Archive for February, 2010

The Dupatta Symbol

A few days ago, the LA Times had an interesting piece on dupattas and Pakistani women. For those of you who don’t know what a dupatta is, it’s a long scarf that is generally worn with a shalwar kameez – essentially a long(ish) tunic worn over trousers (or capris, depending on your fashion statement du jour). Growing up, I was constantly lectured for allowing my dupatta to drag on the floor, or leaving it crumpled somewhere. If I forgot to wear it, I felt brazen and uncomfortable, instantly garnering stares from those who felt the scarf was synonymous with feminine modesty. At the same time, the dupatta also allowed me to shift seamlessly into more conservative environments, from wearing it draped on my shoulder to wrapping it loosely over my hair. It offered me, somewhat ironically, a sense of freedom. Therefore, as much as I’d claim a love/hate relationship with the dupatta, I cannot deny this versatility. In the Times piece, Mark Magnier wrote,

Essence of femininity, grist for film and literature, political statement, cultural icon, albatross, these few ounces of cotton or silk fabric have woven their way across Pakistan’s shoulders, history and fashion runways, morphing from protest symbol to political must-have to sometimes-burdensome accessory demanded by Islamic fundamentalists.

As Magnier pointed out, the dupatta has been a multi-faceted symbol in Pakistan’s history, a source of feminism and protest as well as a tool of imposition and oppression. In the lead-up to the Partition of India and Pakistan, female activists reportedly used their dupattas as makeshift flags for the Muslim League. A Dawn piece wrote,

Interestingly, in the early years after Partition, the dupatta’s symbolism was more national than religious. For example, the uniform of the Pakistan Women’s National Guard that was formed during the Kashmir War included a dupatta. ‘Since Pakistan was a Muslim state, the dupatta was naturally part of the uniform. However, it was just a sash across the torso…a starched V-shaped dupatta,’ recalls former Sergeant Abeeda Abidi in an interview with the Citizens Archive of Pakistan. Clearly, this sash was meant to be more of a comment than a covering.

As Pakistan became a more conservative state (in the mid-1970s onwards), the dupatta became an increasingly controversial symbol. According to Magnier, women on  state-run television were ordered to cover their heads as part of an increasing religious-nationalist vision for Pakistan. “News readers who refused were fired, leading others in defiance to pin the fabric’s edge to their hair, a look some likened to the landing of a tiny UFO.” The dupatta was increasingly depicted as a symbol of Islamic modesty and piety. But it always continued to be one of protest. According to Dawn, “During a protest by WAF outside the Karachi Press Club in 1984, activists chose to burn a dupatta to condemn the increasing incidents of rape in the city.” Mohsin Sayeed, a writer, told the LA Times, “The dupatta was a stand-in. They weren’t going to take off their bras and wave those around.”

Today, there are still cases of women being harassed or lectured for not wearing their dupatta. A friend who attended Karachi’s Institute of Business Administration, a top university, wore jeans and a shirt on her second week of school, and was immediately called into the administration’s office and told “never to repeat that offense again.” Though the rules at IBA have since become more relaxed, and the increasing trend among young girls in Karachi is to wear shalwar kameezes sans dupatta, this outlook certainly does not extend everywhere in Pakistan, especially not outside the main cities. Dawn noted, “…what we see today are two extremes: women in urban areas who now voluntarily cover their head and wrap themselves with a dupatta which, they say, gives them a sense of security, and the urban elite who have abandoned the dupatta altogether because they feel it is nothing short of a burden.”

The dupatta debate is endlessly interesting, and can be likened to the burqa controversy (ban and enforcement), or even to the pro-choice debate in the United States. At the end of the day, it shouldn’t matter if a woman wears or abandons her scarf, the crux of the issue is whether she has the choice to do so. It’s also a matter of perspective, something that has been exemplified throughout Pakistan’s history. A dupatta can be viewed as a symbol of modesty, but it also can be used as a sign of protest. It can be a tool of state control or a key to freedom. However way you want to look at it, a dupatta is much, much more than a long piece of cloth.

Other less traditional (and more fun) uses for the dupatta:

A superhero cape.

A crazy multi-colored turban.

A bad ass Rambo wannabe.

A catapult.

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Image from Reuters/CSM

In a news exclusive Wednesday, the Christian Science Monitor reported that Pakistan has arrested “nearly half of the Afghanistan Taliban’s leadership in recent days.” Pakistan intelligence officials told the Monitor that 7 of the 15 members of the Quetta Shura are now in Pakistani custody, four more individuals than has been reported in the news so far. “This is the first confirmation of the wider scale of the Pakistan crackdown on the Taliban leadership, something the U.S. has sought,” the Monitor noted.

The arrest of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in Karachi February 6, the Afghan Taliban’s second-in-command, garnered much news coverage, as did the more recent capture of Maulvi Abdul Kabir, a prominent commander in charge of insurgent operations in eastern Afghanistan, and Mullah Muhammad Younis. According to the Monitor, though, Pakistan has also arrested other Afghan Taliban militants from the Quetta Shura, including Mullah Abdul Qayoum Zakir, who oversees the movement’s military affairs, Mullah Muhammad Hassan, Mullah Ahmed Jan Akhunzada, and Mullah Abdul Raouf.

