Pakistan: The Militant Jihadi Challenge

Pakistan: The Militant Jihadi Challenge

Asia Report N°164
13 March 2009


The recent upsurge of jihadi violence in Punjab, the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP), the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Balochistan’s provincial capital, Quetta, demonstrates the threat extremist Sunni-Deobandi groups pose to the Pakistani citizen and state. These radical Sunni groups are simultaneously fighting internal sectarian jihads, regional jihads in Afghanistan and India and a global jihad against the West. While significant domestic and international attention and resources are understandably devoted to containing Islamist militancy in the tribal belt, that the Pakistani Taliban is an outgrowth of radical Sunni networks in the country’s political heartland is too often neglected. A far more concerted effort against Punjab-based Sunni extremist groups is essential to curb the spread of extremism that threatens regional peace and stability. As the international community works with Pakistan to rein in extremist groups, it should also support the democratic transition, in particular by reallocating aid to strengthening civilian law enforcement.

Related content

Reforming the Judiciary in Pakistan, Asia Report N°160, 16 October 2008

Pakistan: The Forgotten Conflict in Balochistan, Asia Briefing N°69, 22 October 2007

CrisisWatch database: Pakistan

All Crisis Group Pakistan reports

The Pakistani Taliban, which increasingly controls large swathes of FATA and parts of NWFP, comprises a number of militant groups loosely united under the Deobandi Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) that have attacked not just state and Western targets, but Shias as well. Their expanding influence is due to support from long-established Sunni extremist networks, based primarily in Punjab, which have served as the army’s jihadi proxies in Afghanistan and India since the 1980s. Punjab-based radical Deobandi groups like the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) and its offshoot Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LJ) provide weapons, recruits, finances and other resources to Pakistani Taliban groups, and have been responsible for planning many of the attacks attributed to FATA-based militants. The SSP and LJ are also al-Qaeda’s principal allies in the region.

Other extremist groups ostensibly focused on the jihad in Kashmir, such as the Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, are also signatories to al-Qaeda’s global jihad against the West, and have been active in local, regional and international jihads. Their continued patronage by the military, and their ability to hijack major policy areas, including Pakistan’s relations with India, Afghanistan and the international community, impede the civilian government’s ongoing efforts to consolidate control over governance and pursue peace with its neighbours.

The actions of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP)-led federal government, and the Punjab government, led until recently by Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), against Punjab-based jihadi groups for their role in November’s attack in India’s commercial capital, Mumbai, are a step in the right direction. They must now be followed up by consolidating the evidence and presenting it in court. The two main parties, however, risk reversing the progress they have made by resorting to the confrontational politics of the past. On 25 February 2009, the Supreme Court decided to uphold a ban, based on politically motivated cases dating back to Musharraf’s military rule, on Nawaz Sharif and his brother, Shahbaz, Punjab’s chief minister, from electoral politics. President Asif Ali Zardari’s subsequent imposition of governor’s rule in Punjab has aggravated a political stalemate between the two main parties that, the longer it lasts, will allow non-democratic forces, including the military, the religious right and extremists, to once again fill the political vacuum.

The aftermath of the Mumbai attack presents an opening to reshape Pakistan’s response to terrorism, which should rely not on the application of indiscriminate force, including military action and arbitrary detentions, but on police investigations, arrests, fair trials and convictions. This must be civilian-led to be effective. Despite earlier successes against extremist groups, civilian law enforcement and intelligence agencies, including the Federal Investigation Agency, the provincial Criminal Investigation Departments, and the Intelligence Bureau, lack the resources and the authority to meet their potential. The military and its powerful Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) still dominate – and hamper – counter-terrorism efforts.

The PPP government cannot afford to enforce the law only in response to a terrorist attack or external pressure. Proactive enforcement will be vital to containing religious militancy, which has reached critical levels; this includes checks on the proliferation of weapons and the growth of of private militias, which contravene the constitution; prosecution of hate speech, the spread of extremist literature and exhortations to jihad; greater accountability of and actions against jihadi madrasas and mosques; and ultimately converting information into evidence that holds up in court. It is not too late to reverse the tide of extremism, provided the government immediately adopts and implements a zero tolerance policy towards all forms of religious militancy.

Unfortunately, on 16 February 2009, NWFP’s Awami National Party (ANP)-led government made a peace deal, devised by the military, with the Swat-based Sunni extremist Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM), a militant group allied to the Taliban. The government agreed to impose Sharia (Islamic law) in NWFP’s Malakand region, with religious courts deciding all cases after 16 February 2009; dismantle all security checkpoints and require any military movements to be pre-approved by the TNSM; and release captured militants, including those responsible for such acts of violence as public executions and rape. In return, the militants pledged to end their armed campaign.

This accord, an even greater capitulation to the militants than earlier deals by the military regime in FATA, will if implemented entrench Taliban rule and al-Qaeda influence in the area; make peace more elusive; and essentially reverse the gains made by the transition to democracy and the defeat of the military-supported religious right-wing parties in NWFP in the February 2008 elections. With the Swat ceasefire already unravelling, the federal government should refuse presidential assent required for its implementation, and renew its commitment to tackling extremism and realising long-term political reform in the borderlands.

The international response to the Swat deal has so far been mixed, with several key leaders, including U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, viewing it as an acceptable compromise. Acknowledging the failure of unconditionally supporting the Pakistani military, the international community, particularly the U.S., must reverse course and help strengthen civilian control over all areas of governance, including counter-terrorism, and the capacity of the federal government to override the military’s appeasement policies in FATA and NWFP, replacing them with policies that pursue long-term political, economic and social development.


