Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Coup at Daily Times?

The intellectual lead at the Daily Times in Lahore has resigned. First it was Ejaz Haider, editor of the op-ed page who announced his departure in the paper few weeks earlier. Now the editor-in-chief, Najam Sethi, and the veteran journalist, Khalid Ahmed, also announced their departure.

Najam sent the following email to his email contacts earlier today:

Dear Friend

I have resigned from the editorship of Daily Times. So have Khaled Ahmed (Contributing Editor) and Ejaz Haider (Op-Ed Editor) along with other senior staff.

 

Thank you for the support and encouragement you gave us in making Daily Times a "new voice for a new Pakistan."

 

I hope it will be able to live up to your expectations and mine in time to come.

With best wishes

 

Najam Sethi

Ex-Editor in Chief

Daily Times Pakistan

I have confirmed with Mr. Sethi later about the authenticity of this email. I am not privy to the reasons behind the sudden departures. However, I’d like to mention that I’m peeved at this development. Najam Sethi, Khaled Ahmed, and Ejaz Haider had raised the journalistic standards in Pakistan, where the post-Zia era journalism suffered tremendous blows to its integrity.

I would hate to speculate about the motives or causes, but I could come up with two plausible reasons behind this move:

  1. Mr. Sethi and his colleagues are pulling an Oprah, who is ending her famous talk show and is about to launch the Oprah Winfrey Network. Sethi et. al. may be abandoning print media for a bigger role in TV journalism. I wish them well.
  2. Mr. Sethi and his colleagues could also be victims of the NRO debacle in Pakistan where the new political alliances and gulfs are taking shape.
    1. Geo TV’s anchor Shahid Masud is already complaining about attempts to silence him. The President House in Islamabad and the Governor House in Lahore have become increasing uncomfortable as the NRO deadline is fast approaching in late November when the defaulters and absconders in Pakistan will have to face the music.

I for one would very much like to see Najam Sethi, Khaled Ahmed, and Ejaz Haider back in the editorial saddles in Pakistan.

Tariq Ali presenting the Obama balance sheet

Tariq Ali presents an analysis of Obama administration’s follies in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Mattel unveils a veiled Barbie! Whatever it takes to make a sale

Finally, Barbie adorns a burka. The iconic doll that has sold millions over the years, has embraced hijab and burka. From headscarf to an all engulfing burka, the doll is at last Sharia-compliant!

Is it a marketing ploy to attract the middle class in Muslim countries or is it that the age has finally caught up with Barbie, who has turned 50 this year. One can't tell if the burka in the photograph below is covering a pigment-corrected Barbie or her long-time boy friend Ken.

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Photograph by Daily Mail

The makers of Barbie, Mattel, is supporting the new Burka Barbie, which is a creation of an Italian designer Eliana Lorena, and was unveiled in Florence, Italy, as part of a charity auction organized by Sotheby’s.

Sotheby’s has promoted the new Barbie as wearing a “traditional Islamic dress.” This amounts to generalization of the highest order. I can see Tarek Fatah (ban the burka campaign) spinning in his chair!

There is no such thing as a traditional Islamic dress for the 500-million plus Muslim women. The Muslim cultures support diversity in languages, cuisines, customs, and yes dresses. One does not see branding of the traditional Islamic food or the traditional Islamic language. Why should then be there such a thing as the traditional Islamic dress. There is certainly no similar artificial construct that applies to men’s clothing.

The notion of a traditional Islamic dress is indeed a false one. Languages, cuisines, and clothes are influenced largely by culture and to an extent by religion. While Islam may dictate what meet is kosher or Halal, it certainly does not mention what spices to use and how long to cook. Similarly Islam suggests modesty in clothing, but does not dictate concealing one’s face.

Hiding behind the notion of a “traditional Islamic dress” is a not so covert attempt by the Arabs to export their cultural norms to non-Arab Muslims. Iranians try to do the same with Shiite Muslims. The bundling of culture and religion is almost akin to two for the price of one: one embraces Islam and gets the Arab culture for free.