This development is significant because it points to a wider crackdown by the Pakistani military on the Afghan Taliban. Yesterday, Spencer Ackerman over at the Washington Independent quoted Defense Secretary Robert Gates saying,

I would say that what we are seeing is the importance of operations, on both sides of the border, and a manifestation of real progress, on the Pakistani side, of dealing with the threats that I’ve talked about; whether they’re the Pakistan Taliban, the Afghan Taliban or al Qaeda, that they all work together, and the success of one is success of the rest. So I think that the recent events have been another positive indication of the Pakistanis’ commitment to stabilizing this border area.

There has been increasing debate over these recent arrests, and whether it truly represents increased U.S.-Pakistan cooperation. In a Foreign Policy piece entitled, “Three Huge Ways Pakistan Still Isn’t Cooperating,” David Kenner wrote after the capture of Baradar,

The most optimistic explanation is that the ISI thinks the Afghan Taliban has become a threat to its interests in Pakistan, and has decided to move against the group. But  [Teresita] Schaffer also floated another, less cheerful, possibility: Baradar, as suggested by this Newsweek profile, is more open to negotiations with Afghan President Hamid Karzai‘s government than some of the Taliban hierarchy’s hard-line members. The ISI could have arrested him in a bid to thwart negotiations meant to assimilate the Afghan Taliban back into Afghanistan’s political fold, which would likely cost Pakistan its influence as the group’s patron. In other words, given the information available to the public, the Pakistanis could have arrested Baradar with the hopes of halting Taliban attacks against NATO forces in Afghanistan — or they could have arrested him in an attempt to continue those attacks.

The Christian Science Monitor offers a somewhat similar explanation for the sudden shift, noting the aforementioned crackdown may to be related to efforts by some Taliban leaders to “explore talks with Western and Afghan authorities independently of Pakistan.” The Monitor cited a UN official, who added, “Pakistan wants a seat at the table [at the negotiations]. They don’t want the Taliban to act independently.”

Arif Rafiq, over at the Pakistan Policy blog, (via Five Rupees), further noted, “And equally important, as Afghans have engaged in a multitude of secret peace talks in the region, the Pakistan Army would like to ensure that it, to the exclusion of India, is part of the glue that holds together any power sharing arrangement in Kabul.  In other words, it doesn’t want the Afghans to make their own peace and shut Pakistan out of the process.  If Pakistan were excluded, then what was the trouble of the past eight years for?”

Ultimately, the increased arrests by the Pakistani military do represent a shift in greater U.S.-Pakistan intelligence sharing and cooperation. However, it would be naive to suggest that this was done to further American aims and strategic objectives. Quite the contrary. It’s to ensure Pakistan’s interests in the region are protected. The Army went against the Pakistani Taliban because its militants were attacking the state and harming Pakistani civilians. While the perceived crackdown on the Afghan Taliban is garnering similar results, the motivation and desired end are quite different.

At the end of the day, should Washington care about these motivations if it means Pakistan cooperates?

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Telenovela Pakistan

Confrontation. Show-down. Crisis. Judicial coup.

Those were just some of the saucy terms used to describe Pakistan’s recent row last week, when President Asif Ali Zardari named judges to be appointed to Pakistan’s Supreme Court and Lahore High Court without first consulting Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry. The Supreme Court called the move unconstitutional and blocked it, sparking conflict and rumors of impending “crisis” and instability. The row was cut short when Pakistan’s very own political magician PM Yousaf Raza Gilani came to the rescue, announcing the government “would go along” with the Supreme Court’s recommendations, assuring all of us, “It is completely over.”

Ha, that’s what you think, Jadoogar.

AP: "Mwahahaha." *Twirl, twirl.*

If there’s one thing about Pakistani politics, it’s that it’s anything but boring. In fact, the machismo-infused, handlebar-twirling scenarios are more comparable to a Mexican soap opera than a democratically elected government. Just when we think stability is restored, we tune into yet another episode of grown men screaming, cackling, switching alliances, and in some cases, crying. Because let’s face it. Zardari and Chaudhry are two burly moustached men who just can’t get along. As Dawn columnist Cyril Almeida noted last week, “The trend that the latest row fit into and the manner of the détente suggest that inevitably there will be another clash. The details of any given eruption or paroxysm aren’t all that important anymore.” The Chief Justice may have been the symbol of Pakistan’s judicial crisis, but his arguably politicized judgments and trump cards make him a far cry from a judiciary’s objective poster child. In fact, he is, according to some accounts, a key ally of Nawaz Sharif, who recently called Zardari “the biggest threat to democracy,” though the PML-N leader did tell reporters after a recent meeting with Gilani that this criticism wasn’t “personal.” Hmmm right.

In in the latest episode of Telenovela Pakistan, Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin resigned from his position “in order to focus on his business.” According to the Wall Street Journal, “Mr. Tarin said he will now work for Silkbank, a private bank in which he’s a major shareholder.” However, despite this statement, the development came on the heels of rumors that it was instead sparked by policy differences with the government. The Financial Times cited a source close to Tarin, who said his resignation “has to do with the government once again dragging its feet on a [tax] clampdown…They just don’t understand. You can’t allow tax dodgers to go free. This is a massive setback for Pakistan’s economy.”

