Archive for July, 2009

In a landmark decision today, Pakistan’s Supreme Court ruled that former President Pervez Musharraf‘s declaration of emergency rule on November 3, 2007 was unconsitutional. GEO News reported,

A 14-member larger bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Iftikhar Muhammed Chaudhry heard the constitutional petitions regarding PCO judges, appointments of judges of higher judiciary and November 3, 2007 steps. The verdict said that sacking of the judges was illegal and unconstitutional. Article 279 of the Constitution was violated on November 3, 2007...The Supreme Court termed the steps taken on November 3, 2007 as null and void.

Hamid Khan, former president of the Supreme Court Bar Association and a lawyer representing a petition filed by the Sindh Bar Association against the emergency order, told reporters after the decision, “All the judges who took the oath under the provisional constitutional order of Nov. 3 were unconstitutional judges, their appointment as judges is canceled.”

Although other leaders of the lawyers’ movement, like Aitzaz Ahsan, noted the decision will have “far- reaching implications,” it is still unclear just what exactly will happen next. According to Al Jazeera, Friday’s ruling “may strengthen the case for bringing treason charges against the former military ruler…” However, as noted by Dawn, “any charges of treason against Musharraf would have to come from parliament. The previous parliament had endorsed Musharraf’s actions.”

Therefore, the ruling, while significant, begs the question – what now? Will the rulings of the PCO judges still stand if their appointments were deemed illegal? Is it contradictory to rule the firing of judges illegal by firing more judges? Finally, what will happen with the National Reconciliation Ordinance? What are your thoughts?

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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: IMDB

Image Credit: IMDB

I first wrote about  Faran Tahir back in May, after the Pakistani actor played Captain Robau in JJ Abrams’ Star Trek. Tahir, who was born in Los Angeles (while his parents were studying acting and directing at the UCLA Theatre Department), but grew up in Pakistan, later moved back to California to attend the University of California – Berkeley. He also received a graduate degree from the Institute for Advanced Theatre Training at Harvard University. The actor has a number of film and television credits under his belt, including roles in Iron Man, Charlie Wilson’s War, 24 and Sleeper Cell. Below, he answers a few questions for CHUP on the stereotyping of Muslims in Hollywood, his foray into acting, and the revival of Pakistan’s film industry:

Q: Your recent role as Captain Robau in Star Trek was significant not only because the franchise portrayed a captain other than Kirk or Picard as heroic, but because it was also a “color blind” role. What was it like to be involved in the film, and to play such a groundbreaking role?

It was a remarkable experience on many levels. First of all, it was truly color blind casting. I asked the director, J J Abrams, at one point about his reasons for casting me. He said that he was looking for a certain quality and intensity regardless of color or creed. It gives us a ray of hope that maybe we are slowly inching towards a more even playing field. The casting also adheres to the true philosophy behind Star Trek. Star Trek envisions a universe based on merit not race or other differentiators. Secondly, I grew up with Star Trek so it was like a little boy’s dream come true.

Q: Several Hollywood films and television shows, particularly after 9/11, have perpetuated the stereotype of Muslims as “terrorists.” However, recent efforts by organizations like MOST (Muslims on Screen and Television) have been significant in changing perceptions. For example, Howard Gordon, the creator and executive producer of ’24’ said he changed his mind on the issue after meeting with representatives from the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Have you noticed a shift in Hollywood, or do you continue to face such obstacles?

There is definitely a shift to balance out the perspectives more. Some of it is because of vocal groups calling the media out and challenging their portrayals of Muslims and some of it is the natural balancing out of approach to sensitive material. Whenever there is a monumental tragic event [9/11] in the world, the human race reacts to the shock of it but eventually we realize that in the end, we have to engage in dialogue with the other side and not war.

Q: Given that your parents also studied acting and directing, did they support your own ambitions to pursue a career in theater/acting? What advice would you give young Pakistanis who may want to follow a similar path?

My parents have always been a support to me. Their main concern is always been my well being. They have tried to support me and even challenge me to find ways to protect my core and stay true to myself. They have taught me not only the craft but also how to find bravery in the face of adversity and humility in face of success.

