Reclaiming Pakistan from religious radicals

Posted May 10th, 2015 at 6:46 pm (UTC+0)
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Taliban Chief Fazlullah Pakistani Taliban chief Mullah Fazlullah
By Iftikhar Hussain

Pakistan, an ideological state, overrun by religious radicals, have turned the society into a one-way alley closed to any non-Islamic argument or interpretations. “To eradicate the ‘ideology’, you have to fight the core”, says Mohammad Jibran Nasir, a Pakistani peace activist who is single-handedly spearheading a campaign to convince his countrymen to reclaim the country form religious radicals.
Nasir became a symbol of civil society activism and a strong voice of opposition to religious extremism in the wake of the December 16th Taliban attack on a school in Peshawar in which dozens of children were killed.
Nasir, 28, a former lawyer but now a full time activist, is currently on a six-week tour of the US, where he is speaking at several colleges and universities to mobilize Pakistani Americans to influence US policies towards Pakistan, one of Washington’s key anti-terrorism allies, for a moderate Pakistan.
In an exclusive interview to VOA Deewa, Nasir has shared his views on the dangers to free speech in Pakistan, reasons behind the state pro-radical narrative, the military’s dual policies, like labeling good and bad militants, and where to start the effort that is generally referred to as ‘reclaiming ‘Pakistan from religious radicals.’

Pakistan suffering from inability to have a dialogue

Nasir says that everyone is aware of the dangers to free speech in Pakistan because when in any society the intolerance is on the rise, people are not willing to address or entertain ideas which are unknown to them, or which actually questions the fundamental core. “This is what Pakistan is suffering from, its inability to have the discourse and to have the dialogue.”

Pakistan is a reactionary nation

Pakistan has existed as a reactionary nation because of its inbuilt sense of insecurity since the beginning, especially due to its enmity with India associating the neighboring nation with its Hindu religion. He says, “This is where the rightists’ conservative narrative comes from.”

Pakistan state intolerant to progressive thought

Nasir says that in Pakistan the state does not tolerate progressive thought. “If you want to argue that religions should not be part of politics, that’s a progressive thought and it is not something tolerated by the state in Pakistan”.

Fighting the core

Nasir says that the extremist ideology in Pakistan comes from the educational institutions, especially the educational policy adopted by the late military dictator Zia ul –Haq. “Even those people who are going to schools, and those who read books and other stuff in the curriculum, they are being trained and groomed rather to follow a particular narrative, so it’s not education”, he argues. To address the issue, part of the solution is to reform Madrasas (religious schools) curriculum. He says that the military dual approach towards tackling terrorism must be addressed too.

Religiosity without studying religion

People in Pakistan are passing verdicts in the name of religion without studying the religion. For example, he says, the blasphemy law death penalty was framed by Advocate Ismail Qureshi for the late Zia ul Haq in the 1980s. “It’s very interesting that law cited a fatwa issued by Imam Ibne Abideen justifying death penalty but if you actually read the fatwa, there is no death penalty for blasphemy”.

Where to make a start?

Nasir says if you have to question the ideology (religious extremists’ ideology) in Pakistan, you have to go deeper and address the root cause. He suggests “we need to reach out to all the stakeholders and talk to them in their language that they (religious radicals) do all these in the name of Islam and Islam (religion) is a very (personnel) and sensitive thing.”
Nasir rose to national and global fame after he stood up to condemn radical cleric Maulana Abdul Aziz, former leader of Islamabad’s Lal Masjid, Red Mosque, who favored the Taliban over their attack on Peshawar’s Army Public School that left 142 people, most of them children. Nasir not only began a social media campaign against Aziz but staged incessant rallies in Islamabad to condemn the mullah, who had come to be known as a symbol of radicalism in the heart of the Pakistani capital. For his tirade against Aziz, Nasir received death threats from Taliban.

Is Qatar Peace Process On Again?

Posted May 4th, 2015 at 7:41 pm (UTC+0)
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Taliban Fighters
By Behroz Khan

