Friday, 21 November 2014

A shameless action replay, D Asghar

A shameless action replay, D Asghar

The countdown has begun. The idiot box is busy drumming up the usual nonsense that people were subjected to a few months back in August. This time it is being labelled the “decisive battle”. The last day of this month is supposed to alter the course of our history. As if we have not had a colourful history to begin with. Imran Khan and his remaining followers are still unable to quit the delusionary state they seem to be in.

The ‘umpire’ has left the pavilion for Yankeeville even as these lines are being penned. Conventional wisdom dictates that the paymasters would like the umpire to concentrate on the mission that it has finally focused on. If my cricketing terms serve me right, we are looking towards another innings that one can safely call an action replay. The sagacious ‘cousin’, who left the angry middle-aged politico, made a whirlwind trip around the world in 30 days and has decided to make a comeback just in time. 

Self-proclaimed pundits and make-believe experts on the idiot box have started pontificating on these developments like Armageddon is round the corner. Who needs entertainment when there is theatre like this in the world? The idiot box has the age old excuse that the public demands and wants to see all of this nonsense nonstop. As far as the public is concerned, the less we say about it, the better off we are. The public is sick and tired of the ongoing tussle between the macho Khan and the seemingly meek and mellow Prime Minister (PM) Sharif. 

The change mantra that started in October 2011 has changed one thing for sure: the sense and sensibilities of the people. The culture of loud and derogatory language, the antagonism and the short-term political decisions of both the ruling party and their political nemesis will certainly go down in the history books of this sorry nation. The super statesman, Maulana Azad, held very critical views about our founding father and the people who surrounded him. If the people that we hold so high in our esteem were lost and rudderless, according to Maulana Azad, then imagine what the jokers on the political stage today would have been termed by the late Maulana. 

The talking heads bring the jokers on the box to opine over what is going to transpire on November 30, as if the poor country’s existence is in danger. This is called the power of the media and the conditioning of brains. I often wonder how young and sometimes educated people become victims of extremist brainwashing and end up becoming jihadists. One need look no further when the educated and enlightened are seen giving justifications on the idiot box about the pent up rage of the people and their passionate rationale for attacking the state. These are people who are exposed to daily rhetoric and believe that only a superman with a colourful scarf around his neck can save them from evil. Mind you, most of these people go to premier learning institutions in the country and have access to the world in the palm of their hands with the latest gadgets. When people mortgage their ability to think independently or, for that matter, part with their critical thinking skills, the imaginary world and its delusions become gospel. 

The pressing question being raised is how many people will be able to come to the federal capital on the day. One has to ask: what difference does it make? Assuming there is a crowd of a million people that day, then what? The other naive question being raised is: what will the umpire do at that point? Is the crowd of a million going to decide what the constitution of the country will be for the remaining population of this country? If a gathering of well prepared hoodlums on August 14 was not able to dent the basic resolve of constitutional supremacy, will it be compromised this time around, just because Khan has vowed it? Then there is the thunderous allegation levelled by Khan that this “corrupt” government is using the national exchequer to buy journalists. These are known as lifafa (envelope) journalists because they accept bribes, presumably in envelopes. It is high time that whatever professional unions and organisations exist representing journalists take Khan to task in a court of law and have him present his ‘evidence’ in front of a competent judge. 

To Khan, from this non-journalist: apparently you are counting on tigers and tigresses who wear designer clothes, classy sunglasses and speak in accented English to bring a revolution. I am sorry Khan but they are too invested in the status quo that you so abhor. Perhaps when Hameed Gul dragged you into the muck of politics, he forgot to give you a very basic lesson: politics and cricket are two totally different games. It takes decades to build and cultivate your relationships and bonds in this game. Even if the umpire makes your dreams come true, your opponents are not going to vanish because they have spent perhaps twice as much time as you in this field. There is perhaps twice the amount of people behind them as well. You may dismiss them as ‘subjects’ or ‘lackeys’ but, from their perspective, they would rather deal with someone who has been tested than an emotional upstart. On November 30, expect no major breakthrough from any quarters.

The writer is a Pakistani-American mortgage banker. He can be reached at dasghar@aol.com. He tweets at http://twitter.com/dasghar


China commits £45. 6 billion for economic corridor with Pakistan

China commits £45. 6 billion for economic corridor with Pakistan
 The Chinese government and banks will finance Chinese companies to build $45.6 billion worth of energy and infrastructure projects in Pakistan over the next six years, according to new details of the deal seen by Reuters on Friday. 
 

The Chinese companies will be able to operate the projects as profit-making entities, according to the deal signed by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif during a visit to China earlier this month. At the time, officials provided few details of the projects or the financing for the deal, dubbed as the China-Pak Economic Corridor (CPEC).
The deal further cements ties between Pakistan and China at a time when Pakistan is nervous about waning US support as troops pull out of Afghanistan.
Pakistan and China, both nuclear-armed nations, consider each other close friends. Their ties are underpinned by common wariness of India and a desire to hedge against US influence in South Asia.
Documents seen by Reuters show that China has promised to invest around $33.8 billion in various energy projects and $11.8 billion in infrastructure projects. 

Two members of Pakistan’s Planning Commission, the focal ministry for the CPEC, and a senior official at the Ministry of Water and Power shared the details of the projects.
The deal says the Chinese government and banks, including China Development Bank, and the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Ltd (ICBC), one of China’s ‘Big Four’ state-owned commercial banks, will loan funds to Chinese companies, who will invest in the projects as commercial ventures.
 

