New Film Documents a Decade of Women’s Empowerment in a Punjabi Village

July 10, 2013

In 1999, no girl was permitted to receive an education in Thathi Bhanguan, a village in Pakistan’s Punjab province. Today, that has changed.

Decade, a new film by Atif Ahmad Qureshi and Muhammad Iqbal Akram, chronicles ten years of cultural and political development in Thathi Bhanguan, as attitudes and perceptions towards women evolved through the persuasive efforts of the village women themselves.

Pakistani Mango Sector Progress in Collaboration with USAID

July 9, 2013

The Fourth Option For US-Pakistan Relations

July 2, 2013

Joe Biden, Nawaz Sharif, John Kerry, ShahbazSharif

As 2014, and the eventual withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan that will come with it, rapidly approaches, analysts in Washington are working to influence the direction of US policy in the region. Unfortunately, much of what is being bandied about as a new direction looks an awful lot like the well-worn path that brought us where we are today. With the recent handover of power between two democratic governments, it’s time to try something new with Pakistan.

In response to a question about the key constructs of the US engagement with Pakistan post-2014, Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations Dan Markey recently outlined three options for the US:

  • The United States would devote the bulk of its efforts to protecting itself from Pakistan-based threats (terrorism, nuclear weapons, and general instability) by relying on coercion, deterrence, and closer military cooperation with neighboring India and Afghanistan.
  • The United States would focus on cultivating a businesslike negotiating relationship with Pakistan’s military—still Pakistan’s most powerful institution—in order to advance specific U.S. counterterrorism and nuclear goals.
  • The United States would work with and provide support to Pakistan’s military and civilian leadership as well as civil society in ways that would, over time, tip the scales in favor of greater stability in Pakistan and more peaceful relations between Pakistan and its neighbors, Afghanistan, Iran, India, and China.

At the end of his piece, Markey recommends a combination of all three strategies. But this is exactly the strategy that the US has been pursuing, and to little success. There are several reasons why this policy cannot work. First of all, partnering with India in a policy of coercion is mutually exclusive to developing a productive relationship with Pakistan. More importantly, though, Markey’s recommendations place too much emphasis on continuing to focus on relations with Pakistan’s powerful military at the expense of the democratically elected civilian government. And it is the democratically elected civilian government that is key to ending Pakistan’s problem with militancy.

Nawaz Sharif, having already experienced the consequences of military adventurism during his previous time as Prime Minister, has demonstrated a willingness to confront Pakistan’s military about its alleged involvement with extremist militants. Following the discover of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif was one of the few politicians to demand answers from the military about how the world’s most wanted man could live undetected for years just outside the Kakul Military Academy. And his pursuit of treason charges against former military dictator Pervez Musharraf has united civilian politicians across party lines despite the concerns of some former military officers.

Since being elected Prime Minister earlier this year, Nawaz Sharif has also pursued improved relations with India, including continuing the policy of improving bilateral trade and economic cooperation begun under the previous government.

Dan Markey’s approach would threaten the progress that is currently being made by breathing new life into military dominance just as the civilians are starting to get a strong foothold, and driving a wedge into Pakistan-India relations just as they are on the brink of a breakthrough.

Rather than reprise past policies, the US should take the fourth option: Treating the democratically elected civilian government as the legitimate policy-making authority; providing significant support for civil society by investing in domestic capacity building for key areas including education, energy, and law enforcement; and using its growing influence to reassure India that continuing to work towards improved trade and economic relations are the most effective path towards boosting Pakistan’s national security perception and eliminating its reliance on militant groups as part of their national security strategy.

For decades, the US has pursued a relationship that overemphasizes the military’s power, resulting in a self-fulfilling prophecy in which the military is “still Pakistan’s most powerful institution” at the expense of democratic progress, civil development, and regional security. It’s time to try something new.

US ‘cautiously optimistic’ about Nawaz Sharif

May 17, 2013

Waris HusainAs the dust settles on Pakistan’s elections, Nawaz Sharif is gearing up to lead the country for a third time, and experts in Washington seem to be feeling cautiously optimistic. Many US-Pakistan experts expressed relief that Sharif won over Imran Khan, weighing Khan’s proposed hardline policy with the US and his lack of foreign policy experience in contrast to Sharif. At the same time, analysts realize that the dynamics of the US-Pakistan relationship will change under Sharif’s administration, as he will be more likely to push back against US demands than the People’s Party. This new dynamic will require the US to pursue a tactical relationship that is cognizant of both the shared and dissimilar interests of the two countries, potentially leading to greater stability.

