Posts Tagged ‘NWFP’

Displaced by Nature

If you haven’t been following the news on the Hunza Valley landslide and the potential floods from the lake in Attabad, this photo from the Boston Globe’s Big Picture series may inspire you to learn more:

Reuters Image

The caption on the Globe reads, “A girl cries while sitting with others to protest against the government’s failure to announce compensation for those displaced by a lake created after a landslide …in Hunza district… on May 22, 2010.”


The development has created a new wave of people in Pakistan displaced not by violence but by nature. The landslide in Hunza Valley occurred on January 4, 2010 and buried Attabad Village, destroying 26 homes, killing 20 people, and damming up the Hunza River. In the five months since the landslide, authorities have struggled to evacuate residents living in dozens of villages by the lake formed by the disaster, which is now over 300 feet deep and 16km (10 mi) long, “submerging miles of highway, farms and homes.” Last week, the lake reportedly reached the top of the natural dam currently in place, and began to spill out, causing rapid erosion of the landslide debris.

According to news agencies, water levels are now considered critical (and rising, in part due to glacier melting) and if it “bursts its banks,” experts fear it could inundate more than 39 villages in the Hunza and Gilgit region. According to Al Jazeera, army engineers had created a canal late last month in an effort to drain the lake, but “a rapid breach” could still lead to massive flooding, which “could affect about 50,000 people downstream and sever a road serving as an important trade link with China.”

So essentially, we should all still be on flood watch, (despite some reports claiming a decrease in water flow).

The human impact of this situation is even more tragic. So far, about 20,000 people living in villages downstream have been evacuated and shifted to IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camps. The News yesterday quoted a special adviser to the Prime Minister, who told reporters that so far 23 camps have been set up for the affected families, and promised a compensation package for those who have lost their homes or are displaced. This announcement followed a protest two weeks ago, when residents claimed the government was “apathetic” and “indifferent” to their situation, and relief items and compensation had not come soon enough.

In an interesting news package yesterday, Al Jazeera’s Kamal Hyder also reported on the impact of the landslide on the region’s tourism industry, which was of course already affected by the security situation. Despite the violence, some travelers still made the trek to the Hunza and Gilgit areas. However, the January landslide and the formed lake have cut off the Karakoram Highway, blocking the road link between Pakistan and China. This could prevent visitors from traveling into the area and may add “further loss to an already threatened business.”

As someone who has traveled the Karakoram Highway to the Chinese border and has seen Pakistan’s natural beauty firsthand, I think this development is not just a loss for the tourism industry, but also for the many travelers who made the trip to Pakistan’s northern areas despite the violence and instability, [see here for a Q&A with my friend Roland, who led a kayaking expedition down the Indus River last year]. As for the numerous people displaced from their homes, I can only pray that the situation is somehow controlled.

In the meantime, if you know of good and credible organizations for people to donate to support those affected by the disaster, please leave your recommendations in the comments and I’ll add it to this post.

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Dawn photo: Abbotabad Riots

Below is my piece that first appeared in Foreign Policy‘s AfPak Channel, a continuation on my previous post that delves more into the party politics that often clouds what the real issues are or should be:

As the 18th Amendment, the constitutional reforms package designed to bolster parliamentary democracy in Pakistan, inches closer to becoming a historic “landmark bill,” one particular part of the legislation has sparked considerable controversy and political wrangling — the renaming of North-West Frontier Province to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.

Over the weekend, people from the province’s Hazara Division, (who speak mainly Hindko as opposed to Pashto) staged demonstrations, and on Monday, at least seven people were killed and over 100 were injured in Abbottabad when police used force to break up a protest. The demonstrations continued on Tuesday, with Dawn reporting that mobs in Haripur, Mansehra, and Abbottabad (in Hazara) blocked roads, chanted slogans, and burned tires — all in the name of a name.

