Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Pakistan's further slide into the abyss

For years I have been saying that it couldn't get worse than this -- and it gets worse. The situation in Pakistan is going from bad to worse. What is most astounding is the inability of the Pakistani leadership to deal with the rising power of the Taliban and other like-minded Sunni radical groups essentially cultivated by the government. Now the government capitulates and wants to call it a victory. I collect here some interesting statements on the rapid descent of this proud country. I grieve and pray for God to save them.

Here is what Bill Roggio [The Long War Journal] has to say:

"Pakistan signs sharia bill into law"
By Bill RoggioApril 13, 2009 4:31 PM

The Pakistani government has approved the controversial bill that will allow for the implementation of sharia, or Islamic law, into a large region of northwestern Pakistan.

President Asif Ali Zardari signed the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation into law today after a majority of the Pakistani Parliament passed the bill. The regulation allows for the establishment of sharia courts in the Malakand Division, an administrative region that encompasses more than one-third of the Northwest Frontier Province and includes the districts of Malakand, Swat, Shangla, Buner, Dir, Chitral, and Kohistan.

The sharia law was referred to the Pakistani government after the government negotiated an agreement known as the Malakand Accord with the Taliban in Swat. The agreement calls for the withdrawal of the Pakistani Army from Swat, the release all Taliban prisoners, the withdrawal of any criminal cases against Taliban leaders and fighters, and the imposition of sharia. The government agreed to the terms of the Malakand Accord after the military suffered its third defeat against the Swat Taliban in two years.

The Taliban had threatened to renew the violence in Swat if the sharia law was not signed by President Zardari. Amir Izzat, a spokesman for the pro-Taliban Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammed [TNSM or the Movement for the Enforcement of Mohammed's Law] threatened to declare any member of parliament as a non-Muslim if they voted against the law. Sufi Mohammed, the leader of the TNSM, which serves as a front for the Taliban in northwestern Pakistan, walked out on the peace agreement after bashing Zardari for not signing the sharia regulation into law.

President Zardari had said he refused to sign the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation into law until the security in Swat was restored. As recently as April 9, Husain Haqqani, Pakistan's Ambassador to the US, said President Zardari would not sign the regulation into law.

"The president of Pakistan has not signed the agreement and not approved the agreement yet because he’s waiting for the TNSM to fulfill its end of the bargain, which was, essentially, to make sure that the Taliban — whose leader happens to be his son-in-law — they do not continue to use force," Haqqani told a forum in Washington, according to The Washington Independent. "Since that has not happened, the agreement has not been enforced."

But the Taliban have repeatedly violated the ceasefire in Swat. Taliban forces have attacked military convoys and captured soldiers and government officials. Most recently, on April 11, a Taliban force wounded three security personnel after ambushing a convoy in Swat. Meanwhile, the Swat Taliban have advanced on neighboring Buner and are now in full control of the district, which is just 60 miles from the capital of Islamabad.

The Malakand Accord and the subsequent signing of the sharia law have emboldened the Taliban and the multitude of Islamist groups in Pakistan. Islamist political parties are now calling for the imposition of sharia throughout the country.

Here is a comment on this entry by one of the bloggers:

Posted by Micah at April 14, 2009 1:35 AM ET:

Interesting, but the media and everyone for the most part seems to miss the fact that Taliban completely took over Buner province sunday afternoon and the media was turned the other way after they assumed the incident ended 24 hours earlier upon their saturday afternoon withdraw. India Times and a couple Pakistan publications seem to be the only ones who caught the news.

