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.
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
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
By Muhammad Akbar Notezai
As in India, its South Asian neighbor, dynastic politics has played a major role in Pakistan’s history. Take Bilawal Bhutto, of the Bhutto family. He currently chairs Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which was founded by his grandfather Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in 1967. Bilawal’s mother, Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto led the Pakistan People’s Party until her assassination in 2007 in Rawalpindi.
In fact, for Pakistan the tradition of dynastic succession is not new; rather, it dates back to the British colonial era. Shezad Baloch, a columnist with The Express Tribune, told The Diplomat, “Ever since partition, Pakistan has been under the shackles of dynastic politics. As a result, the country has not had a good leader. All current leaders are carrying the legacy of their forefathers. Unfortunately, during the British colonial era, the forefathers of the current leaders were handpicked.” He adds, “A few families have been ruling the country for decades, and can thus be held responsible for Pakistan’s unstable politics and economic shambles.”
The Bhutto dynasty has an impressively long history. Shah Nawaz Bhutto, father of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, led the Indian princely state of Junagadh before independence. As for Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, after founding the Pakistan People’s Party in 1967, he served as president of Pakistan from 1971 to 1973 and as prime minister from 1973 to 1977. Some historians believe that it was his refusal to give East Pakistan autonomy that resulted in a civil war, which ultimately led to the founding of Bangladesh.
Zulfiqar Ali’s favorite daughter Benazir was twice prime minister of Pakistan: from 1988 to 1990 and then again from 1993 to 1996. When Benazir was assassinated attempting a comeback in 2007, a new member of the Bhutto dynasty emerged, Benazir’s husband Asif Ali Zardari. He became Pakistan’s president, a position he held until 2013, and is still co-‐chair of Pakistan People’s Party.
Now the baton has passed to Bilawal Bhutto. Addressing PPP supporters in Karachi in 2014, Bilawal proclaimed that he would revive party and officially launch his political career. He told the crowd that the only way to save Pakistan is to save Bhuttoism and the PPP.
According to respected Pakistani journalist Zahid Hussain, “all the political parties are in fact extensions of powerful families with hereditary leaderships. Their politics mainly revolve around managing and strengthening family interests. Elections are all about gaining control of state patronage. Clan, tribe, caste and biradari [patrilineage] play a major role in the perpetuation of dynastic politics.”
The Bhuttos are not Pakistan’s only political dynasty. The Sharif family rose to power during the era of the former Dictator General Zia-‐ul-‐Haq (1977-‐1988). Nawaz Sharif is currently the prime minister of Pakistan, a position he has held twice previously, from 1990 to 1993 and from 1997 to 1999. Nawaz’s brother Shahbaz Sharif is chief minister of the Punjab province of Pakistan. Other relatives can be found in the national and provincial assemblies. Shahbaz’s son Hamza Sharif, and Maryam Nawaz, daughter of the prime minister, are also leaders of the Pakistan Muslim League-‐Nawaz (PML-‐N). Maryam in particular has been drawing increasing media attention, with a recent high-‐ profile trip to Washington D.C.
Dynastic politics may appear to be obsolete, but it is not disappearing from Pakistan anytime soon.
After the Iranian Revolution, Shia elements wanted to spread into Pakistan in general and Balochistan in particular. Saudi Arabia strongly resisted against this and pumped billions of rupees into Pakistan to counter Shia influence. During the 1970s, Saudi Arabia had already expanded its influence in the country jointly with the regime of former dictator General Ziaul Haq. Subsequently, sectarian violence broke out in Balochistan in the mid-1980s, engulfing the Shia Hazara community of Balochistan. The Shia Hazaras are densely populated in Quetta, the capital city of Balochistan province, in its western and eastern areas: Mariabad and Hazara Town. Assaults against them have increased. “In the mid-1980s there were religious tensions between Shia Hazaras and Sunni Pashtun groups in Quetta in which dozens were killed, and this tension and accompanying violence have persisted since then,” writes noted Pakistani journalist Khalid Ahmed in his book titled Sectarian War.