“Pakistan will not be taking on any more debt through these projects,” said Minister for Water and Power Khawaja Asif.
Major Chinese companies investing in Pakistan’s energy sector will include China’s Three Gorges Corp, which built the world’s biggest hydro power scheme, and China Power International Development Ltd. 

Nawaz signed more than 20 agreements during his trip to China earlier this month, including $622 million for projects related to the deepwater, strategically important Gwadar port, which China is developing. The port is close to the Strait of Hormuz, a key oil shipping lane. It could open up an energy and trade corridor from the Gulf across Pakistan to western China that could be used by the Chinese Navy - potentially upsetting rival India.
 

Pakistan sees the latest round of Chinese investments as key to its efforts to solve power shortages that have crippled its economy. Blackouts lasting more than half a day in some areas have sparked violent protests and undermined an economy already beset by high unemployment, widespread poverty, crime and sectarian and insurgent violence.
Under the CPEC agreement, $15.5 billion worth of coal, wind, solar and hydro energy projects will come online by 2017 and add 10,400 MW of energy to the national grid, officials said.
An additional 6,120 MW will be added to the national grid at a cost of $18.2 billion by 2021. “In total we will add 16,000 MW of electricity through coal, wind, solar and hydel plants in the next seven years and reduce power shortage by 4,000 to 7,000 MW,” said Asif. 

“This will take care of a growing demand for power by a growing economy,” he said.
The CPEC deal also includes $5.9 billion for road projects and $3.7 billion for railway projects, all to be developed by 2017. A $44 million optical fibre cable between China and Pakistan is due to be built. 


Thursday, 20 November 2014

Ghosts and gains of North Waziristan, Wajahat S Khan

Ghosts and gains of North Waziristan, Wajahat S Khan  
November  18, 2014 
MIR ALI: 313 Brigade Headquarters, North Waziristan: This cantonment dates back to 1895; every army, including the British, that came here was not welcome outside the fort, which hasn’t changed much since: single storey buildings with imperial insignia merged with the Islamic slogans of the Pakistani military sit across barren lawns; this is not like a city’s well-kept cantonment, with manicured gardens that the army is proud of; this is a forward area base where the grass is left patchy because sniper and rocket attacks still occur. It’s around 30 degrees, Celsius. There is no humidity.

The base throbs with uniforms of regular infantry battalions; yet, it is the human heart of a ghost town. Outside, Mir Ali has changed. North Waziristan has been taken, but at a cost: The entire city of Mir Ali has been depopulated through what Major General Zafarullah Khan Khattak, the General Officer Commanding of the 7th Infantry Division and the man in charge of Operation Zarb-e-Azb (“Strike of the Prophet’s Sword”), calls “an organised exodus”.

Earlier in the summer, when the operation was launched, weeks of air strikes, ground attacks and penetrating local militant networks with human and signals intelligence were not enough. Nor were the “strangulation operations” that had kicked off before the official campaign was launched on the 30th of June. ‘NWA’ was a different challenge from Swat, assessed the brass. The local population was “entrenched in a decade-long economy of terror” that made them “invested in the anarchy” that was North Waziristan, says General Khattak.

Since then, some 700,000 civilians have been displaced. Around 1,800 terrorists have been killed or captured. Around 200 tons of IEDs and ordnance have been found, “enough for the militants to keep on conducting five IED attacks per day, at a rate of three casualties per attack, for 14 and half years, anywhere in Pakistan or the region”, says the general. As for sheer firepower, the GOC assesses that “there were enough arms and ammunition in the area to raise an entire infantry brigade.”

To date, the army has lost 45 men in the campaign and sustained 155 casualties. Three would be killed on the same night that this correspondent was in North Waziristan, over the last weekend, when Operation Zarb-e-Azb would be completing its 138th day. Naturally, standing on the perimeters of the base, the junior officers are watchful.

“That’s Shahbaz Top. We still take rockets and sniper fire from there,” says Brigadier Azhar Abbasi of the 313 Brigade, sipping tea while wearing his armour, his radio set crackling, looking over the bombed out town, pointing to a peak. “They’re not civilised, the Tangos [army code for Taliban], but they are bloody good shooters. I’ve lost three men from shots that came from over 1,100 yards. All head shots, two of them in the nose. Dragunovs are their weapon of choice...Excellent weapons. But terrible men.”

Driving through Mir Ali: In the armored SUV, the general’s American M4 carbine keeps hitting my knee; we are going over dirt, debris, and rubble, mostly; his Gold Leaf cigarettes sit in a leather holder with a plastic lighter that rattles against the hissing communication equipment; there are no markings on his vehicle, no fancy stars to adorn his rank, in case there are snipers still around to target him. Unlike most men his rank, General Khattak’s baton-holder, stuck on the dash, is empty. Instead, he’s carrying a Turkish 9mm Sarsilmaz semi-automatic in a shoulder holster with two extra magazines. Ceremony takes a back seat in Mir Ali.

In the 10-minute drive through the bazaar, there’s not much but rows upon rows of houses and shops flattened by air strikes and artillery; signs of close quarter combat remain; bullet holes and craters on both sides of the two lane main street of the town are the last indications of activity; handmade shop signs, some burnt out, are reminders of the trade that once thrived here - hardware stores, butcher shops, tailors - but the general says that this was only part of the commercial proceedings.

