Sunday, December 3, 2017
Who's fighting whom in Pakistan? Why does the country's powerful army continue to support some militant groups? DW examines the protracted conflict in the nuclear-armed nation and its possible effects on the region.
Time and again, western experts and Pakistan's progressive analysts have pointed to a "failing state" – a nuclear-armed country grappling with an acute economic crisis, where home-grown Islamic extremists target civilians and security forces on a regular basis. But for a common European citizen, whose main reference points on the conflict happen to be Taliban militants, Afghanistan and Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, it is difficult to understand the complexity of the Pakistan problem.
Who is fighting whom in the country? What is the objective of a myriad of extremist groups? Do they want to overthrow the government and impose Shariah in the country? Is the army supporting some militant outfits? What is India's role in the conflict? And does the civilian government have any say in security affairs?
Repeated militant attacks raise some serious questions about the future of the Pakistani state, its stability (or a lack of it), and its ability to cope with the security threats that can have repercussions and consequences that go beyond Pakistan's national boundaries.
What Islamists want
During the 1980s Afghan war, Islamabad, with the help of Washington and other Western governments, supported the mujahideen (Islamic warriors) against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. The Pakistani army not only trained the warriors militarily, then Pakistani military dictator General Ziaul Haq also embarked on a nationwide Islamist revival with aid from Saudi Arabia.
But September 11 attacks in the US turned the entire Islamists-Islamabad camaraderie upside down. In 2001, then Pakistani military ruler Pervez Musharraf decided to side with the US to topple the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. That entailed that Pakistan had to relinquish support for a number of Islamist groups and had to launch a military operation against them. Detailed studies on Musharraf's crackdown on Islamists suggest that he targeted the militants selectively – not acting against Islamists whom Pakistan considered "strategic assets" to be used as proxies to wage a war in India-administered Kashmir. Also, some groups were needed to keep the pressure on the Afghan government for a future political bargain.
Nevertheless, the somewhat absolute control of the Pakistani state over the Taliban and other Islamists weakened after Pakistan's support for the US. A number of groups turned against Islamabad and started attacking the army facilities and civilians. The problem continues to pose a serious challenge for Pakistani authorities.
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), for example, is allied with the Afghan Taliban but also act independently. The TTP's aim is to impose Shariah, or Islamic law, in Pakistan, but it is unclear how the group wants to achieve it. There is tangible support for the Shariah ideology in Pakistan, with Islamic clerics belonging to the Saudi-Wahhabi brand of Islam - from mosques in small and big towns to mainstream Islamic political parties - demanding the same.
The TTP is seen by many in the country as an organization resisting the "Western influence" on the Pakistani state. Many people believe that the West, particularly the US, determines Pakistan's economic and security policies and that Islamabad needs to align itself with the "Muslim ummah" (the Muslim world) instead.
The TTP has carried out hundreds of attacks in Pakistan over the past few years. It has targeted religious and sectarian minorities, the general public and security forces. But due to the fact that Pakistan has a strong national army, and as some experts say that the military generals continue to enjoy a certain degree of influence on the TTP commanders, the organization hasn't been able to overrun the security forces.
"The TTP wants to build a Taliban state in Pakistan. They are against the state and the army, because the army has been working closely with the US for a very long time. In this sense, the group already has similar goals as the Afghan Taliban," Christian Wagner, a South Asia expert at the Germany-based Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (German Institute for International and Security Affairs), told DW.
"The TTP is different from groups like Lashkar-e Janghvi, which has repeatedly carried out attacks against the Shiite minority in Pakistan. Here, the fight against the state and the army is less important than the fight against other religious communities," Wagner added.
The Wahhabi/Deobandi militant groups such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi have been involved in targeting the Shiites and Pakistan's religious minorities.
"Islamic State" (IS) has limited presence in Pakistan, but with al
Qaeda not as potent as it once was in the South Asian country, and the Taliban splitting into various factions due to a leadership conflict, it is rapidly making inroads into the country. Scores of Taliban defectors have joined the group in the past few years.
The Haqqani Network, another militant organization allied with the Taliban, is considered closer to Islamabad than any other insurgent group. The US has declared it a terrorist outfit and has demanded Pakistani authorities to act against the Haqqanis a number of times. But the officials have so far been reluctant to target the outfit. The Haqqani Network, which is based in Pakistan's tribal northwest along the Afghan border, is usually involved in attacks inside Afghanistan, hence it does not pose a challenge to Pakistani authorities.
