Thursday, March 26, 2009

Tit for tat sectarian killings

Daily dawn in Pakistan reports that three Pushtuns have been assassinated in Dera Ismail Khan, a city marred with sectarian violence. The three belonged to the majority Sunni sect of Islam. Two other Sunni Muslims were assassinated weeks earlier.

It appears that the Shias in Dera Ismail Khan are retaliating against suicide attacks by the Sunni extremists that killed dozens in the past year. This tit for tat killing bodes ill for Pakistan.


PESHAWAR: Three Sunni Muslims were killed on Thursday in a drive-by shooting in Dera Ismail Khan, police and hospital officials said.

Gunmen riding on a motorbike sprayed bullets on a medical store in Dera Ismail Khan, killing its owner and two relatives, a police official said, requesting anonymity.

Three other men were wounded, he said, adding that the victims came from the tribal South Waziristan district, bordering Afghanistan.

They were Sunni Muslims and members of militant leader Baitullah Mehsud's tribe, he said. 'We are investigating if it was sectarian violence or linked to a suicide attack on Mehsud's opponents earlier in the day.'

Ten people were killed when a suicide bomber blew himself up at an inn in Jandola, near South Waziristan region.

Confirming the casualties, doctor Ashiq Saleem, head of the local hospital, said that 'six people with bullet wounds were admitted, three of them died later.'

Dera Ismail Khanis a flashpoint for violence between militants from Shia and Sunni communities.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Iran leads in State-sponsored executions

The Amnesty International has recently released figures on executions. While China tops the disgraceful list with 1,718 executions, it is in fact Iran that boasts the highest execution rate of all countries. With 346 executions, Iran carried out over 4.5 executions per million people, followed by Saudi Arabia at nearly 4 executions per million. In fact, Saudi Arabia and Iran are four times more likely to conduct executions than China, the third worst offender.

These bleak statistics should be a source of much-needed introspection in Saudi Arabia and Iran, the self-appointed representatives of the Sunni and Shia Islam respectively. Given the abysmal state of judicial systems and the law enforcement agencies, Iran and Saudi Arabia, along with the remaining 50-odd Muslim majority countries, should indeed suspend, if not abolish, the death penalty.

The statistics are available at The Economist website.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Girls’ school targeted in Urban NWFP

Daily Times of Lahore has reported that militants have bombed a girls' school in Mardan, which is an urban centre in the Frontier province in Pakistan. A few months earlier, militants bombed a boys' school on Warsak Road in Peshawar, the capital of the Frontier Province.

It appears that the militants are getting bold by the day and are now targeting schools in the NWFP's urban centres, where the State should be able to enforce its writ. The decline into chaos in NWFP is a source of personal pain and anguish as well. My family members were involved in setting up the first Women College for higher education in Mardan in the late sixties. Seeing girls' schools being targeted forty years hence suggests the return to a regressive ideology that the State and the citizenry should check employing all moral imperatives.

From Daily Times in Lahore: Girls' school blown up in Mardan

MARDAN: Unidentified men blew up a girls' school in Mardan on Sunday. According to police sources, the men planted explosives near Government Girls High School Hattian, located near the residence of NWFP senior minister Rahim Dad Khan. The sources said the blast caused panic among the residents. However, no casualties were reported.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Singling out Galloway

The Globe and Mail's editorial on March 21 found fault with the British MP, George Galloway, since he, amongst other transgressions, "palled around" with Saddam Hussein.  I recall Governor Sarah Palin in her failed bid for the vice presidency of the United States accused the then candidate Barack Obama of palling around with the terrorists.  While she did not succeed in her political quest; she did, it appears, succeed in influencing Globe and Mail's editorial writers adopt her colloquial style.

If palling around with Saddam Hussein is abhorrent, is George Galloway the only one guilty? What about Canada, when she awarded Iraq the most favoured nation status for trade in 1982 after Iraq had been declared aggressor in the Iran-Iraq war. And what about the automakers in Canada, who negotiated car sales with Iraq even when Iraq had killed thousands of Kurds and Iranian soldiers using chemical weapons. Wasn't GM Canada palling around with Saddam when it negotiated with Iraq's state-owned auto importing agency to sell 10,000 cars months after Iraq was found guilty of using chemical weapons against civilians?

