Archive for August, 2009

No one puts Jaswant in the corner.
No one puts Jaswant in the corner.

Indian politician Jaswant Singh‘s recently released book, Jinnah: India – Partition Independence has garnered much media attention and criticism, ultimately leading to his expulsion from his political party last week. This past week, Singh challenged the ban, filing a case in the Indian Supreme Court and telling reporters, “The day we start banning books, we are banning thinking.” Below, Rakesh Mani, a 2009 Teach for India fellow, discusses the controversy, delving into both the Indian and Pakistani reactions and the overarching ramifications for the greater debate on Pakistan’s founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah:

For the third time in ten years, Jaswant Singh finds himself in the proverbial eye of the storm. This time he’s created a furor with a new book, Jinnah: India – Partition Independence that discusses the legacy of Mohammed Ali Jinnah.

Singh, a former foreign minister of India and a prolific writer, challenges the widely-held Indian belief that it was Jinnah’s insistence on a separate Muslim homeland that forced a violent breakup of British India over sixty years ago. Instead, he argues that it was Jawaharlal Nehru’s centralized polity that was responsible.

A founding member of India’s right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Singh’s stance seems ironic considering that the BJP have for decades painted Jinnah as India’s greatest villain. Both India’s political spectrum and its mainstream population have always blamed Jinnah for Partition – that violent, bloody vivisection through which Pakistanis felt they gained a country, and Indians struggled to accept that they lost a third of theirs.

Reactions from the BJP have verged on intolerance of intellectual inquiry. Singh was expelled from the party’s ranks and the BJP-ruled government in the state of Gujarat banned his book for allegedly ‘defamatory references’ to Vallabhbhai Patel, India’s first Home Minister and a Gujarati political icon. Even the Congress Party has censored him for his views, for once united in opinion with their political rivals.

Ironically, Singh’s ideological tussle with the BJP is somewhat similar to Jinnah’s own battle with the Congress Party of yore. Both were active proponents of party ideology, and both disengaged after intellectual disagreements. The only difference is that while Singh has shifted ground from supporting a nationalist right-wing party to intellectual liberalism, Jinnah moved from pursuing secular, liberal policies to rallying the masses with hard, communal appeals.

In Pakistan, where Singh said he expected harsh criticism, reactions seem to be mixed. Among Pakistanis, the book’s controversial claims on Jinnah’s political leanings are nothing new. This is a debate that has been raging for many years in Pakistan, as governments over the years have consistently made selective use of Jinnah’s ideals to suit their political needs. But Pakistanis are using the opportunity to confirm their negative views of India’s Hindutva parties.

Jaswant Singh also seems to have caused India’s leading political parties much grief. His comparisons of Jinnah’s policies with those of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s charismatic first Prime Minister, have suddenly placed the Congress and the BJP on the same ideological plane.

The BJP is furious that one of their own could have the audacity to acquit Jinnah of treason, while the Congress is livid that the author has denigrated Nehru, that doyen of the Congress Party. And so Indians find themselves in the unusual position of seeing the two arch-rivals of Indian politics standing united in their criticism of Jaswant Singh.

But the real trouble is that the book upsets the clearly established communal bifurcations which the establishments of India and Pakistan have worked so hard to make de rigeur over the last several decades.

But how has all this state-sponsored brainwashing worked?

In Islamic Pakistan, Muslims are busy plotting against and killing their religious compatriots. And in Hindu-majority India, the secularism record is not much better at all. While the Indian elite stand alone in a self-congratulatory mode, more than three-fourths of the country remains marginalized. Just a few days ago, a government-sponsored study estimated that 40% of India is still living in extreme poverty.

In this context, any fresh look at history that challenges old prejudices should be welcomed. Especially in the case of Jinnah, whose elevation to saintly status in Pakistan has made it impossible to evaluate his political and social persona in that country. One hopes that Jaswant Singh’s academic effort will succeed in forcing both India and Pakistan to rationalize their equally distorted views of Jinnah – a man whose true character and disposition has become hazy after years of hagiography and demonization. Now that Singh has told it like it is to the Indians, perhaps Pakistanis too will find it easier to explore a truer, more realistic Jinnah for their national reference and identity.

This will be important because it has repercussions not just for regional peace, but also for the most fundamental questions about Pakistan’s own identity. Identity in today’s Pakistan is shaped largely by the negation of a Hindu-Indian identity and the convenient classification of India as the enemy. Singh’s book will hopefully remind Pakistanis that Jinnah was no enemy of India. Jaswant Singh’s book is a long overdue academic exercise, and a timely one at that. And any serious political party that hopes to run the government should allow for that.

