Lahore, Pakistan — Ten million dollars does not seem to buy much in this bustling Pakistani city. That is the sum the United States is offering for help in convicting Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, perhaps the country’s best-known jihadi leader. Yet Mr. Saeed lives an open, and apparently fearless, life in a middle-class neighborhood here.
“I move about like an ordinary person — that’s my style,” said Mr. Saeed, a burly 64-year-old, reclining on a bolster as he ate a chicken supper. “My fate is in the hands of God, not America.”
Mr. Saeed is the founder, and is still widely believed to be the true leader, of Lashkar-e-Taiba, the militant group that carried out the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India, in which more than 160 people, including six Americans, were killed. The United Nations has placed him on a terrorist list and imposed sanctions on his group. But few believe he will face trial any time soon in a country that maintains a perilous ambiguity toward jihadi militancy, casting a benign eye on some groups, even as it battles others that attack the state.
Mr. Saeed’s very public life seems more than just an act of mocking defiance against the Obama administration and its bounty, analysts say. As American troops prepare to leave Afghanistan next door, Lashkar is at a crossroads, and its fighters’ next move — whether to focus on fighting the West, disarm and enter the political process, or return to battle in Kashmir — will depend largely on Mr. Saeed…
His security seemingly ensured, Mr. Saeed has over the past year addressed large public meetings and appeared on prime-time television, and is now even giving interviews to Western news media outlets he had previously eschewed…
Still, he says he has nothing against Americans, and warmly described a visit he made to the United States in 1994, during which he spoke at Islamic centers in Houston, Chicago and Boston. “At that time, I liked it,” he said with a wry smile.
During that stretch, his group was focused on attacking Indian soldiers in the disputed territory of Kashmir — the fight that led the military’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate to help establish Lashkar-e-Taiba in 1989…
“When there are no Americans in Afghanistan, what will happen?” said Mushtaq Sukhera, a senior officer with the Punjabi police who is running a fledgling demobilization program for Islamist extremists. “It’s an open question.”
A shift could be risky for Mr. Saeed: Some of his fighters have already split from Lashkar in favor of other groups that attack the Pakistani state. And much will depend on the advice of his military sponsors.
For their part, Pakistan’s generals insist they have abandoned their dalliance with jihadi proxy groups. In a striking speech in August, the army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, said the country’s greatest threat came from domestic extremism. “We as a nation must stand united against this threat,” he said. “No state can afford a parallel system of governance and militias.”
Unfortunately, that last statement by General Kayani although truthful guarantees nothing. No one is confident that Pakistan’s military – and especially the ISI, their answer to the CIA – is at all interested in building anything more than bank vaults filled with looted gold. The blood of their fellow Pakistanis means nothing.
“Terrorism and violence cannot be permissible in Islam,” Tahir ul Qadri told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in 2010 after declaring a Fatwa on terrorism.
The bold pronouncement thrust Qadri into headlines worldwide and led to an invitation to speak at the prestigious World Economic Forum and United States Institute for Peace.
Two years on, the religious cleric has resurfaced in Pakistan, demanding free and fair elections, after spending the last six years living in Canada.
Qadri has come a long way since his time as a parliamentarian during General Pervez Musharraf’s regime in the early 2000s.
After promoting his agenda from abroad — speaking out in videos and books — he is now back in the political spotlight in his home country, calling for a caretaker administration to take the government’s place and carry out election reforms ahead of an upcoming vote.
According to Qadri, the composition of the caretaker government should be decided with the input of the judiciary and the military.
But in a country with a history of military coups, Qadri’s mention of the army in the electoral process set off alarm bells with the current government and opposition who quickly reassured the Pakistani people that nothing would stand in the way of timely elections and the democratic process…
Qadri threatened that unless his election reform demands were met by Thursday, he would stage a “Million Man March” to the capital, paralyzing the city with thousands of supporters.
“We will not succumb to these illegal demands,” Senator Rehman Malik, Pakistan’s Interior Minister told media Thursday, in anticipation of the protest, which is expected to arrive in Islamabad tomorrow, on Monday.
Malik said he would not allow the rally to enter downtown Islamabad as it posed a security risk and would disrupt business operations in the city; he said the Pakistani government had cordoned off sensitive areas of Islamabad.