As the drama continues, don’t forget about the figures on the sidelines. Because in every deliciously bad soap opera, exited characters are never gone forever. They are inevitably waiting in the wings, twirling their handlebar moustaches and cackling madly. Cue former President Pervez Musharraf, properly moustached out and undoubtedly smirking at the current state of affairs. In the below interview with CNN, he discusses his increasing Facebook stardom [see this former CHUP post], noting, “It is THE Facebook that provides the connectivity to collectivize all [my] support.” On the current situation and whether he’ll return to Pakistani politics, Mush vaguely responds, “At this moment, Pakistan is not doing well. So if I can contribute anything to the country and if the people want me to contribute, then I’d certainly like to look into that.”

Translation: THE Facebook. Take me home.

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In the United States, the debate over health care reform is still raging. In Pakistan, there are approximately 40 million low-income employees and family members. 99.3% of this population is uninsured and 97% of their health care expenses are out-of-pocket. Enter Naya Jeevan, (meaning “New Life” in Urdu), a social enterprise dedicated to providing urban low-income families affordable access to quality, catastrophic health care. Founded in October 2007, the organization utilizes an innovative micro insurance model to promote a vision of collective social responsibility, fostering “scalable partnerships with corporations, schools and individuals that employ low-income individuals, to leverage an existing, quality inpatient and ER-trauma health care delivery system.” Below, CHUP sits down with Naya Jeevan founder and CEO Asher Hasan:

Q: What is the current state of health care in Pakistan? What are the biggest obstacles facing low-income families in accessing health care?

There is a slow but emerging private health care system in Pakistan which is fairly high quality and meets international hospital standards (such as Shaukat Khanam in Lahore). Pakistan’s public health care sector, in comparison, is under resourced and overwhelmed. Most physicians in the public sector only show up at hospitals or clinics for one to two hours a day because of a lack of financial incentives and a lack of resources (in terms of medical equipment and auxiliary care).

The biggest issue for low-income families is affordability, particularly in terms of catastrophic health care (pertaining to large medical expenses for illnesses like cancer, pregnancy complications, etc.). Therefore, though families are conceptually entitled to free health care in the public sector, in practical terms they end up having to borrow money to take care of costs related to medical supplies, equipment, lab tests, and medicines. So their access to health care is subsequently impacted.

Q: What has the journey been to forming Naya Jeevan? What have been your biggest challenges and successes?

I was trained in surgery before I began working in biotechnology. I kept coming back to Pakistan on a yearly basis, and it struck me that we had to do something that was institutionally transformational in Pakistan. At the time I was thinking about Naya Jeevan, I serendipitously met Irum Musharraf and Saad Tabani who came to form the founding team of Naya Jeevan. Our ideas gelled and we set up a social enterprise that tried to attack the problem of affordability and quality health care in Pakistan for low-income families.

Our biggest challenge has been the restrained access to the kind of capital we need to become truly have a social impact. We would ideally like to raise much more growth capital. Another challenge has been establishing trust and credibility, since in Pakistan you’re often guilty until proven innocent. In the beginning, a lot of our potential clients engaged in watchful waiting. We are now beginning to see the results of patience, with our involvement rate accelerating significantly this year.

Naya Jeevan has been successful at adapting quickly to changes in the global economy, especially given that investor appetite has changed. Our visibility has been great and we have been invited to forums like the Clinton Global Initiative and received recognition like the TED fellowship. Moreover, our low-income beneficiaries feel that we are making a difference in their lives, which has been incredibly rewarding.

Q: According to your website, Naya Jeevan “offers its insurance program at subsidized rates under a novel national group health insurance model (underwritten by Allianz-EFU and IGI Insurance).” Could you tell us a bit more about this innovative approach to health insurance? How do you market these rates to urban low-income families?

One of our biggest innovations has been the structure and introduction of an HMO [Health Maintenance Organization] for the marginalized in Pakistan. We leveraged what was already on the ground and what was working for 600,000 lives in the private corporate sector, and expanded it to include a much wider potential target market of 40 million Pakistanis in the urban sector.

Naya Jeevan approached Pakistan’s major underwriters with a proposal that took what they were doing and customized a health plan that targeted a much larger group of low-income individuals who have historically been ignored by health insurance companies – including domestic household staff, contract workers, low-income workers in corporations and their families. In the past, companies have focused on the top of the pyramid, the corporate elite. We inverted that pyramid and told them to focus on the base because it is a much larger population. As long as costs are shared, it is a win-win for all stakeholders.

Another one of our innovations is our distribution system. Instead of going door-to-door to individuals, we are going to their employers, taking a more centralized approach and leveraging these organizations as distribution networks to reduce cost of collection and cost of distribution. Because employers do have an understanding of what health insurance is and their benefits,  it is much easier to convince them to purchase health insurance on behalf of their employees. In comparison, employees may not have as much of a comprehensive understanding. Naya Jeevan can therefore access low-income people through this distribution network.

Naya Jeevan’s fundamental premise is that a critical mass of employers in Pakistan (at an individual or institutional level) are philanthropic.  We discovered that many corporations either through CSR initiatives or through employee funds, pay for the healthcare, education, wedding, funeral expenses of the low-income staff affiliated with these organizations.  We sit with HR and finance managers, open their books and work out current health care cost as compared with the umbrella protection of health insurance coverage.  Such encounters drive our sales.

Q: Where do you see Naya Jeevan in the next year, five years, and ten years? Is it a model that you hope can be replicated in other developing countries?

We designed our organization to be scalable, sustainable, replicable and globalizable. Naya Jeevan is a social enterprise meant to be sustainable once it hits 100,000 insured lives. That has always been part of the philosophy  – to expand aggressively to other emerging markets. So many emerging countries have social hierarchical systems and health care issues similar to Pakistan, such as Brazil, South Africa, and the Palestinian Territories. We plan to expand this model to other countries. India is next up on the cards,  and we have already had discussions and done market research. That is our next target country and we hope to expand Naya Jeevan there by 2011 or early 2012.

In the next five years, we hope to expand to five continents – North (Mexico) and South America, Africa, Asia, and Europe. And in the next five to ten years, we hope to hybridize into a two-tier model consisting of a non-profit wing focused on low-income families and a for-profit arm targeting the upper class and the “missing middle,” individuals who are vulnerable but still have a purchasing capacity. There is a healthy opportunity for a for-profit enterprise that could enhance the non-profit side.

To learn how to get involved or donate to Naya Jeevan, click here. Below is Asher’s presentation at TEDIndia 2009, where  he relayed a message of peace from Pakistan:

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Image from CNN: Maria Toor

The other day, I caught an interesting segment by Express 24/7 on Maria Toor, Pakistan’s number one ranked women’s squash player. According to the feature, Toor, ranked 72nd in the world, is from South Waziristan in FATA. The tribal agency, the site of one of the military’s most recent operations against the Tehreek-e-Taliban, is not exactly the shining example of equal opportunity or gender rights. Toor told CNN that girls are expected to “spend their entire lives in four walls in their home. Their ability is destroyed.”

Rather than succumb to the status quo, as a young girl Toor would instead chop her hair in order to disguise herself and play sports with the boys. According to both CNN and Express, Toor’s father soon recognized that his daughter had talent, and moved his family to Peshawar where she could train and play more freely.

I found Maria Toor’s story telling not only because she “overcame the odds,” (excuse the cliché) but because it was reminiscent of numerous women’s experiences or portrayals throughout history. In the 19th century, authors like Charlotte, Emily and Ann Bronte, as well as Karen Blixen (who wrote Out of Africa) all wrote under male pseudonyms in order to get their work published. William Shakespeare often created cross-dressing heroines in his plays who then filled traditionally male roles, such as the character Viola in Twelfth Night (also adapted for the awesomely bad Amanda Bynes’ flick, She’s The Man, where Bynes’ character Viola dresses as her brother Sebastian to play on the boys’ soccer team). Finally, in the Oscar-nominated film Osama, a young girl in Afghanistan dresses as a boy in order to work and support her family.

Osama the Film. Must-See. Bring tissues.

In all of these examples, cloaking what made these women female (from their names to their hair) subsequently gave them the freedom to bend stereotypes and challenge taboos. In doing so, they opened the door for others to follow suit, eventually making gender a non-issue rather than an obstacle or a detriment. Unfortunately, the sad reality today is that making gender a “non-issue” is still a work in progress.

In Pakistan, there is still much progress to be made when it comes to women’s rights, but particularly women and sports, though young girls like Maria Toor and Naseem Hamid (who recently won a gold medal in the 100-metre race at the South Asian Federation Games and is now known as the region’s fastest woman) are further cementing the case for why funds should be allocated to support girls’ sports. From a development perspective, there are numerous reasons why supporting sports for both girls and boys is important – not only for their health and self-esteem value, but also for the team building and leadership skills they provide.

My favorite part of Toor’s story though was actually her father, Shams-ul-Qayum Wazir, “whose sacrifice made her success possible.” Toor told CNN, “I think I have a great father — so broad-minded.” So broad-minded, in fact, that he believes more tribal people should pick up a racket instead of a gun. He told Express, “We will not defeat Westerners with guns, but with sports. Let’s see who wins the Westerners or us.”

Hey, Bollywood/Lollywood. There’s your script for Lagaan II. Get cracking.

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The question of Indo-Pak peace has been, at best, at stop-and-go process – for every three steps forward, there have been two steps back. The recently launched Aman ki Asha campaign, a joint peace initiative by the Times of India and Pakistan’s Jang group, represents an effort to add an organized voice to the debate. However, developments like the recent bombing in Pune, (claimed by a Pakistan-based group), not only threaten to derail the peace process, but also undermine civilian attempts at goodwill and better relations. Below, Rakesh Mani, a Teach for India fellow, argues that despite these attempts, the stars are aligned for positive steps in the India-Pakistan peace process:

It’s one of the most remarkable campaigns the subcontinent has seen: a joint peace initiative run by the Times of India, India’s most powerful media empire, and the Jang group, Pakistan’s most influential media group. Their joint Aman ki Asha‘ (Hope for Peace) initiative looks to develop a stronger Track II channel in the diplomatic and cultural relations between India and Pakistan.

The Urdu language Jang newspaper’s involvement is relevant and crucial, although the Jang Group’s English language The News is also involved. However, it is probably the vernacular Jang reader who needs to be made more open to establishing a rapport with India. The case of the linguistic divide is less pronounced in India. Readers of the English press and vernacular press often share similar opinions on relations with Pakistan.

The criticisms about such civilian initiatives are probably fair: the assortment of cricketers, musicians and matinee idols who are lending their names and faces to the cause have little influence in either country. As long as the politicians and mandarins in India’s establishment and the military men and mullahs in Pakistan’s power elite are not involved, what difference does it all really make?

Given this reality, it is fair to assume that such a concerted initiative must have the approval of those who matter in Delhi and Islamabad, and possibly in Washington as well. Clearly the intent is to build a strong peace constituency among the masses in both countries for a pact that’s being made in the highest echelons. Because war, in its adversity, unifies nations while peace divides them and gives rise to arguments about the price.

Negotiations on Kashmir have never gotten anywhere because neither country has been willing to compromise. For years, we have heard the familiar volley of archaic recriminations; with India refusing to budge from the status quo, and Pakistan looking to significantly alter it. Clearly both countries, at some point, will have to make some compromises to build peace. The gradual process of selling that compromise to their respective electorates has now begun in earnest.

Indians and Pakistanis, raised on animosity and mutual suspicion, now have to be programmed to yearn for peace. At any cost.

There have always been romantics and idealists in both countries who spoke fondly of their neighbor and lobbied for peace. But these constituencies were always relegated to peripheral positions by realist viewpoints that stressed strategic interest. And today, after years of opposing interests, we have a situation where the strategic interests of India and Pakistan seem to coincide.

The galaxy of strategic stars in the subcontinent is now aligned for peace. And things are moving quickly.

A few days ago, the governments of India and Pakistan announced that their foreign secretaries will meet for talks at the end of February to resume the formal dialogue on a number of key issues, including Kashmir. In an apparently unrelated gesture, India’s Home Minister P. Chidambaram said that the scores of Indian militants from Kashmir who have crossed into Pakistani territory should be allowed to return to India without punishment.

It is in New Delhi’s interest to stabilize the democratic regime in Pakistan to prevent a nightmare scenario: a million Pakistani refugees, fleeing a theocratic Taliban-dominated country, pounding the gates at Wagah. It’s a real threat, with a precedent. The Indian government hasn’t forgotten the 1971 crisis, when millions of Bengali refugees flooded into West Bengal from erstwhile East Pakistan. Almost forty years ago, the question was economic and humanitarian.

Today, it’s a catch-22: let the Pakistani refugees in, and you run the risk of a phalanx of anti-India militants being camouflaged among them; refuse them entry, and it becomes horrible publicity for a country that fancies itself a responsible, emerging superpower.

Islamabad, on the other hand, feels that the time is ripe to pressure Delhi into a settlement. With Washington leaning on them heavily for support in the war on terror, their approach will be to convince the Americans that they can’t fight the battle on their Western border when there are Indian guns being pointed at their back in the East.

One suspects that Manmohan Singh, having seen the nuclear deal through in his first term, is looking to make a settlement on Kashmir his foreign policy priority for the UPA’s second term in office. If all goes well, each player in the love triangle has their strategic interests fulfilled and becomes a sure shot for the Nobel Peace Prize.

A fine feather in their caps, but also the possibility of a final and lasting peace in a subcontinent that has been saddled with sorrow and disquiet for decades.

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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The Question of Taliban Succession

In the last few weeks, it appears Tehreek-e-Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud, died and came back to life several times.

According to some claims, Mehsud died from injuries sustained from a U.S. drone attack on North Waziristan on January 14. A local government official, citing paramilitary sources, told CNN that Mehsud was seriously injured and subsequently moved to the Orakzai region, where he died and was buried more than a week ago. Pakistan’s state broadcasting agency, PTV, further confirmed this story, reporting the TTP commander was wounded in a drone strike, died, and was buried.

Although TTP spokesman spokesman Azam Tariq rejected reports about the death of Hakimullah Mahsud, calling it “a part of the propaganda by the enemy,” CNN reported that at least three Taliban sources and a government official confirmed his death on Tuesday. However, sources differed on when he died. According to Samaa Television, Taliban sources noted that “Mehsud died on February 9, 2010 while he was being transferred to Karachi. The banned outfit stated that their leader succumbed to his injuries near Multan. His body was then taken back to tribal areas.”

So in all likelihood, Hakimullah Mehsud is dead. But behind every Taliban leader is another 50 raring to take his place. So the question of the hour is, what now? Will the next leader be yet another member of the Mehsud tribe or will the new leader  represent another strategic area in the militant network? Although some reports claim that Maulvi Noor Jamal (also known as Mullah Toofan) has been appointed the new TTP leader, other sources note that he has merely assumed control for the time being, until “the leadership decides its next course of action.”

The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan umbrella organization was founded in 2007, by a shura of 40 senior Taliban leaders.  Hassan Abbas wrote in the January 2008 Counterterrorism Center (CTC) Sentinel, “The shura not only has representation from all of FATA’s seven tribal agencies, but also from the settled North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) districts of Swat, Bannu, Tank, Lakki Marwat, Dera Ismail Khan, Kohistan, Buner and Malakand.” The late Baitullah Mehsud was appointed the new TTP leader, reportedly bringing together 13 extremist groups.

Although the TTP appeared to be a united front under Baitullah, the power struggle that reportedly ensued after his death emphasized the fragility of this alliance. Last summer, reports surfaced that Baitullah’s deputy Hakimullah Mehsud and Waliur Rahman were killed in a dispute over who would succeed the Taliban leader. Although these reports were trumped when Hakimullah appeared before reporters as the new TTP chief, news agencies and analysts suggest that the question of succession did spark a power struggle within the organization.

Back in August, McClatchy News’ Saeed Shah reported that the final decision was made in order to avoid bloodshed, since Hakimullah “had threatened to form a breakaway group if he wasn’t given the title of leader.” Saifullah Mehsud, an analyst at the FATA Research Center, told the news agency, “The real power is in Waziristan, and Waliur Rehman will run things there. Its a clever compromise formula. Waliur Rehman has the real power.”

If this is still the case, then it is likely that Mullah Toofan has only assumed power for the time being, despite being the Taliban commander of the Orakzai and Kurram agencies, and those areas  becoming “more important to the Taliban because they are two key tribal districts to which militant leaders and fighters have been escaping after fleeing South Waziristan,” (according to the LA Times). The current (or soon-to-be) military operation in Orakzai ultimately means that fighters have or will be fleeing from those areas as well, potentially diluting the area’s strategic importance to the Taliban.

Not much will be known until the TTP shura makes their final decision, a scary thought given the wave of violence and revenge operations that occurred soon after Hakimullah assumed power. However, given that the last shura produced the “thug-like” and “ferocious” Hakimullah, who reportedly handled both a Kalashnikov and a Toyota pick-up with “legendary skill,” I actually wonder how senior Taliban leaders choose their amirs. Do wannabe TTP commanders duke it out, reality competition style? Is a non-Mehsud considered the underdog, the Karate Kids (if you will) of the tournament? Do they wax on/wax off incessantly in hopes of breaking the Mehsud stronghold? Do they speak in quiet whispers to their posters of Boom Boom Afridi on their ceiling, dreaming out loud? I guess we’ll never know…

Image from Dangerroom: You gotta train if you wanna beat out those damn Mehsuds.

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Mujahideen in 1984
Mujahideen Fighters in Afghanistan, 1984.

As the war in Afghanistan continues, so does the purported regional chess game between India and Pakistan. Below, Tariq Tufail, from Karachi, presents his views on Pakistan’s evolving policy in Afghanistan:

A huge shift in the U.S. Afghanistan policy is reportedly taking place.  The London conference and the meeting in Turkey indicate that some degree of reconciliation and an integration of the Taliban into the mainstream in Afghanistan will be attempted in the next 18 months. To support this effort, donors have already pledged about $500 million. When these events unfold, they will have a great effect on Afghanistan and the region, comparable to the Soviet withdrawal, the fall of the Najibullah Government and the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan.

What are the ramifications for Pakistani security and foreign policy? Unfortunately, I think this policy shift comes at an inconvenient time for Pakistan, when the Pakistani public and armed forces have not completely renounced the use of Islamist proxies to achieve our diplomatic objectives. In this context, there is a great danger that Pakistan will commit foreign policy and security blunders.

First, a background:

Pakistan’s perception of its security is India-centric. To this effect, Pakistan has always sought “strategic depth” in Afghanistan. Though the definition is vague (and probably dreamed up by our generals who have given us similar disastrous “strategies” in the past), the prevalent theory is that a friendly and pliable Afghan government will provide the landmass and the population in any future conflict with India. Furthermore, a Pro-Pakistan (and by implication anti-India) tilt in Afghanistan will protect Pakistan from:

(i) a two-pronged front against India
(ii) Pashtun nationalism endangering both the Durrand line and our territorial integrity

While the pursuit of “strategic depth” by itself is neither unethical nor dangerous, the method by which we had pursued it until the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan has endangered our security and threatened the very existence of Pakistan.

The training of Afghan fighters for the Soviet Jihad, the infrastructure of madrassas, gun culture and drug running, have severely destabilized our tribal areas and FATA. The extremist interpretation of Islam, which provided the ideological foundation for the mujahideen, on the one hand prevented economic and social development, and on the other served as a magnet for undesirables all over the world (it was in this environment that Osama Bin Laden found refuge in Afghanistan). While it was immoral and unethical to foist this culture on the Afghans, it was also inevitable for these same extremist ideologies, gun and drug cultures  to spill on to the Pakistani side of the border, endangering our own population.

In addition to utilizing the various terrorist organizations and militants to create a pliant Afghan government, Pakistan also has had a history of using such groups against India. The hijacking of Indian Airlines Flight 814 and its diversion to Afghanistan in order to free people of (Pakistani) Punjab origin (among them Omar Sheikh Sayeed, implicated in the killing of Daniel Pearl, and Maulana Mazood Azhar, the Amir of Jaish-e-Mohammed, implicated in assasination attempts on Gen. Musharraf) is a significant example. (Before the readers of this article protest that Pakistan had nothing to do with the Taliban, the role of Pakistani armed forces and intelligence agents in the training and nurturing of Taliban is undeniable and one can refer to the Kunduz “Airlift of Evil” also covered in “Descent into Chaos” by Ahmed Rashid.)

Fast forwarding to the future:

It is inevitable that Pakistan will play a central role in the reconciliation between the Taliban and ISAF in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s leverage arises from:

(i) the possible sheltering of the top leadership of the Taliban (including Mullah Omar, and members of the “Quetta Shura“),  as well as our influence with other figures like Jalaluddin Haqqani and Gulbuddin Hekmatiyar,
(ii) the role of Pakistani armed forces in preventing Taliban movement from Afghanistan into Pakistan to carry out cross-border attacks and,
(iii) Our indispensability for logistic routes and supply of NATO forces in Afghanistan.

The way we use this leverage will determine whether our security will be strengthened in the long term or whether we slip into another spiral of instability, several orders of magnitude worse than what we have today.

Is there a danger in reverting to Pre-9/11 status and why is it a bad idea?

COAS Kayani has indicated that Pakistan’s primary security threat is India and “strategic depth” is still being sought in Afghanistan. In addition, there is a widespread school of thought in Pakistan that the current violence and instability in the country is the result of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. Therefore, taking these factors into account, it is clear that the establishment finds it very attractive to revert to a pre-9/11 status – where the Taliban is supported and nurtured by the ISI and armed forces, a pliant Taliban-supported government is installed in Afghanistan with the associated medieval interpretation of Islam, and the various Afghan forces are used for leverage against India in Kashmir. In fact, this possibility has rattled India, which until a few weeks back had refused talks with Pakistan until concrete progress was made in the Mumbai case, but now is pushing for dialogue.

The prevalent sentiment that a Pre-9/11 scenario will put Pakistan on the driver’s seat in Afghanistan, India and the rest of the world, was further enforced by our foreign minister, who declared, “India had blinked on talks” and “Pakistan has held its ground.” Pakistan’s foreign minister even reneged on the progress made so far on Track-II diplomacy with India on Kashmir under the Musharraf regime. In addition, Jamaat-ud-Dawah and other “Punjabi Taliban” groups who were laying low after Mumbai, surfaced and held a rally in Muzaffarabad on Feb 5, promising, among other things, to “spread Jihad in other parts of India beyond Kashmir.” All this before talks had even begun with India. In one sense, they can be viewed as pre-talks sabre rattling, and in another sense, it can be viewed as the establishment’s desire to return to a Pre-9/11, Pre-Mumbai status quo, which may be advantageous in the short-term.

However, this line of thinking is a huge fallacy due to two reasons:
1. Proxy warfare didn’t work in Kashmir

Pakistan has to wake up to the fact that Kashmir’s “jihad” has been a spectacular failure. After sparking many wars, sending in many Jihadis, sponsoring numerous resolutions in various international fora, we are nowhere near wrestling control of Kashmir. Direct military action supported by the Mujahideen is unlikely to work. The Kargil war was a spectacular defeat–despite recent attempts to spin it as a success–Nawaz Sharif to his credit made a face-saving exit after the sudden trip to the U.S. to meet President Clinton. If anything Kargil has indicated that future wars over Kashmir will invite international wrath as well as destabilize our politics.

India has held democratic elections and thinned out their military presence in Kashmir and the number of violent incidents have gone down year after year since 2002. Even when Pakistan’s leverage on the Mujahideen was the strongest, (in the 90’s),  and India’s economy was simultaneously the weakest with a balance of payment crisis, India demonstrated that it could hold on to Kashmir. Instead of  harming India, armed jihad against India has destabilized the Pakistani population, killed and maimed Kashmiris, reduced our international standing, de-legitimized the Kashmir cause and is unlikely to yield any result in the changed international attitude towards terrorism. Moreover, China‘s wariness about the Mujahideen given the problem it faces in Xinjiang (recall that China did not support Pakistan during Kargil), the increasing economic gap between India and Pakistan (which will soon translate into a gap in defense and diplomatic capabilities) and the concomitant hardening of Indian public opinion as they flex their national strength further reduce any possibility of success.

2. With great power comes great responsibility

Secondly, if Pakistan is co-opted to hammer out a solution in Afghanistan by using our influence on the Taliban, the international community will shift responsibility to us . If another 9/11-like attack occurs by elements sheltered by the Taliban,  Pakistan will subsequently be blamed or asked to “do more”. Given the ideological leanings of the Taliban, as well as their involvement in the gun culture and violence, it is inevitable that Afghanistan will once again become a magnet for undesirable elements. Who in their right mind would want to be responsible for the actions of such elements?

Policing the behavior of Taliban, while simultaneously facing the threat of economic and military retaliation from the West for their bad behavior is an unenviable proposition.

So unpalatable as it might be, we should recognize the changed international scenario, the harm that we are causing to our population and go for a radical rethink of our Afghan policy and strategy. 

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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Stay Safe, Karachi

AFP/Getty Images

On Friday, a series of bomb blasts struck Karachi, killing at least 25 people and wounding more than 70 others. The first attack occurred Friday afternoon, when a motorcycle rigged with 15 kilograms of explosives detonated next to a bus on Shareh-e-Faisal carrying Shias to a religious procession marking the end of Muharram.

Less than two hours later, “a second explosion was heard outside the emergency ward of Jinnah Hospital where the injured were being shifted,” reported Dawn. Bomb disposal official Munir Sheikh told the news agency the bombing was also caused by explosives strapped to a motorcyle in the hospital’s parking lot. News agencies reported that another bomb was also recovered and defused from Jinnah Hospital. According to Express 24/7, 25 kilograms of explosives was planted in a a computer “box,” which was later identified by security personnel present at the hospital.

Given that previous attacks have sparked riots in Karachi, officials in the city immediately appealed for calm following the bombings. Waseem Ahmed, the Karachi police chief reportedly urged Shia mourners to carry on peacefully with their processions in other parts of the city, and Karachi’s mayor Mustafa Kamal was quoted saying, “Innocent lives have been lost, but people should not lose patience and kindly stay peaceful.” Express 24/7 spoke to other officials of the MQM, including Farooq Sattar, who pledged that the victims’ families would each receive 500,000 Rupees and the injured would receive 100,000 Rupees. The party also called for three days of mourning following today’s attacks.

