Friday, June 20, 2014
Corruption impedes progress in Thailand, and workers die in both because of conditions, says US state department's report
The US has signalled its mounting concern over modern-day slavery in Thailand and Qatar after it downgraded both countries on its human trafficking watchlist following revelations of appalling maltreatment of migrant workers. Thailand was relegated to the lowest rank in the state department's Trafficking in Persons (TiP) report – meaning it is now considered no better than North Korea, Iran or Saudi Arabia in the way it treats workers and protects them from abuse. Qatar was demoted to a watchlist one rung above, and will join Thailand if it doesn't improve its record in the coming years. Malaysia was also downgraded. The American censure comes amid widespread criticism of Thailand and Qatar, following two Guardian investigations that exposed repugnant conditions of slavery in both countries. "There cannot be impunity for those who traffic in human beings," said John Kerry, the US secretary of state. "It must end." Slavery, he said, "rips and tears at the fabric of the rule of the law".
He added that consumers should also bear some responsibility for combating the trafficking business, estimated to be worth £100bn a year. "It is for each of us to make sure the goods we buy are free from forced labour." The leading state department official for combating trafficking added that Guardian investigations exposing slavery in Thailand and Qatar had helped keep the spotlight on abuse in the run-up to yesterday's downgrade. "The recent investigations [focusing on slavery and trafficking issues] in Thailand were fortuitous in their timing because, as we were doing our diplomatic job, these pieces of work have created a conversation around serious issues of trafficking in global fisheries," said Luis CdeBaca. "Over the past year we have seen the Guardian, as well as the ITUC [International Trade Union Confederation], Amnesty and Human Rights Watch all shed light on the vulnerability of hundreds of thousands of migrant workers in Qatar. In Qatar we see a dramatic reliance on foreign labour – yet, even though there are legal structures in place to protect [migrant workers], these seem to exist largely on paper." In Thailand, the Guardian investigation found that slaves forced to work on Thai fishing boats are integral to the production of prawns sold in the UK, US and EU. In Qatar, an undercover Guardian investigation exposed severe labour abuses in a country where migrant workers are tethered to a single employer, often denied pay for months at a time – and even refused the right to leave the country.
In both countries, workers die because of the way they are treated. Kerry called for blunter language to describe the problem estimated to face 20 million people worldwide. "It is not 'a form of slavery', it is 'slavery'," he said. The TiP report is considered the benchmark index for global anti-trafficking efforts, as it ranks 188 nations according to their willingness and efforts to combat trafficking and slavery. However critics argue that it is coloured by US interests. Thailand's relegation to tier 3 of the list is an automatic downgrade after four years on the tier 2 watchlist, where it was repeatedly warned to make significant improvements to its anti-trafficking law enforcement, protect trafficked victims and punish perpetrators. The downgrade could cause diplomatic tensions between the two strategic political and trade partners, and could result in economic sanctions and loss of development aid for Thailand, which may also find itself blacklisted by companies no longer wishing to do business with a "pariah" government. The report cites corruption "at all levels" as impeding significant progress and claims that anti-trafficking law enforcement remains insufficient compared with the overall scale of trafficking and slavery. It also states that, despite frequent media and NGO reports detailing instances of trafficking and slavery in sectors such as the fishing industry, the government "systematically failed" to investigate, prosecute or convict boat owners and captains, or officials complicit in the crimes. In a statement the Thai government said it disagreed with the state department's decision but would continue to fight against trafficking. "In 2013, Thailand made significant advances in prevention and suppression of human trafficking along the same lines as the state department's standards," it said. "While the latest TiP report did not recognise our vigorous, government-wide efforts that yielded unprecedented progress and concrete results, Thailand remains committed to combating human trafficking." The US downgraded Qatar to the tier 2 watchlist after the state department concluded it had not demonstrated sufficient willingness to address its human trafficking problems. The report said that, despite detailed anti-trafficking legislation and labour laws, Qatar remained a destination country for men and women subjected to forced labour and forced prostitution, and that "many" of its 1.2 million migrant workers faced conditions of modern slavery when they arrived to work there. In its analysis the state department criticised Qatar's exploitative sponsorship system, the arrest and detention of victims of trafficking and the failure to implement anti-trafficking laws and protect migrant workers from exploitation and abuse. It also highlighted the denial by government officials that human trafficking exists in Qatar at all. Qatar has since made promises of reform, but workers there say little has changed. The Qatari government did not respond to a request for comment. Kerry said he received several calls from foreign ministers complaining about being included or downgraded in the report. He said the worst "zones of vulnerability" were in countries where the rule of law was weak, but insisted all countries needed to address human trafficking, including the US. "Some of the worst abuses happen in places where you rarely think to look … aboard fishing vessels and in processing plants," he added. The state department said the Guardian's investigations were on a different timeline to their own. But CdeBaca added: "We appreciate good reporting when we see it, and we feel the fight against human trafficking needs government reporting and civil society reporting, but it also takes dedicated journalists to play into the mix and, while our decision-making processes were operating on a different timeline, we certainly read the recent articles with interest." Critics argue the report has its limitations, though. "There are countries on either side of US foreign policy whose rankings are very unlikely to shift either up or down. Some friends of the US will never go below a tier 2 and some countries that have a difficult relationship with the US are equally unlikely to go above a tier 3," says Anne Gallagher, a UN advisor and legal expert on international trafficking. But Gallagher concedes it does have impact. "A bad TiP report ranking is like a bad report card, even if countries profess not to care, they don't like it. You don't get an issue more political than trafficking."
