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Posts Tagged ‘Kashmir’

AFP/Getty: The Taj Hotel on fire on Nov 26 2008

As the anniversary of the Mumbai attacks fast approaches, we have been inundated with op-eds, analysis, and statements – mostly centered on the impact of 26/11 on Indo-Pak relations and the status of Lashkar-e-Taiba today. The attacks on November 26, 2008, when 10 gunmen armed with assault rifles and explosives besieged the city of Mumbai for 60 hours, killing 170 people and wounding 300 others, may not have been India’s deadliest incident, but it did change “the world’s understanding of terrorism in India as real-time television footage streamed into American and European living rooms,” noted Georgetown University’s Christine Fair. In an op-ed in Monday’s Wall Street Journal, she added, “It catalyzed discussions in Washington and Delhi about Lashkar-e-Taiba and the danger that group and its fellow travelers pose not just to India but to other countries.”

During his state visit to Washington, Indian PM Manmohan Singh maintained past rhetoric when he asserted that Islamabad had not done enough against the perpetrators of the 26/11 attacks. He told reporters, “We have been the victims of Pakistan-aided, -abetted and-inspired terrorism for nearly 25 years. We would like the United States to use all its influence with Pakistan to desist from that path. Pakistan has nothing to fear from India. It’s a tragedy that Pakistan has come to the point of using terror as an instrument of state policy.”

The recent arrests of two men in Chicago with alleged ties to Lashkar only further confirm suspicions of the militant group’s growing reach and influence, and how it has increasingly become a transnational threat. According to Reuters, “David Headley and Tahawwur Hussain Rana were arrested last month and accused of plotting an attack on Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, which ran cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad in 2005.” According to court documents, the two men allegedly “discussed their plans with members of Lashkar-e-Taiba and Al-Qaeda linked Pakistan-based militant Ilyas Kashmiri,” labeled the fourth most wanted terrorist by Pakistan’s Interior Ministry. Reuters added, “Lashkar also talked to them  [Headley and Rana] about possible attacks in India and suggested these should be given priority over the alleged plot in Denmark.”

Last Thursday, HBO premiered a very timely and significant film entitled, Terror in Mumbai. Narrated by Newsweek and CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, The documentary chronicles the time period the ten LeT gunmen attacked Mumbai, using interviews with police, survivors, tapped phone calls between the men and their commanders in Pakistan, and footage of the captured gunmen, Mohammed Ajmal Kasab‘s confession. The film offers incredible insight into the group, the psychology of these young gunmen, and their relationship with senior figures within the organization. Here are a few of my own observations:

The Mumbai gunmen were young boys from rural Pakistan with very little exposure to the outside world. Perhaps the most chilling clips of Terror in Mumbai featured the the tapped conversations between the gunmen and their “controller,”a man by the name of Brother Wasi, allegedly based in Pakistan. According to the film, Indian undercover agents had reportedly fed 35 SIM cards to the LeT. After the beginning of the attacks on Mumbai’s Leopold’s Cafe and CST Railway Station, police began combing cell phone frequencies, and learned that three of the aforementioned SIM cards had been activated. During a very telling clip, the controller was speaking to the gunmen, urging them to set fire to the Taj Hotel. Overwhelmed by the opulence of their surroundings, the gunman said over the phone, “There are computers here with high-tech screens! It’s amazing. The windows are huge! It’s got two kitchens, a bath, and a little shop.” The controller reminded him, “Start the fire, my brother. Start a proper fire. That’s the important thing.”

The psychology of these young gunmen is fascinating, particularly since they had reportedly been indoctrinated over the course of three months, when they undertook their “training.” During this time, they went from being impressionable young boys to hardened militants. Although this is a relatively short amount of time, Reuel Marc Gerecht from the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies told Zakaria on his CNN GPS show, “Once you’ve sort of got the imbibed the idea of jihadism, once you’ve imbibed the idea that you can…more or less exile people from a moral universe that you live in, it’s not that difficult… to get young men to kill.” In the film, one witness at the CST Railway Station noted the gunmen “showed no fear or horror. They were like children firing toy guns…killing whoever they chose.”

In a clip where Kasab was being interrogated, he revealed that recruits during their training were “forbidden to speak to one another,” thereby furthering their isolation and strengthening the hold of commanders over these young men. At the end of their training, their commanders told them, “Guys, the time has come for your test…now we’ll know who’s for real.” When asked if he felt pity for the people they gunned down, Kasab hesitated before answering, “I did but he [the controller] said you have to do these things, if you’re going to be a big man and go to Heaven.”

