Growing Extremism Amongst Pashtun Women

Posted May 23rd, 2014 at 3:18 pm (UTC+0)
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By Niala Mohammad

The shuttlecock burqa– and chaddar-wearing Pashtun women that once populated the streets of Khyber-Pukthunkhwa are now lost amidst a sea of women donning Arabian-styled abayas all over the city of Peshawar. These traditional forms of “pardah,” or “veils,” have been traded in for a more conservative alternative, popularly known in the region as “thorra burqa” (black burqa) or abaya as it is known in the broader Muslim world.

Niqab

Burqa Fashion

An abaya is a traditional robe-like dress or coat made of thin flowing fabric such as chiffon or georgette, and is usually made in black. It can be worn with a scarf covering one’s head and neck, or a niqab (veil) that covers the entire face, leaving only the eyes visible to others. In a sign of extreme conservatism, some women even choose to wear long black gloves and/or socks in order to cover their hands and feet. Abayas are traditionally worn by Muslim women in the Gulf region of the Middle East – Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman and UAE. But now, in a reflection of broader social changes sweeping the Muslim world, women in other predominantly Muslim countries, such as Indonesia and Pakistan, have begun adopting this garment, as well.

The thora burqaa fashion trend was introduced to Pakistan in the 1970’s by General Zia ul Haq, but has only recently become an integral part of the Peshawar fashion scene. The last ten years has seen Pashtun women adopt the abaya trend, right down to the socks, gloves and niqab. Some women prefer a plain black burqa, while other more fashion-conscious women prefer embroidery and intricate beadwork on the borders of their abayas.

The Burqa Survey

It is understood in Pashtun society that a woman wearing a thorra burqa in place of a traditional shuttlecock burqa or chaddar and a hijab in place of a lupatta (scarf) is more “religious and pious” than others. A recent study conducted by University of Michigan Population Studies Center surveyed seven Muslim countries, including Pakistan, in which they asked respondents to choose what they deemed to be the most appropriate attire for women. The individuals surveyed were shown six pictures which showed women wearing a shuttlecock burqa, a niqab, different forms of headscarves and one with no head covering at all. The report surveyed 3,523 Pakistanis, 51% of which were male. The results showed that 32% favored a niqab and 31% preferred the abaya. Astoundingly, only 3% of individuals surveyed voted for the shuttlecock burqa and merely 2% for the woman shown without a veil or scarf.

 

Umich3

A Symbol of Piety

Salma Gul from Pawakey, a village on the outskirts of Peshawar says that wearing an abaya makes her feel safe. She said, “When I used to wear a chaddar and walk back and forth to school, men on the street would harass me because they thought I was ‘free’ or too liberal, so I started wearing an abbaya with niqab.” She adds that there is also a laziness factor: “No one can see if my clothes are old, wrinkled, and dirty or out of fashion underneath my abbaya. It makes things easy for me when I am in a rush to go out of the house to run errands.”

A Shift in Traditional Mindsets

The influence of Gulf Arab religious ideologies has not only had a visible impact on the physical appearances of Pashtun women, but it has also affected their ethnic identity and way of life. Pashtun women attending local madrassas have been advised by their religious teachers to change their traditional Pashtun names for more ‘appropriate’ Islamic names – and by ‘appropriate,’ they are usually referring to Arabic names as found in Islamic history, or the Quran.

Safia, a young mother of five in Peshawar was advised to change her ten year old daughter’s name from Kiran to a name deemed more Islamically appropriate. Safia chose the name Marriam and proceeded to change all of her daughters’ formal documents from Kiran to Marriam. She said, “I was young when I had my daughter and I was influenced by Bollywood movies and Pakistani drama serials. I didn’t know any better. But changing her name was a good decision. Marriam is a good name. A name carries heavy weight and it has a huge impact on a child.” Safia has asked everyone in her household to call her daughter by her proper Islamic name Marriam instead of Kiran.  Marriam is doing hifz, the study and memorization of the entire Quran at a local madrassa.

