Monday, January 14, 2013

Pakistan is losing its Shias

Daily Times
Amir Husain
There is most definitely a programme of ethnic and religious cleansing underway in Pakistan, where Shias are being identified and murdered in large numbers All political and social issues ultimately find settlement not on paper, via signed agreements or in international fora housed in fancy buildings, but in the minds and hearts of people. Lasting solutions and sustainable arrangements usually come about only when the people involved have decided to adopt a mutually tolerant line of thinking. This is why long running conflicts can be so hard to address, as they involve inspiring change at the most basic human level: a change of hearts and minds. In Pakistan, we have seen how irreconcilable the situation can become when hearts and minds are turned away from the mainstream due to sustained policies of callous indifference and unfairness. Sub-populations at the receiving end are given to believe over time that they are ‘the other’, the ones who are different and perhaps even the enemy. They become divested from the status quo, their thought turns and their actions then unfold within the context of a negative, hopeless worldview. A round of action and counter-action only reinforces the roles of both the oppressor and the oppressed in the eyes of the world. This is what happened in the pre-1971 Pakistan. A chain of events led to the slaughter of large numbers of east and west Pakistanis and to the eventual formation of Bangladesh. The situation today, we are told, is quite different. We are told that things are more in control, that insurgencies and genocides may be happening but they do not involve large numbers. We are led to believe that because the areas where these things occur are contiguous to the rest of the country, they can be managed more effectively, unlike East Pakistan. That may be, but there is most definitely a programme of ethnic and religious cleansing underway in Pakistan, where Shias are being identified and murdered in large numbers. This one-sided slaughter has been going on since the time of the Wahabi-inspired General Ziaul Haq, who, to please his Takfiri Middle Eastern backers, allowed foreign terrorists and their madrassah ‘factories’ to be imported en masse into the country. This ethnic cleansing has reached fever pitch now. The Hazara community is being wiped out and they have nowhere to turn. As we speak, they are seeking protection from the army chief himself, who has failed to respond to the demands of the community even though the coffins of dead Shias lay across the cold streets of Quetta for three days running. Many apologists would ask, but what can the army do? Why does the Balochistan government not do something? What a pathetic and sorry question that would be. Balochistan’s security has been managed by the army for a long time. The paramilitary and Frontier Corps, which are large forces, come under the de facto command of the military and are handled by deputed Pakistan army officers. The entire intelligence network in the province is controlled by the military. There is no police presence in Balochistan to speak of that can take on and cleanse Middle East-funded Takfiri terror organisations, or segments of the rabidly anti-Shia Punjabi Taliban, which once (or possibly even now?) enjoyed the backing of segments of the intelligence community. If the army can ensure the security of housing colonies owned by generals, can it also not be expected to protect a community that is being wiped out in a province it all but controls? The murders and killings of Hazaras are not the only act of violence against Shias. Prominent Shia leaders are identified all over the country and murdered while the Parachinar area has seen terrible conflict involving the Toori tribe. Shia areas in the north were cut off from Pakistan for more than a year, and it was only possible for Shia Pakistanis to access their own country by first entering Afghanistan to go around the blockade imposed against them by terrorists. This happened right under the nose of their own armed forces. So today if the Shia of Pakistan ask is this our army, are these our generals, would they be unjustified? They are essentially placing their hope in General Kayani and asking him to provide an indication that this hope is not misplaced. Can Shias think of Pakistan as home? Will the only institution that can guarantee the security of Pakistan do anything to make them feel safe within the borders of the country? The Shia coffins lying in the streets of Quetta patiently await the GHQ’s answer. This is a far more pressing question to address than the one tiny Indian bunker that has appeared on the LoC. That is a triviality in comparison. Perhaps the great generals of Rawalpindi will deem it worth their while to give an answer before hearts and minds are turned unalterably, once more.

No country for Pakistani Shiites

Shiite Muslims buried the victims of Quetta attacks after Pakistan's prime minister imposed governor's rule in Balochistan. But activists say the government is still refusing to act against perpetrators of the attacks. On Monday (14.01.2012), Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf announced that the government of the southwestern Balochistan province had been dismissed and the province's chief minister, Nawab Aslam Raisani, had been sacked. The decision came in response to an attack on Thursday in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan, against the ethnic Hazara community belonging to the minority Shiite denomination of Islam. The twin bomb blasts killed at least 86 people, mostly the Shiites. The provincial government was widely criticized for failing to counter terrorism in the province, which has seen a pro-independence movement for the past nine years. "After complete consultation, we have invoked Article 234 of the constitution in the province," Prime Minister Ashraf said in a televised news conference in Quetta in the early morning hours Monday. Ashraf said the province's governor would now be put in charge. Ashraf, however, did not say anything about the operation against the militant Sunni group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which claimed responsibility of the Quetta attacks.Of late, Pakistan's Sunni militant extremists with links to al Qaeda have intensified their attacks on minority Shiites, whom they do not recognize as Muslims. The Hazara Shiites of Quetta had earlier refused to bury the dead until the provincial government was dismissed and the military took over the security of the city. Hundreds of people in Quetta - including men, women and children - spent four nights camped in freezing cold to protest against what they called the government's failure, or the lack of will, to protect Hazara Shiites. They also demanded that the government must act against militant groups in the province, which in the past had also targeted Shiites. The Quetta killings sparked protests in various parts of Pakistan. Civil society activists, political workers and common people staged sit-in demonstrations in many Pakistani cities to show solidarity with the Hazara Shiites. 'Sectarian cleansing' 2012 was one of the deadliest years for Pakistan's Shiites. Human rights groups say that more than 300 Shiites were killed in Pakistan last year in sectarian conflict. One of the attacks on an imambargah, a Shiite place of worship, in the garrison city of Rawalpindi near the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, killed at least 23 people and wounded 62 in November. On February 17, a suicide bomber killed 31 Shiites in the restive northwestern Kurram region, one of the seven semi-governed tribal agencies bordering Afghanistan. Pakistani experts say that although the lives of Shiite Muslims are under threat all over Pakistan, those living in Balochistan and the northwestern Gilgit-Baltistan region face a systematic onslaught by the Taliban and other militant groups. Some experts have gone so far as to call it a "sectarian cleansing" of Shiites.In August last year, several gunmen, who were in the guise of Pakistani security officials, stopped a bus traveling from Rawalpindi to the northwestern Gilgit region and dragged the passengers off the bus. The gunmen asked the passengers to show their identity cards to ensure they belonged to the minority Shiite community, after which they brutally killed 22 of them at point blank range. The Taliban claimed responsibility of the attack. Pakistani human rights groups accuse the country's security agencies of backing Sunni militants and failing to protect the minority groups of the country. No action against terrorists Bostan Hazara, leader of the secular Hazara Democratic Party, told DW that his party had agreed to call off protests and bury the victims after the prime minister sacked the provincial government. However, he said that if the government did not act against the terrorists, the Hazara Shiites would resume protests. The Shiite and civil society activists have welcomed the imposition of the governor's rule in the province, but experts warn that sacking the elected civilian government in the province and calling in the army to control security matters can prove to be a double-edged sword for the insurgency-marred province."The imposition of governor rule is extremely disappointing and despicable,” said Malik Siraj Akbar, editor of the radical "Baloch Hal" magazine. “The way a democratic government - although corrupt and incompetent - has been dismissed clearly shows that Islamabad treats Balochistan as a colony where it does not respect the public mandate." Akbar believes the governor's rule in the province will not solve any problems until the government goes after the militants. But Sikandar Hayat Janjua, member of the socialist Awami Workers Party, told DW in an interview from Karachi that it would be foolish to expect that the government would launch an operation against the Sunni militants. "Lashkar-e-Jhangvi is a militant wing of the [Inter-Services Intelligence], and no organization would like to act against its own wing," Janjua said. Akbar, who lives in exile in the US, is critical of Pakistan's central government's overall treatment of the Balochistan province. He opposes the government's decision to give policing powers to paramilitary forces in the wake of the governor's rule in the area. "National and international human rights groups have blamed the military's Frontier Corps (FC) for carrying out widespread human rights abuses in the province. It is believed to be involved in enforced disappearances, torture, and murder of Baloch political workers. The FC is a part of the problem and not the solution," Akbar commented. Failure of the state Pakistani analysts say that the Quetta killings and the imposition of the governor's rule in Pakistan's volatile province have again exposed the risks the Pakistani state has been confronting for many years. If the government is seen as losing further control, it may risk disintegration.Ali Chishti, a security and political analyst in Karachi, argues that the Pakistani state has failed to protect not just the Shiites but most of its citizens. "Pakistan is headed in a completely wrong direction and faces an existential threat due to its policies,” Chishti said. Many Pakistani analysts trace the origins of sectarian violence in Pakistan to the Afghan War of the 1980s. They say that Pakistan's former military dictator Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq made it a state policy to fund and arm extremist Wahhabi groups in the 1980s, using these organizations against the Shiites to kill Iran's support in Pakistan and to increase its influence in Afghanistan. London-based Pakistani journalist and scholar Amin Mughal said that the policy of supporting groups like the Taliban had backfired and that the Pakistani state was no longer in a position to control the situation. "It is a logical consequence of state policies which are based on religion," Mughal told DW, adding that the only way out of the crisis was for "true secular parties" to come to power and change the course of state affairs.

Karzai: Afghanistan will be 'more secure' following US troop withdrawal

A decision on immunity for U.S. troops staying in Afghanistan after the 2014 planned withdrawal will be made by the end of the year, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said on Monday. "The issue of immunity is under discussion (and) it is going to take eight to nine months before we reach agreement," Karzai told a news conference in the capital, Kabul, after returning from meetings with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington. The Afghan government rejected an initial U.S. proposal regarding the question of immunity and a second round of negotiations will take place this year in Kabul, he said. Those negotiations could involve Afghanistan's Loya Jirga, a "grand assembly" of political and community leaders convened for issues of national importance, he added. When asked if security would deteriorate in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of the NATO-led force, Karzai replied: "By no means... Afghanistan will be more secure and a better place." The Obama administration has been considering a residual force of between 3,000 and 9,000 troops in Afghanistan to conduct counterterrorism operations while providing training and assistance for Afghan forces. But the administration said last week it did not rule out a complete withdrawal after 2014. The United States is insisting on immunity from prosecution for any U.S. troops that remain.

China ready for worst-case Diaoyu scenario

According to Japanese media, Japan's Self-Defense Forces have scrambled fighter jets against China's military aircraft, including fighter jets, which flew to the Diaoyu Islands. It was the first time that military aircraft from both China and Japan confronted each other over the Diaoyu Islands. All of East Asia is now facing intense uncertainty. Thanks to Japan's arrogance toward China, the Diaoyu Islands dispute has come to this point. Japanese politicians, including Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara and former prime minister Yoshihiko Noda, are to blame. China and Japan may stand at a turning point that leads to confrontation. The resentment toward each other has come to the highest level since World War II. The Sino-Japanese relationship is looking dim. Japan has mistakenly estimated China's strategic stance toward constant external provocations. A year ago, Japanese politicians wouldn't have thought that China would send fighter jets. Some Japanese believed China had to be restrained at any costs to ensure a peaceful period of strategic opportunities. But the fighter jets yesterday proved them wrong. How far the Diaoyu crisis goes depends on whether Japan is just putting on a show by intercepting China's military aircraft or it really wants to confront China. If it chooses the latter, then it is choosing a military clash. Chinese society is tired of simple verbal protests toward Japan. The Chinese people hope the country will carry out actions against Japan's provocations. China's sending fighter jets to the islands reflects Chinese public opinion. A military clash is more likely. We shouldn't have the illusion that Japan will be deterred by our firm stance. We need to prepare for the worst. China and Japan are likely to become long-term rivals or even enemies. Japan has become the vanguard of the US' strategy which aims to contain China. Chinese society should reach consensus on a number of issues. First, China should firmly respond to any Japanese provocation. It won't be the initiator of the war, but it shouldn't be hesitant to take military revenge. Meanwhile, it will not take the lead in escalating the war, nor will it be afraid of any escalation. Last, but not least, China's strategic aim is to make Japan accept China's current position on the Diaoyu Islands, rather than extend the crisis to disputes over historical issues. China should have the courage to face military confrontations with any rival when provoked. At the same time, we should remain cool-headed. China and Japan have been cooperating in trade and other economic fields. We should try not to let political confrontations affect business. This will minimize China's losses, which conforms to China's overall interest and would help the nation gain support from the public in any confrontation. The Diaoyu crisis is a test of China's unity in the Internet era. China's strength has enabled it to take countermeasures against Japan and face any uncertainty. This requires society to remain united.

The People’s Love for Chávez Continues

Playing with fire: Pakistan must crack down on terrorism for its own sake The recent border skirmishes and cross-LoC exchange of fire between Indian and Pakistani troops have posed yet another challenge to the bilateral engagement process between the two countries. This comes at a time when the two-way dialogue - suspended in the wake of the 26/11 terror attack on Mumbai - was showing signs of recovery. The recently inked liberalised visa regime and gains made in bilateral trade exemplify this point. Having said that, renewed border tensions show that elements inimical to the peace process continue to operate with impunity to the detriment of both countries. It's no secret that Pakistan's intelligence agency, the ISI, remains a state within a state and continues to patronise known anti-India terrorists such as Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Saeed. Despite New Delhi handing over several dossiers to Islamabad on Saeed's involvement in the 26/11 attack, the latter remains a free Pakistani citizen. That Saeed has recently warned that things could turn ugly in Kashmir highlights the immunity he enjoys as a key collaborator of anti-India sections of Pakistan's security establishment. Tellingly, Saeed's warning comes at a crucial juncture for Pakistan and the larger subcontinent. With the clock ticking on the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan in 2014, Islamabad has an important choice to make. It can either go back to its tactic of treating Afghanistan as affording strategic depth against India and continue using terrorism as an instrument of state policy. Or it could genuinely crack down on all terrorist groups operating from its soil. Pertinently, Islamabad's policy of running with the hare and hunting with the hounds has only brought the scourge of terrorism on its own citizens. As highlighted by last week's string of bombings across that country that left at least 140 dead, Pakistan itself is in a state of crisis. For durable peace to prevail in the region, it's imperative that Pakistani society wages a war against extremism that is eating away at the innards of the Pakistani state. For this the political class in Pakistan must unite against all jihadi groups threatening to turn that country into an Islamic caliphate. With general elections in Pakistan just around the corner, Pakistani political parties would do well to shun their Machiavellian intrigues of the past and present a modern vision of Pakistan, strengthening democratic institutions there. This would not only unleash the tremendous potential in Pakistani people but also have a transformational impact on South Asia as a whole.