Terrorism has increasingly become transnational and remote. One of the most striking parts of Terror in Mumbai was the ability of a single controller to keep not only a firm grasp on the situation, but also on the gunmen. Brother Wasi was in constant contact with the young men, who continuously updated him on their whereabouts and the overall situation. Moreover, Wasi was closely monitoring news channels’ coverage of the Mumbai attacks, allowing him further insight into the on the ground reality, or at least how media outlets were portraying them. This access allowed Brother Wasi to subsequently direct the gunmen to methods of garnering further media attention. Speaking to a gunman in the Taj Hotel, Brother Wasi said, “My brother, yours is the most important target…the media is covering it more than any other.” On his CNN show GPS, Zakaria further commented, “Brother Wasi, the remote controller of the terrorists, understands that in this day in age unless it is seen on TV around the world it has not happened.”

Now almost one year later, Terror in Mumbai is a chilling reminder of the attacks as well as the organization of the Lashkar e Taiba. Since the attacks, the Indian government has presented Pakistan with seven dossiers of evidence. However, they have all been met with Interior Minister Rehman Malik‘s demands for more information. As a result, relations between New Delhi and Islamabad remain strained. Given the current status quo and the widening trust deficit, what will it take to change the stagnant relations between India and Pakistan? In terms of the post-Mumbai investigations, which side will have to give to ensure progress?

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Hey Boo Boo!

I am currently in the midst of conceptualizing and writing far deeper posts, but this story was just too ironic to ignore. According to news agencies Tuesday, a bear killed two militants after “discovering them in its den” in Kulgam district, just south of Srinigar in Indian-administered Kashmir. According to the Telegraph, the men, known by the names of Saifullah and Qaiser, along with two others who escaped, were “members of the region’s most powerful group Hizb-ul Mujahedin,” an Islamist separatist group that emerged in Pakistan in 1989 and has since been active in Jammu & Kashmir.

BBC News reported, “The militants had assault rifles but were taken by surprise – police found the remains of pudding they had made to eat when the bear attacked.”

Moral of the story, militants: Stay away from the pudding. Unwanted carbs and it attracts bears. Nothing says “unworthy of virgins in Heaven” quite like “death by bear looking for afternoon snack.”

At least we know if all else fails in South Waziristan, the Pakistani military can air drop boxes of pudding and unleash the bears. Genius tactic.

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Picture 4

On Thursday, the NY Times’ posted another video story by Adam Ellick, who’s produced diverse reports on topics ranging from Pakistan’s sex toy industry to the rise of drug-resistant tuberculosis in Karachi. This time, he profiled Todd Shea, an American who came to volunteer in Pakistan after the 2005 earthquake, a disaster that killed 80,000 people. As Ellick noted in the voiceover, “he never left.” Three years ago, Shea established a “no frills” charity hospital in Kashmir called CDRS, or Comprehensive Disaster Relief Services, which provides quality healthcare services to the people in the remote and earthquake-affected areas in northwest Pakistan. CDRS’ efforts are concentrated in Chikar, one of Pakistan’s poorest and most remote villages located about 25 miles from the Indian border with a population of about 150,000 people. According to Ellick, “For decades, the community’s medical needs have been ignored by the government…”

The video [embedded below] opens with Shea singing “Dil Dil Pakistan” at a community fair, designed to teach the survivors of the earthquake the basics of proper healthcare. He doesn’t have a college degree or a medical background, but told the Times, “I’m certainly not the most qualified person to take on the task of building…in this area at least…a revolutionary healthcare system, but I’m the one who’s here.” A musician prior to his time in Pakistan, Shea indicated that he once suffered from addiction issues. Now however, he “decided to get addicted to something that was good for other people.” In fact, Shea uses music to raise awareness about CDRS and their efforts, at one point performing at MTV’s studios in Karachi with a Pakistani musician.

His story is incredibly powerful and inspirational. So far CDRS employs 38 people, although only one doctor has relocated to Chikar to work. And though Dr. Rizwan Shabir said he was surprised by Shea’s “casual” appearance when they first met, he told the NY Times, “I thought, if this person can come from America and serve our people, then why not me…”

CDRS currently runs on $170,000 a year and served over 100,000 patients in 2008. If you would like to make a donation to Todd Shea’s efforts, click here.

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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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MTV Iggy, a recently launched global pop culture initiative from MTV Networks, is currently showcasing a wide-angle view on the Kashmir conflict entitled, MTV Iggy Presents Change: Kashmir. The series is a comprehensive multimedia survey of the conflict’s current status and history, featuring on-the-ground clips of everyday Kashmiris on both sides of the Line of Control, photojournalism, background, documentaries, and profiles. MTV Iggy has already posted a number of interviews with noteworthy individuals like economist Jeffrey Sachs, writer and historian William Dalrymple, Deepak Chopra, Booker Prize winner Arundhati Roy, and Sardar Attique Ahmed Khan, the former prime minister of Azad Jammu & Kashmir [AJK].