In a similar situation, Shanaz, a 38-year old widow in Peshawar changed her name to Khadija. She said, “The name Shahnaz is not Muslim and I like Khadija better.” She says, “Our elders didn’t know any better. They gave us these names.” Shanaz/Khadija attends madrassa classes daily and says that she finds peace of mind in attending madrassa. “I get to learn about religion the right way and it gives me the opportunity to leave the house and interact with other women instead of staying at home.” It is a simple luxury for a Pashtun woman, especially a young widow to be able to step outside of the confines of her home on a daily basis.

Sixty-year old Naseem begum attends a local madrassa and teaches children how to read the Quran in the evenings. She has about 20-30 children file into the courtyard of her house at around 4 p.m.

madrassa1

As my lupatta slipped from my head, Naseem screamed, “sar thor ba jannath tha ni zay” (you will not go into heaven with your hair showing). I smiled and covered my head quickly to avoid further scolding. Naseem begum’s son introduced her to a more conservative interpretation of Islam after being posted in Kashmir with the Pakistani Army. Now Naseem begum regularly attends madrassa classes and applies those teachings to her lessons to the students who come to learn Quran from her.

A Pakistani Christian Couldn’t Have Cross On Her Christmas Cake

Posted May 21st, 2014 at 6:59 pm (UTC+0)
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Members of Pakistani Christian community hold placard as they shout slogans during protest rally to condemn Sunday's suicide attack in Peshawar on a church, with others in Lahore

By Wagma Jalawan

Ambreen speaks the local language, Pashto, fluently. She wears the local dress and by all looks and appearances she isn’t any different from other women in her native city of Peshawar, in Pakistan’s northwest.

But her Christian faith sets her apart _ too far apart from the rest. She says her Muslim neighbors would not like to shake hands with her.

And this past Christmas, the local baker refused to decorate Ambreen’s Christmas cake with a cross out of fears that doing so might draw retribution from militant Muslims.

Ambreen’s story is a narrative of how Pakistan, a majority Muslim state, appears to be sliding deeper into religious extremism. In recent years,members of other faiths, ethnic minorities and even followers of smaller Muslim sects, have faced growing threats and attacks.

Minorities make less than four percent of Pakistan’s 180 million population and those who are able to, leave Pakistan and migrate to other countries.

Dr. Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, a member of Pakistan’s lower house of Parliament or National Assembly told lawmakers this month that each year nearly 5,000 Hindus migrate from Pakistan to neighboring India, a Hindu majority country. Mr Vankwani belongs to the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (N) party.

Haroon Sarb Diyal, a minority rights activist, stressed the need for a drastic change immediately on local and national level in order to make Pakistan safe for minorities. He said members of minority groups are targeted because of their faith where they have seen violence, killings, forced conversions and forced marriages.

A recent report by United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said, “government of Pakistan continues to engage in tolerant systematic egregious violations of freedom of religion or beliefs.”

Members of minority faiths voiced their concerns in VOA Deewa Radio’s weekly show on women.  Many of them said conditions for minorities weren’t so bad 10 years ago and that minorities lived in peace in Pakistan.

Militancy has risen in Pakistan since 2001. Militants are blamed for deadly attacks on the government, religious and ethnic minorities, women and schools.

Now, Ambreen says life for a non-Muslim school going boy or girl is different. They are faced with harsh attitudes and no one would like to shake hands with them or share food with them. Some analysts blame growing intolerance of minorities on school text books.

Ambreen says conditions had not always been like this when she was growing up.

“Now I was surprised when a local bakery refused to decorate my Christmas cake with a cross sign,” Ambreen says.

“This isn’t a neighborhood I would want to be in the future”, another minority member in Pakistan told VOA Deewa while expressing concern over the state of minorities in Pakistan.

