Tuesday, March 4, 2008


Dear CHUP readers,

I am happy to report that our new and improved website is up and running - please note the site for your records! http://www.changinguppakistan.com.

For those who have email subscribed, I apologize for you having to subscribe again. I promise this is my last shift!

Kalsoom (CHUP editor)

Monday, March 3, 2008

Violence Spirals as Pakistan Awaits New Government

On Monday, Reuters cited analysts who said, "A spate of suicide attacks by Islamist militants could spark a war of revenge among ethnic Pashtun tribesmen in Pakistan's northwest just as moderate, secular political parties appear poised for power." On Sunday, a suicide bomber blew himself up among thousands of tribal members discussing resistance to the Pakistani Taliban [the meeting was referenced by Pakistani media outlets as a jirga, a tribal assembly of elders which makes decisions by consensus]. According to news sources, 40 people were killed in the third suicide attack in three days. The Washington Post cited Javed Iqbal Cheema, the Interior Ministry spokesman, who said the blast occurred while "five tribes were finalizing a resolution that would punish anyone who shelters or helps Al Qaeda, Taliban and other fighters..." The bombing occurred in the semi-tribal region of Darra Adam Khel, a town about 25 miles south of Peshawar, when most of the people had dispersed and "noted elders of the five tribes - Tor Chappar, Sherakai, Busti Khel, Zarghon Khel and Akhorwal - were discussing forming committees to implement the jirga’s decisions," reported Pakistan's Daily Times. A senior local official told the AFP, "The suicide bomber was an 18-year-old boy. His face is recognizable and initial investigations indicate he was a resident of Darra Adam Khel."

The recent spate of violence is both significant and worrying. The Pakistani security forces have been fighting Islamist militants in the northern areas since November, and although the military claims it has cleaned out most of Swat, attacks still persist in the area. According to Reuters, analysts have noted a "dangerous trend" towards attacks that strike at the heart of Pashtun society. A former security chief for the tribal areas told the news agency, "These are direct attacks on Pashtun society...All institutions, which represent Pashtun society, the mosque, a wedding, a funeral or a jirga, they have all been targeted. They want to bomb the entire Pashtun society into submission." Due to the strict code of honor these tribes live by, known as Pashtunwali, the recent attacks on a funeral [see Feb. 29 post] and on the jirga could trigger inter-tribal feuds, which could create a more explosive situation for the government. In my opinion, the recent string of attacks could further isolate support for the Pakistan Taliban, if the government responds accordingly - that means issuing statements condemning the attacks (already done), as well as seeing this as an opportunity to rally support from the tribal community by further vilifying the actions of the Pakistani Taliban. Ultimately, the tribal identity and code of honor should be emphasized in order to overshadow support for these militants.

Friday, February 29, 2008

40 Killed in Funeral Bombing

A suicide bombing occurred today at a funeral for a police official in Swat Valley, killing at least 35 people and wounding 50, according to the latest newswire updates. According to Pakistan's The News, the blast struck just after the funeral prayers for the "martyred" police officer, Javed Iqbal, who was killed in a roadside bombing earlier on Friday. The News presented a slightly higher death toll than Western newswires, citing an official who confirmed the death of at least 40 men. CNN, in comparison, reported a much lower number of casualties - citing Interior Minister Javed Iqbal Cheema who said at least 11 people were killed in the attack. Differences in reported death tolls are common just after an attack occurs. CNN added, "The death toll was expected to rise overnight."

The AFP reported, "Nearly 1,000 people were attending the funeral in the town of Mingora in the Swat Valley, where troops are battling Islamic militants." Reuters provided further details surrounding the incident, noting, "The funeral was being held after dusk in accordance with Muslim custom, and [Deputy Superintendent Karamat] Shah said a power cut immediately after the blast added to confusion." Another senior security official told the AFP, "Nobody has claimed the responsibility for the attack, but we suspect the involvement of miscreants (militants) against whom the military operation was being carried out."

