Tag Archive for 'Taliban'

Taliban in Karachi: the real story

Fahim Zaman and Naziha Syed Ali in Dawn:

ON the evening of March 13, Director Orangi Pilot Project Perween Rahman was shot and killed by masked men half a kilometre from her office just off Manghopir Road in Karachi. The police were quick to point a finger at the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

In an “encounter” the very next day, they killed Qari Bilal who they claimed was a leader of the TTP and the mastermind behind Ms Rahman’s murder. Many in the development sector, however, believe she was targeted because she had fallen foul of the city’s land mafia because she was placing their activities on record. They may both well be right, even if Qari Bilal was falsely accused by law-enforcement agencies.

The latest players in Karachi’s land grab — for long the domain of those with close links to the major political parties and forces amongst the establishment here — are TTP elements who have been putting down their roots in various parts of the city over the past couple of years.

Large swathes of Pakhtun neighborhoods in districts west and east, as well as pockets in districts Malir, central and south are reported to be under the influence of the TTP. While all 30 or so of its factions have a presence in the city, the most influence is wielded by the Hakimullah Mehsud and Mullah Fazlullah factions.

According to local police and residents of the affected areas, elements belonging to the TTP have entrenched themselves in these areas after having terrorised the local Pakhtun population into submission, and driven out the ANP from most of its traditional strongholds. More:

Time Person of the Year 2012 runner-up: Malala Yousafzai, the Fighter

From Time magazine:

malala-TimeAyesha Mir didn’t go to school on Tuesday, Nov. 27, the day after a security guard found a shrapnel-packed bomb under her family’s car. The 17-year-old Pakistani girl assumed, as did most people who learned about the bomb, that it was intended for her father, the television news presenter Hamid Mir, who often takes on the Taliban in his nightly news broadcasts. Traumatized by the near miss, Ayesha spent most of the day curled up in a corner of her couch, unsure whom to be angrier with: the would-be assassins or her father for putting himself in danger. She desperately wanted someone to help her make sense of things. At around 10:30 p.m., she got her wish. Ayesha’s father had just come home from work, and he handed her his BlackBerry. “She wants to speak to you,” he said. The voice on the phone was weak and cracked, but it still carried the confidence that Ayesha and millions of other Pakistanis had come to know through several high-profile speeches and TV appearances.

“This is Malala,” said the girl on the other end of the line. Malala Yousafzai, 15, was calling from the hospital in Birmingham, England, where under heavy guard she has been undergoing treatment since Oct. 16. “I understand that what happened was tragic, but you need to stay strong,” Malala told Ayesha. “You cannot give up.” It was one of the few times Malala had called anyone in Pakistan since she was flown to England for specialized medical treatment after a Taliban assassin climbed onto her school bus, called out for her by name and shot her in the head on Oct. 9. Her brain is protected by a titanium plate that replaced a section of her skull removed to allow for swelling. But she spoke rapidly to the older girl in Urdu, encouraging her to stand up for her father even if doing so brought risks. As an outspoken champion of girls’ right to an education, Malala knew all about risk — and fear and consequences — when it comes to taking on the Taliban. “The way she spoke was so inspirational,” Ayesha says. “She made me realize that my father was fighting our enemies and that it was something I should be proud of, not afraid.” The next day Ayesha returned to school. And with that call, Malala began to return to what she seems born to do — passing her courage on to others. More

Angelina Jolie: We all are Malala

Angelina Jolie in The Daily Beast:

On Wednesday morning, as we readied the kids for school amidst a few of the usual complaints about not wanting to go, I saw a headline on the cover of The New York Times: Taliban Gun Down a Girl Who Spoke Up for Rights. The Taliban claimed that 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai “ignored their warnings, and she left them no choice.” They approached her school bus, asking for her by name, and shot her in the head for promoting girls’ education.

After reading the article, I felt compelled to share Malala’s story with my children. It was difficult for them to comprehend a world where men would try to kill a child whose only “crime” was the desire that she and others like her be allowed to go to school.

Malala’s story stayed with them throughout the day, and that night they were full of questions. We learned about Malala together, watching her interviews and reading her diaries. Malala was just 11 years old when she began blogging for the BBC. She wrote of life under the Taliban, of trading in her school uniform for colorless plain clothes, of hiding books under her shawl, and eventually having to stop going to school entirely.

Our 8-year-old suggested that the world build a statue for Malala, and fittingly create a reading nook near it.

More here.

What scares the Taliban

Pat Bagley in The Salt Lake Tribune:

Pakistan drone attack love song

Jon Boone from Islamabad in The Guardian:

In the long history of love songs the attention of a beautiful woman has been compared to many things – but perhaps only in Pakistan’s tribal belt would it be likened to the deadly missile strike of a remotely controlled US drone.

In a sign of how the routine hunting down and killing of militants by unmanned CIA planes has leached into the popular imagination, drones have been given a starring role in a new romantic song.

In most respects the track, which is proving popular in the largely Pashtun city of Peshawar, is faithful to standard themes of the genre. The lyrics mention rosebuds and wine. o blaring music it celebrates the allures of a temptress with “sweet lips” and a “smile fresh as early dew” which “ensnares lovers with amorous pangs”.

Then the repeated chorus: “My gaze is as fatal as a drone attack”.

