With just hours left before voters begin casting their votes for Pakistan's next leaders, political posters are plastered across markets, convoys of motorcycles and cars flying party flags clog major thoroughfares, and raspy-voiced candidates make their final appeals to throngs of people.
Election fever runs high everywhere, it seems, but in Rabwah.
The city nestled alongside the Chenab River in Punjab is home to an estimated 40,000 potential voters, but the vast majority of them will not be voting in the upcoming election due to their faith. Rabwah is a haven for Ahmedis, who make up over 95 percent of its population. While Ahmedis consider themselves Muslims, the Pakistani government has officially declared them otherwise.
The groups' adherence to Mirza Ghulam Ahmed, a man they see as a prophet, is heretical to most Muslims, who hold that the Prophet Muhammad was the last messenger of God. This difference of beliefs has made Ahmedis the subject of scorn in Pakistan, where they could be subject to death for practicing their faith since doing so would mean engaging in the illegal act of "posing as a Muslim."
While they aren't officially barred from voting, Ahmedis must sign a statement renouncing their faith in order to cast a ballot.
"I'm 37 years old and I've never voted in my life," says Amir Mehmood, a lifelong resident of Rabwah.
Mehmood says that he follows politics closely, but having to deny his beliefs to vote is more of a sacrifice than he is willing to bear.
"If the state thinks that I'm not a Muslim, that's fine. I can't change the state. But how can I say that I'm a non-Muslim just because the state tells me to? I consider myself to be a Muslim."
A 1974 amendment to the Pakistani Constitution explicitly declared Ahmedis to be non-Muslims, and a few years later separate faith-based electorates were created that forced Ahmedis to vote as non-Muslims. Instead of doing so, most Ahmedis refused to cast a ballot-and have maintained their non-participation in the country's politics ever since.
While President Pervez Musharraf unified the electorate in 2002, he soon bowed to religious extremists by inserting one glaring exception to the rule: Ahmedis would have a distinct voter list. All those who tick the box "Muslim" in the religious affiliation column of their election ballot must sign a statement certifying that they are not Ahmedi.
Due to this requirement, the upcoming election will be the eighth one in which Ahmedis refuse to take part. But Saleemuddin, a spokesperson for the Ahmedi community who uses only his first name, says this does not amount to a boycott.
"We don't approve of the word ‘boycott.' We're not boycotting. We've been so clearly discriminated against that we've been essentially prevented from casting votes in these elections."
Saleemuddin says by phone from Rabwah, "Like anywhere in the world, voting rights should be based on citizenship. In fact, they are in Pakistan too, but one executive order has brought in religion and kept my community from voting."
He says every government has continued to propagate a second-class status for Ahmedis because of the power that religious extremists and powerful clerics exercise over the country's political arena. While this election will mark the first time one democratically-elected government will pass the mantle to another, for Saleemuddin, this milestone is undermined by the state's unwillingness to let Ahmedis vote in a free and fair manner.
And few candidates are willing to address the issue of religious freedom.
Hasan Askari Rizvi, an independent political analyst told the Pakistani newspaper Dawn, "The elections will hardly bring any respite to religious minorities because the societal groups and parties that target them do not get their votes."
According to Rizvi, politicians don't have much to gain from courting the votes of religious groups like Ahmedis, Christians, or Hindus. "These votes which are small and scattered cannot generate enough political clout to pressure political parties effectively."
This amounts to a sort of catch-22 for Ahmedis since politicians do not feel politically bound to respond to their plight, something they cannot address without allies in the government. Saleemuddin says he had some hope that the cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan might herald in a new era of religious freedom but Khan overtly declared his accord for the status quo saying in a video statement, "I have read the Qur'an very closely and I know that those who do not recognize Muhammad as the last prophet are not Muslims."
"Imran Khan has claimed that he's going to create a ‘New Pakistan,' but before he's even had the chance to do so, he's declared that Ahmedis will be stuck in the same ‘Old Pakistan' that we've known for too long," Saleemuddin laments.
Many Ahmedis feel that Khan's statements shamed his party's name-Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf or the "Justice Party" -but Bilal Haider, an Ahmedi living in Karachi, says Khan is no different than other politicians.
"All of these parties have written into their agendas that they want equal rights but none of them actually [do away with discriminatory laws] once they get into power," he says.
While there are an estimated four million Ahmedis in the country, most politicians think appealing for their vote will do more harm than good since bias against the sect is widespread-and it isn't limited to election season or political rights, says Haider.
"Each and every Ahmedi family is now connected to someone who was martyred. It's not only about silent discrimination, it's about literal attacks."
One of Haider's uncles, along with his wife's father, was killed in May 2010 in synchronized attacks on two Ahmedi mosques in Lahore, which resulted in the deaths of over 80 worshippers.
Haider is hopeful that when he has children, they'll be born into a more tolerant Pakistan.
But for Saleemuddin, the current situation is vexing enough. "My daughter watches TV and sees all of the political advertisements and news of the election," he says. "She asks me which candidate our family supports. She's only in 6th grade and it's really hard to explain to her why we're not voting. ‘Our town is so big,' she says, ‘So how come there isn't a single political poster or party banner here?'"
He says it's difficult to tell her that no politician is willing to change the laws so that his community in Rabwah can cast ballots without having to cast aside their faith.
Beenish Ahmed is a freelance multimedia journalist based in Islamabad, Pakistan. She is reporting on education there through a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crises Reporting.
ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images
There seems to be some disagreement between Pakistan's extremists over participation in the May 11 elections. Pakistani Taliban spokesperson Ehsanullah Ehsan recently told Pakistanis to boycott the elections because democracy is un-Islamic, while Maulana Sami ul-Haq, a conservative cleric who runs a religious seminary that trained many Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, said in a follow-up statement that voting is a religious obligation.
Could it be that the Taliban's brutal attacks on politicians belonging to the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) coalition have actually been detrimental to the wider extremist movement in Pakistan? The attacks definitely handicap religious parties, who often share sympathies and ideologies with the Taliban, at a time when they could potentially capitalize on staunch public disappointment with the outgoing government's performance.
While religious parties lost big in the 2008 elections, they probably anticipated some role for themselves in the next government, which is likely to be led by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, a conservative political party known for its own "special relationship" with extremists. Religious parties were further bolstered by a survey conducted by the British Council earlier this year revealing that 38 percent of Pakistani youth surveyed believed Islamic law is better suited for Pakistan than democracy.
Instead, Taliban attacks have likely increased chances of a high sympathy vote for the secular parties, a dynamic that helped usher in the PPP coalition in 2008 following the tragic death of Benazir Bhutto.
Why is it, though, that the extremists are not speaking with one voice? The commonsense - and most likely - argument is that they are just plain unorganized. Even though many of Haq's students joined the Taliban movement, it's doubtful that he has direct influence over the Taliban command and control structure - hence the very public statements contradicting the official Taliban position.
Let's not forget that Haq is a politician who leads his own political party and previously served in the Senate. His statements are more a warning for his former students than anyone else to not ruin his chances or those of the others who have been sitting on the sidelines for several years. A return to politics means a chance to advance the ideological agenda of the religious right, but it also allows individuals like Haq and his friends to benefit from state resources, foreign aid flows, and other "perks" of being in power.
No one expects the religious right to take over...yet. Religious parties never have much success in Pakistani elections. Furthermore, the likelihood of a General Zia ul-Haq figure emerging on the scene is low. Zia, the military dictator who introduced a conservative interpretation of shariah law in several areas of Pakistani culture and law, began the trend of mixing religion with politics as a tool of state power. The approach engendered a vast network of militants that fought mostly Pakistan's battles while invoking the name of Islam; some were also used by the United States in pushing the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan, while others advanced their own sectarian agendas.
While no one can compete with Zia's quasi-theocratic feat at the moment, religion and politics still mix - and badly. Pakistan's long relationship with militants and its cooperation with the United States in Afghanistan after September 11, 2001 have engendered a new breed of religious right - those against the state, namely the Pakistani Taliban in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.
It is because of this shift in the state's relationship with militants that the Pakistani military has a clear interest in strengthening the religious right's political chances. Could the likes of Sami ul-Haq and other religious political parties convince the Pakistani Taliban to stop attacking the Pakistani military, secular politicians, and ordinary citizens? Don't bet money on it, but in February the Taliban did say they would participate in talks with the military if they would be mediated by one of the following individuals: Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz President Nawaz Sharif, Jamaat-e-Islami leader Syed Munawar Hasan, or Jamiat-Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman.
The talks did not happen. Instead, the Pakistani military began an operation in the Tirah Valley where numerous security officials and militants have died. It is becoming harder and harder for the Pakistani military to respond to battlefield challenges by militants who now want access to the ballot box too. In addition to militant leader Hafeez Saeed's new "political career," dozens of individuals with alleged links to militant organizations have filed papers for the elections.
The entrée of such unsavory characters into Pakistani politics would not be a first, but it would be the wrong direction for a country that is still testing a rapidly evolving democratic culture and also trying to clarify the role of religion in politics. Islam, after all, is inextricable from Pakistan's history. The country was formed in 1947 as part of a political push by Muhammad Ali Jinnah to establish a homeland for the Indian subcontinent's impoverished Muslims. General Kayani, Chief of Army Staff, reiterated this point last week when he told the country's premier military academy that "Pakistan was created in the name of Islam and Islam can never be taken out of Pakistan."
Many believed Kayani's remarks justified religious extremism. This can hardly be the whole truth given the losses the military has suffered fighting the Pakistani Taliban. But the skepticism provoked by his remarks illustrates just how damaged religion and politics has become in Pakistan.
If extremists can take advantage of this characterization of Pakistan to advance their violent agendas, then surely the country's secular parties and government institutions can strengthen themselves against the militant threat in the name of Islam as well. But with extremists such as the members of the banned sectarian group, Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, fielding candidates in this week's elections, such progress does not appear imminent.
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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Today, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) issued its 2013 Annual Report, focusing on Pakistan and 28 other countries around the world, including Afghanistan. As an independent U.S. government advisory body separate from the State Department, USCIRF's Annual Report identifies violations of religious freedom, as defined by international conventions, and provides policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and the Congress.
Based on our monitoring over the past year, we have concluded that the situation in Pakistan is one of the worst in the world.
The report found that "sectarian and religiously-motivated violence is chronic, especially against Shi'a Muslims, and the government has failed to protect members of religious minority communities, as well as the majority faith." An array of repressive laws, including the much abused blasphemy law and religiously discriminatory anti-Ahmadi laws, foster an atmosphere of violent extremism and vigilantism. The growth of militant groups espousing a violent religious ideology that undertake attacks impact all Pakistanis and threatens the country's security and stability.
In the face of increasing attacks against Shi'as and consistent violence against other minorities, Pakistani authorities have failed to provide protection and have not consistently brought perpetrators to justice or taken action against societal actors who incite violence.
In light of these particularly severe violations, USCIRF recommends that Pakistan be designated a "country of particular concern," or CPC, by the U.S. Department of State for these systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom. The CPC designation is a special blacklist created when Congress passed and President Bill Clinton signed in 1998 the International Religious Freedom Act. Unlike some other ‘blacklists,' the CPC designation does not carry any specific penalties for the countries on the list. What it does do is assign a framework through which U.S. officials can encourage the designated country's government to address the egregious violations of religious freedom. This can come in the form of a binding roadmap of agreed actions, a waiver, or punitive steps if progress is lacking.
Countries currently named by the State Department include: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Uzbekistan. Pakistan represents the worst situation in the world for religious freedom for countries not currently designated as "countries of particular concern," and USCIRF has concluded it overwhelmingly meets the threshold established in the Act.
The facts speak for themselves. As the report states:
The Pakistani government failed to effectively intervene against a spike in targeted violence against the Shi'a Muslim minority community, as well as violence against other minorities. With elections scheduled for May 2013, additional attacks against religious minorities and candidates deemed "unIslamic" will likely occur. Chronic conditions remain, including the poor social and legal status of non-Muslim religious minorities and the severe obstacles to free discussion of sensitive religious and social issues faced by the majority Muslim community. The country's blasphemy law, used predominantly in Punjab province but also nationwide, targets members of religious minority communities and dissenting Muslims and frequently results in imprisonment. USCIRF is aware of at least 16 individuals on death row and 20 more serving life sentences. The blasphemy law, along with anti-Ahmadi laws that effectively criminalize various practices of their faith, has created a climate of vigilante violence. Hindus have suffered from the climate of violence and hundreds have fled Pakistan for India. Human rights and religious freedom are increasingly under assault, particularly women, members of religious minority communities, and those in the majority Muslim community whose views deemed "un-Islamic." The government has proven unwilling or unable to confront militants perpetrating acts of violence against other Muslims and religious minorities.
Designating Pakistan as a CPC would make religious freedom a key element in the bilateral relationship and start a process to encourage Islamabad to undertake needed reforms.
There are a range of issues that should be on the bilateral agenda, whether or not Pakistan is designated a CPC. The U.S. government should include discussions on religious freedom and religious tolerance in U.S.-Pakistan strategic dialogues and summits, as well as urge Pakistan to protect religious minorities from violence and actively prosecute those committing acts of violence against Shi'as, Ahmadis, Christians, Hindus, and others; unconditionally release individuals currently jailed for blasphemy; repeal or reform the blasphemy law; and repeal anti-Ahmadi laws. The United States can also highlight to the new government how the Federal Ministry for National Harmony is an institution unique among other nations, and maintaining it would keep a partner to discuss ways to promote religious tolerance and freedom. For sure, none of these are easy, so naming as a CPC would cut through the distractions and help create the political will to act.
The situation in Pakistan is acute, with the increasing violence against diverse religious communities and a system of laws that violate human rights. With a new government soon coming to power, there is a unique opportunity to work together to confront these threats to Pakistan. At the same time, negative pressures could tilt the new government in the wrong direction. For instance, the Pakistani Taliban's targeting of "secular politicians" could give traction to their offer from late 2012 to cease violence in exchange for constitutional amendments to install their religious vision over the country. The CPC process would support Pakistanis who want a better future for their country and counterbalance these pressures -- if the Pakistani government fails to address these issues concretely, penalties could follow after a CPC designation.
The United States is Pakistan's only friend that has the heft and desire to encourage it to tackle these difficult challenges. For sure, the U.S.-Pakistani relationship is complicated and designating a CPC would likely complicate things further. However, to protect all Pakistanis, these issues cannot be ignored and must be confronted and addressed.
Knox Thames is the Director of Policy and Research at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Any personal views expressed are his own and may or may not reflect the views of the commission. He can be followed on Twitter @thames22.
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images
The life of a Pakistani politician is fraught with life-threatening situations. In recent years, several high-profile politicians have been assassinated: former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007, and Punjab Governor Salman Taseer and Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti in 2011. The dangerous trend has continued this month with the targeting of lower-profile candidates running for office in the upcoming May 11 parliamentary elections. In these instances, the Pakistani Taliban or religious extremists were the perpetrators, choosing their targets for either "un-Islamic" secular and progressive values or their perceived cooperation with the United States against Pakistani militants and in the war in Afghanistan.
Beyond the tragic loss of life, the assassinations have the added casualty of limiting the space within which Pakistani leaders can safely operate. Taliban attacks have pressured willing and able voices against extremism into silence on issues-such as minority rights, girls' education, and trade with India-that Pakistani society must publicly debate in order to fully embrace and institutionalize them. Those who remain vocal do so at great personal and professional risk: Pakistan's Ambassador to the United States Sherry Rehman faces charges in Pakistani courts for her support of revisions to the blasphemy law.
In the context of upcoming polls, even more worrisome is that the specter of assassination and violence could affect the election outcome, and potentially the representation of key Pakistani constituencies. Pakistani Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan announced the group's intention to target candidates and party workers affiliated with the ruling coalition's Awami National Party (ANP), Pakistan People's Party (PPP), and Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM). ANP and MQM candidates and activists have already been injured or killed-fear tactics intended to directly handicap the ruling coalition's chances of returning to power.
Another side effect of the Pakistani Taliban's killing spree is that the specific pressure on the ANP could skew the Pashtun vote. After the 2008 election, many had high hopes for the secular party based in the Pashtun-concentrated Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. But even then security threats from the Pakistani Taliban prevented ANP from fully taking advantage of the mandate the voters had given it. ANP was viewed as a potential counter to the influence of religious parties like Jamiat-Ulema-e-Islam (JUI), which swept national and provincial elections during the Musharraf years as part of a coalition of religious parties known as the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal.
The Pakistani Taliban's renewed targeting of ANP could improve the chances of religious parties who have, in the past, shared common ideological ground with them. The influence of religious parties has typically been downplayed, but what they are selling might have a new buyer. A survey conducted by the British Council earlier this year revealed that 38 percent of Pakistani youth surveyed believed Islamic law is better suited for Pakistan than democracy.
But the Pakistani Taliban has also threatened some religious parties, such as JUI, for cooperation with the federal government. The real worry is not the return of religious parties but the disenfranchisement of Pakistani Pashtuns, who may decide to stay at home on election day to avoid violence. This is the last thing the Pakistani state needs in a province that borders the ungoverned tribal areas and where the notion of a greater Pashtun homeland-"Pashtunistan"-exists in spirit if not fully in practice. ANP also faces threats in Karachi, where the growing Pashtun population has become ensconced in the city's gangland-style political culture. Any handicaps for Karachi's Pashtuns in the upcoming elections could also potentially worsen the security situation there.
The PPP, which led the previous government with ANP as a coalition partner, faces similar challenges in reaching voters. President Asif Ali Zardari has been reluctant to participate in large public rallies during this campaign, and for good reason. The memory of the 2007 assassination of his wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, following a rally in Rawalpindi is still fresh among PPP leadership. Fears of assassination have kept Zardari out of the public eye for most of his term and now limit how much his son Bilawal Bhutto, the PPP's heir apparent, campaigns on behalf of the party as well.
