Tuesday, December 30, 2008

After Bush, Islam's Real Challenge

December 29, 2008

At the Pew Forum's biannual Faith Angle Conference on religion, politics and public life, Vali Nasr, author of the 2006 book, The Shia Revival, surveyed the geo-political landscape of today's Middle East, arguing that the 2003 invasion of Iraq has fundamentally shifted the region's balance of power.

With Iran gaining influence, Iraq ruled by a Shia-led government and Hezbollah carrying the politically potent anti-Israeli mantle, Shia religious and political forces are displacing Sunni and Arab forces. While U.S. foreign policy has previously focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its neighbors, Nasr argued the most important conflicts of the Middle East now revolve around the Shia/Sunni sectarian divide. Jeffrey Goldberg, a long-time Middle East correspondent, related his experiences of interviewing Lebanese and Pakistani extremists, as well as breakfasting with Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad.

Vali Nasr, Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies, Council on Foreign Relations

Jeffrey Goldberg, National Correspondent, The Atlantic

Michael Cromartie, Vice President, Ethics & Public Policy Center; Senior Advisor, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life

In the following excerpt, ellipses and hyperlinks have been omitted. Read the full transcript at pewforum.org.

Vali Nasr


I want to raise a number of issues I think will be important in considering how a new administration may approach the thorny issues in the region and how religion fits into those. It goes without saying that two major challenges, or threat areas, face the new administration. One is encapsulated in the Iranian challenge, although beyond the nuclear issue we have very little grasp of what that actually means. The second challenge revolves around the question of al-Qaeda, which we know a lot more about and maybe have a better grip on.

A key issue that has bedeviled American foreign policy and is a challenge for the new administration is, first of all, to understand the nature of each of these threats, but more importantly to understand how they relate to one another: Are they the same, or are they different? And which is actually more of a threat, and in what regard? How do they impact one another? I think answering these questions are key, not just for American policy makers, but also for the American public, to bring us to a level of understanding beyond the one that we're currently at.

The world has changed significantly since 2003, as we know. The Middle East has changed in a very significant way. Part of the problem is we have never really understood we are dealing, post-Iraq, with Middle East 2.0: that there are some fundamental, and in my opinion irreversible, shifts in the balance of power of the region.

First, there is a palpable, significant, and, I think for the time being, irreversible shift of power and importance from the Levant -- the area of Lebanon, Palestine, Israel, Egypt and Syria -- to the Persian Gulf and the Afghanistan/Pakistan corridor. The region that for 50 years was the basis of our foreign policy -- we thought its conflicts mattered most, our alliances there mattered most -- does not matter as much to peace and security anymore. When the Lebanon war happened in 2006, the country that had most to do with it was not in the neighborhood. It was Iran. The countries in that neighborhood could do nothing to stop the war, and this was attested to by Israel, the United States and the regional powers themselves.

Once upon a time we used to think -- and some people still do -- that the Arab-Israeli conflict is the key to solving all the problem of the regions: terrorism, al-Qaeda, Iran or Iraq. I don't believe so. I think the Persian Gulf is the key to solving the Arab-Israeli issue. All the powers that matter -- Iran, Saudi Arabia, and even the good news of the region: Dubai, Abu Dhabi, et cetera -- are all in the Gulf. And all the conflicts that matter to us -- Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran -- are in the Gulf and then to the east. So the Arab-centeredness of the Muslim Middle East is gone. We haven't caught up to that in our foreign policy. The Middle East now is far more Iranian and Pakistani and Afghani in terms of the strategic mental map we have to deal with. Trying to deal with the Middle East as if we're in 2002, before the Iraq war, is one of the main reasons why we haven't been able to bring the right force to bear on the problems in the region.

The second shift, connected to this, is a palpable movement from the Arab world toward Iran. The Arab world has declined very clearly in its stature and power; Iran is a rising force. You don't hear the Iranians worried about the Arab world; you don't hear a single Iranian leader express any kind of anxiety; in fact, in a very patronizing way they constantly say to Arab countries, "Don't worry, we'll take care of you. You don't need to rely on the United States; we'll protect you."

Then listen to Arab leaders. The first thing every American official hears when he or she arrives in an Arab capital is worry about Iran. It's clear that the balance of power -- and a lot of power is a matter of perception -- has moved eastward. It's a problem for us because most of our alliance investments were to the west, in the Arab world. Now, those alliances have not done for us as much as we hoped they could, even in the Arab-Israeli issue, where they were supposed to be the ones providing all the help.

The third and, again, connected shift is that after Iraq there is a palpable shift in the religio-political sphere from the Sunnis to the Shias, a sect of Islam that has been completely invisible to us. We all of a sudden discovered them, but I don't think we quite understand what we discovered and what it means for us going forward. A fourth, related shift is that many of the conflicts we are dealing with, in both Iraq and Afghanistan, involve insurgent Sunni forces.

The losers in America's battles in this region are not evenly distributed among the actors I'm mentioning. The Sunni powers, the Arab powers, have clearly lost as a consequence of our wars of choice and necessity in Afghanistan and Iraq. Iran and its allies and the Shia forces have clearly gained. So when we look at Iraq and Afghanistan, we're essentially facing revanchist forces -- forces who lost and refuse to accept what has happened and believe they can come back. All of these dynamics are now embedded in the power structure of the region, namely this Shia-Sunni issue. The Arab-Iranian issue is encapsulated in the Saudi-Iranian rivalry around the Gulf and in Iranian-Arab rivalry over the future of Lebanon and the Palestinian issue. These conflict-area issues are going to continuously reflect those dynamics.

Connecting these geo-strategic issues to what's happened in this region religiously is very important. We talk about Iran and Saudi Arabia as countries in secular terms, the way we think of France or Germany or a power play in Europe -- that is, in terms of realpolitik -- but in the mental map of Muslims, they also represent two large civilizational blocks within Islam. Namely, Iran stands for Shia power, whether or not it wears it on its sleeve. Saudi Arabia and the Arab world essentially represent the Sunni face of Islam.

There is an intense rivalry between these two sects of Islam, between both the radical elements and the establishment elements of each. This civilizational or cultural or religious battle within Islam is now very clearly tied to everything that's happened after Iraq. Therefore it is not going to stop, because it's not a matter of getting a couple of clerics in a room to say nice things about one another; it's not an ecumenical exercise. There is a huge power play associated with this.

We all know how Iraq opened this fissure. It ended up being a turning point for a variety of reasons. First, it is of symbolic value: Post-Saddam Iraq is the first Shia Arab state in history. That represents a major turning of the tide. Now, 60 to 65 percent of Iraq is Shia, which means about 80 percent of its Arab population is Shia. In Lebanon, 30 to 40 percent of the population may be Shia, which makes it the single largest community in the country. Seventy-five percent of Bahrain is Shia, and 10 percent of Saudi Arabia is Shia, roughly speaking. Shias makes up between 20 and 25 percent of Pakistan, 30 percent of Kuwait, 20 percent of the United Arab Emirates and about 20 percent of Afghanistan. Yet for so long, when we looked, we didn't see the Shias, particularly in the Arab world.