The hit for singer Sitara Younis follows her success last year with another love ballad, which warns a besotted man to keep his distance: “Don’t chase me, I’m an illusion, a suicide bomb.” More:

The Buddhas of Bamiyan by Llewelyn Morgan

Samanth Subramanian in The Guardian:

In 2001, in a violent attempt to advance the cause of Islamic fundamentalism, a clutch of men empowered by the Taliban brought down a titanic pair of structures that loomed over their skyline. No lives were lost. The few people living near the Buddhas of Bamiyan, in central Afghanistan, were cleared out first, before anti-artillery weapons were trained on the sculptures, carved out of the russet cliffs of the Bamiyan valley. “These statues have been and remain shrines of unbelievers,” a February 2011 edict from Mullah Omar had proclaimed. Their destruction was carried out with a rare and perverse vim. Failing at first to pulverise the Buddhas, the Taliban called in Pakistani and Arab engineers to finish the job. In The Places in Between, Rory Stewart observed that the Taliban had scorched a fresco on the ceiling of one of the caves that honeycomb the cliffs and then stamped boot-prints over the patina of soot. “This must have taken some effort, as the ceiling was 20 feet high.”

The Buddhas had stood for a millennium and a half; the smaller figure, 38m tall, was built around AD550, and the larger – at 55m only a little shorter than London’s Monument – around AD615. In The Buddhas of Bamiyan, Llewelyn Morgan, a lecturer in classics at Oxford University, explores not so much the heartbreaking demise of the statues as their remarkably long lives. How and why did the Buddhas survive more than a dozen centuries of an Islamic Afghanistan, only to meet their end at a particular political moment in 2001? The final downfall of these sculptures – their arms already snapped off, their surfaces pitted by erosion and minor vandalism – represented the nadir of a long and complex process of civilisation. More:

The poetry of Al Qaeda and the Taliban

Faisal Devji in the NYT Sunday Review. [Devji is a fellow of St. Antony’s College, Oxford, and the author of the preface for the forthcoming anthology “Poetry of the Taliban.”]

In fact, poetry has long been a part of Muslim radicalism; the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran, for example, was the author of a large collection of verse. Today, the Taliban’s Web site features poems written by the group’s members and sympathizers, both men and women. Recitations are frequently recorded and stored on cellphones and transferred from one person to another by way of Bluetooth technology.

Many Afghan and Al Qaeda poems — which come from distinct but hybrid literary traditions — are, as might be expected, political. In a statement broadcast on Al Jazeera in December 2001, Osama bin Laden quoted the following verses from one of his favorite contemporary poets, Yusuf Abu Hilala, changing the last line and replacing the word “castles” in the original with “towers,” as a reference to the destruction of the World Trade Center:

 Though the clothes of darkness enveloped us and the poisoned tooth bit us,

 Though our homes overflowed with blood and the assailant desecrated our land,

 Though from the squares the shining of swords and horses vanished,

 And sound of drums was growing

 The fighters’ winds blew, striking their towers and telling them:

 We will not cease our raids until you leave our fields.

More

Afghanistan: The Taliban’s high-tech urban strategy

Ron Moreau and Sami Yousafzai in Newsweek:

Qari Jamal has returned safely from a reconnaissance mission in Kabul. Short, thin, and immaculately dressed, the fresh-faced 25-year-old relaxes in a house near the Afghan-Pakistan border and tells how he toured the city with his digital camera, looking like an innocent civilian as he scouted sites for future Taliban attacks. “The work is both easy and difficult,” he says. “We have to photograph and survey the area, get the exact GPS coordinates, and note the daily movements of the security forces guarding the installation, without getting caught.” Polishing his glasses on his long, spotlessly white shirttail, he mentions one of the targets he and other undercover Taliban have been casing near NATO headquarters: the Ariana Hotel—a CIA operations center, Jamal calls it. “This is a most attractive target for the fedayeen,” he says. He’s talking about suicide bombers.

The young Afghan belongs to a dangerous new breed of Taliban militants. He grew up in a city, not in a mud-hut village in the backcountry, and he got his education not only at a madrassa but also at a public high school in Pakistan, and then at a college where he majored in information technology. His beard is neatly trimmed, and he doesn’t even carry a gun. Instead, he says, his weapons are a MacBook computer, a clutch of mobile phones, and an array of IT gadgets, from digital cameras to webcams and GPS devices. Citified techies like him are playing an essential role in helping the guerrillas to reshape their strategy with attention-grabbing surprise assaults in places that previously were spared from the heaviest fighting. More:

Taliban cut nursing woman’s breast, asked others to eat pieces

Iftikhar Firdous in The Express Tribune:

Peshawar: Kashmala Bibi* says her cousin’s breasts were cut into pieces when five militants walked into their house and saw the woman breastfeeding her child. One of the insurgents then asked the other women around to eat the pieces.

This is one of the many tales of horror recorded in a report titled “Impact of crisis on women and girls in Fata”.

The report, released by human rights organisation “Khwendo Kor” (Sisters’ Home in Pashto) with financial support from UN-women, is based on case studies of women from the tribal belt living in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa’s IDP camps.

Women in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) are more susceptible to violence and abuse in a post-conflict scenario, whether or not they are part of the conflict, it says.

