New Age Islam Edit Bureau
25 August 2016
Partying With Jihadis
By Owen Bennett-Jones
By F.S. Aijazuddin
Karachi and Our Conscience
By Khurram Husain
Disappearances Still A Major Issue
By I.A. Rehman
Turkey’s Rapprochement Measures
By Asiya Mahar
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
August 25th, 2016
FOR many years now, the Pakistani military
has been criticised for supporting violent Jihadi groups. And liberals can be
forgiven for having strong feelings on the subject. During the 1990s, when the
Kashmir insurgency was in full swing, the liberals repeatedly predicted a
backlash. The number of people killed by jihadists since then — including many
in the army — shows that the liberals’ warnings were well founded.
But the military has not been alone in
indulging the men of violence. Civilian leaders too have cut deals with Jihadis
who, if circumstances permitted, would like to see those politicians not only
out of power but dead and buried too. And this is not a point that favours one
party over the others: all the mainstream parties have made compromises with
The most obvious recent example concerns
the decision of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial administration to grant $3
million to Samiul Haq’s Haqqani madrasa. Lest anyone be in any doubt about
where Samiul Haq stands on matters of contemporary politics, his recently
published book claims that the Afghan Taliban provided good government; that
Osama bin Laden was an “ideal man” and that Al Qaeda was a figment of the
It’s not only the military that has
indulged men of violence.
Perhaps more importantly, some of those who
assassinated Benazir Bhutto met in his madrasa whilst planning the attack. And
Imran Khan has form in this area. When, in 2013, he agreed to head up the
Pakistan Taliban’s negotiating team he demonstrated not only that he thought
peace could be achieved through dialogue but also that he was willing to
represent and speak for the TTP.
But it is not fair to single out the PTI
leader. After all, in 2010 the Punjab provincial administration gave $1m to
institutions linked to Jamaatud Dawa. In the same year, files recovered from
Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad reportedly revealed that as Punjab
chief minister Shahbaz Sharif suggested the Pakistan government was ready to
re-establish “normal relations” with the Pakistani Taliban as long as it did
not conduct operations in Punjab. And there have been compromises within Punjab
as well. In the run-up to the 2013 election there were widespread reports of a
seat adjustment deal between the PML-N and ASWJ. Faced with criticism about
these arrangements, some PML-N spokesmen did not issue a denial but argued
instead that PPP exhibited a blatant double standard on the issue because it
had done much the same thing in 2008.
Certainly, the PPP has on occasion helped
hardliners. Given what happened in Islamabad in 2007, it is astonishing that,
today, Abdul Aziz Ghazi is not only back in charge of the Lal Masjid but also
drawing a state salary. As a recent independent documentary, Among the
Believers, has recorded, it is not as if Abdul Aziz Ghazi has changed his view
on the need to overthrow the government and impose Sharia: “if you think you
can change us, forget it,” he said.
And yet while Asif Zardari was president
the authorities not only oversaw the rehabilitation of Abdul Aziz Ghazi but
went as far as offering him land for a new madrasa on the edge of Islamabad.
The idea, it seems, was that Lal Masjid needed to be compensated for the
destruction it had brought upon itself.
These examples of civilian willingness to
do business with violent Jihadis suggest that they should not be taken too
seriously when they criticise the army for doing much the same thing. Yet there
is an important difference between the two. Ever since 1947-48, when the state
connived in allowing Pakhtun tribesmen to go on jihad in Kashmir, the military
has perceived the Jihadis as a strategic asset that can help achieve various
policy objectives. And some objectives have been achieved. The successful
Mujahideen campaign against the Soviets in Afghanistan demonstrated that the
violent Jihadis can serve a purpose.
The politicians have different motives.