To the Government of Pakistan:

1.  Acknowledge that a credible crackdown on jihadi militants will ultimately require convictions in fair trials and take steps to:

a) vest significantly greater authority in civilian law enforcement agencies, including access to mobile phone records and other data, without having to obtain approval from the military and the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI);

b) establish through an act of parliament a clear hierarchy of civilian intelligence agencies, including the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), the provincial Criminal Investigation Departments and the Intelligence Bureau (IB), with the IB as the primary authority in anti-terrorism investigations;

c) strengthen links between law enforcement agencies and prosecutors to build strong cases in court against religious extremists;

d) enhance the capacity of federal and provincial civilian law enforcement agencies, with a particular focus on forensics capabilities and crime scene investigations; establish national and provincial crime labs with modern equipment and internationally trained scientists, under control of the federal interior ministry and provincial home departments;

e) amend the Criminal Procedure Act to establish a witness protection program, and ensure the highest level of security for anyone agreeing to provide valuable testimony against extremists; and

f) enhance the role and guarantee the autonomy of Community Police Liaison Committees to enlist the public in the fight against militancy.

2.  Take robust action against jihadi militant groups and their madrasa networks, including:

a) disbanding private militias, pursuant to Article 256 of the constitution;

b) disrupting communications and supply lines, and closing base camps of jihadi groups in the tribal belt and the political heartland of Punjab; and

c) enhancing oversight over the madrasa sector, including finances and enrolment, and conducting regular inquiries into the sector by provincial authorities, as recently conducted by the Punjab government, with a view to:

i. identifying seminaries with clear links to jihadi groups, closing them and taking action against their clerics and, where appropriate, students;

ii. keeping any seminaries suspected of links with jihadi groups under close surveillance;

iii. taking legal action where seminaries encroach on state or private land; and

iv. ensuring that accommodation and facilities meet proper safety and building standards.

3.  Prosecute anyone encouraging or glorifying violence and jihad, including through hate speech against religious and sectarian minorities, and the spread of jihadi literature.

4.  Acknowledge that political reform is integral to stabilising FATA and NWFP by:

a) invoking Article 8 of the constitution that voids any customs inconsistent with constitutionally guaranteed fundamental rights, refusing to sign the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation Order 2009 for the imposition of Sharia (Islamic law) in the Malakand region, and refrain from entering into similar peace deals with religious militants elsewhere;

b) carrying through on its commitment to repeal the Frontier Crimes Regulations (1901), extending the writ of the state, the rule of law, including the courts and police, and ensuring FATA’s representation in the state legislature;

c) integrating FATA into the federal framework by incorporating it into the Northwest Frontier Province, with the seven agencies falling under the executive control of the province and jurisdiction of the regular provincial and national court system and with representation in the provincial assembly;

d) extending the Political Parties Act to FATA, thus removing restrictions on political parties, and introducing party-based elections for the provincial and national legislatures;

e) refraining from arming and supporting any insurgent group or tribal militia, and preventing the army from doing the same; and

f) relying on civilian law enforcement and intelligence as the primary tool to deal with extremism in FATA, limiting the army’s role to its proper task of defending the country’s borders.

5.  Repeal all religious laws that discriminate on the basis of religion, sect and gender.

6.  Resolve the political crisis between the PPP and the PML-N by ending governor’s rule and respecting the PML-N’s elected mandate in Punjab, and agreeing on a political and legal solution to allow for Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif to participate in electoral politics, either through an act of parliament, or an executive order.

7.  Carry through on its commitment to repeal the 17th Amendment to the constitution, and any constitutional provisions, executive orders and laws that contravene the principles of parliamentary democracy.

To the International Community, in particular the U.S. and the European Union:

8.  Provide financial and logistic support to civilian law enforcement agencies to expand their capacity, including in forensics and crime scene investigations, through provision of modern equipment and training of Pakistani scientists.

9.  Condition military assistance on demonstrable steps by the Pakistani armed forces to support civilian efforts in preventing the borderlands from being used by al-Qaeda, Afghan insurgents and Pakistani extremists to launch attacks within Pakistan and from Pakistani territory to its region and beyond; if the Pakistani military does not respond positively, as a last resort, consider targeted and incremental sanctions, including travel and visa bans and the freezing of financial assets of key military leaders and military-controlled intelligence agencies.

10.  Expand assistance to the hundreds of thousands of civilians displaced by the conflict in FATA and Swat.

Islamabad/Brussels, 13 March 2009


Pakistan: The land of opportunists

[Pakistan is not only home of the “double-game,” that of saying one thing and doing another, it is also home to “double-think,” as reported in the following article.  There is common knowledge about persons, places and events, but more importantly, there is “official knowledge,” that which everyone pretends to be the truth.  It is the same here in America, or in any country that has dealings with America, truth is always insulated from the light of day by many layers of “acceptable lies.”]

Pakistan: The land of opportunists

By Fakir S. Ayazuddin

Hillary Clinton in three short days recognised the people in the presidency as blatant opportunists, a blend of robber barons and Mafiosi combined. Within hours of boarding her flight home, the signal was given, and Zardari was cut loose from US support.
Hillary noted immediately the bunkered mentality of the presidency, with the occupants more concerned with their personal safety, and less for the running of the country. The carpetbaggers were lined up for their last bargains, and sure enough the purchase of 307 acres of prime land worth PKR 2 billion as per newspaper reports, equal to 30 million USD. This deal was finalised on March 9, 2009 well into Zardari’s presidency, violating the constitution by conducting business for profit while president. His son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has also been named as a director in the company.
Hillary was told by some Pakistanis that these deals showed the lack of prudence on behalf of Zardari, for, with the American cover he was confident that it gave him carte blanche to carry on making deals with no questions asked. This prompted Hillary to pull the plug, and negotiations for a safe exit are underway. The call for Zardari’s resignation by the MQM leader from London is a clear indication of the tilt away from the president.
The media is crying hoarse against him, and in his isolated bunker he is incapable of receiving or acting on sensible advice. Meanwhile the argument in focus for the time being is the NRO, to table or not to table. The realisation has not yet struck home, that the NRO is not relevant any more. The bill has been rejected by the people, and to try and ram it through would be ‘suicide’ for any political party. The people, to a man stand against the NRO. Moreover, the people are screaming for accountability – and punishment. In their present mood the people will not allow the present corrupt lot to leave and enjoy their ill gotten gains. They want the crooks to be punished, and this time there will be no amnesty. That time has gone, and to the Godfathers of the NRO, people like Boucher, Negroponte, Marc Lyall, the message is loud and clear. The Pakistani people will not be conned into an amnesty for thieves, for the people are certainly smarter than they are thought to be. On every TV channel they speak with contempt of the politicians, and of their misused votes. While the backroom deals were being negotiated and were then emplaced using foreign powers, a fact that was known to everyone, but quietly converted by a Presidential Ordinance into a law of the land, without public debate, even though there was a Parliament in place. This subterfuge was midwifed by the British and US governments, and has led to the present sorry state. The British and Americans knew fully well about the import of this strategy, but continued nevertheless, in imposing their will.