Bhutto could have rallied the party's base at a time when the PPP needs it the most. Besides the PPP stronghold of interior Sindh, nowhere else is PPP guaranteed to dominate. Voter outreach is especially critical in north and central Punjab, the traditional domain of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and where Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) has made inroads. Most elections analysts believe that if PTI can continue to tap into PML-N's base of support, especially among urban educated youth, then PPP's chances in Punjab are inadvertently strengthened. It can also benefit from the fact that the strength of PTI's "tsunami" appears to be tapering off. If PPP can access voters who are falling off the PTI bandwagon, it could have a chance in chipping away at PML-N's lead. But PPP cannot rely solely on PML-N's failures or PTI's wane.
For the time being, Pakistani Taliban threats continue to keep the most influential PPP politicians far from Punjab where it matters the most. Even more tragic is the possibility that ANP will be forced to boycott the elections. While much of the elections focus has been on the historic political transition afoot in Pakistan, the threats serve as a reminder of the tough road ahead for whoever manages to survive and come out on top.
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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In Pakistani politics, electioneering and the show of power by organizing sizeable gatherings weeks ahead of polls is a matter of life and death for a political party. No party can hold ground without having a strong, persistent, and pushy election campaign, particularly when one's opponents are busy organizing impressive rallies. Unfortunately, Pakistan's three mainstream secular parties are faced with the unenviable challenge of trying to sway voters from their vocal right-wing rivals while having their campaigning efforts severely restricted as the country moves toward the landmark general elections scheduled next month.
Having borne the brunt of Taliban attacks over the past five years, the secular Awami National Party (ANP), Pakistan Peoples' Party (PPP), and Muttahidda Qaumi Movement (MQM)-the major coalition parties in the previous government-also find themselves at the top of the emboldened Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan's (TTP) hit list. In a video message last month, TTP spokesman Ihsanullah Ihsan warned people to stay away from political gatherings organized by these parties. Wary of staging vulnerable, large-scale rallies, these parties are mostly busy with smaller corner meetings. A number of the secular parties, particularly the ANP and PPP, have watched leaders switch over to right-wing parties to evade Taliban attacks and ensure their victory in the general elections in May.
The TTP's first victim this election season was the ANP-backed candidate Adnan Wazir, whose election motorcade was targeted with a roadside bomb in northern Pakistan on March 30. While Wazir survived with serious injuries, TTP spokesman Ihsan stated: "We targeted Adnan Wazir for his support for the secular system and the secular party. It was the beginning of what we said earlier..." Then, on April 14, a local ANP leader was killed in Swat, and two supporters of another ANP candidate were killed in Dera Ismail Khan on April 15. The TTP claimed responsibility for both of those attacks as well.
As a result, the ANP has had to abandon its plans for big rallies and restrict its electioneering campaign to small corner meetings and door-to-door visits. Meanwhile, its right-wing rivals continue to stump all over the country, holding mammoth public gatherings and rallies, the hallmark of Pakistani politics, which are considered to be one of the key factors in converting public opinion.
"This is pre-poll rigging, which, if not bringing the armed Taliban in power, is certainly paving way for elevating their supporters, sympathizers, and well-wishers to the parliament," said ANP leader and former provincial information minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province Mian Iftikhar Hussain, whose young son Mian Rashid Ali Shah was shot dead by the Taliban in July 2010.
The ANP claims that the Taliban have killed more than 700 of its workers and leaders, including two provincial legislators and one senior minister, since the party came into power in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province in 2008.
The PPP has not received any major blows at the hands of the Pakistani Taliban during this election season, but it was forced to postpone its plan to hold a public gathering on April 4, the death anniversary of the party's founding father and former Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Bhutto's government was overthrown by his handpicked general Ziaul Haq in July 1977. The April 4 gathering was intended to kick-start the PPP election drive from Larkana, the hometown of the Bhutto family in Sindh Province.
Despite avoiding much of the violence this time around, the greatest loss for Pakistan's secular political players struck at the core of the PPP in December 2007, when party chairperson Benazir Bhutto was killed during her election campaign. The then-government, led by former president Pervez Musharraf, said at the time that the TTP was responsible for Bhutto's assassination.
Pakistan's third secular party, the MQM, draws support primarily from the country's commercial capital, Karachi, and from urban Sindh. The MQM has also been forced to focus on corner meetings, door-to-door visits, media appearances, and social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube due to the perceived threats from the Taliban.
"Unlike the past, our election drive is all door-to-door visits, corner meetings, telephonic speeches, and media statements," said deputy MQM convener Dr. Farooq Sattar. In their talks with this writer, both the ANP and MQM leaders said they will file formal complaints about the security threats with the Election Commission of Pakistan-the body responsible for organizing and overseeing the polls.
Although the MQM is believed to have an armed wing for protection-an allegation the party vehemently denies-one of its provincial parliamentarians, Syed Manzar Imam, was assassinated in Karachi this January. The TTP claimed responsibility for the murder and issued a warning that they would carry out more such attacks against the MQM. On April 10, an MQM election candidate was killed in Hyderabad, a city neighboring Karachi.
Religious parties, such as Jamat-e-Islami
(JI) and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazal (JUI-F), claim they are also facing
security threats. Qazi Hussain Ahmad of the hardline JI, who died of a heart
attack in January, escaped a suicide attack on his convoy in the Mohmand tribal district in
November 2012, while a bomb was detonated near the motorcade of
JUI-F leader Maulana Fazlur Rahman in Charsadda in March 2011, killing 13 people.
However, the threat has never been as imminent to these religious parties, nor to Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf (PTI), the political party of former cricket celebrity Imran Khan, or the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party of former premier Nawaz Sharif. In most cases, their public rallies are spared by the militants.
Last year, PTI leader Khan led a massive march from Punjab through Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to South Waziristan, the stronghold of the Hakimullah Mehsud-led TTP, to drum up support for PTI's anti-drone campaign. His followers were left unharmed even as they headed into a region of the country that is largely controlled by the Taliban. This year, the PTI managed to hold three massive election gatherings in Lahore, Peshawar, and Swat in the month of March alone. Similarly, PML-N leader Sharif held a public gathering in Mardan on March 8 and Hazara on March 25, while the JUI-F demonstrated its popularity with a large-scale rally at the historical Minar-e-Pakistan monument in Lahore on March 31.
Khan, who is calling his party's popularity among Pakistani youth a ‘tsunami,' is a staunch opponent of U.S. drone strikes and Pakistan military operations in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). He stopped short of condemning the Taliban by name when the militant group targeted 15-year-old schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai in Swat last year.
Like Khan's PTI, the JI, JUI-F, and PML-N also shy away from openly challenging the Taliban. Nawaz Sharif's younger brother Shahbaz Sharif, who until last month was the chief minister of Punjab, Pakistan's largest province, appealed to the Taliban to spare the province by pointing out that his government was not involved in operations against them.
Additionally, in a recent development, the PML-N entered into a secret electoral alliance (also called a seat-to-seat adjustment in Pakistan) with Ahle-e-Sunna Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), meaning that the two parties agreed not to field candidates against one another in certain districts to ensure that each party wins the seats they are looking for. ASWJ was formerly called Sipah-e-Sahabah, which was the political forefather of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), a sectarian group based in Punjab Province that has claimed responsibility for some of Pakistan's worst attacks against Shi'a Muslims. Many worry that the alliance means the PML-N will refrain from acting against the LeJ in the future.
In the adjacent FATA region, where the Taliban has a very strong presence, militants seem to be allowing these right-wing parties to campaign unmolested. In North Waziristan, however, a Taliban group known as the Mullah Nazeer Group-which has a peace treaty with the Pakistani government-has pledged not to interfere with elections but has laid out stringent guidelines for parties wishing to campaign in the area. Through the distribution of pamphlets across one constituency of South Waziristan, the group has reportedly asked candidates "with no popular vote banks" not to contest the elections. It also warned the ANP, PPP, and MQM candidates about the security threats they might face in the area.
For their part, right-wing parties accuse the ANP, PPP, and MQM of mismanagement, corruption, and failing to improve the living standard of the average Pakistani during their five-year rule, which they believe will be the main reason for the secular parties' defeat in the upcoming polls. Since the PPP and MQM have strong support in Sindh Province, the ANP will lose the most to religious and right-wing parties like the JI, JUI-F, and PTI in the Pashtun-dominated Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province and in the adjacent tribal areas.
In the 2002 general elections, it was Pervez Musharraf's government that kept the leadership of the mainstream PPP and PML-N out of the political arena-the leaders of both parties were in exile-leaving an open space for the religious alliance of Muttahidda Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) to come into power in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. At the time, the MMA had strong representation in the Pakistani parliament. Now, Taliban threats are performing the same function.
Even if the right-wing parties fail to win enough votes to form a coalition government at the national level, they are going to be a strong voice in what will likely be a divided parliament at a critical moment, as NATO and U.S. troops withdraw from Afghanistan and the security situation in the tribal areas of Pakistan worsens. A divided parliament is also going to better serve the interests of Pakistan's security establishment, a euphemism for Pakistan's historically strong army that has apparently lost its grip over policy matters during the past five years.
For many political observers, it is heartening that after regular interruption and tightly controlled ‘democracy,' the first elected government has completed its full five-year term and is on the way to a peaceful transfer of authority to the next elected one. However it is unlikely that the next government will have as smooth sailing as its predecessor, mainly because of the hard road taken to get there and the likely presence of uneasy bedfellows in the future parliament.
Daud Khattak is a Pashtun journalist currently working for the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Pashto-language station Radio Mashaal.
Despite cultural differences, the countries of South Asia share a strong connection through trade, history, and, of course, Indian film. Bollywood is no stranger to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Posters of Indian actors adorn streets from Kabul to Karachi, and bootleg movies are widely available.
But Indian cinema is a male-dominated industry, meaning the portrayal of women in films is a reflection of the woman's role in Indian society from a man's viewpoint. These films mold opinions, and often encourage the poor treatment of women. Often, Bollywood productions focus on the plight of wealthy women, whose treatment at the hands of the men in their lives is offset by their comfortable lifestyles. At the same time, though, most of them omit the difficulties that women of lower socio-economic backgrounds face on a daily basis, such as the harassment on buses and streets that showed itself at its worst in the recent mob rape of two young women. While Bollywood seems to have no problem showing men how women should be treated, it has so far shied away from investigating the repercussions of this behavior.
As a woman of Afghan descent, I watched from a young age as heroines suffered at the hands of the patriarchal society. Even the "good" or "virtuous" women, the traditional housewives, were second-class citizens. The good woman would argue with her husband begging him not to force their daughter to marry a man she didn't love, but he would tell his wife to stay out of matters that didn't concern her. His word was final.
The "bad women," the courtesans that entertained members of the high society, would dance the night away and recite poetry only to be sold to the highest bidder at the end of the night. Sought after for their beauty; they are shown to intoxicate men with their skills, dancing in such a way that would only be seen in such settings. Countless movies display this, such as Umraoo Jaan, Pakeezah, Sharafat and Mughal-e-Azam. They depict men who sitting on cushions, smoking, and chewing betel leaves. The only women in their scenes were the courtesans and the madame who gives her prized possession, the courtesan, to the man offering the most money, displayed in gold coins.
The madame in these films loves her young possessions and raises them as daughters. She appears to do the girls a favor by taking them off the streets where they would otherwise beg for food and shelter. Instead, they become dancers for elite men, regaled with gifts and beautiful clothes. Most of these women were trafficked domestically as young girls and then raised to dance and entertain with a poise not found in other areas of society.
Powerful men in these films visit such establishments with little repercussion, but it is the women who are left to face the real blowback. The men still marry well, hold high ranks in society, and have their lawful wives accept the fact that they have a second life with other women. The most a woman could do was approach the courtesan dancer and ask her to stop luring her husband.
Deemed unclean, these courtesans were not even permitted to enter places of worship. In movies like Mehbooba, the townspeople react with public outcry when the dancer enters the temple to pray. Another movie, Suhaag, portrays a young girl who kills a man about to rape her. She recognizes the realities of the local judiciary procedures where, should she be found out, she would have no due process or justice, given that she was both poor and a female. She escapes her village only to be taken in by a "motherly woman" to become a dancer. Luckily for her, she does not sell her body at the end of the night. Although the main character's story in this movie has a happy ending, women who find themselves in her situation in reality do not share her fate.
According to a New York Times blog post published last December, India has the highest number of human trafficking victims in the world. While authorities have closed hundreds of brothels where occurrences of human trafficking of underage females have been found, prostitution and trafficking continues. Because of the stigma, women who have been forced to live and work in brothels aren't able to escape that life even if given an opportunity. Were they to return to their villages, they would most likely be rejected by their families. .
But with regard to other women's issues, Bollywood has done a much better job of portraying reality. Prostitution and brothels are not the only way Indian women fall victim to the patriarchal society. Widows in India are ostracized and deemed financial burdens. Their presence is considered bad luck. According to tradition they have to flee to the holy city of Vrindivan where they live until they die. Several Bollywood movies, such as the 2005 film Water, portray the lives of such widows. At Vrindivan, they must live a life without pleasure of any sort in order to abide by the traditions. This lifestyle begins with the shaving of their heads. Vrindivan is said to have about 15,000 widows that have been forced to reside there.
In India and parts of Pakistan, female feticide, the act of aborting a fetus because it's a female, is practiced. When medical technology made it possible to determine the sex of a fetus, clinics across the country advertised their ability to perform sex-related abortions. Before the advent of such technology, female babies were often left at doorstops or murdered upon birth. A national census reveals a shocking ratio of 914 girls to 1000 boys under the age of seven. The 2004 film Mathruboomi: A Nation without Women, examines the impact of female feticide and infanticide.
Bollywood movies have shed light on the plight of Afghan and Pakistani women as well (though they continue to play to the stereotypes). The Afghan woman is often portrayed as a warrior, able to fight next to a man. On the other hand, she is still a prize to be won. In the movie Khuda Gawa, the heroine, an Afghan woman, promised her hand in marriage to the hero if he would kill her worst enemy, the man who murdered her father. She was a Buzkash, a champion of the extreme Afghan sport of buzkashi; she had power within her community. Yet, at the end, she was still weaker because she needed this man to carry out her mission, and she was willing to give herself to him should he be successful.
Veer Zaara provides a classic example of the subjugation of Pakistani women. It portrays a loud and quirky girl whose father listens to all her demands in other facets of life, yet her outgoing character cannot overpower her father's decision to marry her off to the son of an influential figure whose election depends on the marriage. When, as a Muslim, she falls in love with a Hindu man, she is ordered not to see him again.
In Indian circles it is common to hear women saying that their daughter's wedding costs their life's savings. According to tradition, the bride's family is to pay a dowry to the groom's family. Women are often criticized, ridiculed and even beaten for not having a large enough dowry. Although India outlawed dowries in 1961, they still exist, and the exchange of the dowry is a common scene in Bollywood films. Lajja is the perfect example of a movie that portrays the pressure a family is under to pay a dowry.
Pakistan has a similar problem with the burdens of the dowry, mostly among the Urdu-speaking communities or those of Punjabi origin, who can trace their lineages back to India. Many women are left unwed simply because their parents aren't able to afford the increasing demands from the groom's family. In Afghanistan, and amongst the Pashtun cultures of Pakistan, there is a reverse dowry system, or the mehr, which is to be paid to the female's family. With it comes the cost of the wedding and all expenses thereof. Thus, females are not a financial burden in Pashtun Pakistani communities, nor throughout Afghanistan.
That doesn't mean that females are necessarily better off. Many families negotiate their daughter's price, giving her not to the best man, but to the one that can pay the higher price. Laila Majnu depicts the true story which later evolved into Arabic literature and then consecutively into Persian literature. It is indeed dubbed the Romeo and Juliet of the Muslim World, because it is the story of two lovers from enemy tribes, both of whom end up dead, Majnun at the hands of an enemy and Laila taking her own life. In the scene of the "Juliet's" marriage to a King in which the vows are exchanged, the mullah asks the groom if he agrees to pay the one lakh or one hundred thousand for her, and it is agreed upon.
What is the connection between a rape victim and a woman portrayed in Bollywood films? The movies are dramatized reflections of the realities of life in South Asian societies, where the poor are second class citizens and women are what men decide them to be. More importantly, the movies can shape societies' viewpoints, reinforcing the discrimination; over time people can and have accepted that women are inferior.
Bollywood plays an important role in shaping ideologies in India and South Asia as a whole. Lollywood, Pakistan's movie industry, has had its ups and downs in recent years due to increasing levels of violence and militancy in the country. It is, however, slowly recovering, and Pakistani soap operas are widely watched in the region.
For their part, Bollywood films have changed somewhat in recent years to depict the woman as more of an equal to her male counterpart and less of an object; their roles are more career-driven and less subservient. Women are standing up to society and their families where injustices such as forced marriages exist.
These trends are not enough. Bollywood can become more progressive on women's issues by portraying lives of ordinary women living in South Asia, and the challenges they have to face on a daily basis. Behind the opulence that is often portrayed in Bollywood films, the troubling reality of Indian and Pakistani societies is that the injustices against the women of the top 1% most often do not reflect the same gender discriminations of the vast majority of women within society. After all, the wealthiest individuals are not the ones who ride the bus every day.
Humira Noorestani is a Human Rights Activist and the Founder/Director of Ariana Outreach, an NGO dedicated to building bridges between the United States and Afghanistan, primarily through connecting women of both countries.
Last Wednesday night, four members of Pakistan's paramilitary Rangers force were killed when an attacker threw a grenade at their vehicle in Korangi Town, a neighborhood on the east side of Karachi. Despite the Pakistani government touting its historic democratic victory, concern over escalating violence in Karachi, a sprawling metropolis of 18 million people, continues to grow. A permeating sense of instability has only worsened a deteriorating economic crisis, both of which are stark reminders of the failure of the government and security apparatus to maintain law and order in a city that promises to spiral out of control. In light of upcoming elections, it seems likely that the violence will continue to increase.
According to estimates from the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, close to 2,284 people were killed in violent attacks in Karachi in 2012. By some media estimates, targeted killings and a string of deadly bomb blasts cost the lives of 500 people in 72 days of this year alone. Victims range from civilians to policemen, the paramilitary Rangers to development workers, journalists to lawyers.
Pakistan as a whole has recently witnessed a sharp rise in brutal attacks by Sunni extremists on the minority Shia group, which constitutes close to 20% of the population. These attacks have been concentrated primarily in the southwestern province of Balochistan, but Karachi has seen its own wave of sectarian killing and ethnic strife. The city came to a standstill when on March 3, a powerful blast ripped through AbbasTown near a Shia Imambargah, destroying two apartment buildings and leaving 50 people dead, more than 200 injured, and innumerable homeless.
Law enforcement agencies remained conspicuously absent for up to four hours from an area engulfed by flames after the attack, raising serious questions about the government's commitment to protecting citizens from militant attacks, and the functioning of the city's security apparatus. The mourning families endured further injustice and humiliation when two men were killed and a dozen injured in armed clashes that occurred at the funeral procession a day later. Authorities continue to arrest suspects, and many believe that Sunni extremist groups Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), which claimed recent massive attacks on Hazara Shias in Quetta, Balochistan, are behind such incidents.
On March 6, just days after the March 3 blast, the entire city of Karachi was abruptly shut down in a matter of just 22 minutes, during which seven people were killed in separate incidents of violence, gunshots were reported, and people scurried to safely get home. Social media was abuzz with those transmitting real-time updates on areas that were blocked or unsafe to travel. Amid the violence, Karachi's biggest and most influential political party, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), called for all businesses and educational institutions to remain closed until the Abbas Town culprits were arrested. Most Karachiites were disgruntled by the ‘indefinite' strike, which they feared would damage the city's economy even further. Daily wagers like Shahnawaz Shahzad, a fruit seller near Karachi's area of Lyari, complained, "I have a family of six to feed. This daily business of strikes affects us very strongly. If I can't make a selling, my family has to sleep hungry."
Businesses and public transportation closed quickly, and hospitals were put on high alert. For a city that is, unfortunately, used to daily violence such as thefts, robberies, and car snatching, Karachi seems to have sunk even further into abyss.
Earlier this month, an attempted kidnapping of a young girl at Karachi's high-fashion Dolmen Mall raised chilling concerns about the collapse of the security apparatus in even the wealthier urban centers. Social media has also been flooded with rumors about the infamous "Black Prado" that preys in Karachi's affluent areas of Defense, Clifton and Zamzama. Gangs of men, traveling in Black Prados with tinted windows were said to be kidnapping two young girls every day. Though no official complaints have been registered, rumors were rife that young girls from elite families were gang-raped, videotaped and then blackmailed.
Whether actual or rumor, violent incidents and petty crime have made Karachi's citizens more cautious about their movements. Many of those living in affluent areas of the city have resorted to enrolling in self-defense classes, particularly the women. Not surprisingly, many citizens feel that with the run-up to elections, bomb blasts, targeted killings, kidnappings and petty crime are expected to worsen, making the city more unsafe. Following the surge of violence in Karachi, an opinion poll conducted on March 9th by the Express Tribune asked whether citizens considered purchasing a gun given Karachi's law and order situation. From a sample of 1,078 respondents, 69% responded affirmatively
In one of the most recent cases of violence, unidentified assassins shot a prominent Karachi social worker, Parveen Rehman, inside her car at a traffic intersection. Rehman was the director of the Orangi Pilot Project, and dedicated her life to working for the vulnerable and disadvantaged in Karachi's Orangi slum. While no particular group has claimed responsibility, suspicion has fallen on Karachi's ruthless land mafia, against whom she remained a vocal critic. Shortly after her death, students and media outlets paid homage to the courageous worker, hailing her as the "Mother of Karachi."
Just two weeks ago, on March 30, the principal of a Karachi girl's school in Ittehad Town, the Nation Highway School, was shot dead, and six girls between the ages of 8 and 10 were injured, in a brazen attack on the premises during an award distribution. Two militants threw a grenade at the wall and entered while opening fire. Attacks such as this continue to raise concern over girls' education, even in urban centers. While physical attacks on girls' schools are so common that they appear to be hardly even newsworthy in areas considered to be backward and militant-ridden like Swat and FATA, similar attacks in Karachi are on the rise, a disturbing trend in Pakistan's largest city.
Many Karachiites claim that the city, instead of being secured by police and law enforcement agencies, is now a level playing field for criminals and militants. Given the mounting security concerns and lack of a healthy investor climate, many businesses have relocated to foreign countries, while close to 5,000 traders and businesses have completely closed down. Moves such as this can have a devastating impact on what is believed to be the country's economic and industrial hub. According to State Bank figures, Foreign Direct Investment stood at an admirable $5.410 billion dollars in 2008. The PPP's five-year tenure has failed to boost the figures. FDI fell to a mere $820 million during the 2012 fiscal year, and the Pakistani rupee dropped in value by more than 63%.
Citizens have called for a military operation against militants and gangs in Karachi, a move that the government has staunchly opposed. Many feel that the PPP government refused to turn to the Army for fear of admitting its inability to maintain law and order right before elections. And a defense source recently admitted that Chief of Army Staff, General Kiyani had taken note of the deteriorating situation of Karachi saying that, "the situation in Karachi has deteriorated to alarming proportions and violence could get out of control if urgent action is not taken immediately."
Unfortunately, the violence in Karachi does not stem from any one particular root. The city is plagued by militancy, ethnic and sectarian strife, land mafia, gangs and petty criminals, amongst others. The dire situation in Karachi is only made worse by a leadership unwilling to conduct major reforms in governance and enforce prompt accountability. The inadequate training and motivation of law enforcement agencies such as the police, partly composed of persons accused of crimes and appointed/re-appointed on partisan grounds, along with a lack of co-ordination between intelligence agencies and effective, pre-emptive actions has led to a complete failure of law and order.
Pakistanis doubt that the new government elected on May 11 will be able address the rampant and swift deterioration of Karachi's security. Many extremist groups have strong bases in Pakistan's largest province of Punjab. A strong contender to form the next government, Nawaz Sharif's PML-N, has had no qualms about forming electoral alliances with the Ahl-e Sunnat Wal Jammat (ASWJ) organization, a political faction believed to have ties to broader and banned jihadi networks such as the deadly sectarian group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and the Tehrik-eTaliban Pakistan (TTP). Nawaz is currently the frontrunner to become Pakistan's next Prime Minister, and alliances such as this further illustrate the improbability of political parties taking concrete actions against terrorist groups, whether before or after elections.
The escalating violence and disorder has also raised concerns about the likelihood of having free, fair and transparent electoral procedures in Karachi in May. Poor governance will continue to enable disorder, further compounded by the heat and strife of election fever. The interim government, limited by its mandate, will be unable to address the growing crisis. The only alternative seems to be bringing in the Army for a limited period of time to stabilize the situation and reduce violence before polling takes place. However, given the Army's notoriously power hungry history, this, too, seems like an unlikely proposal. Understandably then, most Karachiites feel like they're on their own.
Without a doubt, Pakistan has made history with its first ever civilian government to finish a complete term. However, bad governance and a surge in large-scale violence and petty crime have left many citizens questioning the price they have paid to usher in democracy.
Arsla Jawaid is Assistant Editor at the monthly foreign policy magazine, SouthAsia. Arsla holds a BA in International Relations from Boston University, with a focus on foreign policy and security studies. She can be followed on Twitter @arslajawaid.
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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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Sectarian violence is raging in Pakistan, and some commentators are now describing the relentless assaults on Shia Muslims as genocide. Predictably, many observers fear that this unrest-coupled with a dangerous overall security situation-could delay Pakistan's May 11 national elections.
It's an understandable, yet ultimately misplaced, concern. As was recently pointed out, Pakistan has held elections under much more trying conditions-including one in Swat in 2008, during the height of the Pakistani Taliban's insurgency there.
Few commentators, however, are talking about another possible impact of sectarian strife on the elections: Shias-roughly 20 percent of the Pakistani population-mobilizing en masse to vote the ruling political party out of power.
Their motivations would be obvious. Shias-like Ahmadis, Christians, and other religious minorities in Pakistan-are incensed at the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) for failing to protect them, and for taking no meaningful action against those who terrorize them. In the blunt words of Abdul Khaliq Hazara, a prominent Hazara Shia in Quetta who heads the Hazara Democratic Party, "the government doesn't have the will to go after them."
Under this scenario, who would the Shia vote for? Probably not the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N)-Pakistan's chief opposition party and the current favorite to lead the next governing coalition. The PML-N's bastion is in Punjab Province, which is also the home base of some of Pakistan's most vicious sectarian extremist groups, including the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ). Yet instead of confronting the LeJ, the PML-N is seemingly courting it. Last year, the law minister of Punjab's provincial government (led by the PML-N) campaigned with the leader of Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), LeJ's parent organization. And just days ago, the secretary general of Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ)-like the LeJ, a splinter group of SSP- bragged: "We have thousands of voters in almost every constituency of the South and Central Punjab and the PML-N leadership is destined to knock at our doors when the elections come."
Rumors have abounded that, with the election in mind, the PML-N is negotiating a "seat-adjustment" agreement with ASWJ. (The Express Tribune, in an article later removed from its website, described the deal as follows: the PML-N will support the ASWJ in races for three National Assembly seats, while in return the ASWJ, "whose votes often play a vital role in helping candidates win," will withdraw its candidates from contesting about a dozen National Assembly seats in Punjab) Last month the PML-N denied the rumors-only to be contradicted just days later by SSP's leader. Regardless of who's telling the truth, the PML-N has done little to dispel the expectation that, if it leads the next government, it will do little to address the Shias' plight.
A more likely choice for the Shias might be voting for Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party. The PTI, more so than the PML-N or PPP, has gone out of its way to condemn the country's sectarian bloodshed and its chief instigators. Pakistani analysts have contrasted Khan's strong and unequivocal denunciations with the "obfuscations and meaningless remarks" uttered by the Pakistani government. After an LeJ bombing killed nearly 90 people in a Quetta market last month, Khan declared at a press conference: "I tell you by name, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi...there can be no bigger enemy of Islam than you." He also accused the LeJ of exhibiting "the worst kind of enmity towards Islam." Such strong language is rarely used by the PPP or PML-N. In January, Khan even endorsed Shia demands for targeted operations against religious militants.
Admittedly, the PTI has no plans to take aim at the root causes of sectarian violence. For example, reforming-much less repealing-Pakistan's blasphemy laws (which are often used as a pretext to persecute religious minorities) is a move no political party in Pakistan dares make; the late Punjab governor Salman Taseer was assassinated for merely criticizing them. Nonetheless, compared to the two major parties, the PTI gives the impression of genuinely caring about, and wanting to help, Pakistan's besieged minorities (along with other vulnerable segments of the population; the party recently released a new manifesto to protect the disabled). Tellingly, after an attack on a Quetta snooker hall targeting Hazara Shias left more than 100 dead in January, Khan visited the victims' grieving families-a meeting that occurred before the arrival of Pakistani government officials. Shias in Lahore and other areas of Punjab-home to 148 of Pakistan's 272 national assembly seats-could cause significant damage to the PML-N's electoral prospects if they vote as a bloc for the PTI.
But there's little reason to believe Pakistan's Shias will actually turn out in droves to vote for the PTI. Many Shias are suspicious of Khan because of his support for talks with the Taliban and other gestures perceived as sympathetic to religious militants. Such suspicions intensify when PTI officials (including party vice chairman Ajaz Chaudhry) share the stage with hardline Islamist figures-including members of the ASWJ-during rallies of the Pakistan Defense Council, a collective of conservative religious parties. A recent video produced by the Shia rights group ShiaKilling.com captures the contempt that Pakistani Shias harbor toward the PTI (and toward the PML-N as well). One Shia cleric (who does not appear to enjoy a large following) has even peddled an elaborate conspiracy theory involving Saudi Arabia and the ISI colluding to install Khan as the leader of a new "Saudi-Wahhabi Islamic State" of Pakistan.
There's also little reason to believe Shias will band together and vote en masse for any other political party. Formal research on Pakistani Shia voting patterns is limited, but based on informal conversations and anecdotal evidence, it's safe to say that such patterns are far from monolithic. On May 11, some will vote along ethnic lines. Others will opt for the PPP; in a by-election last year in the Punjab city of Multan, the PPP candidate triumphed-and analysts noted that he earned Shia votes (in fact, according to research by Andrew Wilder, Shias in Punjab tended to vote for the PPP as far back as the 1990s -because of the perception that it was more liberal and tolerant of religious minorities than were other parties). Others still will vote for the MQM. This is a party that has controlled Karachi politics for decades-and has traditionally received many Shia votes (though given Karachi's violent political culture, many of them were probably cast under pressure). Some will simply choose a sympathetic patron. Finally, many Shias-due to fear, apathy, or sheer disgust-probably won't vote at all.
This isn't to say Shias aren't joining forces to pursue political goals. Last November, a top official with the Majlis-e-Wahdat-e-Muslimeen (MWM), a collaborative of Pakistani Shia religious scholars, announced that the organization would be establishing a Shia Solidarity Council "to promote harmony" among the country's Shias. The MWM, he added, "has been making all-out efforts to unite all Shia parties of Pakistan at one platform." (MWM party leaders, incidentally, have also said they seek to "counter [the] nefarious designs of the imperialist forces" against Pakistan, and the MWM has staged U.S. flag-burnings in front of the American embassy in Islamabad.)
Several weeks ago, the MWM registered as a political party with Pakistan's Election Commission, and has now decided to contest elections. Party officials have vowed to field candidates for 100 parliamentary seats (60 of them in the national assembly), mostly representing Shia-majority areas in Punjab and in Pakistan's other three provinces. However, owing to a variety of factors-such as the lack of electoral success of Pakistani religious parties, and the MWM's dearth of political resources-the party's big-picture prospects appear dim.
The takeaway? Pakistan's sectarian violence is unlikely to delay this year's election. And, owing to the strong likelihood of a PPP or PML-N victory on May 11, the votes cast by those in the crosshairs of that violence will fail to delay the inevitable-the arrival in power of another fragile coalition unable or unwilling to protect them.
Michael Kugelman is the senior program associate for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @michaelkugelman
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The long agony for Afghanistan's women ended with the fall of the Taliban in 2001. This past January, Ms. Saira Shikeb Sadat, whose husband disappeared under the Taliban rule, assumed office as Afghanistan's first female district administrator in Jawzjan province. She recently told media that one of her top priorities was to empower women and girls. She said this can be achieved through the development of her district, Khawaja Do Koh, which is home to a population of 5,000 whose access to education, healthcare, and employment assistance, such as income-generation schemes, has been very limited. But she is determined to address these problems during her tenure in office, and the Afghan government supports her in these efforts.
Like Ms. Sadat, thousands of women are politically and socially active in Afghanistan in various capacities. The first female provincial governor and district mayor in Afghan history are currently in office. The key ministries of public health: women's affairs, and labor, social affairs, martyrs and disabled are led by women, as is Afghanistan's Independent Commission on Human Rights. At the same time, the Afghan Parliament continues to convene with a higher percentage of female representatives, 27.3 percent, than the legislative bodies of many of the most established democracies, including the U.S. Congress (15.2 percent) and British Parliament (19.7 percent).
Yet despite these important advances, the condition of women in Afghanistan is in need of urgent attention. One woman dies every 29 minutes in childbirth, the second-highest maternal mortality rate in the world (1,600 deaths per 100,000 live births). Mountainous terrain and weather conditions prevent timely medical attention to patients and pregnant women. Severe food shortages have resulted in chronic malnourishment among children, and 48 percent of Afghan women are iron-deficient.
Millions of girls cannot attend school because of security concerns or restrictive social norms. Just 12 percent of women 15 years and older can read and write, compared to 39 percent of men. The overall literacy rate for women between the ages of 15 and 24 stands at 24 percent, compared to 53 percent for men in Afghanistan.
This troubling situation is a legacy of decades of war and state collapse in the country. During the past 30 years of conflict, the needs of women stood neglected because Afghanistan did not have effective state institutions that could provide services to the people. Under the Taliban, women were relegated to the confines of their homes and deprived of education and basic human rights.
Afghanistan today is making efforts to recover from the effects of decades of utter desolation and destitution. Improving the condition of women is a priority in our national development strategy. In 2008, we launched a national action plan for the women of Afghanistan to provide a comprehensive, cross-ministerial approach to improving the condition of women. Indeed, we have a long way to go before we can catch up with the rest of the world, but we are working hard.
In the past eleven years, schools and universities have opened their doors to a record number of women. Of nearly 5 million children in grades one through six, 36.6 percent are girls. The number of girls in high school almost doubled from 2007 to 2008, from 67,900 to 136,621 students. Some 8,944 university students graduated in Afghanistan in 2008. Of them, 1,734 were female students. These numbers have continued to rise in 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012, despite a spike in the number and frequency of terrorist attacks across Afghanistan, often targeting schools, teachers, and students, with most victims being girls.
Public health also has seen tremendous improvement over the past eleven years. Up to 80 percent of the Afghan population has access to basic health care, a massive increase from just 8 percent in 2001. More than 1,650 professional midwives are employed by the ministry of public health, providing health care and childbirth services across Afghanistan. This has helped reduce infant mortality rates by 23 percent, saving 80,000 newborn lives each year.
In addition to taking these concrete steps, we are working to change societal mind-sets. In some parts of Afghanistan's most traditional areas, attitudes hamper the progress of women. Unlike most governments in the world, the Afghan government not only makes and implements policies, but also functions as an agent of social change, working to ameliorate the traditional views that hold women back from fully developing their abilities and contributing to society. We are partnering with local elders and religious figures to ensure that attitudes change through a community-centered approach. Through the National Solidarity Program, more than 22,000 Afghan women are actively participating along with men in more than 10,000 community development councils to assess local needs, receive and implement grants from the ministry of rural rehabilitation and development and lead project design and implementation.
Slowly, we are seeing progress. As the success story of Ms. Sadat and others reminds us, women are the pillars of Afghanistan. With enhanced attention to women's issues, more than half of the Afghan population can be socially, economically and politically empowered to make a significant contribution to Afghanistan's long-term development. The international community must help the Afghan government approach the task of empowering Afghan women as a continual process rather than as a single benchmark, for international experience shows us that even legal equality does not translate into equal treatment.
M. Ashraf Haidari is the deputy chief of mission of the Afghan Embassy in India. He formerly served as Afghanistan's deputy assistant national security adviser, as well as deputy chief of mission of the Afghan Embassy in the United States.
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.
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Conflict in Kashmir has been back in the news recently. In January, a series of attacks and counter-attacks by Indian and Pakistani soldiers were reportedly sparked by a grandmother who crossed the Line of Control to be near her children and their families, resulting in the deaths of soldiers on both sides. What is striking about recent events and seems to be a particular throw back to earlier times, is the apparent brutality with which two Indian soldiers involved were killed. One was reportedly beheaded, whilst another ‘mutilated.' This particular detail seems to belong to an earlier time highlighted in Adrian Levy's and Cathy Scott-Clark's book about the kidnapping of a group of western tourists in July 1995 in Kashmir, when the full insurgency was underway between Pakistan and India over the disputed province.
The portrait that Levy and Scott-Clark paint of the 1990s insurgency in Kashmir is a brutal one: locals living in fear as groups and alliances shift around them. No one is certain who is on whose side, as idealistic Kashmiri freedom fighters are manipulated by Pakistani ISI agents and their families are punished by Indian authorities. Local warlords change sides regularly, turning on each other with ready brutality at the right price. Police and intelligence agents on the same side end up working against each other, each with a different goal in mind. And caught up in the middle of this is a group of foreign hikers, drawn by the beauty of the countryside and kept in the dark about potential danger by inept local authorities eager for the much-needed tourist revenue.
The Meadow is written in the style of a thriller, with an investigative journalist's eye for detail. It uncovers new information, offering definitive conclusions about what happened to the unfortunate foreigners entangled in the kidnapping. It has attracted less attention than previous books the authors have written about the region - their earlier book Deception, about the Pakistani nuclear program, has been widely praised - but nonetheless comes to some dramatic conclusions about what happened to the group of tourists.
At the heart of this narrative are six western (American, British, German and Norwegian) nationals. Snatched by a group of Kashmiri warriors supported by Pakistan, the intention was for the men to be traded for a group of supporters of the Kashmiri jihad, including Maulana Masood Azhar, an increasingly important preacher who had managed to get himself caught by Indian authorities some weeks before. This was in the days prior to Azhar's later fame as the founder and head of Jaish-e-Mohammed.
Led by a Kashmiri called Sikander who fought in Afghanistan during the 1980s, the team was a mix of raw recruits and experienced fighters. Sikander had participated in an operation involving foreigners before, abducting two British citizens, Kim Housego and David Mackie, in June 1994 in an operation that ended in failure. Under intense international pressure, Sikander's cell had given the hostages up to Kashmiri journalists. The second time around they hoped to avoid this pressure by creating a shell group, al Faran, which people would be unable to link so easily to the group's well-known organizers, the Pakistani-supported, Kashmiri-oriented Harakat ul Ansar (HuA). According to the book, the new group name was chosen ‘randomly.... by someone in Islamabad that had vague Islamic connotations, being a mountain in Saudi Arabia' (p.95).
The kidnappers were initially planning on snatching foreign workers at infrastructure projects, but as they got sidetracked in other operations time pushed on and they decided instead to go after a group of foreign tourists. By the time they were able to get moving on the plot it was June 1995 and it was only by July 1995 that they made it into the eponymous ‘Meadow' above and around Pahalgam in the Anantnag district of Kashmir. Here, they wandered around the various campsites, capturing two British (Paul Wells and Keith Mangan) and two American (John Childs and Don Hutchings) trekkers they found, sending the women they were travelling with back down the mountain with a note demanding the release of Masood Azhar and other leaders. When one of the Americans, John Childs, managed to escape, the group panicked and snatched another two foreigners they found, this time a Norwegian (Hans Christian Ostrø) and a German (Dirk Hastert). Sikander's father recalls his son telling him ‘human cargo' was not ‘like transporting bullets of rice' requiring all sorts of attention and care (p.93).
At this point, the story becomes murkier. Intrepid journalists, Levy and Scott-Clark rounded up as many different contacts as they could, but patching together what happened to the hostages while they were in captivity is something that is always going to be shrouded in mystery and reserved primarily to the hostages and their captors, none of whom are able to talk now. Using interviews with locals, family members, subsequent intelligence reports, and gathering the pieces of information that the hostages managed to leave secreted with locals as they were transported around the region, the authors piece a compelling narrative together. They uncover how particularly vivacious and infuriating a captive Hans Christian Ostrø was, apparently trying repeatedly to escape whilst charming locals with his enthusiasm. Eventually, a brutal faction within the cell tires of him and leaves his beheaded body to be found with the words ‘al Faran' engraved on his chest.
The others were never found; their family members remain uncertain of their end to this day. For the women who had been trekking with the men before they were snatched, the nightmare was made all the worse by the seemingly limited and incompetent assistance they report receiving from Indian authorities. Having come down the mountain to disbelieving and slow-moving authorities, they then find themselves sidelined as geopolitics overtake the incident.
It is here that Levy and Scott-Clark are able to bring the most new information to light, digging into the grim world of the Kashmiri insurgency to offer a novel conclusion of what happened to the hapless trekkers. After Childs escaped, he lobbied for U.S. Special Forces to go back and rescue the others. But he was ignored, as Indian authorities refused to let foreign boots on the ground or accept much international assistance, eager to keep foreign eyes from the awkward domestic insurgency. And so, the captives were left in an isolated area where, as the authors paint it, India had full control. Even though authorities were in contact with the group, and according to the negotiators had managed to obtain a fixed amount of $250,000 to secure the foreigners release, no exchange actually took place. As the book portrays it, elements within India preferred a grim conclusion to highlight Pakistani perfidy. So once the demand had been made through a private communication between a local officer and the group - who allegedly told the officer ‘the movement [those who had sent him to carry out the kidnapping] can go to hell' (p.325) - someone promptly leaked it, rendering it void as the move had not been approved al Faran's superiors.
Instead, the men are sold to a local warlord fighting for the Indians, who then has them executed and disposed of. Indian authorities (or elements within the Indian power structures) are implied to have had full knowledge of everything that was going on, and to have actively pushed events in this direction, a searing indictment that has attracted ire within India.
The Meadow connects this incident to the larger events of September 11, highlighting the proximity of elements linked to al-Qaeda and the subsequent group that Masood Azhar founded when he was eventually released in exchange for a planeload of Indians held hostage while en route to Nepal. That group, Jaish-e-Mohammed, has been responsible for a number of major atrocities, including the first use of suicide bombers in Kashmir: on Christmas Day 2000, Asif Sadiq, a 24 year old Birmingham student blew himself up at a checkpoint in Srinagar. A year later, as the world was still rocking from the September 11 attacks, a JeM team joined by fighters from Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) launched an attack on India's parliament that almost brought the sub-continent to nuclear conflict.
Levy and Scott-Clark push this web of shadowy links even further, pointing out a connection between Masood Azhar and Rashid Rauf, the British al Qaeda leader who would go on to act as the overseer of the July 7 and July 21 plots against London, before helping mastermind the aborted August 2006 plot to bring down some eight airplanes on transatlantic routes. In their book, Rauf is a bit part, with Azhar meeting Rauf's father on a trip to Birmingham and being introduced to young Rashid as ‘his rootless teenage son...whom he said was in need of a mentor' (p.296). But the connection nonetheless cements Azhar's importance in helping provide links for a man who went on to be one of al Qaeda's most dynamic foreign leaders.
A hefty book at almost 500 pages, the text sometimes gets lost in its own detail and in the numerous, long and detailed interviews the authors conducted. But drawing on a wealth of primary interviews, it tells a compelling narrative about a specific incident, while also painting a picture of a brutal conflict that, as we saw recently, has all the kindling in place to light up again.
Raffaello Pantucci is a Senior Research Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) and the author of the forthcoming ‘We Love Death As You Love Life; Britain's Suburban Mujahedeen' (Hurst/Columbia University Press).
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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.
Tahir-ul Qadri, a Canada-based Pakistani preacher and former politician leads a massive protest today from Lahore to Islamabad calling for regime change in Pakistan. If it is electoral change Qadri is looking for, he won't be the one to get it. Qadri's been politically irrelevant since he departed the scene in 2004, when he resigned from his post as a Member of the National Assembly. Qadri himself does not even occupy a seat in Parliament, nor does anyone in his party, Pakistan Awami Tehreek.
However, his religious organization Tehrik Minhaj-ul-Quran, is a force to be reckoned with. The organization has an expansive school network in Punjab and maintains massive support among Pakistanis attracted to his meshing of modern values with conservative Islam. But this following was not enough for Qadri to deliver the "millions" of protesters he promised.
Could Qadri be another Imran Khan prototype, informally sponsored by the military? At least Khan can deliver the people. Despite the lackluster showing at today's march, we should not overlook the meaning behind Qadri's interestingly timed, well-organized and well-funded return. He says he wants to put "true democracy on track," but Qadri comes at a time when the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) led government and the main opposition party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), are near agreement on the timing of elections and the caretaker government setup, a process bolstered by the 20th amendment that mandates the government's cooperation with the opposition in setting up a neutral caretaker government in advance of elections.
In addition to seeking specific changes, such as ensuring electoral candidates pay their taxes before running for a seat, Qadri's push for a caretaker government in lieu of the current regime resonates with some in the security establishment who had been rumored to be informally floating the idea last year of installing temporary leaders a la Bangladesh in the mid-1990s. Supporters of the idea believe such moves are justified on by the PPP's poor performance and corruption.
Today's atmosphere is also reminiscent of the period before Senate elections in March 2011, when speculation arose that Pakistan's military was working to deny the PPP control of the upper house. This time, with elections expected before June and with the military openly displeased with both of the possible winners - the PPP the PML-N - there is a strong perception among political analysts that the military is up to its old tricks again. While we can't prove it, and the military claims to be just as surprised as the rest of us with Qadri's return, it has intervened in politics numerous times. The country has experienced over 30 years of military rule since independence in 1947. No reason it cannot happen again.
Or is there? Real regime change through Qadri, or through the military for that matter, is highly unlikely at the moment. He does have the ambition, political network and wealth to bring the long march into existence. But if Qadri has made a deal with the military, he may be overestimating its depth of interest and capability in shaping the election outcome in the current political environment. Political engineering by the Army and other branches of the military could exacerbate considerable domestic frustrations about the military leadership's failure to address Pakistan's growing terrorism problem. Furthermore, key foreign partners like the United States would be hard pressed to look the other way if Army chooses to meddle. Finally, the Supreme Court has been sending warning signs to the military to stay out of the elections process. Last year, it ordered legal proceedings against former intelligence and army officials, alleging they bankrolled politicians to prevent the PPP from winning the 1990 election.
Speculating on the military's connections to Qadri is unavoidable, but it is not the only issue Qadri brings to the fore. Something else much more tangible and visible is at work, and that is the desperate desire of ordinary Pakistanis for change - the change that Americans saw in 2008 when they elected their first African-American president; the change that the Arab world experienced when their military dictatorships collapsed; and the spirit of change infused within the international Occupy movement against social and economic inequality.
Qadri's message is appealing because it taps into the international sentiment of change associated with these and other developments over the past several years - sentiment that is clearly alive and well in Pakistan. But instead of potentially delaying the elections cycle, Qadri's ability to mobilize and influence would be more helpful after the PPP government completes its term this year in a historic moment for the entire country: the first time a government in Pakistan finishes a complete term.
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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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
In recent personal interviews with three would-be suicide bombers aged 15-19, who were caught in April 2010 by security forces in Pakistan, I was told a strikingly different story than one might expect of a Pakistani youth's journey towards militancy. These young men from North Waziristan were not religious, nor motivated by supposedly Islamic ideas, and had no substantial animosity toward the United States or the Pakistan Army - in fact they knew very little about the world outside their small tribe. How, then, were they recruited to carry out something as violent and psychologically traumatic as suicide bombing?
When one of my students at Quaid-e-Azam University, where I am a professor, mentioned that his cousin had been in a militant rehabilitation facility in the Swat valley, I contacted the Pakistan Army's Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) to find out if I could interview some of the young men from this rehab center. I was put in touch with three boys who had been released from custody, but were still under surveillance by the loose network of informants the Army's intelligence division maintains in the rugged tribal regions. I interviewed each one of the teenagers separately on June 23, 2012, and had a follow-up group meeting with them on September 10, 2012. No security official was present during our meetings, and the boys seemed comfortable enough to speak freely. They did all request complete anonymity, though, because of the small communities they come from, before describing to me the way they grew up in the tiny villages of Machikhel and Dande Darpa Khel, which some may recognize as the sites of frequent U.S. drone attacks.
The common thread between the lives of these youths was their complete isolation from rest of the Pakistan and from the world at large. The lack of access to TV, Internet, and formal education meant they were almost completely oblivious to such massive events as 9/11, and as such they were unaware of where and what exactly the United States was. One of the boys mentioned that there was only one TV in their entire neighborhood, and even that one didn't work half of the time. Their only access to information was the radio, which has for years been dominated by the jihadists who were using the name of Islam to mobilize the people. They would also listen to the views of their parents, who were concerned about a possible war in Pakistan due to the influx of militants into the local tribes bordering Afghanistan.
The absence of formal, state-run schools in the tribal areas forced the three boys to enroll at local madrassah just as the United States was in the early phases of waging war in Afghanistan. They learned about the war from their teacher, who said that America wanted to destroy Islam and Pakhtun culture. What was more dangerous than hearing such rhetoric was that children were all trained in the madrassah to submit and not question the elders - something that would have serious repercussions later when they were being recruited to be suicide bombers. Despite the propaganda against the United States, one boy recalled, "The anti-American rhetoric didn't bother us too much, since we still hadn't felt the war".
But that all changed when the United States stepped up its drone strikes across the borders inside Pakistan's tribal areas. "My parents' fears became a reality as our areas became unsafe, and we started getting frustrated with the jihadis in the nearby areas. The militants had brought the war to Pakistan, and the tribal people of Pakistan were forced to be a part of it. Those who opposed the militants were murdered, and everyone else was forced to support them by providing either their children to be militants, or by paying for the cause of jihad." After several years of being under the brutal militant rule nobody in the tribal areas, no one wanted their children to be militants fighting an unknown enemy, one of the boys said, so the militants had to find a new strategy of recruiting - by instilling fear in the youth. As one of the boys recalled, "We were taken for a short trip to a wrecked house by a kind man who had been living in our village peacefully for a few months. We were told that the wreckage was caused by a drone strike from the United States that killed women and children. We were taken to several such wreckages every time the drone strike would happen. The sight frightened all of us."
The kids I interviewed mentioned how they were told by the recruiters not to discuss these fears with their family members because they would get scared. "We were told to abandon our houses, leave our parents and siblings in silence, in order to protect them."
However, this was only the first step. What came next in the militant's strategy to transform the youths into suicide bombers is much more disturbing. "For an entire month we were made to watch videos of men raping women, and other such videos that depicted pain, and agony of women at the hands of white men," one of the boys told me. "And we were repeatedly told that this is what the Americans are doing to women on the other side of the border, and precisely what they will do to your women if you don't take up weapons against them. The videos would leave me sleepless at nights - they changed the person I was."
Another young man said, "I would wake up in the middle of the night, desperate to see or call my mother and sister to see if they were safe because of the fear I felt picturing my mother and sister to be in the same situation as those women in the videos. However, we were not allowed to make contact with the family because it would weaken us."
Their families told me that they repeatedly pleaded with the militants in the area to return their children, but to no avail. "We were threatened and told that the kids are working for a noble cause," one of the parents said. "We were offered money to be silent on the topic so that the people in the neighboring tribes wouldn't become cautious of the new recruitment methods."
The stories of these three young men suggest that the upper echelon of militants in Waziristan and other tribal regions of Pakistan might be fighting a religious and ideological battle - at least this is what they present in their narrative - but their recruitment strategy has taken a shift away from the big ideas of pan-Islamism and protecting their religion from the outside world, toward much more psychologically sophisticated techniques to keep the wheel of insurgency in Afghanistan and terrorism in Pakistan turning. Could this shift be a sign of militants losing strength due to the surge in drone strikes? Or of locals' frustration with the militants for bringing the drones to the region, and the increasing difficulty of running operations in those areas?
It appears that youths in the tribal areas who are turning to militancy are not recruited and trained in Islamist fundamentalism and ideas of Islamic jihad in the way militant organizations once did. The idea of the global Islamic cause against the Judea/Christian world doesn't sell in this age of capitalism and self-interest, in which people are more concerned with making ends meet, or rising from their socio-economic class. The works of Syed Qutb, one of the intellectual fathers of modern militant jihadist groups, show precisely this difficulty in mobilizing masses for the cause of Islam. Qutb called on jihadists to mobilize Muslims through the use of powerful sentiments of fear, rather than ideas of Islamism and religion.
What makes it easy for militants to hypnotize these young kids is the lack of exposure the kids have of the world outside their tribe, and the close knit communal structure of the society. With little access to media and to rest of the Pakistan, and no state education, the youth and people in tribal areas live isolated lives. Their naiveté is what makes them vulnerable to militant propaganda - something the allied forces have failed to take into account in their war against terrorism. It was not out of any ideological or religious inclination, but largely due to the isolation of the tribes from rest of the world, that allowed the militants to easily penetrate into these areas, which later became their safe havens. The people on the ground showed very little understanding or knowledge of the events of 9/11 and the "war on terror" when I inquired. They are not allies of the militants, but are caught in the midst of an asymmetric battle between the United States and the militants, a battle in which innocent tribe-members are suffering the most.
