http://gulfnews.com/Activist says the government does not want to face the religious establishment on women’s driving The campaign against Saudi Arabia’s ban on women driving has shifted tactics to increasingly challenge the law ahead of a new nationwide day of defiance on December 28. Women activists are now driving weekly and documenting their confrontations with law enforcement on social media to increase pressure on the conservative country and keep the issue in the public eye. The campaigners are also trying to discern subtle but mixed signals from the secretive government for encouragement that change may be afoot. They said authorities have used different tactics with different drivers, creating some uncertainty over where the government stands.“I kind of feel that the government wants us to drive, but at the same time it doesn’t want to make it official yet because it doesn’t want to face the religious establishment,” said Tamador Alyami. She spoke by phone after riding in the passenger seat with another woman driving in the coastal city of Jeddah on December 12. Alyami said she planned to drive on December 28 and does not think the government will take drastic measures to stop her.“I think they got the message,” she said. In a video of her December 12 drive posted on YouTube, the two women chatted nervously, scanning for police cars that soon converged upon them. The sound of Talal Maddah, a late Saudi singer, came from the car stereo: “My beloved country, you are the land of pride and a beacon of shining light.” Seven police patrols surrounded the car, stopped it, then towed it away. Authorities had the women sign a pledge not to drive again and released them. A day earlier, two other women drove for half an hour in the capital Riyadh, before police stopped them. They were held in the police station for 10 hours until they and their male guardians signed similar pledges. But their car was not towed. While Saudi police continue to stop those who defy the ban, no woman has been jailed for driving since 2011. When activists announced a first driving day on October 26 in the revived campaign, the Interior Ministry came out with a strongly worded statement saying women aren’t allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia. Authorities detained a man who wrote in support of women driving, but have stopped short of more politically sensitive arrests of female drivers. With no hint of a change, women drivers and their supporters make weekly visits to the Shoura advisory council, the royal court, and cabinet ministers with petitions and reports. In one key meeting, women’s rights activist Hala al Dosari and another activist managed to book a meeting with powerful Interior Minister Prince Mohammad Bin Nayef. They were in the same complex, but met by video conference - standard practice for ministry meetings with females. The prince told the women that a decision was not in his hands - something they had heard before from other Saudi officials, Dosari said. The prince assured them the driving ban “was on the table” with the proper authorities, she said, adding this was the same answer Saudis pushing for change always get. “Just a vague response to keep us satisfied,” she said. The ministry didn’t respond to requests to comment. But even the religious establishment appears split. Shaikh Abdul Latif Al Shaikh, head of the feared religious police, said in September that Islamic law doesn’t have a text forbidding women from driving. The country’s grand mufti, Shaikh Abdul Aziz Al Shaikh, said last month, however, that the ban protects society from “evil”. More than 22 years have passed since Saudi women first demanded the right to drive. Nevertheless, some remain upbeat that change could come soon. But change in the kingdom comes from the top down. King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, often seen as a cautious reformer, announced in 2011 that women will be allowed to vote and run in local elections, and this past February, he appointed the first 30 women to the advisory Shoura Council. The nonagenarian monarch told American journalist Barbara Walters in 2005 that it will be possible to lift the ban on women driving. But he said the “issue will require patience”.
Sunday, December 22, 2013
By JONATHAN MARTIN AS mainstream and Tea Party Republicans wrestle for control of their party, it might be wise over the holidays for each faction to crack open a pair of recent books that recount previous episodes of internecine political combat. In his memoir “The New Democrats and the Return to Power,” Al From, the founder of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, recalls dragging his party away from the left amid a string of presidential losses during the 1980s. And the historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, in “The Bully Pulpit,” describes the friendship and eventual rivalry between Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft that cost the Republicans the White House in 1912 and led to a split in the party that lasted decades. However disparate they may be, these two seasons of political soul searching, one a century ago and the other a quarter century ago, have echoes in the current Republican clash over the best course for reviving their party’s fortunes. Like Mr. From’s Democrats after the 1988 White House race, Republicans have lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections. In much the same fashion as Ms. Goodwin describes their political ancestors, Republicans are grappling with how to respond to a changing country without angering an old-guard base and rupturing the party. Both moments offer an instructive lesson to Republicans as they enter a midterm election year: As painful as it may be, it is better to have your differences out now than during the next presidential election. “My old mentor Gillis Long told me that if you are not willing to spill blood between elections, you’ll spill in it on Election Day, and it’ll be yours,” Mr. From said in an interview, referring to the former Democratic representative from Louisiana. Few campaigns illustrate that aphorism better than the one in 1912. Up to that point, Republicans had lost only two presidential campaigns, going back to the Civil War. But after fulfilling a pledge to not run in 1908 for what would have effectively been a third term, Roosevelt ceded the nomination to Taft and with it a fragile hold on the party’s two main wings: the upstart progressives and the party’s traditional laissez-faire wing. The division between the two groups grew wider and finally became irreparable in 1912, when Roosevelt challenged his old friend and the sitting president for the nomination. Ms. Goodwin posits that had he run for re-election in 1908, Roosevelt could have kept the party together and moved it further toward progressivism. “There is no doubt that if Teddy would have run again in 1908 he would have won,” said Ms. Goodwin, noting that “in 1910 many progressive Republicans won, especially in the West.” The combination, she argued, of Roosevelt’s forceful personality along with the generational turnover taking place in the party, where older conservatives were being replaced with progressives, may have been enough for Republicans to have reoriented themselves and averted the agony of 1912. Instead, by choosing to challenge Taft, Roosevelt himself initiated what he called “the biggest fight the Republican Party has been in since the Civil War.” Roosevelt called Taft “a fathead” and said he possessed “the brains of a guinea pig.” The incumbent was equally tough, suggesting that Roosevelt wanted to stay in power for “perhaps the rest of his natural life.” “The rhetoric was much worse than what we’re seeing now between the mainstream Republicans and the Tea Party,” said Ms. Goodwin. It was not merely words. At state and local Republican conventions in 1912, there were dynamite explosions, scenes of Taft supporters wielding clubs and baseball bats and even of a supporter of Roosevelt holding a loaded gun to the head of a leader of a Taft delegation. Later, at the national convention in Chicago, fistfights broke out in the galleries between delegates. It was clear that their internal divisions would prove fatal in November. Or, as one former Republican senator put it of Taft and Roosevelt, “The only question now is which corpse gets the most flowers.” Roosevelt, apparently recognizing he had erred by not running for re-election in 1908, would eventually say he would cut off his hand to take that pledge back. Eighty years later, when the Democrats recaptured the White House after losing the previous three presidential races, there was no titanic battle for the soul of the party. That is because by the time Bill Clinton won the Democratic nomination in 1992, he and his fellow centrists had already spent years tugging a party sick of losing toward the middle. Mr. From founded the Democratic Leadership Council in 1985, one year after the Democrats lost 49 states to Ronald Reagan. “We got criticized for dividing the party,” Mr. From recalled. “But the truth is Walter Mondale in 1984 had a perfectly unified campaign — every interest group was behind him.” For Democrats then and Republicans now, Mr. From said, the lesson is, “In party politics, unity is very much overrated.” But, he was quick to add, the Democratic civil war took place outside the context of a presidential campaign; rather, it was fought in hotel corridors and ballrooms where the council’s conferences were held, and on the pages of the country’s newspapers. Mr. From recalled that the United Auto Workers, angry about the council’s stance on trade, leafleted their 1991 meeting in Cleveland, where the Rev. Jesse Jackson also led a protest. Two years earlier, at a council conference in Philadelphia, Mr. Jackson and Gov. Charles S. Robb of Virginia got into an impromptu debate following a panel, with Mr. Robb arguing that Democrats needed to do more to reach out to the white working-class and middle-class voters they had been losing and Mr. Jackson contending that if they tried to be all things to all people they would be “ill defined, indecisive — kind of like warm spit.” Besides the demographics’ being reversed, a nearly identical dispute has broken out among Republicans this year following deep losses among young voters, minorities and women in the last two presidential elections. Some in the party advocate taking steps to appeal to such constituencies — passing an immigration overhaul or softening their opposition to gay rights, for example — while more ideological Republicans believe the party can regain a national majority by turning out more of their traditional base. Either way, they would be better off litigating the matter now and in the midterm elections than in 2016. Mr. From even suggested that Republicans form their own version of a Democratic Leadership Council, so that the center right “has a power center that will do battle with the Tea Party people.” “They just have to accept some degree of disunity,” he said.
April 1971. The then East Pakistan (the name Bangladesh has yet to be used publicly for fear of reprisal) is in the grip of brutal Pakistani military repression. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman is in military custody somewhere in West Pakistan and an exile government representing Bangladesh has been established somehow in Calcutta and India throws the lifeline to the East Pakistani Bengalis by opening up the borders. Targeted murder, random killing, torture etc. by the Pakistani army and their lackeys are all over the country. Pakistan is being supported to the hilt by America and China supports Pakistan on the basis of ‘your enemy’s enemy is your friend’. Fast forward the situation some 42 years. The situation has not changed a lot as far as lawlessness, vandalism, torture, random killing etc. are concerned in Bangladesh at the moment. The changes that have taken place are that East Pakistan has come to be known as Bangladesh and Pakistan is in tatters both politically and economically. But the overarching socio-political-religious situation in Bangladesh remains very much the same as in 1971. The struggle that raged at that time in Bangladesh to uphold Bengali language and literature, Bengali heritage and culture, Bengali liberalism and liberty is now being replayed in earnest in 2013. The struggle that was assumed to have been won decisively in 1971 is now back to traumatise the nation – did we really win at that time? Who would have thought that the country would face the same struggle after long 42 years of independence? Within the last 42 years Bangladesh had gone through ups and downs – politically, socially and economically. Monumental political mistakes had been made; traumatic political events had taken place; democracy had been killed and then revived; secularism had been kicked out and then brought back. Only enduring thing over the last 42 years was endemic political mismanagement and corruption. Despite all of these things, the country had progressed economically tremendously. The country is no longer or had never been the ‘basket case’ which Kissinger would have liked to see. The central question then was, as it is now, that are we Bangladeshi first upholding Bengali language and culture followed by being Muslims or are we Muslims first upholding Pakistani or Arabic culture and then, if possible, remain Bengali? Pakistani authority suspecting our natural inclination towards Bengali-ness first wanted to force Muslim-ness on us by sheer brute force. There were many Bengali “Quislings” who had gone out of the way supporting Pakistani viewpoint and engaged jointly in undermining, brutalising and terrorising people under the tutelage of the Pakistani Army. The Razakars, al-Badr, al-Shams and many more were the fifth-column forces supporting and doing the dirty work for Pakistan. Abdul Quader Molla was one of these top ranking vicious murderers in and around Mirpur area of Dhaka. After 42 years Abdul Quader Molla, the vicious murderer of innocent civilians in the name of Islam and Pakistan, had been brought to justice and on 11 December 2013 he was hanged in Dhaka. It was done following a legal process which lasted more than two years. Admittedly the legal process falls short of best international practice, but that does not negate the overwhelming evidence that this man was the perpetrator of murder of a number of civilians in Mirpur area and terrorising the whole area in the name of supporting Pakistan. But what is infuriating is that the hanging of this man for war crimes during 1971 is being condemned in Pakistan parliament. This condemnation is, in fact, a testament of Pakistani government’s direct complicity with these murderous people and now the country’s parliament feels that it is letting down those gangsters. What is even more infuriating is that of all people Imran Khan, the leader of Pakistan’s Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), who setup this Justice party with laudable aim of upholding justice and fairness in politics now supports the condemnation. He asserted that this man was innocent and hence should not be hanged. How does Imran Khan know whether Quader Molla was innocent or not? Could he have heard something from his uncle, General Niazi, who had the ignominy of surrendering Pakistani forces to the Indo-Bangladeshi forces on 16 Dec 1971? General Niazi who assumed the title of Tiger Niazi while killing unarmed innocent civilians in Dhaka ‘turned into a lamb’ when he faced the victorious Indian Major General Nagra. When Major General Nagra entered into Niazi’s office in Dhaka cantonment and said, “Hello Abdullah, how are you?” Niazi broke down and sought mercy (his tiger-ness had gone completely)! With an uncle like this, the nephew may easily turn from the Insaaf leader to a duplicitous politician. Imran Khan’s humanity and principles of insaaf have taken a second stage to his political Machiavellianism and jingoistic mentality. What right is there for the Pakistani parliament to condemn any action, whatever it may be, in an independent sovereign state? It would be better if Imran Khan and his fellow parliamentarians mind their own business and try to mend their broken and failed state, rather than meddle illegally in another country’s internal affairs. Quader Molla was the demonic image portraying things against which the Liberation War was fought. The Liberation War was against the forced imposition by West Pakistan of their values (if they had any!) and culture on East Pakistan. The province was to be subjugated into total submission to the West Pakistan. Now the same aim the Islamist political parties are pursuing and trying to impose surreptitiously in Bangladesh. This reincarnation does not stop with Pakistan’s jingoistic attitude towards Bangladesh. Even America thinks that Bangladesh should follow American liking and disliking and any other independent behaviour contrary to their wishes is unacceptable. As was in 1971, America views India’s meddling in Bangladesh’s affairs as totally unacceptable and intolerable. America supported Pakistani whisky-drinking perpetually drunk military dictator, Yahya Khan and the pathological liar, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to the hilt right up to 16th of December 1971. Even after the independence of Bangladesh, American stated policy was not to recognise the country and not to make any contact with Bangladesh government in Dhaka unless ‘it was an emergency to save American lives’. In fact, on 20th Dec 1971 when Richard Nixon, American president, met Edward Heath, the British Prime Minister, in Bermuda, he said quite categorically, “We won’t recognise Bangladesh”. On the same day, when Bhutto took over the position of president and martial law administrator from Yahya Khan, he hallucinated by asking his subordinate, “Can the two wings yet be held together?” This was the mindset of the America/Pakistani clique in those days. Have things changed in the intervening 42 years? Not a lot. Pakistan still thinks that it has some inalienable rights and responsibilities to enforce its will over Bangladesh! What Pakistan could not do by force in 1971, it wants to do it now surreptitiously through the transfer of millions of dollars and other currencies to Islamic organisations like Jamaat and others in Bangladesh, offering military logistics and support through its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and maintaining strong links with military officers who served in Pakistan. On top of that, Saudi money to Jamaati groups including Ibn-Sina conglomerate kept coming in endlessly to propagate Wahhabism. When all these activities are put together, a situation is seen to have evolved in the country when the Islamist fundamentalism is stacked against Bengali liberalism and a conflict between the two becomes inevitable – which was precisely the situation in 1971. With regard to American policy towards Bangladesh, it has not changed much either. America thinks that it retains the right to dictate Bangladesh what should or should not be done. America is becoming increasingly intolerant at India’s role in Bangladesh overruling American position. The recent spat between India and America over Bangladesh is a timely reminder of foreign interference in Bangladeshi affairs. Bangladesh is regarded by these powers as nothing but a little pawn to be kicked around. Of course, Bangladesh by its incompetence, servility and perpetual corruption has rendered itself into such an ignominious position. When US ambassador to Bangladesh, Mr Dan W Mozena and the Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh, Mr Pankaj Saran met recently in Dhaka to discuss country’s political impasse, it was not a flattering tale for an independent country like Bangladesh. Subsequent to Mr Mozena’s meetings with Indian officials in New Delhi on 16 October, when India rebuffed America by saying that India was not on the same page as America on Bangladesh, America did not like it an iota. Geo-political power game that was played in 1971 is now in full swing with vengeance. In order to humiliate India for its insolence, America is resorting to big arm tactics. Devyani Khobragade, India’s deputy consul in New York had been arrested, hand-cuffed and strip searched in contravention of Vienna Convention on diplomatic immunity. The allegation was that it underpaid her maid she brought with her from India. Although it was a bilateral spat between India and America, Bangladesh affair may have muddied the waters. America may have lost the game to India in 1971, but this time it seems to want to humiliate India in the eyes of the world for ‘helping to create Bangladesh and steering it through’. - See more at: http://opinion.bdnews24.com/2013/12/21/is-this-1971-reincarnation/#sthash.LLat8vSm.dpuf
Speaker Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury has censured Pakistan for its parliament resolution condemning the execution of war criminal Abdul Quader Molla and expressing concern over it. She says it is ‘unacceptable’ and ‘unexpected’. “The war crimes verdict was executed following all legal procedures. There is no scope for any country or quarter to condemn (the execution),” she told reporters after a function at the National Museum auditorium on Sunday. Demonstrations and protests have taken place across Bangladesh since Pakistan’s National Assembly adopted the resolution in the wake of Quader Molla’s execution. Bangladesh’s foreign ministry summoned the Pakistan High Commission in Dhaka and sought an explanation. The youth-driven Ganajagaran Mancha marched to the Pakistan High Commission to protest but was stopped by police. They have always favoured capital punishment for war criminals. Pakistan’s flag and effigies of several leaders of that country were also burnt across Bangladesh to protest the move. A spokesperson for Pakistan’s foreign ministry issued a statement on Friday saying that adopting the resolution in Parliament did not mean ‘interfering in Bangladesh’s internal matter’.
NATO has begun negotiating a Status of Forces Agreement with Afghanistan without waiting until the Karzai government signs the security deal with the US, the Pentagon and NATO have announced. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen confirmed that negotiations have begun between NATO senior civilian representative Maurits Jochems and Afghan national security adviser Rangin Spanta. “I welcome the start of these talks today... while stressing that the NATO Status of Forces Agreement will not be concluded or signed until the signature of the Bilateral Security Agreement between the governments of Afghanistan and the United States,” Rasmussen said in a statement. NATO’s chief added that SOFA is vital for NATO’s “mission to train, advise and assist” the Afghan army and police after 2014. The alliance’s decision demonstrates “the international community's willingness to support Afghanistan after 2014,” Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said in a statement. “But, as both the NATO Secretary General and Secretary Hagel have made clear, the Alliance won't finalize their agreement with the Bilateral Security Agreement still hanging in the balance.” Announcing that the US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel was “pleased” with the development, Kirby also stressed that the “message of the United States and its allies in Europe is clear: the Bilateral Security Agreement should be signed without any more delay.” A status of forces agreement establishes the rights and privileges of foreign personnel in a host country and usually comes as part of a broader security arrangement. According to an unnamed Reuter’s source, NATO’s agreement would include some provisions similar to those in the US security agreement with Afghanistan. NATO’s declared objective in Afghanistan for 84,000 soldiers, 60,000 of whom are Americans “is to enable the Afghan authorities to provide effective security across the country and ensure that the country can never again be a safe haven for terrorists.” The alliance plans to leave a training and advisory mission, expected to number 8,000 to 12,000 soldiers after 2014. Earlier this week NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe, US Air Force General Philip Breedlove, said that if Afghanistan fails to sign a new security pact, NATO will start planning a complete withdrawal by early next spring. Breedlove also stated that planning for the last rotation of forces would need to happen in April, and the decision on whether to leave a training force or go to a “zero option” of pulling out all its forces would have to be taken then. “That timeline I don't think is well understood by President Karzai,” Breedlove said. For months the US has been negotiating the signing of the security agreement with Afghanistan. But so far Karzai has been stalling the process saying it can wait for the presidential elections in April and should depend on US willingness to help restart a peace process with the Taliban and stopping raids on Afghan homes. NATO starts negotiating its forces’ status in Afghanistan for post 2014.
Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly (NA), Syed Khursheed Shah said on Saturday that Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) does not demand mid-term polls in the country, SAMAA reports. Talking to newsmen here he said that Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar is a wise poitician and he must be thinking over his words. “There should not be a matter of ego in politics.” he said. Shah hailed the judgment of the International Court of Arbitration on Kishanganga Dam.
www.shiitenews.comYazidi nasbi takfiri terrorists of outlawed Sipah-e-Sahaba aggressively attacked Shia Muslims, mosques and Imam Bargahs across Pakistan during last 24 hours. Shiite News Correspondent reported on Saturday that Ilyas Chinioti group’s terrorists attacked Shia mosque in Shadi Pur Mohallah in Chiniot (Punjab). Due to their firing, 2 Shia Muslims were injured. Four of the terrorists also sustained wounds. Yazidi nasbi takfiri terrorists of outlawed Sipah-e-Sahaba attacked an Imam Bargah in Civil Lines (Tando Jahanian) Hyderabad Sindh. Shia Muslims went to police for registration of case and on their refusal they began staging sit-in in the Cantonment area. In Rawalpindi, the terrorists attacked on the house of Asghar Mubarak, defense council for innocent Shiites put behind the bars. His Brother Ali Asghar was injured due to firing. Earlier, an Imam Bargah in Daur City of Nawabshah district, terrorists desecrated the banner of Islam, alam pak and ransacked the Imam Bargah.
Members of Pakistan's oppressed sect visits Qadian for Annual Convention, enjoy 'real' religious freedom
Ahmadiyya Times‘Today we have come to know what the real freedom of religion is like,’ a sentiment many attendees of Ahmadiyya Jalsa Salana have projected who arrived here in Qadian from Pakistan to participate in the 122nd International Annual Convention of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. These joyous Ahmadi Muslim attendees have traveled hundreds of miles and crossed an international border to participate in the Qadian’s world-famous gathering where they will be free to acknowledge each other – or, anyone else for that matter – with proper Muslim greetings of Assalam-o Alaykun, call Adhan – the Muslim call to prayers – when it’s time for prayers, and freely recite the Holy Qur'an anytime they want to with the fear of getting arrested.The sentiments were running high in the streets of Qadian among the more than 2000 Pakistani Ahmadi Muslims who already reached here to attend the Jalsa Salana to be held from December 27th to 29th. A Journalist from Qadian, Ch. Maqbool Ahmad, reports that a Pakistani Ahmadi said on the request of anonymity, ‘when we reached Qadian which is a Holy city for us, our eyes were full with tears.’ “It is the land where our Promised Messiah Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani was born.” “And, we are feeling very comfortable and happy here.” Some 30 thousand members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jam'at from 25-30 countries are expected to participate in the convention. The last session of the program will be addressed by the community's worldwide spiritual head, Hazrat (His Holiness) Mirza Masroor Ahmad, who will speak from London via a live satellite link and the proceeding will be broadcast by Muslim Television Ahmadiyya to 204 countries of the world where the community has working branches. The Jalsa Salana preparations are in full swing, journalist Maqbool Ahmad reports, and Qadian bazaars are extra vibrant with shoppers’ activities.
The historical spot, Darul Masih, is decorated with special lights with huge lines of the guests waiting outside Bait-ud Dua for their turn to enter and offer special prayer in this small, slightly raised room, where the Ahmadiyya founder spent countless nights of his life awake, praying, supplicating, and writing many of the over 80 books he authored during his life. The Qadian streets are abuzz with rhymes being read from the Psalms of Ahmad and poems praising the Ahmadi guests’ arrival in the town of Qadian, further reports Journalist Ch. Maqbool Ahmad. “Audio poems like ‘Qadian Darul Amaan’ and ‘Khusha Naseeb ki tum Qadian mayn rehtay ho’ can be heard everywhere.” Hindu, Sikh and Christian communities of Qadian also gave warm welcome to the Jalsa Salana Participants.
The United Nations refugee agency warned on Friday that 2013 could become a record year for the highest levels of forced displacement ever seen, owing to unusually large numbers of new refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs). The first half of 2013 is described as “one of the worst periods for forced displacement in decades,” by the Mid-year Trends 2013 report produced by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Some 5.9 million people were forced to flee their homes in the first six months of the year, compared with 7.6m for all of 2012. The biggest producer of new displacement was Syria. Sharp rises were seen in the number of new refugees — 1.5m during the first six months of 2013 compared to 1.1m for all of 2012 — and in the number of people newly displaced within their own countries – 4m people compared with 6.5m for all of 2012. Pakistan was named the largest refugee-hosting country in the world with 2.6m refugees from Afghanistan and more constantly flooding. There were also more than 450,000 asylum applications, although this was about the same levels from the same period a year ago, said UNHCR.
At least five soldiers were killed and 34 injured in a car bomb attack at a security checkpost in North Waziristan's Miranshah area on Wednesday. A TTP faction calling itself Ansarul Mujahideen claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it is revenge for the killing of Hakimullah Mehsud by a US drone. The group's spokesman told the media, "We will continue such attacks in future as drones continue to kill our people." Notably, Ansarul Mujahideen, before it took up the drones' issue, had been busy attacking Parachinar's Shia community. It would be hardly surprising if it has had a hand in a spate of incidents involving sectarian violence in Rawalpindi and Lahore. This group had also claimed responsibility for suicide bombing on a Peshawar church. At the time, the TTP had distanced itself from the atrocity that drew worldwide condemnation. But then the Taliban have no qualms about lying. Several times in the past they have claimed credit for acts of terrorism with which they had nothing to do like some high profile incidents in Western countries, and denying involvement in the face of evidence. As for the drones issue, the government has been trying to persuade the US to stop the strikes for being counterproductive. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif raised the issue in his UNGA speech as well. His government is also to move a resolution in the UNGA against unabated drone strikes which, it says, are violative of the country's sovereignty and harm its integrity. Islamabad can do little else than to put such moral pressure on the US. In any case, the TTP is not fighting the State because of drone strikes. True, the drones target its leaders too because they go into Afghanistan to participate in the war there on Afghan Taliban's side. That must hurt. But the TTP also has its own agenda of establishing a caliphate. What the outfit's new leader Mullah Fazlullah did in Swat should leave no doubt in anyone's mind about these violent men's intentions. Still, the government has been trying to engage with them, apparently, in the hope of winning over 'reconcilable' elements through persuasion backed by a liberally-financed rehabilitation plan, reserving the use of military option for the others. The process may already be making progress, and could be the reason behind escalation in both sectarian violence and attacks on the security forces. The assault on the Miranshah checkpost came a day after a meeting of the newly-constituted Cabinet Committee on National Security (CCNS) reiterated the government's commitment to negotiate with the Taliban, and use other options only as a last resort. The same day the TTP issued an angry statement accusing the government of planning a military operation against it, saying it was ready for any action. The Miranshah bombing, amid escalation in sectarian violence, shows Mullah Fazlullah-led TTP is looking for a fight rather than a negotiated peace.
AT the age of 40, Abdul Rahim Jan earns a meagre income of Rs9,000 a month selling potatoes off a pushcart in the dusty Nawan Killi area of Quetta. “I cannot pay school fees or buy costly books for my children,” he tells Dawn. So his nine-year-old son and seven-year-old daughter study in two seminaries. “The madressahs provide free religious education and food to them,” he says. In Balochistan, there are thousands of families like that of Rahim Jan, pushed by a combination of religious, political and social factors into sending their children to madressahs. The madressah network, which is widely accused of recruiting ‘jihadis’ and financing militancy, is not just spreading rapidly here but is also actively discouraging formal schooling. Yet where the religious-right is manipulating the situation, the government’s shortcomings are glaring, too: over 10,000 settlements across Balochistan have no schools at all, and the province has 2.3 million children out of school. The Balochistan government has passed a bill declaring education free and compulsory under Article 25(a) of the constitution. Yet even those who could be in a position to improve matters present an alarming picture. Sardar Raza Muhammad Bareech, for instance, is the adviser on education to the provincial chief minister. “Can you believe that there’s a high school for girls in the heart of Quetta that has no functioning toilet?” he points out. The institution to which he refers has more than 2,500 students. In Mr Bareech’s view, “we need to recruit some 60,000 new teachers and open about 13,000 new schools” to meet the target of educating all of Balochistan’s children. Figures available with the provincial education department show that there are 57,000 teachers employed in 12,600 primary, middle and high schools in Balochistan. But the provincial secretary for education, Ghulam Ali Baloch, says that there are more than 2,000 ‘ghost’ schools with around 4,000 ‘ghost’ teachers — institutions and educationists that are dysfunctional or exist solely on paper. Independent sources and educationists put these numbers even higher: well-known educationist Nazar Muhammad Bareech, for instance, claims that there are more than 10,000 ‘ghost’ teachers. Meanwhile, according to Ghulam Ali Baloch, almost half of the 22,000 settlements across the province have no schools at all. In the absence of schools, madressahs have mushroomed up in Quetta and in other parts of the province. After the events of 9/11, when Pervez Musharraf decided that all seminaries across the country must be registered, in Balochistan the task fell to the Department of Industries and Commerce. An officer of this department told Dawn on the condition of anonymity that around 2,500 madressahs are registered with the Balochistan government, and the number of unregistered seminaries lies at more than 10,000. “Most of them are located in the areas bordering Afghanistan,” he said. As in other parts of the country, Islamic fundamentalism in Balochistan can be traced back to Ziaul Haq’s ‘Islamisation’ policies. But the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11 contributed significantly to boosting radicalisation in the Pakhtun-dominated areas of the province. Madressahs have been used to recruit fighters and finance militancy. But they also provide accommodation, clothes, food and books to their students, a lure that poor people, especially in isolated areas, find attractive. Yet the challenges thrown up by religion, poverty and other factors could be countered if only there were sufficient government schools. Educationist Zubaida Jalal, a former federal minister for education, believes that “the government has failed to educate children.” She maintains that it is a myth that the sardars, or feudal lords, are an obstacle in the way of education in this province, and feels that poverty and unemployment are yet to be addressed here. “These issues are a hundred per cent behind the radicalisation,” she says. Cumulatively, the situation is such that the demand for madressahs in Balochistan seems to be increasing. Maulana Abdul Qadir Looni, the mohtamim or organiser of the Madressah Naumania and the secretary general of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Ideological, told Dawn that his institution provides religious education to 145 students. The number of students is constantly rising at seminaries, he said, but “we have no space to give admission to new pupils.”
The US Congress is on the verge of passing a National Defence Authorization Bill that places conditionalities on Pakistan’s military aid, including Coalition Support Funds reimbursements. The aid has been made contingent on the US Defence Secretary certifying to Congress that NATO’s supply route through Pakistan is open and that the country is taking demonstrable action against al Qaeda and other militant groups active along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. On his recent visit to Pakistan, US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel had said that there are many options open to the US to withdraw equipment from Afghanistan, and all of them more or less are in its use. However, the route passing through Pakistan being less expensive and less cumbersome, is required to be kept open, unhindered, to facilitate the withdrawal from Afghanistan. Hagel had also warned Pakistan about the changing mood in Congress regarding the supply line being blocked as a protest against drone strikes. The federal government has done nothing about the PTI’s blockade. Now with matters coming to a head, it has become necessary for the federal government to intervene and stop the PTI from making things more problematic for the country. PTI wants the US to leave this region and now when that moment has arrived, Imran Khan’s preying on the NATO supply routes to put pressure on the US smacks of impatience and meddling in foreign policy. Parties in power in the provinces are not permitted constitutionally to interfere in matters that could affect the relationship between Pakistan and other countries, that too adversely. As far as the NATO supply lines are concerned, it cannot be taken as an open and shut case. Layers of legal and strategic complexities bind Pakistan from moving against the NATO routes. Pakistan’s position is too weak to demand treatment of choice from the US, especially when the country has been losing leverage for not fulfilling its commitment to eradicate militancy from the country. Being a frontline ally in the war against terrorism, Pakistan’s first obligation was to assist the US in rooting out militancy from Afghanistan. On the contrary it became a safe haven for the Afghan Taliban. Pakistan’s credibility to fight militancy is so poor that the US defence authorisation bill seeking certification from the Defence Secretary that Pakistan is taking demonstrable actions against al Qaeda and other militant groups active along the Pak-Afghan border and that the military and other aid to Pakistan would not be used against ethnic groups such as the Baloch, Sindhi and Hazara or religious minorities such as Christians, Hindus and Ahmedis poses a tall order. The bill also requires Pakistan to diminish the threats posed by Improvised Explosive Devices and cross-border firing attacks against US coalition and Afghan security forces in Afghanistan. Imran Khan and for that matter the federal government have to come to terms with the reality that Pakistan is not in a position to pull the US’s strings. Inviting US wrath at this time might become detrimental for Pakistan and invite international isolation. Afghanistan is still not in a settled state and requires international assistance, especially that of the US to maintain security, and Pakistan’s position in this equation is very crucial. That holds the promise of both opportunity and risk.