In Punjab and Sindh provinces, minorities face another form of intimation. Denigrating Islam is punishable with death under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and in Sindh and Punjab, most police cases are registered against minorities, after they are accused of insulting Islam. United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) says in Punjab and Sindh provinces 16 individuals belonging to minorities are on death row and 20 more are serving life sentences.

Pakistan’s National Assembly lower house recently adopted a unanimous resolution to safe guard the holy places of religious minorities. The house resolution stated that all necessary steps will be taken to safe guard the holy places of all the minorities of the country.

But many say the steps taken by government are not enough and more needs to be done in order to encourage minority groups in Pakistan to stay back.

 

Babar Ahmed on “Amka and the Three Golden Rules”

Posted May 20th, 2014 at 7:40 pm (UTC+0)
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by Rahman Bunairee

Babar Ahmed’s movie Amka and the Three Golden Rules is a simple tale with a strong message for Mongolians, suggesting that they properly utilize the wealth of natural resources they have recently discovered.

Amka

The film revolves around a ten year old orphan boy named Amka who finds a golden coin while collecting cans and bottles in the streets. Amka is the main income provider for his little sister and drunken teenage brother. But, Amka’s attitude changes with his new found wealth. Consumed by materialism, Amka turns away from his responsibilities and family obligations.

The film’s director Babar Ahmed says, the movie highlights Mongolia’s potential for advancement. Ahmed said, “Mongolia has lots of resources. People only know of the 800 year old Mongolia where Ghangis Khan once ruled. But over the past 20 years discoveries of natural resources such as oil, uranium, copper and gold have been found in the region. Mongolia has an abundance of natural resources.  Now, Mongolians have two paths they can take. The first path would be to take this new found wealth and continue to retain their rich culture. The second path would be to allow them to be consumed by materialism, while washing away with their culture. And this is the message of my film.”

Babar pic

The turning point of the movie is when Amka loses all of his wealth to waste-less spending and becomes financially in debt. He ultimately returns to his father’s village in the country-side, where his uncle gives him three golden rules to abide by in life-Earning, Spending and Saving!

Babar Ahmed shot this movie entirely in Mongolia and all the actors are Mongolian. The director said, “It was as if the Mongolian people were born camera friendly. Because the culture in Mongolia is similar to the culture in Pakistan, I didn’t encounter many obstacles while making the movie”.

The 14th Annual New York Indian Film Festival showcased 54 movies, one of which was Babar Ahmed’s Amka and the Three Golden Rules. The festival director Aroon Shivdasani stated, “This is Babar’s second film being screened in the New York Indian Film Festival. His first movie, ‘Genius’ won an award for ‘Outstanding Film Creativity’ in 2003. Babar is young and talented director.”

The film festival screening guests included directors, actors, producers and critics. Award winning Indian-American actress and producer Sheetal Sheth, said, “my film is not being show cased at the film festival but I am here as a supporter to other South Asian artists.” She was enthusiastic about Babar’s film Amka. Other critics at the festival believe that Babar has a bright future ahead of him.

Babar Ahmed was born in Pakistan to a Pashtun family and was educated in London and America. He hopes to one day make movies in Pakistan, but is waiting for the right time and opportunity.

His interview with Deewa Radio is available, on our website

http://www.voadeewaradio.com/media/video/amka-film-review/1916280.html

Bangladeshi, Egyptian Islamists Facing Doom, Pakistani Islamists Bloom

Posted May 19th, 2014 at 6:54 pm (UTC+0)
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el-Sisi

By Iftikhar Hussain

Two populous Muslim nations, geographically far apart, did one thing in common, perhaps coincidently, and it was to rein in Islamic groups recently. General Abdel  Fatah el-Sisi took on the powerful Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the government of Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Haseena banned the Jamate Islami party and Bangladeshi courts sentenced some members of the groups to death for war crimes.

While the Egyptian and Bangladeshi groups suffered setbacks, Pakistani ideological affiliate, Jamate Islami, and other Islamic groups continue to gain support and influence both from sections of the society and reportedly from state elements. Pakistani Jamate Islami is a key member of the political coalition ruling the country’s northwestern Khyber Pakhutunkhwa province.

