Thursday 28 May 2009

Victims of War in Swat - don't take away their dignity

It can only happen in Pakistan…

On May 3rd 2009 Pakistani authorities stopped cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan travelling to the southern city of Karachi on Sunday because of fear his trip could trigger violence in the commercial hub. Stopping opposition politicians from travelling and forcibly confining them to one city has been a common ploy used by various governments of dictatorial leaning in Pakistan. Imran is not the first person who has not been allowed to travel from one part of his country to another. Now the same draconian tactic is being used against 2.4 million victims of military action in Swat.

Imran Khan, when stopped from travelling reacted "Under what law can they stop a Pakistani citizen going to Karachi? Isn't Karachi a city of Pakistan?"

I ask the same question on behalf of my brothers and sisters from Swat. They are not refugees from another country. They are in their homeland and the constitution of Pakistan gives them freedom of movement to go anywhere they can find shelter and security in the country. Camps should be an option for those who do not have relatives and friends in other parts of the country to host them in their hour of need.

Number of people displaced from Swat valley as a result of war between Taliban terrorists and Pakistan army is now over 2.5 million. Numbers could swell if the military operation continues and stranded population are able to find a route to escape.

I have written earlier that the government policy of trying to keep them confined to camps is turning them into refugees in their own country. It is extremely disturbing that the central government is allowing its coalition partners MQM in Sind government to lead campaigns against hosting the IDPs in Sind. According to MQM they “believed in the sovereignty and stability of the country therefore it would not allow the spread of Talibanisation in the Sindh province.” What!!! Did Nazis not use similar arguments when rounding up Jews into concentration camps! Look at new face of Nazi-ism its MQM.

When I look at the government of the Punjab I see a similar hypocrisy in action. Where as we see the Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif sending millions of sacks of wheat to the IDP camps we also see his government deciding “in principle not to allow camps for the internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the province…“the IDPs can cause trouble for the province just like the Afghan refugees. So, we have decided not to permit their entry or setting up of camps for them in the Punjab,”. But they are not REFUGEES…

A Pakhtoon friend of mine highlighted that Zaradri, Nawaz Sharif, Altaf Hussain three key characters from Pakistan politics have all been political refugees at some stage (Altaf still is). But for them being a refugee meant moving out of a palace in Pakistan to an even bigger palace in Surrey, Saudi Arabia or London. They can never understand the true feelings of an honourable Pukhtoon farmer or shopkeeper having to exchange the dignified life of his farm/business with the humiliation of a refugee camp.

Farhat Taj wrote in January about plight of IDPs especially woman who suffered at the hands of Taliban in the North West - “An elderly woman, a grandmother, said her daughter-in-law is widow and she used to accompany her children to a hospital in Peshawar, whenever they needed medical treatment. The Taliban threatened women with dire consequences if they came in the public unaccompanied by men. One of her grandchildren had asthma-related problems. His condition got serious. She could not rush him to Peshawar. She sent for men who were relatives, all of them worked outside Bajaur. It took a male relative two days to come and the child died before his arrival. She said she will never forget that the Taliban imposed restrictions on her mobility led to the death of the child. She said the child died in her hands and she could do nothing for him.”

Stories like these are commonly heard from those who had the misfortune of living under Taliban hegemony. Need I ask what is the difference between the Taliban imposed restriction on movements on women and the government imposed restriction on IDPs.

American internment of over 120,000 Japanese Americans during the World War II remains shameful blot on American history. Having created a similar blot on our history by our treatment of Bengalis in East Pakistan we are creating one of our own if we don’t mend our ways immediately. Swat military operation is not the World War, we are not living in 1940s, and Swatis are not in a foreign country, it is there homeland - no political party or goverment can take it away.

Monday 18 May 2009

US is after Pakistani Shalwar

Two media headlines reminded me of the picture that I saw in the aftermath of Taliban terrorist attack on the Police Training Academy in Lahore. This was the image of an alleged terrorist arrested by security forces during the operation. Immediately after overpowering the suspect the security agents removed his Shalwar [traditional trousers worn in South Asia] so that the accused is then more worried about saving his dignity and trying to cover up rather then attempt an escape or continue to resist or fight.

