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Archive for March, 2008

I’m attaching a Reuters report with more details on yesterday’s bombing in Islamabad. I grew up in Islamabad, and the fact that restaurants are being bombed because they may be regularly frequented by foreigners is extremely upsetting. Five Rupees compiled a list of the attacks that have occurred in Pakistan this year – according to their calculations, 33 attacks have occurred in 75 days – that’s one attack every 55 hours on average. The Pakistani government should realize that this battle is on our doorsteps now. Playing the denial card only exacerbates this situation further. My thoughts and prayers are with the families of those effected in the bombing.

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Today, breaking newswires reported that a bombing occurred at an Italian restaurant in Islamabad popular with foreign diplomats. The blast, which occurred in the “backside” of Luna Caprese – near Islamabad’s Super Market, reportedly killed two people and wounded nine, according to the most recently updated Associated Press newswire. The News reported that one of the people killed was a foreign woman, and “U.S. diplomats are feared among the injured.” The AP added, “Police have not determined whether the bomb was planted in the Luna Caprese’s back garden, or whether a suicide bomber attacked the restaurant.” BBC News cited a Pakistani police official who said, “One wall of the restaurant has partly collapsed and many people have been injured.” The AFP quoted witnesses who affirmed, “There are lots of injured people who have lost their limbs and legs, foreigners were inside. It’s a very bad situation. We don’t know what has happened.” CHUP will provide more details as they’re reported.

 

UPDATE [at 1736 EST]: The most recent Associated Press article reported, “Personnel from the U.S. and British embassies were among the wounded. It appeared to be the first attack targeting foreigners in a recent wave of violence in Pakistan.” A Turkish woman was reportedly killed in the blast, and five U.S. citizens were listed as undergoing surgery, as well as one Japanese, one Canadian, one Briton and three Pakistanis.

 

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hina1.jpgOn Wednesday, the World Economic Forum announced their list for the Young Global Leaders of 2008. The press release noted, “This honor is bestowed each year by the World Economic Forum to recognize and acknowledge the top 200-300 young leaders from around the world for their professional accomplishments, commitment to society and potential to contribute to shaping the future of the world.” 245 leading executives, public figures and intellectuals, all under the age of 40, were given the title this year, including two women from Pakistan – Hina Rabbani Khar, the former Minister of State for Economic Affairs, and Munizae Jahangir, a film producer and media executive.
The press release noted, “Selection of Hina Rabbani Khar was made possible for her work in providing leadership role model for the Pakistani youth. Ms. Khar was also instrumental in promoting the competitiveness agenda in the country. She has been working closely with the Competitiveness Support Fund to improve Pakistan’s global competitiveness. Ms. Khar has also represented Pakistan at various international forums, including the World Economic Forum’s annual conference at Davos.” In a past interview with the Saturday Post, Khar highlighted her opinion on Pakistani society, emphasizing, “There’s been a revolution in the last few years. I graduated in 1999 from LUMS. In six years, there’s been a paradigm shift. It’s a move towards modernization and westernization, and I don’t just mean in the way we dress. I mean in the way we conduct ourselves and carry on our business…You have to understand and accept the culture you’re living in and be proud of it to really stand out on your own. Emulating selective aspects of another culture doesn’t really translate into true social progress.”
As the editor of this website, I often assess the stories and issues currently plaguing Pakistan – the bombings, the political crises, the protests. However, this story presented an opportunity to highlight what is right in our country. I agree with Khar – there has been a paradigm shift in some aspects of Pakistani society – not all, but definitely some – that is positive, that represents progress. The nomination of Khar and Jahangir is significant not just because they are Pakistani women but because they are young and challenge misconceptions of this country with their achievements. We should be proud and truly inspired by this development.