The South Asian Muslims living in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh account for 50% of all Muslims. Add to this large number the Indonesians and Malaysians, and we have 75% of the billion-plus Muslims who are culturally non Arab when it comes to language, food, and dress, among others. The non-Arab Muslims have been practicing their Islamic faith and celebrating their non-Arab cultures for centuries. Their dresses, foods, and languages are part of the global cultural heritage. Why should one deny this diversity by throwing a cloak over it?

The burka has served as an instrument to oppress women in many societies, many of those are Muslim. The burka hides the individual’s identity. We don’t recognize other humans by their silhouette, smell or voice. Our faces are indeed our primary ID. We even communicate without words using our eyes, eyebrows, and wrinkles on our forehead. A burka even denies one the right to communicate with a smile.

It is sad to see that the West continues to practice doublespeak: banning burkas in France and showcasing burka-clad Barbie in Italy. One should not let short-term profiteering dictate one’s decisions that may have a long-term adverse impact. The Burka Barbie may register some additional sales in the Muslim countries. However, it will be at a cost of legitimizing women’s exploitation in many societies. This is too big a cost for short-term profits.

I am certainly not advocating a ban on burkas. This amounts to a dictatorship and exploitation of a different kind. I am advocating the need to educate young Muslim men and women about their rights and responsibilities. How can the young Muslim women, which are part of the demographic dividend in the Muslim world where younger cohorts constitute the majority of the population, be enfranchised politically, socially, and economically is a challenge that the Muslims have to embrace now than later.

Also, the decision to wear a burka or otherwise should also be a woman’s decision alone. President Sarkozy of France, Tarek Fatah of ban the burka fame in Canada, and I should not be the dictators.

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Photography by Dawn.com

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Harper’s visit to India was an unqualified success!

The Globe and Mail’s John Ibbitson has termed Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s visit to India “unqualified success.” While the true impact of the visit will become apparent over the years when the memoranda of understanding signed now become really projects, the immediate impact may be felt back here in Canada where the conservatives are hoping to break into Sikh and Hindu vote banks concentrated in large Canadian cities.

The prime minister has been busy visiting shrines, Temples, and other places of worship in India.  The primary purpose of these yatras is to please the Indian Diaspora in Canada who has gained enough size and momentum in major Canadian cities to be able to determine electoral outcomes.

To me this is it is no more than electioneering by the conservatives while the Canadian taxpayers will foot the bill for this temple to temple canvassing in Indian Punjab. 

A review of interest in Canada amongst Indians with Internet access, which represents most urban middle class in India, in the past two weeks suggests that the prime minister's visit has failed to tickle Indians' fancy in India.

When I compare the searches conducted about Canada on the Internet from computers based in India in November of 2009 and compare those against the searches conducted in 2008, 2007, and 2006, I fail to see any real increase in Canada's popularity amongst Indians.  The following graph illustrates that Canada was more popular in November 2006 in India than in November 2009.

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Another day, another blast in Peshawar

Another blast on the city’s main thoroughfare has killed 19 in Peshawar. This time around, the target was local courts where the suicide bomber denoted a bomb while being searched by the Police at a checkpoint.

Days earlier  (Nov. 13) another blast targeted the offices of Pakistan’s intelligence agency, ISI, killing dozens.

The following map shows the Pearl Continental Hotel (bombed in June 2009) and the judicial complex that was targeted today.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Killer rails in India

Another bloody train crash near the Indian City of Jaipur has left seven dead and many injured.  In an earlier comment I had highlighted the dismal state of safety in the South Asian railways.

While the governmental officials insist that the safety has improved for the Indian Railway system, the frequency of these accidents, and the increasing number of commuter deaths suggest that the government could do more. 

The government indeed sure to do more because Indian railways ensures the mobility of the low income households and any improvement in rail safety would improve the livelihoods of the poor in India.

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Source: Indian Express.com

War poverty and corruption

Transparency international in its latest report has suggested that war-stricken countries suffer from the highest prevalence of perceived public sector corruption.  The 2009 index of corruption perception lists Somalia, Afghanistan, and Myanmar as the most corrupt countries of the 180 states that they surveyed.  Bangladesh and Pakistan were both ranked 139. 

On the other hand, the prosperous economies were ranked least corrupt with New Zealand being the least corrupt country.