My advice to aspiring actors would be NEVER to give up. There will be plenty of rejections along the way and plenty of wins but be your own best critic and friend. We all want to be successful and there is plenty of room for all of us but lets succeed with grace and dignity.

Q: What’s next for you?

I have two movies in post production. Ashes is the story of two brothers. I play the older brother who is spiraling into mental illness. The younger brother is spiraling into drugs. They have no one to fall back on but each other. Two Mothers is a story of two families dealing with the death of their teenage sons in an explosion at a shopping mall. It deals with how lives can corrode when a tragedy hits. I play the father of one of the boys and an extremely talented actress from our own Pakistan, Mahnoor Baloch, plays the mother.

Q: Pakistan’s film industry has recently seen a resurgence of film – from Khuda Kay Liye to Ramchand Pakistani to Kashf. What do you think of this revival and what more could be done to encourage this growth?

The Pakistani film industry has been producing movies in a singular genre. We need to branch out. It will bring newer challenges for directors, actors, everyone. People like Shoaib Mansoor, Mehreen Jabbar, and Ayesha Khan have shown the courage to tackle new frontier and others must take this baton and run with it.

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Redefining Success

There were a series of notable arrests this past weekend in Pakistan. On Sunday, media outlets reported that Shah Abdul Aziz, a former MP with the MMA, was detained in connection with the murder of Piotr Stanczak, a Polish engineer decapitated by Taliban militants in February. The AFP reported, “On July 16, Pakistani police arrested another man, Atta Ullah Khan, in connection with the killing and on Sunday arrested three other people suspected of links to Stanczak’s murder and of plotting militant attacks in Islamabad.” Speaking in a court in Rawalpindi, Attaullah said the Polish engineer was killed on the orders of Aziz, “after negotiations for the release of captured Taliban members broke down.”

BBC: Sufi Muhammad

BBC: Sufi Muhammad

Speaking of collapsed peace deals, news agencies reported that Sufi Muhammad, the head of TNSM [Tehreek Nifaz Shariat-e-Muhammad] who negotiated a deal in February, was also arrested Sunday. Provincial information minister Iftikhar Hussein told a news conference the cleric had been detained “for encouraging terrorism and violence.” The BBC quoted him telling reporters, “Instead of keeping his promises by taking steps for the sake of peace, and speaking out against terrorism, he [Muhammad] did not utter a single word against terrorists...He has been involved in activities which help militancy and militants and sabotage government efforts to combat them.”

Meanwhile, The News reported yesterday that the banned TNSM has “almost been eliminated” in Malakand, and Interior Minister Rehman Malik told reporters that Muhammad’s son-in-law, Mullah Fazlullah (also known as the “Radio Mullah”) has been injured and “security forces will be able to arrest him in a few days,” adding that, “Now there is no danger of the terrorists regrouping.”

The arrest of Muhammad and the impending capture of Mullah Fazlullah will be significant in not only disrupting the power structure of the Swati Taliban, but also in raising the confidence of returning IDPs. Zahid Hussain, in the piece, “Swat – It’s too Early to Declare Victory,” wrote, “The biggest failure of the army operation has been the escape of the top militant leadership. [The] Army claims to have eliminated second and third tiers of Taliban commanders, but the top leadership has so far survived, raising fears of insurgents regrouping once the operation is over.” Shamsher Khan, who is in the hotel business in Swat, told Hussain, “Everyone here dreads that Taliban could return any time.”

Although the military dismisses such fears, asserting the Taliban’s “capacity to regroup and launch major attacks has been destroyed,” militants, not surprisingly, issue statements that portray a different reality. Last week, TTP spokesman Muslim Khan told journalists via phone that the entire Taliban command “was intact and had pulled back as part of a strategy.” Khan also played to journalists a purported recorded audio message from Fazlullah to dispel military claims that they had critically wounded the militant leader in an air strike on his hideout.

So who to believe? While there is not enough information to really separate fact from fiction, it is clear that we are far, far away from the zero-sum game of conventional warfare. According to the Christian Science Monitor on July 17, despite the military “clearing” areas in Buner and Swat, “Early reports point to a resurgence in Taliban activity there.” The Monitor’s Ben Arnoldy noted, “Returned residents and local journalists say that Swat Taliban leader Maulana Fazlullah has been heard on FM radio [reports also said his sermon was jammed within several minutes]. In Buner – the first region that the military moved in to clear – the Taliban are setting up fresh checkpoints, pressuring refugees for money, and have burned the home of an outspoken journalist.”

