Shi'a Muslims, who also now differ in their religious practices as well as their historical beliefs. Today, Shi'as come under fire all over the world, particularly during the month of Muharram, during which they mourn Hussein's death with an inconsolable grief that many hardline Sunnis deem blasphemous.
In an attempt to prevent attacks on the one-fifth of Pakistan that is Shi'a on the tenth of Muharram, when their mourning processions fill the streets, Pakistani authorities banned motorcycles -- which are often rigged with explosive devices -- in the most volatile areas, closed thoroughfares near Shi'a mosques, and blocked cell phone signals in fifty cities.
Despite the fact that the country's president and much of its military top brass are Shi'a, attacks on Pakistan's Shi'a Muslims by militant extremists have steadily increased over the past few years, as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) continues to operate largely unfettered. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, 902 people were killed in sectarian violence between 2009-2011, and 425 have lost their lives in attacks motivated by religious intolerance in 2012. Human Rights Watch estimates that at least 320 of those killed so far this year were targeted because they were Shi'a.
But no one speaks of this all-too-frequently renewed cause for grief at a communal mourning session for Shi'a women in a quite corner of Islamabad. A group of about thirty weep over the loss of Hassan, Hussein, and their relatives as one woman recounts the massacre at Karbala from her pulpit -- a solitary chair in the center of a living room emptied of furniture.
"May you have no other grief than the loss of Hussein," she proclaims to the sea of whimpering women draped in black, causing only louder wails. "May your families' young not suffer as Hussein's family suffered."
Shi'a families across Pakistan are grieving the losses of young sons and daughters just as Hussein's family did so many hundreds of years ago.
But such individual tragedies don't merit the sort of grief Fizza Ali, 21, feels over the Karbala massacre. "In Muharram, we don't ever mourn for personal reasons, because if our families or our brothers are getting killed, it's all beside the point," she says. "The sadness over the loss of the Prophet's relatives is more for us. It means a lot. It means more."
After pounding her chest and chanting along with the other women in black, Ali, a software engineering student says, "Even if we feel like we're going to be attacked, we don't fear it, Shi'as don't fear it at all, because we cannot get stopped [sic] just by attacks even if our lives are in danger."
Ali says that Islamabad is relatively safer than other areas of Pakistan, but that Shi'as have also continued to visit sacred sites in more volatile areas, such as the Southwestern city of Quetta.
"They're being killed almost daily," Nasrullah Barech of the Center for Peace and Development in Quetta says when asked whether Shi'as there feel afraid to practice their faith.
"Before, the attacks were only in Muharram, or only at sacred Shi'a sites. Now, the killings have become routine across the city."
Barech's organization runs interfaith dialogues to build community connections between Sunnis and Shi'as. He admits that there is a history of fraught relations between the two sects, but says the attacks have taken on new force in recent years.
"It's hard to tell who is behind all of the attacks now. It's not one sect killing another any longer," Barech says. "There are so many different militant groups that claim this bombing or that, and the police are unable to stop them."
Last Monday in Quetta, three Shi'as of the minority Hazara ethnicity were shot dead in targeted killings, and two more were killed days later when a vegetable shop was shot up by unidentified gunmen on a passing motorcycle.
In Islamabad's "twin city," Rawalpindi, a bomb blast targeting a Shi'a religious procession killed 23 and left 62 injured on Wednesday night, while an explosion outside of a Shi'a mosque in Karachi claimed the lives of two people.
This weekend, two separate bombs went off in the northwestern city of Dera Ismail Khan during Shi'a processions in honor of the Ashura holiday. A total of 13 people were killed and dozens more injured in these attacks, which were later claimed by the Taliban.
Raza Rumi is the director of the Jinnah Institute, a policy think tank that keeps tally of extremist violence in Pakistan. He says the attacks against the Shi'a community are alarming not only because of their sharp escalation, but because of the impunity with which they're carried out.
"Usually no people are arrested and no justice is carried out," Rumi says.
He cites Pakistan's decision to make a "permanent ally" of Saudi Arabia as a factor in the country's growing intolerance, owing to the oil-rich nation's strict Wahabi interpretation of Islam and denouncement of the Shi'a clergy based primarily in Iran. The other issue, he says, is Pakistan's civil-military establishment, which patronized anti-Shi'a groups to combat the Soviet incursion into Afghanistan in the 1980s.
"The problem is that for 30 years it has allowed these militant groups to gain strength, to deepen their roots in society, to raise funds, to get direct funds from the Middle East, that now it's no longer a simple issue of controlling them. Even if the state of Pakistan wants to control them, it's a five- or 10-year long battle."
He points to a number of legal and political reforms that might ease tensions, including stricter monitoring of the mosques and religious seminaries that foster extremism.
Many blame a corrupt and inefficient police force, in addition to a failing criminal justice system for the inability of the state to curb sectarian violence. The Pakistani Supreme Court's decision to release of the leader of the al-Qaeda-linked Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) militant group for a lack of evidence is seen as case in point. LeJ leader Malik Ishaq was thought to be involved in the murders of dozens of Shi'as, but witnesses in the cases against him were continually killed or disappeared. Since his release in the summer of 2011, Ishaq has gone on to incite further attacks on the Shi'a community.
Still, Rumi maintains hope for an end to the brutality against religious minorities in the country. "We have become a bit cynical in Pakistan because of these daily doses of bad news," he says. Looking at his hands as if to read out the fate of the nation, he borrows a line from many men who couldn't help but maintain hope for a better future, "But we shall overcome."
Beenish Ahmed is a freelance multimedia journalist based in Islamabad, Pakistan.
AAMIR QURESHI/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.
Hunting in the Shadows: The Pursuit of al Qaeda since 9/11 - Seth Jones
The Al Qaeda Factor: Plots Against the West - Mitchell D. Silber
What is the nature of al-Qaeda? Is it an organization with tight leadership structures and command and control, or is it an idea that takes harbor in the hearts and souls of disenfranchised or disillusioned young men and women seeking some greater meaning to their lives? Over time, the importance of these two schools of general thought has waxed and waned with various academics, authors, pundits and practitioners alternatively concluding the importance of one over the other largely depending on the nature of the latest plot to be disrupted. Hunting in the Shadows: The Pursuit of al Qaeda since 9/11 by Seth Jones and The al Qaeda Factor: Plots Against the West by Mitchell D. Silber offer different insights into this question, while reaching largely similar conclusions about what al-Qaeda is and how it has targeted the West.
Both of these books were published over a decade after the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington bloodily thrust al-Qaeda into the public consciousness, meaning they are able to look back at a considerable amount of data. While Jones' is the more narratively satisfying book, telling a story of al Qaeda around the world, there are omissions in the text that reflect its heavy American focus. Silber's, on the other hand, is a case-by-case analysis that lacks a narrative storyline, but the accounts of the plots in question are drawn from primary sources that make them some of the most factually accurate versions yet told of the various plots, and bring new and interesting insights useful to analysts and researchers.
Gathering information from court documents, press, personal experience, and interviews the books focus on two different theses that ultimately reach the same goal. Silber sets out to find, "what is the "al Qaeda factor" in plots against the West?" For Jones, the central question is "what factors have caused al Qaeda waves and reverse waves?" "Waves" are "surges in terrorist violence" and "reverse waves" are "decreases in terrorist activity." The underlying aim of both is to understand how it is that al-Qaeda has targeted the West, and to what degree we can ascribe responsibility to the core organization.
Silber argues that there is a distinction to be drawn between those plots he characterizes as "al-Qaeda command and control," "al-Qaeda suggested/endorsed," and "al Qaeda inspired." As the definitions quite clearly imply, in each case there is some semblance of a connection to al-Qaeda or its ideas, but there is a distinct difference between the cases in which individuals sitting in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) have provided direction, and those in which individuals internalized al-Qaeda ideas to try to carry out plots (or al-Qaeda-like ideas, given the inclusion of the 1993 attempt by Ramzi Yousef to bring down the World Trade Center, something he did after having been trained in Afghanistan and having plotted with his uncle Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, but prior to Mohammed's swearing of bayat (allegiance) to bin Laden). The end result, however, of all three types is the same: a plot, or attempted plot, to attack the West in support of al-Qaeda's ideology. The cases offered are a laundry list of some of the most prominent plots targeting Europe, North America and Australia.
Jones' thesis is instead that al-Qaeda's violence has come in waves, the product of more or less intense and effective focus by counterterrorism forces. Identifying three key prongs to an effective counterterrorism strategy - a light military footprint, helping local regimes and authorities in their counterterrorism efforts, and exploiting al Qaeda's tendency to massacre civilians - Jones draws upon events in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Sudan, and Yemen, as well as al-Qaeda plots in America, Spain and the United Kingdom, to map out how these waves have crested and broken against determined counterterrorism efforts.
