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 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

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

ARMY architects of disasters and disgrace go scot-free

The merchants of menace

Those questioning this dogma are instantly labelled traitors and ostracised while the architects of disasters and disgrace go scot-free
His clients ranged from Libya to North Korea and properties from Timbuktu to Dubai. At the height of his power his net worth was reportedly $ 400 million. His face, with a Hilteresque moustache, appeared on the February 14, 2005 Time magazine cover captioned ‘The Merchant of Menace’. That man was Dr Abdul Qadir Khan and his trade was nuclear proliferation. While everyone on his trail was convinced that Dr Khan could not have run a sprawling network of aeroplanes and yachts shuttling his P-1 and P-2 centrifuges across international airspace and maritime borders all by himself, the Pakistani authorities insisted that he was a lone wolf. The recent revelations by the former spokesman of the Pakistani armed forces, General (retired) Athar Abbas about the ex-army chief, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, make it sound as if Kayani — like Dr A Q Khan — alone was responsible for the monumental mess Pakistan made in the North Waziristan Agency and the terrorist menace it peddled in the region.
Dovetailing with General Abbas’ disclosures about his former boss is a slew of panegyrics praising the incumbent Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif as the ‘soldier’s soldier’ by the same coterie of analysts and anchors who once celebrated General Kayani as the ‘thinking soldier’ who alone had ostensibly changed the army’s doctrine and identified domestic jihadism as the existential threat to the country. The chief has retired; long live the chief! How convenient indeed except that General Kayani did what his institution had trained and required him to do, like the chiefs before him. Was General Ayub Khan alone in staging the 1958 coup d’état? Did he not have Lieutenant Generals Mohammad Azam Khan, Wajid Burki and K M Sheikh with him all the way? Did General Yahya Khan pull off his putsch all by himself? Did Major Generals Ghulam Umar and Sher Ali Khan Pataudi not prod the deep-in-the-cups dictator? Was that most evil of them all, General Ziaul Haq, the sole architect of so-called Operation Fair Play on July 4, 1977? Did Generals Faiz Ali Chishti, Sawar Khan, Iqbal Khan, Jehanzeb Arbab, Fazl-e-Haq, Rahimuddin Khan and K M Arif not go the whole hog with Zia? And was the commando dictator General Musharraf not airborne still when Generals Aziz Khan, Mahmud Ahmad and Muzzafar Usmani wrapped up Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his government on October 12, 1999? Barring a handful of honourable exceptions during the army’s brutal campaign in Bangladesh, did any general ever refuse to carry out unlawful orders and resign?
General Kayani may be an easy punching bag but he, his predecessors and his successor are chips off that same old block, which avoids accountability like the plague. An institution that produced four overtly adventurist chiefs, suffered humiliation in four wars, brutalised the Bengalis and Baloch, meddles incessantly in civilian affairs and has no culture of accountability has a lot to answer for. Instead, stonewalling civilian inquiries into debacles like Kargil or forcing politicians to suppress damning findings like the Hamoodur Rehman or the Abbottabad Commissions’ reports is the military’s standard operating procedure. Even internal inquests into military disasters like the 1965 twin operations Gibraltar and Grand Slam are scarce and read more like a biography or a travelogue than a professional analysis of the rout. Rather than acknowledging and rectifying institutional shortcomings, the military has, for decades, commissioned analysts to write a revisionist history in which even the 1971 resounding defeat is portrayed as a betrayal by the “untrustworthy and Hindu-ised” Bengalis who had “conspired with India”. This poppycock is then taught as the gospel truth in Pakistani schools and, along with other fairytales, passes for history. Those questioning this dogma are instantly labelled traitors and ostracised while the architects of disasters and disgrace go scot-free.
Whatever General Athar Abbas has said is merely partial truth. The key question is if it was Kayani or the outfit he headed that incubated the jihadist legions in North Waziristan. As discussed in this column for years now, General Kayani refused to act against the jihadists in North Waziristan because that risked disrupting the security establishment’s meticulously crafted ‘good/bad’ Taliban tactic — a bedrock of Pakistan’s Afghanistan policy before the good jihadists could be let loose on Afghanistan come 2014’s US withdrawal. Kayani, along with Musharraf, was the architect of the establishment’s good/bad Taliban ruse to keep the US off their backs. The security establishment stoked anti-US sentiments through its assets in the media and the religio-political parties, and then used it as an excuse not to act in North Waziristan ‘under US pressure’ lest it provoke a hyper-nationalist and jihadist backlash. Kayani could not have carried out this convoluted narrative management without his top media manager who has suddenly spoken out now.
The series of operations conducted under Kayani’s command left the good Taliban unscathed and the Zarb-e-Azb offensive is no different. All major operations were announced with fanfare, giving advance warning to the jihadists to flee, as has happened in North Waziristan now. Other than netting Muslim Khan of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) through a talks ploy, no top good or bad jihadist ringleader has been captured or killed in any of the grand sounding military operations conducted to date. The US drones have taken out almost all the TTP and Haqqani network leaders killed thus far. The bravado in the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) communiqués notwithstanding, reports from the locals suggest that Zarb-e-Azb’s outcome will be no different. Two weeks into the ground assault there is no independent verification of the army’s claims of killing hundreds of terrorists. The handpicked embedded journalists are en route to croak victory from North Waziristan soon. Another round of the mock whack-a-mole with the jihadists nears its completion. Unfortunately, the tremendous human cost of this eyewash is being paid by the 800,000 Pashtun civilians uprooted from their homes.
Shifting blame for past disasters to political governments, General Kayani or for that matter even the ISI is a mere diversion to insulate the military establishment against domestic and international criticism for allowing the domestic, regional and transnational jihadists consort freely in North Waziristan resulting in the deaths and maiming of thousands of innocents. The buck in this instance stops not with General Kayani but with his institution. General Raheel Sharif’s pronouncement to fight terrorists of all shades is welcome indeed but without ushering in a robust and transparent institutional accountability that assembly line will keep producing more merchants of menace who, contrary to whatever anyone says, have never acted alone.