Notwithstanding its official status, the peace negotiations between the Afghan Government and Taliban officials brought some seemingly positive indications to the fore which suggest that today’s Taliban are not as inflexible as of the yesteryears.
The Qatar talks remain inconclusive and vague but the two-day deliberations paint a comparatively new face of Taliban, who refused to share power with what they called “puppets” of America and other western powers in Kabul. Not only have this, the Taliban for the first time openly accepted to respect the stance and arguments of the opponents, to cooperate in economical, educational and shared cultural spheres.
“We stand for one and united Afghanistan and are ready to work for it collectively. We want a system where the sacrifices of martyrs are respected, peace and justice if ensured, development and economic prosperity is for all and both men and women have access to education and freedom of speech with the framework of Islamic and Afghan values,” said a communique released by Taliban after the Qatar talks. Reuters reported the Taliban delegates also called for the removal of key Taliban leaders’ names from a U.N. terrorism blacklist so they could travel to negotiations, according to the statement by the Pugwash Council, a global organization that promotes conflict resolution. It co-hosted the talks with Qatar’s government. Pugwash said more than 40 representatives including several Afghan women had attended the Qatar meeting.
Apart from the removal of Taliban names from list of wanted terrorists, the Taliban delegation asked yet for anther concession to allow them open “political office” in Doha to facilitate them in holding future rounds of peace talks as well as responding to happenings and reports concerning them.
The Afghan government has not responded to Taliban’s communique but an official of the High Peace Commission in Kabul told OVA Deewa that he was looking forward to the positive outcome of the peace talks.
The personality and reputation of President Ashraf Ghani, analysts believe was more acceptable to the Taliban and other anti-government groups compared to the leaders of former Mujahideen. President Ghani has not lived in the shadow of Pakistani intelligence agencies as well. Taliban have so far, however, failed to absolve its body from Pakistan’s spy agency ISI.
The indications are that Taliban seems ready to accept a constitution for the country to be framed and weighed by competent Afghans and placed before the Afghan nation for approval. Hitherto Taliban wanted only their brand of Islam_a mix of sharia and conservative tribal mindset, as the supreme law of the land and always termed democracy as un-Islamic. Asking the Afghan nation for the approval of the would be new constitution, analysts say is a major shift in Taliban policy. Taliban communique said that the present Afghan constitution has been copied from the west.
However, one wonders what new religious sections Taliban would like to add to the current heavily ‘Islamized’ constitution, painfully put together by the radical Mujahideen leaders, former Taliban associates, tribal elders and Afghan technocrats.

To show that Taliban acted independently and were free from influence of others, a reference to Pakistan, the communique also criticized the Afghan government for asking “neighbors” to help in the peace talks. “Instead of approaching the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, efforts have been made to approach the neighboring countries for peace talks,” the release said.
The main area of concern for the success of talks will be an agreement on the time frame of the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan as Kabul has reached an agreement with Washington to extend the role of US combat troops till the end of 2016. The other issue will be the co-option of some Taliban representatives in the government as well as in the parliament in case of a rapprochement. This is highly unlikely that Afghan government and its allies will agree to nullify the hard-earned results of the Afghan elections, in case Taliban insist on this demand

Afghanistan-Pakistan Drug Transit Routes

Posted April 30th, 2015 at 3:17 am (UTC+0)
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by Naseer Kakar & Niala Mohammad

India is not the only country complaining about Pakistan’s rising drug trafficking issue; China, Iran, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia all have repeatedly voiced their concerns over the smuggling of illicit drugs, mainly heroin, opium, hashish and morphine into their borders via Pakistan.

However, Pakistan isn’t producing these drugs-Afghanistan is.  Pakistan and Iran simply serve as transit states to the rest of the world. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) 2014 World Drug Report states that a whopping 87% of the world’s opium is grown in neighboring Afghanistan.

Traditionally the drug trading route from Afghanistan to Pakistan onwards to the rest of the world are the Torkham border crossing, Ghulam Khan, Kunjrab, Wahga, and Karachi. However due to increased security, about sixty-two alternative drug trafficking routes run through Baluchistan Province.  In an exclusive interview with VOA Deewa, regional expert on Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran, Syed Ali Shah stated, “Contrabands are smuggled by road to Iran, Turkey and onwards to Europe. Another portion is smuggled via sea to UAE, Saudi Arabia, Africa and the rest of South Asia through Chaman, Noshki, Chagaghi, Dalbandeen, Panjgor, Turbat, Gawadar and Jeewani areas of Baluchistan Province. The third and more exclusive option available to high end drug cartels is air smuggling via airplane.”

UNODC Pakistan Afghanistan Drug Routes Map

UNODC Afghanistan Pakistan Drug Routes Map

In 2013 Afghanistan produced record breaking amounts of opium; during that year the cultivation of poppy was over 550 thousand acres more than the previous years recorded in history. The cultivation of poppy has spread from Helmand to Herat, Badghis, Faryab, Balkh, Kunduz, Ghazni Parwan, Kapisa and Laghman Provinces and is smuggled to the Central Asian Republics of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kirghizstan.

Opium cultivation and eradication in Afghanistan

Image Courtesy of UNODC

The UNODC 2011 World Drug Report stated that there were anywhere from 300 to 500 heroin producing factories operating in Afghanistan and are mostly in located in Helmand and Nimroz Provinces near the border of Pakistan in Chotho, Bramchah and  Isa Chah areas. Some reports suggest the existence of heroin factories in Baluchistan as well, but regional expert Syed Ali Shah told VOA Deewa that “Baluchistan has no reports of any such factories.”

The UNODC estimates the export value of opium trade at about $4 billion, “with a quarter of that being earned by opium farmers and the rest going to district officials, insurgents, warlords and drug traffickers.” In 2009 UNODC reported heroine worth 450 million dollars have been smuggled from Afghanistan through Iran and Pakistan. An amount of 45 million dollars have been paid as tax to Taliban and anti-Afghan government organizations for protection of poppy crops and transportation of this heroin. Militant groups term this tax as Islamic Tax, called Ushur.

In lieu of this tax the Taliban provide security to poppy farmers against government agencies but Said Ali Shah says there are a handful of Afghan government officials who are also involved in the drug trade. He said, “reports say about 30% of Afghan security force officials are involved in drug trafficking trade.”  UN says that apart from the Taliban, Al Qaida and Haqqani Network also benefit from the drug trade.