The two headlines that reminded me of this picture were:
Looking into the details of these news stories both stand out as examples of diplomatic bullying at its worse and can only be successful when you have a nation in headlock with its Shalwar pulled down.

US has been trying to push for access to Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, father of Pakistan's nuclear programme for quite sometime on the pretext that they would like to find out more about the network that was responsible for nuclear proliferation in the 1990s. Dr.Khan has been under house arrest for the last few years under American pressure. Had the rulers in Pakistan not been aware of the level of high esteem ordinary Pakistani people hold for Dr. Khan they might have relented a long time ago - even the all powerful dictator General Musharraf couldn't contemplate this. Now the American administration is attempting again, this time by linking the release of military and economic aid, which is primarily to fund the war against Taliban and Al Qaeda, to a financially weak political government.

On a smaller scale, for sometime now the UK foreign office has been bullying Pakistan foreign office into agreeing to selling to UK a prime Kabul property [which used to be Pakistan Embassy before an Afghan government orchestrated attack rendered it insecure] owned by Pakistan. When facing resistance from Pakistan the British High Commission had the cheek to react by saying that London would be ‘highly disappointed’. Apparently the British have now succeeded into getting their hands on this property.

Almost a century ago the national poet of Pakistan Allama Sir Muhammad Iqbal said in one of his poems "hay jurm e zaeefi ki saza marg e mafajat" literally meaning the penalty for the offence of weakness is unexpected undignified death. The message that sounds so pertinent now for Pakistan as a nation. Being a nuclear power and having one of the most well trained professional armies in the world it is not weak militarily perhaps, but definitely weak morally. with foreign and national policies with no roots among its people or democratic institutions, corruption at levels in the government and society and lack of good governance has brought the country to such a level of moral bankruptcy that international bullies are now able to corner us into agreeing to demands that no self respecting nation would ever agree to. I don't blame US, UK or for that matter India for trying to get what they consider to be best in their national political and diplomatic interest. I hold Pakistani leadership of last sixty years for bringing us to these cross roads. We have ourselves allowed US, UK and India to pull our Shalwar down.

Saturday 16 May 2009

Casualties of war against Taliban: time to help the Internally Displaced Persons in Pakistan - refugees in their own homeland

Major military operation being carried out against Taliban insurgents in Swat region of Pakistan has resulted in mass Internally Displaced Persons from Swat Valley Pakistan. Source: Reutersdisplacement of population who are fleeing for their lives. Their numbers according to various sources have now touched the figure of 1.56 million. Over one million people, currently stranded in Madayan, Behrain and Kalam valleys are seeking to flee the area, but they cannot do so due to continued curfew imposed by the army and road blockades and minefields laid by the militants.

They are being called Internally displaced persons (IDPs) - people who have been forced to flee Location Map of Internally Displaced Persons in Pakistan (From ReliefWeb)their homes but who, unlike refugees, remain within their country's borders. But I believe that they are refugees in their own country confined into ill resourced camps.

I am calling them refugees because while only a negligibly small percent of these IDPs have been able to move in with friends and families in other parts of the country, a majority of them have been confined to camps and not allowed freedom of movement in their own homeland due to fears by the authorities that Taliban might try to get out of the region or infiltrate into populous areas and cause security situations.

OneWorld has used tInternally Displaced Persons from Swat Valley Pakistan  reaching out for food. Source: Reutershe headline "IDPs living like 'cattle' in Pakistan camps" to describe the plight of these refugees which is true to a great extent. Their misery is compounded by the fact that the government of Pakistan which is already on the brink of financial collapse is unable to support them on its own. It is time for those who care to roll their sleeves up and join in to help.

While Pakistan Army is trying to rid the world of Taliban menace it is our collective responsibility to join in helping these people who are having to pay the price. How can you join! If you can contribute financially, organisations doing remarkable work in Pakistan and in those I would put my personal trust in include:

Clicking on the links above will take you directly to pages where you could make a donation or find contact details of centres nearest to you.

