Friday, October 20, 2017
The death toll could rise sharply in the October 20 attacks on a Shi'ite mosque in the capital, Kabul, and on a Sunni mosque in the central Afghan province of Ghor, officials said.
So far, neither attack has been claimed.
The attacks come one day after 43 soldiers were killed and nine wounded in a Taliban attack on an army camp in the southern province of Kandahar.
In the Kabul attack, an Interior Ministry official said at least 39 people were killed and 45 wounded after a suicide bomber blew himself up as worshippers were gathering for prayers at the Imam Zaman mosque in the western Dasht-e-Barchi section of the capital.
Some reports said the attacker opened fire before detonating his explosives.
The German news agency dpa quoted an unnamed security official as saying the death toll from the blast was likely closer to 70 or 80 people.
In the second attack, officials said at least 33 people were killed and 10 injured when a suicide bomber detonated explosives in Khewiagan, a Sunni mosque in the district of Dulaina in central Ghor Province. Some witnesses told RFE/RL the death toll was at least 30.
A local official said an anti-Taliban commander inside the mosque at the time may have been the target of the attack.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said the attacks show that "the terrorists have once again staged bloody attacks, but they will not achieve their evil purposes and sow discord among the Afghans."
Afghanistan's minority Shi'ite population has been the target of several terror attacks this year, with the Taliban, Islamic State (IS), and other extremist groups being blamed for many of the attacks.
A previous attack on a Shi'ite mosque in Kabul occurred on September 29 as Muslims prepared to commemorate Ashura, one of the holiest days in the Islamic calendar. Six people were killed in that attack.
A recent United Nations report said at least 84 people had been killed and 194 wounded so far in 2017 in attacks on Shi’ite mosques and religious ceremonies prior to the most recent incidents.
About 90 percent of the Afghan population is Sunni Muslim.
With reporting by RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan, Reuters, AFP, AP, BBC, and Tolo News
By Bill Gertz
After opening its first foreign military base near the Horn of Africa, China is preparing to build a second military facility in Gwadar, Pakistan.
The two sites when completed will provide Beijing with a strategic naval presence near the oil-rich Middle East shipping routes used to send supplies to China.
According to sources in Pakistan and the surrounding region, China has begun expanding the port facility on the Arabian Sea to handle large naval vessels. Additionally, the Chinese also are upgrading Gwadar International Airport so that it will be capable of handling heavy military transports. As of September, several hundred Chinese nationals were working in Gwadar, including senior People’s Liberation Army officers. Scores of additional military personnel arrived in the port over the past month. Additionally, there are indications the Chinese recently visited an area several hundred miles further east of Gwadar on the Sonmiani Bay near Karachi, a region known for space research and advanced computing centers. There are signs the Chinese are ready to build another port facility at that location.
Army Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of the Central Command that is involved throughout the region, said he is concerned about Beijing’s involvement in both locations, saying he is aware of China opening ports and building roads and other facilities in Pakistan and elsewhere.
“Yeah, I’m concerned about the influence of other actors in this area and what that means for us and security in the region,” he told reporters in Tampa. Growing foreign influence in the region is a “fact of life for us — whether it’s urgent or long term, it’s always present for us and something we always have to deal with in this region,” the general said. The Chinese construction and military activities in the port appear similar to what China did in Djibouti, strategically located near the chokepoint in the Red Sea called the Bab el Mandeb. China’s military initially said the facility at Djibouti was a logistics base used for resupplying naval ships used in peacekeeping and humanitarian missions.
But close observers say Djibouti is a hardened military facility on the Red Sea, monitoring a heavily traveled oil shipping route. If the Gwadar base is a second major military base for China, it would give Beijing control over two strategic choke-points and capability to disrupt oil shipping on both sides of the Middle East.
Retired Indian army Col. Vinayak Bhat recently analyzed satellite photographs of Djibouti and stated that the African base was constructed to handle up to a brigade of troops and scores of helicopters.
The 200-acre base is still being built, but includes at least 10 storage barracks, ammunition, storage, an office complex and a heliport. “While [the Djibouti base] would enable China to exert influence in the African continent, the facility could be the model for similar bases that are being planned at Gwadar or Karachi in the future,” Col. Bhat said in an article in the publication The Print. The two Chinese bases are indications Beijing is following through with a plan identified years ago called the “string of pearls” — a series of military bases stretching from the Middle East through Southeast Asia that will be used for future PLA power-projection.
Key China leader retiring
News reports from Asia indicate one of the most powerful figures in China, Wang Qishan, is expected to step down from his position as a member of the Standing Committee of the Politburo, the seven-member collective dictatorship that rules China. Mr. Wang, will retire from the all-powerful Standing Committee because he has reached the mandatory retirement age 68, Japan’s Nikkei Asian Review reported Wednesday, quoting party sources. He has been leading a nationwide anti-corruption drive widely viewed by observers outside China as part of a plan by President Xi Jinping to consolidate power by eliminating political rivals. U.S. intelligence agencies that closely monitor the senior Chinese leadership regard Mr. Wang’s tenure on the committee as a bellwether for the future of Mr. Xi, who is expected to be named to a second term as general secretary during the major Communist Party congress underway this week.
The question for many analysts is whether Mr. Xi, who took power in 2013, will break the rule for mandatory retirement age requirement and take a third term as president. He is 64 and will reach the retirement age at the end of his second term. During his time as leader, Mr. Xi has taken on more power than any leader since Mao Zedong.
Michael Collins, deputy assistant CIA director and head of the agency’s East Asia Mission Center, told a security conference in Colorado in July that he expect Mr. Xi to emerge strengthened from the party congress and that he could hold on to power beyond two five-year terms. “It looks like he’s going to come out of this party congress all the more powerful,” he said. “Regardless of what position he’s in, given the allegiances he established, he’s going to remain probably pretty influential.” The coveted opening on the Standing Committee created by Mr. Wang’s expected departure will be filled by Li Zhanshu, a close Xi ally who currently heads the Communist Party general office. In addition to his role as the anti-corruption czar, Mr. Wang is China’s most powerful financial affairs official, overseeing billions of dollars.
