“Everything can happen very quickly”

“Everything can happen very quickly”

Andrei Sannikov


Andrei Sannikov: “Everything can happen very quickly”

People are fed up with the 16 years of rule of the dictator. It is felt everywhere.

It has been stated in an interview to “Voice of America” by the leader of “European Belarus” campaign, a presidential candidate Andrei Sannikov.

Last respects have been paid in Minsk to the founder of the oppositional Internet portal Aleh Byabenin. His body was found in his summer cottage not far from Minsk on September 3. The General Prosecutor Office of Belarus has come to an opinion that Byabenin had committed suicide.

However a coordinator of the civil campaign “European Belarus” Andrei Sannikov, who was Byabenin’s colleague for a long time (the deceased was a member of his campaign headquarters), doubts that the official version is true.

– What could you say about the investigation?

– The needed investigatory actions are not carried out. The summer cottage, in which Aleh was found, has not even been sealed. I mean, right after inspection of the scene of the incident, they worked according only one version, a suicide. If there would be any other versions, they would seal up the house probably. Aleh’s car had not been sealed up as well.

They have not lifted fingerprints from a surface. The inspection of the incident site was superficial. They do not inform about the date of the death still: when I arrived to the site of the tragedy, they told me assuredly that Aleh had died on the same day, about the afternoon. After the autopsy they said, assuredly again, that he had died the day before. I can suppose that there are signs which allow determining a possible time of the death, and there could not be a gap of about a day between them.

All these facts raise certain doubts. Moreover, Aleh Byabenin did not a bit resemble a person planning to commit suicide.

– Are there any facts that allow supposing that Aleh Byabenin’s death was not a suicide?

– People disappear, people are murdered in our country, and serious investigation of such cases is not carried out. Aleh had been abducted, beaten up, he had been threatened…

You know, a person who opposes the dictatorship, who speaks about that publicly and works against the dictatorship openly, cannot feel secure.

– The histories of Belarus there have been some examples of mysterious disappearances and assassinations of people who were considered Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s opponents. Some of them were committed many years ago. Have investigators detected any new facts over this time?

– No new facts have been detected. The position of the Russian TV channels has changed. They have started to speak about these facts. But there is enough evidence that high-level officials of Belarus could be involved in that.

We have addressed all the permanent members of the UN Security Council for them to facilitate in conducting an international investigation. There is a precedent already: investigation into the murder of the former Prime Minister of Lebanon Hariri. Unfortunately, for today there is no reaction either from Russia or from the United States.

– How the situation in Belarus has changed after tensions in the relations with Russia started? Earlier interlocutors of the Voice of America feared that the story with the attack against the Russian Embassy in Minsk would be used by the authorities of Belarus for crackdown on the opposition…

– It is already happening. Interrogations concerning Aleh’s death are a preparation for more serious actions. I’m afraid there will be searches, confiscations, pressure and threats.

The situation is very tense. After Russia changed its attitude to Lukashenka, on the one hand there is a panic here, which can bring about any actions by the authorities. On the other hand, there is a desire of the authorities to use the old methods and to curb all alternative point of views in the harshest manner, including violence.

– The presidential election is coming. What outcome could be expected, as you think?

– There is a great probability of changes. People are simply fed up with 16 years of dictatorial rule. It is felt everywhere. There is no fear any more; there is only mistrust in one’s own forces. Polls show that Lukashenka does not enjoy support of all age groups of the population. A conclusion could be made that changes will be welcomed by the entire society.

And it is also clear what the repressive machine would make. One can speak positively that the dictatorship will try to maintain Lukashenka’s regime by all means known to it.

– Can other states – Russia, the US, the European Union, – influence the results of the presidential elections?

– Yes, they can. Lately the main sources of financial support for Lukashenka’s regime are in the West, not in the East. Europe, which tried to speak with Lukashenka for a long time, offered him all kinds of dialogues, could have taken a more principled stand. As he can receive financial backing only there.

Today we are at a crucial moment in the history of Belarus. But unfortunately, there are voices heard in Europe that Russia is a permanent evil, so as Russia has started to criticize Lukashenka, Europeans should support Lukashenka. Such ideas, offered by some lobbyists of Lukashenka from Western Europe, are fraught with grave consequence for us.

