Sunday, July 24, 2005

Shaukat Aziz Takes On Mush!

A year ago the Commando-in-Chief was disgruntled by his prime minister who was known for his abject servility. So he chose a new candidate, possibly the richest man in Pakistan due to the legacy received from his late father, a corrupt general from Zia’s days. But the Choudhries of Gujrat went in to rebellion as this son-of-a-general was a Punjabi and therefore presented a potential threat to their power grip on the province. So a compromise candidate was brought into the picture – none other than our $70 million ex-banker from New York. Why him? Because lacking any following he could not politically threaten anyone. Or that is what everyone thought.

So in August last year Shaukat Aziz became prime minister after two blatantly rigged elections in the Attock and Mirpurkhas constituencies.

A year later the worm has apparently turned. Probably fed up with being laughed at by other politicians and not being taken seriously by the public at large, he has decided to take himself more seriously. After all powerless though he was, he is the prime minister. And this office inherently attracts its own set of power groupies who most likely would urge him on. I would imagine they told him that ‘real power’ resides in Washington and it was time he made his move.

And now, not surprisingly, a power tussle has emerged. Recent reports indicate that it is now coming to a head as Shaukat Aziz has instructed heads of all law enforcement agencies to report to him directly. Last week an operation was led on Musharraf’s instructions on a number of madrassahs. It is believed that Shaukat Aziz suspended and transferred a number of the police officials involved in the madrassah raids

Also, it was apparently Shaukat Aziz who decided to cancel his visit to Washington. It is said he did not particularly like to play a junior third fiddle shortly after the Indian Manmohan Singh’s much trumpeted visit to the USA. Opponents say his newly inflated ego could not bear the perceived humiliation. His cancellation is said to have caught both Washington and Musharraf by surprise.

Not surprisingly a replacement PM is on the way. An MNA seat in northern Sindh has already been earmarked for Muhammad Mian Soomro. After the local bodies elections the vacant MNA seat will be ‘won’ by Soomro in a bye-election. And, if the agencies have their way, we will have another prime minister in Islamabad.

How long Soomro will stay docile is anyone’s guess.

You heard the news on this blog first.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Misfits of Inglistan (Part III)

In the late 1980s I read 22 year-old William Dalrymple’s book ‘In Xanadu: A Quest’, a story of his memorable journey across Asia to the ruins of Coleridge’s ‘stately pleasure dome’ in Xanadu (modern day Duolon for pedantics). Over the years I managed to keep up with some of Dalrymple’s writings, such as ‘City of Djinns’ and ‘The Age of Kali’, but I must confess that even though I bought a copy of his ‘White Mughals’ two years ago, it remains in a pile of books still waiting to be read. But read they shall be.

On a philosophical level I maintain that quality writers know more about the ‘state of human condition’ than self-proclaimed experts of society such as politicians, historians, economists, journalists and sociologists. The reality of 19th century London or Russia, I believe, is better captured by reading the likes of Dickens and Tolstoy than by dredging through dreary statistics or dense historical tomes. Similarly truthful authenticity of 20th century Columbia and Egypt are better revealed by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Naguib Mahfouz than by trolling through a host of non-fiction works.

Having said all this, I come back to William Dalrymple, who has spent his investigative years in both the East and the West. To me he has a better understanding of social realities than a truck full of professional newspaper columnists.

Here then is an excerpt of an erudite article he recently wrote for The Guardian

But it is now becoming very clear that producing cannon-fodder for the Taliban and graduating local sectarian thugs is not at all the same as producing the kind of technically literate al-Qaida terrorist who carried out the horrifyingly sophisticated attacks on the World Trade Centre. Indeed, there is an important and fundamental distinction to be made between most madrasa graduates - who tend to be pious villagers from impoverished economic backgrounds, possessing little technical sophistication - and the sort of middle-class, politically literate, global Salafi jihadis who plan al-Qaida operations around the world. Most of these turn out to have secular scientific or technical backgrounds and very few actually turn out to be
madrasa graduates.

The men who planned and carried out the Islamist attacks on America were confused, but highly educated, middle-class professionals. Mohammed Atta was a town planning expert; Ayman al-Zawahiri, Bin Laden's chief of staff, is a paediatric surgeon; Omar Sheikh, the kidnapper of Daniel Pearl, is the product of the same British public school that produced the film-maker Peter Greenaway.