The bumpy journey to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa did not begin in the last few weeks. The Awami National Party (ANP), the secular Pashtun nationalist ruling political party of the province, has long campaigned for a change to Pakhtunkhwa, even passing a resolution in favor of the development in November 1997, noted The News columnist Rahimullah Yusufzai. The name, argued the ANP, accurately reflects the Pashtun-majority of the region, much like Pakistan’s other provinces — Balochistan, Sindh, and Punjab.

But the PML-N staunchly opposed this label, (officially calling for a referendum last September), claiming the title marginalized other ethnic and linguistic groups in the province, including Hindko, Seraiki, and Khowar-speakers. A deadlock over the name continued, with an array of alternative names proposed as a compromise. While some reflected more neutral geographical areas (Khyber, Neelab and Abaseen) and historical references (Gandhara, the old Buddhist-era name of the region), other noteworthy runner-ups included Afghania, the clandestine ‘A’ in “Pakistan,” coined by one of the earliest proponents of the Pakistani state, Chaudhry Rehmat Ali in 1933.

At the end, hyphenating the name to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa became the compromise everyone could agree on.

Well, almost everyone.

Although Pakistani media outlets televised people in the “province-formerly-known-as-NWFP” celebrating in the streets, the honeymoon period was soon over. PML-Q immediately expressed reservations over the new name, claiming they were not privy to the negotiations between the PML-N and ANP. PML-Q leaders have since criticized both the ANP and PML-N, alleging that PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif supported the new name “for his personal gains,” and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa was part of “a conspiracy to divide the province.”

While it would be easy to cloak Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa with the “conspiracy” label, twirl some handlebar moustaches and call it a day, Pakistani politics are never that straightforward. The PML-Q, as Ejaz Haider, National Affairs Editor of Newsweek Pakistan told me, has significant support in the Hazara division, “as is clear from the fact that its candidate was the runner-up in the January by-election in Mansehra.” However, PML-N has a more considerable vote bank in the region, with strong ties to the people of Hazara.

Given that the PML-Q suffered major losses in the 2008 elections, it seems they are trying to remain politically relevant and “capitalize on the emergence of the malcontents at the expense of the PML-N,” noted Dawn’s editorial. But at what cost? Their political provocations have indirectly led to the deaths of innocent people in Abbottabad, and the spread of mobs throughout Hazara. If the party claims to truly represent the interests of the people, it should address the issues that go beyond names and frilly hyphenated labels — the power shortages, the rising food prices, and the unemployment. Even if the 18th Amendment sails through the Senate and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa remains intact, political parties must avoid language that will destabilize the province further. At this rate, a province by any other name would not smell as sweet.

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Image Credit: WWICS
Image Credit: WWICS

This past week, tensions within Pakistan escalated after Taliban militants consolidated power in Buner, just 70 miles from the capital of Islamabad. Although these elements began to withdraw from the area last Friday, the developments raised fears within the country and the international community about the increasing influence of the Taliban in Pakistan and the government’s ability to counter it. Now, as the military initiates its offensive, [Dawn reported that paramilitary troops have taken full control of the Lower Dir district near Swat Valley] many are left wondering what will happen next. Below, CHUP discusses the conflict with Khalid Aziz, the director for institution strengthening with the FATA Secretariat. As someone who is not only from the tribal areas but also has dedicated his career to the region, his insight is extremely valuable:

Q: What do you think has been the biggest mistake the Pakistani military has made when dealing with the tribal areas?

First, it was the inability to address the grievances of the people. There’s always upset people in any society and if they have grievances, they act as a tool for the militants who come and organize communities around discontent. I think allowing simmering grievances to remain in an area has been a mistake, which is not the military’s fault but the state’s fault. As far as the military is concerned, I think the biggest problem is that we don’t have a counterinsurgency strategy which is a holistic approach to the problem, not a military one. We have been too reliant on the use of force and that has led to a lot of collateral deaths, which has again aggravated and increased the grievances.

