Archive for the ‘Benazir Bhutto’ Category
New York- I saw on twitter that the former Amir (leader) of Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan, Qazi Hussain Ahmad, died in Islamabad today (technically tomorrow in Pakistan). I photographed him campaigning against the vote in the February 2008 parliamentary elections. Hussain was reciting his boilerplate firebrand rhetoric urging the constituent members of the All Parties Democratic Movement to shun any political activities that further legitimated the rule of Pervez Musharraf. Hussain riled the entirely male crowd to keep the embers of jihad alight in both Kashmir and Afghanistan.
Despite the efforts of such political luminaries like the late Qazi Hussain Ahmad and Imran Khan, two days later, the general elections were held rather quietly and with a minimum of political violence and their results maintained the feudal status quo of the country’s dynastic politics. Pakistan should theoretically be gearing up for a new round of general elections next month seeing as the events in these photos took place five years ago.
Though Hussain, a stalwart of mainstream jihadi politics in Pakistan, has now passed from the scene, his comrade in Punjabi and Pashtun politics carries on. Imran Khan continues to portray himself in English-language media outlets as a sort of neo-anti-colonialist who is altruistically trying to eject American influence from the Pakistani polity. But the mere fact that he was leading a rally that had anti-Shia extremists from Jaish-e-Muhammad and Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan in the mix gave me the impression he is a savvy political operator who provides Urdu-language audiences with quite a different message-if in no other way than by the visible company he keeps.
Khan is now marketing himself in the West as an anti-drone activist–fair play–but in some circles of the Pakistani intelligentsia, he is derisively referred to as “Taliban Khan” for his seeming appeasement of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan. At least with Qazi Hussain Ahmad, you always knew exactly where he stood.
But very much unlike Hussain, he ranks 3rd on The Hotlist: 20 of the Hottest Men in Pakistan!
Barcelona- Partly out of boredom and partly out of the itch to simply create something new out of old, I threw together this photo montage over the weekend. In this era of digital photography where one shoots thousands of frames rather than analog hundreds, I was reflecting on how almost all of the images I make will never see the light of day in this regard. I put this video together in a largely random fashion with images that have been just sitting in my laptop for years. I put the photos in the order they came to me as I grabbed them one by one from various folders containing my view of many of the biggest news events of the last 10 years.
Interspersed with them are much more sublime moments of everyday life around the world. An elephant in Thailand, an aged priest in Ethiopia, a glitzy office tower in Manhattan. This has been my reality and is our collective reality. Globalization and social networking simultaneously accelerate worldwide travel and technological integration while hyper compartmentalizing our lives. We speak more so to only those who we want to and listen to those with whom we already agree.
No one knows just where any of this is going. Billionaire fraudsters suddenly imprisoned, social revolutions springing up from seemingly nowhere (though not quite), calcified dictatorships counted on for decades in the interests of “stability” suddenly crumbling to pieces, it seems as if the entire world order is in question.
Yesterday another one of the Hashwani family’s hotels was demolished in a well-planned and executed suicide attack in Peshawar. The Pearl Continental (PC) Hotel chain is owned by perhaps Pakistan’s most prominent Ismaili family, the Hashwanis. Major cooperations in Pakistan, when not wholly owned subsidiaries of the Pakistani Army, are most often familial enterprises such as the Hashoo Group. The Hashwanis had been in talks with the U.S. government to sell it the PC Peshawar property to be used as its new consular offices in light of NWFP’s ever growing importance in U.S. foreign policy. There are rumors that they were or are considering getting out of the hospitality industry altogether. Last year’s Marriott bombing was devastating to the family’s investment portfolio though its patriarch Saddaruddin Hashwani issued a defiant statement to the press that he would rebuild the Islamabad Marriott and would not bow to terrorist intimidation.