Although a select few seem to benefit from this lucrative trade, a fair portion of the population suffers from addiction.  The use of opium is not new in that region, however it is probable that the high levels of production in Afghanistan may have brought about an increase in the use of opium based drugs. The UNODC states that in Pakistan, “Heroin users are estimated to consume 20 tons of pure heroin annually.” And in Afghanistan the UNODC Afghan Opium Survey of 2014 states 1.6 million of the populations men, women, and children are drug addicts.

Pakistan International Drug Day

Ironically both the Afghan and Pakistani governments impose the death penalty for drug trafficking.


Taliban Flex Muscles for a New Afghan Kill on Holy Friday:

Posted April 22nd, 2015 at 7:22 pm (UTC+0)
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Taliban Fighters
By Behroz Khan
Imagine, it is Friday, April 23, and suppose millions of Afghans wake up with the call for prayers on the Muslims’ holy day. But instead they witness the “holy warriors” overrun military bases, security check posts and diplomatic missions across the country in the name of the so-called Spring Offensive by Taliban.
The threat is precise. The statement from Taliban released to media outlets on April 22, 2015 says all foreign occupiers, their permanent military bases, the intelligence and diplomatic centers including the Afghan Intelligence, interior and defense ministries will be targeted.
The statement emailed to VOA said “the foreign occupiers are still carrying out drone strikes and night operations against the civilian people and absolutely controls the military and fighting command and control system of the heterogeneous regime under the so called Basic Security Agreement”, the offensive is code named Azm,(resolve). The inspiration for the code name comes, of course, from Arabic & Urdu.
Taliban renewed their demand of immediate withdrawal of the remaining around 12000 US and NATO forces from Afghanistan. The bulk of foreign troops left the country in December 2014 while according to the earlier plan; all the combat troops were to be withdrawn. However, after signing the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA), Afghan President Dr. Ashraf Ghani’s government urged President Barack Obama’s administration to review its decision of a complete withdrawal from Afghanistan. President Obama accepted the Afghan request.
Policy Shift on US combat troops:
During his maiden visit to the United States since taking charge of office, when President Ghani also addressed the US Congress. In response to the demand, President Obama decided to extend the combat role of US troops into 2016 to fight Taliban and militant groups based in Afghanistan posing threat to American forces as well as the Afghan government.
Experts on Afghanistan believe that compared to the previous years, 2015 can witness increased violence due to the fact that majority of the foreign combat troops are no longer in the country, which can embolden Taliban and other militant groups to test the capability of the Afghan National Army (ANA). However, assuming the charge, the Afghan security forces have so far held its ground and did not allow the Taliban to make substantially visible gains to take control of areas. The casualties of the Afghan forces, according to various reports are high, and the UN said that civilian casualties from ground battle rose by eight percent by March this year compared to the same period in 2014.
Since October 2001, as many as 2351 American soldiers have died in the fighting against Taliban and their affiliates in Afghanistan, according to figures released by the website for Operation Enduring Freedom. Besides the American casualties, 453 soldiers from the United Kingdom and 675 from other nations have also been killed in the 13 years long conflict.
Pakistan’s Role in Afghanistan:
Their relationship marred by years of distrust, Pakistan and Afghanistan now seem to have initiated a new phase of camaraderie with high hopes on both sides and pledges to jointly fight terrorism. The latest visit of the Afghan military chief General Sher Mohammad Karimi to Pakistan indicate a high mark in relations between the neighboring military forces of the countries. General Karimi visit followed Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s unprecedented November 2014 trip to Pakistan’s military headquarters to meet Gen. Raheel Sharif. Pakistan’s military chief Genereal Raheel and his top spymaster, ISI’s chief, Gen. Rizwan Akhtar have also been to Kabul twice since January 2015. A hitherto silent or impartial China has also jumped into the fray to seek peace in Afghanistan. Chinese interest in Afghan peace could have two main objectives: access to Afghanistan’s untapped natural resources and to eliminate anti-Beijing Islamic groups, particularly East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) which is believed to be hiding in the Pakistani tribal areas on the border with Afghanistan.
VOA Deewa’s colleague, Wagma Jalawan talked to Brig. Saad Muhammad Khan, a Pakistani expert on defense affairs to ask about Islamabad’s role in the developing scenario in Afghanistan, particularly in the backdrop of Chinese President’s much hyped visit to Pakistan.
“Chinese President also during the recent trip asked Pakistan to play its role in restoring peace in Afghanistan and this I think puts more pressure on Islamabad,” he said.
Brig. Saad also said that Taliban will try to create disturbances in the eastern and southern provinces of Afghanistan bordering Pakistan as the Taliban Shuras have been active in Peshawar and Quetta till recently, a view that Pakistani denies. Critics say that Pakistan has announced to act against all militant groups under its Zar-i-Azb military operation ongoing in Waziristan, but its actions have not matched the words so far. The Haqani Network and Taliban Quetta Shura are a major concern of the US as well as Afghan government. The Pakistan military operation has not yet dismantled the two lethal outfits. The groups pose a serious threat to foreign and Afghan National forces in Afghanistan. Afghan president Ashraf Ghani has his own concerns on Pakistan action against militants across the border. He said it pushed militants into Afghanistan increasing pressure on Afghan security forces.
Situation on ground for Taliban:
Since Pakistan has assured Afghanistan of the “paradigm” shift in its Afghan policy, the Taliban are less likely to get the required support in supply of weapons and manpower reservoirs like the past. Though, their Pakistani brethren in faith, Tehrik Taliban Pakistan (TTP) have claimed to have successfully test-fired indigenous missile. A video released by TTP reportedly shows the assembling and successful launch of the missile.
What could be the fallout of the Spring Offensive in Afghanistan, Wagma Jalawan asked the US-based Director Middle East Institute at the Ohio University, Alam Paind and he responded:
“The Taliban are convinced that most of the American troops are out and the remaining will withdraw gradually. But they must understand that the conditions are not the same as it were years ago that allow them to make a comeback”.
Not in control of territory in Afghanistan, what could be the strategy of Taliban fighters to make its spring offensive effective enough to force the Afghan government to give in and let the Taliban play a stronger role in the future negotiations, only time can tell.

