Wednesday, October 11, 2006

In Appreciation for The Friday Times

I have come to admire The Friday Times. These people have to live under a government that pretends much and delivers little and threatens its journalists; the editor of TFT was placed in prison for delivering a lecture in India that he had already delivered in Pakistan.

As far as I can see the journalists at TFT are doing their best to call a spade a spade even though the wrath of the Pakistan Army (which rules Pakistan) can be dangerous.

Here are some notes on a recent issue (Oct 6-12, 06).

Najam Sethi's review of Musharraf's new book is not flattering; but then, repeating the statements in the book as they stand may be embarrassing enough for Musharraf. This is what the General says at the end of the book, "We have to consolidate our democracy and ensure the supremacy of the constitution" - this, from the pen of a dictator.
"Don't hold your breath" By NAJAM SETHI' October 12, 2006 (The Friday Times)

Two articles address the rise of the Taliban.

Ejaz Haider says that the "Taliban have not merely learned more sophisticated military tactics from insurgents in Iraq; they are now part of radical Islamism which moves across boundaries with the same ease as global capital. …" "The last time Afghanistan threw out reformers, the effort was called the great battle for the free world.
Disagreement with the PDPA ideology aside, what was the PDPA trying to do if not reform Afghanistan? Now the shoe is on the other foot. The reactionaries of yesterday, called the Mujahideen, are today's Taliban, though arguably a whole lot more reactionary."
"The Taliban are coming..." By EJAZ HAIDER October 12, 2006 (The Friday Times)

The article on the Taliban in Quetta ("Looking for the Taliban: check Quetta") by Malik Siraj Akbar is the most disturbing. The subtitle is "While it is difficult to say who is or is not a Talib, one thing is clear: Quetta and other areas are swarming with people who are rabidly
anti-US." As usual, the officials deny this. It is strange that the officials are prepared to deny what seems evident to people who in Quetta can describe what they see.

Here is what the officials say in Quetta:
"... [T]he allegations of Taliban re-grouping in Quetta as ludicrous and … security on the Pak-Afghan border [will] be tightened by deploying more Frontier Corps (FC) personnel. 'No one, including the Taliban, will be allowed to use Balochistan's territory for terrorist activities.' [Also] Balochistan government has been taking 'stern action' against suspect Taliban in the past and [will] continue to do so in the future. 'Pakistan is actively engaged in the 'war on terrorism' and has contributed much more to this war than any other county in the world. No Taliban or Al Qaeda members are present in Quetta and the government [has] been hunting all suspected terrorists.'"

Here is what informed observers say:
"The Taliban enjoy the overwhelming moral support of some sections of the Mutahidda Majlis-e-Amal, the second largest partner in the Balochistan government." ... Maulana Noor Mohammad, provincial chief of Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F), "has been one of the biggest opponents of operations against suspected Taliban in Quetta. When the government arrested around 200 Taliban suspects in July this year, he organised a large public rally in Quetta to condemn these raids against those he called, 'our Muslim brothers'".
"Musharraf is careful not to crack down too heavily on powerful Islamist radicals - a mix of clerics, army generals and spies - who have retained their Taliban links." Note: Army generals.
"[F]inding the insurgents is a far easier task in neighbouring Pakistan: you just stroll down to the shops in Quetta where you find posters of Osama bin Laden brandishing a Kalashnikov and cassettes with recordings of speeches and poems calling young men to join the jihad or mourning martyrs. Gory covers match the themes - crossed swords dripping with infidel blood, battlewagons loaded with black-turbaned fighters, and beatific images of bearded militants now detained in Guantánamo Bay." "Looking for the Taliban: check Quetta" By MALIK SIRAJ AKBAR October 12, 2006 (The Friday Times)

See also in this issue: Iqbal Khattak's report on doubts about the future:
"Despite the Sept 5 accord and the opening of the area, not many are optimistic about the future" He reports that there are sincere Pakistanis trying to fix the downward spiral in the Tribal Areas. "What has happened [the rise of Taliban] in North Waziristan is all because of lack of education," [said a local man trying to upgrade the girl's school]. "Now that the government has reached an agreement with the Taliban, Kazim says there is no chance that the school would be upgraded." "Asked to comment on President Musharraf's claims in the US that the peace accord was "against" the Taliban, he said: 'If that were true the Taliban would not be moving around openly without any fear of the government.'" "Despite the Sept 5 accord and the opening of the area, not many are optimistic about the future" By IQBAL KHATTAK October 12, 2006 (The Friday Times)

The Friday Times is worth the $25 a year it costs to check in weekly on affairs in one of the most important caldrons of world instability.

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