Al-Qaeda's ability to shoot itself in the foot, as in the wholesale butchery by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), is highlighted as an example of where the group goes too far and causes a local resurgence from which American forces were able to profit. It also serves to highlight how al-Qaeda Central can lose control of affiliates and suffer as a result. AQI's butchery not only appalled the general public, but it also led a number of scholars to write about the group's brutality and the numbers of Muslims that it wantonly killed whilst claiming to be targeting the West.
Here we can see how the organization would have liked to have tighter control, but was unable to maintain it. As the ideas it has been advancing take root, they increasingly find themselves being used by groups that take them in directions that detract from the original strategy of using terrorist attacks to stimulate the broader ummah into rising up. In some cases, like the Madrid bombings of 2004, the inspiration approach seems to work, as a group loosely connected to -- but not directed by -- al-Qaeda managed to carry out a successful attack on the West. In Iraq, on the other hand, where a local affiliate became too bloodthirsty, massacres of civilians led to the "Anbar Awakening" against al-Qaeda.
While al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is not the focus of attention in either book, he lingers as a background presence, his letters and writings surfacing as he tries to assert authority over the network he has created. In Jones' book we see others in the organization finding his leadership somewhat lacking. Jones quotes a letter in which top al-Qaeda operative Saif al-Adl expresses anger to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed about how Osama "‘had failed to develop a cogent strategy for what would happen after the September 11 attacks." In Silber's text, bin Laden features even less, mentioned only as being aware of the 9/11 attacks (though plotting is described as being led by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed) and as meeting with some of the members of the ‘Lackawanna Cluster,' a group of Yemeni-Americans who prior to 9/11 travelled to Afghanistan and trained at al-Qaeda camps. Some of these young men heard bin Laden speak, and soon afterwards concluded they were not interested in doing any more training.
One of them, Sahim Alwan, was invited to speak to bin Laden directly, and the al-Qaeda leader asked why he was leaving and more generally about what Muslims in America were like. But, as Silber points out, while this presented an opportunity for the group to recruit the men, "it did not happen." Both authors conclude that bin Laden was important primarily as a figurehead. As Silber writes towards the end: "regardless of the nature of his precise operational role in the organization, in the ten years since 9/11, he had become a legendary and mythical source of inspiration to individuals in the West who aspired to join his movement, regardless of whether they were in London, New York, Toronto or Madrid."
But the larger figures in these books are the operational leaders underneath bin Laden. Coming from authors with deep involvement in American counter-terrorism efforts, the books are highly tactical in their approaches. Silber's is written from the perspective of a man who has spent many years tracking al-Qaeda's threat to New York as Director of Intelligence Analysis for the NYPD, while Jones writes as a researcher at RAND, drawing heavily on interviews with key players from the American counter-terrorism community, including Bruce Hoffman, Philip Mudd, Art Cummings, and John Negroponte.
Both authors conclude that al-Qaeda Central has tried and failed repeatedly over the years to launch attacks against the West. September 11 was a thundering success in this regard, but since then, while we have seen surges of terrorist violence around the world linked to al-Qaeda affiliates, the core organization's ability to effectively launch attacks has clearly been stymied by effective counterterrorism efforts. Heavy pressure means less time for people to be trained properly, and this means less effective operators and a reduced capacity to attack.
And while the spread of extremist ideas is important, it is not always going to produce great cells. While the Madrid group or the Hofstad Cell in Holland were reasonably productive cells that connected with peripheral al-Qaeda figures and led to results like the Madrid bombings or the murder of Theo van Gogh that impressed al-Qaeda, the Duka family in New Jersey or Russell Defreitas in New York (both highlighted in Jones' text) produced half-baked plots like the effort to blow up the fuel pipeline to JFK airport with no proper training that are hardly the sort of activity that al-Qaeda would want to be associated with.
Both books are useful in painting a methodical picture of how al-Qaeda has tried to attack the West, but where they are maybe less effective is in identifying how it is that these individuals can be prevented from ever going down the path of seeking meaning in al Qaeda's ideas. Jones does suggest finding ways to exploit the inconsistencies in al-Qaeda's narrative in order to undermine their capacity to recruit, but the fact is that more than a decade since the group's official creation, people are still being drawn to the flame. This suggests that we have still not figured out how to offer an appealing alternative narrative, and that the ideas that al-Qaeda advances are still able to draw recruits.
Jones's Hunting in the Shadows could be described as an official history of sorts of al-Qaeda from the U.S. government perspective. This makes it a different beast to Silber's The Al Qaeda Factor, in which a much more coldly analytical process draws a clear conclusion about the ‘al Qaeda factor' in various terrorist plots.
Jones and Silber both conclude that it is becoming ever harder for al-Qaeda to effectively connect with and re-direct these recruits back home to carry out terrorist plots. Taking this conclusion a step further, we may assume that over time this sort of pressure will wear the network down. But if they are able to harness individuals drawn to them more effectively and enable a further wave of terrorist violence, the al-Qaeda ideology may survive longer. The solution advanced in both of these books, and echoed by the U.S. counterterrorism community, is to maintain heavy pressure through drone strikes as well as support to the host governments, and continue to focus on disrupting the groups' capability to launch attacks on the West.
Raffaello Pantucci is an Associate Fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) and the author of the forthcoming 'We Love Death As You Love Life: Britain's Suburban Mujahedeen' (Hurst/Columbia University Press).
As the United States' 2014 transition in Afghanistan approaches, American policymakers have underscored that President Hamid Karzai's government must undertake urgently needed institutional reforms. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton noted after this summer's Tokyo Conference that President Karzai had presented a "clear vision" for these reforms, which "must include fighting corruption, improving governance, strengthening the rule of law." Under the principle of mutual accountability, the United States will continue to support Afghanistan through and beyond transition.
For the U.S. to accurately gauge and support this process, we need an honest, robust grasp of Afghanistan's commitment to governance reform. But instead, since the U.S. surge began in late 2009, a few recurrent anecdotes have disproportionately driven the picture of Afghan governance that we see, thereby enabling the Afghan government's continuing reluctance to reform. A combination of bureaucratic pressures, journalistic factors, and data scarcity has led U.S. public discourse on Afghanistan to over-rely on "ground truthed" subjective narratives and personal testimonials. Proportionate, objective assessments of metrics relevant to governance reform have lost out in the noise.
"Anecdotalization" doesn't yet appear in the Oxford English Dictionary, but if it does, it will likely be because of the U.S. efforts in Afghanistan. To truly ensure much-needed Afghan government reform, we must finally suppress it.
How have a few recurrent anecdotes come to distort our understanding of Afghanistan's governance reform process?
First, predominant anecdotes have allowed us to mistake localized, distinct successes for replicable progress and reforms. Consider Nawa, which after years as one of Helmand's most dangerous districts demonstrated dramatically improved security and governance during the surge. Facilitated by American military leadership, helicopter-loads of high-ranking government officials, journalists, and think tankers visited the district for a few hours each, and produced personal testimonials like this one in a New York Times op-ed: "Nawa is flourishing. Seventy stores are open...and the streets are full of trucks and pedestrians. Security is so good we were able to walk around without body armor."
The author's bottom line echoed a Marine officer he quoted in his piece: "I hope people who say this war is unwinnable see stories like this." In contrast, observers with lengthier stays in Nawa noted its turnaround stemmed from a particular combination of tribal politics, local officials' calculations, and vast American inputs relative to the population-not any systematic action on the part of the Afghan government. Afghanistan comprises roughly 400 districts, but a vastly disproportionate number of eyewitness reports flowed in from Nawa and a handful of other districts like Arghandab and Baraki Barak. Colorful anecdotal successes drowned out more objective, broader assessments of governance reform.
Second, the pervasiveness of certain anecdotes has allowed us to confuse specific Afghan individuals' achievements for broader Afghan progress in institution building. American assistance to local Afghan government typically is focused on few key local officials. Many of these individuals demonstrated great strides or deep potential: behold the numerous accounts of Kandahar City's indefatigable mayor Ghulam Haider Hamidi, Helmand's reliable governor Ghulab Mangal, or Marja's promising district "governor in a box" Haji Zahir. Naturally, with transport facilitated by U.S. military leadership, the most impressive local officials were the ones who received frequent visits from high-level officials and influential correspondents, who could report they had seen local governance firsthand, and it was blooming. But judging overall governance progress on the basis of a few individuals is especially deceptive in Afghanistan, where officials are frequently reshuffled by the authorities in Kabul (as with Mangal), prove locally unpopular (Zahir), or are assassinated (Hamidi). Vivid testimonials don't equal a commitment to institutional reform.