The Kashmir narrative
The Islamic militancy issue in Pakistan is as old as the Kashmir conflict. Historians say that the first batch of Islamist rebels was sent into Kashmir after the partition of India in 1947 to overthrow the Kashmir monarch. As a result, Indian troops entered the valley and occupied a large part of it, whereas Pakistan took over a smaller portion, which it now administers. But Pakistan's conflict with India over Kashmir persists, as the state has endorsed an "India enemy" narrative ever since. Most Islamist groups thrive on the "occupied Kashmir" discourse, just like the Middle Eastern Islamic groups want to liberate "occupied Palestine."
Since 1989, Muslim insurgents have been fighting Indian forces in the Indian-administered part of Kashmir - a region of 12 million people, about 70 percent of whom are Muslim. India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars since independence in 1947 over Kashmir, which they both claim in full but rule in part.
"The secessionist movement in Jammu and Kashmir is fueled by Pakistan," said Varad Sharma, an Indian expert on Kashmir. "Pakistan uses terror as a strategic policy despite facing several terror attacks itself and losing thousands of its people. The jihadist infrastructure continues to operate from Pakistani soil. History tells us that the militants who operate in Kashmir are, mostly, either local Kashmiri Muslims or Pakistanis," Sharma added.
Pakistan claims that its support to Kashmiri separatist groups is only political, but New Delhi claims Islamabad is training the militants and providing arms to them. India and the international community are particularly perturbed by the activities of Lashkar-e-Taiba, which has a civilian front called Jamatud Dawa, and Hizbul Mujiahideen, whom India accuses of orchestrating terrorist attacks inside Kashmir.
"Along with armed struggle, we will also start a civil disobedience movement in 'occupied' Kashmir,'" said Hizbul Mujahideen chief Sayed Salahuddin in July, referring to India-administered Kashmir.
"People on both sides will have to march and trample that bloody line that divides them," Salahuddin said after the killing of Burhan Wani, a Kashmiri separatist leader, by Indian troops.
While New Delhi accuses Islamabad of aiding militants in Kashmir, Islamabad says New Delhi is backing a separatist movement in its western Balochistan province.
Balochistan, which borders Iran and Afghanistan, remains Pakistan's poorest and least populous province despite a number of development projects Islamabad initiated there in the past. Rebel groups have waged a separatist insurgency in the province for decades, complaining that the central government in Islamabad and the richer Punjab province unfairly exploit their resources. Islamabad reacted to the insurgency by launching a military operation in the province in 2005.
The Baloch rebels are largely secular and their supporters are against the Islamization of the country. They are not interested in overthrowing the government; they demand separation from Islamabad.
"Balochistan was never a part of Pakistan," Naobat Mari, a young Baloch activist, told DW. "First, our land was invaded by the British, who divided it into three parts. After the partition of India in 1947, the eastern part of Balochistan remained an independent state, which was later forcibly annexed by Pakistan," he added.
DW English Published on May 23, 2015
By Syed Muhammad Abubakar
On October 20, 2017, when NASA shared a GIS imagery of agricultural fires cluster in India, it showed how massive were the fires set to their fields by hundreds of thousands of farmers in the nearby states of Punjab and Haryana. Gradually, the entire Punjab in Pakistan and parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) were engulfed in thick smog.
We wasted no time to blame India for causing smog on our side of the border and took the issue on the national media. However, the most important question that remains unanswered is whether or not India can be held entirely responsible for causing smog in Pakistan?
Even for a minute, if we assume that India created the smog situation in Pakistan, we may also have to assume that all is going well in Pakistan, which means that we have a healthy forest cover (which we do not), there is no construction dust produced by mega projects in Lahore and elsewhere (of course there is), there are very few smoke emitting factories (but there are many), very few people travel on cars and in fact, most of them use the rapid mass transit systems (it is quite the opposite), the country is self-reliant on renewable energy (not at all as we are already in love with coal), and so on and so forth.
Are we sure?
Abid Omer, Head of Pakistan Air Quality Initiative (PAQI) says the responsibility to curb air pollution is shared equally, as the same poor farmers are on both sides of the border (between Pakistan and India).
