Archive for the ‘News Briefs’ Category

Post-PNS Mehran Thoughts

Star Wars Yoda. Cute & cuddly. No resemblance to armed militant.

By now, you’ve all heard of the shocking attack on PNS Mehran, Pakistan’s largest naval base this past Sunday in Karachi.

Here’s what we know:

  • Armed militants stormed the base, using ladders to scale the back wall of one of Pakistan’s premier naval air stations and destroy two U.S.-supplied P-3C Orion maritime surveillance aircraft.
  • The base was “recaptured” by Pakistani security forces after a 17-hour gun battle, during which 10 personnel lost their lives, and 15 were injured.
  • Lieutenant Yasir Abbas, who was killed leading a counter-attack against the attackers, is being hailed as a national hero.
  • 17 foreign personnel – six Americans and 11 Chinese – were on the base at the time of the siege, but escaped without harm.
  • The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the attack, telling Reuters by telephone, “It was the revenge of martyrdom of Osama bin Laden. It was the proof that we are still united and powerful.”
  • Interior Minister Rehman Malik refuses to admit that the attack was a serious breach of national security, and said it was due to an intelligence failure by the Air Force and Navy (via Al Jazeera English).
  • Malik said “external elements” (*cough* India/Zionists/Blackwater *cough*) may have been involved with the militants, although he did not provide evidence supporting this claim.
  • Malik also said the attackers resembled Star Wars characters, noting, “They were wearing black clothes like in Star Wars movies…”
  • Rehman Malik is an idiot.

Here’s what is still ambiguous:

  • A police report released after the attack said 10-12 militants were involved, although Pakistani officials (including Malik) said “up to six” were involved in the incident.
  • Sources say two of the attackers escaped, rather than being killed as was previously reported.

Here are the questions that still require answers:

  • How did 10-12 militants manage to launch an attack of this magnitude against Pakistan’s security establishment? (And no, “using ladders” is not a sufficient answer.)
  • Why did it take 17 hours for security forces to regain control of PNS Mehran?
  • Who was complicit in these attacks? Dawn newspaper (via AJE) questioned whether the attackers had help from the security establishment, writing, “Did the Taliban raiders have information inside the naval base? Such a possibility cannot be ruled out, because the involvement of serving personnel in several previous attacks has been well-established.”
  • After all this loss, how can anyone still claim that this is anything but our war? How can anyone credibly claim that the enemies are conspiratorial foreign hands? How?

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The WTF List

LOLCat says WTF.

 It’s Friday, (ok fine, early morning Saturday), so I thought it was high-time for some recent WTF-worthy stories:

  1. WTF #1: Wikileaks has partnered with Dawn Newspaper, India’s NDTV and the Hindu to release a new round of secret U.S. diplomatic cables. Yikes. According to the cables, in 2008, COAS Gen. Ashfaq Kayani asked the U.S. to increase “Predator coverage” in South Waziristan to support Pakistan’s military operations in the tribal agency. Yes. He meant the drones. According to Dawn, which cited a report of a meeting between US CENTCOM Commander Admiral William J. Fallon and Kayani, Fallon “regretted that he did not have the assets to support this request” but said trained US Marines to could coordinate air strikes for Pakistani forces on ground. Kayani then “‘demurred’ on the offer, pointing out that having US soldiers on ground ‘would not be politically acceptable.'” Uh yeah.
  2. WTF #2: Also revealed via Wikileaks, the U.S. embassy in Islamabad recommended an increase in American military aid to Pakistan to address their “conventional disadvantage vis-a-vis India” in order to secure its cooperation in the war on terror. A year after the Mumbai attacks. Awkward.
  3. WTF #3: Meera strikes again! Our favorite Pakistani Lollywood actress and “layer” stars in a new reality show that premiered last night on Geo’s Entertainment channel. In Kaun Banega Meera Pati, aka the Pakistani Bachelorette, Meera will choose her future hubby from 13 candidates, and will reportedly get married by the 26th episode. I don’t know what’s worse – that there’s now a desi version of the Bachelorette (shoot me now), or that viewers have to wait 26 stupid episodes to watch Meera’s shaadi. Oh no jaani no.
  4. WTF #4: Former IMF managing director (and alleged rapist) Dominique Strauss-Kahn was released from jail Friday after posting a $1 million bail and a $5 million bond. According to the NY Times, “He was taken to 71 Broadway in Lower Manhattan, a building that has rental apartments but is a bit of a comedown from the deluxe accommodations he had expected.” Here’s what I think – who gives an F what Strauss-Kahn thinks? The dude is an alleged rapist, a pervert, and a creep. His residence should be behind bars.
  5. WTF #5: Apparently the world is supposed to end today (May 21). Harold Camping’s prediction that Rapture (Judgment Day) would be May 21, 2011 has received unprecedented publicity and has led to a number of doomsday parties, entrepreneurs offering post-Rapture services, jokes, and heated debates on American news channels. And here I thought that Rapture was a new night club that just opened. Had I realized earlier, I would have eaten that damn cheeseburger at lunch. Sad Kalsoom.

