Departing Quetta today, on my flight was none other than Ali Ahmed Kurd, president of the Supreme Court Bar Association and firebrand lawyers’ movement leader.
He was sitting two seats ahead of me, but was later escorted to the cockpit, where he stayed till the end of the flight. It was the pilot and flight staff’s way of honoring him.
After disembarking the plane, I managed to speak with him for a few minutes. He spent most of the time denying that he’s anyone of significance. He’s a very cool guy. I got an upclose look at that wild mane of hair.
Terrorists struck an office of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency and a police station in central Lahore this morning, killing at least 22 persons and injuring over 200. At least thirteen of the dead are police officers, reports GEO News.
Reports of the attacks’ details are conflicting. Several officials have described the attack as a suicide bombing. But according to Dawn, the attack was a hybrid operation consisting of an armed attack by four gunmen and a subsequent detonation of a car bomb, which GEO News reports was 100 kilograms. The terrorists seem to have been unable to penetrate the ISI facility, but managed to level a nearby building.
According to GEO News, Punjab police have seized at least two grenades and a suicide jacket, which suggests the four attackers sought to inflict maximum damage and then kill themselves to avoid capture.
Punjab police have arrested four suspects, presumably the aforementioned armed attackers. Television broadcasts showed the faces of two of the suspects, both of whom were struck by bystanders as they were brought by security officers to police vehicles. One suspect was hit in the head repeatedly by an onlooker using a motorcycle helmet. Police had to push back several bystanders from attacking the arrested terrorists.
One of the attackers resembled the scruffy Afghan arrested in the March attack on the Manawan police training center. The other apprehended attacker appeared to be a middle class person, possibly an Arab or an Afghan. He was speaking while police rushed him to a vehicle and exuded a striking level of confidence, except for when he was being beaten by angered Lahoris.
Several Pakistani commentators — including Mehmood Shah, the former chief secretary of the North-West Frontier Province, Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Abdul Qayyum, and Munawar Hassan, amir of Jamaat-i Islami – have blamed India for playing some role in the attacks.
But a more likely suspect is Baitullah Mehsud in South Waziristan, against whom military operations have begun. Mehsud has spearheaded a series of increasingly complex terrorist attacks in Lahore this year, consisting of hybrid teams and tactics. Teams consist of Pashtuns from Pakistan and Afghanistan, as well as the so-called Punjabi Taliban from Pakistan’s Seraiki belt.
Earlier this month, President Asif Ali Zardari asked where is the Taliban getting its funding from. For a partial answer, he need not look further than in the bloodshot eyes of one of Pakistan’s six and a half million heroin addicts.
The Pakistani Taliban gets its funding from a variety of sources: ‘taxes’ on the timber and gems trade, extorting small businessmen, kidnapping, and bank robberies. But drugs are undoubtedly a major component of finances.
Gretchen Peters, a journalist formerly with ABC News, has written an excellent book on what’s generally described as the Afghan drug trade. But, as she demonstrates quite effectively, defining the industry as Afghan is inaccurate—it is a regional phenomenon. Drug profiteers have achieved a level of integration between actors across multiple Central and Southwest Asian states that regional economic pacts have failed to. Linked together are Afghan peasants, security officials, leading politicians (e.g. Hamid Karzai’s brother), and insurgents, as well as border guards, smugglers, politicians, and intelligence services in Iran and Pakistan, and a variety of actors in Gulf Arab emirates.
In one of the best displays of how drugs brings together disparate actors, Peters reveals that Abdur Rashid Dostum, an Afghan Uzbek warlord (secular and anti-Taliban, albeit barbaric), has been “in cahoots” with terrorist groups such as Tahir Yuldashev’s Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and (prior to his death) renegade Afghan Taliban Mullah Dadullah. Interestingly, both Yuldashev and Dadullah give Dostum only one degree of separation from Baitullah Mehsud. [And Abdullah Mehsud surrended to Dostum's militia in December 2001.]
What brings all these actors together is cash. Peters writes: “Across Afghanistan, traditional enemies are working together wherever there’s a chance to make money.” Drugs are also, in a sense, a form of currency used by militants to barter for vehicles and weapons.