“There was an ‘IED Bazaar’ where you could buy anything from a suicide-bomb jacket with 50 kilos of explosives to a VBIED [vehicle-borne improvised explosive device, or car bomb],” says Khattak. “You could, from a good dealer, even pick the type of colour you wanted for the vehicle that was to be your 2,000 pound car bomb”.

There is a gas station on the main road that has the Shell corporate logo rocketed through; a UAE driver’s licence belonging to a man - Subeskar Gul - is on the ground among empty cans of energy drinks and shattered glass. Maybe he was getting gas when the fighting started? Maybe he was fighting?

The security officer, Lt. Colonel Jawad Bajwa of the 54 Baloch Regiment, sorts it out: “They gave us quite a fire-fight here,” he says. “They took over the cashier’s office and pounded rockets at us from there. It took most of the night to take care of them. They’re tough, the Ubzeks. And they ran this city, with a lot of local support.”

“The Uzbeks had an interesting strategy of inculcating fear,” continues the colonel. “They lived and hunted in pairs. Two of them would ride into town on motorbikes and clear out a corner by not saying anything, just glaring. They didn’t show their faces. They didn’t hold funerals for their dead. They didn’t even put flowers or markings during the burial. Their graves remained unknown and hidden. As if they just would vanish into immortality.”

The Torture Cell: Like any other Pashtun house in the Af-Pak border regions, this one has a dried mud and thatched roof structure, where the gate is the strongest part of the building, as Pashtuns are a fiercely private people; an open courtyard leads to a 20 by 10 feet room, with a 15 foot ceiling, but once inside, there are few signs of local culture: a flag of Iraq hangs; jihadist literature, in Russian, Turkish, Uzbek, Turkmen and Arabic, captured by the army, is lined up neatly in one corner, including a booklet with what resemble ISIS [Islamic State in Iraq and Syria] markings; there is a notebook with a handmade doodle of terror: an ISIS flag adorned by a chilling announcement in a Farsi variant: “Blood Avenges Blood” and “Death for America”, complete with an AK-47, a scimitar and a helicopter, all dripping blood.

A made-in-USA military jacket hangs on the wall, next to empty pistol holsters; out of place are a stash of Bollywood audio cassette tapes, thrown together with tapes of Quranic recitations; the jihadist house also has a bunch of recovered photographs, of fighters posing with their weapons, Photoshopped upon images of lush gardens and pastures, to represent heaven, or perhaps home; but there are signs of disturbance, too: some burnt CDs; which are claimed as destroyed evidence; a laminated list of instructions from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan on rejecting use of media, including personal computers, cell phones, and MP4 players, due to them increasing “moral mischief”.


This place has ‘militant hang-out’ written all over it, along with a warning spray-painted on the wall: “The Tahreek [Movement] of Taliban is Alive”, a reminder to those who would eventually see this room, sans the terrorists.

But in another corner is a set of chains, hanging from the ceiling; its purpose was to tie up prisoners, explains an intelligence officer; there is a collection of whips and knives and some surgical tools which are claimed as torturing equipment.

“Almost every household here was infected by the economy of terror,” says Brigadier Azhar Abbasi. “Regular folk here maintained a basement with a torture chamber or a private jail in their house, because they would hold hostages for kidnapper networks in the mainland...A hostage from Karachi or Lahore [Pakistan’s main cities] would end up in the basement of a shopkeeper here,  tucked away from the grip of the law, waiting for his ransom...almost every family depended on abduction, crime, narcotics, gun-running, smuggling or terror economy, directly or indirectly.”

“The ultimate solution will be legal and economic”, adds Abbasi. “But first we need to disinfect and disconnect this place from the profitable mechanisms of terror.”

There is a cache of weapons, too: srms, old and new, sophisticated and small, mostly Russian but even Indian, with homemade IED-manufacturing equipment, have been recovered from all over this compound.

“There is a big gun culture in this region. Every Pashtun man is allowed a weapon in his own domain, even minus a licence” explains General Khattak, himself a Pashtun. “It’s a proud tradition to carry a weapon. But to bury fully greased SMGs [sub-machine guns] in your backyard? That’s not tradition. That’s terrorism.”

Both sides of the torture cell have houses that have been bombed out in an air strike; the remaining effects of a family - a suitcase filled with personal belongings - a woman’s shoes, a child’s toy plane, a lipstick, a vanity, even a science book and a blanket - lies in the rubble.

“The north and south of this hideout were protected by residential compounds of Uzbeks to escape detection,” explains General Khattak. “They would camouflage and protect the horror that was happening here.”

“Do not be mistaken, there was some, but very negligible, collateral damage,” explains Brigadier Abbasi. “But everybody, good and bad, took advantage of the exit routes we allowed. Our intercepts tell us that many Tangos are now in the TDP [temporarily displaced persons] camps in Bannu. Our intel shows us mounds of hair they cut and shaved to fit in with the locals during the movement. There were loopholes, and they took advantage of them...And the locals let them.”

The IED Factory: The ‘front’ of the IED factory is ironic; it’s a medical clinic lying on Mir Ali Bazaar’s main street; a marble plaque claims it was inaugurated by the local political agent in 1956, when this volatile tribal area was relatively peaceful; the outside room facing the street has posters warning against malaria, with a box of mints, once meant for visitors, scattered all over the floor, along with furniture and documents; the place looks like it has been through layers of hurried searches.