Another stark revelation made in the report is that women in camps were forced to have sexual intercourse in exchange for food and non-food items. Girls and widows were at greater risk.

The surveys from Nahqai and Jalozai camps further show that women were uncomfortable going to restrooms because there was little privacy as men constantly lurked around.

“A security officer forced me to have sex in exchange for cooking oil and pulses when I was collecting food at the main entrance of the camp,” a 22-year-old woman Nighat* from the Jalozai Camp is quoted as telling the discussion group. More:

Afghanistan: What the Anthropologists say

Can the study of politics, power and culture at the local level reshape efforts to rebuild Afghanistan? Alexander Star in The New York Times:

Ten years after the Taliban’s leaders fled their country in apparent defeat, the war in Afghanistan has become what one observer calls “a perpetually escalating stalemate.” As in Iraq, the United States military has responded to bad news with counterinsurgency: eliminate troublemakers in the dark of night, with the most lethal arts, and befriend tribal elders by day, with cultural sensitivity and expertise. The Army has gone so far as to embed credentialed social scientists with front-line troops in “Human Terrain Teams” that engage in “rapid ethnographic assessment” — conducting interviews and administering surveys, learning about land disputes, social networks and how to “operationalize” the Pashtun tribal code.

The military, in short, demands local knowledge. But what kind of local knowledge is in supply, and what does it indicate? Though the chief purveyors of such insight, academic ethnographers, have balked at working with the military — the American Anthropological Association issued a report condemning the Human Terrain program as a violation of professional ethics — they have not ignored the country. Noah Coburn’s “Bazaar Politics” is the first extended study of an Afghan community to appear since the Taliban fell. It follows an ambitious history of Afghanistan by the Boston University anthropologist Thomas Barfield, and an impassioned essay by Rory Stewart, the Conservative M.P., author-adventurer and Kabul preservationist, that faults the international effort in Afghanistan for its neglect of ethnographic insight. Whatever anthropology has to say about America’s longest war, it’s saying it now. More:

Our man in Kandahar

What is the American government’s role in the continuing rise of warlord and suspected drug smuggler Abdul Raziq and how much does it know of his private prisons and alleged abuses? Matthieu Aikins has a damning report in The Atlantic.

SHYLY, AT TIMES smiling with weak adolescent bravado, the two young men recounted to me how they were beaten and tortured. It was July, and we were sitting at a table in the cavernous restaurant where they both work, in the stupefying summer heat. They slouched forward with their arms on their knees, frequently glancing down toward their open sandals, at toes where livid burns from the electrical wires were still visible.

I will call them Najib and Ahmad, though their names, like others in this article, have been changed to protect their safety. Both 23 years old, they looked like gangly young men who should be playing basketball on the street outside their house, or perhaps video games inside. But here in Kandahar City, the linchpin of the U.S. military’s campaign against the Taliban in southern Afghanistan, they had found themselves the victims of America’s Afghan allies.

One afternoon in June, two younger boys who worked at the restaurant, ages 12 and 14, had been stopped by the Afghan National Police while carrying home leftovers from an afternoon wedding. The boys, who were each paid about $60 a month, explained that they always took home leftover meals for their families. But this time they were arrested and accused of bringing food to insurgent fighters hiding outside the city. more

The Haqqani clan: the Sopranos of the Afghanistan war

In The New York Times:

They are the Sopranos of the Afghanistan war, a ruthless crime family that built an empire out of kidnapping, extortion, smuggling, even trucking. They have trafficked in precious gems, stolen lumber and demanded protection money from businesses building roads and schools with American reconstruction funds.

They safeguard their mountainous turf by planting deadly roadside bombs and shelling remote American military bases. And they are accused by American officials of being guns for hire: a proxy force used by the Pakistani intelligence service to carry out grisly, high-profile attacks in Kabul and throughout the country.

Today, American intelligence and military officials call the crime clan known as the Haqqani network — led by a wizened militant named Jalaluddin Haqqani who has allied himself over the years with the C.I.A., Saudi Arabia’s spy service and Osama bin Laden — the most deadly insurgent group in Afghanistan. In the latest of a series of ever bolder strikes, the group staged a daylong assault on the United States Embassy in Kabul, an attack Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, charged Thursday was aided by Pakistan’s military spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI. More: And more here

Living in the shadow of death

Before 9/11, Pakistan had only one suicide bombing. Since then, it’s had 290. Pakistanis seem to be accustomed to the violence. In Los Angeles Times Alex Rodriguez on what happens when every day is 9/11 and living with terror becomes a way of life. 

A decade ago, Peshawar’s bomb squad had it pretty easy.

Occasionally, one of its 20 members would be dispatched to a cornfield to defuse a mine planted by a villager who was feuding with his neighbor. Bombs were small and crude; theonly tools an officer needed were pliers and a roll of electrical tape.

Because their budget was minuscule, the officers traveled by taxi.

Today, the squad careens through week after week of carnage and peril in this volatile city near the Afghan border. One day members are defusing a partially detonated explosive vest strapped to the torso of a dead militant, the next they are surveying evidence left behind by a teenage suicide bomber. The squad has grown to 113 members. Nine have died in the line of duty. At least five others have been maimed. more

Pakistan: why the US must think outside the ‘military’ box

Manan Ahmed, a historian of Pakistan at Freie Universitat Berlin, in The National. He blogs at Chapati Mystery.