Musharraf sent thousands of Pakistani troops to the Swat Valley earlier this year [PBS Frontline noted it was actually in November 2007, see yesterday's post for more details] to quell the campaign of violence launched by Swat's "radio mullah." According to the Associated Press, "The army claims it has dispersed thousands of his militant followers, but attacks persist. Last week, a roadside bomb hit a wedding party, killing 12 people." Today's funeral blast of a slain police officer is reminiscent of similar attacks targeting funerals in Iraq, the most recent one in Baghdad on January 2, 2008 that killed 36 people. Funerals are often targeted by militants because of the large number of people present at the gatherings.

Inside Pakistan's Elections - CAP's Wadhams Video Journal

An interesting perspective by Center for American Progress' Caroline Wadhams on the elections in Pakistan.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Frontline Documentary- Who is the Radio Mullah?

PBS Frontline presented an insightful program entitled, "Pakistan: State of Emergency," a look into the NWFP/FATA region which has largely become a battleground between Pakistani security forces and Pakistani Taliban militants. Frontline/World reporter David Montero visited Swat Valley, "once the crown jewel of Pakistan's tourism trade," but now a haven for these extremists. In the Frontline documentary, Montero had to wear local clothes and brown contact lenses to blend in with the mostly Pashtun (Pathan) population. In the past, he noted, "the people of Swat have resisted extremism and violence." Despite this, he reported, "the Taliban were entrenching themselves, building a $2.5 million madrassa, or religious school, on the outskirts of town. It became the base for their leader, a mysterious cleric known as the 'radio mullah' for his sermons and tirades broadcast by his pirate radio station. His name is Maulana Fazlullah." The 33 year old militant leads the Swat-based extremist group, the Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM).

Fazlullah was dubbed the 'radio mullah' because he operates a pirate radio station in Swat, which he uses to praise the Taliban and broadcast his overarching message, which Frontline noted includes a ban on music and dancing, the absolute concealment of the female body, and the discouragement of education for girls. According to the program, he also tried to stop a polio vaccination campaign in Swat, "claiming it was a Western ploy to make Muslims infertile." In September 2007, Fazlullah launched a violent campaign in the city, capturing towns throughout the valley and killing security and police personnel. The documentary includes some disturbing footage of those killed, including the bodies of policemen who were beheaded by the Taliban. Montero interviewed Ahmed Rashid, author of Taliban, in the program, who said, "We should remember the Taliban were never defeated by the Americans. They were routed, and they fled Afghanistan and came to Pakistan. The Afghan Taliban and Al Qaeda, who are living in Pakistan, have nurtured a whole new generation of Pakistani extremists. So, this is a very, very dangerous phenomenon."

When Fazlullah's campaign began in Swat, the populace began pleading with Musharraf's government to take action. Islamabad instead reacted slowly and "half-heartedly," initially only sending in a poorly trained paramilitary force. Many subsequently turned to Swat's prince Asfandiar Amir Zeb, a moderate and a leading voice against the Taliban. He explained to Montero that Fazlullah was able to attract a following in Swat because of popular discontent with the Pakistani government, which, he said, had grown corrupt and neglected to develop the region. However, once Fazlullah's violent agenda became apparent, people turned against him. Nevertheless, the Musharraf government continued to react slowly, until, two months into the campaign, ordering 20,000 soldiers into Swat. Although most of Fazlullah's men were killed and the army regained control of most of the area, the mullah and his top commanders escaped into the mountains. Rashid commented on the military campaign in the program, emphasizing, "I think the operation has been a total disaster. The military moved in, as usual, far too late….This could have been nipped in the bud two years ago by a small police operation."