Because the military operates in an honor society, people who have had their kin killed, then come out and taken revenge for those deaths. It has led to an increase in suicide bombers, which was an unknown phenomenon amongst the Pashtuns, but now it has become part of the protest, part of the model. The third failure is not strengthening the state, because when you negotiate with the militants you tend to reduce the effectiveness of the state and the people’s respect for it. One has to be very careful – if any peace agreements are going to be done, the government has to do it from a position of strength and not of weakness.

Q: Given the negative news of late, people have felt pessimistic about the current security situation in Pakistan. Do you feel the mistakes the military and government have made can be rectified for the future?

I think what happened in Pakistan on the 15th of March when the whole nation stood as one for the reinstatement of the chief justice should act as an example. My own feeling is that the situation is not hopeless but we are a divided house. We all have to act together – the politicians the military and the civil society – and once we build up this momentum, we’d be in a much better place. And that would be the best response to the militants, and it would also strengthen the state forces who are fighting them, give them the moral edge, and give more legitimacy to deal with the insurgency. We should invest more time and effort in trying to mobilize our society against the insurgency.

Q: If it has been long known that we have needed to fight these militants using a proper counterinsurgency strategy, what are the obstacles that have prevented us from enacting it sooner?

By not having a COIN [Counterinsurgency] strategy we have created a confused response by the state security apparatus. Let me explain this by an example. Four days ago a police party was leading a convoy of Frontier Constabulary soldiers which is a paramilitary force into Buner. In a situation where there are militants opposing such a movement, which was the case in this example, precautions through the use of advance reconnaissance or the use of helicopters is normally undertaken. This was not done. The police party was attacked by militants and the policemen were killed. The movement of troops was stopped. Failure such as this could be prevented if there had been a detailed COIN strategy that outlined standard operating procedures in such cases. As in other cases, we lack the political will to do the right thing and thus we are adrift and losing ground to the militants.

Q: In Iraq, the U.S. would distinguish among insurgents by referring to some as “reconcilable” militants versus those who are “irreconcilable.” In the case of Pakistan, is it important to make that similar distinction – and, more specifically in the case of the Sufi Muhammad and the TNSM, should we continue to negotiate with them?

Negotiations can only succeed if the state is in the more dominant position. In Swat, we negotiated from a position of weakness and therefore I feel that the agreement will turn out to be an embarrassment. Militancy has to be tackled through a multidimensional approach which is absent.

Q: What is your opinion on the increased U.S. drone strikes in the region?

The drones are the spearhead of the U.S. counterterrorism strategy in the region. If Pakistan fails to prevent the planning of a threat against the US forces in Afghanistan or terrorist operations worldwide, then US drone strikes become inevitable. If Pakistan wants these strikes to end, then it must remove the cause. Secondly, there is a need to create a due process of law for the use of drone strikes inside FATA by embedding it inside the FCR [Frontier Crimes Regulation] and allowing the political agents to call jirgas with the tribes before any action is taken against proscribed persons through drones, [i.e. informing the jirgas of who the strikes intend to target beforehand, so that they will not give the militants safe haven]. This is likely to reduce reactions against such methods of counterterrorism. [Khalid Aziz has also advocated that if drones are used, they should be under the Pakistani flag, not the U.S.]

Q: Moving to the more human aspect of the conflict – there are currently 80,000 Internally Displaced Persons living in camps in Pakistan, and more than 700,000 throughout the country – what services are being provided to these people? Can the government do more?

Various Pakistani agencies, international organizations and NGOs are busy in providing different services in the field of health, education, water supply and drainage etc to the IDPs. However, there is a shortage of funds. Funds are available only till May. If more money is not made available soon the crisis of the IDPs will deepen, causing more grievances.

Q: Last but not least, do you see the glass as half empty or half full?

Half full…

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PBS Wide Angle [an Emmy Award-winning international affairs documentary series] recently posted some online-exclusive documentary shorts, part of a series entitled, Pakistan at the Polls,” how shadow forces are shaping political outcomes in rural Pakistan. One of the shorts in particular caught my eye and raised some thought-provoking questions.

