From the Editorial Desk – The case for peace

A good peace is a bargain, a better peace is an understanding and the best peace is an agreement. As far as Pakistan and India are concerned, a strong argument can be made that a lot needs to change before both sides can take even the first steps towards some kind of a bargain, a deal, a give and take. For the current mood on both sides of the border is generally not of bargaining but haggling, not dealing but dallying, not giving but taking.

The question is what must change before there is an environment conducive for peace to take root. Analysts, diplomats, impassioned insiders and interested outsiders, everyone seems to have attempted to find an answer. Many have actually come up with helpful suggestions. Some of these suggestions, indeed, have already worked, even though by default. Take, for instance, the need for both societies to open up to each other in order to overcome deep-seated prejudices and reality distorting stereotypes. The two states have done precious little to ease travel restrictions, to facilitate the movement of books and newspapers across their fenced border and to allow the exchange of ideas between citizens on a sustained, institutionalised basis.

However, it has been the information and communication revolution, and rising civic activism that have created a space shared by the people from both countries, or at the least by a tiny clique among them, where the states, their borders and their restrictive writs don’t matter. When we can’t get an Indian newspaper, we read its Internet edition; when citizen groups can’t meet in Delhi or Lahore, they can always hold a meeting in Kathmandu or Colombo.

Some people may turn back and say that all such interactions – intellectual and physical – are confined to a bubble which does not have anything to do with the reality that is being represented, let alone rectified. And, like all bubbles, it is vulnerable to a mere prick of the real. The reality, they point out, is that the vast majorities of people in the two countries remain at best indifferent and at worst hostile to each other. If anything has changed at all, they argue, it has not changed for the better. For instance, there may have been a reversal of fortunes, so to speak. Most Indians, nowadays, display a strong aversion to anything with a Made in Pakistan mark, except our singers and musicians, exactly the way most Pakistanis used to hate everything Indian, except movies made in Mumbai.

Like all arguments, though, it is only half valid and has another side which is not so bleak. Many Pakistanis exposed to the Indian media are enamoured by the prosperity that the enemy on the other side of the fence has achieved over the last two decades. Many in the Pakistani intelligentsia are fascinated by the sustained Indian democracy, which chugs along merrily through one election cycle after another despite its endemic corruption, its myriad fissures and frictions over religion, caste and ideology and its endless bickering over the distribution of spoils of a raging economy.

On the Indian side, the enemy no longer looks as formidable as it did until recently. In spite of our nukes, we are no longer hovering over the Indian radar as an ominous omnipresence. Either the Indian horizon has become large enough to be able to see us for our real size or we have successfully diminished our stature by playing the bad guy for far too long. No matter what the case, the net result is that today’s India sees Pakistan as a nuisance that can be ignored without too much discomfit.

Decidedly, positive feelings about the Indian economy and democracy do not go very far in making almost the entire Indian state and most of Indian society palatable for most Pakistanis. And no matter how indifferent Indians want to become towards Pakistanis, they cannot get rid of their next-door neighbour that still has the capacity to inflict serious damage on their state and society, both in a direct confrontation and through a hundred mutinies by proxy as has been the case since long.

But it is here that an unlikely window of opportunity opens itself. India’s economic success and the strength of its democratic institutions, for example, can serve as sources of inspiration for Pakistan to follow. If we, too, can invest in human resources as aggressively as many regions in India have done; if we can create a peaceful environment in our cities which allows investment and commerce to prosper as cities like Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabad have done; if we can have the same kind of certainty about election cycles as India does, the same level of trust in our voting systems as Indians have and the same amount of confidence in the institutions of the state observing their boundaries as they have shown in India — these are certainly great things to learn and follow.

There is admittedly much that India and the Indians have to ponder about. Scores of millions in that country have, after all, failed to partake in the spoils of its economic boom and its democratic experience. But the popular indifference among Indians towards Pakistan, perversely, can be helpful for the Indian government vis-à-vis Pakistan. The cut-to-size Pakistan is no longer an issue in India that decides the fate of political parties and leaders as it used to in the distant past. So, this Indian government, and the next, should not worry about popular reaction, if and when it decides to make peace with Pakistan.

The New York meeting between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh marks the beginnings of haggling that both countries are required to do if they have to arrive at some kind of bargain. Even the haggling has not happened for quite some time now. The next step, we hope, will come as an honest give and take, and a good peace. To turn this into the best peace that there can possibly be the two sides must open venues for better mutual understanding and an eventual agreement on how best to harness South Asia’s resources for the collective good of the people of the region.

Campaign of terror

 There were nationwide protests against the February 16 bomb blast targetting the Hazara community in Quetta

There were nationwide protests against the February 16 bomb blast targetting the Hazara community in Quetta

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Ameer Haider Khan Hoti was on his way to address a public meeting in Mardan on February 15 when a suicide bomber attacked his motorcade as it passed by the bustling College Chowk. The chief minister and his entourage escaped unhurt. Three days later, four security personnel and two civilians were killed and 14 others were injured in Peshawar when two militants wearing suicide vests opened indiscriminate fire while walking into the offices of Khyber Agency’s political agent; the attackers then proceeded to detonate themselves. Representatives of various political parties were holding a meeting there to determine a code of ethics for the upcoming general election in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata). A few weeks earlier, on January 1, an explosive device attached to a motorbike detonated just outside a Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) public meeting organised to welcome Dr Tahirul Qadri at the party’s headquarters in Karachi.

These incidents, clearly targeting politicians and political activities, evoke little surprise when seen in the light of a recent statement by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) which made it clear that the militants have plans to sabotage elections. “We are in the process of forming a policy and will make it public as soon as a final announcement for elections is made,” the ominous statement quoted TTP spokesperson Ehsanullah Ehsan as saying.