But in expelling Jaswant Singh for his views, the BJP is expelling both freedom and thought, confirming that its entire ideology thrives on resentment.

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.

Read Full Post »

28 and Commander of the Taliban. Eat your heart out, Federer.

28 and Commander of the Taliban. Eat your heart out, Federer.

So it’s official. On Tuesday, Hakimullah Mehsud and Waliur Rehman, two top Taliban commanders, finally confirmed the death of Baitullah Mehsud, thus laying the seemingly endless he said-(s)he said statements to rest. The Wall Street Journal cited “reporters who said they recognized the leaders’ voices,” noting Mehsud died of injuries inflicted from an earlier U.S. drone strike this past Sunday.

So what about Hakimullah’s past phone call to news agencies, claiming Baitullah was alive? Oh, that. According to him, he wasn’t technically lying. Baitullah Mehsud wasn’t dead after the purported U.S. drone strike – he was just in a coma. Hakimullah was quoted by media outlets saying, “He was wounded. He got the wounds in a drone strike and he was martyred two days ago.” Waliur Rehman conveniently echoed the same statement.

In all likelihood, Baitullah Mehsud probably died on August 5 in the U.S. drone strike, a story affirmed by another senior TTP commander who spoke to The News from an undisclosed location. However, the Taliban leadership may have been biding time until a new successor could be named. The aforementioned commander told The News, “We did not want to confirm his death earlier as it could have disheartened our people present everywhere in the country…The Taliban from Afghanistan played a key role in resolving differences among various TTP commanders. They continued their talks with the Mehsud Taliban Shura and then negotiated with each and every commander.”

According to the unnamed commander, Hakimullah Mehsud “had been unanimously made the TTP chief by its Shura, while Maulana Waliur Rehman was named leader of the Mehsud Taliban in South Waziristan.” The joint statement by Hakimullah Mehsud and Waliur Rehman seemed therefore intended to demonstrate Taliban unity in the face of rumors suggesting otherwise. In fact, of the many unconfirmed reports that surfaced in the past few weeks, one story reported that Hakimullah and Waliur had killed each other in a shootout for Baitullah’s succession, an allegation Hakimullah himself lay to rest by speaking to reporters. On Tuesday, Waliur Rehman asserted, “Our presence together shows that we do not have any differences.”

So out with the old Mehsud, in with the new…Mehsud. As analysts and pundits spar over what all this means for the Taliban leadership and the military offensive, let’s take a moment to learn more about Mehsud V.2. Here’s what we know:

  • His real name is Zulfiqar Mehsud. Hakimullah is his nom de guerre. Kind of like a stage name. Like Cher.
  • According to the BBC’s Syed Shoaib Hasan, he was born in the Kotkai region, near the town of Jandola in South Waziristan. His only schooling was at a small village madrassa in Hangu district, reportedly the same school Baitullah Mehsud dropped out from.
  • At 28 years old, he was known as Baitullah’s most “ferocious” deputy, handling both a Kalashnikov and a Toyota pick-up with legendary skill. The BBC’s correspondent once took a drive with him and noted, “To demonstrate his skill with the vehicle, he drove like a man possessed, manoeuvring around razor sharp bends at impossible speeds. He finished the demonstration by braking inches short of a several hundred foot drop.” So if this new career doesn’t pan out, I hear Fast & the Furious IV [3-D] may need stunt drivers.
  • His first press conference was held in November 2008 in Orakzai Agency, [he became Baitullah’s chief spokesman in October 2007]. A GEO TV reporter described meeting him, “Hakimullah is a lively man. He told us he could give us two gifts. One was the Humvee military vehicle that his fighters had captured during a recent raid in Khyber Agency on an Afghanistan-bound supply convoy for Nato forces. The other was a jeep that his men had snatched from UN employees in Khyber Agency.” Charming.
  • He was the militant commander for three tribal agencies – Khyber, Kurram, and Orakzai. He reportedly masterminded the campaign against NATO convoys in Khyber and Peshawar, and claimed responsibility for the June 9 bombing of the Peshawar Pearl-Continental Hotel.

Hakimullah may have come to power on the coattails of a Taliban power struggle, exposing rifts that should be further exploited by the Pakistani military, but he is not new to the Taliban structure, and he is certainly not unfamiliar with Baitullah’s agenda. Although his ability to command the TTP could be moot if the organization has been permanently damaged, we should not take this appointment lightly.