Third, from a Kabul-based angle, a few persistent anecdotes have repeatedly allowed us to believe Afghan-led government reform is occurring where little actually is. For years, the international community pressured Kabul to clarify the scattered, confusing local governance picture. In 2010, the government responded with finalizing a 415-page Subnational Governance Policy: internally inconsistent yet enormously redundant, vast in ambit yet not enforceable in specifics. Before it could actually affect governance on the ground, the document needed significant legislative and administrative follow-up- which two and a half years later largely has not happened. But still, Afghan (and some American) officials alike frequently noted that they were pleased to see the policy had been drafted. A colorful testimonial counted as progress.
If this prevalence of anecdotes has allowed the Afghan government to substitute paper outputs for genuine reform, this pattern seems likely to repeat. After the Tokyo Conference described above, where the international community pressured the Karzai administration to launch serious reform and anti-corruption measures, Karzai responded with the lengthy decree: 167 articles along, divided among 33 government entities. As William Byrd and Attaullah Nasib have pointed out, the document lacked prioritization, action items, and benchmarks that can be evaluated. But it achieved its anecdotal point: as the Karzai administration has repeated frequently, it had "launched" a reform package.
How do we suppress the anecdotalization that has colored our understanding of Afghanistan's reform process? First, we must recognize that one cause is our own organizational incentives. In an era of budget constraints, military and civilian organizations in Afghanistan are pressured to demonstrate results quickly-and so they direct the unremitting stream of high-level visitors and influential thinkers to Afghanistan's most impressive cases. As a second explanation, our sound-bite culture places a premium on personal testimonials, and so peppering public communication with colorful narratives rather than tedious data is often viewed as more authentic or engaging. A third explanation lies in our unwitting mirror-imaging of the way the US government operates onto the way we believe the Afghan government does. In Washington, releasing an executive order has real consequences: it automatically triggers follow up and monitoring mechanisms from government agencies, Congress, and the media. Not so in Afghanistan, where glossy documents such as Karzai's presidential decree are often intended more to placate donors than to galvanize actions.
But the biggest reason of all for the rise of anecdotal noise is that alternatives are scarce. Measuring governance and reform-a nebulous, challenging task anywhere-- seems almost impossible in a data-poor, opaque context like Afghanistan. Data-driven evaluations do exist at the classified level, and unclassified information like The Asia Foundation's annual survey, the World Bank's indicators, International Crisis Group reports, and the Defense Department's bi-annual Section 1230 Reports add important insights or overviews. But the conversation about Afghanistan's progress resides heavily in the public domain, where opinion-makers gravitate toward the tactile, colorful personal story.
As U.S. policymakers turn toward 2014, they must suppress these recurrent anecdotes and focus on objectively measuring Afghanistan's governance reform against one central criterion: whether Afghan government institutions are prepared to "hold" the country after the U.S. drawdown. Instead of celebrating the unusual triumphs of districts like Nawa, we must look at indicators for how many provinces will be able to achieve relative success: ministry budget execution and service distribution to the local level. Instead of hoping that all local Afghan officials are as good as "our guy", we can measure whether Karzai's administration has truly made the subnational appointment system more merit based or locally accountable. Rather than check the box of "reform" with the release of a presidential anti-corruption decree, we can focus on the tedious work of prioritizing and following up on those 167 articles.
Shifting the narrative from one where a thousand vivid success stories bloom to one of objective assessment of reform won't be pleasant: it represents a move from the colorful to the colorless. But it is the only way to achieve our minimal objective in Afghanistan: an Afghan government that can endure after we depart.
Frances Z. Brown, at time of writing, was an International Affairs Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and an Afghanistan Fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace.
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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.
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The biggest debate surrounding the Afghanistan-Pakistan region today concerns the U.S. drone program in Pakistan's tribal regions, which target the militants who terrorize and kill local residents, and who attack American soldiers inside Afghanistan. Ironically, the anti-war group CODEPINK -- members of which visited Pakistan last week to protest drone strikes -- along with much of the American left, the Pakistani establishment, and the Taliban are all on the same side in their opposition to drone strikes. While silent on the many more targeted killings of innocent civilians by Taliban militants in the tribal areas between Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Pakistani establishment and the American left both loudly criticize U.S. drone strikes, albeit for different reasons.
Pakistani officials cite Pakistan's sovereignty as their main justification for opposing drone strikes. But sovereignty is neither the actual reason for their anger, nor is it a legitimate argument against drone strikes. The actual reason is that the United States blames Pakistan for its failure to clear militants out of the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. FATA serves as a base for militants and is therefore the target of drone strikes. In return, Pakistan uses anti-drone campaigns to stir up anti-Americanism through the media and insists on its national sovereignty over FATA.
Pakistan's sovereignty claim itself is completely invalid. Pakistan does not now nor has it ever had a complete sovereign control -- as modern nation-states define the term -- over FATA. In fact, it is precisely Pakistan's lack of sovereign control over FATA that allows the militants, many of whom are not Pakistanis, to operate so openly there and invite drone strikes. And that is the best case scenario for Pakistan; the worst case, many believe, is that Pakistan houses and trains these militants in FATA. Indeed, we just saw a fitting example of Pakistan's lack of sovereignty over FATA last week. An anti-drone march to the FATA area of Waziristan on October 7 led by Pakistan's leading politician, Imran Khan, and accompanied by CODEPINK members, failed to reach Waziristan. The march was halted when the Pakistan security forces could not guarantee the safety of the participants. Moreover, there is at least some evidence that the drone attacks are taking place with Pakistan's consent. If the Pakistani government was seriously against drone strikes, it could take a number of actions against the United States, including blocking the NATO supply route that goes through Pakistan, the way it did in late 2011 when NATO forces mistakenly killed 24 Pakistani soldiers at two military posts near the border with Afghanistan.
For CODEPINK and the American far left, the opposition to drone strikes rests on the idea that drones kill innocent civilians. The recently published "Living Under Drones," a report based on 130 interviews with family members of drone strike victims, studied the negative impact of drone strikes on civilians. But the debate on the drones' effectiveness and its impact on civilians is far from settled. For example, a February 2012 investigation by the Associated Press, which interviewed people inside FATA, reported that civilian casualties from drones are far lower than Pakistan civil society figures, journalists, and party officials assert publicly. Another study, relying on open-source data on reported U.S. drone strikes and terrorist activity in FATA between March 2004 and 2010, also found a negative correlation between drone strikes and militant violence. The strikes have also killed high-level Taliban leaders, like Baddrudin Haqqani and Baitullah Mehsud, and key Al-Qaeda militants, like Abu Kasha Al-Iraqi and Saleh Al-Turki. The New America Foundation estimates that around 84% of the people killed in drone strikes from 2004 to the present were al-Qaeda or Taliban militants. The drone accuracy rose to an amazing 95% in 2010.
It is perhaps for these reasons that polls show that the residents of FATA, who are the target of drones, are less opposed to drones than the rest of Pakistanis who are not the target of drones. FATA residents are eight times more supportive of drones than are the rest of Pakistanis. Moreover, a mere 48% of FATA residents believe that drones kill innocent civilians, compared to 89% of people in the rest of Pakistan. Surveys consistently find that FATA residents fear bomb blasts by Taliban and the Pakistani military more than they do drone strikes. According to the Community Appraisal and Motivation Program (CAMP), a Pakistan-based research group, when asked open-ended questions about their greatest fears, very few FATA residents ever mention drones. Even the Peshawar Declaration, a conference organized and attended by leaders of these tribal areas, showed strong support for drone strikes.
That being said, there is little doubt that civilians have died in drone attacks. But that just raises the bigger question: is there a better alternative to drone strikes for counterterrorism in northwest Pakistan? To answer that question, we can look to the Swat Valley, just north of Waziristan, where 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by Taliban militants last Tuesday for advocating for girls' education.
Swat, like Waziristan, has been a stronghold of the Taliban. But unlike Waziristan, Swat has not seen any drone strikes. Instead, in Swat, the only available alternative approach was taken. For much of 2007 and 2008, the people of Swat were left at the mercy of the Taliban, who operated with impunity and killed, tortured, wounded, and displaced countless people. Then, after being pressured by the United States, the Pakistani military entered Swat and conducted an operation to root out the Taliban. The military operation resulted in thousands of deaths, many more wounded, and over one million people displaced, with a quarter million refugees crammed into mere 24 camps -- the worst crisis since Rwanda in 1994, according to the United Nations. The operation also resulted in the destruction of hundreds of schools and egregious human rights violations by the Pakistani military - some of which I witnessed personally. By comparison, there are far fewer cases of displacement, civilian deaths, and other destruction in Waziristan where drone strikes are used.
Nevertheless, by yet another comparison of hypocrisy, those who are loudest about casualties from U.S. drone strikes have rarely protested the far higher numbers of civilian casualties as a result of Pakistan Army operations or Taliban violence in the Swat Valley and FATA. Silenced in this double standard are the varying motives of different parties as well as the voice of the Pashtun people in these tribal areas. At least one voice -- that of this native Pashtun -- is speaking out to say that there are serious downsides to these drone strikes, but they may be a necessary evil and the lone option to combat those who are responsible for the severe suffering of our people - like Malala Yousafzai.