A walk through the inner courtyard that is shaded by eucalyptus trees shows signs of a severe gunfight; the main clinic’s walls are pockmarked by bullets and grenade splinters; inside are maps of Pakistan’s provinces, heavy ordnance, a globe of the world, a refrigerator, IED-manufacturing material and guides, lab equipment, a white-board with an IED-making formula in a Cyrillic variant written with a dry-erase marker, wigs for disguise and, of course, suicide-bomb jackets.

“We took this place down,” says Lt. Colonel Jawad Bajwa of the 54 Baloch as  he points to the wall that his troops blew up before storming the compound. The 54 Baloch Regiment has an interesting motto: ‘First to Guard’, given after it became the initial battalion to be the guard of honour at the Quaid’s Mausoleum. But Bajwa’s unit was also the vanguard in the 12-day offensive that saw Mir Ali fall during Zarb-e-Azb in July.

“It took us an afternoon. Here, life’s about aggression versus more aggression, tactics versus superior tactics. In a street to street fight, strategy was beyond us.”

Perhaps it was due to that aggression why Operation Zarb-e-Azb, which was “meant to take key parts of North Waziristan in 90 days, was essentially over by the 52nd day”, says General Khattak.

America, America: Everyone has been talking about a recent Pentagon report that said the Pakistani military hasn’t done enough to take on the militants. The bad press is hovering like a shadow over the officers, in spite of recent gains made by troops using American-made MRAPS - heavy IED-resistant vehicles that the army badly needs - 20 of which have been provided by the US.

“If this is not enough, what is?” asks General Khattak on the drive to the airstrip. 

We drive past Jalal Post, named after a major who held off over a 100 Uzbeks with a platoon of soldiers for almost an entire day, eventually losing his life to an Uzbek sniper in the Battle of Mir Ali, also called Operation Badal 1.

“Our officers-to-men killed ratio is 1:12”, raps the general. “That’s high, maybe the highest for any active in-combat army this century, and we’re very proud of it. 

And with this (he points to the rubble that is Mir Ali all around) I’ve managed to achieve the first tenet of COIN [counterinsurgency] operations: displacing the terrorists. They have no sanctuary. Because 90 percent of North Waziristan is now past tense for them, and under our control.”

There are still gaps, however. Various theories circulate about where the leaders of the Haqqani Network vanished. Some place them in Parachinar and its environs in the northern agency of Kurram. Some send them down to the Pashtun belt of Balochistan, or beyond the border. Some even place them in Rawalpindi and Karachi. Most officers admit that the Haqqani question is ‘above their pay grade’. But Major General Khattak is very clear.

“If push comes to shove, I would even suggest that the Americans put together a team of forensic experts and come over here to see what we’ve done, to the infrastructure of terror and even the Haqqanis,” he says, lighting up a smoke. “Let us stop writing reports from Washington and do some real fact-finding, shall we?”

On the domestic front, Hafiz Gul Bahadur, the local Wazir warlord who, a senior officer admits, “is our own creation, nothing but a thug who became a monster, thanks to us” and his sub-commander, Sadiq Noor, are on the run. Zarb-e-Azb has thus morphed into a ‘hunt-mode’, where entire battalions have been tasked to search and destroy ‘GB’ and his cohorts; Sadiq Noor keeps on crossing over from across the border, but GB is dug in hard somewhere around southwestern North Waziristan.

The Americans, too, are utilising the vacuum and flux. Drones are still targeting the areas where the Pakistan Army has not yet managed to reach. Most  of these are along the Dattakhel axis, running like a hammerhead along the border, along the southwestern and northwestern corner of the agency, which is high terrain and adjacent to the volatile Afghan “P2K” region (Paktia, Paktika and Kunar) and, of course, the treacherous Shawal Valley in the south, where many of the insurgents have escaped, but in small groups, to avoid easy detection.

Even though he won’t commit on where his forces lie on the matrix of completing the mission, General Khattak has a swagger of confidence: “We’ve reduced their ability to strike. Their tactics have deteriorated and become less complex. We listen to them all the time, on the intercepts. We can hear their pain. And we are enjoying it.”

7th Division Headquarters - Miranshah, North Waziristan:

A year ago, what is now the army’s largest division - almost equivalent to three regular divisions, or around 45,000 men - was but a shade of what it is now. The 7th Infantry Division - the Pakistan Army’s oldest, its ‘Golden Arrow’ - was holed inside the Miranshah Fort for years, since 2003. Outside, peace agreements and under-the-table deals with North Waziristan’s powerful warlords allowed it to move around just once a week, and forced it to tolerate IED, suicide and rocket attacks around the year.

But with Operation Zarb-e-Azb, the army is finally beginning to act like a counter-insurgent military machine.

The proof is displayed in the massive front lawn of the division’s headquarters. A symmetrical display of seized weapons, communication equipment, ordnance, IEDs, intelligence, and even American and other NATO military uniforms is crowned by two vehicles: One is an American-made military Humvee, a khaki Hummer with bullet holes from across the border, complete with Afghan National Army markings and communication equipment, which was used as a “VIP car by the Haqqani Network”, claims General Khattak. The other is a functional, foliage-green pick-up truck with Afghan National Police markings.