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Transparency International's report suggests a causal relationship between violence and corruption.  However, poverty, being a confounding factor is neglected in the analysis.  What if the poverty is causing violence, which leads to corruption and then further poverty.

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Another report released at the same time by a British aid agency Oxfam reports that the war-stricken Afghans hold poverty and employment as the main causes of conflict in their homeland. 

Based on a survey of Afghan nationals, Oxfam found Afghans to be more weary of the corruption and weakness of the central government than the violence perpetrated by the Taliban.  According to the survey, 20% Afghans reported being tortured and 10% reported being imprisoned at least once since the Soviet invasion in 1979.

These results are alarming to say the least for western policymakers and their counterparts in Pakistan.  While most outsiders are holding Taliban and Al qaida for Afghanistan’s plight, Afghans on the other hand are holding poverty, unemployment, and corrupt government for violence and conflict.

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Source: BBC (2009)

There is no doubt that the Taliban pose a serious threat to the stability of Afghanistan and the region.  However, given that the Taliban belong to the Pushtun tribes in Afghanistan, who constitute the majority, the post-NATO Afghanistan would involve some governance role for the Taliban. 

The goal therefore should be to ensure that when such a time arrives, the Taliban are disarmed and are compelled to take part in the democratic process.  Given the bloodshed  in the past three decades that has left orphans widows spread across the Afghanistan’s landscape, this is certainly easier said than done.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Harper fails to tickle Indian fancy

Stephen Harper, the Canadian prime minister, is on a visit to India.  The purpose of Premier’s visit is to increase trade and strengthen other economic ties between India and Canada.  It appears however that the Canadian prime minister has failed to tickle the Indian fancy.

The graph presented below shows searches conducted for the word “Canada” by the Internet users logging in from within India during the past month.  The graph does not show any increase in the interest in Canada by net surfing Indians. One would have hoped to see the Canadian prime minister raising an interest about Canada and Canadians amongst Indians, especially while the Canadian prime minister is visiting India.  It appears that his visit has not generated any meaningful increase in curiosity about Canada in India.

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The Canadian prime minister's visit to India is not a frontpage news in Canada. It is almost the same in India as well where the newspapers have carried stories of local concerns on their front pages.  In a center page spread in Canada's national newspaper, the Globe and Mail, the Canadian prime minister is photographed with a jubilant dancing young girl of Indian origin who happens to be from Canada.  The front page of India's major newspaper, the Hindu, primarily highlights stories from the neighboring Pakistan.

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The Hindu on November 17, 2009

The interest about Canada in India depicts spatial trends.  The map below shows that most internet searches conducted for Canada are from the Indian State of Punjab, which is the ancestral  home of many Punjabi immigrants to Canada.

 

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

The West weary of Pakistan’s stability

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A recently released poll by Pew Research Centre shows that the West  is getting  increasingly weary of the stability in Pakistan and Afghanistan.  The survey respondents hailing from the United States and Western Europe believe that the Islamic extremists are likely to take control of Pakistan by displacing the civilian government.

64% respondents in the United States, 68% in Italy, 65% in Great Britain, and 67% in France agreed with the statement that the extremists are gaining influence in Pakistan.  Even a larger percentage of respondents considered Taliban to be a major threat for Afghanistan.

Most respondents believed that an Islamic extremist takeover of Pakistan would not bode well for their countries.

There appears to be a split between the eastern and western European countries in their perception of the threat emerging from Pakistan.  The western European countries are much more concerned about the stability in Pakistan than their eastern European counterparts.

Despite the recognition of an alarming situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan, most European countries support moving troops from Afghanistan.  However, the majority of the opinion in the United States still support keeping troops in Afghanistan.  While the opposition to keeping troops in Afghanistan is not as strong in some eastern European countries as it is in western European countries, the majority of the opinion, without exception, amongst European countries support removing troops from Afghanistan.

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Adieu Abul

Syed Abul Hasan Jafry, head of the public relations at the Iranian Consulate in Peshawar, and a close family friend, was assassinated in Peshawar on November 12, 2009. Security imageagencies blame the Taliban for the assassination.

Our families have been friends for over five decades in Peshawar. Abul grew up with my uncles in the walled city of Peshawar. He belonged to the Persian speaking community in Peshawar, who are mostly Shiites.