Waziristan’s Returning IDPs Find Broken Homes And Broken Promises

Posted April 22nd, 2015 at 4:32 pm (UTC+0)
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idps 2
By Wagma Jalawan
Pakistan’s displaced families from North Waziristan and other tribal regions are returning to their homes with despair _ they found their homes in shambles, no presence of medical facilities and failed promises of the state.
A resident of South Waziristan, Azam Khan, spoke with VOA Deewa about the situation in his hometown. He said they were a symbol of suffering because when they reached their homes it was nightfall and the military’s promises of providing them basic necessities, proved to be wrong. He said four families were handed out just one tent which could not accommodate everyone and they had to spend the night out in the open without beds and blankets. He said because of the uncertainty of the circumstances they were worried about their future as they don’t know whom to trust. He stressed that because of the operation everything is in shambles now and deciding to repatriate the people while the areas are totally destructed is not going to be a good move by the government. He said there are no health centers and medicines. If someone gets sick Azam Khan Said “they are not available and these things should be provided first if a normal rehabilitation is what is intended by the government.”
For a decade now residents of Pakistan’s tribal regions have been fleeing their homes because of fighting between security forces and militants. The latest population to be uprooted are residents of North Waziristan, where a military offensive against militants has forced nearly 1.7 million people to leave their homes and migrate to safer areas.
While the migrants, also called internally displaced people or IDPs, may find relative safety, their living conditions symbolize misery.
North Waziristan residents left their homes, as if in an overnight exodus, and settled in areas of neighboring Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Many had to settle down in camps in deserted plains near the city of Bannu and elsewhere.
Military officials say the anti-militant offensive, code-named Zarb-e-Azb, has been a success and large areas of North Waziristan have been retaken from militants. As the offensive continues, government has also started the process to repatriate the IDPs to some areas in North and South Waziristan from mid-March. FATA Disaster Management Authority, the government’s relief agency, has said so far 4,992 families have repatriated to South Waziristan, at least two years ago. Some families have decided to go back to North Waziristan where army has claimed that 25 villages of Mir Ali subdivision have been cleared of militants. The army says 16000 families will soon be given a green signal to return to their areas and homes. But so far only 97 families have in fact returned to North Waziristan. Despite official promises of help, many IDPs are reluctant to return to their homes, citing a lack of security, broken and destroyed homes and infrastructure.
About those who have returned to North Waziristan, it is virtually impossible to know from them first hand because communication lines are still not working and reporters are not allowed by the military to travel there independently.
But residents of South Waziristan, who have reached their homes were interviewed via VOA Deewa women program, said the returning families were faced with uncertain conditions where they saw a total destruction of homes and buildings upon arrival and despite government promises, there was no assistance to be seen.
A tribal student who is students’ organization president at Gomal University Manzur Khan told Deewa radio that he was harassed by the security checks posts that are laid out every two miles. He said three months ago he visited his home but when he went back again his home was totally demolished and schools and other markets in the area were non-existent. He blamed military airstrikes for the destruction that he said has left dust where their homes once stood. He said Waziristan people were treated like they were unwanted and not like citizens of the country. Khan said people of South Waziristan should be given be liberty and freedom like all other citizens of the country. He demanded that media be allowed to access their areas so that media could report the military’s treatment of the local residents.
The IDPs’ return to their homes was believed to be on a promise of security and provision of basic facilities to the returning tribesmen, including cash assistance, food, healthcare facilities and schools. But the IDPs have different stories to tell.

Ko Agha: A Pashtun-American Comedian

Posted March 27th, 2015 at 8:49 pm (UTC+0)

Ko Agha

“Hope is not a dream but a way of making dreams become a reality”

 by Niala Mohammad

Hope-that’s all an 11 year old Naseer Ahmed had when he worked as a child tailor in Zangal, an area located between Quetta and Chaman in Baluchistan Province. Naseer and his family were Afghan refugees from Kandahar and his dream was to make people laugh. He believes that the remedy to all illnesses is laughter. Since 2013 Naseer or Ko Agha his Pashtun comic persona, have been making Pashtuns laugh. California based Pashtun comedian Naseer Ahmed tells Voice of America, Deewa Radio/TV about his journey from Zangal PirAlizai to San Jose.


