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Archive for the ‘Backgrounders’ Category

This is the first post in a series on the 1971 War, also known as the Liberation War of Bangladesh. The series aims to be an honest portrayal of both sides of the war and its aftermath, from the atrocities committed against the Bengali people, to those  also committed by the Bengali Mukhti Bahini, to the refugees in West Bengal, as well as the later persecution of the Bihari (Urdu-speaking) people in Bangladesh. If you have a story you’d like to share, please let me know:

As many of you know, I am Pakistani. My allegiance to this country has been the driving factor when I decided on my educational focus, my career path, and of course, this blog. What many of you don’t know, however, is that my mother is Bangladeshi, and I am very proud of my Bengali heritage and family.

My quest to better understand my own identity frequently led me to study a pivotal moment in both Pakistan and Bangladesh’s history – the 1971 War, known interchangeably as the Bangladesh Liberation War and the 1971 Indo-Pak War, depending on your perspective. The conflict ended with the secession of East Pakistan and the birth of Bangladesh, but it also resulted in the loss of many Bangladeshi lives at the hands of Pakistani soldiers, (the death toll varies from 20,000 to three million depending on the source). The atrocities were endless, and many today label 1971 the “Bangladesh Genocide.”

Throughout my life, I never had to look far to learn about 1971 – the entire Bangladeshi side of my family was somehow involved in the war. What I heard first hand was haunting – stories of mass graves, protests, torture and defiance. But growing up in Pakistan, these anecdotes clashed considerably with how the war was presented and perceived in Pakistan. While I am very aware that there is no black and white to any conflict, such a discrepancy was a challenge to better understand and share my own observations of the war.

I write this piece fresh from a trip to Dhaka and a day after convincing my lovely cousin to accompany me to the Liberation War Museum, which displays the history prior to and during the 1971 War. The museum sits in a house in Shegunbagicha in Dhaka, leased out by the family of one of my cousins and managed by curator Akku Chowdhury.

The museum is rich with information, filled with remnants of a history that heavily defines the Bangladeshi collective. One of the first rooms you enter is a display on the 1952 Language Movement, which called for the recognition of Bangla as a second official language of Pakistan (Urdu was established as the sole national language after 1947). This protest over language, bringing men and women alike on to the streets, sparked a nationalist fervor and marked the beginning of the Bengali demand for their  democratic and cultural rights. In 2000, UNESCO established February 21 as International Mother Language Day, in tribute to the movement and the subsequent lives lost.

Women during the Language Movement wore white saris w/black borders, now worn every Mother Lang Day

As I walked through the museum, jotting down thoughts and taking illicit photographs (please note: you are not actually allowed to take photos in the museum, my apologies to the museum staff who tried valiantly to stop me), several pieces caught my attention. The first was a poster of the iconic cartoon by ‘Patua’ Quamrul Hassan depicting former Pakistani president Gen. Yahya Khan as a demon, accompanied by the text, Annihilate these Demons. From my understanding, the “demons” referred to the Pakistani soldiers undertaking the military operation that began in March 1971.

Photos taken by crappy camera phone, apologies.

I was also struck by a copy of a memo written by former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger for former U.S. President Richard Nixon. Addressed April 28, 1971, the paper presented policy options for the U.S. involvement in the 1971 War. Nixon had checked policy option #3 – “An effort to help Yahya achieve a negotiated settlement,” with a scribbled note, “Don’t squeeze Yahya at this time.”

Policy memo with Nixon side note

In a recent article for the Daily Star, Asif Mahfuz noted that U.S. policy followed a course later known as “The Tilt,” due to Nixon’s friendship with Yahya and a strategic interest in China. He wrote,

By using what Nixon and Kissinger called quiet diplomacy, the administration gave the green light to the Pakistanis. In one instance, Nixon declared to a Pakistani delegation that “Yahya is a good friend.” Rather than express concern over the ongoing brutal military repression, Nixon explained that he “understands the anguish of the decisions which (Yahya) had to make”…. In a handwritten letter on August 7th, 1971, to President Yahya, Nixon writes: “Those who want a more peaceful world in the generations to come will forever be in your debt.

The museum display was a telling example of how strategic interests and realpolitik often outweigh what is morally right or acceptable. Walking through the Liberation War Museum, I was constantly reminded of this fact. Many of the rooms contained uniforms, photos, and belongings of the innocent civilians killed, as well as those of the Mukthi Juddha (“Liberation Fighters” who were part of the militia, the Mukhti Bahini). One particularly memorable and disturbing display featured the 70 skulls and 5392 other bones recovered from a “killing field” in Mirpur, Dhaka, where many who were killed by the Pakistan Army were discarded.

Skulls excavated from Mirpur.

Rape was also widely perpetrated during the 1971 War. According to the museum sources, allegedly 250,000 women were tortured and raped by Pakistani soldiers during the conflict. However, while many women were victims of the atrocities, I was also struck by how many were central figures in the war for independence, fighting alongside the men. The Liberation War Museum was filled with photos of Bengali women outfitted in white saris, holding rifles and conducting military exercises. One poster displayed in the museum encompassed this phenomenon perfectly:

Translation: "All Bengali Mothers and Daughters Are Liberation Fighters"

It has been 39 years since the 1971 War, and there are still many lessons for Pakistan to not only learn but also accept. As Imran Khan over at the blog ATP recently noted, “History must never be forgotten, no matter whether it is flattering to you or not. It is well know than each nation tells its people the lies it chooses. We in Pakistan have done this too, including on the events on 1971.” A nation, in my opinion, is strengthened by its ability to accept responsibility for its mistakes. This is applicable to today as it was back then.