Peter Bergen of Johns Hopkins University recently published the conclusions of his in-depth study of 75 Islamist terrorists who had carried out four major anti-western attacks. According to Bergen, "53% of the terrorists had either attended college or had received a college degree. As a point of reference, only 52% of Americans have been to college." Against this background, the backgrounds of the British bombers should not come as a surprise. The French authority on Islamists, Gilles Kepel, has arrived at a similar conclusion. The new breed of global jihadis, he writes, are not the urban poor of the third world - as Tony Blair still claims - so much as "the privileged children of an unlikely marriage between Wahhabism and Silicon Valley". Islamic terrorism, like its Christian predecessor, remains a largely bourgeois endeavour.

It is true that there are exceptions to this thesis. There are several examples of radical madrasa graduates who have become involved with al-Qaida. Maulana Masood Azhar, for example, leader of the banned Islamist group Jaish-e-Muhammad, originally studied in the ultra-militant Binori Town madrasa in Karachi.

By and large, however, madrasa students simply do not have the technical expertise or conceptual imagination necessary to carry out the sort of attacks we have seen al-Qaida pull off in the past few years. Their focus, in other words, is not on opposing the west - the central concern of the Salafi
jihadis - so much as fostering what they see as proper Islamic behaviour at home.

All this highlights how depressingly unsophisticated the debate about the British bombers is in this country. Again and again we are told that terrorism is associated with poverty and the basic, Qur'anic education provided by madrasas. We are told that the men who carry out this work are evil madmen with whom no debate is possible and who, according to Frank Field on last week's Question Time, "aim to wipe us out". All links with Iraq and Afghanistan are vehemently denied.

In actual fact, al-Qaida operatives tend to be highly educated and their aims clearly and explicitly political. Bin Laden, in his numerous communiques, has always been completely clear about this. In his first public statement, "A declaration of war against the Americans", issued in 1996, he announced he was fighting US foreign policy in the Middle East and, in particular, American support for the House of Saud and the state of Israel. His aim, he stated, is to unleash a clash of civilisations between Islam and the "Zionist crusaders" of the west, and so provoke an American backlash strong enough to radicalise the Muslim world and topple pro-western governments.

Bush has fulfilled Bin Laden's every hope. Through the invasion of secular Ba'athist Iraq, the abuses in Abu Ghraib, the mass murders in Falluja, America - with Britain's obedient assistance - has turned Iraq into a jihadist playground while alienating all moderate Muslim opinion in the Islamic heartlands and, crucially, in the west. Of course, we must condemn the horrific atrocities these men cause; but condemnation is not enough. Unless we attempt to understand the jihadis, read their statements and honestly analyse what has led these men to blow themselves up, we can never defeat them or even begin to drain the swamp of the grievances in which they continue to flourish.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Misfits of Inglistan (Part II)

One of the solutions must surely lie in communal integration.

One city, two worlds (Associated Press)
Muslims in Leeds don't integrate into English society

16 June 2005

LEEDS, England (AP) -- Young men wear tight jeans and T-shirts, their black hair gelled. The heavy and distinct Yorkshire accent — gruff with flat vowels — may be just as deceiving. Despite their outward Western appearance, the second and third generation Muslim Asian community in this northern town has barely integrated into British society — although many have never visited their ancestral homes of Pakistan, Bangladesh or Kashmir either.

The working-class neighborhood of Beeston, which came to world attention after at least two of its sons were involved in the July 7 suicide bombings in London, is one of many districts here where Asians from the Indian subcontinent have settled in the past 40 years.

While young men have largely chosen Western attire over traditional clothes, most young women prefer to wear shalwar kameez — loose trousers and a tunic — and hide their hair under loose thin scarves. But it’s not only the clothing, the complexion or the food, language or even religion that separates Beeston’s Muslim Asian community from its English and black counterparts. It is their distinct Islamic values and shared homeland ties that they cherish so much and fear losing.

Lahore in Leeds
Walking in their section of the neighborhood — the typical English red-brick row houses notwithstanding — feels like being in Lahore or any other town in Pakistan. In fact, the Asians here may even be more attached to their Pakistani values than many back in their ancestral towns. In a way, time seems to have stopped.

Elders — many of whom do not speak English well even though they have lived here for decades — maintain their strict customs. Perhaps more so as they regard the society here as alien, immoral and corrupting for their children.
They rarely mix with the English, even with next-door neighbors. Each sit on their porches, hardly communicating with one another, according to residents.

“My parents forbade me to speak English at home,” Tanver Akhtar, who was born here 33 years ago, said in her strong Yorkshire accent. Her parents still have difficulty speaking the language of their adopted country.