What the U.S. did in Iraq was to show a path to empowerment for the Shia, first through regime change and secondly through elections. The Shias took to elections very aggressively after Iraq. I remember the very first thing Hezbollah's television stations said after elections in Iraq was, "We want exactly that -- one man, one vote -- not this democracy where at the end of the day the minorities end up ruling." The Shias in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain said the same thing.

So Iraq is symbolically very important. But the process in Iraq broke down; they ended up fighting one another. The fighting was very polarizing because the Sunnis in Iraq and their supporters in the Arab world cast the Shias as the cat's paw of Iran; they referred to the Maliki government and its predecessor as Iranian stooges. And the Iranians did invest heavily in creating these ties within Iraq.

But it's not just about Iraq. We should all take heart in the fact that violence has stopped, although I for one don't believe we're out of the woods. We have a ceasefire in Iraq; we don't have a deal yet. And when you don't have a deal between fighting factions, ceasefires are, by definition, unstable. The reason for fighting hasn't gone away, partially because it goes to exactly what I said: The final solution in Iraq will either confirm Iran's ascendance or confirm some kind of Arab restoration.

Therefore a lot rides on that final solution. In fact, it's a singular mistake to think you can have a deal by having only Iraqis agree to it, because what they agree to will have much broader implications for where the power in that region will lie. A final deal in Iraq will be the deal that decides the shape of the Middle East. But we don't think in those terms; we think extremely narrowly, as if it's a matter of getting two warring factions in the room.

As a side note, we should have learned by now from Afghanistan and Iraq that Middle Eastern governments have enormous amounts of patience to wait us out. Just because we beat Pakistan out of Afghanistan didn't mean they agreed to give it up, and, seven years later, they are taking it back whether we like it or not. Therefore a deal that doesn't reflect some buy-in from these neighbors is not going to last, and -- maybe not next year or the year after but eventually -- we'll go back to having fighting in Iraq.

Only two months ago the eminent Sunni cleric, popular on al-Jazeera, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, gave a very nasty fatwa against the Shias, arguing they are on a binge to convert Sunnis to Shiism. He came under very severe criticism, and then he refined his arguments, saying he was really referring to Iranian Shias. He went to the heart of the matter. He was saying not that the Shias are a threat, but that Iran is a threat. We don't have a sense of whether any Sunnis are converting to Shiism, although we do hear a lot of rumors of that, particularly after the Lebanese war in 2006. The aura of power is with Shias, and there is now talk of communities emerging in Algeria, in Senegal, in Nigeria and in Syria. Even in Saudi Arabia there is talk, including among high society, that there are either nominal or real conversions to Shiism going on. Some of it has to do with the [role] the city of Qom is now playing as the Oxford of religious studies in the Muslim world.

Only about a month ago Pakistani/Taliban forces put a complete siege on a parrot's beak of a territory in northwest Pakistan called the Kurram Agency, which protrudes into Afghanistan. That's a Shia region, with a Shia population of about 250,000, whom the Taliban have basically been starving to death for the last six months. It ultimately took Ayatollah Sistani and a major campaign to at least bring it into international news. But as we speak the territory is still under siege, and it's a purely sectarian issue.

Then within Pakistan you have now essentially a Shia government. President Zardari is Shia; his prime minister is Shia; and his foreign minister is half Shia. Zardari is a very staunch Shia and many of his people in power are Shia. Part of the clash between the civilian government and the jihadis and extremists is sectarian. It's a sub-current of what's going on. It's not a coincidence that the king of Saudi Arabia for the longest time refused to meet Zardari.

For those of you who might not know the difference between Shias and Sunnis, let me give you a quick sense; at some levels it matters and at others it doesn't. The reason they separated early on probably looks trivial now; namely, they disagreed over who would succeed the prophet Muhammad. The Sunnis said the community would choose the best among them, while the Shiites came to believe the charisma of the prophet would go by bloodline through his progeny, which was then his cousin and son-in-law Ali, who's buried in the shrine of Najaf, and then Ali's children. Regardless of where it began, as with all religious divides, the split grew and they developed a very different sense of history and theology. There are basic ways that they differ: for instance, Shias stand differently in prayer than Sunnis do.

The Shias and Sunnis [also] differ on points of law, which is very important because Islam is fundamentally a religion of law, much like, say, Judaism. You're a Muslim not by faith. You're a Muslim by practice. So the everyday life of the Shia is guided by Shia law. Much of the law is the same as the Sunnis' but there are points of difference. For instance, Shia law is far more permissive on inheritance to women and that's why in countries like Pakistan the feudal lords all become Shia right before they die because they want to give inheritance to their daughters, and it's permissible under Shia law, or much more so than under Sunni law.

One of the most important differences is that Shia law, like Anglo-Saxon law, is open-ended. Namely, the clerics, or ayatollahs, continuously interpret the law going forward, whereas Sunni law is much more like French law: It's canonical; it's closed. So Ayatollah Sistani will make new law on a daily basis if he's asked, much like the Supreme Court, whereas Yusuf Qaradawi or al-Azhar cannot make new law. Ayatollahs hold far more authority than Sunni clerics do. Sunni clerics are like your Protestant bishops. They minister to the affairs of the community and advise on law whereas as the Shia ayatollahs are more like Catholic bishops or the rabbis in Eastern Europe. They have a very powerful communal relationship with the population, in part because Shias have been a suppressed minority but also because they carry within them a certain religious charisma that Sunni clerics do not. At the popular level, the [two sects are also] very different. As you may have seen in Iraq, Shia believe in the visitation of shrines. There are parallels with Catholicism; Shias visit their shrines and have a sense that they will be healed, or that their prayers will be heard.

At a time in the Middle East when religion matters, then what religion you are, by definition, must matter. You should put aside the rhetoric of the Arab world that this is all in the mind of the West or that somehow the U.S. did this. I don't believe that. I'd seen this long before, particularly after 1979, when Islam became so important to the Middle East. It's impossible that as more and more people practice Islam, whether it's in Egypt or Iran or Pakistan, that the way you practice doesn't become an issue.

This is about a game of power. The Shias in the Middle East are far more numerous than official numbers suggest. Globally Shias are about 10 to 15 percent of the Muslim world, but about 90 percent of that Shia population lives in the Middle East, right there between India and Lebanon. They are not few, but they have not held on to power. Iraq has opened up a discussion about a power shift, as has the rise of Iran. Iran benefits from the fact that a large population outside of its territory, without necessarily receiving direction from Tehran, benefits from the rise of Iran and therefore will support it and give Iran soft power on the streets. By the same token, those who resist Iranian power are very worried about this cultural extension of Iran outside its boundaries.

