History, rulers and the Pakistani Way

August 10, 2009

Pakistan’s political history is littered with blood and shameful departures of rulers. Our rulers thrive on violence; orchestrate political farces to hoodwink the masses and are sent back home in the same manner. The recent cries for Musharraf’s persecution are a classical example this curse which has continually haunted Pakistani rulers since the creation of Pakistan.

Pakistan first premier Liaqut Ali Khan was gunned down in a Rawalpindi public meeting and his alleged killer also met the same end. The police officer investigating the case also perished in an air crash and with him also the traces that could point that who was the behind the assassination.

After Liaquat assassination, a crippled bureaucrat, Ghulam Mohammad assumed powers and is responsible for the many cancerous traditions in politics. The first dissolution of the Constituent Assembly and notorious “doctrine of necessity” are the parts of his shameful legacy. He was sent abroad during a serious illness but his legacy is still haunting us and will continue to do so in the years to come.

Another bureaucrat Skindar Mirza followed Ghulam Mohammad and brings the army in politics by admitting the Commander in Chief Mohammad Auyb Khan in his cabinet as defence minister. Later, Auyb deposed him and sent him to Britain, where the former president and his wife, when pressed by the circumstances started clerical jobs in a hotel and died and buried in that country.

Field Martial Mohammad Auyb Khan imposed the first martial law in country and abrogated the 1956 constitution in a fit of frenzy. He framed another constitution and changed the form of government to presidential and became president after a sham election. He fooled the masses for eleven years with slogans like ‘Operation Gibraltar’, ‘Basic Democracies’, ‘Green Revolution’ and the ‘Decade of Development.’ He had to step down after students’ protests in the country and to hand over power to Yahya Khan.

Gen. Yahya Khan, “drowned the two-nation theory,” and the East Pakistan in the Bay of Bengal in the Dakkha debacle of 1971 and spent rest of his days under house arrest.

Yahya handed over the reins of the country to the charismatic Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (ZAB) after the fall of Dakkha and he became the first civil martial law administrator of the history. He introduced the slogans of ‘Islamic Socialism,’ ‘Roti, Kapra aur Makan,’ ‘1,000 years war’ and nationalization of the industries. He was put behind the bars after a coup and his dead body came out of the prison after a sham trial and was buried in the Ghari Khuda Bux cemetery under the shadow of bayonets in the darkness of night.

Ziaul Haq hanged ZAB and ruled the country for nearly 11 years on the name of Islam and flogging. His Islamisation and Afghan jihad backfired and resulted into the sectarianism, heroin and kalashinkove culture in the country. He perished along with his coterie in a mysterious plane crash on August 17, 1988.

Benazir Bhutto followed Zia and was sworn in as the first female head of the state of an Islamic country. Her first government was discharged on the charges of corruption. Her husband earned notoriety for corruption and was branded as the Mr. Ten Percent and her only brother Mir was gunned down in an encounter with police and later her government was dissolved for second time. She spent nearly seven years in exile and came back to the country in October 2007 and also survived a deadly suicide attack aimed at her during his homecoming rally. She was assassinated in a suicide and gun attack on December 27, 2007.

Nawaz Sharif was a product of Zia tyranny and a general arranged his entry into politics. His first government was dissolved when differences arose between the president and him. The Supreme Court later reinstated his government but the army had to intervene to break the deadlock and both the president and the premier had to pack up. He clashed with the judiciary and sent anther president home after axing his powers. Later, an airborne general put him behind bars when he tried to remove him. He spent nearly 18 months in a prison and was exiled to Saudi Arabia he also tried to make a comeback but again sent on exile forcibly but now he is trying to establish himself as man for all season.

General Musharraf aka the ‘enlightened despot’ imposed two martial laws during his eight-year rule. He crushed a rebellion from judiciary and sent around 60 judges to homes. During his rule the militancy drove the country to the brink of chaos. He has to doff off his uniform which he used to say as second skin under intense pressure. However, he had to resign due to his growing unpopularity among public some months back to the elections. Now, the many of political adversaries are demanding his prosecution for the abrogation of constitution.

President Zardari needs to remember George Santayana’s often aphorism, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” while swimming against the currents of Pakistani politics.


