Sunday, April 24, 2011

A tale of two Pakistans!

Can a professional soldier of the like of Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani afford telling lies to his young cadets while the country is in an active state of war? The answer should be no but with due respect to all chauvinist nationalist Pakistanis the general was misleading his young soldiers at Kakul during the passing-out parade by telling them that army has broken the back of militants in Pakistan.
A bloody civilian thinks it the other way round--militants have rather broken the state’s structure during the last 10 years. Today, observers see two Pakistans—one under the direct or indirect control of the Taliban and the other is shared by pro-Taliban military, right-wingers and those who are termed as ‘secular’ forces.
In Pakistan-I, FATA, parts of Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan have been left to the Taliban and their ideological allies. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is the name of the game in villages and towns in FATA ranging from South Waziristan in the south to Bajaur in the north. The TTP has successfully closed down hundreds of schools in FATA, depriving thousands of youth from education where dropout rate at primary level has been recorded at 69 per cent during the last six years. The militancy has dropped the literacy level from 29 percent to 17.42 percent in FATA, rendering tribal youth vulnerable to terrorist activities.
The Taliban have their own police/patrol system in Pakistan-I.  They behead the dissidents on charges of spying, run suicide bomber training schools, target peaceful civilians and satiate their Jehadist hunger by launching attacks against US-led forces in Afghanistan in a bid to restore the former Taliban regime and thereby install a government friendly to Islamabad.
The continuous anti-US activities in Pakistan-I is making it a dollar charmer for Pakistan-II. The latter received over US $15 billion so far from Washington only for carrying out inconclusive, non-delivering and unmonitored military operations against militants in Pakistan-I. The Taliban forced the industrial, educational, cultural, political and economic exit from Pakistan-I via attacking all forms of civilization--markets, hospitals, schools, mosques, women, political activists, teachers, artists, cultural centers, Pashtunwali, hujras, banks, police stations, and transport system.
In Baluchistan too, Jamiat-e-Ulama-i-Islam (F), the leading pro-Taliban religious party, has full control of the crucial regions bordering Afghanistan.  The Quetta Shura, medical assistance facilities for the wounded Taliban, resting camps for fighting Taliban in Afghanistan and increasing support for the Taliban are the trademarks of Quetta, Chaman, Zhob, Qilla Saifullah and Toba Kakari. Its remoteness from the international watchdogs makes the region the most suitable ground for extremism.
The other hemisphere, Pakistan-II, includes the Rawalpindi GHQ, central and urban centers of Punjab, Sindh province, and the not so far Taliban-affected areas elsewhere. The literacy rate here stands at around 79 percent as per Unecif and other organizations’ surveys. The extremist ideology in Pakistan-II is not out of the question but its ugly face is not visible to an ordinary patriotic Pakistani and international terror watchdogs. The scenes of children going to schools in the morning, liberals’ gatherings in the evenings, throngs in front of theatres and cinemas, women movement, economic activities, the revolving industrial wheel, political and rights’ groups activism, however, give a shining layer to the hidden Talib and extremism in Pakistan-II.
The military, civilian establishment and media of Pakistan-II are the ones who believe a strong Pakistan is possible with a strategic depth in Afghanistan. They are the ones who believe drones against the hiding terrorists on Pakistani soil is a violation of sovereignty but abandoning its writ to non-state actors is defined as national interests.
The people of Pakistan-I are, therefore, not convinced when they hear the COAS general Kayani of Pakistan-II that army has broken militants’ back. They laugh in their sleeves when a Lahore-based politician a la Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif of PML (N) and Imran Khan of PTI oppose drone attacks against terrorists in FATA. Their silence on beheading of the peace loving tribal elders, suicide attacks, destruction of schools and other civic amenities question the sincerity of Pakistan-II.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Pakistani laborers oiling their necks for the 'holy' sword

Pakistan’s time tested friend and a brother in faith, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), has the largest number of Pakistani prisoners on a foreign land. A former ambassador of Pakistan to the Kingdom puts Pakistani prisoners’ number at over 4,000 as of late 2010. Its arch rival India has at just 761 Pakistani prisoners as per official record presented in Pakistan’s National Assembly in February this year. 
In KSA, every month an average of three Pakistanis and may be six to eight South Asians are executed by sword on charges like robbery, murder, drug trafficking and disputes on delayed payments of wages.
In India, punishments for Pakistani prisoners are mainly long-term prison sentences. In recent memory, only one Pakistani, Ajmal Kasab, comes to mind, who has been sentenced to death in India. His crime was well-known and even his family could not deny it. The charges against Pakistanis in Indian jails include espionage, terrorism, illegal and inadvertent border crossings to visa violations such as overstay and travel to cities not mentioned in the permit.