After former Chief Minister of Balochistan Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti’s killing, in 2007 and 2008, 37 Shia Hazaras, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), became targets of sectarian violence. Their fatalities intensified tremendously in 2009. According to a report issued by the Human Rights Watch (HRW), more than 1,000 Shia Hazaras have died in different incidents of sectarian violence in Balochistan.
On the other hand, Abdul Malik Reki, who was ethnically a Baloch, allegedly formed a Sunni sectarian group in 2003 called Jundullah (soldiers of God). The group is said to be responsible for killing Iranian sectarian forces. According to some media reports, it is said that the group later widened its targets to include Iranian civilians too. Moreover, the above-mentioned group has claimed that it was fighting for rights as well as for the defence of the oppressed Sunni Baloch from the aggression of the predominantly Shia Iran state. It should be noted that the Iranian authorities, on many occasions, have accused the group of being a proxy group of its rival countries being used to destabilise Iran. However, the group leader has denied these charges. “Reki changed colour after interactions with the banned Pakistani group Sepah-e-Sahaba (SS) in Lyari Town of Karachi. His anti-Iranian stance as a Baloch shifted to one of being anti-Shia. Not too long afterwards, he joined with SS’s breakaway faction, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, an anti-Shia al Qaeda linked militant outfit, wrote slain journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad. “Through this connection, Reki went to the Afghan province of Zabul but the Taliban refused him entry into their ranks because of their suspicion that he had forged links with the US intelligence.”
In 2010, when Abdul Malik Reki was caught and hanged by the Iranian authorities, the Jundullah group was divided up into three splinter groups: the Jaish-ul-Adl, Jaish-ul-Nasr and Lashkar-e-Khorasan. “Among these two splinter groups, the Jaish-ul-Adl, which is allegedly led by Abdul Rahim Mullah Zadeh (who uses a pseudonym name, Salah al-Din al-Faruqi), is stronger than the other two,” said a Quetta based analyst, who did not wish to be named. Moreover, on April 8, 2015, the state-run Iranian news agency of Iran, called IRNA, reported that eight Iranian border guards had been killed in clashes with militants near the border with Pakistan. On the same very day, the Jaish-ul-Adl claimed responsibility for the assault through a Facebook account, which is believed to be associated with the organisation.
In the past, the Jaish-ul-Adl has also claimed responsibility for the deadly assaults on the territory of Iran. One of deadliest assaults was in October 2013, when 14 Iranian guards were killed near the Sarawarn area, which is situated on the Pak-Iran border. Following these deaths, Iran hanged 16 Sunni Baloch in reprisal, though they did not have any links with the group. Moreover, in the post-Jundullah milieu, an unheard of group, the Harakat Ansar Iran (HAI), also emerged. The group’s spokesman, Abu Hafs al-Balochi, recently warned of continued jihad against Iran in a video.
Nevertheless, Asfandyar Wali, the president of the Awami National Party (ANP), rightly argues that Balochistan will be affected if Pakistan joins the Yemen war. He further added that the people of Balochistan would be the biggest victims of the Yemen war if the army is sent to take part in the Yemen war. He also regretted that Pashtuns were still bearing the brunt of the 1980s’ war and Yemen’s war, he said, Balochistan would bear.
There is no denying the fact that the Yemen war is not our war, so why should we intervene and jeopardise the lives of Balochistan’s people who are already suffering? According to Quetta based analysts, the recent clashes on the Pak-Iran border are a harbinger of bleak signs for Pakistan in general and Balochistan in particular, which will further intensify if we intervene into Yemen. The government needs to staye away from the Yemen war. Otherwise, the Yemen war will impact Balochistan and its people, too.
The author is a freelance journalist and researcher based in Quetta. He blogs at http://www.akbarnotezai.wordpress.com and tweets @Akbar_notezai
How has Afghanistan’s foreign policy evolved under President Ashraf Ghani?
Abbas Daiyar is an Afghan political analyst and former member of the editorial board at the Daily Outlook Afghanistan. His commentaries have appeared on BBC, CNN, The Guardian, Al Jazeera and other media outlets. He is currently pursuing studies at the Graduate Institute of Geneva.
How do you view Afghanistan’s foreign policy?