Several families that returned home to Buner nearly two weeks ago reportedly fled after finding militants still in the area, claiming that 250-300 Taliban remain. Arnoldy added in his coverage, “The militants were threatening people and demanding payments of 25,000 rupees ($305), which happens to be the amount the government is giving displaced people on ATM cards as they head home.”

What is important, though, is that the military seems to understand the necessity of staying in these areas this time around. According to the Monitor, the government has been recruiting 25,000 retired Pakistani soldiers for police duty in order to protect returning residents, ultimately tripling the number of police stations and bolstering the force above levels present before the Taliban drove them out. This strategy seems to echo policies advocated by Hassan Abbas and Christine Fair, who both emphasized that a strong police is key to defeating an insurgency. Abbas in his report, “Police & Law Enforcement Reform in Pakistan,” cited Kelev I. Stepp’s Best Practices in Counterinsurgency, who emphasized the police should be “in the lead” with “the military providing backup support and strengthening the police with diversified training capabilities to help meet the security needs of the at-risk population.”

The retired soldiers who agree to be police in these areas will be paid significantly more than their old salaries, and will undergo a training that will last a week to 10 days. And, though critics say there are major differences between soldiers and police work, “former soldiers do bring some built-in skills, including physical toughness, basic education, knowledge of how to patrol, and experience with firearms.” According to Dawn, the government will also introduce the concept of community police which would be more integrated with the local population, and allow for more ownership of this process.

Therefore, it seems the major difference between this offensive and Pakistan’s past military operations is a deeper understanding of what constitutes a “success.” In counterinsurgency warfare, success is defined not by victories in the battle space, but the ability to maintain security in its aftermath. In Gen. David PetraeusField Manual 3-24 on Counterinsurgency, the trinity must be achieved – clear, hold and build. This credo, originally devised for the Iraq “surge,” will be a lot harder to apply to Pakistan, where tribal loyalties, the military’s past relations with militant groups, and conflict fatigue make the situation far more complex. It will be vital for the government to not only strengthen local police forces but also provide sustainable basic services for local residents. And, given the fact that many of these services cannot even be provided to the rest of Pakistan’s population, it seems we’re in for a long road ahead.

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Made in Pakistan is a 60-minute documentary that follows the lives of four young, middle-class Pakistanis during Musharraf’s state of emergency in 2007 – Waleed Khalid, a lawyer, Rabia Aamir, a journalist and a working mother, Mohsin Waraich, an aspiring politician, and Tara Mehmood, an event & PR manager. The film is an attempt to break the oft-negative depictions of Pakistan in the news media by re-examining the country through the eyes of these four citizens. Made in Pakistan premieres in Karachi next week on July 31, followed by screenings in Islamabad, and Lahore [click on the city to get more information on the showings], making the film the first documentary to be nationally released in Pakistan. Below, CHUP talks to the film’s director, Nasir Khan:

Q: What inspired you to make the film, Made in Pakistan?

Whenever I saw any coverage of Pakistan on foreign news channels, it felt like an extremely myopic and stereotypical representation of our people. The Pakistan they repeatedly covered was only showing a part of the story. Pakistan and Pakistanis were often labeled as dangerous pariahs who should be secluded from the world stage as we know it. As Pakistani filmmakers, we felt that their conclusions were amateur and racist. We felt we could easily negate them even if we showed a glimpse of Pakistan through the eyes of Pakistanis. Thus began the journey for making Made in Pakistan.

Q: The documentary follows the lives of four Pakistanis who are meant to show the multifaceted nature of the country. How did you go about “casting”/finding these people for the film? What surprised you the most when following their lives?