Sophisticated flow-charts and bar-graphs shared by the 7th Division show that Zarb-e-Azb has shown remarkable gains: A decreasing trend in the number of terrorist attacks and military/civilian casualties, nationwide, with less than 50 terror-related incidents since the campaign was launched, causing less than 600 casualties and around 150 fatalities, including the attack on the Wagah border earlier this month.

But details about Operation Khyber 1, which is the new and unannounced kinetic build-up in parts of the Khyber tribal agency, are more oblique.

“Khyber 1 is not an afterthought,” defends Khattak, putting his armoured SUV into gear as we begin to head to Miranshah. “Yes, there were unexpected consequences of the flux and reorganisation of militants after Zarb [-e-Azb].”

“This included splintering. Omar Khalid Khorasani [the commander of the Mohmand chapter of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan] was always ambitious, bickering with Fazlullah [the emir of the TTP] over leadership and control...he went his own way when he reinvigorated Ahrar-ul-Hind [a new militant group that is operating out of Khyber]. This was to carve his own identity, his own brand. Before he gets there, Khyber 1 has been designed to get to him. Simple.”

The Media Centre: Outside, in Miranshah town, the Taliban’s media effort is on full display. Once a small school house, the Taliban made this their ‘Media Center’; a three-room communication enterprise: one room filled with digital recording devices, cameras and computers, where DVDs of training and propaganda videos were processed; the other an archives and audio room with sound mixers and mics; the third, the grandest room, is what a young officer refers to as the ‘Suicide Studio’, where soon-to-be suicide-bombers would record their famous last words; this last room has a lush carpet and velvet cushions, with Taliban’s stark black and white flag in the background; there are even light-stands to complete the terrible last taping of terrorists.

“Don’t be overwhelmed by the religious symbolism,” warns Brigadier Azhar Abbasi. “Beards were a fashion here, too. We’ve found booze, we’ve found hash, we’ve found all sorts of lewd movies on CDs. These guys did not have a one-track mind about jihad.”

Terror, Underground: The ride through Miranshah Bazaar is longer than the one through Mir Ali. The destruction is worse, too. The signature of ordnance from all sorts of platforms and weapons - fighter-bombers, helicopter gunships, field artillery, IEDs, RPGs and small arms - can be detected; there is a pup walking alone; and a thin cat, sipping water from a puddle; but yards upon yards of shops and houses have been bombed out; there are no signs of life.

“Drone-proof, fool-proof and weather-proof” is how General Khattak describes the Taliban’s ‘Underground Headquarters’ as we pull up to a stop: Built as a subterranean labyrinth in the basement of the main mosque in the heart of Miranshah Bazaar, with over 40 rooms connected by zigzagging tunnels, “Tango HQ”, as an intel officer put it, was a secretariat, a command and control centre, a communication hub, a recording studio, a guest house, and even included solitary chambers for conditioning suicide-bombers (tiny, secluded rooms with pictures of heaven depicted on digitally-printed plastic backdrops).

Upstairs, the regular business of prayer was conducted, with worshippers of all ages coming and going from all over Miranshah; downstairs, senior Taliban commanders would enjoy television, internet, air-conditioners, the equivalent of  a canteen, and underground access to various sections of the city.

Now, the army has ‘sanitized’ the area; all the rooms have been stripped empty; lavish Afghan rugs and blankets have been torn apart for intelligence; some remnants, like cell phone batteries and a ‘dandasa’, the herbal stick that locals use to brush their teeth in tradition of the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) in lieu of toothpaste, are still lying around; a walking cane with electric tape wrapped around it is unattended on the ground; an empty Pepsi bottle and some plastic glasses that would have gone with some Talibans’ last meal are scattered; to underscore the change of guard, the Army Engineers have spray painted a big ‘OK’ outside every door and enclave, indicating that there are no booby traps or IEDs in the labyrinth’s several rooms. It’s cooler here, than upstairs, in the city.

The Man-Eating Bazaar: The kitchen of the underground ‘Tango HQ’, like any kitchen in the world, has cabinets and shelves; but a row of these swings open to reveal a tunnel, through which come both a cool draft and a terrible smell; there is some light, at the end.

“That’s the executive access route to the Adam Khor [Man Eating] Bazaar”, says an intelligence officer. “It’s where the unwanted and the unwelcome were beheaded, and left to rot, decapitated for days...Their bodies were not allowed to be buried, and they used to stink up the bazaar, as a lesson for all and sundry.”

“The smell still hasn’t gone away, even though we cleared the bodies weeks ago.”

Saying farewell on the airstrip, as his overused combat-aviation AH-1 Cobras are being inspected after a post-operation sortie, Major General Khattak keeps up the official narrative: the fight will be long; it will have to be a national effort; it will require all facets of civilian and military thinking to come up with creative solutions.

But then, the Pashtun and the soldier reflect. “Whether it is rethink of the FCR [the Frontier Crimes Regulation that rules the Federally Administered Tribal Areas], or economic solutions, or good governance, we must understand what rules these people. The local code of Cholwashti [locals protecting their own land honourably] has to be brought back. What’s always worked must work again. 

And for those who don’t follow the local custom...We must kill them. We must fight  them to the death.”


