Thursday, October 29, 2009

Afghans carrying NATO's war on their backs

The image of an Afghan soldier carrying an injured German on his back in Kabul epitomizes the West’s challenges in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Afghans are literally carrying the weight on their shoulders of the NATO’s war that is going nowhere in Afghanistan and is spilling fast into Pakistan.


The civilian death toll is mounting fast in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.  The gruesome image of the dead child dangling in the arms of a rescuer after a devastating bomb blast in Peshawar exemplifies the rapid descent into chaos in Pakistan.  At the same time, the economies of Afghanistan and Pakistan have literally collapsed as a result of the unabated violence resulting from insurgency. Job losses are rampant, food riots and shortages are frequent, and millions are internally displaced.


The war in Afghanistan has burdened all involved. The list of victims is growing fast in a war with no meaningful end in sight. NATO too has suffered its heaviest losses in October. Another Canadian soldier lost his life this week in Afghanistan.

Unless there is a clear road map with a final destination marked for Afghanistan and Pakistan, NATO should stop dreaming of riding on the backs of Afghans to a victorious end in this war.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Drone attacks in Pakistan violate UN and international laws

The United Nations (UN) has finally woken up to the violations of international and UN laws resulting from the death of civilians in Pakistan at the hands of American aerial bombings.

Using unmanned planes called drones, the US has been bombing tribal areas in Pakistan since 2008.  Apart from a handful of terrorists and militants killed in these attacks, most of the 600 dead have largely been Pakistani civilians. To date the U.S.  and the Pakistani government has neither apologized or compensated the victims of American bombings.

While there is a lack of consensus in Pakistan on how to deal with the militant Taliban, the Pakistanis however have been unanimous in their opposition to the American aerial bombings on their soil, which violates Pakistan's sovereignty and its constitution.

The United Nations human rights investigator Philip Alston has recently questioned the legality of such attacks on sovereign states (Pakistan and Afghanistan) by the American planes. 

"My concern is that these drones, these Predators, are being operated in a framework which may well violate international humanitarian law and international human rights law.

"The onus is really on the government of the United States to reveal more about the ways in which it makes sure that arbitrary executions, extrajudicial executions, are not in fact being carried out through the use of these weapons."

Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions

The billions of dollars paid by the Bush and Obama administrations to Pakistani military and civilian governments have largely served as blood money used to buy complacency and silence of the Pakistani government and military, who have been in cahoots with the Americans in murdering civilians in Pakistan's tribal areas. Apart from issuing lame press releases condemning drone attacks, Pakistani authorities have not done anything concrete to prevent violation of its territorial integrity.

Far from protecting its territorial integrity, Pakistani authorities have been found facilitating the drone attacks. Investigative journalists in the UK discovered that the US drones were in fact being fuelled at a Pakistani air force base called Shamsi, which is located 190 miles southwest of Quetta. The army spokesperson, Maj. General Athar Abbas confirmed to Times that the airfield was used by the US forces for “logistics.” The Times OnLine reported the following on February 17, 2009:

Key to the Times investigation is the unexplained delivery of 730,000 gallons of F34 aviation fuel to Shamsi. Details were found on the website of the Pentagon’s fuel procurement agency.

The Defence Energy Support Centre site shows that a civilian company, Nordic Camp Supply (NCS), was contracted to deliver the fuel, worth $3.2 million, from Pakistan Refineries near Karachi.

It also shows the fuel was delivered last year, when the United States escalated drone attacks on Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas, allegedly killing several top Taleban and al-Qaeda targets, but also many civilians.

While the Pakistani government has largely abdicated its responsibilities towards its citizens, a group of American citizens staged a blockade of the Airbase in Nevada desert from where the US Air Force operates the drones flown in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The following video is from Democracy Now about the protest by ordinary Americans calling to “Ground Drones.”

There is no denying the fact that an armed struggle against the militants in Pakistan is inevitable. Given the violence perpetrated by the militants in the tribal areas of Pakistan, one cannot foresee a peaceful solution to the chaos Pakistan faces today.  However, the necessary use of violence against the militants should not be an excuse to violate the UN, international, and Pakistani laws.

If the militants have been using suicide bombings to kill civilians, how is the civilized world any better than the militants by killing civilians in Pakistan using aerial bombings?