This game of power, as I said, is likely to play itself out until we know where the ultimate lines will fall. This Shia phenomenon in the Middle East -- I call it the Shia revival -- is of extreme importance in this region but it's one that by and large flies under our radar. We still don't understand it beyond the narrow sectarian fight in Iraq. I think it is one of the most significant trends in this region, the other one being the rise of violent al-Qaeda-type Salafism. That one, as I said, is all across our headlines. It is easily visible to us, and we at least think we understand it.

But the rise of this Shia issue has also provoked a Sunni response. We saw it in 2004 when the King of Jordan talked about a Shia presence, while in this country nobody had yet begun to talk about Shia-Sunni issues. The president of Egypt spoke, after the 2006 Lebanon conflict, of all Shias being loyal to Iran, and therefore being like disloyal Arabs. When Lebanon happened, we had a group of Arab countries for the first time in history break with an Arab force in the middle of a fight with Israel, calling the entire Hezbollah enterprise a Shia power play. You have people like Qaradawi repeatedly talking about an Iranian effort to convert Muslims to the wrong Islam. You can go to the websites of multiple pro-al-Qaeda Salafis and find more anti-Iranian rhetoric there than anti-Israeli rhetoric. There is more talk of a Sassanid-Safavid conspiracy against Arabs than there is of a Zionist conspiracy. It's almost like there is a part of the Arab world that's trying to construct Arab nationalism as anti-Iran as opposed to anti-Israel, which has been the case previously.

Now, Iranians know the Shia-Sunni issue is a problem for them, and that's exactly why forces that resist the Iranian rise are investing so much in the sectarian war, whether it's in South Asia, in Pakistan and Afghanistan, in Iraq, on the airwaves or on the internet. In all those places there is a concerted effort to heighten attention to the Shia issue. When the Lebanon war happened and Hezbollah became so popular, Hezbollah's line was, essentially, "The Sunnis have failed to deliver Palestine; the Shias will."

Ahmadinejad may have started this vitriol against Israel for a variety of reasons but it has political capital for the Iranian government. That's one of the few reasons why he may still endure as a politician in Iran, because he addresses this fundamental issue for the Iranian power play in the region: to rally people around the region who are not Shia but who learned after the execution of Saddam and the sectarian war in Iraq to distrust and dislike Shias and who continuously read anti-Shia literature and hear anti-Shia sermons from Riyadh to Beirut to Damascus. The one reason they may accept Iranian leadership is the Israel issue. So the Iranians, at the same time as they're benefiting from the Shia card, don't like to play it. They like it to be implicitly supporting them. But they would like to explicitly divert the region's attention to the one issue that brings them together.

Therefore there is a method to the Iranian madness over Israel. Let me put it this way: Confronting Israel represents the potential for gaining an enormous amount of political capital and soft-power for an aspirant Middle Eastern power whose national and religious identity is not that of the Arab world. Iran needs a cause to lever in the Arab world.

Iranians would like to focus this on Israel. So the two forces are competing to define the struggle. Money is going to Salafis because Salafis are the sharp edge of anti-Shiism. You can see that in Afghanistan, Pakistan and around the Arab world. And the Iranians are matching that radicalism with an anti-Israeli radicalism of their own. These two sides are egging one another on, and we, in some ways, are collateral damage here, because this is essentially a play for the hearts and minds of the Arabs. It's power politics on the world stage.

Jeffrey Goldberg


Our great debate in Washington now about the engagement of Iran -- whether we should or shouldn't -- and the subsidiary discussion of, can we engage, in some way or another, the Taliban; in both cases, the conversation is unidirectional. It assumes Iran wants to be engaged. It assumes various forces in the Middle East, who are our adversaries, want this kind of engagement. This, I think, is an assumption we have to guard against as we move into this next phase, when we're trying to figure out a way to talk to, among others, the Iranian leadership.

All of this points to a central question for me: If you could recommend to the Obama administration to work on only one issue of import in the next four years in the Muslim world, would it be the Takfiri challenge, meaning the Sunni extremist challenge, or the Twelver challenge? The Twelvers are people who believe that the Twelfth Imam went into occultation 1,000 years ago and is coming back. These are Shia who are very millenarian, very apocalyptic, and who believe the Mahdi is coming back with Jesus.

Obviously, Ahmadinejad is a huge Twelver. So the question is, when you have these two very, very complicated challenges -- this challenge from Sunni extremism and this challenge from Shia radicalism -- which one is more important to grapple with? I ask this question for the obvious reason that America, very often, is not good at doing even one thing at a time.

I have no certain answer to that myself. I tend to think the Takfiri challenge is ultimately a bigger problem for the United States than the Shia challenge. I also tend to think the Shia challenge is probably the one to work on because it's more concrete; there's something to be done with it. Let me use just one more example to frame a way to think of these two challenges: The challenge of Twelver extremism -- of Shia extremism -- is the challenge of the Iranian nuclear program, and asking yourself, can the world -- can the West -- live with an Iranian nuclear bomb?

The Takfiri challenge is also a nuclear challenge. It asks the question: What would be the consequences of a Takfiri takeover of Pakistan, and what would that mean for Pakistan's nuclear program? Another way of asking the question is: Would you rather have Ahmadinejad in charge of a nuclear weapon, or would you rather have Lashkar-e-Taiba in charge of a nuclear weapon? You don't have to answer the question now.

I don't know the answer. I do think -- and maybe this is an issue of debate -- that the Shia side of this equation is something that can be worked on. I'm not overly sanguine about it; I'm particularly not overly sanguine about it because I had this very bizarre breakfast a couple of months ago in New York with Ahmadinejad and several other journalists. I had never met him before, and going into it, I just assumed that he was crazy; I came out of it realizing he was just cunning, which is scarier, in some ways, than crazy.

I think his presentation was, from a Shia perspective, ahistorical, and I'll give you a couple of quick lines from him, just to illustrate this point that he is as global and insatiable, in some ways, as bin Laden or Zawahiri: "We are here to give the news that the American empire has come to an end. This is helpful to the American politicians; it's really a help to them so that they can change their behavior. They need to know the empire is coming to an end."

And he goes on, "Of course, you can see the signs very well. We see the news. Like a vehicle that's about to drive off a cliff, if a traffic sign that says there's a cliff here, the driver shouldn't object to the traffic sign," and he was equating himself to the traffic sign. And then he went on in this very triumphalist, arrogant discourse about the end of American power. He said, "Western countries believe that they can solve all issues with force and the power of weapons and economics. This is a big mistake. These tools belong to the past. The history of our region has no recollection of a foreign military group entering Afghanistan and leaving it victorious, or entering Iraq and leaving victorious. I'm surprised. What sign have they found that they think they -- the Americans -- are the exception?"