Zmarak Yousefzai practices national security litigation in Washington, DC for an international law firm. He was born and raised in the tribal areas between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
This month marks the end of the American surge in Afghanistan: the 33,000 additional troops President Barack Obama authorized in his administration's first months will complete redeployment, leaving behind a force of 68,000. By launching the surge in December 2009, President Obama attempted to remedy the previous administration's inattention to the Afghanistan effort and fully resource a civilian and military stabilization campaign.
Although the surge's primary military objective was to reverse the Taliban's momentum and train Afghan National Security Forces, it also aimed to "promote a more capable and accountable Afghan government." It would focus on local Afghan government institutions. After widespread acknowledgment that international assistance had concentrated too heavily on Kabul in the years after the 2001 Bonn Agreement, the new U.S. approach aimed to connect local-level governance structures to national ones "from the bottom up." The new strategy endeavored to build governance and development in regions of the country recently "cleared" from a security perspective-largely in Regional Commands South and East. For the first time, U.S. personnel and resources would flow directly into the district level in some of Afghanistan's most volatile areas.
Over three years after President Obama's initial strategy announcement, and as the international community shifts to transition mode, what lasting impacts has the surge had on Afghan subnational governance? A new paper from USIP, drawing on over sixty interviews with Afghans and Americans based at the district level, explores this question. Examining both the U.S. military's localized CERP-funded "governance, reconstruction, and development" projects and civilian stabilization programming, this paper argues that despite policymakers' proclamations of modesty, the U.S. surge aimed to profoundly transform Afghanistan's subnational governance landscape. Although the surge has attained localized progress, its impact has fallen short of this transformative, sustainable intent because its plans were based upon three unrealistic assumptions.
First, the surge overestimated the speed and extent to which specific types of governance intervention would yield progress. In military parlance, it assumed that the campaign's quick success in "amassing security effects" would be mirrored by (or closely approached by) the speed with which it amassed governance effects. Plans assumed that in the realm of governance, more resources could make up for less time. For example, surge policy presupposed that with enough assistance, local governors could rapidly foster legitimacy and durable local support. It also assumed that American aid could quickly establish vertical linkages for service delivery-connecting increasing local "bottom up" demand for services to the "top down" of ministries' delivery systems. Finally, plans assumed that governance successes would quickly gain momentum of their own and spread "ink blot" style, rather than continuing to require great amounts of U.S. inputs.
A second miscalculation was the expectation that the surge's "bottom up" progress-the result of dedicated work by locally-based U.S. and Afghan personnel-would be matched by "top down", Afghan-led systemic reforms to make this local progress durable. Where surge personnel encouraged district governors' responsiveness to their local populations in the short run, they hoped that in the longer term, these local officials' incentive structures would shift to ensure they were more accountable to their constituents and not Kabul. Instead, the Independent Directorate of Local Governance's subnational appointment system made claims of reform and merit-based improvements but in practice left Kabul's longstanding patronage system largely unchanged.
In addition, as U.S. officials worked with district-level councils to improve the competence of these shuras, they assumed that, in the longer term, the councils' makeup and authority would be formalized by the Kabul-based government. Instead, Kabul showed little appetite to reconcile the confusing, competing array of local councils or to standardize their powers. (Very recently, after the Tokyo conference, a committee led by the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (MRRD) is drafting district council regulation, but any implementation will come too late for the surge.) Finally, some surge personnel labored to increase local officials' budgetary prioritization skills so that local needs could be reflected in central line ministries' decisions. But any meaningful fiscal deconcentration, apart from a nascent and currently-stalled provincial budgeting pilot, was unlikely during the lifespan of the surge. In short, the surge showed that one key ingredient-Afghan political will to undertake needed structural reforms-was not malleable from the "bottom up."
Finally, the surge rested upon the assumption that "lack of governance" was a universal driver of the insurgency, for which service delivery was the appropriate cure. Though this analysis rang true in some districts and municipalities, in others, particularly some remote parts of Regional Command East, observers suggested that presence of government became a fueling factor. In these regions, the local insurgency represented a response to the intrusion of the Afghan government, viewed as extortive and foreign. The presence of ISAF troops facilitating this extended Afghan government reach represented a further grievance for communities who wanted to be left alone. Stabilization programs attempted to win popular support by providing services, but in some areas these initiatives were just atoning for the fact that outsiders-Western and Afghan alike-had shown up in the first place.
More broadly, there is genuine debate over whether "more service delivery" is truly the appropriate prescription for the most contested areas of Afghanistan targeted by the surge. Beyond a deep local desire for security and justice, most other international offerings of "service delivery" found themselves abutting preexisting Afghan arrangements to locally manage everything from karez (irrigation canal) cleaning to equitable water distribution. Many service delivery offerings targeted local requests that were never before expressed, thus creating newly inflated expectations. Meanwhile, the insertion or elevation of local government officials to administer these programs often facilitated extortion, further alienating the local community.
What to make of the surge's governance track record? In many ways, this record merely echoed criticism of the surge's plans from the start, from those inside and outside of U.S. government: the campaign was overly ambitious for an externally-driven effort on a short timeline. So why was optimism so high at the outset? Partial explanations reside in American confidence about perceived counterinsurgency success in Iraq, and enthusiasm at finally resourcing the "good war" in Afghanistan. In addition, Capitol Hill and the American electorate would have been unlikely supporters of an effort billed as a very long, hard slog.
But once the surge was in motion, other American miscalculations emerged that fueled optimism. One was the confusion of discrete successes with replicable progress. When a previously hostile district such as Helmand's Nawa transformed into a peaceful one, the unrelenting stream of VIPs sent to visit did not necessarily see the unusual combination of tribal makeup, leadership calculus, and disproportionate American inputs that prevented the "Nawa Model" from being generalizable, or sustainable. Another common miscalculation was mistaking a local Afghan official's individual advancement with wider progress in building the institutions of local government. In a country where subnational officials are regularly reshuffled or, unfortunately, assassinated, this metric was deceptive. Finally, on a separate note, American officials often placed considerable faith in the power of technical and technological solutions to resolve problems that were fundamentally political in nature. New solutions fed new optimism.
As the surge recedes, the upcoming transition offers an opportunity to apply its lessons toward future governance and development planning. The U.S-Afghan Enduring Strategic Partnership Agreement[i] represents a promising opportunity to embrace strategic planning that is longer in term but more realistic in ambit. As the international community draws down, it should exert its remaining governance-related leverage to impact select systemic issues rather than tactical-level ones, such as standardizing the system by which district council members are selected, improving ministries' recurring services, and bolstering provincial and municipal administrations. The international community should also prioritize a few key, attainable efforts, such as providing training that is consistent with current Afghan government functions, while avoiding creating additional structures. Finally, the surge proved once again that all the usual Afghan local governance recommendations still apply: resolving Afghanistan's subnational challenges requires long-term commitment and systematic execution.
Frances Z. Brown is an International Affairs fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and an Afghanistan Fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace.
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A significant step was taken on Sunday by 20 Afghan political groupings and factions in Kabul to sign a Democratic Charter and announce the formation of a cooperation and coordination council as a prelude to the political transition and presidential elections expected to be held in 2014. This initiative, in the works for weeks, aims to forge a consensus to strengthen democratic governance, assure free and fair elections and act as a pressure point on President Hamid Karzai to commit to electoral reforms and a legitimate process for a peaceful transfer of power when his term ends in less than two years.
While this step will be touted as a show of strong support for a constitutional order and democratic gains made since the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001, the initiative is also a reflection of deep-seated uncertainty and concern among elites about the political process leading to elections, which coincides with the end-of-mission date for NATO combat troops in 2014 -- and that uncertainty is compounded by weak governance plagued by corruption and dim prospects for reconciliation with diehard Taliban leaders.
Karzai has indicated that he will step down at the end of his second and last term, and intends to abide by the constitution, but his critics are not convinced and point to attempts by members of the president's inner circle to subvert or postpone elections.
Interestingly, the formation of the new council not only garnered the support of most loyal opposition groups, but was also endorsed by several factions that are part of Karzai's ruling coalition in government, including Hezb-i Wahdat under Vice President Karim Khalili, the Hezb-i Islami faction under the current Minister of Economy, A. Hadi Arghadewal, Jamiat-e Islami headed by Salahudin Rabbani (also head of the High Peace Council) , Mehaz-e Mili Islami under Pir S. Ahmad Gailani and Afghan Milat Party headed by current Minister of Commerce, Anwarul Haq Ahadi.