Rashid ultimately blamed Musharraf for having an inconsistent policy toward extremists in Swat and in the tribal areas along the Afghan border – sometimes he appeases militants by offering truces and payoffs, sometimes he cracks down on them. The PBS Frontline episode was significant because it emphasized that these extremists don't have the support of the people in the area - in fact, their campaign of violence and terror has largely caused the population to turn against these groups. However, the government's inconsistencies and inefficiency only succeeded in demoralizing the populace. A newly elected coalition government, in my opinion, must regain the trust of the people, especially in the northern areas. Although there have been indications that the government might sit down and negotiate with the Pakistani Taliban, the new regime must remember to practice consistency - not just with its own policies but with the actions of the military, who needs the support of the country to succeed in its campaign in the north.

You can watch the PBS/Frontline documentary online [see previous link]. The website also has an interview with Montero, as well as an interactive map on tribal Pakistan. [Image from PBS]

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Details Emerge on YouTube Ban

This morning, several Pakistan-related stories were prevalent in the news. However, the YouTube ban, a story that has developed over the past few days, especially piqued my interest. For those who aren't aware, officials announced Sunday that the Pakistani government had ordered all internet service providers to block YouTube because it contained "blasphemous content, videos and documents." A government official told the AFP, "The site will remain blocked till further orders." According to the Daily Times today, "It has been learned that the step had been taken on account of the availability of a blasphemous Dutch film, videos regarding rigging during the polls, and anti-Musharraf material on the site."

The plot thickens. On Monday, news sources reported that YouTube, which is owned by Google, said that many of its users could not access the site for about two hours on Sunday because of an error caused by Pakistan's efforts to block domestic access to the site. Pakistan subsequently rejected these claims, and Shahzada Alam Malik, the head of Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) told BBC News, "We are not hackers. Why would we do that?" The Financial Times noted, "According to reports, a command to reroute all Pakistani web traffic destined for YouTube was accidentally replicated by one of its upstream providers, Hong Kong-based PCCW, causing traffic to the site across much of the world to be redirected to a so-called 'black hole' for about two hours on Sunday. PCCW said yesterday that it was investigating what had happened but declined to elaborate." The FT also cited statements by Abdullah Riar, Pakistan's information technology minister, who called any global fallout completely "unintentional," and further defended the country's decision to block the website, noting, "We have a difficult situation in our country. If we had not stopped YouTube there would have been a bigger backlash. We have seen such reaction in the past."

The Daily Times reported on Pakistani reactions to the ban, noting that although most condemned the "blasphemous act," the majority criticized the government's way of "dealing with the issue." Human rights activist Nighat Saeed Khan told the news agency that any act of blasphemy against any religion was condemnable, but the government had no right to ban the entire website. She asserted, "I think the government should have complained to the YouTube website staff instead of blocking it." A student at Government College University told the Daily Times, "This certainly is not due to blasphemous material on the website. It is because of all those election videos that showed what kind of free and fair elections Pakistan was conducting. You can find blasphemous contents all over the Internet. YouTube videos of the All Parties Democratic Movement’s February 16 rally and those against President Pervez Musharraf were relevant to the action taken by the government."

The PTA also blocks websites that show controversial drawings of Prophet Muhammed, reported the Christian Science Monitor, due mainly to the twelve cartoons published in 2005 by a Danish newspaper that sparked riots and outrage among Muslims. The remnants of that incident still persists today. The Monitor noted, "In the latest in a series of demonstrations over the cartoons in Pakistan, hundreds of hard-line Islamists in the southern city of Karachi torched effigies of the Danish prime minister and the cartoonist on Sunday."