So he's talking in enormous terminology, in a way we're used to hearing Salafist extremists talk. Nevertheless, for a couple of reasons, I think that, unlike the very chaotic and diffuse Salafist threat, which manifests itself across the Muslim world and in Europe, the Shia threat has an address. It has concrete problems. The address, of course, is Tehran, and the concrete problems are problems of uranium enrichment. I also think -- and I hope if you disagree, you'll tell me -- that in Shia history and theology, there are seeds of moderation. Because what we're going through now, in the last 30 years, is a very ahistorical process in the Shia world.

We talk about who the leading clerics in the Sunni world are, and why they aren't speaking up against Takfiris and Salafists, and that's because many of the leading clerics are Salafists. I think in the Shia world, you have much more of an antidote to extremism in the person of Ayatollah Sistani, who is really one of the most remarkable figures in the Muslim world right now and who stands as an antidote to some of the extremism that emanates from Tehran. I think there are fruitful areas to explore with Shia extremism that don't exist on the Sunni extremist side.

Let me end by mentioning a couple of points that mitigate or undercut the whole idea that there's anything we can do about these problems. This is about the need for American or Western humility.

We are, in many ways, collateral damage. Islam, in many ways, has become its own enemy. The radicalism of the extremists is, generally speaking, not met by enthusiastic moderation. [I]t's really quite remarkable when you sit back and think about it, how the incredible savagery and cruelty that's committed in the name of Islam is not met by a revolt of the silent majority of Muslims. There are things we can do, I think, to mitigate the damage the West suffers as Islam goes through this very long and very deep crisis, but I'm not confident we are sophisticated enough to influence the outcome of this cataclysmic debate in the Muslim world, and I'm not sure there's much we can say or do to affect the outcome even if we had the sophistication to try.

Fighting Takfirism means dealing with Saudi Arabia and its export of Salafist, Wahhabi ideology. It's very hard to convince the Saudis to do things when we're essentially their client state, depending on them in ways they don't depend on us. I don't mean to be overly depressing at the end, but I think we're in for a 20- or 30- or 50- or 100-year period in which we, essentially, stand by and watch the world of Islam, in all its complexity, with two mainstreams and other subsidiary streams, decide what it is. And the job of an American president, at a certain point, is to figure out ways to encourage moderation without drawing too much attention to our role. These are very, very hard things to do for Americans, who believe there's a solution to every problem. What I'm suggesting is there might not be an American solution to the problems we are facing in the Middle East.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Afghan-Pakistan militant nexus

Seven years after 9/11, the US has declared the Afghan-Pakistan border region to be the new frontline in its war on terror. Use the map to see how militants operate on either side of the border.

For Details Visit; BBC website at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/7601748.stm

Kurram, Khyber, Nangarhar

As the Pakistani military strategists who organised Afghan guerillas against the Soviets in the '80s discovered to their delight, Kurram is the best location along the entire Pakistan-Afghanistan border to put pressure on the Afghan capital, Kabul, which is just 90km away. But because the region is inhabited by a Shia tribe that opposes the Taleban for religious reasons, the Taleban have not been able to get a foothold here. Analysts say this is the main reason why the Taleban have taken so long to improve their strength in areas around Kabul, such as Logar and Wardak.

Some militant groups in the Khyber tribal district have carried out attacks on foreign and Afghan troops in Nangarhar province. But the Pakistani government has kept a close watch on them. One reason may be to curb the ability of these groups to block the highway through Khyber which serves as the main conduit for supplies to international forces in Afghanistan that come via the Pakistani port of Karachi.

5.7 magnitude quake jolts Abbotabad, Gilgit and Chitral, no casualties reported

Monday, December 29, 2008

A moderate 5.7quake jolted upper parts of Pakistan on Monday morning. According to US Geological Survey, the epicenter of the tremor, which occurred at 8:37 am, was located just 141 kilometers beneath the earth whereas 145 kilometers in northwest of Mingora and 71 kilometer in northwest of Chitral. The tremor felt in Dir, Chitral, Malakand,Swat, Peshawar, Attock, Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Takhtbai, Mansehra, Dargai Sakhakot, Para Chinar, Kurram Agency, South Waziristan and other tribal areas. There were no immediate reports of casualties or major damage.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Second Editorial: Muharram code of conduct

Daily Times
Saturday, December 27, 2008
Nineteen ulema from seven major cities of the country met Interior Adviser Rehman Malik on Thursday and endorsed a policy of “live and let live” during the month of Muharram. This is the month when sectarian passions flare and can be exploited by the terrorists. Sunni and Shia militants attack one another and intra-Sunni violence occurs against moderate Sunnis. The government has imposed a pro-forma ban on “selling literature, cassettes and videos that can hurt the sentiments of followers of any sect or religion”.The ulema always get together before Muharram and issue friendly statements about one another, but it has never worked. If someone fears that this time too it may not work, he couldn’t be far wrong, given the ongoing sectarian war in Kurram Agency in the Tribal Areas and in DI Khan in the NWFP. Adviser Rehman Malik has himself eaten some words in this connection. Over a month ago, he warned Kurram that he was going to bring action there “within seventy four hours” unless the two sects returned to their senses and stopped violence. He has taken no action so far. Given Pakistan’s terror map, the Shia are sitting ducks, and there is nothing anyone can do about it. *

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Security tightened in Kurram for Muharram

Thursday, December 25, 2008
PARACHINAR: The political administration (PA) of the Kurram Agency has made foolproof security arrangements for peaceful observance of Muharram in the agency, a senior government official said here on Wednesday.

Talking to reporters here, Political Agent Arshad Majeed said meetings were held with religious scholars of both the sects and they assured full cooperation to the political authorities for maintaining sectarian harmony and brotherhood.

The Pak-Afghan border areas would be sealed from 7th-12th of Muharram for security purposes, while check-posts have been set up at various important places to foil designs of saboteurs and anti-state elements.

Special directives have been issued to the law-enforcing agencies to take extra security measures during Muharram, he added. Majeed said the political administration has been asked to keep close vigil on movement of suspects.

He said the Parachinar-Chappry Road would be closed for traffic on Muharram 9 and 10. He said that he was in close contact with the Tesco, the Wapda and the PTCL authorities to ensure their services during Muharram.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Govt. takes major initiatives for swift development of FATA

PESHAWAR, Dec 23 (APP): The government has devised a comprehensive development strategy to bring about a qualitative change in the socio‑economic condition of the tribesmen.

Record allocation of Rs. 7616.00 million has made in the annual development programme 2008‑09 for implantation of 884 on going and 189 new schemes in education, health, communication, agriculture, power and other social sectors.

A spokesman of Media Cell Fata told APP that roads and education stand atop the development strategy and the highest allocation of Rs. 2193.622 million which is 21.10 percent of the development outlay has been made for execution of 177 schemes in communication sector.

The second highest financial allocation of Rs. 1606.726 million has been made for promotion and expansion of education facilities, he added.