For the last decade, under the previous Karzai administration, Afghanistan lacked a consistent foreign policy due to several factors, including the lack of a long-term strategy and vision for the future of the country, and an uncertainty of the commitment of the U.S.-led NATO coalition. A visionary leadership could have made the best of the available financial and diplomatic support of the international community to put Afghanistan on the path of stability as a dignified sovereign state. Unfortunately, a historic opportunity has been lost. Our relations with our immediate neighbors have not changed much in the last decade. They still view and treat Afghanistan as a sub-state.
How has approach of the new Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to his country’s foreign policy differed from that of his predecessor Hamid Karzai?
Despite the huge challenges of a messy domestic political environment and challenges for the National Unity Government, President Ghani has embarked on a robust and ambitious [vision based on Afghanistan’s] location in the heart of Asia. At the core of his vision is an economic program to integrate Afghanistan as a corridor of trade and cooperation connecting South, Central and West Asia. However, the geopolitical realities are too complex to allow smooth implementation of the vision.
With President Ghani came a major policy shift toward Pakistan that has created optimistic hype in Kabul. Recognizing their unavoidable influence on the Taliban leadership, and inevitable role in an eventual peace settlement with the insurgents, President Ghani’s approach risks distancing significant allies such as India that have made a considerable contribution to the reconstruction of Afghanistan, as well as our neighbor Iran. Soon after coming to office, Ghani launched efforts to persuade China and Saudi Arabia to put pressure on Pakistan to bring the Taliban leadership to the negotiating table with the hope of reaching a deal with insurgents so that peace and security – fundamental requirements for his economic integration program – are achieved. But this strategy needs a carefully calculated approach that requires constant reevaluation in the face of ever-changing geopolitical realities in the region.
President Ghani’s first major foreign policy blunder came last week when his office in a statement announced “full support” for the Saudi-led Arab coalition’s attack in Yemen. This was in response to the Saudi King’s request, appeasing them as part of the president’s efforts for peace talks with Taliban. It is naïve to believe third-state pressure will be more efficient to persuade Pakistan to cooperate on talks with the Taliban. It should be pursued with a spirit of exclusive mutual understanding based on long-term stability and cooperation that address fundamental issues such as the Durand Line and water resources. On these existential issues, Islamabad will not respond to pressure from Riyadh or Beijing.
President Ghani’s support for the Saudi-led attack in Yemen has already triggered a barrage of domestic criticism, including from his partners in the National Unity Government. He bypassed them and national institutions such as the parliament in a hasty and ill-judged decision that could have consequences for Afghanistan both domestically and in relations with our neighbors.
What are your thoughts on Ghani’s visit to Washington, D.C.? Could this visit be a new chapter in U.S-Afghanistan relations?
President Ghani has lived in the U.S. as an academic and senior technocrat for over two decades, so he has many well-wishers in D.C. He has been a welcome relief for the White House, compared with his predecessor Karzai’s bipolar brinkmanship, which took the relationship with Washington to the edge. Karzai’s anti-U.S. tirades and refusal to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement was a factor in U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision to drawdown the level of troops in Afghanistan to a few thousand by the end of current year. That decision has been reversed now and the current level of 9800 troops will be kept, a success achieved in President Ghani’s recent visit that is vital for the anticipated bloody summer fighting season with the insurgents.
Renewed development assistance, and a firm commitment for continued funding and support for the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) was the second item on President Ghani’s agenda. In his speech to the joint session of Congress, he emphasized the security challenges to persuade U.S. lawmakers for continued approval of funding for ANSF through 2017. He also secured the New Development Partnership, under which the U.S. government has announced to make up to $800 million available to the initiative to support President Ghani’s program of transition to self-reliance, linking it to specific reforms in combating corruption, promoting rule of law, strengthening women’s rights, and enhancing private sector growth
So the president has had a good start with his effort to revive and improve relations with Washington, which is fundamental for his smooth transition plan and vision for regional integration.
How do you view Afghanistan-Pakistan relations?