Chinese dissident Guo Wengui, a billionaire real estate developer, recently exposed what he said were secrets from within the Chinese government exposing alleged corruption by Mr. Wang, including covert real estate holdings by the anti-corruption chief in California. In addition to Mr. Xi’s second term in power, Premier Li Keqiang is expected to retain his post. China watchers in government also are waiting to see if Mr. Xi’s unique political ideology will be codified in changes in the Chinese constitution, a key indicator of staying power within the communist system.
Mosul reveals IS secrets
U.S. and allied military forces backing the Iraqi government forces that retook the northern city of Mosul from the Islamic State this summer learned new details of Islamic State activities and operations after the city was liberated in July. One interesting bit of intelligence was the terrorist group’s use of quadcopter drones for both bombing and video surveillance.
The group operated their drones in a military-style brigade structure and were sophisticated enough to have the drones electronically programmed to finish their missions after electronic signals from controllers were disrupted. Each of the drone used cost around $500 and were used to drop grenades, in one case hitting a munitions-carrying vehicle that resulted in a spectacular series of secondary explosions that were caught on video by another drone and later posted online for IS propaganda. Also, Islamic State built an extensive and extremely sophisticated tunnel structure throughout Mosul that was even equipped with Wi-Fi used by the terrorists to communicate while underground. The tunnel network included small-diameter routes that were built with special boring machines and ranged in size to tunnels capable of handling trucks.
Also, during the excavation for the tunnels, the Islamic State accidentally uncovered the ruins of an ancient civilization in Mosul. IS used Facebook and Twitter to their advantage while in Mosul, mostly to propagandize. Allied forces were able to track many of the terror group’s activities simply by monitoring their postings on Twitter. U.S. and allied militaries were unable to use Facebook to counter IS activities in Iraq because of rules prohibiting the use of American companies for information-warfare operations.
IS use of vehicle bombs in Iraq was hampered by a lack of armored plating. So the group switched to using Kia SUVs that were outfitted with bombs. One Kia car bomb was used to destroy an Iraqi M-1A1 tank, an attack that was recorded by an IS drone.
By Amel Ghani
On their son’s third day of high school, the parents of 17-year-old Sharoon Masih learned that he had been in a fight, had suffered a serious injury, and been taken to the hospital.
They rushed to the hospital and there found him dead.
“The boys from his class who had brought him there told us that he died in the classroom,” said his mother, Razia Bibi, a Christian woman in a predominantly Muslim country.
Police said that on Aug. 27 another student at the school — in Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province — kicked Sharoon in the stomach and that he died of internal injuries. The student charged in his death now awaits trial, but police are not calling the attack a hate crime.
However, many Christian Pakistanis, who make up less than two percent of the country’s population, suspect the teenager was targeted because of his religion. Christians, they say, are often forced to occupy the lowest rungs of the social ladder, and are regularly discriminated against in education, employment and housing.
Advocates for Christians in Pakistan note that another Christian boy was killed violently this year: On Oct. 9, police killed a 14-year-old Christian boy in an incident still under investigation.
Pakistan is fourth on the list of 50 countries that the U.S.-based nonprofit Open Doors — which advocates for persecuted Christians — lists as the most difficult in which to be a Christian.
Christians, while one of the largest religious minorities in Pakistan, are far from the only group to suffer for their beliefs. The Ahmadiyya, who consider themselves Muslim but are widely labeled heretics, are forbidden by law from calling themselves Muslims, and have long been persecuted. Sunni Muslim extremists in his mostly Sunni country have launched lethal attacks against the Shiite minority.
Sharoon’s mother said the first day of school did not go smoothly for her son. He told her that other boys had teased him, warned him against drinking from a glass used by Muslim students, and called him “choora,” a Punjabi slur typically leveled at Christians. A teacher scolded him for not wearing the school uniform and made him stand outside of class.
Sharoon skipped school the second day to use money he had earned over the summer to buy a uniform. He returned to school the third day, was attacked, and died.
The Muslim student taken into police custody in the case said the violence was not motivated by religious differences. Sharoon, he told police, had angered him by breaking the screen on his mobile phone.
But his family is sure Sharoon is dead because he is Christian.
The word “choora” — which Sharoon’s family said his schoolmates had used to taunt him — connotes someone who has dark skin, comes from a low economic class and does “dirty” work for a living, such as cleaning bathrooms.
Asif Aqeel, a Pakistani journalist and advocate for the rights of religious minorities, said discrimination against Christians is so blatant that some government advertisements for janitorial jobs state that only non-Muslims should apply. Aqeel said that a disproportionate number of Christians work as cleaners in government offices.
Elaine Alam, secretary general at Formation Awareness and Community Empowerment, a group that works throughout Pakistan to bolster the rights of women, minorities and young people, said that, sadly, Pakistani Christians often expect to be called “choora.”
“The term ‘choora’ has been accepted by the average Christian mindset. They have accepted it as a title, from which common Pakistanis will know them or call them,” she said.
But Jawaid Tahir Majeed, the equivalent of the police commissioner in the region in which the teenager died, said police have interviewed 34 other Christian boys from the school and none have complained of discrimination.
“Most of the time the religion of these boys was not discussed in school and they did not know who was Christian and who was Muslim,” he said.
Aqeel said it is possible there was no hate crime, but questions remain. “Why did the boy beat Sharoon up so much? What flared the anger?” he asked.
Sharoon’s parents say they just want to know what happened to their oldest son and why no one saved him.
Sharoon wanted to be a lawyer, said his paternal uncle, Liaquat Masih. “We had already arranged for him to start as an apprentice at a lawyer’s office and study law after he completed high school,” he said.
He added that Sharoon’s father has stopped sending his six other children to school because he does not feel they will be safe.