Pro-democracy demonstrators have taken to streets in Bahrain, demanding that the Al Khalifa regime step down. On Friday, the protesters staged anti-regime demonstrations in the Manama suburb of Sanabis and the northeastern island of Sitra. A similar protest was also held in the village of Samaheej, located on the northern coast of Muharraq island. Since mid-February 2011, thousands of pro-democracy protesters have held numerous demonstrations in the streets of Bahrain, calling for the Al Khalifa royal family to relinquish power. On March 14, 2011, troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates invaded the country to assist the Bahraini government in its crackdown on peaceful protesters. According to local sources, scores of people have been killed and hundreds arrested. Physicians for Human Rights says doctors and nurses have been detained, tortured, or disappeared because they have "evidence of atrocities committed by the authorities, security forces, and riot police" in the crackdown on anti-government protesters.
Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi held a meeting with Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh in the Vietnamee capital of Hanoi on June 18, 2014. The two countries pledged to rein in maritime tensions during the highest-level direct contact since relations deteriorated in May over a Chinese oil rig operating in the South China Sea. Yang stressed that the Xisha Islands are an inherent part of Chinese territory, adding that Beijing will "take any necessary measures" to protect its sovereignty and maritime interests. The rig's operational area was 31 km from the baseline of the Xisha Islands' territorial waters and between 246 km and 289 km from the Vietnamese coast. In the past month, Vietnamese vessels have rammed Chinese ships safeguarding them on more than 1,500 occasions. Yang urged Vietnam to stop harassing Chinese ships and to ensure the security of Chinese citizens in their country, saying the country should treat seriously the aftermath of the violence, vandalism and arson tht took place in mid-May, referring to riots in Vietnam targeting Chinese-owned businesses. Yang expressed the hope that Vietnam, together with China, would overcome difficulties and move China-Vietnam relations forward on the right track. During the meeting, Minh explained Vietnam's stance on the sea dispute, saying Vietnam will comply with the consensus reached by leaders of the two sides on properly handling sensitive issues in bilateral relations. Vietnam is willing to work with China on maritime issues, maintain close communication, manage tensions, and handle issues properly, as well as confirming to the international community that Vietnam and China are able to resolve their differences by peaceful means, he said. Sun Xiaoying, research fellow of Guangxi Academy of Social Science, told the Global Times on June 17 that she was not optimistic about the prospects of progress from the meeting between Yang and the Vietnamese side, as the Vietnamese government tends to resort to sophistry. On the subject of oil rig 981, Sun Xiaoying said that Vietnam had made many deep water drillings in disputed areas of South China Sea. It is not acceptable to China that it should be prevented from building one single oil rig in the area. Governments of the two countries can jointly develop some sea areas. For example, China National Offshore Oil Corporation marked out 9 zones for that purpose in 2012. China has showed its sincerity, and it is time for Vietnam to consider the situation. On June 19, 2014, an article in People's Daily Overseas Edition emphasized that China is well-intentioned, and that Vietnam should return to the right track. It remains to be seen whether Vietnam will meet with China halfway. Just before Yang's visit, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung called for less dependence on the Chinese economy. Vietnam has used cooperation with foreign companies in oil and gas exploration to solidify its maritime interests, and it is eager to apply for international arbitration. Though the difficulties in the China-Vietnam relationship were caused unilaterally by Vietnam, the Chinese State Councilor still came to Vietnam for the meeting, which confirms that China cherishes the friendship between the two peoples and is willing to solve the problem through dialogue. China has extended an olive branch to Vietnam, and Vietnam should seize the opportunity and make the right response.
More than 50 million people were forcibly uprooted worldwide at the end of last year, the highest level since after World War Two, as people fled crises from Syria to South Sudan, the U.N. refugee agency said on Friday. Half are children, many of them caught up in conflicts or persecution that world powers have been unable to prevent or end, UNHCR said in its annual Global Trends report. "We are really facing a quantum leap, an enormous increase of forced displacement in our world," U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres told a news briefing. The overall figure of 51.2 million displaced people soared by six million from a year earlier. They included 16.7 million refugees and 33.3 million displaced within their homelands, and 1.2 million asylum seekers whose applications were pending. Syrians fleeing the escalating conflict accounted for most of the world's 2.5 million new refugees last year, UNHCR said. In all, nearly 3 million Syrians have crossed into neighbouring Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Jordan, while another 6.5 million remain displaced within Syria's borders. "We are seeing here the immense costs of not ending war, of failing to resolve or prevent conflict," Guterres said. "We see the Security Council paralysed in many crucial crises around the world." NEW AND OLD CRISES Conflicts that erupted this year in Central African Republic, Ukraine and Iraq are driving more families from their homes, he said, raising fears of a mass exodus of Iraqi refugees. "A multiplication of new crises, and at the same time old crises that seem never to die," he added. Afghan, Syrian and Somali nationals accounted for 53 percent of the 11.7 million refugees under UNHCR's responsibility. Five million Palestinians are looked after by a sister agency UNRWA. Most refugees have found shelter in developing countries, contrary to the myth fuelled by some populist politicians in the West that their states were being flooded, Guterres said. "Usually in the debate in the developed world, there is this idea that refugees are all fleeing north and that the objective is not exactly to find protection but to find a better life. "The truth is that 86 percent of the world's refugees live in the developing world," he said. Desperate refugees and migrants from the Middle East and Africa have drowned after taking rickety boats in North Africa to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe, mainly via Italy. Italy has a mission, known as Mare Nostrum or "Our Sea", which has rescued about 50,000 migrants already this year. Italy will ask the European Union next week to take over responsibility for rescuing migrants, a task that is costing its navy 9 million euros ($12.25 million) a month. "It is important to have a European commitment there and to make sure that such an operation can be sustainable," said Guterres, a former prime minister of Portugal. The EU bloc has harmonised its asylum system, but the 27 member states still differ in how they process refugees and in their approval rates for asylum applications, he said. A record 25,300 unaccompanied children lodged asylum applications in 77 countries last year, according to UNHCR. "We see a growing number of unaccompanied minors on all routes. We see them in the Mediterranean routes, we see them in the Caribbean route, through Mexico to the United States, we see them in the Afghan route into Iran, into Turkey, into Europe," Guterres said. "We see them everywhere."