Peshawar: two tales of a city

July 6, 2009

Peshawar, sweltering with mercury soaring above 40 degrees centigrade, hours long power outages, and a new breed of marauding tribesmen called Taliban knocking at city’s gates seems to be submerged into a chaos, yet it is the same noisy and dusty city, it used to be throughout its history of more than 2000 years.

Roaming around when one reaches Qissa Khawni Bazaar (The story tellers’ bazaar) in the heart of the city, one could hear the Peshawarities sipping aromatic ‘Kewha’ in small china cups, and reacting anxiously to the terrorism. Qissa Khawni occupies a central place in the social and cultural life of Peshawar. In the by gone days, it used to be a camping ground for the caravans from Central Asia and Povindahs or Afghan traveling merchants, and at nights storytellers recited their stories of love and war to these travelers. However, during the metamorphosis of the city, the tradition of story telling gradually became a matter of memories only, and this historical bazaar also known as ‘Piccadilly of Central Asia’ become a bizarre mesh mash of ropes and barricades that have been put in place to guard against the unruly terrorists.

The same situation is visible in other parts of the city, where such obstacles replaced the city’s traditional demeanor of openness and hospitality. This reminds one of Ahmed Faraz couplet “Rafta rafta yehi zindan man badal jaatye han/ Ab kisi naaye shahr ki buniyad na daali jaaye,” “Gradually these (cities) turn into prisons, so no new city be laid out.”

On a walking distance from Qissa Khawni is situated Peshawar Museum, which bears testimony to the reign of Buddhism on the vast expanses of Ghandara. There are around 74 Buddha stories carved in stone are on display in Peshawar Museum, describing all happenings in his life. Emperor Kanishka, ruled the Kushan Empire from his capital Peshawar (Purushapura) in 78 AD, and Buddhism, took a new form of Mahayana Buddhism during his rule.

In 1530, the founder of Mughal Empire in India Baber passed through Peshawar and found a town by the name of Bagram, which was later renamed as Peshawar, which means “The Place at the Frontier,” by his grandson, Akbar, the Great Mughal. The Pathan conqueror of Mughal throne, Sher Shah Suri when connected Delhi and Kabul through Grand Trunk (GT) Road, Peshawar became an important trade centre. After Suri, Mughals again captured India and also Peshawar, and transformed it into the city of flowers adding many of its finest architectural monuments including Mahabat Khan Mosque and Shahi Bagh.

In 1834, the armies of Ranjit Singh captured the city; they chopped the city gardens for the firewood and General Paolo Di Avitabile, the then Italian mercenary governor of city used the mosque minarets to hang the troublemakers. He also reconstructed the city’s old wall to guard against the attacks of unyielding and ferocious tribesmen.

The British captured Peshawar in 1848, and turned it into a garrison and later also craved a new province NWFP, and Peshawar became its provincial capital. Peshawar remained an important imperial outpost during the ‘Great Game’ days against any possible Tsarist advances on India, which ironically came about 40 years after the liquidation of British Empire.

The Russian invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 exposed the city to an influx of Afghan refugees, and it became a haven of Afghan resistance groups, fighting the Russian occupation. During this era Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Jihadists and Pakistani military establishment formed close links to oust the ‘Godless Infidels’ from Afghanistan and a new chapter of city’s history opened, which introduced the city to Kalashnikovs, heroin and jihadists. The CIA financed Jihad led to departure of Soviets from Afghanistan, but the bad blood among jihadists led the country to strife, which ultimately paved the way for the emergence of Taliban. Taliban were ousted from Kabul in 2002 by the American for sheltering Osama Bin Laden, whom they considered responsible for the incidents of 9/11. The ouster of Taliban from Kabul with the active Pakistani support exposed the tribal areas of NWFP to a wave of militancy called Talibanistaion, which gradually spread across NWFP and now knocking at the city’s gates.

These tumultuous events and strifes’ over the centuries have shaped the psyche and cultural ethos of the people. According to the Karl Meyer’s The Dust of Empire, “Peshawar is the hub of a thriving black market in drugs and weapons, its slums and refugee camps the recruiting ground for jihadists who would happily kill every infidel anywhere.” In reality, one of greatest non-violent movements of history started in the Frontier in twentieth century and leader of Khudai Khidmatgar (Red Shirts) Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan raised a non-violent army of 100,000 men among the people, who love vendetta and guns more than anything else.