“To lay the blame on India is sidestepping the issue,” he says and added, “crop burning is a factor contributing to smog in Pakistan, emissions from factories, vehicles, brick kilns, steel mills and power plants are other contributing factors as well.” The 24-hour average value of PM2.5, according to the National Environmental Quality Standards (NEQS) should be maximum 35 microgrammes per cubic metre (ug/m3).
PAQI data reveals that in Upper Mall Lahore, PM2.5 was found to be 577, 545, 622 and 368 ug/m3 on November 4, 11, 12 and 14 this year respectively, which was 10 to 18 times above the NEQS limits. In Peshawar, PM2.5 was 259, 231, 219 ug/m3 individually on November 10, 11 and 12 this year, which was again six to seven times more than the NEQS limits. While in Karachi, PM2.5 was 142 ug/m3 on November 6, 2017, which was four times more than the NEQS standards. Statistically smog kills more people than militancy in Pakistan Omer says the exposure to polluted air for 24 hours is equivalent to smoking 10 to 15 cigarettes a day.
The smog policy
The government of Punjab has finally made a smog policy to deal with the burning issue. Naseemur Rehman, the director of the Environment Protection Department (EPD), says a rise in the number of vehicles leading to traffic congestion has become a big problem. “The industries are also contributing to the issue along with brick kilns, crop burning, setting trash on fire, load shedding leading to use of generators etc,” he complains.
The director says that the Punjab government has taken several measurements to fight the issue including shutting down around 250 smoke-emitting factories.
“Section-144 has been imposed on burning crops, solid and hospital wastes, while an action is being taken against polluting two-stroke rickshaws with the establishment of a vehicle testing system in Lahore and other districts. An awareness campaign for farmers on the burning of crops residue is being planned.”
Rehman adds, “Punjab has asked the ministry of climate change to take up the matter with India so that stubble burning can be stopped on the other side of the border.” However, he disagreed with the high levels of PM2.5 and PM10, highlighted by other private air monitoring labs and suggested the labs to get their devices calibrated by the EPD.
Chief Justice Lahore High Court (LHC) Syed Mansoor Ali Shah has ordered that a revised smog policy spelling out actions, items and the declaration of the public health emergency be submitted to the court within three months. The revised policy will assign a role to the health department and to the school education department. The court noted that though the health department has been publishing health advisory warnings in the national dailies, no research was carried out regarding the effects of smog on health and the advertisements were placed on their general understanding.
With Pakistan spending millions in advertisements to blame India for exacerbating smog in its country, the Indian air pollution experts also do not seem to be happy with the entire situation. Pallavi Pant is one of them.
A postdoctoral research associate at the department of environmental health in the University of Massachusetts, Pant believes, “It will not be correct to put the blame entirely on India as the current smog episode (in Pakistan) can also be due to stubble burning and adverse meteorological conditions”.
“Crop burning in both the Punjabs (Pakistani and Indian) can potentially contribute to smog in the cities on both sides, and the problem can be exacerbated by poor wind speeds, and local sources. Careful analysis of the data, including weather patterns, satellite data and local sources of air pollution is required in order to make a thoughtful assessment of the role of crop burning in the current smog episode,” she explains.
“We definitely need regional action on air pollution in South Asia,” she continues, “Air pollution does not respect borders and to deal with the problem effectively, we need to come up with integrated policy solutions,” Pant says.
Environmental lawyer Rafay Alam, while sharing his views on the smog policy says, “For any policy, it is important to have data and the EPD should have focused on gathering data of at least the last year’s smog after working with relevant departments.” The EPA should install air-quality metres in every district. Currently, there are only five ambient air-quality measurement stations in Lahore and they are not enough for the city, let alone for the 36 districts of Punjab, said Alam.
When asked if India is responsible for the smog condition in Pakistan, he stresses, “You cannot put the blame on India when you do not know the source apportionment. Pollution from India is one thing and its solution is trans-boundary collaboration. The federal government must reach out to the Indian states Haryana and Punjab to deliberate on the matter,” he insists.
