Friday, February 27, 2009

Shiite school children killed and abducted in Pakistan



PESHAWAR: Gunmen on Friday ambushed a minibus carrying children to school in northwest Pakistan, killing the driver, wounding two children and apparently kidnapping six others, police said. 'Unknown gunmen fired at the school van carrying Shia students,' local police station chief Saeed Khan said. — AFP

The bus was ambushed outside the town of Hangu in the country's troubled North West Frontier Province, which borders Afghanistan and is plagued by sectarian violence as well as Taliban and al-Qaeda-linked militants.

'Unknown gunmen fired at the school van carrying Shia students. The driver was killed, two children were injured, while six appear to have been kidnapped by the attackers,' local police station chief Saeed Khan told AFP.

'Police are searching for the attackers in the nearby mountains,' he added, saying he had no further details about the missing students.

Hangu, which has been a flashpoint for sectarian violence in the past, is located about 175 kilometres west of Islamabad.

Shia and Sunni Muslim groups signed a peace accord in Hangu last month after days of sectarian clashes in which at least nine people were killed.

Shias account for about 20 per cent of Pakistan's 160-million-strong, Sunni-majority population.

The groups usually coexist peacefully but outbreaks of sectarian violence have claimed more than 4,000 lives across Pakistan since the late 1980s.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Shiites on the move in Saudi Arabia

A very interesting development took place in Saudi Arabia. The minority Shiites have protested in open against the high handedness of the Saudi authorities who have kept Shiites under a tight control.

There has been a long-standing controversy between the Shiites and the Saudi government about Al-Baquee cemetery near Medina. Shiites consider it a holy site, primarily because many revered personalities are buried there. The Saudi government considers visiting graves and shrines heresy and has in fact leveled graves in Al-Baquee.

Daily Dawn from Pakistan reports on the protests taken out by Shiites in Saudi Arabia against the Saudi government. This is very rare primarily because the government has been ruthless in its dealings with any dissent. The link is pasted below.

A Shiite friend who is a professor in Chicago performed Hajj this year. He told me that while he was praying with the Shiite prayer stone (sajdigah) in the Prophet's Mosque in Medina, a member of the police kicked the stone away. The Saudi version of Islam considers the act of performing Sajdah on a stone as idolatry and therefore keeps a close eye on Shiites rituals during Hajj.


Rare Shia protests in eastern Saudi Arabia

Wednesday, 25 Feb, 2009

RIYADH: Members of Saudi Arabia's Shia minority have held protests that included anti-government slogans rarely heard in public, escalating tensions with authorities sparked by a dispute at a cemetery in Islam's second holiest city.

The worst bout of confrontations in years between Shias and authorities in the overwhelmingly Sunni country began with an argument Friday night in the vicinity of al-Baqee Cemetery in Medina.

A group of Shia pilgrims visiting the cemetery complained that officers from the religious police were filming women among the group. A Saudi official blamed the Shia pilgrims for the trouble, accusing them of performing religious rituals offensive to other worshippers and authorities at the cemetery.

On Tuesday, the dispute erupted into two protests involving several hundred people in an eastern town, and Shia leaders differed over whether demonstrations and shouting slogans would resolve the issue better than quiet dialogue with the government.

Relations have long been tense between Saudi Arabia's majority Sunnis and the Shias, who make up a small minority of the country's 22 million people.

Shias, who are considered infidels under the Wahhabi interpretation of Islam widely followed in the kingdom, routinely complain of discrimination. Outspoken Shia critics have been jailed, and many Shias claim to have been banned from such jobs as the religious police and teaching religion classes.

Many Shias say the government started the latest dispute deliberately. But a Saudi official said the Shia pilgrims triggered it by practicing rituals deemed by others to be 'religious infractions.'

Shia pilgrims to al-Baqee Cemetery usually grab a handful of dust as a blessing and pray at the graves of the imams, actions rejected as inappropriate 'innovations' by the puritanical Wahhabi interpretation of Islam.

The official said such 'infractions' always take place at al-Baqee and are dealt with quietly by asking the pilgrims to refrain from performing the rituals. But, the official added, in the most recent incident, there was a large crowd of people bent on provoking the worshippers and authorities at the cemetery.

Asked if members of the religious police had filmed Shia female pilgrims, the official said if any filming had taken place it would have been to take evidence of the infractions and not for voyeurism. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

The official said nine of the Shia visitors to the Medina cemetery have been arrested. He said the government is keen to find out the truth and the reasons for the escalation to ensure that such incidents do not happen again. He said the perpetrators will be held responsible. He did not elaborate.

Two witnesses who took part in Tuesday's protests told The Associated Press that demonstrators in the poor Shia town of Awwamiya shouted anti-government slogans. They also carried banners using similar language, such as: 'Down with the Wahhabi domination' and 'Down with the government,' according to the witnesses.

One of them said that as riot police filmed a protest in the town, youths hurled stones at a police outpost. He said police fired in the air to disperse the crowds. No casualties were reported.

But a prominent Shia figure in the more affluent Shia city of Qatif said such protests will not resolve the issue. He said there are high-level talks between members of the Shia community and the government to put an end to the tension.

'This is the best path,' he told the AP. He spoke on condition of anonymity out of concern that his views against the protests could cause him trouble in his community.


Copyright © 2009 - Dawn Media Group


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

It may be legal, but it is certainly not "just"

The Supreme Court in Pakistan has upheld the ban on Sharif brothers, which prevents them from holding public office. This implies that the current chief minister of Punjab, Mian Shahbaz Sharif will not be able to continue in his current position as the chief executive in the Punjab Province. Instead, the Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer will assume the executive control of Punjab.

The judges have adhered to the law in letter but not in spirit. Sharifs Brothers were accused of preventing the military from staging a coup against the civilian government in 1999. Sharifs failed. General Musharraf took control in 1999. He suspended the constitution and asked the judges of high court and supreme court to take fresh oaths recognizing and legitimizing the military takeover. In a bench comprising of judges, who were willing to work under a military dictator, convicted the two brothers when Musharraf was in power.

The current judgment may be legal, but it is certainly not just. It is upholding the law that prevents convicted individuals from holding public office. However, in late 2007 General Musharraf passed the National Reconciliation Order that washed away previous convictions of Benazir Bhutto and her husband, Asif Zardari (the current president), so that they could hold public office. The deal was struck between Bhutto and Musharraf allowing Benazir Bhutto to become the prime minister, whereas Musharraf would continue as the president of Pakistan. The plans collapsed in December 2007 with the death of Benazir Bhutto. Musharraf resigned as the president a few months later.

It is because of the National Reconciliation Order that some politicians were cherry picked by the military to hold public office, while others were prevented from serving. The current verdict of the Supreme Court of Pakistan may be upholding the law, but in reality it is upholding the supremacy of armed forces of Pakistan, which undoubtedly undermines the constitution of Pakistan.

Much will change in Pakistan in March. The lawyers are staging a long march followed by a sit in on March 13. This should shake the political landscape in Pakistan.


Feb. 25, 2009


Election ban for Sharif brothers

Pakistan's Supreme Court has upheld bans on former prime minister and opposition leader Nawaz Sharif and his brother, Shahbaz, from elected office.

Nawaz Sharif's PML-N party holds power in Punjab province. His brother is chief minister but must now step down.

Last June, the high court in the city of Lahore upheld an earlier ruling that barred Nawaz Sharif from running in a parliamentary by-election.

The court said he was ineligible to stand because of a 1999 conviction.

The BBC's Barbara Plett in Islamabad says that the court order will deepen the rift between the Sharifs and the federal government and increase the chances of political instability in the country.

Falling out

One of the Sharif lawyers, Akram Sheikh, confirmed that their appeal in the Supreme Court against the earlier ruling had been dismissed.

He said: "[President] Asif Ali Zardari had a hand in the disqualification of Nawaz Sharif and today's decision is also according to his wishes."

Nawaz Sharif is not an MP at the moment, but analysts say the court order will force Shahbaz Sharif to step down from the post of Punjab's chief minister.

Nawaz Sharif had been convicted in connection with the 1999 hijacking of a plane carrying then army chief Gen Pervez Musharraf.

The event led to Gen Musharraf ousting Mr Sharif in a coup and going on to become president.

Nawaz Sharif had returned from exile, hoping his ban from office would be lifted by a democratically elected government.

The PML-N and Pakistan's ruling party PPP then emerged as the two biggest parties after last year's elections, trouncing allies of Pervez Musharraf.

They formed a fragile coalition and managed to force Mr Musharraf out of office.

But soon after, Mr Sharif fell out with the PPP leader, Mr Zardari, and they split over the issue of the reinstatement of judges sacked by Mr Musharraf.

Anticipating Wednesday's court's decision, Mr Sharif at the weekend blamed Mr Zardari for deliberately trying to undercut him.

Our correspondent says this raises fears of a return to the bitter political infighting that characterised elected governments in the 1990s, now though, at a time when Pakistan is facing security and economic crises.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Three Oscars for Indians!

The Oscars in 2009 were the coming out party for India. Three Oscars, three cheers, and three Muslims. The story about a Muslim boy's struggle on the streets of Mumbai received eight Oscars. Of those eight Oscars, three winners are Indians. They are also Muslims.*

Was Slumdog Millionaire's portrayal of Mumbai unfair? Did the movie try to profit from the poverty of the slum-dwellers in Dharvi? I don't have an answer. What I do know is that the two out of the three Indians who took the Oscars home are Muslims. AR Rahman and Rasul Pookutty are Muslims while Gulzar was born Sampooran Singh in Deena near Jhelum, Pakistan.

The three prove one thing that is lost on most in Pakistan. Indian Muslims are proud of their national identity. They have found the way to be both Indian and Muslim, which is no different than being Indian and Hindu.


What's wrong with this picture?

Source: Dawn, Pakistan

The civilian-military alliance in Pakistan

What we have here is the Pakistani foreign office delegation on a visit to the Washington DC on February 23, 2008. The person on the right is the foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi. The gentleman to the extreme left is a foreign office representative. Sitting next to him with his hand reaching toward his face is the Pakistan's Ambassador to the United States, Hussain Haqqani. Seating comfortably between Qureshi and Haqqani is the Director General of the Inter Services Intelligence, General Shuja Pasha.

It appears that the current civilian government is willing to share the stage with the military elite in Pakistan. Is this arrangement a result of the tumultuous situation in Pakistan where the writ of the stage has been challenged by the extremists in almost all corners of the country? Or is this arrangement a result of the understanding reached between the late Benazir Bhutto and the former President General Musharraf that guaranteed the military a free hand in matters related with defence and foreign affairs of Pakistan. While Qureshi may seem to be the one talking, its the General who does all the thinking!

Gitmo literature

This must certainly be an unintended consequence of the American misadventures in South Asia and the Middle East. Former detainees released from American prisons since 9/11 are documenting their accounts in books that have already become bestsellers in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Obviously, Gen. Musharraf is not the only best-selling author who narrated tales of how he and other uniformed bounty hunters sold suspects to Americans.

The former detainees are striking back by sharing their accounts of the ill-treatment meted out to them during their illegal and unconstitutional detentions. BBC is reporting today that the books published by former detainees from Guantánamo have become bestsellers in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Last year, I read Enemy Combatant by Muazzam Begg, a British citizen, who was released from Guantánamo Bay. He was among the first to reveal what transpired behind the walls in Guantánamo Bay.

Once the books written by Afghan and Pakistani detainees are translated into English, the full extent of what actually transpired in Guantánamo Bay may be revealed to the readers in the West. Muazzam Begg, being fluent in English and a British citizen, may well have been spared the best of hospitality that was reserved for Afghans and Pakistanis. The books by Pakistanis and Afghans will reveal much more than what Donald Rumsfeld was sharing with the world.


Guantanamo memoirs prove bestsellers

By Dawood Azami
BBC Pashto service

US President Barack Obama's decision to close the Guantanamo Bay prison within a year has been welcomed as a positive development in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

But Guantanamo literature, produced by a number of former inmates, is making it harder for the US to claw back lost ground in their battle to win "hearts and minds".

The inmates have been publishing a record of what they say they endured during their detention in the notorious US detention facility in Cuba.

Several books written in Pashto have become bestsellers. All have one thing in common - the alleged "cruelty", "savagery" and "inhumane treatment " by the Americans.

One such book, originally written in Pashto, is by Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, the former Taleban ambassador to Pakistan who spent more than three years imprisoned at Guantanamo. It is due to be published in English this year.

After his release in September 2005, Mullah Zaeef published his story and it became an overnight bestseller in Afghanistan and Pakistan - which is rare for a Pashto book.

Entitled Da Guantanamo Anzoor (Guantanamo's Picture), the 156-page book describes in graphic detail the events from his arrest by "hypocritical " Pakistani officials to his "mistreatment" by the Americans.

After being "sold" by Pakistanis, the Americans, he writes, "kicked me, punched me and stripped me. They pushed me in a helicopter with my legs and hands tightly shackled. The Americans chatted while they sat over my back, as if I was a piece of wood or stone".

Oral and written

Following the 9/11 attacks on America, the US-led coalition toppled the Taleban regime in Afghanistan, accusing it of harbouring the al-Qaeda leadership.

Of the 800 or so inmates who have passed through Guantanamo since it opened in 2001, about 600 are Afghans.

The administration of George W Bush labelled them as unlawful combatants. Human rights groups said that most of the Afghan inmates were innocent and were picked up on the basis of mistaken identity or wrong intelligence.

The stories of former inmates, both oral and written, have been circulating in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where mullahs in the mosques and people privately discuss the Americans.

A stream of visitors comes to the door of those released from Guantanamo.

"I wanted the world to know the truth but didn't think that my book would become so popular," says the soft-spoken Mullah Zaeef.

"I think one of the reasons for its popularity is that people wanted to know about the role of Pakistani security officials who sold many innocent people to the Americans."

Mr Zaeef admires a few Americans who were nice to him, did not "torture or beat" him and spoke to him kindly.

But generally the book details "abuse and ill-treatment" by US soldiers and officials.


The book has been published in Urdu, Persian and French.

"There has been a huge interest in the French translation of Mr Zaeef's book (Prisonnier a Guantanamo)", says its French editor and publisher, Gerard de Villiers.

“ There is no doubt that these books have had a negative impact on public opinion and increased anti-American feelings both in Afghanistan and Pakistan ”
Dr Wadir Safi, Kabul University

Da Guantanamo Mati Zawlanay (The Broken Shackles of Guantanamo) is another successful example of Guantanamo literature - written in Pashto by two brothers, Badar Zaman Badar and Abdul Rahim Muslim Dost, who spent several years in the prison.

They say they were also "sold" to Americans by Pakistani security officials in late 2001 in Peshawar where they lived as Afghan refugees.

In their book, the two journalist brothers also give a detailed account of several years of "humiliation, interrogation and ill-treatment by the Americans".

Abdul Rahim Muslim Dost was reportedly arrested by Pakistani security forces sometime after his release from Guantanamo and is still missing.

"The readers' interest in such books is unprecedented," says Assadullah Danish, head of Danish Publishing House in Peshawar, who published the first edition of Mullah Zaeef's book.

"In addition to anti-American sentiments, Guantanamo was a new topic and an interesting story to read."

The books have been published several times without the permission of the authors.