Aziz Ihsan

Listen Mr. Taqi, the self proclaimed father of all the truth and nothing but the truth since you know damn everything which happens on this green earth.

Not sure but since Maj-Gen ® Athar Abbas was of Maj-Gen rank but his
rank doesn’t make him privy to decisions made in the Corp Commanders /formation commanders meetings, where the normal rank is of Lt-Gen.

AQK is the BIGGEST FRAUD and TRAITOR Pakistan has ever seen.

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    What is it that you disagree with the writer? The writer is just pointing the obvious. he is trying to open eyes like yours. Counter his points with what you got. A media manager is indeed privy to everything.

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      I replied in a statement second para which contradicts the validity of Maj-Gen (R) Athar statement. He was not part of Corp/formation commanders meetings. Only officers with rank level of Lt-Gen are present in these meetings. Therefore, how did he come to know that what Kiyani was thinking out loud?

      As so called media manager is not present in these meetings. At the end of the meeting one of the Lt-Gen gives out his sanitized notes to the ISPR DG.

      Second this Taqi, with a intellectual level of cab driver knows everything about everything.

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        Aziz Ihsan! your comments are not worthy to replied to. They are merely based on malicious rejection of the obvious. People of your sort and ilk bring the sky down to earth when it comes to Israel and India…condemnable as they are for their atrocities…but you will never say a word about the blood shed of Pashtun being shed under the shadow of Afghan policy being engineered by the Generals.

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    Congratulations, Dr. Taqi – couldn’t have been written more succinctly! Is there anyone listening?

On a wing and a prayer

Updated 2014-01-20 10:24:49

Until it became something of an affront to its long-suffering passengers, Pakistan International Airlines’ slogan, “Great people to fly with” was not an empty boast. Earlier ads mention its “record regularity, top performance”; one breezily announced, “Every airline has a thing. You know, like serving 179 hors d’oeuvres or something like that. Our thing is being on time.”

Innovation was its hallmark. It was the first Asian airline to operate a jetliner and the first in the world to show inflight movies on international routes. But that was then. How the mighty have fallen. Short-sighted, flawed policies over the last few decades have left PIA a shadow of its former self, with poor inflight service, delayed and cancelled flights, and a monthly deficit of three billion rupees between revenue and expenses which has to be covered with bank loans, thus trapping it in a vicious cycle of debt. Corruption, an ageing, gas-guzzling fleet, and overstaffing on political grounds further stretch its limited resources.

Fire-fighting tactics keep operations going. For instance, with nine of PIA’s 34 aircraft grounded, the management recently took four aircraft – two each from Czech and Turkish private airlines – on wet lease, a contract that includes the aircraft, cockpit crew, partial cabin crew, and maintenance. By all accounts, this short-term solution has been a successful move. The 15 to 20 flights added on both domestic and international routes are all turning a profit.

In fact, a senior management source says, “If we could carry on the entire PIA operation with wet lease aircraft, and tell the operational staff to sit home, the airline can stand on its own feet again. The amount of fuel we save per hour on these newer aircraft is equal to their hourly rental of $2500.”

Despite their financial benefits, these wet lease operations have met with resistance from the airline’s pilots and engineers on the grounds that they make the airline’s existing infrastructure redundant. However, in many ways the infrastructure itself is an albatross around the airline’s neck and pressure from employees’ unions prevents retrenchment even if it makes eminent business sense.

For example, of the engineering division’s total annual budget of 20 billion rupees, only three billion rupees worth of repairs are carried out locally but its 4,000 personnel remain on the company’s payroll.

Contrary to the perception that the major drain on PIA’s resources are the salaries for its bloated employee base, the company spends barely 15 per cent of its revenue on salaries as compared to other airlines which spend about 30pc. However, the remuneration structure is skewed in favour of pilots, cabin crew and engineers – who comprise 40pc of the employees but consume almost 60pc of the salary budget. “The problem is the quality of manpower,” says a source. “I have so-called MBAs working under me who don’t know financial basics. What else can one expect when their starting salary is Rs25,000?”

Political appointments exacerbate the dearth of qualified manpower and institutionalise a culture of impunity. “A large number of such appointees who had earlier been sacked – often for good reason – were reappointed under the previous government,” says a pilot. “Many of them came in, collected their arrears and resigned the very next day.”

Lack of accountability pervades virtually all aspects of the airline. Senior executives create posts to accommodate relatives – which may perhaps explain the plethora of general managers in PIA. ‘Orders’ are placed for expensive spare parts that are already available in the inventory and over-invoicing in every department is rife.

More serious still, fuel constitutes the biggest chunk of its expenses – at least 60pc compared to about 40pc in other airlines. This is not just because of PIA’s older aircraft but also, according to PIA sources, because of pilots who routinely take more fuel than required, thereby incurring needless additional expenditure.

“They treat the airline like a personal fiefdom,” says a pilot. “Fuel requirements depend on the aircraft’s total weight, but pilots don’t wait to be informed of it before making fuel calculations.”

The general consensus among industry professionals is that privatisation is the only way to salvage PIA and run it on professional lines. Until that happens, it seems Pakistan’s flagship carrier will continue to flounder, caught between farce and tragedy.

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

Mohenjodaro 2014 — peace through culture

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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.

TTP’s ruthless new commander Fazlullah
Mullah Fazlullah, the new leader of the Pakistani Taliban, has a reputation as a ruthless commander prepared to do anything to enforce his uncompromising interpretation of Islamic law.

He has succeeded Hakimullah Mehsud, who was killed in a US drone strike in North Waziristan last week.

He led the Taliban’s brutal two-year rule in Pakistan’s northwest valley of Swat, which saw supposed wrongdoers flogged and beheaded in public and hundreds of schools burned down.

Under Fazlullah’s rule, Green Square in Mingora, the main town of Swat, became known as “Bloody Square” for the slaughtered, bullet-ridden bodies that were hung in it almost every day.

Fazlullah, believed to be aged 39, was born Fazal Hayat in Swat. He studied at an Islamic religious school and worked as a chairlift operator and sold firewood, before joining his father-in-law’s Tehrik Nifaz-i-Shariat-i-Muhammadi (TNSM), or Movement for the Enforcement of the Sharia of Muhammad (pbuh).

After US-led forces entered Afghanistan to oust the Afghan Taliban from power in 2001, Fazlullah joined thousands of Pakistanis who crossed the border to fight what they saw as a “holy war” against the invaders.