Q. Where are you from?

A. My parents are from Kandahar, Afghanistan but I was born in Quetta, Pakistan. Like many Afghans, my father fled to Pakistan during the mid 80’s when the Russians invaded Afghanistan, to avoid conscription, he migrated to Pakistan where he married my mother. My father passed away in 1995 from an unknown illness, and I became orphan at the age of seven. My three brothers, sister and mother remained with our uncle in Zangal Piralizai. I spent a great deal of my life between Afghanistan and Pakistan

Q.  How and when did you and your family come to America?

A. We came to America in the year of 2002 and have been living here since. We came through a program that was run by UNHCR at the time and probably still is. It was for orphans so we applied and out of thousands of applicants we were chosen. That’s how we came to the states.

Q. How did you gravitate towards Pashto comedy?

A. To answer that question, I have to go back to my childhood where I was the subject of child labor, like many kids are in that part of the world today. I was a tailor. As a tailor, I had to work 12 to 16 hours a day and during the course of my day I would see and interact with different types of people. Some would say funny things and others were more serious.  Since childhood, I always loved impersonating people, whether it was in school or on the street.

Q. Why Pashtun and Pashto characters like Ko Agha, Why not English comedy since you live in America?

A. First of all, I think it’s because we lack Pashto comedy in America. Secondly, because no one seems to be producing pieces of work that will bring Pashtun families together; comedy that older and younger generations of Afghans can both relate to. I want to give a voice to Pashtuns living in Afghanistan and in turn show them that their culture is being shared with the world. I personally refrain from English comedy because I think there is so much out there and everybody seems to be doing it. I wanted to create something different so I came up with the character Ko Agha and his son Khumar.

Koh Agha 2

Q. What do your family and friends think about your Pashto comedy? Do they support you?

A. Everyone that has seen it laughs at it. My mother and everyone else are very supportive. Sometimes I’ll get a fan message from YouTube and Facebook swears at me out for no apparent reason, but thank God they aren’t my family members or friends.

Q. Which comedians are you inspired by in Afghanistan and in America?

A. I can say off the bat that I do not know of any famous Afghan comedians that I was or am inspired by. I was however inspired by random people that were funny. People who would sit along the street side and just make jokes amongst one another, the local Chaarsyan that would read funny news for a piece of bread or the daily shopkeepers that would crack jokes at customers who would purchase little. Those were the people I was inspired by in Afghanistan, and Pakistan. In America, I think, John Stewart and his political satire have had a great influence on me.

Q. What is your goal?

A. To always make people laugh, to create a bridge between the East and the West through comedy. To make people realize that Afghans aren’t what most perceive them to be, we aren’t terrorists, we aren’t destructionists,  we are beamish individuals who hope to compete with the world one day. Just because we have few bad apples, doesn’t mean our whole tree is rotten.

Naseer Ahmed

Q. What message would you give to Afghan youth in Afghanistan and abroad?

A. I would give them a message of unity, and brotherhood. Let them know that Afghans are all Afghans and we are from one land and we exist as one nation. Let not tribalism divide us. Also let them know that the world is a beautiful place, open your eyes to it and travel through it, see different cultures and meet different faces, I can assure you, that you will not be disappointed.


Naseer Ahmed aka Koh Agha’s interview with Voice of America Deewa Radio/TV can be heard here:

Koh Agha’s Facebook fan page and YouTube links are here:



Is MQM in Troubled Water? Really?

Posted March 20th, 2015 at 11:57 pm (UTC+0)
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Behroz Khan