Other groupings and prominent leaders represented in the council - formally named the Cooperation Council of Afghan Political Parties and Alliances (CCAPPA) - include former presidential contender Dr. Abdullah Abdullah of the National Alliance, Hanif Atmar, former interior minister and head of the Right and Justice party, Ahmad Zia Massoud, Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum and Mohamed Mohaqeq of the National Front, Ahmad Wali Massoud, and former chief of national intelligence, Amrullah Saleh.
Describing the country as unstable, insecure and facing "a deep crisis", council members support a political settlement to the on-going conflict. However, they stressed that a reconciliation process needs to be "Afghan-led, comprehensive, just and part of a political process that safeguards constitutional values."
They also expressed strong support for freedom of expression and social justice, as well as women's and minority rights. Fearing that the political system has created a "deepening fissure between the people and the government," they called for an inclusive system that enhances popular participation in the political life of the country.
Probably most significant of all, the council was able to agree on a common platform to deal with a host of election-related challenges that have created angst and heightened suspicions as a result of lukewarm approach to a reform agenda, and new appointments perceived as pre-election political consolidation by a lame duck president and his allies.
Karzai recently reshuffled and replaced 10 governors, a move seen by some as more political in essence than administrative. There are indications that a similar reshuffling may be announced soon, affecting several cabinet positions, part of the judiciary and heads of several key independent state commissions.
Furthermore, a recent comment by first Vice President Qaseem Fahim that elections will not be held at all if security conditions are not permitting, has ruffled feathers and put the opposition in an offensive mode.
The joint statement issued by the council on Sunday not only stressed on the "full independence and neutrality" of the Election (IEC) and Complaints Commissions (ECC), but also requested that measures be taken in order for 1.Elections to be held on time as stipulated by the Constitution; 2. A census to be completed and new national ID cards be issued on time; 3. Voter registration and lists be compiled and the voting system be computerized; 4. Assigning national and international election monitors; 5. Assuring security for elections and 6. Assuring non-interference in the electoral process.
On Monday, a day after the council was formed, the Lower House of parliament voted to reform legislation regulating IEC responsibilities, and allowed two international experts to sit as ECC commissioners, a setback for those who were opposed to international monitoring and adjudication.
With Karzai attending the UN General Assembly meeting in New York this week, he will be hard pressed once he returns to Kabul, either to agree with the demands, seek a compromise, reject them or, as has been the case in the past, ignore such recommendations.
But the buildup of pressure from numerous political heavyweights cannot be easily ignored this time around. The ball is now in Karzai's court, where two contending interest groups around the president - one made up of a small clique of reformists, and the other representing narrow ethnic and financial interests - are at odds over the way forward.
There is talk in Kabul's political bazaar of convening an all-Afghan national assembly to define the contours of a national agenda based on the country's vital interests before all sides engage in electoral contest. If agreed to by all major actors, this idea may constitute a step toward the normalization of relations between the presidential palace, parliament and the loyal opposition, and help level the playing field.
There is little chance, however, for the newly formed council to become a political coalition fielding a single candidate in 2014. Due to different political priorities and platform inconsistencies, the council may prove more useful as a pressure group aiming for electoral reform than as a political vehicle for contesting power.
Cognizant of this, Karzai may be tempted by the palace's narrow interest group to take a hard stance and avoid any compromise, while it uses its leverage through subversive tactics to create an un-even playing field. The prospects for such posturing will not only be detrimental to the political and reconciliation processes, but will also further complicate the NATO withdrawal and transition to a stable and secure Afghanistan.
Omar Samad is Senior Afghanistan Expert at USIP in Washington DC, and a former Afghan Ambassador to France and Canada. The views expressed here are his own.
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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
Hours before flying off to Tehran to attend the Non-Aligned Movement summit on Wednesday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai dismissed the country's intelligence chief and indicated that a slate of three nominees would be submitted soon for parliamentary approval to fill three key vacant security portfolios - defense, interior, and now, intelligence (National Directorate for Security).
A statement released earlier in the day by the President's press office confirmed rumors that NDS chief Rahmatullah Nabil had been removed. It did not specify any reasons for the dismissal. At a special meeting, Karzai thanked Nabil for his accomplishments and pledged to appoint him as ambassador soon.
The statement also stressed that the head of NDS shall not hold the position longer than two years.
Nabil was put in charge of NDS almost two years ago when his predecessor, Amrullah Saleh, and then-minister of interior Hanif Atmar, resigned as part of a politically-motivated shakeup.
Former defense minister, Rahim Wardak, and interior minister, Bismillah Mohammadi, received a no-confidence vote at the Afghan Lower House of Parliament three weeks ago, caused by what parliamentarians termed "security lapses" and outrage at reports of Pakistani cross-border shelling that killed scores and displaced thousands in Kunar province.
However, in addition to Afghan frustration vis-à-vis the shelling incidents, political motivations may also have played a role in the abrupt rejection of the two key ministers.
It is expected that Mohammadi, who is respected by many within army and police ranks for his tenacity and sense of duty, but faces opposition from political foes, will be nominated for the defense portfolio. Many see his re-nomination as a way for Karzai to maintain a semblance of ethnic equity, however, his approval by a temperamental House is not guaranteed.
The slot for the Ministry of Interior is expected to go to Mojtaba Patang, who is now in charge of the Afghan Protection Police Force (APPF), while current Minister of Border and Tribal Affairs, Assadullah Khaled, who is also responsible for security in the South and is seen as a member of the president's inner-circle, is slated to head the NDS.
Nabil's unexpected dismissal is thought by some analysts to be tied to the recent surge in green-on-blue attacks that have rattled nerves in Washington and Kabul.
The former head of NDS is also known to have been at odds with top-level government officials who claim to belong to an offshoot of the Hezb-i-Islami group, whose controversial leader, Gulbudin Hekmatyar, is believed to be in hiding in Pakistan's tribal belt. He is said to have opposed recent efforts by groups such as the Hezb to take credit for or take control of recent local anti-Taliban uprisings.
This latest shakeup in the country's most important security institutions is not only a reflection of growing unease about the overall security condition in the country, but may also be part of political realignments at play domestically, as well as a prelude to the gradual NATO/U.S. drawdown by 2015.
Not only will Karzai attend the summit in Tehran and meet Iranian leaders to discuss sources of regional tensions, but he is also scheduled to visit Pakistan soon to raise bilateral concerns over stalled reconciliation efforts with Taliban leaders known to reside in sanctuaries across the border.
Relations between Afghanistan and its two neighbors, Iran and Pakistan, have been strained in recent times, over border skirmishes and allegations of collusion with Taliban and other extremist groups.
Political pundits reacting in Kabul's media consider the shakeups to be politically-motivated, while others attribute them to leadership disarray or even the meddling of neighboring governments.
While rumours circulating about the potential nominees are not confirmed yet, all new names will have to put forward for approval before the Lower House.
Official sources indicate that new appointments are also expected for the ministry of Finance, whose minister is fighting corruption allegations, the directorate in charge of local governance (provincial and district-level appointments), the head of the all-important Independent Election Commission and the Attorney General's Office among others.
One area, almost out-of-sight, where key nominations are overdue, is the judiciary, where two senior members of the Supreme Court, including the Chief Justice, need to be replaced. As a constitutionally set appointment, the term limits for the departing justices have not been respected. The judiciary represents an independent branch that can, and ought to, help promote rule-of-law and good governance, and play an effective check-and-balance role.
Each new appointment will be telling of the aims and trends developing over the next two years as Afghanistan deals with the NATO end-of-mission objectives, the security transition, holding credible presidential elections, and efforts to prevent an economic collapse.
These dynamics are at play at a time when the Taliban are resorting to more violence, while some of their external advocates toy with the notion of immediate negotiations leading to a political deal. Meanwhile, Karzai, mindful of his legacy and future prospects, seems to be setting the course during the last leg of his last term toward security, political and economic transitions that will not only assure stronger political predictability and avoid a security vacuum, but also allow him to shape the post-2014 outcome to the extent possible.
Omar Samad is a Senior Afghanistan Expert at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington DC, and the former Afghan Ambassador to France and Canada. The views expressed here are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the USIP.
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
A plastic grocery bag is probably one of the most generously hoarded items in any Pakistani home. Ours all the way in Boston is no different. Two people and 200 plastic bags; look anywhere - under the mattress, over the closet, folded and tucked between prayer mats. A couple fall off every time I open my jewelry drawer to find my favorite pearl earrings my mother passed on to me with my dowry last year.
Iftikhar and Farzana Ahmed's home in Warrington, Cheshire in the United Kingdom must be no different, only they used their grocery bags to stuff their 17-year-old daughter Shafilea's mouth, blocking her airways and pinning her down till her "legs stopped kicking". But that wasn't punishment enough. Ahmed punched his teenager's lifeless body in the chest after the killing, enraged by her "desire to lead a westernized lifestyle" - wearing jeans, socializing with white girls and refusing to marry a much older man.