I’ll end this piece with a rather telling poster from the Liberation War Museum, which showcases the secular nature of the Bangladeshi state that still persists today (for the most part). The text reads, “Banglar Hindu, Banglar Christian, Banglar Buddhist, Banglar MuslimWe are all Bengali.”

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Violence in Karachi 101

(LA Times: Rehan Khan / European Pressphoto Agency) Protest in Karachi

LA Times: Rehan Khan / European Pressphoto Agency

The recent spate of targeted killings in Karachi has garnered much media coverage, with news agencies reporting that 41 people have died in the commercial capital since the beginning of the year, “including 10 MQM workers, 10 from a breakaway faction called Haqiqi, and 16 members of a committee set up by the ruling party in Lyari to control violence in the area.” Most of the victims were reportedly killed because of their political affiliations.

According to BBC News, “It was the discovery of the decapitated body of an activist from the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) in the old city area of Lyari which sparked off the latest round of violence.” Speaking to the LA Times, analyst Ikram Sehgal described the current situation in Karachi, “Think of Chicago or New York a century ago.”

Despite joint calls by PPP and MQM leaders to restore order to the city, this is not the first time such a conflict has erupted. Dawn’s Huma Yusuf reported,

Karachi has a long history of ethnic conflict, sectarian violence, land mafias and intra- and inter-party tensions. All these have been in play during this past fortnight, making it abundantly clear that a discerning approach to Karachi’s violence is required. Policing and investigations into recent incidents must be informed by knowledge of ‘local’ social, political and economic factors, which in this city of 18 million differ from locality to locality. For that reason, the MQM’s request for the Rangers, the army and intelligence agencies to maintain law and order in the city is akin to slapping a band-aid on a deep, infected wound.

For many of us not from or currently living in Karachi, such a complex situation may seem daunting or difficult to understand. Below are some FAQ’s to better breakdown the nuances of this conflict:

Q: Who are the main parties in this conflict and how did it escalate out of control?

While Karachi has many rival gangs and factions, the main parties in the current conflict are workers or gang members associated with the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), which controls Karachi, and the Pakistan People’s Party, (PPP) which controls the provincial government of Sindh, of which Karachi is the capital.

While some of the recent killings have been linked to the general crime syndicates, many have been attributed to the land mafia, noted a journalist currently covering the story in Karachi.

The LA Times, in its coverage, noted, “Rival gangs aligned with political parties are at war in part because a large number of long-term land leases are about to expire, some dating back nearly a century to the days of British rule, with ownership reverting back to the local government.” Although Sehgal told the news agency, “This is all about land. It’s incredibly valuable and it’s up for grabs,” the journalist I spoke to noted,

For political expediency things are being blamed on just the land mafia or just the Baloch gangs in Lyari whereas it’s really a broader mix of elements. Some of it may be about land but in the end it’s all political and some say it has been linked with the abolishment of the local government system.

Ultimately, Karachi has a long history of factional violence and gang warfare, so many of these factors have become yet another reason to reopen old wounds.

Q: Why has Lyari been the hot spot for the recent violence and attention?

Lyari Town, one of 18 constituent towns in Karachi, is dominated by ethnic Balochis, who form a major vote bank for the PPP. The area has become the center of the rise in killings due to the lawless nature of the area, populated by gangs involved in  activities like extortion and drugs. The journalist I spoke to noted, “The Baloch [in Lyari] have been an easy target because they don’t have proper representation in the government. The PPP gets their votes from this group but they don’t adequately represent them.”

In response to the government’s subsequent deployment of paramilitary forces to Lyari, (which led to nearly 50 arrests), Lyari’s People’s Aman ["Peace"] Committee launched a protest on Monday against both PPP and MQM leaders. One organizer of the rally told reporters, “The government is victimizing its own people to appease its political allies, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement. We demand an operation in the whole city without any discrimination.” My journalist source, who has been reporting on the story, noted that many believe the government is undertaking this operation to show that “something is being done,” and targeted Lyari because it is an area that “can easily be disturbed without great political repercussions.”

Q: How effective have these paramilitary troops been in restoring some semblance of control in Karachi?

As the targeted killings increased over the weekend, Interior Minister Rehman Malik ordered patrols by police and paramilitary rangers to curb the violence, while asserting that political parties were not involved in the killings. While this appeared to work, at least temporarily, the LA Times noted that many in Karachi “didn’t expect it to last.” The aforementioned journalist source, based in Karachi, echoed, “The rangers that have been sent in with the police won’t make much of a difference, particularly since the police is politicized and doesn’t come under the jurisdiction of the city government.

Q: If violence between rival gangs and factions associated with political parties is not a new phenomenon, how can the cycle be broken?

According to Dawn’s Huma Yusuf, recognizing that the dynamics of Karachi’s violence is locally defined (i.e. not associated with militancy in Swat for example) and entrenched in a long history is “the first step towards effectively maintaining peace and stability.”

In the opinion of the journalist I interviewed, one immediate and long-term solution is developing a better funded and “de-politicized” police force, which can provide a more solid foundation for law and order. He noted, “29,000 police with around 90 odd police stations in a city of 18 million is completely inadequate.”

Although joint statements by the MQM and the PPP in the aftermath of these killings is significant, a top-down political solution will not be sufficient in fully addressing the multiple problems that exist on the ground. If the government seeks to achieve a long-term solution, [not just a strategy that places a band-aid over the problem] it must address the systematic root causes behind the violence and the inter-rivalries. Whether it’s the drug, land, or tanker mafia, this has ultimately been a struggle for power with continuously dire consequences.