These attacks are also reminiscent of the previous election season which witnessed attacks on many political activities, parties and leaders, most notably the October 18, 2007 assault on the motorcade of Benazir Bhutto, former prime minister and the then head of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), in Karachi, which resulted in 139 deaths, and her assassination on December 27, 2007. Indeed, both in terms of sources and perception of security threats Pakistan is facing in the run up to the 2013 election there are broad similarities with the situation before the 2008 election. “Every intelligence agency had identified two threats to the election process [in 2008]: the Taliban and other banned militant organisations,” says Lieutenant General (retd) Hamid Nawaz, who served as interior minister in the 2008 caretaker cabinet. It appears that even now threats to security emanate from the same sources. Also, as in 2008, Peshawar in particular and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in general, remain vulnerable to terrorist attacks, owing to their geographical proximity to the epicentre of militancy.

There are, however, some significant departures from five years ago. Firstly, it appears that the overall number of casualties is exponentially higher this time around even though a fewer number of high-profile politicians have been targeted. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, a website that tracks incidents of terrorism in Pakistan, 792 civilians and security personnel have perished as a result of terrorist violence in the first 48 days of 2013. In contrast, in the four months leading up to and during the 2008 general elections (November and December 2007, and January and February 2008), 660 civilians and law enforcers died in acts of violence. It is worth noting, however, that November and December 2007 were deadlier months than those that immediately preceded the previous polls.

Moreover, the explosion outside the MQM meeting in Karachi is an indication that the geographical locus of terrorist violence has expanded considerably. A senior security official tells the Herald that security threats to the election process are coming primarily from the same old groups but the focus of these threats has shifted from Punjab to Karachi and Quetta. Empirical evidence verifies this. According to a newspaper report, 16 suicide attacks took place in the first 71 days of 2008 — falling immediately before and after the last general election. Out of these, the highest number of attacks happened in February, the month of the election, and Lahore, Rawalpindi and Peshawar were primarily targeted. This year, however, Karachi and Quetta appear to have become prime targets.
Security experts and officials say that continued acts of terrorism imply that the government will have to deploy law enforcement agencies – even the army in some cases – in large numbers in many places across Pakistan. In some areas, violence and terrorist activities could lead to a scaling down of electioneering and campaigning. “I don’t know what shape the election campaign will take in this security environment,” says Afrasiyab Khattak, a central leader of the Awami National Party (ANP). “But we will certainly not be holding large rallies,” he tells the Herald. In Karachi, too, according to MQM’s Faisal Sabzwari, “holding big rallies will be problematic for every party.”

The other difference in the pattern of the current violence as compared to 2008 is that terrorist incidents this year are far more sectarian in nature, the most significant examples being the two targeted attacks on the Shia Hazara community in Quetta. Similarly, the high profile assassination of an MQM provincial legislator, Manzar Imam, on January 17, 2013, was also deemed to have sectarian motivations — although it later emerged that he did not belong to the Shia community.

According to a senior official speaking on the condition of anonymity, the ruling PPP is privy to the security assessments carried out by intelligence agencies but, he says, the party wants to avoid being perceived as spreading panic and causing a postponement of election. After a caretaker government is instated, the PPP may become more vocal in conveying its concern to the public, to campaigning politicians and to government officials.
But Brigadier (retd) Asad Munir, who served as the provincial director of the Inter-Services Intelligence in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa around 2008 polls, says the current security situation is better in some areas than it was back in 2008. “The situation then was much worse: the Taliban were virtually ruling 17 districts in the north-west of the country,” he says. “Right now even the tribal areas, except North Waziristan and Khyber tribal agencies, are within the control of the army.”

Senior provincial minister and member of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly Bashir Ahmad Bilour was killed in a suicide attack in Peshawar in December last year. Photo by AFP

Senior provincial minister and member of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly Bashir Ahmad Bilour was killed in a suicide attack in Peshawar in December last year. Photo by AFP

The immediate impact of the Taliban having lost control is visible in Punjab which has not suffered any major incident of terrorist violence this year. That explains why key political parties, including the PPP and the Pakistan Muslim League–Nawaz (PMLN), have already worked out campaign strategies that hinge on holding large rallies in major urban centres of the province. Apparently, the provincial law enforcement authorities have no objection to this type of campaigning. Khan Beg, Punjab’s inspector-general police, says the provincial police, with the help of elite intelligence agencies, have carried out threat assessments with a specific focus on elections and election processes. “I believe we can manage security at big rallies,” he says. His department’s strategy, he says, is to provide ample security to leading political figures who, according to official assessment, could be on the terrorists’ hit list.

In contrast, the ruling ANP’s strategy in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa appears to be two-pronged — a mix of preventative and curative measures. On the one hand, the party leadership is rethinking traditional methods of interacting with the masses. “Security of the people [during public interactions] will definitely be our foremost concern,” says Khattak. On the other hand, the ANP is trying to convince mainstream political parties across the country to initiate talks with the Taliban; many security planners are of the opinion that the terrorist threat could be mitigated if the prospect of negotiations is kept alive until elections are held in the country. Indeed, this is the strategy that the caretaker government adopted in the months immediately preceding the previous elections: according to Lieutenant General (retd) Hamid Nawaz, the government in 2008 brought together tribal leaders and asked them to formulate a strategy for holding talks with the Taliban.

In strife-torn Balochistan, however, this luxury – of floating proposals for talks with militants – is not available because the government has no formal or informal contact with Baloch separatist groups. In parts of the province, local political leaders simply see holding of polling impossible in the face of threats from the Baloch militants. “The Balochistan Liberation Army has threatened to kill anyone taking part in elections in Makran, Kalat, Khuzdar and Mastung,” says PPP’s Balochistan President Sadiq Umrani.

The result is a frightened political class. “We are all afraid of this situation,” says Lieutenant General (retd) Abdul Qadir Baloch, a PMLN parliamentarian hailing from Balochistan. The possibility of holding elections for the whole of the province in a single day, therefore, seems highly unlikely to him. Election on a single day will “spread law enforcing agencies thin,” he argues. “The government should try to concentrate law enforcers in one area and hold elections there, then wait for two days and repeat the process in other areas.”

