Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Yazidi Girls, Women Driven To Suicide After IS Rape, Torture

A number of Yazidi girls and women subjected to rape and sexual abuse by Islamic State (IS) militants have been driven to suicide or planned to kill themselves to escape the horrors of captivity, a chilling new report by Amnesty International has revealed.

The report, titled "Escape From Hell" and released on December 23, includes firsthand accounts from Yazidi women and girls from northern Iraq who escaped from IS captivity.
Islamic State gunmen abducted hundreds if not thousands of members of the Kurdish Yazidi minority in August, after taking control of the Sinjar region in northern Iraq. Since then as many as 300 captives, mostly women and children, have managed to escape. The 42 escaped women and girls Amnesty interviewed for its report testified that IS militants had subjected them and other captives to a terrifying regime of rape, torture, beatings, threats, forced marriage, and sexual slavery.
A number of the girls interviewed by Amnesty testified that they had either attempted suicide themselves or had witnessed girls taking their own lives during captivity as a result of the trauma.
Several escaped women and girls testified about the suicide of a 19-year-old, Jilan, who took her own life before being sold to an IS militant.
One escaped girl, named as Luna, told Amnesty that she and Jilan were part of a group of 21 girls, including two as young 10 and 12, held captive by IS militants in a single room. Shortly before Jilan took her own life, the captive girls were given clothes "that looked like dance costumes." Luna said she thought Jilan killed herself because "she knew she was going to be taken away by a man."
Amnesty interviewed another woman, aged 27, who said that she and her sister had tried to strangle themselves with scarves after a militant threatened that if they did not marry him and his brother, he would sell them.
'Those Who Resisted Were Beaten'
One young woman testified to Amnesty that IS militants threatened and beat the captive girls and women if they resisted being taken away by men. Some of the girls were beaten with electrical cables, the woman said.
Another young woman testified that the militants separated out unmarried women and girls from older women and those with children, and concentrated on selling the younger girls first. However, even pregnant women or those with children were forcibly married and raped, according to the testimonies of escaped Yazidi women.
According to the testimonials of the escaped women and girls interviewed by Amnesty, most of the men involved in abducting and buying them were Iraqis and Syrians, while a few were from other Arabic-speaking countries or from outside the Middle East.
Four of the women and girls interviewed by Amnesty said that they had been held captive in the homes of two Australian militants. Not all the men who bought Yazidi girls were IS militants, however -- some were local businessmen, according to a Mosul resident.
The captive Yazidi girls and women were held in their captors' homes along with their wives and children, the interviewees said.
The girls and women who managed to escape from IS captivity are suffering the effects of trauma, and some are at risk of suicide, their relatives told Amnesty.
One 16-year-old girl, Randa, who escaped after being captured, sold, and raped by the militants said that her mother and younger sister were still being held captive in Mosul, while her 10-year-old brother and aunt were captives in Tal Afar. Randa said her mother gave birth while being held.
IS "has ruined our lives," Randa told Amnesty.
In its report, Amnesty says that the women and girls who escaped Islamic State are in a "situation of acute emotional distress." Not only do they have to contend with the trauma of their own experiences, but most have family members who are still in IS captivity. The escapees must also cope with living as displaced persons, the report found.
The relatives of abducted women also told Amnesty about the negative social consequences of the abductions and rapes for the victims, since according to Yazidi customs sexual relations outside marriage and marriage to people of other faiths is not acceptable.
Amnesty's findings reflect comments by Khalida Khalid, a Yazidi adviser to the speaker of parliament in Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region, who said earlier this month that there are concerns that escaped women could face discrimination or even violence from their families. 
Khalid said that the Kurdish parliament was discussing measures to protect escaped women, including legal abortions for rape victims.
In its report, Amnesty called on the Kurdish regional government in Iraq and the UN to provide comprehensive medical care and support services, which should be physically, geographically, and financially accessible to victims. Such services should include trauma support and counseling as well as legal abortions, maternal health support, and other reproductive health care.

Amnesty: IS Fighters Using Rape as Weapon

A human rights group says Islamic State militants are using "rape as a weapon" against ethnic Yazidi women seized from northern Iraq in what amounts to war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Amnesty International issued a report Tuesday detailing accounts from interviews with 42 women and girls who managed to escape the militants and several others who are still being held.
It describes both physical and psychological torture, including rape and other sexual violence. Several escapees said the treatment they went through is likely what drove a 19-year-old woman to commit suicide and others to attempt to kill themselves.
Donatella Rovera, the senior crisis response advisor for Amnesty, described the physical and psychological toll as "catastrophic," and said even those who have escaped the Islamic State group are still "deeply traumatized."
The report said the group has not tried to hide its actions, but rather uses its "brutal" and "ruthless" reputation to make others fearful.
Amnesty International is calling on the United Nations, humanitarian agencies and Kurdish authorities to ensure that those subjected to sexual violence have access to adequate and timely care.
Islamic State fighters attacked the Yazidis in August, forcing thousands of people to flee to Sinjar Mountain where they remained trapped for months. Kurdish peshmerga forces backed by U.S.-led airstrikes broke the siege on Saturday and have been fighting the militants in the neighboring town.