But the ongoing militancy and wounds it had inflicted on the psyche of city and its residents is a reminder of Urdu saintly poet Mir Dard’s couplet “Zindagi hai ya koi tufan hai/ ham tu iss jeenay kay haathon mar chalay” “Is it life or a raging storm/we have reaped nothing except death in our sojourn here”.

Pending peace

June 25, 2009

Swat cannot yet be considered a post-Taliban district.

The Pakistan Army has regained control over large swathes of territory in the Swat Valley earlier lost to the Taliban as well as recaptured the district capital Mingora with minimum damage. The operation, a significant one, began on 26 April in the Lower Dir district, was extended to the Buner district two days later and reached Swat a week later, on 8 May. In this manner, the military effectively blocked the entry of militants into Swat from other areas as well as curtailed threats of their sneaking out of the Valley.

Throughout the offensive, ground forces were supported by air and artillery units, often forcing the militants to retreat without offering much resistance. According to official sources, about 1300 militants were killed, among them the organisation’s second and third-tier leadership. Meanwhile, the government is said to be pursuing the senior Taliban leadership. (There were even unconfirmed reports of the killing of Maulana Fazlullah, also known as Radio Mullah, the chief of the Swat Taliban.) But all is not rosy and there are many questions still haunting the people of the Swat as well as Pakistanis from outside the district.

Before delving into the post-conflict issues requiring attention, it is important to remember that the military operation is far from over. There is still a Taliban presence in the area and the army has said that it will need to be on the offensive for approximately two more months. Asymmetrical warfare, such as that between the Taliban and the Pakistan Army, is invariably a protracted and complicated one. At this stage, the army cannot sustain the kind of heavy offensive seen in the last month for fear of arousing public disapproval over the extent of the damage done. But it also cannot stop the operation altogether at a time when its control over the area is both tentative and incomplete. The practical outcome of this quandary is that Swat will have a heavy military presence for some time to come. The military itself has said as much, claiming that it will need about a year to develop the civilian administrative structure, which is, unsurprisingly, in tatters.

Cleaning up Taliban lake
The foremost question, then, is whether the operation can bring sustainable peace to an area which has been in the flames of war for the past two years. On the ground, there is much pessimism about the prospect of peace through military means, a point of view reinforced by the survival of the top Taliban leadership. Most observers and locals believe that the elimination of foot soldiers, while  leaders roam free, cannot bring peace: the dispersed militants can always regroup to once again challenge the state. After all, three earlier operations did fail to eliminate the Taliban leadership in Swat with the militants emerging more powerful and gaining more territory every time. There was even a cartoon in the English daily Dawn in June 05 showing a lake, “Taliban lake” ,in which most of the small fishes had been netted, while the big ones continued to roam free.

Even if peace does return to Swat, that the insurgency has permanently changed the power dynamics of the district is undeniable. As the Taliban movement took root, the group’s cadres, who often belonged to the lowest income bracket, held great say over the lives of the public. Unsurprisingly, most of the influential families fled the area as the local security apparatus collapsed. Now, after the rout of the Taliban, the aggrieved citizens may well wish to take revenge on the Taliban cadre, and even their families. Called badal in Pashto, this concept of revenge is one of the dominant characteristics of any Pashtun society, and may lead to further bloodshed in the area. Indeed, badal may have been one of the factors leading to the collapse of the February peace deal. The Taliban were aware that once peace was restored to the area, they would have no excuses to carry their guns. In such a scenario, they would become the most vulnerable section of the society, easy targets to all those they had earlier wronged.

Next on the list of sensitive issues is the matter of the Niazm-e-Adl Regulations (NAR), or imposition of Sharia in Swat, which was negotiated with Tehrik Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) leader Sufi Mohammad. The TNSM had lost much of its public appeal after its Afghan adventure in 2001. Sufi Mohammad himself was in prison following his return from Afghanistan, after most of his 10,000 fighters were either killed or captured by American and Northern Alliance forces. He was subsequently released in 2008, after renouncing violence. But the release is said to largely be a result of Islamabad’s attempt to use him to counter the growing Taliban influence in the NWFP. After the government concluded the ill-fated Nizam-e-Adl Regulations with Sufi Mohammed, he was hailed as a peacemaker. Now, government policy in the region has clearly shifted: On 4 June, security forces arrested several senior TNSM leaders. This puts a question mark over the future of Sharia in the area. Perhaps more importantly, it bring up the issue of the public’s lack of confidence in a state which appears to keep changing its mind on how exactly to deal with militancy.