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Reuters/Dawn Photo: Cameraman Takes Footage of Blast Site

In the latest Press Freedom Index 2009, compiled on the basis of questionnaires completed by hundreds of journalists and media experts around the world, Pakistan ranked 159 out of 175 countries. Although the country “has scores of privately owned television and radio stations, putting it on the path of an information revolution comparable to that experienced by India about ten years ago,” the media is caught in “a vice between the Taliban which has stepped up its attacks and the security forces who continue in their old ways of harassing journalists,” noted Reporters without Borders. Moreover, Pakistan’s press is “increasingly belligerent in its coverage of political and socio-economic problems, despite the huge risks.”

Given that Pakistan’s media revolution occurred not too long ago, such rankings reflect the increasing need for the media to critique itself and institutionalize responsible reporting. This past Friday, eight of Pakistan’s major electronic news outlets –  KTN, Samaa, Dawn News, Dunya, Express News and Express 24/7, ARY, Geo and Aaj TV – announced that they had reached an agreement on a code of conduct on the media’s coverage of terrorism. According to Dawn,

After a two-week debate on the issue, representatives of these channels agreed upon certain rules in terms of a range of issues, including the broadcast of images in the aftermath of a terrorist attack, the need for time-delays on live broadcasts, guidelines for covering hostage situations, the airing of demands and messages by terrorists, and the training and safety of news crews and reporters.

Hajrah Mumtaz, over at Dawn, further asserted,

…the independence of the media is meaningless unless the media also take upon themselves the grave duty of honest and responsible reportage. While it is by no means possible to defend the arbitrary laying of curbs upon the media by a state or government – for that would amount to censorship – it is up to news organizations to themselves come up with methods that internally regulate the content of what is being broadcast or printed.

In July, Al Jazeera English’s The Listening Post provided an informative backgrounder on the rise of Pakistan’s private news channels. In 2002, former President Pervez Musharraf set up the Pakistani Electronic Media Regulatory Authority [PEMRA] to issue the first licenses for private radio stations and TV channels. For a population just 49.9% literate and where newspaper circulation is around 6 million, such a development was monumental. Moreover, noted Jugnu Mohsin, people who owned newspapers were allowed to own cable television channels, doing away with past laws against cross-ownership. Prior to 2002, Pakistan’s state-owned PTV was the only news channel broadcast on television. Today, there are around 50 private television channels and 100 licensed private FM stations. The proliferation of Pakistan’s electronic media in such a short span of time has meant: 1) the private media is “here to stay, the days of overt suppression are over,” noted journalist Ejaz Haider, and 2) a reflection on the media’s shortcomings must be undertaken by the media itself, not the government.

Both of these points are fundamentally important. Although Musharraf’s regime liberalized the press, he also attempted to muzzle these outlets following the 2007 state of emergency, when television coverage of demonstrations and criticism of the government were considered “inflammatory.” His censorship [both GEO Television and AAJ were even taken off the air], was met with immediate backlash, proving that the media had become an institution to be reckoned with. Al Jazeera correspondent Kamaal Hyder asserted in July, “Anyone who tries to curtail the power of the media is going to fail.

Last week, the PPP-led government suggested the Pakistani press be more “guarded” in their reporting, leading many to bristle immediately, suspicious that caution would inevitably mean censorship. PPP politician and former information minister Sherry Rehman spoke to Al Jazeera last week, saying she appreciated the media’s concerns and noted, “They need to be made stakeholders in this consultation, because if we don’t do that, then there’s going to be polarization…and that will not profit either the government or the media or society.”

Rehman’s statement emphasizes this second fundamental point – the increasing need for the maturation of the Pakistani media, a process that needs to be endorsed by the media itself. Maria Ahmed of GEO Television told Al Jazeera that the media needs to institute a “self-critiquement mechanism,” which was manifested in last Friday’s resulting code of conduct for terrorism coverage. Such developments are a positive step towards increasing the credibility of the Pakistani media – whether it’s “self-editing” the use of graphic imagery and footage in the aftermath of bombings and violence, or ensuring that information relayed through news channels do not help hostage-takers or endanger the lives of the hostages.

The code of conduct also touches on the need to ensure the safety of reporters, a timely topic given the current conflict in Pakistan and the fact that the media has been barred from covering the military’s offensive from the front lines. The issue was also raised in a media symposium organized by PBS Frontline/World in September 2009. During the conference, Pakistani journalist/filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy [who produced Children of the Taliban] discussed the danger of reporting on the front lines, asserting that increasingly more reporters are “caught between intelligence agencies and the Taliban.” She added, “The Taliban have so many splinter groups – even if you get assurances from one group that you wont get kidnapped that doesn’t stop a second or a third group from kidnapping you.”

In her experience, Obaid-Chinoy learned how necessary it was to create a detailed “security protocol,” which would be sent to the news channel she was working for or a trusted person. In the event that she was kidnapped, the protocol would provide information on all her “fixers,” [people who provide translation, as well as on-the-ground expertise and contacts], so that her contacts could find out very quickly who had taken her away, “since the first few hours [in a kidnapping] are the most critical.” News agencies and journalists, she added, must also ensure the safety of their fixers, “because they bear the brunt of the access they’ve given you.”

In today’s world of 24/7 news coverage and high-speed Internet, we are frequently inundated with information. While the media’s growth in Pakistan is laudable, it also comes with a degree of responsibility and accountability. The recently released code of conduct is only the first step towards this idea of progress.

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On Sunday, Pakistan and India’s foreign ministers reportedly met for 100 minutes on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly meetings in New York City. According to Reuters, it was “a fresh attempt” to improve bilateral ties between the two nations since the Mumbai attacks in November 2008. However, Pakistan’s Shah Mehmood Qureshi and India’s S.M. Krishna told reporters later that they “did not fix a date” for the resumption of full-fledged peace negotiations, otherwise known as composite talks.