Some are simply trying to protect themselves. After all, anyone extending
favours to the Jihadi leadership must calculate that there will be an improved
chance that they won’t be the victim of an attack. But it’s not just a case of
avoiding physical harm. There is also the grubby business of political
advantage. Politicians on all sides have calculated that if securing power
depends on reaching a deal with the religious hardliners then it’s a price well
For millions of Pakistanis who are not at
the top of the various power structures, it might seem obvious enough that
people who use violence to secure their objectives should be opposed. But most
of those who have held power in Pakistan seem to have seen it differently. And
while the military is often criticised for sponsoring Jihadis, it’s only fair
to point out that the politicians have themselves repeatedly appeased them.
HOW do you take your Olympic coffee —
white, or black? In Rio, coffee is prepared from beans imported from countries
across the world — Bolivia, Ethiopia, Jamaica, Kenya, Australia, even Thailand.
Its percolating machines filter them, a metaphor for the transient
internationalism of the Olympic Games themselves.
Never before, though, in the history of the
Olympic Games has the subject of colour and race been given such inordinate
exposure by sports commentators. Until Rio 2016, certain categories of sport
were reserved, like the poorer seats at the back of a segregated bus, for
people of colour. It has been a given that any sport requiring equipment or
facilities could be pursued only by those who could afford it.
Sports such as “archery, canoe/kayak,
cycling, equestrian, rowing, modern pentathlon, sailing, shooting and triathlon
squads” were, as one commentator put it, “blindingly white”. Black people were
good for running and boxing.
Nothing proved this point more than the
statistic that out of all the gold medals won by runners, over half have been
by ‘African’ athletes, and in boxing ‘Africans’ alone have won 40 medals. Or
that, in the 1960 Rome Olympics, the winner of the showpiece marathon Abebe
Bikila, an Ethiopian, ran his race barefoot.
Rio 2016 has changed that, irreversibly.
Black is the new gold. The Western media crew of voluble sports commentators
have yet to adapt to the new paradigm. A young American girl wins a gold medal
in the 100 metres freestyle swimming, and she is touted as the first
black/Afro-American girl ever to win such an event. Her compatriot, Simone
Biles, wins four gold medals in gymnastics and the media marvels at how a black
girl can break the colour bars, horse and rings. Daryl Hanes gains a silver
medal in the men’s sabre fencing, and his achievement carries the addendum that
it is the first time in 112 years that a black/Afro-American has won in this
Never before in Olympic history has the
subject of race been given such exposure as was done in Rio 2016.
Almaz Ayana secures the gold for 10,000
metres long distance run, but then, she is from Ethiopia. And when a young
woman, Ibtihaj Muhammad, appears — in a Hijab — to compete in a fencing match,
the attention of the viewers is drawn not to her skill with an épée but her
decision to hide her hair.
No Hijab will ever be large enough or thick
enough to hide the bias of some of the more raucous elements of the reporting
media. Their remarks about black/Afro-American female sportspersons remind one
of Dr Samuel Johnson’s famous observation about female preachers. Told by James
Boswell that he had heard a woman preach, Dr Johnson’s retorted: “Sir, a
woman’s preaching is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done
well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.”
For one particular contestant — Yulia
Refomiva, from cold-shouldered Russia — the Rio Olympics were another
battlefield. “Rio was awful,” she lamented, “it was war.” To be booed after
four years of preparation, effort, training and high-pressure performance was
more than a waste of adrenalin. It was a negation, a perversion of the Olympic
spirit. The spectators became judges, and the judges spectators.
If the Russians are to be believed, the
United States has conspired to hamstring Russia. Whether Russia could have
posed a serious challenge to the US, or for that matter Great Britain, in the
medals table is now a matter of Monday morning conjecture. It would appear,
though, that both Russia and China have lost interest in the Olympics. They no
longer see it as an arena in which they need to prove themselves. In Beijing
2008, China could not afford to lose.
In Rio, China did not care if it did not
win. That is not to say its Olympic team did not give their best. They did. But
the embers of Beijing had been banked, its fire tempered. The colour of the
medal no longer drove the Chinese.
India had sent the largest Olympic
contingent in its history to Rio. Over a billion Indians hoped for a richer
trawl of medals than one silver and a single bronze — the first for badminton
and the second for wrestling. The silver came as a hard-won surprise. The
latter was to be expected.
After all, India has had enough practice.
It has wrestled with Pakistan for 69 years over everything — Sir Creek, Rann of
Kutch, a seat in the UN Security Council, a place in the ECO, and perennially
Jammu & Kashmir.
If only the statue of Christ the Redeemer
above Rio could be transposed to Wagah border. With one arm outstretched into
Pakistan and the other into India, who knows? He might perform the miracle for
them he did for the Brazilians. They are still celebrating their soccer gold by
crying into their coffee.
F.S. Aijazuddin is an art historian.
IT is this city’s sad predicament that it
embraces all with open arms and is yet endlessly vilified with glee. Following
the utterly despicable speech by Altaf Hussain on Monday night, a kind of open
season has been declared on the MQM. But what troubles me more is how much of
this spills out onto the general citizenry of Karachi.
This is how the line goes: if the people of
Karachi still vote for the MQM candidate in the mayoral elections happening on
Wednesday, it will prove that they want pain and not change.
There is a certain prejudice against
Karachi and its citizens amongst my upcountry friends that I am always struck
by. At a personal level, we are all entitled to our feelings and opinions.
However, the problem is that when this attitude finds its way into policy
thinking, or politics, it is then no longer a personal but a public matter.
Let me give an example. Many years ago, I
was interviewing a former official from the privatisation ministry about the
various privatisation transactions of the Musharraf regime. When it came to
KESC, as K-Electric was then known, he let out a sigh of frustration. “I
personally pushed for the privatisation of this entity,” he said. “It was a
terrible entity, always asking for subsidies, riddled with rackets and losses.”
Was it worse than the power distribution
companies of the rest of the country, I asked. Yes, came the response, much
worse. Then he launched into a description of how bad the enterprise was and I
couldn’t help but notice that he was describing a mental image of the city of
Karachi more than the entity itself.
The way in which people upcountry relate to
Karachi is similar to how expats or foreigners relate to Pakistan.
In subsequent encounters with Wapda
officials and this was before the bifurcation of the entity into hydro and
power sides, I found this unique disdain for KESC. Whenever discussing other
entities in the power sector, they had reasons for why things were in a
dilapidated state. When it came to KESC, there were no excuses and no
sugar-coating. At the time, I didn’t make much of this and took their view that
the losses at KESC were the number one problem and the entity must be
jettisoned at almost any price.
It was, indeed, jettisoned to a private
party that could not manage it. Then another management came in during 2008,
and slowly things turned around. Now the losses are gone and the entity is
profitable and line losses are coming down. How this is happening is another
story, but since the line at the time was that the losses are high and it must
be jettisoned at any cost, I though perhaps officialdom in the power sector
would be happy.
But no. Recent conversations with upcountry
folks in the power sector confirm once again that the same entity which is now
called K-Electric, is the subject of the same disdain. They all opposed
privatisation of the power sector, and in doing so, pointed towards K-Electric.
“Do you want us to become like them?”
What’s wrong with them, I asked? They’re
profitable, line losses are coming down, investments are being made, so where
is the problem? And now there was a different story. “They’re overbilling their
customers,” said one. “They’re only selling electricity taken from the national
grid, nothing more,” said another. “If they have their own power plants, why do
they take power from the grid?” asked yet another.
Then it struck me. No matter what happens,
Karachi’s power utility will always be a whipping boy for the rest of the
country, not because of its performance issues but because it is in Karachi.
After all, Pepco keeps some of its plants shut while there is load-shedding in
the rest of the country too. And why should Karachiites not be entitled to the
cheaper hydropower in the national grid? Is there no overbilling in the
distribution companies owned by Pepco? And how exactly did K-Electric declare a
profit of Rs22 billion through overbilling alone without there being any kind
of an uproar in the city?