Nevertheless, meteorological experts look at the matter differently. Being the lead author of Pakistan’s National Climate Change Policy, Dr Qamaruz Zaman Chaudhry blames the adverse climatic conditions and its change for smog that lead to extended dry spell over the last five to 10 years in Pakistan. “After August, there was no weather system in Pakistan. The atmosphere became highly stable and stagnant, especially in the lower atmosphere, where the smoke had accumulated being unable to reach the upper atmosphere. To clear out the system, rainfall w’as direly needed which finally happen on November 14. But, the situation can again get worse if the meteorological conditions return to their previous state,” he explains. Indian capital choked by smog as emergency measures fail to offer respite Over the need to improve the urban forest cover of cities such as Lahore, Gujranwala and Faisalabad, CEO South Punjab Forest Company (SPFC) says, “Trees not only help to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere but also some of the polluting gases,” says Tahir Rasheed and emphasises to conserve fully grown trees.
He says, “In a long-run, improving urban forest cover can help to address smog. Cities should develop vertically and not horizontally so that green spaces are not paved over. Since the survival of young saplings is also a challenge in urban setup due to air pollution, utmost efforts should be made to conserve the existing urban forests and to plant the young saplings alongside. The selection of appropriate species is also important as some are helpful to control air pollution, whereas some monitor the level of pollution in urban areas.”
A World Bank (WB) 2014 report has warned that urban air pollution in Pakistan is among the most severe, with pollution in Lahore having high levels of PM2.5 ranging from 2-14 times more than the limit described by United Nations Environmental Protection Agency Limits (ESEPA). The report highlights that the number of vehicles in Pakistan has jumped from approximately 2 million to 10.6 million over the last 20 years while the number of motorcycles and scooters grew more than 450 per cent from 1991 to 2012.
Farzana Anees, Senior Media Officer at Gulab Devi Chest Hospital says, “The smog has mostly affected patients with asthma and respiratory issues. Before the rainfall, when smog concentration was high, people also had throat and lung infections, severe coughing and eye irritation.”
According to her, keeping the doors and windows shut in such conditions is important. “One can also buy air-purifiers. However, when going outside, N95-rated air quality masks should be used.”
Satellite image shows magnitude of smog caused by aerosol pollution in Pakistan A report, ‘Atmospheric emissions and pollution from the coal-fired thermal power plants in India’, reveals says that the Indian states of Haryana and Punjab produced 23,500 tonnes and 16,500 tonnes of PM2.5 during 2010 which indicates that the evil of air pollution took years in the making and possibly a major reason for causing smog on the other side of the border.
The international ‘No Harm Principle’ of the state’s responsibility to ensure that its activities within its control do not damage the environment of other states or of areas beyond the limits of the national jurisdiction, makes it mandatory for India to ensure its unsustainable developments do not affect Pakistan. However, while proving its point, Pakistan should share figures that the arch-rival is behind the environmental chaos.
If terrorism in Pakistan could be said to have a front line it would be located in and around the city of Peshawar. With terrorist incidents reduced nationally by 70 per cent compared to two years ago it is Peshawar that still bears much of the brunt. The murder of nine people and the wounding of at least 37 others in an assault on the hostel attached to the Agricultural Training Institute was a classic of its kind. A public holiday when guards may be down, a soft target, an easy camouflage provided by burqas and a rickshaw that nobody is going to think anything ill of to deliver the butchers to their workplace.
Law-enforcement agencies were swift and effective in their response and the list of dead and wounded would probably have been longer had they not been quickly at the scene. Three attackers are dead and another is reportedly wounded and in custody, which in itself is something of a rarity and the man may provide useful intelligence.
Those are the bare bones of the incident. It appears that the LEAs had intercepted communications during the incident and that the men attacking the ATI were in touch with their handlers in Afghanistan throughout. It also appears that they only arrived in the city the day before and therein lies an answer to one of many questions. Thousands go to-and-fro the border either legally or illegally every day of the year. The flow never stops. The attackers will have been among them, and no matter how diligently the border is policed there is always going to be ‘the one that gets through’. They would not have had to carry arms or munitions with them and they would have had a safe house pre-arranged where they prepared themselves. The network of sympathisers and fellow-travellers is well established — nationally and not just in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa — and can be activated with an innocuous SMS. It is unfair to castigate the LEAs in this instance. If they had the intelligence they would have made a pre-emptive move and averted the tragedy. We mourn the dead, but the butchers will be back.