One thing is expected from Europe: to be true its principles. Not to ignore a single violation of human rights, not to try to reform the dictator – it is impossible, and to understand that changes in Belarus can happen very quickly.

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Neo-Soviet Union Hinges On Belarus

[SEE: In Belarus, are investigating the death of opposition journalist . The following is taken from the site of the alleged “suicide” victim in Belarus, European Belarus.]

Belarusians demand international investigation of kidnappings

10:18 6.08.2010

Leaders of opposition, civil society, human right activists and other well-known Belarusians appealed to UN Security Council with demand to carry out international investigation of kidnappings in Belarus.

On Wednesday, August 4 letters were sent to Ministers of foreign affairs of permanent members of UN Security Council –China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, and United States.

«To date, the human rights community in Belarus, the lawyers for the families and the relatives of the disappeared have exhausted all available local remedies, and have also exhausted regional and international human rights remedies to no avail. Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who remains in power since the time of the disappearances, has not created conditions for a national credible and impartial investigation of these cases and has blocked all international efforts to find the truth about their fates,» — says the appeal.

Authors of the appeal link to UN resolutions which mention kidnappings in Belarus and about human right violations in this country as well as to fact-finding report of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly by Cypriot parliamentarian Christos Pourgourides which found that senior Belarus officials may have been involved in the disappearances of the four men during 1999 and 2000. The report stated that steps were taken at the highest level of the Belarusian sate to cover up the true background of the disappearances.

The appeal mentions case of creating UN-appointed international commission which investigated the killing of former Lebanese prime-minister Rafiq Hariri in 2005 and other politically motivated assassinations in Lebanon.

«We urge you to take up the issue of the disappeared public figures of Belarus at the level of the UN Security Council and to use your good offices to ensure that an international investigation is mandated into the fate of the disappeared,» says the appeal.

The appeal was signed by former head of Belarus Stanislau Shushkevich, former ministers, members of Belarusian Parliament (Supreme Soviet) of 12th and 13th convocations, leaders of political parties and civil society, human right activists and other well-known Belarusians.

See full text:

Your Exсellency

We are writing to you about the disappearances of high-level public figures in Belarus which remain uninvestigated for long time.

To date, the human rights community in Belarus, the lawyers for the families and the relatives of the disappeared have exhausted all available local remedies, and have also exhausted regional and international human rights remedies to no avail. Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who remains in power since the time of the disappearances, has not created conditions for a national credible and impartial investigation of these cases and has blocked all international efforts to find the truth about their fates.

The cases of the disappeared men are:

1. Former Belarus Interior Minister Yuri Zakharenko, May 1999

2. Former Vice-Premier, former Chairman of the Central Election Committee Victor Gonchar, September 1999

3. Businessman and public figure Anatoly Krasovski, September 1999

4. Russian TV (ORT) cameraman Dmitri Zavadski, July 2000.

In Belarus, independent civil society investigations of these cases have found some evidence of complicity of the Lukashenka government’s high officials in the disappearances. Two Belarusian prosecutors who found evidence of an official cover-up and published their allegations in the independent Belarusian and foreign media were forced to flee abroad in 2001 and have obtained political asylum and remain in hiding.

In 2000, the UN Committee Against Torture reviewed the periodic report of Belarus, and noted ongoing concerns about disappearances, and called on the state party to “consider establishing an independent and impartial governmental and non-governmental national human rights commission with effective powers to, inter alia, promote human rights and investigate all complaints of human rights violations, in particular those pertaining to the implementation of the Convention.” (A/56/44, paras.40-46)

(http://www.unhchr.ch/tbs/doc.nsf/%28Symbol%29/A.56.44,paras.40-46.En?Opendocument).

This was never done, and no reply was provided to the UN CAT. The government of Belarus has never responded to repeated queries submitted on these cases from the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Disappearances for many years.

In February 2004, a fact-finding report was published of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly which found that senior Belarus officials may have been involved in the disappearances of the four men during 1999 and 2000. The report stated that steps were taken at the highest level of the Belarusian sate to cover up the true background of the disappearances. The report, prepared by Cypriot parliamentarian Christos Pourgourides, was approved unanimously by the Assembly’s Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights meeting during the Assembly’s 2004 winter plenary session in Strasbourg. (Doc.100624, February2004) (http://assembly.coe.int/Main.asp?link=/Documents/WorkingDocs/doc04/EDOC10062.htm)

In 2006 and again in 2007, Adrian Severin, the UN Special Rapporteur on Belarus, reported to the UN Human Rights Council that the human rights situation in Belarus was intolerable, and noted continued inaction on investigation and prosecution of the disappearances.(E/CN.4/2006/36) (http://www.un.org/Docs/journal/asp/ws.asp?m=E/CN.4/2006/36).

In July 2010 Russian mass media revealed new information on the disappearances of the opposition leaders and public figures in Belarus and the complicity of high government officials in the disappearances. There was no official reaction to that information.

Due to mass violation of human rights Belarus is not a member of the Council of Europe, so it is not possible to bring a suit regarding the disappearances to the European Court of Human Rights.

Accordingly, mindful of more than 10 years of work attempting to bring justice in the cases of the disappearances of these four prominent Belarusian figures in political life and media, we turn to you as Minister of Foreign Affairs of the permanent member of the UN Security Council to consider taking up this matter and approving a Commission of Inquiry by the UN Security Council into the disappearances of public figures in Belarus in 1999 and 2000.

We make this request mindful of the UN-appointed international commission which investigated the killing of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri in 2005 and other politically motivated assassinations in Lebanon (S/RES/1595/2005) (http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N05/299/98/PDF/N0529998.pdf?OpenElement) as well as the tribunal to try those responsible for the Hariri killing, established by the UN Security Council in June 2007.

We urge you to take up the issue of the disappeared public figures of Belarus at the level of the UN Security Council and to use your good offices to ensure that an international investigation is mandated into the fate of the disappeared.

Respectfully,

(signed by)

Stanislau Shushkevich

Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the Republic of Belarus of the 12th convocation,

Chairman of the Central Council of the party Belarusian Social Democratic Hramada

Andrei Sannikov

Deputy Foreign Minister of Belarus (1995-1996),

Coordinator of the civil campaign “European Belarus”

Ales Byalatski

Vice President of the International Federation for Human Rights,

Chairman of Viasna Human Rights Centre

Anatol Lyabedzka

Chairman of the United Civil Party,

Deputy of the Supreme Soviet of the Republic of Belarus of the 12th and 13th convocations

Mechyslau Hryb

Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the Republic of Belarus (1994-1996),

Deputy of the Supreme Soviet of the Republic of Belarus of the 12th and 13th convocations,

Secretary General of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Hramada)

Sergei Kalyakin

Chairman of the Party “Fair World”

Deputy of the Supreme Soviet of the Republic of Belarus of the 12th and 13th convocations

Alyaksandr Dabravolski

Member of the Political Council of the United Civil Party,

People’s Deputy of the Soviet Union (1989-1991),

Deputy of the Supreme Soviet of the Republic of Belarus of the 13th convocation

Alyaksandr Sasnou

Former Minister of Labour of Belarus,

Member of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Republic of Belarus of the 12th convocation

Oleg Volchek

Chairman of the human rights centre “Legal Assistance to the Population”

Valery Frolov

Deputy of the Chamber of Representatives of the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus of the 2nd convocation,

Major General

Alyaksei Yanukevich

Chairman of the Belarusian Popular Front Party

Ryhor Kostuseu

Deputy Chairman of the Belarusian Popular Front Party

Viktar Ivashkevich

Chairman of Minsk branch of the Belarusian Popular Front Party

Mikhail Marynich

Ex-Minister of Foreign Economic Relations of Belarus,

Deputy of the Supreme Soviet of the Republic of Belarus of the 12th convocation,

Ambassador

Pyotr Sadouski

Deputy of the Supreme Soviet of the Republic of Belarus of the 12th convocation,

Ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany (1992-1994)

Uladzimir Nyaklyaeu

Coordinator of “Tell the Truth” civil campaign

Elena Skrigan

Deputy of the Supreme Soviet of the Republic of Belarus of the 13th convocation

Yaroslav Romanchuk

Deputy Chairman of the United Civil Party

Is Russia looking backwards or forwards?

Discussions were candid but seldom heated

© RIA Novosti. Anton Denisov

Is Russia looking backwards or forwards?

by Andrei Zolotov at 09/09/2010 21:43
Some 90 Russia experts from around the world brainstormed about whether Russia should move “forward to Asia” or “backward to Europe” within the wider context of “Russia’s history and future development” at this year’s session of the Valdai Discussion Club. For the first time in the history of the club, which was co-founded in 2004 by RIA Novosti, the Council on Foreign and Defence Policy and Russia Profile, the participants came up with the Valdai Index of Russia’s development, which was presented to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Sochi.
According to the index, Russia is sliding into stagnation – if it isn’t already there. Grading on a 10-point scale revealed that compared to 2009, Russia has slightly improved only on external factors. It was given a “plus one” rating on both diplomatic activity and its role in providing regional and global security. The country’s political system has worsened by one point. The remaining six aspects evaluated – economic attractiveness, the vector of development of civilisation and culture, openness to the outside world, economic development and the human dimension – were overwhelmingly judged unchanged.
In a panel session on modernisation there was clear consensus that such a programme is hardly possible amid corruption and declining education. One group leader suggested that to prevent the term from being compromised in the public’s eyes, the government should drop the slogan and concentrate instead on the consequences of Russia’s disastrous 20th century history, by building monuments to the victims of Soviet repression and investing in human capital.
A sense of disillusionment with President Dmitry Medvedev as the perceived liberalising force against Putin’s authoritarian trends was also evident in the discussions.


Outside specialists

The core group of political scientists, analytical journalists and former politicians of very different stripes was complemented, as is traditional, by specialists on the topic discussed. This year the conference included such renowned historians as Richard Pipes, Geoffrey Hosking and Dominic Lieven from outside Russia, and Sergei Mironenko and Andrei Zubov on the domestic side. Zubov’s presentation of the much-debated textbook “Russian History: The 20th Century”, which he edited, was for many the highlight of the conference.
Pipes said he was surprised by the openness and quality of the event. “I was very impressed – first of all with the freedom of the discussion,” said the Harvard University academic known for his critical attitude toward Russia. “The Russian participants were more critical of the regime than the foreigners,” said Pipes. “Secondly, history was invoked – not as much as I had hoped, but enough.”
Separate dialogues
Pipes was not alone in seeing Russian participants as more critical than the visitors. But Fiona Hill, of Washington’s Brookings Institution, noted that there were in fact two separate dialogues. “Most of our Russian colleagues were talking among themselves about the past and future of Russia, and the rest of us, foreigners, were observing and making comments on intra-Russian dialogue,” Hill said.
Despite the discussants’ widely divergent views, debate rarely became overheated. One instance of serious animation came, however, when a liberal Russian participant and a Western political scientist disagreed strongly over a comparison of jailed tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky with dissident physicist Andrei Sakharov.


Changing or unchanging?

The underlying theme was whether Russia is capable of change over centuries. One participant said that wide-ranging and critical discussions like those at Valdai, plus opposition rallies – and the government’s diverse reaction to them – are meaningful signs. The public campaign in defence of the Khimki forest and the Kremlin’s concessions to popular sentiment, moreover, are particularly important.
“The fact that the government yielded to public pressure is very unusual in Russia,” Pipes said, “I am not too optimistic, I think it is a slow process, but things are moving right now in the right direction.”
Georgetown University’s Angela Stent, one of the club’s founding members, said after the dinner with Putin that the Russian leader appeared more at ease than in any of the previous six Valdai meetings. He seemed more positive – and was likely to stay in power, said Stent.

Russia: Power to the powerful

Russia: Power to the powerful

The Russian plutocrats have no interest in changing a system on which they thrive

In an off-the-record briefing to a visiting group of foreign academics and journalists this week, a senior official of the Russian government spoke in tones verging on contempt about the victims of the forest fires that ravaged central Russia this summer. He argued that there had never been a proper fire service in the forests around Moscow and that everyone who lived there knew it. For every hero in the fire service who sacrificed his life for others, there were a hundred others who never pitched up. But rather than accept the collective responsibility for failing as a government to organise a functioning fire service, he drew the opposite conclusion. He said it was up to each owner to have their own fire bucket. Why should the state help those who could not, or would not, help themselves? The narod are mugs.

As chilling as these comments are, they nevertheless represent an attitude prevalent in the elite around Vladimir Putin who run Russia. Some are now people of considerable wealth, as proximity to power is profitable. While paying lip service in public to the corruption of bureaucrats and the deindustrialisation of an economy dangerously dependent on the price of oil and gas, they themselves do little in practice to stop either. What interest would they have in changing a system on which they thrive? The modernisation of which they speak is about means, not ends. It is about implanting progress from above, dropping a Russian Silicon Valley on to the forests of Skolkovo (when there are cities with strong scientific centres languishing through lack of investment) or building an international ski resort above the subtropical city of Sochi. God forbid that economic liberalisation should lead to political change, the creation of real political parties, a functioning civil society, and institutions independent of the governing elite. There is no exact equivalent in English of Putin’s “soft autocracy”, and that may be telling in itself. Even benign despotism implies a will to improve the lives of ordinary people.

Russia itself is languishing. Its economy contracted by nearly 8% last year, its worst annual economic performance since 1994, and – despite being so dependent on the stuff – it is producing less oil now than the Soviet Union did in the 1970s. Soviet oil accounted for 35% of global production in 1985. Oil from Russia accounts today for just 17% – a marked decline even after the partial loss of oil from the Caspian basin is factored in. Russia’s economy has shrunk twice in the last decade, and deindustrialisation is making itself felt in Russia’s mono-cities – those reliant on a single industry. It is against this background that the billions of dollars thrown at baubles like Skolkovo and Sochi should be judged.

Speaking in Sochi this week, Mr Putin made little secret of his dislike of elected local officials. He even described how one of them did a bunk through the back door rather than face popular wrath after one disaster. The implication is that Russia is not ready for democracy and the system of Kremlin-appointed bureaucrats is here to stay for some time to come. In a conference in Yaroslavl today, President Dmitry Medvedev will attempt to claw back some of the limelight lost to his senior partner in recent months. The president’s speeches often include strident criticisms of the political system of which he is an intrinsic part. Two and a half years into his term of office, Russian liberals wait in vain for the president’s cavalry to arrive. By all accounts, it has yet to be formed. In judging the balance of power between Mr Putin and Mr Medvedev, the former wins hands down even though, on paper, he has fewer powers.

Michael McFaul, President Barack Obama’s top adviser on Russia,argued yesterday that, historically, autocracies have been less instrumental than democracies in economic modernisation. He is right, but the greater threat Russia faces is stagnation, under the grip of an elite increasingly unwilling to share the spoils of power.

the relationship between Moscow and Minsk is “bad, very bad”

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“Die Presse”: Belarusian “psychopath” Lukashenka

die presseSome people, perhaps, even earlier suspected that Lukashenka had such a diagnose, but they never dared to speak loudly about it.

On Sunday evening the Russian state TV channel NTV showed the third part of the documental film “Krestny batka”(Godbatka). In this film the Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka appeared as “power-loving anti-Russian betrayer and was called a “psychopath”. “Some people, perhaps, and earlier suspected … [by Lukashenka] such a diagnose, but they never dared to speak loudly about it”, – an influential Austrian newspaper “Die Presse” reports.

Despite the fact that the film fall victim to the censorship on Belarusian TV, more than two million Belarusians watched it in Internet, as representatives of the local opposition state.

The authors of the investigation bring “serious accusations” against Lukashenka: that his clan “dominates over the country”, and the president himself is “involved into the case of disappearance of a number of oppositionists”.

According to charter97.org, the observer of “Die Presse” concludes that the relationship between Moscow and Minsk is “bad, very bad”: “When it comes to a criticism of the younger brother-betrayer who hardly yields to any upbringing, the Kremlin is not ashamed to speak straight from the shoulder any more. Moreover, the presidential election is to take place in Belarus in winter of 2010”.

