This weekend, Pakistanis were inundated with news of bombings, human trafficking discoveries, kidnapping developments, and other tragedies. On Saturday, a bombing at a Frontier Corps check post in Islamabad killed eight security men, while a suicide bombing at a Shiite mosque in Chakwal on Sunday killed 26 people and injured more than 40. Also on Saturday, media outlets reported that a suicide bomber drove his vehicle into a group of civilians on the side of the road in Miranshah, in North Waziristan, killing at least eight people, including schoolchildren. According to the NY Times, “In a telephone interview on Sunday, Hakimullah Mehsud, a powerful deputy to Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban [Tehreek-e-Taliban], said the Taliban were responsible for the suicide attacks in Islamabad and Chakwal.” The Chakwal attack was, according to him, carried out by the Fidayeen-e-Islam, a group that falls under the umbrella of the TTP. The FI , based in South Waziristan, is led by Qari Hussain, “the chief technician and motivator of Taliban suicide bombers.” The Times also reported that Mehsud said in his “hurried” interview,
He said the Islamabad bombing had been in retaliation for an attack against him by a remotely piloted American aircraft on Wednesday in Orakzai, southwest of Peshawar in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan…Hakimullah Mehsud said the Pakistani Taliban planned to carry out two bombings a week within Pakistan in what he called “revenge” against Pakistan for the American missile strikes. He did not specify whether the attacks would be by suicide bombers or in commando-style assaults…
Yesterday, Pakistan’s interior ministry told news outlets that the government ordered security forces in Islamabad and Rawalpindi to be on high alert for the next 24 hours. GEO News reported that security forces have been asked to check vehicles and “suspicious people on the interior and exterior routes,” as well as carefully monitor security cameras at important locations like buildings, roundabouts, bus stands, airports and railway stations. Extra security has also been afforded to mosques, imambarghs, and other worship places, particularly around prayer times.
Despite this weekend’s tragedies, there have been some significant positive developments in Pakistan. On Monday, the newly reinstated Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry ordered a police committee to investigate the controversial flogging of a teenage girl in Swat, [see CHUP’s related post on the incident]. Calling the flogging a “cruel violation of fundamental rights,” Chaudhry also asserted that “the government had failed to establish its authority in Swat, despite a peace deal there,” reported BBC News.
The controversial video, taken by mobile phone, triggered a wave of protests throughout the country this weekend. According to Dawn, political parties and rights organizations on Saturday organized demonstrations in Islamabad, Karachi, Peshawar, Lahore, Multan, Hyderabad, Khairpur, Sialkot and other towns and cities. Prominent human rights activist Tahira Abdullah [click here to see her exchange with Sherry Rehman during the Long March] told reporters, “Perpetrators of this heinous act are not human beings. They are savages. We have to wage a joint fight against them.” Dawn reported, “‘Taliban Hatao, Mulk Bachao‘ read one banner out of many in a rally participated by civil society activists, journalists, human rights activists, students and youth in Islamabad. Another banner rejected Taliban and their code of ethics.” In Karachi, the chairperson of the National Commission on the Status of Women, Anis Haroon declared, “The civil society … will not allow anyone to turn Pakistan into (another) Afghanistan.”
Several politicians and figures also publicly condemned the flogging, including Altaf Hussain of the MQM, who called for the “public hanging” of the men involved in the incident. He asserted, “I urge President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and Interior Adviser Rehman Malik to arrest and try them [people involved in the flogging], sentence them to death and keep their bodies hung publicly for as many days as they had flogged the innocent girl.” He appealed to the people to display black flags and banners at their houses, shops and streets to register protest against the incident. Even Imran Khan, [who ironically defended the the Taliban peace deal] called for “strong action” to be taken against the people responsible for the flogging.
Protests from the opposite side of the spectrum also occurred, after the Taliban, provincial officials and some rightwing commentators cast doubt on the video’s authenticity, “variously claiming that it was manufactured or filmed so long ago as to be invalid.” According to the Guardian, hundreds of people mounted a street protest over the tape in Mingora, the main town in the Swat valley, “denouncing it as a tool to derail the fragile peace agreement.” The news agency added, “In the supreme court, provincial officials said they had visited Chaand Bibi at her village and she had denied she was the burka-clad figure featured in the video.”
While anything is possible, it’s suspicious that the woman in the video is now claiming it never occurred. I seriously doubt she made such a statement out of her own accord. That controversy aside, what has occurred because of recent events including this chilling flogging video is significant. The protests and the recent bombings in Pakistan have polarized the country, making it increasingly difficult to remain ambiguous on the Taliban issue. The TTP’s recent actions have made the choice very black-and-white: if you are for the Taliban, you are against the future of Pakistan. You are for a group that bombs girls’ schools, that legitimizes acts like public floggings and beatings, and attacks people while they are praying. You are for an organization that has hijacked our religion and perverted it to further their own political aims. And you are for elements that aren’t just targeting the state of Pakistan, but the people as well.
A choice against the Taliban must translate into more than just words. This weekend’s protests, while a significant development, should just be the beginning. The flogging of a young girl is a small example of the more overarching problem facing Pakistan. And it is our civic duty to address it.