This year Pakistan received the lowest ranking on the Global Terrorism Index (GTI) since 2006. It is also the third consecutive year that fewer Pakistanis have died in terrorist attacks than the previous year. However, Friday morning was a reality check for all concerned. Three terrorists dressed in burkas stormed the hostel of the Peshawar Agriculture Training Institute (ATI), killing nine and injuring 37. The military and security forces involved in neutralising the terrorists who attacked ATI and prevented them from capturing more hostel buildings, thereby killing more students and staff members can pat themselves on the back all they like — but neither they nor Pakistan’s civilian leadership should forget that for nine homes, it was 16 December, 2014 all over again.
The Peshawar attack took place exactly a week after a senior police leader Ashraf Noor was assassinated in the same city. A suicide bomber targeted the late AIG Noor on 24 November. Earlier that month, at least three people were killed and six others wounded when a senior cop’s vehicle was targeted by a suicide bomber in Quetta. At least 121 people were killed in eight terrorist incidents this February. This clearly shows that despite recent successes, Pakistan is still one of the most terrorism-afflicted nations in the world. We need to stop relying on military operations alone to deal with this problem and take up a more comprehensive approach to tackle the menace of extremism and terrorism.
A good place to start would be to improve our relationship with Afghanistan. Operation Radd-ul-Fasad may have reduced terrorist incidents in Pakistan by a large number, but the terrorists are still escaping into neighbouring Afghanistan and continue to conduct operations against Pakistan from there. According to police and military officials, the terrorists who attacked ATI also had handlers in Afghanistan. This situation can only be resolved if Pakistan’s relationship with Afghanistan improves and the two countries engage in cooperative military operations and intelligence sharing.
Afghanistan’s complaints of Pakistan harbouring the Haqqani network and others must not be brushed under the carpet. We need to demonstrate that our concern for terrorism is wide-ranging and not just limited to certain groups. It is surely easy to blame Afghanistan but apparently more difficult to fix our own problems.
It is high time that those at the helm remember the existence of the seemingly defunct National Action Plan (NAP). If it wasn’t in bad shape already, it was completely torn apart in the conclusion of the Faizabad fiasco when the government capitulated to extremists who staged an illegal dharna, openly utilised rhetoric containing hate-speech and glorified the murderer Mumtaz Qadri. That it happened under the watch of an elected cabinet and was brokered by the military says it all.
#Pakistan - Bigotry prevails, republic fails - “The Pakistani state has left its citizens . . . at the mercy of demons.”
The federal government, initially with the facilitation of the Punjab government and finally with the arbitration of the military leadership, has – by agreeing to the November 27 accord exactly as was demanded by the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasul Allah (TLYR) – has signed its own indictment as bigotry now clearly defines the ideological contours of the ‘land of the pure’.
Like in the past, except the first martial law of 1953 enforced in Lahore by a valiant General Azam Khan on the behest of warring politicians to quell anti-Ahmadi riots, the state and its legislative and executive arms panicked, capitulated and surrendered before self-appointed inquisitors and apostatizing low clergy. Both the civilian and martial arms of the executive competed in appeasing a crowd of a few hundred rioters, and abrogated their constitutional mandate as the Supreme Court and Islamabad High Court watched haplessly the breakdown of the constitutional order they are supposed to uphold in the garrison city and the capital.
Even if the Islamabad High has now raised quite pertinent questions about the sordid saga and the document of surrender, it was the very honourable court that had bound the hands of civilian law-enforcement agencies by vague and contradictory directions regarding the use of force to get Faizabad interchange vacated from the armed-occupiers of the TLYR. First it was our so-called sovereign parliament that was held “collectively responsible for having committed the blasphemy” of minor tinkering (from “solemnly swear” to “hereby declare”) of no legal substance in the oath for being ‘Muslim’ in the subordinate Election Act of 2017. The fact is that the constitutional provision of the definitions of “Muslims” and “Non-Muslims” on the touchstone of faith in the “absolute and unqualified finality of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), the last of the prophets” under Article 260(3) continues to prevail. The sovereignty and collective wisdom of parliament came to its knees when the substitution of words with the same intent was adjudged blasphemous by religious zealots.
Within days the whole parliament had to stand on its head to rectify the ‘blasphemy’ it had collectively committed. By doing so it has, at the very least, handed over its pervasive legislative authority over matters of faith – which it had acquired under the 2ndAmendment to the constitution – to non-state sectarian extremists. After the resignation of Minister of Law Zahid Hamid on the demand of the TLYR, parliament should logically be seeking redemption from the Amir-e-TLYR!