And finally there is a facebook group of caring People. Minimum you can do is raise awareness. Join in and let others who might like to contribute know.

Thursday 14 May 2009

Police run escort business in Pakistan - now that's diversification

It is not a laughing matter but I couldn't help laughing (laugh of desperation) reading reports coming from Lahore, Pakistan. Some administrative communication error lead couple of unsuspecting plain clothes female police officers to a house full of expecting customers. They were waiting for a pair of police prostitutes to arrive whom they had booked through a "madam" - a full time police officer who moonlights as head of a prostitution ring among the active police force.

Over the years it has been common knowledge that some Pakistani police officers have provided protection to brothels in return for share in their revenue and favours in kind. Their corruption, incompetence as professionals and moral degradation has always been a cause for concern but this is a new low for a police force that still runs on the policing practices established during the colonial era.

The photo in this blog post is how I have seen the police serving general public - in this case a political activist during a street protest. Police in Pakistan has been a ruthless tool of the state in all things unconstitutional and completely out of sync with public sentiments and opinions. Senseless subservience to political masters has always been considered to get such police officers lucrative (full of opportunity for making money through corruption) postings. I remember from my university days that police contingent on "security duty" outside the educational institutions were considered to be on punishment postings - you can't make much money from income-less students, can you! I believe the situation has not changed much since. Only difference is that majority of police are on a punishment posting now - that is of protecting the ruling political and administrative elite and their families - not much money to made there as well but abundant threat to life.

Back in 1947 father of Pakistani nation Muhammad Ali Jinnah set the agenda by stating that " first duty of a government is to maintain law and order so that the life, property and religious beliefs of its subjects are fully protected by the state." Over the last sixty years and with every passing day this is one thing that the government in Pakistan and its institutions especially the police department have singularly failed to deliver. Resorting to running brothels of its own with some officers practising prostitution - if dead could have heart attacks Jinnah would be having one in his grave now.

Monday 11 May 2009

Pakistani Clerics speak out against Taliban and in favour of Army action

Finally, showing courage and defiance against the Taliban hegemony a group of leading Pakistani clerics belonging to an association of Sunni Madrassahs [religious schools] have spoken out in favour of the ongoing army campaign against the Taliban in Swat valley. They have declared the army action against Taliban a "Jihad" [holy war].

The news has not been given the due importance by mainstream media that it deserves. Speaking out against Taliban is becoming a risky, often life threatening, business in Pakistan. Unnoticed by the world at large a number of religious leaders have given their lives for the crime of standing up against the Taliban - only until the recent military action in Swat there was no support for those who wanted to stand up to Taliban. Pir Samiullah of Swat was killed by Taliban last December and his body hung in the town square to scare off any further dissent, he is not the only one who paid the price of resistance by his life - rather than help those who opposed Taliban government decided to sign a peace accord with them.

Majority of Pakistani population has sat on the fence when it came to forming an opinion on Taliban enforced Sharia law. Though a majority of the predominantly Muslim society has a deep rooted belief that Sharia should form the basis for the country's legal and justice system - but an even bigger majority doesn't want to go anywhere near the Taliban's version of Sharia. But saying so openly is generally considered to be inappropriate and risky - it has always been so easy to be branded an infidel, with the arrival of Taliban it has become a fatal undertaking.

Ulema (religious clerics) in Pakistan have always decided to stay quiet even when they believed that the Taliban views were wrong. Even religious political parties who believe in and are a part and parcel of the current democratic system have chosen to stay quiet. But recent actions of Taliban movement in Swat have brought the effects of this menace closer to home.

I hope that the group of forty odd Sunni Clerics who have decided to put their lives at risk and have spoken out will be the first among a large number of others who will join. Unless leading Islamic clerics openly, unequivocally and consistently begin to denounce the Taliban and Al-Qaeda's way of imposing Islam and Jihad the war against extremism will be a very long one.

Sunday 10 May 2009

Justice for "Grey Lady of Bagram" and her children

Three images in this blog post are those of a Pakistani woman transformed from a brilliant MIT graduate to a ghost of an immoral war.