Pakistan’s Afghan policy- arsonist or fireman? Dr Mohammad Taqi

Pakistan’s Afghan policy- arsonist or fireman? Dr Mohammad Taqi

Pakistani officials claim that the Afghan jihadists have gone back to Afghanistan while the information from the ground suggests they have been redistributed over Kurram, Orakzai and Khyber tribal agencies

Former US Ambassador Peter Tomsen was almost prophetic when he warned in his 2011 book The Wars of Afghanistan, “If Pakistan hews to its fireman and arsonist policy in Afghanistan, the Obama administration will likely make little progress in Afghanistan.” He accurately noted:

“The most valuable contribution that America can make to Afghan peace lies not in Afghanistan but in Pakistan”. Sadly, voices like Ambassador Tomsen’s were not heeded in Washington DC in a timely fashion and Pakistan successfully dragged its feet on taking action against the Afghan jihadists of three main varieties, i.e. Mullah Omar’s Quetta Shura Taliban, the Haqqani terrorist network and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hizb-e-Islami, till the bulk of US and NATO combat troops were out of Afghanistan.

The Pentagon’s report, ‘Progress towards security and stability in Afghanistan’, submitted to the US Congress last month, has once again pointed out that Pakistan continues to maintain these jihadist safe havens. Pakistan has since rubbished the report, issued a démarche to US Ambassador Richard Olson and was subsequently able to squeeze kudos out of Lieutenant General Joseph Anderson, a senior US officer in the NATO-led force in Afghanistan, for tackling the Haqqani network.

The fact is that the death of not even one of the 1,200 or so terrorists that Pakistan claims to have killed in Operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan could be independently confirmed. The Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) has issued no names either. Not a single Haqqani network commander has been arrested or killed. Contrarily, the prime minister’s national security advisor, Sartaj Aziz, has raised a furor by telling the BBC Urdu service: “Why should we target those extremists who do not target us...why should we willy-nilly make the US’s enemies our enemies?”

He also conceded that the Haqqani network had been operating from Pakistani soil but claimed that now the “infrastructure has been eliminated”. A Pakistani foreign office spokesperson has since stated that Mr Aziz’s comments were reported out of context. Interestingly, Mr Aziz has also said what North Waziristan locals also frequently say, i.e. many terrorists fled way before Zarb-e-Azb started. In fact, locals say a curfew was clamped in many areas of North Waziristan before the operation and then transportation mysteriously appeared and carried away the Haqqani network hordes. 


The course correction vis-à-vis harbouring the Afghan jihadist rebels that the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif is trying to persuade the Afghans and the US about is at best partial. Quetta remains off limits to any foreign diplomat except perhaps the Houbara Bustard-hunting Arabs. Pakistan does not appear to be taking any serious action whatsoever against any of the three prongs of the Afghan Taliban insurgency that it harbours.
 The Pakistani security establishment appears to meticulously be repeating its November 2001 drill when it retracted and preserved its Afghan Taliban proxies only to launch them with a vengeance in 2004-2005 when the US took its eyes off the ball. This time the game plan seems to be to play nice till the US takes both eyes and hands off the ball in Afghanistan before letting the jihadist killers loose again. The line that General Raheel Sharif seems to be taking in the US is that Pakistan has cured the 66-year-old jihadist cancer in less than six months of Operation Zarb-e-Azb. It would be incredibly naïve of US officials to fall for this without due diligence, which must span years, not months. Issuing a clean bill of health prematurely will imperil not just the Afghans but the Pakistanis too, who have suffered tremendously from jihadism’s blowback.

Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said in a blistering interview with the Prague-based Mashaal Radio that Pakistan not only sheltered jihadist insurgents but also pressed Afghanistan to accept the Durand Line as the permanent border, make peace with the Taliban (on its/their terms) and tried to dictate Afghan foreign policy by telling it to curtail ties with India.

Mr Karzai said that accepting any of this would have meant compromising Afghan sovereignty. He blamed the US for a duplicitous policy where it acknowledged that Pakistan harboured terrorists but did nothing to stop it. Mr Karzai also indicated that the US wanted him to accommodate Pakistan’s perverse demands on how the Afghans should handle their relations with India. Just days before Mr Karzai made these remarks, his successor, Mr Ashraf Ghani, made his maiden visit to Pakistan, including to its military’s general headquarters. The visit ended on the optimistic note that both countries were ready to reset their relations favourably.

While the suave Mr Ghani has to exhaust this diplomatic song and dance, just like his rough and tough predecessor, he too will not be able to concede to a single one of Pakistan’s demands. Pakistani media made a big deal of Mr Ghani coming to Pakistan before going to India but Mr Ghani is not the first Afghan leader to do so. In 1958, Afghan King Mohammed Zahir Shah also visited Pakistan before he went to India.

During its 1965 and 1971 wars with India, the Afghan government sided with and helped Pakistan. The India-Afghan relationship is a red herring that Pakistan has consistently deployed to dupe the US. Hegemony over Afghanistan is still the Pakistani security establishment’s goal. It yearns for the days when the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) ran at least eight large centres in Afghanistan during the 1990s Taliban regime and its men served as advisors in every single ministry there.

Whether or not the US continues to fall for the Pakistani establishment’s dual policy, Afghanistan’s other neighbours, including China, seem to be developing a consensus that a slide back to the 1990s is not an option. The US can leave the region but Afghanistan, its neighbours and India do not have that luxury. The region has no appetite for Pakistan hewing to its fireman and arsonist policy in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s honeymoon period with the new Afghan government will be short; it will have to clean up its act quickly and transparently. 
The writer can be reached at mazdaki@me.com and he tweets @mazdaki


Thank you Indians, Zulfiqar Shah November 20, 2014

Eighteen months of nightmare have passed by in Delhi. And, the nightmare is not yet over. It was worrisome for me that the persecution and the persecutors would again say ‘hello’ to us even in India. I never knew that Pakistani establishment has created a cloud of manipulations against us.