The Pakistani leadership has already been proven to be opportunist – except for Imran Khan they have all taken any opportunity whatever the cost, to the person or the nation. Honesty of purpose, and financial propriety are very rare commodities in Pakistan, both are compromised at the first available chance. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the founder of the Peoples Party, chose to break from East Pakistan, and take power for himself, of a smaller truncated country. We have heard from many Bangladeshi politicians including the late Mujbur Rahman saying, before he died, that he would have continued as Prime Minister of Pakistan, as the majority leader, if Bhutto had agreed. The future historians would have a better perception of the situation to judge whether Bhutto also acted as an opportunist.
It has been a grab for opportunity at every turn, by the politicians, and the foreign powers have used this bait to lure and exploit the leadership of the country. The coterie of opportunists surrounds every new Pakistani leader and in the present time they saw a heaven-sent vulnerable president, full of insecurities. These were magnified and have resulted in Zardari being cloistered turning the presidency into a no-go area. In fact he has not put a foot on Pakistani soil after taking the oath of office. It is this paranoia that prompted Hillary to pull the plug. The US wants a partner that has an outreach to the people, and not one who is invisible, and only to be viewed on television. Afsandyar is another not so brave Pathan who after a foiled assassination attempt was helicoptered to the presidency and flown to England for almost a year to get over a serious case of jitters. The Pathan, and Baloch blood line is not saying much for their bravery.
The men, women and children of Pakistan are subject to horrific bombings, daily, being killed and maimed. The least they deserve is comfort and solace from their leaders. It is this picture that Hillary takes back with her.
The writer is a political analyst.

Exposing RAW’s Hand In Pakistan Is Exposing America’s Hand

Proof of Indian involvement 1

Proof of Indian involvement 2

Exposing RAW’s hand

It can no longer be termed as mere suspicion or Pakistanis’ ingrained failing to see the imprint of India in almost every development that tends to strike at the root of its stability. The foreign political and media circles, which counsel Islamabad against perceiving New Delhi as a threat, are either too naïve or have ulterior motives to promote. Their perception could be flawed also because of an inadequate understanding of the historical animosity that has existed between the two countries. Or they might not be following the clever moves that India has all along been making in an attempt to take advantages of Pakistan’s hard times that, unfortunately, have hardly ever been in short supply. The present, when Pakistan is confronted with dire challenges – militancy and its offshoot insecurity, political uncertainty, economic meltdown – is perhaps the most critical juncture for it since the East Pakistan tragic event and it thus creates an ideal opportunity for India to fish in troubled waters.
Investigations into the various acts of terrorism and the army’s inroads into militants’ stronghold of South Waziristan have thrown up incontrovertible evidence that the Research Analysis Wing, India’s spy agency commonly called RAW, has been actively engaged in fomenting trouble for Pakistan, whether in FATA, Balochistan or elsewhere, aiding and even providing training to the elements responsible for creating violence. The use of Indian-made weapons and explosives in terrorist acts has been established. Not only that. The militants taken into custody by Pakistani authorities have revealed their links with Indian intelligence puppeteers. The Indian containers that take weapons and other goods for the ISAF in Afghanistan have on their return been found carrying huge quantities of explosives and weapons when they should be empty. It was quite odd to discover some time back that more than 100 Afghans, some dead and others unconscious, were cooped up in containers that were on their way back from Afghanistan to India.

It is incomprehensible that despite the fact that evidence against India began emerging in 2006, our authorities took it lightly. They raised the issue only feebly, perhaps overawed by the false charge of our role in the Mumbai attacks. Nevertheless, the recent revelations have compelled even the US Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mullen to admit that it was not possible to wish away Pakistan’s concern of Indian doings. He should be doing much more than that to make sure that New Delhi stops its deadly meddling in Pakistan’s affairs.

Will Ft. Hood Assault Be Used to Fuel “Homegrown Terrorism” Bill, or “Islamaphobia”?

Fort Hood attack is 3rd this year by antiwar radicals targeting military on U.S. soil

By Spencer S. Hsu

Washington Post

The Fort Hood attack is the third instance this year in which American military personnel in the United States have been targeted by people reportedly opposed to U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, terrorism experts said.

Investigators are seeking to determine the motivations of the Fort Hood suspect, Army Maj. Nidal M. Hasan, in part to understand whether his alleged actions fit in with what experts see as an emerging pattern of plots developed by U.S. citizens or residents rather than foreign attackers.

Federal prosecutors in September charged two North Carolina men for allegedly conspiring to kill personnel at the U.S. Marine Corps base at Quantico, seeking to attack U.S. forces at home if they could not overseas. In June, Abdul Hakim Mujahid Muhammad, an American Muslim convert, allegedly shot and killed one soldier and wounded another at a military recruiting center at Little Rock, Ark., in what he said was retaliation for U.S. counterterrorism policies worldwide.