By Sushant Sareen From the media in India it would appear that the attack by Taliban terrorists on the Karachi airport is the tipping point which would pave the way for India and Pakistan to work together against the scourge of terrorism. How the Indian media, in particular the TV channels, have come to this conclusion remains a bit of a mystery. Karachi is neither the first spectacular terror attack in Pakistan, nor is it likely to be the last. It isn’t even the worst. In fact, if the attack on the Parade Lane mosque in Rawalpindi in which family members of the top brass were killed did not affect any change in the strategic orientation of the generals, then Karachi, where only dispensable foot soldiers of the security forces and other airport staff died, is certainly not going to lead to any rethink, much less a paradigm change. Quite clearly, there is as yet absolutely nothing on the ground to suggest that Pakistan is set to reverse its use of aggressive Islamism as an instrument of foreign and defence policy. Before India once again goes down the path of wondering how it can rescue Pakistan from itself, some home truths about Pakistan – the state and society – need to be understood. The single most important home truth is that Pakistan’s hatred for India far outweighs any fear or concern or even loathing it may have about the terrorism and extremism that the Taliban have come to stand for. Cut through the clap-trap, and it is apparent that the bulk of the Pakistanis do not intrinsically abhor the Taliban. Nor for that matter is there any significant ideological opposition to the Taliban. If at all there is a problem, it is over the means used by the Taliban, not so much with their message or their objective of Islamisation. To put it differently, as long as the Taliban – good, bad or ugly – listen to and follow the orders of the Pakistan military and serve as its instruments in Afghanistan, Iran, India and any other part of the world, for example, Syria, they are acceptable. The trouble is only with those Taliban groups who break free and follow their own agenda which generally includes taking on and targeting the Pakistan military and other symbols of state. This is precisely the reason why Taliban groups who agree to toe the army’s line are not only embraced but even facilitated – examples include the North Waziristan warlord Gul Bahadur, the Haqqani network, Mullah Omar and his cohorts, and lately the Mehsud breakaway faction led by Khan Said aka Sajna. It’s not as though these Taliban have suddenly become card-carrying liberals; quite to the contrary, they remain as fanatical as ever –take for example, the statement of Sajna’s spokesman Azam Tariq announcing the reasons for separating from the Fazlullah led TTP. Surely, if Pakistan had an aversion to what these guys stand for instead of who they stand against, Faustian pacts with the military would never have been struck. This is exactly the tack that is adopted in case of groups that primarily focus their attacks on India. Terrorist groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba that remain beholden and loyal to Pakistan have faced no major or debilitating restraint or restriction on their activities against India. When Indian analysts lump together all terrorists in Pakistan and then on the basis of this fallacious assumption imagine that the time has come for India and Pakistan to form a joint front against terrorism, they miss the fundamental point that terrorists who attack India are not the same as those who attack Pakistan. The former are those who work with the sanction and support of the Pakistani state; the latter are those who no longer accept the dictation or work on the direction of the Pakistani state. When some Pakistanis, including those closely working for or with the military establishment indulge in sweet talk with India, it is merely a tactical move to beguile India and refrain it from doing anything that adds to the difficulties that Pakistan faces from the renegade or recalcitrant Jihadist groups. As is their wont, the Pakistanis are quick to blame everyone but themselves for the terrorism inside their country. After the Karachi attack, Pakistani analysts accused the Afghans of providing sanctuary to TTP in places like Kunar, Nuristan and other border areas from where these people launched attacks inside Pakistan. But there is complete silence on the safe havens that the Pakistani authorities have given to Taliban terrorists inside their own country. What is even more laughable is that on the one hand the Pakistanis lampoon President Hamid Karzai as the Mayor of Kabul, and in the same breath demand that he act against the TTP elements who are alleged to be operating from remote border regions of Afghanistan. As far as India is concerned, the Pakistanis and their advocates and apologists in India fling the fear of a Jihadi takeover of their state as both a threat as well as a plea to seek some concessions from India, which they claim will strengthen the ability of the Pakistani state to take on the Jihadists. But this fear of the mullah has been done to death. The fact of the matter is that the non-mullahs ruling Pakistan since its creation haven’t exactly been very well disposed towards India. The export of terrorism as part of an asymmetric war strategy was not forged by the Islamists but by the so-called Pakistani moderates. India needs to understand that what Pakistan is facing is a power struggle and the Taliban are terrorists only as long as they don’t acquire power in Pakistan. Once they do, they will become the state and India can deal with them as the situation and circumstances demand. Suffice to say, there isn’t much more that the Taliban can do what the Pakistani moderates haven’t already tried and done to harm and bleed India. In any case, there cannot be a bigger folly than for India to forge its Pakistan policy on the basis of what they hear from Pakistani liberals, who are almost in any case an extinct species. The big question however is whether India can even do anything to strengthen Pakistan’s ability to fight terrorism? Those who ask India to make gestures don’t say what gestures India should make. India can’t give Pakistan the economic and military aid that the Americans have given. India also cannot play the role China has played and even if it did, it is unlikely that Pakistan will genuflect before India as they do in front of the Chinese. India cannot be Saudi Arabia because it is neither the custodian of the two holy mosques nor is it in a position to gift Pakistan billions of dollars in cash and oil. What is it then that India can do? Just three things: hand over Kashmir, disband the Indian army and finally plant the flag of Islam on Red Fort in Delhi. Short of this the Pakistanis will continue to raise the bogey of insecurity with India. Equally galling is the fact that those who advocate gestures from India do not specify what Pakistan will do in return. Unless there are clear metrics specified on what the Pakistan’s need to do, it will serve none of India’s interests to save Pakistan from itself. Instead of wasting time on thinking about how India can rescue Pakistan, India needs to start worrying about how it will protect itself from whatever fallout there will be of an Islamic Emirate of Pakistan. There is after all a very good chance that once the Taliban rampage starts, the Pakistan army will crumble much like the Iraqi army has folded up in the face of the ISIS onslaught.