Obviously President Zardari signed this bill as a reaction to the Buner take-over on Sunday, which may be the fastest consolidation of power so far in the battle for the north-west; AND THE MEDIA MISSED IT!!! Below is my blog, most of which is news straight from my contacts in Buner:

I have just got news from my friends in Buner district (that area i stayed in with the Pashtos that neighbors Swat). Friday afternoon, as stated in the media, Taliban crossed the mountains into the district through the same pass we took from Swat. Only about 100 entered to setup a meeting; a very small number. They agreed to pullout of Buner and leave Saturday afternoon after a Jirga meeting was held. The media was very updated on this, and reported the Taliban's pullout of Buner on Saturday. However, the media seems to have overlooked what happened the next day and forgot about the whole ordeal assuming it was over. Well it didn't end. Twenty four hours later, the Taliban, with large swaths of fighters, returned and may have consolidated the fastest spread of their power in this whole war...

Yesterday, around noon, thousands of Talibs poured into Buner district a day after they stated their official departure. In a period of around 5 hours, Taliban took the entire provincial province. There was no resistance at all, Pakistani police and military were ordered not to interfere or cause any tension. The Pir Baba shrine has been shut down (as that is considered a site of idolization according to the Taliban's strict interpretation of Islam). The Taliban control 100% percent of the district. According to my friend in Pir Baba, the Taliban are everywhere, they are burning televisions, shutting down DVD shops, and now are beginning youth-recruiting campaigns. My friend is very worried, as he works for a local school in Pir Baba with an IT institute. The school is locked and no one is going to it. Women's classes stopped about 6 months ago when there were fears that Taliban were beginning to look into the prospects of expanding into Buner district.

So, this is HUGE news, and its not in the news at all, unfortunately. The media turned its eye away when they assumed it was all over on Saturday afternoon when the few Talibs left Buner. Well, Taliban are in complete control of it now and its another world than when I was there last June. They are everywhere, at guard posts replacing what was before police check points, are driving around on pickup trucks with loudspeakers announcing the implementation of Shariah courts as well as asking the youth to join.

Another strange change is that Buneris have been absolutely against the Taliban for years, for the trouble they caused in Swat. However, since there is no war in Buner and the Taliban took it over without any fighting or harm to the local population, strangely enough, the Taliban are getting public support and actually gaining more popularity than would have been expected (not making this up. My friend is telling me this first-hand, and he is against the Taliban who pose a potentially direct threat to his employment in the IT center at his school in Pir Baba, if it is to be discovered). One of the reasons for this change of mind amongst the public in Buner is because of the Pakistan government's lack of development in Buner (it is a very poor district that never obtained the same development as Swat did, thanks to its tourist industry Swat has benefited from through most of its existence until two years ago. Buner, being part of the lower Swat valley (not the provincial district itself though) has always sort of been looked at as the "poor man's Swat valley.")

I still can't believe this is happening. I wonder how many days it will take the media to discover this, and I wonder why something as big as this has not been reported in the media. Maybe because this is a HUGE embarrassment for the Pakistani government and they are trying to figure out what to do with the situation before throwing the spotlight on it? I have no idea. Supposedly the Taliban are talking of Islamabad being the next stop (they certainly are about 100km closer than they were 2 days ago), but this could just be exaggerated euphoria considering their pride has probably swelled from this latest take-over of Buner district (afterall, they still have not yet taken Peshawar).

However, if it is true that Taliban is changing its public-image and is obtaining acceptance in Buner, it will become a major recruiting grounds for Taliban, as Buner district never obtained the same amount of educational and economic development as Swat or even Mardan district, and the Taliban's seeding of madrasa's will have a huge effect in their recruiting mission, as these madrasas teach the much desirable applicable sciences and literacy teachings, in addition to Islamic studies (Deobandi) and small-arms weapon training. I suggest USAID's project in Peshawar immediately start throwing a development plan together in the much ignored Buner district, or Taliban will be filling in this missing gap VERY fast. In fact, it may already be too late.

If you want my theory, i think the 100 or so Taliban that were sent into the countryside of Buner on Friday were just an experiment to see how Buneris would react to their presence. There was a slight skirmish, but nothing major. When the Jirga meeting was held, it was another test to see how they would be reacted to politically among the elders of the Jirga, so when they agreed to pull out Saturday, they really just went back to Swat district to report their impressions and general consensus. When the Taliban determined they faced very minuscule resistance from police and Buneri civilians, they saw this as the green light to send in thousands of fighters 24 hours later on Sunday afternoon, knowing all too well they could take the province without any risk of retaliation against them.