“Can you name the general who is in charge of Pakistan?” In November 1999, the question stymied the US presidential hopeful George W Bush. “The new Pakistani general, he’s just been elected – not elected, this guy took over office. It appears this guy is going to bring stability to the country and I think that’s good news for the subcontinent,” he replied, blanking on the name. The oversight was quickly brushed away by an electorate generally uninterested in global foreign policy.

A few months later, in March 2000, President Bill Clinton landed in Islamabad for a brief five-hour visit and gave a televised address to the Pakistani people, wishing them a speedy return to democracy. However, the United States had by then held Pakistan under sanctions for nearly a decade – no aid had been extended during that period and, further, a refund of nearly $700 million (Dh2.6bn), put down by Pakistan as payment for undelivered F16 fighter planes, had been consistently withheld by the US – and Clinton’s words fell on unreceptive ears. The president could offer no incentive to the military regime.

The “chief executive” of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf, who had deposed Nawaz Sharif in a military coup, met Clinton, promised elections in another year and shrugged off the threat of the Taliban and Al Qaeda as part of a “people’s dynamic” that operated on tribal affiliations. In 2000, Pakistan was unknown. And what was known about it was severely restricted. More here in The National.

The man who hunted Osama bin Laden

 

In this image released by the White House and digitally altered by the source to diffuse the paper in front of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, along with with members of the national security team, receive an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden in the Situation Room of the White House, Sunday, May 1, 2011, in Washington.

AP report from Washington:

After Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden, the White House released a photo of President Barack Obama and his Cabinet inside the Situation Room, watching the daring raid unfold.

Hidden from view, standing just outside the frame of that now-famous photograph was a career CIA analyst. In the hunt for the world’s most-wanted terrorist, there may have been no one more important. His job for nearly a decade was finding the al-Qaida leader.

The analyst was the first to put in writing last summer that the CIA might have a legitimate lead on finding bin Laden. He oversaw the collection of clues that led the agency to a fortified compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. His was among the most confident voices telling Obama that bin Laden was probably behind those walls.

The CIA will not permit him to speak with reporters. But interviews with former and current U.S. intelligence officials reveal a story of quiet persistence and continuity that led to the greatest counterterrorism success in the history of the CIA. Nearly all the officials insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters or because they did not want their names linked to the bin Laden operation.

The Associated Press has agreed to the CIA’s request not to publish his full name and withhold certain biographical details so that he would not become a target for retribution.

Call him John, his middle name. More:

 

Pakistan after Osama

Pervez Hoodbhoy in Himal Southasian:

Twenty-five years ago, the Pakistani state pushed Islam on its people as a matter of ideology. Prayers were made compulsory in government departments, punishments were meted out to those civil servants who did not fast during Ramadan, selection for academic posts required that the candidate demonstrate knowledge of Islamic teachings, and jihad was propagated through schoolbooks. Today, government intervention is no longer needed because of the spontaneous groundswell of Islamic zeal that has been the result of the years of grooming. A generation of poisoned minds that holds the external world responsible for all the country’s ills has led the country into collective xenophobia and psychosis. Signs suggest that a fascist religious state may be just around the corner.

A necessary condition for fascism – a sense of victimhood, mass delusions and a disconnection with reality – has now been met. A majority of all Pakistanis believe that 9/11 was a Jewish conspiracy, think the dynamiting of schools and suicide attacks on shrines are the work of Blackwater (the US defence contractor now called Xe), see India’s hand behind Pakistan’s deepening instability and, refuse to accept Pakistan’s responsibility in the Mumbai attacks of November 2008. Many welcomed the murder of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer in January, despite the fact that his only ‘crime’ was to protect a poor peasant Christian woman against charges of blasphemy. Surveys also show that a majority believes that senior army officers do not support the Taliban, and think that peace will return to Pakistan once the US leaves Afghanistan.

Those holding such distorted views of the world greeted the news of bin Laden’s killing with outright disbelief and denial. Pakistan’s capacity for self-deception should not be underestimated. An online survey conducted two days after the operation by a global opinion pollster revealed that a staggering 66 percent of Pakistanis thought the person who was killed by US Navy SEALs was not bin Laden. Participants in satirical TV shows burst into peals of laughter as they poured scorn on America and its claims. The supposed killing of bin Laden was nothing but high drama, said popular TV anchors. General Mirza Aslam Beg, former army chief and the formulator of the notion of ‘strategic depth’ in Afghanistan, fully agreed. He wrote: ‘Osama’s look-alike prisoner from Bagram was picked-up and brought to Abbottabad and killed in cold blood, in front of his family members, who were living there. In fact, Osama had been killed in Afghanistan some time back and his body may still be lying in a mortuary in Afghanistan.’ Beg says it was all a ploy to defame the Pakistan government, the Pakistan armed forces and the ISI.