Called, “You Cannot Hide From Allah,” the film profiles Ishan Khan, dubbed by PBS as the “Michael Bloomberg of Pakistan.” Not long ago, Ishan was just “a regular guy,” a Pakistani immigrant who drove a taxi cab in the United States. However, his life dramatically changed after he won over $30 million in the lottery. Unlike many people though, Ishan decided to return to his hometown of Batagram, NWFP and run for mayor. It was his way of “pitching in.” As the PBS synopsis wrote, “Days later, an earthquake struck, killing 70,000 people, 4,500 of them in Batagram. Now, as mayor of this economically devastated town, Khan has to govern a constituency that seems to believe that his money can solve all of their problems,” [click on the image below to watch the film].


Following the earthquake, Mayor Khan was self-financing the disaster relief in Batagram, pledging 20 million rupees to the town. However, although many praised his efforts, calling him “a blessing from God,” others claimed things were not getting better. The film noted, “Some blame the disaster. Some blame the Mayor.” One Batagram resident noted, “After the earthquake, people became more corrupt. Everyone started to run to an organization to get relief…The word ‘relief check’ was on everyone’s lips.” As the PBS short noted, there has always been a patronage system in the region, but expectations after the earthquake were high. Mayor Khan soon grew frustrated with the daily onslaught of requests for money, at one point noting, “This is not a bank.”

PBS interviewed several people who both praised and criticized Mayor Khan’s work. Although one older man noted, “There used to be no political system here. It was a tribal area. The feudal landlords had everything and we had nothing,” another claimed he bought his votes to get elected. One Batagram resident in particular asserted, “And so the voice of democracy was diminished by money.” In response to such statements, Khan noted resigned, “Everyone is entitled to their opinion…You can’t run from your own village.”

The film is poignant and thought-provoking because it addresses a fundamental problem in the developing world. The people of these towns have witnessed years of organizations and government agencies throwing money at their problems [for the most part]. However, money is just a band-aid over the wound, a short-term solution. It does not address the long-term problems facing Pakistan’s numerous underdeveloped towns and villages. In the case of Batagram, Ishan Khan had admirable intentions with the money he won – he wanted to give back to his hometown. He should be commended for that. However, his intentions soon got muddied by the cacophony of requests and demands. It was dulled by the entrenched mentality that “money solves everything.”

Breaking that mentality is necessary if we want to see any kind of progress. Money should be used to empower communities to help themselves, not as a crutch. Incentives have to be created in order to strengthen society’s capacity at the grassroots level. Programs must be developed to fit the ground realities. For Mayor Khan, his lottery win was behind both his rise and fall in Batagram, [he lost his 2008 election for the town’s seat in the Parliament by a wide margin]. But this film and ones like it are significant because they put these issues in the spotlight and create discourse. With Congress slated to increase Pakistan’s funding by a significant margin, discussing how to improve its application is increasingly necessary.

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Some Good Links…

The NY Times.com featured a really fantastic and powerful short documentary on the issue of female education in Swat Valley. The Times’ Adam Ellick and Irfan Ashraf profiled a Pakistani girl on the last day before the Taliban shut down her school, [click on the image below to watch the video].


At one point in the film, a female student, veiled to protect her identity, read a speech out loud:

The title of my speech is the situation in Swat. Swat Valley: the paradise on earth, is in the northwest of Pakistan. Swat Valley: the land of waterfalls, lush green hills and other gifts bestowed upon it by nature. But my dear friends, today Swat has in the past few years become a heartland for Pakistan Islamic militancy. Today this idyllic valley of peace is burning. Why the peace of this valley destroyed? Why the peace and innocent people of the valley targeted? Why our future is targeted? …Who will solve our problems? Who will return our Valley to peace? I say nobody, no one. Our dreams are shattered…

The AFP reported today that schools in Swat Valley reopened, “but attendance was extremely low despite a fledgling truce between the government and insurgents.” An education ministry official told the news agency that only 10 percent were in attendance due to security fears. A private schools association spokesman added, “Another reason is that many families are still frightened and thousands more left the valley because of the fighting.”