Baloch, who has supervised security arrangements in Balochistan as a senior military officer, also believes that more attacks against the Shia Hazara community in Quetta could potentially paralyse the entire country, as was amply demonstrated when, within 12 hours of the February 16 incident, protests spread to more than 20 cities nationwide, including Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. “Terrorist attacks [against the Hazaras] can locally affect two constituencies within Quetta as far as elections are concerned,” he says, “but if the protests that start after such attacks spread and lead to a counter mobilisation in the cities, how then will elections be possible?”

The daughter of the nation

Photo by Geoff  Brokate

Photo by Geoff Brokate

When in October 2012, a lone gunman shot a teenage girl in the head, he would not have known in his wildest imagination that the life he was meant to snuff out would come back to haunt, in perpetuity, him and those who had sent him on his mission. The point they wanted to make by killing her had backfired. She had defied them a second time. She defied death too.

They should have known better. In a country where so many believe so much to be wrong, but never have the courage or the motivation or simply the desire to speak up, Malala Yousafzai had written a glorious chapter with her steely will and grit in the early part of 2009. Who wouldn’t recall those days when Mullah (Radio) Fazlullah and his band of murderous marauders were allowed to establish sway over the Swat Valley and adjoining areas and enforce their brand of obscurantist Islam and spread darkness in a land where education had traditionally been cherished. In addition to a reign of terror where public beheadings and hangings in the main chowk in Mingora became the order of the day, Mullah Radio’s armed men also started to restrict the freedom of movement of women. They were ordered not to step out of the house without a mehram (male chaperone). All men were advised, under the threat of a bullet to the head, to grow beards. Salons were shut down as they were deemed to be plying an un-Islamic trade. Women suspected of being ladies of the night were kidnapped and executed. Swat residents say the environment was of such fear that nobody felt comfortable confiding even in close friends.

It was against this backdrop that the Taliban decreed female education un-Islamic. They must have thought their brutality was so overwhelming that nobody would dare defy them. They were mostly right, save for a 12-year-old girl who had other ideas. The passion that burned within her for an education for herself and other girls in her area surfaced in the form of a blog on where she wrote under a nom de plume, Gul Makai. Her pieces offered a poignant window to life in Swat. Surrounded by the unchallenged Taliban, who had overrun all established authority and were well-funded, benefitting from a levy on the multi-billion-rupee logging industry in the area, Malala’s defiance must rank alongside some of history’s bravest acts. Her own words, her eloquence, are perhaps the most befitting tribute to her. No wonder she became an international celebrity, and a symbol of defiance to the Taliban and a role model for school-going girls in the country. She must have represented such a sty in the eye of the Taliban that, more than three years after she first became known, they tried to kill her.

Photo by Kohi Marri

Photo by Kohi Marri

Reproduced here from the BBC website, are some of her ‘diary entries’ from that period. She wrote on January 3, 2009: “I had a terrible dream yesterday with military helicopters and the Taliban. I have had such dreams since the launch of the military operation in Swat. I was afraid [of] going to school because the Taliban had issued an edict banning all girls from attending schools. Only 11 students attended the class out of 27. The number decreased because of the Taliban’s edict. On my way home from school I heard a man saying ‘I will kill you’. I hastened my pace … to my utter relief he was talking on his mobile and must have been threatening someone else over the phone.”

A day later, on January 4: “Today is a holiday and I woke up late, around 10 am. I heard my father talking about another three bodies lying at Green Chowk (crossing). I felt bad [upon] hearing this news. Before the launch of the military operation we all used to go to Marghazar, Fiza Ghat and Kanju for picnics on Sundays. But now the situation is such that we have not been out on picnic for over a year and a half. We also used to go for a walk after dinner but now we are back home before sunset. Today I did some household chores, my homework and played with my brother. But my heart was beating fast — as I have to go to school tomorrow.”

A small incident such as Malala’s shooting will bring no change where hundreds of Afghan and Pakistanis, especially women and children, are killed every day by US-led bombardments, drone attacks and terrorism of Islamic fundamentalists. There is, and will be, no turning point because the CIA created these fundamentalists through the ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence] during the Cold War in Afghanistan and is still empowering them. It is known to all that the Pakistan Army rules the country, and any efforts made against extremism are futile as the Army still supports the fundamentalists, such as the criminals in the Afghan government, the Taliban (both Afghan and Pakistani), Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin and Haqqani networks.

— Malalai Joya is an activist and former member of the National Assembly of Afghanistan

And my final selection is from January 5: “I was getting ready for school and about to wear my uniform when I remembered that our principal had told us not to wear uniforms and come to school wearing normal clothes instead. So I decided to wear my favourite pink dress. Other girls in school were also wearing colourful dresses and the school presented a homely look. My friend came to me and said, “For God’s sake, answer me honestly, is our school going to be attacked by the Taliban?” During the morning assembly we were told not to wear colourful clothes as the Taliban would object to it. I came back from school and had tuition sessions after lunch. In the evening, I switched on the TV and heard that [the] curfew had been lifted from Shakardra after 15 days. I was happy to hear that because our English teacher lived in the area and she might be coming to school now.”

Such single-minded pursuit of your goal when the penalty could be your life or the life of your near and dear ones is a manifestation of unimaginable courage. Yes, courage may have become a cliché to describe lesser feats but Malala embodies it. She and her family had to leave Swat ahead of the military operation a bit later in 2009 but once the military had broken the stranglehold of Mullah Fazlullah and his faction of the Tehrik-e-Taliban (TTP), she promptly returned. It is also a tribute to her parents that they have supported her through thick and thin when more well off parents in much more secure environments would have backed down in the face of relentless pressure by the TTP. This isn’t a surprise, for her father is an educationist who is known for his efforts for girls’ education. Whatever the longer-term state of education in the country, and particularly of female education, Malala’s contribution to the cause would surely rank as one of the most edifying in Pakistan’s history.