It was shocking, but not shaking that Pakistani agencies and the High Commission are being facilitated here against us. Eventually someone hinted that all this was being done through the facilitation by some non-South Asian countries. We have observed that there is understanding between India and Pakistan at the top level of establishment.
We are dismissed in the time, however not aimlessly. We have to cobble-up the torn out pieces of our persona.

I have blogged much about some fundamental details of the happenings around us. How can I forget when, on the instigation of a surveillance person, I was beaten-up with wooden stick by the watchmen of Gurdawara Sahib near Jantar Mantar only because I was having cigarettes in my pocket! I was told not to enter the Gurdawar again. I felt a sigh of relief indeed because it indicated me that the education of Guru Nanak has yet to be spread and spread among the Sikhs and rest of the humanity.

There is enough account to thank so many Indian citizens. Contrary to what was happening with us in Delhi, they came forward and tried their best to support us. 

I cannot forget the fundamental help by a few of the university professors, who after our arrival in Delhi tried their best. And, particularly a couple of rights bodies as well as our journalist friends from Press Club of India. We also feel greatly obliged to those activists from various states of India particularly from Gujarat, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Madhya Pardesh, Mahrashtra, Delhi, UP, Haryana, Punjab, Kashmir and Tamil Nadu who spared some moments to see us and express their solidarity during our protest at Jantar Mantar.

Our financial resources are restricted. Around fifty thousand Indian rupees given to us by some western human rights bodies were stolen from Jantar Mantar. It was great kindness of a Sikh restaurant owner who provided two times food on credit and without time limit restrictions. India’s political power is starched around Raisina Road, which did not bother to address our issue. But the trade unions, activists, journalists, restaurants, tea-shops and the policemen arround the Raisina Road supported us a lot within their personal limits.

We were, no doubt, given a very tough time in the Pak Section of Delhi Police Bhawan, however there were some who stood by our genuine issue. The most honorable is the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), India that gave a humanitarian look into our issue and sent directives to the concerned departments for the appropriate actions, though these directions unexpectedly were unheard. I cannot forget one sentence that was uttered by a visa department official in 2013, ‘You are a Muslim from Pakistan. You cannot get refugee status in India.’ At the same time, I cannot forget some timely actions by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) India which were a kind of legitimate relief in the roughest times. 

It was a kind of storm for us when the newly elected parliament was holding first meeting. A few persons came at Jantar Mantar and threw away our stuff. We were asked to dislodge protest. What I could say expect that as if we were facing demon-cracy in the largest democracy of the world.

Amid all this, I cannot forget Mr. Singh who supported us with a Razai (blanket) in winter while we use to sleep on the Jantar Mantar pavements. Sympathy and love by this Punjabi family is an unforgettable memory. 

I have applied for refugee resettlement outside India. I am unable to avail the support by United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), India because they are not allowed to help refugees from Pakistan. My passport is about to get expired within upcoming six months. I would not be able to move outside India if our issue is not resolved before that.

Undergoing ruthless persecution combined with the nonexistence of financial resources is what we are pushed towards. Our sin is very simple and naïve. We were persecuted and were posited in Pakistan due to our civil and political rights activism; persecuted and poisoned in Nepal due to our writings against division of Sindh, and against crimes against humanity committed by Pakistan. We are being persecuted in India due to our political opinion. What else we could do except that to file complaints and petitions against our persecutors in the concerned components of the United Nations.

We truly feel that being a Sindhi is a big crime. There are so many people who want a share in the usurpation of Sindh! Rest assured we would give fight unto the last! Amid this stormy atmosphere, support by those Indian citizens who sympathized with us will always remain an unforgettable asset. 

O our persecutor! O world power! Stop using you intelligence agencies against us. Why do you fear one activist and analyst?





Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Saudi Arabia Bulldozes Over Its Heritage