Read Full Post »

Image Credit: Dawn Newspaper

Image Credit: Dawn Newspaper

In the past few weeks, the term “sugar crisis” has been increasingly used by media outlets and Pakistani authorities to describe the recent rise of sugar prices. But what are the factors behind this so-called crisis? Below, Bilquis, a consultant from Lahore [click to read her previous CHUP contribution], delves into the issue in an attempt to shed light on the term and understand who is to blame:

On the onset of Ramadan, demand for basic food commodities rise as people prepare for the month of fasting. For at least a decade or more, this is matched by a substantial price increase as supplies are not sufficient to meet demand. And subsequently, a crisis occurs when there is a massive shortfall in supply.

The recent sugar crisis in Pakistan materialized because of this shortage in supply. There are two kinds of supply shortages—Natural or Artificial. Natural shortage include i) unfavorable weather conditions that reduce supplies, ii) adverse market structure that leads to decrease in production over a period of time and iii) change in government policies that negatively impact production. Meanwhile, artificial shortfall means to deliberately withhold supplies to create a shortage for profit. And lastly, mismanagement of supplies by key players in the market can also create shortages.

So what happened in Pakistan’s sugar market/industry in 2008-09 that resulted in a shortfall? Is it natural or artificial?

The current year saw a natural decrease in sugar production. In general, farmers, like others, only produce crops that give them maximum profit. In 2008-09, the current government increased the wheat price to Rs 950 (minimum price) to encourage farmers to grow wheat. This was an attractive incentive and resulted in attracting non growers to grow wheat (as it is profitable).  As a result, sugarcane farmers switched to wheat production which resulted in a drop in sugarcane production.

Moreover, over the past decade, sugar cane production has declined because of the naturally difficult/negative constitution of the sugar market. Numerous specialists state that farmers have decreased the total area under production due to water shortage, behavior of the mill’s management, late payments, increased input cost, and diseases and rodent attack. They especially blame mill owners for late and/or no payments to farmers and limited irrigation water that make the farmers reluctant to grow the crop. Hence, these two factors have naturally reduced the supply of sugar by 15 to 20 percent compared to last year.

Moreover, in the International Market, Brazil and India are the biggest sugar producers in the world. In 2008-09, these two producers faced adverse weather conditions that resulted in a natural reduction in the global supply. Hence, the global price of sugar sky rocketed as well.

Prior to Ramadan, like any other year, wholesalers and mill owners have been accused of hoarding sugar. By limiting supplies, they artificially created a shortage. The main reason is profit. Mill owners buy sugar cane before December because crushing season lasts four months (December to March). Approx 38 to 40 lakh tons of sugar cane is crushed (this is the whole annual supply). The processed sugar is then kept in warehouse or sold to wholesalers. Hence, these mill owners and wholesales are key suppliers and have a monopoly over supply and thus control prices. As they are aware of higher demand before Ramadan, they deliberately withhold supply to manipulate higher prices and profits and hence artificially reduce the supply of sugar in Pakistan.

Who is to be blamed?

Government mismanagement and sugar industry profiteering are the real reason for the current crisis.

Ahsan Iqbal, member of the PML-N, correctly point outs that after the wheat incentive, good governance called for monitoring the possible supply shortages of other commodities. Although the government did watch crop production and was aware of the potential sugar shortage, it failed to act timely. Various reports in December indicate that the total production was 3.2 million tons while demand was between 3.4 to 4.0 million tons. The government solution was to import duty free raw sugar of 300,000 tons so that the mills could process it. However, at that time, the government feared that if they imported duty free raw sugar, then mill owners would not buy from the local market (According to Geo TV’s Capital Talk on 18th August 2009. Nevertheless, delaying the time of purchase did not bode well for Pakistan as international price of sugar shot up (scarcity in the global market) and now sugar is nearly twice as expensive to import.

Moving on, the government is aware that sugar consumption increases around Ramadan. It should be responsible for managing the shortage in an effective manner. Unlike wheat and other crops, sugar can be easily stored for a long period of time. Hence, the government should maintain a buffer stock to avert crisis.

Moreover, mill owners and wholesalers manipulate market prices to obtain profit, especially around Ramadan. This needs to be stopped. The natural shortages in sugar supply turn into crises because of hoarding. Although this year the government placed tremendous pressure on mill owners and wholesalers to release the artificially hoarded sugar, no real legal action was taken against them. Furthermore, Dawn newspaper states that these mill owners/wholesales usually have strong political ties with the government (especially the PML –N) or are in the government and are able to avoid any legal action. This needs to be addressed and the government must take severe action against such policies.

Natural reasons can create a supply shortage in any crop. However, for it not to turn into a crisis, it is the responsibility of the government and the industry to avoid mismanagement and illegal profiteering.

Read Full Post »

Ramadan Mubarak!!