I suggest you cock an ear to broadcasts from AlJazeera or BBC World starting early Monday morning. Hopefully, the march will remain peaceful. Hopefully, the people who oppose the march will remain peaceful.
Measles cases in 2012 have surged by almost five times of that the previous year in Pakistan, leading to the deaths of hundreds of children, according to an international health body.
Maryam Yunus, a spokeswoman for the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Tuesday that 306 children died in Pakistan because of the infectious disease in 2012, a dramatic surge from to the 64 children in 2011.
The WHO said the jump was most pronounced in southern Sindh province, where measles killed 210 children in 2012. Twenty-eight children died there the year before.
The organisation did not give a reason for the increase in deaths, but a provincial health official in Sindh said that the disease hit areas where poor families did not vaccinate their children.
A provincial health minister said 100 children died in Sindh province in December alone, mostly in areas where many people were not vaccinated.
He said health officials recently launched a campaign to vaccinate 2.9 million children in the affected areas of the province and urged parents to get their children vaccinated.
“We are vaccinating more than 450 patients per day. We are working on vaccination since the outbreak of measles in the area,” Dr Shahid Hafeez Shahani, a government official, said.
Do the math. At the current rate, they will have vaccinated 2.9 children in just under 18 years. Some of them will already have children of their own – halfway through the project.
Pakistan has a poor health care system, unsanitary conditions in many regions due to poverty, and a lack of education about how to prevent disease.
Pakistani officials believe that the worst-hit areas are poverty stricken areas where children did not receive vaccination.
Many Pakistanis, especially in rural areas, view vaccination campaigns with suspicion as a western plot to sterilise Muslims…
Most people who contract the disease recover, but it can be fatal for malnourished children.
Ignorance, poverty, religion. You can pick the order of responsibility, which needs to be dragged into modern life, first. They all share the blame – and the same clueless government.
Gunmen shot dead five female health workers who were immunizing children against polio on Tuesday, causing the Pakistani government to suspend vaccinations in two cities and dealing a fresh setback to an eradication campaign dogged by Taliban resistance in a country that is one of the disease’s last global strongholds.
“It is a blow, no doubt,” said Shahnaz Wazir Ali, an adviser on polio to Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf. “Never before have female health workers been targeted like this in Pakistan. Clearly there will have to be more and better arrangements for security.”
No group claimed responsibility for the attacks, but most suspicion focused on the Pakistani Taliban, which has previously blocked polio vaccinators and complained that the United States is using the program as a cover for espionage.
The killings were a serious reversal for the multibillion-dollar global polio immunization effort, which over the past quarter century has reduced the number of endemic countries from 120 to just three: Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria.
Nonetheless, United Nations officials insisted that the drive would be revived after a period for investigation and regrouping, as it had been after previous attacks on vaccinators here, in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
But the campaign here has been deeply shaken by Taliban threats and intimidation, though several officials said Tuesday that they had never seen such a focused and deadly attack before.
The most corrupt gangsters in the world – masquerading as political activists – are dedicated only to power, greed and theft, caring not in the least about the death spiral they guarantee the poorest of the poor in Pakistan.
Khalil Rasjed Dale
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Tuesday it was halting most of its aid programs in Pakistan due to deteriorating security and the beheading of a British staff doctor in April blamed on Taliban insurgents.
The independent agency, which had already suspended operations in three of Pakistan’s four provinces in May pending a security assessment, said it would carry on working in the country “but on a reduced scale”.
“All relief and protection activities are being stopped. All projects of rehabilitation, economic projects, have been terminated,” said Jacques de Maio, head of ICRC operations in South Asia, on one of the organization’s blog.
“We have closed a number of offices. We are also terminating all visits to detainees in Pakistan,” he added…
The agency, which rarely suspends its operations even in war zones, has worked in the country since the end of British colonial rule in 1947…It was providing mainly health services and physical rehabilitation for victims of violence and natural disasters, many of whom have lost limbs.
The ICRC said it would focus on treating patients wounded in fighting and aimed to reopen a surgical field hospital in Peshawar. It has been closed since the murder of staff member Khalil Rasjed Dale, abducted by suspected militants in January.
The beheaded body of Dale, who ran a health program in the southwestern city of Quetta in the Baluchistan province, was found on April 29.
Sometimes it just ain’t worth the lives of brave people – committed to aiding the cause of human relief – inside a nation incapable of minimum standards of law and order, unable to provide safety and succor to its citizens and volunteers aiding those citizens.
This is Pakistan’s loss.
So-called honour killings by families who believe their daughters have disgraced them are increasingly common in Pakistan. But the gunning down last week of a woman by her brother, a lawyer, in front of dozens of witnesses in a packed courtroom in the bustling city of Hyderabad marks an alarming new low.
The family of 22 year-old Raheela Sehto had already made their fury at her marriage to Zulfiqar Sehto – a love match struck without their permission – abundantly clear. They reacted by filing a claim with local police that their daughter had been kidnapped by her 30-year-old husband, a life-long neighbour who had wooed Raheela over the years, although largely through clandestine mobile phone conversations.
Her uncle had tried to throttle her with a scarf at an earlier appearance at the high court in Hyderabad in July. The couple had petitioned the court for its protection and to try and have the kidnapping charges thrown out.
But Sehto, a university graduate working for the local electricity company, said they felt they had no reason to fear for their lives in court, even when in the earlier part of the morning he was sitting almost directly in front of his wife’s eventual killer, Javed Iqbal Shaikh, her brother.
Shortly after the two judges had returned to their seats after a break, Shaikh, dressed in the black suit and tie of his profession, produced a gun he had smuggled into court, lunged at Raheela and shot her point-blank in the left side of the head…The gunman, Shaikh, then tried to shoot Sehto, but was overpowered by police.
According to the latest survey of violence against women by the Aurat Foundation, a rights group, there were 2,341 honour killings in 2011 in Pakistan – a 27% jump on the year before. The report also said there were more than 8,000 abductions and 3,461 rapes and gang rapes…
Pakistan law sounds as if it is as useless to building better lives for the people of the nation as, say, the elected government or bureaucrats down to the level of local judges. Life surely ain’t getting better.
As the United States trumpeted its success in persuading Pakistan to end its seven-month blockade of supplies for NATO troops in Afghanistan, another group privately cheered its good fortune: the Taliban.
One of the Afghan war’s great ironies is that both NATO and the Taliban rely on the convoys to fuel their operations — a recipe for seemingly endless conflict.
The insurgents have earned millions of dollars from Afghan security firms that illegally paid them not to attack trucks making the perilous journey from Pakistan to coalition bases throughout Afghanistan — a practice the U.S. has tried to crack down on but admits likely still occurs.
Militants often target the convoys in Pakistan as well, but there have been far fewer reports of trucking companies paying off the insurgents, possibly because the route there is less vulnerable to attack…
“Stopping these supplies caused us real trouble,” a Taliban commander who leads about 60 insurgents in eastern Ghazni province told The Associated Press in an interview. “Earnings dropped down pretty badly. Therefore the rebellion was not as strong as we had planned.”
A second Taliban commander who controls several dozen fighters in southern Kandahar province said the money from security companies was a key source of financing for the insurgency, which uses it to pay fighters and buy weapons, ammunition and other supplies.
“We are able to make money in bundles,” the commander told the AP by telephone. “Therefore, the NATO supply is very important for us.”
“We have had to wait these past seven months for the supply lines to reopen and our income to start again,” said the Taliban commander in Ghazni. “Now work is back to normal.”
Does that give you a clear idea of what an exercise in futility this war is?
The Pakistani medical official who ran a fake CIA vaccination programme to help find Osama bin Laden has been jailed for 33 years.
A spokesman for Khyber Agency, an administrative unit in Pakistan’s restless frontier, said Dr Shakil Afridi would face decades in jail – despite calls from senior US officials to release the man who helped with efforts to track down the al-Qaida chief.
The tough sentence for the former surgeon general of Khyber will be taken as another sign of the terrible state of US-Pakistan relations.
Also a sign of the terrible state of what passes for justice in Pakistan.
And it will further alarm western critics of Pakistan who say the country has put far more effort into trying to understand how US spies and special forces were able to plan and launch the Bin Laden raid than into how the al-Qaida leader was able to remain for so long in the Pakistani army garrison town of Abbottabad.
The sentence was announced just days after Barack Obama snubbed the Pakistani president, Asif Ali Zardari, by refusing to hold a formal meeting with him at the NATO conference in Chicago…
There had been hopes that Afridi would eventually be quietly released after the controversy surrounding the Bin Laden raid had subsided…
With friends like this…
Why not take something like 10% of the money we waste by handing it over to the Pakistan government – and just use it to bribe the Pakistan and Afghan Taliban? Let them divvy it up among local gangsters.
Micro-blogging website Twitter has been restored in Pakistan on Sunday night, after an almost day long ban.
Sources have confirmed that Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik has spoken to Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, who ordered concerned authorities to unblock the site.
Micro-blogging website Twitter had been temporarily banned across Pakistan on Sunday by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA). Express News correspondent Suhail Chaudhry had reported that the access to Twitter was blocked due to an ongoing “competition” of Prophet Muhammad’s caricatures…
Earlier, PTA Chairman Dr Mohammad Yaseen said the regulator was asked by the Ministry of Information and Technology to block the website in the country…
Pakistan’s government had asked Twitter to stop a discussion on Prophet Muhammad, which was considered derogatory, Yaseen said, adding that “Twitter refused our request…”
The PTA blocked the access to Twitter directly from the upstream links without notifying the ISPs, said Wahajuz Siraj, convener for Internet Services Providers Association of Pakistan (ISPAK).
Here’s where the tough questions come in – at least if you can get your head beyond the definitions of nationality. On one hand, of course, any nation has the right to manage communications as they see fit. That’s modified by international conventions and protocols – most of which are designed for throughput and don’t involve questions of content. The basic definitions of sovereignty supersede ideology.
But, then, we’ve decided the United States has the most advanced system of governance in the world – even though our own government tries their best to renege on the concepts all the time – for our own good, you understand. Because of our political ego, we presume we have the right to tell everyone else to do what we say they should do – and they should realize we’re right. Guess what? Everyone else also feels they have a right to come to their own conclusions.
I believe there isn’t a more productive and honest system than democracy as most of us understand it. That doesn’t include the crap filters in Congress, the CIA, NSA or the White House who think they can make our decisions for us. Well, the same right holds true for foreign governments.
The whole dialectic gets straightened out long-term in the marketplace of commerce as well as the marketplace of ideas. That’s why I’m confident in democracy, in free expression, in the freedoms that science offers through testing and re-evaluation and growth instead of tight little ideologies and religions.
Things change. Never enough for this week’s flavor of anarchy. But, they change.
Fuel tankers crammed into a compound in Karachi
Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permission
As the Taliban kicks off its spring fighting season in Afghanistan, an agreement with Pakistan that would help NATO supply its troops there could be weeks or months away, forcing military leaders to spend two-and-a-half times as much to ship some supplies through Central Asia.
The Obama administration remains locked in negotiations with Pakistan to reopen the key supply routes into Afghanistan, and officials do not expect talks bogged down over proposed tariffs and U.S. military assistance to reach resolution anytime soon…
A deal is almost certainly impossible before May 20-21, when Obama will host NATO leaders in his hometown of Chicago. There, Western leaders will define plans for moving out of Afghanistan and for funding local troops they hope can contain a resilient insurgency when NATO withdraws…
A deal would require agreement on Pakistan’s proposal to impose tariffs on NATO supplies, including how tariffs would be formulated, where that money would go, and how the West would ensure those funds were being used appropriately.
Another issue stalling the talks is disagreement over how much the United States should reimburse Pakistan for counter-terrorism activity by Pakistani forces…
In a report released this week, the Defense Department warned that a prolonged closure of the supply routes could “significantly degrade” withdrawal operations as NATO nations try to establish a modicum of stability in Afghanistan before most of their troops are pulled out at the end of 2014…
“Certainly the domestic situation in Pakistan has a role to play” in the negotiations, the U.S. official said.
That’s putting it mildly. We’re paying off the leaders of a country – who have little control over that country. They haven’t civil management of much of the nation – especially those tribal portions sharing the border with Afghanistan.
That government’s own internal security apparatus, the ISI, manages an Islamist version of foreign and domestic policy which is not only counter to what Uncle Sugar is trying to achieve in traditional fumble-fingers fashion – they aren’t especially loyal to their own elected politicians.
What is being discussed in practice is how much of a bribe in US taxpayer dollars will be slipped to the paper leadership of Pakistan to aid us in our continuing war in Afghanistan. And in the process, occasionally kill off some of the tribal warlords who attack Pakistani soldiers as often as they do American and NATO forces. The dollar amount is all that counts.