Both sides insisted the meeting was “positive, frank and useful,” but Krishna noted that for a meaningful dialogue to continue, “it is essential to ensure an environment free of violence, terrorism and the threat to use violence.” He added to reporters, “We remain concerned about the threat which groups and individuals in Pakistan continue to pose to us.” And, although he acknowledged the legal action undertaken by Pakistan against suspects in the Mumbai attacks, “a crime of the magnitude that was committed in Mumbai could not have been done by seven or eight individuals.”

Dawn quoted Krishna, who also announced that India had rejected Pakistan’s proposal for back channel diplomacy, noting, “When we have front channel, there’s no need for back channel.” Given that Pakistan had already announced that former Foreign Secretary Riaz Mohammed Khan would be appointed as special envoy in the back channel talks, Krishna’s announcement was slightly embarrassing. The development, however, does raise some interesting questions about back channel diplomacy and its advantages for Indo-Pak ties.

Back channel diplomacy refers to negotiations that take place in secret between parties in dispute or with a neutral third party present. In Pakistan, such talks occurred back in 2003, when a ceasefire pertaining to the Line of Control was negotiated, as well as during Musharraf‘s presidency in 2007. In the March 2, 2009 issue of The New Yorker, Steve Coll delved into the talks during Musharraf’s era, noting the top diplomats involved – Tariq Aziz from Pakistan and Satinder Lambah from India – were tasked with developing a “non paper” on Kashmir, “a text without names or signatures which can serve as a deniable but detailed basis for a deal.” Khurshid Kasuri, the then-foreign minister, noted the back channel talks were so advanced by 2007 that they’d “come to semicolons.” An Indian official told Coll, “It was huge – I think it would have changed the basic nature of the problem…You would have then had the freedom to remake Indo-Pakistani relations.”

The agreement, which was close to being signed [Coll noted that one quarrel over the Sir Creek waterway would be formally settled during a visit by PM Manmohan Singh to Pakistan] was shelved due to political turmoil in Pakistan, i.e. Musharraf’s firing of the Supreme Court justices and the subsequent declaration of the state of emergency. Coll wrote, “In New Delhi, the word in national security circles had been that ‘any day now we’re going to have an agreement on Kashmir…But Musharraf lost his constituencies.”

Since Zardari’s PPP government came to power, there has been talk of reviving the back channel talks of the past and concluding work on this reported “non paper.”  From a U.S. standpoint, a breakthrough in Indo-Pak talks would be conducive to shifting Pakistan’s attention to its western border, not to mention that progress could potentially reduce rivalry between the two countries in Afghanistan, [see Myra MacDonald's Reuters blog: Now or Never? for more]. Such an approach has been embraced by the current Pakistani administration, who advocate for front and back channels to “work in tandem.”

There are many advantages of back channel diplomacy. Shuja Nawaz, author of Crossed Swords and director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council, told me that back channel talks are “essential to get rid of the undergrowth and to build up vested interest groups of non-official actors.  Track I  [diplomacy] tends to be stuck in history and detail as the mandarins fight old battles over and over again.” Ultimately, in atmospheres that are as charged as India and Pakistan, this type of back channel diplomacy bypasses the need to toe party lines and spout rhetoric. Coll, in his New Yorker piece, even noted the aforementioned “non paper” was a factor in tempering India’s response after the Mumbai attacks.

Despite these advantages, back channel talks can only be successful if trust exists between the two nations, and if both sides want to come to the table. Given the environment in India following the Mumbai attacks, there is a deep mistrust in New Delhi of Pakistan’s ability to control militancy within and outside its borders. And, despite Islamabad’s eagerness to enter into negotiations, the issue of Balochistan and India’s alleged involvement in the restive province also hinders the potential for successful peace talks. Moreover, Pakistan’s very publicized call for back channel diplomacy seems almost counter-intuitive, since the benefit of such talks is that they bypass constituency pressures.

Should Indo-Pak back channel talks resume? Given the current status quo in Indo-Pak relations, this alternate form of diplomacy could be instrumental in jump starting the peace process. But due to the above mentioned factors, the nature of the talks would be different from the ones that took place in 2007.  A neutral third party would change the previous dynamic, but could help broker negotiations, acting as a bridge in bringing the two state actors to an even table.

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Independent: Some of the boys rescued

Independent: Some of the boys rescued

Earlier this week, Pakistani authorities announced they had rescued 20 young boys “who were among hundreds recruited by the Taliban and brainwashed into becoming suicide bombers at a secret indoctrination camp” in the Charbagh area of Swat Valley. Lt. Gen. Nadeem Ahmed, who heads a special support group tasked with handling the return of people displaced in Swat, told Al Jazeera, “They have been brainwashed and trained as suicide bombers, but the nine who I met seemed willing to get back to normal life…It seems that there are some 300 to 400 such children who the Taliban had taken forcibly or who they were training.”

The Independent reported the indoctrination program lasted more than a month, noting the rescued boys, “some as young as nine,” revealed details of how they were enticed to become part of the Taliban. Maj. Nasir Khan, a military spokesman in Swat, told reporters,

When we interrogated the boys, they said that they had been taken hostage by the Taliban by force, or in some cases they were taken to the training camps by their friends…They were heavily indoctrinated. When I asked them about what they were told, they said: ‘The Pakistan army is the ally of the Western capitalist world, they are the enemies of Islam. The fight against them is justified, they are apostates, the friends of the infidels.