Here’s another example. A while back, I
wrote an article complaining about the massive inconvenience caused to the
city’s residents on account of the IDEAS expo being held here. Comments I
received in return were “if the city’s residents can endure countless closures
on the orders of a political party, what is a few more days of traffic jams?”
The answer is simple: every day of traffic and school closures is a lot for a
city this size, and nobody enjoys the city’s closures on the dictates of a political
Often I find that the way in which people
upcountry relate to Karachi is similar to how expats or foreigners relate to
Pakistan as a whole. They see the headlines and generalise about the people. If
people want to really understand why a substantial vote bank exists for the MQM
in spite of everything they see on TV, all they have to do is understand that
voter behaviour is rarely influenced by what happens on television. Elections
are decided on local issues, and most people I meet who may have strong
feelings about Karachi know very little about the local issues of the city.
Again and again, I keep encountering such
blinkered and deeply prejudiced views about Karachi. Yet this is one city where
in a single stretch of a market near my house, the Paanwallah is Burmese, the
tea vendor behind him is Pashto-speaking, the tyre guy next to him is
Urdu-speaking and the AC repairman next to him is from southern Punjab. And you
have to experience the friendly vibes between them to understand that this is
the only city in the country that brings together so many different people from
so many backgrounds, and let’s them all call themselves a Karachiwala.
NEXT Tuesday, which falls on the
International Day for Victims of Enforced Disappearances, the world will take
stock of the progress or otherwise of efforts to end the outrage that enforced
disappearances are. It will be an appropriate occasion for the government of
Pakistan to take a fresh look at the problem that has caused endless agony to
thousands of families over the last many years.
Since March 2011, the government has left
the second Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances (CoIoED) to grapple
with this huge issue. One good thing the commission does is that it files
monthly performance reports with the federal and provincial authorities. Unless
these reports remain unread, the government cannot pretend to be ignorant of
the fact that enforced disappearances is still a major human rights issue in
the country and that a thorough reappraisal of the efforts to solve it is
The commission receives fresh reports of
disappearance in considerable numbers month after month: 56 cases in January
this year, 66 in February, 44 in March, 99 in April, 91 in May, 60 in June and
94 in July. That is, 510 cases in the last seven months, or an average of 72.86
cases per month. Although many more instances of enforced disappearance are not
reported, the number of cases received by the CoIoED is high enough for the
government to abandon its complacency.
At its inception in March 2011, the
commission had only 138 cases on its roster that had been left pending by the
2010 inquiry commission comprising three former judges of the superior courts.
The number of cases received by it till July 31, 2016 has risen to 3,522. Out
of these cases, 2,105 have been disposed of — a creditable achievement no
doubt. But the average disposal rate over the 64 months of the commission’s
existence is no higher than 32.89 cases per month.
This year’s disposal rate is much higher —
483 cases over seven months, or an average of 69 cases per month. The cases
pending on Aug 1 last numbered 1,417. If fresh cases continue being reported at
this year’s rate (72.86 cases per month), even at the improved disposal rate
the commission will not be able to complete its assignment for many years.
The commission receives fresh reports of
disappearance in considerable numbers month after month.
The cases disposed of since March 2011
include 491 that, for one reason or another, could not be accepted as enforced
disappearances. Obviously, a much larger number of cases were inquired into as
incidents of involuntary disappearance. What are the commission’s findings?
Out of the 483 cases decided during the
last seven months, 111 were dropped for not being enforced disappearances and
372 persons were traced; 189 persons, happily a little more than 50pc of the
total, were said to have returned home. The commission does not tell us where
these people were during the period they could not be traced by their families.
The Supreme Court once issued instructions for such people to be interviewed so
that those responsible for their disappearance could be identified and
punished. That still needs to be done.
With regard to the 183 persons who have
been traced this year and have not returned home, they fall into the following
categories: under trial — 48; held at internment centres — 46; lodged in
prisons — 46; held by Rangers for 90 days — 21; reported dead — 20; killed in
encounter — 2.