And what a sacrifice it is. The 15-year-old still battles on, in a specialist medical facility in Birmingham, to return to a degree of normality. The gunshot to her head may have fortuitously spared her life but it didn’t leave her entirely unscathed. What else would explain the loss of one of the teenager’s main assets, her disarming smile? Hopefully, she’ll regain it. She must.

As Pakistan faces an existentialist threat, the lack of consensus in society on the fundamentals is alarming, to say the least. There were those who condemned the attack on the Swat girl unequivocally. Then there were those who saw her as a victim but said the attack was part of a grand ‘foreign’ conspiracy to manipulate public opinion in Pakistan. And then there were those who even rubbished the fact that she’d been shot in the head. The level of bile directed against the innocent girl, her father and her family was staggering, given what had happened. Some on social media became medical experts, questioning how the girl could be alive, having been shot in the head; others said they couldn’t see any evidence of a bullet injury —having merely watched her being shifted to hospital on TV.

Pakistan has done an excellent job of explaining to the international community that the Malala tragedy does not fit within Pakistan’s vision for itself. The government has emphasized that girls can already go to school freely and are not forced to adhere to orthodox religious practices against their will. At the same time, law enforcement institutions must set a stronger example in implementation by arresting, prosecuting, and indicting violent extremists. The Pakistani military also has a history of using extremist groups in conflicts related to India and Afghanistan. An adjustment of this policy would also send the message that the government does not advocate religious terrorism and extremism of any kind.

— Shamila N Chaudhary is a Senior South Asia Fellow at the New America Foundation and an analyst with the Eurasia Group.

So, where are we now? Has the teenager’s heroic battle for the cause of education made a big difference to attitudes in Pakistan? It almost appears as if political parties are relieved that she was airlifted abroad and they don’t have to deal with her every day. President Asif Ali Zardari may have visited her in the UK but has the education allocation been upped at home, what to talk of the women’s education budget? Also, there have been reports in the media that at least one other girl from Malala’s school, who was also injured alongside her, is relocating with her family — so overwhelming is the sense of insecurity in Swat, despite heavy military presence. All this as we wait for a political consensus to crush militancy and terror in the country. Some predicate a consensus on holding of elections and others on the US drones disappearing from our horizons.

Illustration by Sabir Nazar

Illustration by Sabir Nazar

Both these goals may be perfectly valid in their own right but the connection between these and the need to clamp down on merchants of terror and their toxic ideology remains tenuous at best. Therefore, Malala Yousafzai, the Karachi teenager Mehzar Zehra (shot dead by sectarian militants on November 30, 2012 as she was on her way to school) and countless others like them across the country, whose aspiration is far simpler and rudimentary – to educate themselves in an environment free of discrimination, fear, intimidation and intolerance – are still being let down. When Malala was attacked, the initial outrage appeared so potent, it triggered hopes for change. A couple of months down the line, the international community continues to fête her, while for all practical purposes, most of Pakistan seems to have moved on.

However, each publicised event to honour her will be a reminder how she, a teenaged girl, stood up to the Taliban when many others simply chose to capitulate. This will be her real legacy. As will be the determined faces of the innumerable schoolgirls she inspired and that one saw on TV after the attack, pledging to carry on with their education no matter what the challenges. There cannot be a worthier personality of the year. Given her courageous, inspirational life in pursuit of her cause; her calm and composed response to the forces of darkness and the fact that she had the choice to go elsewhere and continue to educate herself but chose to make a statement in the midst of a volatile environment for the sake of other girls, leaves her miles in front of any other contender. May she regain her smile, and smile forever. She represents the most beautiful repartee, and a potent symbol of opposition, to the toxic ideology that the Taliban embody.

Interview: Arundhati Roy

Q. Does the attack on Malala Yousafzai represent the much-needed turning point for Pakistan in its efforts to reclaim sociocultural and political spaces dominated by extremism?

A. The attempted murder of Malala Yousafzai is a grotesque and unforgiveable crime. I would love the Taliban to tell us which surah of the Quran requires them to kill a young girl for wanting to go to school. But whether the attack on Malala Yousafzai is a turning point in Pakistan, I really don’t know. After all, religious and feudal extremism have a long and ugly history in our part of the world. In Pakistan and Afghanistan you have women being shot, maimed, imprisoned and deprived of the right to live as equal citizens — by law. In India we take prophylactic action — murdering women in their thousands while they are still fetuses and sometimes just after they are born. Sometimes their husbands burn them for bringing inadequate dowry. None of us is a stranger to the reality of the use of rape as an instrument of war (in recent times in places like Gujarat, Kashmir, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Bangladesh), or rape as a matter of feudal entitlement (almost anywhere in India), or the phenomenon of honour killing.

Over the centuries, women have risen up to fight against all of this in a myriad different ways. I think Malala Yousafzai is among those many remarkable women — a beautiful and significant milestone in the history of women’s struggles. In his excellent column for Dawn a few months ago, Jawed Naqvi wrote of two other heroic Malalas: 17-year-old Malalai of Maiwand who died on the battlefield in July 1880 fighting the British in the Second Afghan War, and more recently Malalai Joya – of whom Malala was a declared fan – who fought against male bigotry (or shall we just call it barbarism) against women in Afghanistan. She went on to win a seat in the Afghan parliament in 2005.

Troubled north-west comes to town

Kunwari Colony in Karachi has become a hotbed of Taliban militants. Photo courtesy Fahim Siddiqi/White Star

Kunwari Colony in Karachi has become a hotbed of Taliban militants. Photo courtesy Fahim Siddiqi/White Star

On a mid-November day, factory worker Ghulam Shabbir was shot dead on the road adjacent to Manghopir Hills in north-western Karachi. The motorcycle he was riding had POLICE written on its registration plate. A day earlier, a Mohammad Ejaz was murdered in Kunwari Colony in the same part of the city. He was sporting a military haircut in anticipation of his departure for joining the military, related one of his relatives.