In the New Yorker, Steve Coll [author of Ghost Wars and The Bin Ladens] has an interesting take on Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden, [see CHUP’s previous post on this topic]. According to the writer, OBL is currently in Miranshah, North Waziristan. He noted, “The argument against this guess is that the town and its environs are a relatively busy area with some Pakistan Army presence. The argument for it is that it’s hardcore Taliban country controlled by the Haqqanni clan [see CHUP backgrounder on the Haqqani network], which provided the territory and protection that Osama used to create Al Qaeda’s very first training camps more than twenty years ago. Old friendships die hard in that part of the world.”

A Dawn editorial today also discussed the recent sectarian violence in Dera Ismail Khan, arguing that “the devastating suicide bombing of the funeral procession of a slain Shia local carries all the hallmarks of imported violence.” The piece further discussed the role of Qari Hussain, [whose nom de guerre is Ustad-i-Fidayeen] a militant commander based in South Waziristan who is “believed to be a recruiter and trainer of suicide bombers and has infused his ideology with a virulent stream of sectarianism.” The editors asserted,

Only an investigation into the D.I. Khan bombing can determine if the circumstantial evidence pointing in the direction of Waziristan and Qari Hussain is in fact true. But, as we have stressed before, the different strains of militancy in Pakistan have overlapped to the point where it makes little sense to treat sectarian violence as separate from Al Qaeda attacks and militancy in Punjab as different from that in FATA and northern Pakistan…Defeating the hydra of militancy does require different tactics at the local level, but there must be overall strategic coherency too.

For all those who missed Imran Khan‘s interview yesterday on Fareed Zakaria’s CNN show, GPS, here’s the transcript of the segment. On the government deal with TNSM, he noted:

Remember, this is Sufi Muhammad who the government has done a deal with. His nephew, Fazlullah, [**note: Fazlullah is actually his son-in-law] is far more radicalized. His demands are far greater. His idea of Sharia is way, way different to what, you know, what this deal is. As being done, it’s fairly moderate. The worry is that, you know, there will be hiccups on the way…And so, in my opinion, we have no choice but to start talking to people, winning over the people of the tribal area, have peace for a start. Unless there is peace, you can’t have dialogue. And so, I think it’ll be a slow process, but that is the only option. And I think the government got scared that, if they did not sign some sort of an agreement right now on Sharia, the whole area was getting further radicalized. Because there are even people much more radical than the man, Sufi Muhammad, with whom they have formed this deal with.

Will this deal bring peace to the region? Here’s The News’ Kamal Siddiqui‘s take on the question. He noted, “This whole peace agreement sets a bad example for others if there is no provision to bring to justice those who bombed, killed, attacked and maimed. In this manner, it encourages others who are following the same violent path and who, inevitably, will also end up signing deals with the government. The deal gives them a clean slate.”

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roland-2CHUP interviewed Roland Stevenson, owner of RiverIndia, a company that leads kayaking expeditions in India and throughout South Asia. In November 2008, Roland led a team on an expedition in Pakistan, to tackle the Indus River. Below, he tells us about their experience:

Q: You currently lead expeditions for River India, what motivated you to do a similar expedition in Pakistan?

I have always had a strong link to Pakistan; spending some of my favorite and formative years going to high school in Islamabad and then returning to Muzaffarabad in 2006 to work as a UN/WWF earthquake relief volunteer. Since 2006, I’ve been trying to persuade a few pro-kayakers, led by Ben Stookesberry, to run the Indus [River]. This most recent expedition came about after a couple years of building a good reputation with some of these athletes in a similar political region: India’s restricted-access and politically-contested state of Arunachal Pradesh. After a few years of organizing successful expeditions there, which often had us organizing permits, running first descents, filming documentaries, chartering government helicopters, inadvertently crossing borders, tip toe-ing through military cordons, and dealing with “local sensitivities”, I had the confidence to propose tackling the Rondu gorge of the Indus– a river that has never been run completely. Sponsored by Jackson Kayak and RedBull, the expedition succeeded in what we think is the river’s fourth descent ever, and the descent with the least amount of portages.