Happy Ramadan everyone! The Muslim month of fasting begins this weekend (Saturday in much of the Arab world, Sunday in Pakistan), and marks a time for reflection, self-discipline, and patience. On a lighter note, below is the link to a classic clip from Family Guy, poking fun at Osama bin Laden’s message to the West prior to Ramadan, and what really goes on behind that camera. Enjoy and Ramazan Mubarak!

more about “Family Guy – Bin Laden – VIDEO“, posted with vodpod

Read Full Post »

Image Credit: The News Instep

Image Credit: The News Instep

According to the official website, Coke Studio “embodies a musical fusion of exciting elements and diverse influences, ranging from traditional eastern, modern western and regionally inspired music.” The second season of the immensely popular television show aired this summer, and each collaboration became an instant hit in Pakistan. While the series centered on live music performances, the show embodied themes applicable to Pakistan as a whole – Individuality, Harmony, Equality, Spirit, and Unity. Below is CHUP’s interview with Adnan Malik, who was the Associate Video Producer and the Behind the Scenes Producer on this season’s Coke Studio:

Q: You came on this season as an Associate Video Producer,  as well as a the Behind The Scenes [BTS] Producer. Given your background in film, were you prepared coming into the show? What were you unprepared for?

After watching the first season of Coke Studio last year, I was pretty blown away by the whole package: fantastic music that engages with both classical and contemporary Pakistani ideologies, bold visuals, great packaging and a pure, constructive intention. I knew I had to get on board for the second season, and got in touch with Umber and Rohail [Hyatt] (henceforth known as ‘Ma’ and ‘Pa’). It was a tough selection process for them to choose a video team for this year, and I definitely pseudo-stalked them to get the job! I knew that I was the perfect fit. I was summoning it from the universe, asking for it in prayers and felt very blessed when they selected me to be the Associate Video Producer and the Producer Behind the Scenes.

I have quite a few years as a documentary producer under my belt, having worked on projects like Sundance winning Why We Fight and being the local producer on Jihad for Love as well as directing the award winning Bijli, and the first feature length anthology on Pakistani cinema, The Forgotten Song. I have also been an assistant director on many music videos, produced shows for MTV and worked as a packaging director on the Lux Style Awards. So I would say that I was pretty prepared to jump on board the ‘Coke Studio’ project. I knew it would be very intensive, and I really enjoyed handling the camera for all the behind the scenes, and collaborating with Zeeshan Parwez on the videos.

What I was not prepared for was the spiritual satisfaction I got from working on this project with Ma, Pa and the rest of the CS team. It was by far the most pure intentioned, good willed, honest project I have worked on in Pakistan. Rohail is fantastically tech savvy, a great problem solver, intimately in touch with his music, a communicator and above all very organically connected to the project. It was a passion project for all involved and it started at the top with Ma and Pa, and filtered through to the house band members, the people who worked on the set, the tech support, and even the security guard, all of whom contributed their energy to making this project the phenomenon it has become today.

Q: What was the interaction between musicians like behind the scenes, particularly between the older, more established artists and the younger, more up-and-coming musicians?

Having worked with a lot of these musicians and artists before in various capacities, I was well aware of the possibility of conflicting egos. But I think all of us were so committed to the project and believed in it so deeply at a visceral level that every time a new artist came on set, their energy merged with ours and not the other way around. Coke Studio definitely had an aura about it that was welcoming, trusting and open to ideas and I think that made it a very comfortable space for new energies to mingle and become something higher than ‘ego’.

We had an amazingly talented houseband with some of the best musicians in the country, and they set up a fantastic framework for the artists to come in and further develop the songs. There was never any conflict, just growth, and that kind of energy has become increasingly rare to find in Pakistan.

Q: What was your aesthetic vision when shooting the BTS videos? What did you most want to portray?

I shot the behind the scenes almost everyday for two months and really got to develop the aesthetic for how we were going to shoot the final videos. Naturally, Rohail had shown us examples of what he wanted, and Zeeshan contributed heavily with his own unique visual style to the final videos as well. The final look of the videos was the result of a collaborative vision shared by the three of us. All of the visuals were well thought out and discussed and we even trained all of our camera men! Zeeshan and I were behind microphones in the CCU room during the final shoot, instructing our respective camera men on what to shoot; however, without those two weeks of training, we wouldn’t have achieved the aesthetic that we finally managed to achieve.

As for the Behind the Scenes (BTS’s), the best part of shooting verite on an evolving show is that you can capture the really spontaneous moments, and for that I had to make sure I was in tune with the people I was shooting. The aesthetic was to capture immediacy, spontaneity, expression, emotion and a little soul. After spending weeks with the house band, I began to understand their habits, their gestures and therefore preempted them to capture some great spontaneous footage. I always had my camera handy, and managed to capture about 120 hours of footage, out of which audiences have seen less than an hour! There are a lot of precious, crazy moments and espoused philosophies in those hard drives! Hopefully, we will do something with all that footage one day soon!