Since President Ghani’s came to office, one of the major foreign policy shifts in Kabul has been toward Pakistan. Aiming at a fundamental transformation of mutual Afghan-Pak relations, President Ghani’s objective is to persuade Pakistan to deny sanctuary to the Taliban leadership and push them to negotiate with the Afghan government. There has been a rush of positive gestures between Kabul and Islamabad. However, both sides are in fact playing the game of maximizing short-term gains by leaving fundamental issues such as the Durand Line and water resource management untouched. Pakistan’s priority is to deal with its internal security threats from the Pakistani Taliban factions. Islamabad has yet to deliver any significant step forward, given its ability to persuade and push Taliban leadership for a peace settlement with Kabul. President Ghani needs to set a firm deadline on this.
For a lasting outcome, both sides have to start a broad discussion on fundamental issues and cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan that can bring stability and prosperity for the region.
How do you see the efforts of the Afghan government to engage the Taliban in peace talks?
Negotiations with the Taliban have been a top priority for President Ghani, as it was for his predecessor Karzai. His major shift towards rapprochement with Pakistan is aimed at a successful settlement with the Taliban, a strategy that was once followed by Karzai too, to no avail. The success of talks will largely depend on how sincerely Pakistan uses its influence to push Taliban leadership for a settlement and deny them sanctuary, and for that, how far President Ghani can go to meet Islamabad’s demands in return. Even if the Taliban leadership or a major faction does eventually start official negotiations, which is likely, there will still be groups who will rebel against the decision and continue fighting. However, it will be a major breakthrough if Taliban leader Mullah Omar approves of official talks with the National Unity Government, and there will be greater political will and popular support in dealing militarily with militants who continue fighting.
Is the Islamic State gaining a foothold in Afghanistan?
Afghan officials have confirmed that some Taliban commanders who had earlier announced allegiance to the Islamic State are making recruitment efforts. A group of Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan fighters have also pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi. An IS affiliated group of former Taliban commanders was behind the targeted kidnapping of 30 Hazara Shiite passengers in Zabul province.
In his speech to Congress, President Ghani clearly warned of the serious threat of IS making inroads in Afghanistan as part of their mythical narrative.
After the Pakistan Army launched its operations in Waziristan, hundreds of Arab and Central Asian Jihadis flocked into Afghanistan. Those international terrorists and Taliban militants disenchanted with their leadership are fertile recruitment targets for the Islamic State. They might also aim to infiltrate and influence radical fundamentalist but non-violent groups active across Afghanistan in charity and religious education services.
Muhammad Akbar Notezai reveals how influential Arabs are hunting the endangered houbara bustard in Balochistan despite provincial court’s ban
By Muhammad Akbar Notezai
Although our country’s wildlife department is not famous for sporting any moral principle, yet a rare exception is Mr. Jaffer Baloch, the former divisional forest officer of the Balochistan Forest and Wildlife Department of Chagai, a post from which he was transferred. The reason: he revealed that in January 2014 Fahd bin Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud, the governor of the Tabuk province of Saudi Arabia, had killed 2100 houbara bustards in the remote areas of Balochistan’s Chagai District. The governor of Tabuk, Saudi Arabia (Fahd) was using a fake permit, which was illegally manufactured by the Foreign Ministry that has no authority furnish people with such permits.
“For preparing my report about the exact figure of the birds killed in Chagai, which was leaked to the Press, I was transferred from my post,” Mr. Jaffer Baloch had told Ali Raza Rind, who is a journalist based in Dalbandin, the headquarters of Chagai.
In recent years, the Foreign Office had allocated certain areas of Balochistan, including District Zhob, Ormara and Pasni, Disrict Gawadar, District Kharan (excluding Nag Dera breeding area), District Panjgur, District Washuk, District Khuzdar, District Lasbela, Tehsil Lehri of District Sibi, old Katchi and Sani Shoran of District Bolan, District Kila Saifullah, including Kar Khurassan (less subdivision Muslim Bagh) and Samungali, to the dignitaries of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for the hunting of houbara bustards in 2013-2014. But due to the furore generated in the national and international media after the killing of 2100 houbara bustards in Chagai District in November 2014, the Balochistan High Court (BHC), the highest court in the province, directed subsequently that the provincial government of Balochistan, led by Doctor Abdul Malik Baloch, cancel the allocation of areas to the Arab dignitaries.
However, according to media reports, 29 foreigners have been granted the license to hunt houbara bustards in the past few years, who are some of the most influential men of the Gulf region.