"PPP has gone through a lot of testing periods, but has always stood up against injustice of dictatorship," he said. "The jiyalas of PPP remained steadfast against the bloody dictatorship of Zia-ul-Haq." He said that Zulfikar Ali Bhutto struggled and sacrificed himself in the fight against injustice, which was carried forward by Benazir Bhutto. "The conspiracies against democracy did not end. On one side was PPP and another side was parties who were nurtured in the laps of dictators."
However, he said that Benazir remained steadfast and determined despite the horrific attack on October 18, 2007 in Karachi until she was martyred a few months later in Rawalpindi. "Terrorists and dictators like Musharraf could not suppress Benazir," he said paying rich tributes to the victims of the Karsaz attack. "A brutal attack took place a peaceful caravan and over 200 lives were sacrificed."
Speaking about the upcoming golden jubilee anniversary of the PPP, Bilawal said that today is not the era of General Zia-ul-Haq or General Ayub, but Benazir is still alive among us and the mantle of leadership is carried by Asif Ali Zardari.
He said that PPP wants to set up a democratic society, but PML-N and PTI are concerned about the personal vested interests rather than the welfare of the people. "PML-N, PTI have done nothing for the people, both are sacrificing the nation for themselves."
Bilawal lashed at the leadership of both political opponents calling PTI chairman Imran Khan an 'inept player' who has not come out of the cricket grounds. "Politics is not cricket or abuse. I believe in politics of principles." He also decried the development by the PML-N saying that Karachi-Hyderabad motorway was incomplete resulting in frequent accidents, while a two billion rupees package announced for the city was not even provided.
"The development in Sindh also only took place during era of PPP," he said adding that Nawaz Sharif complained of Sindh being in ruins. "It's not the land of Sindh but the politics of Nawaz which is in ruins," he said.
He said the reality was that development projects were ongoing in Sindh, to improve road networks with special focus on health and education. "The truth is that Sindh is not provided the share of water which is allocated for it," he said adding a shortage is created due to the discriminate distribution of water resources.
"The people have understood the lies and propaganda of our opponents," he said adding that will not succeed to sway the people. He said the PPP will form an egalitarian and democratic society, and vowed to make Pakistan an independent and strong state. Several prominent leaders including Leader of Opposition in National Assembly Khursheed Shah, Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah, Nisar Khuro, Maula Bux Chandio, Nadeem Afzal Chan, and former chief minister Qaim Ali Shah also addressed the congregation.
By Sarie Khalid
Two states were born at the stroke of midnight on August 14th 1947 from the twilight of the British Raj in the South-Asian subcontinent. One nation evolved into the world’s largest parliamentary democracy. The other nation degenerated into a “garrison state” plagued by a series of military dictatorships, split apart by the secession of Bangladesh (once East Pakistan) and threatened by Islamist terrorist networks, some originally sponsored by Islamabad’s own Inter-Services Intelligence agency. The Pakistani military elite inherited the strict, authority built command and control traditions of the British Army. It is no coincidence that every successful military coup in Pakistan has been led by the serving Chief of Army Staff, while every coup attempt by less senior generals (Major Gen. Khan in 1952, Major Gen. Abbasi in 1995) have been unsuccessful. Prime Minister Bhutto threatened the institutional unity of the Army when he created a parliamentary organization designed to be loyal to him, the Federal Security Force. Bhutto bypassed five senior lieutenant generals to promote an obscure mullah’s son, Zia ul-Haq, as Army Chief and tried to emulate the Shah of Iran in personally approving every Army promotion above the rank of colonel. This interference in the military cost Mr. Bhutto his life, as the obscure mullah’s son he promoted in 1976 overthrew him in 1977, and hanged him in 1979. Pakistan’s Army, like Bismarck’s Royal Jägers, is an army with a state, not a state with an army.
Pakistan is a classic post-colonial state that inherited a largely feudal, rural society in Sind, Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Baluchistan. The Pakistan Army’s financial umbilical cord with Washington as a front line state in the Cold War. Military assistance from the United States enabled Pakistan to devote up to 18% of its government budget to its defense empire. Asymmetries of power in the Pakistani state enabled the military to assume the role of the protector of the “Muslim homeland” in South Asia from its existential threat of an India that never accepted its legitimacy as a state. Pakistan was an “ideological state” that used Islam and the Urdu language to promote national identity and combat secessionist ethnic identities in East Bengal, Sindh, and Baluchistan. Therefore, successive civilian and military governments used the predominantly Punjabi (the dominant “martial sect” that constituted the British Raj colonial army) military to suppress Bengali, Sindhi, and Balochi national revolts. Yahya Khan and Zia ul-Haq violently cracked down on pro-secession Bengali and pro-Bhutto Sindhi political activists, which led to the deaths of thousands.
Military families enjoy access to schools, hospitals, land grands, and post retirement jobs that are unthinkable for the rest of the population. The military’s financial tentacles extends to banks, media outlets, property agencies, insurance companies, and flour mills (among others). The military uses its economic empire to reinforce its role as a financial powerbroker in Pakistan and as an allocator of both political patronage and social welfare to its clients. Any threat to the military’s economic interests, such as Bhutto’s mass nationalization and socialist policies in the 1970’s, provokes an institutional response in the form of a coup d’état. Even military dictators who fail to protect the military’s economic interests are forced out of power, as General Yahya Khan was after the birth of Bangladesh in 1971. Since the military identifies itself as the ultimate protector of the Pakistani state, it will not tolerate any civilian interference in its chain of command, institutional autonomy, control of “strategic assets”, such as the nuclear arsenal, or the handling of jihadist client networks in Kashmir and Afghanistan.
Islam was also used by unpopular military regimes to justify their rule. Zia tried to “Islamize” society through Sharia courts, banning alcohol, religious schools, and leadership of the anti-Soviet Afghan jihad. Zia’s “Islamization” emphasized floggings, amputations, blasphemy laws, and the Hudood Ordinance. His model of the ideal Islamic state was the early Arabian caliphate, not Jinnah’s vision of a Muslim “Westminster style” parliamentary democracy.
