Shouldn’t Pakistan Explain Why its Citizens are Dying, Fighting for Afghan Taliban in Ghazni?

Four decades after the start of the Afghan civil war and seventeen years after the American-led international intervention in Afghanistan, the Afghan Taliban appear to have made a comeback in that country.

On Friday August 10, over 1000 Taliban fighters entered the city of Ghazni, a strategic urban center less than 100 miles from Kabul, and have killed “dozens of Afghan soldiers and police officers, cutting communications and severing the main highway from Kabul to the south and beyond.” According to Afghan defense minister Tariq Shah Bahrami the attack on Ghazni city was carried out by Taliban with the support of foreign militants, including Pakistanis, Chechens, and Arab Al Qaeda fighters.

According to reports on the social media dead bodies of Pakistanis killed in Ghazni city clashes are being shifted to Pakistan. Prominent politician from the Awami National Party (ANP) and former senator Afrasiab Khattak in a series of tweets asked Pakistani authorities to explain what was happening and referred to the involvement of Pakistani militants in Ghazni as a repetition of the disastrous Jalalabad fiasco of 1989.

 

Afghan journalist Bashir Ahmad Gwakh stated that the fighters were primarily Punjabi, affiliated with the terror organization Lashkar e Taiba, and referred to videos of the funeral ceremonies of these Pakistani fighters being uploaded on the Facebook pages of the Taliban. 

 

Another election, Another Assassination

Pakistan ranks low on most human development and economic indices in the world. Where it does rank high is on how dangerous the country is for minorities, women, journalists and media and liberal and progressive civilian politicians. Yesterday another liberal politician, Haroon Bilour, of the nationalist Pashtun political party, Awami National Party (ANP) was assassinated near Peshawar.

This is not the first time and unfortunately we believe this will not be last time that a liberal politician is killed during election season in Pakistan. Both during the 2008 and 2013 elections election rallies of progressive political parties were attacked and liberal politicians were killed. Starting with the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in December 2007, suicide bombers targeted the ANP and the PPP during the pre-election season in February 2008.

During the 2013 elections, the TTP claimed responsibility for bombings against any liberal independent candidates. The TTP also targeted the ANP by bombing their candidates electoral offices in Kohat and Peshawar. Headquarters of the MQM were targeted repeatedly in May 2013. PPP politicians were targeted and former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s son Ali Haider was abducted in May 2013 and only rescued three years later in 2016.

ANP leader Barrister Haroon Bilour, whose father Bashir Bilour was killed by a TTP suicide attack in 2012, was among 20 people killed and 62 people injured during a suicide attack again claimed by the TTP. “The attacker detonated his explosive belt close to the ANP leader’s vehicle as he approached a rally organized to promote his election in the Yakatoot area of the provincial capital. Rescue teams and security officials shifted the deceased and injured to the Lady Reading Hospital (LRH) soon after the attack. Claiming responsibility for the attack, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesperson termed the assassination “revenge for ANP’s previous government”. The statement warns of further attacks.

This assassination of a liberal politician comes just a few months after the Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar “directed police chiefs of all provinces to withdraw within 24 hours the security protocol provided to influential individuals not entitled to official security.”

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) “expressed grave concern ‘at this horrific development in the run-up to the elections. That a political candidate peacefully exercising his right to campaign was targeted in so craven a manner is a sign of the depths to which this election has sunk. The sickening irony of Haroon Bilour having been assassinated a stone’s throw from where his father, Bashir Ahmed Bilour, was similarly assassinated in 2012, should not be lost on any of us.

HRCP issued a strongly worded statement “It goes without saying that we simply cannot afford to repeat the experience of the 2013 elections, in which candidates from selected parties were similarly targeted. This is already a problematic election: for it to be further disfigured – now by terror – is unacceptable.”

Further, the HRCP “demands that the state unequivocally condemn the use of wanton violence by non-state actors to disrupt the election process. Moreover, based on the National Counter-Terrorism Authority’s recent intelligence on threats to other political candidates, the state must ensure that such persons are given adequate protection during their campaigns.’”

Pashtun Students Will Spend Eid in Prison over Imagined Sedition

At a time when the media is facing censorship and political parties are under pressure, it is horrifying to hear that Pashtun students who protested in Islamabad against the attack in Wana on June 3 violent attack against unarmed activists of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) have been imprisoned on charges of sedition and are in Adiala jail.

 According to data gathered by The Daily Times “15 of the 37 youngsters held at Adiala Jail on serious charges including sedition are enrolled in various graduate programmes at leading public-sector universities in the federal capital.” Most of these young people hail from Baluchistan and are enrolled either at Quaid e Azam or International Islamic University.

 They include “highly accomplished individuals like Habib Kakar, who hails from Loralai district of Balochistan and is an alumunus of the prestigous Fulbright scholarship programme of the United States Education Foundation in Pakistan (USEFP). Others hailing from Loralai are Niamatullah and Hameedullah. The former is pursuing a PhD programme at the QAU’s Physics Department on a merit scholarship. Hameedullah is enrolled in an MPhil programme at the university’s Pakistan Studies Centre. At least five students hail from Zhob district of Balochistan. Of these, Aimal Mandokhail, Kamran Khan, Zulqarnain Mandokhel, and Mustafiz Khan are pursuing their undergraduate degrees in law at IIU. Roohullah and Kamil Khan are studying for a masters degree in sociology at the IIU. Among the incarcerated students are Akbar Khan and M Ishfaq Khan from South Waziristan. They are law students at IIU. Ishtiaq Wazir of Bannu recently graduated from the IIU’s International Relations Department; Raqeeb ullah of Pishin is enrolled in OAU’s Environmental Sciences graduate programme, and Ziaul Islam of Quetta is a a student of BSc (Economics) programme at IIU.”

 According to the lawyers defending these students “Every Pakistani wants peace and prosperity in the country but every citizen has the right to criticise the policies of any state institution. There are dozens of institutions in the country facing criticism on a daily basis, will the police arrest everyone criticising any institution? Booking someone under section 124A (sedition) for chanting some slogans is strange. If someone challenges the state, say by demanding separation, then the police are well within their authority to book them for sedition, but there is no justification for using the section to curb criticism of ill-designed state policies.”

Generals’ Election: When Political Engineers, not People, Dominate’

For the second time in Pakistan’s seven decades, the National Assembly and all Provincial Assemblies have completed their five-year term even though as with the PPP government this time too a sitting democratically elected Prime Minister was removed by the Supreme Court.

While there are concerns about what lies ahead and what role the Pakistani establishment will play, according to former Senator Afrasiab Khattak there are four new factors that may “turn the tables” on any attempts at “political engineering.”

First, “Nawaz Sharif, the three time elected Prime Minister, with a large scale following in the country, particularly in the key province of Punjab, has decided to challenge the political role of the deep state. Spending long years in politics, both in the government and in the opposition, he is the most experienced politician in the country. Now when his party is not any more part of the system, he can speak more openly about and give details of the creeping coup against his elected government. Moreover, the deep state can’t cross certain limits against its opponents in the Punjab because most of the army also comes from the same province.”

Second, “contradiction between the deep state and the elected representatives in the government is an open secret by now and the common people know as to who calls the shots in making important decisions. As we know the popular movement recently launched by PTM didn’t raise a single slogan against the PML (N) because they knew that the state policy which hurt the Pashtuns wasn’t shaped by the ruling party. Nawaz Sharif has successfully projected his victimhood at the hands of the forces of dictatorship among the masses. Business classes in general and Punjabi bourgeoisie in particular has come to believe that the deep state has thrown Nawaz Sharif out because he was taking the country from the geo strategic of the Cold War to the geo economic of the 21st century. Hence their sympathies for him. Broad sections of society are prepared to forget Nawaz Sharif’s past mistakes and judge him on what he stands for today.”

Third, “the growing international isolation of the country on the question of extremist violence is a source of concern for most of Pakistanis and they know that Nawaz Sharif, like most of other political leaders is opposed to appeasement of extremism and terrorism.”

And finally, “the growing role of social media has changed the rules of engagement when it comes to control over media and public opinion. Welcome to election 2018 (that’s if they are held!).”

Deep State’s Denial of Pashtun Awakening Gets Worse

Pakistan’s deep state continues to place restrictions and attempts to clampdown on activists associated with the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM). In end April, there was an attempt to prevent a rally in Lahore and the provincial Law Minister Rana Sanaullah asserted that “hidden hands tried stopping the PTM from holding a procession in Lahore.”

Now in May, there is an attempt to prevent the May 13 PTM rally scheduled in Karachi. The Sindh government. The administration in Karachi has denied permission to PTM to hold a rally in Pakistan’s financial capital on Sunday May 13 on grounds that PTM “aimed to foment anti-state feelings in the country, and that too a mere few days before Ramazan.” According to a story in The Daily Times “The administration blamed the PTM for disseminating false propaganda against state institutions, and in response, launched an investigation against the leaders of the movement in the city.”

In a blatant attempt that demonstrates the hands of Pakistan’s security establishment PTM’s leader Manzoor Pashteen was not allowed to board a Serene Air flight from Islamabad to Karachi. According to a story in Dawn: “When Pashteen and his associates reached the Serene Air check-in counter, those accompanying him were issued boarding passes but Pashteen was denied the same on the grounds that his details were “not in the system” and that he wasn’t cleared to board the flight.”

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) released a strongly worded statement condemning this action. “That the authorities have, once again, escalated their efforts to suppress the PTM is cause for serious concern. There is no credible reason for having prevented Manzoor Pashteen from boarding his flight to Karachi to attend the 13 May rally.’ The Commission is also ‘disturbed to learn that Naghma Shaikh, a Democratic Student Federation leader planning to attend this rally, was detained and physically harassed on her way to the airport. Ms Shaikh alleges that the authorities took away her passport and money. HRCP condemns such excessive tactics and strongly urges the government to refrain from interfering in people’s right to peaceful assembly.”

The HRCP also expressed concern over the arrest and charges leveled against PTM supporters in Karachi. “The Commission is gravely concerned over reports that more than 150 PTM activists and sympathizers – including Karachi University professor Dr Riaz Ahmed – have gone missing or been arrested, many of them on charges of sedition and terrorism. The authorities’ disproportionate response is unwarranted, given that the PTM rallies held to date have remained peaceful.”