“Despite the ban on hunting the endangered Houbara bustards, Arab dignitaries – who were Sheikh Suroor bin Muhammad Al-Nayan and Sheikh Saif Zahid Al-Nayan of the United Arab Emirates – landed at the Panjgur airport at the end of January,” says Barkat Jeevan, who is a stringer based in Panjgur District of Balochistan. “They camped in the remote areas of Panjgur for a week, hunting a hundred birds.” When asked about the exact number of birds killed in Panjgur during their visit, Jeevan said it was kept secret due to the fear of media.
A resident of Panjgur informed on the condition of anonymity that the Arab Sheikhs were welcomed by the Provincial Health Minister of the ruling National Party, Rehmat Saleh Baloch. He further added that he was taken to his camp with the heavy contingent of the Frontier Corps (FC) and the Police.
“In one of the remote areas of District Panjgur, Peer Omer Jan, Arab Sheikh called Sheikh Saif Muhammad bin Al Nayan has built a residential house,” says Jeevan, he further adds, “This time, he did not come. Instead of him, his relatives Sheikh Suroor bin Muhammad Al-Nayan and Sheikh Saif Zahid Al-Nayan came to Panjgur for hunting the houbara bustards.” He also said that the local community of Panjgur was unhappy over the visit of the Arab Sheikh, as he was violating the law by hunting the bustards.
Furthermore, locals of Musakhel District also confirmed that Qatari Sheikhs had been hunting the migratory birds in their areas, and would hunt 6 to 12 birds on daily basis.
Unlike Panjgur and Musakhel, when Saudi Arabia (Fahd) in February landed at Dalbandin airport, it again gained critical attention in the media. “Ironically, our own Federal Minister Ahsan Iqbal welcomed him at Dalbandin for violating national laws, as the hunting of houbara bustards is banned by the highest court of the province,” said Noor Ahmad, who is a rights activist based in Quetta. On the other hand, the forest and wildlife advisor to the Chief Minister of Balochistan, Obaidullah Jan Babat said, “Arab dignitaries are visiting development sites; they are not hunting in Dalbandin.”
But a source from Dalbandin informs us that there were no development sites in Bartagazai areas of Dalbandin, where the Arab dignitaries had camped.
“To appease the local populations, where Arab dignitaries hunt, they have built hospitals, roads, and mosques,” say local reporters.
Ali Raza Rind said, “In the past, the governor of Tabuk built a gigantic and beautiful hospital and mosque by issuing funds to the governmental authorities.” But he also refuted the claim that he had come to visit the development sites in Dalbandin.
The Houbara bustard is listed as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species.
According to the code of conduct, the hunting period is restricted to 10 days with a bag limit of 100 birds. Hunters have been advised to neither poach chicks or eggs, nor hunt live bird. They are also ordered not to use firearms for hunting, which is to be carried out only using falcons. But Quetta-based conservationists say that they never follow the code of conduct. They further ask: how can you stop the Arab dignitaries from using firearms during hunting? Will they listen?
There is no denying the fact that Pakistan possesses warm relations with the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is particularly close with Saudi Arabia, where he spent nearly seven years in exile after former military chief Pervez Musharraf toppled him in a coup. That is why, according to media reports, it is stated that the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif himself sent his Federal Minister Ahsan Iqbal to welcome Saudi Arabian governor, Fahd. This is why Arab dignitaries fearlessly break the law and hunt the houbara bustards of Balochistan – every winter.
Veengas Yangeen on forced conversions and dubious convictions of blasphemy.
Veengas Yasmeen is a senior journalist based in Karachi, Pakistan. She writes exclusively on Pakistan’s religious minorities in Pakistani national dailies and periodicals. This interview has been edited for clarity.
How do you view the current situation for minorities in Pakistan?
Overall, the condition of ordinary people is not good. They are suffering. But minorities in particular are plagued with many problems because of their beliefs, and they are being victimized in the name of religion. Yet they cannot complain.
