Monday, October 28, 2013

Afghanistan: Countdown to US withdrawal

Attention may now turn from the Arab uprisings to Afghanistan as the US and NATO forces prepare to leave in 2014.
For three years, the world’s eyes have been focused on the Arab uprisings and subsequent events, but now the attention is going to turn to Afghanistan as US-led foreign troops prepare to leave the country next year. Even though some foreign advisers will remain, the NATO withdrawal will bring an end to the military response of President George W Bush against Afghanistan's Taliban rulers, which was launched with lofty promises after the September 11 attacks on the US. It is undeniable that the war has been very costly. Today, the Taliban are stronger than they were immediately after their eviction from Kabul. The militancy has spread far beyond the country’s borders, and the mission that President Barack Obama called a "just war" is reaching its finale without its most important aims fulfilled. It is difficult to think of an Afghan more congenial than Hamid Karzai that Washington could have found to install in power following the removal of the Taliban in 2001. As he prepares to leave office after the April 2014 election, President Karzai is sharply critical of NATO, remonstrating that "on the security front, the entire NATO exercise caused Afghanistan a lot of suffering, a lot of loss of life and no gains, because the country is not secure".
Afghan reality
NATO and the US have accused Karzai of unreliability and corruption, but they ignore the Afghan reality. President Karzai has to voice the deep antagonism felt against foreign troops in the country and cannot remain silent about civilian casualties. He is mindful of the fragile nature of Afghanistan's military and police forces, which NATO undertook to train and equip. As many as 50,000 desertions are haemorrhaging Afghanistan's security forces every year. The latest high-profile defector was a special forces commander who joined the Hizb-e-Islami organisation, a Taliban-affiliated group, taking with him guns and high-tech military equipment. Corruption has been a sad historical fact in a country that is among the most impoverished in the world. Ceaseless wars since the 1970s - wars in which external powers, the US, the Soviet Union and Afghanistan’s neighbours have been active participants - have made Afghanistan's destitution all the greater. Western accusations of corruption against the Karzai administration are self-serving at times, and ignore the West's own corrupt practices in the course of the Afghan war. Military occupation and offence to the occupied go together. Afghans have suffered cruel losses and humiliation again and again during the past twelve years, under Soviet occupation in the 1980s and before. Afghanistan's ethno-tribal society requires its rulers to be close to their subjects in ways that Western governments have not fully understood. A leader who imposes the will of a foreign master on fellow Afghans risks his credibility, his authority and worse. It should come as no surprise that in his final months in office President Karzai has thus far put up stubborn resistance to US pressure to grant complete immunity from prosecution to US troops who may be left behind for training Afghan security forces and for defending Western strategic assets.
The legacy of US war in Afghanistan
The departure of US and NATO troops in 2014 will be another landmark in the 35-year history of Afghan wars. The symbolism of the Soviet retreat in 1989 was greater because it happened as the Soviet empire was collapsing. The circumstances for the US empire are not so precarious, and NATO's immediate future is not in doubt. However, in Afghanistan and outside, there are going to be those who will see this withdrawal as another defeat of a great power. The US will continue to struggle to justify its claim that the Afghan mission has been a success. Once fervent supporters of the mission to eliminate terrorism and redesign society now realise the Afghan project's grim realities. Even those less partisan may conclude that it has been a missed opportunity in several respects. The legality and morality of US drone attacks across the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, and increasingly in other countries, is a subject of open debate, raising questions about laws of war, human rights and national sovereignty. The impact of this debate on international relations is going to be an enduring legacy of the Bush and Obama administrations. That legacy will continue to evoke memories of the tense relationship between Obama and Karzai - who was the US choice to be the leader of Afghanistan but who could not entirely support Washington's agenda. For all his charm, elegance and urbane manners, Karzai is still an Afghan who cannot remove himself enough from his fellow countrymen to please the US. He will be remembered as a president whose true authority was always limited, but was held responsible for many of the failures of others. nd of foreign involvement? More than a decade after the US went to Afghanistan to eliminate the Taliban and al-Qaeda, the curtain is about to close on one more episode in the country's endless wars. In 1989, the Americans were euphoric about defeating the Soviet occupiers with the Mujahideen's help in a proxy war. As the Americans prepare to bail out in 2014, the old fog of euphoria has lifted, and it is possible to argue with greater certainty that, ultimately, Afghans do not need a major external power to fight the enemy. Words attributed to two of the best known Afghan warlords of modern times are informative. In the 1980s, when Washington was the Mujahideen's main backer against the Soviet Union, Ismael Khan said: "The Americans want us to continue fighting but not to win, just to bleed the Russians." Another anti-Soviet commander, Ahmad Shah Masood, remarked: "We will not be a pawn in someone else's game; we will always be Afghanistan." The Obama administration's attempts to launch negotiations with the Taliban on concrete matters have not brought success. At times, President Karzai has felt left out, and has reacted with his own overtures to the Taliban. Such overtures have not pleased the US, which has appeared to undermine Karzai's independent initiatives. The recent arrest of senior Taliban commander Latif Mehsud by the US angered the Afghan president, because it was reported that his government was trying to recruit Mehsud as a go-between for peace talks.
Haunting possibilities
As the departure of foreign troops draws closer, many in Afghanistan and its regional neighbourhood are concerned about the future. There are questions about next year's presidential election taking place in a peaceful and orderly manner, and whether the new government will be stable. What will the Taliban and members of Pakistan's political and military establishments with links to the armed group do? How will Saudi Arabia and Iran, representing the Sunni-Shia struggle for influence in the Muslim world, affect Afghanistan as the country tries to stand on its own two feet? Will influential players of the international community help Afghanistan? Or will they walk away like they did following the 1989 Soviet retreat, leaving regional powers and Afghan factions to fight it out? Such haunting possibilities are going to occupy minds more and more as US and NATO troops prepare to leave Afghanistan.

NATO shrinks scope of future Afghan mission

NATO is planning a modest post-war mission in Afghanistan, with fewer combat trainers and more military managers to ensure that billions of dollars in security aid are not wasted, a media report said on Monday. The minimalist mission mirrors concerns the US Congress and European parliaments may revoke their financial pledges -- more than $4 billion a year -- unless foreign troops are positioned at Afghan military and police headquarters to oversee how the money is spent. "The reduced scope is also a result of conflicting interests among military and political leaders that have been on display throughout the 12-year war," the New York Times reported. A senior NATO diplomat told the newspaper any long-term NATO military presence in Afghanistan was directly linked to the $4.1 billion aid and the alliance ability to account for it. “You need enough troops to responsibly administer, oversee and account for $4 billion a year of security assistance.” He stressed continued financing of Afghan security forces to prevent possible political chaos and factional bloodshed after an end to NATO’s combat role in December 2014. “It’s not just the shiny object, the number of troops,” he said. “Perhaps much more meaningful is, does the funding flow?” While military commanders want the postwar effort to concentrate on training and advising Afghans with NATO troops spread across the battlefield, political leaders in Washington and NATO countries prefer fewer soldiers only at large Afghan headquarters. NATO has suggested an enduring presence of 12,000 troops, with two-thirds contributed by the US forces, a number that is smaller than what military commanders have recommended. But alliance officials say larger numbers are unnecessary. "The postwar plan depends on a security agreement between the United States and Afghanistan concerning the number, role and legal protection of American troops," the report said Kabul's quest for the continued flow of billions of dollars in international assistance was cited as one reason for optimism among American and NATO officials that an agreement will be reached. Pentagon officials want some American commandos to continue conducting counterterrorism missions, unilaterally or in coordination with Afghan forces, the report added.

Aseefa Bhutto urges all political parties to put their differences aside and be united against Polio
On the occasion of ‘World Polio Day,’ ‘Aseefa Bhutto Zardari ‘ has urged all sections of society and media to support efforts to eradicate polio from Pakistan.
Aseefa Bhutto Zardari emphasized on measures to completely eradicate the potentially fatal and infectious disease of Polio from the country and achieve the status of Polio-free Pakistan. “Let us all, as a nation, be united for the sake of our own children,” she said. “I feel a special responsibility towards eradicating polio from the country, as I was the first ever Pakistani child to have been administered polio drops by my mother Shaheed Mohtarama Benazir Bhutto as the Prime Minister of Pakistan, when the anti polio campaign was formally launched on April 27, 1994 under her watch.” “My mother left a great vision and I will give my best to carry her legacy to make Pakistan a polio-free country,” I salute the brave anti-polio workers on the ground, going door to door to ensure children’s safety. I would like to thank WHO, UNICEF, The Gates Foundation, Rotary International and so many others for their continued support. Awareness is the first step towards prevention, I will and I hope others will join me too into continuing to spread the word go door to door and help in anyway they can to achieve a polio free Pakistan. Our commitment must be unwavering.Now is our chance to beat polio and we must seize it! She said, “Polio is preventable and we must do everything possible to make Pakistan polio free and save our children from this crippling disease.”

Asfandyar Wali ‘hero’ of Pakhtuns

Awami National Party (ANP) leader Senator Zahid Khan has called Asfandyar Wali Khan ‘hero’ of Pakhtuns, Geo News reported. In a reaction to Azam Khan Hoti’s press conference here Monday, Senator Zahid said he was shocked over this. He said ‘Azam Hoti is like our family member, therefore, his statement hurts more’. Senator Zahid further said “there has been a conspiracy against our leadership in every era”. He said Hoti himself had admitted that there was no proof to these allegations, therefore, this press conference was worthless. “We were in government during the last five years, why were these allegations not leveled then?” ANP will give its officials reaction on Azam Hoti’s press conference in two days, he added.

Pakistan: Under Shahbaz Sharif, the great Shia experiment is in the making in Punjab

All fascism begins in the name of legality and general goodness, even in the name of the ‘good’ of the victim. The Punjab government under Shahbaz Sharif has started a process to destroy Shia practices in the name of security, and has given it a legal cover. What the likes of Saudi Arabian-inspired Takfiri Deobandi outfits Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamat (ASWJ) and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ aka Sipah Sahaba) have been demanding for years will now be done by the elected, democratic government of Punjab. On Friday 25 Oct 2013, Colonel (retired) Shuja Khanzada, Shahbaz Sharif’s trusted lieutenant and Environment Minister of Punjab, announced that this time the month of Moharram will be regulated by the Punjab government with the following measures:
1. All unregistered Shia meetings (majalis) and processions (jaloos) will be banned.
2. Every Shia speaker will have to obtain a government license, or he/she will not be allowed to address the majalis.
3. Shia speakers will not be allowed to provoke people.
4. Shias will not be allowed to use loudspeakers for the majalis.
Before offering an editorial comment, we would like to understand the four measures one by one.
Unregistered meetings and processions
For centuries, the Shias of the subcontinent have been holding meetings and taking out processions to mourn the martyrdom of Imam Hussain and his companions. Shia religious meetings are not, and have never been, of proselytizing or provocative nature. At these meetings and processions, Shias mourn the martyrdom. They recount the tragic incidents at Karbala, cry, and beat their chests, etc. The sole object of their mourning is the suffering of the group of people led by Imam Hussain. Why should they have to get registered in order to mourn? Another point is: What if they government does not allow them to gather in a place and mourn? Here, there is a double whammy for the Shias. If they hold ‘unregistered’ meetings, they will be deemed to have done something illegal. If they protest if/when not given registration, they will be deemed to have acted illegally. And here is a third whammy: If they stop mourning, they will be conceding that the legality of their beliefs is no more than a matter of the government’s regulatory discretion.
Permit for Shia speakers
Again, it is a matter of regulation. All Shia speakers will be required to get a government permit. If a speaker, however good and knowledgeable he/she may be, is not given the permit and yet addresses a meeting, he/she will be deemed to have acted illegally. On what criteria will one be given the permit? Obviously those who ‘bahave’ and do not ‘provoke’. In the past, no Shia speaker has been convicted or even blamed for being provocative. Why now? Are there any Sunni registered speakers?
Not allowed to be provocative
It is true that some Shia speakers in rural areas go overboard, but this does not happen during the month of Moharram, which is the month of mourning. When Shia speakers react emotionally, it is often in response to a provocative speech made by a Takfiri-Deobandi. Shia speakers have never said a word against Sunnis, though they often refute Takfiri propaganda against their faith. But why single out Shia speakers for this, and that too in the month of Moharram when the only leitmotif is the suffering of Imam Hussain and his companions?
Ban on loudspeakers
Loudspeakers have never been banned during Moharram. Why now? When we all know that Imam Hussain was a grandson of the Prophet (PBUH), and all the mourning is done for him, then who is disturbed when his name and his suffering is recounted on loudspeakers? Does the name of the grandson of the Prophet (PBUH) somehow impinge upon the sensibilities of the Non-Shia Muslims of Pakistan? If yes, who are those Muslims? Brelvis, the majority sect in Pakistan, have as much respect for Imam Hussain as the Shias. Who are the people who do not want to hear the name of Imam Hussain? If you look closely at the four ‘legal’ measures to be implemented in the province of Punjab—-yes, and nowhere else in Pakistan—-you will draw at least one conclusion: There is a move by the Punjab government to rob the Shias of the legality of their mourning practices, and by implication their faith. Despite having pumped billions of petro-dollars in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia has not been able to dent the Shia faith. Despite the ASWJ-LeJ’s incessant murderous campaign against the Shias, the Shia faith continues to flourish. To weaken the Shia faith, the ASWJ-LeJ leaders have been campaigning that the Shia meetings and processions should be curtailed. But they always failed because the past governments would not listen to them. But now the opportunity has arisen. The PML-N and the ASWJ-LeJ are not only the two most powerful Saudi-supported lobbies in Pakistan, the two of them are political allies also. The PML-N has been protecting the ASWJ-LeJ assassins like Malik Ishaq.In the Takfiri-Deobandi ideology, Shias are the perfect Other whose very existence is a danger to their own ‘pure’ Islam. The House of Saud, the most heartless and equally lethal child of this ideology, has been trying to destroy the Shia Other. In the Gulf dictatorial monarchies, the Shias have few human rights. Now the House of Saud has found a perfect opportunity to dehumanize the Shias in Pakistan through its proxies such as the Sharif Brothers and the ASWJ-LeJ. Very few people are aware that in August, the Saudi government through its embassy in Islamabad ‘gifted’ 30 thousand ‘Islamic’ goodie bags to Islamabad’s school kids. These bags include booklets on Islamic rituals and ways of life. Pakistan’s corrupt media did not report it. All those books include is not Islam but Salafism. It happened only because the Sharif government made it possible. Now, the Sharif government has started a Great Shia Experiment in Punjab which will surely be replicated by the PTI government in KP. This is the plan to destroy the Shia faith. It seems to have the following stages:
First, terrify the Shias in the name of security: If you do not do as we say, the terrorists will bomb your meetings and processions!
Second, gain Shia acquiescence and subject Shia practices to a legality/illegality vector. Some Shias will not accept it, and thus there will be some discord between the ‘legally-minded’ Shias and the ‘recalcitrant’ ones. The likes of Ansar Abbas and Irfan Siddiqui will side with the ‘good’ Shias. Third, under the cover of legality based upon the need of ‘security’, the Shias of Pakistan will be forced into enclosures. Their freedom to hold mourning meetings and processions will be curtailed. Fourth, once the Shia Other has been located and localized in the new (created) ecology, it will be easy to confine his freedom and constrain his movements. Thus, ultimately the Shias of Pakistan will be caged and the Takfiri-Deobandi dream to destroy their faith realized. Shias are routinely killed whether it is the month of Moharram or not. Thousands of them have so far been killed in Pakistan, and yet they have never said that they want to have their religion freedom restricted. It is the duty of the government to provide them security, and not take their freedom away in the name of security. But then the PML-N government itself is a Takfiri participant in league with Saudi Arabia and ASWJ-LeJ terrorist-assassins. So, what is to be done? The Shias of Pakistan must not let it happen. Historically, the Shias have been killed in the millions and yet have never allowed their religious freedoms to be curtailed. Accepting bans from a Saudi proxy like the PML-N government will be like accepting the rule of Yazid. The Shia leadership and liberal Sunnis should come forward. Communities like Hindus, Christians, and Ahmadis should also support the Shias because in the freedom of one community lies the freedom of every community.
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Pakistan: Polio: turning point

AROUND this time last year, approximately 48,000 families in Pakistan had refused vaccinations. In 2013, that number stands at 65,947. On the eve of World Polio Day 2013, this highlighted an ever-increasing trust deficit between the government and the parents of at-risk children in outlying communities, a deficit that is costing Pakistani lives. We are at a strange turning point, where our indisputable success is marred by our unfortunate failures. The polio eradication campaign’s numbers are certainly impressive on paper. 33.4 million children under the age of five are targeted for vaccinations. Over 200,000 people assist in a campaign that stretches across the country in 102 districts. But inefficiency, deep-seated corruption, lack of proper security for health workers and inaccessibility to certain regions continue to act as a debilitating counterweight to the immunisation efforts. Chief among these, compromised access between children and health workers is what truly gives polio free rein. Pages 115 through 127 of the Abbottabad Commission Report narrate how Dr Shakeel Afridi latched his work on hepatitis with local vaccination campaigns. The Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has mandated that they are not against vaccinations in general, nor do they oppose comprehensive health for Muslims. Instead, they are wary of potential spying being conducted under the ruse of vaccinations. But the truth, as always, goes deeper than that. State Minister for Health Services, Regulations and Coordination Saira Tarrar recognises the political acumen behind this narrative. “The extremist elements recognise that there is a lot of international pressure on Pakistan to eradicate polio, and so they are using this to their advantage by clubbing other demands with this issue,” she says. “Through peace talks or any other means, immunisation must start in the tribal belt, or this problem will rapidly get out of control.” The ban has been in effect in Fata since June 2012. This fear, and the threat of violence associated with it, has now permeated the general psyche of families that now regularly refuse vaccinations. Unfortunately, a number of key questions about the unexpected fallout from this event remain unanswered, further exacerbating the issue. The media excels at asking pointed, scandalous questions about the inci-dent, but rarely quells any misconception. For example, in a vaccination campaign, there are no bodily fluid samples needed, blood or otherwise. It is a simple matter of two drops of oral polio vaccine being administered. Each exposed child puts an additional 200 — 5,000 children at risk. Dr Elias Durry, chief of the Polio Eradication Initiative at the World Health Organisation, who has developed expertise eliminating polio in 10 countries over two decades, feels that Pakistan has a great opportunity to capitalise on and interrupt polio. The numbers support his viewpoint. The current tally is now at 49 for this year. This number is just nine short of 2012’s 58 confirmed cases. However, it is important to note that the bulk of these cases, 36 to be exact, come from parts of the country where the TTP-imposed ban is in effect. The virus has thus been largely cornered. But if Pakistan does not immunise its children at this juncture, experts postulate that global eradication efforts may be put at risk, and that international travel restrictions may be applied to Pakistanis to curb the spread of polio. Cases springing up in other provinces also highlight the ugly truth that Pakistan is currently unable to immunise its children, irrespective of the disease. The number of measles deaths went from 64 in 2011 to 306 in 2012, and this has only worsened in 2013. Hiding behind the threat of violence for going into places like the North Waziristan and Khyber agencies may seem like a sound political excuse, convenient in its scope and clearly a detriment to national immunisation efforts. But this point becomes questionable when juxtaposed against the fact that the brunt of the recent measles epidemic was borne by Punjab and Sindh, not Fata. This is further reinforced by the Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey, which highlights the current coverage rate of fully immunised children at an abysmal 53.8pc. In Punjab and Sindh, 54pc of 8,844 children assessed between January 2012 and mid-May 2013 were not vaccinated against the disease. The point stands: Pakistan is unable to fully immunise its children. Ms Tarrar agrees. She feels that if we can build this infrastructure now, it will help us establish comprehensive, routine national vaccination campaigns. That is the only way forward. This issue has a lot of moving parts. Efficient campaign management, steps to eliminate corruption, resolution with the TTP, grass-roots campaigning to convince parents to immunise their children, stemming misconceptions, a media that responsibly answers the questions it raises with reckless impunity, security for health workers, a strong political will to see the campaign through, and sustaining the success we have achieved so far, they all contribute the smaller pieces to the larger picture. Once again, on paper, the strategy is impressive and comprehensive. But the execution is hampered by a myriad factors that must be countered with serious political resolve. Only then can we ensure optimal campaign activity in all parts of the country, including sustaining the campaign in the polio-free regions.

Brave Saudi women

Much praise must be given to some brave women in Saudi Arabia who are breaking age-old norms and archaic male suppression. In an attempt to defy a continuous driving ban that disallows women from getting behind the wheel in the conservative kingdom, these women have filmed themselves driving their cars in the city of Riyadh to challenge the ban and liberate themselves from the grip of the conservatives. This campaign for female mobility has been festering in the kingdom for a few years now and has seen some women fined and even imprisoned for daring to step out of line but on Saturday a few women again took to the streets and challenged the writ of the clerics who rule the kingdom hand-in-hand with the royal family. In anticipation of this event, the authorities from the interior ministry personally called up many female activists to dissuade them from taking part, check posts were put up by the police in the city, traffic patrols were increased and public announcements were made to tell women to remain indoors. In such a discouraging and hopeless environment the fact that these women made their presence felt by driving their cars and documenting their struggle speaks volumes for the dissatisfaction women have over the state of their rights in the kingdom. It is flabbergasting that in the 21st century a country still exists, which prohibits a woman’s movement and transportation without the company of a male ‘guardian’. That women are bound in almost every way to the supervision of a man is most degrading and, after all this time, the modern Saudi woman is making her presence and anger felt. A ridiculous prelude to this event was the declaration by a Saudi cleric that driving a car was against the injunctions of Islam because it adversely affected a woman’s ovaries and decreased her fertility. No doubt a feeble attempt to discourage this driving campaign, this fatwa helped project Muslims as a laughing stock before the entire world and showed everyone that the clerics had no substantial reason to prohibit female mobility. While King Abdullah has pushed ever so slightly for reforms, expanding the scope of female education and employment, these attempts at progress are too few and far between. A basic right in any society is for an individual to have freedom of movement; for Saudi Arabia to ban this basic civil right for half its population is only testimony to the severe prejudice against women that the kingdom is known for. The king needs to loosen the stranglehold the orthodox clerics have on the country otherwise this driving campaign will be just the beginning of an open rebellion against the monarchy and the clergy.

People of India, Pak desire peace: Fatima Bhutto

Border tensions between India and Pakistan notwithstanding, people of the two countries desire peace and they should not be divided, Pakistani author Fatima Bhutto said on Sunday.
Speaking to reporters here on the sidelines of the release of her book "The shadow of the crescent moon," Bhutto said people of the two countries want to deal with each other as brothers. "People always want peace, whether you talk to an Indian person or Pakistani. You hear they want to deal with each other as a brother," she said. The author, granddaughter of former Pakistan President and Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, said she was accorded warm reception whenever she visited India while Indians coming to Pakistan were treated like family. "We have to remember divisions are very convenient on the outside, (but) it is not convenient for us to divide this way. Brotherhood should be alive," she said without commenting on the recent ceasefire violations on the Indo-Pak border. Today's Pakistani youth have no animosity towards Indians and they "do have a warm feeling for India," she said. Bhutto said "The shadow of the crescent moon", set in the Pakistani tribal area Mir Ali, carried the message that violence was not the answer to problems. To a question on the retirement of Sachin Tendulkar from international cricket, she said the Indian great will be "very missed" by the Pakistanis.

Fatima Bhutto uses fiction to tell stories of women

Pakistani poet and writer Fatima Bhutto's fiction debut 'The Shadow of the Crescent Moon' draws stories and experiences from her travels as a journalist. "When I was a journalist, all the little things that didn't fit into articles, all the little moments you have with people, those stayed with me, and those are what came into the book," she said after the launch of her book in Chennai on Sunday evening.
Set in the midst of issues facing Pakistan, this politico-religious thriller tells the story of three brothers and two women with elements of Taliban and drone attacks. Mir Ali, a small town in the troubled tribal region of Waziristan, close to the Afghan border, is the epicentre of the story. Though Mir Ali is a real place, in Bhutto's work it is made fictional. "I had travelled a lot while working as a journalist. The surge in this book came from that period of journeys. The scenery or the descriptions come from what I saw," she said. With a powerful last name that spells a political dynasty which has run the vein of Pakistan's conflict, the author was repeatedly questioned about her political nurturing. The audience adoringly told her to enter politics to make a change. Bhutto replied that her work was best through words and that power was a dangerous and overwhelming force. "Power compromises you. I'm one person and it's a massive institution. People are diminished and their values go." she said. She would never trade the freedom she has with her words to be in politics, she added. The author, niece of slain former premier of Pakistan Benazir Bhutto and granddaughter of former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, turned novelist with this book. 'Songs of Blood and Sword' her previous work, a memoir, that blamed Benazir Bhutto and Asif Ali Zardari for the assassination of her father, Mir Murtaza. Bhutto continues to capture suffering and injustice through the lives of the women in her fiction. The book is about women fighting an everyday battle where they are the victims of a bad system. She says the women in her book break stereotypes of the image of Pakistani women and chronicles the sufferings they are put through by fundamentalists, the state, the society and their men. "The women, as much as they have suffered violence at different phases of their lives, are strong, independent-minded. They use their voice regardless of the consequences."

Strikes on Pakistan can create nuclear holocaust
Pakistani soldier-turned-academic Feroz Khan's book Eating Grass is an insider account tracing the history of Pakistan's nuclear programme — and its survival despite hurdles. Khan, who was involved in formulating Pakistan's nuclear arms control policy, spoke with Sameer Arshad about how Pakistan's nuclear arsenal grew, implications of its nuclear race with India — and how restraints are possible: What explains Pakistan's nuclear programme's success despite sanctions and global opposition? Sanctions and global proliferation regimes were the engines that drove the resolve for the programme — the lighter the punitive response from the international community towards Indian proliferation, the more Pakistanis were determined to meet the non-proliferation challenge. The Indian military's continued pressure on Pakistan also helped.
How this programme created the parity with India Zulfikar Ali Bhutto envisaged?
Bhutto is undoubtedly the Pakistani nuclear bomb's father — even before the 1965 war, he envisioned the only way to offset the strategic imbalance was through nukes. Neither Bhutto, nor the current leadership seek parity with India — Pakistan seeks to balance Indian military might, which was instrumental in dismantling a unified Pakistan.
What has been the extent of the grey market's involvement and Chinese assistance towards Pakistan's programme?
The programme's success was predominantly that of indigenous scientists. It did tap into the grey market, which was opened for nuclear business, and was A Q Khan's genius — this proves if a state is determined, nothing is impossible. The extent of Chinese assistance is grossly overestimated in the western and Indian press, and usually absent in the Pakistani account. It was primarily leveraged to overcome technical barriers, similar to the French assisting Israelis.
How real are Pakistan's anxieties over pre-emptive strikes, including those involving India?
In the early 1980s, India's preventive strikes, as contemplated during Brasstacks, were feasible. Today, Pakistani arsenals have not only expanded but there is a robust security regime. It would be very counterproductive for any country to contemplate strikes — any such notion would result in a nuclear holocaust.
How seriously are pressing internal threats regarded?
There is no doubt about internal threats. Nuclear weapons are the most effectively guarded. Because of these threats, the Pakistani National Command Autho-rity ensures nuclear security is one of the highest priorities.
How do you assess estimates of Pakistan having the fastest growing nuclear arsenal today?
'Fastest growing' is a subjective term with propagandist overtones. There is no clear barometer to measure what is slow or fast, especially considering the grey area between civil and military nuclear programmes. After the India-US nuclear deal, which frees resources for a military weapons programme, it's hard to determine which country has the fastest nuclear weapons capacity. There's no doubt Pakistani nuclear arsenals are growing with both HEU and plutonium production because of the introduction of battlefield nuclear weapons, cruise missiles and a sea-based deterrent. Pakistan will likely face economic restraints, uranium resource problems and re-evaluation of its nuclear diplomacy for other reasons, including its need to balance civil and military programmes.
How pragmatic is Nawaz Sharif's call for ending the nuclear race?
It is very important to resume serious dialogue. Rather than focussing on strategic competition, a cooperative security framework is essential. India and Pakistan must create constituencies for peace where the security paradigm is replaced with trade liberalisation and people-to-people contact. To achieve this, conventional and nuclear restraint — including an agreement on non-use of force and non-deployment of nuclear weapons — is the best way. India and Pakistan should re-enact the spirit of the 1999 Lahore Declaration, as Sharif alluded to in his UN speech.