A life apart
Akhtar wears a shalwar kameez because “I want to be like others. I feel more respected by my community.” When she finished high school, her parents told her she could not go to university. “They thought I might get off track,” she said. Because she was brought up to obey her parents, she consented.

And now, she says, she is expected to obey her husband, whom she married out of love after struggling for years to get her parents’ approval. They had wanted her to marry a cousin, a tradition in her community.

Akhtar said she feels half British and half Pakistani. Then adds: “My parents were very strict, so I guess I feel more Pakistani.” She was not allowed to go out very much on her own, socialize like her English classmates or neighbors. She was to pray five times a day and cover her hair.

She speaks Urdu to her neighbors, to the local butcher and grocer, and even to her 4-year-old daughter, Suman. She said she would certainly allow her daughter to go to university, but not to date boys or marry an English man. “It’s totally wrong because he won’t be a Muslim,” she said.

No English friends
Like Akhtar, 22-year-old Amer, who did not want to give his last name because he wanted to avoid the public spotlight, was born here and has no English friends.

As a second year computer science student at a technical college in Leeds with a part-time job, Amer has very little time to socialize. But the few hours he’s free, he chats with his Pakistani friends on the Internet, or plays cards with them at home or cricket at a park. “We keep ourselves busy,” he said.

He said he does not drink alcohol because it’s forbidden in his religion. Nor does he go to the disco. “We’re not used to doing these things,” he says. “First of all, for religious reasons. If you go to a pub or disco, it’s mostly to look for girls. If I do that, then my sister would want to go to disco too.

Protecting honor of women
“Obviously, we don’t want our sister to be half naked in a disco,” said Amer, the youngest of three brothers and a 22-year-old sister. Such sentiment — about protecting the honor of sisters and female relatives — was widely expressed among Asian youths in Beeston. But not all of the community’s youths stay on track.

It’s not uncommon to see youths — who look more like thugs — roaming the garbage-strewn streets of Beeston. Drugs are consumed in the open. Many utter foul language and are hostile to outsiders. But this isn’t unique to the South Asian youths. English residents and others have complained about English thugs making trouble more than other ethnic groups.

Disaffected youths
Zack Hanif, 32, says there’s very little the young can do in Beeston, where a youth center only opened two years ago.

Police raided the Hamara youth center Thursday where Beeston’s two bombers — Shahzad Tanweer, 22, and Hasib Hussein, 18 - went frequently. Another bomber, Mohammed Sidique Khan, 30, worked there. In all, four bombers blew themselves up on three subway trains and a bus during morning rush hour in London, killing at least 55 people, including the attackers.

Beeston, said Hanif, is one of the most deprived areas in Leeds: “One of the bottom three.”

“So you can imagine there are a lot of disaffected and bored youths,” he said trying to analyze why two of its young men — Britons of Pakistani descent — were driven to carrying out the London attacks, the first suicide operation in Western Europe.

He describes his own youth to prove his point.

When he was in his teens, Hanif quit school and “went into crime, selling hard drugs — class A drugs — that’s heroin,” he said as he rolled a marijuana joint on a street less than 50 yards from a group of policemen cordoning off a block of streets in Beeston as they searched the area for evidence of the London bombings.

To support his drug habit, Hanif stole and robbed. He spent two years in jail. When he came out, he continued taking and dealing drugs and only stopped when his mother died. “I imagined she’d see me from Heaven,” said Hanif, as he took a long drag from his joint.

Now, with al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden’s global appeal to wage jihad — or holy war — against the West, the attention of some youths may have turned to more extremist matters, said Hanif. Since the first Gulf War in 1990-91 when militant Islam started taking root, anger against Western policies has been felt in his community.
But no one, he said, had ever approached him or tried to indoctrinate him.

'Someone brainwashed them'
Amer, 20, and his brothers said they had not been approached by militant recruiters either, even though they live only a few blocks from Tanweer’s affluent home in Beeston. “We think it’s political and nothing to do with religion,” said Amer. “Someone brainwashed them.”

Why did Tanweer and Hussein apparently fall prey to the recruiters while the brothers did not?

“Because they are nice and agreed to listen to them, thinking they might be right,” he said.

A community worker who worked closely with the Hamara youth center said their project dealt with young dropouts or unemployed — people on the fringes of society. The worker, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue, said a few years ago, Beeston was regarded as a heroin gateway. The community had been able to clean up to a large extent. He said several of the suspects connected to the bombings used to gather there, sit together and talk.

'Turd Blossoms'

This is ostensibly a political blog, so those who have heard of Karl Rove and Alistair Campbell raise your hands (to your computer screens, what else?) and accept a “well done!” from me.