We were extremely lucky that we were able to find people from such diverse backgrounds who had very distinct personalities. Most of them were friends of friends and the great thing was that all of them agreed to be part of the production without hesitation. There were many surprising elements during filming: following Mohsin’s [the aspiring politician] campaign and seeing how aware and resolute the voters are even though they are coming out of low-income populations. The fallacy that people don’t know their rights and just vote blindly was absolutely dispelled. Then following the lawyers’ movement and seeing the passionate atmosphere – people are hit yet the spirit didn’t waver. But the most reassuring aspect was visiting schools and colleges and seeing the high level of patriotism these young kids have for Pakistan.

Q: The film will be screened in Pakistan’s three main cities – Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. Are there plans to release the film elsewhere in Pakistan and internationally? What do you hope Pakistanis who watch Made in Pakistan take away from the film? Do you think international viewers may take away something different?

Plans are on for a worldwide release – we have been getting a lot of interest from audiences and InshAllah we will be hitting the major cities soon. I think it feels good to see a Pakistani story, it feels good to see a representation of yourself so I think that hint of pride that one gets while seeing something homegrown is what Pakistani audiences should take in at a very basic level. As for the response we have gotten from focus groups done abroad, the response has been incredible. On one hand, audiences are surprised that people in Pakistan can speak such good English and on the other, they are connecting the most to the bearded Muslim (Waleed the lawyer), whom they are supposed to hate based on popular perceptions.

Q: The documentary was filmed during Pakistan’s state of emergency under Musharraf in 2007. However, so much has happened in the past two years – from democratic elections to an increasingly tumultuous security situation to a burgeoning economic crisis. What do you feel is constant and universal in your film that makes it relevant not just today, but in the future?

I think it reflects the spirit of the people and that is something that remains resolute and relevant. What we have tried to show is that Pakistani people are aware of the situation they find themselves in; they are able to make decisions for their future and that this future brings with it a promise of hope. The message of the documentary is loud and clear “Pakistan Zindabad”  [Long live Pakistan].

Q: Your film company – Talking Filmain – run by you, Adil Sher and Rizwan Saeed – has a very diverse portfolio of projects under its belt. Do you hope to tackle other politically and socially conscious projects in the future?

InshAllah we do hope to work on more inspiring stories and subjects but first we need to get Made in Pakistan out of our system as this is the first documentary to garner a national release in the history of Pakistan. The encouragement we are receiving will guide us to continue of this journey of telling Pakistani stories.

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TIME Mag Cover with Jinnah, April 22 1946

TIME Mag Cover with Jinnah, April 22 1946

At the time of Pakistan’s independence in 1947, Mohammed Ali Jinnah [Quaid-e-Azam], the father of our country, said: “If we want to make this great State of Pakistan happy and prosperous, we should wholly and solely concentrate on the well-being of the people, and especially of the masses and the poor… you are free – you are free to go to your temples, mosques or any other place of worship in this state of Pakistan.” Today, nearly 62 years later, we have to step back and reflect on how far we have strayed from the vision of our founder. Below, Rakesh Mani, a 2009 Teach for India fellow, and Zehra Ahmed, a Pakistani architect, designer, and writer, tackle this issue:

As Pakistan atrophies in its existential crisis, a fundamental question about the nature of the country is coming to the fore: Are the country’s citizens Pakistanis who happen to be Muslims, or are they Muslims who happen to be Pakistanis? Which comes first, flag or faith?

It is not a question that many Pakistanis can readily answer. The vast majority of the country’s so-called “educated elite” seem to have no qualms about identifying themselves as Muslims first and Pakistanis second. Some feel that their religion is the most important thing to them, and that that’s where their first loyalty will always lie. Others admit to having scant regard for religion, but say that Pakistan has come to mean so little to them that their religion supersedes their loyalty to the country.

This willingness to subordinate state to God, even among the highly educated, lies at the heart of Pakistan’s crisis. How can a country be expected to prosper if the majority of its citizens harbor only a secondary allegiance to the state? How can it progress if, as the noted author M.J. Akbar wrote, “the idea of Pakistan is weaker than the Pakistani”?

But what is the idea of Pakistan?

Back in the heady days of the 1940’s, Mohammed Ali Jinnah rallied a people to nationhood. Despite his Anglophone status and Victorian manners, he carved out a separate homeland for India’s Muslims. But, today, an erudite, westernized lawyer like Jinnah who isn’t a wadhera or a jagirdar would find it impossible to win a popular election in Pakistan.