The major schemes in education sector include introduction of Post Graduate classes in Govt. Degree College Khar, (Bajaur Agency), Parachinar, (Kurram Agency) and Miranshah, (North Waziristan Agency), construction of student/teachers hostels in Post Graduate Colleges in FATA, establishment of women hostels, rehabilitation and upgradation of the existing educational institutions, provision of free text books upto 10th class, award of scholarships to FATA students, introduction of technical education and mainstream Information Technology, establishment of public schools and construction of sports stadiums in all the agencies.

A sum of Rs. 244.486 million has been set apart for implementation of 28 development schemes in education sector in South Waziristan while Rs. 203.844, Rs. 202.997, Rs. 185.449, Rs. 171.842, Rs. 128.621 and Rs. 93.109 are being spent in North Waziristan, Kurram, Khyber, Bajaur, Mohmand and Orakzai Agencies respectively.

He said that provision of Rs. 198.797 million has been made in the current financial year’s budget for a number of educational schemes in the six Frontier Regions of FATA. Initiatives are also underway to establish quality educational institutions in FATA with focus on free education to talented tribal students in the premier educational institutions of NWFP.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Terrorism and future of Pakistan

Friday, December 19, 2008

Wajih Abbasi

The United Nations Security Council’s ban on Jamaatud Dawah (JuD) and four other personalities associated with it, including its Amir, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, is a new twist to the events which started after terrorist attacks on Mumbai last month. Even before the UN decision, Pakistan government had started operation against the camps maintained by JuD) and Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT) in Azad Kashmir during which several people, including operational head of LeT was arrested. The operation was intensified after the UN resolution and was extended to the Punjab and other provinces where bulk of assets of at least JuD are situated.

This is not for the first time that such actions against militant outfits have been taken in response to the international pressure after major terrorist acts in different parts of the world. Similar actions were taken after 9/11 attacks in New York in September 2001 and attacks on the Indian Parliament later in December that year as well as attacks in London and Madrid. Irrespective to the veracity of accusation being pointed towards Pakistan from time to time and after every major terrorist incident in the world, it is unfortunate that the name of Pakistan has been made synonymous with terrorism and militancy turning the country into nearly an international pariah. The accusations have put the security and integrity of the country and well being of its people under constant threat. Every terrorist incident allows the enemies of the country to point their guns towards Pakistan and try to array an international coalition to punish Pakistan.

The danger posed by these accusations needs soul-searching and making strategic decisions about the whole issue of militancy and jihad and its utility to our national security objectives. We have to ask ourselves whether the policies started after the Sour Revolution in Afghanistan in 1978 which were continued to be tolerated after the withdrawal of Soviet troops from that country in 1989 and collapse of the PDPA government in 1992 have anyway helped Pakistan in the attainment of its strategic and security interests or these policies tarnished Pakistan’s image, made it less secure and increasingly isolated it in the comity of nations.

A lot has been written in Pakistan as well as internationally on how the US planned and executed its proxy war against former Soviet Union in Afghanistan and how militants and weapons from across the world were collected in the name of jihad to bleed the Russians in order to avenge the US defeat in Vietnam. Pakistan’s territory and its institutions were used for this purpose. Pakistan, then ruled by short sighted military junta, groping for its own survival needlessly pushed the country into a quagmire which is constantly pulling Pakistan into an abyss despite best efforts of the country to extricate itself.

The chaos that the US financed jihad created in Afghanistan has engulfed the length and breadth of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and NWFP. The menace is threatening the whole country seven years after the US decision to invade Afghanistan under the UN banner to fight the same forces it had created during the heydays of the Cold War. We should look back and ponder whether a modern, liberal and forward looking Afghanistan which the Peoples Democratic Party of Afghanistan wanted to establish would have served Pakistan better than the lawless swath of territory we have today.

The Russian withdrawal from Afghanistan and subsequent dismemberment of the Soviet Union coupled with collapse of communism in the whole Eastern Europe and North and Central Asia gave a sense of false victory to the Muslim radicals and extremists and their supporters in the country. They soon started to propagate similar type of operations in other parts of the world, including the Central Asia, China and Eastern Europe as well as Kashmir. Their activities estranged Pakistan’s relations with the newly independent states in the Central Asia and deprived the country of the vast potential which the collapse of Soviet empire had created in terms of trade and commerce and as a conduit of petroleum exports from the region. They also created wedge between Pakistan and its times tested friend China besides raising concerns in certain Muslim countries as Egypt and Jordon. The genuine desire of the people of Kashmir for independence or merger with Pakistan has also given a bad name by these organisations allowing India to use unprecedented repression against the Kashmiris in which over 0.1 million people were killed. Last but not the least it tarnished the image of the ISI, an inseparable arm of Pakistan’s defence apparatus, to the point where these organisations are being used by the enemies of Pakistan to pressurise the country.

The militant organisations, militancy, terrorism and extremist generated by these groups have created doubts among the international community about stability of the country. It allows different organisations to dub Pakistan as failing state. The voices become even stronger because of the fact that Pakistan is a nuclear armed country with big arsenal of short and medium range missiles. Recently a report to the US Congress has described Pakistan as a place where weapons of mass destruction and terrorism intersect. The enemies of Pakistan would like to use these voices against Pakistan to deprive the country of its strategic weapons and take other punitive measures to destroy whatever has been built during last 60 years.

Internally, the forces unleashed by Pakistan’s involvement in the Afghan war have unleashed the forces of sectarian extremism, intolerance, narrow-mindedness, militancy and lawlessness. Leaders of militant organisations are behaving like warlords, who have established their own zones and consider themselves as above the law of the land and norms of society. During last three decades the country has witnessed the growing menace of not only Shia-Sunni but even intra-Sunni terrorism. Each pronouncing the other infidel and calling for jihad against the same. The weaponry used in Kurram Agency in Shia-Sunni feud recently was not even witnessed in the African civil wars.

In this situation, it is important for us as a nation to rethink our priorities and policies and put our house in order. The action taken against the JuD and LeT should be expanded to other militant organisations and individuals. Nobody should be allowed to keep and raise private armies in the name of ‘lashkars’, Jaish, sipha or whatever. The religious schools throughout the country should be brought under the law. The government should get their accounts audited every year and should have complete data of staff and students as well as the curriculum being taught in these institutions. The madrassas not complying with the government orders should be taken over and converted into schools where students should be imparted the religious education along with the normal education.

Financing of madrassas and religious organisations by some oil rich nations of the Middle East has worsened the situation. In most of the cases such aid has sectarian connotations and helps promote that sect in Pakistan which is dominant in the donor country. On the one hand, it provides undue influence to the donor government in the internal affairs in Pakistan. On the other hand, the aid promotes sectarian strife in the country. It is high time that the Pakistan government take bold stance on the issue to stop direct foreign donations to religious and sectarian organisations.

