Monthly Archives: April 2016

The woes of children in Balochistan


By Muhammad Akbar Notezai

In recent months, it was reported by the Office of the National Commissioner for Children in collaboration with the United Nations Children’s Funds (UNICEF) that before the 18th Amendment to the Constitution was passed in 2010, the federal government had a number of initiatives related to protecting children’s rights and affairs, which were then under way. Unfortunately, these initiatives were not adopted by the provinces after the devolution of the amendment. As a result, the woes of children in the provinces, particularly in the largest province of the country, Balochistan, are increasing. “Astonishingly, in Balochistan’s only Chaghai district, the death ratio of children is 34 percent,” reported Ali Raza Rind, who is a journalist based in Chaghai. Very pathetically, it is the situation of children in a single district of Balochistan, let alone other districts, where there is no independent and investigative journalism.

Undoubtedly, innocent children in Balochistan are plagued by numerous woes that range from education and health to labour, sexual assault and kidnapping etc. There are many children, who can be seen working regularly on the streets of Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan, as garbage collectors, carpenters, or working in automobile shops. One of the children, who collects garbage, a child as young as 11, said he was sexually abused when went to homes for the collection of garbage. Unfortunately, it seems that children in Balochistan do not have rights, as they, in all of Balochistan’s sectors, have been living in a pitiable condition. Let us discuss three key factors that have put the children of Balochistan in distress.

Firstly, let us look at education. It was reported by Alif Ailaan, a non-profit organisation working on education in the province, that 66 percent of Balochistan’s children do not go to school. Ironically, there are some districts in Balochistan where they do not have schools. Therefore, children are being deprived of their fundamental right of education. They, instead of going to school, go to work in different places, particularly in Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan. Advisor to the Chief Minister (CM) Balochistan on Education Sardar Raza Mohammad Barech himself also confessed at the Quetta Press Club that there are 7,000 schools across the province with just a single room and a single teacher.

In the rural areas of Balochistan, the children of poor parents reportedly attain positions in matriculation exams. But they, due to poverty, cannot complete their education. As for Quetta, there were some children there whom this scribe met and interviewed who said they could not afford to go to school, as they hardly earn a livelihood for themselves and their family members despite having an extraordinary interest in education. On the other hand, the provincial government of Balochistan, which is led by Dr Abdul Malik Baloch, has been erroneously claiming that they are doing their level best to provide education to every child in the province, which is pragmatically not so. Merely, in the name of education, funds have reportedly been embezzled. That is why children are deprived of their fundamental rights.

Secondly, when it comes to the health sector, the province is showing a bleak picture on all levels. According to the Emergency Operation Centre (EOC), only 16 percent of children are fully immunised in the province, while the other 84 percent are at risk of contracting any minor or fatal disease. In the rural areas of Balochistan, it becomes uglier, where they are increasingly sufferers of malnutrition and other fatal diseases, which snatch their lives. “When the children suffer from minor diseases, it also becomes the cause of their death, as they cannot bring them to cities for treatment,” says a Quetta based doctor, further adding, “Due to the target killing of polio workers in the province, polio cases still get reported.” That is why Balochistan is lagging behind other provinces in terms of social indicators. Moreover, government officials say that though doctors are posted in various parts of the province, they do not go to perform their duties. Instead, they are running their private clinics in Quetta. Therefore, in the rural parts of Balochistan, government hospitals bear a deserted look.

Thirdly, we know that Balochistan’s people still live in a tribal society where children are forced to marry early. The practice of child marriages has been affecting them (children) tremendously, and this not only affects their education but also their mental state. Due to lack of awareness and poverty, parents get their children, whether girls or boys, married before the age of 18. Moreover, they also cannot afford to send their children to school. As a result they get them married off early. Though anti-child marriage laws have been adopted in Sindh and Punjab, these are laws are still in pending in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which is why children are getting married early in these two provinces. “When I was in school in the eighth class, I got married to a girl unwillingly despite telling my parents that I wanted to compete my education, but they did not listen to me. Therefore, I had to marry early. Nor is my better-half educated now,” said Mohammad Aslam.