THE EXPRESS TRIBUNE
Afghan authorities in the eastern province Khost have registered over 6,000 refugees fleeing the current offensive across the border by Pakistan’s military against Taliban militants in North Waziristan Agency, an official of the UN refugee agency said Friday. Babar Baloch, spokesperson of UNHCR based in Geneva, told The Express Tribune via telephone that Afghan authorities have said that the number of refugees from Pakistan is more than estimated, as they are scattered and currently staying with the locals, relatives and friends. “The Afghan government has not yet made a total assessment as the refugees are not staying in a camp,” Baloch said. The UNHCR is helping the Afghans who are hosting the Pakistani refugees, he added. The UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards said the refugee agency is helping authorities in Khost to register and assist the fleeing Pakistanis. Some 6,452 people from Pakistan have fled North Waziristan into the eastern parts of Afghanistan, mostly arriving in the districts of Gurboz, Khost (Matun), Tanni, Nadir Shah Kot and Mando Zai in Khost province, he said at a briefing in Geneva, according to details emailed to The Express Tribune. “The newly arrived women, men and children have trekked the mountainous terrains across Pakistan’s border to seek safety,” he said. The spokesperson said that the Pakistani refugees are being accommodated with local Afghan communities for now. “However, Afghan hosting communities have limited absorption capacity and resources. The urgent needs include shelter, clean drinking water and sanitation.” “UNHCR is concerned that [the] families close to conflict-affected areas will be further exposed to violence, and humanitarian access could be limited,” he said. As an immediate response, UNHCR is providing tents and other basic relief items to the most vulnerable, while its partner agency the World Food Programme (WFP) has distributed food assistance, including sugar, rice, tea, beans and salt. He said a joint assessment on the needs of the latest arrivals are being conducted with the provincial directorate of the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation, WFP and other partners to assess urgent humanitarian needs. The spokesperson said that the government of Pakistan has confirmed that over 101,000 people have been internally displaced from North Waziristan into the Banu, Dera Ismail Khan and Tank areas of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province. “As part of a UN inter-agency response, in support of the government, UNHCR is ready to assist the displaced population inside Pakistan,” he said.
A powerful explosion at a shrine in the federal capital injured at least 31 people out of whom seven are said to be critical, DawnNews reported on Friday night. Initial TV reports suggest that the blast took place at the shine of Chan Pir Badsah in Pindorian neighbourhood near Shezad Town Police Station of Islamabad. An emergency has been imposed in Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) and Poly Clinic hospitals of the city where injured were taken to after the incident. Dr Aisha of PIMS Hospital told the media that 24 people were brought in the hospital out of whom four were critically injured. Dr Khurram, an official at Poly Clinic Hospital said that three critically injured among seven people were brought in the hospital. The nature of the blast has not yet been verified but eyewitnesses told DawnNews that the explosion took place when food was being distributed amongst devotees.
A powerful blast has occurred in the Shahzad Town of Islamabad while ago. According to the early information, several people are injured in the blast, who are being shifted to different hospital for treatment. Four of them are shifted to PIMS.
On the occasion of Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto’s 61st birthday Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Patron-In-Chief, Pakistan Peoples Party called on all political forces to suspend politics as usual and show unity in support of our armed forces who are fighting against the ruthless terrorists under Operation Zarb-e-Azb. “There should be no space for partisan politics at this time. All political forces should be united in supporting our armed forces and working to help IDPs,” he stated in clear-cut policy statement especially in a situation where country is faced with a do or die situation.
At least 24 suspects,who were trying to flee in the garb of IDPs have been apprehended at various strangulation check posts in Mirali and Miranshah, press release said. Six attempts were foiled last night, ISPR said adding three terrorists who did not have any identity proof were apprehended while trying to flee from the cordon. He said that more than 200,000 persons have been migrated to safe areas so far adding 11 families (92 individuals) have been enlisted in the IDP camp, Bakkakhel, Bannu. Press release said that 400 Afghan families left North Waziristan Agency for Afghanistan through Ghulam Khan Border village yesterday. They were provided all required administrative assistance. Additional Lady Searchers (Police), Mobile NADRA vans and Smart card vans have been placed at IDP registration point to further streamline the registration process at Saidgai registration point. Total 20 booths i.e 10 each for male and females IDPs are continuously functioning for expeditious registration and move out of Agency.