The powerful Mutahida Qaumi Movemnet (MQM) in Pakistan’s economy hub Karachi is passing through another difficult phase of its short but eventful political history. Launched in early 1980s for fighting the rights of the migrated Muslims of Pakistan, its leader Altaf Hussain is in self-exile in London since his party faced the first turmoil in 1992. Then PPP of Benazir Bhutto was in power and launched the clean-up operation against MQM, unearthing torture cells, stocks of sophisticated weapons and gangs of criminals throughout its stronghold Karachi, allegedly run by the MQM. The party was then known as Muhajir Qaumi Movement.
Mystery Shrouded Revelations Exposes Many:
This time, a target killer, Saulat Mirza, awaiting execution in Balochistan’s notorious Mach jail, has triggered the storm by levelling serious allegations against MQM’s chief, Alataf Hussain and other top leaders of the party, including the incumbent Governor Sindh, Dr. Ishrat-ul-Ibad Khan. Mr Mirza who was sit to be hanged this week, got an extension for one month, in a video message asked for delaying his execution in order to provide more information about the MQM’s involvement in target killings and mass murders. He committed to help the government to establish contacts with other party activists involved in heinous crimes who were willing to turn approvers.
The video has created a stir as well as questions. Not a single convict on the death row in Pakistan’s legal history, at least, has ever been provided with the facility for issuing a video message for public consumption hours before the execution. Mr. Mirza’s video statement might have reconfirmed the underground criminal network allegedly associated with the powerful MQM in Pakistan’s largest multi-ethnic Karachi metropolis but the tactic used could hardly be sold out to democratic forces in the country. The MQM leadership claims that it was the handy work of the country’s Interior Ministry under Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to malign the party. However, official stand on the release of the video is that Sharif’s government was not aware of the recording or the release of the video.
Mirza in his stunning revelations alleged that he killed Shahid Hamid, chief of Karachi Electricity Supply Corporation (KESC) and others on the directives of Altaf Hussain. However, Altaf Hussain has claimed he never met Saulat Mirza. The convict Mr Mirza says he got directives from Altaf Hussain at the residence of Babar Ghori, former minister of trade and top MQM leader. He also alleged that Governor Ishrat-ul-Ibad was involved in protecting and facilitating MQM’s criminals.
What Went Wrong Between the State and MQM?:
Wana learn politics? MQM is the right academy. Political pundits in Pakistan are yet to discover why MQM is so powerful ally of the ruling parties and military in Pakistan since the repressive 11 year miliraty regime of General Zia-ul-Haq, himself a migrated Muslim from India. Mr Ibad is the longest serving governor of a province in Pakistan and he belongs to MQM. The party enjoyed a special share in the country’s power corridors since its emergence as a political force in 1988 while others faced music during Pakistan’s sloppy military, semi-military and civilian governments. And all of a sudden_the sky has fallen.
The Karachi-based para military troops_Rangers_ raided the party’s headquarters, arresting criminals and seizing weapons. There came the fiery reaction of Altaf Hussain from his ‘sanctuary’ in London. Pakistan’s para military troops lodged a report against Altaf Hussain for threating the forces. And then the video.
Will the Bug Stop at MQM?:
Yes and no. We already heard that PPP too has a Mr. Mirza, as MQM leader Farooq Sattar said while owning his own Mr. Mirza. “Everyone has a Mirza. If we have Saulat Mirza, you have a Zulfiqar Mirza,” Mr Sattar said.
A criminal, Uzair Baloch, the ring leader of Liyari Gang has levelled charges against former President Asif Zardari. He claimed that his gang was carrying out criminal activities on the directives of Zardari, co-chairperson of PPP. Neither PPP nor Zardari has so far reacted to Baloch’s allegations. Political parties have warned against conspiracies being hatched to defame politicians and divert attention of the masses from real issue_increasing terrorism in Pakistan.
Pakistani media has reported that Islamabad was in contact with London to exchange notes and seek each other’s help in facilitating Altaf Hussain’s would be extradition to Pakistan and handing over of the two witnesses allegedly involved in the murder of Dr. Imran Farooq in London. Pakistan’s Interior Minister, Ch. Nisar Ali Khan has been reported meeting British High Commissioner in Islamabad in this connection. Furthermore, Pakistan and Great Britain signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on extradition last year.
Who are Muhajirs?
The ancestors of Urdu speaking Altaf Hussain migrated to Karachi from India as a result of the division of sub-continent in 1947. Graduated from Karachi University, Altaf Hussain formed All Pakistan Muhajir Students Organization (APMSO) which was later transformed into Muhajir Qaumi Movement during Gen. Zia-ul-Haq’s Martial Law. MQM’s detractors claim that Altaf Hussain was systematically used by Gen. Zia to quell PPP’s protests after the execution of former Prime Minister, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in 1979. His execution was, however, declared as a Judicial Murder after more than three decades by Pakistan’s parliament during the former PPP government headed by Prime Minister, Yousaf Raza Gillani.
Pakistanis were angered when Altaf Hussain said in a video “the division of the sub-continent was not the division of land, but the division of blood” in a speech in India, Pakistan’s traditional foe.
The present wave of anti-terrorist sentiments is gaining momentum in Pakistan in the aftermath of the massacre of 152 school children and teachers of a school in Peshawar on December 16, 2014. Like Pakhtunkhwa, FATA and Balochistan, Karachi too is longing for lasting peace. The port city is marred by target killings, bomb blasts, terrorist attacks and the biggest city of the country has literally fallen in the hands of mafias, criminal gangs and terrorists. The worst sufferers are the common citizens, but Pukhtuns in particular.


Countering Violent Extremism: Calls for Re-interpretation of Islam

Posted February 26th, 2015 at 9:31 pm (UTC+0)
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ISIS chief