It appears we all have made deals with the devil. Why then single out Galloway?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Law and order improving in Swat

My apologies to those who do not read the Urdu script. In summary, the attached link to the Jang newspaper's Urdu edition is suggesting that the law and order situation is improving in Swat. The statement is from Afrasiab Khattak, President of the NWFP Chapter of the Awami National Party (ANP).

Afrasiab is also the former Secretary General of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and commands respect for his principled stand over the years. I met him last in 1991 at his home in Peshawar after he launched the now defunct Quami Inqualabi Party. He returned to Peshawar in early nineties from a self-imposed exile. Afrasiab had opposed the war against the soviet-backed Afghan government.

While many are concerned about the implementation of a shariah inspired law in Swat, it appears that the left leaning forces in NWFP are not opposed to the interim arrangement.  My reading is that the government will restore law and order and then over time disarm militants before returning the region to the full administrative control of the district governments.

Swat's children defiant against militants

The link below is a 28 minute video of a debate held by BBC about addressing insurgency in FATA/Swat. The video is extremely revealing, especially when you hear the incredible and inspiring defiance in the voices of young girls from Swat addressing the Chief Minister of NWFP. Almost 150,000 girls have returned to schools since the peace deal.

Monday, March 16, 2009

50 armed men attack NATO supplies in Peshawar

Dawn.Com reports

PESHAWAR: Militants in Pakistan set ablaze vehicles bound for Western forces in neighbouring Afghanistan on Monday in the second such attack in two days, police said.

Militants stepped up attacks on the road through northwest Pakistan into land-locked Afghanistan last year, exposing the vulnerability of Western supply links just as the United States was planning a surge of troops to tackle the Taliban.But attacks had tailed off early this year after security forces intensified their efforts against the militants.

In the latest assault, militants barged into a supply depot on the outskirts of the northwestern city of Peshawar at around 1:00 am on Monday, overpowered guards and set fire to vehicles, police said.

'About 50 gunmen attacked us ... They first disarmed us and then began setting fire to bulldozers and humvees,' one of he depot's guards, Raza Khan, told Reuters.

'A police team arrived after about an hour and an exchange of fire took place for an hour," he said.

Sixteen bulldozers and humvee patrol vehicles were destroyed, Khan said. Police were assessing the damage, said officer Abdul Rahim.

The US Defense Department says the US military sends 75 per cent of supplies for the Afghan war through or over Pakistan, including 40 per cent of the fuel for its troops.

The United States has been seeking alternative supply routes for its troops in Afghanistan because of the attacks in Pakistan, even though it says those attacks have not had a great impact on the supply flow.

The route from Peshawar up to the border through the Khyber Pass is the most important of two routes through Pakistan, and it is likely to become even more vital as the United States sends thousands more troops to Afghanistan this year.

On Sunday, militants torched 20 trucks carrying Western forces' supplies in an attack on another depot near Peshawar.

The United States said this month it expected soon to finalise an agreement with Tajikistan that would allow the transit of non-lethal supplies to Afghanistan.

Russia gave the go ahead this month for the first cargo of non-lethal supplies to cross its territory. The cargo went by rail across Russia and Kazakhstan and into Uzbekistan, which shares a border with Afghanistan.

Another nine dead in Pindi

It appears that a suicide bomber has hit Rawalpindi killing 9 and injuring dozens.

Reuters reports:

Bomb kills seven in Pakistan - police

Mon Mar 16, 2009 11:21pm IST

RAWALPINDI, Pakistan (Reuters) - A bomb exploded near a bus stop in the Pakistani city of Rawalpindi on Monday, killing seven people, police said.

No one immediately claimed responsibility. Islamist militants opposed to Pakistani support for the U.S.-led campaign against al Qaeda and the Taliban have been blamed for a string of bomb attacks across the country in recent years.

"A man got out of a van and there was an explosion. It could have been a suicide blast," police officer Nasir Khan Durrani said.

A police officer at the scene, Mohammad Yaar, said seven people had been killed.