For those who haven’t heard of these …eh…’gentlemen’, a brief explanation is in order.

Karl Rove is GW Bush’s precious svengali, who specialises in reading the pulse of the press and the people of the United States and, by spinning factoids, lying, cheating and using each and every nasty technique he could lay his hands on, he managed not only to get GW elected to the Texan governorship but twice to the White House as well. GW affectionately calls him his ‘Turd Blossom’ after Texan wild flowers that thrive in excrement. (Currently Rove seems to be drowning in the stuff as some of his past activities seem to have finally caught up with him – namely a politically vindictive and potentially unlawful outing of a CIA operative).

And then there is the English ‘Turd Blossom’, Alistair Campbell, Tony Blair’s friend and recent communications director, better known as the spin doctor who created fictional ‘realities’ on WMDs and other such nonsense to justify Blair going to war in Iraq. He was forced to resign after he was suspected as having ‘outed’ the name of Dr David Kelly, a UK government biological warfare expert and former weapons inspector in Iraq, which caused Kelly to commit suicide.

Not to be out done the Government of Pakistan has its very own spin supremo, namely one Ashfaq Ahmad Gondal, who has held several posts over the years - Director General Internal Publicity, Cyber Wing Director General, Principal Information Officer of the Government of Pakistan, Press Secretary to the Prime Minister, Head of Information/Media Committee, in other words a man for all ‘Spins’.

For the record Gondal was working till the early hours of the morning to set the record ‘straight’ at the unsuccessful July 2001 Simla summit meeting between Musharraf and Vajpayee. Six months later Gondal was at hand at Katmandu to give a positive spin on Musharraf’s surprise handshake with the astonished Vajpayee. He has also been kept busy pressurizing newsmen to kill stories that the government doesn't approve of. An angry Shaheen Sehbai is on record blaming Gondal among others, for his sacking from the editorship of “The News” newspaper for publishing s story which Gondal warned him not to go ahead with.

So how does Gondal compare with the ‘Turd Blossoms’ of the West?

Yesterday, I learnt, he rang up a senior journalist who works as Pakistan editor of Auntie Beeb’s international news website and belabored him for publishing a story ‘which had crossed the line’ so to speak. After patiently hearing him out the editor, who has been busy publishing several stories relating to Pakistan – what with the Lahore connection with the London bombings, the Sindh railway disaster and renewed warfare in Wana – out of courtesy enquired which particular story had caused official misgivings. Gondal announced that it was the story about ‘the reopening of the 13 militant training camps in northern Pakistan’.

The amused editor had little trouble informing Pakistan’s foremost spin doctor that he had left editing the news magazine, in which this contentious cover story appeared, close to a year ago and was now working with the Beeb. That soon put an end to this particular official Islamabad phone call.

Though one is left wondering on how knowledgeable our blessed 'Turd Blossoms' really are? Could they perhaps simply be 'Turd Mushrooms' instead?


Sunday, July 17, 2005

Nothing Beats A Jolly Old Crackdown

Just skim the following headlines and you’ll get my drift.

13 Jan. 2002 The Daily Telegraph
Musharraf announces crackdown on militants
PRESIDENT Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan last night announced a crackdown on Islamic extremist groups…

17 Nov 2003 BBC
Pakistan militants face crackdown
Islamic militant groups are to face fresh curbs on their activities, government officials in Pakistan say. A number of militant groups will be closed down in the "national interest" within the next 72 hours, according to a foreign ministry spokesman
29 Dec 2003 Christian Science Monitor
Pakistan toughens on militants
"Now lines are drawn between him and extremists. Musharraf is a commando and will get strength from these attacks. He will take bold steps and move harder against militants,"
3 Jul 2004 Rediff.Com
Musharraf orders crackdown on 30 terror groups

My search on Google was brief so I might have missed the odd crackdown or three.

Anyhow this morning the Commando-in-Chief announced yet another crackdown.

16 Jul 2005 CNN
Pakistan's president cracks down on extremists
LAHORE, Pakistan (CNN) -- Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, directed law enforcement agencies Friday to launch a nationwide campaign against banned extremist groups, targeting their
donations, weapons and the holding of meetings.

Make of it whatever you will…

PS: Funnily enough July’s Herald magazine reports that at least 13 major militant training camps have been reopened in the northern (Mansehra) region of Pakistan. According to the magazine, ”As training camps reopen, managers claim that trained militants as well as new aspirants are flocking to enlist for jihad and holy war.”