Pakistan on Sunday launched another military operation -- Zarb-e-Azb -- against the extremists in Waziristan. The name of the operation means sharp and cutting or surgical. This is not the first such operation and perhaps will not be the last of its kind. But if this one is executed well, it may not warrant one for some time and it may give the beleaguered country an opportunity to recoup from the persistent terror attacks it faces nearly everyday. This operation was inevitable given the public outrage at the dastardly attacks on Jinnah International airport in Karachi, which not only killed 26 military personnel and civilians but also underscored the dangerously fragile condition of security in Pakistan. The attack on Karachi airport clearly was a tipping point and the Nawaz Sharif government, which until now was willing to give diplomacy a chance, had to respond with use of force. Rhetoric aside, it remains to be seen how serious this military venture really is. The military hopes to seriously damage the many extremist groups that operate out of this area.Counter-Insurgency is Fraught with Peril
As Americans have discovered in Iraq and elsewhere popular insurgencies are hard to suppress. It is difficult to separate the civilian from the enemy; the innocent from the malignant and every misstep increases the intensity of the insurgency and undermines public support for use of force. Counter insurgency strategies, specially when employed at home also destroys the infrastructure of the nation, causes unemployment, slows the economy, exacerbates sectarianism, frightens away foreign investors and destroys internal and international trade. Prolonged use of force also generates internally displaced refugees who will move away from the battle areas, towards Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad in search of safety. They will provide cover for flee militants and will bring the war to the very cities whose protection is the impetus for the military operation. There are two fundamental problems with this operation. One, it assumes that the problem is geographically confined to Waziristan. The militancy has now infiltrated into urban areas and according to some reports a significant section of Karachi has been Talibanized. Action in Waziristan alone will not contain or roll it back. Secondly Pakistan has undertaken this operation unilaterally. While Pakistani army has perhaps the best intelligence on the militants and most experience dealing with them and the power to hurt them, it will be much better if Pakistan works to developing a regional and a global coalition to fight this insurgency. Groups such as the Taliban (all varieties of them), Boko Haram, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and the Al Qaeda are all manifestations of the same cancer that is eating away at the moral core of Muslim societies. While the damage they cause is local they do present a global threat and must be fought in concert rather than by host states alone.
A Global Coalition That Pakistan has America's support is obvious. The U.S. has been pushing Pakistan to launch such a measure for quite sometime now. Military and economic aid will flow and with it will come electronic intelligence and the inexorable reach of the dreaded drones. But limited international support will make it appear as if the Pakistani military is doing this for the US and will undermine the legitimacy of the operation and provide more ammunition for Taliban sympathizers to divert public anger towards the U.S. But a global alliance that also includes EU, China and maybe even Turkey can strengthen the hand of the Pakistani government and impress upon the extremists and their supporters that they have the world to contend with and not just the weak political will of Nawaz Sharif. Many of these nations share Pakistan's interest in curbing Muslim extremists everywhere and will not hesitate to support. A little diplomacy from Islamabad and a quiet word from Washington can crystallize such a coalition to help Pakistan. A Regional Coalition against the Taliban The Waziristan region in Pakistan has become a watering hole for extremists who threaten many countries. Besides Pakistan, India, Iran, and Afghanistan have strong interests in eliminating threats that emanate from this area. The problem is that most countries in the region feel that Pakistan is hunting with the hound and running with the hare at the same time. Pakistan's intelligence is suspected of nurturing many of the same groups for geopolitical reasons even as they threaten its own stability. This perception prevents Pakistan from developing closer relations with its neighbors who have the resources, the will, and the interest to help Pakistan become terror free. A regional coalition will make the struggle against extremism more potent, more durable and less expensive, but it will take more than deft diplomacy to achieve. Pakistan must convince its neighbors that the alleged ties between the Pakistani state and the Taliban have been severed irreparably. Perhaps the current operation will achieve that first step and help build the coalitions necessary to make the region safe.
