A Future Veiled in False Hopes
By Nafisa Hoodbhoy
Twelve years ago, I was astonished by what I found on a trip from my native
Pakistan to Afghanistan. I couldn’t have imagined a neighboring Muslim country
with so many women in public places. Each morning, the Afghan capital was abuzz
with young professionals on their way to work, most dressed in Western clothes
and some even in miniskirts and high heels as they vied with their
fashion-conscious counterparts in Paris. Kabul University, where I saw more
female than male students, was another surprise. But even then, the occasional
gunfire and bomb blasts in the city — ruled by Soviet-supported President
Najibullah — were a reminder that these freedoms could prove elusive. Young
women on campus, clutching their notepads in the streaming February sunlight,
told me apprehensively, “If the mujaheddin take over, they will force us to
The encumbering full-lengthburqasthat women now have to wear have become a
symbol for Westerners of the ruling Taliban government’s oppressive policies.
Even President Bush acknowledged as much last week when he condemned the current regime under which “women are imprisoned in their homes, and are denied access to basic health care and education.” But it would be an oversimplification to imagine that simply ousting the Taliban will restore basic human rights to women there. Indeed, in its determination to use whatever means necessary to destroy Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network, the administration is in danger of exacerbating the rivalries among Afghanistan’s tribes, whose practices are shrouded in traditions few Americans comprehend.
Even though there has been much talk in the West about how to establish a
broad-based post-Taliban government that would guarantee the rights of women and ethnic minorities, the United Nations has not seriously begun addressing the role of women in any future form of government. If history is any guide, neither a government led by the exiled former king, Mohammed Zahir Shah, nor one dominated by the Northern Alliance would readily grant women freedom. Instead, the dramatic changes in women’s fortunes over the past century are testimony to their fragile position in Afghanistan’s oft-rent social fabric.
I got a clear sense of that during my 1989 visit. Although many Afghan women I
spoke with expressed trepidation about a takeover by Islamic fundamentalists,
they could not have predicted how oppressive their lot would soon become. After
all, they grew up in a relatively liberal Muslim society; many in Kabul and
Kandahar had working mothers — nurses and doctors, engineers, journalists,
factory workers and, of course, teachers. Soviet forces had withdrawn from the
country just two weeks before my arrival, and the question foremost on
everyone’s mind was whether the Soviet-backed Najibullah government would
survive the onslaught by the Islamist radicals.
As if anticipating his eventual death at the hands of Taliban fundamentalists,
the embattled Najibullah was clearly taking no chances — and he was even
recruiting women to help him. At a training school in Kabul, I came across a
female trainee reserve force engaged in combat exercises. They told me that
their job was to arrest and hand over mujaheddin suspects to authorities. They
knew full well what a formidable force the mujaheddin had become. With their
most radical factions in Northern Pakistan, they were receiving millions of
dollars’ worth of arms from the United States, funneled through Pakistan’s
military ruler, all directed at the goal they would accomplish a few years later — removing Najibullah from power.
I asked Afghan officials then whether such threats of future instability might
put women’s freedom on the line. The president of the Afghan Women’s Council at
the time, Massuma Esmaty Wardak, argued that, on the contrary, women’s
emancipation was deeply rooted in Afghan history. She pointed out that the
country’s most famous reformer, King Amanullah, who was inspired by Turkey’s
secular nation builder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, encouraged sweeping changes for
women in the early 20th century. He introduced Western dress, she pointed out,
sent girls to study abroad, banned the sale of women, raised the marriage age
and abolished the tribal custom known as levirate (where a widow is obliged to
marry her brother-in-law).
What Wardak and others I talked to failed to mention was that King Amanullah was ousted in 1929, after a brief reign, when conservative tribesmen revolted
against his liberal policies. Thereafter, King Zahir Shah, Afghanistan’s
longest-reigning monarch (1933-1973) — whom the U.N. has now selected to head
the post-Taliban government — slowed down the changes for women. Yes, women
came to enjoy greater liberation than in some other Muslim countries, but
encouraging freedom also risked provoking a backlash from the conservatives.
Ever since, the role of women has continued to reflect the volatile nature of
Afghan society — and of the dangers of trying to alter traditions by imposing
outside standards on the people. The Soviet occupation that followed the bloody
communist Saur Revolution in 1978 attempted to force top-down changes in
Afghanistan. Peoples Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) workers fanned out
into the villages to stop Afghans from selling their daughters and coerced the
girls instead to go to school. Conservative tribesmen retaliated by murdering
PDPA workers. These changes also triggered a vast exodus of Afghan tribes. Some
3 million Afghans fled the country. Many of those who grew up as orphans of war
in Pakistan’s refugee camps have become today’s Taliban; others are that
regime’s fiercest critics.
The most militant Islamist groups who resisted the Soviet influence banded
together under mujaheddin leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in Peshawar, northern
Pakistan. They objected fiercely to Muslim women not wearing the veil and to
their working outside the home. Some of his supporters threw acid on women
wearing Western dress in Kabul. When I interviewed Hekmatyar in Karachi in 1986, I was surprised to find a soft-spoken man who was fluent in English. But his supporters included Pakistan’s Jamaat-e-Islami, the radical Islamist party that enforced gender segregation at Karachi University with acid attacks on female students. (This group has now given an ultimatum to the Pakistani government to stop supporting the U.S.-led anti-terrorist coalition or be overthrown.)
Hekmatyar has refused to join the Northern Alliance now backed by the United
States in its battle with the Taliban. But many other mujaheddin leaders are
members of that alliance, and even less radical ones than Hekmatyar punish women who refuse to wear a burqa. The tribal beliefs in the submission of women go far beyond the Taliban.
The stability that the Taliban offered when it snatched power from the warring
mujaheddin in 1996 came at a further cost to women. Made up of ethnic Pashtuns,
the Taliban enforced the strict Pashtunwali code of honor that requires women to be treated as the property of their men. The militia barredwomen from working in the professions. Without female teachers, schools soon closed. The Taliban issued a decree that forbade all girls from going to school. Women who organized the early protests against the ragtag militia were beaten back. Only two ways of earning a living were left open to them — beggary and prostitution.
Last week I spoke with two Afghan women who have been helping refugees as U.N.
staff. They told of women’s isolation, cowering in their houses behind darkened
windows so that they cannot be seen from the street. Few can read. Many are
depressed. Nafisa Nezam, who was in Northern Afghanistan until last month, said
that the Taliban have “brought about a new interpretation of ‘jihad’ to mean
fighting women who wear lipstick, nail polish and jewelry.” Some have reputedly
had their fingers cut off for painting their nails.
There have been some brave voices of dissent. Afghan women in Pakistan have
banded together as the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan
(RAWA). The group’s members told me in Islamabad in 1999 that they lived in
mortal fear of being discovered. They know how the extremists treat women who
dissent. RAWA’s founding president, Meena, was murdered in 1987 — allegedly by
the mujaheddin — for speaking out against the fundamentalists.
About half of the 4 million or so people who fled Afghanistan over the past 20
years are women, and many of them would love to return to their home country
once the Taliban is overthrown. Among them, Tahira Shairzai, a former
schoolteacher in Kabul who now works in the United States, told me she favors
the U.N. choice of an interim government headed by King Zahir Shah. The
86-year-old exiled monarch shares Pashtun ethnicity with the Taliban, but he is
popular because he treated ethnic groups even-handedly during his 40-year rule
of Afghanistan. Tahira also holds out hope that the Northern Alliance, which
allows girls’ schools to remain open in the area it controls, will take a
positive attitude toward working women.
However, the past behavior of the Alliance leaders offers little indication that women’s rights will be taken seriously under the next regime. A mishmash of conservative and more moderate tribal leaders, the Alliance is united for the sole purpose of combating the Taliban. A recent meeting ofanti-Taliban leaders in Peshawar demonstrated that women’s rights do not figure in their deliberations.
What’s more, as U.S. bombs hit civilians, the Pashtuns are becoming even more
radicalized. The United States has had little success in wooing moderate
Pashtuns away from the Taliban — a move that the administration recognizes is
necessary not only to win the current war but because Afghanistan’s future
stability depends upon cooperation among tribal factions. As the U.S. bombing
continues, thousands of armed Pashtun tribesmen are gathering on the
Pakistan-Afghan border to fight alongside the Taliban.Political analysts I have
spoken with in Pakistan predict that even if the Taliban is routed, it will
likely withdraw into the hills and fight the new government. Moreover, the
Northern Alliance could plunge into internecine strife.
So although there is no doubt in my mind that women will fare somewhat better if the Taliban is overthrown, I wonder what comes next. Unless there is a means of ensuring durable peace, women’s rights do not have a fighting chance in
Nafisa Hoodbhoy, a journalist who worked for 16 years for Dawn newspaper in
Karachi, Pakistan, taught as a Ford Fellow at Amherst College this year, with a
focus on women and politics in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran.
© 2001 The Washington Post Company
There’s Much More To Daniel Pearl’s Murder Than Meets the Eye
by Nafisa Hoodbhoy
The Washington Post
March 10, 2002
AMHERST,Mass.–Nine days ago there was an alarming indication of upheaval inPakistan — a crackdown on the press. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, the government pressured the owner of an influential English language newspaper, the News, to fire four journalists. One of them, the paper’s editor, Shaheen Sehbai, said the trouble started after his newspaper reported a link between the prime suspect in the killing of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, and recent attacks on the Indian parliament inDelhi and in the Kashmiri capital,Srinagar. When Sehbai asked the paper’s owner to identify who wanted to sack them, Sehbai said he was told to see officials at the ISI,Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency. Instead he resigned and left for theUnited States.
I suspected that the crackdown on the media was associated withPearl’s kidnapping and murder. Even from theUnited States, where I am right now, I could tell thatPearl’s slaying was more than an indication of a new level of political violence. It was also a stark reminder of the tenuous position of journalists inPakistan– especially when they tread on the delicate topic of the country’s mysterious intelligence service, its link to Islamic groups and its power over the government ofPakistan.
For the past month, as a former reporter forPakistan’s Dawn newspaper, I have been sifting through the evidence trying to figure out whatPearl’s murder was really about. It was not just a matter of his being an American and a Jew, though that was certainly part of it. In setting out to investigate the possible connection between alleged shoe-bomber Richard Reid and the Islamist groups in the region,Pearlhad entered dangerous ground.
It was ground that few Pakistani journalists would even attempt to cover: exploring the complex ties between the militant Islamist groups and the many intelligence agencies. Local news organizations are so infiltrated by intelligence agents that they can do little independent reporting on this subject. Moreover, as the latest crackdown on the press illustrates, Pakistani governments, past and present, have been using intelligence agencies to twist the arms of publishers, editors and journalists who dare to expose their dirty secrets.
I don’t know how muchPearlfound out. But I know full well how likely journalists are to become the targets of the intelligence agencies. I found out the hard way in September 1991. It had been only two years since the country had returned to democracy and a free press was only barely tolerated by then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. I began writing about the tactics his government was using to coerce opposition politicians to change their loyalties and indict their leader, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.
My investigative reports led me into a maze of competing intelligence agencies. One day in late September, we journalists inKarachirallied against the stabbing of Kamran Khan, one of the reporters under fire at the News, who is known for using sources among the intelligence agencies and who also works as a special correspondent for The Washington Post. That night, as I reached home, I saw two men — knives glinting in their hands — approaching my car. Sensing danger, I raced back to the office. Coming after a spate of attacks on journalists, the incident generated new protests — with rallies and demonstrations by media organizations throughout the country culminating in newspapers suspending publication for one day.
The latest crackdown suggests that the Pakistani government may be hiding some of the facts on thePearlcase. ForPakistan, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks have forced the military government to begin the very difficult process of disassociating itself from the Islamic militants with which it has traditionally kept close ties. These linkages were strengthened during the Cold War when the Reagan administration and the Saudi government usedPakistan’s military dictator, Gen. Mohammed Zia ul-Haq, to funnel billions of dollars’ worth of arms and ammunition to the Afghan resistance throughPakistan’s Islamic parties. At home President Zia promoted conservative Islamic officers to generals in the army. As a result, the ISI grew powerful enough to sideline the subsequent civilian governments of Sharif and Bhutto and become the chief architect of the Taliban government inAfghanistan.
Even afterPakistangot on board with theU.S.anti-terrorist coalition, the intelligence agencies did not sever ties with the Islamic parties. Then, as theUnited Statesstepped up pressure, the agencies began reducing their support for these parties. In December, I saw a pro-Taliban demonstration inIslamabadthat attracted fewer than 100 people. Only a month ago earlier, thousands of violent pro-Taliban demonstrators had rampaged through the streets, even though they failed to find support from the masses. In fact,Pakistan’s Islamist parties have never won more than 2 percent of the vote in any democratic election — and have therefore looked to the military to capture power. In turn, the military — and their multiple intelligence agencies — have found the parties useful for reining in opponents.
AsPearl’s kidnapping and murder show, Musharraf’s task of quelling Islamic militancy is a daunting one. To recognize that challenge requires not only understanding the anti-Western, anti-Semitic rhetoric of the Islamic extremists, but also the flash point ofKashmir. That is a grievance that can unite Muslims who believe the disputed territory should be freed from Indian control, and it provides a battleground for fundamentalists. It is clear thatPearl’s suspected kidnappers have taken that cause to heart.
Remember the Indian passenger airline that was hijacked fromKathmandu,Nepal, in December 1999 and made a series of stops inPakistanandDubaibefore finally landing inKandahar? There, the Taliban surrounded the plane and gave safe passage to the hijackers. They were demanding thatIndiarelease three members of a Pakistan-based Islamist group, which was launching attacks against the Indian military inKashmir. The Indian foreign minister traveled toKandaharand handed over the political prisoners, who included Masood Azhar and Saeed himself.
Once freed from jail inIndia, Azhar and his entourage returned toPakistanand remained untroubled by government security forces. I well remember how, with their long beards and turbans, they swaggered into the Karachi Press Club in March 2000 for a news conference. They told the assembled journalists how they had been carrying out jihad against the Indian military inKashmir. Azhar announced that they were changing the name of the group from Harkat ul-Ansar to Jaish-i-Mohammed — which literally means “Army of Mohammed.” Harkat ul-Ansar had by then been declared a terrorist organization by theUnited States.
We journalists were curious why Azhar — the newly appointed chief of Jaish-i-Mohammed — had chosen this moment to make a public appearance. President Clinton was about to visitPakistanon a stopover fromIndia. Three months beforehand, Musharraf had taken overPakistan’s government in a military coup — and this had not sat well with theU.S.administration. Hinting at a rift inPakistan’s intelligence agencies, one reporter asked Azhar if his appearance was intended to embarrass Musharraf beforeClinton’s visit. I asked the same question more bluntly: “Are you being supported byPakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence?” Azhar answered both questions with a curt “No.” It was the answer we expected, but it did little to allay our suspicions.
Since their release from Indian jails, Azhar, Saeed and their supporters have moved freely in and out ofAfghanistanandPakistan. Azhar was put under house arrest last fall only after theUnited Statesput pressure onPakistanto curb jihadi groups.Pakistanturned down aU.S.request to extradite Saeed, despite his known role in kidnapping Western tourists in New Dehli in 1994. Soon after he turned himself in in January, Saeed confessed to his role inPearl’s abduction — though he later denied it. Many other Kashmiri and Sunni militant groups are still operating freely inPakistan, and the latter have intensified sectarian killings inside the country.
TheU.S.war on the al Qaeda network has signaled a new phase for the reorganization of militant Islamic groups inPakistan. As theUnited Statesbombed Taliban targets, the Pakistan-basedKashmirmilitants began slipping home through the porous Afghan borders. Among them were the Harkat ul-Mujaheddin, some of whose members were killed by theU.S.bombing inKabullast October while holding a meeting. When the bodies of the “martyrs” were brought to a mosque inKarachi, thousands of people attended the funeral processions — and promised revenge against theUnited States.
That revenge came in the form of an innocent victim,Pearl, whom the shifting militant forces saw primarily as an American and a Jew. The militant groups now identify Western journalists with the enemy. Traveling with a group of Western journalists to the Afghan border in December, I witnessed firsthand the anger of the defeatedPakistansupporters of the Taliban as theU.S.troops bombedKandahar. Our convoy was making its way from the winding hills of Chaman inPakistan(about two hours fromKandahar) when our vehicle was pelted with stones from angry Pashtuns. A BBC film crew traveling with us was also attacked. But the worst hit was British print journalist Robert Fisk, who appeared the next morning at ourQuettahotel with his head swathed in bandages.
As Saeed’s ties with intelligence agencies become exposed, there are growing concerns among Pakistani analysts that he could be killed in custody in order to destroy evidence of his linkages. In fact, Saeed is being moved from one place to another — reportedly to prevent him from being killed. Another cause for concern is the widespread corruption inPakistan– where police alternately fabricate and destroy evidence, depending on pressure from above. The net result is that even prominent murder cases have dragged on for years in the courts without leading to any convictions.
A decade ago, it was the unity of journalists that enabled me to put the frightening knife attack behind me and to focus on getting out the truth. At that stage, I’d been predicting that unless we maintained unity, journalists could be killed for investigative reporting.Pearl’s murder came as a blow to independent reporting inPakistan. His brave wife, Mariane, has spoken about how his case highlights the importance of joining hands to fight terrorism. Whether this is achieved through the extradition of Saeed and his accomplices to theUnited Statesor through monitoring the court process inPakistan, it is imperative that the culprits be punished. The frightening fact is thatPearl’s murder has uncovered the tip of an iceberg. The challenge now is to continue the work he began — and investigate how terrorist forces are realigning in the region to threaten civil society.
Nafisa Hoodbhoy, who worked for 16 years for Dawn newspaper inKarachi,Pakistan, teaches at theUniversityofMassachusettswith a focus on women, politics and the media in Pakistan, AfghanistanandIran.
© 2002 The Washington Post Company
The Washington Post
Sunday, June 2, 2002; Page B02 . . . Revealing a Gap Between The Leaders and the People
By Nafisa Hoodbhoy
A group of women from India and Pakistan who came here for a peace=20
conference in April returned home to find their countries on the=20
brink of a nuclear catastrophe. One of the delegates wrote back to me=20
about the “horrific atmosphere of war,” which can be averted, she=20
said, only through “sheer good luck.”
Luck, of course, plays a magnified role in the lives of many on the=20
subcontinent who cannot rely on receiving the staples that most=20
Westerners take for granted. But sheer chance is not what anybody=20
wants to think is the only thing between rice-for-lunch-as-usual and=20
a nuclear conflagration that U.S. experts estimate could kill as many=20
as 12 million people.
Yet that is what the escalating political rhetoric has made women=20
like these believe — that the tensions, the saber-rattling, the=20
missile tests and the brutal deaths on either side of the Line of=20
Control in predominantly Muslim Kashmir have less to do with the=20
hopes of the ordinary people than with the self-serving and mercurial=20
goals of their leaders. With a leader like President Gen. Pervez=20
Musharraf, who came to power in 1999 in a military coup, Pakistanis=20
fear all the more that their country’s response will be a military=20
one. How ironic it was, one Indian delegate pointed out during the=20
conference, that with flights and overland travel between their=20
countries cut off, these women had to travel to the United States –=20
more than 7,000 miles away from home — in order to meet face to face=20
with their counterparts.
The delegates had gathered at the conference, titled “Women of=20
Pakistan and India: Rights, Ecology, Economy and Nuclear=20
Disarmament,” at Westfield State College just as the war clouds were=20
forming over the subcontinent. Tensions had been building since=20
January, when India accused Pakistan of supporting the Kashmiri=20
militants’ attacks on its parliament in Dehli on Dec. 13 — and=20
retaliated by massing its troops on the border. The potential for a=20
nuclear exchange has since been triggered by the Islamic militants’=20
attack on an army camp in mid-May. The raid killed more than 30=20
soldiers and family members. That’s when Indian Prime Minister Atal=20
Bihari Vajpayee rallied troops for an all-out war. In a show of=20
defiance, Pakistan tested three missiles last week (all of them named=20
after Muslim conquerors of India) that are capable of launching a=20
nuclear attack on the Indians. The United States is taking all of=20
this seriously, urging Americans to get out of India and withdrawing=20
all but essential embassy personnel.
For the 10 women from India and Pakistan, coming to Westfield was an=20
occasion to analyze how governments on each side had hijacked=20
discourse to portray the other as the “enemy.” Growing up in=20
Pakistan, I was a witness to the constant hammering by=20
state-controlled television about “Indian atrocities in occupied=20
Kashmir.” In fact, the phrase masla-i-Kashmir (“the problem of=20
Kashmir”) has for me become a metaphor for any problem that can never=20
I heard those thoughts echoed in the views of the Indian women at the=20
conference. Journalist Kalpana Sharma blamed her nation’s worsening=20
relations with Muslims, and by association with Pakistan, on the rise=20
of the Hindu fundamentalists in India — the ruling Bharatiya Janata=20
Party (BJP) and its coalition partner, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad=20
(VHP). India, Sharma said, had buckled under fundamentalist pressure=20
and escalated its military budget after the disastrous conflict near=20
the Kargil area of Kashmir that nearly led to war in 1999. And the=20
costs for ordinary people are clear. India has cut back on the social=20
sector, she said, and instituted higher taxes on its people.
For Anis Haroon, director of a women’s non-governmental organization=20
in Karachi, the U.S. support for Musharraf after Sept. 11 “had carved=20
out a permanent role for the army in Pakistan.” This, she said, had=20
come with costs, strengthening the military crackdown on=20
demonstrations by political parties, civil liberties groups and women=20
protesting against discriminatory laws. In early May, for example,=20
Pakistani authorities arrested women gathering to oppose the Hudood=20
Ordinances, which demonstrators say end up punishing female victims=20
Civil liberties have taken a beating inside India as well, agreed the=20
Indian women. Ruchira Gupta, a member of a women’s group in Bombay,=20
pointed to the Indian parliament’s passage of the Prevention of=20
Terrorism Act (POTA) on March 26 as an example. POTA was advocated by=20
BJP Home Minister L.K. Advani to counter what he called “the=20
terrorism” launched by Pakistan. But Gupta argued that the act would=20
cramp the press, militarize the society and lead to injustices for=20
Both governments, these women believed, were responsible for recent=20
atrocities. The Indians blamed the massacre of Muslims in Gujarat in=20
February following an attack on Hindus in a train on the “frenzy=20
whipped up by the BJP” which forms the central government in Gujarat.=20
The Hindu delegates said that organizations they belonged to had=20
visited the area to distribute food and clothing to Muslim victims.=20
Correspondingly, Pakistani delegates said that the Gujarat violence=20
had not resulted in reprisals against Hindus in Pakistan — showing=20
that such violence is not supported by ordinary people.
Indeed, my experience shows that all too often it is the self-serving=20
leaderships in the two countries that thwart the people’s desire for=20
peace. I saw this firsthand in 1995. As a journalist, I was invited=20
to join the official Pakistan delegation to the Fourth World Women=20
Conference in Beijing. The country was then ruled by Prime Minister=20
Benazir Bhutto, who was keen to portray a liberal image at the=20
conference. But we were instructed by a male leader of our group to=20
counter the Indian delegates each time the subject of Kashmir came=20
up. I watched as the leaders of both the Indian and Pakistani=20
delegations engaged in allegations and counter-allegations over=20
Kashmir. Slowly the hall began emptying as U.N. delegates walked out=20
of a meeting that was supposed to unite the women of the world.
The discussions at Westfield did not fracture along these lines=20
because the women were not here to promulgate their governments’=20
policies. Instead, they discussed how Sept. 11 has caused India and=20
Pakistan to vie for U.S. attention over Kashmir. Even as India=20
conducts its propaganda war against militants, it stopped Kashmiri=20
women from attending our conference. The pressure was coming from the=20
Hindu right wing, who, as Indian delegate Urvashi Batalia noted, had=20
been cashing in on the “demonizing of Muslims.”
U.S. dependence on Pakistan in its fight against terrorism appears to=20
have given legitimacy to the military government, argued Zubeida=20
Mustafa, a senior editor from Pakistan’s daily Dawn newspaper. In=20
Pakistan’s April referendum, journalists observed few voters at the=20
polling booths. A colleague wrotethat a polling officer he visited=20
had recorded only 125 votes by closing time. The officer told him=20
rather casually that he forged the remaining votes after deadline=20
because the local police directed him to show a voter turnout of=20
nearly 900 and to ensure a “yes” vote of around 98 percent, giving=20
Musharraf five more years in office.
With only the facade of being elected, Pakistan’s military government=20
has not had to answer to its people about the failure to improve law=20
and order. Earlier this year, targeted killings of Shia doctors by=20
Sunni extremist groups forced physicians to flee the country.=20
However, no action was taken until last month, when a suicide bomber=20
killed 14 people in Karachi, including 11 French men working on a=20
submarine project. Under severe international pressure, the Musharraf=20
government cracked down on the Sunni militant groupLashkar-i-Jhangvi=20
— which has been linked to the killings of Shia doctors. Later,=20
three members of this same group were accused in the brutal murder of=20
American journalist Daniel Pearl.
In December, when I last visited Pakistan, I was curious to see how=20
the Musharraf government would rein in Kashmiri militants. The=20
Islamic militants who were brought into the region by the United=20
States during the Cold War had turned to jihad in Kashmir after the=20
Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989. Since then about two dozen=20
militant Islamic groups fighting for Kashmir under the United Jihad=20
Council have established headquarters in Pakistan.
It’s not as if Kashmiris welcome such support. One Kashmiri from=20
Srinagar, Farooq Lone, who now lives in Islamabad, told me that=20
Kashmiris are “fed up” with Pakistan-based militants who attack=20
Indian forces and leave the Kashmiris to face the vengeance of the=20
repressive Indian troops. More than 35,000 people have been killed in=20
Kashmir since the militants entered the fray 13 years ago. Lone’s=20
family supports the All Parties Hurriyet Conference, whose moderate=20
Kashmiri separatist leader, Abdul Ghani Lone, was recently=20
assassinated. Although India has never allowed a plebiscite in which=20
the Kashmiris could decide their own fate, the Indian government had=20
been wooing moderates such as Lone for elections planned in Kashmir=20
in September. His murder deals a further blow to any peace prospects.=20
And it is a further example of the voice of the people being stifled.
The issue of Kashmir — left dangling by the British in 1947 when=20
they divided India and then departed without forcing a plebiscite –=20
has come to haunt the United States almost 55 years later. It is an=20
issue that is not going be resolved by luck or through a U.S.=20
admonition to Pakistan to stop abetting militants. Instead, the=20
United States will have to throw its weight behind the United Nations=20
to enable the people of Kashmir to decide their own fate. That=20
appears to be the only choice if the world is to be successful in=20
fighting the roots of terrorism.
Nafisa Hoodbhoy, who worked for 16 years for Dawn newspaper in=20
Karachi, Pakistan, teaches at the University of Massachusetts,=20
Amherst, with a focus on women, politics and the media in Pakistan,=20
Afghanistan and Iran.
. . .