Posts Tagged ‘Ali Salman Alvi’

Editor’s NOTE: The following op-ed, penned by me, was originally published by NDTV on April 6, 2016. I’m pleased to cross-post the article on my blog from NDTV’s  website without any editing. (Ali Salman Alvi)

Pathankot air base

I concluded my last piece, which I wrote for NDTV almost two months ago, by stating that India-Pak relations were returning to razor’s edge. That is exactly where we are now in the aftermath of the terror assault at the Indian Air Force base in Pathankot. After a visit to India, the five-member Pakistani Joint Investigation Team (JIT), which was formed to assist India, is set to present its report to  Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who had formed the JIT after taking Indian counterpart Narendra Modi in confidence. Needless to say, Mr Modi faced flak from the opposition after his government allowed the Pakistani team of investigators to visit the air force base.

On April 4, some sections of the Pakistani media reported that the JIT will claim that the Indian forces had killed the terrorists “within hours” but turned it into a “three-day drama” to get international attention. Pakistan Today, not a prominent Pakistani newspaper, cited JIT sources as saying that the Indian authorities had “staged” the attack to “malign Pakistan” and persuade the world community that Pakistan is involved in terrorism.

Protest DemoAs expected, the report caught the attention of the Indian media. The demonstrations against the visit by the Pakistani investigators held by the activists of Indian National Congress and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) outside the Pathankot airbase, are a stark reminder of the fact that the bilateral ties between the two countries are layered with emotions, ego and chronic bitterness even as there is an attempt at unprecedented cooperation on a terror investigation.

Whilst I don’t think that the JIT report will go to the extent of blaming India for staging the Pathankot attack, it is likely to deem the evidence given by the Indian authorities as insufficient and inadequate. According to sources privy to the details of the JIT report, the investigators have claimed that the Indian authorities failed to provide sufficient evidence of the involvement of Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar. The report adds that to instigate criminal proceedings, Pakistani authorities need to have sufficient evidence and credible witnesses against the Masood Azhar.

Pakistani JIT Pathankot Air BaseAccording to the source, the JIT’s report says Indian authorities did not cooperate well with  the Pakistani JIT, offered just limited access to desired places, and evidence offered does not allow the four attackers to be established as linked to either the Jaish or its leader Masood Azhar. Pakistan will seek further cooperation and more information from the Indian authorities on the Pathankot attack to take further action on the FIR registered against the alleged attackers of the Pathankot airbase in India and their abettors. The fate of the FIR numbered 06/2016 seems bleak at the moment. In case India does not provide further evidence, the FIR is likely to be dismissed by Pakistani authorities in the light of the recommendations set forth in the JIT report.

The relations between Pakistan and India, amid all the hoopla surrounding the meetings between the Prime Ministers of both countries, which were heading in the right direction before the Pathankot incident, are back to Square One. An expected meeting on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington could not take place since PM Sharif cancelled his trip after a huge terror attack at a playground in Lahore.

With such a gloomy state of affairs in bilateral ties, where do the two countries go from here? The answer does not sound promising at the moment.

Source: Pak’s Pathankot Report Will Cite Insufficient Access, Evidence

Editor’s NOTE: The following op-ed, penned by me, was originally published by NDTV on February 10, 2016. I’m pleased to cross-post the article on my blog from NDTV’s  website without any editing. (Ali Salman Alvi)

Taj Hotel Mumbai

 

David Coleman Headley, a Pakistan-born American national who helped plot the deadly Mumbai terror attack in 2008, has testified that that he visited India seven times before the attacks to scout potential targets for his handlers in Pakistan. During the deposition, Headley repeated the statements he had made earlier in 2011 while testifying in a US court – he said that Pakistan’s main spy agency, the ISI, was involved in planning and executing the attacks which lasted for three days and left 166 people dead.

The news of David Headley’s deposition met with a rather cold response in Pakistani newspapers and electronic media. While a couple of Urdu and English newspapers carried the news, almost all the leading television channels in Pakistan gave no or very little coverage to Headley’s testimony in which he more or less repeated what he had already told a US court.

David HeadleyThere could be a couple of reasons behind the snubbing of Headley’s deposition by Pakistani media at large. One is that David Headley, formerly known as Syed Daood Gilani, was never given any significant coverage in Pakistani media even when he was being tried in a US court where he first stated that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency provided financial, military and moral support to terrorist organisations such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad and Hizbul Mujahideen. Pakistan, remember, has always insisted that the ISI has no links to Lashkar-e-Taiba and has categorically denied a connection of “state actors” to the Mumbai attacks.

The other reason which might have kept Headley’s deposition out of the headlines in Pakistan is that it contained nothing new apart from the revelations made by Mr Headley during Monday’s hearing that that two failed attempts to carry out terror attacks in Mumbai were made in September and October 2008. Last but not the least, any statement directly accusing Pakistan’s powerful intelligence agency ISI of planning and executing a terror attack would be deemed as anti-Pakistan material among Pakistani media and ultimately won’t see the light of day in Pakistan.

The only notable reaction came from the then interior minister of Pakistan, Rehman Malik. Talking to reporters in Islamabad, he claimed that David Headley was an agent hired by Indian intelligence agency RAW and that India itself was involved in the 26/11 attacks. While these claims would sound outrageously absurd to many readers on both sides of the border, Mr Malik could not care less about that.

While declaring David Headley a RAW agent, Rehman Malik, who now chairs a committee on interior and narcotics control in Pakistan’s Senate (the upper house of parliament), also questioned India’s intelligence failure, pointing out that the terrorist entered India repeatedly without any problems and spent two years photographing and filming potential targets.

Zaki LakhviIndia has long sought Mr Headley’s deposition in a bid to establish a direct connection between the Pakistani authorities and the deadly attacks in Mumbai. It has alleged this clearly and submitted evidence, but the Headley statements will help generate pressure on the Pakistani government to take action against those who masterminded the Mumbai attacks. Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, one of the main accused in 26/11 and a commander with the outlawed militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, was freed from jail last year. Lashkar founder Hafiz Saeed, who moves freely throughout the country, recently praised the Pathankot air base attack and warned of others like it while addressing a public rally in Muzaffarabad.

David Headley’s deposition has come at a time when Pakistan has just given a clean chit to Masood Azhar, chief of the outlawed militant group Jaish-e-Muhammad, in the Pathankot attack. According to media reports in Pakistan, the investigators termed evidence provided by India insufficient and claimed that some lower-rung members of the Jaish could be behind the terror attack on the Indian airbase last month. Earlier, Pakistan had told Delhi that cell phone numbers submitted as evidence by Indian
authorities had no record in the country.

What all this adds up to is the return of India-Pak relations to razor’s edge.

 

Source: Pak Media Virtually Blacks Out David Headley’s Revelations

Editor’s NOTE: The following op-ed, penned by me, was originally published by NDTV on January 20, 2016. I’m pleased to cross-post the article on my blog from NDTV’s  website without any editing. (Ali Salman Alvi)

 

Bacha Khan University

 

Pakistan finds itself reeling after yet another terror attack on its soil. Heavily armed militants stormed Bacha Khan University this morning in Charsadda, about 50 kilometers from the city of Peshawar, and opened indiscriminate fire on students and staff members where they had gathered for a poetic symposium to commemorate the 28th death anniversary of renowned Pakhtoon leader and proponent of non-violence Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, popularly known as ‘Bacha Khan’.

Umar Mansoor, a commander in the outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistani (TTP) and the mastermind of the attack on the Army Public School Peshawar in December 2014, first claimed the attack. But the official spokesperson for the Pakistani Taliban disowned it. More than 21 people are reported to have been killed and at least 60 others injured during a two-hour rampage; officials fear the casualties will rise. Four terrorists were shot after the security forces launched a remarkable counter-terror operation in the university’s premises in a bid to control the damage.