The Pakistani military has also exploited international politics to seize power and dominate the state, often in alliance with Punjabi bureaucratic elites. Just as the British Indian Army fought the “Great Game” in Central Asia against the Russian Romanov Empire, the Pakistan Army fought Soviet subversion in Afghanistan and the Gulf in alliance with the British, US, and the Gulf Cooperation Council oil-kingdoms. Pakistan was a military ally of the US in President Raegan’s anti-Soviet Afghan jihad and President Bush’s global war on terror. Pakistani troops have been stationed in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Oman since the 1970s. The Pakistani nuclear program, begun under Bhutto but expanded under Zia, was financed by Saudi Arabia. The Pakistani military has become the world’s only geopolitical “too big to fail” defense institution not only for Islamabad, but also for Washington, Beijing, London, and Riyadh.
Pakistan's Corrupt Prime Minister - Not So Sharif: “Fontgate”, Praetorianism and Illiberal Democracy in Pakistan
The resignation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif over his family’s offshore wealth revealed by the Panama Paper leaks has plunged Islamabad into a protracted political crisis. Coupled with Donald Trump’s public accusations that the Pakistani deep state nurtures ‘terrorist enclaves’ on its soil and threat’s of pulling military and financial aid has only worsened civil-military relations. Pakistan’s constitutional order, economic growth, foreign policy choices and civilian/military relations will all be shaped by the outcome of the scheduled 2018 elections.
Calibri and the 2018 general election
The Pakistan Muslim League (PML) has the benefit of incumbency: a stellar economic track record (5% GDP growth, the lowest inflation, and interest rates in decades) and political control in Punjab. However, the disqualification of Nawaz Sharif by the Supreme Court has magnified tensions within the Sharif clan and amongst the PML’s powerbrokers. Staying true to its dynastic DNA, disqualified PML party leader Nawaz Sharif nominated his ambitious younger brother Shahbaz Sharif, the Chief Minister of Punjab, the most populous and politically significant of Pakistan’s four provinces, as the next Prime Minister of Pakistan.
To some, Shahbaz is seen as more disciplined than Nawaz and could serve as a steady-hand before next year’s elections, but to others, his nomination is seen as a cynical play by the Sharif clan to cling to power amidst corruption allegations. Nawaz Sharif’s political heir, his daughter Maryam Nawaz, is also ensnared in a money-laundering scandal, as are his two sons. The scandal originates from 2016’s Panama Papers scandal where thousands of financial records (detailing instances of fraud, tax evasion, and offshore accounts) were released to the public with the names of world leaders, politicians, celebrities, and CEOs on full display.
Records of Nawaz Sharif’s children’s shady Virgin Island offshore accounts, dummy companies and luxury apartments in London were circulated across the Pakistani cyberspace with opposition lawmakers calling for Sharif’s permanent resignation from public office. The Joint Investigation Team (JIT), the legal taskforce responsible for investigating the Sharif case, discovered numerous irregularities between known and declared sources of income and wealth of the Sharif family. Alleged 2006 trust deeds signed by Maryam Nawaz were proven to be forged. The deeds were written in the Calibri font, which did not even exist until the launch of Windows Office 2007. After the allegations went public, the font’s Wikipedia was edited numerous times with the font’s creation date mysteriously shifting back and forth until Wikipedia was forced to lock the page (don’t believe everything you read on Wikipedia!).
Despite the disqualification of Nawaz Sharif from office and the overwhelming evidence against his children, the dynasty still looks to continue. Earlier this month, the Pakistani government amended Election Bill 2017 through the National Assembly, which conveniently allows disqualified politicians to hold public office and head political parties. It’s clear this law was created to accommodate one person: ousted PM Nawaz Sharif. What would have been considered the irreversible end to any other politician’s career is nothing but a blip for the ruling elite of Pakistan. Enraged by the shameless manipulation of legislature, opposition lawmakers tore up copies of the bill in front of the National Assembly and threw them at the Assembly speaker’s podium after the announcement of the bill’s passage.
The rumour grapevine in Islamabad alleges that the Pakistani military elite, unhappy with Nawaz Sharif, wants to engineer a coalition government led by former Pakistani cricketer turned politician Imran Khan. Ironically, October 2017 is also the eighteenth anniversary of the overthrow of yet another Muslim League government led by Nawaz Sharif, in a military coup d’état where General Parvez Musharraf seized power. Khan’s reformist PTI party could steal votes from the PML even in its stronghold of Punjab, particularly among young and urban middle-class voters. The PTI has a solid vote base in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, where it has demonstrated a credible governance track record. This could persuade Pakistan’s powerful military and intelligence establishment to support a PTI government, possibly in coalition with smaller parties. Imran Khan’s squeaky-clean image sharply contrasts with the messy, corrupt reputations of both Nawaz Sharif and former President Asif Zardari of the PPP. This “Mr. Clean” image could be the game changer he needs to emerge as the next Prime Minister of Pakistan as long as he does not challenge the national security/foreign policy of the Military establishment and presents a coherent economic plan that continues the PML’s reformist, pro-market policies.
The 2018 elections will also be decisive for the Pakistan Peoples Party’s (PPP) 29-year-old chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, the novice political heir of former President Asif Zardari and assassinated Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. 2017 is also the fortieth anniversary of the military coup d’état that overthrew Bilawal’s maternal grandfather Z.A Bhutto, later hanged by military dictator General Zia ul-Haq who himself perished in a suspicious plane crash in August 1988. Bhutto is confident that his family’s party will succeed in the upcoming 2018 election and with crowds averaging in the thousands, it would be hard to disagree. If there is a recurrent theme in Pakistani history, it’s the occurrence of serial coup d’état’s against civilian governments led by the heads of rival political dynasties – the Sharifs and the Bhuttos.
The return of military rule?