While covering the Pakistani elections last year, I often worked out of the PC Lahore’s business centre and devoured some incredible international fare at the hotel’s restaurant after long days trudging up and down Mall Road looking for stories. Even if I could have afforded to stay there, I wouldn’t have because of its obviousness as a high-value target in the wave of jihadist violence that had already engulfed the country by mid-2007. Partly for my safety, I stayed at a low profile guest house down the road. It probably doesn’t help that the 5-star hotels in Pakistan are owned by a group of Ismailis, who are a branch of Shi’ism that holds the Aga Khan in highest esteem as living imam, when considering the militants takfiri ideology. The Sunni extremists that claim to adhere to takfirism believe that individuals may declare those who follow different strains of Islam apostates and can therefore justify acts of previously imaginable terror throughout South Asia and the Middle East. Takfirism is essential in creating a sense of the “Other” in the militant mind which is used to justify attacks against those praying in mosques and eating in hotel dining rooms. Undoubtedly, the reasoning behind the attack will be attributed to either the PC’s international clientele or its possible sale to the Americans. The Ismailis as a cultural subset are extraordinarily successful business people with Shah Karim al-Hussayni, the Aga Khan, chief among them. The Aga Khan and the Hashwanis represent immense wealth in a region wracked by poverty and illiteracy-related militancy.
When I was in the country last year, the Afghan Taleban targeted the telecom company Roshan’s mobile phone transmission towers in southern Afghanistan after having previously attacked the Serena hotel in Kabul. The Taleban issued a communique stating they wanted the towers shut down at night because they believed their movements could be tracked by coalition forces and the mobile signals were being used to target them. Ismaili business interests seemed to be under sustained assault. Now again, the Taleban’s attacks on the Roshan towers and the Serena were very likely of a purely strategic nature but the fact that the towers are owned by the Aga Khan (and his European consortium partners) doesn’t exactly help. A major segment of the Aga Khan’s charitable work is aiding remote Ismaili communities in Central and South Asia who the Taleban consider to be apostates similar to the Twelver Shi’i Hazara they attempted to annihilate in the 1990’s.
I had some of the same thoughts regarding Benazir Bhutto. Not only was she Shi’i, like her father Zufliqar and the country’s father Mohammed Ali Jinnah, but she came from the rich and resented zamindar feudal structure in Sindh province that is another post-colonial relict of British divide et impera strategy. As I’ve written previously regarding Sri Lanka, the Crown’s modus operandi was to favor ethnic and religious minorities over the unwashed masses in order to maintain control over the populace and extract their colonies natural wealth with as little disruption as possible. I’m sure the Pakistani Taleban didn’t need Benazir to be a land owning Twelver to declare her an apostate but I doubt her lineage and status helped her case. Benzair spent the last morning of her life meeting with Hamid Karzai at the Islamabad Serena (which a friend of mine photographed hours before her assassination).People across the region who depend on the Ismaili establishment for employment, sustenance and remittances have suffered enormously from the Taleban’s unforgiving insurgency and reconciliation cannot begin soon enough should the kinetic war-fighting cease anytime soon. Inshallah!
UPDATE: The death toll from the PC attack now stands at 17.
Link to the HuffingtonPost version.
I have a piece this week on the Huffington Post on where Pakistan was and where it is or could be going. Read it here…
On April 15th, Jamestown hosted and exhaustive conference on the subject of Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province and its Federally Administered Tribal Areas. There’s too much else to include for the number of people gathered and the all the topics covered under the umbrella of the larger concept of Pakistan’s tribal wars but here are some of the highlights.
The first panel consisted of Ahmed Rashid and Shuja Nawaz. Rashid sadly described the “surrender of the state” in the Swat valley to Sufi Muhammed and said that the Swati Taleban had taken over the instruments of the state in spreading their own version of Sharia law, which, Rashid said, differed markedly from historical Sharia that had been practiced in the area in previous decades. Rashid told the audience that that the Pakistani Taleban, the TTP, had an agenda of Islamizing all of Pakistan and challenging the army. Shuja Nawaz spoke pessimistically of a “battle for Pakistan” and described an army that was able to clear but not build and hold (one can think of the example of the Bajaur operations) which is critical in a COIN strategy (which every speaker described as non-existent in Pakistan’s military doctrine).