The first round of Egypt’s presidential elections is scheduled for May 26 and 27 and only two candidates are in the field – leftist politician Hamdeen Sabahi and former Abdel  Fatah el-Sisi, the man who is widely expected to win. General el-Sisi in a recent television interview has made it clear that if he comes to power, “the Brotherhood has no future in Egypt”.  For many it will not be surprising if el-Sisi wins but how far he can be successful to get rid of the grassroots Islamist political entity, is a question that remains to be answered. Like the Jamate Islami in Pakistan, the Brotherhood has affiliates around the Muslim world. How will the Pakistani Jamate or similar groups in other Islamic countries react, is another question surrounding el-Sisi’s expected presidency.

Parallels Between Pakistan’s JI and Egypt’s Brotherhood:

The brotherhood gave birth to Al-Qaeda and Jamate Islami supported it throughout its violent history. Pakistan’s Jamate Islami, like the Egypt’s Brotherhood, aspires for both domestic and international Muslim causes. The Jamate Islami maintains close contacts with the Brotherhood and considers it an organization from which it can learn. The leadership of both the parties met at the Brotherhood’s headquarters in June 2012 after Morsi won elections and join hands to promote the image of Islam.

“Congratulations to Ikhwane Muslameen (Egyptian Brotherhood) on their glorious success. The sacrifices of the martyrs Imam Hasan al Banna, Syed Qutb and thousands of activists have borne fruit in the shape of the revolution in Egypt. God willing, an Islamic revolution is Pakistan’s destiny too,” said a JI leader Liaquat Baloch at the event in Cairo in 2012. The JI former chief, Syed Munwar Hassan has also repeatedly said that the JI would struggle to unleash a revolution in the country, similar to the one in Egypt.

JI Karachi former president Muhammad Hussain Mehanti has said to Pakistani leading newspaper Express Tribune back in 2012 that the Brotherhood has been a source of inspiration and it is in this spirit that the Idara-e Noor-e-Haq translates the works of their scholars Hasan al Banna and Syed Qutub in Pakistan. The works of JI’s founder and revered scholar Maulana Maududi have also been translated in Egypt.

Historian and author of ‘Partisans of Allah: Jihad in South Asia’ Professor Ayesha Jalal says, the Jamate Islami and the Muslim Brotherhood have been historically linked ideologically and have also had comparable bases of support. “If you add to this some broad similarities of context, then the links between the two organizations become even more understandable.  So it is hardly surprising to find them expressing admiration for each other.”

International best-selling author Ahmed Rashid in his writings says that the Jamaat-e-Islami branched out of the Muslim Brotherhood, which was founded in 1929 by Hasan al Banna, who spearheaded a movement that spread across the Arab world.

 Taking on the Brotherhood:

For el-Sisi it might be just a matter of time to finish the brotherhood if his words are to be believed but former US diplomats say it is hard to believe el-Sisi’s claims. David Mack is a former US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near East who follows developments in Egypt. “The Brotherhood represents a wide spectrum of opinion in Egypt and in official Washington the views of el-Sissi about the Brotherhood are not something generally encouraged”.

Another expert on the Middle East and former US diplomat,   William Rugh, believes that the Muslim Brotherhood has established itself as a political organization in Egypt’s political arena and it is difficult to imagine what al-Sissy says. “Gamal Abdul Nasir tried to suppress it but failed and I am skeptical of what el-Sissi claims no matter how much powerful he is”, the former US diplomat says.