Shafilea is gone. So is my stockpile of plastic bags - to the very last one. But to recently convicted Iftikhar and Farzana Ahmed and thousands, if not millions, likeminded others, something else has been saved, guarded, maintained.
That something also led Javed Iqbal Shaikh, a respected lawyer, to pull out a gun and shoot point-blank his 22 year-old sister, Raheela Sehto, in front of dozens of witnesses in a "packed courtroom" in Hyderabad, Pakistan earlier this month. As the bullet penetrated the "left side of her head" she fell to the ground looking her husband, Zulfiqar Sehto, in the eye. Raheela's marriage to Sehto was the reason for which her brother felt compelled to brutally murder her, and Sehto the man Shaikh regrets he couldn't kill along with his sister.
Two women and innumerable others, time and time again, are erased from history in the hands of those who think themselves guardians of this centuries-old tradition. Regrettably, to the majority of ‘honorable' men, honor in all its entirety resides in the bodies of women and women alone, in the context of which their rights to live, let alone control, their own lives and to liberty and freedom of movement, expression, association, and physical integrity mean very, very little.
Whether out of fear or by choice, the complicity and support by other women in the family and the community - mothers, mothers-in-law, sisters, cousins - also strengthens the concept of women as property. Their participation in these deadly attacks also reaffirms the perception that violence against family members is a family and not a judicial issue.
This ‘community mentality' paired with misleading interpretations of religion and suit-yourself articulations of ‘family law' encourage patriarchy within families and negative attitudes towards female autonomy. Thus an environment is created in which violence against women is accepted and justified - a huge motivation for the family and community to cover up these heinous brutalities - a crime in itself. It is not surprising, then, that various women's groups in South-west Asia and the Middle East suspect the number of both reported and unreported victims to be at least four times the United Nations' decade-old figure of around 5,000 honor killings a year worldwide.
So for those daring to trespass the boundary of ‘appropriate' chalked-out by their male counterparts and guardians, ‘honor' is but a death sentence and has been so for hundreds and thousands of years. The concept of honor and its protection is widely displayed within many different male-dominated societies in human history, dating back to ancient Rome, the Arab tribes of Babylonian King Hammurabi as early as in 1200 BC, prerevolutionary China and many other societies and historical eras long before any major religion came into existence.
Today, however, the practice is becoming increasingly common across cultures and across religions, especially in South Asia and in Pakistan. The concept of honor in the region is largely dichotomous, and absurdly so. While honor in its masculine form is active and positive - dynamism, generosity, vigor, confidence, dominance and strength, a woman's honor, by contrast, revolves around negative, more passive concepts - chastity, obedience, servitude, domesticity and the endurance of pain and hardship without any display of feelings or complaint.
Unlike her male counterpart, a woman's honor can neither be increased nor regained - once lost, it is lost forever. What is worse is that when a woman loses her honor, the honor of her brothers, father and uncles is also lost and can only be regained through a violent display of dominance. Conveniently nonsensical but practiced explicitly in South Asia among Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims alike, with the same deadly effects.
In its latest annual report, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan presented disappointing statistics for honor crimes in the country. More than 1,000 women and girls fall victim to honor killings every year in Pakistan, the report maintains, mostly at the hands of their brothers and husbands, with less than two per cent provided medical assistance before their death.
The Aurat Foundation, a reputable women's rights group in Pakistan, however, has uncovered numbers two times that figure. According to their report released in January this year, as many as 2,341 honor killings were reported in the country in 2011 - "a 27 per cent jump from the year before". But the figures are just "the tip of the iceberg", the report warns, since its researchers relied on cases reported in the media only.
But despite being ranked the third-most dangerous country for women in the world after Afghanistan and Congo - due to a barrage of threats including honor killings - over the past decade, Pakistan has also made adequate real world efforts to fortify women's rights in the country. In 2006, the country passed a bill to strengthen the law against honor killings under the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, making the crime punishable by a prison term of seven years or even by the death penalty. Last year in 2011, the Senate passed two landmark pieces of legislations into bills - the Prevention of Anti-Women Practices Bill and the Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Bill - an uncommon piece of news coming from the region since both bills were introduced and carried through by female members of its National Assembly.
But tackling something as engrained and as ancient as honor killing requires every thread of the country's social fabric to work together to bring about a wholesale change in common attitudes. This development may sound almost fairytale-ish in a Pakistani context, but if social change over centuries has led to a major decline of honor-based violence in certain parts of Europe, America and even the Middle East, then the global eradication of honor crimes remains a possibility. The question is, can Pakistan be a part of this change?
The current political climate in Pakistan is marked by a tug-of-war between civilian and military rulers on the one hand, and between liberal and religious elements on the other. The main casualties in this hostile environment are the women killed in the name of honor. The sitting Pakistan People's Party government has absolutely no support from the opposition party Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz , nor -- it seems -- from the judiciary, which is more interested in sacking the next available prime minister and policing the country's television channels for vulgarity than in taking legal action against the Hyderabad honor-killing incident.
In the lead-up to the upcoming general elections later this year, Imran Khan and his political party Tehreek-e-Insaf have in a matter of months risen to unrivaled popularity among Pakistan's youth. The so-called ‘pied piper' of Pakistani politics, attracting over 400,000 to his rally in Karachi earlier this year, however, has few words on the subject of honor killings. Offering his countrymen a ‘New Pakistan' free from American slavery as he comes into power, the man eats, breathes and sleeps drones. Honor killing, not so much, even though the women killed in the name of honor each year outnumber annual drone-related casualties in Pakistan.
Honor killing is a broader, more universal problem. It is not just a women's issue, or a religious or cultural one. It is a full-scale human rights concern where daily violence happens throughout the world in the name of honor.
Wherever there is a structural acceptance for violence against women, there is an acknowledgment that men have all the rights to legislate their own morality. Inaction of the state and silence on the part of national or community leaders and intellectuals the likes of Khan only fuel the ancient trend.
In Pakistan, there is a culture of impunity where men commit vicious acts to safeguard their so-called honor and roam freely. Tremendous amounts of pressure - political, judicial and social - need to be asserted to make sure these acts are punished. The problem needs to be openly and extensively discussed so that it can be uprooted. And what better place to do it than a gathering of 400,000 in the heart of the country? Who wouldn't like a ‘New Pakistan' where perpetrators are stripped of the very honor in the name of which they take innocent human lives and are duly punished?
The question remains: can Pakistan make the change?
Rabail Baig is a Pakistani journalist based in Boston.
Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images
Religion matters in Afghanistan in significant ways. However, U.S. policy over the past decade has paid it insufficient attention, costing the United States in its effort to build a stable country that does not foster violent extremism. I diagnosed the problem in my last posting, providing a coup d'œil of sorts about the tactical and strategic advantages of thoughtfully engaging Afghanistan's religious terrain. Now I am returning to offer specifics on how to advance religious tolerance and freedom in Afghanistan in a way that doesn't create a backlash. Much depends on fostering a legitimate government that respects, rather than represses, fundamental rights and provides the civic space needed for peaceful debate on issues of religion and state.
Granted, the legitimizing role of religion has been sought after in the Afghan nation-building enterprise. Military counterinsurgency and stability operations doctrine places much emphasis on fostering a government viewed as legitimate, attempting to pull the "uncommitted middle" away from the irreconcilable insurgents into the government's orbit through outreach to religious leaders and communities. Yet U.S. doctrine and practice does not contemplate the consequence of pulling religious leaders with a Taliban-like religious viewpoint into the government fold.
A recent example of this error comes from President Hamid Karzai's endorsement of a so-called code of conduct issued by the Ulema Council, an influential body of clerics sponsored by the Afghan government, which permitted spousal abuse and promoted gender segregation. Yet Karzai has the legitimacy equation backwards. While it is doubtful the Afghan populace viewed him differently after his statement, the Ulema Council emerged with greater perceived influence as an entity that impacts political power. This is seriously problematic. The Norwegian Peacebuilding Centre highlighted two years ago how the result of such accommodation "has been both to sustain the former jihadi leaders' influence and contribute to the marginalization of more moderate Islamic forces."
The key is to change the equation, so political leaders see the benefit of legitimizing voices supporting religious tolerance and rights, instead of trading them for ephemeral political gains.
To advance this idea, the United States needs to foster and build an indigenous movement of religious leaders and public figures who can shape the environment in a positive way through their deeds and interpretations of Islamic law and practice. For those courageous enough to step forward, speaking out can be life-threatening. The murders of Salman Taseer and my friend Shahbaz Bhatti in neighboring Pakistan speak to this danger, as they resolutely criticized Pakistan's deeply flawed blasphemy law, but did not enjoy wide support and were vehemently opposed by the clerical class.
How can we avoid this? Iraq offers a surprising example of how the U.S. government engaged the religious dynamic constructively.