Q: Given the current security situation in Pakistan, did you have any expectations/fears going into the country? How many people were part of your group?

Having not been in Islamabad for almost 2 years, I wasn’t sure how much the reality on the ground differed with the generally heightened alarm found in the media and the US State Department’s Travel Advisories. I kept in mind while reading the Pakistan Travel Advisories that they are often composed by people who rarely leave the confines of Ramna-5. I had followed events from the developing insurgency in FATA, Lal Masjid, the lawyer’s strike, Musharraf‘s resignation, Bhutto‘s assassination, and the continuing Al-Qaeda attacks culminating in the Marriott bombing, but the political evolution of the security situation wasn’t a primary concern for an expedition that was going to be in and out in 3 weeks, moving frequently.

Short of being unlucky enough to run into a random act of violence, we were pretty confident that most of the people we were going to meet were the peaceful, friendly, hospitable types who I’d had the pleasure of working with in 2006 and living with in the mid-90’s.

We were a group of six: Five Americans (Ben Stookesberry, Phil Boyer, Darin McQuoid, Chris Korbulic, and myself) and one Mexican (Rafa Ortiz). When we decided to have our first lunch in the somewhat conservative town of Besham, despite warnings, we were eager to point out that we were all Americans… AND ONE MEXICAN! Ole! I think our good natured humor, respect of the local culture, and conversational Urdu helped win friends. Any anxiety was put to rest when we realized people were just as eager to learn about us as we were about them.

Q: What was the most surprising experience during your trip?

Obama won the election the first day of our trip – we kept the Dawn newspaper with us for the course of the journey, showing it to many of the villagers on our way through the Indus valley. Many people cheered and congratulated us. It seemed to signal the widespread hope that Pakistanis had for our country’s future, as we were producing a film to draw attention to theirs.

When we reached Skardu, we met with the local officials to get permission to conduct the expedition and filming in the Rondu Gorge for 2 weeks. As far as I know, the hand-written permit that I wrote was the first official permit to run the Indus. But what was even more surprising was that the DC, before signing off on our trip, asked “And do you all like Obama?” Nods, smiles, and laughs passed around, and with that we were given permission to begin! I do not think the DC was a big Bush fan, but perhaps that should qualify as least-surprising.

Q: What was the most rewarding part of the expedition? What lessons did you take away from the trip?

A few days before the end of the trip we met a principal named Shah Rais Khan who invited us to visit his school the following day. The next morning Chris Korbulic and I visited the Dawn Public School, in a village called Haramosh, and taught a class of English. Mr. Khan invited the entire group back the following day for what was to be a “special ceremony”. We were all excited and arrived early the next morning to find all the students of the school lined up for a big assembly. To stand there sipping steaming chai under these massive, snow-covered Karakoram mountains, listening to the Pakistani anthem sung by 3-15 year old children was very moving. We were each asked to address the children of the school and that, without a doubt, was the most rewarding part of the trip. We each thanked the children, Mr. Khan, and his teachers for this honor, and have since incorporated a plan into the film tour to raise donations for Mr. Khan’s school.

I think the biggest lesson any of us took from this trip is this: had we believed the news media coverage or rumors about this area, we never would have enjoyed the experiences and friendships that we did. Media coverage of any conflict area tends to dwell on the extremes and neglect the large percentage of normal people who are not making the news. The people of NWFP and the Northern Areas were curious, helpful, and concerned for our safety. In evening conversations bundled in a shawl around a tandoor at a dusty roadside hotel, many locals were just as worried about the Taliban or Al Qaeda, if not more so, than your average American. Our goal is to share these pertinent stories of the common Pakistani populace with a wider audience in the US through our films. We are willing to go to these areas, encourage communication, and “see for ourselves”, rather than agree that the image of violence and hatred is ubiquitous. Our experience has shown that it generally is not.

