Held Kashmir under Wahhabi attack

Here’s how schools of faith, mobiles are radicalising Kashmir

Aarti Tikoo Singh | TNN | Updated: Jul 9, 2017, 08.49 AM IST


  • The Valley has been succumbing to a hardline Wahhabi Islam
  • The traditionally moderate school is being replaced by the radical Ahl-e-Hadith

Youth throws stones at Indian security personnel in SrinagarYouth throws stones at Indian security personnel in Srinagar

Last month, in a south Kashmir mosque, a fiery cleric in his raucous voice and shrill cries, defended former Hizbul commander Zakir Musa‘s call for Islamic jihad. For the first time, a cleric, using his religious pedestal, was exhorting his audience to support Kashmir’s most wanted terrorist who recently aligned ideologically with al Qaeda. The audio recording of Mufti Shabir Ahmad Qasmi’s incendiary speech was widely circulated on instant online messaging platforms in the valley. The Mufti very likely converted many of his ardent followers into Musa cheerleaders.

Kashmir’s mosques have always been used for religio-political ends, and for separatism since 1989 when the militancy broke out. But the character of the mosque has changed dramatically in the last decade.

Hanafi/Barelvi Islam, the traditionally moderate school followed by the majority in Kashmir, is being replaced by the radical Ahl-e-Hadith, the local moniker for Saudi-imported Salafism or Wahhabism. Though many Hanafi clerics like Moulana Abdul Rashid Dawoodi are resisting their Wahhabi competitors, “the attendance in annual fairs of all major Sufi shrines has been decreasing,” said Muzamil, a Sufi practitioner. Of the roughly six million Muslims in the Valley, the once-marginal Ahl-e-Hadith now has over a million followers, claimed its general secretary, Dr Abdul Latif.

The Arab funded Wahhabism finds convergence with other already established conservative strains of Islamic movements, such as Deobandi and Jamat-e-Islami in Kashmir. The mufti who made a plea for Musa is a Deobandi from a Jamati household. Such religious intersections are not limited to fundamentalists. Last year, Sarjan Barkati, a self-proclaimed Sufi, earned epithets like ‘Pied Piper of Kashmir’ and ‘Freedom Chacha’ for mobilising people and glorifying the Hizbul commander Burhan Wani who had wanted to establish an Islamic Caliphate. These mutations from moderate to radical have been happening insidiously and manifested themselves in the mob that lynched deputy SP Ayub Pandith on Shab-e-Qadr.

The coalescing of all the schools of Sunni Islamic thought in Kashmir is result of a “common broad-based platform, Ittehaad-e-Millat, created to resolve differences” not only among the puritanical groups but also with syncretic Barelvi outfits, said Jamat-i-Islami Amir chief Ghulam Mohammad Bhat. Incidentally, IeM was actively involved in organising protest rallies in favour of Wani last year.

Way before Wani was killed, the signs of Wahhabised radicalisation had already begun to emerge. Maulana Mushtaq Ahmad Veeri, for example, was already popular in south Kashmir by 2015 for sermons in which he praised the IS and Caliph Al Baghdadi. “It was only a matter of time before the youth started waving IS flags while pelting stones, or Wani or Musa declared jihad for the Caliphate. Ironically, many moderate Kashmiri Muslims claim that IS has been created by the US and Israel to malign Muslims,”said a student of religion from Bijbehara.

Official sources said that there are over 7,500 mosques and seminaries in Kashmir, of which over 6,000 are Hanafi and around 200 are syncretic Sufi shrines. Ahl-e-Hadith, Deoband and Jamat put together have just over 1,000 mosques and charity based seminaries, of which Ahl-e-Hadith has the largest number. “Ahl-e-Hadith mosques are popular for their modern furnishing and facilities,” said Shahnawaz, a Barelvi follower in Anantnag, adding that the organisation also funds several orphanages, clinics and medical diagnostic centres.

Sources said Ahl-e-Hadith mosques and seminaries have doubled in the last 27 years. FCRA annual reports show that top donors to India among the Salafist Islam practising states are the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Although it is not clear who the top donor and recipient in J&K is, the state has received between 10 and 100 crores as foreign funds each year in the last decade.

A lot of Salafist literature was being distributed for free in Kashmir through last 30 years, a Shia Kashmiri said. “There is a sizeable number of Kashmiri diaspora in the Middle East who send remittances, mostly through Hawala to fund not just this radical doctrine but terror too.”

Religious scholars in Kashmir point out that Ahl-e-Hadith has four sub-schools—Jamait-ul-ahl-e-Hadith (puritan), Difai (ultra-puritan), Guraba (religio-political ultra-puritans like Masrat Alam), Sout-ul-Haq, represented by ISIS, where a nonconformist is ‘wajib-ul-qatl’ (eligible for murder). A scholar who didn’t want to be named claimed the radical subsects are anywhere between 1 to 5 percent in Kashmir.

Ahl-e-Hadith played a role in the separatist movement as a part of the joint Hurriyat Conference until it was split in 2003. The organisation is known to share a relationship with Tehreek-ul-Mujahideen, which is closely associated with Lashkar-e-Taiba. The TuM is a part of the PoK-based United Jihad Council headed by Hizbul Mujahideen commander Syed Salahuddin, who in 2014, had declared support for al-Qaida’s entry into Kashmir.

However, security officials believe that the influence of Wahhabi discourse through the Internet, social media and messaging platforms is far more dangerous than the mosques and literature. “Kashmir has around 2.8 million mobile internet users. Even if there is one Salafist preacher glorifying Burhan Wani or Zakir Musa and the clip is circulated over smartphones, it has a dangerous multiplying effect over a huge population,” a senior police official said.

Mobile data usage, officials claim, is higher in Kashmir than other parts of the country because of lack of other sources of entertainment. Cinemas, bars and discotheques were shut in Kashmir in the early 1990s when militant groups issued diktats against all things “un-Islamic”.

Schools of faith:

Wahhabism/Salafism/Ahl-e-Hadith: The most puritanical Sunni Islamic movement developed during the 18th century in central Arabia. It aims to return to the original ways of Islam by emulating Prophet Mohammad and his earliest followers. IS, al-Qaida, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad claim to be practitioners

Deobandi: Inspired by scholar Shah Waliullah Dehlawi and native to Indian subcontinent. Although Deobandi beliefs are almost the same as Salafis, in mainland India it is now a moderate school. Taliban claims to be Deobandi

Jamaat-e-Islami: A Sunni Islamist party that believes in the idea of an Islamic state under Sharia law. In Kashmir, terror group Hizbul Mujahideen is its armed wing

Barelvi/Hanafi: Native to India, this Sunni school is influenced by local culture. Accommodates Sufi practices and followers believe in saints and visit shrines

Modi visit to Israel

On July 4 2017 at 4 p.m., Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi began his whirlwind visit to Israel, that has now concluded in triumph, both for him and for Prime Minister Netanyahu.

In order to understand just how “historic” this visit was, a little history may help. Let’s go back in time, all the way back to November 29, 1947. On that date, the U.N. Partition Plan for Palestine was put to a vote; in the Asian-Pacific region, nine countries voted against partition. All of them, with one exception, were Muslim countries. That one exception was India, which was essentially voting against the creation of a Jewish state, even one that would have consisted of three non-contiguous tiny bantustans. And two years later, in 1949, India had not softened its opposition, and voted against admitting Israel to the United Nations. It did not recognize Israel as an independent state until 1950.