Rent-a-country

Over decades, Pakistan has adapted to its changing strategic circumstances by renting itself out to powerful states. Territory and men are part of the services provided. Payment comes not just from the US, but Arab countries as well. For fear of public criticism, the arrangements have been kept hidden. Pakistan’s supposedly vibrant press has chosen to steer off such controversial issues. But post bin-Laden, the clatter of skeletons tumbling out of Pakistan’s strategic closet is forcing some secrets out into the open. More:

The curious case of Osama bin Laden

Pervez Hoodbhoy in The Express Tribune:

Pervez Hoodbhoy is professor of physics at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad

Osama bin Laden, the figurehead king of al Qaeda, is gone. His hosts are still rubbing their eyes and wondering how it all happened. Although scooped up from Pakistani soil, shot in the head and then buried at sea, the event was not announced by General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani or by President Asif Ali Zardari. Instead, it was the president of the United States of America who told the world that bin Laden’s body was in the custody of US forces.

Suggestions that Pakistan played a significant role ring hollow. President Obama, in his televised speech on May 1, said “our counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to bin Laden”. But no sooner had he stopped speaking that his top national security aides declared that the United States had not told Pakistani leaders about the raid ahead of time. Significantly, Obama did not thank Pakistan. An American official pointedly declared that the information leading to bin Laden’s killing was shared “with no other country” and this top secret operation was such that “only a very small group of people inside our own government knew of this operation in advance”.

Today, Pakistan’s embarrassment is deep. On numerous occasions, our military and civilian leaders had emphatically stated that bin Laden was not in Pakistan. Some suggested that he might be in Sudan or Somalia. Others hinted that he might already have died from a kidney ailment, or perhaps that he was in some intractable area, protected by nature and terrain and thus outside the effective control of the Pakistani state. More:

Post-uprisings depression

In The Economist, a review of Pakistan: A Hard Country by Anatol Lieven (PublicAffairs; 558 pages; $35. Allen Lane; £30) and Deadly Embrace: Pakistan, America, and the Future of the Global Jihad by Bruce Riedel (Brookings Institution Press; 180 pages; $24.95):

IT IS a shame that these books should be published at a time when the world is riveted by events in the Middle East. Pakistan’s population is more than half the size of the entire Arab world; for most of the past three decades it has been involved in a war with a superpower, first against it, and now on the same side as it; it suffers from an Islamic insurgency that has killed 30,000 people over the past four years; it is regarded by students of geopolitics as the most likely location of nuclear conflict; and the reasons why it does not work as a country are many and fascinating.

The trouble with Pakistan’s story is that the country is one rather depressing stage on from the Middle East. Its people have risen up bravely against autocrats (three times over, if you count only the generals, or four if, like some Pakistanis, you count Zulfikar Ali Bhutto as well) and had several unsuccessful attempts at democracy. So it ricochets between military and civilian governments, with a state that does not work very well but has not collapsed, and an insurgency that is not turning into a civil war but won’t go away. Unlike the Middle East, it is not full of hope.

Yet for drama, colour and complexity, the place is hard to beat; and Anatol Lieven captures the richness of the place wonderfully. His book has the virtues of both journalism and scholarship—not surprising, since Mr Lieven used to be a reporter for the Times and is now at King’s College, London. He has travelled extensively and talked widely, to generals, shopkeepers, farmers, lawyers and bureaucrats. More:

How Obama lost Karzai

Ahmed Rashid in Foreign Policy:

A few weeks before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, an exiled Afghan leader I had known for nearly 20 years paid a visit to my home in Lahore. His name was Hamid Karzai, and his problem, he told me, was that he was rapidly losing faith in the West’s concern for his country.

Karzai was the scion of a prominent Pashtun family in southern Afghanistan, one with a deep-rooted enmity for the Taliban regime. The Taliban, which had ruled the country since 1996, had gunned down Karzai’s father in front of a mosque in the Pakistani city of Quetta two years earlier. Now the younger Karzai was clandestinely sending money and weapons across the Afghan border for an eventual uprising against the ruling regime. But he had just been served notice by Pakistan’s all-powerful Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI) that his visa had been revoked — the Taliban, with its close links to the Pakistani intelligence agency, had urged the ISI to get rid of him. Karzai was making the rounds of Western embassies in Islamabad to ask whether anyone would support him if he went inside the country and raised the standard of rebellion. But nobody offered to help. Several ambassadors refused to see him.

By the time U.S. bombers pounded the last remnants of the Taliban out of Kabul just a few months later, everything had changed. Karzai had gone from pariah to president and, in the eyes of the U.S. government, from combatant in an obscure regional conflict to vital strategic partner. Yet when I met with Karzai not long ago at the presidential palace in Kabul for a lengthy conversation, one of many in the decade since our pre-9/11 meeting in Lahore, it was remarkable how much his relationship with the United States seemed to have come full circle. More:

After Pakistan’s latest assassination, apathy.

Fasih Ahmed in Newsweek:

“Shahbaz, from your blood revolution will come!” Thus the protesters outside the Lahore Press Club some four hours after the assassination on Wednesday of Shahbaz Bhatti, federal minister for minorities. If this scant, disorganized protest—some clutching umbrellas, others holding up blood red crucifixes as irate motorists splashed by—is any indication, this crowd is more likely to be at the wrong end of any revolution here in Pakistan

Despite the widely known threats to his life, which started in 2009 after Pakistani Christians were massacred in the small Punjab town of Gojra, Bhatti was not traveling with his security detail when he was attacked. Like Salmaan Taseer, the governor of the Punjab who was assassinated barely two months earlier, also in Islamabad, Bhatti was slain in an audaciously public manner. Bhatti, 42, had just left his mother’s house for a cabinet meeting when a white Suzuki Mehran stopped his black Corolla. Wajid Durrani, inspector-general of capital police, says three men stepped out and opened fire. Bhatti was shot 30 times, according to the autopsy, including in the head. His driver survived the attack.