Article 25 (1) of the Pakistani constitution says all citizens are equal before the law and are entitled to equal protection under the law. Unfortunately, when we take a look at the miserable condition of minorities, it seems that this does not apply to them. In every realm they are being treated unequally and as second-class citizens. Opportunities are not evenly distributed among Muslims and non-Muslims. Minorities face discrimination and they do not have an equal status. They do not have job opportunities. For instance, Christians get menial jobs, like that of sweepers.
Ironically, despite the fact that they are the indigenous people of this land, we have put them in the category of “minorities,” because they are not Muslims. I reject this categorizing and urge the government of Pakistan to abolish the word “minority.” They are equal citizens, and they should be treated as such.
What are your thoughts about the forced conversions of minority girls, particularly of Hindus and Christians, in Pakistan?
First, our society is male-dominated; second, unethical and criminal acts usually take place in the name and under the cover of religion and honor. Forced conversions of Hindu and Christian girls shows that certain groups can commit crimes in the name of religion.
It is a sad state of affairs when minority girls can be kidnapped, married off, and forcibly converted to Islam. It is beyond my comprehension – what kind of a society do they want to build?
Due to forced conversions, minority Hindu and Christian girls cannot even go to school or college. They are imprisoned in their homes.
As for the victims, their families are unable to follow up due to the wrath of the local clerics, who claim that the victims have now become Muslims. The victims’ families cannot ask their daughters whether they have converted willingly or not.
You have been writing on the cases of forced conversions since the case of Rinkle Kumari. Can you tell us about these Hindu girls, who are victims of forced conversions in Sindh?
What happens is that the perpetrators, in the name of religion, kidnap Hindu girls, and local clerics, in my many cases, provide a place to keep them. To understand the motives, you need to understand the cultural, historical, and political perspectives.
There is no denying that Sindh is known for its traditional, tolerant Sufi-culture, diversity, and pluralism, and for its cultural roots that go back to Hinduism. Interestingly, Hindus are sons of the soil; they are indigenous to Sindh.
Since the 1970s, when former General Zia-ul-Haq overthrew the government of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, he began nurturing extremism across the country. Extremists also made inroads into Sindh, and they have today penetrated deep inside the region. It is these people who appear to be involved in forced conversion cases. These extremists, by forcibly converting Hindu girls, want to force the Hindu community to leave the Sindh. When your children are unsafe, you will want to leave.
Coming back to your question, yes, I have been writing on the forced conversions since Rinkle Kumari’s case, who was forcibly converted. Let me share one more thing: when the cases of Rinkle Kumari, Asha Kumari, and Lata Kumari reached the Supreme Court of Pakistan, they were not allowed to meet their family members, their parents. In this sorry situation, Hindus are compelled to leave Sindh due to forced conversions and injustices. Those who cannot afford to leave are still suffering.
Now, due to frequent cases of forced conversions, Sindh looks different. Meanwhile, the government has either kept silent over the issue or are unable to apprehend the perpetrators. Instead, the perpetrators involved in such cases pressure the government using the sword of religion.
What progress do you think has been made in the fight against forced conversions and forced marriages of minority girls in Pakistan?
People used to think that the reason that minority girls were converting is that they fall in love with Muslim boys. But now they realize that this is not love; rather these are cases of forced conversions and forced marriages of minority girls.
In the past, when I would speak up about this, particularly over the case of Rinkle Kumari, people would say I was giving unnecessary coverage to her case. Now, though, I do see people from different walks of life raising their voices over forced conversions and forced marriages of minority girls. They agree that these cases malign our society and our international image. They are becoming part of the fight against these practices. This is good progress.
How do minorities get implicated in the blasphemy cases?
How do minorities get implicated in the blasphemy cases?
Unfortunately, those who accuse minorities of blasphemy have the golden coin of religion; they can easily use it for their own interests. First, you call them a minority; second, you put the gun of blasphemy to their heads. Once the accusation is made, it becomes a sacred issue without investigation.
The police arrest the accused and the government remains silent, encouraging people to make the accusations.
How do you view Asia Bibi’s case?
Everyone knows that people use blasphemy laws against minorities; we have the example of Rimsha Masih’s case, in which a cleric tried to entrap her in a blasphemy accusation. Similarly, reports suggest that Asia Bibi is innocent. The government should release her and not let people misuse the blasphemy laws.