Mariam Abou Zahab, an expert on Sunni-Shia internecine conflict in Pakistan and co-author of Islamist Networks: The Afghan-Pakistan Connection presented a fascinatingly detailed background on this conflict within the broader turmoil occurring throughout Pakistan. Though it may be hard for outsiders to differentiate between the various contexts of carnage coming out of the country on a daily basis, Mme. Zahab told of the fitna, or sectarian Islamic warfare that has been shredding the fabric of Pakistani society since the 1980’s which was part of a proxy struggle between Iran and the al-Saud family. This sectarian warfare is relevant to the conflict in FATA and the historical context of the Afghan war for several reasons. Two of the seven tribal agencies, Kurram and Orakzai, have significant Shia populations and hence inherent conflict. Zahab states that the influx of large numbers of Sunni Afghan refugees during the Soviet era skewed the Sunni demographic in FATA well out of its historical balance. According to Zahab, this suited General Zia ul-Haq just fine. Zia was greatly annoyed by particular Shia tribes in crucial border areas refusal to let mujahideen cross their territory during the anti-Soviet war. For Zia these Pashtun Shia presented both a tactical and ideological issue. Zia’s “Islamization” of Pakistan was also a defacto Sunnization of the country as well. Skewing the tribal areas in favor of Pashtun Sunni clients was necessary to prosecute the war in Afghanistan. Outside of an historical Islamic context, the violent schism harks back to the British Raj when colonial officers divide et impera by favoring wealthy minority Shia landholders against the unwashed Sunni masses tilling the land. Within Pakistan’s unannounced civil war, mosques are detonated, captured Shia soldiers are beheaded and imams are assassinated. Sectarian outfits in Pakistan are, in the words of David Kicullen, “Fighting Smalls Wars in the Midst of a Big One.”
Stephen P. Cohen of Brookings spoke to Pakistan’s lack of a counterinsurgency strategy which most of the experts throughout the day agreed the country so desperately needs. Cohen described Pakistan’s enemy-centric war fighting strategy as self-defeating because it further alienated local populations which remains fervently counterintuitive to COIN doctrine. The army’s “ethnic mismatch” fails to represent the makeup of of the society at large being a heavily Punjabi dominated institution which leads to a deadly cultural gap when fighting Pashtun (or Balochi) militants. Cohen also criticized Pakistan’s civilian leadership for its “knowledge deficit” in the country’s military affairs which may be a product of the natural tension in the swinging pendulum between democracy and dictatorship for the past six decades. The Army, Cohen said, has no discernible interest in taken lessons from other campaigns from the Pakistanis could implement in their internal land war. Cohen mentioned various Indian COIN operations of yore that Pakistan’s army could seek to learn from. Not bloody likely…
Jamestown’s Andrew MacGregor, describing recent attacks on Peshawar’s freight terminals, gave an interesting presentation on NATO’s baffling choices for logistical supply routes presenting a region wide context. The cycle of supplying Western forces in Afghanistan has built-in instability with bribes being paid regularly to the Taleban. In order to let equipment pass through their jurisdiction, the Taleban exact payments from trucking syndicates which are used to fund a widening insurgency. Internally Displaced Person’s (IDP) camps sprouting up on the outskirts of Karachi as a result of the Pakistan Army’s operations have given cover to militants from FATA and NWFP now operating in Sindh where they threaten the formerly safe port for NATO supplies. While trucking military supplies through Pakistan are threatened (not to mention taking away legitimate income from the Pakistani trucking industry), other much more costly sounding and arduous supply routes are being considered like a South Caucasus-TransCaspian-Kakakh route, an old Soviet supply route beginning in the Baltics in Riga and continuing on to Central Asia through the Russian Federation. MacGregor spoke of the “Iranian Route” which would make the most sense logistically, especially considered Iran’s relative stability and wealth of infrastructure. Such a move would be highly improbable, at least for the United States, without a major overture from the Americans but may be doable for some EU militaries. Central Asian routes may give Moscow a degree of leverage over the authoritarian states it is trying to hold within its orbit and could likely be a great odds with NATO’s objectives in both Afghanistan and possible membership candidate states.
Barack Obama is in office. Guantanamo is closing (though not immediately), America’s interest in Iraq seems to finally be fizzling and the new President gave a distinctive address to the people of the Middle East via al-Arabiya, al-Jazeera’s quietist rival. However one particularly disastrous bit of foreign policy President Obama has neither rebuffed nor assuaged the “Muslim world” are the missile strikes launched by UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) that have been unleashed on ungoverned spaces in Pakistan’s hinterlands. These pilotless planes buzz high in the sky above their targets waiting to launch Hellfire missiles on the inaccessible, mud brick compound of the CIA’s choice.