For those who care about the sanctity of fundamental human rights in this insecure world she is known as the "grey lady of Bagram" or the "Prisoner 650". She is Dr. Aafia Siddiqui whose name has become a symbol of victims of belligerent disregard for all international laws, morals and values. It is alleged that the modern day Bounty hunter and human trafficker General Musharraf of Pakistan sold her in return for a bounty from US through his son Bilal Musharraf. Whatever crimes (or intentions to commit them) Dr. Aafia is charged with cannot be bigger then the crime committed by dictator Musharaf and all security agencies involved (Pakistani, Afghan and the US) that of detaining, torturing and raping a mother of three young children who were all taken away along with her. No legal or moral arguments justify this inhuman behaviour. At the time of her kidnapping in 2003 by Pakistani security agencies she was 30 years of age and mother of three children the oldest of which was seven and the youngest only six month.

Dr. Afia Siddiqui, who studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, US, for about 10 years and did her PhD in genetics was a devout Muslim and believed in preaching and spreading Islamic teachings while studying and researching science, and being a regular mum. Her passion for preaching of Islam is evident from one of her writings "Imagine our humble, but sincere daw'ah ["making an invitation"] effort turning into a major daw'ah movement in this country! Just imagine it! And us, reaping the reward of everyone who accepts Islam through this movement, through years to come . . . Think and plan big." She sounded and behaved as a preacher not an Al-Qaeeda muderer. Her writings and research were above board as she was winning grants like $5,000 to study the effects of Islam on women in Pakistan.

But not according to US law enforcement agencies. According to US National Counter Terrorrism Centre: "Siddiqui, charged with attempting to kill US officers and employees, was arrested in Afghanistan on 17 July 2008 for suspicious behaviour. On 18 July, she attempted to shoot a US military officer. She was transported to the United States in August."

How much of this is true! It is on record that she and her three children were kidnapped from Pakistan in 2003, never to be seen again. Former captives of Bagram prison in Afghanistan have reported that a female prisoner, prisoner 650, was held there and that she has lost her sanity, and cries all the time. British journalist Yvonne Ridley wrote about Bagram's "Prisoner 650" and her ordeal of torture and repeatedly being raped for over four years "The cries of (this) helpless woman echoed (with such torment) in the jail that (it) prompted prisoners to go on hunger strike." Ridley called her a "grey lady (because) she (was) almost a ghost, a spectre whose cries and screams continue to haunt those who heard her." By all accounts this "Prisoner 650" was Dr. Aafia Siddiqui.

Dr. Aafia is now formally in US custody and going through a media and legal trial. Whether she gets justice is still to be seen. There are big holes in the story of her whereabouts as presented by Pakistani, Afghan and US agencies. None of these agencies have given any satisfactory account of what happened to the three children from 30 March 2003 onwards. What crime did they commit for which punishment was incarceration along with their mother. Would this have happened to to western women and her family, whatever their crime...

Now that that Judiciary in Pakistan is free of General Musharraf's diktats I urge Chief Justice of Pakistan to take suo moto notice of a Pakistani woman and her three children's ordeal at the hands of out of control security agencies. If there is evidence against Dr. Aafia she should be tried in a Pakistani court of law not in the US. And finally, bring the modern day bounty hunter General Musharraf to court for being complicit in the rape of a muslim women at the hands of Bagram security guards.

Thursday 7 May 2009

Return of integrity in Pakistani politics: a ray of hope

History is being made in Pakistan this week by resignation of a member of National Assembly who was allegedly involved in cheating to get himself a Higher Secondary School Certificate qualification. According to latest media reports Haji Pervez, a Member of National Assembly (MNA) who had registered himself to take exams for HSSC qualification sent his young nephew to sit in the exams in his place. Fortunately the exams centre was raided by an inspection team who caught the proxy red handed. Apparently a group of political workers who were gathered outside the exams centre tried to coerce the inspection team into letting the culprit go but didn't succeed. Usual tactics of threatening the head of inspection team afterwards followed and did not succeed due to immediate media interest.