However, Pakistani state, civil society, human rights activists and media do not respond to the Pakistani prisoners' plight in KSA the same way they do to those in India’s jails. Prisoners deserve a universal sympathy whether they are victims of political vindication or injustice. But in Pakistan’s case the prisoners’ cause is fought with a bias and expediency.
Those who follow the news regularly know it for a fact that the ‘prisoners issue’ has always remained as one of top agenda items in Pak-India talks. The state has always described the release or exchange of prisoners between the two countries as part of confidence building measures (CBMs). Once or twice in a three months' time, media reports on a chunk of prisoners' exchange between Islamabad and New Delhi.
The largest ever presence of Pakistanis in KSA prisons has never been an issue on table when Pakistan’s military and civilian leaders meet their Saudi counterparts. Rather, the agenda of Pak-Saudi Arabia official meetings are as secret as meetings between Pakistan’s Army chief and his corps commanders.
The civil society, rights activists and media too consider KSA as a sacred cow when it comes to rolling down heads of Pakistanis off the sword in the so-called holy land. The activists’ silence on flagrant violation of human rights in KSA has approved beheadings of Pakistanis and other humans from the poor nations as a legal and justified action on the part of Saudi authorities. These groups, on the contrary, have limited their activism to Pak-India prisoners and other issues. The campaign for Dr Chishty is the latest example.  He has been languishing in an Indian jail for the last 19 years. Good for him and kudos to the activists for raising his case at a higher level.
However, three Pakistani prisoners--Rahmul Wahab, Muhammad Abdur Rehman and Bashir Hussain Afridi--too need support at a very crucial moment of their lives. They are poor Pakistanis who have been convicted on fabricated murder cases in KSA. The three were sentenced to death on March 29, 2011 and if their appeal is not accepted, their heads are to be cut off with a Jallad’s sword in the coming days or weeks.
They have been in Saudi jail since 1999 on charges of killing a Pakistani, a charge they deny but have been forced to admit after going through all sorts of torture in custody. Their relatives have told Pakistani Senators that they paid four million rupees as head money to the victim’s family despite the fact that they were not involved in the murder. The Senators called on the government to get the prisoners released and tell Saudi Arabia not to treat imprisoned Pakistanis like animals. Already, Saudi authorities beheaded one Pakistani in the same case seven years ago. The victim’s brother and uncle were also charged in the murder but were released even after one of them admitted to the killing.
During the last fifteen years in prison, the authorities have taken out their nails several times, plucked out their chest hair, beaten them up with irons, paraded them naked, shocked them with electricity and were forced to confess to the murder of two more women and their kids, whom they have never seen or heard of.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Pakistani media in bed with khaki

We may not know it but what we contribute to the nation as journalists is called ‘embedded journalism. Like our text books, our headlines are full of filth against politicians or, to be precise, against anyone who is not wearing ‘khaki’. The media coverage against non-khakis has created a perception that associates every negative thing with civilian leadership. With term ‘corruption’ in Pakistani context politicians come to mind, ‘traitor’ reminds one of Pakistan’s nationalist leaders, ‘luxury and riches’ refer to the elected prime minister's office and his cabinet, ‘CIA agent’ stands for a top rank civilian leader and ‘sex scandals’ are considered as trade mark of politicians.
Contrary to this, media gurus overwhelm their audience with political expediencies and ideologies that serve the interests of one institution and its chiefs, military and generals. Every time, they refer to a serving general as a ‘thoroughly professional soldier. When a serving general's tenure is extended, media will not go with a headline or a sentence telling the masses that the generals are blackmailing the weak civilian leadership. Rather they try to convince the audience by telling that “the sensitive nature of security situation required the general to retain his position for a couple of few more years. In talks with the CIA, the media will, for example, say: “ISI gave a tough message on drone attacks to its US counterpart.”
The apparently independent but ‘embedded’ in the true sense,  journalists and columnists coin all possible positive terms for the military and its managers. Raise a question on embezzlement in the forces and the embedded media will argue: “No, military has its own accountability system and its very professional,” as if the civilian government has no accountability. The term ‘discipline’ for example is used only for the military in Pakistan. “Bravery”, “patriotism”, “martyrdom”, “honesty”, and ‘victory” are some other characteristics that can define only military leadership in Pakistan. In case of army's misdeeds, media concentrates on planted stories of heroic deeds. Kargil misadventure, ‘highjacking’ of General Musharraf's plane, and military’s role in Afghanistan or Kashmir are some of the examples where media in general follows the Khakis’s version of the events. Columnists sometime condemn some ambitious generals when they die or lose power but their wise words also tell the masses that the new general is different from the previous one.
The military code in media is so much dominant that it demonizes the best qualities of democracy. The disagreement among politicians on an issue in Pakistan is, for example, considered a prelude to a change in power instead of showing it as a democratic value. The hot debates on the floor of the House are termed as ‘fish market’ and there is no question mark to the hushed corps commanders' meetings, approving its privacy and secrecy even if they are cooking a big scheme against the elected government.
A huge stuff in media, especially the opinion pages and talk shows, are considered incomplete without an ex-military man as an expert. Their contributions are welcome but they go unchecked in their description of facts. That reminds of the ‘embedded story telling practice’--a selective sort of journalism seen in US media coverage of Iraq and Afghanistan wars. In Pakistan, however, embedded journalism is applied to every theme and story to protect its defense, honor and superiority. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Is Pakistani blood cheaper than Saudi oil?

Wanna kill a Pakistani? Do it on the sacred soil of Saudi Arabia, a market of cheap Pakistani blood. It’s harmless, not counter-productive and widely considered as ‘justice is being done’. The beheading of a Pakistani in Saudi Arabia has a legal cover as it is tagged with a court verdict; has a public approval as the Sharia does it; both Islamabad and Riyadh are not willing to make it an issue of ‘dishonor’; and receives a positive coverage in Pakistan’s right wing media, dominated by Jama’at-e-Islami (JI) brigade and other embedded journalists.
There are no protests by Jehadists, JI or Jamiat-e-Ulama-e-Islam (JUI), as all of them are the direct beneficiaries of Saudi Arabia’s funds allocated for expanding radical Sunni Islam and Wahabi Sharia beyond its borders. Neither the champions of Pakistan’s honor namely Hameed Gul, Imran Khan and their likes incite feelings of revenge and hate in talk shows hosted by un-uniformed civilian anchors. And why should they complain? Every beheading entertains the true believers of faith and the ‘God fearing subjects’ of the holy land after their Friday prayers. Every third or sixth week, a Pakistani or a national of another South Asian country is beheaded by sword to feed the “Wahabi Sharia” of Saudi Arabia.
The beheading of Pakistanis is not a topic of discussion in the foreign office weekly briefings, corps commanders’ meetings and newly emerging state-sponsored think tanks.  Unlike Reymond Davis saga’s victims and Aafia Siddiqi, a family member of KSM, no one questions the legality of Pakistani citizens’ beheadings that began since the first Pakistani daily wager became an economic immigrant in Saudi Arabia. One apparent reason for the silence over the judicial killings of Pakistanis in Saudi Arabia is the close relations between the two brotherly Muslim nations. Compare this state-level hush on the beheadings of Pakistanis on drug trafficking, robbery and rape charges with the hue and cry raised over the trial of Pakistani terrorist Ajmal Kasab, who moved down scores of innocent people on November 28, 2008 in a crowded train station in Mumbai, before he was arrested red-handed
As if the religious parties’ approval and state’s silence are not enough, the Pakistani newspapers and private electronic media do report the beheadings stories doing ‘due justice’ with it by telling their audience “two more Pakistani were beheaded in Ryadh on charges of drug trafficking after Friday prayers.” The source of the story is always Saudi Press Agency (SPA), a state controlled propaganda tool.
Nowhere in the world a journalist buys the version of a state-controlled media organ while reporting an event without questioning its credibility but in Pakistan it’s not the case. The so-called champions of journalism in this country, however, treat SPA and Xinhua’s (Chinese State news agency) reports as heavenly scriptures. Like Saudi’s other friends in Pakistan, the embedded journalists too fail to question the frequent beheadings of Pakistanis in Saudi Arabia in its editorials or talk shows. Nor the media managers ever talked to the victims of the Wahabi justice system of Saudi Arabia to give their version on their alleged involvement in murder, trafficking or robbery.
A report in the Arab News has quoted the then Pakistani ambassador telling 4000 Pakistanis were languishing in Saudi jails. Even if a one twentieth of these prisoners are accused of crimes punishable with ‘beheading by sword’, the Saudi courts can easily send three of them for public beheading each week of the year. A few of these prisoners have told their families, friends and media that they were innocent. One latest example is the case of three Pakistanis who have been condemned to beheading in the public by a Saudi court despite the fact that they have paid blood money to the victim’s family. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly raised the issue on April 12, 2011 calling on the Saudi authorities to release the Pakistanis after payment of the blood money. They already spent 15 years in Saudi jail in the same case, facing all sorts of custodial torture including taking out nails of the alleged criminals by the jail authorities. They were also named in the murder of Indonesian women while they were languishing in the jail. This is a good case reflecting Saudi Arabia’s power vis-à-vis Pakistan—the former paid the blood money to the victims of CIA contractor Raymond Davis and got a favorable verdict for him from a Pakistani court but it resists a similar arrangement for the three Pakistanis who per Saudi law don’t need to spend one more night in the jail.
Pakistanis coming from Saudi Arabia tell stories of the judicial biases they face in the kangaroo courts of Saudi Arabia. In cases where they are not paid for their services, the courts are notoriously known for favoring the locals. Many more are being arrested on charges of sharing accommodations with an alleged drug trafficker. The Saudi justice model doesn’t provide the services of an attorney to an alleged criminal, a model not compatible in human justice system since late 19th century in the civilized world. An alleged criminal in Saudi Arabia even doesn’t know who is advocating his case.  
One can hope that the champions of Pakistan’s honor in cases of Reymond Davis, Aafia Siddiqui and Ajmal Kasab will one day also tell Saudis: Your royal Excellency! Pakistani blood is not that cheap and stop rolling down their heads off the bloody sword in the name of so-called (Wahabi) Sharia.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

His Royal Highness in khaki!

This is a glimpse of the house of a retired brigadier in Islamabad’s posh area. Two Mercedes cars, one for the ‘Sab’ and one for his daughter, are parked in the courtyard. ‘Begum Sab’ is out with her son in her own car to a shopping mall. The son lives in the U.S. but is on vacation to see parents in Islamabad. A garden in front of the lounge is blooming with flowers—seeds of some were sent by a friend in Australia. A bearded, wearing a knitted cap, is sprinkling the lush green garden with water.
In one corner of the plush bungalow is standing a large, corroding wooden door as a decoration piece the retired army officer had ‘purchased’ in Swat. The corridor, connecting the lounge and garden, is laden with a lion’s skin at one end, Afghani carpets on the floor, horses and dogs’ paintings hanging on the walls, family portraits, a statue of a man and woman belonging to some ancient civilization and a few pieces fixed here and there, showing the modern world’s beauty.
The interior of the lounge has a bit of everything—a combination of marble and wood work, Italian furniture, hand-woven carpets, embroidered cushions on sofas—a specialty of women in Swat Valley, a Chiniot-made wooden coffee table and side tables and hardly a blank space on the four walls of the lounge. The brigadier hints at one portrait and tells a visiting western journalist he bought it for $5000 in 1982 during a trip to Paris. The whole lounge is a gallery of paintings—British red coat military marching in some Indian battlefield, a dancing girl in a Moghal court, hounds chasing terrified rabbits in a sub-continent autumn, a Bengali girl with her long black hair trying to cover her exposed breasts, a battlefield full of elephants and horses. Pictures of the ‘Sab’ when he was young wearing khaki, a shot of his days when he was playing polo, ‘Sab and Begum Sab’ on their marriage day, the newly married couple on honeymoon, group pictures with batch fellows, some retired as generals, hand-shakings with prominent military generals and many more pictures of their kids. A number of crossed swords, flags, badges and models of guns and cannons are placed on walls and surfaces of tables.
‘Sab’ has a busy schedule. He has his farm 15 miles away from his residence where he goes every day to see his two horses of Clydesdale breed, walk around, take fresh breath, play some light games, and do gardening. His farm house is somewhere near Chuck Shehzad, a suburb of Islamabad. The value of one horse is Rs 700,000.00 and monthly maintenance is unknown. At least four men take care of the farm house and the properties there. He is fond of riding horse but says his age doesn’t allow him to go for a race. His men help him controlling the horse if it gets wild while carrying its master’s burden on the back. He recently abandoned hunting trips in Punjab’s wild lands. His preys included rabbits, fawns, birds and “democracy too”, the journalist said laughingly while adding to the Sab’s list of victims.
When at home, he roams around with a dog in his beautiful two canal house with a military stick in hand, wearing black glasses and a cowboy cap on his head. His favorite dress is safari suit. The golden strip of his new watch was speaking of its quality. His shoes are not ‘made in Pakistan’ and so was his shirt. His lounge was not declared a ‘no-smoking’ zone and the former military official showed his skills in cigar two times in a session of one and a half hour. He has watched almost all hit movies of Hollywood. The movies had made him a great fan of the West, he told the visiting journalist. The Hollywood’s influence on his mindset was very much visible though he was a lonely character at the time of the meeting.
“This country has given us everything—thanks God,” he said while condemning politicians’ role in the 1971 War. He was one of the veterans of the war that led to the fall of Dhaka. The meeting was aimed at recording his recollections of the 1971 war. The brigadier didn’t agree with the stories of atrocities by then West Pakistan military in Bengal nor did he seem repentant of its role in the war. He rejected Hamood ur Rehman Commission report ( though he agreed with some of its portions. He opined the majority Bengalis didn’t want fighting with their Muslim brothers but India and lack of political will in Pakistan caused the catastrophe. He didn’t buy politicians’ role in securing release of over 90,000 Pakistani military men from Indian prisons, adding the move rather rectified the mistakes of civilian leaders.
The meeting on a cup of tea ended as Sab’s plain-clothed chauffer with a  knitted white cap was ready to drive his master to Lahore. He wanted to settle a land dispute with his relatives there. “You are lucky. In your country you don’t spend years to owe your properties”, he told the visiting journalist.
The session with the former military official in his house was limited only to his lounge. We didn’t see how the master bedroom and other rooms will look like and how the house kitchen works. It was a view of the 30 percent or so of his bungalow. He is a filthy rich, the journalist later said. He valued his one black Mercedes car at $40,000, counted seven servants in the house and was not sure about the value of his posh residence and other properties.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Suicide attacks and Mullahs' hypocracy

Taliban need as many as 260 trained suicide bombers to carry out at least five suicide attacks per week in a year time. This is a conservative estimate based on Taliban statements, claiming they have trained hundreds of young boys for suicide missions in Pakistan alone. Add the weekly attacks in Afghanistan and the figure will jump up to an average eight suicide attacks per week in the two neighboring countries. Or, this is the weekly average of suicide attacks in the two countries since 2009.
This scenario becomes more alarming in the absence of even a single credible religious leader either in Pakistan or Afghanistan with guts to condemn the increasing suicide attacks. The conservative leaders of the mainstream religious parties in the two countries keep either a sheepish or approving mum. Maulana Fazlur Rehman, leader of the Jamiat-e-Ulama-i-Islam (JUI) in Pakistan, with more seats in elected bodies of the country than any other religious party, is side-stepping the suicide attacks by speaking against the CIA-controlled drones that keep targeting the epicenter of terror in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
His Afghan counterparts, Abdul Rab Rasul Sayyaf, leader of the Islamic Union for the Liberation of Afghanistan and once a close ally of Osama bin Laden and Professor Burhanuddin Rabbani, chairman Peace Council, former Afghan president, and leader of the Jamiat-e-Islami are busy in securing their share in the West’s booty that has showered on Kabul after 9/11. They somehow juxtaposed their politics vis-à-vis Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan while presenting themselves as the good Afghan Mullahs.
The mainstream Mullahs and Maulanas in Pakistan and Afghanistan have a more ‘appeasing’ policy towards suicide attacks and are members of different reconciliatory committees to negotiate with the dissident Taliban. In case of Maulana Fazlur Rehman, he made several direct and indirect offers for reconciling Afghan Taliban, claiming his influence over the renegade Taliban Shura. Mr Rabbani has been chosen as leader of the recently formed Afghan Peace Council.
Religious leaders sitting in parliaments in Islamabad and Kabul have failed to call in a national or regional gathering to condemn the killings of more than 9620 civilians in Pakistan  and over 10000 in Afghanistan in the last several years.  A good number of the causalities include victims of the suicide attacks in the two countries.
The secular leaders and parties have filled the vacuum terming the fanatic religious agenda of Taliban or al-Qaeda in their daily speeches in and outside of parliaments, nevertheless. Today the secular political leaders are the worst victims of the Taliban hate. Starting from Benazir Bhutto, former two-time premier of Pakistan, the target list in Pakistan includes Punjab governor Salman Taseer, Pakistan federal minister for minorities Shahbaz Bhatti, religious leaders Dr Farooq Ahmad Khan, Maulana Hasan Jan and Pir Sami Ullah. Many more survived the attacks.
On Afghanistan side, the prominent names include Dr Najeebullah, former Afghan president,  resistance leader Ahmad Shah Mehsud, Commander Abdul Haq, a peace negotiator Rahman Gul, a Kandahar-based elder Abdul Rehman and many more who opposed Taliban while representing government and communities.
The latest spree of suicide attacks on Maulana Fazlur Rehman, tribal elders, shrines of Sufis, markets, civilians and troops is an eye-opener to Taliban’s increasing use of suicide bombers as a lethal weapon against the civilized world. The military powers in the two countries may have their own plans for reversing the course of conflict but silence on behalf of the religious leaders and soft corner shown to militancy at certain political circles are dangerously encouraging youngsters to join the suicide squads of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. They have to fight the terror from the pulpits and chambers if they are sincere in help to stop suicide attacks which now take place almost on daily basis.