Q: Will there be more expeditions in Pakistan? How does one become a part of that?

I certainly hope so- the experiences on the Indus and in Muzaffarabad are some of my most cherished memories. There are definitely plans in the works for more.

The Pakistan expeditions as well as the trips we have planned in Tibet are a bit off-limits for the casual traveler. Not because they’re too tough or difficult, but because they have limited space and are a total gamble– sometimes things work out well, and sometimes not! For the adventurous of heart, the expeditions offered by RiverIndia are a great way to get into expedition running: 2 week immersive expeditions on one of the world’s most legendary rivers, the Brahmaputra, or Siang as it is locally known. People who’ve done well on a trip have often come back to run a special descent more like the gambles mentioned above. We also try to get a couple select guests on a charity guide school that we teach free of cost for about 10 local students once a year. The message of all our trips is the same: Go to some of the most remote places in the world, run a thrilling expedition, and see for yourself that there are good-natured people the world over! Check out http://www.riverindia.com for lots of pictures, video, and info.


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On Thursday, media outlets reported that an Iranian diplomat was kidnapped in Peshawar one day after a U.S. aid worker was killed and two days after a suicide bombing at a sports stadium in the city. According to news agencies, at least four gunmen abducted the man, identified as Heshmatollah Attarzadeh, [the embassy’s commercial attache in Peshawar], after killing his bodyguard, a Pakistani police officer. CNN quoted Iranian foreign ministry spokesman, Hassan Qashqavi, who called the incident, “an act of terrorism,” adding, “Pakistan should do its best to protect foreign diplomats and their residential places.” The NY Times cited police sources in its coverage, reporting, “Mr. Atharzadeh was snatched when he was on his way to work. The attackers sprayed bullets at the car and dragged the diplomat away.”

Several media outlets cited Pakistani officials, who condemned the incident Thursday. Both CNN and Dawn reported that Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi assured the Government of Iran and the family of the Iranian diplomat that the Pakistan government would take all necessary measures for his safe and early recovery. GEO Television reported that Asfandyar Wali Khan, the head of the Awami National Party, [the ruling party in the NWFP] also condemned the kidnapping, and the province’s Chief Minister, Amir Haider Hoti, directed the law enforcement agencies to take all necessary measures for the safe and early return of the abducted Iranian diplomat. According to GEO, Hoti “termed the incident as an attempt to create rift in relations between two brotherly countries.”

As with yesterday’s coverage of the killing of Stephen Vance, news agencies today framed the kidnapping in light of the deteriorating security situation in northwest Pakistan. According to BBC News,

…the security situation across Pakistan has steadily worsened over the past few years, with Taliban militants holding sway over a large stretch of North-West Frontier Province. But our correspondent says attacks on foreigners in Pakistan are rare. Across the border in Afghanistan aid workers and other foreigners have increasingly been targeted in recent months.

The NY Times reported, “Kidnappings in Hayatabad [the area where the Iranian envoy was abducted] have become so frequent in the last year that many well-to-do Pakistanis who lived in substantial homes there have fled, leaving the area to diplomats and middle-class families. Iran‘s Peshawar consulate is reportedly  maintained “so that it can organize pilgrimages to Iran for Pakistani Shiites from Kurram in the tribal region. There is also considerable trade between Iran and the northwestern city.” Incidents like these, therefore, threaten to jeopardize such relations, with many foreign embassies and organizations increasingly likely to pull their employees out of the region.

