Friday, May 11, 2018

Pakistan will pay a high price for appeasing violent extremists

By Zahid Hussain
The attempt on the life of Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal is a grim reminder of how the growing menace of religious extremism threatens Pakistan’s fragile democratic political process. The country’s top internal-security official was shot at by a lone assailant, believed to be a member of a radical religious group, while the minister was addressing a public rally in his home constituency in central Punjab.
The incident, a month before the general election, raises questions about the failure of the state to contain violent extremism. More troubling still, the flames of bigotry are sweeping across the country, creating a dangerous confluence of religion and politics. Iqbal was targeted to send a message to other political leaders, and the incident will certainly have an adverse effect on the election campaign. It will be especially tough for the leaders of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party. It might also affect former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s plans to address public rallies in an attempt to mobilize public support in Punjab.
It remains to be seen how quickly the party can recover from its shock and whether it is able to successfully address the differences within its ranks. A major worry for the party leadership is that its support among Barelvi voters might split, undermining its election prospects. Although no group has claimed responsibility for the attack on Iqbal it was not the action of a lone wolf. The 22-year-old assailant is said to be a follower of a recently formed, radical Barelvi sectarian organization known as Tehreek-e-Labaik. Its members spearheaded a three-week-long siege of the capital, Islamabad, few months ago. Led by Khadim Hussain Rizvi, a cleric notorious for his vitriolic tongue and named on extremist watch lists, it virtually brought the Pakistani state to its knees. A highly controversial deal brokered by the military brought an end to the siege, with many describing it as abject surrender to the zealots. The government conceded to all the demands of the cleric, including the removal of a federal law minister accused of committing blasphemy. The administration even agreed to compensate militants who were involved in attacks on law-enforcement agencies and destroyed public property. The abject submission to the lawbreakers and non-state actors undermined the legitimacy of the civil administration and raised questions about the country’s battle against violent religious extremism.
There has not been any instance in the country’s history of such a humiliating capitulation by the state. The abject submission to the lawbreakers and non-state actors undermined the legitimacy of the civil administration and raised questions about the country’s battle against violent religious extremism. The whole episode has further empowered radical Islamist and sectarian groups. The Islamabad siege also exposed various fault lines that are worsening the existential crisis facing the state. While a weak and bitterly divided civilian government is mainly responsible for the mess, the civil-military conflict and various centers of power working against each other compounded the crisis. The sense of victory has given further stridency to a rising Barelvi militancy. Rizvi, who is in his late 60s and uses a wheelchair, is a prayer leader at a Lahore mosque who gained notoriety in 2011 when he publicly defended the assassination of Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Punjab, who was killed by his official security guard for defending a Christian woman charged with blasphemy. Rizvi and other hard-line clerics hailed the assassin as a “soldier of Islam.” A court sentenced the guard, Mumtaz Qadri, to death.
Rizvi represents the rise of a new and more radical Barelvi sectarian movement. The majority of Pakistani Muslims belong to this sect, which had generally been considered “moderate” compared with those belonging to the hard-line Deobandi school of Islam. But radical clerics such as Rizvi have turned to militancy, publicly espousing violence in the name of their narrow view of religion. The movement has drawn huge support from among the less-educated population, such as the attacker who targeted Iqbal. The filthy language used by these clerics and the open incitement to violence not only threatens the lives of members of minority religious communities, but also leaves moderate Muslims more vulnerable to mob violence. As such, the attack on Iqbal did not come as surprise.
The impunity radical clerics such as Rizvi enjoy has further reinforced the perception of Pakistan as becoming a hostage to violent extremists. The inaction of the state might encourage other extremist groups to put the government under pressure. If the parliament is rendered irrelevant and democratic forces are divided, this could provide greater space and influence for non-elected groups and other institutions of the state. The use of religion as a policy tool by the state, and its confluence with politics, has divided the nation along sectarian lines and fueled bigotry.

