Arrest Militants Not Scholars

Protest release Dr Riaz AhmedIn January, several bloggers including Professor Salman Haider mysteriously disappeared. After initial outcry about the fate of the disappeared persons, soon they were facing allegations of blasphemy. Soon later, the missing were returned just as mysteriously as they disappeared. There has been no official report of what happened to these bloggers and activists, but according to Ahmad Waqass Goraya there is no question that he was picked up and tortured by state agencies. The state has never admitted any involvement in the incidents, however even after the international embarrassment the Islamabad High Court has now instructed FIA to investigate the victims further and if possible bring them back to Pakistan to prosecute them under laws. While the entire nation was distracted by this case of kidnapping and torture of liberal activists, terrorists carried out a bomb attack that killed 25 and injured almost 100 innocents.

In February, terrorists struck again, this time killing at least 99 people including innocent women and children in a week of bloody attacks across the country.

Week of deadly attacks

Soon after these attacks, Defence Minister demanded a Parliamentary Commission to investigate an article by Husain Haqqani, and Pakistan Rangers arrested two Karachi University professors who were preparing to give a press conference. One professor Dr Riaz Ahmed has been remanded to jail on accusation of supposedly possessing an unlicensed weapon but the real issue was mentioned by SI Shahid Pervez Khan who told the Court that the professor was advocating on Facebook for the release of so-called ‘blasphemous’ bloggers even though the bloggers have faced no charges and no evidence has been given against them. So why security agencies are arresting these scholars?

There have been at least 17 terrorist attacks already so far this year, over double the number during same period last year. Civil and military leaders are on the same page and both claim that terrorists have been defeated even though they are ramping up attacks. Worst, both civil and military leaders have shown more interest in harassing and targeting scholars than actual militants who are carrying out attacks and killing people. If terrorism is going to be defeated in reality and not just in slogans, state agencies will have to carry out operations against extremist militants, not scholars.

Another suicide blast in Parachinar despite ‘strict security’

Parachinar bombing In January, a suicide blast tore through a vegetable market killing dozens and injuring nearly 100 innocents. COAS Gen Bajwa visited the site, and ‘strict security arrangements‘ were made to prevent another attack. Today, less than ten weeks later, another suicide attack has been carried out in a Parachinar market, this time outside a main imambargah. According to police officials, there were multiple attackers who not only used bombs but also fired randomly into crowds of innocents.

Many questions will be asked, but one that must not be overlooked is what happened to the ‘strict security arragements’ that were made after the last terrorist attack only a few weeks ago? Were these withdrawn once the Army chief had left? Or were they never really made in the first place? Or were the security arrangement made, but they were not good enough to stop the terrorists?

We have had enough ISPR videos, enough bold statements, enough victory announcements. What we have not had is the truth. The national leadership including both civil and military leaders need to take the people into confidence. We have had every success explained in full detail, but nobody can explain about the constant failures? If anyone is reading this, please listen. We want to trust you and give our full support, but to do this we need you to trust us and give us your full support also. Right now we are mourning another attack. We are filled with questions and doubts. We do not need to be reassured. We are past that now. We need to know what you are going to do differently, because what has be done till date is obviously not enough.

 

Zarb-e-Azb and the limits of military power

Parachinar Lashkar-e-Jhangvi attack

Army’s anti-terrorism campaign has been a huge success. We know this because we are reminded of how successful the Army has been by their crack media team such as the series of Tweets from General Asim Bajwa declaring operation Zarb-e-Azb “a phenomenal success” further projected by media that has been recruited as just another wing of ISPR. Gen Bajwa’s Twitter profile proclaims that “Truth Prevails”, and as far as we know everything that the Army’s top PR manager says is the truth, and the successes and sacrifice of our brave soldiers should be appreciated. However, without denying the great successes of Gen Raheel and Zarb-e-Azb, if “Truth Prevails”, we must also face the limits of military power in finally ridding our country of the menace of terrorism.

Continue reading

Time to rescue the people of Parachinar

The following article by MNA Farahnaz Ispahani (PPP) was originally published in The Express Tribune on 25 December 2010.

Farahnaz IspahaniParachinar used to be called ‘a paradise on Earth’. Despite its natural beauty and strategic importance, Parachinar is presently in a dire state due to sectarian violence initially instigated by the negative policies of former president Ziaul Haq. The residents of Parachinar, predominantly Shia, have been the target of jihadi entities and this has been the primary cause of sectarian clashes there. This violence has transformed the once beautiful land into ruins, completely destroying infrastructure. The main road connecting Peshawar to Parachinar has been blocked by sectarian extremists who have been brutally killing travellers to and from Parachinar.

Local people have been forced to travel through dangerous routes via Afghanistan and back into Peshawar just to purchase daily rations and essential items. Today, even that route has been closed, effectively cutting them off from the rest of Pakistan. This has caused local merchants to raise prices of staple foods such as flour, ghee, sugar and rice up to six times. There is also a tremendous shortage of basic medical supplies and essential life-saving drugs in Parachinar, in addition to a scarcity of proper medical facilities and staff in the area. The youth of Parachinar are worse off since the lack of even basic education has meant that most schools in the area have remained closed for a long time. In the past few decades, the Shias of Kurram Agency have suffered greatly. This started when General Zia relocated the local Kurram militia from Parachinar to other agencies, upsetting the century-old tradition of keeping a local officer in the militia’s hierarchy or as a political administrator.

When the Taliban took over in Afghanistan, the situation got much worse for Kurram agency. And, after their defeat in 2001, a large number of Taliban, along with al Qaeda members, fled to the bordering tribal areas in Pakistan, settling in regions in upper Kurram dominated by Shia tribes. This resettlement became a flashpoint and the oppression of the locals multiplied when, five years ago, the Taliban blockaded the only road that connects Parachinar with Thal — the first town in the settled area. This affected trade and downgraded the social life of the people, strangulating their livelihood. Consequently, they found it difficult to safeguard their families and find jobs, decent food and sometimes even basic medicines.

The situation of Parachinar is only getting worse. The people of Parachinar still remember, with deep affection, Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto Shaheed as they focused on the betterment of this desperately poor and deprived area in order to strengthen its resources by the rehabilitation of its schools, colleges, hospitals and medical facilities. Shaheed Benazir Bhutto also directed PIA to have a flight connecting Parachinar and Peshawar on a weekly basis at an affordable fare. This stopped during former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s tenure and needs to be reinstated urgently. Currently, only a few wealthy residents of Parachinar are able to afford a flight to Peshawar through a private plane service and it charges a high fare. It is time for us to step forward to rescue the people of Parachinar.

Published in The Express Tribune December 25th, 2010. Farahnaz Ispahani is a MNA (PPP) and member of the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Human Rights.