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Secretary Kerry’s statement on Pakistan’s elections

May 12, 2013

Secretary of State John Kerry“These national and provincial assembly elections mark an historic step in Pakistan’s democratic journey. The Pakistani people stood up resiliently to threats by violent extremists. We’ll be working with the new government to advance shared interests including a peaceful, more prosperous and stable future for Pakistan and the region.”

A Message from U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Richard Olson on The 2013 General Elections

April 23, 2013

Shahid Khan: Pakistani-American Success Story

April 3, 2013

Shahid Khan immigrated from Pakistan to the United States with $500. Since then, he has built a multi-billion dollar fortune, demonstrating just how much Pakistanis and Americans can achieve when we work together towards a common goal.

Hafiz Saeed…Democrat?

April 1, 2013

Hafiz Saeed with Tahirul Ashrafi

On Friday, Hussain Nadim explained for Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel why Pakistan won’t give up Hafiz Saeed. In his piece, Mr. Nadim suggests, as many have before him, that Pakistan does not view the Jamaat-ud-Dawa leader as a direct threat but rather sees him a useful proxy in Pakistan’s ongoing struggle with India for control of Kashmir. The author then adds to this banal analysis by suggesting that Hafiz Saeed has “rebranded himself as a political and social actor renouncing violence altogether.” This is a dangerous fantasy.

Almost exactly one year ago, Hafiz Saeed addressed a rally in Lahore to raise money for jihad against the United States. And lest we be mistaken, Saeed’s idea of jihad is not one of a personal and intellectual struggle against evil – he’s talking about guns and bombs.

In a fiery Friday sermon, Jamaatud Dawa (JuD) chief Hafiz Muhammad Saeed called on the people to wage jihad against America in order to save Pakistan and Islam. “Come to us. We will teach you the meaning of jihad… The time to fight has come.”

The sermon was held at the JuD head office Jamia Markaz al-Qadsia in Lahore, where Saeed had his own security. Some of the security personnel were also seen carrying weapons with silencers. A box was placed at the exit and men asked for people exiting the mosque to give funds for jihad.

In December, Hafiz Saeed met with Kashmiri separatist leaders and assured them that “militancy in Kashmir would escalate after the US-led international troops depart from Afghanistan in 2014.”

This is the same Hafiz Saeed that Hussain Nadim claims has renounced violence.

Hussain Nadim also repeats the myth that Hafiz Saeed’s organization Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) is a “charity organization.” But JuD is a charity organization in the mold of HAMAS and other militant organizations. Yes, they do conduct some relief work, but even that seems to be more part of a PR campaign designed to build sympathies among the people for their less charitable works. And JuD includes in its arsenal an impressive multi-national PR machine.

Tweeting last year, the “charity organization” called on God to destroy the United States.

 

And in Pakistan, away from gullible Western journalists, JuD is very open about their broader mission. The following amateur video shows a JuD procession accompanied by chants of “Only one cure for America – Jihad! Jihad!”

And as for the Difa-e-Pakistan Council (DPC), which Hussain Nadim describes as “one of the movements led by Hafiz Saeed that has united and mobilized followers of different radical ideologies, which Pakistani officials hope will create a force to broker peace between the government and militants,” we’ll let Hafiz Saeed speak for himself:

“We have only one objective: to form a civilian force for the defence of Pakistan, which can work alongside Pakistan forces, because Pakistan is facing very severe threats from both sides – India is one side, America and NATO forces are on the other and the agenda of both is Pakistan.”

Pakistani police may believe, as Hussain Nadim claims, that “Saeed has been redirected and is now being used as a tool to ensure the disarmament and evolution of militant groups in Pakistan,” but there is little evidence to suggest this is the case. What is far more evident is that Hafiz Saeed is doing what he’s always done – running a sophisticated paramilitary operation under the cover of a religious charity.

Willfully ignoring reality is unlikely to magically transform Saeed from mujahideen to statesman. And, unfortuantely, whether or not “Pakistan will have to live with the burden of being blamed for supporting militants like Hafiz Saeed” is beside the point. As long as militant leaders like Hafiz Saeed are allowed to act with impunity, Pakistan will continue to suffer the carnage and internal destabilization that they sow.

Pakistan’s Progressive Voices Refuse To Be Silenced

March 26, 2013

Pakistan has taken several important steps forward over the past four years. From President Zardari’s willingly devolving powers that had been consolidated under past military dictators to an elected parliament completing its full tenure, there are, as Peter Bergen recently noted, many reasons to be hopeful about Pakistan’s future. But despite Pakistan’s overall positive trajectory, there remains a disturbing trend that threatens the promise of a peaceful, prosperous, and democratic Pakistan – the ongoing attempts to silence Pakistan’s progressive voices.

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Pakistan’s Sectarian Threat

January 22, 2013

Protest after anti-Shia bombing in Quetta

Tahir-ul-Qadri’s demonstration in Islamabad dominated headlines last week, but it was another set of protests that are more likely to shape Pakistan’s future. While thousands rallied in support of election reforms, thousands of other Pakistanis were demanding basic security for themselves and their families.

Following a terrorist attack that killed almost 100 Shia, families refused to bury their dead, instead taking them into the streets of Quetta and refusing to leave until the Army was directed to take over security in the region.

The sit-in was about more than the devastating attack that preceded it, though. It was an outcry from a community that has been attacked mercilessly for years. In fact, more Pakistanis are being killed in sectarian attacks than in drone strikes. According to data compiled by the New America Foundation, between 218 and 343 Pakistanis died in drone strikes last year. But by September of the same year, at least 320 Shia were killed in sectarian attacks according to Human Rights Watch – and this was before attacks that killed dozens more during Muharram. The attack in Quetta last week alone killed almost double the number of people as drones in 2013, setting a very worrying start to a new year.

Most of the anti-Shia attacks, including last week’s, are being carried out by the militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) led by a man named Malik Ishaq. What’s troubling, though, is that Malik Ishaq is not hiding in a cave somewhere. He not only operates very openly, but with at least tacit support from very powerful institutions in Pakistan.

Tahir Ashrafi with Malik Ishaq After spending several years in jail on dozens of terrorism charges, Malik Ishaq was freed by the Lahore High Court due to lack of evidence in the summer of 2011. On hand at his release were a number of influential religious figures including the head of the Pakistan Ulema Council, Tahir Ashrafi, who was photographed riding next to a garlanded Ishaq as he drove away. The Express Tribune, an English-language daily in Pakistan, reported that Ashrafi said he believes “Ishaq should be integrated in mainstream religious parties claiming he has now been deradicalised.” Shortly thereafter, Ishaq began organizing anti-Shia rallies across Pakistan.

But it’s not just Tahir Ashrafi who has supported Malik Ishaq since his release. Last year, Malik Ishaq appeared on stage at a Difa-e-Pakistan (DPC) rally in Multan alongside Tahir Ashrafi, Sheikh Rashid, Hafiz Saeed, Hamid Gul and a number of other prominent religious and political actors.

Even while he was in prison, Ishaq was receiving support through some official channels. In 2011, Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah confirmed that he LeJ leader’s family had been receiving monthly payments from the provincial government since the PML-N took power there in 2008. In 2012, the PML-N enjoyed election support from the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) after Malik Ishaq was given the position of Vice President. And earlier this month the PML-N and ASWJ held a joint press conference to denounce Tahir-ul-Qadri as pursuing a foreign agenda.

As if on cue, Tahir Ashrafi is now threatening legal action against a group of Pakistani bloggers who write about sectarian attacks in Pakistan, claiming that they are “Irani[an] loyalists [who] have been directed to spread lies to incite conflict in Pakistan.” Given his connections to Malik Ishaq, it will be hard for Pakistan’s Shia not to hear sectarian tones in Ashrafi’s allegation that Shia-majority Iran is attempting to “incite conflict in Pakistan” by raising awareness of anti-Shia violence.

TIME’s Omar Waraich warns that anti-Shia violence in Pakistan could ignite regional conflict with Iran “have grave consequences not just for the country but also the wider region”, and it is certainly true that tension with a third neighbor is the last thing that Pakistan needs right now. Of greater concern, however, is, as Waraich observes, the internal threat of destabilization that anti-Shia violence presents. Politicians from across the political spectrum were quick to condemn last week’s bombing in Quetta. But as Pakistan’s Shia lose their patience – and their lives – a more tangible solution to the crisis is needed soon.