The militants have also been able to successfully invoke fear amongst young children by repeatedly showing them rape videos, and telling them how their mothers and sisters will be treated by the "white men." And it was out of this fear of losing their mothers and sisters that the boys I interviewed agreed to become suicide bombers. In their minds, they were out to sacrifice themselves to protect their loved ones, but little did they know of the reality that rest of the world was viewing on TV.
People in the tribal regions have gotten weary of the militants' behavior. As long as the militants were not bothering the locals, villagers allowed them to spread through the region. But now that the same militants are disturbing ordinary lives, the tribal regions are witnessing a wave of anti-militant sentiment. The United States and Pakistan must seize this unique opportunity to flush out militants from their safe havens. By establishing direct links with the locals and filling in the information vacuum, officials can offer the people a different narrative about the "War on Terror" and the United States.
There are hundreds of kids aged 9-21 that are being recruited in a similar way by the militants. As long as the United States and Pakistan do not come up with a counter-radicalization policy that will allow the kids to become more integrated with rest of the Pakistan, and the world at large, it will be hard to stop the wave of insurgency and suicide bombing against both, the Pakistan and the U.S. Army in Afghanistan.
Hussain Nadim is a faculty member at the Department of Government and Public Policy at National University of Science and Technology (NUST), in Islamabad. He was previously a Visiting Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, DC. He can be reached at email@example.com
FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP/Getty Images
When people began pouring out onto the streets in Pakistan to protest on Friday, there was little chance that the government would take any action against them. After all, it was a declared public holiday to mark love for Prophet Mohammad, and religious and political groups had taken the government's move as a sign that the protests were sanctioned by the state.
Pakistan has been engulfed with protests against the controversial film the Innocence of Muslims. Over the course of a week, members of a religious grouphave broken through police cordons to amass outside the U.S. Consulate in Karachi and protestors attacked the enclave reserved for diplomatic missions in the capital city of Islamabad. In Hyderabad, the second largest city in the Sindh province, a businessman was accused of blasphemy for not participating in the protests.
Friday was a free-for-all in Pakistan. Television channels broadcast footage of riots from nearly every major city. Protestors burned down cinemas in Karachi and Peshawar, as well as a church in Mardan, and attacked banks, police vehicles, buildings and even a public hospital.
In Karachi, hundreds of members of groups as diverse as the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, a mainstream political party, to the banned Jaish-e-Mohammad and Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan dominated the streets. Dozens of effigies of U.S. President Barack Obama were burned along with American flags, and protestors chanted against the U.S., Israel and the filmmaker behind Innocence of Muslims. Police were deployed at several key locations, but did not act to stop the protestors. In any case, they were largely outnumbered: about a half-dozen police officers are no match for hundreds of angry rioters.
The issue in Pakistan is not just of one day, or one week, of protests. The problem is institutional. The outrage at issues like an allegedly blasphemous film or cartoons has a legal basis, which stems from controversial laws that make blasphemy punishable by death, and excommunicate an entire sect. Government officials not only support the law, but the Interior Minister Rehman Malik once declared that he would kill a blasphemer himself. In a speech on Friday, Pakistan's Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf questioned why those denying the Holocaust were punished while there was no consideration for the feelings of Muslims.
The government has supported the outrage ensuing from the film, not just by declaring a holiday, but also by summoning the current U.S. Charge d'Affaires in Pakistan to protest the film, blocking YouTube and reportedly approaching Interpol. These measures do little to control violence. More importantly, the government has failed to act against banned organizations that operate openly and protest without anyone batting an eyelid.
Acting against the protestors -- as the Karachi police did when members of a Shiite group protested outside the U.S. Consulate -- is construed in Pakistan as the state attacking civilians for the sake of protecting ‘foreign governments.'
The outrage is also politicized, though not entirely. Many of the groups protesting are used by political parties for support during election campaigns. The Difa-e-Pakistan Council, a coalition of over 40 religious organizations that also protested on Friday, seeks to become a pressure group to raise issues of religious ‘honor' and issues related to foreign policy, and will likely support many of the candidates from coalition parties in the upcoming elections.
However, many protestors in Karachi said that they were not linked with political parties or religious groups, but had taken to the streets because they genuinely felt angry over the film. In a country where religious honor is tied in with nationalism, it is not surprising that many felt the need to protest. The protestors were from a wide spectrum, ranging from office workers to students to clerics. And for many of them, it was an opportunity to vent: President Asif Ali Zardari was condemned as vociferously as President Obama was.
The protests will likely die down in a few days, if not earlier. The pattern of these protests has been fairly consistent over the years, and the issue will be abandoned in favor of something else.
But the question of what the government can do to stop the protests may now be too late. The rot in Pakistan has been many decades in the making. Sectarian conflict has been stoked by successive rulers, including military dictators, religious outrage has received state approval by governments and political parties, and those responsible for massacres of various religious sects continue to fundraise to kill more. The military backs anti-U.S. sentiment, as evidenced during the debate in Pakistan over the Kerry-Lugar bill, or the outrage over the May 2 raid that killed Osama bin Laden. What is undoubtedly worse, though, is that there is no attempt to reverse any of the damage that has been done over the decades. Instead, the current government - and successive ones - will likely play a game of appeasement with religious groups in the hope that they will one day back them. That bet, as history has proven, will not pay off.
Saba Imtiaz works as a reporter for The Express Tribune in Karachi, Pakistan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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.
There is talk of civil war in the mountains of Khost, the fields of the Helmand River Valley, and on the streets of Kabul. With 2014 looming, Afghans, journalists, diplomats, and military officers alike are wondering what the future holds for this troubled country straddling the Hindu Kush.
Will there be civil war or not? In a recent report I co-authored with Scott Bates for the Center for National Policy, we pointed to civil war and the related problem of security force fragmentation as two of the biggest risks Afghanistan faces. Dexter Filkins penned a persuasive essay in the New Yorker full of vivid details about the factional and ethnic rivalries within the Afghan National Army (ANA) and among its glut of militias. One of his interview subjects memorably remarked:
This country will be divided into twenty-five or thirty fiefdoms, each with its own government. Mir Alam will take Kunduz. Atta will take Mazar-e-Sharif. Dostum will take Sheberghan. The Karzais will take Kandahar. The Haqqanis will take Paktika. If these things don't happen, you can burn my bones when I die.
Another journalist, Robert Dreyfuss, insists that such dire predictions are foolhardy. Citing Afghanistan's former Ambassador to France and Canada, Omar Samad, he argues that Afghans will look into the abyss, lean back, and compromise.
However, people on both sides of this debate are missing the forest for the trees. This misperception begins with our collective failure to take Afghanistan's history seriously.
We often act and talk as if Afghan history began on 9/11, but our reaction to al Qaeda's attacks was an intervention in a long-standing and still-unresolved civil war.
It began over thirty years ago, when the Khalq faction of the communist People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) overthrew the regime of President Mohammad Daud Khan in 1978 and instituted a series of far-reaching radical reforms that sparked rebellion across the country. Against their better judgment, the Soviets occupied the country in support of their beleaguered communist allies, inflaming conflict, which saw seven main mujahideen parties supported by the United States, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and a host of Arab volunteers pitted against the Soviets and the PDPA, who were also divided into two factions.
The mujahideen parties fought each other almost as much as the infidels. The "national" character of these parties was always a screen for a myriad of local conflicts over water, land, tribe, sect, ethnicity, prestige and power.
The Afghan civil war can be divided into different phases. The first was the nascent period of unorganized rebellion that followed the overthrow of Daud Khan. The second phase witnessed the gradual organization of the rebels into the Peshawar Seven and the introduction of Soviet troops. These troops withdrew in 1989 and the mujahideen parties turned on each other along with various quasi-government militias, marking the third phase. The regime of President Najibullah held onto pockets of the country and Kabul. Then the Afghan security forces buckled as Soviet largess vanished into history. Kabul fell in 1992 and the mujahideen continued to fight each other for supremacy, beginning the fourth phase. The Afghans looked into the abyss and jumped straight in.
The fifth phase saw the Taliban - a movement led by mujahideen veterans - storm through the south, take Kabul, and come to a stalemate with the Northern Alliance, a coalition dominated by members of Jamiat-i-Islami. The sixth phase began with Western intervention and the toppling of the Taliban regime in Kabul in response to 9/11. And the current phase has witnessed a return to rebellion, with the Taliban, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hizb-i-Islami, and Jalaluddin Haqqani's network battling the American-supported regime. Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency has reprised its role in the Soviet-Afghan War, now sponsoring and directing rebellion against an American-led coalition.
The leaders of the current rebel movements are rooted in the Peshawar Seven. Taliban leader Mullah Omar fought the Soviets in the south as a part of Harakat-i Inqilab-i Islami. Gulbuddin, an old rival of Ahmad Shah Massoud, has been causing trouble ever since he took to throwing acid at the faces of unveiled women and brawling with rival student activists at the University of Kabul in the late 1960s and early 1970s. His Hizb-i-Islami fought Jamiat-i-Islami and others for control of Kabul in the early 1990s. Haqqani cut his teeth fighting Daud Khan in the 1970s and as a mujahideen commander under Mohammad Yunus Khalis in the 1980s.
And we see the same cast of characters elsewhere. The same mujahideen and government officials who were fighting for God and/or country, selling narcotics, and committing atrocities since the 1970s are some of our closest friends and allies in the war's current phase.
There are differences in scale between these phases in terms of ferocity of combat and destruction, flows of internally displaced persons and refugees, as well as the numbers of casualties. Estimates of casualty and, to a lesser extent, refugee figures in the last thirty years of war vary widely.
In 1978, an estimated 40,000 Afghans were killed, followed by 80,000 in 1979. By 1987, less than a decade after the Soviets entered the conflict directly between 1 and 1.5 million Afghans had been killed in the war. This represents about 9% of the entire Afghan population, which is higher proportionally than the deaths suffered by the Soviet Union during World War II. Losses were more than twice as high among refugees, who were often more vulnerable to attack, disease, infection, and starvation than those who remained in their villages. By the Soviet withdrawal, there were 6.2 million Afghan refugees in Iran and Pakistan.
During the 1990s, estimates of civilians killed range from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands as the mujahideen fought over territory. Much of Kabul was reduced to rubble as various mujahideen commanders fought from neighborhood to neighborhood.
In 2001, different tallies claim somewhere between several thousand and 20,000 Afghans were killed as a result of the American-led intervention. Casualties dipped between 2002 and 2005. Since 2006, over 12,000 Afghan civilians have been killed due to the war. Most of these have been killed by the insurgency. These figures were increasing over the last few years, but have dropped in 2012. Regardless, they still pale in comparison to the 80s and likely the early and mid-1990s as well. More than 5.7 million refugees have returned to Afghanistan since 2002, but 2.5 million Afghan refugees remain, mostly in neighboring countries.
But war is not only a balance sheet of death and destruction. It is a political activity in which force is assessed to be an appropriate means by which to pursue political interests.
The underlying political disagreements, factional rivalries, toxic personalities, and Pakistani interventions and proxies that have been driving war in Afghanistan remain unresolved. The modern bureaucratic system that Western technocrats have willed into existence has not sufficiently vested Afghans in non-violent politics. Afghanistan is already divided into fiefdoms. An ocean of money and the American-led occupation force are all that holds them all together. Both will soon get much smaller.
So the question of whether or not Afghanistan will devolve into civil war after 2014 is the wrong one. The civil war will, of course, only continue. The question is, what will the next phase look like and how can we shape it for the better?
The greatest risk and most likely outcome is the fragmentation of the Afghan National Security Forces. The biggest danger is posed by the divisions within the Afghan National Police (ANP) and the Afghan Local Police (ALP) destabilizing the larger security force institutions. Most of the personnel in both of these forces are deployed in or near their home districts.
And like politics, all civil war is local.
The Nahr-e-Saraj police force in Helmand, for example, is divided between competing narcotics thugs, former Hizb-i-Islami fighters, former communists, and their children all of whom share a history of rivalry, murder, war, and hatred that have barely been contained over the last several years. Different ALP militias in Central Helmand also hail from different factions. Once their special operations mentors withdraw, they may begin to clash with each other, the ANP, and the ANA.
As long as the United States and its allies stay abreast of these factional politics, they can mitigate -- but not avoid -- this fragmentation through proactive in-country diplomacy, firm mentoring, and appropriate mechanisms for the distribution of funding and supplies. ALP militias must be integrated into the Afghan National Police now rather than later. As the ALP force currently stands, it poses an unacceptable risk to the long-term integrity of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).
The trouble is, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has not been systemically mapping these factional conflicts down to the local level and incorporating this information into their planning. ISAF, the Combined Forces Special Operations Component Command-Afghanistan, the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Afghanistan, and the US Embassy in Kabul should create a large and mobile cell of officers, diplomats, aid officials, analysts. This cell would be tasked with traveling around Afghanistan and achieving a granular understanding of the local conflicts that are driving the war and threaten to tear the ANSF and the country apart.
What will the next phase of civil war hold? How many will die? Despite the thousands dead over the last decade, the current phase pales in comparison to the 80s and early 90s. Afghans may come to remember the last ten years as the orange slice in the middle of the soccer match. Some in Washington and London have vested hope in negotiations, but there is little evidence for optimism on that front.
Afghanistan is no longer a counterinsurgency problem. Most foreign troops will be heading for the exits over the next two years. Only by taking its politics and history seriously down to the local level will we be able to help ensure sufficient stability as the International Security Assistance Force itself becomes history.
Ryan Evans is a Research Fellow at the Center for National Policy.
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In a country where ethnic differences and institutional alliances have dictated loyalties and national policies for decades, Pakistan is rapidly cultivating an ideological paradigm that has the ability to put the nation on a starkly different trajectory than it is now.
Since its establishment, Pakistan has fostered a sociocentric culture - one that emphasizes the role of community and groupthink, and encourages its members to act in a way that is best for the community or institution they belong to. It is no surprise then that Pakistanis have deep ethnic allegiances that spill over into politics. Ethnic groups, political parties, and even political institutions, as we have seen with the military and more recently with the Supreme Court, require a deeply imbedded sociocentric approach from all of its members.
On the polar end of a sociocentric perspective of society is the individualistic viewpoint - people examine issues and make moral decisions based on what is best for the individual and individual rights and liberties, and not necessarily that of the group. Individualism is much more common amongst people who can be classified as W.E.I.R.D - Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic - a recently coined term to classify a distinct group of people.
While Pakistan is firmly a sociocentric nation, there are a growing number of Pakistanis who fall into the WEIRD classification, and more importantly, they are being provided the platform to better propagate their views. This is undoubtedly a minor shift, but it has the ability to impact Pakistani politics and policy in significant ways.
At the center of this shift are an increasing number of western educated liberals who find themselves contributing to the national dialogue for a host of issues, thanks to an emerging, robust media. Browsing through the Opinion pages of Pakistan's leading national publications, the Express Tribune, Dawn, and The News International, amongst others, one will find no shortage of liberal viewpoints from a very educated, nearly WEIRD pool of authors - perspectives that are not representative of the population at large, and come from writers who have backgrounds that are not indicative of that of the average Pakistani.
A more ubiquitous media presence, coupled with greater access to information mediums such as televisions and Internet, has contributed to a stronger dissemination of these progressive views. As Pakistan's Internet users approaches 20% of the population, a 66% increase in just four years, and television viewing continues to rise, educated, progressive intellectuals have been able to draw attention to small, yet meaningful issues that display the changing attitudes in the country. This past January, the outrage over Maya Khan and her "Vigil-Aunties," a group of women who swarmed a public park to confront unmarried couples on live TV, exemplified the potential Pakistan's media has in mobilizing and creating outcry over practices that damage individual autonomy. It is not hard to imagine a time recently where such practices may have gone overlooked in Pakistan by the masses.
The rise of a liberal media in Pakistan is a significant trend in the country's ideological development. Individuals like Mir Ibrahim Rahman, the former Goldman Sachs Investment Banker and Harvard educated founder of GeoTV, have created a landscape that, while still nascent, has recently become formidable. Despite its other travails, the democracy that has remained in the country over the past five years has allowed the media to become a more impressive institution capable of catalyzing a paradigm shift in the country.
The proliferation of highly Western media publications is a case in point. Hello! Magazine, a weekly celebrity news publication, a concept that has thus far been foreign in Pakistan, began circulation earlier this year. While condemned by some segments of the population, such publications, along with the views they espouse are becoming more palatable and accessible. Liberal publications and a progressive, ubiquitous, and more accessible media can slowly chip away at sociocentric perspectives that have been steadfast in the country.
But not all WEIRD Pakistanis find themselves channeling the media as their primary vehicle for progress. Members of civil society, like Ali Dayan Hassan of Human Rights Watch who was educated at Oxford, businessmen such as Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundi, who has served as the President of the Pakistan Chamber of Commerce-USA, and the hoard of Western-educated employees of companies like the Acumen Fund, have a much more subtle way of spreading a philosophy that is starkly different from the sociocentric approach that Pakistanis are accustomed to.
The infiltration of such individuals into the world of Pakistan's civil society and political institutions will be critical for any robust change. Pakistani politics is too dominated by ethnic loyalties, dynastic politics, and institutional obsessions. This has damaged and regressed the country in the past, and continues to be one of its main deterrents from progress and stability.