Pakistan is not the only country that blocks YouTube - Turkey blocked the site after video clips allegedly insulted Kemal Attaturk, and Thailand and Morocco banned it last year. However, given the current atmosphere in the country, especially over the issue of free press and freedom of speech - could such a ban still have a detrimental impact on Pakistanis' perceptions towards the government? Does the potential outrage over blasphemous video clips outweigh the potential/current outrage over freedom of speech issues? Do you agree with the government's decision? [Image from AFP]

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

SUMMARY: Wilson Center Election Analysis Event 2/25

Yesterday, I attended a fascinating event at the Woodrow Wilson Center where Eric Bjornlund of Democracy International spoke of his observations while monitoring the Pakistani elections last Monday. Also on the panel were Hassan Abbas, a research fellow at Harvard's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and a former Pakistani government official, Hasan-Askari Rizvi, the Pakistan scholar at Johns Hopkins' SAIS, and Marvin Weinbaum, the scholar-in-residence at the Middle East Institute. Bjornlund reported on DI's methodology while in Pakistan in order to ensure the elections were "free and fair" - this included parallel vote tabulations, 272 samples for the 272 elections, and 75 meetings with political parties prior to the elections. The organization deployed two-person teams around the country (there were 38 DI people altogether), they met with local observers, officials and parties, and then shared their observations. Ultimately - DI found that the elections were relatively peaceful, there was no evidence of systematic manipulation, and the people exercised their will. However, the pre-election period was not as rosy, as we all know, since violence and riots wracked the country before election day. Bjornlund also noted the criticisms of the Election Commission prior to the elections - in the commission's effort to redo the voter registration list, a large number - about 15 million - were left off the list. As a result, they tried to augment the list with the voters from 2002, a list that was widely discredited.

The other panel members concentrated their comments mainly on the question - What happens next? Abbas focused on the victory of the ANP in the NWFP. In 2002, he noted, the elections were rigged in favor of the MMA, the religious coalition, an incident we are now aware of due to a confession from a former Pakistani intelligence (ISI) chief who admitted Musharraf told him to manipulate the polls. This time around, five years later, the MMA failed to show any concrete or tangible changes in the province, and were voted out of power in favor of the ANP, a party that stands for Pashtun nationalism. Abbas was optimistic about the future of the new coalition in the Parliament - since both Nawaz and Asif Zardari have been outside the country for 7-8 years and have "learned quite a bit." Moreover, this new coalition will have no impact on the U.S. led war on terror - since the Pakistani army decides that strategy, not the government.

Rizvi also discussed the future of the U.S.-led war on terror with this new government. According to him, Musharraf's continuation in power will create problems for counterterrorism. Therefore, the only viable solution would be for the president to resign voluntarily. The U.S., Rizvi noted, will face more problems Musharraf stays in power than if he steps down. He asserted that this new government should dialogue with the Islamist extremists (i.e., Beitullah Mehsud, see yesterday's post), and thereby isolate those militants unwilling to cooperate the government. Weinbaum further addressed the U.S. presence in the region, and noted the U.S. government has so far failed to appreciate the transition in process in Pakistan. Musharraf, he added, is increasingly irrelevant as this new government becomes solidified. Weinbaum asserted, "The irony is that every time we try to help Musharraf, we make it worse for him."

The event, all together, was an insightful talk on what should happen next in Pakistan. It seemed based on the questions following the panel talk that people are truly interested in where we should go from here - should a relatively moderate coalition government negotiate with extremist elements in the country? Can forces like Tehreek-e-Taliban be tamed? Moreover, what role does and should the United States play in this process? It is obvious that the U.S. has and will always have a strategic interest in the country - therefore, how can we further this interest and at the same time address the anti-American sentiment raging in the country? A great article in today's LA Times, entitled, "Islamists' Loss in Pakistan isn't a U.S. Win," reported that despite secular party wins in the parliamentary elections, Pakistanis are still unlikely to rally behind the U.S.-led war on terror. The news agency added, "To many Pakistanis, the armed confrontation with Islamic radicals remains 'America's war,' one whose cost in blood has been borne by Pakistani troops with little perceived benefit to this country." As a result, the new parties in power are pushing for a political solution to the problem, rather than the oft-used military solution.

The panel discussion, much like a Magic 8 ball, provided an "Outlook Good" depiction of the country's future - do you agree or is that far too simplistic?