Due to the devolution of the 18th Amendment, all powers have been transferred to the provinces. Despite this, the provincial government of Balochistan has not done any remarkable work in order to protect children’s rights in the province, as well as to provide free and compulsory education to them. Therefore, due to the negligence of the government, children’s woes are being compounded everyday instead of dwindling. This time, like in the past, the provincial government of Balochistan ought not to be a complainant about the federal government, as it is being given their share, which the CM of Balochistan has himself acknowledged on many occasions. So, in this context, the government of Balochistan had better come forth to resolve the woes of Balochistan’s children.

Daily Times

The Attock tragedy


In Punjab, Shuja Khanzada was at the forefront in cracking down on banned outfits under the NAP

By Muhammad Akbar Notezai

During the previous week, Punjab Home Minister Colonel (r) Shuja Khanzada was killed in a suicide attack along with 19 other people when he was at his political office in Shadi Khan village of the Attock District. At least 23 people were also injured in the assault. Along with the Punjab home minister, the commissioner of the Rawalpindi region, Zahid Saeed, said that the Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP), Shaukat Shah, was also among those who died in the blast. Ten other policemen were also present at the site when the explosion took place.

Both the military and civilian leaderships of Pakistan have unequivocally condemned the tragic incident. In a tribute to the home minister, Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif said: “The courage and valour of Shuja Khanzada is a message to the masterminds of terrorism that they are bound to be defeated.” Initaially, it was unknown how the bomber entered the premises where the late minister was at. Punjab Police Inspector General Mushtaq Sukhera told reporters in the aftermath of the attack that that there had been two suicide bombers; one stood outside the boundary wall and the second went inside. The blast by the bomber standing outside ripped through the wall, which caused the roof to fall flat on the minister and the people in attendance. He further added that the police could not rule out the involvement of banned sectarian militant groups against whom the government had launched a crackdown. According to media reports, there were more than 40 to 50 people present at the political office of the slain home minister of Punjab who had come to offer their condolence for the death of a close relative of the slain minister. Many of them were buried under the rubble, as the entire structure of the building was razed to the ground by the blast.

Shuja Khanzada took up the charge of the home ministry in 2014, and since then had actively — particularly in the presence of the National Action Plan (NAP) that came about in the aftermath of the Army Public School (APC) tragedy in December 16, 2014 — been involved in fighting terrorism and sectarian militancy. He had recently also announced that the chief of al Qaeda Pakistan and his accomplices had been killed in an operation, which had been conducted in the outskirts of Lahore. Moreover, he had also announced recently the death of Malik Ishaq, the leader of the banned Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) group. Malik Ishaq was killed in a police encounter with his two sons and 11 other militants on July 29 in Muzaffargarh by the counter-terrorism department.

Following his retirement from the military, Khanzada joined politics. In 2002, he was elected as a member of the Punjab Assembly as a PML-Q candidate. In 2008, he was also elected as an independent candidate and then he joined the PML-N. Subsequently, in 2013, he was again elected and in 2014 he was given the portfolio of Punjab’s home minister when the Model Town incident took place. Benazir Shah, who is an award-winning journalist recently tweeted that this year, four PML-N leaders had been targeted and killed. Shuja Khanzada was the fifth.

One of the Taliban-affiliated militant groups, Lashkar-e-Islam, claimed responsibility for the attack while saying it was retaliation for military operations against them. Salahuddin Ayubi, who is a spokesman of the Lashkar-e-Islam, also warned that such attacks would continue in the future. The aforementioned group is reportedly based in the tribal areas. However, a preliminary report submitted to CM Shahbaz Sharif by the Inspector General of Punjab Police (IGP) Mushtaq Sukhera revealed that the home minister had been killed in retaliation for the killing of LeJ Chief Malik Ishaq and 13 others, including his two sons, in July 29 in the Muzaffargarh district.

As compared to the other three provinces of Pakistan, Punjab province has remained comparatively peaceful. Since 9/11, it has witnessed terrorist incidents, at times piece by piece, in which minorities have particularly been victims. A Lahore based journalist told this scribe on the condition of anonymity that counterterrorism efforts had been directed towards the tribal areas and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, while the government had shut its eyes on Punjab in the past, where sectarian and religious extremist groups are based, making it now a source of terrorism. But he, on the other hand, also agrees that since December 16, 2014, when the Pakistani Taliban attacked the APS in Peshawar, the government had been leading the way for a terror free Pakistan. He further added that, in Punjab, Shuja Khanzada was at the forefront in cracking down on banned outfits under the NAP. A national English daily also reported that the slain home minister, Shuja Khanzada, had ordered the closure of 170 seminaries, most of which had been a major source of extremism and sectarianism in Punjab. These seminaries were located in Jhang, Muzaffargarh, Layyah, Rajanpur, Dera Ghazi Khan, Kot Addu, Chiniot, Taunsa, Hasilpur and Vehari. Under the directives of the home minister, we were in the process of closing down all seminaries that fell under the ‘suspect’ category.

Moreover, the South Asia Terrorism Database notes that Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali had disclosed during a briefing on the implementation of NAP in January this year that that the number of banned outfits in Punjab, which are actively engaged in terrorism and extremism, had reached 95. Though Attock is situated in Punjab, it borders the militancy-hit province of Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. That is why some analysts are of the opinion that the militants who targeted Shuja Khanzada may have come from the more volatile districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Some critics say that the Attock tragedy occurred due to a security lapse; it is said that the slain minister went to his hometown without heavy security, which is why he was attacked. Whatever the case, his death most not be in vain. He was a brave crusader and his attempts to curb extremism must be carried forward.

 

The author is a freelance journalist and researcher based in Quetta. He blogs at http://www.akbarnotezai.wordpress.com and tweets as @Akbar_notezai

Daily Times

IS in Pakistan?


By Muhammad Akbar Notezai

On January 13, 2016, two masked men reportedly threw a grenade and fired gunshots at the office of ARY News Channel in Islamabad, injuring one media person. The self-styled Islamic State’s (IS) Afghanistan chapter claimed responsibility for the attack in pamphlets and stated it was in reaction to the coverage the channel is giving to Operation Zarb-e-Azb.

Besides this, in late December, the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) claimed that it had busted a cell of the militants, belonging to the IS group operating in Sialkot. Accordingly, they arrested eight suspects and seized weapons, explosives and laptops, as well as a large number of compact discs containing publicity material. Moreover, media reports stated that the suspects had taken an oath of overthrowing democracy and introducing Khilafat in Pakistan through armed struggle, and the suspects, who were arrested by CTD, are said to be belonging to different districts of the Punjab province of Pakistan. But Sialkot, according to media reports, served as the base of their operations.

“The suspects dislike democracy in Pakistan while they hate police and Pakistan Army,” official documents said, further stating, “In order to persuade other people to join their organisation, they would show them some video clips in which the Rangers were seen shooting a young man in Karachi. The prime objective of the [IS] men was to fan hatred against the country’s law enforcement agencies (LEAs).” According to CTD investigations, the suspects were indoctrinated and recruited by two brothers — Babar Butt aka Abu Akasha and Nadeem Butt. They also told reporters that the suspects had sworn allegiance to al Baghdadi and joined IS in Daska tehsil of Sialkot district in June last year.

Talking to media persons in Islamabad after an event, the Adviser to the Prime Minister (PM) on Foreign Affairs, Sartaj Aziz, said that the rise of IS in Afghanistan was a point of concern for Pakistan, and he went on to add that certain elements trying to associate with IS were arrested from Sialkot.

After the arrest of eight suspects in Sialkot, it is reported that a Lahore based women called Bushra Bibi along with her four children left for Syria to join the IS in Syria, and a civilian intelligence agency has reported that around 20 men, women and children connected with Bushra’s network also left to join IS.

A week after the CTD claim of busting a cell of IS in Sialkot, Punjab Law Minister Rana Sana Ullah said that those who were arrested had been tasked with setting up sleeper cells for IS, and that those arrested include the purported IS Islamabad chief Amir Mansoor, his deputy Abdullah Mansoori and the group’s chief for Sindh province, Umer Kathio. He further stated in the statement, the arrests were the result of raids in four Punjab cities over the weekend.