A friend passed on extremely interesting article today related to militancy in the region. The UK Telegraph, in an article entitled, “The Failed Suicide Bomber Who Changed the War on Terror in Afghanistan,” interviewed Ramazan Mohammed in prison. Ramazan was one of the two suicide bombers slated to attack the Serena Hotel in Kabul this past January. However, although one of the bombers detonated his vest, Ramazan stopped just short of blowing himself up. The video interview is chilling, [click here to see the video], as the young man from northwest Pakistan tells the Telegraph’s Jack Fairweather why he became a terrorist. Fairweather wrote, “Ramazan’s road to radical Islam and his killing spree in Kabul inevitably included a spell at a Saudi-funded madrassa. His primary intention in attending one of these schools was not to join the Taliban, but to get an education, and in that he was not alone.” He noted,

[Ramazan]  was one of a handful of students invited by the school’s imam to attend extra-curricular courses focusing on the evils of Western, and principally American, imperialism. A favoured teaching method was showing short videos of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and images of the U.S. abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib in Iraq. The unworldly Ramazan was riveted and radicalized.

In the video interview, viewers are offered insight into Ramazan’s reasoning and logic. Perhaps his most chilling statement was, “I’ve no idea how many people I killed, but I am happy with the result…These people weren’t killed by me. They were killed by the will of God.”

Ramazan’s interview should be further testament to the ramifications of U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Although militant masterminds will always use anti-American sentiment to recruit young and impressionable men [and women], these raids serve to further radicalize these populations and validate such hatred and intolerance. Last week President Asif Ali Zardari warned General David Petraeus, the newly appointed commander of CENTCOM, of this problem, terming such raids “counterproductive,” and noting they could harm the battle for hearts and minds. Today, Pakistani foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Sadiq stated that U.S. drone attacks were “in violation of international law and in violation of all understandings between the two sides.”

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A friend passed on a YouTube clip of Pakistan’s rising female pop duo, Zeb & Haniya, or Zeb Bangash and Haniya Aslam. The cousins released their debut album, entitled Chup, on July 19th nationwide. The music video for the song, Aitebar, meaning ‘Trust’ in Urdu, also began airing this past Saturday, [see clip below].

This duo is especially interesting because of their back story. Zeb and Haniya are Pathans, [although the band is primarily Lahore-based]. In fact, noted a Newsweek article, “Zeb & Haniya’s brand of folksy music draws on that Pashtun heritage and can easily fit into the province’s longstanding Sufic tradition. Their songs can be playful and sensual, addressing the themes of love and longing “to God through the conceit of a lover,” says Bangash.” Their music uses a combination of guitar, drums, and trumpet, “as well as more exotic stringed instruments like the sarod, to express “Western and Eastern melodies arranged for a global audience,” says Bangash.” According to the Newsweek piece, “Aslam and Bangash are at the forefront of a group of independent-minded Pashtuns [Pathans] who have harnessed the power of the media to beat back the conservative tide.”

Perceptions of the NWFP and Pathan culture are often linked to the Taliban‘s brand of extremism, a fact that was fueled by the former provincial government [headed by the MMA, a coalition of religious parties] banning the singing and the playing music in public places, including in vehicles. According to a news piece, “When militants bombed music shops, it did nothing to stop them.” Singers and bands like Zeb & Haniya, therefore challenge these perceptions. In a recent interview, Zeb asserted, “We are not fighting our culture to make music. When Pathan families get together, there’s lots of fun, lots of food, lots of meat, and lots of music. That has been fading away from our experience and other people’s perception of Pathan culture. It is something we want to reclaim.”

The same interviewer noted,

Pakistan has not lacked women singers, but Zeb and Haniya are the first vocalists to be writing their own songs and composing their own music. For Chup, Haniya also plays the rhythm guitar. They describe their music as a fusion of American folk, swing, jazz and blues, Bollywood, along with influences from Turkish and Lebanese music and the homegrown qawwali and ghazal, quite unlike what Pakistan has heard so far.

Below is their first music video. To hear more of Zeb & Haniya’s music, you can visit their official website. [Image above from Dawn]

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