By Iftikhar Hussain
The mainstream Muslim world needs to come up with a counter narrative that should work as a bulwark against violent extremism, experts say, in wake of the recent atrocities by the Islamic State. In separate interviews experts told VOA Deewa that Muslim majorities who believe their faith is peaceful are ironically silent and their counter-narrative is largely unheard of, the extremist voice is arguably louder, and that confuses both Muslims and non-Muslims.
Grand Imam of the Al-Azhar University, Sheik Ahmed al-Tayab, at a recent conference at Makkah, Saudi Arabia, blamed “corrupt interpretations” of the Quran and the life of the Prophet Muhammad for the rise of Middle East-based terrorism.
Imam Tayab’s is one example of a strong, but a largely unheard, voice in the cacophony of extremist narratives by groups like IS, Al-Qaeda, Al Shabab, Boko Haram and Tehreek-Taliban Pakistan that has drawn massive focus. He spoke in Saudi Arabia at a gathering of about 700 moderate Muslim clerics from various Islamic countries. It remains to be seen how much his call resonates broadly, around the Muslim world.
Saif Inam is a policy analyst with the US-based Muslim Public Affairs Council. The council was part of President Obama’s recent summit in Washington on countering violent extremism. Inam told VOA Deewa that it is very important the Muslims speak against extremism. He said when IS and Al-Qaeda seek Islamic religious grounds for their actions “you need Muslim scholars to rebut those arguments.” He says, “It is important Muslims take the lead on rebutting the ISIS and their ideology.”
Inam thinks there is a need for critical look at jurisprudence and interpretations that are currently used. He says, “I do not necessarily mean reforming Islam per say but the interpretations that are currently used of the Quran and actions and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad.”
Dr. Qibla Ayaz, a renouned Muslim scholar in Pakistan says that terrorism has become a Muslim world problem rather than an issue just for the West. “If we look into the Middle East, the violence in Pakistan, it is clear that terrorism has engulfed the Muslim nations.” He also believes that the solution should come from the Muslim world itself.
Sayyid M. Syeed, National Director of ISNA’s Office of Interfaith and Community Alliances, in Washington, DC, told VOA Deewa that countering violent extremism is a global issue and leaving its fight to one faith and community will not resolve the problem.
Many experts agree that a re-interpretation of Islam is needed but the question is: how much consensus and flexibility exist among different sects of Islam so that a universally acceptable ‘re-interpretation’ is achieved.
Michael Kugelman, the South Asia associate at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, argues that there is no silver bullet solution to the issue of eliminating violent extremism. He told Deewa in an intv, “It’s a wholesome approach and collective efforts by Muslim nations as well as US and other nations of the world.”

Balochistan Insurgency in Focus Again After Latest Killings

Posted February 11th, 2015 at 1:12 am (UTC+0)
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Baluch nationalists say hundreds of rights activists have disappeared through 'enforced appearances' in the

Baluch nationalists say hundreds of rights activists have disappeared through ‘enforced disappearances’ in the

By Iftikhar Hussain
The latest killing of 15 Baloch insurgents by Pakistani troops in exchange of gunfire in a remote region of Pakistan’s southwestern Baluchistan province, near the border with Iran, is raising questions on the continuous insurgency and military’s option for quelling the insurgency via military action.
The fighting in Baluchistan’s Washuk region on Tuesday also wounded three soldiers, a spokesman for the Pakistani forces in the region told VOA Deewa.
The spokesman said insurgents ambushed security forces that triggered the fighting. A search operation was underway in the area, he added.
The human rights activists in recent months have questioned the role of military in the volatile Balochistan province. Baloch nationalists allege they had found hundreds of dead bodies after their forced disappearance. The Pakistan government denies the allegations of troops’ involvement in the forced disappearance of Baloch nationalists.
A journalist and author of the book “Balochistan-at the crossroads,” Willem Marx has recently summed up the rise in kidnappings in Balochistan in one of his tweets:


AFP quoting intelligence officials reported that the militants that clashed with security forces belonged to Baloch Liberation Front, which has been blamed for carrying out attacks on security forces and government installations in the province, which also share a long border with Afghanistan.
A senior journalist in Quetta -the capital city of Balochistan, Syed Ali Shah, told VOA Deewa that security forces are conducting an operation in several parts of Baluchistan.
He said, “The security forces operation is currently going on in Gawadar, Dera Bugti, Naseerabad, Jafarabad areas and we have seen para-military forces have intensified action against insurgent groups in the past two weeks.”
Shah said, “Baluchistan remains mostly inaccessible to journalists. Many journalists have lost their lives in target killings in the past years. Due to security concerns journalists have to rely on the information provided by the security forces, insurgent groups or the govt”.
The separatist insurgents in Baluchistan often blow up railway tracks, electricity towers and gas pipelines with bombs.
Balach Maree a separatist leader said in a Twitter feed that “Pakistan forces killed 15 people including Mohammad Bux Baksh and his 4 sons martyred during military operation in Besima Baluchistan.” 
Baluchistan, Pakistan’s largest but least developed and most sparsely populated province, has been racked for decades by a separatist insurgency that was revived in 2004.
The separatists believe locals do not receive a fair share of the province’s energy and mineral wealth. Rights groups accuse the government of extra-judicial detentions and killing of activists.

Externalizing the Balochs’ issue –Pak army ideological calculus

Posted January 19th, 2015 at 7:02 pm (UTC+0)
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By Iftikhar Hussain
Faced with the pressing challenge of violent extremism at home, Pakistan Army Chief General Raheel Sharif during his recent visit to London, in the Post-Peshawar school massacre scenario, ironically, demanded of the host nation cooperation on Baloch dissidents.

“The issue of UK-based organisations creating security problems in Pakistan was forcefully raised in all the meetings. The army chief specifically talked about the Hizbut Tahrir (HT) and the Baloch dissidents, who have taken up asylum in the UK,” Maj. Gen. Asim Saleem Bajwa, the top military spokesman, was quoted as saying by Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper as saying.