Any national paradigm shift will be gradual, and reliable polls investigating changes in social attitudes in Pakistan have yet to be undertaken, but signs of such a shift are already present in Pakistan's media and politics. While Imran Khan is far from being classified as a liberal, he does champion many of the perspectives that one would find in a WEIRD individual. He has called for an end to political parties being dominated by families, and instead establishing a norm of party leadership being selected on merit, not kin; he has advocated for an end to cultural segregation in the country's politics as well, and instead sees himself as a representative of all Pakistanis - a much disparate stance than the current major political parties who are all known to be supported by specific ethnic groups.
In espousing such viewpoints, Imran Khan has digressed from the sociocentric model of politics that parties in Pakistan have followed for decades. Having spent many of his formative years in England, which included an Oxford education and a marriage to a Briton, it is not surprising that Imran Khan views politics in acutely different terms than is the sociocentric norm.
While this a slow developing trajectory for Pakistan, successful integration of a progressive, individualistic, equality-based framework can help the country become a more politically inclusive nation. Political inclusiveness and true equality will in turn create a more stable Pakistan. The shift being catalyzed by the WEIRD members of Pakistan's society seeks to change the fundamental foundation of how the country's political and economic policies function. Such changes may be slow and subtle today, but are promising for the future.
Aziz Nayani is a student and writer whose research interests focus on South Asian culture and political institutions. You can follow him on Twitter @AzizNayani.
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Among the more interesting revelations from the documents recovered during the raid on Osama bin Laden's Abbottabad compound was bin Laden's angry reaction to Faysal Shahzad's effort to detonate a bomb in Times Square on May 1, 2010, based on the notion that Shahzad had violated the oath of allegiance he swore to the United States in a naturalization ceremony. The critique was included in an October 2010 letter from bin Laden to ‘Atiyatullah ‘abd al-Rahman, a veteran Libyan fighter who would go on to become al-Qaeda's second-in-command after bin Laden's death. The dispatch is part of a larger selection of documents that the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point released on May 3, 2012.
In the letter, Bin Laden criticizes both Shahzad and Hakimullah Mahsud, the Pakistani Taliban leader who offered him training and advice:
Perhaps you monitored the trial of brother Faysal Shahzad. In it he was asked about the oath that he took when he got American citizenship. And he responded by saying that he lied. You should know that it is not permissible in Islam to betray trust and break a covenant. Perhaps the brother was not aware of this. Please ask the brothers in Taliban Pakistan to explain this point to their members. In one of the pictures, brother Faysal Shahzad was with commander Mahsud; please find out if Mahsud knows that getting the American citizenship requires talking an oath to not harm America. This is a very important matter because we do not want al-Mujahidn[sic] to be accused of breaking a covenant.
The concern reappeared in another letter, likely from bin Laden or ‘Atiyatullah to Nassir al-Wuhayshi, emir of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The author counseled the emir:
If the government does not agree on a truce, concentrate on the Yemeni emigrants who come back to visit Yemen and have American visas or citizenship and would be able to conduct operations inside America as long as they have not given their promises not to harm America.
Bin Laden's (and ‘Atiyatullah's) sensitivity towards this issue reflects a sustained debate in the jihadist universe. Although the idea of covenants have a long pedigree in Islamic theology, stretching back to the Prophet Muhammad's arrangements with the various non-Muslim tribes throughout the region, the issue gained relevance for jihadists only recently. In 1998 Bin Laden formally articulated his strategy to abandon the jihad against "near enemy" Arab regimes and redirect the war towards the west. But making the West (as opposed to the Islamic world) the battleground posed a series of theological challenges, including identifying the rules that governed the conduct of jihadists already living in or travelling to the West.
Probably not coincidentally, around this time a community of predominantly London-based sheikhs and commentators began discussing the obligations of jihadis residing in the West. Abu Baseer al-Tartusi, an exiled Syrian scholar known for his radical, if often dissenting views on the conduct of jihad, lectured publicly about the importance of maintaining what he saw as a "covenant of security": Muslims in the West were not allowed to attack the countries in which they lived or had taken refuge in. Al-Tartusi also spent a portion of his 1999 treatise al-Istihlal on the issue, and his followers later translated this section and issued it as a pamphlet (these works are available on Tartusi's website). Tartusi explained that he was motivated to comment on the covenant because:
[A] great number of Muslims -both those living in the West as ‘citizens' and others- who enter the lands of non-Muslims in a covenant, do not really know what rights Sharia Law gives them and what responsibilities it assigns to them... And what makes this matter worse is that those wrongdoers' ignorance about the teachings, rulings and "purposes and intentions" of Islam makes them commit such acts in the name of Islam and under the impression of holding fast to Islam, while Islam has nothing to do with such irresponsible acts!
While some prominent jihadis criticized Abu Baseer's view, other London-based jihadist figures expressed their adherence to the idea of the covenant. In fact, after the 7/7 bombings in Britain (carried out by British Muslims) Tartusi issued a strongly-worded refutation of the attacks, arguing that tactics and strategy must always be grounded in theology, not vice versa. Tartusi's ruling and subsequent controversy that erupted in militant circles was one example of the sensitivity around the issue. The recent decision of the British government to re-launch their anti-radicalization "Prevent" strategy has revitalized the discussion among British extremists.
The implications of bin Laden's far enemy strategy also ignited criticism from Middle Eastern-based jihadist figures. Most prominently, in 2007 Sayyid Imam al-Sharif, aka Dr. Fadl, a former leader of the Egyptian group al-Jihad, leveled a series of theological, strategic, and personal attacks on Ayman al-Zawahiri and al-Qaeda. Al-Sharif opened with an interview for the pan-Arab daily al-Hayat in which he castigated al-Qaeda for violating this covenant. In the most colorful portion, Sayyid Imam warned that "the followers of Bin Ladin entered the United States with his knowledge, on his orders, double-crossed its population, and killed and destroyed. The Prophet, God's prayer and peace be upon him, said: "On the Day of Judgment, every double-crosser will have a banner at his anus proportionate to his treachery." Shortly thereafter, Imam released a book which expanded on many of these criticisms. As he wrote in Guiding Jihad Work in Egypt and the World: "Whoever receives permission to enter the unbelievers' countries, even if they do so with a forged visa, they must respect this as a religiously-approved security contract, and any Muslim must honor it...(pg. 20)"
For their part, al-Qaeda and Ayman al-Zawahiri tried to brush off the criticism. Zawahiri countered with a book of his own a short while later, The Exoneration, in which he defended the decision to reject the covenant. As he argued:
If we assume for argument's sake that a visa from America or from any other crusader country allied with America in its more than 50-year-long aggression against Muslims is an aman (grant of safe passage), this aman is void for two reasons. First, no aman protects the life of someone who wages war against God and His prophet, harms Muslims, and insults their prophet and religion. Second, America and its allies violate the aman every day. (pg. 154)
At the time there was little evidence that the exchange caused a reassessment. In the following years, public statements from al-Qaeda-affiliated figures showed little interest in revisiting the issue. For instance, in late 2010 Anwar al-Awlaki, the U.S.-born cleric, wrote in the fourth issue of Inspire, AQAP's magazine, that "Muslims are not bound by the covenants of citizenship and visa that exist between them and nations of dar al-harb." (pg. 56). It is worth noting that in another Abbottabad document, bin Laden was skeptical of al-Awlaki, politely but firmly rejecting al-Wuhayshi's suggestion that al-Awlaki be designated the leader of AQAP.
A complete judgment will have to await additional information, including the release of more than 17 carefully selected documents. But these two passages point to a tension between those who, like bin Laden and ‘Attiyatullah ‘abd al-Rahman, remained concerned over the theological foundations of al-Qaeda's war against the west, and those who apparently subsumed the theological questions to the urgency of carrying out high-profile attacks. These same types of tensions and conflicts have historically riven the jihadist movement, and al-Qaeda itself. Now, with bin Laden, ‘Attiyatullah, and al-Awlaki dead, it remains to be seen if Ayman al-Zawahiri will overcome or exacerbate these divisions.
Steven Brooke is a PhD candidate in the Department of Government at The University of Texas at Austin.
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This month's NATO summit in Chicago has provided many writers and analysts a moment to debate possible outcomes of the U.S. endeavor in Afghanistan. Commentary ranges from David Ignatius "thinking the unthinkable" about the Taliban returning to Kabul, to former First Lady Laura Bush urging the international community to remember the women of Afghanistan. The meeting provides a timely inflection point about the price paid in blood and treasure, and the future return on this costly investment.
Yet there is a glaring gap in this conversation, one that ignores the on-the-ground reality of Afghanistan. It is the role of religion and its influence on the trajectory of the Afghan government. By paying it little or no heed, the United States is omitting a key piece of the complex jigsaw puzzle that is Afghanistan's future.
My meeting with Afghan Minister of Justice Habibullah Ghalib in Kabul drove home the importance of religion and its influence on matters of state. Our conversation in December 2010 quickly turned to the application of Islamic religious law to the affairs of men and women, especially the issue of apostasy, a topic which places core freedoms of religion and conscience at the center of government policy. At the time, a convert to Christianity was being detained, but similar cases had arisen where Muslims were charged with "criminal" activity considered blasphemous. He justified government actions on Islamic law, brushing aside my counterarguments for freedom of religion and belief based on international standards, the Afghan constitution, and even Qur'anic references.
It wasn't surprising that the Minister was unmoved in his view that apostasy and blasphemy were crimes to be punished by the state, as it reflected past Afghan government actions against Muslims and non-Muslims to stifle freedom of thought and restrict expression. However, it underscored the cost of not addressing the role of religious tenets in law and governance.
Afghanistan's legal system is a big part of the problem, despite Article 7 of the Afghan constitution stating that the Afghan government "shall abide by" the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. In practice, Afghanistan has established a restrictive interpretation of Islamic law through the vague repugnancy clause in Article 3 that states that "no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam." Consequently, there are no protections for individuals to dissent from state-imposed orthodoxy, debate the role of religion in law and society, advocate for the human rights of women and religious minorities, or question interpretations of Islamic precepts.
David Ignatius' "unthinkable" thought of a Taliban return to Kabul could happen, but perhaps even faster than he imagines. The Afghan constitution's provisions referencing undefined notions of Islamic law give Taliban sympathizers legal cover to apply their regressive religious interpretations through laws against human rights, religious freedom, and women's rights.
Religion matters in Afghanistan, and promoting religious freedom and tolerance can help achieve human rights and security goals. Repression of religious freedom strengthens the hand of violent religious extremists. As I've written elsewhere, conditions of full religious freedom allows for the peaceful sharing of differing views and interpretations. This openness can displace extremist influences from social and religious networks, thereby limiting their ability to influence populations of concern and turn them towards violence. Recent studies and research are building an empirical case that limitations on religious freedom lead to more, not less, societal instability.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom -- where I work -- has documented Afghanistan's poor religious freedom record and placed Afghanistan on our Watch List. USCIRF has described the situation as "exceedingly poor for dissenting members of the majority faith and for minority religious communities." Regarding religious minorities, USCIRF reported how "the small and vulnerable Christian community experienced a spike in arrests, with Christians being detained and some jailed (and later released) for the ‘crime' of apostasy." The Hindu and Sikh communities continue to face discrimination and violence, while the small Baha'i community operates basically underground, especially since a 2007 ruling by the General Directorate of Fatwa and Accounts decreed their faith to be a "form of blasphemy." Even the much larger minority Hazara Shi'a community, which has experienced greater freedoms, was targeted by suicide bombers in late 2011.
A string of events in recent months bears further witness to religion's unmistakable role in Afghanistan:
Taliban response to Strategic Partnership Agreement - There were two Taliban responses to this agreement, one violent, but the other focused on religion. The violent response received much greater attention, since this was the attack on Bagram Airbase after President Obama left the country. However, the Taliban also issued a statement in April, immediately after the announcement of a deal, outlining five ways the Karzai government was caving. Four of the five focused on issues relating to Islam - preventing a true Islamic government; bringing in secularism and liberalism; creating an army hostile to Islam; and being a continuous threat to Muslim countries in the region. The Taliban believes this issue to be relevant to the Afghan populace.
Qur'an burnings - The accidental destruction of Qur'ans and other Islamic materials triggered a nationwide backlash, attacks on U.S. and ISAF personnel, and an apology from President Obama. Dozens were killed and scores more wounded. Sensing a public relations bonanza, the Taliban pressed to exploit the situation to their advantage, issuing statements urging violence and offering this as further evidence of America's supposed war against Islam.
Ulema Council statement and Karzai response - The Ulema Council, an influential body of clerics sponsored by the Afghan government, issued a "code of conduct" for women that permits husbands to beat their wives and promotes gender segregation. If that wasn't alarming enough for human rights and women's rights advocates, President Karzai endorsed the statement. He had other options, such as refuting the findings or at least ignoring them, but Karzai felt the need to endorse them, saying they were in line with Islamic principles. Why? Because the role of religion in politics and governance has a great influence in Afghanistan.
Despite these developments, a response is not to be found in the Strategic Partnership or the recent NATO summit declaration. No mention was made of promoting religious freedom and religious tolerance, key elements of any attempt to see human rights and women's rights protected and respected.
While these high-level documents are silent, there is increasing recognition of this challenge in U.S. government policy. The State Department has initiated a program to counter extremist voices, which looks to bring other Islamic perspectives into Afghanistan to help expose Afghanis to the broader Islamic world. After 30 years of civil war and the impact of a narrow Taliban-imposed view, there is little understanding of how their religion can work successfully with democracy and human rights. USAID is also doing interesting work with Afghanistan's informal justice system, introducing human rights into the centuries-old traditional system, and doing so through the lens of Islamic law. However, these efforts, while positive, are not enough to have a lasting impact.
In other words, the current level of programming won't move a needle that is pointing dangerously in the wrong direction.
It's getting late in the game, but it's not too late to move the needle. There is still time for concerted action. The U.S. government can ramp up its efforts to increase public diplomacy relating to religious freedom and religious tolerance, and bring more delegations of Afghan religious and NGO leaders to the United States and take American religious and NGO leaders to Afghanistan. The United States can jump-start training about the balance between religion and state and the compatibility of Islam with human rights and religious freedom. Continuing to press for greater freedoms in public and private is critical, as well as starting new initiatives, such as creating a special working group on religious freedom/tolerance in U.S.-Afghan strategic dialogues. U.S. and International Security Assistance Forces should be trained to understand international standards when engaging with Afghan religious leaders, local government officials, or Afghan local police forces. U.S. government personnel also need to increase their "religious IQ" on the role of Islam in Afghan society, as well as understand how religious freedom can promote stability and security.
As Afghanistan goes about building institutions as the international community departs, getting the religion question right will be a part of every answer. The Taliban and the Afghan government talk about religion, apply religious law, and use it to their advantage. Considering religion is the lens through which everything passes, significantly increasing engagement on religious freedom and tolerance will advance U.S. human rights and national security interests.
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.
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It was 2009 in Peshawar, Pakistan, and Mossarat Qadeem was sitting on the floor of a house with about a dozen young Pakistani men -- some of whom had nearly become suicide bombers. Qadeem's goal: to undo the destructive brainwashing of the al-Qaeda and Taliban teachers who trained them in extremism, in part by asking the students to narrate their life stories.
"We were handling one of the boys, and he just came, put his head here in my lap, and he started crying and weeping," Qadeem recalls. "I was taken aback. It is very unnatural in my country that a man that tall can just sit at your feet and put his head here. [The other men] were all crying with him, and I was looking at him, and thinking, ‘my God.'"
All in a day's work for Qadeem. She's the national coordinator of Aman-o-Nisa, a coalition of Pakistani women that convened in October 2011 to combat violent extremism in Pakistan at the grassroots level. A delegation of 12 women from Aman-o-Nisa, sponsored in part by the Institute for Inclusive Security, recently traveled to Washington, DC to share their work with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other Washington policymakers. The AfPak Channel sat down with three of the women -- Qadeem, the founder of Pakistan's first center for conflict transformation and peacebuilding, Sameena Imtiaz, the founder and executive director of the Peace Education and Development Foundation, and Bushra Hyder, the founder and director of Qadims Lumiere School and College -- while they were in town for a conversation about why so few women work in counterterrorism, and the tactics they use to reverse the violent, extremist mentality.
The interview is condensed and edited below.
Of course, Islamic extremism is a major problem in many other countries besides Pakistan. Why are there so few groups like Aman-o-Nisa, and so few women working to counter extremism?
Bushra Hyder: Most of the women are not even aware that they can play a positive role combating extremism. Secondly, there are security reasons involved. In our part of the country, if a woman goes out and starts getting involved in such activities, she is definitely going to be at risk. Naturally, the males of the household and family would not like their women and females...facing any kind of security threat. That could be the reason, but the fact is the majority of the women are not aware of it.
Sameena Imtiaz: [Women] are also not recognized by men as [people] who could play a very supportive role in combatting extremism in countries such as Pakistan. [In] the security sector in countries like Pakistan, for instance, women are hardly visible. They are not at the dialogue tables, they are not consulted and valued in the policymaking processes that are there.
Mossarat Qadeem: Extremism per se has never been recognized and debated upon in Pakistan as a threat. We feel that there is a foreign hand involved in the incidence of extremism that takes place in Pakistan. And ...we leave it to the government to respond to it. Even the men in the community and society have never thought that they can do something at their level to combat it or to address it. Everyone says it's the responsibility of the government , and they should respond to it because it's a foreign threat - it has nothing to do with Pakistanis, it's not our issue.
Why do Pakistanis see it as a foreign threat? Is it because the extremism in Pakistan isn't homegrown, as it tends to be in Morocco, for example?
MQ: In Pakistan...it's so unobtrusive. It's not obvious that someone is coming and asking the people to become Taliban, to become an extremist, unlike Morocco. That's why this invisible enemy, this invisible hand, is so dangerous, because you don't know who to counter and how to counter.
What are the origins of extremism in Pakistan?
SI: Talibanization and extremism are not new phenomena in Pakistan. We have to go back into the early 80s when many Pakistanis were fighting in the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan. There was a lot of money that was poured into Pakistan to help these militant groups who are now called Taliban and who have become a monster. They have been thriving on foreign aid.