Eliminating Brotherhood will resonate in region, Pakistan:

In Pakistan, most Islamic political parties aspire for global Muslim brotherhood or Ummah and domestically, because of using religion as a platform, they are considered to have more leverage than other groups, even if they do not fare better at the ballot. “No party can afford to disown the religion in its manifesto”, says Pakistan’s leading expert on Middle East Dr Hassan Askari. “The Jamate Islami issued statements in favor of Brotherhood’s Morsi when his government was ousted by military leadership of the country. He believes that Islamist parties in Pakistan react more actively to international Islamic causes than similar groups in any other Islamic country. Askari says how things will play out in post-election scenario in Egypt is something still to be seen and so is the reaction of Pakistan Jamate Islami. “It is not the inability of Jamate Islami to get all over political power and form a central government like the Brotherhood but rather it is because no other party in Pakistan disowns Islam in politics “.

William Rugh, the former US diplomat to a number of Middle Eastern nations says that specifically it cannot be predicted but as a general proposition whatever happens in Egypt post the presidential election will resonate in the region and in Pakistan too.

JI remains backward & cherishes Jihadi ideology: 

The Brotherhood, which shaped the ideas of Islamists and particularly of groups such as al Qaeda, went through a transformation for political gains in recent years, according to the author of ‘A to Z of Pakistani Jehadi Organisations’ Amir Rana. “The Muslim Brotherhood today has evolved into a modern Islamist organisation that promotes democratic ways and education for all,” said Rana. “But the Jamaat-e-Islami remains backward and reactionary. Also, while the Brotherhood is putting up a fight with the military establishment, the JI here continues to be the bedfellow of the military in Pakistan”.

 

Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws Coming After Media?

Posted May 19th, 2014 at 1:23 am (UTC+0)
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Pakistan

By Nafees Takar

For Pakistan’s leading media house, Jang group, the litany of troubles in recent weeks has not only grown but the troubles have become grave that may even prove to be mortal. After a tense stand off with the powerful military, intense opposition by fellow media groups, comes a blasphemy charge against Geo TV, Jang group’s flagship news and entertainment television station.

Blasphemy is a sensitive issue in Pakistan. Salman Taseer, governor of Pakistan’s most populous and politically strong Punjab province was killed in 2011 by a member of his police security detail for allegedly supporting amendments to the country’s blasphemy laws.

Now police have registered a blasphemy case against the Jang group’s owner Mir Shakeelur Rehman and participants of an entertainment show on Geo. A court in Islamabad ordered police to register the case under the country’s controversial blasphemy laws and charges relating to terrorism over the station’s airing of and participating in a show. The show sparked an anti-Geo campaign as rival media outlets and religious groups started accusing the Geo TV owner and program participants of committing blasphemy. Leaders of a religious group went as far to declare that watching Geo TV was haram, the Islamic word for thing forbidden for its followers.

The country’s media watch Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) has also sent a notice to the Geo TV to explain its position or a show cause notice in bureaucratic parlance and an indication of official displeasure. PEMRA says it has received more than 5000 complaints against the Geo TV May 14 program. Geo TV has offered apology for airing the show.

Using Blasphemy Laws for Silencing Opposition:

The Jang Group, historically known for a pro-government stance, angered Pakistan’s powerful spy agency ISI recently. It started with an attack on a popular Geo TV anchorperson Hamid Mir on April 19 in Karachi. Hamid Mir and his journalist brother Amir Mir later accused ISI of the attack.

Pakistan’s leading veteran human rights activist I. A. Rahman told New York Times last week: “Blasphemy has become a political battle. It’s no longer just a criminal or religious problem — it’s become a political issue that is used to silence voices and create a climate of fear.”

I. A. Rahman nephew Rashid Rahman was gunned down in Multan earlier this month for advocating the case of a university lecturer, accused of blasphemy.

Most of the victims of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are non-Muslims. However, in recent years the harsh laws have also been applied to members of the majority Sunni Muslims. Sometime a call for changes into the harsh laws have also led to violence. The assassination of Taseer is also a case in point.

The blasphemy laws are parts of Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) since colonial era of British India. However, the late military dictator Gen Zia ul Haq tightened the laws in 1986 by making blasphemy punishable to death.

Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws and It’s Victims

The PPC defines blasphemy as “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs; use of derogatory remarks, etc., in respect of the Prophet (PBUH) and use of derogatory remarks, etc., in respect of holy personages.”