The attack took place hours after the government defused a political crisis with the reinstatement of a Supreme Court chief justice but there was no sign the blast was linked to the political controversy.

Zardari capitulates

The people of Pakistan have triumphed in their struggle for an independent judiciary. The lawyers' movement has succeeded in forcing the Pakistan People's Party government to restore judges sacked by the then military dictator general Musharraf.

Ub Raj karey Gi Khalqu-e-Khuda

The journey for an independent judiciary has reached its first milestone in Pakistan.

More on this from BBC World:

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Zaradari in retreat

The PPP government in Pakistan, it appears, has decided to withdraw from its hardnosed stance on restoring judges that were removed from the office by the former military dictator, General Musharaf.

The resignation of the information minister, Sherry Rahman, and strong words by other senior PPP loyalists forced Zardari to capitulate. The people of Pakistan deserve an independent judiciary. Restoring the deposed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court will be a step in the right direction.

Details from Geo TV in Pakistan

Govt to restore judges, file plea on Sharifs' ineligibility

Updated at: 2029 PST, Saturday, March 14, 2009

ISLAMABAD: Federal Government has decided to restore the deposed judges in the light of Charter of Democracy and to file a review petition in Supreme Court on disqualification of Sharif brothers.

Presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar said a major development in connection with the country's political situation took place at the meeting of President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani here today.

"Federal Government has decided to file the review petition while the judges will be restored according to the Charter of Democracy," he said adding "the petition will be filed in the Supreme Court soon."

Federal ministers Qamaruzzaman Kaira and Syed Khursheed Shah were also present at the meeting.

Before making the decision, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani had contacted Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) Chief Altaf Hussain and Awami National Party (ANP) Chief Asfandyar Wali and taken them into confidence.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Fata’s 35 Hindus migrate to India

From Dawn.COM

Monday, 09 Mar, 2009 | 03:32 PM PST |

AMRITSAR: A group of 35 Hindus, nearly half of them women, from Pakistan have crossed over to India and asked the government to allow them to settle in the country, Indian media reported Monday.

'We were living in Pakistan under extreme fear due to the domination of a strong group of Taliban who are running a parallel government,' Jagdish Sharma, a resident of tribal area near Peshawar in Pakistan, said according to report.

Four families comprising 16 men, 16 women and three children crossed over to India during the last few days through the Attari check post and later went to Delhi where they got a one-year visa and permission to stay in Amritsar.

'We strongly urge the government of India to allow us to stay here in India permanently, since we don't want to move back in that hell where there is no life security,' said Sharma.

Hardwari Lal, resident of Orkzai agency said: 'I was running my grocery shop there which was forcibly taken over by the fundamentalists who also took possession of our entire property.'

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Sunni extremists killed by Pakistani forces

Pakistan's English daily, The Dawn, reported that Pakistan's armed forces have killed 35 militants in Darra Adam Khel. Dawn reports that the militants most likely belonged to Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a sectarian outfit that has murdered scores of Shiites over the past two decades in Pakistan. The organization was banned only when it started targeting foreigners and Sunni Muslims belonging to the Barelvi and other schools of thought.

Troops kill 35 militants in Darra Adam Khel

Tuesday, 10 Mar, 2009

PESHAWAR; Pakistani security forces killed at least 35 militants in Darra Adam Khel after a two-day military operation, a senior security official said on Tuesday.

'At least 35 militants were killed and three soldiers were injured in a two-day-long operation in Darra Adam Khel,' the official told AFP.

'Several militant hideouts and their training facilities were destroyed during the operation,' the official said.

The militant death toll could not be confirmed independently as the area is sealed off under military operations.

Darra Adam Khel has become a stronghold of the banned extremist group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, said to have links to al-Qaeda.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

A day of terror in Pakistan

While the world was focused on the terrorists in Lahore, who targeted the Sri Lankan cricket team but ended up killing five Pakistani police officers and two passersby, many failed to notice another terror attack in Quetta that killed five Shiites.

The newspapers across the globe on March 4 will highlight the audacious attack in Lahore. Few, if any, will mention the Shiite victims in Quetta who were gunned down in their car by two armed men on a motorbike.

Despite the fact that the perpetrators in both terror attacks are extremist elements among the majority Sunnis in Pakistan, only the high profile cricketers are being recognized as victims. The fact that Shiites have bore the brunt of extremists over the past three decades in Pakistan and that their plight has not raised any alarms in the capitals around the world this complacency is partly responsible for the terror unleashed today by seasoned militants in Pakistan and abroad.

Since the mid seventies, when Pakistan provided mercenaries for the American war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, Shiites in Pakistan, and later the Shiite Hazaras in Afghanistan (remember Taliban destroying the Buddha statues in Baamiyan after they massacred the local Shiites) have largely been used for target practice by the extremists. For over three decades, veterans of the war in Afghanistan and other militants enjoyed a freehand honing their murderous skills using Shiites as targets.

While Shiites are still the target in Pakistan, the extremists have certainly broadened their horizons. It used to be the Shiite Iranian Air Force cadets or Iranian engineers who were killed by the extremists in terror attacks. Now it's every one. From Lieutenant General Mushtaq Ahmad Baig (the surgeon general of the Pakistani Army, who was a devout Sunni Muslim and was killed by a suicide bomber) to Benazir Bhutto (a Shiite) or to Daniel Pearl (a Jew) or to the Polish engineer Piotr Stancza (a Christian), no foreigner or local is safe from extremists in Pakistan. Beheadings and suicide attacks are in vogue.

This sorry state of affairs in Pakistan did not happen overnight. It is partly the byproduct of the complacency of the state and the society in Pakistan that remained unmoved when Shiites were killed in every part of Pakistan. The international community did not fare any better. From the United Nations to Capitol Hill, no one raised alarms. It was only in September 2001 that the world woke up to realize that it was too late to put the genie back in the bottle.

Had the Pakistani nation been alarmed by the senseless murders of Shiites, and had both the society and the state acted proactively in checking extremism amongst their ranks, Pakistan could have been prevented from ending up in a war with itself.

The precipitous slide into chaos may continue unabated if Pakistanis and the world recognize only the victims of terror in Lahore, but overlook, yet again, the five Shiite Hazaras gunned down in Quetta on the very same day.

Daily Times from Lahore rests the blame for the attack in Lahore on Pakistan's sectarian outfits.


From Dawn.Com

Tuesday, 03 Mar, 2009

QUETTA: At least five people were shot dead Tuesday in an apparent sectarian attack near Pakistan's southwestern city of Quetta, police said.

Two gunmen riding on a motorbike opened fire at the victims, who were travelling in a private car on the eastern by-pass outside Quetta, capital of oil- and gas-rich Baluchistan province which borders Iran and Afghanistan.

'All the five men, who were members of the Shiite Muslim community, died on the spot,' local police official Abdul Khalid told AFP.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the killings.

The attack came a week after four people were killed while getting into a car in Quetta.

Hundreds of people have died in Baluchistan since late 2004, when rebels rose up to demand political autonomy and a greater share of profits from natural resources.

Baluchistan has also been hit by attacks blamed on Taliban militants and last month an American UN official, John Solecki, was kidnapped in Quetta. A shadowy Baluch rebel group claims to be holding him.

Monday, March 2, 2009

NATO can't defeat Taliban, Canadian Prime Minister

The Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, admits to Fareed Zakaria on CNN what he should have said on the floor of the House: NATO can't defeat Taliban. Finally, there is some realization of the ground realities in Afghanistan.

The only way to deal with the extremist ideology of Taliban is to leave the Afghans work it out amongst themselves. Foreign forces cannot be the instrument of change. In fact, in the past few millennia, foreigners enjoyed a very poor track record in influencing change in Afghanistan.

Last year, I participated in a panel discussion on TVO ( along with Canadian experts on Afghanistan. While others believed that Afghanistan was on the path to prosperity and that the Taliban were almost defeated, I was of the view that this will be the least likely outcome. Furthermore, I argued that a NATO victory in Afghanistan would require a surrender from Taliban. Given that NATO is fighting against a non-conventional force, whose members are farmers by day and warriors by night, a surrender did not seem likely to me. A year later, the Canadian Prime Minister also agrees.