Abul started his career as a civil servant and later joined the Frontier Post in Peshawar. It is the same newspaper where other members of my family have launched their journalistic careers. I worked for the Post from 1992 to 1993.

It is not the first target killing of a prominent Shiite in Peshawar. The head of the Shiite religious party (TNFJ), Allama Arif Husseini, was also murdered in the outskirts of Peshawar in August 1988.  Another close family friend, Syed Qamar Abbas, who was a former provincial minister and a close associate of late Benazir Bhutto, was also assassinated on the streets of Peshawar in May 2007.

While the above two were assassinated primarily for being Shiites, moderate Sunnis have also been a target of the Taliban.  Farid Sabri (his adopted last name), whom I played cricket with as a child in Peshawar, was also assassinated in Peshawar in early 2009. Farid was targeted because he belonged to a liberal strain of Sunni Islam that did not conform to the Taliban ideology.

Iranian diplomats in Pakistan have been a target of the Taliban since 1990s. Agha Sadiq Ganji, the director of Iranian Cultural Centre in Lahore, was assassinated in December 1990. Another Iranian diplomat was abducted from Peshawar in 2008. About seven Iranian Air Force cadets were ambushed on Peshawar Road (minutes from the Army’s General Head Quarters) in Rawalpindi in late 1990s. One does see a pattern here.

While the United States has declared almost most organizations/outfits of dubious credentials terrorist, a notable omission is Jundallah, which is a terrorist group comprising of Sunnis from Iran involved in the target killings and acts of violence against Iranians and the Shiites in Pakistan. The recent bombing in Iran that killed many including senior officers of Iranian armed forces was perpetrated by Jundallah.

According to Pakistan's former chief of armed forces, general (retd.) Aslam Beg, the US has been in contact with Jundallah. It is high time that the U.S. should come clean on this very issue and should consider every organization, regardless of its political orientation, that uses violence against civilians and innocents a terrorist organization. 

Given the increase in the frequency of violence in Peshawar, one may conclude that the city has gone to the dogs. The city though has itself to blame for its misfortunes.  It was the same city that stood silent when the Shiites were the target of the Taliban attacks. I remember the attack in 1992 by the Taliban that left scores dead in Peshawar. Not much was done then because Shiites were then the target.

The mayhem in Pakistan could have been averted if moderate Sunnis, who are in majority in Pakistan, had acted proactively since the mid-eighties against the religious extremism that has returned to haunt them as well. It is not too late to act even now.

Our heartfelt condolences to Abul’s family.

From Dawn.com

Iran mission official shot dead in Peshawar

Thursday, 12 Nov, 2009

Security officials said they suspected those responsible were part of the same group behind kidnappings last year in Peshawar of an Iranian diplomat and Afghanistan's ambassador-designate, and the killing of a US development worker. — Photo by Reuters

Pakistan

US embassy, FO condemn Iran consulate worker killing

US embassy, FO condemn Iran consulate worker killing

PESHAWAR: Gunmen shot dead a Pakistani spokesman for the Iranian consulate at point blank range as he set off for work in the northwestern city of Peshawar on Thursday, police said.

Attackers targeted Abu Al-Hasan Jaffry, director of public relations and protocol at the consulate in Peshawar, shortly after he left home in his car, senior police official Nisar Marwat told AFP.

Bullet holes punctured his car, sending shards of glass on to the road, according to television footage from Peshawar, which has been hit by a wave of attacks.

The killing was condemned by Iran and the United States but the motive for the attack was not immediately clear.

Security officials said they suspected those responsible were part of the same group behind kidnappings last year in Peshawar of an Iranian diplomat and Afghanistan's ambassador-designate, and the killing of a US development worker.

Iran's foreign ministry condemned Jaffry's assassination.

‘We strongly condemn this terrorist and inhuman action and insist that the murderers be identified,’ spokesman Ramin Mehman Parast was quoted as saying on the Iranian state television website.

‘We also call for better protection of all diplomatic offices,’ he added.

Jaffry, a father of one who was in his 50s, was shot on a main road soon after leaving his home in the Gulberg neighbourhood of Peshawar, friends and witnesses said.