The real Jinnah is now irrelevant in the country that reveres him as “Quaid-e-Azam,” or founder of the nation. Few Pakistanis have the time or inclination to think about their founder’s ideas. Jinnah’s idea of Pakistan – South Asian Muslim nationalism – has been overrun by the dogma of Islamic universalism.

The modern Pakistani identity is shaped largely by the negation of an Indian-Hindu identity and the adoption of a global pan-Islamic charter. Economic advancement is taken to mean Westernization or worse, Indianization. At every turn, Pakistanis seem more likely to unite as brothers in Islam than as sons of the same soil.

Moreover, Pakistan’s fear of vilification and failure has given birth to an increasingly paranoid brand of Islam that seeks to impose stricter controls – on education, women’s rights, dancing, beardlessness, and sex – and close society to all forms of modernity. This paranoid Islam, represented by hard-line outfits like the Tablighi Jamaat, is Pakistan’s fastest-growing brand of faith.

Pakistan is now at a crossroads, facing an uneasy moment of truth. To survive, its citizens must act in unison or risk seeing every moderate tendency in the country purged by a clamor of illiberal, religious voices.

Today’s crisis calls for every thinking Pakistani to ask serious questions of themselves: What should be the idea of Pakistan? Are you Pakistanis who happen to be Muslims, Christians, or Hindus? Or are you members of a global Islamic ummah who just happen to live in Karachi or Lahore?

The real challenge, and the ultimate solution, is to get people to think and talk about these questions. But this must be a debate between people, and within people. Nothing will be solved by searching for the “true Islam” or by quoting the Koran.

The point is that eventually, despite strong regional loyalties and various cultural and religious differences, the majority can identify as being simply “Pakistani” – even though they may harbor radical differences about what this might mean. The real idea of Pakistan, ultimately, must be multiplicity.

Today, we have come to understand ourselves as composites; often contradictory and internally incompatible. In the Baburnama , for example, we see the internal contradictions in the personality of the founder of the Mughal Empire. When describing his conquest of Chanderi in 1528, Babur offers gruesome details of the gory slaughter of many “infidels” but just a few sentences later he talks at length about Chanderi’s lakes, flowing streams, and sweet water. So who was Babur, bloodthirsty tyrant, humanist poet, or both – and not necessarily at odds with each other?

Pakistan’s selfhood must be expanded ad maximum and made so capacious that it accommodates its Punjabis, Sindhis, Pathans, and Balochis, and their religions and sects – Sunni, Shia, Hindu, Christian, Parsi, Qadhianis – until it is possible to call them all equally “Pakistani.” That must be the ultimate goal, and step one in the long, winding battle to save Pakistan.

That is a national idea worth striving for – and Pakistan’s intellectuals, its elite, and its youth must be at the forefront of the battle. The Crescent has cast a seemingly interminable shadow across the length of Pakistan. Its tragedies and failings are a result of what is happening in God’s name, not Jinnah’s. To save Pakistan, Jinnah’s spirit, his moth-eaten ideals, must be renewed, and Pakistanis must ask themselves what Pakistan really means.

The contribution is the sole opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the opinion of CHUP. If you would like to contribute a piece to CHUP, please email Kalsoom at changinguppakistan[at]gmail[dot]com. Pieces should be no longer than 800 words please. For past contributions, click here.

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Rain in Karachi

I was really struck by the above photo that captured this past weekend’s torrential downpour in Karachi. According to CNN, the monsoon rains in Pakistan’s commercial capital “killed dozens, cut power to 15 million and broke a 32-year record.Dawn on Monday reported that 41 people were killed by “rain-related deaths.”

CNN spoke to fellow twitterer Aly (aka: discomaulvi) who said, “The entire city is disrupted. Most places lost power for 28 to 30 hours, and some are still without power. The rain flooded offices. We lost water. Everything is shut down.”

Senior news anchor Naveen Naqvi wrote on Dawn’s blog: “It was a gorgeous storm, perfect even… And then, all hell broke loose. Within a few hours (and that’s the most charitable account I can give), KESC (Karachi Electricity Supply Company) had turned off the power in most parts of the city. Not only were we dealing with a storm the likes of which this city has apparently not seen since 1977, we were doing so without electricity.”

