Tag Archives: militancy

Pakistan’s Sectarian Threat

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.

President Zardari reiterates resolve to strengthen democracy in Pakistan

President Asif Zardari visiting flood victims in Sindh

ISLAMABAD, Sep 15 (APP): President Asif Ali Zardari has said that the greatest threat to democracy emanated from a militant mindset and called for defeating militancy and extremism and advance democratic values. “The greatest threat to democracy is from the extremists and militants who want to foist their political agenda on the people by bullet rather than ballot and also from intolerance to dissent and disagreement.”

“Let us on this day pledge to fight the dark forces of militancy and extremism and allow the blossoming of democratic culture in the country”, the President said in a message on the occasion of International Democracy Day being observed throughout the world on September 15 (Thursday) under the auspices of the United Nations.

The President congratulated the democratic forces in the world in general and in Pakistan in particular on the International Day of Democracy, and said “It is a day to re-affirm its commitment for democracy and democratic ideals around the world and in Pakistan.”

“On this occasion I wish to compliment all democracies of the world and also reiterate our firm resolve to further strengthen democracy in Pakistan,” he added.

The President said the people of Pakistan are resolute in safeguarding their democratic rights and moving forward on path of democracy against all odds and what the machinations against it.

“It is a attribute to the democratic genius of our people that despite setbacks to democracy our people have not allowed dictatorship to take roots in the country,” he added.

The President said the ethos of the people of Pakistan is democratic, adding, last year, their chosen representatives unanimously adopted changes in the Constitution to restore its pristine democratic credentials.

“I am confident the elected Parliament in keeping with democratic traditions ensure that the democratic Constitution is not subverted by any one,” he added.

The President said, “Our march on the road to democracy continues. During the year 2011 democracy took yet another stride forward in Pakistan when the people of tribal areas were given their democratic rights with consensus.”

“The Amendments in the FCR and Extension of the Political Parties Order 2002 has been designed to release the people of tribal areas in accordance with their wishes from the over a century old system of bondage and undemocratic dispensation,” he added.

The President said democracy will be strengthened by meeting the basic needs of the people and freeing them from the clutches of poverty and deprivation.
The devastation caused by incessant rains and floods in Sindh and other parts of the country has adversely impacted on the efforts aimed at poverty alleviation and meeting the needs of the people, he added.

“On this occasion therefore I also urge the people of Pakistan and the international community to step forward and help rehabilitate the lives that have been devastated by floods”, he added.

“It is hoped that the observance of the International Democracy Day will lend strength to the pro-democracy forces throughout the world and discourage potential dictators from curbing the aspirations of the people through political adventurism,” the President maintained.

Sec. Clinton – US Must Continue to Support Democracy In Pakistan

Secretary Clinton meets with UK Foreign Secretary Hague

Secretary Clinton is in London meeting with her British counterpart, Foreign Secretary William Hague, this week. At a press conference yesterday she reiterated American commitment to supporting peace and democracy in Pakistan.

“With respect to Pakistan, Pakistan has hard choices to make. We know the facts. Pakistan is a nuclear-armed state, home to nearly 180 million people, making it the world’s sixth largest nation. It needs international support to deal with political and economic problems and the threats it faces from internal violence. This latest attack on a Pakistani naval installation in Karachi is another reminder of the terrible price the Pakistani people have borne in their own struggle against violent extremism.

“We have killed more terrorists on Pakistani soil than anywhere else in the world, and that could not have been done without the cooperation of the Government of Pakistan. But there is more work to be done and the work is urgent. Over the long haul, both the United Kingdom and the United States seek to support the Pakistani people as they chart their own destiny, away from political violence, toward greater stability, economic prosperity, and justice.”

My Questions, My Fears

Kay NeseemThe following submission by Kay Naseem presents an alternative perspective to the security-focused conventional wisdom about terrorism in Pakistan, and challenges us to consider the need for investment in the education and economic opportunity as a strategy to combating the lure of militancy for Pakistan’s youth.

Osama bin Laden has been brought to justice! As I feel grateful today for safety of many innocent people, I am still concerned about integrity of the institution he has left behind; scores of madrasas where thousands of little kids are taught wrong meaning of “Jihad.” The word comes from the Arabic word “Juhd” which means “effort.” The process of “Jihad” means exerting ones best effort (physically, intellectually and spiritually) to achieve a particular goal involving struggle or resistance. It does not imply war or violence. A working mom who is struggling to take her sick child to a doctor and puts her best effort to do so has done “Jihad.” A team of Rotarians who travelled across the ocean to rescue people from polio in India have done “Jihad.” A child collecting money for a poor family outside Wal-Mart has done “Jihad.” The true meaning of “Jihad” is not what is being taught to those little children in extremist madrasas. This is predatory, in many ways, as many children have no access to other sources of primary school education due to poverty, illiteracy and inequity.

Can the same tool of education that turns young children into suicide bombers be used to turn them into doctors, teachers, engineers, scientist and most of all peace makers? It is only the difference of what could be taught to them.

I grew up in Pakistan. I went to a school where we said a Bible prayer at assembly every morning. In fourth grade there was a Bible study class and an Islamic study class held simultaneously for students of the respective faith. Through this experience we developed appreciation and respect of each other’s culture and religion and we saw each other as human beings. We all played together on playgrounds and in each other’s homes. It all seemed so normal at that time.