In a mere few hours hours, Buner district was consolidated by Taliban. It took a massive two+ years for this same Taliban movement, lead by Mulauna Fazlullah, to consolidate it's power over Swat province. Amazing. What I find even more astonishing is the sheer level of lowness in the Pakistan military's morale. Technically, the Swat-truce is not official yet, because President Zardari has refrained from signing it (mostly because of the controversy and America's reaction if he does). It goes to show both sides desire the truce and are recognizing it despite the fact that it officially not active at all, and the moderate broker of the truce, Sufi Mohammad, pulled out of the deal one week ago after frustration of the government's delay to make it official. It is astonishing that both sides are still abiding by the truce and not using its "unnofficial" status as a legitimate reason to resume the fighting against one another.

Since both sides are recognizing the truce, despite the fact that its non-existent without Zardari's signature, Taliban is most likely in direct violation it's agreements (officially or unofficially) in that they are running an actively armed militia in the streets of Buner's public life; while shots were not fired in obtaining their hold on the district, they still took power with the show of force as an active militant group. Therefore, the military has the full right to intervene with armed force and still recognize the agreements stated in abiding by this truce. The fact that they have not, and Taliban have just taken over Buner district as if its a freebie, goes to show the military is finished, has no desire to fight, and the Taliban still have the drive to continue the armed struggle with high-morale, if the military were to react in such a way. A further embarrassment and a clear admission of the Pakistani military that they have failed and surrendered to the Taliban's will. The truce, which both sides recognize, provided the Taliban with their main desire to implement Shariah, but failed to disarm the Taliban as an armed movement in the public sphere, which was the main terms the Pakistani military demanded as the trade off for the truce to go into effect.

In reality, since the military did not intervene in reaction to their demands failing to be met by the the deal brokered by Sufi Mohammad, the only benefit the military gained was the relaxation of not having to go to the front lines any longer to fight another battle; if they cared about the current violation in Buner and the Taliban's greater grasp on power, the military would have done exactly that: reacted with force. Instead, in a mere few hours, the Taliban did in Buner what took them over two years to do in Swat. Which district is next, and will the military refrain from trying to repel it in any way?

Pathetic. If the military reacted to the small contingent of Talibs who were sent into Buner on Friday, the Taliban may not have been so quick to just send huge fleets into Buner 48 hours later. As far as the deal of the truce is concerned, Taliban got everything they wanted without compromising anything. The military obtained nothing for the Pakistani government; they just don't have the drive to fight anymore.

Posted by Micah at April 14, 2009 1:38 AM ET:

Oh, and when I say "yesterday", I am actually referring to Sunday since I wrote this original blog on a monday.

The media seems to have turned its back away from the incident after Saturday afternoon (April 11) when the small contingent of Talibs departed Swat, and totally missed what happened Sunday (APril 12).
. . .

Oh and about Zardari, once again i wrote it before he signed the bill, and I don't have time to edit right now.

Anyways, it seems the Taliban sent more fighters in Saturday, agreed to depart, but sent in swaths more on Sunday and took power Sunday. According to my contacts. On Saturday, the Pir Baba shrine actually was not occupied by the Taliban (it was closed as a security measure by police), but was occupied by Taliban only as recently as Sunday, as well as their presence in the center of Hazrat Pir Baba.

Here is what the New York Times has to say:

April 14, 2009
Allied Militants Threaten Pakistan’s Populous Heart

This article was reported by Sabrina Tavernise, Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Eric Schmitt and written by Ms. Tavernise.

DERA GHAZI KHAN, Pakistan — Taliban insurgents are teaming up with local militant groups to make inroads in Punjab, the province that is home to more than half of Pakistanis, reinvigorating an alliance that Pakistani and American authorities say poses a serious risk to the stability of the country.

