ATDT Next Stop – Hyderabad Sindh

Author addresses PPP leaders and senior media personnel in Karachi
Author addresses PPP leaders and senior media personnel in Karachi

After completing a successful launch in Karachi, Aboard the Democracy Train will launch its newly published Pakistan edition in Hyderabad on Feb 13 (Wednesday).

The event will be addressed by Urdu and Sindhi speaking intellectuals at the Hyderabad Press Club at 5 pm.

The program will be kept interactive in order to enable a free exchange of ideas on the history and politics of Sindh, as documented by the author in the 1980s when she worked as the only woman reporter in Dawn during the Zia era.

Pakistan’s Impossible Year: Elections, Army Intrigue, and More

Goodbye to 2012 (Credit: asiancorrespondent.com)

Washington DC, Dec 29: On the brink of a new year, Pakistan faces an unstable future. Can the son of assassinated prime minister Benazir Bhutto break through the chaos?

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, son of Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari and former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, stepped onto the national stage for the first time this week, to give a speech marking the fifth anniversary of Benazir’s murder. Still too young to run for office, the 24-year-old Bhutto’s coming out adds more drama to what will be a pivotal year for Pakistan. National elections, turnover at the top military position, and the denouement in the war in Afghanistan all promise to make 2013 a critical year for a country that is both under siege by terrorism and the center of the global jihadist movement.

Bilawal’s grandfather, uncles, and mother all were murdered in political violence. Zulfikar Bhutto was hung in 1979 by Gen. Mohammad Zia ul-Haq, his two uncles died in mysterious plots, and his mother was assassinated by al Qaeda and the Taliban. His family story resembles Pakistan’s reality. Pakistanis a country in the midst of a long and painful crisis. Since 2001, according to the government, 45,000 Pakistanis have died in terrorist-related violence, including 7,000 security personnel. Suicide bombings were unheard of before the 9/11 attacks; there have been 300 since then. The country’s biggest city,Karachi, is a battlefield. One measure of Pakistan’s instability is that the country now has between 300 and 500 private-security firms, employing 300,000 armed guards, most run by ex-generals. The American intelligence community’s new global estimate rates Pakistan among the most likely states in the world to fail by 2030.

wanted on America’s counter terrorism list live in Pakistan. The mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai massacre and head of Lashkar-e-Taiba, Hafiz Saeed, make no effort to hide. He is feted by the army and the political elite, appears on television, and calls for the destruction of India frequently and jihad against America and Israel. The head of the Afghan Taliban, Mullah Mohammed Omar, shuttles between Pakistan intelligence (ISI) safe houses in Quetta and Karachi. The emir of al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is probably hiding in a villa not much different from the one his predecessor was living in with his wives and children in Abbottabad until May 2011.

Pakistan also has the fastest-growing nuclear arsenal in the world, bigger than Great Britain’s. The nukes are in the hands of the generals; the civilian government has only nominal control. President Zardari has only nominal influence over the ISI as well; indeed it deliberately botched the security for Benazir to help get rid of her, and it has conspired for five years to get rid of him, too.

Against the odds, Zardari has survived. By next fall, he will have served five years, becoming the first elected civilian leader to complete a full term in office and pass power to another elected government. It will be a major milestone for Pakistani democracy. Zardari has served years in prison. He often has been called a criminal by many, including in his own family, and the national symbol of corruption. Yet as president he presided over an major transfer of power from the presidency to the prime minister’s office, even the titular National Command Authority over the nukes, to ensure the country is more democratic and stable.

The parliamentary election in the spring will be a replay of every Pakistani election since 1988, pitting Nawaz Sharif’s party against the Bhuttos. Needless to say, many Pakistanis are sick of the same old stale choices. But the odds favor the old parties. Both Sharif and Zardari are committed to cautiously improving relations with India and trying to reform the Pakistani economy. Both have troubled relations with the Army.

If Sharif returns to the prime minister’s job for a third time, it will be a remarkable next turn in his own odyssey. Sharif was removed from the office in 1999 in an illegal coup and barely escaped alive to go into exile in Saudi Arabia. His decision to withdraw Pakistan’s troops in 1999 during the Kargil War prompted his fall from power, but it also may have saved the world from nuclear destruction. It was a brave move. I remember talking to him and his family in the White House the day after he made the decision to pull back. You could see in his eyes that he knew the Army would defame him, but he knew he was in the right.

But many Pakistanis want a new face to lead their country. Out of desperation, some are turning to cricket star Imran Khan to save Pakistan. The ISI is probably helping his campaign behind the scenes to stir up trouble for the others. He is a long shot at best. He is much more anti-American, anti-drone, and ready to make deals with the Taliban to stop the terror at home. Yet he understands well that Pakistanis a country urgently in need of new thinking.

Whoever wins will inherit an economy and government that is in deep trouble. Two thirds of the 185 million Pakistanis are under 30; 40 million of the 70 million ages 5 to 19 years old are not in school. Fewer than 1 million Pakistanis paid taxes last year. Power blackouts are endemic. Clean water is increasingly scarce, even as catastrophic floods are more common. Growth is 3 percent, too little to keep up with population demand.

It is no wonder that the generals prefer to have the civilians responsible for managing the unmanageable while they guard their prerogatives and decide national-security issues.

So it is no wonder that the generals prefer to have the civilians responsible for managing the unmanageable while they guard their prerogatives and decide national-security issues. As important as the elections next spring will be, the far more important issue is who will be the next chief of Army staff.

The incumbent, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, was given an unprecedented three-year extension in 2010. He is the epitome of the Pakistani officer corps and the so-called deep state. Pervez Musharraf made him director general of the ISI in 2004. On his watch, the Afghan Taliban recovered and regrouped inQuetta, Osama bin Laden built his hideout 800 yards outside Kayani’s alma mater—the Kakul Military Academy in Abbottabad—in 2005, and planning began for the 2008 Lashkar-e-Taiba attack on Mumbai. His term expires in September.

The history of civilians choosing chiefs of Army staff is not encouraging. Zulfikar Bhutto chose Zia ul-Haq, whom he called his “monkey general” because he thought he was apolitical. Zia staged his own coup and then hanged Zulfi. Nawaz Sharif picked Pervez Musharraf, quarreled over the Kargil War, and fired Pervez, who then staged his coup. No wonder Zardari just rolled over Kayani for another three years in 2010. It was the easy way out.

The next COAS will come from the shadowy group of a dozen corps commanders who run the Army. They do not advertise their political views as a rule. By next summer, a consensus will probably emerge in the inner circle on who should succeed Kayani, and the whole world will try to decipher the implications of the choice.

Washington will be watching all of this carefully. U.S.-Pakistan relations are at a low point and may get worse. It is in Afghanistan that the relationship will be most tested in 2013. This past September, the Taliban attacked a base called Camp Bastion, destroying eight U.S. Marine jet aircraft and killing two Marines. The interrogation of the surviving Taliban fighter indicated the attack was planned at an ISI safe haven in Pakistan with Pakistani army expertise. Then in December, the head of Afghan intelligence, Asadullah Khalid, was almost assassinated by a terrorist who the Afghans say came from Pakistan and was sent by the ISI. Incidents like these promise to make 2013 another year of strained relations in the U.S.-Pakistan deadly embrace.

Five female teachers killed: Pakistan aid work imperiled

Grieving family in Swabi district (Credit: tribune.com.pk)

Islamabad, Jan. 2: Pakistani police on Wednesday searched for the gunmen behind the brazen murder of five teachers and two health workers, amid fears that public health campaigns would suffer and lead to a resurgence of polio and other preventable diseases.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, which occurred Tuesday in Swabi, a city in the troubled northwest. The Pakistani Taliban has in the past vowed to target, among others, health workers involved in campaigns to wipe out polio.

Last year, 15 health and aid workers were killed in Pakistan, making the country one of the most dangerous in the world for aid workers, according to the British-based consultancy Humanitarian Outcomes. Most were women. Development sector experts now express concerns that those working on the ground will shy away from assignments.

“In the past, local volunteers, be they teachers, medical workers or social mobilizers, considered themselves safe and worked hand in hand with foreign aid workers and paramilitary personnel in even the most dire of circumstances,” says Hassan Belal Zaidi, a development and communication specialist, based in Islamabad. “But now, it would not be unreasonable for them to think twice and even refuse to travel to remote parts of the country if they know there is a chance they may get shot.”

The six women and one man were traveling in a van when gunmen on motorcycles stopped it Tuesday afternoon after it left a children’s community center, according to Abdur Rasheed Khan, chief of the Swabi police force. The four gunmen took a 4-year-old boy belonging to one of the women from the van, and then raked the vehicle with gunfire, he said. The child was unharmed and was later turned over to police by bystanders, he said.

Recommended: How much do you know about Pakistan? Take this quiz.

These murders come a few weeks after nine health workers with national polio campaign were killed in different parts of the country in what police said was a coordinated attack. That prompted the Pakistani government and the United Nations agencies to suspend their vaccination drive for the disease, which has seen a uptick in cases in recent years.

Pakistanis one out of the three countries where polio persists; at least 57 cases were registered in 2012. The World Health Organization last year warned Pakistan that it could face travel and visa restrictions and sanctions imposed by other countries if polio continues to spread

Distrust of public health initiatives like the polio campaign is particularly strong in districts of Pakistanwhere religious extremists have tightened their grip. That sentiment deepened in 2011 after the US raid that killed Osama bin Laden. A CIA-led operation to confirm Mr. bin Laden’s location in the city of Abbottabad used a hepatitis B vaccination campaign to gather DNA evidence on bin Laden.

The recent attacks are likely to further frighten people from working with foreign and Pakistani aid and development organizations, says Bushra Arain, chairwoman for the All Pakistan Lady Health Workers Welfare Association, which counts more than 100,000 registered members.

“We are the backbone of Pakistani health sector. If the attacks continue, with the state showing the inability it currently is demonstrating in stopping us from being targeted, we will stop working,” Ms. Arain says.

The Taliban and affiliated groups are targeting aid workers for several reasons, says Khadim Hussain, who heads one of the largest private charity school networks in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. First, the militants think aid groups have an anti-Muslim agenda, spying on the local population, a suspicion that was deepened by the raid on bin Laden. Secondly, the groups equate health campaigns with modernizing society, in opposition to some fundamentalist tenets for Islamic radicals. Some groups also believe the vaccine is intended to sterilize Muslim children.

“If the attacks by the Taliban continue, there will be widespread de-motivation amongst aid workers, which I am already witnessing,” Mr. Hussain says.

While some development advocates say there needs to be a coordinated, public response by Pakistani and foreign NGOs to the attacks, others say the government should stop public education campaigns altogether and just allow aid workers to operate quietly.

“The less attention we get, the less vulnerable we will be as targets for the terrorists,” Ms. Arain says.

“We are involved with anti-polio drive, infant health awareness programs, family planning, etc. and if the government does not pull its act together, many deadly diseases can spread rapidly inPakistan,” she says. “The situation can get out of hand.”

 

US drone strike kills top militant Mullah Nazir in Pakistan

Maulvi Nazir (Credit: rferl.org)

US drone strikes today killed a senior Pakistani militant commander in the tribal region of South Waziristan, and also reportedly claimed the lives of three suspected al-Qa’ida operatives in Yemen.
Mullah Nazir, leader of one of Pakistan’s four main militant groups, was a target for US forces despite having agreed a ceasefire deal with Islamabad. Under the agreement his group was no longer launching attacks inside Pakistan, but was still active in Afghanistan. He also hosted al-Qa’ida members at his base in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

According to Pakistani officials, Nazir was in a meeting at a house in the village of Angoor Adda when he and eight others were killed. Four more militants were killed in Mir Ali in North Waziristan by a second wave of missiles. The attacks were the first by US drones in Pakistan this year.

In return for his co-operation, Nazir was allowed to run his fiefdom with little interference from the Pakistani army. He had either killed or chased out his tribal and political enemies and recently ordered that polio vaccinations in the area be stopped, declaring the progamme to be a CIA spying ploy and also an invidious plot to make Muslims infertile. The ban was followed by murder of health workers in the region.
But it was the Mullah’s activities in Afghanistan that made him a prime target for the Americans. His group was responsible for a rise in suicide bombings and also for sending Punjabi Pakistani fighters across the border to bolster the Afghan Taliban, who have suffered heavy losses.

Pakistan’s former chief of intelligence in the country’s north-west, retired brigadier Asad Munir, maintained that Nazir’s killing will “complicate” the fight against militants in the tribal region, and could prompt retaliatory attacks against the army in South Waziristan.

Yesterday’s other strike, in southern Yemen, was the fifth by a pilotless plane in the country in just 10 days. The US has recently stepped up its assault on Al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula, the terror network’s Yemeni wing which is regarded as its most dangerous by many in the West. A government official shortly after yesterday’s strike said the attack was by a Yemeni aircraft, but locals said it came from a missile-firing drone.

US drone attacks in Pakistan, which have increased markedly under President Obama, have long been hugely controversial issue. Pakistani leaders have condemned the infringement of their sovereignty and stressed that large numbers of civilians die in the strikes.