BY STEVE COLL
For five years or more, the United States has been urging Pakistan to clear North Waziristan, a semi-autonomous tribal agency along the Afghan border, of foreign fighters and Taliban. North Waziristan has been a deep haven for Arab, Central Asian, Punjabi, Taliban, and sectarian militants, and the headquarters of the Haqqani network, an Afghan Taliban faction that has repeatedly bombed and gunned down civilians in Kabul. Insurgents trying to overthrow the Pakistani state have also launched one bloody attack after another from North Waziristan. Most recently, a few weeks ago, a team of Uzbek fighters shocked the country by killing more than two dozen people during a suicide-by-police-style-raid on Karachi’s international airport. This week, the Pakistani military finally moved. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced the launch of Operation Zarb-e-Azb, named in reference to a sword of the Prophet Muhammad. The Army, in its own announcement, called it a “comprehensive operation against foreign and local terrorists” who “had been disrupting our national life in all its dimensions.” It vowed to “eliminate these terrorists, regardless of their hue and color.” In the opening days of Operation Zarb-e-Azb, Pakistani F-16s have bombed forested mountains where some of the groups have camps. The Army claimed to have killed about two hundred opposition fighters. The C.I.A. has apparently launched several drone strikes near Miran Shah and in other areas of the agency this week, reviving its secret air war over North Waziristan after a long period of quietude. These strikes were almost certainly commissioned and supported by Pakistan’s military and intelligence services; it would seem unthinkable for the Obama Administration to act unilaterally with drones just when Pakistan was at last doing what it had long urged. Why now? The Karachi airport attack was a precipitating event, but there have been many such outrages. The deeper answer involves America’s impending withdrawal from Afghanistan, according to the military officers, advisers, and civilian analysts I’ve spoken to here. I happened to be in Pakistan when Zarb-e-Azb began. The country’s proliferating cable news channels (absent the largest, Geo, which has been suspended temporarily for earlier broadcasting reports that the military found offensive) instantly rolled out colorful BREAKING NEWS and nation-at-war graphics that make Fox News look restrained. Animated tanks, fighter jets, and armed trucks zipped across the bottom of the TV screen at random moments during talk shows. As field reporters delivered standups in split-screen boxes, animated F-16s flew bombing runs, over and over, as if to induce hypnosis. The cartoon planes bombed into smithereens an artist’s rendering of a mud-walled desert compound. In Islamabad, the 111th Infantry Brigade, known as the “coup brigade” because its proximity to the capital has led it to execute the Army’s periodic takeovers of government, has deployed with the paramilitary Rangers to strengthen the city’s defenses in the capital against an expected backlash of terrorist attacks. Islamabad was already a city that had gotten used to barbed wire, barricades, and checkpoints; now there are more of those, and more roving armed patrols as well. The Army has cordoned off North Waziristan and imposed curfews while it attempts to evacuate tens of thousands of civilians to camps outside the tribal agency. If similar military campaigns carried out in recent years in South Waziristan, Swat, and Bajaur are any guide, North Waziristan’s residents, already among Pakistan’s very poorest, are in for a prolonged period of suffering as internal refugees. North Waziristan lies across the border from the Afghan provinces of Khost and Paktia. For several years, Pakistan’s Army has been forecasting quietly that the American effort to quickly build the Afghan National Army from scratch into a fighting force of at least two hundred and fifty thousand would fail. Eventually, Pakistan’s military high command fears, the United States and its allies will grow tired of paying the Afghan Army’s huge salary and equipment bills (perhaps four billion dollars a year), and then the country’s Army and police will unravel into factional militias, much as Iraq’s American-trained Army has melted away under pressure during the past few weeks. Pakistan’s greatest concrete security concern is how such an Afghan unravelling might spill into its territory. Afghanistan is in the midst of an uncertain election transition this year. The votes haven’t been counted in last weekend’s runoff round, but one of the two candidates, Abdullah Abdullah, has already alleged that there was fraud on a grand scale. The great majority of American troops will be gone by the end of 2014. Pakistan’s Army wanted to move in North Waziristan now so that it can push forward military defensive lines along its western border against the possible Afghan chaos to come. Among other things, Pakistan’s generals fear what is sometimes referred to as the “reverse sanctuary” problem—that is, rather than Pakistan providing sanctuary for anti-Afghan fighters, as it has done for several decades, Afghanistan might become a durable sanctuary for anti-Pakistan groups. Indeed, the current chief of the Pakistani Taliban, Mullah Fazlullah, is said to be hiding out in northeastern Afghanistan, along with other armed radicals. What of the Haqqani network, a tacit ally of Pakistan and a scourge of American generals in Afghanistan? The Haqqanis previously were the main instrument of Pakistan’s forward strategy in North Waziristan. They provided a loyal but imperfect front line—loyal because the Haqqanis studiously avoided attacking the Pakistani state, but imperfect because they harbored other groups that did hit Pakistan. There is no reason to assume that Pakistan has turned on the Haqqanis. But the Army may prefer to push the network’s fighters, at least for a while, into eastern Afghanistan, where they also control territory. (They are, after all, Afghans.) The Haqqanis’ evacuation from their strongholds around Miran Shah would create space for Pakistan to attack the North Waziristan-rooted groups that it loathes most of all—the Uzbeks, Chechens, Uighurs (who spook Pakistan’s critical ally, China), and certain virulent and irreconcilable Pakistani Taliban. According to Pakistani intelligence estimates, there may be about two thousand Uzbek fighters and hundreds of Punjabi Taliban in North Waziristan today—those groups alone promise tough going. Pakistan gained independence in 1947. It left Waziristan alone until 2002, when the Pakistani Army entered in force for the first time, also at American urging. That incursion began falteringly, but more recently the Army has gained confidence and some measure of stability in South Waziristan, if hardly a victory. The Army would like to pull back and put civilian administrators and perhaps political parties in the lead. But Pakistan’s civil government is too weak, and Waziristan’s insurgent, criminal, and terrorist networks are too deep to expect normalcy anytime soon. Even in the best of circumstances, Pakistan’s military occupation of all of Waziristan now looks to be a multi-decade project, akin to the Indian occupation of Kashmir or the Israeli occupation of the West Bank—a heavy load on a state that already has too many.