Drones are unmanned combat air vehicles.  The United States Air force operated over 200 drones as of early 2009.  Approximately 195 Predators (mostly used for surveillance) and 28 Reapers (armed with bombs) constitute the American drone fleet (Wikipedia). Most drones are manufactured by General Atomics Aeronautical (GAA), based in San Diego, California. In a press release issued by the company on March 3, 2009, GAA observed the following:

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA‑ASI), a leading manufacturer of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) and tactical reconnaissance radars, today announced that MQ-1 Predator® aircraft delivered to the U.S. Air Force (USAF) have surpassed the 500,000 flight hour milestone, with 87 percent of those hours being flown in combat.  The milestone was achieved by P-143 on February 16 while it performed an armed reconnaissance mission in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF).  This particular aircraft has flown over 330 combat missions in the two-and-a-half years it has been deployed.

The New York Times has published several articles praising the engineering and innovation of drones, even when these planes have been used by the US Air Force in illegal operations, that fact now being recognized by the United Nations. The New York Times reported on March 16:

A missile fired by an American drone killed at least four people late Sunday at the house of a militant commander in northwest Pakistan, the latest use of what intelligence officials have called their most effective weapon against Al Qaeda.

And Pentagon officials say the remotely piloted planes, which can beam back live video for up to 22 hours, have done more than any other weapons system to track down insurgents and save American lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The drones are far from being perfect. “Air Force officials acknowledge that more than a third of their unmanned Predator spy planes — which are 27 feet long, powered by a high-performance snowmobile engine, and cost $4.5 million apiece — have crashed, mostly in Iraq and Afghanistan.” (source: New York Times)

Lastly, not to be left behind, Pakistan has also claimed to start manufacturing drones. The prototype was recently unveiled in front of the military brass and the event was televised.

The Pakistani government cannot provide sanitation, potable water, or electricity to most of its citizens. Furthermore, chronic food shortages in Pakistan have resulted in riots and suicides. The  State, however, is quite capable of developing unmanned surveillance crafts. What to say of misguided priorities.

Blast rocks Peshawar

I have just completed the daily routine of calling my extended family in Peshawar to check up on their welfare. The deadly blasts in Peshawar has unsettled every one. My extended family mostly resides in the older parts (the walled city) of Peshawar, which has been a target of suicide bombers in the past few years.

The frequency of suicide bombings in the recent past has increased manifold, partly in retaliation to the military’s offensive against the Taliban in the Waziristan agency in Pakistan’s semi-autonomous tribal areas.

A deadly blast today in Meena Bazaar in Peshawar, a market famous for fashion merchandise for women, has killed approximately 95 civilians, mostly women and children. [BBC updated the death toll to 118 on October 30.]  More deaths may follow as the number of gravely injured is large. The Lady Reading Hospital located in the inner city of Peshawar and steps from my ancestral home, has been overwhelmed with the bombing victims that have been pouring in since the start of October.

The rise in indiscriminate violence against the civilians in Pakistan has risen significantly. Most targets in Peshawar have been soft targets, i.e., women, children, and other ordinary citizens. In Lahore, Rawalpindi, and Islamabad however, the targets have been military and other law enforcement personnel.


It is indeed ironic that public schools in most of Pakistan have been closed because of the threat posed by the militants. However, the religious schools, known as madrassahs, which have been preaching violence, are open for business.

The following footage is borrowed from BBC World News.

Today’s blast took place in the old (and largely low-income) part of the city which is mostly inhabited by Peshawaris, who unlike Pushtuns are liberal in their outlook and speak Hindko. The blast on October 09 in Khyber Bazar, which killed almost 50 civilians, also took place in the older part of the town and within walking distance of the October 28 blast.

What concerns me is that the bombers are targeting parts of Peshawar that are inhabitaed largely by the locals (Peshawaris) and not by the Afghan refugees. There are as many Afghan refugees in Peshawar as there are locals. A large number of Afghan refugees have taken up residences in well-to-do-parts of the city, such as Hyatabad. Surprisingly, Afghan dominated parts of Peshawar have to date avoided bombings.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Why has Karachi been spared violence?

Nadeem Farooq Paracha wonders in Dawn about why Karachi has escaped violence at a time when rest of the country is on fire. You can read the article in Dawn by clicking HERE.

Pakistan at war with itself

From Dawn.Com in Pakistan:


Pakistani security officials are reflected on the bullet-riddled windshield of a private car near the site where a military jeep was attacked by gunmen in Islamabad, Pakistan, Thursday, Oct. 22, 2009. – AP

ISLAMABAD: A wave of suicide bombings, coordinated grenade, bomb and gun assaults, and drive-by shootings blamed on militants has left more than 190 people dead in Pakistan so far this month.