How and when were the 92, who are facing
trial or are held in prisons, received by the police? This issue was examined
by the commission of 2010 and it passed strong strictures on the police
practice of registering crudely concocted cases against persons it received
from the intelligence agencies; and, the quashment of a couple of such cases
was ordered. The cases of the unfortunate 92 must be thoroughly probed. One of
the 20 persons reported dead is said to have died in a jail; his death as well
as the killing of two persons in ‘encounters’ must also be judicially
No review of disappearances can be complete
without taking notice of the plight of Hamid Ansari and Zeenat Shahzadi. The
former, a young Indian engineer, illegally entered Pakistan because he wanted
to help an internet friend, a young girl, and was arrested in 2012. The
authorities denied any knowledge of him for a long time and eventually
disclosed that he was tried by a military court and sentenced to three years’
imprisonment. The Peshawar High Court is hearing his petition for the inclusion
of the pre-trial period of detention in his imprisonment term, but now concern
has been raised about threats to his life in prison. The government must ensure
his safety and it will be proper to start preparing for his repatriation to
The case of Zeenat Shahzadi, who was
pursuing Ansari’s case, is no less serious than Qandeel Baloch’s, the model who
was killed because she wanted to live by her own lights. Zeenat too had dreams
that many would consider normal — a poor woman’s ambition to be a journalist
and to make a name as a fighter for lost causes. She disappeared over a year
ago and her case is pending before the commission of inquiry. At each hearing
the law-enforcement agencies spin out meaningless tales. The commission cannot
force anyone to fulfil the state’s obligation to find the involuntarily
disappeared persons, regardless of who is responsible for it.
It is surely time the government reviewed
its decision to leave the issue of disappearances to a commission of inquiry
with meagre resources and little authority to enforce its will on hardened
experts in cover-ups and denials. Either this commission should be turned into
a judicial tribunal, with adequate powers and resources, or a new commission
should be set up. Otherwise the state will continue to get a bad name for not
dealing with disappearances with the seriousness the matter has deserved all
By Asiya Mahar
After last month’s failed coup, last week
Turkish government hosted Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif just days after
President’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s historic trip to Russia during which he
publicly made up with Vladimir Putin after the shooting down of Russian fighter
plane on the Turkish-Syria border last year. These moves have surged the interest
to understand Turkey’s rapprochement measures. Do they signal a shift in
Turkey’s global alliances as Turkey has been unhappy with West’s muted response
to the coup, and frustrated with continued criticism of its human rights
What message is the Turkish government
sending to the US by getting closer to Iran and Russia? Is it trying to build
some kind of leverage or is it making a fundamental shift in its foreign
policy? What probable impact these rapprochement measures may have on war in
the neighbouring Syria? How will the US respond to these developments? Will the
differences dominate and hamper long-term cooperation between Turkey, Iran and
Syria? How does the Syrian opposition view this?
By getting closer to Russia and Iran,
Turkish government doesn’t seem to send any adverse signal to the US,
particularly because of its own interests in the area. Turkey has clearly been
upset with US’s muted response to the July coup. Moreover, Turkey wants
Fethullah Gulen, the cleric living in the US and alleged by Turkey to be behind
the coup, be extradited. But nobody legally living in the US can be extradited
just because a government wants a person to be extradited. It is a lengthy
process undertaken as per formal official procedures and may take a year or
Additionally, the shift in US’s priorities
has created a mismatch of interest between US and Turkey. For the US ISIS is
top priority and Assad second. Whereas, Turkey’s priorities are the Kurds
first, Assad second, and ISIS third. During the last few months, Turkey has
expressed frustration with the US over the Kurdish issue.