Although media outlets reported the boys were taken either by force, lured by friends, or were kidnapped, the Washington Times earlier this month quoted U.S. officials, who said Tehreek-e-Taliban chief Beitullah Mehsud was also paying $7,000 to $14,000 for each child recruit, depending “on how quickly a bomber was needed and how close the child is expected to get to the target.”

After they were recruited, Taliban militants “would then gauge their levels of intelligence and physical strength before dividing the young boys into separate categories. The first group was used as local informers who would patrol the streets of the valley gathering information. One of the boys interrogated said he was given a pistol and told to monitor the Pakistan army’s troop movements. The more athletic recruits were selected to trained to become fighters and launch small-scale guerrilla attacks against the Pakistan army. According to the Independent, “those who were judged to be less intelligent and more susceptible to manipulation were chosen to join the Taliban’s stockpile of suicide bombers.”

The sad reality is that indoctrinating children to become soldiers is not a new phenomenon. According to Amnesty International, approximately 250,000 children under the age of 18 are thought to be fighting in conflicts around the world. Moreover, although many child soldiers are between the ages of 15 and 18 years of age, significant recruitment starting at the age of 10 and the use of even younger children has been recorded.

Children have been targeted because they can be easily manipulated and brainwashed by a group’s ideology. In Sierra Leone, this process was facilitated further by pumping child soldiers with “brown brown,” consisting mainly of amphetamines and cannabis and alcohol, all at once. Dr. Mike Wessells, a senior child protection adviser for the Christian Children’s Fund and a professor at Columbia University, noted that peer pressure, as well as a system of rewards and incentives, are often used to indoctrinate child soldiers in various conflicts. He added that some groups also use a very old psychological principle:

Most normal people are capable of doing quite violent acts if they are exposed progressively. You know, the way people learn to do torture is not by going in and applying electric shocks and doing horrible things out of the blue. No. First they are placed in a situation where they witness someone being interrogated, maybe next time they see the person being slapped. And maybe the next time they slap. In Columbia, it’s not uncommon for one of the rebel groups, one of the guerrilla groups called the FARC to take young people and to steel them to violence and to numb them to killing by having them murder their friend.

In the case of the Taliban in Pakistan, it seems that militants use their brand of religion as their main indoctrinating tool. Bashir Ahmed Bilour, an NWFP minister, told Al Jazeera, “They are prepared mentally. They say that Islam is everything for them. They say they are doing it for Islam. They say they have to carry suicide attacks for the sake of Islam…They are brainwashed to such an extreme that they are ready to kill their parents who they call infidels.” A senior official, who spoke with The Nation, echoed, “[The children] were told that the Pakistani Army has become an enemy of Islam, as it is fighting for Christians and Jews.”

In the PBS documentary Children of the Taliban, which aired in April, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy interviewed a thirteen year old boy, who was recruited into the Taliban at the age of 12. The boy described his haunting journey, “First it was the sermons at the mosque, then being recruited to a madrassa, and finally spending months in military training…They teach us to use a machine gun, Kalashnikov…Then they teach us how to do a suicide attack.” When Obaid-Chinoy asked if he’s like to carry out a suicide attack, the boy answered, “If God gives me strength.”

Long War Journal: Camp Run by Qari Hussain in S. Waziristan

Long War Journal: Camp Run by Qari Hussain in S. Waziristan

The reporter also interviewed Qari Abdullah, a Taliban commander responsible for recruiting children as young as five years old from poor families. He said, “Children are tools to achieve God’s will. And whatever comes your way, you sacrifice it…The kids want to join us because they like our weapons.” In an article Wednesday in the Independent, Obaid-Chinoy describes one propaganda video, “Twenty-five children appear in a Taliban propaganda video wearing the traditional Pakistani shalwar kameez. They sit cross- legged on the ground rocking back and forth reciting the Koran. A white bandana tied across their forehead, reads: “La illaha illala: There is no God but God”…Their teacher, dressed in brown military fatigues walks around reading aloud from a book titled Justifications for Suicide bombing…The text on the screen reads ‘Preparing suicide bombers.'”

While the rescue of these young boys is significant, the issue does not end there. The Independent reported that a special school is being established in Swat to rehabilitate, re-educate and counsel these children, but the government must take steps to address this problem in the long-term. According to some of the boys, more than 1,000 children may be undergoing training in the special camp in Swat. A rehabilitation program must therefore be able to accommodate not just the children who have been rescued, but the many more who are still in the camps. Moreover, although indoctrination methods vary from conflict to conflict, there are universal lessons that can be drawn from programs already instituted to rehabilitate child soldiers from other countries. Finally, it is vital that the government eliminates the root cause behind the Taliban’s recruitment of children – if militants provide financial incentives to poor families to send their children to these camps, the state must counter that strategy. Only then can these young boys hope to regain their lost innocence.

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Image Credit: AP, Rescue Workers at the Scene

Image Credit: AP, Rescue Workers at the Scene

On Wednesday, at least 23 people were killed and nearly 300 were injured in a suicide bombing in Lahore. According to the NY Times, the attack was “a failed attempt to strike at the nearby provincial headquarters of Pakistan’s powerful intelligence agency.” Dawn reported:

The incident took place at a heavily guarded entry point to the offices of Rescue-15 and the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) as well as to the official residences of police officers at the Plaza Cinema Chowk at around 10:10am. The buildings are adjacent to the offices of Lahore’s police chief and are only yards away from the old Freemason’s Hall where the Punjab chief minister has his secretariat. Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif was at his Defense residence at the time of the explosion.

According to media reports, a group of men shot at police officers before detonating a powerful car bomb, damaging buildings in broad daylight in one of Lahore’s busiest districts. The Times described the scene after the attack in its coverage, “The massive bomb left a crater eight feet deep and 20 feet wide and the blast was heard for miles around. Dozens of vehicles were crumpled like paper and broken glass filled the street. The red brick building of the Rescue 15 ambulance service collapsed after taking the brunt of the blast, and emergency workers struggled for hours to pull the dead and injured from the debris.” The dead included 14 policemen and a colonel belonging to the ISI.

Although an official called yesterday’s bombing a “brazen and well-thought out plan,” it certainly wasn’t the first of its kind in Lahore. In fact, it was the third attack in the city in three months. On March 3, a dozen gunmen attacked the Sri Lankan cricket team with rifles, grenades, and rocket launchers ahead of a cricket match in Lahore. Six police guards were killed in the ambush. Later that month on March 30, gunmen attacked the Manawan police academy near Lahore, killing 13 people. All attacks occurred in broad daylight. All were undoubtedly well-coordinated. All appeared to either target Pakistan’s police forces or highlight the vulnerability of Pakistan’s security apparatus. According to BBC News correspondent Shoaib Hassan, Lahore is facing a sustained campaign of violence unlike any it has seen before.” He added, “Security officials believe the city is under attack because it is seen as a stable home for Pakistan’s Punjab-dominated army.” However, noted the Wall Street Journal, “It was unclear whether the main target of the attack was the police, the ISI or both.”

The government has blamed “Taliban fighters” for yesterday’s bombing, and Interior Minister Rehman Malik was quoted telling reporters, “Enemies of Pakistan who want to destabilize the country are coming here after their defeat in Swat.”

While pointing a finger at the Taliban has been common practice of late, it is still a vague and rather hollow accusation. In order to truly comprehend the threat that faces us, it is important to first demystify the term, “Taliban militants.” Following the Manawan police attack, I noted that the incident signified how many militant organizations are operating in Pakistan’s periphery, and how the line between them has become increasingly blurred. After today’s bombing, the “buzz-term” that was mentioned by several outlets and officials was “The Punjabi Taliban.” In the April issue of the Combating Terrorism Center [CTC] Sentinel, Hassan Abbas wrote,

Punjab, the most populated of Pakistan’s provinces, has largely escaped the bloodshed plaguing the country’s troubled northwest. Yet since 2007, violence has escalated in the province. The bold terrorist attacks in Pakistan’s heartland…show that local logistical support for these attacks is attributable to what is often labeled the ‘Punjabi Taliban’ network. The major factions of this network include operatives from Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, and Jaysh-e-Muhammad – all groups that were previously strictly focused on Kashmir and domestic violence.

Abbas defines the Punjabi Taliban network as “a loose conglomeration of members of banned militant groups of Punjabi origin – sectarian as well as those focused on the conflict in Kashmir – that have developed strong connections with Tehreek-e-Taliban, Afghan Taliban and other militant groups based in FATA and NWFP.” The network’s groups shuttle between the tribal areas and the rest of Pakistan, providing logistical support to militant groups based both in FATA and Afghanistan to conduct operations within Pakistan. Abbas asserted in his analysis, “Given their knowledge about Punjabi cities and security structure, they have proved to be valuable partners for the TTP as it targets cities in Punjab, such as Lahore, Rawalpindi, and Islamabad.”

In order to understand the evolution of these Punjabi groups, their longtime relationship with Pakistan’s state apparatus must be highlighted. In the 1990s, many of these militants directly benefited from state patronage [particularly the ISI], and “were professionally trained in asymmetrical warfare, guerrilla tactics and sabotage,” to fight as proxies in Afghanistan and Kashmir. Although it is unclear how long the state’s relationship with these groups lasted, some speculate if they still enjoy some form of support from retired members of the military or intelligence.

Moreover, despite their current alliance with Al Qaeda and the Afghan and Pashtun Taliban, several groups under the Punjabi Taliban’s umbrella have also been highly sectarian in nature. The Sunni-Deobandi essence of these organizations, particularly the Lashkar-e-Jhanghvi (LeJ) and the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), adds further dimension to this conflict.

The purpose of this analysis was to demystify the term, “Taliban,” a term we throw around too often without truly understanding its meaning. I also wanted to highlight the rising threat of the militant network in Punjab, and how their alliance with the Pashtun and Afghan Taliban makes their mutual impact all the more dangerous. In order to counter these groups, therefore, Pakistan must not only crack down on these groups but also exploit their divisions to weaken their network and influence. As for us, it’s important to think past the abstract and comprehend that militancy is not only rooted in the tribal areas. The Punjabi Taliban were created by the state itself. And it seems those chickens have come home to roost.


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Image Credit: Economist

Image Credit: Economist

On Wednesday, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown pledged £665 million in aid over the next four years to Pakistan. Although much of the financial assistance will be geared towards Pakistan’s counter-terrorism (and hopefully, counterinsurgency) operations, £125 million will be earmarked for supporting education projects in the border area “in an effort to stop the spread of extremism,” reported Dawn. The announcement came just a day before Britain ended its combat operations in Iraq, a sign the UK, like the United States, is also shifting more attention to the volatile Af-Pak border areas.

The pledge and Brown’s corresponding statements also highlighted an attempt to address the alleged “chain of terror” between the Pakistan and the United Kingdom. On April 8, British police arrested 12 men on suspicion of involvement in a terrorist plot. Ten were Pakistani citizens on student visas. Although it is still not clear whether it was actually a terrorist plot, and charges against the students were dropped, the incident sparked a “diplomatic row” between London and Islamabad.

In an interview with the Guardian, Asif Durrani, Pakistan’s deputy high commissioner to London, said Britain appeared vindictive against Pakistani nationals, adding that claims Islamabad was soft on terror were slurs. He told the news agency, “Pointing a finger towards Pakistan was shocking for us … it was uncalled for and shocking..Pakistan’s name is dragged into the mud on every opportunity … either we are allies, or we are not.”