Experts and critics think it is the imbalance in the civil-military focus on terrorism that still exists to deal with the issue. They argue as Pakistan looks inward to resolve the Baloch issue through dialogue, the nation’s ideological military believes the factors are external, linking it to India and anti-Islam forces.
For the Pakistan military, in the renewed anti-terror discourse after the December 16 Taliban attack on Peshawar school, the focus has been on setting up military courts, Afghanizing terrorism and seeking handover of Baloch exiled leaders, some of whom live in Europe.
Baloch nationalists and critics of the army say that the ideological strategy of the military is to externalize the Baloch issue from an indigenous to a foreign one, complicating rather than resolving the issue.

“The more you press Baloch, the harder they react”

A parliamentarian from Baluchistan, Isa Nouri, told VOA Deewa in an interview that externalizing the Baloch issue is an effort to cover up for Pakistan’s failures. He says, “If you had fulfilled responsibilities as a state, there would have been no chance of the alleged foreign involvement.”
He says that Baloch struggle for their rights is gaining momentum day by day. “This is Baloch nation’s psyche, the more you press them, the harder they react.” He adds “It’s a matter of interest, for the Pakistani state it is the foreign hand but for us, it’s the struggle of our rights.”

Baluchistan victim of Pak army ideological faultlines

Pakistan leading defense analyst and former army general Talat Masoud told VOA Deewa that Pakistan army chief raised the issue of Baluchistan dissidents with Britain because Shareef thought that Baluchistan is strategically important. Masoud said, “The army believes the world powers are not happy with the Chinese investments in the province and the other thing is that India is involved in supporting the insurgency.” Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry has repeatedly blamed India for the unrest in Baluchistan and points out that Indian Consulates in several Afghan cities, close to the Pakistani border, were being used as outposts to stir up trouble in Pakistan. New Delhi denies the Pakistani charges.
But Masoud thinks it was a fact that Baluchistan has been ignored and disconnected from mainstream Pakistan. Talat Masoud says, “It is the duty of Pakistan political and military leadership to take steps for the development of the region. And continuity is must in addressing the Baluchistan issue because it has been a long time and Baloch feels alienated, drastic course corrections are needed.”

Baloch Leaders In Exile

A number of Baloch nationalist leaders have left their homeland and are living in self-exile in UK and other parts of Europe. Hyrbiar Muree, son of Nawab Khan Box Muree lives in London. Another influential figure from Baluchistan and Khan of Qalat, Mir Suliman Daud, lives an exiled life in London. Javed Mangal, a former senator and Bloch nationalist leader who have left their land and lives in London. The two the Baloch leaders Mehran Muree, son of Nawab Muree, and Brahamdagh Bugti, grandson of slain Nawab Akbar Bugti live a self-exiled life in Switzerland. Former Senator Sanaullah Baloch remains elusive due to security reasons since for the last several years.

Religion as an ideology

Ahmar Mustikhan, a Baloch journalist based in the U.S., wrote in his recent piece published in the Examiner, that religious license is at the roots of the Baloch killings. He says, “Pakistani intelligence brainwashes the Mehsud and Waziri tribesmen from the tribal region, who work for $60 per month in the paramilitary Frontier Corps, that they are engaged in jihad against Baloch apostates.” He believes that Islamabad describes the Baloch freedom activists as apostates in the service of Indian, Israeli and U.S. intelligence, who want to harm the fortress of Islam, Pakistan. He writes in the Examiner that “apostates were treated rather harshly by Prophet Mohammed for betraying Islam, Islamist education materials by Muslim scholars themselves reveal.”
Experts in the region think Pakistan Baluchistan Province, home to most of the nation’s natural resources, sits on two ideological fault lines for the Pakistan military, India and the sacrosanct strategic relationship with China.
China has invested billions of dollars in a trade corridor that is planned to further consolidate the strategic link with Punjab, whose dominance is deeply resented in Baluchistan and Baluch leaders accuse the province of usurping their rights.
Ruling parties in Baluchistan frequently complain of the discriminatory treatment by federal government currently dominated by Punjab-based Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s PMLN party. A recent multi-billion dollar project, Pak-China Corridor, caused uproar in the county’s senate after the Sharif brothers diverted the major route to Punjab instead of the smaller provinces of KP and Baluchistan, as was initially planned. Baluchistan’s Information Minister Abdurrahim Ziaratwal told Deewa in an intv, “if the route was changed, it will re-affirm the center behavior that Pakistan is only meant for Lahore.”

Pakistan’s Islamic Identity In Collision With Modern State Imperatives

Christine Fair, an author and a leading American expert on Pakistan, has told Deewa in an earlier interview that Pakistan’s army while transforming itself in many aspects of the war; its ideology remains the same. “Unlike any other country in the world to use co-ethnics against each other’s in the war, Pashtuns are used against Pashtun in the war under the Islamic ideology & anti-Indianism.”

Aisha Jalal, a Pakistani historian and author of The Struggle for Pakistan: a Muslim Homeland and Global Politics, beautifully sums up the current situation in her book from a historical perspective. She says that Pakistan is more than six and a half decades since its establishment but it has yet to reconcile its self-proclaimed Islamic identity with the imperatives of a modern nation-state. She is more surgical than most Pakistanis in her diagnostic observations: “Pakistanis receive schooling in ideology that aims to reinforce belief in constructed national myths. These exaggerate Muslim differences with Hindu India to justify the existence of Pakistan and, more problematically, to deny the welter of heterogeneities within the country itself.”




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