Although the aerial attacks have taken out several “high value targets” (a term used to create dissonance between the alleged terrorists and their humanity), they have also killed scores of Pashtun peasants in the Tribal Belt. The strikes create more problems than they solve for several reasons. The militant leaders and their acolytes know that the Pakistani government has let its sovereignty be eroded by both the Bush White House and the new administration in its infancy. As the death toll mounts, Islamabad is further emasculated in the eyes of furious tribesman who feel their own government does not have the bravado to directly confront them. While Pakistani ground forces have failed miserably to dislodge Taliban elements and the notorious Haqqani family from their ideological trenches, the fact that American forces cannot enter Pakistan (though it is understood they have occasionally done so) through an announced legal framework makes the air strikes a viable option. Almost…
Through the lens of Pashtunwali, the regional code of rigid masculinity and hospitality, the drones circling overhead are birds of cowardice. Obama is immediately stuck in a policy vice grip. He campaigned for renewed diplomacy and outreach yet must still smash his progressive fist somewhere on some godforsaken poor people in order not be ridiculed as a throwback to an exaggerated moment of appeasement that has never been relevant. It is a scenario that requires a studied rethink. American forces cannot effectively enter northwestern Pakistan en masse. Pakistani forces have sustained immense casualties when they have attempted to enter the region from the east meeting heavy resistance. Meanwhile, the current policy of war by video game is inflaming Pakistani public opinion and national pride. The Americans have had, with limited success, obliterated some of their long sought enemies. The overwhelming outcome of these attacks is more of the “smoking ’em out” sort with negligible intelligence benefits.
Obama made waves in his campaign by stating he would be (possibly) willing to negotiate with contrarian states like Iran and Syria in order to achieve U.S. goals in Iraq and Palestine. What he did not say, however, is whether he would be willing to talk to non-state actors like the Taliban in order to achieve a modicum of regional stability in the Afghanistan-Pakistan cross border region known colloquially as Pushtunistan. In a term formerly reserved for the Kurds of the northern Middle East, Peter Bergen has said that the Pashtuns are in fact the world’s largest group of people without a state. Dealing solely with states is so twentieth century as we have painfully come to learn at the outset of the twenty-first. Ugly as it may be, the Taliban do represent some genuine Pashtun interest which has only more recently grafted with ideas of globalist holy war. The Taliban rose to power as a militant Pashtun nationalist movement with rather narrow domestic objectives under a democratically elected Bhutto administration in the mid-1990s in next door Pakistan. The UAVs will never accomplish a long term strategic reordering of Pushtunistan or eliminate al-Qaeda ideology from its mountain hideouts and humming online servers.
Pakistan is in a very fragile state with regard to its own domestic consciousness. Militants have killed so many innocents in the last few years, that while it may be difficult for people in the West to sympathize, normal Pakistanis live in fear from the day to day actual, unrelenting terrorism that has turned the public deeply against these barbaric groups. The other side of the equation has Urdu and English language national satellite new channels showing yet another missile impact killing children in the Frontier that Pakistanis are well aware their own elected government does not have the technological capability to carry out. The civilian population of Pakistan has something in common with President Obama. Both are in situations desperately in need of a third way. Escalating the overt war in Afghanistan and the covert war in Pakistan is a tired paradigm without a visible shift on the horizon.
Far more destructive to the confines of militant thought would be the financing of new roads and schools in a joint Pakistani-American venture, perhaps with the blessing of enlightened members of the local ulema (religious councils). The people of Pushtunistan would likely welcome decent state healthcare for their children and the financing of at least minimal infrastructure in the region if it was not peppered with condescending, Punjabi dominated governance. Doing the necessary work in Pakistan’s deteriorating northwest would require a long and perhaps initially dangerous commitment. Hearts and minds cannot be won with Hellfire.
This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post.