Saba Imtiaz said it best though, when she blogged, “9:50 PM: Put old towels on floor to mop water. They’re wet in a second. Sacrifice two old t-shirts to the cause. Utterly useless. Beg God, asking Him why he has forsaken me. No answer. He’s probably trying to get through to KESC as well.”

The government reportedly began clean-up of the city Monday, but following reports of protestors throwing rocks and burning tires in anti-KESC riots this past weekend, I’d venture to guess the electricity company is currently one of the most unpopular organizations in Pakistan (or at least Karachi). And that’s saying a lot.

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CS Monitor: An MQ-9 Reaper Drone

CS Monitor: An MQ-9 Reaper Drone

U.S. intelligence officials have called the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) or drones, “their most effective weapon against Al Qaeda.” This belief seems to be manifested in the increased frequency of drone attacks in the border area between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Although the Bush administration authorized only a handful of such strikes in 2007, the Wall Street Journal reports there were more than 30 attacks in 2008. So far in 2009, attacks are up 30 percent from last year, with Newsblogging noting there have been 27 drone attacks, “of which only two occurred before Obama took office.”

Obama’s administration officials have claimed that drone strikes in Pakistan have killed nine of the 20 top Al Qaeda officials. Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann echoed in an article last month, “It is possible to say with some certainty that since the summer of 2008, U.S. drones have killed dozens of lower-ranking militants and at least ten mid-and upper-level leaders within Al Qaeda and the Taliban.” Despite these successes, U.S. drone strikes have been widely criticized for their high civilian death toll. The U.S. has been tight-lipped on these numbers, refusing to disclose “how many civilians have been killed in the strikes,” but  an article in The News this past April published figures provided by Pakistani officials, “indicating that 687 civilians have been killed along with 14 Al Qaeda leaders in some 60 drone strikes since January 2008 – just over 50 civilians killed for every Al Qaeda leader.”

Last week, Daniel Byman from Brookings was more cautious in his assessment when he noted, “Sourcing on civilian deaths is weak and the numbers are often exaggerated.” However, he added, “more than 600 civilians are likely to have died from the attacks. That number suggests that for every militant killed, 10 or so civilians also died.” Amir Mir, a Pakistan terrorism expert, put the total number of deaths caused by drone strikes since 2006 at 700, a number similar to Bergen and Tiedemann’s estimates, “although he asserts that the vast majority of casualties have been civilians, something that is, in fact, impossible to establish definitively.”

In Pakistan, these civilian deaths have sparked outrage among the population, leading many analysts to question whether the costs of drone strikes outweigh their benefits. David Kilcullen, author of The Accidental Guerilla and an influential counterinsurgency advisor to Gen. David Petraeus between 2006 to 2008, believes these attacks do more harm than good because of the “backlash they create.” In the Small Wars Journal earlier this year he wrote, “Unilateral strikes against targets inside Pakistan, whatever other purpose they might serve, have an unarguably and entirely negative effect on Pakistani stability…They increase the number and radicalism of Pakistanis who support extremism and thus undermine the key strategic problem of building a willing and capable partner in Pakistan.” In a NY Times op-ed written with Andrew McDonald Exum, Kilcullen further asserted, “…Every one of these dead noncombatants [from U.S. drone attacks] represents an alienated family, a new desire for revenge, and more recruits for a militant movement that has grown exponentially even as drone strikes have increased.”

Drone strikes have also impacted overarching anti-U.S. sentiment in Pakistan. A recent poll conducted by World Public Opinion from May 17 – May 28, 2009 found that 82% of Pakistanis view predator strikes as “unjustified,” (interestingly, though, the Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy found that more than half the people it polled in FATA said the drone strikes are accurate and are damaging the militant organizations. Fewer than half said that anti-American sentiment in the area had increased due to the drone attacks).