The deadly assault in March in Lahore, Punjab’s capital, against the Sri Lankan cricket team, and the bombing last fall of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, the national capital, were only the most spectacular examples of the joint campaign, they said.

Now police officials, local residents and analysts warn that if the government does not take decisive action, these dusty, impoverished fringes of Punjab could be the next areas facing the insurgency. American intelligence and counterterrorism officials also said they viewed the developments with alarm.

“I don’t think a lot of people understand the gravity of the issue,” said a senior police official in Punjab, who declined to be idenfitied because he was discussing threats to the state. “If you want to destabilize Pakistan, you have to destabilize Punjab.”

As American drone attacks disrupt strongholds of the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the tribal areas, the insurgents are striking deeper into Pakistan — both in retaliation and in search of new havens.

Telltale signs of creeping militancy abound in a belt of towns and villages near here that a reporter visited last week. Militants have gained strength considerably in the district of Dera Ghazi Khan, which is a gateway both to Taliban-controlled areas and the heart of Punjab, the police and local residents say. Many were terrified.

Some villages, just north of here, are so deeply infiltrated by militants that they are already considered no-go zones by their neighbors.

In at least five towns in southern and western Punjab, including the midsize hub of Multan, barber shops, music stores and Internet cafes offensive to the militants’ strict interpretation of Islam have received threats. Traditional ceremonies that include drumming and dancing have been halted in some areas. Hard-line ideologues have addressed large crowds to push their idea of Islamic revolution. Sectarian attacks, dormant here since the 1990s, have erupted once again.

“It’s going from bad to worse,” said a senior police official in Dera Ghazi Khan. “They are now more active. These are the facts.”

American officials agreed. Bruce Riedel, who led the Obama administration’s recently completed strategy review of Pakistan and Afghanistan, said the Taliban now had “extensive links into the Punjab.”

“You are seeing more of a coalescence of these militant groups,” said Mr. Riedel, a former C.I.A. official. “Connections that have always existed are becoming tighter and more public than they have in the past.”

The Punjabi militant groups have had links with the Taliban, who are mostly Pashtun tribesmen, since the 1980s. Some of the Punjabi groups are veterans of Pakistan’s state-sponsored insurgency against Indian forces in Kashmir. Others made targets of Shiites.

Under pressure from the United States, former President Pervez Musharraf cut back state support for the Punjabi groups. They either went underground or migrated to the tribal areas, where they deepened their ties with the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

At least 20 militants killed in American strikes in the tribal areas since last summer were Punjabi, according to people from the tribal areas and Pakistani officials. One Pakistani security official estimated that 5 percent to 10 percent of militants in the tribal regions could be Punjabi.

The alliance is based on more than shared ideology. “These are tactical alliances,” said a senior American counterterrorism official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss intelligence matters. The Pashtun Taliban and Arab militants, who are part of Al Qaeda, have money, sanctuary, training sites and suicide bombers. The Punjabi militants can provide logistical help in Punjabi cities, like Lahore, including handling bombers and target reconnaissance.

The cooperation between the groups intensified greatly after the government’s siege of Islamic hard-liners at the Red Mosque in Islamabad, in mid-2007, Pakistani and American security officials say. The siege has since become a rallying cry.

One such joint operation, an American security official said, was the Marriott bombing in Islamabad in September, which killed more than 50 people.

As this cooperation intensifies, places like Dera Ghazi Khan are particularly vulnerable. This frontier town is home to a combustible mix of worries: poverty, a growing phalanx of hard-line religious schools and a uranium processing plant that is a part of Pakistan’s nuclear program.

It is also strategically situated at the intersection of two main roads. One is a main artery into Pakistan’s heartland, in southern Punjab. The other connects Baluchistan Province in the west to the North-West Frontier Province, both Taliban strongholds.

“We are being cornered in a blind alley,” said Mohammed Ali, a local landlord. “We can’t breathe easily.”