As many as 30 Muslim countries have blasphemy laws with variation of punishments for blasphemers.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) says 33 Pakistanis are currently on death row or serving life sentence after their conviction in blasphemy. AlJazeera TV reported 17 of them face death sentence.

The latest blasphemy charges against Geo TV owner and three participants of an entertainment show coincides with the killing of a defense council of an alleged blasphemer and a member of the Ahmadi sect in Punjab province in May 2014. The attorney was killed for advocating the case of an alleged blasphemer while the Ahmadi man was gunned down in police custody for alleged blasphemy. Again in Punjab, police also registered a blasphemy case against 68 attorneys who were protesting and raising slogans against a police officer by the name of Umar Daraz in May. The lawyers’ chants against the policeman, named Umar, was stretched to be blasphemy against Umar bin Khittab (RA) who was a companion of the Prophet of Islam and the second ruler of the Muslim kingdom, known as khalifa, or caliph.

 

 

Polio Isolates Pakistan and Cripples Pashtun Kids

Posted May 15th, 2014 at 8:39 pm (UTC+0)
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by Behroz Khan

polio

She is cursing her fate and those religious clerics who misguided her not to vaccinate her son Qasim Omar for Polio. But, the damage done is irreversible. Mrs Omar is now crying over spilled milk.

Mrs. Omar has eleven children, and Qasim, her youngest child who is paralyzed while the rest of her children are polio free and healthy because they had been properly vaccinated. Qasim was nine-months old when the disease attacked and crippled him forever.

“Our polio teams were repeatedly dodged. The mother, influenced by the clerics would hide Qasim whenever we visited the family,” revealed Qazi Musarat, Lady Health Supervisor Peshawar to VOA Deewa.

Alarm Bells Keep Ringing:

Sixty two new polio cases have been reported in Pakistan in 2014, almost all of whom are Pashtuns from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA, where militant groups and religious clerics have banned polio campaign.

“According to our data, 198 polio cases were reported in 2011. However, the number dropped to 58 due to a rigorous campaigning in 2012. These numbers shot up again in 2013 and the reported cases in the previous year stood at 93,” said Shadab Younas, media coordinator UNICEF.

“I was also kept in the dark by my wife about Qasim. I did not know that Qasim was not receiving his polio drops. Now, I tell my wife to put Qasim to the axe and split him in two to rid him of his paralyzed half,” a dejected Omar Khan told Qazi Musarrat.

Doctors say, Qasim is a constant threat to other siblings and close relatives as the virus can transfer to others. Doctors say that the stool of a polio victim carries the contagious polio virus.  

Pakistanis Face Ban on Travel:

In light of the WHO’s recommendations, Pakistanis face an impending ban on travelling abroad due to fears that the virus might spread to other regions. The expected ban has prompted Islamabad to arrange polio drops at all the International airports throughout the country and issuance of polio-free certificates to all the citizens travelling overseas. So much so, that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif imposed travel restrictions on the people of FATA. In order to travel to the settled areas, the people of FATA need to have polio vaccination certificates. And inter-provincial travelling is also likely to be restricted, the Punjab government recently asked people from FATA and Pakhtunkhwa to produce polio-free certificates before entering the province.

“We fear that the world might name the virus as the ‘Pashtun virus’, if polio is not eradicated in the northern parts of Pakistan, mainly the Pashtun areas,” said Dr. Kaleem, Deputy Head of the polio campaign for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province.

According to Ilyas Dori, an Islamabad-based official of WHO, the polio virus is surfacing like an epidemic in Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The data shows that Pakistan beats rest of the world in documenting polio cases at the moment.

Mulla Narrative Reigns Supreme:

“The increase in polio cases is mainly due to security reasons. Kids in inaccessible areas are more prone to the polio virus as compared to cases where parents refuse polio drops for their children. The militant attacks on polio teams also raise doubts about the nature of the polio campaign among the people,” said Dr. Imtiaz, Focal Person on Polio Campaign Pakhtunkhwa.

