Martial Law in Sindh: Is Army Creating Another Balochistan?

martial law

Let’s start by being honest about one thing: An increasing part of the country is under martial law. Fata is clearly under martial law. Balochistan is under martial law. And over the weekend the last layer of paint peeled off and revealed that Sindh is for all intents and purposes under martial law, too. Pakistan Rangers writ has been extended, and it will continue to be extended. Governor’s Rule has been ruled out for the time being, but this is merely a formality that allows us to pretend that the obvious de facto reality is actually something else.

This is the point where you are saying, “Yes, but Karachi was out of control! It was taken over by terrorists and mafias and the people were living in constant fear! Something had to be done!” Okay, I am not disagreeing with any of that. Karachi has long had problems including being believed to be the home of many al Qaeda safe houses, an accusation that has only been reinforced with the deaths of al Qaeda terrorists in shoot outs with law enforcement agencies. There is also the widely accepted claim that Mullah Omar died while being cared for in a Karachi hospital, though agencies are less ready to accept that one due to the obvious implications for our claim not to be actively helping the Taliban.

So, yes, something needed to be done in Karachi. But what has been done? Has Army cracked down hard on jihadi networks in Karachi? No. Actually, Pakistan Rangers have raided 90 multiple times and continue arresting, detaining, and threatening MQM leaders and workers (though the party continues to stubbornly hang on to life). Predictably, PPP finds itself in the cross hairs now too with arrest warrants issued for former Prime Minister Gilani, Makhdoom Amin Fahim and others. Chairman Higher Education Council Sindh Dr Asim Hussain has even been charged with terrorism! Is it any coincidence that he is a close confidante of Asif Zardari?

In response, Zardari has accused Nawaz of bringing back politics of revenge from the 1990s, which Pervaiz Rashid has obviously denied. Zardari is no fool, however it is likely that the scenario is much less a PMLN strategy than a GHQ strategy. In elections, it will be PTI that probably gains more from a battered MQM and PPP than Noon-league, and Nawaz may only be spared for the moment because Army’s focus is on Sindh and not Punjab.

This is also where things get very, very dangerous. Aside from the obvious problems with a military taking out targeted operations against political parties in a supposed ‘democracy’, there is the regional issue that is obvious to everyone not wearing khaki coloured lenses. After all, It was the Punjab Home Minister who was killed in a terrorist attack. It was the Punjab Law Minister who is a known associate of the leader of a banned organisation. And yet there has not even been any similar military operations in Punjab. Now let us ask, how well has martial law been greeted in Fata and Balochistan? Sindhis already resent the Punjabi attitude that treats them like illiterate backwards serfs, and now there are boots on the ground that give that tension a visible reality. Army’s heavy handedness has never won over a people whether Pashtun, Baloch, or Bengali. What do they expect to happen in Sindh?

Pakistan’s War On the Poor

Protestors clashed with police on Thursday over operations to clear encroachers in Islamabad. Two sides have emerged as those who are calling the issue a question of law and order and those who are calling for sympathy for the poor. However this scene must be viewed in a broader light which is that it is simply the latest battle in our war on the poor of this country.

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Pakistan Day 2015: Another Missed Opportunity

Pakistan Day Parade

According to the old joke, “all countries have armies, but here, Army has a country”. This was on full display as the nation’s capital came to a full halt for “Pakistan Day Parade” that consisted of little more than a celebration of Army. There was always something that bothered me a little about this, but I couldn’t really say what it was until I read this Tweet.

It’s amazing how something so profound can be captured in so few words, but there it is. I realised what was bothering me wasn’t that the Army was featured in the celebration, but that it felt like Army was the only thing featured. As if Pakistan were an Army, and not a diverse nation of millions.

With the alienation of so many communities, Pakistan Day could have been an opportunity to put on display the various cultures and languages that make up our country. I am imagining a parade in which everyone was not dressed in a uniform, but in the different traditional dress of their community.

I am imagining a parade in which religions were represented: Sunni, Shia, Sufi, Ahmedi, Christian, Hindu…all marching together as a demonstration that even though in some ways we are different, at the end of the day we are all Pakistanis.

I am imagining a parade in which, instead of weapons, there were displayed representations from Punjabis, Sindhis, Pashtuns, Baloch, Hazaras, Saraikis, Kashmiris, Chitralis, Mohajirs. Where everyone is cheering and appreciating each others cultures, and remembering that it is from this combination that Pakistan is made.

Instead we were shown troops. Officers. Missiles. Fighter jets. Drones.

Pakistan Day 2015 was a proud day, but it was also a missed opportunity. We were reminded of the strength of our armed forces, but we once again ignored the essence of what it is that’s worth defending.

#PeshawarAttack: What’s Different This Time?

Candle light vigil in Islamabad

Peshawar attack has been termed a ‘game changer‘ in government’s response to militants, and the nation appears united unlike it has been since long. Official numbers report that 50,000 Pakistanis have been killed by jihadi terrorists since 2001, but it was the 141 killed on 16th December that have finally crossed the tipping point. It was an act of brutality and cowardice on such a scale that it has shocked the world to its core because the attack targeted children.

The TTP have killed thousands in their seven-year insurgency, but [foreign affairs and national security advisor to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif Sartaj Aziz] said the nature of the Peshawar attack was radically different from what had gone before.

“It was targeted at the children, and those children who were injured, they fired back upon them to kill them,” he said.

The response has been swift. Nawaz Sharif lifted the ban on death penalty, and COAS quickly began signing death warrant for convicted terrorists. Today, the first two met their fate.

The popular belief is that this time, everything is different. The attack was different. The response is different. And now, the future will be different. But I worry about what was really different, and what that means for us.

The Taliban’s attack was inhuman. That cannot be denied. But targeting children is actually not new. In 2009, Taliban ambushed a school bus in Hangu killing several school children. In 2011, Taliban attacked a school bus outside Peshawar, killing four children. In 2013, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi carried out a bomb attack near a school that killed children.

A spokesman for Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a Sunni group, claimed responsibility for the bomb in Quetta, which caused casualties in the town’s main bazaar, a school and a computer centre. Police said most of the victims were Shi’ites. Burned school bags and books were strewn around.

And just a few months ago, 15-year-old Aitizaz Hasan sacrificed his life to save his schoolmates when he stopped a suicide attack against his school in Hangu.

These are just a few examples of children being targeted by jihadi terrorists. What was different this time?

Obviously, the scale. Every child’s life is precious, but the evil required for killing so many at once is shocking beyond belief. Still, I can’t help but wonder whether the same response would be taking place if the school had been in Hangu and not at an Army base.

The executions that are now taking place only add to my concerns. I have no pity for the lives of Dr Usman and Arshad Mehmood, but I cannot help but notice that these were the two who were chosen to be first executed in response to the attack against school children.

Usman a former soldier of the army’s medical corps, was executed in relation to an attack on the headquarters of the Pakistan Army in 2009 in Rawalpindi. Arshad Mehmood, was executed for an assassination attempt on former military ruler, General (retd.) Pervez Musharraf.

The nation is united right now, and the state is responding. I pray that this week’s tragedy is truly a ‘game changer’, and that there will be no tolerance for any terrorist, whether they are attacking Army officers and their families, or some poor Hazara farmers.

Wagah Warning

Wagah mourning

Sunday’s attack at Wagah border killed over 50 people and injured hundreds. It was the worst attack since months in Pakistan, and serves as a terrible warning of the direction the country is headed if the existing national security strategy is not radically changed.

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