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Source: Guardian

Today, more than 80 paramilitary soldiers were killed when at least one suicide bomber blew himself up at a military training center in Charsadda. At least 115 people were wounded in the bombing, labeled by the NY Times as, “the first major terrorist attack since the American raid in Abbottabad on May 2 that killed Osama bin Laden,” and by other outlets as the deadliest attack in Pakistan since last November.

The Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) claimed responsibility for the attack, and a spokesman told the AFP, “This was the first revenge for Osama’s martyrdom. Wait for bigger attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan.” (The AfPak Channel’s daily brief, however, did note, “Pakistani police officials…were skeptical that the attack…was the work of the TTP, and suggested it may have been orchestrated by Omar Khalid’s group, which is currently fighting the Pakistani Army in Mohmand.”)

In a Parliamentary session today on the bin Laden operation, ISI Director General Pasha (who may or may not be resigning) admitted to intelligence negligence but not failure regarding the U.S. raid that killed OBL.

Jason Burke noted in a column for the Guardian,

There is a terrible inevitability about the bombing in Charsadda, Pakistan, on Friday morning. Little about it is different from previous bombings. There is the same vicious tactic…a familiar target: hapless recruits to the underpaid, under-equipped paramilitary frontier corps. There is a familiar culprit…The only difference is that this strike comes after the death of Osama bin Laden. It is an attack, claimed in the name of Al Qaeda in effect, by Pakistanis on Pakistanis.

As I watched images of injured young cadets on the news, I felt sick to my stomach. I felt sick because as this country goes up in flames, people are not protesting for the thousands of Pakistani lives lost because of terror attacks in the last few years alone. No. They are protesting violations of sovereignty committed by the Americans. They are pointing fingers at one another, shifting blame, searching for scapegoats. I am sick to my stomach.

Other interesting reads before the weekend:

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Source: Guardian

This week, Pakistan’s Supreme Court ruled that hijras, (transgender individuals) should be allowed to choose an alternative sex when they apply for their national identity cards. The News reported,

The court directed NADRA (National Database and Registration Authority) to expedite efforts for issuance of National Identity Cards (NICs) to eunuchs, besides registering them as she-males. The court observed that eunuchs are Pakistani citizens, but they are deprived of various rights, including the right of having NICs.

The BBC quoted Brigadier Ehsan ul-Haq of NADRA who told reporters after the ruling, “Transgenders wanted recognition for their community. Why not reflect them as having a separate identity?”

According to the Guardian’s Declan Walsh last year [also see this great audio slideshow by Walsh], Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry has been a proponent of hijra rights, warning police “to cease harassment and intimidation.” Prior to this week’s decision, Pakistan’s court also ruled two years ago that this community had the right to refer to themselves as the “third gender.” The shift has caused one leader of the hijra community to comment, “Times are changing. Our community feels good for the first time in 60 years.”

The traditional occupation of the transgender community consists of “begging for alms when bestowing blessings on male babies and at weddings,” noted Nabiha Meher Sheikh in this piece [recommended reading for those who’d like to read more background]. “Most of their songs are about pregnancy and their dances are mostly parodies of pregnant women.” Although many claim to be “professional wedding dancers,” Walsh reported that campaigners say their main sources of income come from begging and prostitution. And despite a degree of cultural acceptance (hijras have been part of this society for centuries, and were courtesans during the Mughal Empire), the transgender community is often persecuted and harassed.

But about two years ago, the government began hiring hijras as tax collectors, going door to door to shame people into paying their taxes. It’s a practice that the Indian government also began in 2006, and transgender individuals would receive 4% of any taxes collected (via the BBC). Sajid Hussein Bhatti, a tax superintendent who gives Riffi, a hijra tax collector, orders every morning, told CNN for a recent report, “Their appearance causes great embarrassment amongst the people.” CNN further noted,

We followed them as they visit a series of electrical appliance shops. The first debtor insists there’s been a mistake and the bill’s been paid. The second is less amenable, so the team threaten to come back 24 hours later, half a dozen strong — and dance in the shop. That just may be enough to get a tax bill settled.

I first read about this tactic last year, in Adam Ellick’s piece for the NY Times, “Tax-Free Living in Pakistan.” He reported, “For many of the TGs [Transgendered people] hired by the Clifton board, tax collecting is their first salaried job, and two of them still work as sex workers…[they] have collected $100,000 in about nine months, 10 times the cost of the program.”