Now matters of faith and the emotive issues of blasphemy and punishment of alleged blasphemers will be in the hands of the warring factions of the Sunni clergy, which is also engaged in accusing one another of blasphemy and apostasy. This will open the floodgates of an internecine sectarian conflict in Pakistan with cross-border implications, especially after Prime Minister Khaqan Abbasi and COAS General Qamar Javed Bajwa have assured the Saudi monarch of Pakistan’s support for Saudi Arabia’s endeavours for “peace and tranquillity in the region”. The law of the jungle is to prevail with the abdication of the state authority and submission to violent religious extremists, even as our brave sons – like Major Ishaq – continue to sacrifice their lives while fighting against the scourge of terrorism. Sectarian differences have been rooted in Muslim history and can co-exist only in a culture of tolerance and pluralism, with Muslim-majority states treating their citizens as equals regardless of their faiths. But when these states became the instruments of sectarian divisions and intervened in the faiths of their citizens they lost their role as neutral and honest arbitrators. And this is what has been happening with the state, and with nation-building, in Pakistan.
The compromises the state has been making with religious extremists to expeditiously avert various threats have in the long run cast irreparable damages to both our state and society. First, the state patronised the Deobandi/Wahabi/Takfiri extremists to fuel various jihads and to counter ethnic nationalists. And now, it is encouraging and appeasing Barelvi extremists who have started following in the footsteps of the violent Takfiris. With this, a vicious cycle of sectarian divisions is reaching its zenith. The paradox of an ideological state now impedes the very existence of the state which has left its citizens and their fundamental rights to the mercy of demons. The Islamabad High Court had first exceeded its mandate by constraining the hands of the civil administration. But after the operation, the court has taken serious exception to the November 27 accord under which the officials responsible for the aborted operation on November 25 for the eviction of an unlawful occupation are to be investigated and punished for acting on the orders of the IHC to uphold the law and keep order. The greatest tragedy is that, rather than the violators of the law, those very few from among the whole range of sprawling arms of the executive who dared to enforce the writ of the state are to be prosecuted and punished at the behest of the rioters.
And the greatest irony, in the eyes of the IHC, is that “Prima facie, the role assumed by the top leadership of the army is beyond the constitution”. How could – asks Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui – they play the role of an “arbitrator” or “facilitator”? It is all so obvious that Minister for Interior Ahsan Iqbal did not take ownership of the operation against the sit-in as the civilian law-enforcement agencies struggled with the call of their duty after the army decided not to join in the eviction operation. While ideological, institutional, constitutional, federal and democratic paradoxes of this state are now haunting us right in our face, various arms of the state and other stakeholders are fighting among themselves to expand or preserve their turfs and fiefdoms. It appears as though Pakistan is a conglomerate of contending fiefdoms – not a unified state governed by a constitution and by a respect for the social contract made with its citizens.
Unfortunately, as the garrison asserts its supremacy and the judiciary timidly questions the former’s role as a de-facto ultimate arbiter, the civilian forces are at each other’s throat. With the PML-N governments in Punjab and at the centre at loggerheads in appeasing the religious extremists, the PTI bent upon derailing a quasi-democratic transition and the PPP exhibiting crass opportunism, no one is left to defend even a lame-duck republic. This leaves the citizens of this country at the mercy of authoritarian state actors and violent extremists and bigots – all in the name of faith and ‘national interest’. And this is how bigotry prevails – as the republic fails.
By Pamela Constable
In the past 10 days, two dramatic events — the government’s capitulation to a violent protest by radical Muslims and the release from house arrest of an anti-India militia leader — have crystallized the sway that hard-line Muslim groups increasingly hold in Pakistan, a nuclear-armed state whose military leaders claim to be fighting extremist violence.
The freeing of Hafiz Saeed, an Islamist cleric accused of masterminding a deadly rampage in Mumbai nine years ago, came as no surprise. Although denounced as a terrorist by the United Nations and the United States, Saeed enjoys a large following in Pakistan as a fiery champion of Muslim rights in Kashmir, the disputed border region with India. He has been repeatedly detained and released by the courts, a sign of Pakistan’s often-contradictory efforts to secure both domestic Muslim loyalty and international support. In contrast, the chaotic scenes in late November of Muslim demonstrators throwing stones at police near the capital, then rising up across the country to protest a minor change in an electoral law, shocked the nation and raised the specter of mass religious unrest — a permanent worry in an impoverished nation of 207 million, 95 percent of whom are Muslim and most from the same Sunni branch as the protesters. But the quick resolution of the problem also raised worrisome questions about the long-term capability of the government of Pakistan, a fragile democracy whose prime minister was recently ousted, to push back against religious extremism and the risks of bringing in the powerful military to settle civilian disputes.