The writer is a former APP staffer and a freelance columnist based in Islamabad

SOURCE: http://thepost.com.pk/OpinionNews.aspx?dtlid=196894&catid=11

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

75 more hostages freed in Kurram Agency

Updated at: 1500 PST, Wednesday, December 17, 2008
75 more hostages freed in Kurram Agency PESHAWAR: Seventy-five more persons made hostage by tribes have been released here brought the number of hostages released to 159 since Tuesday.

According to sources, armed men killed one, injured another person and kidnapped three others near Hangu two days back. They were belonged to Kurram Agency.

After the incident, Tori and Bangesh tribes abducted dozens of people belonged to each other’s clan among which 75 were released today. Efforts are underway for the release of remaining people.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008, Zil Hajj 17, 1429 A.H

Kurram Agency rivals swap 53 abductees
Updated at: 1322 PST, Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Kurram Agency rivals swap 53 abductees PESHAWAR: Kurram Agency rival tribesmen swapped each other’s yesterday 53 abductees, which included 41 women and children.

Sources said that yesterday some armed persons attacking a Kurram Agency vehicle near Hangu had killed one person and injured one, while three persons were abducted, which let loose a violent reaction to the incident during which the tribesmen kidnapped each other’s scores of persons.

Later, the Jirga members and Political officials brokered the release of the 53 abductees including 41 women and children. Jirga members said that talks were underway with the rival groups for the release of the remaining abductees also.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Taliban torch 18 CD shops

Daily Times

Monday, December 15, 2008

By Saboor Khan

HANGU: Hundreds of armed Taliban attacked a bazaar in Tull tehsil of Hangu district late on Saturday and torched at least 18 shops, police said.

District Police Officer Sajjad Khan told Daily Times that Taliban had blown up two shops with explosives and set fire to 16 others. They also collected CDs and other inventory from eight shops and burnt them near Bannu Chowk, he added. He said the Taliban managed to escape after police opened fire on them.

Locals said Taliban attacked the bazaar from three directions and wreaked havoc for three hours. Blaming police negligence for the damage, they said they had promptly informed the police, which had failed to act in time.

Tull is surrounded by the Tribal Areas from all sides, with Kurram Agency to its west, North Waziristan Agency to the north, Bulandkel area of Orakzai Agency to the southwest, Lower Kurram Agency to the northwest and Palosin Wazir area of North Waziristan to its northeast.

Kurram Agency rivals swap 53 abductees

Tuesday, December 16, 2008, Zil Hajj 17, 1429 A.H

PESHAWAR: Kurram Agency rival tribesmen swapped each other�s yesterday 53 abductees, which included 41 women and children.

Sources said that yesterday some armed persons attacking a Kurram Agency vehicle near Hangu had killed one person and injured one, while three persons were abducted, which let loose a violent reaction to the incident during which the tribesmen kidnapped each other�s scores of persons.

Later, the Jirga members and Political officials brokered the release of the 53 abductees including 41 women and children. Jirga members said that talks were underway with the rival groups for the release of the remaining abductees also.

Man killed in Hangu shooting

Tuesday, December 16, 2008, Zil Hajj 17, 1429 A.H

Updated at: 1420 PST, Tuesday, December 16, 2008
PESHAWAR: Gunmen shot dead one person and injured another in Hangu.

According to police sources, a family of five members travelling from Kurram Agency to Peshawar when armed men opened fire at their jeep in Kotaki area in Hangu.

One person was killed and another injured in the firing whereas rival tribes have kidnapped more than 30 men of each other clan.

Police have cordoned off the area and start search operation for the recovery of abducted persons.

Peshawar blast

Friday, December 12, 2008
By Bureau report
PESHAWAR: The deadly bomb explosion in the heart of the Walled City here last Friday made dozens of families mourn the demise of their near and dear ones instead of celebrating Eidul Azha.

The shocking incidence took lives of more than 35 innocent people, injuring 140 as well as depriving many of their businesses, homes and shops. Those, who sustained injuries in the blast and admitted to the nearby Lady Reading Hospital, the major health facility of the Frontier province, never tired of narrating their ordeals.

Mohsin, a teenager hailing from Parachinar suffered head injury on and injuries on his chest also narrated his awful story. Talking about the incident, he said that he was staying at Pak Hotel as he had to leave for Parachinar early morning. “At the time of blast I was on second floor when I heard a big bang and I fell down,” Mohsin, the tailor by profession said.

Mohsin, who was complaining of backache, went on to say that he did not felt that he had suffered injuries while coming downstairs. “When I reached the main gate of the hotel I felt blood streaming out of my head. After that I became unconscious and fell on the stairs of the hotel.”

He appeared to be extremely critical about the role of the law-enforcing agencies, saying that a huge chunk of national exchequer was being spent on them, but they have absolutely failed to perform their duties by putting a leash on terrorists.

Syed Hussain, a daily-wager at a local teashop while narrating his sufferings, said that he was serving tea to a nearby shop when suddenly the blast occurred and the intensity was so high that he fell into the nearby drainage, fracturing his left leg. “It is altogether beyond my comprehension that what kind of Islam is this, in which innocent people are being targeted. They turned Eid, the Islamic festival, into a mourning for us,” he said.

He said that the militants should have at least differentiated between the combatants and non-combatants, adding, “I don’t know what purpose they have served by killing so many innocent people,” he said.

Slain principal laid to rest

Monday, December 08, 2008
By by Our correspondent
PARACHINAR: Syed Razi Hussain Shah, the slain principal of Government Elementary College, Jamrud, was laid to rest at his ancestral graveyard at Shlozan village here on Sunday.

Razi Shah’s body was recovered from Ghundi area of Khyber Agency on Saturday after unidentified people kidnapped him a week back.

Touching scenes were witnessed when his body was brought to the village where a large number of people had gathered to receive it. Eyewitnesses said that thousands of people attended the funeral.

Speaking on the occasion, the area elders condemned the killing and demanded of the government to bring the culprits to justice forthwith.

Razi Shah was born in 1949 at Shlozan village of Parachinar in Kurram Agency. He started his career as a teacher and remained head master of the local schools.

Later, he served as the controller of examinations, Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education, Peshawar; deputy director of education, Fata, and regional director education, Dera Ismail Khan. The late academician also served as agency education officer in Khyber and Bajaur agencies. He had also the credit of being the principal of a school in UAE.

He authored a book titled ‘Lutf-i-Sohen’ in which he shed light on his past life. He fathered five sons and two daughters.