"Even Pakistani intelligence agencies have published an Urdu translation of my book but they have omitted the passages where I described their complicity in this whole affair," says Mullah Zaeef.

"There is no doubt that these books have had a negative impact on public opinion and increased anti-American feelings both in Afghanistan and Pakistan," says Dr Wadir Safi, a professor of political science at Kabul University.

"We don't know what percentage of the population in the region would have been influenced but people here say that Americans violate those laws that they made themselves."

Returning home

Around 240 people, including 26 Afghans, are still in Guantanamo Bay.

But hundreds of Afghans who were imprisoned there over the past eight years have been transferred to a purpose-built prison in Kabul.

Afghanistan's Attorney General Mohammad Ishaq Aleko, who also heads the Commission for Reviewing Guantanamo and Bagram Prisoners, says that "some mistakes have been made" in making arrests, adding that "that is why this commission was established".

"They were arrested in a state of war against the Taleban," he told the BBC.

"Foreign forces were nervous, fighting in an alien country and were not familiar with the local culture."

With the election of President Obama there has been a renewed focus on the campaign for winning "hearts and minds" and more resources are likely to be allocated for social and economic development.

But it seems that Guantanamo has caused long-term damage to the reputation of America and changing this image will take time.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2009/02/23 18:27:15 GMT


Monday, February 23, 2009

Can computerized analysis help find Osama Bin Laden?

Professors Gillespie et al. while writing in MIT International Review have not only identified Parachinar, the town where Osama Bin Laden may have been hiding, but they have also pinpointed the three buildings that they think are likely to be Bin Laden's hideout. Since I am from the Northwest Frontier Province, I find it a little odd that Osama may be hiding in the only Shiite majority town in the entire tribal region of Pakistan.

The link to the said paper is copied at the end of this message.

The geography professors at UCLA may have used spatial analysis to determine the probable hideout of Osama; they certainly overlooked history and anthropology, which would have explained the gory sectarian rivalries between the Shiites of Parachinar and the Sunni supporters of Osama bin Laden. This is yet another example of technical analysis devoid of any understanding of the local socio-cultural and political contexts.

Parachinar is a small town of approximately 20,000 individuals, who are almost exclusively Shiites and belong to Turi and Bangash tribes. The Sunni tribesmen from North Waziristan agency along with other militants from Arab countries and the Caucasus have been attacking the Shiites over the past two years, which has resulted in the death of hundreds of Shiites. In addition, since the Sunni tribesmen control the ground access to Parachinar from Peshawar, the supply of food, medicines, and other necessities to Parachinar have been interrupted for months, forcing the doctors to operate without anesthesia. The power and water supply, which have been restored only recently, also remained suspended.

I find it hard to believe that after having hundreds, if not thousands, of Shiites murdered by the followers of Osama bin Laden, the Shiites of Parachinar would like to aid and abet Osama bin Laden.

It is sad to see that the press in North America has largely ignored this tragedy that has been unfolding in Parachinar over the past two years. It took faculty and students from UCLA to put Parachinar on the map, but only for the wrong reasons.

Professors Gillespie et al. assert that "One of the most important political questions of our time is: Where is Osama Bin Laden?" Even when the crisis in Darfur has killed hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians; the relentless bombing by American drones and the fighting in the Pakistan’s tribal areas has forced half a million civilians to live in deplorable conditions in refugee camps; and the hunger and disease faced daily by the global poor, the authors still believe that locating Osama is “one of the most important political questions of our time.” Even if Osama Bin Laden is found, what answers could he possibly provide that would make the world become a better place?

Lastly, I am concerned that if the UCLA professors are taken seriously by the trigger-happy NATO forces, who certainly lack ground intelligence in the tribal areas and cannot tell friend from foe, the Shiites of Parachinar may have to fend off bombs dropped from American drones, while they are fighting for their survival against the Taleban on the ground.

Gillespie et al. Finding Osama Bin Laden: An application of biogeographic theories and satellite imagery. MIT International Review. Feb 17, 2009. (