These could be seen, and ignored, as routine stories from Karachi — a city where targeted killings and deadly violence have become a way of life in many localities. Yet something is starkly different about the two murders: They were carried out by militants whom local residents, police officials and political activists recognise as the Taliban. The second difference is that both were targeted for the same reason — for being seen as belonging to the law enforcement and security agencies.

In a large part of Karachi – spread between Orangi in the west and the northern edge of North Nazimabad – such targeting of real or imagined security personnel at the hands of the Taliban has become quite common. The militants have also turned localities such as Manghopir, Sultanabad, Pakhtunabad, Kunwari Colony and Pirabad, into no-go areas for the police and outsiders. It is almost impossible to travel to these places unless someone living there is able to get clearance from both the law-enforcement agencies, mainly operating on the outer parts of these neighbourhoods, and the Taliban militants holding sway in the inner parts.

“The militants have either scared police personnel, informers and intelligence moles out of these localities or killed those who refused to leave,” says Nasir Mahmood, the station house officer at Manghopir police station. “The police and other law-enforcement agency personnel find it next to impossible to enter the inner streets of Kunwari Colony, Pakhtunabad and Sultanabad, especially when they need to go there to perform medico-legal duties or to remove a corpse from there,” he says. “The law enforcers, therefore, are clueless about what is actually happening there,” he adds.

Mahmood says the bodies of most people killed by the Taliban are dumped along the Manghopir Road — a risky area for the police to operate in as its patrol vans have often come under fire there, he says. The Herald could note the anxiety among policemen as they were retrieving Shabbir’s body. “The police and other law enforcers are routinely fired upon from the hills [overlooking where they were working],” an alert police constable explained.

Inside Kunwari Colony, the Taliban’s writ is so severe that people do not even venture out of their houses if the militants do not approve of it. When Bakht Khan, a resident of the colony, was killed by militants while they were exchanging fire with the police and Rangers on October 12, no one came out of his house to collect his body even 24 hours after his killing. Nearly 50 men were present in the house at the time to see off a member of his family for Hajj but none of them dared to step out, fearing this may upset the militants.

The Taliban are so dominant in the area that they are no longer operating secretly. “Just walk across the street and you will meet the people you are looking for.” This is how a constable posted at the entrance to Manghopir police station responds when the Herald asks him about the Taliban’s presence. Pasted inside a mosque in Sultanabad, a flier advises local shopkeepers and businessmen to contact Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Karachi Chapter, should the workers of any political group demand protection money from them. The flier carries a satellite phone number for traders to get in touch with the Taliban.

Elsewhere, the militants are themselves demanding and collecting protection money through what they call the Pakhtun Aman Jirga. An office of the jirga can be seen behind Malik Agha Hotel near al-Asif Square in Sohrab Goth. Altaf Khan, who rents out heavy machinery from a shop in Sohrab Goth, says the business community in his area is receiving, and complying with demands for money by the Taliban. “The militants are minting money from us under the garb of providing protection,” he says.

The Awami National Party (ANP), which until recently was the dominant political party in these neighbourhoods, seems to have accepted that it cannot compete with the Taliban. Its flags and other symbols have disappeared from the Pakhtun areas lying between Orangi and the Matric Board Office in Nazimabad.

Umer Farooq, a resident of Mohammad Khan Goth locality near Sohrab Goth, tells the Herald that TTP operatives sent a message to the ANP’s local leaders a few months ago. The message instructed them to remove their party’s flags and its graffiti, he says. The missive also told them to hand over their arms to the TTP representatives in their respective neighbourhoods, Farooq adds.

Initially, the ANP did try to resist these orders. But it gave up after the TTP started killing its main activists, forcing many of its leaders to leave those areas. Bashir Jan, ANP Sindh’s general secretary, says the Taliban have killed nearly 70 activists belonging to his party during the past few months. But he then adds that some of them were killed by “elements posing as Taliban”. Jan believes the killings are part of a conspiracy being hatched against the ANP in order to uproot it from Karachi.

Copyright DAWN GIS

A map of Karachi’s localities. Copyright DAWN GIS

His party’s workers on the ground, however, are certain about where the threat is coming from. Rehmat Khan Achakzai, president of ANP in Janjar Goth, located near Afghan Camp at the Super Highway, tells the Herald that the Taliban can target the party’s workers anywhere and at any time. He says the ANP’s members and activists do not have enough support in Pakhtun areas to withstand the Taliban.

Senior police officials, as well as government representatives, were equally dismissive when the Herald pointed out that four years ago Taliban sympathisers and militants fleeing military operation in the tribal agencies and in Swat were thronging Karachi’s Pakhtun localities, such as Sultanabad and Pakhtunabad. Since then, the militants have spread to several adjoining localities. The situation is so grave in most of these areas that people have completely given in to the Taliban’s writ. Four years ago, the residents of Sultanabad successfully defied the newcomers when they tried to impose their control in the area. But intelligence agency officials tell the Herald that no one dares defy the Taliban’s orders any more in Sultanabad and in other areas beyond it.

One reason why the Taliban have been able to instill such fear in the hearts of locals is because they carry and wield sophisticated arms and ammunition that no one can match — not even the law enforcers, according to local police and intelligence sources. Evidence collected from the site where sub-inspector Mohammad Ilyas was shot dead on September 21 this year, while he was manning a traffic police kiosk in the Manghopir area, suggests that he was attacked with a sniper’s rifle, fired from a hilltop. Intelligence officials say Ilyas was hit late in the evening when visibility was extremely low — this suggests that the militants who targeted him were probably using night-vision goggles, the officials add.

he other reason for the Taliban’s dominance going unchallenged is their ruthlessness. “The militants do not tolerate the slightest disobedience even from their staunch supporters,” says Farooq. He tells the Herald how a local prayer leader, who was also a supporter of the Taliban, was killed only because he talked to a stranger about their presence. Farooq says the Taliban later declared the prayer leader a martyr whose sacrifice, they said, was necessary to further their cause.