Majority of the polio cases are reported in North Waziristan Agency where Pakistan signed a Peace Agreement with local Taliban in 2007, under which the tribal areas are not to be used for terrorism. The agreement states that the writ of the government will not be challenged by militants. However, the local Taliban imposed a ban on polio vaccinations in 2012. According to official data, out of the 62 reported cases this year, 41 are from North Waziristan alone, five from Bannu, four from Peshawar, four in South Waziristan, two in Khyber Agency, one in Frontier Region (FR) Bannu and five from Karachi.

The bloody anti-polio drive spins around decrees issued by radical mullah’s calling upon the faithful, warning them that the use of polio vaccines are un-Islamic and part of Western conspiracy hatched by non-believers to kill fertility amongst Muslim men and to turn Muslim women vulnerable to obscenity and vulgarity. Anti-polio Mullahs insist that the vaccine hastens the age of puberty in girls. Another, Mullah evoked theory suggests that polio vaccinations carry the fat of swine, which explicitly prohibited in Islam.

More than 40 vaccinators and security personnel have been killed and injured in militant attacks so far. Security officials believe that attacks on polio teams increased after the Dr. Shakil Afridi case where he is accused of having run a fake polio vaccination campaign in order to acquire the whereabouts of the terrorist mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks, Osama Bin Laden in Abbottabad in 2011. 

In Buner, Another Reminder of the Taliban

Posted May 14th, 2014 at 9:24 pm (UTC+0)
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buner

by Sadaqat Jan 

With helicopters roaring overhead, hundreds of army troops and police have fanned out in a remote corner of the mountainous Buner District, of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, searching hamlets and homes for suspected militants. The area has been under curfew since Wednesday, May 14, 2014.

A search operation is going on in the Gadezai area of Buner District, the military confirmed to Voice of America Deewa Radio in neighboring Swat, but declined any further details.

Some area residents and local police officials reported exchanges of gun fire between troops and suspected militants, saying there may have been casualties. But the Pakistani government or the military has yet to confirm this information.

For many Buner residents, and observers outside, the latest situation in Gadezai, an area of rugged mountainous terrain, could be an authentication of what had long been suspected, that militants still have strong holds in Buner. Furthermore, it confirms the suspicion that they have the ability to strike anywhere at anytime in the region. Since 2009, there have been several deadly high profile attacks on peace activists and prominent anti-Taliban politicians, mainly from the Pashtun Awami National Party. The same year the Pakistani military and government declared Buner District clear of militants.

Militants spilled over into Buner from neighboring Swat and soon took the region out of government control, forcing thousands of Buneris to leave their homes and villages and to migrate to other comparatively safer areas. In 2009, the Pakistan government announced that they had regained control over Buner and Swat.

However, many Swatis and Buneris were doubtful of official claims that the areas had been cleared of militants. There has been a strong sense all along of Taliban presence in both the regions. Another clear indication of militant presence in the region happened just days before the search operation in Gadezai, when Pakistani troops engaged in deadly clashes with militants in the Malam Jabba mountains  of Swat.

Gadezai lies in an area of Buner where it borders with Swat and Shangla districts. On March 30, 2014 in an article for VOA Deewa Radio’s website, Behroz Khan wrote, “militants had a strong base in Kabalgram area of Shangla from where they could make easy forays into Swat and Buner”.

The unannounced security force search operation in Gadezai, which began on May 11, comes as another worrisome reminder  for Buneris that the Taliban threat may be far from over.

There has yet to be any official government remarks made from Islamabad or Peshawar about the military operation in Gadezai. However, two Buner lawmakers, spoke with Deewa Radio and shared stories of the grievances people of Gadezai endured due to the unabated curfew.