"The leaders of the Khatm-e-Nabuwatt extremist groups have warned that it is too late and that the call to kill him [Mr Adil] has been communicated country wide and there is no stopping it." An editor and publisher is facing serious threats to his life from Muslim militants for publishing an autobiography of a retired judge of the Lahore High Court who hails from the Ahmadi sect. The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has reported that the religious extremist group Tehrik-e Khatm-e-Nabuwat (TKN) together with a contingent of police forces raided the office of Muhhamad Shoaib Adil, editor of the Monthly magazine, Naya Zamana, and publisher of Naya Zamana publications in Lahore, and have confiscated the books including also other books in his office. Mr Adil was taken into custody on June 12 at around 5.30 in the evening following the raid of his office. Other books, such as publications of the government of Punjab, on poetry as well as a physics book were also confiscated, claiming they were against Islam. The attackers included more than a dozen TKN militants and several policemen from the Civil Lines police station in Lahore. According to local reports, the Muslim fundamentalist group, led by one Muhammad Hasan Muawiya, had arrived on motor bikes and had coerced the police to arrest Mr. Adil on charges of Blasphemy. The leader of the group, infamous extremist, Muawiyya, is the younger bother of mullah Tahir Ashrafi, chairman, Pakistan Clerics' Council. Muawiyya operates in the city of Lahore, where he maintains close connections with the provincial government officers and it is learnt that the police too are generally in support of his actions and is even known to follow his orders. The Naya Zamana editor, had been held in police custody overnight and it is reported that the extremists groups did not allowed the police to release him even after having found no evidence of the books being against the Islamic religion. AHRC further reported that the extremist groups had also watched the police station overnight not allowing Adil's release. However, he was released early morning the following day, after the extremists group has dispersed. According to sources, following the forced closure of the publication house by the extremist group, and following threats to his life, the Editor together with his family have fled Lahore. The Urdu monthly magazine, Naya Zamana, is popular in Punjab province for its liberal and progressive writing. It is also popular among religious minority groups, the Christians, the Hindus, Ahmadis and Shia sects as it gives more coverage to the persecution of religious minorities. The AHRC also reports that another activist of Khatm-e-Nabuwat, Qari Rafiq, has filed a petition against the Mr Adil, in the Additional Session Court to file charges of blasphemy under section 295-C of Pakistan Penal Code accusing him of posing as a Muslim despite being an Ahmadi. The session court had fixed the date of next hearing for the 18 June 2014 and has issued notice to the police for the reply of questions raised by the petitioner. According to sources on the date of the said hearing on 18 June, police had not been present in court, as they could not find any evidence about Mr Adil being an Ahmadi. The petitioner, Qari Rafiq has been involved in the past in forcefully grabbing land belonging to Christians on false allegations of them desecration the Quranic versus. Further, the main perpetrator, Hasan Muawiyya, the leader of the extremist group is reported to be a close friend of provincial law minister, Rana Sanaullah who is known to provide Muawiyya impunity. Muawiyya's elder brother, Allama Tahir Ashrafi, is the Islamic religious leader and chief of Council of Ulemas (religious leaders) who claims he exerts no control over his younger sibling. The AHRC also learned that several attempts by even religious leaders to approach Khatm-e-Nabuwaat in order to settle the issue about Mr. Adil have failed. The leaders of the Khatm-e-Nabuwatt extremist groups have warned that it is too late and that the call to kill him has been communicated country wide and there is no stopping it. Further references on Muhammad Hasan Muawiya can be accessed at http://www.humanrights.asia/news/forwarded-news/AHRC-FPR-008-2013?searchterm=hasan+muawiya
The PPP has expressed concern that the editor of Urdu monthly Magazine, Naya Zamana Lahore, Mohammad Shoaib Adil is receiving life threats for publishing seven years ago the autobiography of a retired Lahore High Court judge, Muhammad Islam Bhatti and demanded security to the editor and his family members. Applications have also been filed by some elements for the registration of a blasphemy case against the editor who was also held in protective custody by the police for a night. Editor Muhammad Shoaib Adil who is the son of a renowned religious scholar, the late professor Rafiullah Shahab has complained that he and his family have been receiving life threats from the unidentified persons and they are passing through acute mental agony. Spokesperson Senator Farhatullah Babar in a statement said that the unabated misuse of blasphemy law in the country had raised serious questions that need to be addressed. He said that instance abound whereby religion has been exploited to settle personal scores or for grabbing the property of some vulnerable sections of society. He called upon the government to ensure protection to Editor Shaib Adil and his family and also to take appropriate steps so as to prevent the blatant misuse of blasphemy law.
Patron-In-Chief, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has expressed deep grief and shock at the death of MQM MNA Tahira Asif, who was shot at and wounded in Lahore a few days back. In a condolence message, PPP patron-in-chief condoled the death of Tahira and prayed Almighty Allah for rest to the departed soul in eternal peace and grant of courage and fortitude to the members of bereaved family to bear this enormous loss. He also demanded investigation into the attack on the MNA, which resulted in fatal bullet wounds that took her life.
If this was Srinagar, and the Indian army had been trying to quell a crowd of Kashmiri demonstrators, we would have understood. We would have shaken our heads but we would have understood. Although even there the savagery and the mindless brutality of the Lahore police on supporters of Dr Tahirul Qadri would have seemed excessive. The Indian army and the Indian police don’t have much of a reputation for being gentle in dealing with unruly Muslim protesters. Even so, when was the last time nine people, including two women and a youngster, were shot dead in cold blood in Srinagar? In addition to the dead there are around 30-40 people with gunshot wounds in hospital. When was the last time this happened across the Line of Control? When was the last time this was the tally of the dead and wounded in East Jerusalem or the West Bank? And this wasn’t Hamas-ruled Gaza, the West Bank or Occupied Kashmir. This was Lahore and one of its better residential colonies. The chief minister lives in the same locality. But that evening when he addressed a press conference looking ever so contrite, he gave the impression that all this happened over his head. This from someone known as a hands-on chief minister…virtually half the city’s police force deployed against the Minhajul-Quran secretariat, the locality looking like a battlefield and resounding with the sound of gunfire for hours on end, and the chief minister in blissful ignorance.
So many problems have landed on Nawaz Sharif’s table, making one wonder whether these would be allowing him enough time for sleep. To start with, there is the issue of the ongoing air attacks in North Waziristan, the Agency which had been spared an operation for years because of fear of deadly reprisals. There is a perception that the militants might any time launch terrorist attacks in major cities of the country. After the lifting of a three-day long curfew on certain areas of the Agency, some reports claim that about 30,000 tribesmen have entered Pakistan within a day while thousands more are on the way. The ground forces are now poised to launch an all-out operation inside the Agency. In view of the serious developments the COAS postponed his visit to Sri Lanka. Another serious issue is the worst ever police brutality in Lahore, resulting in the death of nine PAT activists. This has led to protests by the opposition, the legal community and civil society. The killings are likely to bring into existence a political front with the sole objective of the removal of the government which was hitherto facing difficulties. While all these issues require the prime minister’s personal attention, he has surprisingly spent two days on a matter that had no urgency whatsoever. One fails to understand the need for Nawaz Sharif’s visit to Tajikistan at this juncture. Prime ministers normally do not travel abroad to sign minor trade agreements when facing serious problems at home. How is it that a job that could have been satisfactorily performed by the federal commerce minister was taken up by the chief executive of the country himself? Failure on the part of the PM to concentrate on vital issues is creating a situation where things have started to fall apart. With the Afghan ambassador calling on the COAS instead of the foreign or defence secretary, a perception is bound to be created that the neighbouring country considers the civilian setup less credible.
At a time when Pakistan’s most urgent need is for unity, the controversy surrounding police actions in Lahore against members of Tahirul Qadri’s Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) and its sister organisation Minhajul Quran (MQ) has shaken the consensus developing between political parties about establishing security and law and order. The need for strict law enforcement is extant in the wake of military officials’ statements that the real battle against terrorism will be fought in our cities and urban areas, in which the police will have an important part to play. Given the events of the last three days, it is going to be very difficult for the police to maintain whatever little public confidence they already ‘enjoyed’. The clashes outside the MQ office in Model Town left 10 people dead, including two women, and injured more than 80, many of them with bullet wounds. Police say they were removing illegal barriers on the complaint of local residents and were attacked with stones by PAT workers. The police say they responded with rubber bullets and tear gas and that some officers replied with live fire after being fired on from an observation post on the roof of the office. However, the evidence and subsequent developments do not bear out this version of events. After booking 3,001 PAT workers on terrorism charges, including Tahirul Qadri’s son Hussain Mohiyuddin on Tuesday, police were forced to release 11 women, one 11 year-old girl, and two old age pensioners after presenting them in court on Wednesday. They also removed Mohiyuddin’s name from the list of people named in the First Information Report (FIR), throwing doubt on the efficacy of the entire list. On Wednesday, reports emerged that suspended Superintendent Tariq Aziz was found along with an officer of the Establishment Division from Islamabad and one other person in the office of the Jinnah Hospital Medical Superintendent (MS) where they were trying to coerce the MS into changing the details of the medico-legal reports to show that police officers had been critically wounded by gunfire, in order to corroborate the police version of events. These are not the actions of innocent men. This is the second time this year that Punjab police have caused a scandal by reacting with extreme force against protestors, the first time being when they viciously attacked nurses demonstrating in front of the Punjab Assembly building three months ago. Just yesterday, Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif had to take notice of an incident in Thikriwala police station, Faisalabad, where a boy was tortured to death by police officers. These events show a pattern of police impunity and brutality that must end immediately. Shahbaz says he will resign if necessary, but his resignation is less important than the urgent steps required for reforming the police, beginning with identifying and prosecuting the officers involved in Tuesday’s incident. Any inquiry must show who gave the order to remove the barriers and why such extreme force was used against unarmed protestors. Further, the judicial inquiry, to be credible, must enjoy the confidence of the aggrieved party, the PAT, which the current one-member judicial inquiry tribunal does not. If the Punjab government fails to conduct a fair, open, objective, truthful inquiry/investigations, it will be the biggest loser in terms of credibility.
At least 232 militants were killed while 20 militant hideouts have been destroyed in North Waziristan during the Zarb-i-Azb military operation till date, DawnNews reported on Friday. Eight security personnel have been killed so far, while seven others were injured during the operation. Two major terrorist communication centers located on the hills and a bomb-making factory were destroyed. According to military sources, the operation is ongoing in Miramshah and Mir Ali and militants’ attempts to escape have ben foiled. According to ISPR, troops have cordoned off all areas in North Waziristan to foil attempts by terrorists to flee the tribal agency. It is expected that the operation will see greater on-ground action in the upcoming days. The army launched its long-awaited major operation 'Zarb-i-Azb' in the tribal region a week after an attack on the airport in Karachi, deploying troops, tanks and jets to the area in the crackdown on the Taliban and other militants. The number of registered displaced families has reached 7,031 comprising over 100,000 people. Today is the last day for locals to evacuate the area.
Taliban leader Hafiz Gul Bahadur announced on Thursday to launch a ‘defensive war’ from Friday. His spokesman Ahamdullah Ahmadi told Dawn on phone from an unspecified place that the Shura North Waziristan Agency had never been part of the outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). He said the purpose of the ‘defensive war’ was to avoid losses. He said the Shura had not allowed the TTP to use the soil of North Waziristan for its activities.