Javed Odho, Deputy Inspector General of Police in Karachi’s West Zone where the Taliban-infested localities lie, says police officials posted before him in the area did not take the threat seriously and did not strictly monitor the massive influx of displaced people from Khyper Pakhtunkhwa, tribal agencies and Swat. “Dozens of informal housing settlements and shanty towns have sprung up in Gadap Town along the Super Highway and on the outskirts of Manghopir and Landhi [where these displaced people now live],” he says and adds that the Taliban militants have been present in these settlements and slums from the beginning but they were not connected to each other until recently. Now there exists a proper TTP network in the city, Odho says.

The police’s failure to take them head-on before they could organise is a major reason why they have gained strength in the areas under their control. “The TTP militants became strong because nobody confronted them earlier,” Odho acknowledges. “Now when action against them is being taken, they are resisting,” he tells the Herald.

Odho, however, does not see the Taliban’s presence posing as big a problem as is seen by his subordinates or by local residents. He acknowledges that taking police action in some areas is challenging but hastens to add that attacks on police patrol vans have indeed decreased in many areas and that the collapsed intelligence network is being revived. “The Taliban are on the run now,” Odho adds.

Professor Fateh Mohammad Barfat, former head of the criminology department at Karachi University links Talbanisation of Karachi to unregulated residential settlements and slums. “60 per cent of Karachi’s population is living in slums, dividing it along ethnic and sectarian lines,” he says. The government, he explains, should make a policy for repatriating those who come to Karachi after being displaced by natural disasters and conflicts. “There is no other way of saving Karachi from a looming civil war,” adds Barfat.

Live discussion with Tanvir Ahmad Khan


Tanvir Ahmad Khan is Pakistan’s former foreign secretary. He has also served as his country’s ambassador to France, Russia, Bangladesh, Czechoslovakia and Iran among other places. After leaving the diplomatic corps, he first became  the director general and then the chairman of the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad.

On August 18, Saturday, the Herald invited Tanvir Ahmad Khan to a live online discussion on how the supply route reopening may reshape the frayed ties between Washington and Islamabad. The discussion has been edited for space, clarity and grammar.

Comment From Bakhtiar. Why do you think it took so long for the US to apologise for the Salala incident?

Tanvir Ahmad Khan. Quite honestly, the US “apology” was deliberately delayed and finally delivered in only a partial manner. It was difficult for President Obama to apologise in the election year.

Comment From Ansar. Tanvir Ahmad Khan: Do you think it was morally and politically correct for the Pakistani government to close down the Nato trade routes for eight months?

TAK. Pakistan had little choice after the Salala incident. Public opinion was far too enraged to avoid a strong measure.

Comment From Shereyar. In your opinion, how far has the disruption of Nato supplies led to a disruption in the actual relationship between the USA & Pakistan? More specifically, have the events of the last 8-9 months led to any serious introspection, on the part of the Pakistani establishment; about its involvement in the War on Terror while simultaneously pursuing strategic depth in the region by supporting certain militant groups?

TAK. It would not have taken eight months if Washington had given Islamabad a face saving opportunity. Washington decided to play hard ball. Pakistan-US relations have been under strain for at least two years. There are multiple reasons for it. Salala would not have happened if the relations were better. Nor would Pakistan take such an extreme measure as cutting off the supply route. There is introspection but not the will to see it through.

Comment From Bakhtiar. Rumour has it that the Taliban wanted the trade routes opened, because they were suffering economical losses when it shut down. Do you think this is true?

TAK. I doubt if the Taliban played a role in either shutting down the route or in the re-opening of it. But they do extract considerable sums of money from Afghan and Nato contractors once the trucks enter Afghanistan.

Comment From A Vetta. Now, after the mess US has made, even this withdrawal is unlikely to bring peace to the regions. I am saddened to note that the Pak Army is losing control over the people it trained for Jihad in Afghanistan. What is your opinion?

TAK. It seems Washington has given up the objective of restoring total peace. It will accept relative instability and some fighting as long as it can get and retain military bases in Afghanistan. Pakistan lost control of Jihadis of the Afghanistan or Kashmir vintage a long time ago. The TTP harbours hundreds of them who turned against the Pakistani state after General Musharraf decided to turn away from them.

Comment From Hamid Raza. You say in response to a question above that an adverse public opinion forced the Government of Pakistan to close NATO supply routes. Do you think the recent opening of the supply routes was allowed because the public opinion in Pakistan had changed in any way better for the NATO?

TAK. No. The public opinion had not changed. The Pakistan government had run out of options and was finding it difficult to deny supplies to all the Nato/Isaf countries. It tried to get a good bargain but did not succeed. Basically all that it got was that the Americans released $ 1.1. Billion that belonged to Pakistan as reimbursement of expenditure already incurred but were frozen by Washington.

Comment From Beena. America needs to understand that its foreign policy has significant weaknesses. Americans have pretty much left their fate into the hands of security establishment. Do you think this is a grave mistake?

TAK. America needs to reassess the policies formulated by neo-conservatives under George Bush. Obama has tried to bring about changes but on several issues backed off because of various pressures e.g. the Jewish lobby about the policy on Arab-Israel affairs, pursuit of peace in Afghanistan where he is attempting disengagement after first sanctioning and trying out a big surge of troops. He has not turned out to be an effective leader of change in foreign and security policies.

Comment From Ali. Whatever happened was good in a sense that the economic conditions of the people were grinding to a halt and they were in great need economic ease. It seems that the US has stuck herself badly because they will not be able to change their policy of drone attacks as long as they receive casualties at the hands of Taliban. Where do you see all this heading from here?

TAK. The release of frozen Coalition Support Funds has made things better for the government. But is a very brief respite as Pakistan has to make a large debt re-payment to IMF very soon and the Foreign Exchange reserves are dwindling in spite of remittances by overseas Pakistanis (estimated at $13 billion for the latest year). Moreover the government may spend the money on measures that enable it garner support for the next election but which are economically unsound.

Comment From Shamim Haider. I think Pakistan sold itself very cheap. They could have bargained for more. At this point it is a total loss-loss situation for Pakistan. Do you think we could have bargained for more?

TAK. Pakistan’s bargaining tactics floundered against the rock of American rejection. It needs much better diplomacy. Also the Americans knew they could count on a lobby in Pakistan that wanted an end to the suspension of routes without extracting a price. In the end it was just about the best that Pakistan could have got. Further delay would not have helped.

Comment From Ali. Moreover, which Taliban are being targeted in Waziristan by the US if it is believed that those in Waziristan pose greater threat to Pakistan than to US. Is US attacking friendly Taliban or some special anti-US groups?

TAK. The US wants to degrade the power of all insurgent groups that are likely to keep up the fight against a government in Kabul that gives them permanent bases. They believe the Haqqani group – mainly Oushtin tribes from eastern provinces with common border with FATA are ideologically more hostile to their future plans. They do not want to deploy too many troops in these provinces as they would suffer heavy casualties. They demand that Pakistanshould share the battle against the Haqqani group. Since the peace process has been abysmally slow, Afghanistan is heading for more turmoil for years to come. Pakistan may get the blow back too.

Comment From Ayesha Alam. What in your opinion has caused the worst patch of relationships between Pak and the US? The Nato supply routes being shut down or OBL killing? Or have things been even worse in the past?

TAK. The two factors mentioned by you aggravated an already tense situation. Basically, relations have gone wrong because Pakistani and American objectives in Afghanistan beyond 2014 are at variance. The role that Washington wishes to assign to India in post-2014 Afghanistan has been a major irritant. Internally the raising of a huge Afghan army with much of the officer corps drawn from non-Pushtun minorities, especially Tajiks is, viewed with suspicion in Pakistan.

Comment From Qamar Sohail. According to news reports, the president of the Nato Oil Tankers Association, Nasir Khan said that not a single oil tanker or container had crossed the Torkham border into Afghanistan until July 9 and only a handful of containers had reached Afghanistan via the Chaman border in Quetta. Why do you think this is so?

TAK. The flow of supplies has not reached an optimum level. There are security issues that have not as yet found an agreement between Pakistan and the United States. We may see increased attacks on trucks etc. Pakistan does not seem to have the means to stop them. This will keep on raising controversies.

Comment From Sarfaraz. Do you think anyone benefited from the closing of the Nato supply? If yes, who were the parties that benefited and who were the parties that lost out?

TAK. Nobody seems to have gained much. The closure was a desperate response to a series of issues: the Abbotabad episode, the continued drone attacks and finally the Salala attack that would have sent a wave of indignation in the army. Washington spent 6 to 10 times more on supplies through Russia and Central Asia. Pakistan got a bad name in the Western world. It was a sorry affair.

Comment From A Vetta. People do not like foreign troops in their land. President Bush Senior did the right thing by getting out of Iraq after the first Iraq war. His son decided to stay and look what is happening in Iraq. The only sane policy for the USA is to get out leaving a few thousand well equipped soldiers in Afghanistan to deter foreign adventurers. What do you think?

TAK. There was a fundamental difference. Bush Jr. embarked upon a mission to re-configure the broader Middle East. He had not visualised that resistance would last for years and virtually destroy the project. We have a mess in the region.

TAK. Thank you so much. Best wishes and Good Bye.

Don’t have a policy? Try a project

It appears logical for a country like Pakistan to have well-defined policies to tackle the twin menaces of terrorism and radicalisation. After all, the country is one of the greatest targets of both religion-inspired terrorists and radicalised segments of society which refuse to accept, let alone obey, the writ of the state. But it is yet to come up with a policy to tackle the two problems, either separately or together. In the words of an official associated with counterterrorism, Pakistan has only made “fragmented” efforts so far on both counts and have never tried to even discuss basic questions such as “who needs to be de-radicalised and how?”

Hope after war

Photo Razeshta Sethna

Photo Razeshta Sethna

It’s called the ‘happiest place in Afghanistan’. Teachers at Kabul’s Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM), the first academy of its kind in the country, hope that one day their students will form Afghanistan’s first national symphony orchestra.

The road to ANIM is uneven, marked by potholes and crowded by traffic. An unmarked tall red boundary wall welcomes you at the corner of a long road; once inside the large iron gate manned by two old caretakers, your perceptions of Afghanistan – shaped by stories of the brutality of war and lack of education that Afghanistan’s war-weary generation, especially its women banned from public life during the Taliban regime, understands only too well – dissolve into nothingness.

A city that needs to watch its back, Kabul is a maze of tall, blast-resistant walls and multiple security barriers that are often no more than 10 metres apart. It is unimaginable that this city is home to a dangerous new breed of Taliban and 150 students – orphans, girls and street children making up half of them – who are committed to reviving Afghanistan’s cultural heritage. The sounds of the piano, cello and violin resound in the corridor here. With facilities equal to any world-class music school, including soundproof rehearsing rooms, a collection of instruments and an international faculty, ANIM’s Afghan Youth Orchestra frequently performs for President Hamid Karzai, members of the Afghan cabinet and visiting ambassadors. In May, the orchestra played for the Nato summit in Chicagovia a live broadcast session. In 2013, the Youth Orchestra has a packed calendar: they tour Brussels and France in January and later in the year they will perform at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and Carnegie Hall in the US.

When Dr Ahmad Sarmast, a 49-year-old trumpet player and musicologist who has studied in Moscow and Australia, decided to return to his home country in 2008, he formed the music academy with the support of the Ministry of Education and the World Bank at the very site where his own musical education began. As Afghans, particularly women and children, began the arduous process of rebuilding their lives in a post-Taliban country, Sarmast felt that music was an essential component in the process. “It’s been a long journey,” he says, but a very rewarding experience. “I see the progress and the impact these students are making on society and it makes me happy. My main goal is to return the musical rights of Afghan children taken away by the wars and discrimination against music,” he adds.