Also this year, the last of five men was sentenced in April to 33 years in prison for planning to kill soldiers at Fort Dix, N.J., a plot inspired by foreign terrorist groups.

Overall, U.S. authorities have disclosed at least 10 domestic terrorist cases in the last year — the most since 2001 — in what analysts say is a disturbing spike that suggests the likelihood of incidents is growing. The suspects range from unskilled individuals ensnared in FBI stings after trying to obtain guns and explosives to people allegedly trained in Pakistan by al-Qaeda and preparing homemade bombs like those used in terrorist attacks in London and Madrid.

The Saudi-isation of Pakistan

The Saudi-isation of Pakistan

By Pervez Hoodbhoy
Source: Newsline

The common belief in Pakistan is that Islamic radicalism is a problem only in FATA, and that madrassas are the only institutions serving as jihad factories. This is a serious misconception. Extremism is breeding at a ferocious rate in public and private schools within Pakistan’s towns and cities. Left unchallenged, this education will produce a generation incapable of co-existing with anyone except strictly their own kind. The mindset it creates may eventually lead to Pakistan’s demise as a nation state.


For 20 years or more, a few of us have been desperately sending out SOS messages, warning of terrible times to come. In fact, I am surprised at how rapidly these dire predictions have come true.


A full-scale war is being fought in FATA, Swat and other “wild” areas of Pakistan, resulting in thousands of deaths. It is only a matter of time before this fighting shifts to Peshawar and Islamabad (which has already been a witness to the Lal Masjid episode) and engulfs Lahore and Karachi as well. The suicide bomber and the masked abductor have crippled Pakistan’s urban life and shattered its national economy.


Soldiers, policemen, factory and hospital workers, mourners at funerals and ordinary people praying in mosques have all been reduced to globs of flesh and fragments of bones. But, perhaps paradoxically, in spite of the fact that the dead bodies and shattered lives are almost all Muslim ones, few Pakistanis speak out against these atrocities. Nor do they approve of the army operation against the cruel perpetrators of these acts because they believe that they are Islamic warriors fighting for Islam and against American occupation. Political leaders like Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan have no words of solace for those who have suffered at the hands of Islamic extremists. Their tears are reserved exclusively for the victims of Predator drones, even if they are those who committed grave crimes against their own people. Terrorism, by definition, is an act only the Americans can commit.


What explains Pakistan’s collective masochism? To understand this, one needs to study the drastic social and cultural transformations that have rendered this country so completely different from what it was in earlier times.


For three decades, deep tectonic forces have been silently tearing Pakistan away from the Indian subcontinent and driving it towards the Arabian peninsula. This continental drift is not physical but cultural, driven by a belief that Pakistan must exchange its South Asian identity for an Arab-Muslim one. Grain by grain, the desert sands of Saudi Arabia are replacing the rich soil that had nurtured a magnificent Muslim culture in India for a thousand years. This culture produced Mughul architecture, the Taj Mahal, the poetry of Asadullah Khan Ghalib, and much more. Now a stern, unyielding version of Islam (Wahhabism) is replacing the kinder, gentler Islam of the Sufis and saints who had walked on this land for hundreds of years.


This change is by design. Twenty-five years ago, the Pakistani state used Islam as an instrument of state policy. Prayers in government departments were deemed compulsory, floggings were carried out publicly, punishments were meted out to those who did not fast in Ramadan, selection for academic posts in universities required that the candidate demonstrate a knowledge of Islamic teachings and jihad was declared essential for every Muslim. Today, government intervention is no longer needed because of a spontaneous groundswell of Islamic zeal. The notion of an Islamic state – still in an amorphous and diffused form – is more popular now than ever before as people look desperately for miracles to rescue a failing state.


Villages have changed drastically; this transformation has been driven, in part, by Pakistani workers returning from Arab countries. Many village mosques are now giant madrassas that propagate hard-line Salafi and Deobandi beliefs through oversized loudspeakers. They are bitterly opposed to Barelvis, Shias and other sects, who they do not regard as Muslims. The Punjabis, who were far more liberal towards women than the Pukhtuns, are now beginning to take a line resembling that of the Taliban. Hanafi law has begun to prevail over tradition and civil law, as is evident from the recent decisions of the Lahore High Court.


In Pakistan’s lower-middle and middle classes lurks a grim and humourless Saudi-inspired revivalist movement that frowns on any and every expression of joy and pleasure. Lacking any positive connection to culture and knowledge, it seeks to eliminate “corruption” by regulating cultural life and seizing control of the education system.


“Classical music is on its last legs in Pakistan; the sarangi and vichitraveena are completely dead,” laments Mohammad Shehzad, a music aficionado. Indeed, teaching music in public universities is violently opposed by students of the Islami Jamaat-e-Talaba at Punjab University. So the university has been forced to hold its music classes elsewhere. Religious fundamentalists consider music haram or un-Islamic. Kathak dancing, once popular with the Muslim elite of India, has few teachers left. Pakistan produces no feature films of any consequence. Nevertheless, the Pakistani elite, disconnected from the rest of the population, live their lives in comfort through their vicarious proximity to the West. Alcoholism is a chronic problem of the super rich of Lahore – a curious irony for this deeply religious country.


Islamisation of the state and the polity was supposed to have been in the interest of the ruling class – a classic strategy for preserving it from the wrath of the working class. But the amazing success of the state is turning out to be its own undoing. Today, it is under attack from religious militants, and rival Islamic groups battle each other with heavy weapons. Ironically, the same army – whose men were recruited under the banner of jihad, and which saw itself as the fighting arm of Islam – today stands accused of betrayal and is almost daily targeted by Islamist suicide bombers.