In fact, the Americans had initiated a dialogue with the Taliban in fall 2008, using the Saudis as intermediaries. Noticing the change in the American stance toward the Taliban, the remaining NATO members changed their rhetoric accordingly. The Canadian Prime Minister is in fact a little late in smelling the coffee, or pot, or whatever that grows these days in Afghanistan.

To watch the program that was originally aired on Feb 28, 2008, click HERE.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The slumdog millionaire

'Slumdog Millionaire' child actor Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail is served his dinner by his mother Shamim Begum, right, in his home in a slum in Bandra, suburban Mumbai, India, Thursday, Feb. 26, 2009. The child stars of the Oscar-winning "Slumdog Millionaire" have returned to India to a chaotic, but rousing, heroes' welcome, following their appearance on the red carpet at the recent Oscar ceremony, where the movie "Slumdog Millionaire," a tale of hope amid adversity set in Mumbai, was awarded eight Oscars, including best picture and best director for Danny Boyle. – AP Photo

A new hope for Pakistan

The Sunni Tehreek (Sunni Movement), a non-political religious organization that represents the moderate (Barelwi) Sunnis in Pakistan, has finally decided to join the political arena. This is a welcome change. One hopes that the Sunni Tehreek's political Wing, Pakistan Inqalabi Tehreek, will be able to offer an alternative to religious Pakistanis, majority of whom are peace loving moderates.

The Sunni Tehreek rejects violence, which has become the hallmark of the Taliban-style Islam in Pakistan. Referring to the violent struggle by the Taliban for enforcing Shariah in Swat, Sarwat Aijaz Qadri, who heads the Sunni Tehreek, said: "We condemn the implementation of Shariat on gunpoint." For standing up to the Taliban and other extremists in Pakistan, the Sunni Tehreek has paid dearly. In April 2006, the Tehreek's entire leadership was obliterated in a bomb attack, which killed more than 56 people, in Nishtar Park, Karachi. Earlier in May 2001, another batch of Tehreek's leadership was assassinated.

The vacuum created by the absence of a moderate Sunni leadership drove Pakistani Sunnis into the hands of hardliners and extremists. Since the beginning of the Afghan war in mid-seventies, the mainstream Sunnis in Pakistan have suffered a great deal. They were sidelined, marginalised, and religiously disenfranchised by the Wahabi/Deobandi version of Islam that was jointly funded by the Americo-Saudi alliance to radicalize a people to fight against the Russian army in Afghanistan.

It started with the mushroom growth of Deobandi madrassahs in Pakistan in mid-to-late seventies. The prayer leaders (imams) in most mosques were systematically replaced by hardliners who urged their followers to leave for Afghanistan and fight the Red Army. The result was a takeover of the religious enterprise in Pakistan by the Deobandi leaning clerics.

Tehreek's current leadership is aware of the challenges it faces and it can use help of the mainstream Pakistani Sunnis and moderates who do not believe in using religion as an excuse for violence. If the Sunnis in Pakistan are searching for an answer to the hard-line militant Islam of the Taliban, Pakistan Inqalabi Tehreek may be the one they should consider.

More from Geo TV.

India in Africa medical link-up

By Sunil Rahman

BBC News, Delhi

India has launched a hi-tech project it says will provide medical education and better health care in Africa.

Launched by Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee in Delhi, the project will at first connect 11 African countries with India.

The services will include virtual classes for medical staff and online medical consultations.

India is highly conscious of China's involvement in Africa and has announced a number of joint projects.

Mr Mukherjee described the project as bridging the digital divide between India and Africa.

Patients in parts of rural Africa will soon be able to seek medical advice from Indian doctors via satellite and fibre-optic link-ups.

Nurses will get training and virtual classrooms will help around 10,000 African students annually get specialised degrees from universities.

Online medical consultations will be provided every day for one hour to isolated hospitals.

To start with, 11 African countries including Ethiopia, Senegal, Nigeria and Ghana will be connected with India.

By June eight more countries will be covered and eventually the offices of 53 African heads of state will be linked.