Saudi Arabia Bulldozes Over Its Heritage

Over 98% of the Kingdom's historical and religious sites have been destroyed since 1985, according to the U.K.-based Islamic Heritage Research Foundation
For centuries the Kaaba, the black cube in the center of Mecca, Saudi Arabia that is Islam’s holiest point, has been encircled by arched porticos erected some three centuries ago by the Ottomans, above dozens of carved marble columns dating back to the 8th century. But earlier this month, any vestiges of the portico and columns were reduced to rubble, cleared to make way for the Saudi government’s expansion of Mecca’s Grand Mosque.
The $21 billion project, launched in 2011, is designed to meet the challenges of accommodating the millions of pilgrims who visit Mecca and Medina every year. Around 2 million currently visit during Hajj alone, the annual pilgrimage that happens during the last month of the Islamic calendar. But activists charge that the recent destructions are part of a much wider government campaign to rub out historical and religious sites across the Kingdom.
Over the last few years, mosques and key sites dating from the time of Muhammad have been knocked down or destroyed, as have Ottoman-era mansions, ancient wells and stone bridges. Over 98% of the Kingdom’s historical and religious sites have been destroyed since 1985, estimates the Islamic Heritage Research Foundation in London. “It’s as if they wanted to wipe out history,” says Ali Al-Ahmed, of the Institute for Gulf Affairs in Washington, D.C.
Though the Saudi rulers have a long history of destroying historical sites, activists say the pace and range of destruction has recently increased. A few months ago, the house of Hamza, the Prophet Muhammad’s uncle, was flattened to make way for a Meccan hotel, according to Irfan Al Alawi, executive director of the Islamic Heritage Research Foundation. There have even been rumored threats to Muhammad’s tomb in Medina and his birthplace in Mecca.
A 61-page report, published recently in Saudi Arabia’s Journal of the Royal Presidency, suggested separating the Prophet’s tomb from Medina’s mosque, a task “that would amount to its destruction,” Alawi says. “You can’t move it without destroying it.” Moreover, he alleges, plans for a new palace for King Abdullah threaten the library atop the site traditionally identified as the birthplace of Muhammad. Even now, signs in four languages warn visitors that there is no proof that the Prophet Muhammad was born there, “so it is forbidden to make this place specific for praying, supplicating or get [sic] blessing.”
Wahhabism, the prevailing Saudi strain of Islam, frowns on visits to shrines, tombs or religio-historical sites, on grounds that they might lead to Islam’s gravest sin: worshipping anyone other than God. In recent years, the twin forks of Wahhabi doctrine and urban development have speared most physical reminders of Islamic history in the heart of Mecca. The house of the Prophet’s first wife, Khadijah has made way for public toilets. A Hilton hotel stands on the site of the house of Islam’s first caliph, Abu Bakr. Famously, the Kaaba now stands in the shade of one of the world’s tallest buildings, the Mecca Royal Clock Tower, part of a complex built by the Bin Laden Group, boasting a 5-story shopping mall, luxury hotels and a parking garage.
Saudi officials did not respond to interview requests, but in the past, they have said that the expansion project is necessary to cater to the ever-growing number of pilgrims to Saudi Arabia, a number forecast to reach 17 million by 2025. When it’s done, the expansion of the mataf, the area where the faithful circumambulate around the Kaaba, will treble its capacity, to 150,000 people; the Great Mosque will be able to hold 2.5 million.
Amir Pasic, of IRCICA, the culture organization of the 56-nation Organization of Islamic Conference, points out that the logistics for Hajj dwarf those required for a World Cup or Olympics. “Every time has the right to make changes on the existing urban set-up,” he said. “Every generation tries to develop something. The Kaaba is what’s important.”
If Mecca’s new skyline is impossible to ignore, what with 48 searchlights beaming from the top of the Clock Tower, other changes to the landscape are more insidious. “Everyone’s focused on [the two mosque expansion projects], but people are not focusing on what we’re losing in the meantime,” says Saudi activist, poet and photographer Nimah Ismail Nawwab. After blue markings appear on sites mentioned in Islamic histories, says Nawwab, then the bulldozers come–often in the dead of night. “Everything happens at night,” she told TIME by phone from Saudi Arabia. “By the next day in the morning, the monument is gone.”
It’s not just in Mecca, either. Over a year ago, the split in Mount Uhud, north of Medina, where Muhammad was said to have been carried after being wounded in the famous Battle of Uhud was filled with concrete. A fence went up at the base of the mountain, warning would-be visitors that it was just a mountain, like any other. Six small mosques in Medina where Muhammad is believed to have prayed have been locked. The seventh, belonging to Islam’s first caliph Abu Bakr, has been razed to make way for an ATM. Nawwab, along with a small group of historians and activists, has tried to raise awareness by photographing sites and starting a Twitter campaign, but says “it’s a losing battle, despite the fact that what’s being lost is not just Muslim history, but human history.”
When the Taliban blew up the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan in 2001, they were met with international condemnation. The response to the demolition activity in the Kingdom, by contrast, has been decidedly muted. “When it comes to Mecca, as far as we are concerned it’s a Saudi question,” says Roni Amelan, a spokesman for UNESCO, the United Nation’s cultural body. The Saudi government has never submitted Mecca for inclusion on the list of World Heritage Sites. As UNESCO’s mandate requires a respect for the sovereignty of individual countries, “we don’t have a legal basis to stake a position regarding it,” adds Amelan.
Muslim governments, perhaps mindful of the power of the Saudis to cut their quotas for how many pilgrims can attend Hajj, have been strikingly silent on the issue. The Organization of the Islamic Conference has also been noticeably quiet on the destruction of the Saudi campaign. One exception has been Turkey, whose Ottoman heritage has also long been under threat. In September, Mehmet Gormez, head of the Dinayet, Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs, told journalists that he told Saudi’s minister of Hajj that the skyscraper overshadowing the Kaaba “destroys history,” the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet Daily News reported. “History is being destroyed in the Holy Land each day,” he added.
For pilgrims old enough to remember the dangerous crush of crowds in the 1980s, the spate of new development may be welcome, offering a chance for comfort on their spiritual journey. For other Muslims, like Ziauddin Sardar, author of the recent Mecca: The Sacred City, the vigor of the Saudi campaign springs from financial jitters. “The Saudis know the oil is going to run out,” he said. “Hajj is already their second major source of income, after oil. They look at Dubai, and Qatar, and ask ‘what are we going to do?’ And they say, ‘We have Hajj, and we’re going to exploit it to the max.’”
Carla Power is the author of If the Oceans Were Ink: A Journey to the Heart of the Quran (Henry Holt: April, 2015)