Pakistan’s self-inflicted suffering comes from an education system that, like Saudi Arabia’s system, provides an ideological foundation for violence and future jihadists. It demands that Islam be understood as a complete code of life, and creates in the mind of a school-going child a sense of siege and embattlement by stressing that Islam is under threat everywhere.


On the previous page, the reader can view the government-approved curriculum. This is the basic road map for transmitting values and knowledge to the young. By an act of parliament passed in 1976, all government and private schools (except for O-level schools) are required to follow this curriculum. It was prepared by the curriculum wing of the federal ministry of education, government of Pakistan. It sounds like a blueprint for a religious fascist state.


Alongside are scanned pictures from an illustrated primer for the Urdu alphabet. The masthead states that it has been prepared by Iqra Publishers, Rawalpindi, along “Islamic lines.” Although not an officially approved textbook, it is being used currently by some regular schools, as well as madrassas associated with the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI), an Islamic political party that had allied itself with General Musharraf. These picture scans have been taken from a child’s book, hence the scribbles.


The world of the Pakistani schoolchild remained largely unchanged, even after September 11, 2001, the event that led to Pakistan’s timely desertion of the Taliban and the slackening of the Kashmir jihad. Indeed, for all his hypocritical talk of “enlightened moderation,” General Musharraf’s educational curriculum was far from enlightening. It was a slightly toned down version of the curriculum that existed under Nawaz Sharif which, in turn, was identical to that under Benazir Bhutto who had inherited it from General Zia-ul-Haq. Fearful of taking on the powerful religious forces, every incumbent government has refused to take a position on the curriculum and thus quietly allowed young minds to be moulded by fanatics. What may happen a generation later has always been a secondary issue for a government challenged on so many fronts.


The promotion of militarism in Pakistan’s so-called “secular” public schools, colleges and universities had a profound effect upon young minds. Militant jihad became part of the culture on college and university campuses. Armed groups flourished, they invited students for jihad in Kashmir and Afghanistan, set up offices throughout the country, collected funds at Friday prayers and declared a war which knew no borders. Pre-9/11, my university was ablaze with posters inviting students to participate in the Kashmir jihad. Post-2001, this ceased to be done openly.


Still, the primary vehicle for Saudi-ising Pakistan’s education has been the madrassa. In earlier times, these had turned out the occasional Islamic scholar, using a curriculum that essentially dates back to the 11th century, with only minor subsequent revisions. But their principal function had been to produce imams and muezzins for mosques, and those who eked out an existence as ‘maulvi sahibs’ teaching children to read the Quran.


The Afghan jihad changed everything. During the war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, madrassas provided the US-Saudi-Pakistani alliance the cannon fodder they needed to fight a holy war. The Americans and Saudis, helped by a more-than-willing General Zia, funded new madrassas across the length and breadth ofPakistan. A detailed picture of the current situation is not available. But according to the national education census, which the ministry of education released in 2006, Punjab has 5,459 madrassas followed by the NWFP with 2,843; Sindh has 1,935; the Federally Administrated Northern Areas (FANA), 1,193; Balochistan, 769; Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), 586; the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA), 135; and the Islamabad capital territory, 77. The ministry estimates that 1.5 million students are acquiring religious education in the 13,000 madrassas.


These figures appear to be way off the mark. Commonly quoted figures range between 18,000 and 22,000 madrassas. The number of students could be correspondingly larger. The free boarding and lodging plus provision of books to the students, is a key part of their appeal. Additionally, parents across the country desire that their children be “disciplined” and given a thorough Islamic education. The madrassas serve this purpose, too, exceedingly well.


Madrassas have deeply impacted the urban environment. Until a few years ago, Islamabad was a quiet, orderly, modern city different from the rest of Pakistan. Also, it had largely been the abode of Pakistan’s elite and foreign diplomats. But the rapid transformation of its demography brought with it hundreds of mosques with multi-barrelled audio-cannons mounted on minarets, as well as scores of madrassas illegally constructed in what used to be public parks and green areas. Now, tens of thousands of their students, sporting little prayer caps, dutifully chant the Quran all day. In the evenings they swarm the city, making women minus the hijab increasingly nervous.


Total segregation of the sexes is a central goal of the Islamists, the consequences of which have been catastrophic. For example, on April 9, 2006, 21 women and eight children were crushed to death and scores injured in a stampede inside a three-storey madrassa in Karachi, where a large number of women were attending a weekly congregation. Male rescuers, who arrived in ambulances, were prevented from moving the injured women to hospitals.


One cannot dismiss this incident as being just one of a kind. In fact, soon after the October 2005 earthquake, as I walked through the destroyed city of Balakot, a student of the Frontier Medical College described to me how he and his male colleagues were stopped by religious elders from digging out injured girl students from under the rubble of their school building. This action was similar to that of Saudi Arabia’s ubiquitous religious ‘mutaween’ (police) who, in March 2002, had stopped school girls from leaving a blazing building because they were not wearing their abayas – a long robe worn in Saudi Arabia. In a rare departure from the norm, Saudi newspapers had blamed and criticised the mutaween for letting 15 girls burn to death.


The Saudi-isation of a once-vibrant Pakistani culture continues at a relentless pace. The drive to segregate is now also being found among educated women. Vigorous proselytisers carrying this message, such as Mrs Farhat Hashmi, have been catapulted to the heights of fame and fortune. Their success is evident. Two decades back, the fully veiled student was a rarity on Pakistani university and college campuses. The abaya was an unknown word in Urdu. Today, some shops across the country specialise in abayas. At colleges and universities across Pakistan, the female student is seeking the anonymity of the burqa. And in some parts of the country she seems to outnumber her sisters who still “dare” to show their faces.


I have observed the veil profoundly affect habits and attitudes. Many of my veiled female students have largely become silent note-takers, are increasingly timid and seem less inclined to ask questions or take part in discussions. They lack the confidence of a young university student.