Sher Akbar Khan, a member of lower house of Pakistan’s Parliament or National Assembly from Jamaat-e-Islami party told Deewa Radio that in one village, dozens of people have been hemmed into a poultry farm for refuge. In another village, local residents had been forced to camp in a school. And in another village, locals were restricted to stay in a graveyard while troops searched their homes for militants.

A pregnant woman died because she could not be taken to a medical facility due to the curfew, Khan said, and in one village, he added, residents had to beg military officials to be allowed to hold a funeral for one of their dead.

Lawmaker, Maulana Fazl-e-Ghafoor, a member of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assembly, from Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (F) party, who represents Gadezai, said he was dismayed for not being able to get any relief for his constituents reeling under this curfew because the provincial government authorities were not cooperating. He said people in Gadezai were running out of food and other supplies.

“I am totally disappointed with the provincial government,” he said.

It remains to be seen whether the provincial government, led by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, the party of cricketer-turned politician Imran Khan, who backs talks with Taliban, makes any comment on what Ghafoor says or what happened in Gadezai.

In the meantime, Buneris wait for the day the Taliban will be gone for good from their once peaceful region.

with reporting contributed by Fayaz Zafar and Riaz Hussain (Pakistan)

Stirring Up a Hornet’s Nest with Carlotta Gall

Posted May 13th, 2014 at 4:24 pm (UTC+0)
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by Niala Mohammad

Whether you agree with Carlotta Gall or believe that her claims are parallel to a script from a Bollywood movie, Carlotta Gall is not fazed. Carlotta herself says she is ready for the media and Pakistani government to “totally trash” her but first she wants to put her book, The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan 2001-2014, out there and let the people of Pakistan decide what they want to do with the information.

The Wrong Enemy

Ms. Gall admits, “What I did perhaps stirred up a hornets nest but it is necessary…we need to give a better service to the people so the people [of Pakistan] can understand what the government is doing.”

The lack of supporting evidence in her claims has been the main point of contention for critics. However, critics and fans both largely agree that Carlotta Gall has addressed the elephant in the room. Daily Times, analyst Dr. Mohammad Taqi writes, “She has a point that such operations are by design covert and planned for maximum deniability, thus precluding hard evidence of foul play, but it would have been helpful to see more supporting information in the book about both the al Qaeda leaders and Mullah Omar. It is unlikely though that she would convince any naysayer unless a directive signed in ink is produced, which obviously never happens in the murky world of clandestine wars.”

Irrespective of Carlotta’s lack of supporting evidence in her book, she seems to have grabbed the attention of Pakistan and its citizens who have either become defensive or dumfounded by the accusations made.

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Tweet for Carlotta 4

The Pakistan Embassy in Washington, DC immediately issued a press release responding to Carlotta Gall’s New York Times story, stating “senior US officials have on a number of occasions stated on record that they had seen no intelligence linking Government of Pakistan and any of its agencies to OBL’s presence in Abbottabad. To still believe otherwise and to resurrect the issue through unnamed sources and unconfirmed reports does not deserve attention.”

On April 11, 2014, The Hudson Institute in Washington, DC hosted an event where Carlotta Gall discussed her latest book, “The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan 2001-2014”. Carlotta Gall believes that the problems faced in Afghanistan can be traced back to the policies of Pakistan’s “politico-military-intelligence establishment” aka ISI. She claims that her book “gives a voice to Afghans”, which vocalizes and legitimizes their concern over Pakistan’s involvement in Afghanistan’s continuous instability.

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[Carlotta Gall at The Hudson Institute, Washington DC]

Carlotta Gall also vocalized her concern for the safety of journalists working in Afghanistan and Pakistan. She stated, “journalists in Pakistan work under extreme pressure”, a pressure that she is all too familiar with as she detailed the physical assault she endured while reporting from the region in the opening of her 328 page-14 chapter book.

You can listen to Carlotta Gall’s interview with VOA Deewa Radio on the link below.

Niala IV with Carlotta Gall-NY Times Article

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Posted May 1st, 2014 at 8:36 pm (UTC+0)
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