Video - U.S. - Defense attorney: Giuliani is an 'idiot'

Compared to past presidents, Obama takes few vacations

Each Christmas, President Obama takes a vacation with his family in Hawaii and this year was no different. Last Friday the First Family touched down ready to enjoy their two-week trip. Yet critics like Republican congressman Mike Rodgers attacked Obama for leaving the Oval Office, citing the recent Sony hack and police protests as reasons to stay.
However, compared to past presidents, Obama has taken relatively few vacation days. At this point in his second term, former President George W. Bush had taken a whopping 405 vacation days. Before him, Bill Clinton took a total of 174 days for himself. Another big vacationer was Ronald Reagan, who took a total of 390 days during his time in office. In comparison, Obama has only taken 161 vacation days to date.
As with past administrations, the White House continues to affirm that the president can do anything while on vacation that he would normally do from the Oval Office. With modern technology, communication is rarely an issue or a major concern for the president.
This is not the first time the President has been criticized for taking a vacation during an urgent situation. During Obama's first term in 2009, Obama addressed the "Underwear Bomber" situation on television from Hawaii. On the other hand, in 2012 Obama flew back to the mainland midway through his vacation in order to deal with the fiscal cliff negotiations.
This year critics cited the recent Sony hack attack as a reason for the president to delay his trip. But as for the government's response to the incident, for which the FBI has blamed North Korea, it will probably take several weeks for various departments to come to a conclusive decision, leaving little reason for the president to interrupt his vacation.

Obama applauds Sony decision to show 'The Interview'


US President Barack Obama is pleased Sony has decided to release "The Interview" in some theaters, after earlier bowing to pressure from a cyberattack blamed on North Korea, the White House said on Tuesday.

"The president applauds Sony's decision to authorize screenings of the film," White House spokesman Eric Schultz said in a statement.

"As the president made clear, we are a country that believes in free speech, and the right of artistic expression. The decision made by Sony and participating theaters allows people to make their own choices about the film, and we welcome that outcome," Schultz said.


By Gurmeet Kanwal

Almost 130 innocent school children died in Peshawar on December 16 in one of the most brutal terrorist strikes in recent history. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility and called it a revenge attack for the Pakistan Army’s Operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan.
The deteriorating internal security environment in Pakistan has gradually morphed into its foremost national security threat. Karachi remains a tinderbox that is ready to explode. The Al Qaeda is quietly making inroads into Pakistani terrorist organisations like the Lashkar-e-Tayebba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), Harkat-ul-Jihad Al-Islami (HuJI), Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ). The TTP has consolidated its position in North Waziristan and is giving the Army a tough time. Fissiparous tendencies in Balochistan and the restive Gilgit-Baltistan are a perpetual security nightmare.
Two successive Army Chiefs have publicly declared that internal instability is the number one national security threat. The Army is, however, relatively inexperienced in counter-insurgency operations. General Kayani had declared 2009 as ‘Military Training Year’ to re-orientate the Army towards internal security duties. Before becoming COAS, the current incumbent General Raheel Sharif had developed the training manuals for counter-insurgency. Over the last decade, the Army has deployed more than 150,000 soldiers in the Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa and FATA areas. It has suffered almost 20,000 casualties, including about 5,000 dead since 2008. The total casualties, including civilian, number more than 50,000 since 2001.
Hurt by a series of Taliban successes in “liberating” tribal areas and under pressure from the Americans to deliver in the “war on terror”, in the initial stages the Pakistan Army employed massive firepower to stem the rot. This was the case when operations were launched to liberate the Swat Valley (Operation Rah-e-Rast, May-June 2009) and South Waziristan (Operation Rah-e-Nijat, October-November 2009). Unmindful of civilian casualties, fighter aircraft, helicopter gunships and heavy artillery were freely used to destroy suspected terrorist hideouts. This heavy-handed, firepower-based, approach without simultaneous infantry operations on the ground failed to dislodge the militants. But it caused large-scale collateral damage and alienated the tribal population even further.
Counter-insurgency operations against the TTP in South Waziristan drove most of the fighters to North Waziristan, but for long the Army remained reluctant to extend its operations to this province. North Waziristan has rugged mountainous terrain that enables TTP militants to operate like guerrillas and launch hit-and-run raids against the security forces. When cornered, the militants find it easy to slip across the Durand Line and find safe sanctuaries in the Khost and Paktika provinces of Afghanistan.
On June 15, 2014, the Pakistan Army and Air Force launched Operation Zarb-e-Azb (sharp and cutting) – their much delayed offensive against the TTP in North Waziristan. The operation began with air strikes and was subsequently followed up with offensive counter-insurgency operations on the ground. Approximately 50,000 regular soldiers are involved in the operation. The air operations were assisted by US drone strikes, which caused extensive damage. As a result of the operation, one million civilians left their villages and became refugees. Many terrorists are claimed to have been killed, most of them foreign terrorists.
There can never be a purely military or a purely political solution to an insurgency. A successful counter-insurgency strategy is a dynamic but balanced mixture of offensive operations conducted with a humane touch and socio-economic development. Political negotiations to address the core issues of alienation of the population and other political demands must also be conducted with the local leadership simultaneously. The tribal culture prevailing in the NWFP and FATA, with its fierce ethnic loyalties and diffused leadership, makes the task of the Army and the government even more difficult.
Creeping Talibanisation and radical extremism are threatening Pakistan’s sovereignty. If the Army fails to conclusively eliminate the scourge in the north-west, it will soon reach Punjab, which has been relatively free of major incidents of violence. After that, it will only be a matter of time before the terrorist organisations manage to push the extremists across the Radcliffe Line into India. There has already been one major incident of violence at the Wagah border on the Pakistan side. It is in India’s interest that the Pakistan government succeeds in its fight against radical extremism. Else, India will have to fight the Taliban at the Atari-Wagah border.
Political turmoil, internal instability, a floundering economy and weak institutions make for an explosive mix. Pakistan is not yet a failed state, but the situation that it is confronted with could rapidly degenerate into unfettered disaster. All institutions of the state must stand together for the Pakistani nation to survive its gravest challenge. The Army and ISI must concentrate on fighting the enemy within, rather than frittering away energy and resources on destabilising neighbouring countries.