Apparently, engaging with Russia and Iran
may appear more flexible to Turkey than the US at this point in time. The three
have adopted correct diplomatic approach by starting dialogue on ISIL i.e., a
non-conflictual issue on which they can agree. But on Syria, the three have a
varied stance. Iran has been a key ally of Syrian government providing advice
and military supplies for its battles against rebels. Russia has also supported
President Bashar al-Assad mostly via airstrikes. Although it says it is bombing
the ISIL but the opposition group states Russian strikes have mainly targeted
other Syrian rebels. Conversely, Turkey has until now been on the opposite side
of Syria’s war; it has repeatedly called for Assad to step down and has helped
opposition groups along with the US. But unlike the US, Turkey opposes Syrian
Kurdish groups who are also fighting Assad.
To develop trust, Turkey, Iran and Russia
have to find common interests to reach out to each other, develop a common
strategy and work in coordination rather than disengaging on issues of
divergent interests. That’s what the Turkish and Iranian foreign ministers’
mentioned in their press conference that despite disagreement on the Syria
conflict, they would keep the dialogue open.
Talking of US’s response to this
rapprochement, it would probably give it low consideration as it does not
perceive it to be a serious engagement for a long term.
There has been a simultaneous easing of
tension between Turkey and Israel, Turkey and Russia and now Turkey and Iran.
Turkey is a major if not powerful player in the region, and it appears to be
basically trying to balance ties between the East and West. What the Turks are
in a way doing smartly is that they are reaching out to countries and getting
what they want on a bilateral level. For instance, Turkey reaching out to
Israel may be to improve Turkey’s image in the West, but access to Israeli gas
can also be a factor. To Russia also Turkey reached up as it essentially got
cut off from Russian tourism and Russian markets after the shoot down of the
Russian airplane over incursion into Turkish airspace. For a year, Turkey
wasn’t able to fly over Syria, and its military action against the Kurdish area
— one of its key concerns inside the country and in Northern Iraq and Syria —
was limited. Significantly, the Kurdish insurgency in Northern Syria is a
concern that both Iran and Turkey share. Thus, Turkey has also reached out to
Iran to bilaterally talk of its priorities and concerns i.e. Kurdistan Workers’
Party (PKK) and any radical agenda that Kurds may carry.
Turkey is part of the western alliance
involved in supplying arms to the Syrian opposition with the US, and to expect
shift in Turkish policy overnight is very difficult. Moreover, Iran and Russia
cannot be a replacement for Turkey’s decade old engagement with the West. They
cannot provide excess of gas that Turkey needs, and offer little in terms of
money, investment, tourism and markets for Turkish exports. Hence, at this
stage Turks are trying to show that they are upset and the Russians and
Iranians are playing along with this.
Turkey, Iran and Russia agree on nothing
except fighting ISIS in Syria. The chances of them finding any political or
diplomatic solution to the Syrian crisis are meager. Their interests are
different, and their focuses are different, hence, unfortunately, they cannot
have anything further than a consultation mechanism.
Pertaining to the concerns of the Syrian opposition
over rapprochement between Turkey and two of Assad’s staunch supporters,
Turkey’s consultations with the Syrian opposition have helped the latter
develop an understanding of what Turkey intends to do. The Syrian opposition is
content that Turkey is in a position to bridge differences between countries,
which does not imply any movement towards the political position that Russia
and Iran have taken. Some analysts point to the already existing possibility
that after change in US’s priorities, sooner or later, considering
transformation of Syria into a secure state, Turkey may also give up the demand
of Assad’s resignation, and agree on a transition period with Assad in office.
But some exaggerated analyses go as far as to assert that after amending ties
with Israel, Russia and Iran, Turkey may mend ties with Assad as well.
Factually, it is difficult for Turkey to
ignore the fallout of any such policy change knowing that there is a movement
in Syria that demand a security and stabilisation plan of which Assad’s
departure should be a part, particularly in areas close to Turkey’s borders
that are controlled by the opposition. Therefore, Turkey most likely will go
for a solution agreed upon by the Syrian population particularly in the North.