Attacks intended to intimidate and sow sectarian strife are more common. The police point to a suicide bombing in Dera Ghazi Khan on Feb. 5. Two local Punjabis, with the help of Taliban backers, orchestrated the attack, which killed 29 people at a Shiite ceremony, the local police said.

The authorities arrested two men as masterminds on April 6: Qari Muhammad Ismail Gul, the leader of a local madrasa; and Ghulam Mustafa Kaisrani, a jihadi who posed as a salesman for a medical company.

They belonged to a banned Punjabi group called Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, but were tied through phone calls to two deputies of the Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, the police said.

“The phone numbers they call are in Waziristan,” said a police official, referring to the Taliban base in the tribal areas. “They are working together hand in glove.” One of the men had gone for training in Waziristan last summer, the police said. The operations are well-supported. Mr. Kaisrani had several bank transfers worth about $11 million from his Pakistani account, the authorities said.

Local crimes, including at least two recent bank robberies in Dera Ghazi Khan, were also traced to networks of Islamic militants, officials said.

“The money that’s coming in is huge,” said Zulfiqar Hameed, head of investigations for the Lahore Police Department. “When you go back through the chain of the transaction, you invariably find it’s been done for money.”

After the suicide attack here, the police confiscated a 20-minute inspirational video, titled “Revenge,” for the Red Mosque, which gave testimonials from suicide bombers in different cities and post-attack images.

Umme Hassan, the wife of a fiery preacher who was killed during the Red Mosque siege, now frequently travels to south Punjab, to rally the faithful. She has made 12 visits in the past several months before cheering crowds and showing emotional clips of the attack, said a Punjabi official who has been monitoring her visits.

“She claimed that they would bring Islamic revolution in three months,” said Umar Draz, who attended a rally in Muzzafargarh.

The situation in south and west Punjab is still far from that in the Swat Valley, a part of North-West Frontier Province that is now fully under Taliban control after the military agreed to a truce in February. But there are strong parallels.

The Taliban here exploit many of the same weaknesses that have allowed them to expand in other areas: an absent or intimidated police force; a lack of attention from national and provincial leaders; a population steadily cowed by threats, or won over by hard-line mullahs who usurp authority by playing on government neglect and poverty.

In Shadan Lund, a village just north of here, militants are openly demanding Islamic law, or Shariah, said Jan Sher, whose brother is a teacher there. “The situation is sharply going toward Swat,” Mr. Sher said. He and others said the single biggest obstacle to stopping the advance of militancy was the attitudes of Pakistanis themselves, whose fury at the United States has led to blind support for everyone who goes against it.

Shabaz Sharif, the chief minister of Punjab, said he was painfully aware of the problems of insurgent infiltration and was taking steps to restore people’s faith in government, including plans for new schools and hospitals. “Hearts and minds must be won,” he said in an interview Monday. “If this struggle fails, this country has no future.”

But people complain that landowners and local politicians have done nothing to stop the advance and, in some cases, even assist the militants by giving money to some of the religious schools.

“The government is useless,” said Mr. Ali, the local landlord. “They live happy, secure lives in Lahore. Their children study abroad. They only come here to contest elections.”

The police are left alone to stop the advance. But in Punjab, as in much of the rest of Pakistan, they are spread unevenly, with little presence in rural areas. Out of 160,000 police officers in Punjab, fewer than 60,000 are posted in rural areas, leaving frontier stations in districts virtually unprotected, police officials said.

Locals feel helpless. When a 15-year-old boy vanished from a madrasa in a village near here recently — his classmates said to go on jihad — his uncle could not afford to go look for him, let alone confront the powerful men who run the madrasa.

“We are simple people,” the man said. “What can we do?”

Sabrina Tavernise reported from Dera Ghazi Khan, Pakistan; Richard A. Oppel Jr. from Peshawar, Pakistan; and Eric Schmitt from Washington. Mark Mazzetti contributed reporting from Washington, Waqar Gillani from Dera Ghazi Khan, and Pir Zubair Shah from Peshawar.

Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company

1 comment:

Ghazala Khan said...

Interview Request

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