The most important meeting concerning Indo-Israeli relations for the next several decades took place not at the U.N., but in Bandung, Indonesia. Israel was not invited. This was the site in 1955 of the famous Bandung Conference, where 29 African and Asian nations met to declare that they would not belong either to the Western or the Soviet bloc, but to a new, non-aligned bloc. And among other measures, the conference’s political committee also unanimously adopted a ferociously anti-Israel resolution, which declared its support for “the Arab people of Palestine” (the “Palestinian people” had not yet been invented) and called for “the implementation of the United Nations decisions on Palestine and the achievement of the peaceful settlement of the Palestine question.” The “U.N. decisions” that were referred to in the resolution provided for the internationalization of Jerusalem, the ceding by Israel of certain border areas and agreement by Israel to the return of Arab refugees to their former homes. Given Israel’s military weakness in 1955, that resolution would have made Israel’s continued existence doubtful, and certainly showed a palpable want of sympathy for the Jewish state. It is true that India’s Nehru did express sympathies for the Jews as victims of the Nazis in Europe, but as the representative of India, he voted for the anti-Israel resolution at Bandung with all the rest.

For decades following, India remained lukewarm, at best, to Israel. It consistently rebuffed Israel’s request for diplomatic ties. Israel, for its part, never stopped trying to reach out to India. Few may realize that Israel supplied military assistance — weapons and intelligence — to India during its conflicts with China in 1962 and Pakistan in 1965. In 1971, India quietly asked for, and again received, Israeli military aid, for use in the Bangladesh War. During none of this time, however, did India evince a more pro-Israel attitude. In fact, India continued to deepen its pro-Arab stance and demonstrated increasing hostility toward Israel. This process accelerated with the election of Indira Gandhi in 1966, partly because of the support she needed from the small parties, including the Communists. As the Soviet Union was then hostile to Israel, and wooing the Arabs, the Indian Communist Party took the same approach. Indira Gandhi’s government, needing the votes of the Communists, found it made sense to keep Israel at arm’s length, while Indian support for the Arabs increased. By the 1970s, such support for the Palestinian cause had solidified, and India’s relationship with Israel worsened. After the Arab League recognized the Palestinian Liberation Organization as the “sole and legitimate” representative of the Palestinians in 1974, India quickly followed suit and permitted the PLO to open an independent office in New Delhi that was elevated to embassy status in 1980. The PLO provided nothing of tangible value to India, unlike Israel, which had aided India in three of its wars. Nonetheless, it was not until 1992, twelve years after the PLO opened its office, that Israel was permitted to open an embassy in India.

A quarter-century later, things are very different. The relations between Israel and India have been called “the most important new alliance in Asia.” Israel is a world leader in many of the areas where India most needs outside help: anti-missile weaponry, water management (for agriculture and for drinking), cyber-warfare (remember Stuxnet?) and cyber-security. As of now, Israel is India’s second largest supplier (after Russia) of weapons. Israel has just signed with India the largest single contract in its own defense industry’s history, for MRSAM, an advanced air and missile defense system. The latest version of MRSAM is now being used by the Indian Air Force, the Indian Navy, and the Israel Defense Forces. Israel and India collaborate in anti-terrorism measures of every kind. India has agreed to buy 8,000 Spike anti-tank missiles from Israel, choosing it, despite heavy lobbying by Washington, over the American-made Javelin. India has also chosen Israel’s Barak-8 air defense missiles for the Indian navy. Israeli and Indian experts collaborate ever more closely on missile development, on anti-terrorism measures, and, increasingly, on cyber-warfare, both offensive and defensive. For its part, Israel seeks greater collaboration with the Indian navy, that patrols the sea between India and Arabia, in order to ensure the security of the sea lanes on which so much of Israel’s trade with Asia depends.

Along with its high-tech weaponry, its famed intelligence services, its counter-terrorism experience, all of use to India, Israel is also a world leader in water management (drip irrigation, desalinization, recycling of “grey water”), for both agriculture and drinking. In agriculture, Israel has set up, in various parts of India, Centers of Excellence, demonstration projects of the latest ways to increase crop yields, to lower water demands, and even to encourage Indian farmers to grow new crops. Israel has already set up a demonstration olive farm in the Punjab, to see if olives from Israel, though new to the subcontinent, can become a viable export crop for India.

Finally, there is an increase in person-to-person exchanges, in education and tourism. Ten percent of the foreign students in Israel are from India. And India is a favored destination for young Israelis once they have completed their military service.

Who would have predicted, when India cast its vote against the Partition Plan in 1947, that tiny Israel would not only come into being, but survive many Arab attempts to snuff out its young life, and would thrive economically, in all the most cutting-edge economic sectors, and become the third largest trading partner of India, and its second-largest supplier of military equipment? Who could have imagined the deep security ties that would develop, the intelligence sharing about Muslim terrorists and the strategic and military capabilities of Muslim states, between Israel and India, intelligence ties that are certainly the closest India has with any foreign country, and, save possibly for its intelligence ties with the United States, also the closest for Israel?

There were several reasons for India rejecting Israel’s entreaties for so long. Partly, this reflected the desire of Indian politicians to curry favor with the Muslims who made up about 10%-14% of the electorate. Another factor was the desire to keep good relations with the Arab suppliers of oil. A very distant third factor was the attempt to keep the Arab states from supporting the Muslim separatists in Kashmir whom Pakistan backed.

All during this period, it is true, there were those Indian politicians, from the Hindu nationalist parties, who on both moral and strategic grounds argued that India should support Israel, but the Congress Party’s reluctance prevailed until the beginning of the 1990s. Things began to change, slowly, after Israel, as noted above, unstintingly supplied military aid to India in its 1962 flare-up with China, and then again during its brief war with Pakistan in 1965, and again in 1971, during the Bangladesh Liberation War (which lasted all of two weeks after India entered the war on the side of the Bangladeshis against Pakistan). Israel’s willingness to repeatedly come to India’s aid did begin to affect Indian views. But as long as the Congress Party was in power, not much would change in India’s policy toward Israel. Golda Meir had even dared to hope, in 1971, that in recognition of Israeli military assistance that year India might at least establish diplomatic ties, but she was disappointed.

The desire of some Congress Party politicians to curry favor with Muslim voters was not shared by the Hindu nationalists of the Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP. When they came to power, those followers of Hindutva (the ideology seeking to make Hindus, and the Hindu way of life, dominant in India), who had always urged better ties with Israel, appeared to be vindicated. The Muslim electorate was not going to support the BJP, no matter how the BJP voted on Israel and “Palestine” in the U.N., so why bother to curry favor with it? And Israel more and more was recognized for what it was — a fellow victim of Islamic terrorism — and valued for being willing to share what it had learned from its long experience in countering that terrorism, in everything from effective vetting of airline passengers, to infiltration of terrorist networks, to cyber security. Israel was an increasingly valued trading partner for India, offering both top-of-the-line weaponry and help to India’s own arms industry, that no other arms supplier was willing to grant. Israel willingly shares with its advances as a world leader in water management and conservation. Finally, Israel provides a model of a “start-up” nation, that Indians admired and wished to emulate. In 2009, an international poll revealed that 59% of Indians viewed Israel with admiration, more than they did any other country, and more than did the people of any other country (in the same poll, 58% of Americans viewed Israel with admiration). Israelis have had their own love affair with India, perfectly aware that Jews in India had never experienced antisemitism from Hindus, but had lived safely in India for more than a thousand years, in such places as Maharashtra and Kerala.

Meanwhile, the feared Arab “oil weapon” turned out not to exist. Less than a quarter of India’s energy now comes from oil. Supplies of non-OPEC oil, and renewable sources (wind, solar, biomass), are taking an ever greater share of the world energy market. This means that the Muslim members of OPEC are well aware that they need to hold onto what customers they can, and certainly don’t want to be unreliable suppliers to such a major market as India, which would only push that country both to buy from other sellers of oil, and to switch as rapidly as it can to renewables (which now constitute less than 5% of its energy).

Indian attitudes began to shift after decades of non-aligned and pro-Arab policies which yielded no apparent benefit. The Arabs did not provide military aid or crucial intelligence to India; Israel did, in 1962, 1965, and 1971. The Arabs had no advanced weaponry to sell to India; Israel did. The Arabs had no expertise in irrigation, water conservation, desalinization; Israel did. In 1991, India defied the Muslim bloc and voted at the U.N. to repeal the infamous “Zionism is racism” resolution. In January 1992, India finally established diplomatic relations with Israel, and ties between the two nations have flourished since, primarily due to common strategic interests and security threats. The formation of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the blocking of India by Pakistan from joining the OIC contributed to this diplomatic shift. It was now clear that India would never be truly accepted by the Muslim nations, no matter what it did to support “Palestine.” On a diplomatic level, India and Israel managed throughout this period to maintain healthy relations, despite India’s repeated strong condemnations at the U.N. of Israeli military actions against the “Palestinians.”

And then, the biggest change to Indian-Israel relations occurred when Narendra Modi became prime minister in 2014. A Hindu nationalist, Modi has throughout his career exhibited an understanding of what the Muslim invaders and conquerors meant for the ancient civilization of Hindu India; he agrees with the writer V. S. Naipaul, who described India after the Muslim invasion and centuries of conquest, as “a wounded civilization.” Modi had always been known for his palpable lack of sympathy for Islam. When he was Chief Minister of the State of Gujarat in 2002, inter-communal riots broke out after Muslims set fire to a train filled with Hindu pilgrims returning from a visit to the temple at Ayodhya. Sixty Hindus died, and many more were injured. In retaliation, Hindus started rioting and attacking Muslims. Muslims attacked back.These riots lasted three days. Hundreds were killed on both sides.. Modi did not immediately suppress them (nor is it likely he could have done so before they petered out of their own accord), which in the Western press, never sympathetic to the Hindu nationalists but always willing to cut Muslims some slack, earned him the reputation of being an anti-Muslim “bigot.” Muslims have repeatedly tried to have Modi convicted of supposedly fomenting the violence. The violence from Hindus did not need any “fomenting” by Modi; the burning alive of sixty innocent Hindu pilgrims was quite enough. In any case, Modi was absolved of the charge, by every court, all the way up to, and including, India’s Supreme Court.

Now Modi’s natural sympathies for Israel, as a Hindu nationalist, have meshed with a new kind of realpolitik calculation: that Israel can do far more than any other potential partner for India’s security against a common Islamic enemy (both terrorist groups and state actors). Israel is now able to supply India with advanced weaponry, including anti-tank and surface-to-air missiles, that in some cases is superior to what either the U.S. or Russia offers, and with technology, know-how, and intelligence it is willing to share with India as that country continues to develop its own weapons industry. And Israel has also been willing to share its expertise in every aspect of agriculture and water management, especially in drip irrigation (which Israelis were the first to use), in desalinization plants (where Israel is a world leader), in its expertise in using treated sewage in agriculture (ditto). Israel has also become a pioneer in many aspects of agricultural research and technology, with innovative work in developing crop cultivars suitable for arid climates, and otherwise reducing the water consumption of agriculture. All this know-how in water use and crop management has become an important benefit for India, the palpable fruit of its good relations with Israel. Finally, India has something to learn from Israel about how best to encourage innovation more generally, how to promote a climate of entrepreneurship, how to link those entrepreneurs with those responsible for technological advances, and what legal and financial frameworks most effectively encourage the ”start-up.”

India’s relations with Israel have been so spectacularly beneficial for both sides that it is impossible to imagine any undoing of this new alliance. But will this unofficial military and security alliance lead, as it ought to, to a completely different Indian policy at the U.N., a possible public break with the kangaroo court that sits, in continuous session, with Israel always in the dock? Narendra Modi should be noted not just for what he has done on his visit to Israel, but what he did not do. He did not bother to visit, as so many other visiting dignitaries to Israel routinely do, the “Palestinian Authority” in Ramallah, only 30 minutes from Jerusalem. He did not once mention “Palestine” or the “Palestinian people.” The “Palestinian” leaders in Ramallah were and no doubt still are in a rage, but what can they do? Modi’s studied indifference will only make similar treatment by other world leaders more likely — no one wants to be the first, but now that Modi has done it, others — seeing there were no repercussions — can, if they wish, follow suit.

The India-Israel love affair has been a long time coming. But it is a real one, that goes deeper than arm sales and trade. A shared history of being victims of Islamic aggression, in having their lands seized and their own histories rewritten, an awareness in both Israel and India that Hindu India was one of a very few places in the world where there never was antisemitism, the Israeli awareness that it was an Indian regiment that drove the Muslim Turks out of Haifa in 1918, and the Indian awareness that Gandhi’s indispensable first supporters were South African Jews, even the fascination with India of young Israelis who after their military service so often choose India as the place to travel and decompress, and the admiration of Hindus for what the Jews in their tiny state — with less than 1% both of India’s population and its land area — have managed to accomplish, and finally, the recognition that Israel and India are the only true democracies in western Asia, all contribute to this alliance of interest, of affection, of esteem.

Now India under Modi can do something besides sign those agreements and exchange with Prime Minister Netanyahu those extravagant words of praise and bear hugs. In 2015 India began to abstain from, rather than vote in favor of, anti-Israel resolutions, at the U.N., UNESCO, and the U.N. Human Rights Commission, including those having to do with bringing Israel before the I.C.C. for supposed “war crimes” in Gaza. It has continued to abstain on similar resolutions in 2016 and 2017. This is an important shift, from Yes to Abstain. But it was not across the board. In 2016 India still voted in favor of a new resolution that would set up a database of Israeli and international firms working in the “illegal Israeli settlements.” Such a database, of course, could be useful for enforcing threats of retribution against those found to be listed.

This May, an anti-Israel resolution at UNESCO denying Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem (including the Western Wall) was again proposed. in April 2016, a similar resolution had garnered 33 Yes votes; in October 2016 there were only 24 Yes votes. In the latest, May 2016 vote, only 22 countries voted yes. The most important shift was that of India, from Yes to Abstain, much commented upon at the time.

And after that vote change, the sky did not fall for India. Expressions of dismay from Ramallah. But the Muslim states did nothing. After all, what could they have done? In a buyer’s market, could they have refused to sell India oil, thereby pushing India still more in the direction of renewable sources of energy? Could they have threatened to support the Kashmiri Muslims more than they do? How, exactly? Could Indian Muslims threaten to vote against the BJP? They already do. Modi is not indifferent to Muslim desires; he is openly hostile to them, and has no intention of hiding it.

Meanwhile, the Muslim Arabs are more divided among themselves that at any time in their history. They are preoccupied with their own problems. In the Gulf, Saudi Arabia and several Gulf sheikdoms (U.A.E., Bahrain), as well as Egypt, are relentlessly pressuring Qatar, which they charge with supporting the Muslim Brotherhood. For the Saudis, the Muslim Brotherhood practices an inadmissible form of “terrrorism” because it has repeatedly shown itself a threat to the Saudi regime. In 2003, the Brotherhood attacked the Saudi rulers for allowing American forces into the Kingdom; the Saudis were even more shocked when the Muslim Brotherhood helped overthrow Mubarak in Egypt, for this was interpreted as a potential future threat to the Saudi rulers as well. Also unacceptable to the Saudis are Qatar’s continued close ties with Iran, that go beyond the economic links naturally resulting from the fact that Qatar and Iran share the largest natural gas field in the world. And Al Jazeera, based in and funded by Qatar, reports critically on the Saudi regime, as it does on other Arab rulers (though of course exempting those in Qatar itself); some of this news is highly embarrassing to the Saudis and other ruling families. In late June, the Saudis, the U.A.E, Bahrain, and Egypt cut diplomatic ties and severed all their land, sea, and air links to Qatar, and made thirteen demands. These included ending all support for “terrorism” (i.e., the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, ISIS, among others), expelling known terrorists who had been living in Qatar, and stop paying ransom to Al-Qaeda and ISIS for kidnapped Qatari nationals. As for its ties to Iran, Qatar was told to close the Iranian diplomatic missions in Qatar and the Qatari missions in Iran, to expel members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, and to cut off all military and intelligence cooperation with Iran. Furthermore, all trade and commerce with Iran by Qatar must strictly comply with US and international sanctions. And Qatar was told to stop funding Shi’ite militias in Iraq.