Parliamentary democracy in Pakistan has been stunted by periodic failures of governance, a corrupt political culture, dynastic or ethnic-based political parties, civil war (Balochistan since the 1970s, Sindh since the 1980’s and the Frontier Province since the 2000’s) and the infrastructure of a “garrison state” whose Praetorian rulers seek control of strategic nuclear assets and the conflict with India over Kashmir. Pakistan’s military intelligence services, the ISI, has also financed and armed terrorist groups like the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani network and the Lakshar-e-Tayeba to achieve political ends in both Afghanistan and Kashmir. The ISI is also a dominant, sinister force in domestic Pakistani politics who will be a key player in the 2018 elections and in the Pakistani state’s relations with Beijing on the projects of CPEC and Washington, as the Trump White House unwinds military involvement in war-torn Afghanistan.
Elections alone cannot resolve Pakistan’s deep political cleavages. In fact, they can exacerbate them. The December 1970 election led to the secession of East Pakistan (Bangladesh) after a catastrophic war with India in 1971. The 1977 election led to allegations of massive vote-rigging by Z.A Bhutto’s PPP government and its later overthrow by the military regime of Zia Ul-Haq . General Parvez Musharraf’s plans to lead as a civilian President ended in the collapse of his military government after a mass protest movement led by the judiciary. Nawaz Sharif has been Prime Minister three times since 1990 and never once completed a term in office – like every other civilian ruler in Pakistan’s history.
Pakistan’s current political impasse naturally increases the power and leverage of its military high command. The Generals in the Rawalpindi GHQ always accrue power when the civilians in Islamabad’s Prime Minister House or National Assembly get mired in constitutional and governance quagmires. General Musharraf has even boasted that only military rulers in Pakistan can resolve the ‘mess’ created by civilian politicians, even though Article 6 of the Constitution defines an extra-judicial seizure of power as “high treason.”
The political track record of Pakistan’s military governments has always been dismal. Field Marshal Ayub Khan mismanaged the 1965 war with India and ignored Bengali demands for political representation. General Yahya Khan launched a genocidal assault in East Pakistan in March 1971 that culminated in yet another war with India, and the cession of Bangladesh. General Zia Ul-Haq allied with Regan’s CIA to launch the “jihad” against the Soviet Union’s occupation of Afghanistan, a policy that bequeathed Pakistan with a generation of Islamist terror and a ‘Kalashnikov’ gun culture, coupled with radically conservative Islamist domestic policies that set Pakistan back decades. General Musharraf bungled the Kargil War with India in 1998 and did not curb the power of the military’s proxies in Afghanistan and Kashmir.
There is no ‘military takeover’ or ‘blood right dynasty’ solution to the political woes of Pakistan – the 50,000 lives lost to the Pakistani Taliban and sectarian terrorists since 2001 are a testament to the abject failure of the military’s armed ‘proxies’ in Afghanistan and Kashmir to gain ‘strategic depth’ in the ‘existential’ war with India. Worshipping political dynasties like the Bhuttos and the Sharifs, who have done nothing but leech capital resources from the people of Pakistan to fill their own (and their friends’) pockets, will not solve the now-institutionalized levels of corruption within the Pakistani government and deep state. As in the past, Pakistani democracy will reinvent itself amid political crises, military intrigue and a general (‘s?) election.
Thursday, October 19, 2017
By Munazza Anwaar
Having prepared an afternoon meal for her family, Fiaz Bibi, a woman in her late 20s, covers herself in a black burqa and leaves for local dispensary. Crossing muddy, uneven path that connects her one bedroom house to the main village road, she waits for 5-6 minutes scanning both sides of road for any rickshaw sign that will take her to dispensary. But there is none, and she decides to walk up to dispensary. Covering 4-5kms on thorny road, braving the weather and judging eyes of neighborhood men, she reaches dispensary.
It’s second day of door-to-door Polio vaccination campaign in her area and Fiaz Bibi is a Polio Vaccination Team Lead in this remote village near Wah Cantonment. Her decision to work for polio eradication finds strength in her love for humanity, and for her community.
Women in Pakistan have been a centripetal force in the country’s drive against Polio, zeroing in on their target with an unfaltering resolve, despite several sociocultural and economic constraints.
“My village has a high-risk population. When I see healthy and fit children running around the streets of my village, I fear for them that they may fall victim to this nefarious disease (Polio). So, I made up my mind to fight Polio till my last.”
Fiaz Bibi is a pioneer champion against Polio in her vicinity and has almost no facilitators. She is a brave female warrior in a locality where prejudice and patriarchy mar vaccination campaigns. She speaks of the barriers she has to overcome and the indiscrimination she suffers while working.
“I am a woman…but unlike other women of my village, I am determined towards a noble cause. I know there are men, and of course women, that do not like me for what I am doing, but if not me, who else? I can sense the mixed looks that see through me every time I walk around the streets to vaccinate the angels on earth. I know how it feels, how scorn and malice can bring you to your knees but, these children, they are my strength. They keep me moving forward with my head high. I will continue to vaccinate, and convince families, for the sake of these children. I know, I will.”
Fiaz Bibi volunteered as a vaccinator for some 106 families with about 556 children in a high risk populated area no one would like to go. But she does and that too with a smile on her face. She follows a 5 days per week schedule and gets paid only $20 for a week long campaign. Her task is arduous and requires a lot of traveling, on foot, with temperatures crossing 45 on most of summer days.
Each day, she walks to a local dispensary, some 4-5 kilometers from her home. It is from here that she embarks on her campaign. Her first task is to reach such homes that have had zero vaccination and find children that have been missed. Convincing families is an onerous job, often involving harsh words being hurled at her, but she braves this onslaught and comes out victorious more than often.
“Most people here work in bhathas (brick kilns) with a high turnover. The workers relocate to kilns from their native places during the season and then return. Every few months with new people coming in to work at the kilns, increasing the risk of more children being affected by polio. Due to illiteracy and lack of understanding, many people are averse to polio vaccination drives and try to avoid all efforts towards the eradication of this disease.”