‘Suddenly the firing started and when I reached the main road, I saw Jaffry bleeding with wounds and the attackers, probably more than two, had fled,’ one man, who declined to give his name, told AFP.

‘Jaffry had been hit in the head and chest and his left arm was badly injured,’ he added.

The US embassy in Islamabad condemned Thursday's assassination, which it said ‘represents a new tactic by extremists hoping to isolate Pakistan from its supporters in the international community.’

Peshawar runs into Pakistan's tribal district on the Afghan border, which US officials call the most dangerous place on earth because of sanctuaries for Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked militants allegedly plotting attacks on the West.

The northwestern metropolis of 2.5 million people has been hit by a wave of suicide bombings and gun attacks but sectarian violence is rare in the city.

Shias, who are a majority in Iran, account for about 20 per cent of Pakistan's mostly Sunni Muslim population of 167 million. More than 4,000 people have died in flashes of sectarian violence in Pakistan since the 1980s.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Another day, another crisis in Pakistan

While the political pundits in the west are narrowly focused on the operations in Afghanistan and the military action in the tribal areas of Pakistan, yet another political crisis is in the making in Pakistan. Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of Benazir Bhutto and the current president of Pakistan, is very close to losing his job as a result of political and constitutional crisis.

The National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), which was promulgated by the former dictator General Musharraf, is about to outlive its constitutional half life.  The ordinance absolved Benazir Bhutto, her husband who is the current president, and their political allies of all pending criminal and other charges.  The ordinance therefore allowed Bhutto and others to participate in the political arena in Pakistan.  As a quid pro quo, Bhutto agreed to keep General Musharraf as president.

The current parliament has refused to pass the ordinance to make it a permanent part of the constitution.  And even if the parliament were to pass the ordinance, the higher courts are likely to reverse the parliament's decision, finding it ultra vires to the constitution.

If the National Reconciliation Ordinance is not validated either by the parliament or by the Supreme Court of Pakistan, the ordinance will lapse by the end of November.  Those individuals who have directly benefited from the ordinance and were absolved of any charges of corruption, graft, and nepotism would now have to face the music.  The biggest beneficiary of all is the current president of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari.

It appears that president Zardari and his clique may have to leave the secure confines of the President House pretty soon.  This political crisis is unfolding at the same time Pakistan is fighting the fight of its survival in the lawless, semiautonomous tribal areas.  The next couple of weeks will decide the short and long-term political dynamics in Pakistan.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Noam Chomsky condemns ‘immoral’ Afghan war

Watch an interview with Noam Chomsky on November 03, 2009 on Hard Talk BBC.

Killer trains of South Asia

The transport infrastructure in South Asia is precarious, inadequate, and getting worse over time.  Traffic accidents are rampant.  In the past couple of days alone, three train accidents have killed 35 commuters in India and Pakistan.

The rail infrastructure in South Asia is indeed precarious. Indian railways is marred with a very high accident rate that has caused the death of thousands of commuters over the years. The Indian railways, however claims that its safety record has been improving over the years.

On November 03, 2009, a train ran over six passengers who were trying to cross a railway track in the town of Patudi near New Delhi. Hours earlier (Nov. 03), two trains collided in Karachi, Pakistan, killing 14 commuters.  The accident in Pakistan apparently resulted from driver error.

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Source: Dawn, Accident took place in a suburb of Karachi, Pakistan’s most populous city.

Another accident on November 2 in India involved a passenger train that collided with a truck resulting in the death of 14 commuters at an unmanned railway crossing in Uttar Pardesh.

Earlier in October 2009, yet another accident near the Taj Mahal involving  two trains killed 22 commuters. According to the reports, the locomotive of one train ran into a carriage reserved for women and the disabled in the other train.

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Source: MSNBC, Accident site near the Taj Mahal in India

Also in October 2009, an overhead under construction bridge collapsed over a train killing two, while injuring numerous others near Mumbai.

While accidents involving trains are rampant in India, Indian railways claims improvement in traffic safety and a decline in accident rates.  The safety adviser to Indian railways, Mr. Kamlesh Gupta, suggested that the number of accidents have declined from 415 in 2001-02 to 177 in 2008-09. 