Belarus–Last Outpost for USSR

AFP

Oleg Bebenin, the Belarus journalist, who was found hanged in his home

Oleg Bebenin, the Belarus journalist, who was found hanged in his home

I landed in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, last Friday to meet the journalist Oleg Bebenin and other civil society activists. On Monday I attended Oleg’s funeral.

One of Belarus’s leading journalists, he had been found hanged in his country home earlier on Friday. His beloved 5 year old son’s hammock was around his neck, hung so low that his feet touched the ground. Andrei Sannikov, of the human rights group Charter97, the organisation Bebenin co-founded, was one of the first at the scene. He has grave doubts about the coroner’s suicide verdict. “No suicide note was found, and his last SMS to friends showed they planned to go to the cinema.”

Bebenin’s associates suspect foul play and talk through tears about a man who devoted 15 years to fighting President Aleksander Lukashenko’s dictatorship, and was in no mood to quit. In hushed tones everyone fears a return to the period between 1997–99 when activists, business and journalists suddenly “disappeared” without trace.

In the past year, human rights activists have faced continual intimidation from the authorities. On 6 December 2009, Yahen Afnagel, a youth leader, was kidnapped in broad daylight on the streets of Minsk and taken by van to a forest just outside the city. His hands were bound together and a bag placed over his head. He told me he was subjected to a mock execution and that men screamed at him that it would be carried out for real if he continued to question the authorities. In just two months, 6 youth leaders faced mock executions.

All of this is happening, today, on European soil. When the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi visited Minsk last November he told President Lukashenko that his people “love you, which is shown by the elections”.

Never mind that the Organisation for Cooperation and Security in Europe (OSCE), of which Italy is a member, declared that the previous presidential election” failed to meet OSCE commitments for democratic elections.”

Realpolitik is the order of the day, and the opening up of markets by the IMF and the World Bank are paying dividends for businessmen and their political cronies in capitals across Europe. Britain is no better. Lukashenko is said to be “in discussions” with Grayling, a PR firm owned by Lord Chadlington, one of David Cameron’s closest allies on improving his country’s image. Lord Chadlington clearly has few qualms dealing with the dictator of a nation ranked 188 out of 195 countries for press freedom; where every gay club has been shut down, and where Lukashenko has personally approved the turning of Jewish holy sites into multi-storey car parks.

Culturally, too, Western artists are helping to soften the image of Belarus. This month Sting will perform a concert in the Minsk Arena. While Sting performs, the banned Belarus Free Theatre will perform “Discover Love” in an abandoned house on the other side of Minsk, their play about the abduction and disappearance of businessman, democrat, and foe of Lukashenko, Anatoly Krasovski. Unlike the audience at the approved Sting concert, those attending performances of the Belarus Free Theatre are subject to harassment by the KGB.

And while Europe ignores the plight of the Belarussian people, the dictatorship is intensifying its efforts to stifle dissent. The KGB and intelligence forces are developing more subtle ways to target opponents. Opposition figures are accused of being Scientologists or threatened with criminal libel proceedings. Yesterday an anonymous comment on the Charter97 website read: “We will wipe all of you off the face of the earth. None of your relatives will ever produce the like of you again.” The site’s moderator, Natalia Radzina has recently received emails and text messages that say: “We will rape you,” followed by her address.

The case of Oleg Bebenin should ring alarm bells across Europe. We cannot let Europe’s politicians sleep walk into a cosy accommodation with a tyrant. Belarus is Europe’s shame.

The writer works for Index on Censorship

Profiling Pakistani jihadists

Profiling Pakistani jihadists

—Ali K Chishti

One major draw for jihadis in Pakistan is the clout a religious militant enjoys with the law-enforcement agencies. The militant organisation gives otherwise powerless men a strong sense of identity in an increasingly fragmented social structure

What kind of people are rushing to join jihadi organisations? Where are they coming from? What is their family and educational background? And most importantly, what motivates them to put their lives on the line for missions that really have nothing material to do with them? What really prompts a Punjabi, Sindhi, Baloch or Pashtun to become a member of a suicide squad? Or, for that matter, what makes these people participate in far off conflicts that have no bearing on their lives, except maybe emotional attachment? What is behind their fanaticism and their commitment? How are they recruited?

All such profiling conducted by various think-tanks gives us a small hint of the demonic mindset that we are dealing with in the fight against radical Islamic terror groups. Another frightening reality that emerges from a close study of jihadis is that they do not come from any one particular education stream, family background, region or even economic background. The spirit of jihad transcends these boundaries and stereotypes. In other words, jihadis are now coming from every social, economic and cultural strata of Pakistani society. This means that our country itself has become one big Jihad Inc. The role of mullahs in motivating and recruiting young men for jihad clearly comes out when profiling jihadis but equally important is the fact that economic factors and a breakdown in traditional social structures too are motivating many people to take to jihad.

Jihad in this part of the world is seen as lending a sense of purpose to the lives of many people who otherwise would be pushovers in society. One major draw for jihadis in Pakistan is the clout a religious militant enjoys with the law enforcement agencies. A black tinted four-by-four and a suspicious number plate with occupants sporting militia-style clothing, long hair and beards is bound to arouse suspicion and get the vehicle pulled over at any check post. If you are a religious militant, however, you are simply waved through with a level of ‘respect’ unthinkable for most Pakistanis. Obviously, being above the law holds great appeal for the jobless. The militant organisation gives otherwise powerless men a strong sense of identity in an increasingly fragmented social structure.

Only recently a research paper published on the very subject reveals that a vast number of recruits come from formal schools and lack any real religious knowledge or motivation. The primary cause behind militancy, it is argued, is unemployment and poverty. There are the middle class jihadis like Shehzad Tanvir or Sheikh Omar, who has been convicted of murdering Daniel Pearl. There is a popular misconception that young Pakistani men who volunteer for jihad invariably do so out of a lack of viable economic options. This is particularly untrue in Karachi where most budding jihadis hail from middle, upper middle or even upper class families. A similar trend prevails in other large cities that, in turn, explodes another myth that Pakistan’s ‘non-state actors’ are largely confined to the country’s tribal and northern areas.

“I am proud of my son although the only regret I have is that I do not have another son to send for this noble cause,” says a middle-aged man whose only son is believed dead somewhere in Afghanistan. Another jihadi now turned tableeghi, Mehmood, who in his late 20s managed to come back to Karachi in one piece, maintains that misconceptions abound concerning the current reality in Afghanistan. He says, “Some people accuse the Taliban of retreating without informing the Pakistani and Arab mujaheedin, a move that allegedly resulted in their slaughter by the Northern Alliance. That is totally incorrect.” While pulling back, the Taliban asked all their foreign allies to withdraw with them. The Pakistani and Arab mujahideen, however, decided to keep on fighting even though they knew that they would get killed. Most of them preferred to die as they had already burnt their bridges.

One would imagine that most of those planning to take part in the holy war would be from the militant cadres of jihadi organisations. However, it has become patently obvious that this modern version of the David and Goliath fable has an emotive appeal across the spectrum of Pakistani society too. Many, even those who do not agree with the Taliban’s obscurantist version of Islam, have found inspiration in the obdurate refusal of one of the world’s poorest Muslim countries to give in to the demands of the only global superpower.

Finally, there is the myth and misconception that jihadis are only Pashtuns and Punjabis. The records provided by different jihadi organisations and research material available show that the number of martyrs from Sindh has already touched 500 in the FATA region alone. In the early 2000s, when our proxies were primarily targeted towards the east, 85 of the Jaish-e-Mohammad, 175 of Hizbul Mujahideen and 51 of Lashkar-e-Islam were Sindhi-speaking jihadis. In the case of Balochistan, the list of casualties published by various jihadi organisations shows that from 1999 to March 2002, there were 112 so-called martyrs from Balochistan, most of whom died in Afghanistan, indicating that the jihad phenomenon in Pakistan has gone viral in almost every segment of our society.

The writer is a political analyst. He can be reached at akchishti@hotmail.com