As I reflect on world politics and terrorism, I wonder what the world would be like if every child in Pakistan was receiving the same integrated and privileged education I was receiving. Would things be different? Would there still be a prevalence of explosive devices in form of young children or adults? I want to say no.

That there are currently 70 million children around the world with no access to primary education makes me sad and afraid. I fear that the learning process of tolerance is being missed by all those70 million. If we deprive them the opportunity to learn, reason, and be productive member of the society, I fear we provide Al-Qaida, and other opportunists, a chance to use the desperation of these children to turn them into terrorists.

This is why programs such as the Education for All Act and Education for All- fast Track Initiative (EFA-FTI), a global partnership of donors and developing countries working to ensure equal education for all, are critical. As a RESULTS grassroots activist, I believe EFA-FTI leads my organization’s goal in providing effective aid to promote equity in global education and my vision of recovery of a peaceful world. RESULTS believe that the most effective tool for improving global health and financial well being is through education. Poverty breeds disease and illiteracy. Has illiteracy and poverty contributed to terrorism? Can thousands of kids be saved from falling into the hands of terrorists through access to primary schools? These are some of the questions we need to ask ourselves while contemplating for our moneys sent abroad. Educating kids is certainly cheaper than sending soldiers and it ensures that healthy bodies and minds will be contributing to healthier peaceful societies. And peace abroad brings prospects of peace here at home.

Kay Neseem is a grassroots activist for RESULTS advocacy organization to fight against poverty and disease and enforce equal education internationally and domestically.

Law, Order, and Democracy in Pakistan

Pakistan police badgeWhere the Pakistani Taliban have won sympathy, it has come largely as a result of the group’s promise to provide some semblance of law and order in areas that lacked what was popularly considered a fair and neutral arbiter of legal disputes. The Taliban’s form of “justice” might be harsh – even medieval – but it may be seen as a better alternative than banditry and corruption. This means that the key to undermining local sympathies with the Taliban may lie in strengthening the local law enforcement infrastructure so that the state is popularly viewed as the legitimate source of local law and order.

Two stories this week emphasize conclusions reached by a new report published by the United States Institute of Peace this week on the importance of reforming Pakistan’s police and law enforcement infrastructure.

The first story relates to a new US government report that suggests  aid to Pakistan is not meeting its goals.

The report, which was released by the Inspectors General for the U.S. State Department, Defense Department and Agency for International Development (USAID), cites a number of reasons why the aid has proved ineffective. It says problems with staffing the programs, a hostile security environment and – in one case – fraud, have led to programs not being implemented.

The second story is this morning’s suicide bombing in Punjab, the latest in a series of attacks on police and security forces.

Militants have recently stepped up attacks across the country’s north western cites, mainly targeting police force, after a period of relative calm. Four police stations were attacked in Peshawar in a week. Bullet-riddled bodies of two tribal police officials and a villager were found on Thursday near Mir Ali town of North Waziristan with a note that they were American spies. The three men were kidnapped in January and their bodies showed signs of torture, officials said.

The Taliban have learned that their most effective approach to power is to undermine the state’s authority by creating chaos and then offering to step in and provide security and some form of neutral justice. As such, they operate as any other extortion racket, but with a goal of gaining a monopoly on police power and therefore superseding the authority of the state.

Meanwhile, the US is pumping billions of dollars in civilian aid into Pakistan, but is not able to achieve desired outcomes in large part due to a lack of law and order that prevents proper and timely delivery of aid resources and project implementation.

Against this backdrop, Dr. Hassan Abbas, Quaid-i-Azam Professer with the South Asia Institute, Columbia University, released his latest report, Reforming Pakistan‘s Police and Law Enforcement Infrastructure in which Dr. Abbas makes two important points related to this context:

1. Police effectiveness is inextricably linked with legitimacy of the state. At present, there is a systematic effort on part of extremist groups to target police & law enforcement because they have learned that most effective way to expand their own networks is to undermine the writ of the state.

2. US aid objectives cannot be achieved so long as law and order is not prioritized. There are serious issues of focus in US aid priorities – namely, a lack of resources and training for local civilian law enforcement.

Dr. Abbas makes very clear that civilian police are not military force multipliers, village defense forces, or lashkars (militias). Pakistan has an effective and capable military which can clear militant groups from an area. What it lacks is a well-organized, well-resourced civilian law enforcement system that can build trust and provide an ongoing sense of order among the local population.

US military aid is necessary, but not sufficient to countering the spread of extremist influence. As Dr. Abbas explained yesterday,

“Foreign donors should avoid framing everything in the context of counterterrorism, as Pakistani public opinion is likely to be more appreciative of international help in this arena if it is focused on enhancing the crime-fighting capacity of police.”

During a discussion on Pakistan’s future last week, Christine Fair pointed to a 2009 poll that showed that, when asked what people meant when they said they supported Sharia, most people answered “good governance.” Later in the program, Shuja Nawaz noted that good governance is key to countering the spread of militancy. The missing piece of the puzzle of good governance in Pakistan is effective and efficient civilian law enforcement.

If significant progress in Pakistan can be achieved by something as simple as increasing the pay of Pakistan’s civilian police, can the US afford not to do so? As the US examines outcomes from US aid investment in Pakistan, it should consider the findings of Dr. Abbas and the need for reforming Pakistan’s police and law enforcement infrastructure.