For the last week all eyes have been on leadership of Pakistan Muslim League PML(N), second largest political party in Pakistan which is also governing the province of Punjab, to take action against this MNA to prove the party's credentials as one that believes in fairness and justice. The party leadership has taken tough stance against the MNA and a committee of his peers in the National Assembly found him guilty of misconduct. Party leader Mian Nawaz Sharif asked the MNA to resign from his seat in the assembly.

The cheating episode had become a test case for political party's repute and it was under pressure to show no leniency even if the evidence was not strong enough to be upheld in a court of law. It is worth remembering that PML(N) has earlier taken a similar tough stance in case of the ex Chief Justice of Pakistan Abdul Hamee Dogar demanding his resignation when it was found that his daughter was given undue favour in her HSSC exams. Though there was no concrete evidence of Chief Justice's direct involvement in the influencing of examination board he was unsuccessfully pressurised to resign on moral grounds. PML(N) took a similar stance demanding resignation from Chief Justice Islamabad High Court Justice Bilal Khan on the basis of statements by a Mafia Don implicating the judge in Mafia activities - this case is still under review by the Judicial Review Commission.

Reaction of leadership of various political parties in response to similar scandals in recent past of fake degrees acquired by Babar Awan, a federal minister in People's Party government, Dr Amir Liaquat Hussain, a federal minister under Musharraf government, and a few others has left the people of Pakistan thinking whether the political leadership at any level will ever show any itegrity when dealing with corruption from within. This weeks action by one political party against one of its own is sign perhaps that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Tuesday 5 May 2009

How would Taliban deal with swine flu!

Reaction of some governments and international agencies in response to swine flu has resulted in some raised eyebrows and voices.

Governments and international organisations around the world are doing everything they can to rename swine flu in order to protect the pig farming industry from harmful effects of ordinary people from staying away from pork.

According to New York Times, Thailand, one of the largest meat exporters in the world is already referring to the disease as "Mexican flu".
The World Organization for Animal Health, which handles veterinary issues around the world, wants it to be called the "North American

The US officials are going out of their way to call it by its scientific name, the "H1N1 virus."
The World Health Organisation stated that from April 30, it would stop naming it "swine flu" and start naming it "influenza A(H1N1)". UN Food and Agriculture Organisation is "mobilising a team of experts to assist government efforts to protect the pig sector from the novel H1N1 virus by confirming there is no direct link to pigs."

A spokesperson for the EU commented "I would suggest
that you call it 'novel flu virus' just to avoid the misunderstandings with the animal diseases because it costs a lot to the industry".

In an
environment where majority of governments are trying to change the name of the virus to save the pig farming industry, more interesting reaction is coming from governments who looked at the problem from a religious perspective. Egypt, a primarily Muslim country, has begun slaughtering over 300,000 pigs farmed by Christian minority in the country. It is public knowledge that swine flu though originated from pig farms of Mexico is now spreading across the world through human to human contact but the Egyptians have decided to rid the country of pigs in one fell swoop.

In Israel "An Israeli deputy health minister - an ultra-Orthodox Jew - said his country would re-brand the swine flu virus as the "Mexican Flu", to keep Jews from having to say the word "swine." In orthodox Islam using the words "pig" or "swine" is equally unacceptable hence I wait for the Islamic world to follow Israel's policy.

I wonder how Taliban from North of Pakistan are going to react to this "infidel" disease that the great Satan America has unleashed on the world through its pig farms in Mexico! Would a human being infected with virus with its origin in pigs is going to be branded an infidel!

Any theories!!!

Monday 4 May 2009

Concerns about Pakistan's nuclear arsenal: case of international diplomatic bullying

So the Americans want to know the details and locations of Pakistan's nuclear installations and assets. why! Because they are concerned about the security of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal and infrastructure and worried that Taliban might steal one of the nukes.

Though they do not appear to accept the assurances from Pakistan government that the weapons are secure, apparently they trust the Pakistan Army and its capability to keep the nukes safe. President Obama said last week that he remained confident that keeping the country’s nuclear infrastructure secure was the top priority of Pakistan’s armed forces. Pakistan defence capabilities are managed by a National Security Council chaired by the President himself but the nuclear installations and the arsenal is under the control of the military under direct command of the Chief of Army Staff, General Kayani.