“Bhatti’s ruthless and cold-blooded murder is a grave setback for the struggle for tolerance, pluralism and respect for human rights in Pakistan,” said Ali Dayan Hasan, country representative for Human Rights Watch. “An urgent and meaningful policy shift on the appeasement of extremists that is supported by the military, the judiciary and the political class needs to replace the political cowardice and institutional myopia that encourages such continued appeasement despite its unrelenting bloody consequences.” More:

An extremist takeover of Pakistan is probably no further than five to 10 years away

Pervez Hoodbhoy in Dawn:

Over time, then, the country’s nuclear bayonet has gained more than just deterrence value; it is a dream instrument for any ruling oligarchy. Unlike Napoleon’s bayonet – painful to sit upon – nukes offer no such discomfort. Unsurprisingly, General (retd) Pervez Musharraf often referred to them as Pakistan’s “crown jewels”. One recalls that immediately after 9/11 he declared these “assets” were to be protected at all costs — even if this meant accepting American demands to dump the Taliban.

But can our nukes lose their magic? Be stolen, rendered impotent or lose the charm through which they bring in precious revenue? More fundamentally, how and when could they fail to deter?

A turning point could possibly come with Mumbai-II. This is no idle speculation. The military establishment’s reluctance to clamp down on anti-India jihadi groups, or to punish those who carried out Mumbai-I, makes a second Pakistan-based attack simply a matter of time. Although not officially assisted or sanctioned, it would create fury in India. What then? How would India respond?

There cannot, of course, be a definite answer. But it is instructive to analyse Operation Parakram, India’s response to the attack on the Indian parliament on December 13, 2001. This 10-month-long mobilisation of nearly half a million soldiers and deployment of troops along the LOC was launched to punish Pakistan for harbouring the Jaish-e-Mohammad, which, at least initially, had claimed responsibility for the attack. When Parakram fizzled out, Pakistan claimed victory and India was left licking its wounds.

A seminar held in August 2003 in Delhi brought together senior Indian military leaders and top analysts to reflect on Parakram. To quote the main speaker, Major-General Ashok Mehta, the two countries hovered on the brink of war and India’s “coercive diplomacy failed due to the mismatch of India-US diplomacy and India’s failure to think through the end game”. The general gave several reasons for not going to war against Pakistan. These included a negative cost-benefit analysis, lack of enthusiasm in the Indian political establishment, complications arising from the Gujarat riots of 2002 and “a lack of courage”. That Parakram would have America’s unflinching support also turned out to be a false assumption. More:

A look at the world’s most notorious terrorist

Osama Bin Laden by Michael Scheuer. Oxford University Press, paperback. 278pp. Available from Amazon, US$13.00. Reviewed at Asia Sentinel:

With the secular, pro-Western government in Tunis having fallen and the regime in Cairo then followed suit, the timing of Michael Scheuer’s new biography of Osama bin Laden may seem a little off.

For where have the Islamists been in all this, let alone jihadis of any stripe? People power appears to have succeeded where al-Qaeda’s murderous violence has not. But Scheuer, the first head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit from 1996-99, thinks that the object of his scrutiny will be delighted.

“It’s always been one of his primary goals to get rid of those who he sees as oppressors and apostates and dominate the region,” Scheuer said recently while publicizing his book. “I’m sure this is very welcome news for him.”

It is far too soon to tell what role Islamist groups will play in the wave of change in the Middle East. Scheuer, however, would warn against taking their current absence from the stage as a reason to regard al-Qaeda not only as “an organisation of thugs led by a sociopath” who have “dwindled to a few” but now also as marginal extremists who have been overtaken by history. More:

Opium wars

A key step to securing peace will be to wean Afghan farmers off growing poppies. Robert Draper in National Geographic Magazine:

The chief of police has a memorable way of demonstrating that he’s not afraid of the drug smugglers. He holds up his right hand, revealing the absence of his middle finger. Four years ago, Brig. Gen. Aqa Noor Kintuz was hired as provincial chief of police in the northeastern Afghan province of Badakhshan and charged with destroying its plentiful poppy fields. “After I finished one of the first eradications,” he says, “my vehicle was blown up by a remote-control bomb.” He rolls up his right shirtsleeve. His forearm is badly mangled. In the years since, he has received innumerable death threats. Women and children of poppy farmers have hurled stones at his policemen. One of his eradication tractors was torched.

The grim axiom defining today’s Afghanistan, 85 percent of whose citizens are farmers, is that its economy relies on two dueling revenue streams. One flows from Western aid, in the hopes that the country will renounce the Taliban. The other flows from opium trafficking supported by the Taliban, which use the proceeds to fund attacks on Western troops. Only recently has the Afghan government seemed to take stock of the obvious: For the outside world’s largesse to continue, the national economy’s addiction to opium must end. The poppy fields must be destroyed. But just as this devoutly Muslim nation did not become the world’s leading opium supplier overnight, uprooting Afghanistan’s poppy mind-set promises to be a complicated endeavor.