How long will this go on? Resolving Asia Bibi’s case could open a positive chapter in the history of Pakistan, if she can receive justice.
What should the government do to improve the situation for minorities, and to stop their emigration?
If the government of Pakistan wants to improve the situation for minorities, it must first stop the misuse of blasphemy laws and crimes committed in the name of religion. It should ensure that all citizens are equal [in practice]. No one should be allowed to victimize minorities. Then, the situation would improve. Minorities are emigrating because they are not being treated as equal citizens. If they get equal rights and their children can move about freely, they will be less likely to leave.
Honor killings, acid attacks, maternal mortality, and illiteracy – life for women in Pakistan’s largest province is grim.
Interestingly, in Balochistan’s more enlightened Makran division, which consists of the Panjgur, Kech and Gawadar districts, female literacy is comparatively high. The reason: Co-educational private schools are flourishing. These schools have produced an educated class of women, who today have established themselves as educators, politicians, and doctors. Among them is Zubaida Jalal, who was born into a poor Baloch family in the town of Mand, in Kech district. From 2002 to 2007, Jalal was the first federal education minister.
In recent years, though, the number of girls dropping out of education has surged, in the wake of attacks and threats to privately-run co-educations institutions in Makran division by religious fundamentalist groups. Parents in Quetta told The Diplomat that in the aftermath of attacks on privately-run schools they were now sending their daughters to government-run institutions. A national daily has reported that the dropout rate is an appalling 70 percent, adding that although co-education schools and colleges exist in Makran, threats from new militant organizations are keeping girls at home. That has given Balochistan the lowest female literacy in Pakistan.
The practice of so-called honor killings drew global attention in 2008, when three teenage girls were buried alive in Balochistan’s Nasirabad district. According to media reports, the girls were taken to remote areas of Nasirabad by the brother of a tribal notable, where they were shot and then buried while still alive. The brother of the accused, a minister under the former provincial government of Nawab Aslam Raisani, denied that his brother was involved, and local journalists were threatened after breaking news of the crime.
The Aurat Foundation (AF), a non-governmental organization working for women’s rights, has reported hundreds of instances of violence against women in Balochistan. In its most recent report, the foundation said that at least 187 cases of violence against women occurred in Balochistan in 2014, compared with 151 cases in 2013. It also reported 75 honor killings, with particularly grim figures for Sibi and Nasirabad divisions.
It should be noted that a great deal of violence goes unreported. Balochistan is the largest province in Pakistan by area, and many villages are remote. There is little investigative reporting, and those journalists who have tried to report on the persecution of women have themselves faced threats.
But violence is not the only threat to women’s health. In rural Balochistan, maternal mortality rates are high. Due to poverty and a lack of awareness, many women are not brought into Quetta to give birth.
“One of my aunts in remote Nushki lost her life during pregnancy,” said a resident of Nushki, adding, “This happens often, because they cannot afford to bring women to the city. That is why they suffer silently and die.”
In rural Balochistan, poverty is extreme. This combined with illiteracy and growing radicalization have compounded the woes of women. The Pakistan Health Demographic Survey (PHDS) reports that Balochistan leads the nation in maternal mortality, with 785 deaths for every 100,000 women, compared to 272 in the rest of the country.
“Outside Quetta, it is common for women to die during pregnancy. Only a few pregnancies are registered in hospitals of Quetta,” said a Quetta-based doctor. The mortality rate is shocking even in Panjgur, the constituency of Minister for Health Rahamat Saleh Baloch.
Another tragic byproduct of rising extremism is the practice of acid attacks by extremists, with the first reported in 2010, when two sisters in Dalbandin, headquarters of the Chagai district, were targeted. A hitherto unknown group called the Baloch Ghairatmand Group claimed responsibility for the attack. Since then, a number of similar incidents have been reported in Balochistan, involving men on motorcycles throwing acid on women and then fleeing.
Last year, four polio workers, including three women, were target killed in the outskirts of Quetta. That prompted a boycott of the polio campaign, but despite the risks the workers have since returned.