A lot needs to be done to undo what has been done in the past. But what we are expecting from Pakistan at the moment is there should be a magic wand and all this disappears. It [requires a] change of mindset. You have for decades taught young people that they have to fight this fight in the name of Islam. If you have trained young people to become fighters and warriors, you cannot expect them to become mercenaries of peace immediately. You have to work with them...deradicalize the people who already have this mindset now, and to stop the slide of these young people into extremism. You have to provide them other opportunities, you have to open up avenues for alternative work opportunities for them. What do they do if they don't fight? If they don't become militants? Do they have then food to eat, places to sleep in? You have to look at them as human beings and treat them as human beings.
How do you go about trying to transform the mindsets of radicalized youth?
MQ: We use the Quranic verses -- the true interpretation of the Quran, and of course the teachings of the Holy Sunna. We give examples of the Prophet Muhammad. That's the best way to counter radicalization and extremism in Pakistan, because the [verses] have been misquoted and misinterpreted [by extremist trainers]. We use a lot from the history around the world, giving examples of why peace is important.
What are the subjects - or verses - that you bring up the first time you speak to a radicalized young person?
MQ: Before doing all of this, I conducted research [to find out] what tools have been used to transform these youth. I came across certain verses that were misinterpreted and misused -- particular verses about jihad. And I had to take different sources and different interpretations of various religious scholars and accumulate them. I had to actually work with some of the trainers and scholars [who had radicalized the youth] because I wanted to know, what should be my approach?
How did you get these trainers to talk to you? And what did they tell you?
MQ: Two are transformed now. They told me, these are the verses we have been using, these are the tactics we have been using, this is the picture we used to draw for these students. I did it in a very different way. I used the same tactics, but it was real, it's what the Quran says.
What's an example of a verse that has been misinterpreted?
MQ: There is a particular verse in the Surah Maidah that says ‘go out and fight.' But the fighting in that particular verse was misinterpreted. That verse was used in a particular period of time when Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, was living in the state of Medina, and the people wanted to kill every Muslim. So they really had enemies to face - [they] were being killed, and [there was the risk that] Islam would [disappear].
Obviously, you all do very risky work. How often do you feel directly threatened?
SI: All the time. We are working in such a sensitive area. The risk is always there. We have so many times received life-threatening messages. There have been attempts on many of us. So yes, that's part of the game.
Elizabeth Weingarten is an editorial assistant at the New America Foundation.
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The last two years have not been kind to al-Qaeda Central (AQC). U.S. drone strikes over Pakistan's Pashtun tribal regions have decimated its leadership ranks, killing a number of senior operational leaders and ideologues. These killings have eroded the ability of AQC and the transnational Sunni jihadi current to propagate its message. Despite these losses, however, AQC still has a number of charismatic voices that it is able to, and frequently does, deploy. One of these is the group's chief juridical voice, Abu Yahya al-Libi. A second is the Kuwaiti preacher Khalid bin ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Husaynan, a much lesser-known ideologue who has played an increasingly prominent role in AQC's media productions since his debut in an often comedic "quiet dialogue." This "dialogue" was actually a rhetorical monologue aimed at U.S. president Barack Obama, released by the group's al-Sahab Media Foundation in August 2009.
Since then, al-Husaynan has emerged as both the spiritual guide to AQC's armed cadres in the AfPak region and the group's missionary ambassador tasked with wooing new recruits from abroad. These roles have been emphasized in his repeated appearances in al-Sahab's Diary of a Mujahid video series, which presents a holistic picture of the jihadi-guerilla lifestyle by showing jihadis engaged in military attacks, physical and doctrinal education, and leisure activities such as fishing. The Diary of a Mujahid series highlights the important but often neglected social aspects of "mujahideen" life, through which bonds are created among jihadis, reinforcing the group's ideology and dedication. Al-Husaynan has appeared more frequently in a quasi-military capacity, filmed with firearms delivering lectures and sermons in the field to AQC's frontline troops, emphasizing his role as a "mujahid" or warrior theologian and missionary preacher. The publication of several of his essays and full-length books on weighty theological and juridical topics by the al-Fajr Media Center, the shadowy media network that coordinates the online distribution of all media materials produced by AQC, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), solidified his credentials as a jihadi juridical voice and religious scholar.
Unlike Abu Yahya, al-Husaynan has not attracted a significant amount of attention from scholars and analysts -- with a couple of notable exceptions -- despite being one of the most vocal advocates for the transnational jihadi missionary campaign. While it is true that AQC's operational and media abilities have been significantly hampered by its recent losses, the group retains prominent voices, such as al-Husaynan's, urging Muslims around the world to support its "jihad" against the U.S. and its allies and regional clients in countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, and Yemen. These voices should not be ignored by al-Qaeda analysts because they continue to provide a valuable window into the ideological machinations of a certainly weakened, but still living transnational militant movement.
In addition to his personable oratorical style, which runs the gamut between fire-and-brimstone preaching to (more frequently) a conversational tone, al-Husaynan is also able to deploy his credentials as a religious scholar and preacher prior to his joining AQC. The transnational jihadi current suffers from a relatively small number of bona fide religious scholars (‘ulama), and the presence of ideologues such as al-Husaynan enables it to claim much-needed juridical and theological cover for its actions. Specifically, jihadis are able to use voices of "frontline scholars" (‘ulama al-thughur) such as al-Husaynan to counter the criticisms of AQC and its sister groups by other, more mainstream, ‘ulama, such as the Saudi Salafi scholar Salman al-‘Awda.
A former preacher employed by the Kuwaiti Ministry of Religious Endowments and Islamic Affairs, al-Husaynan began his formal religious education in 1986 with a number of prominent Saudi Salafi scholars, including the prominent Saudi jihadi-Salafi scholar Suleyman al-‘Ulwan, who has been imprisoned since April 28, 2004, and the mainstream Saudi Salafi jurist Muhammad al-‘Uthaymin, one of the most influential Salafi scholars in modern history. The Kuwaiti ideologue provided a detailed sketch of his educational and biographical background in a lengthy interview with Hittin, an Urdu-language jihadi Internet magazine named after a famous battle in which the medieval Muslim ruler Saladin defeated the army of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1187, which was published in the January issue.
Information posted online by al-Husaynan's supporters sheds additional light on his biographical background. After graduating with a degree in theology from Imam Muhammad bin Saud Islamic University in Saudi Arabia, he worked as a prayer leader (imam) and preacher at the mosque of the Sa‘d al-Abdullah Academy for Security Sciences, an institution which is responsible for training Kuwaiti police officers. He later worked at a number of other mosques controlled by the Ministry of Religious Endowments and Islamic Affairs where has was a popular preacher and a prolific writer of religious pamphlets on issues such as supplicatory prayers (du‘a), the Day of Judgment, and women's issues. Even at this point in his career, al-Husaynan was known for employing humor in his lectures in order to better connect to his audience. The preacher emphasized his use of humor as a means for reaching out to Muslim youth, which he identifies as the primary target of his and other Kuwaiti preachers' missionary work, in his Hittin interview.
By the mid-1990s, he was a vocal advocate for Muslim fighters, or "mujahideen," presumably in places such as Chechnya and Bosnia. At this time in his life, al-Husaynan worked with the Salafi Movement of Kuwait, whose spokesman, Fahid al-Haylam, is quoted by al-Husaynan's supporters as having described him as a "missionary man" who was active in the organization of religious seminars for students at summer camps. Al-Husaynan was eventually removed from his position as an imam and preacher (khatib) at the academy's mosque because of fears that he would influence the cadets politically, and he was moved at a mosque in Bilqis in the Jalib region. In either 2006 or 2007, al-Husaynan left Kuwait to travel to the "battlefields of jihad" in Afghanistan, the land of "glory and pride." The date he gives in his Hittin interview is the Islamic lunar year 1427, which corresponds to the Gregorian years 2006 and the beginning of 2007.
Al-Husaynan's emergence as an AQC ideologue was slow but steady. In November 2009, al-Sahab released a video recording of his sermon for the Eid al-Fitr, the holiday ending the month of Ramadan, in which the preacher's demeanor was no longer as cartoonish as in parts of his August debut. Throughout Ramadan the following year al-Sahab released a series of brief, daily video lectures by al-Husaynan on a variety of issues ranging from proper belief (‘aqida) and theology to ritual practice and the proper behavior of a pious Muslim. Some of the lectures included references to political and ideological topics, such as one on the signs of hypocrisy, which include, according to the preacher, backbiting against the "mujahideen."
In October 2010 al-Husaynan, who is known in jihadi circles by the nom de guerre Abu Zayd al-Kuwaiti, was referenced briefly in the fifth installment of al-Sahab's masterfully produced martyrology video series The Wind of Paradise, which chronicles the life stories of AQC fighters and leaders killed in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In April 2011 the series of video "propagation lessons" (al-durus al-da‘iyya) that began with the Ramadan 2010 lecture series continued, and a month later al-Husaynan was being referred to by a new title, the "missionary" or "propagating" sheikh (al-sheikh al-da‘iyya), the same title used in AQAP's media to describe the role of the militant American-Yemeni preacher Anwar al-Awlaki.
Al-Husaynan has undeniably become one of AQC's most frequently broadcast ideological voices and his importance to the group is likely to only increase with the thinning of the group's ranks of ideologues over the past two years. Despite the fact that al-Sahab has steadily pushed al-Husaynan to the forefront of its media campaign since late 2009, his impact on the broader transnational Sunni jihadi current is unclear. Measuring influence in the jihadi universe is difficult, but one way is to see who is quoted by other jihadi groups in different geographical areas of operation and how often they are quoted. Unlike Abu Yahya, ‘Atiyyatullah al-Libi, Usama bin Laden, and Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Husaynan is not yet quoted frequently by jihadi movements such as Al-Shabaab in Somalia and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, or even AQIM and AQAP. Cyber artwork produced independently by online jihadis is another indicator and a field of jihadi media that the author has followed closely for several years. Al-Husaynan has only recently appeared in such artwork. While this uncertainty as to al-Husaynan's standing within the broader jihadi current should be considered, his promotion by AQC itself and the increasingly prominent role he has played in the group's recent media productions are compelling reasons to pay attention to his contributions to contemporary jihadi thought and discourse.
Christopher Anzalone is a doctoral student in the Institute of Islamic Studies at McGill University where he studies modern Muslim socio-political movements, Shi'ite Islam, and Islamist visual culture. He blogs at Views from the Occident and Al-Wasat.
In September 2010 Afghan President Hamid Karzai named Maulvi Qalamuddin to the High Peace Council, an Afghan organization set up to negotiate with the Taliban-led insurgency. Qalamuddin has a notorious past as the former deputy minister for the General Department for the Promotion of Virtue and Elimination of Vice (Amr-e-Bil M'arouf wa Nahi Anil Munkar) during the Taliban regime. He oversaw the implementation of the extreme and strict Islamic laws through religious police squads who ran surveillance on the Afghan populace. Activities included public beatings of women who were deemed to be dressed or behaving inappropriately, banning women from working in public space, smashing televisions, and forcing men to grow beards and spend more time in mosques.
Maulvi Qalamuddin is among the most controversial of the five Taliban members who have been appointed to the HPC as part of the Afghan government's efforts to include more hardliners into the peace process. He is considered to be among the few of Taliban members who still have significant clout and connections among insurgents, including the Taliban leadership. Qalamuddin is a product of the Dar-ul Uloom Haqqania madrassa in the town of Akora Khattak, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, the same madrassa that produced Mullah Omar and other Taliban ministers and commanders, including Jalaluddin Haqqani, the leader of the Haqqani Network and one of the most dreaded insurgent leaders in Afghanistan. In an effort to build trust with insurgent leaders, Afghan government has petitioned the U.N. Security Council to remove Qalamuddin and 19 other former Taliban members from a sanctions list that has prevented them from travelling or sending money abroad since 1999.
As the rush towards withdrawal gathers momentum, and the search for political solution intensifies, the urge to portray a moderate face of the Taliban is gaining traction. While those who have joined the peace process appear to have moderated their views, the key question of whether there has been a genuine change of heart or whether nominal moderation represents mere opportunism remains unanswered.
Afghans who have been fatigued by the unending war and uncertainty of the international presence are broadly supportive of the peace and reintegration processes, but they, too, remain sceptical about the motives and intent of the former Taliban leaders who are eyeing a return through political negotiations. Concerns remain over how the Taliban might behave once they are allowed into some kind of power sharing arrangement. Moreover, the leader of the Afghan Taliban, Mullah Omar, remains elusive, with little or no real indication of his thoughts on the peace processes.
Through my discussions with the members of the High Peace Council, as well as the Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Program (APRP), it was interesting to observe the various strands of thinking on reintegration, reconciliation and peace processes. The HPC and APRP members were optimistic about the reintegration process, though they expressed concerns about the reliability of guarantees from the government of protection, compensation and employment opportunities to prevent the militants from re-joining the insurgency. As for the reconciliation and peace process, members lamented the lack of clarity on the role and powers of HPC with the U.S. having set up the parallel Qatar process. Most feel that this should be an Afghan-led negotiation, and any parallel process should be in consultation with the Afghans, and needs to be gradually integrated into the Afghan effort. They perceive the present U.S. effort at negotiation as a face saving formula rather than a serious stake holder in the negotiation process. However, some concede that the Qatar track may also take the heat off of the Afghans to find a political solution, given that the HPC had lost a lot of steam after the assassination of HPC head Burhanuddin Rabbani last year. Concerns remain over the potential spoiler role that could be played by Pakistan, and the belief that the Pakistani establishment has control over the Quetta Shura or at least continue to provide sanctuary to Taliban militants.
During a conversation with Maulvi Qalamuddin in Kabul, I had a rare opportunity to get a glimpse into his personal views on the various issues that have confounded the Afghans and the international community, and threatened the viability of the peace process. He paints a very optimistic picture of the prospects of reintegration and reconciliation, though he remains wary of the role of the United States and neighbouring countries.
Below are Maulvi Qalamuddin's responses to my questions.
Shanthie D'Souza: Why do you think peace and reconciliation is important? Do you think the Afghan government can bring peace?
Maulvi Qalamuddin: Reconciliation and peace are important to bring an end to the war. The people of Afgahnistan are tired of war and violence and want peace. So it is important to work with the government to bring peace. The Afghan government by working through the provincial offices of the High Peace Council has been able to reach out to large segment of tribal elders that has helped gain grass root support.
SD: Why didn't you support or join the government earlier?
MQ: By direct political negotiations, there were many like Maulvi Qalamuddin who were ready to join the government but were arrested in 2002. There were many like him who wanted to join the government earlier but were captured or killed. This created a trust deficit.
SD: Why did you join the Taliban and why are you supporting the Afghan government now?
MQ: The rationale for joining the Taliban was to put an end to the conflict caused by the incessant infighting among the mujahideen in the 1990's. The Taliban were the only ones who were able to being security and justice to Afghanistan. Likewise, my present decision to join the government is to help bring peace to the country. Eleven years of war has worked to no one's advantage. I will support any government that has and serves the interest of the Afghan people.
SD: Was the Taliban regime better or more effective than the present government?
MQ: The Taliban regime was good because there was a security, justice in Afghanistan and it was a pure Islamic state. The present Afghan government is good because it has money, professional cadre and international support. In the time of the Taliban, one could not visualise offices with young people working on computers that one sees today. That is a good sign. I have three television sets at home and I watch Televison programs[The Taliban during its rule and under Qalamuddin's direction had carried out public executions of TV sets as it was considered as ‘idolatry']. For a man averse to photography, he was open to being photographed.
SD: Are the Taliban ready for talks? Who should be included in the talks and negotiations?
MQ: Taliban has shown inclination for talks. Not all Taliban are useful and they do not depict the Afghan culture. The present excesses of the Taliban like beheadings and suicide bombing are unacceptable. There is a need to separate the criminalised networks from the real Taliban.
SD: What are the challenges to the reconciliation process?
MQ: The presence of criminal groups who function under the name of Taliban are a main challenge. There are also issues of night raids [by the international forces], torture, detention centres, black listing of Taliban member and role of neighbouring countries. More importantly, there is lack of trust and confidence between the government, international community and the Taliban
SD: How do you think these challenges can be addressed?
MQ: For reconciliation to work there is a need for change in the constitution, provide guarantees, build trust and international community's support.
SD: What do you think of the Qatar Process? Do you think it will help establish contact and official address for the Taliban?
MQ: The Qatar process is an informal dialogue and not an official channel. Thus, it has its limitations. Taliban had only a presence in Qatar, not an office. This window has opened on to a path that might lead eventually to peace negotiations. [His emphasis was on the Afghan process].
SD: What should be done after 2014 in case of international withdrawal?
MQ: There is a need to work together with the Afghan government and the international community.
SD: If the Taliban were to come back to power in some form, would women's rights be protected?
MQ: The west does not understand the Afghan society. I am not against women working in offices or going out in public alone. Look, you are a foreigner. If you can cover your head and respect our culture, we appreciate and expect the same from Afghan women. The present breed of Afghan women appearing on TV without head scarves is not acceptable. Women need to adhere to the sharia laws in consonance with the Afghan culture.
When I asked other HPC officials about women's rights, they were adamant that the respect and protection of women rights would not be compromised by reconciliation with the Taliban. Based on my own observations in Afghanistan, there appears to have been a marginal (or tactical) shift in letting women in public space, but not letting them dress the way they want to, for example . While most Afghan women would like to wear the traditional attire or cover their head, there are others who believe they should have the freedom to make that choice themselves. Interestingly, Qalamuddin let me photograph him, but declined to have his picture taken with me, presumably because I am a woman. I perceive this as a marginal change, and not a full, attitudinal change.
The Afghan women leaders with whom I have had discussions, such as Fawzia Koofi, Sima Samar, Shukriya Barakzai and others in Kandahar, Mazar-e-Sharif, Herat, Nangahar, are very apprehensive. They feel that once back in power, the Taliban will resort to old ways. Unless the international community ensures some guarantees on women and human rights, Afghanistan risks reverting to its pre-2001 ways.