Peshawar blast’s legacy

Monday, December 08, 2008
By by Tauseef-ur-Rahman
PESHAWAR: The horrible details of the Koocha Risaldar tragedy continue to unfold as the miseries and agonies of the victims are increasing with every passing day due to their complex injuries and trauma. Various wards of the Lady Reading Hospital, the biggest public sector hospital, gave the look of gloom, despair and trauma because the victims were writhing in agony in beds and their grief-stricken families gathered around them. Syed Hussain Ali Shah, 38, hailing from Parachinar, was lying unconscious in the Surgical Ward of the hospital. He suffered multiple injuries to his head, chest and legs. The ill-fated Ali had his flight to Qatar on Saturday last and was staying at the Pak Hotel, situated near the blast site. His cousin Arif Husain informed this scribe that he (Ali) was leaving for Qatar. He said that he spent over seven lakh rupees to obtain the visa. A driver by profession, Ali had four minor children. Arif said Ali was very happy and eager to go abroad and had drawn up long plans for himself as well as for his family. He expressed satisfaction at the facilities provided by the hospital authorities. The nurses and doctors generally cooperate, however, sometime paramedical staff members do not attend to our complaints, he added. Another victim, Mohsin, 16, was severely injured in the blast. A resident of Nisataa, Charsadda district, the boy was whitewashing the Orakzai Hotel when the blast went off. His throat, face and abdomen were badly damaged by pieces of windowpanes. Though he had regained senses, still pain is writ large on his face. His shell-shocked brother, Mehran, who was quite worried about his brother’s condition, said he was busy in doing work at Al-Ain Hotel while his brother Mohsin was busy whitewashing the Orakzai Hotel-the most damaged hotel in the blast. “I was standing on scaffolding, doing whitewash and after the bang of the blast I fell down,” he recalled, adding, “Soon after that I rushed to the other hotel to inquire about my brother,” he said. The scene of the blast was horrible. People were crying for help while other where shouting names of their relatives in a desperate bid to get a response, he added. Mehran went on to say that till midnight he could not find his brother, nevertheless, at early hours of Saturday a friend informed him that his brother was lying in the Trauma Centre of the LRH. About the condition of his brother, he said that Mohsin spent a very restless night, as he could not breathe properly due to his wounded throat. As his upper respiratory system was badly damaged, the doctors fixed an artificial tube to ensure his smooth breathing. When asked whom he saw behind such brutal attacks, Mehran said, “I don’t know but I am sure they are not Muslims. How can a Muslim be so cruel and heartless?” Another person, Mushtaq Hussain of Parachinar, who had come to the hospital to inquire after his friends, said he was a taxi driver and had come from Parachinar after hired by the customers. He said that he had gone to a nearby hotel to bring luggage of customers and the moment he reached the hotel the blast occurred. Mushtaq said the blast plunged the entire area into darkness. “I personally took out four charred bodies from a plastic utensil shop,” he said.

Kidnapped principal killed

Sunday, December 07, 2008
By by Our correspondent
LANDIKOTAL: The body of Syed Razi Shah, Principal, Government Elementary College, Jamrud, who was kidnapped on November 29, was found in the Ghundi area of Jamrud tehsil on Saturday.

Razi Shah, 50, was kidnapped from the college in broad daylight. The kidnappers overpowered personnel of the Khassadar force performing duty at the college gate and then snatched the principal. They then drove in their vehicle to an unknown destination.

Tribal sources said the beheaded body of Razi Shah was recovered from Ghundi area and was later sent to his native Kurram Agency.

The deceased had served as controller of examinations in the Board of Intermediate & Secondary Education, Peshawar. He had also served as the agency education officer of Khyber Agency.

Authorities in Khyber Agency said they had advised Razi Shah to get himself transferred out of Jamrud as the place had become insecure due to the activities of militants and criminals. The authorities informed that Razi Shah being a Shia could become a target of some sectarian outfit.

Tribal and religious elders in Kurram Agency had formed a committee after Razi Shah’s kidnapping and contacted the government officials in Kurram Agency and Khyber Agency and influential tribesmen in Khyber to seek their assistance for his safe recovery.


Kurram Agency power supply restored after 4 months

Updated at: 1429 PST, Sunday, December 07, 2008
Kurram Agency power supply restored after 4 months PESHAWAR: Kurram Agency electricity supply has been restored after a lapse of four months.

Kurram Agency tribal skirmishes, which continued for about two years, had taken the toll of 1600 dead and over 5000 wounded. All sorts of traffic and the supply of goods remained suspended due to the fighting, while the electricity supply was disconnected for 118 days due to the devastation of the transmission line. Tribal Area Electricity Supply Company said that electricity supply has been restored now, following the completion of two weeks of repair works at a cost of over Rs3 million.

‘Peshawar blast conspiracy to spark sectarian violence’

Daily Times

Sunday, December 07, 2008

By Daud Khattak

PESHAWAR: Perpetrators of the Friday’s terrorist act in Peshawar failed to achieve their aim to ignite sectarian violence in the city, officials told Daily Times on Saturday.
“The target was well-chosen and the attack was part of the series of blasts carried out in Hashtnagri (Peshawar), Orakzai Agency and Dera Ismail Khan over the previous few days,” said the official who did not want to be named.
The time selected for the bomb blast revealed that it was not a simple terrorist strike, said the official, who believed the perpetrators chose evening hours when most of shops in the congested area are closed. He said common citizens were not the target of the terrorist bid.
“Had the explosion taken place in the morning or afternoon, which is the peak timings in that area, the death tally would have been a hundred or more,” said the official while pointing at the gravity of the blast.
The Jehangira Ward, the area where the explosion took place, consists of Koochi Bazaar, Kohati and Koocha Risaldar. There are 11 small and large imam bargahs in that area, and the Alamdar-e-Karbala Imam Bargah, outside which the explosion took place, is one of those.
The target was well-chosen as the area is mostly populated by people belonging to Shia sect and a brisk reaction against people of the opposite Sunni sect was expected, said the official.
He said mostly Shia people from Parachinar area of Kurram Agency, which has witnessed the worst-ever sectarian violence in the previous months, were living in that area.


Death toll from Peshawar blast 34, probe begins

Daily Times

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Staff Report

PESHAWAR: The death toll from Friday’s car bomb explosion outside an imambargah in Peshawar has risen to 34 as officials said police had launched an investigation into the attack.

Rescue workers retrieved nine more dead bodies from the debris on Saturday, SP Chaudary Asharf told Daily Times, but put the death toll at 29.

According to Lady Reading Hospital’s records, 165 victims of the blast were taken to the hospital and 34 of them were dead, while 131 were injured. Around 90 people – with 10 in critical condition – are now being treated at the hospital, the remaining have been discharged.

Twenty-one bodies have so far been identified, while 13 bodies burnt beyond recognition are being kept at the hospital’s morgue.

Most of those who died or were injured were residents of Parachinar in Kurram Agency. The imambargah, Alamdar Karbala, is also known as ‘the imambargah of Parachinar’.

Mohammad Asif, a resident of the area, told Daily Times his 12-year-old daughter died in the blast, and his house had been completely destroyed.

Meanwhile, a senior police official told Daily Times it was not yet clear whether a timed-device was placed in the car or a suicide bomber carried out the attack.

He said that the police had collected severed parts of around 10 bodies, and it was therefore difficult to say with certainty what method had been employed by the attackers.

Police officials going through the debris found the engine of the car used in the attack, and said they were trying to locate the owner of the vehicle.