Illiteracy, honor killings, maternal mortality, and acid attacks – clearly, conditions for women in Balochistan are shockingly poor, and they are getting worse. But despite claims of action, there is little evidence that the chief minister Dr. Abdul Malik Baloch or his all-male cabinet have done anything of significance to address the situation. For now, it appears that Balochistan’s women will continue to suffer.
Balochistan’s Hindus are migrating because of security fears
On December 2, police found an abandoned vehicle at a parking lot in Quetta. It belonged to Dr Manoj Kumar, a noted educationist in the city and a medical officer at a government hospital in the nearby town of Dadhar. He had been abducted. Two months later, he was set free in the Hazarganji suburb of the provincial capital. A source in his family said they let him go after they were paid Rs 14 million.
Hindus in Quetta say it is not an isolated incident. Although security has improved for the minority community since this government took over, they say they live in fear.
“We are soft targets,” a Hindu trader said. “We cannot put up a resistance. We have to pay the ransom.”
Balochistan’s chief minister, Dr Abdul Malik Baloch, told reporters last year that law-enforcement agencies in his province had arrested or killed most members of 72 gangs involved in abduction for ransom. Recent newspaper reports suggest security forces have stepped up action against militant groups in Balochistan since the prime minister announced a National Action Plan to combat terrorism.
But a Hindu rights activists says at least 45 Hindu families left their hometown in the Mach district of Balochistan last year because of security fears, and massive migration of Hindus has been reported out of Kalat, Khuzdar and Mastung districts.
Hindus are among the oldest dwellers of Balochistan. “It is not known exactly how and when the Hindus settled in Balochistan, but it is said that before the invasion of Mohammad Bin Qasim in 712, they lived in areas near Karachi, such as Hub, Lasbela, Kalat and Sevi (now known as Sibi),” says Prof Aziz Mohammad Bugti, a renowned author based in Quetta.
“We are soft targets”
Sham Kumar, a Hindu intellectual, says they ruled parts of Balochistan before the Arab invasion. “In those days, Hinduism and Buddhism were dominant in Balochistan and Sindh,” he says.
Two Hindu temples from those times still survive – the Hinglaj Mata temple in Lasbela and the Kali Mata temple in Kalat. “They are reminiscent of the strong influence that Hindus had in Balochistan in those times,” says Prof Bugti.
The historic Kalat city is named after the fabled Hindu ruler Kalat Seva, he says. The Chaman district of Balochistan, which is now part of the Pashtun belt, was likely named after famous Hindu fruit trader Chaman Das. But the town of Hindu Bagh, in the Qilla Saifullah district, was renamed Muslim Bagh.
Hindus have played a prominent role in the Baloch economy over centuries, and were as much a part of the Baloch society as any other community. Inayatullah Baloch says in his book The Problem of Greater Balochistan that during the siege of Kalat in 1839, Finance Minister Dewan Bucha Mull, a Hindu, sacrificed his life to defend Kalat.
“Hindus live in almost all districts of Balochistan, other than the Makran division,” says Dr Mohan Kumar, who belongs to the ruling National Party. They lived in the province after the Partition peacefully and without fear, until at least the 1970s.
A Hindu teacher said some Hindus in Balochistan considered themselves “superior” until the 1980s. “After Gen Ziaul Haq took over the country, things began to change,” he said. “We are insecure now, and we feel that we do not have the support of the local people the way we did in the past.”
A national newspaper reported in 2013 that 13,000 Hindus had migrated out of Dera Bugti since 2006, when the security situation worsened in the area. But a Hindu who belongs to Dera Bugti but is now settled in Quetta does not agree with the figure. “The total number of Hindus in Dera Bugti was not more than 2,000.”
The emigration began after the death of former chief minister Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, said the Hindu teacher, escalating sharply between 2010 and 2014.
In a press conference in October last year, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan chairwoman Zohra Yusuf had said 300,000 Shias, Zikris, and Hindus had left the province because of security concerns.
Some moved to other parts of the province because they are not ready to leave their homeland. “Many Hindu families have resettled in Mastung,” says Munir Ahmad, a local stringer.
But the community complains the provincial government has done very little to address their fears and stop the migration.
“We live in fear,” says the Hindu teacher. “We feel like strangers in our own land.”
The writer is a freelance journalist and researcher based in Quetta
The Friday Times