Friday, July 15, 2005

The Horrible Misfits of Inglistan

The web is full of expressions of shock and outrage over what happened in London last week. While other people far more eloquent than me have said much that needed to be said, I’ll just add a few words.

The situation in Iraq is senselessly brutal and profoundly tragic. Innumerable thousands of innocent Iraqi men, women and children have died as a direct result of US arrogance and incompetence. Hundreds continue to die each week in the post-war turmoil that the US had amply been warned about.

Incomprehensibly Blair dragged a largely unwilling Britain into this morass. Before the war, in February 2003, hundreds of thousands of Britons marched in protest. It was possibly the largest protest of its kind in UK’s history but their prime minister decided to ride roughshod over the feelings of the majority of his countrymen.

And now we have 7/7.

What did these Britons of Pakistani origins achieve in killing innocent London commuters?

Will it stop the daily death toll in Iraq? No.

Will it change US policy in Iraq, Palestine or even Kashmir? No.

I imagine these suicide bombers already knew these answers. So that only leaves us with one logical motivation - revenge.

But how can anyone justify killing innocents to avenge the killing of other innocents? Especially by people who – unlike hundreds of millions of other Muslims – lived in a democratic, free and tolerant society. Clearly these men were not illiterate jahils.

One may suspect that these men no longer fitted in the society to which they were born. And, then one can only wonder about the bitterness and probable personal insecurities which led them to believe in a cause of such awful fanaticism. Mentally isolated from their community and absorbed by their warped sense of 'piety' they then inhumanly lashed out at their own countrymen in a fit of cold-blooded rage.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Can't Be Fooled All the Time

To its incredulous readers Daily Times reported the following:
Musharraf, Aziz assure level playing field to LG candidates
Staff Report
ISLAMABAD: President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz on Friday reiterated their commitment to hold the upcoming local council elections in a free and transparent manner.In a meeting, both leaders said a level playing field would be ensured to all contesting candidates and nobody would be allowed to influence the elections
If one goes by:
General Musharraf’s famously bogus referendum; and
Shaukat Aziz’s notoriously rigged by-elections in Tharparkar and Attock

Can anyone with even half a brain believe these ‘elected’ leaders?

What a load of codswallop.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Sharon - A New Pakistani Hero?

Your blogger must have been asleep when this came out a month ago but now having stumbled onto this piece of news, all I can say is that I was momentarily stunned speechless.

Here is an excerpt from an interview our Commando General gave to the German publication Der Spiegel (published on 28 May 2005).

SPIEGEL: Will Sharon succeed or will he be stopped by religious extremists?
Musharraf: He is a bold man, a great soldier, a courageous leader, but he needs to put more effort into building confidence between the two sides.
Just to jog your memories In 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon and arranged for their Phalangist mercenaries to massacre 3500 innocent civilians – unarmed men, women and children - in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps.

Robert Fisk, that eminent journalist of our era, writing at the time said:

They must have been sent in here with Israeli permission. They must have been armed by the Israelis. Their handiwork had clearly been watched - closely observed - by the Israelis who were still watching us through their field-glasses.
The massacres even horrified the atrocity hardened Israelis and it led a to Government inquiry which found Ariel Sharon, then defense minister, ‘indirectly’ responsible for the killing of hundreds of men, women and children at Sabra and Shatila camps and he then was sacked from office.

Here are some of
Fisk’s eye witness observations from that day for the strong hearted to read:

There were more than a dozen of them, young men whose arms and legs had been wrapped around each other in the agony of death. All had been shot point-blank range through the cheek, the bullet tearing away a line of flesh up to the ear and entering the brain. Some had vivid crimson or black scars down the left side of their throats. One had been castrated, his trousers torn open and a settlement of flies throbbing over his torn intestines.

On the other side of the main road, up a track through the debris, we found the bodies of five women and several children. The women were middle-aged and their corpses lay draped over a pile of rubble. One lay on her back, her dress torn open and the head of a little girl emerging from behind her. The girl had short dark curly hair, her eyes were staring at us and there was a frown on her face. She was dead

Another child lay on the roadway like a discarded doll, her white dress stained with mud and dust. She could have been no more than three years old. The back of her head had been blown away by a bullet fired into her brain. One of the women also held a tiny baby to her body. The bullet that had passed into her breast had killed the baby too. Someone had slit open the woman's stomach, cutting sideways and then upwards, perhaps trying to kill her unborn child. Her eyes were wide open, her dark face frozen in horror.

And Musharraf calls this man ‘a bold man, a great soldier, a courageous leader? ‘. Is his kursi so important that such bloodcurdling realities are of no longer of any relevance?