Obviously, Pakistan has an enormous tax issue, with only 1.9 million out of 170 million filing tax returns last year. Some would argue that hiring hijras as tax collectors is novel and a positive step for this community, because it’s engaging them in society and providing them employment. But I have a hard time agreeing with such a notion. If we truly wanted to bring TGs into mainstream society as respected citizens, why give them roles that ultimately exacerbate the stereotypes and stigmas attached to their community? In that sense, should this recent development regarding national identity cards be taken with a grain of salt, seen as a political concession for this tax collection tactic?

Shehzadi, a hijra interviewed by the BBC, told the news agency, “Getting jobs and ID cards is great, but when I die, I know the community will have a party, spend all my money, and then it will be as if Shehzadi never walked on this earth.”

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U.S.-Pakistan Intelligence Fall-out: Not So Groovy. Baby.

According to news outlets, “Pakistan has demanded that the U.S. steeply reduce the number of Central Intelligence Agency operatives and Special Operations forces working in Pakistan, and that it put on hold C.I.A. drone strikes aimed at militants in northwest Pakistan.”

Or as Jeremy Scahill (@jeremyscahill) tweeted, “You mean Pakistan tells the U.S. it must sharply reduce the number of times its operatives get caught.”

The demand is another sign of the unfolding fallout after the Raymond Davis debacle, and, as the NY Times noted, it signals “the near collapse of cooperation between the two testy allies.” Pakistan’s intelligence officials have asked about 335 American personnel – C.I.A. officers and contractors and Special Operations forces – to leave the country, about a 25 to 40 percent reduction in Pakistan’s U.S. presence.

The reductions were reportedly personally demanded by COAS Gen. Kayani, and were articulated during Pakistan’s intelligence chief Lt. Gen. Pasha‘s Monday meetings with CIA director Leon Panetta. According to New York Magazine, “The incident couldn’t have come at a worse time: The U.S. is frustrated at Pakistan’s seeming ineptness at tackling Al Qaeda and Taliban forces in the region. And Pakistan is distrustful of Washington, believing American officials are only interested in stripping the country of its nuclear arsenal.” Just last week, the White House’s assessment of the U.S. Afghanistan/Pakistan policy was released, painting a grim picture about Pakistan’s counterinsurgency efforts. According to Dawn, “The report alleged that Pakistan, along with Afghanistan, continues to be the operational base of Al Qaeda and its affiliates threatening global peace.”

Pakistan has dismissed the report’s claims, but at least to the outside world, the strain between the two nations is clear. In fact, CNN noted that these aforementioned “strained” relations dominated Monday’s “frank” discussion between Panetta and Pasha, though officials later assured reporters that the meetings had been productive, and that the relationship between the two services “remains on solid footing.”

It seems that the U.S. is at least trying to placate some of Pakistan’s demands, with U.S. Ambassador Munter stating that Washington is now reconsidering its drone program, a comment he made not during his speech, but during the Q&A Monday. While Munter did not note a time line in the review of the drone program, he did say – pretty significantly – “We have habits and tendencies that don’t work for us and get in the way [of its relationship with Pakistan].”

The Ambassador also called for a renewal of ties, noting, “We’ve had some difficult days in the recent past.  But I’m here today to speak of opportunities in the future, not of problems of the past. Those problems have been acute in recent months, symbolized by the case of Raymond Davis.”

For those of you who think that the U.S. would actually halt the drone strikes in Pakistan – think again. As I’ve noted before, the drones are the best worst option to target militants that threaten U.S. interests. So a vague placation about a covert tactic that Pakistan has been very aware of should be taken with a grain of salt.

With intelligence relations, I always wonder how much of what is being said publicly truly reflects what is happening behind closed doors. Because let’s be honest – as much as the U.S. isn’t “happy” with Pakistan’s ability to battle Al Qaeda, Pakistan is, justifiably, pretty pissed off too. Even if Islamabad/GHQ have been complicit in the drone strike program and had knowledge of American personnel in the country, they don’t like being undermined in the eyes of their own population. Incidents like the Raymond Davis case and the March 17th drone strike that targeted a tribal jirga and killed large numbers of civilians and tribal fighters loyal to the Pakistani government in North Waziristan, are examples of that.

And for a report from the White House to claim that Pakistan is still not “doing enough,” despite the sustained deployment of 147,000 Pakistani troops and despite the numbers of Pakistani policemen, soldiers, and civilians that have lost their lives, comes across as callous, a far cry from “mutual respect and mutual understanding.”

After those debacles, our intelligence agency wants to be wooed. Some of the statements we’re seeing in the media or what is  really happening behind closed doors could be examples of that. But will we see any changes in U.S. policy vis-a-vis Pakistan? We’ll see about that.

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Reuters: Sun Salutation?!