Moreover,with a background in still photography I wanted to imbue every frame with something pleasing to look at. I believe in the power of the image to tell a story on its own, and I wanted every image that came onto the screen to be open to multiple interpretations. But more than that, it was of utmost importance to make sure that each BTS segment told the story of each song. It took months to put these songs together and it was my job to show the depth of work that went into each song, from its conception,to its philosophy, deconstruction, reconstruction, and the evolution in rehearsals.

The BTS segments give context to the songs and an insight into the characters that made up Coke Studio.

Q: The fifth and final episode of Coke Studio’s Season Two aired on August 14, Pakistan’s Independence Day, and was aptly titled, “Unity.” How do you think the show embodied the spirit of unity, and what message did that send to citizens on Pakistan Day?

My favorite aspect of this show is its engagement in helping define a Pakistani identity. We are clearly at a crossroads in terms of a collective cultural ethos, and I believe that this show is an example of how we should engage with our past, present and future. The music takes from both current Western influences and indigenous classical and folk influences to create a truly ‘contemporary’ and ‘universal’ sound. The music is an honest representation of where we are today, it’s both timely and timeless; both purely Pakistani and palatably global.

Each of the five episodes of coke studio represent the journey of the show: from the ‘Individuality’ of the artists coming together, to the cohabiting and synchronization which was ‘Harmony’, to the ‘Equality’ of all artists collaborating from all sorts of musical backgrounds, to tapping into the ‘Spirit’ of our times and its music and to finally reveal the ‘Unity’ in a true sense of great musicians coming together, collaborating and creating something that is greater than the sum of their parts.

Coke Studio is all about ‘Unity – the collaboration of big-hearted, open-minded Pakistanis to create something unique, beautiful and truly our own. The effort shows that it is possible to work together and create amazing things with pure intentions and dedicated hard work.

At a micro level, Coke Studio is also a metaphor for nation building. It has captured the imagination of the whole nation and collectively brought us together from all corners to appreciate and celebrate the diversity of our country.

I am extremely proud at having been a part of something so amazing! I walk away from this season of coke studio as a richer, more evolved, and spiritually ignited human being than when I entered it and this is solely because of the dynamic created by Rohail, Umber, the production team and the supremely talented musicians.

Q: The show is immensely popular in Pakistan. Will there be a third season? What do you think the biggest differences were between the first and second seasons?

I hope there is a third season!! Why wouldn’t there be one?

I loved both the first and second seasons respectively. The first season was a bold experiment in a new direction for music. It wasn’t as high tech or ideologically evolved as the second season, but its rawness and passion really shines out. The second season has a much more evolved visual ethos, and musically has a greater slant towards folk music than the first episode, which had a greater focus on classical fusion music.

Well, that’s the politically correct answer anyway! The un-p.c answer would be that I preferred the second season a whole lot more because I worked on it!!

Read Full Post »

Maulvi Umar Captured?

AP: A man who Duniya TV identifies as Maulvi Umar

AP: A man who Duniya TV identifies as Maulvi Umar

First Baitullah Mehsud, then his close aide Qari Saifullah, now his spokesman Maulvi Umar. Judging by some accounts, the Tehreek-e-Taliban are dropping like flies. According to news agencies today, Pakistan’s Frontier Corps arrested Maulvi Umar in Mohmand Agency late Monday, along with two of his associates. The Associated Press quoted local administrator Javed Khan who said, “Maulvi Umar is in our custody, and he is being questioned.” The news agency added in its coverage, “…three intelligence officials said local tribal elders assisted troops in locating Omar in the village of Khawazeo. The officials… said Umar’s arrest would likely be publicly announced later Tuesday.”

Much like the Baitullah Mehsud “is he dead or not” controversy, though, news agencies are reporting rumors ahead of an official announcement, or prior to authorities presenting Maulvi Umar “before journalists.” The details are once again vague. Although the aforementioned local administrator affirmed the TTP spokesman was in their custody, Major Fazul Ul Rehman merely told the AFP, “A very, very important militant has been arrested.”

If Maulvi Umar is revealed to reporters later today, it will be the second arrest of a major Taliban militant in 24 hours. Yesterday, police officials said they had arrested a militant commander and close Mehsud aide who was being treated in a private hospital in Islamabad after a drone strike in South Waziristan. Dawn reported that Qari Saifullah, a mediator between Baitullah Mehsud’s TTP and Al Qaeda, “was staying in a house with Zaid Akram [an aide] and some ‘high-value’ targets for treatment of injuries he had received in a drone attack in Afghanistan or Waziristan last month.”