In a culture which is historically known for the legacy of its rich ancient civilisation at the crossroads of various Greek, Indian, Persian, and Central Asian empires, decades of war and repressive regimes have clamped down on Afghanistan’s artistic milieu. For more than a dark decade of Taliban rule, the Afghan people defied the authorities and hired professional musicians for clandestine music recitals. In Afghan culture, music is equated with happiness, pleasure and peace; music was banned not just during the Taliban era but also during the civil war when Afghans were pressured not to play music as a tribute to martyred resistance fighters. In 1992, after the Soviets withdrew from the country, music was not broadcast on radio or television. The already-bombed Kabul Museum was looted and artefacts and paintings from the National Gallery were hidden away in underground vaults in the archives. Today, the museum’s curators express great relief that many valuable paintings dating to the 18th century and artefacts (including Bactrian gold from the TelaTepa burial site, 2nd century AD) have remerged from these crypts. Over the last 10 years, however, the Afghan people’s resilience and desire for reconstruction are perhaps best gauged from the country’s nascent cultural awakening.

At ANIM, Fazeela is the first female rubab player, who will graduate to teach other students at the academy; young Wahid, a street child who sold plastic bags and is now learning to play the piano, “has come a long way,” explains trumpet and flute teacher James Herzog, also a music educator. Listening to Wahid’s magical recital in this austere-looking building where students are taught to play Asian string instruments and given tuition in Western classical music, you can scarcely believe you’re in Afghanistan. The academy runs under the Ministry of Education to provide internationally accredited music education and training in both Western and Afghan traditions. Here, Afghan musicians teach the sitar, sarod, rubab, ghichak, and dhol alongside foreign instructors who introduce students to the drums, piano, violin, string, wind, and percussion instruments. Peek into a classroom and you may see Aziza, an acclaimed poet, her laptop open on a table, teaching a physics lesson, as ANIM’s students are also taught from the standard Afghan secondary school curriculum so they may graduate with a high school certificate: after two additional years of study, the students gain an internally-recognised diploma in music.

ANIM’s 141 students are a diverse group from all provinces; the school maintains that a third of the students must be girls, and accepts children of all ages. “It’s complicated in Afghanistan,” explains one teacher. “You’ll find children of all ages in one classroom because so many of them have lost out on their education and need to catch up.” The students here receive full scholarships, with significant assistance from India, Britain, Germany and Denmark, as well as a 30-dollar monthly stipend “so that they don’t need to work on the streets,” Herzog says.

“The idea is to create economic opportunities for our students so that the older ones can go on to graduate and teach others,” says Herzog, who also teaches a business class at ANIM. Come 2014, he wants his students to be able to apply for donor funding and develop business models that lay out a structure for applying for funding for the school. ANIM’s future plans include a recording studio, a modern library and a 300-seat concert hall for future on-site performances, a girls’ dormitory and a medical centre. With a recording label and evening tuition-paying classes in the works, Sarmast believes that when international donors leave Afghanistan, the academy will be in a position to generate revenue using its existing and developing infrastructure.

In one of the school’s carpeted rooms, you may meet Afghanistan’s first trumpet players — Khalida and Meena, both aged nine. Sarmast explains that he has been liaising closely for the past two years with government-run organisations, like Ashiana (which runs literacy programmes for street-working children), and the Afghan Child Education and Care Organization (a non-governmental organisation that operates 11 orphanages providing education and homes) so that deprived children have the opportunity to learn music. “About 50 per cent of the students are from these organisations,” he says.

Another room is packed with students playing various instruments with orchestra director William Harvey at the helm. Also supporting Cultures in Harmony, a not-for-profit organisation working to forge understanding between different cultures through music,Harveyhas been a resident in Kabul since March 2010. In another studio, soundproofed with Afghan timber, students learning to play the tabla showcase a masterly performance with expert movement: many will travel to India on scholarships to further their musical education. One of the 16 foreign instructors, Indian harmonium teacher Ustad Murad is proud of his enthusiastic students but says economic conditions mean students lack opportunities that could help their music careers in the future. Additionally, the unending cycle of war and poverty hinders students from buying and owning instruments to practise on and with the average cost of a saxophone at 600 US dollars – 100 US dollars more than an average salary in major cities – the institute’s sustainability requires long-term international funding.

The Taliban’s censorship of music was one of the worst in the history of repressive regimes. They severely punished musicians, destroyed musical instruments and it is said that they displayed mangled audio cassettes with tape innards strewn to the winds as warnings to those music aficionados who thought to defy them. Professional musicians left Afghanistan during this period, returning after 2001 when Afghan music made a comeback with financial support from donors. The international community, keen to support and fund this cultural legacy and fusion with Western popular music through European teachers, has opened up windows of opportunity – such as ANIM – to a younger generation keen to rebuild its traditions and create economic avenues. Young artists, many having lived in exile in Iran and Pakistan until 2001, have also benefitted from international assistance and expertise provided to the Afghan cultural sector: Kabul University’s faculty of Fine Arts encourages students to experiment with their styles; a not-for-profit organisation, Turquoise Mountain, formed an Institute for Afghan Arts and Architecture in Kabul in 2007 (see Making a difference).

As caretaker of ANIM’s prized musical instruments, Abdul Mohammad has worked at this institute for 32 years, bearing witness to how political upheavals have destroyed the academy, first formed in 1973. He says he worked under the government of Najibullah (who led the last Communist government in Kabul) and then during the civil war in the 1980s, when the mujahideen looted the academy and refused to pay salaries to the staff. Mohammad shows photographs of the School of Fine Arts’ music department, forced to shut down in the 1990s and later turned into a madrasah.

When piano student Wahid rehearses a piece of Afghan music, the happiness on his face and the inherent pride in his performance moves you to tears. This is Afghanistan. And the future is waiting for young men and women like Wahid and Fazeela.