If the strategic costs outweigh the tactical benefits, why does the United States continue to champion such a policy? Upon studying numerous articles and resources, the answer seems to be: because it is their best worst option. According to an article in last week’s Wall Street Journal, “Unlike fighter jets or cruise missiles, Predators can loiter over their targets for more than 20 hours, take photos in which men, women and children can be clearly distinguished (burqas can be visible from 20,000 feet) and deliver laser-guided munitions with low explosive yields. This minimizes the risks of the ‘collateral damage’ that often comes from 500-pound bombs.”

In Pakistan and Afghanistan, where the U.S. operates the MQ-1 Predator and their more sophisticated successor MQ-9 Reaper drones, the most impressive thing, noted the Atlantic, is that they fly slow. The news piece elaborated, “That’s right, in counterinsurgency operations, where the goal is to hunt and kill individuals or small groups of fighters—rather than to attack mass infantry formations—the slower a plane flies, the better.”

NYT: Piloting drones from trailers

NYT: Piloting drones from trailers

From a U.S. standpoint, the use of drones are not only cheaper than conventional planes, they also keep pilots and American soldiers “out of harm’s way,” particularly since most UAVs are manned from thousands of miles away. The Air Force’s Predator missions, for instance, are operated by pilots sitting in trailers at Nellis Air Force base outside Las Vegas, Nevada. In the aforementioned 2006 Atlantic piece, “Hunting the Taliban in Las Vegas,” Robert Kaplan described the inside of one of these trailers,

Like sub drivers, Pred pilots fly blind, using only the visual depiction of their location on a map and math—numerical readouts indicating latitude, longitude, height, wind speeds, ground elevation, nearby planes, and so forth. The camera in the rotating ball focuses only on the object under surveillance. The crew’s situational awareness is restricted to the enemy on the ground. Much of the time during a stakeout, the Pred flies a preprogrammed hexagon, racetrack, bow tie, or some other circular-type holding pattern. Each trailer holds a two-person crew: a pilot and a “sensor,” who operates the ball. Both face half a dozen computer screens, including map displays and close-up shots of the object under surveillance.

Today, MQ-9 Reapers are slowly replacing the Predators, which are a newer model and more heavily armed. And, in a sign of growing U.S. support for these drones, the military is spending  significant more money on this technology, from $880 million in 2007 to $2 billion a year. Several sources note that the strikes have disrupted Al Qaeda’s operations, and Dennis Blair, the Director of National Intelligence, testified to Congress in February that “replacing the loss of key leaders since 2008 in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas has proved difficult for Al Qaeda.” Someone speaking from a U.S. national security standpoint would also point out that bombs in the air are a better and  more viable option than boots on the ground.

From a Pakistani perspective, none of these explanations are likely to improve perceptions of the United States. In fact, much of this reasoning comes off as callous and clinical when placed in context with the tremendous amount of civilian casualties, (the WSJ’s line: “drones have made war-fighting more humane,” further emphasizes this point). However, recent developments indicate that a compromise has been reached between Washington and Islamabad. According to McClatchy news service, recent drone strikes targeting key Pakistani militant leaders “indicate the two governments are coordinating closely.” In the new offensive in South Waziristan, “Pakistani forces have been preparing the battleground by sending in combat aircraft to pound suspected militant hideouts and defenses. The U.S. drones, which contain highly sophisticated technology for homing in on individuals, seem to be augmenting the attack.” Analyst Hasan Askari-Rizvi told the news agency, “The frequency (of the drone strikes) has been increased in order to support Pakistan’s military operations in South Waziristan…These operations help Pakistan contain Beitullah Mehsud.”

Ultimately, the question remains: Even with this reported coordination between U.S. and Pakistan, are drone attacks ever acceptable? What if they killed Mehsud or his top operatives? As Byman noted, “The real answer to halting Al Qaeda’s activity in Pakistan will be the long-term support of Pakistan’s counterinsurgency efforts,” not the short-term advocacy of Predator or Reaper drones.

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When in Doubt, Get a Fatwa

The Karachi Electricity Supply Company (KESC) has reportedly obtained a fatwa [religious decree] from 12 senior Islamic scholars against the theft of electricity, which is costing the company 1 billion rupees ($12.3 million) a month. KESC spokeswoman Ayesha Eirabie told Reuters, “It is astonishing and disturbing to find that certain segments of our society do not even consider theft of electricity ‘theft’, let alone immoral or illegal.”