Do Qalamuddin's views signify a dramatic shift in thinking among the Taliban? Are these early signs of transformation or tactics of opportunism? It is important for the United States and its allies, who are pushing for hasty deals through multiple negotiation channels, to sieve through these strands of thinking to prepare for eventualities when the Taliban are back in some form in the Afghan society and polity. Obviously, these attempts at peace making and negotiations should not fritter away a decade-long achievements in areas of democracy, human and women rights.
Shanthie Mariet D'Souza is a research fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS), an autonomous institute at the National University of Singapore (NUS). She can be reached at email@example.com. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the institute.
Shanthie Mariet D'Souza
In the first version of this piece, the "Trust Deficit" of the title referred to only the lack of trust between U.S. forces and their Afghan military trainees. In light of yesterday's events it is important to note that the trust gap runs both ways. The appalling events of yesterday, coming on the heels of earlier incidents have reinforced a host of existing negative perceptions about the behavior and intentions of the Western powers in Afghanistan. The negative atmosphere will make it even more difficult for our Afghan allies in Kabul to make the necessary compromises to accommodate a long-term NATO and U.S. presence. Meanwhile, domestic political opinion appears to be shaky, with Republican presidential candidates now openly opining about a more rapid withdrawal. Presidential leadership was needed last week. It is even more critical now. Something must be done to arrest this downward spiral in Afghanistan, which the Taliban are no doubt watching with glee.
This past week's wave of killings in Afghanistan of U.S. military personnel by their nominal Afghan allies has exposed a key weakness in the NATO and U.S. transition "train and advise" strategy that will allow the large NATO units to disengage. Simply put, the tactic of putting small groups of experienced, seasoned soldiers with Afghan security forces to both train and provide access to NATO resource-such as intelligence and airpower-assumes that the two sides have enough mutual trust and respect to work together. It also assumes that the fratricidal violence between these two allied groups (Afghan and NATO) will be sufficiently low-preferably zero-that domestic support can be maintained in Washington and other capitals long enough for real changes to take root. Both of these assumptions are now questionable.
While some of these killings may be the work of Taliban infiltrators, defense officials privately say that well over half appear instead to be in response to a perceived personal insult or-as in at least some of last week's incidents-in response to an insult to Islam. Upon reflection, this should not surprise us. This is a society in which Afghan males occasionally kill their own daughters and sisters in order to maintain personal and family honor. How much easier to kill a Western trainer for similar reasons?
American and other NATO forces react as one would expect in this situation; they become risk averse. They spend less time with Afghans, avoid being alone with Afghans, and retreat to their compatriots. This understandable behavior makes the situation worse, further isolating the Westerners from the contact that might permit cultural understanding and reduce the friction between the two sides.
While markedly worse of late, the risk to trainers from their Afghan colleagues is not a new phenomenon in Afghanistan. Yet the advisory strategy has moved forward despite the clear vulnerability of the people asked to undertake it. It is not clear whether anyone identified this vulnerability and senior leaders decided it was an acceptable risk, or whether the influx of Iraq veterans bringing their "lessons learned" skewed the perception of what was possible, as there were very few of these "green on blue" incidents with trainers in the much more developed Iraq. This vulnerability has been discussed sotte vocce among the Afghan policy community for several months now, with no one wanting to expose the weaknesses in the plan or the long-term difficulties of this latest variant of the counter insurgency strategy. There is clearly no longer any secret to keep.
Regardless of how we arrived at this point, we now have a stubborn problem. The President, administration officials, and senior military leaders are saying the diplomatic things they have to say, but all realize the severity of the situation. No doubt measures are being put in place to try to alleviate the most obvious vulnerabilities and increase "force protection" throughout Afghanistan, even though this is completely at odds with the concept of an advisory mission. But the bottom line is that throughout the country, the NATO and Afghan forces are intertwined. To try to deny all opportunities for future attacks is simply not possible.
The issue is that no one appears to have a viable Plan B at this point. One can lament the set of circumstances that has brought us to this point, but that changes the facts not at all. The current strategy no longer appears workable, given the lack of trust now made apparent, not to mention domestic support. And yet the only easily discernible alternative-a rapid disengagement from Afghanistan-appears even worse, or at least an explicit admission of failure, without any fig leaf of "transition" as NATO departs, not to mention humanitarian concerns for the Afghans.
The American people appear to be demanding real answers to hard questions. What are our interests in Afghanistan? Why are we still there now that Osama bin Laden is dead? Why do our Afghan allies hate us enough to kill us when we are there to help them? Why are we supporting a government that can't keep its agents from killing ours and which appears to be corrupt? To date, the answers coming from the Administration and the war's supporters in Congress do not appear to be answering these questions, instead maintaining that the fratricide issue is manageable and that we can stay the course.
Unfortunately, Afghanistan is a "wicked problem" that appears to be getting more tangled by the day. Our presence is not simply a part of the solution but part of the problem, creating an inexorable spiral from which we are struggling to escape with both our dignity and our strategy intact. The refusal to acknowledge the recalculation of risk at both the senior and individual levels in Afghanistan refuses to acknowledge the diminishing likelihood that the "train and advise" plan will work. The Afghans will notice when senior mentors show up with their security detail or when more junior ones keep their weapons closer and their guard up.
The President owes the American people a clear, concise explanation of our policy and why the costs are worth paying; the buck does stop with him. If the President believes that trust can be restored between the Afghans trying to make a country and the people of good will we have asked to help them, then he must say so and be willing to risk the political storms that will follow if the costs-fiscal and human-increase. If he instead believes the new situation requires adjusting the policy, then so be it. When the assumptions on which plans are based turn out to be false, this is the logical next step. This may be politically inopportune, risking accusation either of giving up our allies and/or interests in Afghanistan or of selling out our dead.
In short, the "train and advise" strategy that is the current U.S. and NATO policy no longer appears feasible. The Commander in Chief, after serious deliberations with Congress, needs to posit a workable strategy the properly weights national interests and then plan to follow it through as a responsible party rather than turning to demagoguery. There are soldiers dying in Afghanistan executing an unclear policy and we all owe them more than that.
Douglas A. Ollivant, a Senior National Security Studies Fellow at New America Foundation, was the Senior Counterinsurgency Advisor to the Commander, Regional Command East, 2010-2011.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
This is part four of a series contributed by WORDE researchers, as they traveled through 35 cities and villages in Pakistan - from FATA to interior Sindh - to understand how civil society is countering extremism.
In a moderate madrassa on the border of Pakistan's rugged Khyber Agency, an imam demonstrated a new computer program to teach religious studies. This CD-ROM has been distributed to madrassas across Pakistan by a foreign source to promote radical Salafi ideologies that are linked to militant organizations. Crouching over one of the five PCs in his computer lab, the imam opened the program to show us how extremists are trying to infiltrate moderate institutions. The first e-lesson he selected instructed students to hate those who did not conform to strict Salafi belief system.
Elsewhere, in major universities across Pakistan's bustling cities, extremists are winning recruits by embedding Islamist narratives into their lectures. A professor in Lahore explained how she witnessed several students attend such lectures and change their behavior overnight. "The first sign of radicalization was in their dress code," she explained. "Within weeks they assumed the role of moral police for the student body and began advocating for Taliban-style Shariah law."
Facing increasing unemployment and political disillusionment, youth are by far the most important demographic for Taliban recruiters. This is a particularly disturbing trend considering that an estimated 102 million Pakistanis, or 59% of the population, are under the age of 24. Without outlets to channel their energy, this age bracket can easily become Pakistan's most lethal powder keg.
To stem youth radicalization in Pakistan, both secular schools and moderate madrassas have had to seek innovative solutions. In July 2009, a youth NGO called Barghad hosted the "All Pakistan Student Leaders Conference" to address how students can openly challenge extremist influence on college campuses. Remarkably, even in the frontier provinces, the epicenter of the conflict, students are turning out in high numbers to promote peace. In 2010, when the Sustainable Peace and Development Organization (SPADO) held a "Peace Walk" to protest gun violence at Peshawar University, 500 students participated. Building off such initiatives, the Young Parliamentarian caucus in the National Assembly is organizing a series of college debates to engage students on sensitive issues such as terrorism. The caucus is led by Member of the National Assembly Dr. Donya Aziz, whose bill criminalizing violence against women was recently passed with the support of religious scholars.
Minhaj ul Quran, one of Pakistan's largest religious school networks, created the Muslim-Christian Dialogue Forum to promote a tolerant worldview. Each year, Minhaj's Muslim students celebrate Christmas with Lahore's Christian community. Many madrassas also encourage students to participate in anti-terror rallies. After Lahore's landmark Sufi shrine, Data Darbar, was bombed in 2010, students at the nearby Jamia Nizamia Rizvia participated in demonstrations denouncing all forms of terrorism. Dr. Raghib Naeemi, the son of Dr. Sarfraz Naeemi, who was murdered by extremists for speaking out against the Taliban, told us that he gave his students a day off to participate in "Save Pakistan" rallies.
According to Reza Shah Khan, the Executive Director of SPADO, "Many Pakistani youth have immense potential to lead counter-extremism programs because they have high skill sets on par with students in the West. The challenge is that they lack the platforms to achieve and utilize their potential." To address this, SPADO created the "Youth for Peace Network" which involves thousands of young Pakistanis in participating in peacebuilding programs and public awareness campaigns. Other civil society leaders and activists are training youth in civic engagement and in organizing peace initiatives.
At Bahria University in Islamabad, we met with Professor Ali Jafari, who pioneered a course on leadership and social responsibility. Every semester he challenges students to hit the streets and create sustainable community development projects in at-risk areas, from building schools to creating job opportunities. Students use video-logs to document "before-and-after changes" in the communities.
National crises -- natural and manmade -- have also been an impetus for mobilizing youth. After the constitution was suspended in 2007, pro-democracy youth movements came together to form the urban activist network, Pakistan Youth Alliance (PYA). Today PYA organizes rallies and peace vigils, and gets students to roll up their sleeves to participate in humanitarian relief. Last August, PYA arranged a street theater performance in the Swat valley at a notorious street corner where the Taliban would hang corpses when they controlled the area. The performance was designed to encourage youth to speak out against extremist ideologies.
Meanwhile, in the deserts of Sindh Province, we spoke with young women activists who are part of the NGO network Web For Human Development. We met in their office in Makli, minutes away from the world's largest ancient necropolis, with miles of magnificent sandstone monuments. Here, young activists provide rural schools with workshops on Government 101, human rights, and peace building.
Youth across Pakistan are applying these types of skills, using the media, blogosphere, arts, and public rallies to challenge jihadism and extremist world views.
Pakistan's new media is rapidly becoming a space to mainstream controversial issues from terrorism to homosexuality and there are concerted efforts to bring youth into these discourses. Nationwide, the Open Minds Project trains students in dozens of schools and madrassas in journalism and conflict reporting. Their students have appeared on national news shows. In the frontier regions, the Center for Research and Security Studies invites students to share their stories of conflict affected areas on radio stations broadcasting in Kohat, Abbottabad, and Peshawar.
Taking examples from the Arab Spring, Pakistani youth are also using social media forums such as Twitter and Facebook to promote peace initiatives. Online petitions like www.amanittehad.com, which has over 15,000 signatories, urge Pakistanis to foster pluralism. Similarly, Facebook pages like "A call to youth to bring peace in Karachi" mobilized students from major universities in the city to participate in a march against targeted killings in August 2011 when political violence was at its height.
According to Dean Salima Hashmi at Beaconhouse National University, art is another powerful medium for countering extremism. She took her class to the streets of Lahore, to disseminate messages of peace through chalk art graffiti. Other students developed slogans and designed tee-shirts. "For many," Dr. Hashmi explained, "this was the first time they got involved in public activism." Art has also been used by NGOs like Pakistan Rising to rehabilitate youth affected by the war in Swat after the Taliban offensive ended last year. Even the government has recognized art as a powerful tool. Last August, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani called upon leading Pakistani artists for a "Dialogue with the Prime Minister" to help build a national counter-extremism strategy.
On national television, the show Coke Studio has captivated Pakistan by introducing a new mechanism for peace-promotion. We met with the lead singer of the women's rock band "Zeb and Haniya" who described that every week on prime-time TV, Pakistan's top musicians perform new music on themes such as tolerance and diversity. Additionally, by combining pop music with traditional poetry, there has been a resurgence of interest amongst youth in Sufi culture, which has championed these values for over a millennium.
While these programs provide great models, they need to be expanded and integrated in order to successfully push back against the tide of radicalization. In particular, universities, moderate madrassas and civil society organizations should network and pool their human capital. Additionally, the Government of Pakistan should be brought on to generate public service initiatives for the youth.
Naturally, one of the biggest obstacles is funding. There are very few financial resources within Pakistan for non-profits, and most NGOs lack the institutional capacity to tap into international sources. For Pakistan's next generation to coordinate a country-wide movement against extremism, youth require substantial training in capacity building, social mobilization, and leadership development. Fortunately, there is an immense opportunity for international organizations and private institutions to partner with Pakistani organizations to provide this training. At the end of the day, this collaboration at the civil society level can help rebuild trust between the US and Pakistan at this critical juncture.
Waleed Ziad and Mehreen Farooq are leading a project to analyze the role of Pakistan's civil society in countering extremism for the Washington DC-based World Organization for Resource Development and Education (WORDE).
BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images
When anger erupted last Tuesday over the U.S. military's mishandling of a large number of Qurans, it was clear that this was going to be big and bad - but nobody knew how bad. After three days of protests across the country, some of which turned violent, last Friday was going to be the litmus test: Would the whole country erupt into anger? Would it set off chain reactions that would be difficult to undo? Would the police and army maintain discipline? The day ended in a mixed picture: relief over the sense of restraint that prevailed in many areas; and sadness and resignation over the reports of violence and deaths coming from a handful of places.
All in all, it was not as bad as could be feared: people did not join in large numbers, the police and the army held together, most leaders used their influence to defuse rather than to ignite. In the following days the intensity and spread of the protests waned and by Monday no more protests or riots were reported. Afghanistan, it seemed, was not in the mood for protracted rage and all the violence that comes with it.
We have seen this pattern before: after incidents provoking wide-spread anger there are several days of demonstrations, some violent, with provinces taking their turn to express their outrage. And although some areas have multiple days of violence, in most places the protests start dwindling after there has been a significant gathering or flare-up. But there were reasons why it could be different this time: nastier, more widespread, more difficult to contain.
The Quran burning on Afghan soil was potentially far more emotive than other incidents in the past, like for instance the outrage over particularly tragic cases of civilian casualties or fatal car accidents involving U.S. forces (not the same sense of desecration and mostly felt locally) or last year's Quran burning in Florida (in a far-away country). There was also the issue of cumulative anger - people asking: how often should we forgive, how long can we tolerate - and of conflicted loyalties, particularly on the part of the police and the army who could be called on to protect internationals from angry attacks.
If Afghanistan was going to erupt into even more violence over the Quran burnings, it would have been on Friday. On Fridays you don't have to gather people, they naturally congregate in mosques. And it doesn't take much to get an angry crowd, just a passionate sermon and a few people who help heat up the mood. So on Friday most of us, Afghan and foreign, were waiting - to see what the day would bring and what the country would look like at the end of it.
Throughout the day protests were reported in about half of Afghanistan's provinces. There were escalations in the vicinity of American or government sites. Attempts to storm military bases in Baghlan and Khost turned violent and several protesters were shot. Towards the end of the day demonstrations escalated in Herat and Kabul - two cities that also experienced violent demonstrations in the past (2004 and 2011 in Herat and 2006 in Kabul). In Herat demonstrators tried to march towards the U.S. Consulate and clashed with the army when it tried to stop them. In Kabul the protests turned ugly and chaotic in the well-known hotspot of Pul-e Charkhi at the edge of town.
But the outright majority of the population either stayed inside or went home peacefully after attending Friday prayers. Most demonstrations ended without incident and none of them were massive (the largest seem to have counted a few thousand demonstrators). There was anger, for sure, but there was also a lot of restraint. Across the country people have been calling for calm and patience in their communities, not wanting to see more bloodshed. They did not manage to pre-empt all violence and there were still nasty riots in the days after, but it will be difficult to argue that the rioters were acting on behalf of the whole population.
After a week of violence, with around thirty dead and many more injured, it may be difficult to explain to the rest of the world, but in a way this is what relative restraint looks like - in a country awash with weapons and frustration, and that has suffered for decades from the young men itching for a fight and the leaders accustomed to using religiously fuelled violence as a political tool.
Despite the heavy hand of conservative religious power, the main debates have not been fully settled. There is a sprouting vocal new generation - not automatically democratically-minded or un-implicated in political deals, as is sometimes assumed, but certainly with a mind of their own and many of them determined to make something more out of their country than is currently on the books. And among the older generation, many are not sure they want to rally to the same rhetoric as they used to, having seen what can come of it. Afghanistan is still very violent and deeply conservative, but it would be a mistake to paint the whole population with the same brush.
But where do you go from here - with relationships so damaged and trust so badly undermined? The burning of the Qurans has greatly exacerbated lingering resentment and suspicion among Afghans towards the international presence. And the murder of two senior military advisers in the Ministry of Interior has left the international military feeling very exposed and angry over what they consider the much too feeble response of the Afghan government. Patience at home is running dangerously low, as angry stereotypes fill the comment sections of news sites. It has always been a complex relationship, coloured by high hopes, misunderstandings, and an increasingly resentful dependency. If it is allowed to settle, it will be possible to patch things up and to muddle on. But it will remain a relationship under a cloud and under very difficult circumstances.
For a discussion of the different faces of anger, click here.
Martine van Bijlert is the co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, which published an earlier version of this piece on February 24, 2012. The original article can be found here.