Again, the details are confusing. Why would a top militant commander, one who was on Pakistan’s most wanted list, come to the nation’s capital to be treated for his injuries? Like a lamb coming into the lion’s den, it reads as more than a little counterintuitive.

Meanwhile, the Baitullah Mehsud controversy continues. The death of the TTP commander has not been fully confirmed, though U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke told reporters yesterday, “The reason it’s clear he’s dead is that if he weren’t dead, he’d be giving TV and radio interviews to prove he’s not dead.” Last week, Maulvi Umar, the spokesman believed to have been arrested today, contested U.S. and Pakistani claims that Mehsud was dead, saying “he will speak to reporters when he feels better.” According to CNN, “DNA tests were reportedly being conducted to back up these claims [that he’s dead], but U.S. officials have expressed doubt that enough genetic material would be left behind, considering the enormity of the strike.”

At least in Maulvi Umar’s case, authorities won’t have to deal with those pesky DNA issues to prove his arrest. According to BBC News, “Correspondents say that his arrest may provide key information about the Taliban’s recent operations and especially the mystery surrounding the status of Baitullah Mehsud.” Do you think his arrest will mark a major blow to the Taliban, or a more symbolic victory for the Pakistani military? Finally, should news agencies report stories until they’ve been fully confirmed?

UPDATE 1744 PST: A Pakistani intelligence official interrogating Maulvi Umar Tuesday said the spokesman acknowledged Baitullah Mehsud’s death. CHUP will provide more details as reports come in.

Read Full Post »

Hum Ek Hain, Pakistan


Image Credit: Omar Ul Haq http://omarulhaq.wordpress.com

Yesterday, I visited an IDP resource center run by a local non-government organization in Rawalpindi. There, I met several Swati women and children who were still living with host families. In Pakistan, many of the people displaced from the offensive have already returned home, but some remain, wary of the tenuous security situation up north. Waqar, a man displaced from his home in Buner and who acted as a translator for me [since I don’t speak Pashto], explained to me that many of these women have stayed behind, despite living in poor conditions and having little or no money, because they constantly fear for their safety while at home. At least here, he told me, they don’t have to worry about a militant [or even a soldier], banging on their door late at night.

As a Pakistani woman from a progressive, moderate family, my life is relatively worry-free [mash’Allah]. And yet, 45 minutes away in a small skill-building center in Pirwadhai, women my age and older live such drastically different lives. One mother told me her daughter couldn’t attend school for nearly two years because of the Taliban. Another said they didn’t have enough money to pay their electricity bill, let alone come up with rent for her and her ten family members living in cramped quarters.

It is easy to forget that we are all Pakistan. A politician from an affluent family, a child selling flowers on the street, a prominent fashion designer, a soldier fighting in an ongoing military offensive, a young woman displaced in her own country. Our lives exist as different planets, orbiting around one another without ever touching. We are too often caught up in our differences rather than in what makes us all the same.

Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the father of our country, said on August 15, 1947:

The creation of the new State has placed a tremendous responsibility on the citizens of Pakistan. It gives them an opportunity to demonstrate to the world how can a nation, containing many elements, live in peace and amity and work for the betterment of all its citizens, irrespective of caste or creed. Our object should be peace within and peace without.

August 14th, Pakistan’s Independence Day, should be a time to reflect on such a statement – to consider our mistakes and what still unites us as a nation. In the 62 years since Pakistan’s birth, we have been torn apart by violence, civil strife, political turmoil and intolerance. And yet, in the face of such adversity, we continue to be resilient. Sitting across from those women yesterday, their courage brought tears to my eyes. Their story taught me how important it is to reach outside one’s comfort zone to help fellow citizens in need, regardless of their caste or creed. At the end of the day, we must remember that we are all Pakistan. Hum ek hain, [“We are one.”].

Read Full Post »

Mushy Booked by the Feds

Stop being mean to me! Bah!

Stop being mean to me! Bah!

According to news agencies today, police registered a case against former President Pervez Musharraf for putting Pakistan’s top judges under illegal house arrest after a state of emergency was declared on November 3, 2007. Upon receiving a petition by lawyer Aslam Ghuman, Islamabad’s District and Sessions Judge Mohammad Akmal Khan Monday ordered police to issue the case against the former leader. According to The News,

The FIR [case] (131) stated that former president Pervez Musharraf and others had detained judges of the Supreme Court of Pakistan and their family at their houses and their children were neither allowed to attend their school nor permitted to appear in examinations.