What exactly is power theft? Typically, noted Reuters, people steal electricity by hooking up a wire to overhead electricity cables, subsequently siphoning off power without paying for it. People can also steal power by slowing down their electricity meters. Eirabie stated, “Most of the people who steal electricity can afford to pay for it but they choose not to…it’s very important for such people to know that electricity theft is illegal, immoral and not acceptable as is any other form of theft.”

While stealing power has an obvious effect on the industry’s revenue, it also disrupts electricity distribution, thereby impacting load-shedding [a rolling blackout that occurs when demand exceeds electricity supply].  Although power shortages are the unfortunate norm in Pakistan, the situation has recently gotten worse. On June 17 and 18, Karachi was paralyzed when millions lost electricity for 19 hours, and on July 11, street protests occurred “after rain and high winds again brought power cuts,” reported the BBC. The issue can be linked to a number of causes, including power theft, increases in demand, and a lack of investment in infrastructure. What is interesting, though, is how the problem appears to be cyclical – that is, the more power is stolen, the more power shortages occur, and the more likely power theft is to increase in its wake.

The fatwa obtained by the KESC is therefore an attempt to not only address the situation, but give it religious legitimacy. In the decree, the religious scholars asserted, “The illicit use of any commodity is a sin and as in this case, the organization producing electricity represents many people. Its use without permission and pay makes it an even bigger sin. Legal action against such people committing electricity theft is fair.” According to BBC News, the fatwa also “directed Muslims to pay back an amount equal to the power they had stolen.”

The KESC’s actions are not surprising given the billions of rupees they stand to lose each year from power theft. However, a major corporation using religious fatwas to bolster their campaign is frankly a little ironic. What do you think?

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As Pakistani twitterette KomalWaqar aptly noted, “Nothing says civilian, democratic government” quite like this following story. According to Dawn, Pakistan’s government announced Sunday that “sending indecent, provocative and ill-motivated stories and text messages” through emails and mobile phones is an offense under the Cyber Crime Act [CCA], and violators could be sent to prison for up to 14 years. A senior official in the Interior Ministry told Dawn it was “launching a campaign” against the circulation of “concocted” stories against the civilian leadership and security forces, since “some elements had been trying to malign” the government and Pakistani military, and the Federal Investigation Agency’s Cyber Crime Cell has been tasked to block or trace such emails and text messages. Moreover, reported The News, “Any Pakistani living abroad and violating the provisions of the Cyber Crime Act can also be charged under the Act and is liable for deportation to Pakistan.”

This of course is not the first time the “Cyber Crime Act” has garnered media headlines. A decree against cyber crime or “terrorism” was first issued by former President Pervez Musharraf in December 2007, and was also addressed by President Asif Ali Zardari in September 2008. According to the law, which went into effect September 19, “the offender, whether a person, group or organization, will be deemed to have committed ‘cyber terrorism’ if they access a computer, electronic system or an electronic device with a view to engaging in a ‘terroristic act,'” which is defined as an attempt to “alarm, frighten, disrupt, harm, damage or carry out an act of violence” against people or the government.

While “cyber crime” is not a new phenomenon, Sunday’s announcement adds a very ambiguous dimension to the ordinance. What kinds of stories are considered “concocted” or “provocative”? Does that refer to Taliban propaganda against the state or does it also include any criticism against the government?

Even more important – how does the government propose to monitor Pakistani citizens’ text messages? According to Dawn today, neither the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) nor the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) even has a system to screen such communication in bulk. In lieu of this fact, it seems the FIA can only launch investigations after receiving such complaints, quite a difference from them strutting around like cowboys rounding up those nasty e-outlaws. Dawn cited a representative of a cell phone company, who said, “In the absence of any mechanism to screen millions of emails and SMS, the government apparently wants to merely warn those who have launched propaganda against its top functionaries.”

The entire story is interesting because it raises the oft-debated question of where freedom of speech ends and where government intervention begins. When is it okay for the government to intervene and block websites, text messages, and other forms of electronic communication? More importantly, can we be sure that the state won’t abuse such ordinances to round up citizens who are voicing their criticism? For more background information on cyber crime and terrorism in Pakistan, see below:

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