While Mr. Obama says “I’m confident that we can make sure that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is secure,”...“primarily, initially, because the Pakistani Army, I think, recognizes the hazards of those weapons falling into the wrong hands”, other members of his administration have been increasing the pressure on Pakistan's political leadership to divulge details of nuclear sites and where the weapons are secured. Pakistanis, rightly so, are not amenable to American requests for more details about the location and security of the country’s nuclear sites. There are concerns that the United States or its ally Israel encouraged by India might be tempted to seize or destroy Pakistan’s arsenal - they have reached very close to doing so at least three times over the last three decades. Only the threat of a full scale retaliation from Pakistan had kept them at bay.

According to US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton Pakistan's weapons “are widely dispersed in the country.” “There’s not a central location, as you know,” ... “They’ve adopted a policy of dispersing their nuclear weapons and facilities.” Taliban insurgency is focussed on North West of the country along borders with Afghanistan - so what's the problem.

I have heard enough crap around responsible governance and a commonly held western perception that only western democracies could be considered as responsible nations to hold the key to a nuclear Arsenal.

Over the last sixty years it is not Pakistan who has lost over 92 nukes across the world without a clue as to where they are. It is not Pakistan who has the dubious honour of using a nuke in a war and destroying living cities in the process.

My questions:
  • Have the Americans offered similar details about American arsenal across the world to Pakistan in exchange!
  • Why is Pakistan an exception - did the Americans or anyone else in the world ever asked Britain similar questions at the height of Irish insurgency or Israel at the height of Palestinian movement.
Obvious answer is that this is a case of international diplomatic bullying aimed at the political leadership in Pakistan. America knows that democratic government in Pakistan might be politically week and the army might be dealing with the US created Taliban phenomenon but there is no issue of lack of responsibility that comes with being a nuclear armed nation.

Saturday 2 May 2009

Hands off our democracy, Mr. Obama!

Worst democracy is better than best of military dictatorships. Problem is that in order to achieve its own strategic interests the strongest democracy in the world whose presidents have now begun to anoint themselves to the leadership of the free world prefers military dictators over democratic leaders when it comes to Pakistan.

I am referring to American preference for military over civilian governments in Pakistan. For two out of the last three decades Pakistan was ruled by military dictators who being mindful of their illegitimacy have more of less been America's errand boys in the region - from creation of Taliban menace in the eighties to fight America's proxy war against the Soviet Union to the war against Taliban in post 9/11 Afghanistan General Zia and Musharraf have been at American beck and call leading Pakistan from one mess into another.

With the arrival of a level headed person like Barrack Obama in the White House one could be forgiven for expecting some balanced policy making from the US Administration. But reading Mr. Obama's statements on Pakistan any such illusions are easily removed. His recent statements like “I’m more concerned that the civilian government there right now is very fragile and don’t seem to have the capacity to deliver basic services: schools, health care, rule of law, a judicial system that works for the majority of the people" and “you’re starting to see the Pakistani military take much more seriously the armed threat from militant extremists” appear to be encouraging those who believe that a military government in Pakistan is better placed to respond to the problems in the region. And when you hear General David Petraeus saying that "the next two weeks are critical to the Pakistani government’s survival" you see a concerted pressure building on civilian government while encouraging possible military adventurism.

Mr. Obama also appears to be kidding himself when he states that “On the military side, you’re starting to see some recognition just in the last few days that the obsession with India as the mortal threat to Pakistan has been misguided, and that their biggest threat right now comes internally”. I would like to believe that his policy advisers have perhaps not briefed him fully on two points (1) Pakistani generals are very intelligent politicians/diplomats in their own right and that only they can convince Americans (2) that Pakistan army will can change its sixty year old doctrine on India being the enemy number one in just couple of weeks. Otherwise he would not be expecting a change of six decades old military policy and encouraging the generals to become rulers again.

After around ten years of messing around with Pakistan the Pakistan army has been back to normal duty for just over a year and I suggest that Mr. Obama keeps his encouragements to himself and let the fledgling young democracy in Pakistan flourish.