Year Accidents
2001-02 415
2002-03 351
2003-04 325
2004-05 234
2005-06 195
2006-07 XXX
2007-08 194
2008-09 177

While the decline in accidents may be true, yet the frequency of train accidents is till too high to celebrate success.

According to a report on traffic injury prevention, which was sponsored by World Health Organization and The World Bank, the estimated number of deaths resulting from roadside accidents is around 1.2 million.  Another 50 million individuals are reportedly injured in such accidents.  A large number of those killed or injured in roadside accidents in the developing countries are poor individuals and more likely to be the sole breadwinners for their households. 

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Traffic safety is a public health concern in the developing countries.  It is incumbent upon the policy makers in South Asia in particular to assign priority to proving traffic safety because it contributes to poverty and other complications that result from it.

Kathy Gannon: The Art of Afghan Alliance Building

Winning Hearts and Minds, Eight Years On

Kathy Gannon
KATHY GANNON is an Associated Press correspondent based in Pakistan. She has covered Afghanistan and Pakistan for the Associated Press since 1988 and was the 2003–4 Edward R. Murrow Fellow at Council on Foreign Relations.

Eight years ago, Washington's special envoy to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, told former mujahideen leaders -- the likes of Marshal Muhammad Qasim Fahim and Abdul Rasul Sayyaf -- that they had a choice: either be part of the solution or the problem.

He jokingly said that Abdul Rashid Dostum, a notoriously vicious Uzbek warlord -- once aligned with the communists, later with the anticommunist mujahideen, then with the terrorist Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and finally with the United States -- now called himself a "man of peace." That was just months after Dostum had crammed hundreds of young Pashtun men who had fought for the Taliban, many of them wounded, into unventilated train cars in searing heat. Dozens of them died before arriving at their final destination: a grossly overcrowded prison in his stronghold in the northern province of Sheberghan. By then, Dostum had become Washington's new best friend.

Over five years ago, I argued in a Foreign Affairs essay ("Afghanistan Unbound," May/June 2004) that the windows of opportunity were closing for Afghanistan and that making allies of Afghans -- not military action -- would win what was then a losing war. I wrote then that the alliances the United States and its coalition partners had made with Afghan warlords, whose internecine fighting had killed 50,000 of their own people when they were last in power, were returning Afghanistan to its lawless and insecure pre-Taliban days.  Choosing to ignore the warlords' past crimes, I argued, would embolden them, instead of making them the good partners the West so naively believed they could be. Washington would not meet its goal of greater homeland security, and for Afghans, peace and prosperity would remain elusive.

Indeed, as the United States and its NATO allies slog on in Afghanistan, it is Washington's mismanagement of local alliances that has proved to be the undoing of its strategy in the country. And, most damaging, these mistakes have cost the United States the allegiance of ordinary Afghans -- an allegiance that is critical to winning the war, collecting intelligence to find al Qaeda, and ensuring that Afghans themselves prevent whoever is in power, including the likes of Sayyaf, from using their country as a safe haven.

The light footprint strategy, which called for less rather than more foreign intervention and was sanctioned by the United Nations and the West following the collapse of the Taliban, failed to take into account that a post-Taliban Afghanistan was a country without institutions, leaving a leadership vacuum that could only be filled with the cadre of leaders that had emerged from 30 years of war -- fighting men who ruled by the power of the gun.

That rule has returned: Afghanistan today looks a lot like the Afghanistan of 2004, only a little bit worse. It also resembles the pre-Taliban Afghanistan of 1995 and 1996, when venturing on just about any highway was a risk and visiting a government office required a pocketful of bribes. The only difference between then and now is that the Afghan factions are no longer firing at each other and killing civilians who get caught in the middle. That is now being done by the Taliban and the international forces.

It was implied by Khalilzad that there would be consequences if the former mujahideen-cum-post-Taliban leaders did not play by the rules and work to make Afghanistan a functioning, albeit fragile, democracy. That never happened, and, so far, the consequences for the culprits are difficult to see. But the effects of their rise to power have been excruciatingly clear to Afghan
citizens.

As U.S. President Barack Obama tries to steer a new course in Afghanistan, there are grumblings in the international community that its allies in Afghanistan are not up to the mark. Yet it is unclear whether anyone appreciates the seriousness of the problem and how it goes to the heart of a successful strategy. Success in Afghanistan is much more than simply establishing good governance or cleaning up the fa├žade.

It is not just the big-name ex-mujahideen such as Fahim (who has been accused of drug dealing and massive corruption) or Sayyaf (whose men actually brought Osama bin Laden to Afghanistan and, under Sayyaf's guidance, raped and scalped women) who have given strength to the Taliban. Appointments at every level -- right down to the district level -- have done so, too, disillusioning even the most optimistic of Afghans. They have made talk of negotiations with so-called moderate insurgents a nonstarter, as even the most moderate among them face no incentive to be part of such an unpopular regime. These appointments and allegiances, brokered by the international community, have frustrated Afghans and eroded their trust and hope.

Take Musa Qala, a district in the southern province of Helmand, for example. Controlled by the Taliban and retaken by the British in December 2007, Musa Qala provides a glimpse of the difficulties that face the international troops who, eight years on, are still struggling to navigate their way through a country, culture, and population that have many puzzling layers. Just before the British swept into the district, a Taliban commander, Maulvi Abdul Salam, switched sides and joined the anti-Taliban forces, apparently the result of months of negotiations. For his defection he was made governor of Musa Qala.

Since then, news reports have alternately described Salam as "unknown" or "mysterious." Perhaps he was unknown to the international community or to the British who appointed him governor, but to Afghans he was not. Salam's reputation stretches back more than a decade for area residents. Some of them recall his killing of the dozens of prisoners he took in 1994, when the Taliban first emerged as a fighting force, and when he headed west toward the city of Herat to throw out another warlord, Ismail Khan (now a key U.S. ally, too). Salam is an example of the so-called moderates willing to join with the current government, the United States, and NATO -- but who only serve to strengthen the Taliban.

Since Salam was appointed governor, the elders of Musa Qala have accused him of widespread corruption, mismanagement, and abuse, and have petitioned for his removal. His wink-and-nod attitude to the corrupt practices of his administration has strengthened the Taliban, which has set up a court that now operates in the area every Thursday, dispensing justice to the dozens who come before it.

Thus, even as nearly 100,000 U.S. and NATO troops swarm around Afghanistan, the Taliban are running regular weekly courts. In Musa Qala, the Taliban have even set up two judicial committees to assist their court -- one to ensure the judgments are enforced, the other to guarantee the judge stays honest. One Taliban judge who was caught taking a bribe was publicly humiliated and then fired for his misdeeds.

In southern Kandahar, just two days before the August elections, a young man from Musa Qala told the story of the Taliban courts. He had campaigned for Afghan President Hamid Karzai in 2004 and had honed his English believing it would improve his future. But in 2009, on the eve of much touted elections, he was brimming with anger at an international community whose foolhardy alliances -- made out of ignorance or expediency -- have made even him speak of the Taliban courts with admiration.

When the Taliban were driven from power, Afghans from across the country wanted to be allies of the international community, happy to see the back of the wretched Taliban regime. Eight years on, most people, including the young man from Musa Qala, are fed up. They see their country heading for destruction, led by corrupt and conniving leaders enabled by an international community unable to figure out the good guys from the bad guys.

Not long ago in Kabul, an Afghan friend who has stayed in his homeland through the communists, the mujahideen, and the Taliban, and who was always certain of a better day, told me that his optimism had run out. "I want out," he said. "You always wondered at how I could always be so optimistic, and now it's gone."

That's a sad epitaph for the loss of eight years and countless lives.

In Afghanistan, making allies of the population is the ticket to success. But that will not come while the international community remains aligned with the very warlords who are making Afghans' daily lives so difficult; while Bagram jail holds as many as 600 men, barely a fraction of whom were actually picked up on the battlefield; while errant bombs kill civilian targets incorrectly identified by allies who go unpunished for their errors.

It is a difficult road ahead for Obama as he struggles with a new Afghan strategy, but it is an even more difficult road ahead for Afghans who struggle to survive the United States' and the international community's mistakes.

Copyright © 2002-2009 by the Council on Foreign Relations, Inc.

Suicide attacks in Pakistan – Oct/Nov 2009

As reported by the Associated Press

_ Nov. 2: Suicide bomber kills 30 people outside bank near Pakistan's military headquarters.

_ Oct. 28: Car bomb explodes in a crowded market in main northwest city of Peshawar, killing at least 112 people.

_ Oct. 23: Suicide bomber kills seven people close to a major air force complex in northwestern Pakistan.

_ Oct. 20: Two suicide bombers attack the International Islamic University in Islamabad, killing six people.

_ Oct. 16: Three suicide attackers hit a police station in Peshawar, killing 13.

_ Oct. 15: Teams of gunmen attack three security facilities in the eastern city of Lahore, leaving at least 28 people dead, including the nine militants, while car bombs kill 11 people in northwestern Kohat district and a 6-year-old boy in Peshawar.

_ Oct. 12: Suicide car bomb explodes near a market in the northwestern Shangla district, killing 41, including six security officers.

_ Oct. 10: Raid on the army headquarters in Rawalpindi leads to a 22-hour standoff that leaves nine militants and 14 others dead.

_ Oct. 9: Suicide car bomb in busy market area in Peshawar kills 53 people.

_ Oct. 5: Bomber dressed as a security official kills five staff members at the U.N. food agency's headquarters in Islamabad.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Rawalpindi blast targets military pensioners at a bank

A suicide bomb blast in Rawalpindi Cantonment kills 30 queued up outside a National Bank branch on the city’s main thoroughfare. At least 30 are reported dead.  The coverage in the footage below suggests that approximately seven dead were uniformed soldiers.

BBC has reported that Monday, November 2 was the first work day of the month when the pensioners would visit the banks. This particular bank branch in the Cantonment serviced military personnel.

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The above map points the location, which is close to a well-known hotel, Shalimar, and also is in the vicinity of important army installations.

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Source: Dawn.com

As the army moves ahead with the operation in South Waziristan, the militants religious groups continue to pound Pakistani cities killing civilians.

Despite the carnage left by the militants, there is apparently no significant drop in the support of Taliban-styled militants amongst the conservative Pakistanis living abroad. Instead of holding the militants responsible for the mayhem, the religious-minded Muslims in the West continue to hold every one except the militants for the death and destruction in Pakistan.

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A women mourns the death of her family members in Rawalpindi after the blast.
Source: Dawn.com

There is a need to put the victims and the defenders of the militants face to face with the victims so that they could see the horrors unleashed at the innocent victims of this proxy war in Pakistan.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Adnan Hussain lost 9 family members in Peshawar blast

 

 

From BBC World

Adnan Hussain

Adnan says all he can think about is "that terrible day"

Adnan Hussain, aged 14, lost all of his immediate family in the market place explosion in Peshawar earlier this week - the biggest bombing in the recent string of militant attacks in Pakistan.

Adnan says his relatives had gathered for his cousin's wedding in the city - but nine of them were killed in Wednesday's blast when they went shopping ahead of the festivities.

Here he relives the horror of that day in an interview with the BBC's Aleem Maqbool.

We had all been at my grandmother's house. My mum told me to go and fetch my dad from my uncle's place so we could all go to buy bangles and clothes and other stuff for the wedding.

I went to get my dad but decided not to go shopping and stayed with my uncle.

An hour later, we heard the blast.

At that time, I really didn't think my family was hurt, but my grandmother told me to go to see what had happened and to look for them.

When I realised it had happened in the market, I worried. I saw all the broken glass and the security men wouldn't let me go in. I could see they were pulling out bodies and I was scared.

The site of the explosion

More than 100 people were killed in the explosion

I ran to the hospital and waited.

One after the other four bodies came in. I really can't describe how it felt.

I lost my mother, father, two aunts, my four sisters and my brother. Sonia was 12, Irum was eight, Sehrish was six, Fariah was five and my younger brother Salman was three years old.

What did my family do? Why would anyone do this to them? I don't understand.

And where was the security? They always tell us there's a red alert and security is high but there was nothing.

I still have my grandmother, and my uncle told me not to worry and that he will take care of my schooling.

But all I can think about is that terrible day and I want to cry.