Here is a timeline of attacks in the past 19 days:

October 23: A suicide attack kills six people near a Pakistan air force base in Kamra, about 60 kilometres west of Islamabad.
October 22: Gunmen kill a Pakistani brigadier on leave from a UN peacekeeping mission and his driver in Islamabad.
October 20: Twin suicide blasts tear through Islamabad's International Islamic University, killing five people as well as the bombers.
October 16: A suicide car bomb rips through a police investigation bureau killing 11 people and wounding 13 others in the northwest city of Peshawar.
October 15: Gunmen armed with suicide vests and grenades attack three police buildings in the eastern city of Lahore and bomb a northwest station, killing 39 people. A car bomb at a government residence in Peshawar kills a child.
October 12: A suicide bomber rips through a market as a paramilitary convoy passes in Shangla, a district neighbouring the northwest Swat valley and the target of a recent anti-Taliban offensive. About 45 people, mainly civilians, are killed. Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claims responsibility.
October 10/11: Ten militants besiege army headquarters in the garrison town Rawalpindi, with 23 people killed and 39 hostages freed. The dead included 11 troops, three hostages and nine attackers. TTP claims responsibility.
October 9: A suicide car bomber kills 52 civilians and wounds more than 100 in a crowded market in northwest city Peshawar. It is the sixth attack in four months in the city, near the tribal belt on the Afghan border where tens of thousands have fled a feared offensive against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.
October 5: Five UN World Food Programme workers are killed when a suicide bomber walks into their office in Islamabad and blows himself up, dressed in military uniform. The TTP claims responsibility for the attack.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Brigadier General shot dead in Islamabad

Gun men shot dead Brigadier General Moeenuddin, Deputy Director General military operations, in Islamabad.  According to the witnesses, two men riding a motorcycle shot and killed the senior army officer who was riding in a staff car.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Plugging the gender gap: female suicide bombers attack Pakistan

The two suicide bombs on Tuesday at the International Islamic University in Islamabad, Pakistan, have set numerous precedents (Click here for coverage in Urdu).  The attacks left three female students and three others dead. Another 25 female students are gravely injured. As a precautionary measure all academic institutions in Pakistan have been shut down. Pakistan is officially in a state of war.

The blasts took place in the building shown below, which was was being guarded by the security officials after the attacks: Just another example of acting too late.



The first precedent set by the suicide attacks at the University is that this is a first documented (if not the first ever) case of a female suicide bomber who blew herself in the cafeteria reserved for women in the University, which segregates male and female students.

Furthermore, the attack targeted female students, which is also a first in Pakistan. The other bomb, which may not have been a suicide blast, targeted the faculty members in the Shariah faculty, which again is a new precedent, which demonstrates that the proponents of the Saudi inspired Shariah could also become a target of violence in Pakistan. The past experiences have been that of violence perpetrated by the pro-Shariah quarters in Pakistan.

These attacks are first major attacks on a Saudi Arabian interest in Pakistan. The earlier similar attacks have targeted Iran-funded Shiite seminaries in Pakistan. The International Islamic University is a conservative, religiously inspired University with a very modern infrastructure that was built with Saudi funds in the 80s in Islamabad.


The University offers programs in law and business as well as teaching the traditional religious curriculum. The University attracts students from all over the world and has harbored extremist (but non-violent) views in the past.  Recent attempts to modernize the University have met with some success.


Female students at the University (

The 7th Convocation at the University was recently addressed by the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Yousaf Raza Gilani.


Monday, October 19, 2009

Hunger in South Asia

The ActionAid report on hunger earlier this week has shown that while some countries have reduced hunger based poverty, while others have done little.  In the case of India, the report has found that the situation has worsened over time.  Park is done is not doing any better.  The report identifies both India and Pakistan as alarming in terms of hunger.


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Where do Canadians get their news on the internet?

Despite Ste its financial troubles, CanWest continues to be a leading source of Internet News for most Canadians. A large number of Canadians up until November 2008 were using Canwest’s as their source of Internet News with over 300,000 visitors per day.  There has been a significant decline in Internet traffic for since January 2009.

Currently, the globe and mail leads the Toronto Star in Internet traffic even though both newspapers are experiencing a decline in their Internet traffic.


The the pendulum for Internet based news however has shifted to the web sites operated by the two leading TV news channels in Canada. boasts the highest traffic at less than 300,000 visits per day followed by CTV.


Did the Iranian government try to silence the Internet?

It has been argued that the Iranian government tried to silence Iranians active on the Internet by blocking access access to sites such as Facebook, which were being used by the supporters of Mir Hussein Moosavi to protest against the results of June 12 presidential elections.