Today’s case means that Musharraf could face up to three years in prison if it is carried out. Moreover, noted the BBC’s Haroon Rashid, “the possibility of prosecution means that the chances of the former president returning to Pakistan in the short term look slim.” The development is the latest in a series of efforts to hold Musharraf accountable for the state of emergency. On July 31, Pakistan’s Supreme Court also ruled that his declaration of emergency rule was “unconstitutional.”

So, will Musharraf spend time in prison for his actions in 2007? Given the choice between prison and living in self-exile, I think he may choose the latter. At least then he could pursue a potential singing career [see below]:

Read Full Post »

This past Friday, news agencies released unconfirmed reports that Baitullah Mehsud was killed in a U.S. air strike in South Waziristan. Come Monday, and the situation is as ambiguous and vague than when the story first developed. Although US National Security Adviser Jim Jones put the level of U.S. certainty that Baitullah Mehsud had been killed in the 90% category over the weekend and Interior Minister Rehman Malik said Monday that two sources confirmed the death of the TTP chief, Taliban militants close to Mehsud continue to deny his death. According to BBC News, his aide, Maulan Nur Syed said Baitullah Mehsud is “gravely ill,” but he “had not been at the house that was attacked by the U.S. missile.”

On Saturday, further confusion developed when reports surfaced that Baitullah’s deputy Hakimullah Mehsud and Waliur Rahman were killed in a dispute over who would succeed the Taliban leader. The situation was further compounded when Hakimullah spoke to news agencies today, saying that both he and Baitullah were alive. He told the AFP, “Rehman Malik is propagating false information in the media – using the media as toy. I am alive and prove I’m alive despite government claims that there was a shootout for Baitullah’s succession.” He added, “Let the interior minister prove he is dead. If the interior minister fails to prove Baitullah Mehsud’s death, then I will produce evidence that he is alive.” The government, meanwhile, insists they will prove Baitullah Mehsud’s death by “using DNA evidence.

Amid this cloud of ambiguity lies two choice questions:

1. How does the government propose to obtain this DNA evidence? Rehman Malik told BBC’s Urdu service that Pakistani authorities already had the DNA from Mehsud’s brother, who was killed a few months ago, adding the test “could be conducted without exhuming the body.” Now, I’m no forensics expert, but apparently this is pretty difficult to do. If a DNA analysis/match was conducted without exhuming the corpse, authorities would need some of Baitullah’s personal items (toothbrush, comb, etc.) in order to make a conclusive assessment. Given the rough terrain in South Waziristan and that it’s now swarming with angry Taliban/kinsman, any kind of access there seems unlikely. Therefore, a conclusive DNA test may be nearly impossible to achieve unless Mehsud’s corpse magically appears on the ministry’s doorstep.

2. What has this ‘he said she said’ [or, more accurately, he said, he said] situation taught us?

Ultimately, the series of “he’s dead, oh no wait…just kidding” reports undermine the government and its ability to communicate the truth to the media and Pakistani citizens. Bill Roggio at the Long War Journal noted the Pakistani government falsely reported on the deaths of 10 Al Qaeda leaders and eight senior Taliban leaders since 2006. He added, “The Taliban, on the other hand, have been honest about the deaths of their senior leaders. Each time they have refuted a claim of a leader being killed, they have been able to prove the commander is alive.” Groups often release eulogy statements through their communications structure, framing the dead as martyrs in order to incite revenge killings and recruit more fighters.

The death of Baitullah would be a large loss for the Taliban, though. Looking at the situation from the other angle – if he is dead and the shoot-out did occur, the power struggle that many analysts predicted [see my last post] could very well be underway, which could further crumble the Tehreek-e-Taliban’s fragile command. According to Imtiaz Gul in Foreign Policy, “And even if that succession battle proceeds smoothly, the message the lethal drone attack has sent across the ranks of the militants is loud and clear: No group or person challenging the writ of one or many states will go unpunished.”


Baitullah’s alleged death and surrounding ambiguity makes me highly skeptical of any scenario, no matter how conclusive. But here’s some advice – stop allowing government officials to release conclusions saying how “inconclusive” things are – it just adds to the headache.

Read Full Post »

CS Monitor: Baitullah Mehsud speaking to reporters in May 2008

CS Monitor: Baitullah Mehsud speaking to reporters in May 2008

On Friday, news agencies released “unconfirmed” reports that Tehreek-e-Taliban head, Baitullah Mehsud, was killed in a U.S. drone strike in South Waziristan early Wednesday. As the day went on, officials released a stream of ambiguous and vague statements. Interior Minister Rehman Malik was quoted saying, “We suspect he was killed in the missile strike…We have some information, but we don’t have material evidence to confirm it.” A senior U.S. official told ABC News, meanwhile, that there was “a 95 percent chance that Mehsud was among those killed in the missile strike.”