In Badakhshan, chief of police Kintuz appears to be making some headway against poppies. Five years ago the province was Afghanistan’s second-biggest opium producer, after the Taliban-controlled province of Helmand. For a brief period after a Taliban ban on poppies in 2000, Badakhshan even took the lead in poppy cultivation, because the province was controlled by the Northern Alliance militias, rather than the Taliban. When Kintuz started his job in 2007, 9,000 acres were planted with poppies. Two years later fewer than 1,500 were. More:

Bed 18

J. Malcolm Garcia in Guernica:

Illustration by Emily Hunt / Guernica

In Bed 19, a woman suffers from high blood pressure and burns to her feet from boiling water spilled from a pot; Bed 21 burned herself lighting an oil lamp; Bed 20 fell against a hot water heater.

Then there is the girl in Bed 18. She looks no older than fifteen. Stray wisps of black hair lie limply against her cheeks. Rank smelling blankets cover her bandaged-wrapped body, and she stares mutely at the ceiling, flakes of charred skin peeling off burns to her chin and neck. Beside her sits her pregnant sister-in-law who looks about the same age. They live in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand Province, a Taliban stronghold far south of Herat. They have never left their home before; have never been to their village bazaar and the cities beyond it. The girls won’t look at us. This is the first time they have not covered their faces in the presence of men outside their families.

Dr. Naeema Nikzad, a psychologist who counsels burn victims at Herat Regional Hospital, considers both girls while adjusting a blue-patterned scarf around her head. When they came to the hospital, Dr. Nikzad told the sister-in-law to remove her burqa. She gave her a smock, flip-flops, and a surgical cap and told her to put them on.

Dr. Nikzad then took the burned girl into surgery and told her, now I have to strip you. You cannot wear a burqa. No one will touch you. No one from your village will see you.

The girl felt Dr. Nikzad raise the burqa above her head.

“I am exposed,” she said. More:

What should be done in Afghanistan

Pervez Musharraf, former president of Pakistan, in The Express Tribune:

The first blunder was the abandonment of Afghanistan and Pakistan by the US in 1989. The chaos that followed for the entire decade of the 90s gave birth to al Qaeda and later the Taliban.

The second was the non-recognition of the Taliban government which ruled 90 per cent of Afghanistan after 1997. My idea of the entire world recognising the Taliban government and opening diplomatic missions in Kabul which would be managed from within, was not paid any heed to. Had it been done, maybe we could have saved the Bamiyan Buddha statues and even untangled the Osama bin Laden dispute.

The third blunder was committed after 9/11 when the Taliban, who were all Pashtuns, were defeated with the help of the Northern Alliance composed of three minority ethnic groups (Uzbeks, Hazaras and Tajiks). The Taliban and al Qaeda were dispersed and they ran into the mountains and the cities of Pakistan. Their organisational and command structure was totally dismantled. The military achieved its objective of getting into a dominant position. The logical course of action after this was to change strategy and place a legitimate government in Afghanistan, This implies a government dominated by the Pashtun majority (half of the Afghan population), because historically nobody other than Pashtuns have governed Afghanistan. Not doing this and persisting with a government dominated by a Tajik minority, still in place, was and still is a great blunder. More:

Searching for Buddha in Afghanistan

An archaeologist insists a third giant statue lies near the cliffs where the Bamiyan Buddhas, destroyed in 2001, once stood. Joshua Hammer in The Smithsonian:

Clad in a safari suit, sun hat, hiking boots and leather gloves, Zemaryalai Tarzi leads the way from his tent to a rectangular pit in the Bamiyan Valley of northern Afghanistan. Crenulated sandstone cliffs, honeycombed with man-made grottoes, loom above us. Two giant cavities about a half-mile apart in the rock face mark the sites where two huge sixth-century statues of the Buddha, destroyed a decade ago by the Taliban, stood for 1,500 years. At the base of the cliff lies the inner sanctum of a site Tarzi calls the Royal Monastery, an elaborate complex erected during the third century that contains corridors, esplanades and chambers where sacred objects were stored.

“We’re looking at what used to be a chapel covered with murals,” the 71-year-old archaeologist, peering into the pit, tells me. Rulers of the Buddhist kingdom—whose religion had taken root across the region along the Silk Road—made annual pilgrimages here to offer donations to the monks in return for their blessings. Then, in the eighth century, Islam came to the valley, and Buddhism began to wane. “In the third quarter of the ninth century, a Muslim conqueror destroyed everything—including the monastery,” Tarzi says. “He gave Bamiyan the coup de grâce, but he couldn’t destroy the giant Buddhas.” Tarzi gazes toward the two empty niches, the one to the east 144 feet high and the one to the west 213 feet high. “It took the Taliban to do that.”

The Buddhas of Bamiyan, carved out of the cliff’s malleable rock, long presided over this peaceful valley, protected by its near impregnable position between the Hindu Kush mountains to the north and the Koh-i-Baba range to the south. The monumental figures survived the coming of Islam, the scourge of Muslim conqueror Yaqub ibn Layth Saffari, the invasion and annihilation of virtually the entire Bamiyan population by Mongol warriors led by Genghis Khan in A.D. 1221 and the British-Afghan wars of the 19th century. But they couldn’t survive the development of modern weaponry or a fanatical brand of Islam that gained ascendancy in Afghanistan following the war between the Soviet Union and the mujahedeen in the 1980s: almost ten years ago, in March 2001, after being denounced by Taliban fanatics as “false idols,” the statues were pulverized with high explosives and rocket fire. It was an act that generated worldwide outrage and endures as a symbol of mindless desecration and religious extremism. More:

Even the moderates in Afghanistan are hardline now

Chris Sands from Kabul in The National:

First came the case of the pregnant widow, jailed for three days in western Afghanistan before being lashed 200 times and shot in the head. She was killed after she was accused for having sex outside marriage.

Then, in another part of the country, a young couple who had eloped were taken into a crowded bazaar. Stones were thrown at them until the woman died. The man was finished off with a gun.

The executions, which were carried out by the Taliban last month in the provinces of Badghis and Kunduz, were reminiscent of the punishments that the Taliban practiced in packed football stadiums after they took over the capital, Kabul, in 1996.

Initially welcome by many Afghans tired of sectarian conflict, their austere regime soon acquired a brutal hue, as it imposed its own harsh vision of Islamic society, until a US-led invasion force ousted them after the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington. More:

The Talibanization of America

Viewed from Pakistan, the rise of U.S. Islamophobia looks depressingly familiar. Mosharraf Zaidi in Foreign Policy. Mosharraf Zaidi has served as an advisor on international aid to Pakistan for the United Nations and European Union:

One of the lessons from the Quran-burning circus in Florida, whether it ever actually takes place or not, is that the labels we use to make sense of the world are becoming more and more complex. This is bad news. Labels are supposed to simplify life, not make it more complicated. Nine years to the day since al Qaeda attacked New York City, murdered nearly 3,000 people, and changed the world we live in, our labels seem to be leading us down some strange paths.

In Pakistan, “Talibanization” is a label used to describe regressive and parochial conservatism, not just the political ascendancy of Mullah Omar and his extremist disciples. When we use the label “mullah,” it is not the same thing as honoring someone by calling him “Father” or “Reverend.” Instead, we’re most likely referring to a person’s narrow-mindedness, bigotry, and possible racism. So when we try to explain to fellow Pakistanis how the United States is much grander than the pettiness of Quran-burning circuses or mosque-defying extremists, we don’t use the same labels that Americans would. Describing the ideological kith and kin of opponents of the Park51 project — including the fringe element of folks like Terry Jones and his flock at the Dove World Outreach Center — with terms like the moral majority, far-right evangelicals, or even neocons is useless.

Instead, when we try to explain what is happening in America, we simply say that a great country is going through a kind of Talibanization — led by mullahs like Newt Gingrich, Pamela Geller, and the occasional Terry Jones. More:

Taliban chief Mullah Omar says victory imminent

From Al Jazeera:

The Afghan Taliban leader has said his fighters were close to victory in driving foreign forces out of the country.

In a message on Wednesday marking the end of the Muslim fasting month Ramadan, Mullah Omar called on Afghans to redouble their struggle and push for foreign troops to withdraw, saying the Nato-led coalition was losing the war.

He said victory “over the invading infidels is now imminent” attributing the progress to “belief in the help of Allah and unity among ourselves”.

“Put all your strength and planning behind the task of driving away the invaders and regaining independence of the country,” he told Afghan fighters. More:

The anarchic republic of Pakistan

Ahmed Rashid in The National Interest:

There is perhaps no other political-military elite in the world whose aspirations for great-power regional status, whose desire to overextend and outmatch itself with meager resources, so outstrips reality as that of Pakistan. If it did not have such dire consequences for 170 million Pakistanis and nearly 2 billion people living in South Asia, this magical thinking would be amusing.

This is a country that sadly appears on every failing-state list and still wants to increase its arsenal from around 60 atomic weapons to well over 100 by buying two new nuclear reactors from China. This is a country isolated and friendless in its own region, facing unprecedented homegrown terrorism from extremists its army once trained, yet it pursues a “forward policy” in Afghanistan to ensure a pro-Pakistan government in Kabul as soon as the Americans leave.

For a state whose economy is on the skids and dependent on the IMF for massive bailouts, whose elite refuse to pay taxes, whose army drains an estimated 20 percent of the country’s annual budget, Pakistan continues to insist that peace with India is impossible for decades to come. For a country that was founded as a modern democracy for Muslims and non-Muslims alike and claims to be the bastion of moderate Islam, it has the worst discriminatory laws against minorities in the Muslim world and is being ripped apart through sectarian and extremist violence by radical groups who want to establish a new Islamic emirate in South Asia.

Pakistan’s military-intelligence establishment, or “deep state” as it is called, has lost over 2,300 soldiers battling these terrorists—the majority in the last 15 months after much U.S. cajoling to go after at least the Pakistani (if not the Afghan) Taliban. Despite these losses and considerable low morale in the armed forces, it still follows a pick-and-choose policy toward extremists, refusing to fight those who will confront India on its behalf as well as those Taliban who kill Western and Afghan soldiers in the war next-door. More: