Wednesday, April 19, 2017
Afghan officials claim the US' "mother of all bombs" killed 13 Indian militants in Nangarhar. In a DW interview, expert Michael Kugelman says Indian nationals are joining both "Islamic State" and al Qaeda in Afghanistan.
On April 13, the United States dropped its biggest non-nuclear bomb in eastern Afghanistan on an "Islamic State" (IS) target. The so-called '"mother of all bombs" (MOAB) killed at least 96 IS fighters, according to Afghan officials. Surprisingly, 13 of them were from India.
IS in Afghanistan is known to have recruited hundreds of local fighters as well as militants from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Central and Southeast Asia, but an active involvement of Indian jihadists in IS' Afghanistan operations is not well documented.
In an interview with DW, Michael Kugelman, a South Asia expert at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, says there's good reason to believe there could be Indian extremists in Afghanistan.
DW: Not much is known about the activities of Indian militants in Afghanistan. What can you tell us about it?
Michael Kugelman: I think the broader question is why Afghanistan is becoming so attractive to extremists on the whole. Over the last few years there has been an influx of extremists from around the broader region - the militant network in Afghanistan is much more diverse and international than merely the Taliban and al Qaeda. Clearly what appeals to extremists about Afghanistan is its growing swath of lawless and hard-to-navigate territory, which provides ideal conditions for sanctuaries. These are conditions that appeal to extremists of all types, whether we're talking about Indian militants, jihadists from Central Asia, or Arab fighters from the Middle East.
This is one of the few cases, if not the first, in which Indian extremists have been killed in Afghanistan. Are Indian militants active across Afghanistan?
There's reason to believe that al Qaeda, and particularly AQIS - al Qaeda's South Asian regional affiliate - could feature some Indian nationals. Let's not forget that the supreme leader of AQIS is widely believed to be an Indian. Al Qaeda, despite claims to the contrary, remains a serious threat in Afghanistan and the surrounding region.
Also, based on recent history, there's good reason to believe there could be Indian extremists in Afghanistan. Laskhar-e-Taiba (LeT) has had a presence in Afghanistan, and for quite some time LeT partnered closely with Indian Mujahideen, an al Qaeda-aligned Indian terror group, which has since been decimated.
The bottom line is that given the types of terror groups that have operated in Afghanistan, both past and present, there's reason to believe that there could be some Indians among them.
Are Indian PM Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalistic policies pushing some Indian Muslims toward extremist groups in Afghanistan?
It's true that Indian Muslims have faced new and growing challenges of discrimination and marginalization in India, though it's doubtful this has had a radicalizing effect and led some to join IS. I think it's highly unlikely that radicalized young Indian Muslims are gravitating to IS en masse, though one can't discount the possibility that if current conditions remain in place, you may eventually have this dynamic play out, albeit on a modest scale. For all the challenges and problems they face, Indian Muslims, on the whole, are treated better than religious minorities are in many other countries.
The Afghan Ministry of Defense also confirmed that Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Philippine nationals were among those killed in the MOAB attack. Is Afghanistan becoming a favorite destination for jihadists willing to join IS ranks?
For quite some time in previous years, when we thought of top destinations for global terrorists, Pakistan was at the top of the list. But aggressive counterterrorism operations by the Pakistani army in the tribal areas - long South Asia's ground zero for militant safe havens - have shifted the calculus. First, counterterrorism operations have pushed many Pakistan-based terrorists across the border into Afghanistan. Second, these operations have prompted other terrorists from the region and beyond to view Afghanistan as a more attractive destination because the law and order situation is so much worse there.
In effect, Islamist extremists far and wide are starting to see Afghanistan as a more coveted address than Pakistan because the real estate is simply more attractive and safe havens are so much easier to establish.
How do you analyze the future of IS in Afghanistan?
I think that IS' star is falling in Afghanistan. Several years ago it was developing a strong profile, at a time when IS was going on the offensive around the world by staging attacks in so many places and enjoying a strong grip on its Middle East-based "caliphate." But over the last year, as IS has lost much of its territory in the Middle East, the US has worked closely with Afghanistan to degrade the organization's infrastructure and capacities in Afghanistan, mainly through airstrikes. Also, IS has not endeared itself to anyone with its particularly brutal tactics in eastern Afghanistan, making the Taliban look like a modest force in the eyes of local communities.
I am not saying IS is on life support in Afghanistan, but it's certainly struggling in a big way. The Taliban have always been the top militant threat in Afghanistan, and as IS continues to get beaten down there, the strength of the Taliban will be amplified even more.
Michael Kugelman is a senior associate for South and Southeast Asia at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars.
The interview was conducted by Masood Saifullah.
All it needed was a pre-mediated murder most brutal. All it needed was a pre-mediated murder most brutal that was retrospectively “justified” with false allegations of blasphemy.
All it needed was this for the Pakistani political landscape, including prominent religious scholars, to come together. All it needed was this for our lawmakers to call for the existing blasphemy legislation to be amended, with a view to criminalising such fictitious and malicious claims. All it needed was this, many decades after these persecutory man-made laws came into being.
All it needed was the inhumane lynching of Mashal Khan for the political apparatus to move towards reclaiming its writ.
This may seem like too little too late. But this is Pakistan we are talking about. Where the religious right has slowly and steadily been tightening the noose around the country’s neck. Where certain elements of the so-called ‘moderate’ establishment have all the while been waiting in the hangman’s wings, too afraid to liberate the country by severing the rope once and for all. Thus given these constrained circumstances — this shift, however small it may be, must be welcomed.
For here is where we all must be honest with ourselves. Civil society protest alone will not change the world. We have been here far too many times before to believe otherwise. We have been here far too many times under democratic rule to believe otherwise. From the twin attack on Ahmadi places of worship in Lahore, to the diabolical burning alive of a Christian couple near Kasur. We have all been here before. We have attended the candlelit vigils. We have stood under the banners poignantly declaring: one nation, one people. We have done all this and we, rightly, will continue to do so. Yet without support from the state — such sincere and heartfelt shows of unity have no long-term bite.
The primary function of civil society agitation is to keep the media focused, ensuring that whichever atrocity of the day (for these, sadly, occur all too frequently) captures as many headlines for as long as possible. This especially holds true when it comes to international media coverage. For the bitter truth is that the Pakistani state’s fixation on its image abroad is the one thing that can usually be counted upon to galvanise it into action. Yet for far too long has the state outsourced all responsibility to civil society to protest against such gross injustices. And so it is we wait with bated breath. In the hope that we have reached a tipping point from which there is no return. In the hope that the state once and for all recognises the burden of liability rests upon its shoulders. And that the state fulfils its responsibility of clearing up the bloody chaos of its own making.
By Saad Sayeed and Syed Raza Hassan
A looming Supreme Court decision that could disqualify Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif over corruption allegations had the country on edge Wednesday, as a drawn-out investigation related to the "Panama Papers" leaks neared a conclusion.
Sharif has denied any wrongdoing, but the Supreme Court agreed to investigate his family's offshore wealth late last year after opposition leader Imran Khan threatened street protests.
The Supreme Court could take a range a of steps.
It could clear the prime minister, or order a further judicial commission of inquiry or even declare him ineligible to hold office, as it did in 2012 with then-Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani over a contempt of court case.
Pakistani stocks fell 1.5 percent in early trade after the news overnight that a decision would be announced on Thursday. The benchmark KSE 100 later rebounded and closed up 1.6 percent.
Both the government and opposition expressed confidence on Wednesday.
"There is no chance that decision will come against our leadership. Our government and entire leadership are performing their duties as per routine," Talal Chaudhry a prominent leader of Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz told Geo Television. Naeem ul Haque, a spokesman for Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) said he expected a verdict against Sharif, but he made clear the opposition would not launch a new street movement if they were disappointed.
"Imran Khan has clearly stated that we will accept the decision of the Supreme Court, but we believe that enough evidence has been presented to remove the prime minister and that a verdict should be reached that is based on the evidence," he said.
In 2014, Khan led a months-long protest that paralysed the government quarter in the capital, Islamabad, after rejecting Sharif's decisive election win a year earlier. The case stems from documents leaked from the Panama-based Mossack Fonseca law firm appeared to show that Sharif's daughter and two sons owned offshore holding companies registered in the British Virgin Islands and used them to buy properties in London.
Sharif told parliament last year that his family wealth was acquired legally in the decades before he entered politics and that no money was siphoned off-shore. Khan, however, has argued that the prime minister's lawyers have changed stories on the source of the offshore money several times and that it is up to Sharif to prove the offshore companies were not used for money laundering. Corruption is endemic in Pakistan, which ranks a dismal 116th out of 176 in Transparency International's annual index of the world's most graft-ridden countries.
By Michael John De Dora
“How I wished during those sleepless hours that I belonged to a different nation, or better still, to none at all.” –W.G. Sebald
A glance at his profile reveals bits and pieces from which you can patch together his person: poetry, musings, an avidness for photography, friendships, quotes from books, posts on global affairs and local issues, a love for knowledge, an interest in Sufism, support for women’s rights and a heart for humanity.
This was Mashal Khan, a kind and gentle soul whose crime was to think freely, to have the audacity to think differently, and to envision a better society and a better people.
He was brutally murdered in Mardan.
Is it even a shock that such a horrific incident took place in a country which has institutionalised bigotry and hate? Where politicians, representatives, leaders, judges, journalists, anchors and clerics peddle hate, bigotry and violence every single day?
Before the matter of blasphemous posts was concocted, Mashal was accused of being an Ahmadi which he had denied. Is such an incident unexpected in a land whose laws enshrine exclusion, discrimination and persecution towards the Ahmadi community?
When the state sanctions hate, it is a license for the public to have a free hand to apply it wherever and whenever they wish. The gruesome incident also forces questions about blasphemy in Pakistan, including the reform and the repeal of the Blasphemy Law. It is undeniable that the matter warrants honest and candid debate, but it is also a point to ponder whether or not the people would stop baying for blood if the Blasphemy Law goes. In Mashal’s case, neither a formal complaint nor an arrest had taken place. There has been no appeal to law, mob vigilantism was the law of the day.
The baying for blood may not disappear with the Blasphemy Law, but let us be clear that state patronage of certain ideologies and ideas opens the floodgates for abhorrent public sentiments and abominable tendencies and menaces to come to the fore and actively play out. Trump’s ascent to the White House and the boost it has been for white-supremacists and racists stands stark in sight. One need not even look so far for proof of this, a glimpse at our eastern neighbour suffices. Modi’s rise has emboldened Hindu right-wing organisations and India has subsequently seen a sharp growth in incidents of violence, fear, threat and intimidation against those who provoke their ire.
In Pakistan, state patronage of certain ideologies and ideas, a certain narrative of Islam and the narrative of blasphemy, is an encouragement for the public to engage, express and execute their depraved schemes, bigotry, intolerance, and to take the law into their hands.
Mashal’s murder, however, must not push us into the utopian expectation and idealistic hope that the Pakistani government and state would step up to reflect on their responsibility, their complicity and decisively act to steer the country away from the destruction it is steeply descending into by each passing day.
Such an expectation and hope cannot be fostered while the state and government pander and patronise for their own agendas and interests the very elements and organisations whose extremism, intolerance and violence are fatally injuring Pakistan. Such a hope cannot be kept while religion is employed as a potent weapon for political expediency, for cheap political mileage and for silencing dissent; while lawmakers declare those who wish to see Pakistan should either mend their ways or leave the country; while the Prime Minister’s son-in-law engages in hate speech against the Ahmadi community; while political parties scurry to shake hands bloodied with the lives of thousands of Pakistanis, in the name of electoral alliances; when disappeared bloggers and arrested professors are struck with blasphemy allegations; when the Interior Minister threatens to shut down social media due to blasphemous content; when judges become moral crusaders and drum up perceived dangers to Islam to curtail freedoms.
That this witch-hunt and venom would extend and seep into online spaces was only inevitable. It is too much to expect for things to change when not a leaf stirred when Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti were gunned down in broad daylight, when the Christian couple of a pregnant Shama and her husband Shehzad were lynched and thrown into the furnace of a brick kiln, or when an angry mob set fire to a house in Gujranwala killing three Ahmadis including eight-month-old Hira, and five-year-old Kainat.
The involvement of ordinary people in such acts does much to underscore the extent, gravity and ideological and cultural facets of the prevalent challenge of extremism and intolerance confronting Pakistan. We are complicit, through our outright espousal of extremism, through our apathy towards its victims; through the stutter and stammer of our tongue with “ifs” and “buts” when condemning these acts, through the repugnant “justifications”, “explanations” and “questions” we offer for these acts; and through our refusal and silences to protest against them. In one way or another, we are complicit.
When an institution of education, knowledge and learning becomes the site of a cold-blooded, brutal murder, it should be enough to recognise that the Pakistani state is a rotten state, with a diseased society, both of which can never bear a truly living and thinking individual like Mashal.
The state is complicit, and so are we.
We may not have been present at the site of the murder, but we enabled it.
One can suppose that the splatters of blood are lighter on our hands, but know that they are there nonetheless.
Every day, this country dies a ghastly death at the hands of the mob it has the misfortune of calling its people, its nation.
It seems even God has forsaken Pakistan for we alone are responsible for the hell and havoc at home.
ZIAULLAH HAMDARD SAYS THE MOB OF STUDENTS TURNED ON HIM AND ACCUSED HIM OF BLASPHEMY WHEN HE TRIED TO STOP THEM
A teacher has described the moment he was turned on by a mob of students as they lynched a liberal student in a deadly attack that has triggered shock, outrage and fear across Pakistan.
Hundreds of men attacked journalism student Mashal Khan last Thursday, stripping, beating and shooting him before throwing him from the second floor of his hostel at the Abdul Wali Khan University in Mardan.
Khan had been known for his liberal views, especially on Facebook, sparking blasphemy allegations against him.
Twenty-two people have been arrested so far over the killing, which came as the government ramped up its anti-blasphemy rhetoric in recent weeks.
On Tuesday one of Khan’s teachers, Ziaullah Hamdard, told the private Geo TV channel that he had been called to the scene at the university’s journalism department where students were shouting slogans against Khan and another student, Abdullah. One university employee threatened to kill Khan and cut him into pieces, Hamdard said. Then the mob began kicking in the door to a washroom where Abdullah had taken refuge.
“All this happened in seconds, they broke the door, some of them had batons, they were furious—suddenly they entered inside… They were not listening to any one,” Hamdard said.
Police had arrived and managed to yank a wounded Abdullah to safety, he told Geo. At the sight of blood and the crowd, he added, “I lost my courage.” He rushed to the staff hostel, but around 20 students were already there, and they accused him of hiding Khan.
“They said, ‘You are a non-believer, you have hidden a blasphemer’… They were crazy, they were not listening to me. Two of them kicked me and snatched my mobile and locked me in my room.”
Hamdard was rescued by another teacher, he said, and spirited away by police—but by then Khan, who had been hiding in his own room at a nearby student hostel, was dead. “Mashal was a Diya [lamp]. They have turned off a lamp,” Hamdard told Geo.
He apologized to Khan’s parents for failing to protect their son, and said his guilt had driven him to resign.
The brutality of the attack, partly recorded on a mobile phone, provoked widespread condemnation, with protests in several cities over the weekend—although it took two days for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to speak out.
The lynching came in the wake of a government push to root out blasphemy, a hugely sensitive charge in Muslim-majority Pakistan with even unproven allegations leading to dozens of mob lynchings and murders since 1990.
Last month Sharif swore blasphemers on social media would be prosecuted. The Interior Ministry also threatened to block social media websites with blasphemous content.
The Turkish referendum on Sunday has returned President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to 12 additional years of rule with powers to amend Turkey’s Constitution; and the victory has been unexpectedly narrow. He is a tough angry man, and anger is associated with the Turkish tribe he comes from. Non-westernized Anatolia, the eastern part of Turkey, has taken its revenge on the western, Westernized part of the country; and people, particularly journalists who have suffered under him, predict despotism rather than democracy in Turkey in the coming days.
Just when people thought he had painted himself into a corner with toughness, Erdogan has ended up playing his cards right. U.S. President Donald Trump has sent him a message of congratulations for having become a dictator because he supported Trump’s decision to bomb Damascus “for having used a chemical agent against his own people.” Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has also praised him for being a great president. He had earlier closed down a chain of good Turkish schools in Pakistan run by Erdogan’s rival Fethullah Gulen in return for which Turkey had bought some homemade Pakistani trainer planes. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states are thankful he has opposed Iran’s penetration of Syria and Iraq, sending in Turkish troops to balance Iranian contingents.
The narrow margin in the referendum means there is going to be a lot of strife in Turkey in the coming days. Erdogan’s success in power has been owed to economic progress and if he doesn’t lose it with his excesses he will have to be tolerated for the next decade. Referendums defeat the spirit of democracy by violating the principle of indirection under “populism.” The European Union was stopped in its progress toward a constitution by referendums, and now the union itself is under threat. In the U.S., the victory of Trump by a narrow margin has led to anti-Trump demonstrations. The U.K., too, was pushed into an uncertain future outside the EU through a narrowly-won Brexit referendum. Prime Minister Theresa May has today called for early elections to secure a stronger mandate for Brexit negotiations. And in India, a hardline “Hindutva” leader, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is already demonstrating how despotism is practiced under democracy.