Meanwhile, an Interior Ministry report revealed that youngsters from Pakistan are being sent to Afghanistan to join IS. According to the report, the total number of people sent from Pakistan to Afghanistan is between 40 and 50, and that they were also paid a salary between Rs 30,000 and Rs 50,000 each. It was also stated in the report that several banned organisations and Taliban commanders were merging with IS.

Tashfeen Malik, the 29 year old Pakistani woman, involved in the San Bernardino shooting had also reportedly pledged allegiance to IS. In Pakistan, Tafsheen’s family comes from Layyah District of the Punjab province, and it comes into Southern areas of the Punjab, a hotbed of extremism in the country. From 2007 to 2012, Tashfeen studied in Bahauddin Zakariya University in Multan, the biggest city in Southern Punjab. A national newspaper reports that southern Punjab, with thousands of seminaries and a history of having provided foot soldiers to militant and sectarian outfits for decades, now offers a promising opportunity for IS to strengthen its network in the region. On the other hand, analysts believe that Tashfeen, before moving to the United States, was in Saudi Arabia where she was radicalised.

According to a poll by the Pew Research Center, IS has potential to make significant inroads in Pakistan. According to the poll, nine percent of Pakistanis held a favourable view of the IS, while 28 percent had a negative view. But very surprisingly, the 62 per cent had no opinion regarding the group, which raises concerns.

In recent months, IS launched an anti-government radio-station called “Voice of the Caliphate” in Nangarhar, Afghanistan. IS’ militants use it to promote themselves and attract new recruits. This station can also be clearly heard in Pakistan’s bordering tribal areas called FATA, which is likely to increase militancy in FATA, as it borders Afghanistan.

In 2014, three months after IS announced a global Islamic caliphate, IS propaganda pamphlets were found in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and FATA in the Pashto and Dari languages. The 12-page booklet called “Fatah” (Victory) was being mainly distributed in Afghan refugee camps on the outskirts of Peshawar, the provincial capital of KP. The logo of the pamphlet had the Kalma, the historical stamp of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and a Kalashnikov assault rifle. Moreover, some copies were also reportedly sent to journalists working in Peshawar.

In May last year, 46 Ismaili Shias were killed in an attack on a bus near Safoora Chowrangi, Karachi. The Jundullah, which had pledged allegiance to IS, claimed responsibility for the attack. In 2015 the same year, the IS also announced its Khorasan chapter, which includes parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

It is reportedly said that eight suspects who were arrested in Sialkot and had pledged allegiance to IS originally belonged to Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD). The JuD is listed by the UN as a terror organisation, and its chief Hafiz Mohammad Saeed has a $10 million US government bounty against him. After 2008 Mumbai attacks which killed 166 people, the UN declared JuD to be a front for Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) (which was blamed for the attack). Following 9/11, former Pervez Musharraf proscribed LeT due to its involvement in some high profile attacks in Indian administered Kashmir and Indian cities. Subsequently, the name ‘Lashkar-e-Taiba’ was replaced with that of ‘Jamaat-ud-Dawa’ on the signboards of the group’s offices and recruiting centres all over Pakistan. Ahmed Rashid, a noted Pakistan author, said in an interview, “There is no evidence to suggest that the LeT is a part of the [IS]. But I think as a tactic of war, they are very impressed [with Let]. Of course, such attacks are very complicated. You have got to get explosives, guns, bomb makers and trained personnel to use those weapons. For IS, to do all this in the heart of Europe is complicated. It is not like training someone in Iraq’s desert which is very easy to do compared to this.” Nevertheless, it is obvious that IS is gaining a foothold in the country, and hardliners, who are from JuD, are joining the group. Therefore the government should take strict actions against them.

 

The author is a freelance journalist and researcher based in Quetta. He blogs at http://www.akbarnotezai.wordpress.com and tweets @Akbar_notezai

Daily Times