Bacha Khan UniversityThe investigations into the terror attack are underway, but we must not avert our eyes from the fact that the attack was the result of yet another intelligence failure and a major security lapse, especially when only three days ago, rumors of security threats to educational institutions triggered the closure of schools in the same region.

In many ways, today’s attack was reminiscent of the gruesome December 2014 terrorist attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar which left over 140 dead – most of them children. The message behind today’s attack is the same. 13 months ago, they targeted a school being run by the Pakistan Army that is actively combating terrorists and eliminating their hideouts in North Waziristan. Today, they attacked a university named after Bacha Khan, the man who laid down the foundations of the politics of the secular Awami National Party that has rendered a number of sacrifices for standing up against the Taliban. The message given by the terrorists is loud and clear: standing up to them has a price, and more often than not, you have to pay that with your blood.

More than the identity of the outfit that has claimed the attack on Bacha Khan University, the people of Pakistan in general and those at the helm of affairs in the country in particular need to counter the mindset of the terrorists and the ideology they preach in the name of Islam. These terrorists are afraid of education. They are afraid of the power of knowledge. The very same mindset and the very same group targeted Malala Yousafzai in October 2012, attacked the Army Public School in December 2014 and stormed a university today, apart from  deadly attacks on polio vaccination teams across the country.

Despite the ongoing operation against the hardcore militants in the tribal areas of Pakistan, the TTP’s ability to strike in the settled areas of the country should be a matter of concern for Pakistan’s civil and military leadership. The rot is surely deep and Pakistan is passing through extraordinary circumstances which demand extraordinary measures. While it is obvious that it’ll take significant amount of time to eliminate terror from Pakistan, the more worrying part is that the state of Pakistan has shown no clear intent or political will to counter the mindset that has been a major hurdle in developing a counter-terrorism narrative in the country.

After the horrific terror attack on Army Public School that jolted Pakistan’s civil and military leadership, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced a comprehensive roadmap to counter terrorism in his 20-point agenda known as National Action Plan.

While the plan looked good on paper, the situation on the ground remains disturbingly awful and unchanged. The plan talked about countering hate speeches and extremist material, choking funding for terrorists and terrorist organizations and dismantling communication networks of terrorist organizations. Point 3 of the plan stressed the commitment to ensuring that no armed militias are allowed to function in Pakistan, while points 10 and 11 talked about the registration and regulation of religious seminaries and a ban on the glorification of terrorism and terrorist organizations through print and electronic media.

Ground realities suggest that little has changed since then – so much so that the incumbent government itself has accepted that the progress on National Action Plan has been unsatisfactory.

Manohar ParrikarThere is another aspect of the attack and that directly affects the already fragile and vulnerable relations between Pakistan and India. Hardliners in Pakistan are linking today’s terrorist attack to a statement given by Indian Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar after the Pathankot terror attack in which he said that “Those who harmed us will feel the pain”. Former interior minister of Pakistan Rehman Malik went as far as to blame Indian intelligence agency RAW for this latest attack on Pakistani soil. The two reckless statements mentioned above underscore the need to show restraint and maturity in the face of adversity. The authorities on either side of the border need to realize that they should not play into the hands of the terrorists.

As far as Pakistani authorities are concerned, they need to focus on the security threats to Pakistan posed by militants who not long ago enjoyed state patronage, and show the intent to take on terrorists without making any discrimination.

Source: How We In Pakistan See Today’s University Attack

Editor’s NOTE: The following op-ed, penned by me, was originally published by NDTV on January 15, 2016. I’m pleased to cross-post the article on my blog from NDTV’s  website without any editing. (Ali Salman Alvi)

Pathankot Air Base

 

In a dramatic turn of events after the Pathankot airbase attack, the Pakistani government claims to have arrested members of the outlawed Jaish-e-Mohammad. Following a high-level meeting of top military and civil leadership yesterday, the statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office said that, acting on “actionable intelligence” provided by India regarding the attack on the Pathankot airbase, the offices of the banned militant group are being traced and sealed.

But the statement issued by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s office raises questions over the efficacy of such bans on the militant groups in Pakistan where they are soon reincarnated them with a different name to continue their operations right under the government’s nose. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Sipah-e-Sahaba, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Muhammad are some of the appalling examples of the state’s failure to apprehend such groups after banning these groups and the people associated with them. After the attacks on the Indian parliament back in December 2001, allegedly carried out by the JeM, the government of Pakistan banned the militant group in January 2002. 14 years after the group was banned, the government of Pakistan admitted that the offices of the banned group are being traced and sealed only now. The very fact that the JeM was able to operate offices despite a ban leaves a lot to be desired on the part of the state of Pakistan.

Many in Pakistan believe that the government is also under pressure from American officials to take swift action against the outlawed JeM. Five days ago, US Secretary of State John Kerry spoke to PM Sharif on the phone, who assured the US that Pakistan is carrying out investigations in a transparent manner to bring out the truth in the Pathankot terror incident.

Hours after the high-level huddle of senior civil and military officials concluded in Islamabad yesterday, media reports revealed that the banned JeM chief Masood Azhar was taken into “protective custody” and questioned over the Pathankot attack. While a federal minister and a former general confirmed on a television talk show last night that the law enforcement agencies have only taken Masood Azhar into protective custody, Pakistan’s Foreign Office today expressed ignorance about the supposed house arrest of the JeM. It’s pertinent to note that the officials have neither confirmed nor denied the arrest of Masood Azhar since the government finds itself in a damned if you do, damned if you don’t conundrum. However, sources close to the JeM chief have confirmed that he has been detained by the Pakistani authorities. While the confusion persists over the JeM chief’s arrest, its existence is not without a few reasons.

Masooz AzharOne of the reasons behind the prevailing confusion over the JeM chief’s arrest is that the government of Pakistan is wary of a possible demand from the Indian government to handover Masood Azhar to them for further investigations. A confirmation in this regard can land Nawaz Sharif in hot water. The government is also mindful of a backlash from the likes of Jamat-e-Islami and other right-wing parties who protested sharply against PM Narendra Modi’s surprise surprise visit to Pakistan on Mr Sharif’s birthday.

The other reason behind the confusion persisting over the arrest of Maulana Masood Azhar, one of the Afghan jihad veterans, is that he enjoys close ties with the Afghan Taliban. Pakistan would be walking on a tight rope if officials confirm his arrest and end up straining their ties with the Afghan Taliban where Pakistan is trying to regain some sort of strategic control.

Hafiz SaeedLast but not the least, a confirmation of the arrest of JeM chief Masood Azhar will incite groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba, now known as the Jamat-ud-Dawa and headed by Hafiz Muhammad Saeed which apparently enjoy state patronage.

For Pakistan, the real challenge is to make sure that action against the outlawed JeM us converted into prolonged and consequential measures to prevent the militant group from resurfacing stronger. The state of Pakistan needs to shun its policy of good and bad militants. To permanently seal offices of the militant groups and successfully prosecute those responsible for cross-border terror attacks, a great deal of evidence will need to be gathered. For this purpose, both the countries need to work together and make coordinated efforts to combat terrorism. India’s acceptance of Pakistan’s request to send a Special Investigation Team to probe the Pathankot air base attack is an encouraging development in this regard.

There is a silver lining amidst all the confusion. Both countries have agreed to reschedule Foreign Secretary level talks. Whatever the terrorists intended to achieve with the attack on Pathankot airbase, the governments of India and Pakistan appear to have thwarted with their restraint and mature response.

Source: Why Pak Can’t Say If Jaish Chief Is Arrested

Editor’s NOTE: The following op-ed, penned by me, was originally published in The Nation on August 8, 2015. I’m pleased to cross-post the article on my blog from The Nation without any editing. (Ali Salman Alvi)

PTIPakistan Tehreek Insaf parliamentarians have made their way back to Parliament after facing stiff resistance from Maulana Fazlur Rehman-led faction of the JUI and the Mutahidda Qaumi Movement after PTI’s claim, that General Elections 2013 had been systematically rigged and manipulated to rob the party of power, were put to rest by an inquiry commission headed by Chief Justice Nasir ul Mulk. Imran Khan and his party strongly believed that their mandate was stolen by the PML-N & Co and thus they were deprived a chance to come to power. Rejecting election results have been a familiar trend in Pakistan’s political arena since 1970. The parties which lose elections come up with rigging allegations and refuse to accept the results. Against the alleged rigging in the 2013 general elections, the PTI organised a long march last year which left Lahore on August 14 and reached the capital on August 16. The long march was followed by a sit-in which lasted over 126 days. The sit-in was called off when a group of terrorists attacked the Army Public School in Peshawar which left 150 dead including 132 schoolchildren.

During a year old campaign Imran Khan vehemently accused former Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Chaudhry, former caretaker CM Punjab Najam Sethi, the PML-N, the ECP and returning officers of hatching a conspiracy to bring Nawaz Sharif to power by manipulating the mandate given by the people of Pakistan. However, Imran Khan lost his case before a panel comprising of three judges of the apex court which was formed to probe General Elections 2013 against rigging allegations as an indirect result of an agreement between the PML-N and the PTI.

In one of his interviews Imran Khan alleged that a brigadier of Military Intelligence was among those who rigged the general election against the PTI. When Mr Khan was asked to name that officer, he said that he will name him in his next public speech. His followers kept on waiting for the announcement of the MI’s brigadier’s name, but that never happened. The former captain hopped to other targets instead of naming the army officer. Notwithstanding repetitive demands from different quarters, Imran Khan neither named that army officer nor he dared to reiterate that claim ever again.

BBThe 1990 general elections are the only polls in Pakistan’s electoral history which were proven to have been systematically rigged and engineered according to the verdict issued by the Supreme Court of Pakistan in the Asghar Khan case. Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto was the victim as ISI robbed her of power by bankrolling a group of politicians. It was proven that the military establishment created and funded a coalition known as the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) whose sole purpose was to prevent Benazir Bhutto’s PPP from winning the 1990 elections. In its short order issued on Oct 19, 2012, the apex court directed the federal government to take appropriate action under the Constitution and the law against former army chief Gen (r) Aslam Beg and former DG ISI Lt-Gen (r) Asad Durrani for their role in facilitating a group of politicians to ensure their success against the PPP in the 1990 elections. Aside from that, another former DG ISI, Lt-Gen (r) Hameed Gul openly accepted responsibility for creating IJI in an interview with renowned anchorperson Asma Shirazi back in October 2012. In his interview, Hamid Gul not only defended the creation of the IJI, but also lauded General (r) Aslam Beg’s role in creating it. In the 141-page detailed verdict authored by the then Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, the Supreme Court held that unlawful orders by superior military officers or their failure to prevent unlawful actions by their subordinates were reprehensible.

The verdict also explained why the apex court had ruled that the 1990 general elections were polluted by the dishing out of millions of rupees to a particular group of politicians just to deprive the people of being represented by the representatives elected by them. The verdict also highlighted details and names of the recipients of the money dished out by the ISI as mentioned by the then DG ISI Lt-Gen (r) Asad Durrani in his affidavit filed on July 24, 1994 and the majority of my readers would know that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s name is among them. Not only that, he benefited the most from the 1990 general elections, polluted by the military establishment, and went on to become the prime minister of the country.

Nawaz Sharif led the IJI

Nawaz Sharif led the IJI

In the name of ‘reconciliation’ the then PPP government shied away from honouring the verdict. Free and fair elections in Pakistan will remain a distant dream as long as the culprits pointed out by the Supreme Court of Pakistan are not taken to task. The politics of reconciliation has reduced the PPP to interior Sindh only and if the party doesn’t mend its ways, it may lose its fort to the policy of reconciliation being followed by the party. The key to free and fair elections in Pakistan lies in the verdict given by the apex court in the Asghar Khan case and not in the report issued by the inquiry commission headed by Chief Justice Nasir ul Mulk. If the political parties in general and PTI and PPP in particular are sincere with democracy and wish to see free and fair elections in future, they should go to the apex court to get the verdict implemented in letter and spirit the court has issued almost three years ago. Because the same verdict says that “In upholding people’s right, this court can make all necessary directions to functionaries and institutions of the state, including the Election Commission of Pakistan, and the direction to investigate and prosecute.”

The onus is on the PTI and the PPP to pave the way for free and fair elections in 2018. If they don’t act now in the right direction, it’ll be the ruling PML-N that will make the most out of their inaction, flawed policies and ill-directed strategies. And in that case it’ll be a matter of surprise to none; if the PML-N comes to power again after the next general elections.

Source: Elections and rigging

Editor’s NOTE: The following op-ed, penned by me, was originally published in The Nation on March 11, 2015. I’m pleased to cross-post the article on my blog from The Nation without any editing. (Ali Salman Alvi)

Albert Einstein defined the word ‘insanity’ as doing something over and over again, while expecting a different result. Apparently more insane is the way the government has shied away from implementing Pakistan’s 20-point National Action Plan (NAP) against terrorism, announced by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in his televised speech in the wake of the brutal terrorist attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar. While the plan looks good on paper, the situation on the ground remains worryingly dire and unchanged. The plan talks about countering hate speech and extremist material, choking financing for terrorists and terrorist organizations, ensuring against re-emergence of proscribed organizations, taking effective steps against religious persecution and dealing firmly with sectarian terrorists. The point number 3 of the plan emphasizes on the commitment to ensure that no armed militias are allowed to function in the country while points 10 and 11 talk about registration and regulation of religious seminaries and ban on glorification of terrorism and terrorist organisations through print and electronic media.

Banned outfits are not only operating under new names but their leaders and sympathisers are being given widespread coverage on both print and electronic media with due gratitude and reverence. Soon after the plan was announced the religious and politico-religious parties started giving the impression that religion was being targeted by the national action plan. Crumbling under the pressure, the government started issuing statements in flagrant contradiction to the plan. While General Secretary Wafaqul Madaris Alarbia Qari Muhammad Hanif Jalandhri vowed to defend ‘sovereignty, freedom and the Islamic education system’ of religious seminaries at any cost, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif was quick to assure him that the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) government has no plan of taking action against religious seminaries and apprehensions in this regard are baseless. The federation of the religious seminaries is considered the biggest board of Deobandi school of thought having more than 18,000 religious seminaries. Thus the usefulness of the plan aimed at countering terrorism may well be summed up as doing something over and over again just for the sake of it and not even bothering about the result. Whom are we fooling? Do the authorities even realise that this ostrich-like strategy to counter terrorism is delusional, futile and ridiculously absurd.

Ironically, the government has, for the first time, admitted that close to 80 seminaries operating in Pakistan are receiving financial support from a dozen countries. The seminaries received funds of worth Rs300 million during 2013-14. In a supplementary report submitted to Senate Standing Committee on Rules of Procedure and Privileges, Punjab police is said to have disclosed that over 950 seminaries in Punjab only are receiving hundreds of millions of rupees from Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and some 14 other Muslim and non-Muslim countries. According to a newspaper report, citing Wikileaks, published in 2011, charities from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates financed a network in Pakistan that recruited children as young as eight to wage “holy war”. A US diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks said financial support estimated at $100 million a year was making its way from those Gulf Arab states to an extremist recruitment network in Pakistan’s Punjab province.

Imamia Masjid Peshawar

Imamia Masjid Peshawar

Aside from the “routine” targeted killings, Pakistan has witnessed five major terrorist attacks after the ghastly attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar that left 148 people, including more than 100 children, dead. Pakistan’s beleaguered Shia community was the target of four out of the five attacks. A powerful blast rattled an Imambargah, in a densely populated area of Rawalpindi on January 9, killing at least eight people and wounding at least 16 others. At the time of the blast, an Eid Miladun Nabi (PBUH) congregation was being observed at the Imambargah. On January 30, at least 62 Shias were killed and 55 others wounded in an explosion during Friday prayers at a packed Shia mosque in Sindh province’s Shikarpur district; the deadliest sectarian attack to hit the country in recent times. While in the 3rd attack 22 Shias were martyred when the Taliban stormed a Shia mosque in the Hayatabad area of Peshawar on February 13. And only a day after a deadly attack outside the Police Lines in Lahore, a lone suicide bomber killed three persons at an Imambargah in Islamabad but failed to enter the main prayer hall or detonate his explosive vest thanks to the fact that the suicide vest partially exploded or else there would have been many more casualties. Each of these devastating terrorist attacks was followed by the same old hollow promises of not sparing those involved in the ghastly attack, tall claims of weeding out terrorism and good-for-nothing statements like ‘terrorists can’t weaken the government’s resolve to combat terrorism by such cowardly attacks’. Needless to say that none of the aforementioned responses, repeated for the umpteenth time, ever translated into something meaningful and thus the systematic killing of the members of Pakistan’s Shia community continues with absolute impunity.

Karbala-e-Moalla Imambargah, Shikarpur

Karbala-e-Moalla Imambargah, Shikarpur

While the blast in Rawalpindi was followed by equivocal statements condemning the attack and hollow promises by the government officials to get the killers, the aftermath of the Shikarpur blast took a relatively different turn when civil society members including women and children staged a sit-in outside the Chief Minister House in Karachi to press the authorities to take action against banned organizations. The protesters called upon the government for the immediate implementation of their four key demands: List and name all the banned organisations on media, close the offices of all these banned organisations, remove their flags and their graffiti, take action against the Karachi head of the ASWJ, formerly known as Sipah e Sahaba, Aurangzeb Farooqi and take away his police protocol and lastly, those injured in the Shikarpur blast be transferred from Larkana and Shikarpur to Karachi for further treatment at the government’s expense.

Civil Scoiety Sit-In

Civil Society Sit-In

It’s quite absurd that while CM Sindh was chairing the meetings to review progress on the implementation of the National Action Plan, a group of civil society members had to stage a sit-in outside his residence to demand precisely what the very same plan talks about since the aforementioned demands are in absolute harmony with the points 3, 5, 6, 7, 9, 11 and 18 of the National Action Plan. Quite preposterously, the peaceful protesters and members of the civil society ended up behind the bars while the goons of the outlawed Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamat (ASWJ) were allowed to hold a public rally.
The ongoing spate of targeted terrorist attacks is an indictment of years of flawed policies, opportunist patronage politics and strategic frivolity. And quite deplorably I don’t see that changing anytime soon. We are reaping a harvest of blood as the bodies of our loved ones keep piling up around us. Things look grim and gloomy to me. The PML-N government’s lack of seriousness about curbing religious persecution can be gauged from the fact that on the recommendation of the Punjab Police, Punjab Government recently issued stipend of worth Rs75000 to Malik Ishaq who had told an Urdu daily in 1997 that he was involved in the killing of 102 Shias.

The state of Pakistan still lacks clarity on extremism and the capacity to fight it. Let alone combating terrorism, the authorities are not even showing any intent to fight this menace. The government needs to realise that no plan is any good if you do not have the nerve to carry out the plan. Instead of hiding behind flimsy excuses, the civil and military leadership needs to set its priorities straight and clarify if they really want to combat the existential threat to Pakistan posed by extremists, before these ruthless terrorists impose their own partisan, barbaric, draconian and un-Islamic views on all of us.

In the longer run, the state needs to protect not only the communities’ physical spaces but also combat the extremists on the intellectual front. Although the proliferation of extremists is an immediate threat, there is also a pressing need to establish an anti-extremism and anti-terrorism narrative. Those at the helm of affairs will have to ensure that there is no discrimination between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban and the war against terrorism will continue till the last terrorist is eliminated. If the authorities are serious about eliminating terrorism, this is the time they will have to walk the talk. And if they don’t, the much publicised ‘National Action Plan’ (NAP) for countering terrorism and extremism will go down as ‘No Action Plan’ in the history of this country which, according to a report by Global Terrorism Index, currently ranks third in the most terrorism affected countries of the world.

Source: Recapitulating ‘No Action Plan

Editor’s NOTE: The following op-ed, penned by me, was published in Daily Times in three parts. The first part was published on September 30, 2013, the second part on October 1, 2013 and the last part was carried by Pakistan Daily Times on October 2, 2013. For convenience of the readers I’ve cross-posted all the three parts together, on my blog, from Daily Times without any editing. (Ali Salman Alvi)

Pakistan is fast plunging into the hands of extremist and radical elements. The Taliban hold sway in the lawless territory of Waziristan and the tribal areas along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan. The situation has deteriorated so much that we now have a state-within-the-state of Pakistan: the ‘Islamic Emirate of Waziristan’, a terrorist safe haven. In a report titled, “As if Hell Fell on Me: The Human Rights Crisis in Northwest Pakistan” released in 2010, the human rights group Amnesty International claimed that nearly four million people were effectively living under the Taliban rule in the north-western tribal belt and were abandoned by the Pakistani government.

On another note, the Taliban are now infiltrating major cities of Pakistan in general and Karachi in particular. During the Supreme Court hearings last year, judges had ordered the authorities to investigate reports that as many as 8,000 Taliban members were in Pakistan’s largest city and economic epicentre. In short, the writing on the wall is very clear for all those who have not turned a blind eye to it. The Pakistani Taliban are turning out to be more and more daring, making unprecedented inroads into the sovereignty of our homeland. On the other hand, the response of our nation to the Taliban’s aggression has been disoriented, indecisive and dishonest at large, thanks to two mainstream political parties, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf, and right-wing religio-political parties. While the aforementioned parties have acted as kind of a moderate mouthpiece for the Taliban, advocating their case in a bid to appease them, the right-wing religio-political parties portrayed the Taliban as righteous Muslims striving to establish ‘Shariah’ rule in the land of the pure. Consequently, the state of Pakistan, reeling from the relentless terrorist attacks, looks all set to bow down to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s (TTP’s) onslaught that has killed more than 49,000 Pakistanis in the last 12 years or so. From 2001 to 2008, more than 24,000 people — both civilians and military — were killed in terrorist attacks carried out by the TTP and company. The last five years turned out to be even more ruinous in terms of the loss of human lives. Since 2008, the TTP’s campaign of terror has killed well over 25,000 people and counting.

Burnt rooms inside a prison are seen following a Taliban attack in Dera Ismail Khan July 30, 2013. PHOTO: REUTERS

Burnt rooms inside a prison are seen following a Taliban attack in Dera Ismail Khan July 30, 2013. PHOTO: REUTERS

Mass killings aside, the TTP has been incredibly successful in breaking jails at will and getting its operatives free without even a shred of resistance from the security forces. The Dera Ismail Khan (D I Khan) jailbreak is one of the most violent attacks in recent times. Well over 100 Taliban fighters, armed with heavy machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, freed 248 prisoners, including more than 49 hardcore militants belonging to the TTP and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ). Not only did the militants manage to free their accomplices, but they also killed six policemen and two civilians. The terrorists had so much of inside information that they killed six Shia inmates after segregating them from other prisoners during the three hour-long attack. One of the Shia inmates was beheaded. Many of the high-profile inmates who fled from the jail belong to the LeJ, which signifies a strong bond between the Taliban and Haq Nawaz Jhangvi’s disciples.

In a blatant show of apathy, not a single quantum of armed reinforcements was sent to the scene though the attackers remained in the jail for a good three to four hours. Military helicopters remained firmly grounded. A large caravan of the Taliban sailed through dozens of army check posts, set up on the road leading to North Waziristan from D I Khan. Those responsible for the internal and external security of Pakistan did not even move or probably they did not bother to.

In a usual turn of affairs, the TTP claimed the responsibility for the devastating attack on DI Khan Central Jail. Six days later, a senior TTP commander revealed the details of the brazen siege, adding that all the freed TTP men were in safe locations and would resume their “routine responsibilities”. According to him, a total of 125 militants took part in the operation that was launched by three groups (the Punjabi Taliban, Halqa-e-Mehsud and a group from the Mohmand Agency). While the latter two groups are unheard of, the first one sounds quite familiar.

Who are the Punjabi Taliban? The term was first coined in 2011 by the then interior minister of Pakistan, Rehman Malik, which received heavy criticism from the then Punjab chief minister, Mian Shahbaz Sharif. He ‘warned’ Malik to avoid using the term because he was of the view that the term would tarnish the PML-N’s image. “It minimises our chances of coming into power because the Punjab province is being run by the PML-N,” said Sharif who was clearly more worried about the term than the growing militant threat in his province, especially southern Punjab.

That was not the only show of ‘parochial’ politics from the chief minister. This statement was equally bad as the well-known plea he made to the Taliban in March 2010. Speaking at a seminar held at the Jamia Naeemia mosque in Lahore, the Punjab chief minister had requested the Taliban to spare his province Punjab from terror attacks because his party shared a common cause with the Taliban.

The Punjabi Taliban is an umbrella organisation of different banned militant groups largely based in the southernmost region of Punjab. Major factions of the Punjabi Taliban compris members of outlawed terror outfits like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) and Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), long protected and patronised by Pakistan’s powerful military and intelligence establishment.

Formed in 1996 by Riaz Basra of the SSP, the LeJ today has deep links with al Qaeda and the Taliban. The group is believed to be the most violent anti-Shia group operating in Pakistan. Contrary to popular belief, in my opinion, LeJ and SSP are not two separate outfits. The two groups are two sides of the same coin although both the SSP and LeJ maintain that they are not affiliated to each other. As they say, actions speak louder than words; the SSP leadership has never criticised the LeJ because the two groups share the same agenda of turning Pakistan into a Deobandi republic. Both the groups draw their inspiration from the same man: Haq Nawaz Jhangvi. Their cadres come from the same religious seminaries. I strongly believe that the gimmick of portraying SSP and LeJ as two separate entities — ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’ Jhangvis — is embellished by the very same mindset that coined the theory of the Good and Bad Taliban.

SSP, now known as the Ahle Sunnat wal Jamaat, draws support, inspiration and reinforcement from various religio-political parties, largely the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Jamiat-e-Ulema-i-Islam (JUI). A large number of religious seminaries, being run by the JUI, provide recruiting grounds for the LeJ, Jundullah, Punjabi Taliban, TTP and even al Qaeda. It may be surprising news to some of my readers that the current head of the TTP, Hakeemullah Mehsud, found his way into militancy through the SSP. Later, he was ‘elevated’ to the Taliban, yet another evidence of the increasing collaboration between Deobandi militant groups in Pakistan. JeM supported the insurgency against India in Jammu and Kashmir. Speaking at a jihad conference in October 2000, the JeM chief, Masood Azhar said, “…Now we go hand-in-hand, and Sipah-e-Sahaba stands shoulder to shoulder with Jaish-e-Muhammad in Jihad.”

Over time the Punjabi Taliban developed strong connections with the TTP, the Afghan Taliban, Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi and various other militant groups based in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA. The group increasingly provided the footsloggers to the TTP and al Qaeda for terrorist acts and has played an instrumental role in attacking Shia, Sufi, Ahmadi and other civilian targets across Pakistan.

The TTP dealt an extraordinarily pernicious blow soon after the PML-N government took charge after the May 11 elections. The terrorists stormed into a base camp at the foot of Pakistan’s second-highest peak, Nanga Parbat, highlighting the growing reach of terrorists in even the remotest areas as 10 foreign mountaineers — part of an expedition — were dragged out of their camps, tied, lined up and shot dead. Among the dead, however, there was only one Pakistani, Ali Hussain, a high altitude porter but a Shia Muslim by faith, who was targeted because of his denomination. The then spokesperson for the TTP, Ehsanullah Ehsan, claimed that the group’s faction named Junood-e-Hafsa carried out the attack to avenge the killing of a Taliban commander, Waliur Rehman, who was killed in a US drone attack in North Waziristan. Junood-e-Hafsa is a new group formed by the TTP headed by Punjabi Taliban chief, Asmatullah Muawiya.

Letter to the PML-N Govt by the Punjabi Taliban

Letter to the PML-N Govt by the Punjabi Taliban

After coming into power, the PML-N government decided to abolish a five-year moratorium on capital punishment and execute hardcore terrorists on death row. The decision met with a hostile reception from the Punjabi Taliban as their chief, Muawiya, warned against hanging their men or else the executions would compel them to wage a war against the PML-N government. The statement, signed by Muawiya, urged the PML-N to bear in mind the fate of the Awami National Party (ANP). The ANP was relentlessly targeted during the May 11 election campaign. At the time the Punjabi Taliban issued this statement, the authorities were making final arrangements to execute the mastermind of the GHQ attack, Aqeel alias Dr Usman, and two other LeJ operatives in Faisalabad and Sukkur jails respectively.

The aforementioned statement was followed by another intimidating statement. The TTP threatened that it would immediately target two prominent leaders of the ruling party if Aqeel was executed on August 23, 2013, as scheduled. “Aqeel alias Dr Usman is our ‘Mujahid’ and we would never let the government hang our Mujahid,” said the statement released by a TTP spokesperson. It is pertinent to note here that at the time the five-year moratorium lapsed, the government ignored the concerns of national and international human rights groups saying that it will go ahead with executions to take on festering militancy in the country.

The threats worked and the TTP coerced the PML-N government into extending the moratorium on the death penalty. Muawiya was quick to appreciate the government’s decision to halt all state executions. The Punjabi Taliban reciprocated the PML-N’s favour by welcoming the offer made by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, in his maiden televised address to the nation, to hold peace talks with all the terrorist groups operating in the country. In a statement, Muawiya praised the prime minister for demonstrating “political maturity” by reiterating his offer to hold a dialogue. However, this lovey-dovey liaison of the PML-N government and the Punjabi Taliban didn’t go down well with the TTP. The terrorist organisation dismissed Muawiya for giving the aforementioned statements without prior approval from the TTP’s central leadership. Muawiya, however, refused to accept the TTP’s dismissal, claiming that the TTP had no authority to sack him. He said that the Punjabi Taliban has its own identity as well as its ‘Shura’ (executive council) to take such decisions.

The All Parties Conference (APC) held on September 9 came up with an ‘ostrich-like’ response to tackle the existential threat faced by our country today. The APC resolution — signed by all parties participating — is a pusillanimous document of national shame and unconditional surrender to the terrorists termed as ‘our own people’ in the declaration. The blood of thousands of Pakistanis was sold and it was sold for free. Terms like Taliban, TTP, terrorists were not even mentioned in the resolution, drafted with utmost care, just like in some families, a newlywed bride would not address her husband by his name. The Taliban — who do not recognise the constitution of Pakistan, our way of life, our institutions, our education system, and religious belief systems — were not only forgiven, they were accredited with the status of rightful stakeholders of Pakistan.

Four days later, a triumphant Imran Khan declared the APC successful while boasting about his 12-year-old stance on the issue finally being supported by all participants of the APC. The PTI chief declared the APC resolution a vindication of the PTI’s stance to tackle growing terrorism through unconditional dialogue. Quite interestingly, the TTP chief, Hakeemullah Mehsud, had declared the same a triumph of his group. “We have succeeded politically after we were asked to negotiate by the government,” said Mehsud in a letter he wrote to the media in April this year. Congratulations, Mr Khan. Now when we have washed our hands of our slain countrymen, who were killed in the last 12 years or so, will you please care to tell us how you will convince ‘your own people’ to refrain from killing non-Muslims and ‘lesser’ Muslims, especially Shias, in the name of Allah?

Two days later, the TTP tried to put the brakes on Mr Khan’s bragging as they killed GOC Swat Major General Sanaullah Khan, along with a lieutenant colonel and another soldier, in a roadside bomb attack. The attack on the military convoy was followed by the deadliest attack on the Christian community in Pakistan. More than 80 Christians were butchered as a pair of suicide bombers blew themselves up outside the All Saints Church in Peshawar. A faction of the TTP, Junood-ul-Hifsa, claimed responsibility within hours of the attack. A spokesman for the group, Ahmadullah, justified the attack by arguing that their children and women too were being killed in US drone strikes and in military operations in the tribal areas.

Coffins of the victims of Hazara Town Blast

Coffins of the victims of Hazara Town Blast

In the immediate aftermath of the attack, speaking at a press conference in Peshawar, Imran Khan condemned those who “were painting the attack in a political light” but, not so surprisingly, could not condemn the Taliban who carried out the attack. He termed the attack as a conspiracy to sabotage peace talks with the Taliban. Pointing towards the conspiracy, he questioned why such attacks occurred whenever any talk of dialogue progressed. One might ask him if the attack on All Saints Church was a conspiracy to derail the dialogue process, what on earth did the attacks on Alamdaar Road, Hazara Town, Abbas Town, Parachinar market, Nanga Parbat Base Camp derail? But, of course, asking such a question will barely be a popular course of action.

Lo and behold! ‘Our own people’ have refused a ceasefire and, in addition, they have set preconditions for a dialogue with the government of Pakistan. “No one has contacted us for peace talks, not even a tribal jirga has approached us. If they (government) want to end this war, they will have to announce a ceasefire,” says a spokesperson for our own people — the TTP. The tone of the Taliban clearly suggests that they are talking from a position of strength and the government of Pakistan from a position of weakness.

Those who vehemently advocate talks with the Taliban argue that since we could not defeat them in the last eight years, therefore, we must talk to them. The argument sounds like since we failed to defeat the Taliban, therefore, we must kneel down, fold our hands, and maybe seek a congregational apology from the TTP and if we aren’t forgiven, we are dying to forgive them the blood of more than 49,000 Pakistanis without bothering about the heirs of those killed. Interestingly, the same mindset that is hell bent on forgiving the Taliban for their crimes against humanity, in the name of Allah, is not even ready to accept the existence of the TTP.

Peace deals with the TTP have repeatedly failed over the years and even when they succeeded, agreements were violated quite quickly. The state handed over Swat Valley and its surrounding areas to the Taliban in 2009. Under the peace agreement, the government agreed to impose Islamic law in the Malakand division in hopes that the Taliban would lay down their arms. But the peace deal only ended up in emboldening them. The Taliban did not keep their end of the agreement and soon entered the adjacent Buner district to impose their brand of Islam. The peace deal that did not last for more than a month collapsed after the Taliban attacked an army convoy in Swat Valley. A day before the attack, which killed one soldier, the Taliban beheaded two government officials, in ‘gross violation’ of the deal.

As the wise old adage says, fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. Ironically, we are being fooled for the nth time. The only way to restore peace in Pakistan is to nip the evil in the bud. Stop the funding coming from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states for different religious seminaries. A US diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks revealed that financial support estimated at $ 100 million a year was making its way from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to an extremists’ network in Punjab province, which recruits children as young as eight to wage the ‘holy war’. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out the activities in which these brainwashed young militants are used.

When you are in a war, time is of the essence. Whilst the state is wasting its precious time in appeasing and convincing the TTP for a dialogue, the TTP is using it to regroup, reorganise and to hit back harder. We need to tackle the Taliban and their affiliates with an iron fist. It’s better to go down fighting than to be killed like sitting ducks. As Elizabeth Kenny said, “It’s better to be a lion for a day than a sheep all your life.” It’s time to choose one of the two options: Pakistan or the Taliban.

Source:

VIEW : Punjabi Taliban, TTP and the APC — I — Ali Salman Alvi

VIEW : Punjabi Taliban, TTP and the APC — II — Ali Salman Alvi

VIEW: Punjabi Taliban, TTP and the APC — III —Ali Salman Alvi

Imran khan

Editor’s NOTE: The following op-ed, penned by me, was originally published in The Nation on September 29, 2013. I’m pleased to cross-post the article on my blog from The Nation without any editing. (Ali Salman Alvi)

It’s a matter of great surprise and national shame that the Pakistani Taliban, till date, do not have a central office of their own in the land of the pure. What a crying shame that the outfit from Pakistan that consistently made headlines in national and international media is deprived of an official, but easily approachable, headquarters in its own country. No prizes for guessing the only level-headed, incredibly knowledgeable and clear-sighted leader, in a country where all other leaders can’t see beyond the end of their nose. Yes, none other than PTI chairman Imran Khan realized the need for an office for the Taliban at a time when the Christian community had just buried their dead from the double suicide attack on the historic All Saints Church in Peshawar that killed 85 worshippers and injured more than 100.

Talking to the media after visiting injured persons of the Peshawar church bombing at the Lady Reading Hospital, Imran Khan called on the federal government to allow the Pakistani Taliban to open an office in Pakistan similar to the Afghan Taliban office in Qatar to facilitate the dialogue process if it was serious about holding peace talks with them. It is tough to determine if the attempt of putting a “balm” on the wounds of the Christian community was successful or not, but one thing is for sure; You cannot even think to doubt the noble intentions of his holiness Imran Khan and if you are bent on doing so, do it at your own risk. God forbid if a fake liberal mutters the saying that the road to hell is paved with good intentions make sure you don’t let him/her go without giving him/her what he/she deserves.

Unfortunately, the short-sighted and myopic civil society couldn’t see what the farsighted Taliban Khan, err, I mean Kaptan Khan did. As a matter of fact all genuine liberals are a part of Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf and, apart from Asad Umar, none of them has voiced concerns over Mr. Khan’s statement. Only fake liberals are censuring the Great Khan on social media for his demand for an office for the Taliban. But there is nothing to worry about those foul-mouthed liberals because Khan’s social media warriors will take good care of them. We, the Pakistanis, must not act like thankless goofs and should thank our lucky stars that we now have a leader whose message of change is resonating across the length and breadth of Pakistan.

Though yours truly can’t match the sagacity of Imran Khan but I strongly feel that the TTP’s office in Pakistan will turn out to be a step in the “right” direction and it will usher a new era of peace and prosperity in the region. Not only will it help curtail the increasing unemployment –  by creating new job opportunities –  but also reduce the growing population which leads to unemployment, by blasting a few. Killing two birds with one stone, something an ordinary man would have not even thought about!

Every time a drone strike takes place on Pakistani soil, the Taliban officials, not terrorists, will scare the hell out of Americans by carrying out a suicide bombing on the same soil. Telephone calls claiming responsibility for an attack will now be a thing of the past. In order to treat all media outlets equally, the Taliban spokesman will now be holding a press briefing at the organization’s office after every attack and thus no news channel would be able to take the credit of breaking the news first. Lack of breaking news would inevitably lead to lesser sensation.

In addition, the Taliban’s office would be needing security due to the fears of a retaliatory attack by the survivors of a suicide bombing on the holy office. The same office can also be hit by a US drone. Imran Khan might have to ask the federal government to deploy paramilitary/military personnel to save the sacred office from a ground attack. And to protect the office from a possible drone strike, Imran Khan could call on the federal government to order the Air Chief to strike down the drones flying anywhere near the sacred office. After all it’s the responsibility of the state of Pakistan to safeguard its own people from any aggression, be it internal or external.

In addition, to make the environment more conducive for the proposed peace talks, Imran Khan should appeal the TTP to get registered with the Election Commission of Pakistan so that certain political parties can do something else than acting as their political front.

In a bid to remove mystifications about the Taliban, Imran Khan might have to call on the PEMRA to issue a license to the TTP to operate its own television channel given that the Taliban are righteous and pious Muslims and they might not want to watch channels airing news bulletins featuring female anchorpersons without any scarf. Moreover, such a channel will help in conveying the Taliban’s view point to the masses without any depravity. The Taliban will also be allowed to air videos of different suicide bombings, beheading ceremonies and similar stuff.

A Taliban office in the country will also help in creating a soft image of Pakistan in the international community that was badly distorted by, a CIA agent, Malala Yousafzai who made her way to London, after surviving a staged attack in Swat, to malign the angelic Taliban.

The TTP office will also keep a record of its members operating in and out of Pakistan since a few of them have been exported to Syria to fight alongside the rebel forces to oust Bashar al-Assad’s from power. In case a branch office is needed in Syria, Imran Khan can always call on the federal government again to help them in setting up one. After all they are “our own people” and to facilitate them is our first and foremost duty.

So what if the TTP set pre-conditions for the peace talks, killed a Major General, Lieutenant The Nation, Ali Salman AlviColonel, other army personnel and 85 Christians in the immediate aftermath of the APC, held on September 9, which set new national record of appeasing “our own people”. All in all, Imran Khan’s demand of a TTP office in Pakistan speaks volumes about his unparalleled prudence and consummate level-headedness. Haters will hate but Khan will scintillate. Keep it up Mr. Khan.

Source: Keep it up Mr Khan

Coffins of Dr Haider and his son Murtaza.

Coffins of Dr Haider and his son Murtaza Haider.

Editor’s NOTE: The following op-ed, penned by me, was originally published in Daily Times on July 25, 2013. I’m pleased to cross-post the article on my blog from Daily Times without any editing. (Ali Salman Alvi)

A nation’s holistic building is not confined to parliament and constitution but the people of a country at large, for whom the constitution is made, parliament functions and lays the foundations of a nation. In other words, the citizens, majority as well as minority, form the very basis of a nation and then comes the judiciary, legislature and executive, which function juxtaposing all cohesively, and most importantly, to safeguard the fundamental rights of the people. The first and foremost priority of a state, where democracy is given an opportunity to flourish, should be to provide security to its own citizens. Religious, gender and linguistic differences need to be dealt with with tolerance and such differences should not be pandered to by the state, be it a secular or a theocratic state in nature. Pakistan being a theocratic state and Islam being the state religion, differences of faith and religious school of thought should not be encouraged as a weapon to fanatics to enable fanaticism further to wage war over tolerance and sanity prevailing amongst most of the countrymen.

Demarcation of religious lines cannot and should not infringe upon the security of the nationals. Shias in Pakistan have to face the purge of a religious demarcation that is ethically illogical and irrational by all means and ends attached to it. Such religious demarcations emanate from the school of thought that considers all those who do not adhere to them as infidels. Who is an infidel is a question that is hard to answer by mortals who interpret religious teachings keeping their ideology closest to being pious. Dr Ali Haider was one, according to the ‘Takfiri’ terrorists who cannot stand anyone apart from the ones following their ideology.

Pakistan lost an efficient surgeon who used to give away free contact lenses worth millions of rupees in eye camps every year. Pakistan lost a credible medical practitioner who made his name because his superior skills, unparallelled experience and humane hands had restored the sight of countless eyes. The killers did not just kill him. The12-year-old Murtaza, full of innocence and smiles, was shot too for being the son of a Shia doctor. They were killed to accomplish the Takfiri mission of ‘eliminating’ the Shia community from Pakistan. The country faced a bigger loss by losing a serviceman of humanity who treated many Pakistanis irrespective of their faith, but he was killed because of his faith.

IMG-20130219-00226

It has been over five months when four unidentified gunmen, riding on two motorcycles, sprayed the vehicle of Dr Haider with gunfire near Forman Christian College while he was en route to drop his son to his school. Dr Haider escaped the first hail of bullets as he accelerated his vehicle. The attackers, however, chased him down at a traffic signal on Canal Bank Road and opened fire at his car, killing him and his son. While the Punjab Police and some other officials tried their best to cast doubts on the motives of Dr Haider’s murderers, his elderly father Dr Zafar Haider knew why his son and grandson were butchered. “My son has been killed for being a Shia and a dedicated follower of the Holy Prophet (PBUH),” the grieving doctor told the media.

At the funeral of Dr Haider when I embraced his father, who was visibly doddering due to old age, I could not find a single word to offer my condolences to him. While Dr Haider and his son were being laid to rest, amid echoes of mournful cries, tears and people still in a state of shock, Dr Zafar was lost in deep thoughts sitting next to their graves. Tough to say what was going through his mind but I think he must have been thinking if this was the reward of serving humanity for two generations. The story of Dr Ali Haider and his son might have been over for most of us but definitely not for his bereaved family and it never will be. As the sun sets and sadness rages in Dr Haider’s widow’s heart, she screams out the same question every evening, “What wrong did we do to anyone?” I cannot begin to imagine the pain of the woman who lost her husband and her son in the blink of an eye.

Five days later the Sharif brothers ordered the arrest of the killers of Dr Haider and his son while addressing the media outside the slain doctor’s residence. Nawaz Sharif assured the media that Shahbaz Sharif was personally monitoring the case and was being kept up to date by the police force. He added that instructions had been given to the police to find those responsible immediately. But to no one’s surprise, the killers are still at large.

The four men who opened fire on Dr Haider’s vehicle are not the only killers of the renowned surgeon and his son. It is a mindset that produces hundreds of such killers in religious seminaries where they are taught that killing an infidel, read a Shia, will lead them to paradise. The irony is that it is no secret and yet the authorities have turned a blind eye to these hate-mongers wreaking havoc and killing off entire Shia families.

On the 30th of last month it was déjà vu in Hazara Town. At least 28 Shia from the Hazara community lost their lives while over 60 others sustained wounds when a suicide bomber blew himself up near an Imambargah in Aliabad area of Hazara Town, a Shia Hazara neighbourhood of Quetta. In another ghastly attack in February this year, a massive bomb ripped though a busy market in the same town, killing at least 90 people and injuring nearly 200. Having ignored the Alamdar Road tragedy in January and other various incidents of Shia killings, Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry took suo motu notice of the Hazara Town massacre in February which, unlike other cases, sank into oblivion in no time. The Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) claimed the aforementioned attacks but to date no action has been taken against the outfit that has blatantly taken responsibility for the mass killings of Shias in Balochistan and elsewhere. Let alone a crackdown on the LeJ, the PML-N government seems too reluctant to express its will to act against Ludhianvi and company. Thus, government only has token condemnations to offer after such massacres.

In the May 11 general elections, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had prohibited candidates from seeking votes in the name of religion or sects but it miserably failed to get its own directives implemented as candidates of the MDM, Jamaat-e-Islami and Jamiat-i-Ulema-e-Islam flouted the directives. No action, however, was taken by the ECP against the said outfits. People like ASWJ chief Ahmad Ludhianvi and ASWJ Karachi chief Aurangzeb Farooqi not only contested elections but also spoke publicly about their intentions to make life miserable for the Shia community.

As long as the funding of organisations like SSP/ASWJ, spreading hatred against other sects, is not curbed and the deep state does not stop pandering to such elements, the carnage will continue. The Pakistan army, LEAs, civil authorities and intelligence agencies need to come clean on this very sensitive issue. The see-no-evil policy about Shia killings in Pakistan can yield horrific consequences. And to begin with a zero tolerance crackdown on outfits like LeJ would suffice — no ifs, ands or buts about it.

Source: VIEW : Remembering Dr Haider — Ali Salman Alvi

Editor’s NOTE: The following op-ed, penned by me, was originally published in Daily Times on January 14, 2013. I’m pleased to cross-post the article on my blog from Daily Times without any editing. (Ali Salman Alvi)

A progressive developing nation would cater to the rights of all its citizens, including the minorities. The UN charter for Citizens Rights also mentions the rights of minorities but the rights of the Shia community in Pakistan are presently at the mercy of the game being played by radicals, which is endorsed by political groups as that of ‘pious ones and infidels’. With this mindset, the radical groups are busy eliminating the Shia from Pakistan with vigour. The passing of the buck is the easiest action for those sitting in government to those holding the microphones on primetime programmes. The irony is that no one listens because we do not want to listen to the cries and appeals of the Shias. How can a common man with no power survive when the Quetta police itself is being issued stern warnings by the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi to keep its hands off its jihadists or else it will suffer dire consequences?
Amidst all this chaos, where does a common Shia visualise his future? Does he live under the psychosis of fear of following his faith or the schizophrenia of society that is considerate of the entire Muslim community but alienates itself from Shia killings, which go on unabashed? Where should a Shia go because the media remains silent and chooses to look at other trivial issues as ‘breaking news’? The Shias silently protesting for their safety have not been paid attention to by either government or media, as the burning issue of Shia killings remains orphaned at the hands of bigotry and the political tussle of extracting maximum voters by aligning with hardliners. For how long should the Shia community lament the bloodshed of its own, because once again the apathy of the government goes to the drone attack victims but not a word on the citizens being killed by the Takfiri ideology? Where does the blood of Shia martyrs go? Because of bigotry and deep-seated hatred for Shias, does their sacrifice become any less important? Now it seems that the killing of the members of the Shia community has definitely failed to arouse the forever-asleep government officials. What more is required for them to wake up?
The statistics found in a report released by the home department states that 758 members of the Shia community were killed in 478 incidents from 2008-2012 in the province of Balochistan. Of these 758 victims, 338 belonged to the Hazara community while the other 420 belong to other ethnicities. The figures clearly indicate that all these victims were killed for the same reason and that is the school of thought they chose to follow. A bloody 2012 ended on a sombre note for Pakistan’s besieged Shia community. The penultimate day of 2012 saw 20 Shia pilgrims butchered in a massive car bomb attack that targeted a convoy of buses carrying 180 Shia pilgrims to Iran. The year 2013 started in the worst possible way. Alamdar Road, the Shia-Hazara dominated area of Quetta, was targeted last week on Thursday. More than 85 people were butchered, in back to back blasts, and well over 150 were wounded, as members of the Shia community continue to be massacred in cold blood. After the barbaric attacks, the Lashkar-e- Jhangvi, as usual, claimed the responsibility for the attacks.
Quetta has seen a severe downward graph of Shia-Hazaras who have stopped attending schools/colleges/universities. Government employees either have taken leave or are being thrown out of service, a gross murder of the legitimate rights of this Shia minority but it does not move the power bigwigs. Shias from the Hazara community are a soft target since they are easily distinguishable from the other ethnic groups because of their features. In the last few years, scores of Shias from the Hazara community have moved to Australia and Canada. Some of the immigrants take grave risks, as dozens of them died of suffocation in containers. Some of them died while crossing borders while others lost the battle of their survival in shipwrecks. So desperate are people because of this barbarity and injustice that they think of only an exodus as a means of survival. They are willing to take every risk to get out of the land where they are being butchered relentlessly. When will the silence end? Will the others in majority wait until the Shia Hazaras are declared an extinct community from Pakistan? The Taliban have wiped off the Hazara community from the Bamiyan region and its affiliated missionaries have begun to face persecution at the hands of those who are distorting the demographical proportion of Pakistan.
The theory of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban is nothing but a utopia, a fable story, for the think tanks to dwell upon and the world to believe that the ‘poor tribal’ people’s agitation has nothing to do with the people of Pakistan, whereas the same groups hit only those whom their version of Islam declares infidels without any challenge from any corner whatsoever and the result is the mass persecution of the Shias in the name of ‘Islam’. This month, a minister told an interviewer that associations of decades could not be washed away in a matter of months and we have to see the ground reality. The reality for the deep state, they say, is that the Taliban are a strategic asset.
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is gaining new ground or is on its last legs, depends on who you are talking to. Interior Minister Rehman Malik insists that the TTP is on the verge of collapse given that its channel of funding is effectively being choked by the government. While the TTP remains apolitical, its off-shoots and allied parties are moving into mainstream politics but the other radical parties are increasing, resulting in a mass exodus of the Shias first from Quetta and now in Karachi, where every other day a Shia is killed. The media goes silent on the Shia killings but the audacity of the Laskhar-e-Jhangvi is that they have issued threats to the media houses to print their threatening statements. It is alarming, as its consequential and psychological effects are too abysmal with the passage of time. The population of the millions of Shias is searching their identity in a tide of radicalism. The psychosis of fear haunts, marking even women and children, like Mehzar and the four-year-old Suhana who was brutally killed, for no reason. But for some the reason is clear enough for them that being a Shia is equal to being an ‘infidel’. The Shias have had the biggest setback of having faced discrimination silently since the black era of Ziaul Haq, lingering to date, which is answered by peaceful protests from the Shia community.
Today it is the Shia community, tomorrow it will be some other, but the bottom line is concrete enough for the concerned authorities to act. It is ‘a Pakistani is killed’ but it should not be played down because that Pakistani is a Shia because as mentioned earlier a country’s first duty is to protect its citizens irrespective of their faith, religion, gender or language. Circa 2013, the country has seen bloodshed because of the political incapability of federal and provincial governments. The theory of vote bank politics stands tall in front of the mass Shia killings; therefore, the political parties remain silent whereas lip service of standardised comments follows for media bytes. Today, the Shias of Pakistan stand amidst blood splashed on the soil of the very country where their contribution stands tall.

Source: VIEW: Tholobate of silence on a volcano of violence —Ali Salman Alvi