It’s Pakistan Day today, and the Pakistan cricket team just defeated West Indies by 10 wickets to reach the World Cup semi-finals.

Kind of poetic, no?

The match took place amid tremendous Bangladeshi support in Mirpur, a fact that was surprising for some given the history between the two countries. But my friend Tafsir, who was leaving the stadium post-match, told me, “Before  the Bangladesh cricket team became big, everyone here supported Pakistan, especially when Imran Khan, Inzamam ul-Haq, Waqar Younis, and Wasim Akram were playing. So it’s logical that the Bangladeshis are supporting Pakistan now.”

Pakistan has so far played all of their games in Sri Lanka, receiving an equally warm response among fans in that country despite the horrific attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in 2009. Shahid Afridi, the Pakistan team captain more fondly known as Boom Boom Afridi and less fondly known as Very-Obvious-Ball-Biter, told media outlets,

It was beginning to feel like we were playing at home [in Sri Lanka]. But I’m sure that Bangladesh will be a similar story. The crowd there supports the Pakistan team and they will be backing us now that their own team is not playing in the quarterfinals. The conditions in Mirpur, will be home-like, I’m sure.

And it was. Another friend, Shaheryar Mirza (@mirza9), an Express 24/7 reporter in Karachi, told me, “The Bangladeshis and the Sri Lankans have shown that they love cricket. It is about human beings more than it is about war and politics…It’s a sign that people can show immense grace and rise above history and conflict.”

If my Twitter feed is any indication, many Pakistan fans, while celebrating the win, took a moment to thank Bangladesh for their support today. Rabayl_M tweeted, “I love Pakistan and I can still be deeply apologetic about what happened in 1971 because of us. I’m sorry Bangladesh.” Another Twitter friend, Bolshevik, echoed, “Hats off to the people of #Bangladesh. Phenomenal support despite #Pakistan’s #1971 chutyapey and lack of apology. Amaar shonar Bangla! :-)”

Sure, it’s just a sports tournament. But if the World Cup has taught us anything, it’s how sports can really give us some perspective, and truly transcend boundaries.

Here’s to a great performance in the semi-finals, Pakistan. Many thanks to Bangladesh for their amazing support (what up to my mother country!). And Happy Pakistan Day, [here is my think-positive-thoughts post from Pakistan Day last year].

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Fox News #Fail

Silly Fox. Trix are for Kids.

Yesterday, Fox News proved yet again that it’s a credible (*cough*) news source by publishing a story they thought was real news. The article ran on the Fox Nation website with this title, “Pakistan: Islamic Clerics Protest Women Wearing Padded Bras as ‘Devil’s Cushions,'” noting (via Salon),

The Council of Islamic Ideology in Pakistan has protested the use of padded and colourful bras by Muslim women, and recommended that Pakistani Muslim researchers should try to invent an innerwear that makes female assets unnoticeable.

Really? Really? You not only thought that was a real news story, but you thought it important enough to feature on the main page of Fox Nation?! I know you think every Pakistani is a crazy fundo, Fox, but c’mon!

The bra story, which, very subtly, featured a picture of a padded bra, cited sify.com, which in turn linked to a “report” in Roznama Jawani, a satirical news site that features stories like, “Karachi Preparing a Huge Ass Bat to Beat the Sh** Out of Kamran Akmal” and “Nawaz Sharif Celebrates International Women’s Day – Looks into Getting a Boob Job.” In the bra story on the Roznama site, Zakir Naik, a supposed leading Islamic scholar, commented on the situation, noting “if the Pakistani government approves of the funding grant for this research and if Pakistan is successful at making such a bra that makes the chest of women unnoticeable, Pakistan might become the biggest exporter for Shariah compliant underwear.”


Via Roznama Jawani's Facebook page on the sub-page: Mankind-1 Fox News-0.

Fox Nation eventually realized their mistake (mental image of a flickering dim light bulb) and took the story down. But not before readers made a few more ignorant comments. Via Salon.com, one ‘louisiana_mom’ stated emphatically,

How can anyone in their right mind defend this religion/cult is beyond me. The silence of NOW and other women’s rights organizations speak volumes as to where their true loyalties are (and it is not for the rights for women). I cannot believe anyone in the 21st century would even entertain the thought of allowing Sharia Law into any Western county.

Oh dear God. Why are people so effing stupid?

I get it. Fox News is a joke of a news agency, so much so that they don’t even get jokes. But how hard is it to fact-check or even just click through a source’s website? If they did, they would even have seen this disclaimer:

The stories published in Roznama Jawani might only be applicable and true in another universe. That universe might be parallel to this universe. Might even be serial. Who knows?! Maybe some one does.

Roznama Jawani. Fox News approved.

(Thanks Misbah, aka, @miznaq for the story tip!)

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