No one has so far claimed responsibility for Friday’s twin bombings. Given past events, it is likely the perpetrators were militants connected to the Jaish-e-Muhammad/Lashkar-e-Jhanghvi/Sipah-e-Sahba nexus. In December, more than 50 people were killed when a suicide bomber attacked a Shia procession commemorating Ashura in Karachi. Following the attack, Interior Minister Rehman Malik told reported, “This pattern shows that this was a joint venture between Tehreek-i-Taliban and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ),” a Punjabi militant group that is sectarian in essence. In the April issue of the CTC Sentinel, Hassan Abbas wrote that the LeJ is believed to be “the lynch pin of the alignment between Al Qaeda, the Pakistani Taliban and sectarian groups.”

It is therefore impossible to pinpoint one group given the blurred lines between Pakistan’s militant and criminal groups. While the sectarian nature of Friday’s bombings bore a resemblance to December’s suicide bombing in Karachi, I wonder whether the recent [and still unconfirmed] death of Tehreek-e-Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud have spurred “revenge” attacks similar to those following the death of Baitullah Mehsud this past summer. Yesterday, Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad were all put on red alert, with reports that 10 suicide bombers had entered Karachi (only two had been caught).

We may not be entirely certain who was responsible for today’s attacks, but it is nevertheless horrific that they could happen at all. If all three cities were placed on red alert yesterday, was there not more that could be done to prevent today’s deaths? The targeting of Shia pilgrims as well as a hospital is not only tragic, but frankly also sickening. Is nowhere in Pakistan safe or untouched anymore?

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Reuters: Wreckage of the destroyed girls' school in Dir.

On Wednesday, a bomb blast in Lower Dir killed seven people, including three schoolgirls and three U.S. military personnel, and wounded nearly 70 people, including two Americans and 63 schoolgirls, though the NY Times reported, “The medical superintendent in Timergara, the main town in Lower Dir, said that 122 girls were injured in the attack, a far higher number than originally reported.”

According to a statement released by the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan after the incident,

The Americans were U.S. military personnel in Pakistan conducting training at the invitation of the Pakistan Frontier Corps.  They were in Lower Dir to attend the inauguration ceremony of a school for girls that had recently been renovated with U.S. humanitarian assistance.

The bombing, which occurred just before 1100 PST, exploded “as a convoy of Pakistani security officials, journalists, and the American trainers were pulling into a girls’ school in the Haji Abad district of Lower Dir,” reported ABC News. The school destroyed in the attack, noted the news agency, was “separate from the school to which the convoy was driving.”

A girls’ school was completely destroyed Wednesday, and most of the victims were innocent children, many of who were  buried under rubble in the aftermath. That was the real tragedy today. Unfortunately, focus soon shifted to the U.S. military personnel’s  presence in Pakistan.

On Wednesday, military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas confirmed the U.S. Embassy statement that the Americans were there to train Pakistan’s Frontier Corps, part of a $400 million program called “a compromise between American and Pakistani officials looking for the least intrusive way to fortify security in an area where the Pakistani government has rejected the idea of American soldiers and where even the regular Pakistani Army is often not welcome,” by the NY Times in June 2008. COAS Gen. Kayani reportedly rejected any suggestion that would allow U.S. forces to operate on the ground, but finally allowed a “plan for American military advisers to instruct Pakistani trainers, who would in turn train Frontier Corps units in counterinsurgency tactics.”

As a result, more than 20 U.S. Special Forces have been stationed in the country, reported ABC News, while the UK’s Times Online noted there were “thought to be about a dozen” American personnel. The news agency added, “Britain is also building a training camp for the Frontier Corps in the southwestern province of Baluchistan and plans to deploy 24 army trainers there, along with six Americans, for three years from August 2010.”

These reports seem to verify the identity and context of the U.S. military personnel killed and injured today. However, many in Pakistan remain suspicious of these claims, connecting them instead to Blackwater private security contractors. This suspicion, a reflection of the current sentiment in Pakistan, has been fueled further by recent developments, including remarks by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates allegedly confirming the company’s presence in Pakistan, [the U.S. embassy contends he was speaking about private security companies in general]. Soon after, NWFP senior minister Bashir Ahmed Bilour further affirmed that Blackwater personnel were not only operating in the country, but were also training Pakistanis.

Not one to avoid the anti-American bandwagon, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s bombing, but noted, “The Americans killed were members of the Blackwater group. We know they are responsible for bomb blasts in Peshawar and other Pakistani cities.”

Although the “military personnel were FC trainers” story seems to check out, would we ever really know otherwise? Truth be told, there have been increasing clues indicating Blackwater’s presence in Pakistan, but that does not mean that every American in Pakistan is a private security contractor. In my opinion, it is not the suspicion but the indiscriminate suspicion that I find inherently dangerous, fostering a cycle increasingly difficult to break. I’ll leave you with an interesting and insightful remark made to me by The News’ Mosharraf Zaidi:

I find it odd that objecting to a mercenary for-profit war company operating without accountability in Pakistan should be controversial at all. It’s a sad commentary on the absence of rational and linear thinking in both the so-called liberal and so-called right-wing camps. This issue has become a political football, instead of being taken seriously and resolved.


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