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11cndpakistan2600.jpgOn Tuesday, two powerful bomb blasts killed an estimated 31 people and injured 170 in Lahore. The suicide attacks, which targeted the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) headquarters and an advertising agency in Model Town, garnered major media attention mainly because it was the second attack in Lahore in the past week [see previous CHUP post], and the third since January. The NY Times reported, “Till this year Lahore, Pakistan’s cultural capital in Punjab, the country’s most populous province, had been spared the recent wave of violence that hit Islamabad, the capital, and northwestern Pakistan.” Although there were no immediate claims of responsibility, “the explosions seemed to follow a pattern of recent attacks on law enforcement officials and the Pakistani military by tribal militants.” BBC News added,  “They are believed to be in response to army and police operations against the militants.” Model Town is where many senior Pakistani politicians, including Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif, have their homes, although a PPP official said the party’s leadership was in Islamabad at the time of the bombings.
Media outlets noted on Wednesday that the blasts were “well-coordinated,” particularly since they occurred just 15 minutes apart in different districts in the city. The Daily Times cited Capital City police officer Malik Muhammad Iqbal, who said the “attackers rammed explosives-laden vehicles into the targets in both the attacks.” The Associated Press echoed, “Grainy footage from a surveillance camera shown on the private Aaj television channel showed the small truck running over a guard and barreling through the unlocked gate seconds before the blast.” The Washington Post quoted the FIA’s Punjab director, Chaudhry Manzoor, who noted that he and at least 200 others were in the building when the bomb exploded. He told the Post, “I saw dozens of officials badly injured and some taking their last breaths.”
It is sad, nay, terrible, that the incessant bombings in Pakistan have merely become a part of our daily reality. As someone who monitors the media cycles for work as well as for this website, I am always fascinated with the reactions documented by the press – bombing occurs, government officials unleash sea of statements condemning said attack, images depict the horrific aftermath, and the next day…we’re back to another story, another issue, another problem. This is the reality of the media and 24 hour news coverage, but this should not be our modus operandi. In reporting and ingesting the details of a suicide blast we are becoming increasingly desensitized, not only to the particular attack at hand, but the ramifications of their increased frequency. An editorial in the Daily Times today sums up my frustration: “Political activism in Pakistan is focused on the restoration of the judiciary and the ouster of President Pervez Musharraf. What the politicians and the media are ignoring at great risk is the country’s response to the takeover of its territories and the virtual free run of the country that the suicide bombers have today.” Yesterday’s bomb blast prompted many Pakistanis to take to the street, chanting slogans against Musharraf without “uttering a word against the terrorists” who committed these atrocities. Isn’t there something wrong with that image? The conclusion of the Daily Times editorial noted: “This draws our attention to the task of the democratically elected politicians to evolve a strategy against terrorism. So far their very rudimentary thoughts on the problem are encapsulated in three words: ‘talk to them.’ This of course is not enough. The people will expect the coalition government to take substantial steps to prevent the suicide-bombers from attacking at will.”