Another demand was for the Turkish airbase in Qatar to be shut down, presumably because Erdogan, though a Sunni, has been too friendly to Iran for the Saudis to accept.

Qatar shows no signs of accepting even one of these demands, and this mini-war in the Gulf appears to have no foreseeable end. Qatar has been able to use airfields in Iran; Iranian ships continue to bring in food. And being fabulously rich from its sales of natural gas, Qatar cannot be starved into submission.

The war in Syria has gone on for six years, with many different states and groups involved. Russia and Iran support Assad, while the Americans support only the “democratic” rebels. Turkey and Qatar support Muslim Brotherhood fighters; the Saudis oppose the Muslim Brotherhood and Assad, but will support Sunnis of the Salafist line. Hezbollah and Iran both help Assad. Turkey and Qatar oppose Iran in Syria, but outside of the Syrian theatre, both maintain relations sufficiently close to Iran — though Turkey and Iran sometimes have flareups — to anger the Saudis. Jordan and Lebanon, for their part, are also caught in the Syrian swamp, overwhelmed with refugees from Syria — 700,000 in Jordan, 1 million in Lebanon (or 20% of the Lebanese population — that have become full-time problems. There are 2.7 million Syrian refugees in Turkey, a profound threat to political and economic stability for that country, which has been, thanks to Erdogan, in a state of almost continuous upheaval, as he systematically undoes Kemalism, makes war on the secularists, and shores up his powers so that he has legalized his despotism. Finally, in Syria, the loss of the Assad government’s control has created a vacuum into which the Islamic State has flowed. And jihadis from elsewhere in the Middle East, and North Africa, and Europe have arrived to join the Islamic State, and to fight not just Assad, not just the hated Shi’a (Hezbollah, Iranians), not just the “secular” rebels, but all those, including al-Qaeda, who may be close to IS in ideology but do not themselves submit to the Islamic State. In Syria, or because of Syria, so many different groups are stuck in different parts of the quagmire; Syria has become, politically, the La Brea Tar Pit of the Middle East.

In Iraq, the Shi’a-dominated government shows no signs of wanting to relinquish any of the power that naturally devolved to the Shi’a Arabs once the Americans removed Saddam Hussein. And the Sunni Arabs show no sign of accepting this new arrangement, which makes them permanently subservient to the far more numerous Shi’a. They worry, too, about the Iranians in Iraq who are helping the Shi’a militia. And both Sunni and Shi’a Arabs oppose the Kurds, who have announced their plan to hold a referendum this September on an independent Kurdistan.

The unrest in Bahrain among the majority Shi’a population protesting against their Sunni ruler continues, low-level but unending. The Egyptian regime feels itself threatened by Muslim Brotherhood-backed terrorists, based mainly in the Sinai, where they receive aid and training from Hamas fighters who come from Gaza. It also worries about terrorists coming from ISIS training camps in Libya. After the beheading of 31 Egyptian Copts in Libya in February 2015, Al-Sisi bombed ISIS camps in that country. And after Islamic State fighters attacked a bus full of Coptic pilgrims hear Minya, killing over 30, Al-Sisi sent Egyptian fighters to bomb the Islamic State forces near Derna, in Libya. Islamic State fighters, undeterred, attacked an Egyptian army post on July 8, killing 23 soldiers, and triggering an attack by Egyptian forces. While the Islamic State appears to have dug in in the northern Sinai, the Muslim Brotherhood continues to attack police and the military, both from Sinai hideouts and from cells in Egypt proper. Both terrorist groups keep Egyptian forces, and the Egyptian state, fully occupied.

Saudi Arabia is the busiest of all, engaged on every front. It is leading the campaign of Gulf states against Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood. It is propping up the Sunni ruler of Bahrain, keeping his Shi’a population under control. It is fighting a proxy war against Iran in Syria, supporting Sunni rebels who are sufficiently religious to meet Saudi standards, but not votaries of the Islamic State, to meet Saudi standards. And since 2015, the Saudis have been involved in a live war in Yemen, bombing both military and civilian targets among the Shi’a Houthis, with no hint of an end in sight. If Syria is the equivalent of the La Brea Tar Pits for Muslim Arabs, Yemen is for Saudi Arabia its very own Tar Baby.




Mosque versus state

The writer teaches physics in Lahore and Islamabad.
The writer teaches physics in Lahore and Islamabad.

THE mosque in Pakistan is now no longer just a religious institution. Instead it has morphed into a deeply political one that seeks to radically transform culture and society. Actively assisted by the state in this mission in earlier decades, the mosque is a powerful actor over which the state now exercises little authority. Some have been captured by those who fight the government and military. An eviscerated, embattled state finds it easier to drop bombs on the TTP in tribal Waziristan than to rein in its urban supporters, or to dismiss from state payroll those mosque leaders belonging to militant groups.

Very few Pakistanis have dared to criticise the country’s increasingly powerful mosque establishment although they do not spare the Pakistan Army and the country’s political leaders for their many shortcomings. For example, following the Army Public School massacre, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s promise to regulate the madressahs was immediately criticised as undoable. Had he instead suggested that Pakistan’s mosques be brought under state control as in Saudi Arabia, Iran and several Muslim countries, it would have been dismissed as belonging to even beyond the undoable.

The state’s timidity was vividly exposed in its handling of the 2007 bloody insurrection, launched from inside Islamabad’s central mosque, Lal Masjid, barely a mile from the heart of Pakistan’s government. It was a defining point in Pakistan’s history. The story of the Lal Masjid insurrection, its bloody ending, and subsequent rebound is so critical to understanding the limitations of Pakistan’s fight against terrorism that it deserves to be told once again.

Very few Pakistanis have dared to criticise the country’s increasingly powerful mosque establishment.

In early January 2007, the two head clerics of the Lal Masjid demanded the immediate rebuilding of eight illegally constructed mosques knocked down by the civic authorities. Days later, an immediate enforcement of Sharia in Islamabad was demanded. Armed vigilante groups from Jamia Hafsa and nearby madressahs kidnapped ordinary citizens and policemen, threatened shopkeepers, burned CDs and videos, and repeated the demands of tribal militants fighting the Pakistan Army.

At a meeting held in Lal Masjid on April 6, 2007, it was reported that 100 guest religious leaders from across the country pledged to die for the cause of Islam and Sharia. On April 12, in an illegal FM broadcast from the mosque’s own radio station, the clerics issued a threat to the government: “There will be suicide blasts in every nook and cranny of the country. We have weapons, grenades and we are expert in manufacturing bombs. We are not afraid of death….”

The brothers Abdul Aziz and Abdur Rashid Ghazi, who headed the Lal Masjid, had attracted a core of militant organisations around them, including the pioneer of suicide bombings in the region, Jaish-e-Mohammad. Their goal was to change Pakistan’s culture. On April 12, 2007, Rashid Ghazi, a former student of Quaid-i-Azam University, broadcast the following chilling message to our female students:

“The government should abolish co-education. Quaid-i-Azam University has become a brothel. Its female professors and students roam in objectionable dresses. They will have to hide themselves in hijab otherwise they will be punished according to Islam…. Our female students have not issued the threat of throwing acid on the uncovered faces of women. However, such a threat could be used for creating the fear of Islam among sinful women. There is no harm in it.”

For months, unhindered by Gen Musharraf’s government, Lal Masjid operated a parallel government. Its minions received the Saudi Arabian ambassador on the mosque premises, and negotiated with the Chinese ambassador for the release of his country’s kidnapped nationals. The showdown came in July 2007. Copious TV coverage showed armed madressah students with gas masks firing away into the dense smoke. The final push left 10 of Pakistan’s crack SSG commandos dead, together with scores of madressah students. A tidal wave of suicide attacks — as promised by the cleric brothers — duly followed.

Amazingly Pakistan’s civilian courts exonerated Abdul Aziz and Umme Hassan (his wife, who headed Jamia Hafsa). Ignoring TV footage, the court ruled that possession of heavy weaponry by the accused could not be proven. Today Abdul Aziz remains firmly ensconced in Lal Masjid and hundreds pray behind him. He has threatened to unleash a force of 8,000 students from nearby madressahs if he is again arrested. At the behest of the then chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, the destroyed Jamia Hafsa was awarded 20 kanals of choice land in sector H-11 of Islamabad for rebuilding. The land tycoon, Malik Riaz, lavishly reconstructed the damaged mosque.

How many other Abdul Aziz’s does Pakistan have? Clerics who propagate Taliban and Daesh (Islamic State) views to their followers and who, like Aziz, are unmoved by the Peshawar massacre? No one knows even the number of mosques in Pakistan, where they are located, and, most importantly, what their khutbas (sermons) contain. This must change if Pakistan is to make any progress towards containing religious violence.

The first baby step towards bringing an estimated 100,000 to 200,000 mosques under state control requires tasking local authorities at the district and tehsil level with documentation: mosque locations, sizes, religious affiliation, and known sources of funding. The second is to monitor Friday sermons, a possibility offered by modern technology. Many worshippers have mobile phones capable of recording audio. A sermon, once recorded, could be uploaded to a website operated by the Ministry of Religious Affairs. Readers wishing to see how this might be done should visit http://imams.mashalbooks.org/ where sermons from scores of mosques in rural Punjab have been recorded, transcribed, and categorised for full and free public access.

A crisis is said to be a terrible thing to waste. Before the horror of the Peshawar atrocity fades from our collective memory let the state act decisively — albeit in small steps — to restore its right to regulate religious activities within its boundaries. Else the people of Pakistan shall continue to suffer terribly.

The writer teaches physics in Lahore and Islamabad.

Published in Dawn, January 10th, 2015

Illegal Afghans to be expelled immediately: CM KPK


Illegal Afghans to be expelled immediately: CM

PESHAWAR: Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Pervez Khattak has said that government will take steps to immediately expel all illegal Afghan refugees.

He said that a mechanism would be evolved for honourable repatriation of legal Afghan refugees as soon as possible. “Similarly our borders with Fata also need immediate attention to secure Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and rest of the country from infiltration of miscreants wherein sending back and deployment of FC platoons at Fata borders is prerequisite,” he added.

Mr Khattak said durable peace, prosperity and progress was possible with strictly following the golden principles of Quiad-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

In his message to the nation on the birth anniversary of the founder of the country, he assured the people of the province to have full confidence in their elected government as it was taking all out measures to ensure peace, safety and prosperity by practicing the Quaid’s teachings in letter and spirit.

Says mechanism to be evolved for honourable repatriation of legal Afghan refugees

Mr Khattak said that the best way to pay homage to Quaid-i-Azam was to maintain complete unity and solidarity among our ranks by leaving aside all the petty interests. “We have to utilise all our capabilities to bring the nation at par with other developed nations of the world,” he added.

The chief minister said that due to the ill-conceived policies in the past, the country faced a very critical and challenging situation.

He added that though the provincial government was making all possible efforts for the restoration of lasting peace in the region but it was not possible until and unless their geographical borders were duly secured and foreign policy revisited as per national interests.

Mr Khattak expressed the hope that the federal government in the light of the recommendations of the APC in Peshawar and as per the aspirations of the nation would take bold steps to secure the country and nation in all respects.

The chief minister said that the Peshawar school incident awakened the entire nation and stirred conscience of the world community to understand real problem of Pakistani nation in respect of terrorism.

He said the presence of millions of Afghan refugees on their soil was main reason of persistent occurrences of terrorism, unrest and crimes.

They were not only used by miscreants as the facilitators for such misdeeds but they had also increased pressure on the feeble economy and meagre available resources, he added.

Mr Khattak said that government both at provincial and central level would take steps to immediately expel all the illegal Afghan Refugees.

Modus operandi would be devised for honourable repatriation of legal Afghan refugees staying there as soon as possible.

He appealed the people to demonstrate complete unity in their ranks so that Pakistan could be turned into a real welfare, democratic, peaceful and developed country as per vision of Quiad-i-Azam.

Published in Dawn, December 25th, 2014





Meeting Zia ul Haq

Meeting Zia-ul Haq

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Pres Zia-ul HaqAfter retiring as the ambassador of India in Ankara in 1996, I decided to become a journalist, rather a commentator on international affairs, having started my diplomatic career in Cairo as assistant press attaché in early 1960s.

To enable me to work and function as an accredited journalist, Kuldip Nayar’s Mandira publications appointed me as its roving correspondent for the region.

I have known Kuldip since 1964, when along with many other senior Indian journalists he had come to Cairo for the nonaligned summit. Kuldip was the managing director of recently minted; with shoestring budget the United News of India, a rival news agency to PTI. He has always been very affectionate like an elder brother and very hospitable.

Kuldip is the first successful journalist to establish a Syndicate in India, Mandira publications, which has done very well since decades .He had syndicated my articles to nearly a score of major Indian regional newspapers from 1996. At the same time I had begun writing articles for Turkish daily News, Ankara, Khaleej times is Dubai, Pioneer New Delhi and other English language publications in India.

In spite of requests from friends and editors to write short pieces of 1300 words for newspapers in Turkey, Lebanon and other places, my experience and background of 35 years as the diplomat half of it as an Ambassador gives me greater facility to write in-depth articles. Since 2002, I have written over 500 online in-depth articles for major newspapers, websites, and blogs etc. all over the world, which have been translated into a dozen major languages of the world.

However, I felt that I should share my experience as a diplomat and a journalist with Indians, who mostly read newspapers and magazines in India’s regional languages. Mandira Publications has provided me that opportunity.

Meeting with Gen Zia-ul Haq in Bucharest

(From the Ambassador’s Journal)

“Why do not you come to Islamabad? Natwar is leaving Pakistan shortly”.” Excellency, all my teeth are still intact and I am somewhat junior diplomat to come to Pakistan,” I replied to the visiting Pres. of Pakistan Gen Zia ul Haq to whom I was introduced. During my post in early 1980s in Bucharest, Romania, then under the communist rule of Nicolai Ceausescu, all heads of mission were summoned to the presidency and in order of precedence introduced to the visiting head of state or government.

Apart from exchange of pleasantries with the Pakistani president and to meet with him in person, some of us are very curious because prior to his visit there were some media reports that the Pres. had instructed that the women of Pakistan should wear only Salwar and Kameez and not sari, since some extremists in Pakistan considered sari to be a Hindu costume. So we were pleasantly surprised and reassured that almost all the ladies accompanying him were dressed in saris. At the end of the introductions, the president and his party mingled with the invited guests and the president was quickly surrounded.

I sauntered over to a group which had three well dressed and articulate ladies from Pakistan delegation. We talked about India and Pakistan. The wife of the Minister of industry, if I remember correctly, who was connected with Karachi, was full of praise for our previous consul general Mani Shankar Aiyar, a very bright younger colleague, who was born in Lahore.

I casually remarked how was it to travel with the Pres. Of course, she praised the president and added that although he was not trained to be a politician or Pres. he was doing splendidly. I could not resist myself and said, “But of course any young cadet joining the Pakistani military Academy always aspires to occupy the presidential Palace.” After this, I quickly left the group.

Later while posted to Amman, I heard much more about Gen Zia, who as a brigadier was deputed to train Jordan’s military (1967-70). In the beginning, there used to be British military officers seconded to Jordan , created by Winston Churchill after WWI at a dinner table in Jerusalem when on a napkin he mapped the Emirate of Trans-Jordan East of river Jordan , to pacify Prince Abdullah , son of Sharif Hussain of Hejaz and the keeper of Mecca and Medina .The Sharif was fooled into aiding the British against the Ottoman Caliph and Sultan in Istanbul on assurance by Lawrence of Arabia of freeing the Caliph’s Arab subjects after WWI .But nothing of the sort happened .The perfidious British and Gallic French divided the Arab territories , created Israel and put new Arab kingdoms under their control .

King Hussain, a direct descendent of Prophet Mohammad, the ruler during my tenure (1989-92) had himself done a shortened course at the British Military Academy at Sandhurst. In fact, King Hussain married Antoinette Avril Gardiner, the daughter of a British military head of a training mission .Their son; King Abdullah also trained at Sandhurst, now sits on the Hashemite throne in Amman.

Brigadier Zia left an abiding impression among the population of Jordan about his religious proclivities. Some of them said that there was no Mosque in Jordan, where Brig Zia did not pray .But he was heartily detested by Jordanians of Palestinian origin who were expelled from Palestine after the creation of Israel and now form majority in the Kingdom. Brig Zia was the brain and strategician behind the defense and counter attack when the Palestinian guerrilla fighters organized the Black September insurgency against King Hussain. Jordan troops under Brig Zia crushed it and expelled the insurgents into Syria. Later for this Prime Minister Zulfikar Bhutto promoted him 4 Star superseding seven Lt Generals.

A source told me that after the whole operation was over there were big celebrations at the Hashemite Palace. The King himself sent a message to Pakistan that Brig Zia had saved a kingdom. At the party, naturally, Brig Zia was the cynosure of all eyes specially charming and enchanting ladies. A few of them with wine glasses in their hands came enthusiastically and enticingly to Zia and requested that he drink a toast with them for the success, hinting that he deserved whatever he wished or commanded .Brig Zia was a complete teetotaler, so in spite of repeated requests and entreaties by the ladies ,he continued to refuse politely . Finally, he said that did they desire he give up his lifelong absentension. At this the ladies desisted and Zia remained a teetotaler.

During his presidency Gen Zia hoodwinked many foreign leaders and took full advantage of the geopolitical location of Pakistan after the ingress of the Soviet troops into Afghanistan invited by the leftist rulers in Kabul. He wholeheartedly joined with US led West and Muslim counties in the Jihad against USSR in Afghanistan I would not repeat the adverse external and internal consequences of this decision and Islamizing the state of Pakistan, .He also fooled Indian leadership while planning rebellion in Indian Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir .As always, India’s RAW remained generally clueless .Zia would visit India for Pakistani cricket team’s tour or to visit a Muslim holy center. One Pakistani diplomat said the Gen Zia kept his mustaches lowered but was very successful in achieving his internal and foreign policy objectives.

Gen Zia originated from peasantry class called Rain, mostly involved in horticulture, but his father was clerk, a good position in pre-partition days. Born in Jullundur, after graduating from St Stephens College, Delhi, he joined the army .In 1947 he opted for Pakistan. He was able to fool PM Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and finally had his benefactor hanged a very common thing in the history of Islam. Three of the first four Arab Caliphs died of violence. Among Mongols and Turks the sovereignty resided in the family and the fittest could take over the throne after the death of the ruler.

To counter the old established elites of Pakistan comprising of feudal landlords and the rich bourgeoisie, who looked down upon Gen Zia, he promoted another refugee family, of Nawaz Sharif from in Amritsar district in India, where his family had grown out of a flourishing blacksmithy business. He joined politics when the family’s steel business was nationalized by Bhutto. It was therefore funny of him to take potshots at Indian PM Manmohan Singh for old rustic women talk as if he belonged to the genteel aristocracy.

More on Zia and Pakistan

Unlike India, Pakistan began with weak grassroots political organizations, with the British-era civil servants strengthening the bureaucracy’s control over the polity and decision-making in the country. Subsequently, the bureaucracy called for the military’s help, but soon the tail was wagging the dog. In the first seven years of Pakistan’s existence, nine provincial governments were dismissed. From 1951 to 1958 there was only one army commander in chief, two governor generals, but seven prime ministers.

While the politicians had wanted to further strengthen relations with the British, the erstwhile rulers, General Ayub Khan -encouraged by the US military – formed closer cooperation with the Pentagon. And in 1958 the military took over power, with Ayub Khan exiling the governor general, Iskender Mirza, to London. A mere colonel at partition in 1947, with experience mostly of staff jobs, Ayub Khan became a general after only four years. Later, he promoted himself to field marshal. He eased out officers who did not fit into the Anglo-Saxon scheme of using Pakistan’s strategic position against the evolving Cold War confrontation with the communist bloc.

General Zia ul-Haq, meanwhile, was a cunning schemer, veritably a mullah in uniform who, while posted in Amman, helped plan the military operation, which expelled Yasser Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization from Jordan in the 1970s. But he is more remembered for having prayed at all the mosques of Amman, if not in the whole of Jordan. He seduced the north Indian media with lavish praise and chicken and tikka kebabs meals. He planned Operation Topaz, which in 1989 fueled insurgency in Kashmir, while hoodwinking Indians with his goodwill visits to promote cricket contacts between the countries. His Islamization of the country made the situation for women and minorities untenable, while the judicial killing of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1977 turned General Zia into a pariah.

But the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan made him a US darling, restoring and fatally strengthening the Pakistan military’s links with the Pentagon. This made the Pakistani military and the ISI’s hold pervasive, omnipotent, omniscient and ominous in Pakistan. This defense alliance, the seeds of which were planted by Ayub Khan, and the symbiotic relationship between the ISI and the CIA bolstered under General Zia, was never really dismantled and is unlikely to be fully disentangled.

The form of government in a country has seldom bothered the US in the pursuit of its national interests. Otherwise, why would it embrace Pakistan, or say Egypt, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia or any of the other kingdoms and sheikhdoms and repressive regimes around the world, and shun democratic India. Beginning with Ayub Khan’s unofficial visit to the US, the foundations for bilateral cooperation in the military field were laid. These have survived through thick and thin, like a bad marriage where neither side can let go, and despite bad patches, such as the takeovers by Zia ul-Haq and Musharraf. In fact US find military or other dictators easier to handle.

Like the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, September 11 revived the necessity, if not the passion of the 1980s, for Pakistan and the US to come close to each another once again. A divorce now, as naive Indian policymakers and media propose, is wishful thinking. The US needed Pakistan to protect itself from a backlash of its earlier Afghan policies of creating the mujahidin and supporting the jihad in Afghanistan and then Taliban, After 11 September, Washington desperately needed to stop Pakistan’s nuclear bombs or material from falling into jihadi hands, and to eliminate, or at least curtail, further damage to US

– See more at: http://mwcnews.net/focus/analysis/35960-meeting-zia-ul-haq.html?tmpl=component&print=1&layout=default&page=#sthash.rHGulcqg.dpuf





The cancer that was Musharraf’s regime

The cancer that was Musharraf’s regime

Like any illegitimate ruler, Musharraf’s core aims were survival and gaining legitimacy, and his every decision was a manifestation of these vulnerabilities
With the assault of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) on the capital, doubts have been raised against democracy and the constitutional process once again. In the heat of it, voices are rising in quite a few circles for a military takeover in the county. The rationale they present is the glory of the Musharraf regime. Notwithstanding how the ‘glorious’ regime actually fell, even the record of that regime was abysmal to say the least. It is a fallacy labelling Musharraf’s regime a regime of stability, progress and prosperity. On the political front, the Musharraf’s regime’s failures outshine those of Ziaul Haq’s. It was the regime that pushed Balochistan to the brink of secession. An army operation there, confrontation with the pro-state Bugtis and alienation of all mainstream political forces in the province pushed the province away from the Pakistani federation. Had it not been for the political initiatives of Asif Ali Zardari and then Nawaz Sharif to engage the political leadership of the province, fully supported by the armed forces, we may have seen secession by now.
If Balochistan was not enough, his policy in the war on terror was enough to cripple the state. That he played a vicious double game in the war on terror with both internal and external stakeholders is no secret now. Those who portray him as the ultimate saviour of Pakistan against the Taliban and al Qaeda militants must remember that it was under his watch that the state of Pakistan ceded control of seven tribal areas and Swat to the terrorists. It is only in regimes after him, through the bravery and courage of our armed forces, that the state of Pakistan has gradually regained control of the ground lost there. His policy of harbouring the Taliban led to alienation of the people in the tribal areas and made them targets for drone strikes in later years. It was under him that Karachi became a hub for the Taliban and al Qaeda, and though Sharif’s provincial government cannot be absolved of its fair share of responsibility, the network of Punjabi Taliban expanded and consolidated in Punjab during Musharraf’s regime. If this was not enough, his double game policy compromised the Pakistan army the most. Do we forget that in the twilight of the Musharraf regime, because of his hypocritical double game to stay in power, he had pushed things to a level where confusion led people to refuse leading and attending the funeral prayers of soldiers martyred in the war on terror? If this is your de Gaulle, I salute your wisdom.
The ultimate defence of Musharraf is his economic performance. However, as far as the economic growth rate goes, it was only in 2003-2004 and 2004-2005 that the growth rate was higher than six percent, otherwise it was largely under six percent, which is hardly glorious. More importantly, the abundance of capital that we saw during the Musharraf regime had nothing to do with the policies of the regime but was a result of a global zero-interest rate environment. Unfortunately for Pakistan, thanks to the ineptness of Musharraf’s regime, this abundance of capital did not result in an enhanced industrialisation and production base. Industrial production as a percentage of GDP declined rapidly under the regime. Ironically, this global zero-interest rate regime was used effectively by our neighbours India and China to enhance the production base of their respective economies. Just when India and China were busy using abundant capital to enhance productivity, the Musharraf regime was using the abundance of capital to inflate the real estate and stock market, leading to an asset price bubble. Those who admire Musharraf’s economic marvels are the beneficiaries of this urban centric asset-inflation driven economic bubble that went bust during the last years of his regime.
Musharraf’s regime was a cancer from which Pakistani society, our brave armed forces and state institutions will take years to recover. Like any illegitimate ruler, Musharraf’s core aims were survival and gaining legitimacy, and his every decision was a manifestation of these vulnerabilities. He allowed the real estate and stock market bubble to appease the urban elite of Pakistan. Like his predecessors, Musharraf knew that regimes in Pakistan fall when the cities of Lahore and Karachi rise against them. Thus, they go the extra mile to appease them through artificial prosperity. Ayub did it, Zia did it and so did Musharraf. The problem is these policies are a stopgap arrangement and when the effect fades, everything crumbles. Similarly, to gain international legitimacy, Musharraf had to keep the threat of the Taliban alive while showing action against it at the same time, leading to a destructive double game. As they say, you can fool some of the people some of the time but not all of the people all the time; eventually the game had to fail.
There is a lesson to be learnt by us as a nation from the Musharraf saga. For one, those who are political players must acknowledge and respect the army’s role and strategic concerns in decision making, and should not push matters to a point where the army is sucked into the political space. For their part, the armed forces must realise that it is not in their interest to come to the fore as it only undermines their stature and power. It is in everyone’s interest that the system continues. For this, everyone needs to play by the rules of the game. It may sound a little Machiavellian but the system needs to be built so that it has institutional mechanisms to eject corrupt or illegitimate players. Another piece of adventurism like Musharraf’s will destroy it for all. In these vulnerable times, let us stay composed and say a prayer for Pakistan and for us all.

The author can be reached on twitter at @aalimalik

Islamic seats of learning as Deoband, Qom and Al Azhar must unite

In fact, such Islamic seats of learning as Deoband, Qom and Al Azhar must unite in expressing their abhorrence of the atrocity in Nigeria. Silence will mean the Muslim world’s tacit approval of Boko Haram’s misogynist brigandage.


Muslim world’s silence

Updated May 07, 2014 06:19am

THE news from Nigeria is blood-curdling. Shrouded initially in mystery, the kidnapping of almost 300 Nigerian girls last month has now been owned by Boko Haram, with its chief threatening ‘by Allah’ to sell those girls in slave markets. In a chilling demonstration of his intentions, in the name of Islam, Boko Haram chief Abubakr Shekau released an hour-long video that showed his hooded acolytes raising rifles and shouting ‘Allah-o-Akbar’ as Shekau flaunted his criminality to the Nigerian people by declaring, “I abducted your girls”. Describing the girls as “slaves”, he had no qualms about saying he would repeat his actions. Over 50 of the girls have managed to flee, two have died of snakebite, many have been forced to marry and some have been forcibly converted — all in the name of Islam.

Last week, two explosions killed or injured more than 100 people, and police believe Boko Haram wanted to demonstrate its destructive power as Nigeria prepared to host the World Economic Forum. So far acts of terror by the Boko Haram militants and security crackdowns have led to over 1,500 deaths this year alone. But there is no indication yet that the Nigerian government has the political will to purposefully take on the extremists who have chosen murder and abduction as a strategy to advance their political aims for which they claim religious sanction. The Nigerian government has come under intense criticism at home for focusing all security measures on the WEF delegates and for ignoring the urgent task of recovering the girls.

However, the issue doesn’t concern Nigeria alone. Seen against the background of religious militancy that has rocked Muslim (as well as non-Muslim) countries from Indonesia to Morocco, Boko Haram’s latest act of crime against humanity poses a question or two to the entire Muslim world, especially its intellectuals and ulema. Will the Muslim world stay quiet over this debasement of their religion and look away from the Nigerian people’s trauma? Girls are abducted from schools because Boko Haram says it opposes ‘Western’ education. That an education can be ‘Western or Eastern’ is a debatable issue, but even if ‘Western education’ is all that devilish, was the mass kidnapping of the girls the best way to register protest? The Muslim world now must speak up. Those who accuse the Western media of tarring all Muslims with the same brush now have an excellent chance of correcting this erroneous perception by denouncing Boko Haram’s evil deed in unequivocal terms and by dissociating the international Islamic community from such fiendish crimes. In fact, such Islamic seats of learning as Deoband, Qom and Al Azhar must unite in expressing their abhorrence of the atrocity in Nigeria. Silence will mean the Muslim world’s tacit approval of Boko Haram’s misogynist brigandage.












Jamaat loves TTP leader Hakimullah Mehsud, who was killed in a drone strike, a martyr


The arrival of Sirajul Haq as the fifth emir of the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) is being interpreted variously. Most commonly, however, it is being viewed as the restoration in the Jamaat of the Qazi Hussain Ahmed strain of populist politics fired by a strong desire to evolve into a mainstream political party.

“Sirajul Haq will follow Qazi Hussain’s style of leadership,” one of the top Jamaat leaders from Lahore told Dawn.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity because of party discipline, he said: “He will prove to be more accommodating [in forging alliances with other parties] and avoid controversies because of his experience of working in the coalition government of the MMA [from 2002 to 07] and now with the PTI in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.”The election of a JI emir has always attracted considerable public interest because of the political ideology it represents and the street power it is supposed to wield, even though the JI has never succeeded in attracting voters to itself. The results have always been predictable, until Haq sprang this surprise.

He emerged as the winner on Sunday as the Jamaat Arakeen (members with voting rights) voted out the sitting emir, Syed Munawwar Hasan, for the first time in the party’s history. If this was not significant enough, he defeated another JI stalwart, Liaquat Baloch, a bit of a pragmatist politician himself with his own constant appeal, particularly in Punjab.

There are two points that need to be discussed. One, how is that the Jamaat broke away with its tradition of never voting out a sitting emir, even if it was accepted that Hasan was a somewhat reluctant candidate for re-election? And, two, if the fight effectively was between two more pragmatic, relatively young contestants in Haq and Baloch, how did the Jamaat members distinguish one from the other?

The answers to these questions can be found in the Jamaat’s politics under Hasan who has always been more of an ideologue in the party. It was quite clear that his style of politics created a craving for a return to the days of his predecessor. This is where leaders such as Baloch and Haq emerged as his likely heirs. It was to a large extent Hasan’s own preferences of partners — which saw the Jamaat allying itself with the PTI in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa — that could have given Haq an edge over Baloch.

Dr Hasan Askari Rizvi, a Lahore-based author and political analyst, who was expecting Baloch to replace Hasan, argued that Haq’s win was a rejection of his predecessor’s “combative style” of politics. “Syed Munawwar’s controversial statements undermined the Jamaat’s image outside the party. Siraj will follow Qazi Hussain to repair the JI image.”

He obviously was referring to the sitting emir’s statement declaring TTP leader Hakimullah Mehsud, who was killed in a drone strike, a martyr. He didn’t stop there and argued that if an American who died on the battlefield was not a martyr how could those from among the Pakistan army fighting [the American war] be termed as martyrs.

The statement had drawn a strong response from the army, which had called for an unconditional apology from the JI emir for hurting the feelings of the families of the thousands of Pakistani soldiers who had laid down their lives fighting the terrorists. Though the Jamaat defended its leader after the army condemned his remarks, it distanced itself from his statement by saying it represented Hasan’s “personal views”.

The anonymous Jamaat leader agreed with Dr Rizvi. “Syed Munawwar listened more to his heart. The kind of statements he has given in support of the Taliban didn’t represent the party’s stated policy or its culture. We do not have a soft corner for the Taliban. Our party has never favoured militancy. So when they got a chance, our Arakeen gave their decision [against him],” he argued.

While Farid Paracha, another top Jamaat leader from Lahore, agreed that the new JI emir would bring the same ‘concept of change’ as was brought in the party by Qazi Hussain whose protégé Haq is, he rejected ‘speculation’ that the Arakeen had punished Hasan for his controversial statement. “Syed Munawar, who is 73 years old and has some health issues, was reluctant to lead the party for another term. The Markazi Shoora turned down his request but the party Arakeen accepted it by electing a new emir.” He was hopeful that Haq’s election would revitalise the party and its workers.

The JI emir-elect has a public perception of being a hardliner and sympathetic to the militants. Yet both the Jamaat leaders and analysts reject this view about him. “Contrary to his public perception of being a hardliner, Sirajul Haq is a moderate [politician] in the old tradition of the Jamaat,” the anonymous JI leader contended.

People like Dr Rizvi warn against singling Haq out. “The JI as a party is supportive of the Taliban. Why single him out? He could be a bit more sympathetic [towards the militants] for being from the area.” He also rejected speculation that the military establishment engineered his win as part of its strategy to prepare the ground in KP for a post-Nato Afghanistan. “I don’t think the state can influence such a large number of voters [JI Arakeen] to manipulate the party emir’s election.”

While Haq’s victory is seen as a return in the Jamaat of a politically more accommodative era, the defeat of Baloch is being seen as consolidation of the forces in the party that want alliances with political forces like the PTI that are “ideologically more compatible”. “Baloch represents the Punjab party that is more inclined towards forging an alliance with the PML-N. This stance was rejected when Syed Munawwar refused to make electoral adjustments with the PML-N in last year’s elections and chose the PTI over it. The election of Siraj has consolidated that political outlook further,” said a senior journalist who also refused to give his name.

Thus Hasan may be gone, one of his legacies will survive, at least for the time being.

The PPP leader said that terrorists wanted to make Pakistan a “backward society”.

Mohenjodaro 2014 — peace through culture

Staff Report

KARACHI: The nation hit by terrorism, sectarianism and ethnic tensions burst into applause on Sunday night when young leadership of the Pakistan People’s Party announced to use one of the richest cultures of the world for promotion of peace in the society.

“Terrorists want our country to have a primitive society …It is up to us to preserve our history and culture,” Bilawal Bhutto Zardari told a charged audience, comprising national as well as international dignitaries, at the Mohatta Palace in Clifton.

The PPP leader said that terrorists wanted to make Pakistan a “backward society”.

“We are promoting the culture of peace while terrorists want to impose their rules on us through the barrel of gun. We have been taught distorted history about our culture and religion by military dictators like Ziaul Haq and his protégés. But we won’t let them succeed,” Bilawal, who anchored the colourful event along with his sister Bakhtawar Bhutto Zardari, told the participants.

“Our heritage is under threat. Pakistanis are being dragged backwards, towards more regressive dark ages. A fictionalised and imported culture is being imposed on us despite that we have our own rich cultural heritage”, Bilawal said.

He lamented the gradual degradation of Mohenjodaro, the 5,000-year-old world’s last surviving Bronze Age city. “The great archeological site is disappearing before our eyes,” he said, and announced that opening ceremony of the Sindh Festival 2014 will be held in Mohenjodaro.

“Eyes of whole world will be watching and people across the world will know about Mohenjodaro for the first time,” Bilawal added.

“Let’s bask in the glory of Indus Valley civilisation. Let’s live in the Pakistan we want to see. Move away London 2012, we have Mohenjodaro 2014,” Bilawal said to a cheering audience.

“I’m proud to be a Sindhi, Muslim and a Pakistani. Let’s protect, preserve and promote Sindh. Let’s protect, preserve and promote our heritage,” he said as he invited his political rivals, including Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz, PTI chief Imran Khan, and common people to participate in the Sindh Festival. “All Pakistanis are invited,” he said.

Bilawal also announced the ambitious plans to host the popular festival of Basant on the beach in the port city in February, five years after authorities in Punjab banned it.

According to Bilawal, the Basant in Karachi would be “Beach Basant”.

“Sindh estival is bringing all the cultural activities back that were closed by government in 2006,” he said.

“I have realised that Pakistan is gradually becoming ‘banistan’. If we find someone offensive on YouTube, we ban the website. If we can’t compete with the Indian cinema, we ban movies,” he said.

Unveiling the events to be held during the two-week festival, Bakhtawar said it would have ‘the best of what Sindh and Pakistan has to offer’.

Laws will be formed to avert accidents during Basant, such as those caused by metallic kite strings. Kite flying will be organised on the beach to avoid any untoward incident.

The festival will include Sufi music nights, cattle races, a donkey derby, handicraft carnivals, film festivals and cricket tournaments. The festivities would begin with a grand opening ceremony at Mohenjodaro, Larkana, on February 1 and would continue till mid-February.

On Valentine’s Day, a special ghazal night will be organised for couples and families. A painting exhibition of some of the top artists and the private collection of late Benazir Bhutto would also be held.

During the festival, a singing competition ‘Voice of Pakistan’ will also be organised. A bus would travel across the province to stage auditions for picking out the most talented singer from the rural areas.

For two weeks, Bagh Ibn-e-Qasim will house most of the activities, where stalls will be set up by artisans from rural Sindh displaying pottery, handicrafts and traditional souvenirs.

The closing ceremony of the Sindh Culture Fest would be staged at Keenjhar Lake with an open air concert and fireworks. The festival will be an annual event.