Two active Shia Muslims embraced martyrdom after they were made target by the notorious takfiri nasbi terrorists of Taliban-allied banned ASWJ (also known as Sipah-e-Sahaba and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi) on Monday night. They were laid to rest on Tuesday.

Notorious takfiri ASWJ terrorists opened fire upon Syed Aun Raza alias Aun Shah, a leading mourner belonging to Dasta-e-Al-Abbas (AS), Shia mourning organisation, and his friend Mutahir Jafari alias Sunny at a Motorcycle Shop in Musa Colony near Karimabad in district central of Karachi. They were seriously injured and rushed to a private hospital.
First, martyrdom hugged Aun Shah and then embraced Syed Matahir. Body of martyr Syed Aun was shifted to Jafar-e-Tayyar Society where his namaz-e-janaza was held on Tuesday (today). Body of martyr Matahir belonging to Jafaria Colony Gulbahar was shifted to Imam Bargah Shah-e-Karbala Rizvia Society where his namaz-e-janaza was held. Both martyrs were laid to rest amid slogans of Labbaik Ya Hussain (AS).
Shia parties and leaders have condemned the targeted assassinations of two active religious Shia Muslims in Karachi. They said that some pro-takfiri judges too are equally responsible for the Shia genocide because they don’t condemn the takfiri terrorists and if takfiris are condemned to death, the pro-takfiri judges stay their hanging. They said that nation has to hold these judges accountable alongside the pro-takfiri politicians and clerics. They demanded elimination of takfiris from every nook and corner of Pakistan.


Deobandi terrorist Malik Ishaq freed by Pakistan government


A takfiri Deobandi terrorist Malik Ishaq, dreaded chief of banned LeJ that has carried out attacks on minority Shias and the mastermind of the assault on the Sri Lankan cricket team in 2009, has been released after three years in jail with the Pakistan government not seeking an extension of his detention.
Ishaq has been under detention for the last three years under a public security order for making “provocative” speeches.
The government had detained Ishaq under Maintenance of Public Order (16 MPO), the same law under which key planner of 2008 Mumbai attacks Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi is being held after being granted bail by an anti-terrorism court.
The supreme court had granted Ishaq bail in July 2011 after which he was held under 16 MPO.
Ishaq’s release comes even as the government considers “radical changes” to tackle militancy after the Taliban school massacre in which 148 people, mostly children, were killed in Peshawar.
Ishaq’s release comes despite Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s pledge to eradicate the “cancer” of sectarianism.
The Punjab government on Monday produced Ishaq before a provincial review board comprising three judges of the Lahore High Court headed by Justice Manzoor in a high security here.
The officials of the home department, however, did not seek extension in his detention.
“Appeal for further extension in detention of Malik Ishaq is dismissed as withdrawn,” the review board said.
“Malik Ishaq is a free man now,” an official said. LeJ has claimed responsibility for a series of bloody attacks, including two bombings targeting Shiites in Quetta in 2013 that killed about 200 people.
Ishaq was also named as a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” by the US earlier this year.
The Shia community has strongly criticised the government for not seeking extension in the detention of Ishaq.
Ishaq, the influential co-founder of a Sipah-e-Sahaba, a breakaway group that is also linked with al-Qaeda and the Taliban, had told an Urdu daily in 1997 that he was involved in the killing of 102 Shias.
He was arrested the same year, and eventually charged in connection with 44 different cases, including the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in March 2009.
The Sri Lankan cricket team attack took place on March 3, 2009, when a bus carrying Sri Lankan cricketers, part of a larger convoy, was fired upon by 12 gunmen, near the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore.
Six members of the Sri Lankan cricket team were injured. Six Pakistani policemen and two civilians were also killed in the attack.


By Ravi Joshi
The December 16 killings of over 130 school children in Peshawar by terrorists was generally described as the 9/11 moment of Pakistan, a moment in which the Nation is shaken to its core and resolves to strike at the enemy with all its might. Even by the annals of terrorist killings in Pakistan, this was by far the most gruesome and barbaric incident. And it called for the most resolute response.
What then was the response of the Pakistan government? The Prime Minister of Pakistan called for an all-party meeting. The Army Chief flew to Kabul, seeking a meeting with the President of Afghanistan, apparently to seek extradition of Mullah Fazlullah, the head of Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) that claimed responsibility for the massacre of the children. How would Gen. Raheel Sheriff respond if President Ashraf Ghani demanded the reciprocal handing over of Mullah Omar or Haqqani from the sanctuaries of North Waziristan?
It is surprising that the Prime Minister felt compelled to call for an all-party meeting and build consensus on retaliating against such chilling brutality of the Taliban. This tells the whole story of the power of Taliban, both as an ideology and as a movement in Pakistan.

Multiple Talibans

First, the Taliban is not one homogenous monolith nor is it a ‘non-State’ actor. There are two distinct groups that are most powerful and active, the Afghan Taliban and the TTP. Then there is the Tehrik-e-Taliban Baluchistan which was created by the ISI to counter the Baluch nationalist organisations fighting for their independence. And there is the Punjabi Taliban which consists of the Lashkar-e-Toiba, Jaish-e Mohammed, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Sipah-e Sahiba and other groups that have all sprouted to take on different targets. The first two are aimed at India, while the last two are aimed at the Shia community in Pakistan.
Taliban’s origins are very much in the State agencies hence it cannot be called a non-State actor, particularly the Afghan Taliban which owes its survival and success to the Pakistani State.
The TTP was born out of a misadventure of Gen. Musharraf who permitted the siege of Lal Masjid in Islamabad, in January 2007, to take on larger than life proportions as he let the media focus on it to steal the thunder from Chief Justice Choudhary’s battle to unseat him through the legal process. Finally, when he ordered it to be cleared of all the clerics and their Talibs in July 2007, the security forces ended up killing the two mentors Maulana Abdul Aziz and his younger brother Abdur Rasheed Ghazi and 108 young men and women who were demanding the imposition of Sharia. Almost all the Islamist and jihadist organisations condemned the Army action as ‘desecration of a holy place’ and as ‘an assault on an Islamic institution being run by two revered brothers Aziz and Ghazi’.
The TTP was formed in reaction to this, in December 2007, with Baitullah Mehsood as the founder leader. Its sworn enemy was the Pak State and the Army. Since then, it has consistently launched spectacular attacks on Pakistan Air Force, Army and Naval bases, ISI provincial headquarters, the Jinnah International Airport, Karachi and now at an Army School in Peshawar. In fact, a week after the attack on Jinnah International Airport, i.e., on June 15, 2014, the now famous Zarb-e-Azb campaign was launched by the Army with about 30,000 soldiers. The operation was aimed at flushing out all the militants hiding in North Waziristan, including the TTP, Al-Qaeda, ETIM, the IMU and the Haqqani network. More than 600 militants have already been killed, according to Pak government sources.
Yet, the Taliban is too large and too fragmented to be taken up as one enemy. For Nawaz Sheriff to declare that there is ‘no good or bad Taliban’ is just an empty rhetoric and still part of the same old double-speak. They will continue to distinguish the good, bad and the ugly Taliban and take on only the one that hurts them most.

Structurally incapable

Pakistan is structurally incapable of taking on the Taliban, as a whole. First, every group of terrorists has a political godfather. While the Sheriff brothers find it convenient to support the Lashkar-e-Toiba in Punjab due to its large support base among the poor and landless labourers, Imran Khan’s anti-American stance finds ready takers in a large section of the army and the TTP, both essential constituencies for him firstly, in taking on Nawaz Sheriff at the national level and secondly, for his electoral success in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). Imran Khan’s refusal to name the Taliban (TTP) for the school massacre indicates that he is not fully on board. He has all along blamed the American War on Terror and the nature of Pakistani State’s rentier relationship with Washington for all the evils in the country. The political consensus, therefore, between the PML (Nawaz) and PTI of Imran is unlikely to last.
Second, Pakistan has ceded far too much political, religious and social space to the ideology and movements of the various Talibans. Talibanisation is not confined to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and the FATA. It pervades Punjab, Sindh and Baluch provinces too. Taliban are now seen as the defenders of Islam in the first ever Islamic State. To fight them on the religious front is almost impossible, particularly for a political class that is widely seen as corrupt and mercenary. The corruption of the clerics, both moral and material, can neither be exposed nor challenged by the media or the State.
Third, the failed education system has created thousands of madrassas with millions of Talibs being produced every year. A Pak Ministry of Interior Affairs report stated that ‘there are 20,000 seminaries in the country with 3 million students. … 64% of them were Deobandis, 25% of them Barelvis and 6% of them Wahabis.’ This was the position in November 2001. After 13 years, the number of seminaries and the Talibs has gone up multiple times. No government can afford to shut the seminaries down. Even an attempt to have them registered and regulate them during Gen. Musharraf’s time failed miserably.
Fourth, how does the Pakistani State cleanse its own army and the ISI of all the handlers, trainers, supporters and sympathisers of the Taliban? For years, they were a critical service wing for the Army just as the National Logistics Cell (Army’s transport wing) was for the Taliban during their rule in Kabul to smuggle drugs out of Afghanistan. It is a symbiotic relationship that cannot be severed without crippling the State.
Finally, the record of Pakistan army’s intermittent battles with the Taliban (TTP), punctuated by several peace accords (all broken before the ink is dry) just does not evoke confidence in the most recent proclamations. Despite the fact that the military operations in South and North Waziristan have been ongoing since 2002 as part of the War on Terror, the Pak Army’s performance is hardly inspiring. The fact that Baitullah Mehsood with just a few dozen militants could ambush a 17-vehicle convoy of armed officers and soldiers of Pak Army and take all 247 of them as hostages, in September 2007, without firing a single shot speaks volumes of the Army’s intent/capabilities as well as the prowess of the militants. This is not to assert that there have been no casualties in the war. According to Pakistani claims, over 40,000 people including 3000 soldiers and 63 ISI personnel have died. 20,000 militants have either been killed or captured. Yet the war continues with no clear victory in sight.
Whether the TTP and all other militants hiding in Waziristan will be eliminated or not, the 200,000 people that have been displaced from that area will forever remain a thorn in the flesh for the government of Pakistan. More refugees mean more recruits for the Islamic Jihad.


Last week, the Tehreek-e-Taliban-e-Pakistan (TTP or “Pakistani Taliban”) outraged the world when it attacked anArmy Public School in Peshawar. The attackers sprayed bullets frenetically, killing 145 persons among whom 132 were children. Ostensibly, this slaughter was a retaliation for the Pakistan army’s ongoing security operations in North Waziristan against those elements of the Pakistani Taliban who could not be persuaded to leave Pakistan to either fight Americans and their allies in Afghanistan or kill Indians in and beyond Kashmir. Amidst the bloodshed, Pakistan and international observers alike hope that such a watershed event will jolt Pakistan out of its somnolence and take its terrorist problems seriously. However, as with most things in Pakistan, such optimists should brace for disappointment.
Being a Student is an Occupational Hazard
Pakistan is the most dangerous place to be a student. Between 2009 and 2012, there were more than 838 attacks on schools in Pakistan. Terrorists have destroyed hundreds of schools, murdered teachers and academics, and even recruited children from public schools and madrassahs (religious seminaries) for suicide attacks. But this attack was different. First, although the school had sections for male and female students studying in the fifth through twelfth grades, the terrorists focused their heinous efforts on the boys’ section.. Second, the death toll was unprecedented. Third, it was an army public school. The majority of the students were themselves the children of military personnel in the Peshawar area. Fourth, unlike generic attacks on schools intended to terrify by attacking prominent state institutions, the terrorists selected this school because they sought to target the sons of specific army officers. They had even prepared a hit listfor the gruesome task. In an emailed statement, the Pakistani Taliban claimed that “more than 50 sons of important army officers were killed after being identified.” Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif described it as “the biggest human tragedy Pakistan may have ever seen.”
Business as Usual?
As the country mourned the loss of its children, Nawaz Sharif declared to the world that Pakistan would “continue the war against terrorism till the last terrorist is eliminated.” He assured global and domestic audiences alike that Pakistan would not differentiate between “good and bad Taliban.” In an effort to reassure his citizens that his government would deal with terrorists seriously, he even suspended the moratorium on the death penalty for terrorism-related cases. The moratorium had been in place since 2008. The spokesperson for Pakistan’s powerful military, Major-General Bajwa, bellowed, “For the military, there’ll be no discrimination among Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, Haqqani network or any other militant group.” Pakistan’s army chief travelled to Afghanistan where he met President Ashraf Ghani. Both vowed that the two countries would fight terrorism together. Some observers, such as Peter Bergen, echoed Pakistani talking points and opined that this atrocity “may prove as pivotal to Pakistan’s national security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the United States.”
Despite the upbeat assessments of such Panglossians, it is nearly certain that no matter how heinous this attack was, it will not motivate Pakistan to abandon its long-held reliance upon a flotilla of Islamist militant groups who operate with impunity in Afghanistan and India. After all, Pakistan has used Islamist militants as tools of foreign policy since 1947. With the acquisition of an existential nuclear deterrent as early as 1980, Pakistan became ever more bolder in its reliance upon these proxies. As Pakistan’s nuclear umbrella expanded, it became increasingly confident that India would not retaliate, nor would the United States muster the requisite scrotal fortitude to deal appropriately with this twinned menace of nuclear weapons and terrorism.

In fact, some optimists saw their hope for a new Pakistani policy on terrorism dashed even before all of the young victims were laid to rest. On December 18, two days after the attack, an Anti-Terrorism Court in Islamabad announced the bail of Lashkar-e-Taiba’s (LeT) notorious operations commander, Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, citing a lack of evidence against him.
The court ordered him to post a bond of 500,000 rupees (approximately $5,000) before he could be released. The move sparked outrage in India because Lakhvi was the mastermind behind the multi-day siege on India’s mega-port city of Mumbai in November 2008. In that operation, ten LeT gunmen operated in teams to assault numerous targets across the city. Before Indian forces at long last managed to put an end to the melee, the terrorists were able to kill 165 persons (including 28 foreigners) and injure another 293, the majority of whom were Indian. The release of Lakhvi could have potential importance for a revivified terror campaign in India. In September and October of this year, Pakistan’s army used shelling as a cover to insert record numbers of terrorists associated with LeT and another group, Jaish-e-Mohammad, into Indian-administered Kashmir.
Chagrined by the court’s decision on Lakhvi on the tails of the attack and worried that it would fuel further dubiety about Pakistan’s commitment to a “total war” on terror, the Sharif government moved to contain the damage. The government announced that he would be detained for another three months under the Maintenance of Public Order. In practice, it hardly matters whether he remains in jail or walks free. After all, Lakhvi’s tenure in jail was really more of a protective detention, as he continued to plan and execute operations with the support of his jailers. He had a luxury suite. He was free to meet with his cadres and others of his choosing. He enjoyed liberal conjugal visits and even fathered a child during his time as an inmate.
LeT is an important ally of the Pakistani deep state. Unlike other militant groups that fractured and gave way to the TTP, LeT has never attacked within Pakistan. It has remained a loyal proxy, restricting its operations to Afghanistan—where its operatives kill Americans, Indians, and Afghans, among others—and to India, in and beyond Kashmir. LeT remains loath to upset Pakistan’s military and intelligence agency, the ISI. After all, with their support, LeT enjoys unfettered latitude to recruit, fund raise, train, and plan operations from the safety of Pakistan.
LeT’s very existence in Pakistan and the unfettered active support it enjoys across the Pakistani state belies Pakistan’s assertion that it will not distinguish between good and bad terrorists. How can Pakistan expect the world to believe that it is no longer distinguishing between those useful killers who murder at the behest of the Pakistani state, like those of the LeT, and those it seeks to eliminate because they kill Pakistanis?

If Pakistan were seriously committed to extirpating Islamist militancy from its soil, it would have to not only eliminate the Pakistani Taliban, it would also have to dismantle and disable the LeT; the Afghan Taliban whose leadership resides in Pakistan’s Balochistan province and beyond and which enjoys extensive active state support; other so-called Kashmiri groups such as Jaish-e-Mohammad, which it has nurtured to kill Indians; as well as the Ahl-e-Sunnat-wal-Jamaat (ASWJ known formerly as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Sipah-e-Sahaba-e-Pakistan) which had killed thousands of religious minorities in Pakistan.
Then, There’s The Tiresome “Blame Game”
It is true that Pakistanis are in mourning for this tragic and senseless loss in Peshawar. However, outrage does not mean that Pakistanis blame the culpable parties. LeT’s leader, Hafiz Saeed, spoke to crowds massed in Lahore in his Punjabi-influenced Urdu to denounce the assailants: India. He was not alone in fingering India as the culprits. Former President Musharraf weighed in during a television interview:
Do you know who is Maulana Fazlullah? He is the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan commander. He is in Afghanistan. And I am reasonably sure that he was supported by former Karzai government and RAW [India’s external intelligence agency] to carry out terror attacks in Pakistan.
Similarly, during a popular television program, “infotainment celebrity,” Dr. Amir Liaquat explained to his rapt audience that the abominable crime was an Indian plot staged within Afghan territory. Unfortunately, such buffoonery is all too common. Indeed, many Pakistanis tend to believe thatIndia—or sometimes even Israel or the United States—is behind the various terror attacks and even floods in Pakistan.
How can Pakistan’s leaders credibly assert to their citizens and to the world that they take this menace seriously when they fail to take responsibility for the existence of terrorists and when they assiduously seek to externalize blame for their woes? Why would anyone believe that Pakistan’s military is discontinuing a long-held policy of distinguishing between “good militants” who operate on its behalf in Afghanistan and India and those “bad militants” who kill Pakistanis? The world should believe Pakistan has turned over a new leaf only if and when Pakistan forthrightly acknowledges that these incidents are due to blowback rather than some mysterious foreign hand, and when it first stops actively supporting the murderous menagerie it has nurtured and then works to permanently dismantle them.
No doubt, Pakistan will leverage these deaths to argue for continued American and international support for its selective war on terrorism. No doubt, Americans and their allies will continue writing checks, even if the checks grow smaller over time. However, there should be no doubt that many tens of thousands of Pakistanis are going to die before the Pakistan army abandons jihad as a tool of foreign policy.
Washington must be clear that as long as it pursues policies of appeasement and inducements, it is subsidizing the problems rather than ameliorating them.

Pakistan’s Baffling Response to Extremism

Despite the grief and rage that followed the massacre of 148 students and their teachers by Taliban militants at an army-run school in Peshawar last week, Pakistan persists in its duplicitous and self-defeating response to the extremism that is threatening the country. Immediately after the attack, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif promised that Pakistan would no longer distinguish between the “bad” Pakistani Taliban, which is seeking to bring down the Pakistani state, and other “good” Taliban groups that for years have been supported or exploited by Pakistan’s Army and intelligence service to attack India and wield influence in Afghanistan. What his words should mean is that Pakistan will no longer tolerate any extremists. But initial indications are not promising.
Just two days after the massacre, for instance, a Pakistani court granted bailto a militant commander accused of orchestrating the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, that killed 166 people. The suspect, Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, is a member of Lashkar-e-Taiba, one of the “good” Taliban groups that focuses on attacking India and has links to the Pakistani Army.
The decision does not mean that Mr. Lakhvi will be out of prison soon because the government can keep him in detention under a special legal provision, as it should. But it is a reminder of the absurdly slow pace of his trial, which began in 2009, and how Pakistan has failed to ensure justice for India, which it considers its chief enemy, and the victims and families of the Mumbai attacks.
Experts say that even in detention Mr. Lakhvi has been given considerable freedom and has continued to direct militant operations. Pakistani authorities got tough with Lashkar after Mumbai but have since allowed the group to re-establish itself. Its leader, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, lives in the city of Lahore even though the United States has offered $10 million for his arrest. And, on Friday, according to The Times’s Declan Walsh, Mr. Lakhvi’s brother-in-law gave a sermon at a mosque in Hyderabad that accused NATO of sending “terrorists disguised as Muslims” into Pakistan and then linked the Peshawar attack to India.
Many Indians expressed sympathy for the victims of the Peshawar massacre — a tragedy that should have been an opportunity for the two countries to find common cause against extremism. Instead, the granting of bail to Mr. Lakhvi drew shock and condemnation from India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, who said he has protested strongly to Islamabad.
Since the massacre, the army has also intensified its bombing of militant strongholds in the lawless border near Afghanistan. While such action is necessary, it will never be enough to deal with the threat. Pakistanis cannot expect to fight some extremists and enable others, especially when there is considerable cooperation among the groups.
The country also needs a stronger civilian government, a credible judicial system and an end to religious schools that promote intolerance. In the aftermath of the massacre, many Pakistanis have spoken out against the militant threat. The question is whether the country can harness this outrage and grief into something positive.

Can Pakistan finally give up the ‘good Taliban’?

By Ishaan Tharoor

In the aftermath of last week's brutal terrorist attack by the Taliban on a school in the Pakistani city of Peshawar, which left 148 dead, the country's authorities responded with a firm, if heavy, hand.
Pakistani officials dubbed the massacre a "mini-9/11," a tragic moment of reckoning in the country's history. "Terrorism and sectarianism are a cancer for this country and now the time has come to root it out," said Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Monday.
The Pakistani military carried out a "blitzkrieg" of airstrikes on suspected Taliban positions, allegedly killing dozens of militants. Authorities alsolifted a moratorium on capital punishment in the country, and set about executing those with death sentences for terrorism charges. Six people have already been hanged, while some 50 more face imminent execution, according to reports. As many as 500 inmates on death row in Pakistan could be executed in the coming weeks.
Many are not impressed by this grim display of resolve. It is the response,observes Ahsan Butt, an assistant professor of international affairs at George Mason University, of a "punch-drunk state lashing out" with "the strategic equivalent of a non sequitur."
International rights groups fear that some of the Pakistani inmates slated now for execution are innocent of crimes. In their rush to avenge Peshawar’s slain children, Pakistan's leaders may be inflicting more injustice.
It's clear that many in Pakistan want the Taliban to pay for their crime. And it's also clear that there's a recognition among some Pakistanis that many of their country's wounds are self-inflicted. The Taliban, after all, were incubated for years by the Pakistani state as "strategic depth" in the larger geopolitical battles taking place in neighboring Afghanistan. In the past half a decade, a segment of the militants turned and targeted the machinery of the Pakistani state, imposing sharia law in remote areas where they held sway while killing hundreds of innocents.
Some Pakistanis came to tolerate a terrible dichotomy: the Pakistani Taliban were "bad," while others, whose forays across Pakistan's borders served the interests of elements of the military, were "good." The Afghan Taliban's leadership has long found sanctuary in Pakistan--so too other extremists, most notably Osama bin Laden.
Sharif has insisted no such distinction will be allowed, and that all the militant groups in the country "would be dealt equally with an iron hand." The Pakistani military has spent the better part of the year on a ruthless military campaign against Taliban factions in the country's rugged, remote tribal border areas. Thousands of militants have been killed and hundreds of thousands of civilians have been displaced.
But the problem of tackling militancy in Pakistan goes deeper than airstrikes and counterinsurgency. It's far too early to judge what lessons have been learned after the horrors of Peshawar, and who has learned those lessons. Public opinion over Islamist militancy remains mixed, with many more wary of supposed external enemies in the West and India.
As WorldViews discussed earlier, conspiracy mongers, Islamists and hard-line nationalists pinned the Peshawar attacks on India, on Afghanistan, on Arab outsiders – anyone but Pakistanis. The attitudes and ideologies that have condoned militancy in the past won’t go away overnight.
Just days after the massacre, a Pakistani court granted bail to a militant believed to be one of the masterminds of the 2008 terror attack in Mumbai. It was launched by Lashkar-e-Taiba, an Islamist militant group whose charity arm held a mournful mass prayer for the slain children of Peshawar and whose prominent leader Hafiz Saeed held a public gathering in the city of Lahore, blaming India for the slaughter – an absurd accusation that would be laughable were it not for the fact that far too many in Pakistan still choose to believe it.
Despite the consensus about dealing with the Taliban in their frontier hideouts, there’s little will among Pakistan’s political and military establishment to confront head-on groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba and others that operate in the country’s heartland.
Husain Haqqani, a former Pakistani ambassador to the United States,writes at length on the roots of this schizophrenia, which he argues stems from the country’s origins as a haven for South Asia’s Muslims:
Pakistan’s constructed identity emphasises religion and ideology at the expense of ethnic, linguistic and sectarian diversity of a complex society. As a result, the country’s approach to national security has been driven by ideological rather than pragmatic considerations...
The ideology of Pakistan, and the falsified historic narrative taught in schools to justify it, produces sympathy in society for Sharia rule, for an Islamic caliphate and an Islamic state. This works in favour of more than 33 militant groups that operate out of Pakistan. Pakistan’s strategic planners may see no difficulty in eliminating global terrorists and fighting local jihadis while supporting regional ones. But the general public is conflicted in its attitude towards jihadi groups. Unfortunately for those who want to stop the [Pakistani Taliban], their rhetoric about Sharia and against western values resonates with supporters of other, ostensibly ‘more palatable’, jihadi groups even if their methods are abhorred by Pakistanis.
The fragility of Pakistani nationalism – to this day, more South Asian Muslims are non-Pakistani than Pakistani – has allowed it to become an umbrella for unsavory extremism. That requires a very difficult reckoning, one for which some fear the country is still not ready.
“A national conversation like that remains improbable, however, in the climate of fear established by religious extremists and their many allies among mainstream political parties and the media,” writes Butt.
Some of the harshest critics of Pakistan’s security state doubt even the Peshawar massacre will shake the convictions of elements within the Pakistani establishment that remain tacitly or directly in collusion with extremist forces. This includes a wing of the ISI, Pakistan’s notorious military intelligence agency.
“Unfortunately, many tens of thousands of Pakistanis will die long before the army gives up its jihad habit,” writes Georgetown University's Christine Fair. “And there is absolutely no amount of American, British or other aid or forms of inducements that can change this basic truth."

Pakistan - #PeshawarAttack - Leadership in the age of terror

Ayaz Amir

Neville Chamberlain was British prime minister when the Second World War broke out. By the time of Hitler’s attack on France six months later it was clear to the British political class, especially in the House of Commons, that Chamberlain just would not do. And although Winston Churchill was not everyone’s idea of a popular figure – there being those who disliked him intensely – everyone was agreed that in Britain’s hour of peril he was the man to lead it. 

Our world war is the fight against religious extremism even if it has taken the Peshawar carnage to bring this home to most people. Much of the old confusion has melted away and there are no more takers for the nonsense so beloved of the political class that the scourge of religious terrorism was best addressed through talks and the endless holding out of olive branches. Even Taliban sympathisers, of whom there was no shortage in our climate, have had to hold their tongues and their horses.

When even Maulana Fazlur Rehman comes out against the Taliban, when even Imran Khan’s PTI comes out finally into the open against them, when brave women and men gather in front of the Lal Masjid in Islamabad to denounce the Taliban supporter, Maulana Abdul Aziz, when even a Taliban sympathiser like the interior minister Nisar Ali Khan has to change his tune – although for all his new bluster he still can’t come around to throwing Maulana Aziz out of Lal Masjid, who has no business addressing the Friday congregation or leading the prayers there – then we know that something fundamentally has changed.

But the leadership question remains. Does Nawaz Sharif have it in him to lead the nation in war? Can he be an effective war leader? The initial signs are scarcely encouraging. No one could have missed his lost and uncomfortable expression when he visited General Headquarters soon after the Peshawar barbarity. You did not have to be there to feel that the generals were taking the decisions while the war leader was there as a toneless symbol, not comprehending or not liking what was being said. The expression captured by the cameras says it all.

So what we are seeing in the aftermath of Peshawar is a takeover in all but name, the army calling the shots and the government and the other political parties struggling to keep up with the army, almost afraid not to be out of step.

Still, it could not be lost on anyone that while the army without a moment’s hesitation intensified operations against the Taliban, the government and the political class have given themselves a week’s time to think through a ‘national action plan against terrorism’. Were they sleeping all this while? Had they not emerged out of their peace trance? Did it require Peshawar for them to come to their senses? 

I have mentioned this before. Permit me to say it again. I had gone to the Staff College in Lahore to give some kind of a lecture and among the attending trainees was a key prime ministerial aide, by the name of Fawad. The topic was ‘terrorism’ and as at the time – a bit after the elections – the government was loudly proclaiming the preparation of a ‘counterterrorism policy’, Fawad, part of that exercise, was asked about it. Quoting, if I remember correctly, Roosevelt and other authorities, he took at least me by surprise when he said and repeated that while they were preparing a grand plan against terrorism the enemy had yet to be identified. 

With this enlightened frame of mind Nawaz Sharif’s government drifted into the All Parties Conference in September last year, the resolution passed at the end of it reading almost like an apologia for the Taliban. So it is hardly surprising that when the carnage in Peshawar happened, shattering the complacency of the political parties, they were left groping for answers and needed a week’s time to marshal their thoughts. 

Where in the world are decisions taken in this manner? The army went into action right away, without awaiting the wisdom of the political leadership. (Then we go red in the face talking of military-civilian imbalance.) Imagine Bhutto chairing the moot in Peshawar instead of Nawaz Sharif. We would have had an ‘action plan’ there and then…and an impassioned address to the nation into the bargain. There would have been no ducking of responsibility by taking cover behind the need for consultations.

Is this the way to pick up the pieces and defeat the scourge of religious terrorism? Pakistan needs leadership, now more than ever. In other than where his own interest is involved, the prime minister looks bewildered most of the time. Is he the man to provide this leadership?

Who can miss the dichotomy at work here? When it comes to projects close to his heart, to the exercise called ‘mega-projects’, there is no one more alert than Nawaz Sharif…no consultations for the unwanted metro project which has torn Islamabad apart, making parts of it look like a battle zone…no all-parties conference for such brain-testing ideas as a railroad track to Murree and Muzaffarabad.

If for most people Pakistan’s foremost problem is religious extremism, for the prime minister it is the Lahore-Karachi Motorway. And guess with whom the National Highway Authority has signed an MOU for this project? As revealed in a television programme, it is with a Chinese company and a Qatar company headed by ex-Senator Saifur Rehman.

This is rich. For this is the same individual, the same crony, who as head of the National Accountability Bureau during Nawaz Sharif’s last stint as prime minister, 1997-99, earned a reputation for hounding Sharif opponents. He was the one caught on tape talking to Justice Malik Abdul Qayyum – who at the time acted almost as a ‘family judge’ of the Sharifs, all cases pertaining to the family miraculously finding their way to his bench – and asking him to expedite the cases against Benazir Bhutto and her husband. The leaking of this conversation caused all the cases to collapse.

(According to one account, in Gen Musharraf’s time when Asif Zardari and Saifur Rehman came face to face in jail, Saifur Rehman did a bit of grovelling and asked his pardon. He later went to Qatar.)

Anyone could have been forgiven for thinking that after all this exposure and high drama we had seen the last of this colourful character. But old ties are thicker than water. He is back with more than a bang, involved in nothing smaller than the proposed Lahore-Karachi Motorway Project and, as the same TV report reveals, in a mega coal-fired power project near Karachi.

He is welcome to his projects but the point here is different. Should there be room for such blatant cronyism when the nation is in a state of war? The larger question is whether business tycoons, with endless commercial interests, can make good war leaders?

Even if inadequacy – in other than commercial matters – wasn’t enough of a factor, Imran Khan’s sustained political assault has further weakened and bruised the confidence of the present setup. The space thus created is being filled by the army. You don’t special specs to see this happening.

Can this arrangement last? Can the imagination of the Pakistani people be fired up by a clueless leadership? 

The democratic argument is interesting. Democratic continuity should on no account be compromised. But nagging thought: how does replacing Chamberlain with Churchill sacrifice democratic continuity? In our own time the Tory party in Britain put a knife in Mrs Thatcher’s back and replaced her with a more acceptable figure. The Labour Party got rid of Tony Blair. Pakistan seems to have no mechanism for a similar knifing arrangement.