The website also features the stunning photography [see below] of Malik Sajad, a young Kashmiri currently attending the Institute of Music and Fine Arts in Srinagar, Kashmir. His first graphic novel about the Kashmir conflict is under publication. Click on his photo below to see the entire slideshow, which truly captures the vibrance of the Kashmiri people.

Photo by Malik Sajad

Photo by Malik Sajad

The initiative is significant because it not only seeks to raise awareness on the Kashmir conflict, but also because it highlights the diversity of opinion on the topic. Moreover, the use of multimedia technology is important in connecting today’s youth to the problem, empowering them to probe discourse on the issues. Given that Kashmir has been a fundamental cause of tensions and conflict between India and Pakistan since 1947, viewing the conflict through a different, more human angle is a needed change. What do you think?

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On Friday, media outlets reported that Pakistan has cancelled leave for “operational” armed forces personnel and redeployed troops to the Indian border amid simmering tensions with New Delhi. According to the AFP, “Both sides have said they do not want war, but warn they would act if provoked.” Although Pakistan’s chief military spokesman Gen. Athar Abbas declined to comment on the development, a “senior defense ministry official” told the news agency, “We do not want to create any war hysteria but we have to take minimum security measures to ward off any threat. Leaves of all operational personnel of the armed forces have been canceled as a defensive measure.” Although the NY Times cited a senior official who reportedly refused to say where the troops would be redeployed, the Associated Press provided more details in its coverage, noting, “Two intelligence officials said the army’s 14th Division was being redeployed to the towns of Kasur and Sialkot, close to the Indian border. They said some 20,000 troops were on the move.”  A senior security official told AFP the new deployments on the Indian border were not in “significant numbers, but only in areas opposite the points where India is believed to have brought forward its troops.” The forces are reportedly being pulled from the Afghan border, deepening concerns among American officials “about Pakistan’s commitment to battling Taliban militants in the country’s lawless western frontier regions,” noted the Times.

According to the NY Times, “The redeployment came as Indian authorities warned their citizens not to travel to Pakistan given the heightened tensions between the two nations, news agencies reported, particularly since Indian citizens had been arrested there in connection with a bombing in the Pakistani city of Lahore.” On Friday, the Indian media reported the country’s PM Manmohan Singh had summoned leaders of the Indian armed forces to further discuss the current security situation.

While it appears that tensions are reaching a climax, we should all hope that neither India nor Pakistan take that first step towards an “all-out” conflict. Although nationalist sentiment is increasing in both countries, a war is not the solution to any of the domestic or regional issues at hand. Let’s hope this action-reaction cycle of tensions and violence will stop before this conflict snowballs out of control.

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Media coverage of Pakistan today was dominated by news of the government protesting India’s alleged airspace violation. According to Dawn, “Pakistan has said that Indian air force planes ‘inadvertently’ violated its airspace last week, flying over the Pakistani-administered part of Kashmir and the eastern city of Lahore.” Reuters added in its coverage, “Pakistan said its own fighter jets were scrambled to chase off the intruders, but it also played down the incident by describing the violations as ‘technical‘ and ‘inadvertent.'” On Thursday, Pakistan’s foreign ministry reportedly “summoned” India’s deputy high commissioner, Manpreet Vohra, and gave him a written letter against the intrusions, “saying they contravened a 1991 agreement aimed at preventing such incidents.” AAJ Television reported, “The note conveyed the ‘concern of the government of Pakistan on technical and airspace violations by Indian aircraft on December 12 and 13 in non-conformity with a bilateral agreement.'”

Reuters quoted an Indian Air Force spokesman, Mahesh Upasani, who reiterated India’s claims that they had not violated Pakistan’s airspace. He told the news agency, “We stand by what we said earlier, that we have not violated their airspace. This is not true.” After the incident allegedly took place last week, GEO Television reported, both President Asif Ali Zardari and PM Yousaf Raza Gilani called the incident, a “technical error.”

India on Tuesday stated that the Indo-Pak peace process has been placed on “hold,” although it emphasized that it “was not preparing for war.” Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi also made diplomatic statements Wednesday, expressing confidence that bilateral dialogue would resume. However, given the current state of affairs, India canceled their 2009 cricket tour of Pakistan, which was slated to take place during the months of January and February. CNN reported, “Indian Cricket Board officer Ratnakar Shetty confirmed they had been notified about the government’s decision although he did not rule out the matches going ahead at a neutral venue.” He told the news agency, “No decision has been made on playing Pakistan at a neutral venue…We have not planned an alternative tour as yet.” BBC News added in its coverage, “It is the third major cricket tour to Pakistan this year to be canceled on security grounds. Australia pulled out of their scheduled visit in March, while the International Cricket Council also postponed the Champions Trophy one-day tournament in September.” The news agency added, “The Pakistan Cricket Board fears this latest decision could cost it £13 million.” [Image from Reuters]

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