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?”

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.