Saeed was released Nov. 24 after a provincial court found “insufficient evidence” to link him to the four-day Mumbai terror spree in 2008 that killed 164 people. This time, the court action came amid intense pressure from the Trump administration on Pakistan to prove it is not harboring Islamist militias. It also met with especially sharp denunciations from India, an archrival whose Hindu nationalist prime minister has developed a warm relationship with the new administration in Washington.
American officials demanded that Saeed — who was detained in January under U.S. pressure — be arrested again. The U.S. Embassy here expressed “serious concerns” over his release and charged that his now-disbanded militia, Lashkar-e-Taiba, was responsible for the deaths of “hundreds of innocent civilians” in numerous terrorist attacks. Six victims in the Mumbai bombing and shooting attack, which Indian and U.S. officials believe was carried out by Lashkar-e-Taiba commandos, were U.S. citizens. In Pakistan, though, Saeed remains a force to be reckoned with and a political survivor who has continually reinvented his movement, changing its name and founding a charitable offshoot that helps people in emergencies. In October, after years of denouncing electoral politics, he also formed a political party, and its candidate performed better than expected in a race for parliament. After he was released, he triumphantly returned to his Friday pulpit in Lahore and demanded that his name be removed from the U.N. sanctions list.
While Saeed’s supporters were celebrating his return to the public arena, a tense drama was playing out in the capital between another religious firebrand and government security forces. The confrontation that erupted early on Nov. 25 quickly escalated into a nationwide protest surge and ended 24 hours later in triumph for the protesters and embarrassment for the government, which accepted virtually all of their demands. In contrast to Saeed, an established though controversial leader in Pakistan, the recent protests thrust a little-known, rabble-rousing cleric into the news. Within 48 hours, Khadim Hussain Rizvi had exhorted his supporters to violence, sparked mini-protests across the country, stared down civilian officials, bargained hard with the army — and became a household name.
Unlike Saeed, Rizvi is not associated with armed militant groups. His movement is built around reverence and love for Muhammad as Islam’s final prophet. On Friday night, just one week after the angry protests subsided, Pakistani Muslims everywhere jubilantly celebrated Muhammad’s birthday, thronging streets hung with dazzling lights and gathering around tents where devotees recited chants glorifying him. But Rizvi’s movement is also harsh and extreme in its views. It has built a cult around a man who assassinated a provincial governor for religious reasons, believes blasphemers should be executed and crusades against Ahmedis, a small religious minority that follows a later prophet. The protests were raised against a change in electoral laws that softened requirements for candidates to avow Muhammad as the final prophet — a move that Rizvi’s group suspected was aimed at increasing the political participation of Ahmedis.
The price of pacifying Rizvi and his followers, many Pakistani leaders and commentators said, may be the emboldening of other fanatical Muslim groups, a further weakening of civilian authority, an increased potential for the military to intervene, and a rise in both sectarian hatred and conflict between rival Sunni schools. Some warn that the foundations of Pakistan’s fragile democracy have been shaken. “This is a steep descent into a bottomless pit for the state and society,” said Faratullah Babar, a liberal senator. “It is the abject surrender of the constitutional government to a lawless mob” whose leaders seek to gain power through the “facade of religion.”
Others suggest that the episode signifies a growing confluence of interest between hard-line religious groups and the military, whose leaders have vowed to stay out of politics but are known to be unhappy with both the ruling party and its top electoral rival, the movement led by Imran Khan. Imtiaz Alam, writing Thursday in The News International newspaper, noted that the state, which once encouraged militant groups like Saeed’s to fight in India and Afghanistan, has now abetted the domestic agenda of a fanatical strain within Pakistan’s large, mainstream Sunni group, the Barelvis. “The law of the jungle is to prevail,” he warned. “The state has left its citizens . . . at the mercy of demons.” Much of this drama will play out in Punjab province, the country’s most populous and wealthy region, and its capital, Lahore. Punjab is the home base of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League, headed by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. The party has been riven by divisions and disarray since Sharif was ousted by the Supreme Court in July and will be fighting for its political life next year.