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Bye Bye Amin Fahim

makh_amin_faheem.jpgSeveral significant events have unfolded over the past few days – On Monday, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Khawaja Muhammad Asif called PPP vice chairman and reported PM fronter runner Makhdoom Amin Fahim an “untrustworthy person” because of his connections with President Pervez Musharraf. On Geo TV, he said, “Makhdoom Amin is a respected man for us but we are suspicious of his contacts with the president, and we fear that he may become a proxy of President Musharraf.” Asif added, “We are the coalition partners and we don’t want any controversial person to be a prime minister. We do not want our coalition with the PPP to be jeopardized because of Amin Fahim.”
To compound these statements, the Daily Times on Tuesday reported that PPP sources said that Asif Ali Zardari, the party’s co-chairman had suggested that he wants to become prime minister, and “until the ground is paved for him, he would nominate a trustee for the interim period.” The Times added, “The possibility of Amin Fahim becoming prime minister has been ruled out, particularly after Nawaz Sharif’s between-the-line message to the PPP that he expected the nominee for premiership should be strong enough to implement the agenda of the coalition.” In this scenario, only two options are left for this alleged “interim period,” media outlets reported – Chaudhry Ahmad Mukhtar and Shah Mahmood Qureshi, “if the choice has to be from the Punjab,” the Daily Times added. However, noted the news agency, “some insiders say that Zardari might spring a surprise by nominating a dark-horse like his sister, Dr. Azra Fazal, who is an MNA-elect.”
Edging Fahim out of the PM spotlight has been gradual and subtle until yesterday’s statements, [also see March 6th post]. Following these developments, news sources reported that Fahim disputed the claims, and termed PML-N Asif’s allegations “totally baseless.” According to The News, “He, however, refused any comment, which could create any rift between the PPP and the PML-N, adding that both the parties had reached an accord recently and he would not like to make any comment in this regard.” Nevertheless, Fahim reportedly “hit back” in what he called “a character assassination campaign,” reported Dawn today, particularly on Asif’s allegation that Fahim is in “constant contact” with Musharraf.
While Fahim’s reaction is expected, one cannot help but feel slightly sorry for the PPP veteran politician, the once-expected PM nominee. The reality is that Fahim has been elbowed out of the race, in favor of candidates that are more “attractive” to the overarching coalition. Given the PML-N’s power base in Punjab, choosing a Prime Minister who is from the region is definitely a strategic and very political move. And let’s face it. The new PM will only be in the spotlight for a short period of time before Zardari is allowed to take the public reins of the party, rather than just the background seat.

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zarsharif.jpgOn Sunday, Pakistan’s main opposition parties, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and the Pakistan People’s Party officially entered into an agreement to form a coalition government. Pakistan’s Daily Times specified the power-sharing formula would apply to central government as well as the provincial government in Punjab. The news agency added, “According to the deal, the prime minister and the speaker and deputy speaker of the National Assembly will be from the PPP, and the federal cabinet will include ministers from the PML-N. The Punjab chief minister and the speaker and the deputy speaker of the Punjab Assembly will be from the PML-N and the provincial cabinet will include ministers from the PPP.”
According to both the NY Times and the Washington Post, the leaders of the two parties, “in an unexpectedly strong show of unity against President Pervez Musharraf,” also agreed that they would reinstate the judges fired by the president and “would seek to strip him of crucial powers.” The Post noted the judges, presumably including ousted Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, would return to the bench within a month. Nawaz Sharif, after what media outlets dubbed a “marathon meeting” between members of his party and Asif Zardari‘s PPP, told reporters, “The restoration of the deposed judges, as it was on the 2nd of November 2007, shall be brought about through a parliamentary resolution to be passed in the National Assembly within 30 days of the formation of the federal government.” However, the Associated Press reported that Zardari “muddled” the issue by saying the current justices would not be “disturbed.”
The NY Times highlighted the significance of this deal in its coverage, noting, “The accord created a direct threat to Mr. Musharraf because the restored judges could act on petitions challenging the validity of his re-election last October when he was still head of the army.” The deal therefore “dashed the hopes of the Bush administration that Parliament would work in harmony with Mr. Musharraf.” According to Reuters, the Pashtun nationalist party, the Awami National Party (ANP) will also be part of the PPP-led coalition, and the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) agreed “in principle” to join the coalition.
The restoration of the judiciary, as seen today, continues to be the most symbolic issue in the country prior to and following the elections. On Sunday, hundreds of lawyers (about 500, according to the Washington Post), marched on Sunday to Chaudhry’s home to demand an end to his four-month house arrest. According to the Post, “Waving black flags, dozens shouted for Musharraf, the former army chief, to be hanged. Several protesters tried to cut through a barbed-wire barricade on the road near Chaudhry’s home.” Protests for the restoration of the judiciary have become routine in the country since last year. On Saturday, “hundreds of black-suited lawyers” were led by Aitzaz Ahsan, the Supreme Court Bar Association president and PPP politician, in a march that kicked off a week-long protest dubbed, “Black Flag Week.” According to Pakistaniat.com, Aitzaz’s current stature as a now national leader of the country’s civil movement is “a passionate call. A well-worded call. A heart-felt call. A non-partisan call. A call to support constitutionalism. A call that asks no one to break the law, but everyone to register their calling. It is a call that is compelling.”
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What will be interesting to watch, however, is the ambiguity regarding this “restoration of the judiciary,” now officially promised by the PPP-PML-N coalition government. Zardari’s reportedly “muddled” statements, telling reporters that the current judges will “not be disturbed,” is significant – what will satisfy this now very unified civil movement? I am under the impression that there is no room for ambiguity, given the passion behind the lawyers’ protests. Therefore, it will be important to pay attention to what this new government must do to appease and quell this ever-burgeoning movement. It is interesting – the elected political parties, the lawyers’ movement, and other elements of Pakistani society were all unified prior to the elections under the anti-Musharraf banner – with the political process now underway and the impending exit of Musharraf, this “unity” could crumble very easily. [Images from the NY Times, see prior link]

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kashmir-singh.jpgLast week, news sources reported that  Kashmir Singh, the Indian national who was held in a Pakistani prison for 35 years under espionage charges, was released on Tuesday after being granted amnesty by President Musharraf, [see the post from Pakistaniat for more background.] After crossing over the border into India last week, Singh was given a hero’s welcome and was showered with rose petals. Pakistan’s Human Rights Minister, Ansar Burney, discovered in December that the Indian national, who denied vehemently that he was a spy for the past 35 years, was still languishing in Pakistani prison, and proceeded to advocate for his release.
Singh’s subsequent release last week was viewed as a major humanitarian gesture by the Pakistani government. However, a development covered on Saturday could potentially turn this gesture into an “international embarrassment” for the Pakistani government. On Friday, Singh confessed to reporters that he in fact was a spy for the Indian government, stating, “I did the duty assigned to me as a spy … I was a regular recruit. I did not open my mouth for 35 years in Pakistan.” According to BBC News, he also criticized the Indian government, “which he said did nothing for him and his family while he was in jail.” However, the AFP reported that Singh was paid about 400 rupees a month (10 dollars) for his work. He told reporters, “I went to serve my country…even  Pakistan authorities failed to get this information from me.” Singh declined to tell reporters which Indian agency employed him, however.
According to the Associated Press today, Singh appeared to backpedal from Friday’s statements which “could imperil hundreds of prisoners held on both sides in similar circumstances.” He reportedly told the private Indian CNN-IBN that his comments were misinterpreted and he was actually not a spy. However, the AP added, “…his credibility was in doubt.” Pakistan’s Daily Times cited Burney’s reaction to the development. The minister still asserted that Singh’s release was correct and implied that the Indian may have “been forced to make that statement.” The Times added, “APP quoted him as telling Express News that if Singh was a spy, he should have been hanged in 1978 when the president rejected his mercy petition…” Despite the development, Burney said that India would release 25 Pakistani prisoners in return for Singh.
To be honest, I was confused by the whole turn of events on Friday – if Singh truly was a spy, why admit it now? It does nothing but antagonize relations and perceptions between Pakistan and India at a time when the two countries are in a period of relative peace. Last week, his release was potentially a positive development for prisoners still languishing on either side of the border. However, could his confession hold serious ramifications for the recent prisoner exchanges? If anything, it’s a slap in the face to these efforts.

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karyani.jpgOn Thursday, news sources printed statements by Army Chief of Staff (COAS), Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, who rejected any suggestions of any rift between the military and President Pervez Musharraf and insisted that the military will stay out of politics. According to Dawn, the military chief also affirmed his full support for the recently elected government and the democratic process. According to the news agency, “This was the most significant statement made by Gen Kayani since taking over the command of the army about the country’s political situation and army’s relationship with the future government and the head of the state, who is also ex-officio Supreme Commander of the armed forces.” The Daily Times also reported that Kayani emphasized that “any kind of schism, at any level, under the circumstances would not be in the larger interest of the nation.” He also expressed hope for a harmonious relationship among the various pillars of the state. On Friday, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) welcomed Kayani’s pledge but added that the value of that commitment “lies in how sincerely and effectively it is implemented.”
Kayani’s statements came as Musharraf prepares to convene the new session of parliament. On Friday, the president affirmed that he would support a coalition government that might seek his resignation, “so long as peace was maintained,” Reuters reported today. Aides have strongly denied that Musharraf plans to resign from his post, despite political pressures to do so. However, Kayani, by making his statement yesterday, affirmed this new shift in the military’s role in the country – that it will stay out of the political arena (at least for now), and does not wish to be dragged into “unnecessary controversy.”
What does this new shift essentially mean for the military’s role in Pakistan? Moreover, what are the potential ramifications for U.S.-Pakistan military ties? A significant piece released by the Council on Foreign Relations yesterday noted the subsequent uncertainty in defining the U.S. military presence in the country. According to the article, “…now Washington is worried the change of guard in Islamabad may curtail its efforts to act more aggressively against suspected terrorists. Pakistan’s recent election winners have said they want to pursue peace talks with militants (IHT). Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whose party forms a part of the new parliamentary coalition, asked the United States to clearly define its war on terror (Dawn).” Robert Grenier, the former director of the CIA Counterterrorism Center, said that when it comes to military operations, a democratically elected government “will be more zealous in guarding Pakistani sovereignty, or being seen to be guarding Pakistani sovereignty.” The military, he added, will nevertheless “resist micromanagement from any government.” And here again we reach the crux of the problem – the constant battle for control and power between the military and the parliament. During democratic eras in Pakistan, it was rare that the two institutions acted in accordance with one another – instead we had situations like the Kargil crisis in 1999, when the army conducted operations separately and counter to the actions of the government. Currently, the Pakistani security forces are conducting a battle against the militants in the north, an operation we are seemingly divorced from. It will be interesting to see how different the agendas of the government and the army will be in handling the extremist issue in the country – will the two branches be able to reconcile their differences and approach the issue with a cohesive and unified agenda? Or will we run into the same cycle of issues all over again?

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PPP Delays PM Decision

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The party of recently slain Benazir Bhutto, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), delayed nominating the country’s Prime Minister on Thursday, “casting the nuclear-armed nation deeper into political limbo after elections,” reported the AFP. The News added that the decision will be made in the coming days. The PPP was expected to nominate the party’s vice chairman, Makhdoom Amin Fahim, but delayed the decision due to discord over this choice. The AFP noted, “Party insiders said the dispute hinged on the fact that Fahim, the PPP’s long-term vice-president, hails from the southern province of Sindh, the Bhutto clan’s powerbase. Some party leaders wanted a prime minister fro, Punjab province, which is home to more than half of the country’s 160 million people and where Sharif’s party outnumbered the PPP in provincial polls.” Dawn also commented on this party intrigue, reporting, “…dark clouds of uncertainty appeared on the horizon recently in what seemed to be an orchestrated whispering campaign suggesting a sidelining of the party old guard from the main PPP power base of Sindh province, though there was no indication if possible alternatives mentioned were involved in the potentially damaging exercise so soon after the party’s election victory and while the new coalition of former political foes was yet to take shape.”
Benazir’s husband and the party’s co-chairman, Asif Ali Zardari, said he would be in the running for the PM position because he had not contested for a National Assembly seat. Yesterday, a Pakistani court dismissed the five corruption cases against Zardari, oft-known in the country as “Mr. Ten Percent,” in what Reuters labeled “a major step towards clearing the way for him to hold government office.” The news agency added, “Pakistanis convicted of a crime are barred from standing for election and while Zardari has never been convicted, corruption cases have been hanging over him, raising doubts about his future.” PPP spokeswoman Farzana Raja told reporters, “These cases were always used as a bargaining chip by our opponents but they failed to bend the resolve of our leadership. They failed to prove any of the charges. It has vindicated our stance.”
The discord over the PM nomination is interesting, particularly if the Sindh-Punjab element is truly behind this fracture. Amin Fahim has been a longtime ally of Benazir Bhutto and effectively led the party during her exile. By choosing the leading Punjabi PPP contender, Ahmed Mukhtar, an industrialist who is reportedly close to Zardari and defeated the chief of the PML-Q in the recent elections, over Fahim, the PPP could upset party rank and the wishes of former PM Benazir Bhutto. Moreover, this could have further ramifications for party support, especially the PPP’s traditional power base in Sindh province. Ultimately, the delay and reported party intrigue merely adds to the national uncertainty over the political future of the country.

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On Wednesday, Pakistani police detained 11 alleged Islamist militants, “including eight in connection with a suicide attack on a navy college that marked the latest in a wave of deadly bombings in Pakistan since the elections,” the Associated Press reported. Yesterday, two suicide bombers attacked the Pakistan Navy War College in Lahore, killing six and wounding 23. Pakistan’s Daily Times reported, “According to intelligence sources, a closed-circuit camera focused on NWC’s gate recorded the first suicide bombing in its entirety. They said the explosion caused the camera’s lens to break, due to which the second and third blasts were not recorded.” Capital City Police Officer Malik Muhammad Iqbal said the bombers targeted NWC’s back entrance, adding that the first bomber rushed in the back entrance and blew himself up as the gate was being opened for two officials. According to Dawn newspaper, the second bomber, riding a motorcycle, then entered the college premises and detonated his explosives in the parking lot. Dawn added, “The second blast was so powerful that three cars, two coaches, an ambulance and two buses caught fire.” The AP reported today that eight of those arrested in connection with the bomb blast were members of “outlawed” Sunni militant organizations, but provided few other details.
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Tuesday’s blast occurred as President Musharraf met with the U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen to discuss the regional security situation and possible counterterrorism strategies. News outlets have recently reported that the U.S. is planning to send two dozen personnel to Pakistan this year to train elements of the Pakistani military in counterinsurgency warfare and intelligence gathering techniques. A U.S. embassy spokesperson said Mullen also had two meetings with Chief of Army Staff General Kayani.
An article in today’s NY Times discussed the continuing opposition to Musharraf, reporting, “Energized by their victory two weeks ago, members of the incoming Parliament are questioning with new vigor Mr. Musharraf’s continuation in office.” The news agency added, “The president may not be comfortable with what he sees coming. Even though the Pakistan People’s Party and its partners have said Mr. Musharraf’s removal is not their first concern, opposition to him remains the underlying theme of politics here.” Senator Raja Zafar ul-Haq, the chairman of the PML-N, told the Times, “That is why the country is not settled… There are indications the presidency is trying to create hitches between those forming the government.” So far, the election results for all but 10 National Assembly seats have been confirmed, and the PPP will officially lead the new government. Makhdoom Amin Fahim, the Vice-Chairman of the party and the PPP’s longest serving member of parliament, will most probably be appointed the country’s Prime Minister. The coalition agreement between the PPP, the PML-N, and the ANP is being established. The parties are currently working towards their pledge of restoring the judiciary, and have formed a legal committee to work out the details.
However, despite this progress, the presence of Musharraf in the government still presents a major obstacle for the parties in power. According to the Times, “Mr. Musharraf, much weakened since removing his uniform and since his political party sustained a resounding defeat at the polls, nevertheless retains one powerful weapon. Under controversial constitutional amendments, he has the power to dissolve Parliament and dismiss the government. He also has the right to appoint and remove the top officials of the armed forces.” Although a vote to impeach the president remains unlikely, it is said that Musharraf may resign if the chief justice is reinstated, “because that would reopen the question of his eligibility to be president and the legality of his suspension of the Constitution in November.” The same would occur if lawmakers vote to remove his powers to dissolve the Parliament – rather than accept a diminished role, Musharraf would step down. The question is – when? How long will this period of purgatory for the President last? [Image from Daily Times]

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