In a country where Polio workers fear for their lives, women lead from the front. Despite the fact that Polio vaccinators are soft target, more and more women are volunteering to be a part of the drive against this disease. The number of women working in the field is higher because male vaccinators are not allowed to enter all premises owing to certain cultural barriers.
Fiaz Bibi says that female workers act as the backbone in Pakistan’s Anti-Polio campaign. “Women are able to understand each other better. Where men are more rigid and firm in their decisions, it is easier for me as a female to talk to the women of the house, and better explain how vaccination is going to help our future generations. Since children are the concern, mothers give in much easily.” She goes on to say that in the high-risk population that she lives in, the number of young children is increasing at an alarming rate as there is little or no family planning, risking the outbreak of an endemic. This is why Fiaz Bibi is determined to eradicate Polio from her region, and hopes that Pakistan will be free from the disease soon.
Her campaigns are well planned. She knows where to begin from, and where to end. After checking on families that have been missed, she moves on to recheck the families that have been vaccinated. “I need to make sure that no child here goes unvaccinated. I think some families are tired of the rounds I make (letting out a laugh) but it is my moral duty to ask them if they have some visitors that have unvaccinated children, or if any of their children is left.” It is a part of her routine to check upon schools as well and ask teachers to inform her of any unvaccinated child.
She is familiar with every nook and cranny of her vicinity well enough to have an accurate figure of the families and children that live there. Having accurate data of the target population helps provide ample amount of vaccination and manpower to the area.
At the day end, Fiaz Bibi, just like most housewives, returns to her house and winds up all the work she is entitled to do at her home, from washing dishes to doing laundry, from cooking to cleaning. She is no different than the rest of the ladies on any evening, except that she wears a smile of satisfaction on her face, knowing that she has further pushed Polio towards the edge of the cliff.
Even though Fiaz Bibi’s village is a high-risk vicinity, no new polio case has been discovered over the past few years, only because of her nerves of steel, and continuous efforts to vaccinate as many children as possible.
“I have been here long enough to know these people well,” says Fiaz Bibi, “I know how to tackle them, and how to convince them to vaccinate their children. This is a really difficult task, vaccinating every child, because families here are moving every now and then, but I am glad that I am able to reach as much children as possible, and every child in my area is vaccinated.
Thousands of women like Fiaz Bibi are sacrificing a lot in their efforts to eliminate Polio from Pakistan, and are hopeful of a healthier future for the children of Pakistan. These strong and hardworking women of immense courage are a silver lining for the generations to come. They are role models in the final push to end polio from country and a source of hope for polio free dream of Pakistan.
By NADIA NAVIWALA
Less than half of third graders in Pakistan can read a sentence in Urdu or local languages. Thirty-one percent can write a sentence using the word “school” in Urdu, and 11 percent can do it in English.
Children in government schools report that teachers have them clean, cook, massage their feet and buy them desserts. Children are categorized as smart or stupid as soon as they start school. Corporal punishment is severe. Parents will send their kids to a private school if they can afford a few dollars a month, but they do not see government schools as worth it.
Since 2010, Pakistan has more than doubled what it budgets for education, from $3.5 billion to $8.6 billion a year. The budget for education now rivals the official $8.7 billion military budget. The teaching force is as big as the armed forces.
But Pakistan has a learning crisis that afflicts its schoolchildren despite much debate and increase in funding for education because policy interventions by the government and foreign donors misdiagnosed what is keeping children out of school.
Although aid programs of the United States and Britain contribute a mere 2 percent of the education budget, those countries and the local elite, whose own children go to high-end private schools, have emphasized that Pakistanis demand education and that more children should be enrolled in school.
But the demand for education is already high, evidenced by the mushrooming of low-cost private schools that now enroll 40 percent of students in the country and charge as little as $2 a month.
Foreign donors also want Pakistanis to send their girls to schools, but a 2014 Pew survey found that 86 percent of Pakistanis believe that education is equally important for boys and girls, while another 5 percent said it was more important for girls. Even in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa — where Malala Yousafzai is from — government high schools for girls are enrolled beyond their capacity.
Pakistan’s education crisis is a supply-side problem. Enrollment rates are used as the measure for progress because Pakistan has the second-largest population of out-of-school children in the world. But the proportion of 5- to 9-year-olds in school is the same as it was in 2010: 57 percent. With teachers chronically absent from school at a rate of 20 to 30 percentand most of the education budget going into their above-market salaries ($150 to $1,000 a month), doubling the budget was never the solution to Pakistan’s education crisis.
A vast number of aspirational families in Pakistan invest a large proportion of their income in educating their children at low-cost private schools. They do not speak English at home but they demand English at school, because it is the language of the elite and the global marketplace. So Pakistan’s private schools use English textbooks and tests, even though 94 percent of private-school teachers don’t know English.
A result is that the children are rote learning to get through tests in a language they don’t understand. By the time these students get to a university, where the medium of instruction is English, they are copying their papers from the internet without consequence. Plagiarism is not just a norm; it is a necessity.
Instead of English-language schooling, Pakistani schools need to figure out how to teach English as a second language and allow children to study in languages they know. The government also needs to measure literacy and numeracy for children in school instead of enrollment. Currently, there are no reliable data sets that can be used for year-on-year comparisons.
The problem is that donors have created too much noise. Convinced by their own solutions and backed by foreign expertise and international consensus, foreign donors have run high-profile advocacy campaigns and monopolized the attention of bureaucrats, party leaders and the version of civil society that Pakistan has developed in response to them.
Pakistan has made some progress in improving school infrastructure, hired teachers on merit and reduced an old problem of absentee rates among teachers through monthly checks by school monitors. Officials in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces insist that the ghost schools of the early 2000s are a problem of the past.
But to turn schools into places that provide education will require a local constituency asking the right questions. The hottest issue regarding education in Pakistan right now is limiting the fees that high-end private schools charge. If elites mobilized as effectively around issues that affect the majority of Pakistanis, we would see faster and more meaningful change.
Eighteen million of the 23 million out-of-school children in Pakistan are between 10 and 16 years old. Efforts to reach them have been negligible. These children opted out of a failing education system and now they have aged. They will not now go to school if it means starting in kindergarten. They need accelerated programs, or short crash courses in literacy and math to help them enroll with their age group.
Even if these children do not go back to school — international evidence suggests they won’t — they will, at least, become literate adults.
By Mohammed Hanif
The day I wrote this piece, a small headline in a newspaper informed me that an Ahmadi lawyer, his wife and two-year-old child had been shot dead by gunmen at home, for being Ahmadis. Killings like this have happened so many times that the story wasn’t even the main news. On May 28, 2010, some 90 Ahmadis were killed during attacks on two mosques in Lahore. No public official attended the funerals.
You would think that the government, law enforcers and the courts would do something about such sustained acts of brutality. But they are too hard at work. I learned from another recent headline that a district court near Lahore, in eastern Pakistan, had sentenced three Ahmadi men to death for blasphemy. A fourth man was shot dead before the trial while in police custody.
It is always prudent not to ask what blasphemous act is said to have been committed, because under the law, repeating something blasphemous can itself constitute blasphemy. According to one newspaper report, the men were on trial for attempting to remove from a wall religious posters that incited hatred against Ahmadis. That’s right, they were sentenced to death for taking down posters that incited people to kill them. (The prosecution argued that since the posters were religious, removing them was an insult to the Prophet Muhammad.)
The Ahmadi (or Ahmadiyya) sect is a reformist movement founded by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad toward the end of the 19th century in the city of Qadian, in what is today the Indian part of Punjab. Ahmad claimed to be the incarnation of a Messiah promised in Islamic holy texts. That challenged the mainstream Muslim belief that Muhammad is Islam’s last and final prophet. Ahmad was accused of being an agent of the British Empire.
There are no reliable statistics about the number of Ahmadis in Pakistan today. Many Ahmadis don’t publicly identify as Ahmadi; others refuse to take part in the census. Estimates range from 500,000 to four million.
In 1974, Pakistan’s elected Parliament declared Ahmadis to be non-Muslims. Religious parties had held street protests demanding this, and even though Parliament back then was full of liberals and socialists, there was hardly a dissenting voice when the time came to pass the law.
Our Parliament today is still at it. Last week Muhammad Safdar, a son-in-law of the recently deposed prime minister, thundered against Ahmadis, demanding they be banned from joining the armed forces. He also demanded that a physics department of a university in Islamabad be renamed because in 2016 it was named after Abdus Salam, the only Pakistani scientist to become a Nobel laureate. The Pakistani government had already taken close to four decades to name anything after Mr. Salam, a theoretical physicist, because he was Ahmadi. It appears that not a single parliamentarian spoke up against Mr. Safdar’s diatribe.
Earlier this month, Parliament also changed the oath that Pakistanis are required to take to get a passport or run in an election. A standard version of the statement goes: “I hereby solemnly declare that I consider Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani to be an impostor nabi and also consider his followers, whether belonging to the Lahori or Qadiani group, to be non-Muslims.” (Nabi means prophet.) Language in the election law was changed from “I solemnly declare” to “I believe.”
It’s not clear why this happened. The government claims it was a clerical error. But there was a public uproar over the change, including accusations that the government was going soft on Ahmadis. Parliament promptly backtracked, and we all resumed solemnly declaring rather than just believing.
The word “Ahmadi” was hardly even used during the debate in Parliament. We prefer to call the Ahmadis “Qadianis,” meaning from Qadian. Ahmadis consider the word derogatory, which is why we use it.
I got a call a few months ago from my family who still lives in my ancestral village in Punjab. A stranger had come asking about me, I was told. He claimed to be my friend from school. While I was still trying to put a forgotten face to the name, my relative asked, “Is your friend a Qadiani?” I suddenly remembered the boy from my school who was indeed a friend and happened to be Ahmadi. I asked the relative, “How did you know he was a Qadiani?” The reply shouldn’t have shocked me, but it did. “I have an inbuilt Qadiani detector. I can always smell them.”
I wanted to remind my relative that when I was a kid and he was a young man, all his best friends were Ahmadis and I had seen him locked in our bathroom smoking his first cigarette with those infidels. But then I remembered the slap.
It must have been around 1974. I was about nine years old and was taking my Quran lessons. My teacher was gentle. At the time, protesters in the bazaars were asking shoppers not to go to Ahmadi-owned shops. I asked my teacher who the Ahmadis were, and he patiently explained that they were heretics, because they challenged the notion that Muhammad was Islam’s last prophet. I said, even if they are heretics, does Islam say we can’t buy stuff from their shops? The slap was full and hard.
As I grew up, Ahmadis went from being treated as zealous reformist Muslims to non-Muslims to kafir, or heretics — worse even than Hindus or Jews. In the mid-1980s, a decade after Ahmadis were declared non-Muslims, another set of laws forbade them to act like Muslims.
This is the tricky bit, because Ahmadis insist on calling themselves Muslim and behave like Muslims. They pray in mosques, they call out the azaan at prayer time, they say “assalam alaikum,” they invoke Allah’s will or his mercy — and every time they do any of the above, they violate the law of the land. If they call their mosque a mosque, they become criminals. If they call their daily prayers namaz, as Muslims do, they risk imprisonment. Ahmadis have been charged with blasphemy for printing a verse of the Quran on wedding invitations.
Early this month, I saw Pakistan’s foreign minister, Khawaja Muhammad Asif, give an interview on television. He had just returned from a tour of the United States and had been accused of hobnobbing with Ahmadis while there. He was at pains to explain that he had never met an Ahmadi in his life. To prove his point, he said that once, while he was sitting in a restaurant in Islamabad, two boys came up to get a selfie with him. “I asked them, ‘I hope you are not Qadianis.’” The foreign minister and the show host shared a hearty laugh. I
called up my long-lost Ahmadi friend recently and the brief conversation that followed was full of blasphemies. He was acting all Muslim. “Assalam alaikum,” he greeted me. By the grace of Allah, he said, he still has a job. Sometimes, when people suspect him of being Ahmadi, he is thrown out of shops or business meetings. But Allah is kind, my friend insisted. His wife, a teacher of fashion design, still has a job at a university — though she doesn’t use the staff room because some people have become suspicious. The kids are doing well, thanks to Allah, but he has told them not to tell even their closest friends that they are Ahmadis.
He tried to make us both feel better: Thanks to Allah, it’s not as bad for us as it is for Shias. Look how many of them get killed for their beliefs. Pakistan was essentially created to protect the religious and economic rights of Muslims who were a minority before India’s partition in 1947. But since the country’s inception, we have created new minorities and keep finding new ways to torment them.
Kashif N Chaudhry
When posters abusing and calling for the social boycott of Ahmadi Muslims were plastered in a Pakistani village, four Ahmadis decided to remove them from their Mosque. In retrospect, it was a bad decision. Just five days ago, a Pakistani court handed three of them the death sentence for “blasphemy” (for tearing down “religious posters”). The fourth one? just a few days after his arrest, he was gunned down while in police custody.
With the image of Pakistan in the world today, I felt a certain elated too. After all, Pakistan is my motherland. However, I know this election wasn’t remotely based on our human rights record. It pains me to admit that Pakistan has a depressing human rights record and is behind one of the worst religious apartheids of this age - the #AhmadiApartheid. Here is a snapshot: Denied Right to Self Identity: Pakistan continues to deny Ahmadi Muslims the basic right to self-identity. In 1974, then Prime Minister Mr. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, in an attempt to appease right-wing religious extremists, amended the country’s constitution to declare the Ahmadi Muslims a non-Muslim minority. The Second Amendment was an unprecedented move in recent world history. With its passage, Pakistan became the first State — and remains the only one — to judge the faith (or lack thereof) of its citizens. Pakistan’s passport application requires all Pakistanis to condemn the Ahmadi Muslims to be eligible for a ‘Muslim’ passport.
Denied all Religious Freedom: The discriminatory Second Amendment resulted in further restrictions on religious freedom with President Zia’s promulgation of the anti-Ahmadi laws shortly thereafter in 1984. Known as the Ordinance XX, these laws criminalize the daily lives of Ahmadi Muslims and impose a three year jail term for Ahmadis guilty of ‘posing as Muslims’. Thousands of Ahmadis have been jailed under these opprobrious laws for ‘crimes’ such as praying, saying the salam (Muslim greeting), saying the Kalima (Islamic creed), reading the Quran etc. These laws are a violation of the UN Human Rights Charter and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), of which Pakistan is a signatory.
Since the inception of these laws, over a hundred Ahmadiyya Mosques have either been sealed by the State, or burned down or forcibly taken over by extremist mobs.
Denied Freedom of Speech: Despite numerous attacks on Ahmadi Muslims (hundreds have been murdered since the passing of the anti-Ahmadi laws), not once has a representative of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community been invited to express the community’s views or state their grievances on air. And while the media regularly publishes and airs conspiracy stories that amount to hate speech and incite violence against the Ahmadis, the books published by the Ahmadiyya community are banned across the country. Numerous book-sellers and publishers have been jailed under the country’s blasphemy laws for hurting the “sentiment of the Muslims.”
Denied Right to Peaceful Assembly: While ‘Jihadist’ outfits are allowed to convene across Pakistan, the annual peace convention of the country’s Ahmadi Muslims has been banned since 1984. No government has lifted this ban since, despite repeated requests.
Denied Right to Vote: Ahmadi Muslims have been systematically disenfranchised for the last many decades and have been prevented from participating in the country’s electoral process. There was quite the anxiety recently in Pakistan when the clause that prevents Ahmadi Muslims from taking part in the electoral process was mistakenly omitted in the new electoral bill. The government was quick to issue an apology and reinstate the clause, assuring the right-wing majority that Ahmadi Muslims would remain disenfranchised.
Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan are forced to live in extremely difficult conditions, with continued threats from religious extremists and militant outfits on the one hand, and the State and its apartheid laws looming over their heads on the other. Hate speech against the Ahmadis is commonplace (including calls for their killings) and associating with them in anyway invites the wrath of the extremist right-wing majority.
Take this for an example: When Pakistan’s Foreign Minister was recently asked why he took a picture with an Ahmadi Muslim during his recent United States visit, Mr. Khawaja Asif had to apologize and promised never to repeat the offense again. “Now I always ask people about their faith first before I take pictures with them,” he said in apology. Ms. Maleeha Lodhi is no stranger to this bias herself. Earlier this year, Ms. Lodhi deleted her tweet congratulating Mahershala Ali on his Oscar victory after finding out about his Ahmadi faith.
Pakistan’s attitude and its support of the discriminatory anti-Ahmadi laws is not fading by any measure. Pakistan’s Law Minister, Mr. Rana Sanaullah, recently reassured the country’s right-wing majority that Ahmadi Muslims will remain second class citizens until they voluntarily denounced their self-identity. In other words, the rights of Ahmadi Muslims were conditional to them denouncing their faith and identity.
“It is our duty to protect minorities of the country but for the Ahmadis, they will first have to stop claiming to be Muslims. There is no other way around it.” (Rana Sanaullah, Pakistan’s Law Minister, October 13, 2017)
This is not what Pakistan started as. Pakistan was founded on the very premise of minority rights protection. The founder of the country promised religious freedom, equal rights to all, and complete separation of State and Mosque.
“You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the State.” (Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s first Presidential Address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan, August 11, 1947)
Pakistan’s persecution of Ahmadi Muslims is therefore a betrayal of the very founding values of the country.
Now that Pakistan has won a seat in the UN Human Rights Council, I hope the world will hold it to a higher standard and call for the repeal of the discriminatory Second amendment and the apartheid anti-Ahmadi laws. That would be the real victory for human rights, and for Pakistan.