The Guardian noted in its coverage, “Tension between Islamabad and London over terrorism has been rising for months. In December, Brown claimed 75% of the plots Britain faced were linked to Pakistan…” In this most recent development, UK officials physically searched the students’ houses and seized computers but found no evidence of any connection to this alleged terrorist plot. Nevertheless, they have been remanded into the custody of the UK Border agency, pending their deportation. An editorial in Dawn earlier this week noted,

Can Mr. Brown, who was in Pakistan the other day, answer this one simple question: what is their crime? Every single student rounded up by the police was in the UK on a valid visa. Not one shred of evidence that could stand up in court could be produced against any of the young men now in custody. Is this justice? No, it is not.

Gordon Brown may not realize that false accusations, arrests, and seizures of Pakistanis do little to keep the UK safe from terror. Instead, such actions exacerbate tensions further, not only between Islamabad and London, but also among the UK’s Pakistani community. Moreover, while the PM may contend that three-quarters of the terror plots in Britain are linked to Pakistan, blame cannot be shifted one-way. An article in last week’s Economist entitled, “The Immigration Superhighway,” reported that each year 250,000 Pakistanis come to Britain to visit, work or marry, and some 350,000 British-Pakistanis journey to Pakistan, mostly to visit family. And while the oft-porous border between the two nations has raised concerns, not everyone agrees that Islamist extremism is the fault of Pakistan alone.

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Everyone Poops

My friend, who works for the Water & Sanitation Program at the World Bank, passed along a short animated film they just produced on sanitation issues [read: poop] in Pakistan. Aside from my joking title, [a throwback to the fantastic children's book, Everyone Poops] sanitation issues are a very serious problem in the developing world, particularly in rural and slum areas. According to statistics released by the Joint Monitoring Program, 90% of Pakistan’s urban population use improved sanitation [i.e., a toilet or a pit latrine], while 4% use shared [a toilet in a community that's shared]. Only 6% defecate in the open. In contrast, only 40% of the country’s rural population use improved sanitation, 5% use shared, and 10% use unimproved sanitation [i.e., a hole in the ground]. This means that 45% of Pakistan’s rural population defecate [poop] in the open.

The film below explains exactly why this issue is so important, particularly from a public health perspective. Open defecation free, a term used in the cartoon, refers to when 100% of a community/village/town do not use the bathroom outside, [the most ideal scenario is to use improved sanitation methods, but the basic standard is not defecating outside]. However, as an article about sanitation in a small town in Pakistan also noted, becoming open defecation free requires more than just building toilets – raising awareness is also key. As the animated film below shows, change can occur when communities are empowered to become involved in the process. That way, change is more permanent than transient, and sanitation issues are properly addressed in the long run.

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On Saturday, Sindh National Front leader Mumtaz Bhutto was put under house arrest in Larkana [in Sindh province] for “allegedly ordering his workers to attack on the office of a Sindhi newspaper,” reported GEO News. He reportedly was later taken into custody in Karachi. Pakistani news agency cited reports that stated the workers of SNF had attacked the office of a local daily, the Awami Awaaz, and a case was registered against Mumtaz Bhutto in this connection. A separate GEO News piece noted that SNF members allegedly “ransacked” the newspaper office and “gave threats of life to the staff because the newspaper did not carry a column written by Mumtaz Bhutto.”

However, reported Dawn, the SNF has denied the allegations, saying the arrest of Bhutto was a case of “political victimization.” Ameer Baksh Bhutto, Mumtaz’s son, told the news agency, “My father is being victimized for criticizing Asif Ali Zardari…SNF workers visited the newspaper’s office in a goodwill gesture and complained that the newspaper is not giving due coverage to the party. The government has found an excuse to pursue its undemocratic agenda.” Mumtaz Bhutto also spoke to Dawn newspaper, alleging that the government had been planning to arrest him for a long time because “he was the only person who had openly been talking about unmasking Benazir Bhutto’s killers.” Mumtaz reportedly asserted, “The killers of Mir Murtaza Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto are the same,” [given that several members of the Bhutto family allege that Zardari had been behind Murtaza's death, Mumtaz's parallel is therefore a loaded statement].

As news of the arrest spread, Larkana was reportedly partially closed as protests were held in various towns near the city. According to GEO Television, “The workers of the SNF staged a protest…[after] which police used teargas and baton-charged them, injuring two people. People belonging to the Bhutto clan held a protest demonstration in front of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto shrine.” According to Dawn, Mumtaz’s son, Ameer Baksh Bhutto, who is also vice-chairman of  the SNF, condemned the arrest in a press conference today and asserted “it would not deter the party from highlighting injustices against Sindh and ‘revealing the truth about the murders of Mir Murtaza and Benazir Bhutto.'”

The arrest yesterday further highlighted the deep fissures within the Bhutto family. Mumtaz Bhutto is the first cousin of Benazir Bhutto‘s father, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who was both the president and prime minister of Pakistan in the 1970s, [he was executed by hanging for conspiracy to murder a political opponent in 1979]. Mumtaz is also the chief of the 700,000-strong [according to The Times] Bhutto tribe and was a former federal minister, Governor of Sindh, and Chief Minister of Sindh. However, although Mumtaz had been a founding member of the Pakistan People’s Party [PPP], Benazir Bhutto reportedly “sacked” him due to a policy disagreement when she took over the leadership of the party in 1984.  This was arguably when the inter-family  tensions began.

When Benazir returned to Pakistan last year, Mumtaz reportedly refused to support her, “saying she had betrayed the family name with her negotiations with Musharraf,” reported the Times. Following her assassination in December 2007, Mumtaz also rejected the appointment of her husband [Zardari] and son to be the successors of the party, predicting it would split the PPP. According to the UK Independent, the SNF leader said last January, “The party has come into existence on the name and the sweat and the blood of the Bhutto family…Therefore, the leadership should either have gone to Sanam [Benazir's sister]or the son or daughter of Murtaza [Benazir's brother, who saw himself as Zulfiqar Ali's true political heir].” At the time, both Sanam Bhutto and the PPP disagreed. The party spokesman said, “Whatever Mumtaz is saying, he is saying out of spite for Benazir, spite and frustration, because he is now out in the political wilderness.”

As for the truth over yesterday’s arrest – I wonder if we’ll ever really know, given how quickly the incident devolved into a “he said-she said” escapade. What do you think? [Image from GEO]

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Many issues arose after the Partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, including one over the sharing of the Indus River system. In 1960, both countries agreed on the Indus Water Treaty, which effectively divided up the water in the region. Although the IWT has remained intact, recent developments have brought this water dispute back into the spotlight. Below, Zain ul-Arifeen, a science teacher in Mansehra, [a city in Pakistan's NWFP], discusses the history and current status of the Indus Water Treaty, and why it’s significant:

The total area of the Indus Basin, the area draining the , Himalayan water into the Arabian Sea, is about 365,000 square miles (934,000 sq.km), larger than the Pakistan’s total area of 310,000 square miles (794,000 sq. km). Pakistan covers the major part of the Indus Basin (about 217,000 squares miles out of 365,000 square miles). The Indus River system consists mainly of the Indus River and its major eastern tributaries, the Jehlum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas and Sutlej Rivers. A number of relatively small rivers join the Indus on its west side. The largest is Kabul with its main tributary, the Swat River.

The Indus and its tributaries easily make up the most important river system in the world. The basin was converted into an extensively cultivated area during the British colonial period, with millions of acres irrigated by large canals. At the time of Pakistan and India’s Partition in 1947boundaries were drawn without first considering the realities of the region. The part of the Punjab to the west of this boundary become a part of Pakistan, while the east was incorporated into India. The immediate effect of this partition was that the Indus Basin became divided and conflicts subsequently arose between the two countries over the sharing of water resources.

In 1948, after India obtained control of the headwaters and halted the water flow into Pakistan, the dispute drew international attention. In 1960, after years of negotiations, the World Bank brokered the Indus Water Treaty, [IWT] which regulated the use of the Indus Basin rivers. The agreement was signed on September 19, 1960 by Pakistan’s President Mohammad Ayub Khan, Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and the World Bank’s Mr. W. A.B Iliff.

The IWT consists of three parts: the preamble, twelve articles and annexure A to H. The principal subjects covered in the treaty’s annexure are: the exchange of notes between the governments of India and Pakistan, India’s agricultural use of certain tributaries of  the Ravi, India’s agricultural use of the upper reaches of the western rivers, India’s generation of hydroelectric power and the storage of water from the western rivers, a procedure to solve disputes and differences through a commission, a neutral court of arbitration, and allocation to Pakistan of some waters from the eastern rivers during the period of transition.

The Treaty gave India exclusive use of the Ravi, Beas and Sutlej rivers. Pakistan was given access to the western rivers – the Indus, Jehlum and Chenab. Under the agreement, India has to allow these rivers to flow to Pakistan without any hindrance or interference, except as specifically allowed by the Treaty. This includes the use of water for domestic and other non-consumptive purposes, as well as the generation of hydroelectric power. However, the agreement precludes the building of any storage by India on the rivers allocated to Pakistan. For example, if India wanted to generate hydroelectric power it could only build run-of-the-river hydroelectric projects (unlike a dam or a reservoir), which does not create any storage [in the Treaty, Paragraph 2(c) (d) of Aricle III allows and Annexure C and D explains that how India can use the water of western rivers].

The Treaty established a Permanent Indus Commission, led by two high-ranking engineers, one from either country. The commission’s job is to monitor that neither country violates the treaty, and smooth out any differences that may arise. It can refer to either the World Bank [in the case of the Baghliar Dam dispute] or the Court of Arbitration for help in settling a conflict.

At the time the IWT was signed, Pakistani President Ayub Khan stated:

The sources of the rivers are in India…and India had made arrangements to divert the waters…every factor was against us, the only sensible thing to do was to try and get a settlement; though it might be the second best, but if we did not we stood to lose everything.

Although the Indus Water Treaty has survived hostilities between India and Pakistan over the years, recent developments threaten to undermine this agreement. On October 10, 2008, India inaugurated the controversial Baglihar hydro-electric dam project in Indian-administered Kashmir. Although India says the dam would be crucial for meeting the country’s power needs, it is located on the Chenab River [one of the western rivers given to Pakistan in the IWT], and is a clear violation of the 1960 agreement.

Islamabad has claimed the dam would reduce the flow of water to Pakistan, depriving its agricultural regions of irrigation.  Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari recently told the Associated Press of Pakistan, “Pakistan would be paying a very high price for India’s move to block Pakistan’s water supply from the Chenab river,” adding that any violation of the Indus Water Treaty “would damage the bilateral ties the two countries had built over the years.” The question over the future of the IWT is a very serious issue and is only marginally addressed in the media. The sharing of the Indus River system is significant for Indian-Pakistani relations and disputes over this issue could further complicate tensions between the two countries.

If you would like to become a contributor for CHUP, email your article [no more than 700 words please] on a pertinent issue facing Pakistan to Kalsoom at changinguppakistan@gmail.com.

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