Bilawal holds Nisar responsible for non-implementation of NAP

PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has held former interior minister Chaudhry Nisar responsible for non-implementation of National Action Plan.
It sends a wrong message when an interior minister meets the leader of an outlawed organization, Bilawal said, referring to Nisar’s meeting with ASWJ leader Moulana Ahmad Ludhyanvi.
The PPP chairman said NAP has not been completely implemented in the country.
Bilawal was speaking to media after meeting Ahsan Iqbal’s son at Service Hospital, Lahore.
The PPP chairman had reached the hospital to meet Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal, who had survived an assassination bid last week.
However, the doctors didn’t allow Bilawal to meet Iqbal due to minister’s condition.
Bilawal met Ahmed Iqbal and conveyed his good wishes to the interior minister.
Ahmed Iqbal thanked Bilawal and the people for their prayers and said his father was recovering fast.
Ahsan Iqbal was injured in a gun attack on May during PML-N’s rally in his native town on May 6.
Minutes after the attack, police arrested a suspected identified as Abid Hussain from the spot.
According to officials, Abid Hussain was an active member of newly formed politico-religious party.

Pakistan - Funding Religious Seminaries

While the public opinion is divided on the role of religious seminaries in our society, international actors are united in seeing them as nurseries for terrorism. Acting accordingly, Pakistan decided to take control of operations of Jamaat-ud-Dawa’s (JuD) educational and health services. Now the provincial government has asked the Auqaf Department to prepare a report on the expenses of the seminaries of JuD that are under its control. Auqaf Department has already sent a statement of costs of Madressah Hudebia’s operations to the provincial government. But the question that needs to be asked from the provincial government is what compels it to fund the seminaries of JuD?
If the rationale behind funding is that it will bring seminaries under the control of the provincial government, then there are hundreds of seminaries operating in Punjab. Why is the provincial government keen on bearing the expenses of schools belonging to JuD only? The provincial government then needs to come up with a detail report of all seminaries that are running in Punjab. Nevertheless, these institutions can manage funds on their own. Punjab should not repeat what the provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) did when it announced a package of 227 million in provincial budget for Dar-ul-Uloom Haqqania. The KP government was rightly censured for just giving money to one particular seminary. The provincial government move was seen more an attempt of forging a political alliance with Sami-ul-Haq rather than an attempt of mainstreaming the religious schools. The sincerity of KP government was rightly questioned. A parallel can be drawn between the moves of both provincial governments. In KPK, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) wanted to secure the support of Sami-ul-Haq against Fazl-ur-Rehman. Whereas in Punjab, Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) has to operate these after confiscating them from their previous owners.
There are areas of public interest Punjab government needs to focus on. There is a lot that needs to be done in the field of public health, education, and transportation in Punjab. It will be better if the provincial government focuses more on issues that are of public importance. Only delivering on these things can help the ruling party to win the upcoming elections. Merely funding religious schools will not solve the issue of militancy. It needs a broader policy that includes a progressive and scientific curriculum that preaches tolerance, peace and importance of a pluralist society. If political opportunism takes the space, it will be an unrealistic dream to see a Pakistan without a terrorist mind-set.

Kot Asadullah - #Lahore - Toxic water causing deformities among people in this #Pakistani village

Kot Asadullah Lahore (HRNW): Basharat Ali was 15 when his legs began to falter, a condition doctors have blamed on polluted water in a village near Lahore infamous for the deformities that afflict many of its people. Too weak to carry his own schoolbag, he was taken to hospital, where doctors said water laden with toxic levels of arsenic, fluoride, minerals and various metals was to blame. “It was a big blow to me as I had to quit my studies to get treatment,” Ali told AFP on the rooftop of his house some 45 kilometres (28 miles) from Lahore, the capital of Pakistan’s largest province Punjab. From there Ali’s view takes in some of the plastic, chemical, pharmaceutical and wire manufacturing factories nearby. They are widely blamed for contaminating the water local residents have to drink.

According to the Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry, 90 percent of factories in and around the city dump their waste untreated in open pits or discharge untreated water in streams. Local media first reported on the problems in Ali’s village well over a decade ago, prompting teams from Lahore’s government hospital and water officials to make several visits. New wells have been dug since, but they only provide more water polluted with arsenic. Meanwhile Ali and other residents of the area have paid a heavy price, with activists saying 200 other children have suffered bone and dental deformities since 2000. “Now these children are grown men and women, but they remain hidden in their houses. They are not getting any marriage proposals because people say that their bones are deformed,” he says.

Ali, now 32, remains frail, his teeth yellowed and decaying. His is permanently disabled, with one leg shorter than the other, and has difficulty walking. His village Kot Assadullah and neighbouring Kalalanwala, to which it is joined, now have a reputation. “People from other villages can recognise us and say ‘You are from Kalalanwala’,” said 26-year old Muhammad Mukhtiar, who tends a shop in the village. When AFP visited recently men, women and children carrying cans and bottles were queueing at a new solar-powered water filtration plant paid for by a charity. A government-funded filtered water plant is also currently under construction, but residents say neither will be enough. Punjab officials declined AFP’s repeated requests for comment.

Chemicals and toxins including arsenic have been found in the village’s drinking water and are causing the deformities, said Dr Khalid Jamil Akhtar, a private clinician who has been visiting the area for the provincial government. Arsenic, he said, can cause vomiting, diarrhoea and stomach problems, while also affecting the liver, lungs, kidneys and eventually the entire gastrointestinal tract. Polluted water could also result in neuropathy — a nerve dysfunction that can lead to deformity-causing numbness or weakness in the limbs. Dr Akhtar said most of the patients he saw were suffering from neuropathy, primarily caused by “contaminated water, by the toxins of the factories in the area” — though he added that some cases could be caused by genetics, without giving a breakdown.

Arsenic — typically found in groundwater contaminated by untreated industrial, municipal and agricultural waste — in particular is a source of increased concern. A study conducted by Swiss expert Joel Podgorski using 1,200 groundwater samples throughout Pakistan said that up to 60 million people were at risk of arsenic poisoning. The study, published last year, identified high concentrations of arsenic along the Indus River and its tributaries, with “hot spots” around the populated areas of Lahore and the southern city of Hyderabad. The Pakistan Council of Research in Water (PCRWR) disputes the findings, arguing that the sample size was too small, but agrees there is an arsenic problem. “We have done tests on up to 60,000 samples from Lahore to lower Sindh under a study being carried out since 1999 and have found arsenic at many places,” said Lubna Bukhari, head of water quality for the PCRWR.

It also says that water monitoring projects carried out since 2012 show that between 69 and 85 percent of Pakistan’s total water is contaminated or otherwise unfit for human consumption. “We even found arsenic in bottled water,” said Bukhari. The problem is given extra urgency by Pakistan’s looming water scarcity crisis, with the country on track to become the most water-stressed country in the region by 2040, according to the UN.But there is no national strategy for cleaning up what water there is and much less for conserving it, with environmental matters left in the hands of provincial authorities.Twenty years have already passed since deformities started appearing in Kalalanwala, and little change has taken place. There, a 25-year-old labourer named Naveed said his legs became deformed when he was three years old. “I don’t have any hope as we are poor and nobody listens to us,” Naveed said.

Pakistan's 'Name Game' Gives Terror Groups a Pass

By Madeeha Anwar
Changing one's name in Pakistan is a daunting and lengthy legal procedure that requires extensive paperwork.
Surprisingly, that is not the case with militant groups that get banned by the government. In the past two decades, several groups accused of carrying out terror attacks have avoided a crackdown by changing their names.
Islamist cleric Hafiz Saeed, a U.S.-designated terrorist who allegedly was the mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 160 people, is perhaps the most prominent leader accused of the tactic.
Saeed lives freely in Lahore, despite having a $10 million U.S. bounty on him since 2012. His Lashar-e-Taiba (LeT) group also has been designated a terrorist outfit by the United Nations, Britain, Russia and the European Union. But he has evaded a ban in Pakistan on LeT by creating multiple other organizations that critics say are merely fronts for the original terrorist group.
LeT was formed in the 1980s with a vision to liberate Indian-administered Kashmir and to eventually merge it with Pakistan. The government of Pakistan banned LeT in 2002.
Saeed later renamed LeT as Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), and its charity subsidiary Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation (FIF). Both JuD and FIF are placed on U.S. and U.N. terror watch lists.
The resurfacing of several terror factions over the years has led regional experts to question the government's willingness to hold such groups accountable.
"Banned organizations are not allowed to resume activities after changing names, according to the law," Zahid Hussain, a security expert, told VOA.
"Nevertheless, almost all of the banned outfits are working in Pakistan. It appears that the state and the government are not serious about stopping them. They only place them on a terror watch list after facing increased international pressure," he added. "We have several such examples, such as JuD, Jaish-e-Muhammad and Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan."
Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), an extremist group proponent of liberation of Indian-administered Kashmir, operated under a new name, Tehreek-ul-Furqan, after it was banned in 2002.
Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, a U.N.-designated terror group, rebranded itself as Harkat-ul-Ansar in 1993 following a ban. Its leader, Fazlur Rehman Khalil, lives openly in the Pakistani capital.
Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), a radical group that is blamed for deadly attacks against the country's minority Shiite Muslims, was banned multiple times by the government, only to reinvent itself as Millat-e-Islamia Pakistan (MIP) and Alh-e-Sunnat-Wal-Jamaat (ASWJ).
Despite these examples, Pakistan's minister of state for interior affairs, Talal Chaudhry, maintains that no banned terror groups are allowed to operate in any capacity.
"The recent example is of Milli Muslim League. Pakistan's interior ministry last year wrote a letter to the country's election commission and stated MML is the front organization for Jamaat-ud-Dawa and should not be registered at the electoral body," Chaudhry told VOA.
"There are scores of organizations who are placed under Pakistan's terror watch list to make sure they do not operate in any way."
Many outside analysts say the government is willfully ignoring the problem because authorities believe the groups somehow promote the government's interests in the region.
"Pakistan has the capacity to stop these groups from changing names and operating freely, but it simply doesn't have the desire to do so," said Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Program at Washington's Wilson Center.
"That's because Pakistan believes it has a stronger interest in letting these groups continue to operate, with different names, than in waging a full-scale crackdown," he added.
'Alarming' problem
While the problem is not new, it may be worsening.
Pakistan's general elections are scheduled to happen before mid-August, and observers say more radical groups are trying to rebrand themselves to enter national politics.
Milli Muslim League was created in August 2017 and is considered to be the political wing for JuD. The United States last month banned the organization, declaring its leadership as "terrorists."
Similarly, Alh-e-Sunnat-Wal-Jamaat, the front for Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, aims to contest the upcoming general elections.
Political experts see the emergence of militants-turned-political parties as alarming and say they should not be allowed to join mainstream politics.
"The deep state of Pakistan is supporting the banned outfits as it has done in the past. This game should be stopped and the government should show its commitment and sincerity in disarming these groups and not to allow them to enter into politics," defense analyst Ahmed Rashid told VOA.
Even if they run, there is no guarantee the militants' parties will be able to draw much support at the ballot.
"The emergence of new hard-line religious political parties is certainly alarming, particularly as some are affiliated with actual terror groups," said Kugelman. "The good news is that religious political parties rarely do well at the polls in Pakistan.
"However, the reason for concern lies less with their electoral prospects, which are limited, and more with the fact that mainstreaming them brings them a semblance of legitimacy that only emboldens them and makes them stronger."
International pressure
Pakistan has been under growing international pressure for its inability to crack down on Saeed and other terror groups that resurface with new identities.
When Saeed was freed in November 2017 after 11 months of house arrest, the U.S. warned Pakistan of consequences.
Later, the U.S., along with Britain, France and Germany, introduced a motion against Pakistan with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a global financial watchdog that monitors terror financing and money laundering around the world. The motion sought to place the country on the FATF list.
According to a decision taken at FATF's meeting in February, Pakistan will be placed on FATF's terror watch list in June this year.