In Pakistan, the drug trade has linkages to Afghan militants based there, Baloch leaders, tangential politicians affiliated with the PPP and PML-N (and I’d add — probably the ANP or PkMAP as well), the military-intelligence establishment (though this peaked in the 1980s), and possibly even the Karachi Stock Exchange (used for money laundering). The problem in Pakistan at times has been that one arm of the state has been working to root out the drug trade, while the other hand has used the trade to fund its clandestine activities.
Pakistan has effectively eliminated poppy growth inside its territory, but it is the major transit point for Afghan drugs. The deletrious impact of the drug trade comes in the form of the syringes that wash up on the Karachi shores, the subsuming illicit trade via Afghanistan that denies Pakistan over a billion dollars in annual duties revenue, and the terrorists that have been murdering innocent Pakistanis in recent years.
So how can the drug trade be neutralized? Peters recommends a nine-pronged program to combat the regional drug trade. Contrary to what one might expect, eradiction of poppy crops is proposed only as a last ditch option. Peters’ solution is smart — the toughest action is reserved for the drug smugglers, not the impoverished farmers. Starting with eradication would likely only serve to boost the price of heroin, benefitting drug smugglers while enraging rural Afghans. The Afghan Taliban, as Peters shows, is quite adept at market manipulation. Its remarkable success in eradication in its last two years in power was not combined with eliminating the enormous heroin stockpiles; this only resulted in a massive increase in heroin prices, hurting farmers while increasing Afghan drug dealers’ and Taliban profits.
Peters’ reporting depends heavily on U.S. intelligence reports provided to her. It seems as if the worst wrongdoing the U.S. can commit is apathy. That could be true, but Peters’ readers would be better served by a more direct engagement with questions surrounding the historic and present U.S. connection to the drug trade in Afghanistan and nearby.
Seeds of Terror is a quick and engaging primer on the drug trade emanating from Afghanistan — a primary cause for regional instability and state weakness.
Why do old white men have a fetish for drawing and redrawing the maps of countries in which they do not live?
Perhaps — and I’m being facetious and ironic — it stems from their radicalization as youths when they play boardgames, such as Risk, and are indoctrinated with a sense of God-like mastery and dreams of world domination.
Outside of South Asia, I think of the proposals by Les Gelb and Peter Galbraith to carve up Iraq into three separate states (ignoring the country’s fairly developed sense of nationalism). Then there’s Ralph Peters’ haphazard redrawing of the greater Middle East. The kicker from his article: “Ethnic cleansing works.” Fortunately, he’s a columnist for the New York Post, which no one of consequence reads.
As for Pakistan, good old Selig Harrison — as he has for the past 30 years — has come out today with his biannual op-ed arguing for redrawing Pakistan’s provincial boundaries and rewriting its constitution.
After all, he has a great vantage point for understanding Pakistan’s demographic and power politics. He speaks none of the local languages, last reported from the region about half a century ago, and lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland (a wealthy DC suburb).
My guess is that he has trouble finding Pashtuns at Harris Teeter (a local yuppie supermarket). And I’m sorry, but holding monthly meetings with predominantly Afghan Pashtun organizations that receive funding from right-wing Indian Americans (some of whom belong to radical Hindutva organizations) do not count as interaction with Pakistani Pashtuns. Besides, diaspora organizations are a poor reflection of the population back home. They are usually more strident and well-off, lacking the pragmatism of those on the ground.
So what pearls of wisdom has Harrison given us this time? He writes:
For centuries, Pashtuns living in the mountainous borderlands of Pakistan and Afghanistan have fought to keep out invading Punjabi plainsmen.
Wrong. It’s actually the opposite. The Pashtuns have, over the centuries, invaded the plains of Punjab. Even little children in South Asia know this. How does this joker still get published?
Historically, the plains of northern India and Delhi were raided by outsiders, especially tribesmen from predominantly Pashtun areas in what’s now Afghanistan and Pakistan. The traffic of violence has been into the Punjabi plains, not out from it. The anomaly, of course, was the empire of Ranjit Singh, which reached Peshawar. And the supposedly-Punjabi dominated Pakistani state has actually promoted a culture (e.g. textbooks and naming of missiles) that reveres these Pashtun invaders.
Anyway, it’s obvious that those who occupy heights have an ability (and perhaps even a material need in premodern society) to descend from the mountains into the fertile plains. This occurred, for example, centuries ago, as Pashtun Yousufzai tribesmen migrated into areas such as Swat and supplanted the local Gujjar population. [Should we call for Gujjar self-determination now?]
But what Harrison is trying to do is take the present day disproportionate influence of Punjabis and falsely give it a broader historical basis.
Harrison goes on:
Historically, the Pashtuns were politically unified before the British Raj. The Pashtun kings who founded Afghanistan ruled over 40,000 square miles of what is now Pakistan, an area containing more than half of the Pashtun population, until British forces defeated them in 1847, pushed up to the Khyber Pass and imposed a disputed boundary, the Durand Line, that Afghanistan has never accepted. Over Pashtun nationalist protests, the British gave these conquered areas to the new, Punjabi-dominated government of Pakistan created in the 1947 partition of India.
Who cares? That was 162 years ago. Back then, James Polk was president, blacks were still enslaved in the U.S., Mexico and the U.S. were at war over Texas (America’s FATA), Germany had not been founded, the Ottoman Empire ruled Palestine, and there was also a nominal Mughal Emperor in Delhi.
If one goes that far back into history, then it becomes a battle of who gets to restore their historic pan-ethnic empire. Why not restore the ‘Punjabi’ empire of Ranjit Singh, who controlled Peshawar till the British conquered in the mid-19th century?
The central issue is how much the past matters to the locals, not Selig Harrison of Chevy Chase, MD. While Pashtuns, especially those who belong to tribes split along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, have a sense of common identity, there is little indication of a push for a greater Pakhtunkhwa.
There are several million Pakistani Pashtuns in the southern port city of Karachi. If Pashtuns were so tied to territory, they wouldn’t move. If they saw themselves as the victims of Punjabi domination, they would not constitute the second largest ethnic group in the army, and they would not choose to live in non-Pashtun cities such as Karachi and Lahore.
Harrison then ventures into cartography:
The United States should support Pashtun demands to merge the NWFP and FATA, followed by the consolidation of those areas and Pashtun enclaves in Baluchistan and the Punjab into a single unified “Pashtunkhwa” province that enjoys the autonomy envisaged in the inoperative 1973 Pakistan constitution.
Where to start?
One, the idea of merging FATA into the NWFP is not a bad idea. But it comes with its share of risks. It could further sideline tribal leaders and strengthen the Taliban.
The local maliks are against integrating FATA into the NWFP. Why? Because they lose out. Pashtun nationalists support a merger — mainly because they (specifically the Awami National Party) stand to gain. But resolving the problems in FATA requires working with the local maliks. And so any change in FATA’s constitutional status would have to meaningfully integrate them into the new setup. The ANP stands to gain from an NWFP-FATA merger. But it is not the sole spokesman for Pashtuns.
Two, merging Pashtun areas in Balochistan and Punjab does nothing to contain the Taliban spread. Regardless, the ANP is calling for the two things: renaming the NWFP Pakhtunkhwa and merging NWFP and FATA. Despite heading the NWFP government and being part of the center coalition, the ANP hasn’t called for shifting Pashtun areas in other provinces into the NWFP. If they are not doing it, then there is no reason for Selig Harrison. He need not be more Catholic than the pope. Pakistan has a free media and functioning parliament in which these issues can be discussed.
Three, many of these Pashtun areas are mixed. They contain Baloch, Seraikis, Punjabis, and Hindko speakers. Areas such as Mianwali are inhabited by Punjabized Pashtuns, such as the Niazis. There is also a sizable presence of non-Pashtuns in the NWFP, namely the Hindko speakers in Peshawar and the Hazara Division. It’s convenient for Harrison to leave all these people out. And what happened to Harrison’s Baloch fetish? Will the Baloch be happy with losing Quetta and many districts to the NWFP? And if population is what matters, what do you do with Karachi, which is effectively the largest Pashtun city? Continuing with the same logic, why not give Hindko-speakers their own province?
Yes, provincial autonomy must be advanced in Pakistan The concurrent list should be eliminated. The National Finance Commission’s award distribution should be more equitable. But provincial autonomy is not a panacea. There are also intra-provincial issues and divisions that serve as a roadblock for good governance. For example, the Karachi city government has issues with the Sindh provincial government. Anyway, provincial autonomy by itself will simply make corruption more evenly distributed.
Rather than remaking the map of Pakistan, Harrison should look closer to home. Why doesn’t predominantly black Washington, DC have statehood? Why doesn’t it have representation in the U.S. Congress? Don’t African Americans of Anacostia and those pushed out along the Green Line by gentrification deserve a little ‘provincial autonomy’ of their own?
Compare Selig Harrison’s Chevy Chase, Maryland (92.4% White, 0.9% Black, Median Household Income $205,783, Mean Home Value $1,222,239) to Anacostia, thirteen miles away in Washington, DC (92% Black, 5% White, Average Household Income $29,745, Average Home Value $189,900, 62 Homicides in 2005).
If Harrison is so concerned about issues of political representation and socio-economic justice, there’s nothing stopping him from moving to Anacostia and advocating on behalf of the locals there.
The military operations in Swat and resulting humanitarian crisis are a test not only for the Pakistani government, but for Pakistani society as well.
In recent days, the general public and media in Pakistan have responded with great vigor to the call to support displaced residents of the Malakand Division. For example, many in Mardan have allowed Swatis to reside in their second or third homes. Other Swatis have found refuge in the homes of extended family. There are acts of great generosity — reflecting the values of Pashtun and, more generally, Pakistani, culture — being made by average Pakistanis.
The major news channels have had live coverage from the IDP camps, bringing images of the victims of war to homes across Pakistan. Pakistan’s most popular news channel, GEO News, had a telethon on Sunday night to fundraise for Swat relief.
But much more must be done. Pakistan’s civil society needs to utilize the same level of sustained commitment it did with the earthquakes in Balochistan and Kashmir and the lawyers movement. Hundreds of thousands have made their way to relief camps, where the provisions are inadequate. The void must be filled Pakistani citizens — especially those who live comfortably in air conditioned homes with high ceilings and flat-panel televisions.
Inside Pakistan, there are many ways to direct funds toward displaced Swatis, including the Edhi Foundation and Mir Khalil ur Rehman Foundation. Kalsoom Lakhani at Changing Up Pakistan has provided the names and contact information of other groups working in the region.
Pakistanis and individuals of Pakistani descent living in the United States, Canada, and Europe can help out by donating to:
[Readers can email me or post in the comments section names and websites of other organizations presently providing relief aid to Malakand Division IDPs.]
And as Pakistanis remember Malakand Division IDPs, the tens of thousands of displaced Baloch as a result of the insurgency and military operations there should not be forgotten. Indeed, now is the time to reach out to them as well and work to heal the wounds reopened in recent years.
The nation of Pakistan begins its greatest test in decades as Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani declared war against takfiri terrorists in the Malakand Division in a national address this evening.
Gilani called on Pakistanis to unite behind their army and government in a war to “completely eliminate” militants who have reaped havoc and death in the once tranquil greater Swat area.
The prime minister’s speech is part of an aggressive public relations campaign by the Pakistani state to rally public support for a full-fledged war against the Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan in Swat. The campaign centers around using Islam to de-legitimize the militants.
Around a week ago, a news anchor close to the military-intelligence establishment read the following Qur’anic verses — unprecedented on his program — at the end of a segment on Swat:
And when it is said to them: “Make not mischief on the earth,” they say: “We are only peacemakers.”
Verily! They are the ones who make mischief, but they perceive not.