While social conservatism does not necessarily lead to violent extremism, it does shorten the distance. The socially conservative are more easily convinced that Muslims are being demonised by the rest of the world. The real problem, they say, is the plight of the Palestinians, the decadent and discriminatory West, the Jews, the Christians, the Hindus, the Kashmir issue, the Bush doctrine – the list runs on. They vehemently deny that those committing terrorist acts are Muslims, and if presented with incontrovertible evidence, say it is a mere reaction to oppression.


The immediate future does not appear hopeful: increasing numbers of mullahs are creating cults around themselves and seizing control of the minds of worshippers. In the tribal areas, a string of new Islamist leaders have suddenly emerged: Baitullah Mehsud, Maulana Fazlullah and Mangal Bagh. Poverty, deprivation, lack of justice and extreme differences of wealth provide the perfect environment for these demagogues to recruit people to their cause. Their gruesome acts of terror are still being perceived by large numbers of Pakistanis merely as a war against imperialist America. This could not be further from the truth.


In the long term, we will have to see how the larger political battle works out between those Pakistanis who want an Islamic theocratic state and those who want a modern Islamic republic. It may yet be possible to roll back those Islamist laws and institutions that have corroded Pakistani society for over 30 years and to defeat its hate-driven holy warriors. There is no chance of instant success; perhaps things may have to get worse before they get better. But, in the long term, I am convinced that the forces of irrationality will cancel themselves out because they act at random whereas reason pulls only in one direction. History leads us to believe that reason will triumph over unreason, and the evolution of the humans into a higher and better species will continue. Using ways that we cannot currently anticipate, they will somehow overcome their primal impulses of territoriality, tribalism, religiosity and nationalism. But, for now, this must be just a matter of faith.


The author teaches physics at Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad.

America’s new crusader castles

America’s new crusader castles


Across the Middle East, the US is building heavily fortified embassies which cut off diplomats and create hostilities

Simon Tisdall,

Thursday 29 October 2009 16.09 GMT

After the US Congress agreed a $7.5bn aid package for Pakistan this autumn, the Obama administration was taken aback by the seemingly ungrateful reaction of its intended recipients. Pakistani opposition politicians fumed about “colonialism” and “imperialism”. Military men spoke angrily of insults to national sovereignty implied in conditions attached to the aid.

But particular hostility was directed at US plans to spend over $800m on building a new, heavily fortified embassy in Islamabad, to be protected by the private security contractor, DynCorp. The activities of contractors in Iraq, notably Blackwater, have become notorious in the Muslim world. In addition, expanded US “bunker consulates” were announced for Lahore and Peshawar.

“Just the other day we had a television debate on America wanting to colonise us,” one Pakistani said. “How easy it was for us to believe this when we hear of Blackwater setting up camp in our cities, buying hundreds of homes, not being accountable to the laws of our country, of hundreds of US marines on our soil, being allowed to enter without visas, of the enormous new US embassy being built which is like a mini-Pentagon.”

Despite such complaints, US plans are going ahead. They include a $405m replacement embassy building in Islamabad, the construction of a $111m office annexe to accommodate 330 workers, and new housing units costing $197m. In Peshawar, scene of a devastating Taliban car bomb attack on Wednesday, the US plans to buy the city’s only five-star hotel and turn it into a sort of diplomatic Martello tower.

The US says the new facilities are needed because old premises are insecure and it must accommodate the “civilian surge” of diplomats and officials into Pakistan and Afghanistan ordered by Barack Obama. But the American expansion in Islamabad mirrors similar developments in other Muslim and foreign capitals that are focal points for the Pentagon’s “long war” against Islamist extremism.

Shocked by the 1998 al-Qaida attacks on its Nairobi and Dar es Salaam embassies, the US has opened 68 new embassies and overseas facilities since 2001 and has 29 under design and construction, the state department’s bureau of overseas buildings operations says. Total worldwide spending on embassy replacement has been put at $17.5bn.

In Kabul, Baghdad, Jakarta, Cairo and beyond, in “allied” cities such as London and Berlin, Washington is building, reinforcing or expanding slab-walled, fortress-like embassies that act as regional overseas HQs, centres of influence and intelligence-gathering, and problematic symbols of superpower.

Historically speaking, these formidable outposts are the 21st century equivalent of crusader castles, rising out of the plain, projecting superior force, and grimly dominating all they behold.

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As in Pakistan, the new strongholds attract plenty of criticism, acting almost as magnets for trouble. The massively fortified $700m Baghdad embassy, the biggest US mission in the world with 1,200 employees, was dogged by construction delays and militant attacks before it finally opened in January this year. Now even the state department’s own inspector-general has ruled that the 21-building, 104-acre encampment is too big. “The time has come for a significant right-sizing,” a July report said.

The Kabul embassy, which is negotiating an $87m purchase of 30 to 40 additional acres, encountered a different kind of trouble last month after photographs emerged of embassy guards engaging in sex acts, pouring vodka on each other, and dancing naked round a fire. The guards were employed by another private security firm, ArmorGroup North America. The revelations underscored existing concerns about security contractors. Investigators concluded the embassy’s safety had been seriously compromised.

Away from the frontline of America’s wars, the unveiling last year of the new US embassy in Berlin, close by the Brandenburg Gate, brought strong objections of an aesthetic nature. Architectural experts queued up to lambast the squat, custard-coloured but bomber-proof building, deriding it as a “klotz” (lump) built by barbarians.

One newspaper compared the offending edifice to a maximum security prison, another to a council house, while Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung fumed: “There is hardly a modern building in existence, with the exception of nuclear bunkers and pesticide-testing centres, that is so hysterically closed off from public spaces as this embassy.”