Tomorrow morning millions of voters in Pakistan will cast their ballots in perhaps the most crucial vote in the nation’s sixty years of independence. The bloody campaign season has been rocked by a series of well coordinated suicide attacks, the most notable of which killed former prime minister Bhutto just twelve days before the election’s originally scheduled date of January 8th. While voters in the United States are deciding which candidate they’re going to throw their support behind, voters here are mulling over whether to vote at all. The ultra violent Tehrik-e-Taleban Pakistan, an indigenous mimic of the Afghan Taleban movement, are threatening the populace on election day dare they risk participation. Simultaneously, hard line Islamist politicians are instructing their legions to boycott the elections on the basis that they are guaranteed to be rigged with massive voter fraud and will only further entrench Musharraf’s power.
Yesterday, adjacent to Lahore’s massive moghul Red Fort, an anti-government, seemingly anti-everything rally was held by the All Parties Democratic Movement led by former world champion cricketer Imran Khan who star’s as the groups handsome and iconic public face. An odd coalition of political Islamists, violent irredentists, and various flag bearing sub-national ethnic groups put on a display of fervor primarily aimed at Pakistan’s domestic media. As can be expected at such a carefully orchestrated gathering, the crowd chanted “go Musharraf, go”, called for the defeat of “Hindustan” (India) and for the further humiliation of George W. Bush.
Each speaker, one after the next, did their best to stir up their constituents without ever stating what positions they actually stood for other than the wildly unrealistic goal of wresting Indian-administered Kashmir from Delhi. Mr Khan’s politically weak Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf party linked up with Jamaat-e-Islami, one of the core elements of the Muttahida-Majlis-e-Amal, a pan-Islamic political alliance, to essentially tell people to stay at home and shun Musharraf’s attempt at steering Pakistan into a democratic transition. People may be staying home indeed but it will be because they are under duress from fiercely escalating nihilistic violence, including an attack on an opposition Pakistan People’s Party rally on Saturday killing thirty seven in the country’s unstable northwest, rather than because corrupt power brokers are telling them to do so.
While the crowd was made up primarily of supporters of these fairly mainstream parties, there were several members of supposedly banned radical anti-Shia outfits and Kashmiri separatists among them who would have the most to lose should the nation change course domestically and internationally and its foreign policy toward India or the United States shift in a softer direction. Qazi Hussein Ahmad, the president of Jamaat-e-Islami, invoked the “martyrdom” of Nawab Akbar Bugti, a aged guerilla leader in Balochistan who was assassinated by Musharraf as he lead a Baluchi nationalist uprising against the federal government’s transfer the of the sparsely populated province’s resources, primarily natural gas, to populous Punjab province and the millions in Karachi. Bugti’s name was used again and again to demonstrate that his killing was an attack on Pakistan’s poor writ large through the “enlightened moderation” the General has tried to impose upon the rebels and rejectionists who operate in the country’s zealous political fray.
Upon leaving the APDM rally, I spotted a crowd massing around a cluster of the Punjab police’s blue Toyota Hi-Lux pick-ups in front of the Data Darbar, a legendary mosque in the heart of old Lahore. A man in a neatly pressed shalwar kameez and tweed vest quietly ushered me to the side of a white sedan and asked, as many people on the subcontinent do, where I was from. I replied that I was from New York and a journalist. He instructed me to take my shoes off and run inside the mosque’s courtyard. I rushed through the white marble columns seeing a thick circle of bedraggled worshippers. In the center of the circle was former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif sitting cross-legged speaking very slowly into a loudspeaker being held by one of his aides. Recently returned from his banishment in Saudi Arabia, he was now on the street and more importantly in the mosque, telling the poor and the anxious that he was one of them now and that he did not fear the elections and nor should they. As head of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Mr. Sharif was directly challenging Musharraf’s rival wing of the party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid-e-Azam (PML-Q) led by Musharraf’s candidate Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi When the former PM got up to leave, excitement turned to pandemonium as his private security men began to transfer him to the protection of the Punjab police. He then stood on the hood of one of the police trucks feigning a triumphant comeback and defying the suicide bombers who would love nothing more than to further de-stabilize the electoral process as the Islamic Republic of Pakistan teeters between the edge of anarchy and the prospect of a peaceful, if imperfect, democratic reconciliation. Knowing that Mr Sharif is high on the militant’s hit list, I jumped on a motorcycle and sped the opposite direction. Such is the campaign trail in Pakistan.