The Lahore area is also the headquarters of Saeed’s operations, as well as Rizvi’s smaller Movement in Service to the Messenger of God. The provincial government and courts have long been criticized for coddling Islamic extremists — allowing Saeed to preach freely, radical Islamic students to intimidate university campuses, and hard-line sectarian groups to operate. Authorities recently agreed to allow Rizvi’s group to influence school curriculums and blasphemy cases.
But that policy of appeasement may have backfired. Both Saeed and Rizvi fielded candidates in the October race to fill Sharif’s seat in parliament — and both won far more votes than expected. Now, the successful protests have put Rizvi’s group in a position to challenge the Sharifs on their home turf and play a central role in next year’s polls.
Chief Minister (CM) Sindh, Syed Murad Ali Shah has said that after Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah it was Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who framed labour laws, initiated their welfare schemes for workers and gave the concept of minimum wage.
He said this while addressing a ceremony to hand over 1024 flats and 200-beded hospital from federal government to Sindh Workers Welfare Board here at the CM House on Thursday. The ceremony was attended by leader of opposition in the National assembly Syed Khursheed Shah, provincial labour minister Syed Nasir Shah, Provincial IT Minister Dr Sikandar Shoro, MPA Saeed Ghani, Secretary Labour Rasheed Solangi and others.
Murad Shah said that Quaid-e-Azam founded the country and Quaid-e-Awam made it modern welfare state for workers by taking drastic steps such as enacting labour laws, fixing working hour and minimum wage, establishing residential schemes for them and providing them health and education facilities. “The work left incomplete by Shaheed Bhutto was completed by Shaeed Benazir Bhutto,” he said.
The Chief Minister said that on the directives of President [former] Asif Zardari his federal labour minister Syed Khursheed Shah had constructed 1024 apartments for workers in Sindh. After 18th amendment, the federal government is handing over these flats and hospitals to Sindh government’s workers welfare board. “It was out hectic efforts that finally we are taking over the flats and hospital,’’ he said.
He said that ‘roti-kapra aur makan’ is the mainstay of manifesto of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). “The Sindh government is going to hand over these flats to the workers through balloting to fulfil its manifesto,” he said.
The Chief Minister said that the Worker Welfare Board, Sindh was part of federal government’s ministry of labour has been devolved to provincial government. “We have enacted Workers Welafree Fund Law and notified its board. The board has held its eight meeting so far.
Murad Ali Shah said that the provincial government has taken some important measures for the welfare of workers. They include allocation of Rs300 million for dowry grant out of which Rs80 million have been disbursed among the workers of Karachi, Hyderabad, Sukkur and Larkana divisions. The remaining amount of Rs220 million would be disbursed during the next few months. He added that a death grant of Rs200 have also been disbursed among the heirs of the workers died during the current financial year. Talking about scholarships, 2016-017, the chief minister said that Rs200 million have been allocated. The board has invited applications from the students and after their scrutiny the scholarships would be awarded to the deserving students.
Chairman Pakistan People’s Party Bilawal Bhutto Zardari in his message on the eve of International Day of Persons with Disabilities has lauded Sindh government’s three percent increment in job quota for disabled candidates and has formed a committee to implement this quota in letter and spirit. The quota for disabled candidates previously stood at two percent which has now become five percent after the increment.
Bilawal Bhutto has stressed that the differently-able community should be given adequate opportunities and facilities to grow and utilize their full potential for the overall good of the society and a better life for themselves.
In his message on the eve of International Day of Persons with Disabilities being observed by the United Nations the world over on Sunday, the PPP Chairman endorsed the UN Theme for the day in 2017 “Transformation towards sustainable and resilient society for all”.
He said that persons with certain physical disabilities are never a burden on the society but they are truly source of inspiration for rest of the humans. “They just need what is their due from the society to contribute their part in the development and progress of the country,” the PPP Chairman said.
The PPP Chairman also pledged that PPP would also increase employment and recruitment quota for the persons with disabilities in departments of Federal and other three provincial governments to five per cent with a mechanism for full implementation after coming into power at center and these provinces after 2018 general elections.
He emphasized that not only in jobs but the differently-able community should also be given special incentives for business, sports and other fields to show their performance.