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What Pakistan needs to do in wake of Peshawar incident

Though extremely tragic, the Peshawar incident managed to do something that national tragedies like death of Benazir Bhutto, siege of Mehran Base and many suicide attacks couldn’t do. It made people question many long held beliefs and there emerged some dissenting voices which are questioning the way things have been run so far. It is not much, but it is encouraging. If we really want to address the issue of terrorism that is plaguing the country for a good quarter of a century, we will not only need to revamp our policies and strategies but will also have to let go of long held ideologies.

For starters, the people of Pakistan in general and the armed forces in particular need to understand that Pakistan does not face an existential threat from India. There are other smaller countries neighbouring India and they are surviving all right. Former East Pakistan and India’s eastern neighbour Bangladesh is doing extremely well despite being a much smaller Muslim country (In comparison with India) in the sub-continent. In fact, Bangladesh is outperforming Pakistan in key indicators of education, women’s contribution in GDP, maternal and child health, and value added exports. It is about time that we also divert out attention and resources from seeing India as a menace to our survival and pursue a policy of economic cooperation which will benefit everyone. Cold War real politics and support of Western allies allowed Pakistan an artificial parity with India. But the story of 21stcentury is very different. India is an economic and political power with the highest growth rate in the region. Its defence budget is three times that of Pakistan and as soon as Pakistani military understands its status and place in the new regional dynamics, the better it would be for both the region and the country.

As a country, we need to let go of our collective religious and nationalist denial. To say that Pakistanis and Muslims cannot commit such heinous acts is the denial of highest order. Musilms have a long history of turning against each other. Yazid’s army that attacked Imam Hussain’s family was Muslim, and so were Mughals who fought against Delhi Sultanate. Closer to home, the army that killed many Bangladeshi civilians in 1971 was financed out of that taxes paid by those very civilians. Why do we make this exception for Taliban and try to come up with clues that perpetrators of suicide bombings were either Indian or Israeli agents even Taliban openly admit it that they have committed those crimes and their dead bodies get buried in Bonir and Kahuta! This denial does not offer way out of the quagmire we have dug ourselves in, it only make us look moronic in front of the world.

Military power is not the only way to strengthen a country, investing in its people is the way to go in the modern world and Pakistan – with its youth boom – would do well in diverting resources towards building that future instead of fortifying its geographical boundaries against dormant threats. It must be noted that it could not keep those boundaries intact even during the cold war era.

With the formation of European Union, it has been established that we are living in a post nation state society where most threats to a country are non-national. Clinging to 1980s notion of strategic depth has brought too much grief to the country. It is about time that this idea is put to rest once and for all and a more stringent counter terrorism policy is devised against all the groups that has the capacity and inclination to use force against the country. You do not only need expensive and modern hardware to survive in 21st century, you need an understanding of changing patterns of modern society and willingness to take measures to address those new problems.

Pakistan army needs to get rid of its slogan of ‘Jihad fi Sabeel Allah’. No other Muslim country’s army has that slogan because the army’s allegiance should not be to a religion but to the country and its tax paying population. Army’s first and foremost duty is the defence of its people – both at the borders and within the country – and not the safety and security of the militant groups that are used to create ruckus in neighbouring countries.

The world thinks of Pakistan as Jihad Central. Not only Pakistan trained jihadis are fighting in Afghanistan, they are also waging the “Holy war” in Syria, Iraq, Somalia, Nigeria and elsewhere. It is in Pakistan’s national interest that we distance ourselves from this policy of jihad and concentrate on reclaiming and rebuilding the country because if we continue the way we are going, we may not even have a country to save after a while. Pakistani army has created the militant groups that are either active in other countries or are preparing themselves for acts of terrorism. The problem with these groups is that they modify and mutate with the passage of time and change of leadership, even if they were loyal to the state at one point, it is quite obvious that many of them have gone rogue and need to be dealt with as a national priority.

Wars between countries cannot be fought by ideology driven groups. States traditionally have gone to war for something tangible and then have achieved peace through dialogue and bargaining. Unfortunately, there is no bargaining with the religious ideologue. It is their way or the highway.

Take the case of extremist groups in Pakistan. They all want their version of Shariah implemented in the country and would not stop at anything else. Even when the majority of the population does not agree with their version of Islam, there is no room for dialogue or bargaining because they genuinely believe their version is unassailable and supreme and if the state opposes their decree, they go to war with the state.

One such example of the difference between a state ordered responsibility and an ideologue’s action is that of the murder of Salmaan Taseer. Former governor of Punjab was murdered by the police constable who was supposed to guard him. His official duty was to save Salmaan Taseer against any probable attacks but his personal ideology propelled him to disregard his official orders and murder the man he was sworn to protect. It means that when ideology trumps state’s official business, chaos ensues.

Most of us who raised voice against extremist right wing forces in the country have been labelled unpatriotic liberal fascists in the past. Some of us were killed or attacked or have received threats to life for our nonconformist views. Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti were murdered in broad day light, Raza Rumi was attacked and driven out of the country and the rest of us have been threatened to keep quiet by someone or the other. It is about time the national narrative embrace the moderate and dissenting voices and involve them in dialogue which is most necessary for a healthy society. Pakistan have been poorer for drowning down those voices in the past, it should not repeat that mistake.

Originally written for The Nation

 

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Dec 17, 2012 - published work, religion, TTP    7 Comments

How to stop worrying [about tattoos] and start [allowing more people to continue] living



If Pakistanis are good at anything, it is forgetting the core of a problem and going in pursuit of the frivolous. The recent case of this inanity followed after the weekend attack on Peshawar airport and the PAF airbase adjoining it.

The attack on the airport killed around ten people, including five of the attackers, and wounded dozens. It should have forced us to rethink the possibility of coming up with the alternative counter terrorism, counter-insurgency and intelligence strategies because the ones that are at present in operation are clearly not working.

One would have thought, or rather hoped, that the politicians, policymakers and defence strategists would sit down and try to come up with a long-lasting effective solution but no tragedy in this country is big enough to make us do that. However, a tattoo on the body of one of the slain terrorists has made every politically religious-minded person come out in defence of the TTP (which has already claimed the responsibility for the attack). It clearly indicates that our priority lies not in making the country secure for its citizens but in coming up with excuses that Muslims cannot kill Muslims and in justifying that members of the TTP cannot sport tattoos of fantasy and erotica genres.

From Mufti Naeem of Karachi’s Jamia Binoria to Professor Khursheed Ahmed of the Jamaat-e-Islami to Tahir Ashrafi of the Pakistan Ulema Council, everyone has come out and said that a practising Muslim cannot have such demonic images on his body.

Their argument is fallacious and we know that Muslims kill Muslims all the time; they did that during the Iran-Iraq War, they have been at it since the Soviets left Afghanistan and they are doing it every day in Pakistan. Muslims can and do have tattoos — and with a 97 per cent Muslim population, the tattoo business is on the rise in Pakistan’s big cities. One must ask these gentlemen about the non-practising Muslims or those who probably dabbled in Goth rock previously and then were recruited by the Taliban. We know that nothing is out of the realm of possibility.

This is not the first time we have deviated from what is important and focused on the peripheral. The current adviser to the prime minister on interior has likened attackers in the past — in the case of the PAF Mehran Base — to characters out of Star Wars. Most of us joked about Darth Vader attacking the base but let us pause and pontificate about the feelings of the families of those who perished in the attacks and had to listen to supposedly responsible officials making a mockery of their loss by giving such statements.

ANP ministers in KPK celebrate Dileep Kumar’s birthday in Peshawar and Sind Assembly passed resolutions on Michael Jackson’s death. Parliamentarians in the Punjab assembly do not care about going after the religious extremists and terrorists present in the province, instead preferring to go after tax-paying cellular companies, their customers and their late-night telephone habits. If our parliamentarians cannot discern between the importance of a few hundred thousand teenagers indulging in late-night romance and terrorists involved in heinous sectarian killings and suicide bombings, then they perhaps should not be sitting in the august assemblies lording over our fates.

Tattoos on the bodies of terrorists, late-night phone packages and Dilip Kumar’s 90th birthday are not our concerns; the security of citizens and creating an environment that encourages healthy economic activity are. It is about time we focus on the fundamentals and ignore the frivolous.

First Published in The Express Tribune 

The dead terrorist with the “demonic” tattoo – photo courtesy Reuters

Here are some examples of shariah compliant tattoos

 

Mar 2, 2012 - published work, religion, TTP    7 Comments

A country for bigotry


It has been a year since Shahbaz Bhatti passed away. No, strike that, he did not pass away; his life was brutally cut short when he was murdered. Everyone from Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan to Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan has been suspected with his murder either by the police officials or by home ministry yet no decent progress has been made. 
In a way, it all makes sense as only angry groups of men who mean death and destruction carry any weight around here. Bhatti was NOT that man. He believed in fighting for his rights the democratic way and had planned to introduce legislation that would ban hate speech and hate literature against all. He was campaigning for official holidays for minorities’ religious festivals and wanted Blasphemy Law to be repealed which turned out to be a crime worthy of death.
Bhatti’s death is not a lone incidence of brutal violence. Planned acts of aggression and cruelty against minorities – be them ethnic, religious, sectarian or communal– are becoming a norm in the land of pure. Intolerance has reached such levels that people with names that revealed their sectarian or religious beliefs are afraid to use them when they feel unsafe. Slain journalist Mukarram Khan Atif narrated one such incident which depicted the extent of narrow-mindedness and fanaticism in the country. Mukarram Khan and another Shia reporter were traveling south from Mohmand and in Khyber Agency – a Sunni dominant area – the Shia journalist took Abbas off his name and added a Khan and when they passed through Kurram Agency, the Shia journalist resumed his identity, but Mukarram Khan had to become Mukarram Shah to stay safe. In the end, even that was not enough and Mukarram Khan was murdered by TTP.
The minority communities – no matter who they are and where they are living – are constantly under threat. We have cases of forced conversions of Hindu girls – mostly minors – in Sindh who are forcefully abducted and married to Muslim men and then presented to the court as religious converts. According to a treasurymember of Sindh Assembly, around 20 to 25 forced conversions take place every month in the province. 
Acts of mob violence against Ahmadis are routine. Any random Ahmadi family can be threatenedwith blasphemy ordinance and it is business as usual for the law enforcement bodies. Their places of worship are gunned and/or ransacked because good God fearing Muslims of the land feel threatened by the security cameras there that are installed by the police, yet the government just silently looks on.
The perpetuators of the Gojra incident where a whole Christian colony was burned down still roam free and Hazaras in Balochistan are regularly targeted for their sectarian and ethnic identity. Go to any bookshop and you can find books written by religious fanatics denouncing Ismaili Shias as the degenerates out to destroy the faith, but what happened in Kohistanwhere Shia men were mercilessly killed after checking their Shia identity with their id cards takes it to another level of premeditated prejudice  and bigotry. Such was the desire of the killers to defend their faith that they even killed a Sunni man who made a mistake when asked a question about Fajr prayers.
It would be not wrong to say that intolerance rules our society and no one is safe in this country other than the men who perpetuate biases, bigotry and hatred.
First published in The Express Tribune
Jan 18, 2012 - rant, TTP, USA    11 Comments

Another foul murder; RIP Mukarram Khan


On my way back home last evening, I received a text from my colleague that Mukarram Sahab has been shot and was taken to a hospital in Peshawar.  So stunned was I with the news that I did not realize when the signal turned green and only moved when the cars behind me honked. An hour later, I found that Mukarram Sahabb has succumbed to his injuries. 
Mukarram Khan Atif was a senior tribal journalist from Mohmand Agency and was killed on January 17th 2012 in a targeted attack after receiving repeated threats to his life. He was offering evening prayers in a mosque when he was shot in the head by two gunmen. 
I have known Mukarram Sahab for only a few weeks but he made a profound impact in that very short time. I am city girl, from Karachi, with my fair share of prejudices about the tribesmen and how they behave. Mukarram Sahab was one of those people who helped me in looking beyond the stereotype of a stern and unyielding tribesman with his intelligence, valour, grace, and self effacing sense of humour. He humanized the area and its people for me, a city dweller who only conjured up images of Hakimullah Mehsud and the likes in reference with the tribesmen from FATA. 
Mukarram Sahab had many interesting stories about his time as a reporter in the tribal region, be it about interviewing suspected suicide bombers, traveling to remote areas on foot for stories and sneaking into difficult areas as a goat shepherd. Back in 2001, Mukarram Sahab was taken hostage by Afghan Taliban along with a French and a Pakistani journalist. All three of them were charged with spying for USA by the Taliban government.  As none of the other two journalists could speak Pashto, he was asked to interpret for them by the Taliban government in Afghanistan. He said that he would do it but he would want to be paid for his services.  He actually managed to charge the Taliban govt. for interpreting for the two journalists in captivity. I asked him how he pulled off this incredulous feat and he said that he takes his work very seriously and believe in being paid for whatever he does.  I asked him to write all such fascinating stories and share it with the world.  Mukarram Sahab agreed and said that one day he would sit down and write. He kept an archive of all his radio reports for Deewa and thought that he would transcribe it all when he can spare the time. Unfortunately, he was killed by the TTP for not giving them enough coverage on those radio reports and the world will never know about his hard to believe escapades. 

Deaths and journalists’ murders are a sad reality in Pakistan, but what irritates me most is the way local media reports these incidents. Dawn, a supposedly responsible newspaper came up with the headline “Pakistani journalist working for US media shot dead. The News, a generally horrid newspaper came up with the headline “VoA journalist assassinated in Charsadda.” What are these reports trying to imply? That he was working for a US media house and in some way responsible for his own murder? Are we absolving his murderers of their brutality?  Does his employment for a foreign news organization make him less of a Pakistani or less of a human?  Mukarram Sahab was a Pakistani journalist working as a correspondent for Dunya TV and a stringer for VoA’s Pashto service Deewa Radio. It’s about time we claim our people and heroes and give them due credit for their courage, fearlessness, and bravery. 

Mukarram Khan Atif in Islamabad


Reporters Sans Frontier has declared Pakistan the most dangerous country for journalists second year in a row. I never thought that the first journalist to die this year would be someone I knew personally. Mukarram Sahab, you were a fine gentleman and a brave soul. May you rest in peace.
Jan 6, 2012 - published work, TTP, USA, Waziristan    7 Comments

More equal than others in death

In the wake of the cross-border Nato attack in November that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in Salala, the whole country was up in arms against the aggression of the allied forces. From the political parties to lawyers associations, from banned militant outfits to student organisations, from the head of the armed forces to the aunties in drawing room; everyone thought it fitting to lambast the US — especially since most people cannot really distinguish between the US and Nato — for attacking Pakistan’s sovereignty, its land and its people. As if protest of the people living in the country was not enough, Altaf Bhai decided to join in the condemnation of NATO forces all the way from London.

A few weeks later, 15 Frontier Constabulary personnel who were captured in Tank on December 23rd were taken to Waziristan by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and killed after a dozen days. Unlike the deaths in Salala, no one is mourning the loss of lives of these 15 men because we do not cry at the atrocities committed by our so called strategic assets – the TTP – who not only claim these deaths with impunity, they justify it as an act of revenge.  We only lament, or maybe we are pushed into lamenting for those who are killed by foreigners – be it individuals (victims of Raymond Davis) or troops (victims of Salala bombings in November) to get maximum political and material leverage out of it. It’s a slur on national integrity if soldiers die in cross border skirmishes, but if the strategic assets – or more likely the strategic liabilities – murder a group of soldiers in cold blood, it only merits a brief press release with no mention of the names of those who died. 

The victims of Waziristan will also not be grieved because there were no officers and gentlemen amongst them. They were ordinary soldiers; and we do not mourn the deaths of mere soldiers who die in the line of duty by their compatriots. 

Did any political party called for protest against this act of barbarism? No.

Have we seen the footage of flag covered coffins set in manicured gardens for all to pay respect to the dead on the tv to fan the public anger? No.

Has there been funeral prayers for the victims of Waziristan where who‘s who of the country offered condolences and vowed to avenge their deaths? No.

Did lawyers boycott their activities? No, it was business as usual for them. 
Were distressed family members, wailing mothers and fathers with slumped shoulders interviewed to fan public outrage against this barbaric act? No.

Did anyone ask the TTP for qisas for the families of the 15 victims? No.

Were there any TV anchors frothing at the mouth, dishing out sermons dripping with moral outrage calling people to stand up against the effrontery of TTP? No, the debate on TV was about memogate and contempt of court notices dished out to PPP leadership. We sure have our priorities right. 
 
Why bother, when there is no financial compensation to be had, where no effigy-burning rallies can be organized for political gains, and no other nation is to be blamed. It is known that some animals are more equal than others in the animal farm called Pakistan, but what is now being learned is that some animals are more equal in death as well.

First published in The Express Tribune, this is the unedited version.

Sep 24, 2009 - TTP    30 Comments

Pakistan’s next super model?

Is it just me or have other people noticed that members of Tehreek-e-Talibaan, Pakistan generally have wonderful dark locks to go with their warrior persona. I don’t know what the brand managers of Clear Shampoo and Head & Shoulders and Pantene proV are doing, but if anyone of them is doing their job right, they must sign the whole executive council of Tehreek-e-Talibaan. Hakimullah Mehsud not only has the locks, but he also has the looks of a super model. P&G and Unilever should be in a race to sign Mr. Mehsud as the next brand ambassador for their respective brands of shampoo, imagine how big a market he would open for them – the whole jihadi segment of the society. And if he declares his chosen shampoo, The Halal Shampoo, then lo and behold, the sales will skyrocket and hit the roof.

Anyone ready to sign on the poster boy for jihad as the next super model?

Hakimullah Mehsud, Pakistan’s next super model?

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