From 2006 to 2007, the Command Chaplain of Multinational Force-Iraq, Col. Michael Hoyt, together with Anglican clergyman Cannon Andrew White, began to engage Sunni and Shia religious leaders about the sectarian violence ripping the country apart. Over a year of tireless and dangerous work, Chaplain Hoyt and Cannon White found voices willing to denounce the violence. Far from being one chaplain's good initiative, the process had political backing from both General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, as well as enjoying the support of Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki and his National Security Advisor.
The outcome was the issuance of a remarkable document that denounced violence, which included the two major Islamic sects, as well as religious minority leaders who were also being victimized. The document was issued the day after the second bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra, an attack that was followed by none of the widespread killing unleashed after the first Samarra bombing. In addition, observers credit this initiative with creating the conditions under which Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani urged calm and Shiite militant leader Moqtada al-Sadr chose not to incite his fighters.
Chaplain Hoyt's effort made a difference, sowing the seeds of tolerance by finding key leaders to embrace the effort, and a similar approach could work in Afghanistan. What follows are specific suggestions for how the U.S. government could increase its efforts to foster religious tolerance and freedom, creating the civic space needed to undercut extremists and to empower many voices that can legitimize this approach.
Prioritize: Decide that creating civic space through the promotion of religious tolerance and freedom will be a priority and act accordingly. For those skeptical about the ability of the United States to move the needle on sensitive issues woven into societal and religious mores, look no further than the progress made on women's rights. The Taliban were terrible persecutors of women, denying them education and forcing them under a burqa, and tradition-bound Afghan society was thought to be beyond moving on sensitive social issues. While much work remains, the international community's emphasis on women's rights has already benefited millions of Afghans.
This did not happen by accident. It happened because the issue was made a priority and woven throughout U.S. and international engagement. For instance, the Chicago NATO Summit Declaration on Afghanistan had very strong language on women's rights. The emphasis of the international community likely compelled President Karzai to condemn the brutal assassination of a woman for alleged adultery. A similar commitment could do the same for religious tolerance and freedom, which could further concretize gains for women.
Change the conversation: To push extremist voices out of the civic space, steps must be taken to change the domestic conversation and educate the population about other interpretations of their faith. The United States should flood Afghanistan with Americans and religious leaders who can speak credibly about issues of religion, society, and law. The visits of the U.S. Special Envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Rashad Hussain, to Afghanistan have been very successful. He is able to "talk religion" with high-level Afghan Government officials, religious leaders, civil society representatives, and students. More of these trips are needed, but also with delegations of religious leaders crossing sectarian and/or religious lines. Further, the U.S. government can facilitate trips of religious leaders to the United States or through Islamic democracies.
Utilize military chaplains: The United States has at its disposal religious leaders in uniform in the chaplaincy corps. In 2009, the Pentagon issued Joint Publication 1.05 for religious affairs in joint operations, which gives commanders the option of using chaplains to engage religious leaders in their area of responsibility. The change in doctrine reflects that chaplains understand religion in unique ways and can be deployed in conflicts where religion is a driving factor. Smartly using chaplains in this role worked in Iraq. Of course Afghanistan is not Iraq, but religion matters in both. With the chaplaincy corps still in theater, there is an opportunity to deploy them with like-minded partners to build a movement for tolerance and religious rights.
Bolster and protect: Any effort must privately encourage the Afghan leadership to appoint politically moderate religious leaders, political reformers, and human rights defenders to key positions. This would be in government ministries, but also in Afghanistan's court system, Ulema councils, the human rights commissions, and other places of influence. Once in place, the international community can bolster their progressive work by supporting and funding initiatives. At the same time, the international community must emphasize that their security is a matter of serious concern and press for the provision of adequate protections.
Educate. The children of Afghanistan need to understand that "the other" has value, even if they have different religious or political views, thereby countering the narrative that leads to violence. USAID has a major role in such an effort, in developing primary and secondary education materials and textbooks that incorporate themes of religious tolerance and religious freedom. Curriculum for both secular and religious schools should incorporate international human rights standards and speak of Afghanistan's pluralistic record in prior times.
Talk about it: To demonstrate a deep interest, matters of religious tolerance and freedom should be a prominent part of the bilateral conversation and agenda. Despite no reference in the Strategic Partnership Declaration, these issues can be addressed in communiqués from donor and contact group meetings. As recommended by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), where I am policy director, the U.S. government should include a "special working group on religious tolerance in U.S.-Afghan strategic dialogues" and integrate "human rights concerns into the reconciliation process looking toward a post-conflict Afghanistan."
Train: Along with efforts of this sort should come a commitment to train U.S. personnel, both civilian and military, on Islamic law and Afghan custom. The Afghan constitution in Article 3 enshrines Islamic law, stating "no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam," and Article 130 states that Hanafi Islamic law shall apply when the law is silent. Together, these two provisions bring Islamic religious law into the realm of secular application. The JAG corps, the military's lawyers, are embracing this reality by including training on Islamic law, but more needs to be done. The U.S. government has no role in theological debates, yet it must be able to understand and engage with the law of the land.
All these steps, if taken together and vigorously executed, could foster a wider understanding of the benefits of religious tolerance and freedom, which could begin to give reformers the support they need to guide Afghanistan toward a progressive future. Without a course correction, President Karzai will continue the flawed approach of attempting to build legitimacy by pulling neo-Taliban religious actors toward the government and trading human rights for political support. This won't work and is done at the peril of U.S. interests. And while engaging the religious terrain to promote religious tolerance and freedom is not a silver bullet, to quote Chaplain Hoyt from Iraq, it should be "part of the ammunition belt" that brings stability.
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.
"If [the] United States claims to be a humanitarian power set out to free the people from tyranny, then why does it refrain [from intervening] in Baluchistan?"
This was a question put forward by a student from Balochistan studying at Quad-e-Azam University, Islamabad, to a senior member of the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad whom I had invited to lecture on U.S. foreign policy in my international relations course. The question naturally came as a surprise to the visiting U.S. delegation.
What the student pointed out was the alarming rise of the Quetta Shura, a council of Taliban leaders who took refuge in Quetta, Pakistan after the Taliban regime was toppled over by the United States in 2001, as a major power broker in the area, and the frustration it is causing among the local Balochis who are suffering at the hands of this new class of militancy.
According to the locals, the Quetta Shura has within the span of a decade gotten to the point where it "runs the show." From managing neighborhood security and harassing those who oppose them, to investing in hospitals where militants returning from Afghanistan are treated and in real estate as far as Karachi, the Quetta Shura has not only become the face of insurgency in Afghanistan, but indeed, it has become the face of destabilization in Pakistan.
Several of the locals that I talked to suggested that Quetta Shura is openly collecting funds through its hoax Islamic charity fronts in major cities of Pakistan, and recruiting local Balochis to torch the NATO supply tankers. "They tell us that each truck that we will blow up will get us several ‘hoors' in paradise. We don't get fooled, but many do."
As another local suggested, "[A] few years back, Quetta Shura was passive and was only urging people to wage war against the U.S., but now they are forcing people to wage war, not only on the US, but also on Pakistan."
Daily life has also been severely disturbed, as suggested by a local woman who was frustrated with Quetta Shura's moral policing in their neighborhoods and restrictions upon women to move freely in the city. As a part of its moral policing, militants working for the Quetta Shura have bombed internet cafes, music and CD shops throughout the city. The police force, I have been told, is ill equipped, powerless, and scared to confront the growing power of the militants who possess automatic and sophisticated weapons and have recently targeted and killed the policemen who opposed their power.
While the media in Pakistan remain obsessed with U.S. involvement in the country's affairs, the radicalization and breach of sovereignty by the Quetta Shura is going unnoticed, allowing it to grow exponentially.
The people in Balochistan are frustrated over this foreign intrusion into their territory, as depicted in the question asked by my student. Many Balochis will tell you that radicalization started not because of the drones, but the moment the Taliban began reorganizing as Quetta Shura in parts of Balochistan after being pushed into Pakistan by NATO.
Contrary to the polls that suggest around 75% of Pakistanis are anti-American, Balochistan is an area where, surprisingly, people are relatively less anti-American, severely critical of Taliban, and are looking towards the United States for help. Although no official polls have been conducted in Balochistan due to the lack of access in the area, I conducted an unofficial survey of 1,500 people from Balochistan, of which only 38% had a negative stance towards the United States. This is because people in Balochistan have been suffering for decades under the complex sardari (feudal) - Pakistan Military alliance, and recently under the suffocating presence of the Quetta Shura. Because Balochis are the direct victims of the Quetta Shura's militancy, they have a better understanding of the threat posed by the terrorists, and are more amenable to the U.S. campaign against terrorism, unlike the urban centers of Punjab where the anti-American sentiment runs high for political reasons.
Most of the Balochis with whom I have spoken about the matter expressed their acceptance the United States as a possible third party, which could alter the status quo in their area by not only flushing out the Quetta Shura, but also weakening the control of the Pakistan Army in the province.