Although a Taliban commander and aide later told the Associated Press by phone that Baitullah Mehsud and his wife had been killed in the drone strike [intelligence sources also confirmed this fact, saying his body had already been buried], Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told reporters that authorities would travel to the site of the death in order to “to be 100 percent sure.” CNN‘s correspondent further noted that Pakistani officials will also conduct a DNA test in order to fully verify this development.

Why the caution? In June, Baitullah Mehsud was reportedly almost killed after he attended a funeral in Waziristan, and a similar report also circulated last September. However, the fact that Mehsud “has shown up alive after previous near-misses,” ultimately undermines Pakistan’s credibility. Therefore, despite officials being nearly 100%, both Pakistani and U.S. officials aren’t taking any chances.

In the aftermath of what is still considered an alleged death, it is important to consider two things: First, who was this shadowy figure, aside from being the leader of the Pakistani Taliban? Secondly, how will his death impact the Taliban and the military’s offensive?

Who Was Baitullah Mehsud?

  • The Taliban leader was in his mid-late 30s and hailed from the Mehsud tribe of South Waziristan.
  • He was known to suffer from diabetes, an illness that led sources to wrongly claim he died of kidney failure in September.
  • The UK Telegraph described him as “physically unimposing,” while the BBC‘s Syed Shoaib Hasan said when he went to interview him in May 2008, “he found himself sitting down before a short, plump, bearded man, reluctant to allow his picture to be taken.”
  • Based in South Waziristan, Mehsud proclaimed himself the leader of the TTP in 2007, an umbrella organization that was allied with with North Waziristan Taliban leader Hafiz Gul Bahadar and South Waziristan leader Mullah Nazir to form the Council of United Mujahideen, a group that had pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda and the overall Taliban commander, Mullah Omar.
  • The Telegraph noted, “Mehsud became Public Enemy Number One after launching suicide attacks in 2007 against the army and politicians after commandos stormed Islamabad’s Red Mosque.”

The Impact of Mehsud’s Death

Most officials in U.S. and Pakistan seemed unanimous in saying that Mehsud’s death would be both a tactical and strategic victory against the Pakistani Taliban. Baitullah was adept at connecting various militant groups and organizations, often transcending tribes, borders, and regions to form alliances. Many therefore believe his death will lead to a power struggle, ultimately leading to cracks in the organization. The Christian Science Monitor quoted Roshtam Shah Mohmand, a former NWFP chief secretary, who asserted, “I don’t think the TTP movement would remain intact [without Mehsud]…I think no other leader would have the same charisma, appeal, popularity, and stature.”

However, Juan Cole, author of the Informed Comment, provided a different argument:

Some analysts believe in the centrality of leadership cadres in insurgencies. But I’d just point out that the killing of Abu Musab Zarqawi in Iraq in May of 2006 had no effect whatsoever on fundamentalist guerrilla attacks in that country….Groups like Hamas and the Taliban have a complicated relationship to clans and cliques that easily survive the assassination of even an important leader.

My own assessment tows the line somewhere between Cole’s and the official statements. The TTP and its allies formed a highly decentralized power structure. Given this fact, it is likely that Mehsud’s death will only have a marginal real impact on the organization, particularly since militants are reportedly already meeting to decide on a successor (candidates include his deputy Hakimullah Mehsud, Qari Hussain Mehsud [the commander known to recruit children into the Taliban], North Waziristan leader Hafiz Gul Bahadar, and Bajaur Taliban sub-commander Waliur Rahman). It would be naive to suggest that Mehsud’s death came as a surprise to the Pakistani Taliban – he was, after all, on the top of both the U.S. and Pakistan’s Most Wanted lists. And, noted the BBC, “the Taliban leadership of Afghanistan still remains the major arbiter in settling questions of succession among the Pakistani militant groups.”

At the same time, Mehsud’s death, if confirmed, still represents a pretty hefty symbolic victory for Pakistan. In a war of perceptions, such a fact is significant. Much of the Pakistani military’s tactical success going into South Waziristan remained contingent on taking out high-level targets like Mehsud. Officials must therefore frame his death to show the increasing weakness of the TTP, and the military’s comparative strength, thereby turning a tactical victory into a potential strategic success. However, the Pakistan government also needs to step up and provide services within this vacuum. As Cole noted, “Something like 80% of the time, the only way to defeat an insurgency is to find a political formula acceptable to it…Where it is defeated, isolating it from its recruiting pool is important.”

What are your own thoughts – will Baitullah Mehsud’s death have a major impact on Pakistan’s war on the Taliban, or only a marginal effect?

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »