By a stroke of chance, the 9/11 terror strikes against the US became the genesis for my book. Having arrived in the US from Pakistan on a teaching fellowship shortly before the horrific attacks, I was drawn into the narrative. It was a narrative waiting to be told. As a journalist in Pakistan, I had for decades witnessed the huge influence of the US on my region. While inside America, I recognized that the media and educational institutions discussed domestic subjects – which to my mind nurtured a tunnel vision.
That changed a decade ago, as airplanes turned into missiles and crashed into the World Trade Towers. It was a high price that ordinary Americans paid for foreign involvements that were not of their choosing. And yet, 9-11 raised a clamor among people that they be told how US foreign policy was conducted. As popular demand forced the media to zero into the world – and Afghanistan and Pakistan became house-hold names – the globe grew more connected.
In undertaking to write `Aboard the Democracy Train,’ I went back in time – from the Cold War days when the US and Pakistan had combined to defeat the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Then, as a front line reporter for the daily Dawn newspaper in Karachi, Pakistan, I had chronicled how the weapons funneled to the Afghan Mujahedeen next door, were used to settle ethnic and tribal feuds inside Pakistan. It was the period when US-Pakistan collaboration hastened the rise of the Taliban.
Back then, I was one of the nation’s few women reporters to document Benazir Bhutto’s meteoric rise to become the nation’s first woman prime minister. Fast forward nearly two decades later. Based in Washington D.C. in the post 9/11 era, I was privy to another historical event. This time, it was Benazir – adored by Pakistan’s masses – attempting to convince the US that she would be a better candidate than President Gen. Pervaiz Musharraf in tackling Al Qaeda and Taliban militants in the region.
The tight rope that Benazir walked between the US and Pakistan military’s interests – not to mention the antipathy she aroused as a woman within the terror network – led to her tragic and inevitable end. Her murder fed into the clamor for change by the masses, grown more impoverished and brutalized by the spill over of the Afghan war. `Aboard’ documents how after Benazir joined her family of martyred Bhuttos, and her Pakistan Peoples Party was swept into power – it catapulted husband, President Asif Zardari into new and unchartered territory.
But the world too changed after 9/11 precipitated the US invasion of Afghanistan a decade ago. The US’s longest war – with numerous soldiers’ deaths and combat related suicides – has taken a toll on American society. While the economic recession sweeping across the US and Europe has triggered demands in the West to draw back in its foreign involvements and focus on jobs and growing the economy at home.
Ten years after the events of 9/11, the lesson taught by the loss of innocent lives – whether in the US or in Afghanistan and Pakistan – is the need to stop all wars. Indeed, even as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down and the internet provides new tools, the West has learnt a great deal about traditional cultures like Pakistan. It is with the simple moral compass in me that I have written `Aboard,’ – knowing we are all in this together.
Each time history repeats itself, the price goes up – John A. Appleman
Why would anyone carry out such a horrible crime as the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon? How should the United States respond? What would be the likely results of a military attack on Afghanistan ?
Searching for answers to these and other questions, more than 200 students, faculty, and staff gathered in Gamble Auditorium on September 19 for “After September 11: The Hard Questions,” a teach-in sponsored by the Weissman Center for Leadership and the Office of the Dean of the College and the Dean of Faculty.
Offering their perspectives were three authorities on the situation: Nafisa Hoodbhoy, a former journalist with an English-language daily in Pakistan, now producing programs for WFCR radio, Michael Klare, the Five College professor of peace and world security studies, and Sohail Hashmi, Alumnae Foundation Chair in the Social Sciences and an associate professor of international relations at MHC.
Moderating the discussion was Kavita Khory, associate professor of politics at the College.
Taking pains to condemn the terrorists’ actions, the panelists explored the events that led up to those acts, and generally agreed that the United States would have nothing to gain by waging war in Afghanistan.
The nation seems to be moving ahead with a military response, Klare said. “The machine has been set in motion,” he said, warning that a military campaign would be “a disastrous course of action that will lead to certain deaths [in the Muslim world] and stir up more hatred of us.”
A better alternative, he argued, would be pursuing and prosecuting Osama bin Laden and his accomplices as criminals in an international court.
Klare said the seeds of the current conflict were sown in 1945, when the United States pledged to protect the royal family of Saudi Arabia against external and internal threats in exchange for unfettered access to Saudi oil.
That pledge has led to United States-supported suppression of free speech in Saudi Arabia, as well as a growing military presence that has fanned opposition among Muslims angered by the perceived defilement of Mecca and other holy places.
“There is absolutely no sense in bombing Afghanistan, because this is a country that is already in the Stone Age. It has nothing,” Hoodbhoy said. Military action, she said, would likely push Muslim moderates into the camp of the hard-line fundamentalists, and “cause more sympathy for a regime which people are sick of and would like to be rid of.”
Hashmi said that if the terrorists are carrying out a holy war, they probably see it as a defensive action against the expansion of the West’s power and influence in the Middle East.
Others, including many non-Muslims, share their views, he said, but split with the terrorists over the method of addressing those concerns. Although the Qur’an teaches that killing one innocent person is like killing all humanity, Hashmi said, the hard-liners have taken the position that no one in the United States is innocent in this struggle—a justification for mass murder.
The United States, he said, should not respond in kind. “The idea of an endless series of events that could be the source of grievance is one that would perpetuate the cycle of attack and counterattack,” he said.
The teach-in was one in a series of events by which the College is responding to the attacks of September 11.
On October 17, at 7:30 pm in Hooker Auditorium, Michael Ignatieff, director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, will speak on the relation between human rights and terrorism.
There was palpable excitement among students crowding 137 Hasbrouck at University of Massachusetts Amherst — the classroom designated to me to teach “Gender Politics and Mass Media in Muslim World” this past spring. It was a course I had designed after Sept. 11 to cater to the tremendous interest generated in Islam and the region I’d taught about at Amherst College a year ago — Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Students from more than a dozen departments at UMass enrolled in my course — offered through Women Studies and cross-listed with journalism. Apparently my own background as a journalist from Pakistan had attracted many — including a handful of males — interested in root causes of terrorism. Women, already interested in the gender politics of the Muslim world, now enrolled to study these countries from a global perspective.
Among those who arrived for the course — young, white and working class — many had grown up on a steady diet of television entertainment news. Lately, television was throwing out names that were difficult to pronounce: Tally Ban, Af-Gan-is-Tan, Pak-is-Tan. They stared at the world map, unable to locate the countries. Why had I expected anything different? Not long ago, presidential hopeful George W. Bush, when quizzed about the Taliban, had asked, “Are they a pop group?”
Apparently, a few were looking for ready-made answers. They appeared bewildered as I began my lecture from 6th century A.D. — about a foreign religion with foreign believers. In my opening lectures about the rise of Islam and the Caliphate, an exasperated young woman at the back of the room yelled: “What does that have to do with 9/11?” My answer was “Everything.”
I let on quite early in the course that in order to understand Islamic fundamentalists, one needed to study the rise of Islam. While the industrial revolution has catapulted the West into the 21st century, traditional Islamic societies — with their tribal and feudal structures — are still deeply influenced by Islamic and pre-Islamic values.
For the majority of students who stayed on, we journeyed to understand Islam. Fatima Mernissi’s book, “The Veil and the Male Elite,” would lay out the historical conditions of 627 A.D. when Prophet Mohammed issued Q’uranic injunctions like the veiling of women — “splitting the Muslim space.” Under colonial rule, the Islamic bloc would experience only superficial modernization. Leila Ahmed’s book, “Women and Gender in Islam,” and Deniz Kandiyoti’s “Introduction to Women, Islam and the State” would provide valuable insight into how 20th-century colonialists used the low position of women in Islamic countries to put down foreign cultures — contributing to the rise of Islamic fundamentalism.
My course would cover the revival of Islamism by the regimes that seized power in Pakistan (1977), Iran (1979) and Afghanistan (1992) . The political use of Islam grew toward the end of the Cold War when the West supplied billions of dollars worth of arms to Pakistan to assist Afghan Mujahideen and mobilize Islamists from around the world to drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan. This was the embryo of the Al Qaeda network — which has today come back to haunt the United States.
There was special interest in my five-week series of lectures on the United States and the regional media’s coverage of 9/11. Having recently returned from a fact-finding survey of the media in Islamabad, Peshawar and Quetta, Pakistan, I was able to update students on the regional media’s reaction to Sept. 11.
On their part, the students combed the internet for the U.S. media’s response to 9/11 — creating an interesting juxtaposition between the two. We had interesting discussions on current topics. While I condemned Palestinian suicide bombings of civilians, students put down Israeli expansionism. They were most critical of the U.S. for spending billions of dollars to bomb Afghanistan while giving a pittance for reconstruction.
“If we, as college students can understand that this is only going to breed terrorism, why can’t the State Department understand that?” a student was asking.
Since my course title covered so many topics — being as one put it “three to four courses rolled in one” — I gave my class the option of writing about their topic of interest. For those who did well in the first short paper, I was careful not to inflate their mid-term grades. This strategy appears to have worked well — allowing 17 students (about half the class) to secure A’s or AB’s on their final papers. Although student evaluations suggest they struggled to keep up with the readings, there were many appreciative comments.
“This is the best course I’ve taken in three years,” was one. A few stayed back after the final class to thank me. “This is a wonderful course, I’ve learned so much,” one woman — a journalism major — told me. For me, the student feedback — conveyed orally, e-mailed or written on paper — made the teaching worth while.
Nafisa Hoodbhoy taught at the University of Massachusetts Amherst this spring. She was a staff reporter for the Dawn newspaper in Karachi, Pakistan, from 1984 to 2000 and is writing a book on the last 20 years of Pakistan’s politics.
Some two decades may have separated President Gen. Zia ul Haq and President Gen. Pervaiz Musharraf’s military rule in Pakistan, but they had one person in common – Benazir Bhutto. The twice-elected woman prime minister of Pakistan took on both military rulers, one by one, with a promise to take the nation from dictatorship into democracy.
Ironically, on both occasions – 1988 and 2007 – Benazir went to Pakistan with a commitment from officials in Washington at a time when the US needed Pakistan to achieve its strategic objectives in Afghanistan. Never mind the fact that millions of people were ready to vote for her, realpolitik demanded that the road to Islamabad be traveled not through the dusty villages of Pakistan but through the power corridors of Washington DC.
In 2006, as Benazir solicited US help to return to power, I went from DC to Maryland to hear her address a rally – organized by Pakistan People’s Party workers. That cold February afternoon, she told expatriates gathered in a hotel around lunch tables in a speech in English, intended for the consumption of the US government,
“One crucial reason Gen. Musharraf gets so little pressure from the Bush administration about restoring democracy is the assumption that only a dictator can deliver military cooperation. That had better not be true.”
Benazir made the sales pitch to Washington at a time when its “blue eyed boy,” Gen. Pervaiz Musharraf – who then wore two hats as chief of army staff and president – prosecuted President George W. Bush’s “War on Terror.” Western pressure on Musharraf to relax his chokehold on politicians had led to the release of Benazir’s husband Asif Zardari in 2004. Pakistan’s former woman prime minister followed it up with a visit to the US capital to test the waters for her return to power.
Asif, who underwent medical treatment while he lived in an apartment in New York, joined Benazir after the speech. High-spirited and cheery, he flashed his familiar grin as he met expatriates. Out of Benazir’s earshot and away from the public milieu, I asked him with an informality that came from long years of acquaintanceship.
“So, you need to come to Washington to get back into power?”
“Of course, it is after all the world’s only super power,” he shot back.
We had the conversation at PPP senator, Khawaja Akbar’s home in Virginia after Benazir had sent word to me to join their private gathering. After her speech, I had walked to the stage where she signed autographs for a bevy of admirers. It had been more than a decade since I came face to face with Benazir. Still, her look of genuine surprise at seeing me in the US – as opposed to familiar surroundings in Pakistan – came with a warm response.
“Wait, I want to see you,” she said.
Minutes later, she had sent her senator to my table with a message to follow her small entourage to his Virginia home. It was an occasion to have a close sitting with Benazir and Asif, away from the public glare and in a small homely setting. Benazir looked different without her head cover, with shoulder-length light brown hair and a heavier physique, but she still had the same twinkling eyes that reflected her deep self-assurance.
She picked my brains on a drone missile attack that had then occurred in Damadola in Bajaur tribal agency.
“Do you know if the missile attack actually killed Ayman Zawahiri’s nephew as the government claims?”
I told her that it did not appear so, and that there were contradictory statements about the incident in the US newspapers as well.
Benazir had read with interest the Washington Post’s editorial, which cast aspersions on Gen. Musharraf’s role in the “War on Terror” and questioned the effectiveness of keeping him as an ally. As early as 2006, the US media’s critical comments that Musharraf could be engaged in double dealing with the West had obviously presented itself to her as an opportunity.
At that juncture, Benazir’s relationship with Musharraf was one of spy versus spy as both seasoned politicians – one civilian and the other military – worked to outfox each other. While Benazir gathered information on how Musharraf fared in the US, his administration followed her activities in Washington, DC with eagle eyes.
Only a few weeks earlier, Interpol had issued a red alert against Benazir and Asif on money laundering charges. Musharraf had shifted the responsibility of the alert on the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), allegedly set up to fight corruption among public officials and politicians.
But just that morning, Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Shaikh Rasheed Ahmed had delivered a cold warning from the general, “Benazir will be arrested the moment she lands in Pakistan.”
Coincidentally, the same day that the Interpol alert was issued, I heard Benazir at a public forum in Washington, DC. As I reiterated the threat conveyed by Musharraf’s information minister to Benazir and asked her what she planned to do about it, she seized on the chance to criticize Musharraf and declare that “such tactics will not stop me from returning to Pakistan to bring democracy.”
At the home of the PPP senator, Benazir waxed casual as I reminded her of the Interpol alert. She began to ask party leaders about individuals in Pakistan’s establishment who might have been responsible for issuing the red alert against herself and Asif.
“Can you believe it, they are equating me with terrorists like Ayman Al Zawahiri,” she turned to me with a twinkle in her eyes.
Asif, too, was relaxed in the homely settings and more chatty than usual. It was a contrast to his behavior a few weeks ago when he had dodged my questions by saying he was under a “gag order.” Instead, he had passed the buck rather nicely:
“Why don’t you ask Benazir? You’ve known her longer than I have.”
Now on a one-to-one level, he volunteered to explain that he had been released from prison without striking a back room deal with Musharraf.
“You never thought I would get out of prison did you,” he chuckled.
To my surprise, Benazir talked of her erstwhile rival, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, with camaraderie. It was a far cry from the Benazir I knew in Pakistan’s last decade of civilian rule, when the two former prime ministers were bitter rivals and worked at cross-purposes.
Instead, a year ago, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif had come together in London to frame a “Charter of Democracy” that promised to force Musharraf to hold “free and fair” elections and enact constitutional reforms. Long years of exile suffered by Nawaz and Benazir under Musharraf had convinced the ousted prime ministers to agree on a charter that would prevent military rulers from overthrowing elected leaders like themselves.
In London, the politicians did the spade work for the constitutional package, passed by the Zardari government in April 2010, which undid the constitutional amendments passed by two former military rulers – Gen. Zia ul Haq and Gen. Pervaiz Musharraf – and curtailed the power of the president. The “Eighteenth Amendment,” as it is called, has been largely welcomed in Pakistan, even while some sections have been challenged in the Supreme Court.
More western savvy than Nawaz, Benazir had, after 9/11, correctly surmised Pakistan’s importance for the US. Although President Bush had developed a one-on-one relationship with Musharraf, American voters were growing disillusioned with a sagging economy and a seemingly unending war in Afghanistan.
Taking advantage of the swing of voters toward the Democratic Party, Benazir put her foot in the door and worked to prize it open for her reentry to power.
A senior journalist seated at our small table suggested to Benazir that her goals may be better served if she moved from Dubai to the US. Benazir demurred, not just because it would make her US connections far too obvious, but because she said she was concerned about the education of her children enrolled in Dubai’s schools.
Instead, Benazir went on to work with Democratic members of the US Congress to broker the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) deal with Musharraf, which granted amnesty for herself, husband Asif Zardari and thousands of other politicians and businessmen accused of corruption. PPP sympathizers say it was Benazir’s way of ensuring that the “politically fabricated” cases did not stand in her path to return to Pakistan.
Among those who got former President Musharraf to sign the National Reconciliation Ordinance was Democratic Senator John Kerry. Kerry’s advisor Shahid Ahmed Khan accompanied Benazir and Kerry to the office of Tom Lantos. The latter, a Jewish Holocaust survivor, knew Musharraf in his capacity as the head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
As Benazir telephoned Musharraf, Khan stated that he had stepped out of the office “to give them some privacy.”
Afterwards, Khan said that Senator Kerry told him that he had talked briefly with US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, R. Nicholas Burns, to ask that he telephone Musharraf to ensure security arrangements for Benazir’s return. Khan said that Senator Kerry subsequently asked the Republican administration’s US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice to ensure that Benazir was provided with proper security while she was in Pakistan.
In 2007 Benazir met President Gen. Musharraf twice in Dubai to work out her quid pro quo arrangement with him. It culminated on October 4, 2007 with Musharraf’s signature on the National Reconciliation Ordinance – which paved the way for Benazir, Asif and several party officials to return to Pakistan. Two days later, as Gen. Musharraf presented himself for presidential reelection, the PPP members permitted him a façade of legitimacy by remaining in parliament while other political parties boycotted the vote.
That cold February afternoon, as Benazir and I stood alone at the refreshments table in the Virginia home of her party senator, she picked away disinterestedly at the lavish spread. She was in a pensive mood, apparently reflecting on the gravity of her decision to return to Pakistan. Instinctively, I said to her,
“It’s very brave of you to go back.”
She dropped her gaze still further and became still. It would be many seconds before she turned to me and we rejoined the rest of the group. Perhaps she knew that this would be her last battle.
It was 9:15 am on September 11, 2001 when the phone rang. There was a strange urgency to the ring. It made me spring out of bed in my tiny apartment in Sunderland, Western Massachusetts and run to the other room to quiet it.
It was my relative, Shabnam, who had left Pakistan decades ago and lived in Houston, Texas. In the instances when we met on either side of the globe, I shared with her my adventures as a journalist. Given our mutual background, she reveled in the exciting stories I told her as a reporter for the nation’s leading newspaper.
Evidently, she knew me well enough to sense that this day – a day that changed the US – would change my life as well.
“Quick, turn on the television,” she said.
Alas, I told her, we didn’t have a television. My husband and I lived in a one-bedroom apartment and had only the sparse belongings of new immigrants.
We had arrived about a year ago from Pakistan and I had just finished teaching a course at the Women Studies Department in Amherst College, Massachusetts on Gender Politics in Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
“The trade towers in New York are burning. They say it was hit by an airplane,” she was saying.
Sensing it was a terrorist act, I rushed to turn on the radio. I was immediately drawn into the drama unfolding in downtown Manhattan, where I had worked as a journalist for two years during the 1980’s.
National Public Radio contributor, Ginger Miles, whose apartment overlooked the World Trade Towers, was on air.
I knew Ginger from my reporting at WBAI radio in New York. There was unmistakable excitement in her voice, sounding like journalists do when they inadvertently turn into part of the story.
Ginger fought her way through the smoke and debris blowing in through her windows as she spoke.
Her commentary about thick ash, which blew into her apartment from the collapsing trade towers, conjured up vivid images of the attack into the heart of capitalism.
WESTFIELD, Mass. – A group of women from India and Pakistan who came here for a peace conference in April returned home to find their countries on the brink of a nuclear catastrophe. One of the delegates wrote back to me about the “horrific atmosphere of war,” which can be averted, she said, only through “sheer good luck.”
Luck, of course, plays a magnified role in the lives of many on the subcontinent who cannot rely on receiving the staples that most Westerners take for granted. But sheer chance is not what anybody wants to think is the only thing between rice-for-lunch-as-usual and a nuclear conflagration that U.S. experts estimate could kill as many as 12 million people.
Yet that is what the escalating political rhetoric has made women like these believe — that the tensions, the saber-rattling, the missile tests and the brutal deaths on either side of the Line of Control in predominantly Muslim Kashmir have less to do with the hopes of the ordinary people than with the self-serving and mercurial goals of their leaders. With a leader like President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who came to power in 1999 in a military coup, Pakistanis fear all the more that their country’s response will be a military one. How ironic it was, one Indian delegate pointed out during the conference, that with flights and overland travel between their countries cut off, these women had to travel to the United States — more than 7,000 miles away from home — in order to meet face to face with their counterparts.
The delegates had gathered at the conference, titled “Women of Pakistan and India: Rights, Ecology, Economy and Nuclear Disarmament,” at Westfield State College just as the war clouds were forming over the subcontinent. Tensions had been building since January, when India accused Pakistan of supporting the Kashmiri militants’ attacks on its parliament in Dehli on Dec. 13 — and retaliated by massing its troops on the border. The potential for a nuclear exchange has since been triggered by the Islamic militants’ attack on an army camp in mid-May. The raid killed more than 30 soldiers and family members. That’s when Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee rallied troops for an all-out war. In a show of defiance, Pakistan tested three missiles last week (all of them named after Muslim conquerors of India) that are capable of launching a nuclear attack on the Indians. The United States is taking all of this seriously, urging Americans to get out of India and withdrawing all but essential embassy personnel.
For the 10 women from India and Pakistan, coming to Westfield was an occasion to analyze how governments on each side had hijacked discourse to portray the other as the “enemy.” Growing up in Pakistan, I was a witness to the constant hammering by state-controlled television about “Indian atrocities in occupied Kashmir.” In fact, the phrase masla-i-Kashmir (“the problem of Kashmir”) has for me become a metaphor for any problem that can never be solved.
I heard those thoughts echoed in the views of the Indian women at the conference. Journalist Kalpana Sharma blamed her nation’s worsening relations with Muslims, and by association with Pakistan, on the rise of the Hindu fundamentalists in India — the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its coalition partner, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). India, Sharma said, had buckled under fundamentalist pressure and escalated its military budget after the disastrous conflict near the Kargil area of Kashmir that nearly led to war in 1999. And the costs for ordinary people are clear. India has cut back on the social sector, she said, and instituted higher taxes on its people.
For Anis Haroon, director of a women’s non-governmental organization in Karachi, the U.S. support for Musharraf after Sept. 11 “had carved out a permanent role for the army in Pakistan.” This, she said, had come with costs, strengthening the military crackdown on demonstrations by political parties, civil liberties groups and women protesting against discriminatory laws. In early May, for example, Pakistani authorities arrested women gathering to oppose the Hudood Ordinances, which demonstrators say end up punishing female victims of rape.
Civil liberties have taken a beating inside India as well, agreed the Indian women. Ruchira Gupta, a member of a women’s group in Bombay, pointed to the Indian parliament’s passage of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) on March 26 as an example. POTA was advocated by BJP Home Minister L.K. Advani to counter what he called “the terrorism” launched by Pakistan. But Gupta argued that the act would cramp the press, militarize the society and lead to injustices for Muslim minorities.
Both governments, these women believed, were responsible for recent atrocities. The Indians blamed the massacre of Muslims in Gujarat in February following an attack on Hindus in a train on the “frenzy whipped up by the BJP” which forms the central government in Gujarat. The Hindu delegates said that organizations they belonged to had visited the area to distribute food and clothing to Muslim victims. Correspondingly, Pakistani delegates said that the Gujarat violence had not resulted in reprisals against Hindus in Pakistan — showing that such violence is not supported by ordinary people.
Indeed, my experience shows that all too often it is the self-serving leaderships in the two countries that thwart the people’s desire for peace. I saw this firsthand in 1995. As a journalist, I was invited to join the official Pakistan delegation to the Fourth World Women Conference in Beijing. The country was then ruled by Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was keen to portray a liberal image at the conference. But we were instructed by a male leader of our group to counter the Indian delegates each time the subject of Kashmir came up. I watched as the leaders of both the Indian and Pakistani delegations engaged in allegations and counter-allegations over Kashmir. Slowly the hall began emptying as U.N. delegates walked out of a meeting that was supposed to unite the women of the world.
The discussions at Westfield did not fracture along these lines because the women were not here to promulgate their governments’ policies. Instead, they discussed how Sept. 11 has caused India and Pakistan to vie for U.S. attention over Kashmir. Even as India conducts its propaganda war against militants, it stopped Kashmiri women from attending our conference. The pressure was coming from the Hindu right wing, who, as Indian delegate Urvashi Batalia noted, had been cashing in on the “demonizing of Muslims.”
U.S. dependence on Pakistan in its fight against terrorism appears to have given legitimacy to the military government, argued Zubeida Mustafa, a senior editor from Pakistan’s daily Dawn newspaper. In Pakistan’s April referendum, journalists observed few voters at the polling booths. A colleague wrotethat a polling officer he visited had recorded only 125 votes by closing time. The officer told him rather casually that he forged the remaining votes after deadline because the local police directed him to show a voter turnout of nearly 900 and to ensure a “yes” vote of around 98 percent, giving Musharraf five more years in office.
With only the facade of being elected, Pakistan’s military government has not had to answer to its people about the failure to improve law and order. Earlier this year, targeted killings of Shia doctors by Sunni extremist groups forced physicians to flee the country. However, no action was taken until last month, when a suicide bomber killed 14 people in Karachi, including 11 French men working on a submarine project. Under severe international pressure, the Musharraf government cracked down on the Sunni militant groupLashkar-i-Jhangvi — which has been linked to the killings of Shia doctors. Later, three members of this same group were accused in the brutal murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl.
In December, when I last visited Pakistan, I was curious to see how the Musharraf government would rein in Kashmiri militants. The Islamic militants who were brought into the region by the United States during the Cold War had turned to jihad in Kashmir after the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989. Since then about two dozen militant Islamic groups fighting for Kashmir under the United Jihad Council have established headquarters in Pakistan.
It’s not as if Kashmiris welcome such support. One Kashmiri from Srinagar, Farooq Lone, who now lives in Islamabad, told me that Kashmiris are “fed up” with Pakistan-based militants who attack Indian forces and leave the Kashmiris to face the vengeance of the repressive Indian troops. More than 35,000 people have been killed in Kashmir since the militants entered the fray 13 years ago. Lone’s family supports the All Parties Hurriyet Conference, whose moderate Kashmiri separatist leader, Abdul Ghani Lone, was recently assassinated. Although India has never allowed a plebiscite in which the Kashmiris could decide their own fate, the Indian government had been wooing moderates such as Lone for elections planned in Kashmir in September. His murder deals a further blow to any peace prospects. 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 they divided India and then departed without forcing a plebiscite — has come to haunt the United States almost 55 years later. It is an issue that is not going be resolved by luck or through a U.S. admonition to Pakistan to stop abetting militants. Instead, the United States will have to throw its weight behind the United Nations to enable the people of Kashmir to decide their own fate. That appears to be the only choice if the world is to be successful in fighting the roots of terrorism.
AMHERST, Mass.–Nine days ago there was an alarming indication of upheaval in Pakistan — 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 in Delhi 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 the United States.
I suspected that the crackdown on the media was associated with Pearl’s kidnapping and murder. Even from the United States, where I am right now, I could tell that Pearl’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 in Pakistan — 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 of Pakistan.
For the past month, as a former reporter for Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper, I have been sifting through the evidence trying to figure out what Pearl’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, Pearl had 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 much Pearl found 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 in Karachi rallied 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 the Pearl case. For Pakistan, 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 used Pakistan’s military dictator, Gen. Mohammed Zia ul-Haq, to funnel billions of dollars’ worth of arms and ammunition to the Afghan resistance through Pakistan’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 in Afghanistan.
Even after Pakistan got on board with the U.S. anti-terrorist coalition, the intelligence agencies did not sever ties with the Islamic parties. Then, as the United States stepped up pressure, the agencies began reducing their support for these parties. In December, I saw a pro-Taliban demonstration in Islamabad that 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.
As Pearl’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 of Kashmir. 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 that Pearl’s suspected kidnappers have taken that cause to heart.
Remember the Indian passenger airline that was hijacked from Kathmandu, Nepal, in December 1999 and made a series of stops in Pakistan and Dubai before finally landing in Kandahar? There, the Taliban surrounded the plane and gave safe passage to the hijackers. They were demanding that India release three members of a Pakistan-based Islamist group, which was launching attacks against the Indian military in Kashmir. The Indian foreign minister traveled to Kandahar and handed over the political prisoners, who included Masood Azhar and Saeed himself.
Once freed from jail in India, Azhar and his entourage returned to Pakistan and 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 in Kashmir. 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 the United 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 visit Pakistan on a stopover from India. Three months beforehand, Musharraf had taken over Pakistan’s government in a military coup — and this had not sat well with the U.S. administration. Hinting at a rift in Pakistan’s intelligence agencies, one reporter asked Azhar if his appearance was intended to embarrass Musharraf before Clinton’s visit. I asked the same question more bluntly: “Are you being supported by Pakistan’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 of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Azhar was put under house arrest last fall only after the United States put pressure on Pakistan to curb jihadi groups. Pakistan turned down a U.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 in Pearl’s abduction — though he later denied it. Many other Kashmiri and Sunni militant groups are still operating freely in Pakistan, and the latter have intensified sectarian killings inside the country.
The U.S. war on the al Qaeda network has signaled a new phase for the reorganization of militant Islamic groups in Pakistan. As the United States bombed Taliban targets, the Pakistan-based Kashmir militants began slipping home through the porous Afghan borders. Among them were the Harkat ul-Mujaheddin, some of whose members were killed by the U.S. bombing in Kabul last October while holding a meeting. When the bodies of the “martyrs” were brought to a mosque in Karachi, thousands of people attended the funeral processions — and promised revenge against the United 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 defeated Pakistan supporters of the Taliban as the U.S. troops bombed Kandahar. Our convoy was making its way from the winding hills of Chaman in Pakistan (about two hours from Kandahar) 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 our Quetta hotel 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 in Pakistan — 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 in Pakistan. 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 the United States or through monitoring the court process in Pakistan, it is imperative that the culprits be punished. The frightening fact is that Pearl’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 in Karachi, Pakistan, teaches at the University of Massachusetts with a focus on women, politics and the media in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran.
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 veil.” The encumbering full-length burqas that 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 barred women 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 of anti-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 Afghanistan.