On present trends, Londoners face being similarly shut-out as the US embassy currently centrally located in Grosvenor Square, Mayfair, prepares to move to a brand new concrete citadel in wild, far-off but hopefully al-Qaida-free Wandsworth.

The way the new embassies tend to physically cut off America’s diplomats from the countries they are supposed to connect with is one good reason, among many, why Washington might want to rethink its laager policy. While effective security is obviously important, the worldwide rise of America’s diplomatic fortresses undermines the kind of “soft power” outreach and public diplomacy that the Obama administration earnestly espouses.

In a policy-setting speech in July, secretary of state Hillary Clinton stressed the US need to communicate directly with other countries from the bottom up. “Reaching out directly to people will encourage them to embrace cooperation with us, making our partnerships with their governments and with them stronger and more durable,” she said.

That makes sense. But it’s not the message citizens of Islamabad are hearing. When America speaks to Pakistanis and other Muslim countries, it too often sounds like it’s shouting down from the battlements.


The Gaza Chronicles: Part 3 – Shattered Minds And The Children of Gaza

The Gaza Chronicles: Part 3 – Shattered Minds And The Children of Gaza

5 November 2009

By: Aditya Ganapathiraju

It’s the most terrifying place I’ve ever been in… it’s a horrifyingly sad place because of the desperation and misery of the way people live. I was unprepared for camps that are much worse than anything I saw in South Africa.– Professor Edward Said 1993 [1]

They may be living but they’re not alive. – Journalist Philip Rizk [2]

Gaza is a place that needs a million psychologists.— Ayed, a psychotherapist from Northern Gaza [3]

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More than 95% children in Gaza experienced artillery shelling in their area or sonic booms of low flying jets.

Over 40 years of Israeli military occupation have had a devastating effect on Gaza; airstrikes, artillery shelling, ground invasions, jet flybys and their sonic booms have all led to an epidemic of suffering among Gaza’s most vulnerable inhabitants.[4]

Soon after the recent winter Israeli assault, a group of scholars at the University of Washington discussed different aspects of the situation in Gaza and the occupied Palestinian Territories. Dr. Evan Kanter, UW school of medicine professor and the current president of Physicians for Social Responsibility, delivered a somber talk describing the mental health situation among Gaza’s population.[5]

Dr. Kanter cited studies that revealed 62 % of Gaza’s inhabitants reported having a family member injured or killed, 67% saw injured or dead strangers and 83% had witnessed shootings. In a study of high school aged children from southern refugee camps in Rafah and Kahn Younis, 69% of the children showed symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress (PTS), 40% showed signs of moderate or severe depression, and a whopping 95% exhibited severe anxiety. Seventy percent showed limited or no ability to cope with their trauma. All of this was before the last Israeli invasion.

Dr. Eyad El-Sarraj, head of the Gaza Community Mental Program, and whom Dr. Kanter described as a “medical hero” working under seemingly impossible conditions, has produced “some of the best research in the world on the impact of war on civilian populations.” In a 2002 interview he said that 54% of children in Gaza had symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress, along with 30% of adults.[6] The hardest hit were young ones who had their homes bulldozed or who lost loved ones like their mothers, he said. Again, these figures were obtained well before conditions dramatically deteriorated.

Gaza is a land of youth. About 45% of the population is 14 years old or younger and about 60% are 19 years and younger, political economist Dr. Sara Roy said. [7] With such a young population facing constant violence, the long-term effects are incalculable.

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Particularly horrifying about the situation in Gaza is that there is no “post”trauma for most in Gaza.

Recent studies by international researchers and the Gaza Community Mental Health program revealed more worrying figures.[8] Of a representative sample of children in Gaza, more than 95% experienced artillery shelling in their area or sonic booms of low flying jets. Ninety-four percent recalled seeing mutilated corpses on TV while some 93% witnessed the effects of aerial bombardments on the ground. More than 70% of children in Gaza said they lacked water, food and electricity during the most recent attacks, and a similar percentage said they had to flee to safety during the recent attacks.

Additionally, 98.7% of the traumatized children reported that they did not feel safe in their homes. More than 95% of the children felt that they were unable to protect themselves or their family members causing a feeling of utter powerlessness only compounded by a sense of loss over the lives they could have had, safe and boring lives that many take for granted.

A whole generation is being lost to the horrors of large-scale military violence and a brutal occupation. In front of many distraught members in the audience, Kanter described another study that showed that witnessing severe military violence results in more aggression and antisocial behavior among children, along with the “enjoyment of aggression.” There are similar studies among Israeli children who witness terrorist attacks.

Post Traumatic Stress disorder, Dr. Kanter said, is an “engine that perpetuates violent conflict.” It leads to three characteristic symptoms. The first involves reexperiencing the traumatic events in the form of the nightmares, debilitating flashbacks, and terrifying memories that haunt people for years afterwards. Other people may develop avoidance symptoms in which they become isolated and emotionally numb, deadened to the world around them. The third symptom involves hyper arousal, which may lead to excessive anger, insomnia, self-destructive behavior, and a hypervigilant state of mind. Other maladies like poor social functioning, depression, suicidal thoughts, a lack of trust, family violence are all associated with PTS.

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More than 70% of children in gaza said they lacked water, food, and electricity during the most recent attacks, and a similar percentage said they had to flee to safety during the recent attacks.

The most recent study however, revealed that in the aftermath of the most recent assault on Gaza an unbelievable 91.4% of children in Gaza displayed symptoms of moderate to very severe PTS. Only about 1% of the children showed no signs of PTS.

Try to imagine an area with this many people—the city you live in for example—where 9 out of 10 children exhibited symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress. What would daily life be like? What would the future hold for your city’s youth?

Particularly horrifying about the situation is that there is no “post” trauma for most in Gaza. Whereas soldiers who endure traumatic experiences in a war zone can return home to relative calm and seek treatment, the people in Gaza continue to held in what one Israeli rights group labeled the “largest prison on Earth”[10]—a methodically “de-developed” island of misery isolated from the rest of the world. The fate of the 1.5 million “unpeople” trapped there is of no concern to the occupying army or its international backers.[11]

This will be the enduring legacy of the Israeli occupation. One of the most distressing prospects for peace are studies of similar war-torn populations like Kosovo and Afghanistan that showed that military violence often leads to widespread feelings of hatred and the simmering urge for revenge. One can easily predict the future consequences of a large number of young people exposed to this level of trauma.

As Dr. Eyad El-Sarraj warned soon after the offensive, Palestinian children in the first intifadah 20 years ago threw stones at Israeli tanks trying to wrest freedom from Israeli military occupation. Some of those children grew up to become suicide bombers in the second intifadah 10 years later. It does not take much to imagine the serious changes that will befall today’s children.[12]

Women in the war zone are have a unique perspective to share, yet their story is an all too familiar narrative: violence that leads to anger, vengeance, and the destruction of the bonds that tie a society together.

Tihani Abed Rabbu, a mother who lost her teenage son, brother, and close friend, spoke of her fears: What worries me is the safety of my family, my sons and my husband. My husband is going through a difficult time, a crazy time. He wants to affiliate with Hamas, he wants to get revenge after what they [Israel, I think] have done to us. How do you expect us to be peaceful after they have killed my son and turned my family into angry people – as they refer to us, “terrorists.” I cannot calm my family down.[13]

Chris Hedges, former New York Times Middle East Bureau Chief, reminds us that, A father or a mother whose child dies because of a lack of vaccines or proper medical care does not forget. A boy whose ill grandmother dies while detained at an Israel checkpoint does not forget. All who endure humiliation, abuse and the murder of family members do not forget. This rage becomes a virus within those who, eventually, stumble out into the daylight.[14]

Despite some positive steps towards regaining some sense of normalcy, mostly from small non-governmental groups and international activists, the crushing siege continues and basic conditions of life continue to deteriorate. For many, hope is fading. Despair is spreading. “The breakdown of an entire society is happening in front of us,” Harvard specialist Sara Roy warned. Many share Roy’s fears that “What looms is no less than the loss of entire generation of Palestinians,” which she fears may have occurred already.[15]

In the face of this onslaught however, lies a stubborn resistance. This resistance takes many forms—the one most often seen in the US is that of the few who see armed conflict as the only path to liberation. “While some Palestinians return Israeli violence with further violence,” journalist Philip Rizk said, “the vast majority does not.” Many bear invisible scars but they nevertheless go on with their daily lives: put their children through school, study and try to do well in exams, seek to serve their home and community, laugh and play, and ultimately try to retain their sense of dignity while living under foreign occupation. As Rizk observed, “the Arabic word for such everyday acts of non-violent protest is sumoud, which means steadfastness, perseverance.” [16]

This essay is a part III of a longer series on Gaza.

1.Edwards Said and David Barsamian ,The Pen and the Sword, Common Courage Press, 1994, page 99

2.“’Gaza wears a face of misery,’ Adam Makary, Al Jazeera” April 4, 2009…

3.“Young Freud in Gaza” Al Jazeera, June 18, 2009… 4.“Israel’s ‘Crime Against Humanity,’ Chris Hedges, Truthdig, December 15, 2008…

5.“Gaza: What Next? A Teach-In on the Humanitarian Crisis in Gaza” UW Global Health, February 5, 2009…

6.“Clips from Dying to Live, a documentary film by Amineh Ayyad about health and human rights in Palestine. Shot in 2002.…

7.’Sara Roy – Beyond Occupation” Australian Broadcasting Corp. October 14, 2008, Part 17, 1:03:00… 8.Gaza Community Mental Health Program Additional figures from recent studies reveal the following conclusions (from a June 3 press release): •66.6% of the children appeared to have some symptoms of anxiety and psychological fears. 42.0% of the children expect events similar to those they passed through. •36.4% of the children feel disturbance and tension when experiencing events reminding them of the tragic war. •98.5% of children did not feel secure during the war due to their sense of powerlessness to protect themselves and the inability of others to protect them. •61.5% of the parents indicated the emergence of unusual behaviors among their children (such as continuous crying, and restlessness). •40.6% of parents indicated that their children have problems with their peers. •82.1% of the children expressed their conviction that Gaza is an unsafe place. •73.5% of the children had fears of being targeted and killed. •76.6% of children had fears of occurrence of what happened to them during the war.

9.GCHMP, Thabet, et al., “Trauma, grief, and PTSD in Palestinian children victims of War on Gaza”

10.“ Gaza Prison: Freedom of Movement to and from the Gaza Strip on the Eve of the Disengagement Plan”… “The Gaza Strip-One Big Prison” B’tselem…

11’Good News,’ Iraq and Beyond,” Noam Chomsky, ZNet, February 16, 2008…

12.“A 14-year-old in Gaza has one question: Why?” Eyad El-Sarraj, January 11, 2009, Boston Globe… “Cast Lead: As many as 352 children killed” Defense for Children International, Sept 3, 2009…

13.“Women in the war zone: Gaza” Helena Cobban July 7, 2009…

“Gaza conflict: Views on Hamas” BBC, July 7, 2009…

14.“Israel’s ‘Crime Against Humanity,’ Chris Hedges, Truthdig, December 15, 2008…

15.“Destroying Gaza,” Sara Roy, The Electronic Intifada, 9 July 2009…

16.“’Gaza wears a face of misery,’ Adam Makary, Al Jazeera” April 4, 2009…

Aditya Ganapathiraju is a human rights activist living in Kenmore, Washington in the United States. He is a psychology and philosophy student at the University of Washington.

For Part One and Part Two of the Gaza Chronicles please click on:… and…