He was arrested on his way back to Pakistan but was later released on bail and became the head of the Sharia movement in Swat after his father-in-law was jailed.

In 2006 he began delivering fiery sermons on his own FM station, earning the nickname “Mullah Radio,” railing against polio vaccination programmes and girls’ education.

After a deadly army operation to clear the radical Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) in Islamabad, Fazlullah merged his TNSM with the newly formed Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

As his control of Swat, once a popular tourist destination known as the “Switzerland of Pakistan,” grew from 2007 onwards, Fazlullah set up Sharia courts that handed out savage punishments.

In 2009 Malala Yousafzai, aged just 11, began a blog on the BBC Urdu website chronicling the horrors of life under the Taliban.

The TTP made an unsuccessful attempt to kill her in Swat in October last year, saying she had campaigned against them. She survived being shot in the head and has gone on to become a global icon of the struggle against extremism.

An army offensive ended Fazlullah’s rule in Swat in 2009 and he escaped with a band of loyalists into the mountains of eastern Afghanistan, from where they have continued to orchestrate attacks in Pakistan.

Fazlullah, who has a $500,000 government bounty on his head, has mounted some brutal and humiliating attacks on Pakistan’s military, including the beheading of 17 soldiers after an attack in June 2012.

In September, soon after Pakistan’s political parties had backed a government plan for peace talks with the Taliban, Fazlullah’s men responded with violence.

A bomb attack killed two senior army officers, including a major general, in the country’s northwest, a galling blow for the military.

Fazlullah claimed the attack in a video message in which he spelled out his hardline position.

“We will remove any hurdle to enforcing Islamic Sharia. Our goal is very clear – we want the law of Allah in Allah’s land,” he said.

Hopes fade for eradication of polio from North Waziristan

Hopes fade for eradication of polio from North Waziristan

PESHAWAR: Lacklustre attitude of the United States towards anti-polio programme has been hampering polio eradication efforts by Pakistan, especially in Federally Administered Tribal Areas, as one fresh polio case each was reported in North Waziristan and Peshawar on Sunday, officials said.

They said that the recent drone strike that killed TTP leader Hakeemullah Mehsud in North Waziristan tribal region had dealt a serious blow to the dialogue process aimed at resumption of the much-needed immunisation campaign there.

According to the officials, the government had started talks with Taliban in North Waziristan a week ago and their response in the first round of talks was extremely positive, but the attack had spoiled everything.

Meanwhile, one each positive case was reported from North Waziristan and Peshawar on Sunday. Both children didn’t receive the oral polio vaccine, said the officials.

Taliban banned polio vaccination and linked its start with the stoppage of American drone attacks in June 2012 in North Waziristan Agency where an outbreak of polio has infected 17 children in 2013 so far while dozens others risked the crippling vaccine-preventable childhood ailment, as many children could not get even the first dose of oral polio vaccine.

The Fata has 39 cases of total 56 in the country so far in 2013 whereas KP recorded eight, Sindh five and Punjab four.

“The ban has proved fatal. We had just begun talks with Taliban to allow OPV and safeguard an estimated 160,000 children there. The drone attack has virtually put children at risk,” the officials said.

They said that the US was least interested in Pakistan’s polio programme because it never supported it politically or financially. “America has been providing support to Pakistan in health and other sectors through the USAID, but it doesn’t contribute to the immunisation efforts,” they claimed and added that the US didn’t risk transportation of poliovirus from Pakistan to its population and therefore wasn’t concerned about the disease here.

“The people would not have heard any statement from the US president or any of its other political leaders urging polio eradication in Pakistan. On contrary, there are statements of support from leaders of other developed countries concerning polio eradication in Pakistan,” the relevant officials said.

The US, according to the officials, was concerned only with terrorism for which it had been paying huge financial assistance to the government, but polio eradication seemed to be totally irrelevant to its interests. They said that the US continued its drone campaign in tribal areas at the cost of children who could face disabilities due to non-vaccination. “Those who have started talks with low cadre Taliban leaders for resumption of polio immunisation are now afraid to pursue talks due to their anger over the assassination of their leader,” they said.

Some of the officials, however, said that the ill-planned social mobilisation campaign for anti-polio immunisation tended to present the programme as US-sponsored and the people mistook the OPV as an American’s conspiracy to render recipients infertile and impotent. They said that Taliban banned the anti-polio campaign in their attempt to defy the US.

Similarly, the case of Dr Shakil Afridi who was arrested in connection with fake hepatitis vaccination campaign to reach Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad at the behest of the US was also quoted in this regard.

The officials said that such incidents were presented as plots by a group of certain mindset which capitalised on anti-government sentiments and opposed programmes like iodine, family planning, polio eradication etc because they didn’t expect any good from the government.

“We have to depoliticise polio vaccination programme because it had nothing to do with drone strikes or the US, they said.

POLIO – Pakistan – Fatwa

Fatwa declares polio vaccine Islamic  –\10\25\story_25-10-2013_pg1_2

LAHORE: The Darul Afta (fatwa council) of Pakistan Ulema Council (PUC) has issued a fatwa, saying that the administration of polio drops to children is not forbidden in Islam. It says prominent scholars and experts of the Muslim world are convinced that polio drops do not contain anything that is harmful to health or against sharia. The fatwa issued from the PUC’s central office refers to Shaykh Al-Azhar of Jamia Al-Azhar Egypt, Maulana Samiul Haq of Darul Uloom Haqqania, Mufti Rafi Usmani, Maulana Zahid Mahmood Qasmi, Mufti Muhammad Naeem, Maulana Abdul Bari of Qabail Ulema Council, Maulana Anwarul Haq Mujahid, PUC Central Chairman Hafiz Muhammad Tahir Mahmood Ashrafi and other Islamic leaders. The fatwa says that the holy Quran and Sunnah command us to provide proper medication to our children. It notes that polio is an incurable disease once infected. There are only three Islamic countries where polio still exists and one of them is Pakistan. Therefore, Islamic scholars have urged parents to administer polio drops to their children. The fatwa also demands the UN formulate laws to ensure global spies are kept away from healthcare organisations. It strongly condemns the actions of Shakil Afridi, a Pakistani physician who helped CIA track al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, and says that people in tribal regions and many areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan have refused to administer polio drops to their children to protest against the actions of Shakil Afridi. staff report



Pakistan polio outbreak puts global eradication at risk

Pakistan polio outbreak puts global eradication at risk – Dailytimes Report 19 Oct 2013\10\19\story_19-10-2013_pg1_6

* Taliban attacks, vaccine ban leave many children exposed

* Dozens of children paralysed in Waziristan outbreak

* Dramatic progress towards wiping out polio in jeopardy

LONDON: A Taliban ban on vaccination is exacerbating a serious polio outbreak in Pakistan, threatening to derail dramatic progress made this year towards wiping out the disease worldwide, health officials say.

Health teams in Pakistan have been attacked repeatedly since the Taliban denounced vaccines as a Western plot to sterilise Muslims and imposed bans on inoculation in June 2012.

In North Waziristan, a region near the Afghan border that has been cordoned off by the Taliban, dozens of children, many under the age of two, have been crippled by the viral disease in the past six months.

And there is evidence in tests conducted on sewage samples in some of the country’s major cities that the polio virus is starting to spread beyond these isolated pockets and could soon spark fresh polio outbreaks in more densely populated areas.

“We have entered a phase that we were all worried about and were afraid might happen,” Elias Durry, head of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) in Pakistan, told Reuters in a telephone interview.

“The risk is that as long as the virus is still circulating, and as long as we have no means of reaching these children and immunising them to interrupt virus transmission, it could jeopardise everything that has been done so far – not only in Pakistan, but also in the region and around the globe.”

Polio is a highly infectious disease that invades the nervous system and can cause irreversible paralysis in a matter of hours. A $5.5 billion global eradication plan was launched in April with the aim of vaccinating 250 million children multiple times each year to stop the virus finding new footholds, and stepping up surveillance in more than 70 countries.

The virus has been cornered to just a handful of areas in Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan, the three countries where polio is endemic. Global cases have dropped by more than 99.9 percent in less than three decades, from 350,000 in 1985 to just 223 last year, according to the GPEI.

But so far in 2013, there have already been 296 cases worldwide. Forty-three were in Pakistan, the vast majority in children in the semi-autonomous Pashtun lands along the Afghan border known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), which include North Waziristan.

Accusations that immunisation campaigns are cover for spies were given credence when it emerged that the United States had used a Pakistani vaccination team to gather intelligence about al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who was found and killed by US special forces in Pakistan in 2011.

The Taliban ban, and associated security threats, mean the polio virus could easily escape and spread back into previously cleared areas.

Tariq Bhutta of the Pakistan Paediatric Association said there was little prospect that the militant Islamist group would change its stance. He said attacks on health teams attempting to reach children to immunise them were becoming both more frequent and more violent.

“The vaccination teams are still going out, but at risk to their lives,” he told Reuters. “People can come up on motorbikes and shoot them, and they’ve also started attacking the police put there to protect the vaccination teams.” A Taliban bomb that exploded earlier this month near a polio vaccination team in the northwestern city of Peshawar killed two people and appeared to target police assigned to protect the health workers.

“This will only be solved if the polio teams can get access to those children – either inside FATA, or when the children move out into other areas,” Bhutta said. “Without that I don’t see how things can improve. Rather I think things might get more serious when the polio virus gets out into settled areas.”

The GPEI says the FATA is the area with the largest number of children being paralysed by wild poliovirus in all of Asia.

Four polio cases in children in Pakistan were reported in the last week. Because the virus spreads from person to person, the World Health Organisation says as long as any child remains infected, children everywhere are at risk. reuters

Shahbaz expresses sorrow over KP law minister’s death

Shahbaz expresses sorrow over KP law minister’s death

* CM stresses need for forging unity to counter terrorism

LAHORE: Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has expressed deep sense of sorrow and grief over the death of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa law minister Israrullah Gandapur and the loss of other precious lives in a suicide attack in Kolachi area of Dera Ismail Khan.

Shahbaz Sharif telephoned Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Pervaiz Khatak and strongly condemned the suicide attack. He offered his sympathies over the death of Israrullah Gandapur and others in the tragic incident.

Earlier, on the Eid day, Shahbaz offered prayers at Jaati Umra, Raiwind.

Special prayers were also offered on this occasion for the solidarity, progress and prosperity of the country. Later, the chief minister exchanged Eid greetings with the people. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Member of National Assembly Hamza Shahbaz Sharif, elected representatives and other leaders of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz also offered Eid prayers at Jaati Umra.

Meanwhile, Shahbaz Sharif said that Pakistan had been facing the serious issue of terrorism for the last several years, and besides officers of the Pakistan Army and the police, common citizens had also offered sacrifices in the war against terrorism. He said that more than 50,000 Pakistanis had embraced martyrdom so far. He said under the leadership of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the federal government had formulated a policy – with the consultation of all political parties – to curb terrorism, and its implementation would yield positive results, as the situation of law and order would improve in the country.

He was talking to reporters after distributing Eid gifts among under-treatment children at the Children Hospital on the second day of Eid.

Speaking on the occasion, he said that enemies of Pakistan were engaged in conspiracies to destabilise the country, and it was the need of the hour that the whole nation should unite to root out terrorism. He said that Pakistani nation would have to stand as a rock against anti-Pakistan elements, and that collective efforts were needed to check the incidents of terrorism.

The chief minister distributed Eid gifts among the under-treatment children and inquired from their attendants about the medical facilities being provided at the hospital.

He extended heartiest felicitations to the entire nation on the occasion of Eidul Azha and prayed for the development and prosperity of Pakistan.

He said that it was lamentable that the enemies of humanity, Islam, Pakistan and peace shed the blood of innocent people even on the occasion of Eid.

He said that terrorism had caused an immense loss to national economy and it was his Eid message to the nation to counter terrorism and the evil designs of anti-Pakistan forces by forging unity.

In reply to a question, Shahbaz Sharif said that the federal government led by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif furthered the process of negotiations with the Taliban with due sincerity and invited them to talks.

He said that the Taliban should also respond positively to the offer of dialogue. In response to a question about the arrest of the accused involved in molestation of a minor girl of Mughalpura, the chief minister said that he was getting information about the pace of investigation into the case and substantial progress had been made. He said the culprit would not be able to escape punishment. pr