(Surah al-Baqarah, Ayat 11 & 12)
Immediately, I realized that the verses were probably offered to him by elements of the state security apparatus and signaled the start of a campaign to take away the Islamic legitimacy of the takfiri terrorists.
Today, the Pakistani government began airing public service announcements on private and government television channels, broadcasting the same Qur’anic verses. As the bullets and mortars fly and hundreds of thousands flee their homes, the war of ideas begins.
Islamic scholars from all backgrounds — Ahl-e Hadis, Barelvi, Deobandi, Jafri (Twelver Shia), modernist, and Islamist — including Muhammad Rafi Usmani, Javed Ahmed Ghamidi, and Khalid Masud, have come on television to speak out against the violent methodology of the militants and their campaign of terror against Pakistanis.
Generations ago, four young men told the Muslims of India: “The issue is now or never. Either we live [and establish Pakistan] or perish for ever.”
Pakistan faces the same choice today: to live or perish forever.
There is no question as to how the takfiri terrorists will respond. The will begin hitting Pakistani cities tomorrow. The battlefield will not be contained to the Malakand Division.
But as for the Pakistani people, we will learn of their decision — and fate — soon.
Recent reporting, including the current concern in the Western press for the nearly million internally displaced persons in Pakistan, has made me return occasionally to my November 2008 post, “Toward the Iraqization of Pakistan?”
Six months ago, I warned of: Pakistan’s IDPs tripling in number, rising ethnic tensions in Karachi, the consolidation of anti-Pakistan militant groups, the spread of the Pakistani Taliban into NWFP’s settled areas, and increased terror attacks in Pakistan’s cities.
All this was foreseeable, but much was beyond the grasp of some who were obsessed with Pakistan’s nuclear weapons (presenting nightmares of Mullah Strangelove) and the idea of an imminent collapse of the Pakistani state.
Pakistan’s security situation today is indeed grave. But the threats are specific. In order to understand and even preempt the threats, you’ll have to step out of Islamabad’s two forts (the Marriott and the Serena hotels), sweat it out a bit in the streets of cities other than Islamabad, and perhaps even be able to converse with average Pakistanis in their own language(s).
Recently, after attending a forum in DC on Pakistan, I was surprised by the fact that the many local Pakistan watchers still get their news on the country exclusively from U.S. publications such as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal — as if Pakistan’s English-language news channels and newspapers (available on the net) are inaccessible.
A few months of following Pakistan from an office in DuPont Circle, Foggy Bottom, or northern Virginia is not enough to learn how the country works. Pontificating on Pakistan, especially by those who words are seen as authoritative, should come with disclaimers acknowledging one’s intellectual weaknesses (as Stephen Walt did recently). It is essential for every analyst to acknowledge what he or she doesn’t know.
With the ‘Pakistanization’ of war reporters and security experts in the United States, there is an abundance of quantity and dearth of quality. Everyone and their mother is now a Pakistan expert. But a good expert is hard to find.
There is a danger from the fact that poor reporting or outlandish statements from seemingly authoritative figures are not filtered — informally — by a more discerning class. Sexy reports or statements play an agenda setting role and create realities of their own. For example, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s warning of Pakistan’s collapse being a “mortal threat” to the world had everyone in the DC Beltway alarmed, creating the false impression of the country’s imminent failure.
To be fair, Clinton’s statements were most likely designed to scare both the Pakistani government and the U.S. Congress into action. To some degree, it has worked with the former. It is difficult to say with the latter.
In the end, many are talking (and acting) on Pakistan, but few seem to have a grasp of what’s occurring on the ground and, more importantly, of what really needs to be done. What is happening in Pakistan is a growing storm of monumental proportions, but one that the U.S. media and policy community is unable to accurately forecast and respond to. If knowledge is power, then ignorance is, at the very least, weakness.
As for the Pakistan side of this mix, I’ll have my own critique on it later.
PS: Though he has been overshadowed by the “team of rivals” in the executive branch, in the past two months, Sen. John Kerry has become the most articulate and sensible person in the U.S. government on U.S.-Pakistan relations. He’s been hitting all the right points and speaking consistently with necessary nuance.