Teams from the Federal Investigation Agency’s Special Investigation Group visited the site on Saturday to collect evidence.

A bomb disposal squad official told Daily Times that the vehicle was carrying more than 80 kilogrammes of explosives.

22 killed in Peshawar blast

Online edition of India's National Newspaper

Saturday, Dec 06, 2008

Nirupama Subramanian

Firefighters at work after the blast in Peshawar on Friday.

ISLAMABAD: At least 22 people were killed and 70 injured in a massive explosion in a crowded market in Peshawar on Friday night.

The North-West Frontier Province Chief Minister Ameer Haider Khan Hoti at once alleged a “foreign hand” in the bombing. He told Geo Television that “external forces were destabilising the region”.

Officials confirmed at least 22 people were killed and 70 wounded. Television channels were quoting hospital sources that at least 20 people were killed and nearly a hundred wounded.

The apparent car-bomb exploded near a Shia community centre behind the historical Qissa Khwani Bazaar. The Imambargah is owned by the Shia community of Parachinar in the Kurram tribal agency where Shias and Sunnis only recently declared a fragile truce.

The explosion led to an electricity blow-out, and a subsequent fire damaged several buildings. There was panic as people trapped tried to flee the area and were caught in a stampede.


Car bomb kills 22, injured 80 in City, involvement of foreign hands possible: CM

A powerful bomb planted in a van ripped through a crowded Kabari bazaar situated at the backyard of historical Qisakhwani bazaar here Friday night, killing at least 22 people and wounding over 80, Medical Superintendent Khazir Hayat and local police told APP. Twenty of the wounded are in critical condition.
The explosion occurred near Imam Bargah situated inside a hotel owned by Ajhle Tashi belonging to Kurram Agency. The explosive material was believed to have been dumped in a double cabin van parked along with other vehicles in thickly populated area, which exploded with a big bang.

Over a dozen vehicles were destroyed while three huge buildings caught fire, including plastic shops. The blaze also engulfed the nearby buildings and shopping markets.

The fire brigade rushed to the site and extinguished the fire after three hours hectic efforts. Black smoke engulfed the area as victims cried for help.

The IGP Malik Naveed Khan ruled out the possibility that its target was Imam Bargah. The IGP said that around 25 to 30 kilogram explosives were used in the attack.

The police chief said the explosion has created a deep crater in ground at the venue which does not happen in suicide attacks.

He said the main purpose of the elements involved in this heinous act was to disrupt law and order. “In the prevailing conditions there is

a very strong security check in the city but it is very difficult to have foolproof check on the activities of terrorists who mingle in the general population.

The explosion was so powerful that the windowpanes of nearby buildings were blown out and the whole area plunged into darkness.

The injured were immediately rushed to LRH, Hayat Shaheed and Hayatabad Medical Complex for treatment. Emergency has been declared in hospitals and doctors on leave were called in for duty.

Dr Khazir Hayat appealed to people of Peshawar and adjoining areas to donate blood as condition of several victims of the blast was very critical. “I appeal to the residents of Peshawar to donate blood in large quantity as the condition of 15‑20 victims brought to LRH is critical,” Khasir Hayat told APP.

He said that 22 bodies were brought to LRH while more than 80 persons were being treated. He said that emergency has been enforced in the hospital and doctors on leave were called in for duty. He said that situation was under control and all major operations were successfully conducted.

The Chief Minister NWFP Ameer Haider Khan Hoti, Health Minister Zahir Ali Shah and other official were present on the occasion. Speaking

on the occasion, he said that complete prevention of suicide explosion however is difficult but can be controlled with better intelligence.

He said that police are being strengthened to frustrate the nefarious designs of terrorists. The Chief Minister Ameer Haider Khan

Hoti earlier said that foreign hand could be involved in the heinous acts of suicide and bomb blasts to destabilize the region.

The Chief Minister said some foreign elements wanted to destabilize Pakistan for their vested interests. However, he said

these elements would not succeed in their nefarious designs as the nation was united against them.

He said that the explosion was of severe nature and hectic efforts were being made to extinguish the fire that engulfed the three nearby buildings. The provincial capital has been made target of a worst kind of terrorist act, he added.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Frontier Watch

There are mixed reports emanating from Khurram Agency/Parachinar: on one hand, there has been a peace deal between different tribes to establish a ceasefire. What the long-term effects of such a deal are going to be is anyone's guess. At least one report suggests that things are still quite bad there, with kidnappings of prominent Shias continuing. Having seen how the Taliban have treated some of their previous captives, one can only pray fervently for the safety of all such captives.

What is truly atrocious is the lack of government action in the region. It is one thing for the state to be unaware of ground realities, or to be ineffectual in its action, but to not respond militarily when the Parachinar issue has been in the news so much is criminal. I don't know the strategic imperatives of the Army, which might not want to open up too many fronts against an unconventional enemy, but regular supplies and a skeletal defense unit surely isn't asking too much for the people of the Khurram Agency.

This whole situation does shed ugly light on the modus operandi of the Talib and Al-Qaeda. If they're fanatical enough to go after the Shia, surely Sunnis of a different shade aren't too much of a stretch for them either? The strategic response of the Pakistani state depends in part on how well Sunnis realize that it is in their interest to participate fully in intercepting this Taliban threat against the Shia. Unfortunately, the Pakistani state has a track record for only the most half-hearted of responses to the sectarian threat, which is as great today than ever.

Finally, if anyone in Pakistan needs any convincing that we need the strongest resolve against the Taliban et. al., notice that they had no problem sending suicide bombers to blow up tribal leaders opposed to them. Crucially, there is no evidence to suggest that these attacks were sectarian or ideological in any way; they were simply tactically expedient. If these people have no compunctions sending suicide bombers against any of their enemies, it takes away from any scraps of a claim they had to be ideologically motivated. Moreover, it truly boggles the mind to think that a young boy can be convinced to carry out such an attack. What sort of brain-washing goes on in these camps? What are the incentives given? Conversely, is it the case that a bomber who fails to carry the bombing out is punished so severely (torture etc) that he prefers to blow himself up?

Monday, December 1, 2008

Tribal elders seek recovery of college principal

Monday, December 01, 2008, Zil-Hajj 02, 1429 A.H

PARACHINAR: The elders of Kurram Agency on Sunday constituted a 14-member committee to make efforts for the safe and early recovery of a kidnapped college principal, who was kidnapped in Khyber Agency a few days ago.

To this effect, a meeting of local notables and elders was held at the Government Degree College to devise a strategy for safe and early recovery of Government Elementary College Jamrud Principal Syed Razi Shah, a resident of Kurram Agency. The participants expressed concern over the prevailing situation of terror and growing incidents of kidnapping in the NWFP and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata).

A 14-member committee was formed to make efforts for safe recovery. The committee members held a meeting with Political Agent Arshad Majeed and Waris Khan Afridi, a tribal elder of the Khyber Agency, for the release of the principal.