While the official stance of the Pakistan Army is to reject any notions that Quetta Shura exists, the research I have conducted suggests quite the contrary. The Army is indeed aware of the presence of the Quetta Shura and the significant role it is playing in Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, the hands of the Pakistan Army are tied because of the large Pashtun population within the Pakistan Army, domestic instability in the province, a lack of means and resources, and particularly by their reluctance to open another war front. Matt Waldman wrote in a 2010 report that the continued presence and growth of the Quetta Shura in Balochistan is a clear sign that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) supports the militant group.
But there is a difference between all out support and an effort to influence militant organizations, something that has been confused in many policy circles in Washington, DC. The Pakistan Army -- or for that matter any military -- does not have the ability to fully control militias. However, in warfare militaries do try to maintain communication channels with these groups in order to influence them through either direct or indirect means. The efforts of the Pakistan Army to influence the groups are at times taken out of context, and amplified in the media as direct sponsoring and support of terrorism - which doesn't quite compute, especially keeping in mind the fact that the Pakistan Army has been the major target of violence by these militant groups.
Rather, in an already troubled province, where the Pakistani Army has been engaged in a war and is not well liked, it is left with little or no resources or morale to wage a full-out war. This is especially true when Pashtuns in the Pakistani Army increasingly defy orders to kill the Pashtuns in the Quetta Shura. A senior army official who requested anonymity stated, "The American policy until 2008 was focused strictly on curtailing al-Qaeda; hence, the Pakistan Army was more relaxed towards massive migration of Afghanis flooding Quetta. It's hard to distinguish between a Taliban fighter and a civilian migrating to save his life. It becomes even harder when civilians carry an arm for protection in Pashtun culture."
The Pakistan Army has, for the past decade, attempted to strike a balance between the domestic repercussions of waging a war on its own people, not losing legitimacy internationally, and keeping the economy afloat.
However, its efforts to maintain balance have been deemed suspicious and labeled "backstabbing" by both the international community and by the Balochis, who are now highly frustrated with the rise of the Quetta Shura in their province, and the incapacity of the Pakistan Army to provide security.
Balochistan's gas and mineral reserves and strategically located Gwadar port are crucial to energy-starved Pakistan, making it an important strategic area for stability to both the Pakistan and the United States. More importantly, the current instability and radicalization fed by the Quetta Shura, and especially the sentiments of the Balochis opposed to this group, provide a unique opportunity for the United States to play a constructive role in the region by cooperating and facilitating the Pakistani government and allowing it - not the Army - to take the lead. The United States could be providing the Pakistani government with the means and resources to secure and develop the area, and eventually free the people from the tyranny of Quetta Shura.
While the Pakistan Army is not well liked in Balochistan due to the number of missing persons whose disappearances are blamed on security forces, the recent court cases against the Army by the Supreme Court, along with the Balochistan Package and other trust-building measures by the Pakistan government, provide a unique opportunity for the government to play a dominant role in Balochistan. The government has a unique opportunity to take charge of making policies towards Balochistan, instead of letting the Pakistan Army call all shots on the province. The move, if played right, will not only bring peace to the turbulent province of Balochistan and raise the status of the U.S. and Pakistan governments among the people, but will also ensure the security of Afghanistan by rooting out the center of Afghan insurgency
Hussain Nadim is a Visiting Scholar with the Asia Program Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars.
On Monday, the New York Times wrote about an unreleased report by the Afghanistan Human Rights Commission mapping human rights abuses from 1978 until 2001. Spanning the two bloody decades in which Afghanistan oscillated from Russian occupation and violent resistance, to all-out civil war in the early 1990s, to oppressive Taliban rule, the report documents tens of thousands of deaths, torture and other extreme abuses, including evidence of 180 mass graves. Although many of these abuses are well known, what has caused the biggest controversy, and the reason the report is still unpublished, the Times reports, is that many of the perpetrators are members of the current government or are local powerbrokers who still hold sway over key regions and provinces in Afghanistan.
Many of these incidents (the Dasht-e-Laili massacre of 2,000 Taliban prisoners; massacres of Hazara populations in Bamiyan during the Taliban era; the 1993 Afshar massacre by mujahedeen leaders) have been documented by other groups, but this report appears is of a different scale and level of detail. It is certainly the most comprehensive reporting on past abuses to date, and with more forensic and investigative resources, likely more rigorous. It also holds the greatest promise for energizing a more balanced and holistic debate about how Afghanistan might address this horrific past. Whereas past transitional justice projects have been criticized for singling out certain warlords or ethnic groups, this mapping illustrates how widespread the violence was. Victims and culprits can be found in every ethnic group, every region, every pocket of Afghan society. This report might be used as a springboard for a national discussion about how to move beyond finger-pointing and allow recognition of past abuses to be a part of more meaningful national reconciliation.
If it ever comes out that is. Previous high-level efforts to get traction on transitional justice issues have been squashed due to political pressure. For example, a 2005 United Nations mapping report that documented past cycles of violence and conflict and tied specific abuses to perpetrators was never released officially (though it has been leaked). Similarly, much controversy has surrounded the release of the AIHRC mapping report. Originally commissioned in 2005, human rights advocates have been preparing for an imminent release for several years but publication has been repeatedly delayed, in part due to technical issues and follow-up research, but also because of political pressure from the Afghan government, the Times reports. Most recently, when the Afghan government learned of the report's imminent release, the lead Commissioner in charge, Nader Nadery, was fired - many believe in order to prevent the report's release.
Nor is the Afghan government the only player to question if the report should be released. A U.S. official quoted in the piece argued the report should not be published, at least until after Afghanistan's 2014 presidential election "There will be a time for it, but I'm not persuaded this is the time. ...It's going to reopen all the old wounds."
This is a refrain that human rights advocates have heard time and again. While there has been much lip-service to supporting transitional justice, it has always been de-prioritized versus other political and security concerns. With a new election cycle, a new stabilization initiative, prospective reconciliation talks, or simply flowering insecurity always on the horizon, there has never been a "right" time for such a discussion. And in the meantime the rancor caused by impunity continues to erode confidence in the Afghan government and the rule of law, and the abuses of past years seem ever more likely to repeat themselves. This was never truer than it is now, as the looming 2014 elections and withdrawal of international combat troops have prompted many of the same perpetrators of past abuses to re-arm in preparation for a potential new era of violence.
Not only would it be important for such a report to come out now, so that there is at least a chance that such concerns will be discussed during this critical transition period, but it would be a serious setback if the report succumbed to political pressure and was not published at all. Already there are troubling signs that the space to publish critical thought in Afghanistan is getting worse, not better over time. In post-2001 Afghanistan, one of the few unequivocal successes has been the growth and freedom of the media. Afghan journalists, researchers and analysts have consistently been at the forefront of a surging new civil society, asking challenging questions and providing one of the few real checks and balances to government actions. Supported by foreign aid donors, and unrestrained by a Karzai administration that for most of the last 10 years has tolerated criticism, Afghans have enjoyed greater freedom of speech and association than anywhere else in the region.
However, there are signs that space is shrinking. Afghan journalists and stringers have been reporting greater harassment - in some cases leading to physical abuse - at a local level. New procedures have also been instituted that limit NGO activities or research organizations. When I was in Afghanistan earlier this month, we had to seek permission from several, overlapping ministries in Kabul to do even the most basic research or events in the provinces. Given this overall climate, the perception that the AIHRC report is hushed up would send a powerful signal to Afghan media and civil society: If a report of this magnitude and importance cannot be published, then what can?
The fact that such a report could even be produced shows how far Afghanistan has come in the last 10 years. Now, the way the report is treated is an important litmus test of how many of those gains will be preserved following transition. Publishing this report would not, of course, resolve all the underlying political issues. And while not a given, the Afghan government may fear it would put many of its key allies and partners at risk of prosecution (although the Amnesty law likely would prevent that) or disqualification from upcoming elections. However, ignoring this issue for so many years has created much larger consequences that might be better addressed in this transition period than left to fester. The Afghan government has a credibility problem both with the Afghan public and with the international community (whom it relies upon for continued aid). Past efforts to ignore these issues has to widespread, popular disillusionment with the Afghan government, undermining efforts on stabilization, rule of law development, and reconciliation. If the Afghan government embraced this report (which it originally commissioned) as an opportunity to begin a national conversation on these issues, it might be a concrete way to show the Afghan population and international donors that it meant all of the commitments about reforming government institutions and protecting rights that it made at events like the recent Tokyo conference. It would show that while there are many challenges on the horizon, Afghanistan's leaders and political system have moved beyond where it was in the 1980s and 1990s. There has never been a more critical time for such a statement.
Erica Gaston is a Senior Program Officer on Rule of Law in Afghanistan at the U.S. Institute of Peace.