It appears that there is some truth to it.  Iran-based computers searched for Facebook on Google the most between June 12 and 14.  From June 15 onwards, there has been a steady decline in the interest in the Facebook in Iran. One of the reasons in the drop cited by many media hawks is that the Iranian government was using filters to block access to the Facebook site. The graph below presents the dramatic decline in the internet traffic to Facebook from Iran.

The same fate was met by Twitter (see the graph below). The peak traffic was observed between June 12-June 14. The sudden increase in Twitter’s popularity around June 12 and the precipitous decline soon afterwards suggests that the elections increased the interest in Twitter, which was used by the Mousavi’s supporters to organize protests, and the sudden decline in the internet traffic is probably a result of the government restrictions.

Also note that there has been a significant increase (2500%) in the searches for Mousavi (table below), whereas only a 450% increase in searches for Admedinajad.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Political choices of the web-savvy in Pakistan

I present below a picture of political interest of the web-enabled Pakistanis. The graph presents an index of Google searches ran from computers in Pakistan. The legend presents the colours associated with each search. For instance, Nawaz Sharif is green and General Musharraf is light blue on the graph.

The graph is generated afresh every time you watch it so the data are never dated. You can also move your mouse on the graph to see results for a particular date on the graph. The Y-axis represents the normalized index of Google searches that varies between 0 (least popular) and 100 (most popular).

Political choices for the Pakistani electorate are poor. The current set of political alternatives comprise former dictators, widowers, well-meaning disenfranchised leaders, and the Lahore-based power brokers.

From the graph one can see that General Musharraf is on his way out. Since August 2008, he is subject of a declining number of Google searches ran from computers operated in Pakistan. Prime minister Gilani is at the bottom of the graph, which suggests that he has not been been successful in engaging the web surfers in Pakistan. President Zardari enjoyed a spike in September 2008. However, his popularity graph is on the fall as well.

Another comparison I would like to make is between the current chief of army staff, General Kiyani, and the prime minister Gilani. It turns out that the siting prime minister is no more popular in web searches then the chief of the army staff.  This does not bode well for the prime minister.  On a positive note, the two leading politicians have been able to put some distance between their popularity and that of General Kiyani since September 2008.

The only rising star among the web-savvy Pakistanis is the Punjab based politician, and the former two time prime minister, Mian Nawaz Sharif. An increasing number of Google searches were focused on Mr. Sharif.  In fact, since 2004, Mr. Sharif has been the most popular for web searches in Pakistan of the four politicians listed above.

The popular belief in Pakistan is that Mr. Sharif’s resistance to General Musharraf, his support for the restoration of free judiciary, and his opposition to the American policies in south and West Asia has been instrumental in making him popular with the general populace as well as the web enabled Pakistanis above.

Lastly, this fall has been tough on Pakistani politicians. The graph above depicts a steep decline in October 2009, a month that has already witnessed tremendous carnage across the country.

Political memories are short.  The electorate quickly forgets personalities that are no longer in presence physically or on the ballot.  Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister who died in a bomb blast in December 2007, was subject to a large number of searches at the time of her death.  However, by April 2008, fewer searches were focused on her than on her widower, Mr. Zardari. 

The sad lesson from the graph presented below is that politics is the arena (akhara in Punjabi) of living in Pakistan. Former and deceased politicians have seldom done well in Pakistan.  Also note that before her death in December 2007, she was no more popular than the rest of the political crowd.


A caveat before I sign off: one should note that while these graphs present an interesting picture of political popularity, these graphs present the interest of the web enabled based in Pakistan who constitute only a minority of the total population in Pakistan where most are still struggling for potable water, proper sanitation, and the Internet continues to be a luxury item.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Jihad futures

The recent violence in the Muslim countries has left scores of innocent victims. Without sounding too reductionist one could say that the fight is between the West trying to impose a liberal socio-political framework in some conservative Muslim majority nations, and the neo-Jihadis who would like to adopt a more conservative interpretation of Islam that is rooted in the tribal and nomadic cultures of the Middle East.

The clash between the liberal west and the conservative jihadis  is unfolding in the urban centers in the East and the West. The attacks in September 2001 on urban landmarks in the United States and the recent carnage in Kabul, Mumbai, Lahore, Rawalpindi, and Islamabad present an increasingly urban face of a war fought primarily by some faceless warriors.

Where is this war going to move in the future, I often wonder. Will it continue to be fought in the urban centers in South/west Asia, or will it gravitate to new urban centers?

I believe that the epicenter of this warfare will disperse even more. A new generation of Jihadis is busy brushing up on militancy in Indonesia and Morocco. As evidence, I present here a map (see below) of the word ‘Jihad’ being searched on the internet since 2004 from computers in different cities across the world. The top two cities are Jakarta and Rabat.


Naval gazing

An addendum: Since the data behind the graphs are live, you may notice that the top-10 searches have changed by the time you are reading this blog entry. For instance, on Oct 13, the top most searched word in Iran was “University”.

Have you ever wondered what web-enabled South Asians living in South Asia are up to? That is what are they searching for on the internet? Is it the pursuit of higher learning, happiness, peace or, shear hedonic entertainment?

I searched for what the people in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Iran were googling. Some very interesting results emerged.  First, there is a significant trend for navel gazing. With the exception of Iran, others are busy searching their homelands on the internet. Thus, the Pakistanis are searching for ‘Pakistan’ and the Indians are searching for ‘India’.  The question is why?  They are already living there.  Perhaps they are interested in knowing what is mentioned about their homelands on the web.

Iranians interestingly are busy searching for terms in Persian only, whereas others have been searching for terms in English.  This suggests a nationalist literary tradition in Iran where the Persian language is more commonly used by the Internet generation than English.  And while the commentators and journalists in the West would assume that the Iranians are busy searching for evidence of rigging in the last presidential elections, the reality is that the Iranians are busy searching for the terms “download” and “pictures” on the Internet.  They are, like other youngsters in the rest of South Asia, are busy downloading movies and music. In fact, the recently popular searches included Ramadan, the Azad University, and the Free Islamic University.

The common searches in South Asia continue to be for songs, games, videos, and of course girls, suggesting the male bias on the Internet.

Interestingly the only commercial product that made it amongst the top searches was Nokia cell phones.

searches in Pakistan






Shangla blast kills 41

Another suicide attack in Pakistan’s picturesque Swat valley has killed 41. The attack in Shangla was targeted at a military convey killing mostly the civilians.

The insurgency in Pakistan has increased significantly suggesting that the final showdown with the militants in the Waziristan agencies is nearing.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Dark days behind, dark days ahead

The attack on the army headquarters in Rawalpindi speaks volumes of the wide reach of terrorists in Pakistan today. A brigadier was among the six dead in the attack that also left four terrorists killed. Two terrorists, according to BBC, are at large within the sprawling military compound in Rawalpindi, and their fate as of now is not yet known.

The attack on the army headquarter is eerily similar to the attack on Sri Lanka’s cricket team in Lahore in March 2009 that was followed by another attack on the Police training camp near Lahore.

The brigadier killed by the attack on Saturday by the terrorists, who were also dressed as soldiers, is the second-most high-ranking soldier killed in the fight against the militants in Pakistan. In February 2008, a suicide bomber killed the army’s surgeon general. Earlier a suicide bomber in Islamabad attacked the offices of the World Food Program killing 10. The bomber was dressed as a soldier from frontier constabulary, the battalion attacking the Taliban in the northwestern province.

The suicide bomb in Peshawar last week that killed almost 50 civilians an injured when many others took place steps from my ancestral home.  The attack in Khyber Bazaar was intentionally targeted at civilians and children to returning from schools.  In the same week, a suicide attack near the Indian embassy in of Afghanistan left scores dead.  And not in the very distant past, a suicide attack on a Shiite village in the frontier province killed almost 50 Shiites in a hotel. The suicide attack on Shiites was the first rural suicide bombing in Pakistan. Other attacks have been mostly targeted at urban centres.

It appears that the scale and the frequency of terrorist attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan is increasing at an alarming rate.  The past few weeks have been deadly for Pakistan and Afghanistan. It appears that as the Pakistani military prepares for a final push through the tribal areas of Waziristan Agency, the place where most Taliban leadership is believed to be hiding, the attacks by militants have been increasing.

In the words of famous Urdu poet, Habib Jalib:

Azab-e- Ahd-e-rafta seh chukain hein
Our ub hey khufaey mustakbil muqabil

Friday, October 2, 2009

Maulana Ram Das

Its poverty forcing poor Hindu families in India to send their children to Muslim-run Madrassahs? That appears to be the case. Read the following story from Daily Times that appeared on September 30.

Over 100 Hindus pass Indian madrassa exam

NEW DELHI: Over 100 Hindu students have graduated from the Madrassa Board in India's western state of Bihar, set up few years ago to conduct examinations for madrassas.

The board declared results for the maulvi (intermediate), wastania (middle) and fauqania (matric) classes on Monday. Amongst the students who passed examinations were 100 Hindu students, enrolled at the Madrassa Islamia, Sandalpur in Araria district. Educationists believe since many of the madrassas have included mainstream subjects, poor Hindu parents send their children to madrassas, as they provide meals and in some cases, lodging facilities as well.