Beyond Sharia, in the coming months, the public will be closely watching the government’s handling of the Swat refugees. Even with the fighting still continuing it is clear that this operation has also caused one of the largest displacement in the country’s history. Over two million people have left their homes for safer places due to the fighting, and caring for them will be a test for the government. Rehabilitating such a large number of people is a mammoth task. Any error on the part of the government would be political suicidal. The IDPs, understandably, bear little goodwill towards the Taliban. The government could therefore channel this feeling against militancy to its advantage. It will, however, be the loser if it fails to address their problems adequately.

Finally, it is crucial to consider the impact the Swat operation may have on other parts of the NWFP and the tribal areas. The army’s strategy of restricting the militants to a particular area during the fighting worked well in Swat as fighters from other areas could not come to aid their friends. The effectiveness of this operation will naturally convey to the militants a message that the military is serious in eliminating them. This will put them on the defensive, a significant turnabout in the status quo as the militants have been on the offensive since the insurgency began in the tribal areas and parts of NWFP. This recent success will also put a lid on rumours that the army was not sincere in eliminating the Taliban and will play an effective role in building national consensus against the tide of Talibanisation.

It goes without saying that a great deal is at stake in this ongoing battle for north-western Pakistan, including regional stability, the future of the ‘war on terror’ and, of course, the security of Pakistan. Fortunately, this time around, Islamabad and the Pakistan Army had the much-needed public approval for the operation. Both the government and the army need to understand that if they do not put this mandate to proper use, public support will not be forthcoming in the future. The repercussions of wasting this opportunity to bring peace are likely to disastrous, not only for Pakistan but also for the region and the world.

First appeared in Himal Southasian web exclusive on Swat.

Engulphed in the hills

June 13, 2009

To understand the current conflict in Swat, one has to look back to 1897.

“A year hath passed since Aurangzeb is encamped against us,

Disordered and perplexed in appearance, and wounded in the heart.
It is now year after year, that his nobles fall in battle;
But his armies swept away, who shall number them!
The treasures of India have been spread before us:
The red gold muhurs have been engulphed in the hills.”

– Khushal Khan Khattak, from “An Ode to Spring”

When the Pashtun warrior poet Khushal Khan Khattak composed these lines in the 1670s, there was much turmoil in his part of the Subcontinent. The Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb had personally led an army to quell an uprising west of the Indus River, and was camped at the town of Attock, in the northern part of modern-day Punjab province. Meanwhile, the uprising was led by Khushal, the chief of the Khattak tribe, centred on what is today the Northwest Frontier Province. Some three centuries later, this same region is today in the midst of another brutal conflict. Just over the Hindukush mountains, Americans are encamped in Afghanistan. Indeed, Khushal’s vivid depiction of Aurangzeb’s situation is just as apt in describing the US predicament in Afghanistan and across the Durand Line, in NWFP and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

To fully understand the complexity of the situation, one must go back to the Great Game days of the British Raj. NWFP itself was, of course, a British invention marking the end to a half-century of colonial experimentation in Southasia. Beginning with their arrival in the area and up until the end of that century, the British left the administration of the ‘Frontier’ to Punjab. The 1901 creation of the new province by Viceroy George Curzon was, in words of the US diplomat James W Spain, a “struggle for control” and “a control which was never completely established and a struggle which ended only when the British departed in 1947.” When Curzon took over as viceroy in 1899, about 100,000 British forces were deployed across the area; this was only two years after the Pashtun uprising of 1897, after all, for which the British had been notably unprepared.

It was 10 June 1897 when British force arrived in Tochi, in Waziristan, to select a place where they could build their forces. The tribesmen were alarmed with this arrival, as they were under official disapprobation for killing a Hindu a year earlier. Despite the fact that the local communities had earlier had welcomed them, tribal fighters attacked the British. The news of this quickly spread to other parts of the Frontier. The following month in Malakand, one Saidullah, whom the British dubbed the ‘Mad Mullah’, took a few followers to declare jihad on the British. Within a few days, he had gathered some 20,000 people, and thereafter attacked British positions in Chakdarra and the Malakand pass. After a week of fighting, the tribesmen dispersed, having lost around 3000 men. The unrest continued for the next several months, however, as tribes in neighbouring areas rose up against the British. The eventual ‘pacification’ took three years and around 75,000 troops.

During the Raj, FATA was known as Yaghistan, or the Land of the Unruly. Although several tribal ‘agencies’ were set up in the late 19th century, and NWFP was formally created in 1901, it was only in 1926 that the British began to refer specifically to ‘tribal areas’, which were placed directly under the control of the government of India. The 1897 uprising was a huge blow to the British. After studying the matter for a year, Curzon proposed making the Frontier district into a separate unit, thus bringing the tribal territory directly under colonial rule. In Curzon’s words, the rationale behind this direct rule was to “entrust tribal management exclusively to those who know the tribes”, a policy that eventually came to be known as the Modified Close Border Policy. This stood in contrast to the two previous British policies in the area, the Close Border System and the Forward School of Thought. The former was based on the assumption that “the government should not assume responsibility for any area it was unable or unwilling to establish as an integral part of its domain,” while the latter advocated the extension of British frontiers as far north and west as possible. Also in stark contrast to these earlier approaches, the new strategy was able to bring peace to the Frontier for decades.

By 1919, however, the area was again drifting into conflict, with local tribesmen taking up arms following the third Anglo-Afghan war. At this point, the British reverted to following a slightly modified Forward Policy; military cantonments were setup in the Wana and Razmak areas of Waziristan, and a road linking Wana, Razmak and Miranshah was constructed. The aim of all this activity was to control the lawless tribal belt from within. And indeed, no major uprisings took place during the following decade, which was known as the Quiet Twenties. Again, however, things did not remain peaceful for long. In 1930, the communities around Peshawar rose up against the British, while tribesmen in Waziristan rebelled in 1936, 1937 and 1938.

In the end, it seemed quite clear that shifting between two different sets of policies, advocating different goals and modes of operations, was unable to bring peace to the area. At the time of their departure in 1947, the British knew that they had failed to resolve issues in the Frontier. As one colonial official, W K Fraser-Tytler, observed, the British left Pakistan in “a fluid, difficult situation fraught with much danger for the future”.

With Independence, the tribal areas merged into the new state of Pakistan without any significant trouble. The federal government at the time, as well as subsequent ones, made no changes to the manner in which these areas were administered. Furthermore, in more than six decades, few modifications have been made to absorb changes arising out of progress in education or technology. Literacy rates in FATA, for instance, remain significantly segregated by gender (with the female rate at just 0.8 percent), while health facilities and communications infrastructure are either abysmal or non-existent. This lack of interest in developing the area inevitably pushed the state and tribesmen in opposite directions; the government’s grip continued to decline, while the tribal communities remained mired in poverty, illiteracy and primitive living conditions. Nevertheless, the area remained relatively peaceful. All that changed, however, with the ouster of the Taliban from Kabul following the attacks in the US of 11 September 2001.

Today, the pattern of militancy plaguing the province and the tribal areas is remarkably similar to that of the 1897 uprising. The difference, however, is that this time the violence is on a much larger scale. The conflict has also spread to other areas, including the current struggle in the Swat. Yet here, too, the militancy is a direct result of the failure of the state to fully address the needs of the region, which has been a constant complaint for centuries now. The reigning peace in FATA had been a superficial one, and it began to unravel quickly with the arrival of fighters from Afghanistan. (As one William Barton noted some 10 years before the British departure, “Complete pacification of the tribal hinterland, though it may seem the only logical course for a great empire to follow, must be ruled out as beyond the sphere of practical politics.”) The locals were no strangers to militancy, as parts of the area were turned into base camps for jihadis fighting USSR during the Afghan war, with active US backing and Saudi petrodollars financed militarisation of tribesmen and Pashtun society. As a consequence, the fleeing fighters easily found succour among the locals – and when the Pakistan Army arrived in the area, the disgruntled tribesmen rose up against the state.

Yet much of what constitutes the current Taliban demand, such as the imposition of Sharia law, was adopted only much later. Today, the new military offensive in Swat, Dir and Buner is one of the largest since the beginning of this conflict (the current Swat operation began in October 2007), with the army hinting that it wants to ensure a complete victory over the militants. This is hardly a realistic goal, however. In recent weeks, two military operations have failed to dislodge the Taliban from the Swat Valley. Rather, the militants have emerged stronger, occupying more territory after each attempt. Beyond the battleground, Islamabad’s carrot-and stick-policy, unveiled last year, has likewise failed to restrain militants from making further territorial gains.

In a sense, the foremost obstacle today to weeding out the Taliban in Swat and the surrounding territory is the public’s reluctance to oppose them in the open. There is much confusion on the issue, contributed to by the many conspiracy theories in circulation about the insurgency: the Taliban is being used by Pakistani intelligence; the US and India are using Afghanistan as a base to destabilise Pakistan; the US wants to use the threat of militant takeover to take away Pakistan’s nuclear weaponry. To a great extent, these contradictory rumours have blurred the line between what is good for the country and what is not – most notably, whether or not the Taliban is harming Pakistan. There is a general feeling at the national level that the Taliban are responsible for the current mess, a feeling that has developed after the Swat exodus. However, the displaced families themselves blame the army and Taliban equally for their plight, and most with whom this writer spoke in the camps are outspoken in their pessimism about the potential for peace following the military operation. Previous failures in such attempts, they say, are hard to ignore.

The militants, meanwhile, have been able to take full advantage of this divided opinion, creating discontent against state action by attacking public targets when pressed against the wall by the military. In all of this, the minority who seeks the outright elimination of the Taliban has become effectively sidelined, largely because there exists today a general perception in Pakistan that the government is doing too much in response to American demands. Apart from a section of liberals, most segments of society today believe that the war is not in the interest of Pakistan. While such liberal voices are somewhat louder in the current context than they have been in the past, if the military operation continues for a long period, they will undoubtedly again be muted by hardliners and the rightwing media. Any way one looks at it, Islamabad is today facing the symptoms of the same problem faced by Lord Curzon’s colonial officers: a justifiable lack of trust in a state that has long failed to do its duty by the people.

A version of this article appeared in Himal Southasian June 2009.

Karachi’s drift into violence

May 3, 2009

“Traditionless, dysfunctional, and unstable, Karachi is an unfortunately apt metaphor for Pakistan’s general condition,” wrote Robert D. Kaplan in Atlantic Monthly. True to his description Karachi with its 15 million populations of divisive ethnicities, slums, political violence and chronic power outages is a fault line on which Pakistan is sitting. The recent spate of ethnic violence that killed at least 34 people is an indicator of dangerous path which this city is heading towards anarchy and chaos.

Unlike, tribal areas and NWFP, Karachi, with its huge industrial base is the economic lifeline of the country and any prolonged conflict on ethnic grounds is a sure recipe for disaster. Unfortunately, this city periodically witnesses’ crises and people are killed, properties burned and ransacked, but administration due to one or the other reasons did not take any action or probes these incidents. The polarization, which Karachi had undergone in 1980s under military government, is now bearing fruit in the form of political and ethnic violence.

The drift of the city into political and ethnic violence over the past few decades has been steady. Target killings are followed by a period of public outburst, incidents of killing, arson and then denials, condemnations and enquiries follow and everything comes back to square one. Tensions which had gripped city in the past either they be language riots, Bushra Zaidi case, Operation Clean Up or May 12 have always pitched different ethnicities against each other and these unsavory incidents fuel further tensions as city’s doyens try to get political mileage out of these.

This city has grown as home to the heterogeneous communities from all over the country due to the economic opportunities it offers and people from other parts of the country head for Karachi in search of greener pastures. Earlier, this wave of arrival pitched Sindhis against Mohajirs as former felt marginalized on their own land as Mohajirs outnumbered them in cities. Now the same feeling is behind the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) tirades against Pakhtuns in the city.

Discordant ethnocentrism

Ethnic lines dividing the Karachi run deep and ethno-linguistic polarization of city could be traced back to the same feelings. The rise of Mohajir nationalism coincided with the language riots and introduction of quota policy in 1970s under Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) government. The language riots crystallized the Sindhi-Mohajir divide while the introduction of quota system in 1973 compelled Mohajirs to think that this move was aimed at their marginalization.

In 1978, Altaf Hussain founded All Pakistan Mohajir Student Organization (APSMO), which became foundation stone of a political party by the name of Mohajir Qaumi Movement (MQM) in 1984. The driving force behind the MQM creation was the growing discontent and sense of being discriminated against amongst Mohajirs by majority groups. It wanted recognition of Mohajirs as the fifth nationality of the country. Bushra Zaidi’s death in a road accident in 1985 added another dimension to ethnic conflict and Pakhtuns completed the troubling trio. In 1987, MQM swept local body polls and it was in provincial and national assemblies in 1988 general elections. In 1992 government launched ‘Operation Clean Up’ against MQM and score of its activists killed in encounters.

The rise of MQM or Mohajir nationalism is marked with ethnic violence. Prior to MQM formation and after Sindhi-Mohajir clashes continued throughout 1970-1990, while Pakhtun-Mohajir violence came to surface in 1985. Its clash with the state dominated 1990s. The party’s internal feuding with its breakaway faction-calling itself  MQM-Haqiqi marked late nineties. Following Musharraf’s coup MQM sided with the dictator and the bloody massacre on May 12, 2007 took the city back to violent nineties. Pakhtun issue again resurfaced during Musharraf’s rule as feeling intimidated and discriminated against Pakhtuns formed Loya Jirga or Pakhtun Action Committee (PAC) in 2006. Loya Jirga has been vocal to for the rights of slum dwellers and transporters.

As the militancy wrecked havoc in the north of the country, Internally Displaced People (IDPs) turned to Karachi and MQM started making hue and cry of Talibanistaion of the city. Its coalition partner PPP denies the Talibanistaion of city; however, regarding land mafia, drug cartels and other criminal elements it agrees with MQM. Awami National Party (ANP), which represents Pakhtun in Karachi and has also won two seats in provincial assembly in 2008 general elections, is of the opinion that Pakhtuns are being targeted on the pretext of Talibanistaion.

Tension in Karachi is fraught with serious implications for the rest of the country and state has miserably failed to come to the rescue of common people in the face of criminal gangs taking over the city. MQM also needs to part ways with its militant past and have to realize that its own survival is tied to peace. The city where haves and have-nots are living within no distance of each other is prone to many dangers and ethnic and religious violence increases the risk of Bosnia like bloodshed.

Swat: Pakistan’s lost paradise

April 20, 2009

At Landikai check-post at the start of Swat a board installed by army reads, “Long live people of Swat.” The message is self-explnatory as the people of this idyllic valley definately deserve praies for facing the anarchic force of terror and prescution for around two years.

Mingora, the capital of Swat lies in ruins. Buildings pockmarked and blemished with bullets and blasts narrate their own woes. The narrow lanes of Bunrh quarter on the eastern tip of the city are deserted while its occupants- fair skinned dancing girls of the valley left for safer places to eke out a living amid persecution and killing. They left behind empty streets where unusual silence pervades in a sharp contrast to past when harmonium and Rubab melodies reverberated till late night.

Close to Bunrh is situated Green Chowk, which earned notoriety after militants started to throw beheaded bodies of their opponents in this square. Towards the northern end of city, at Fizaghat picnic point one walks by a deserted park on the banks of river Swat. Across the river Fazlullah’s sprawling Mamdheri complex overshadows the houses of in the village of same name.

This is the way story of Swat is being re-written in blood and it is not yet over while provincial government has enforced the Niazm-e-Adal Regulations in the district in a desperate bid to restore peace to the valley. Now Taliban are making emboldened strides towards Buner and other parts of the Malakand division.

Savastu to Swat

Swat valley is situated some 135 kilometers north of Peshawar and the river of same name runs through it. The valley is famous for its orchards, fascinating landscape, gushing and crystal clear streams, historical sites, alpine lakes and modern tourist resorts. In ancient texts Swat appears as ‘Savastu’ meaning ‘good dwelling place’ and Sanskrit texts describe it as ‘Uddiyana’ or ‘garden’.

In 327 BC, Alexander the Great army conquered Swat and it remained under Greek administration till 307 BC. The Greeks were followed by Murayans and Chandra Gupta annexed this area into his kingdom and Swat prospered under his grandson Asoka. Following the collapse of Muryan dynasty, Bactrian Greek, Scythian, Parthian, and Kushan ruled over the valley. Kushans were overthrown by the White Huns that were followed by Turk Shahi and Hindu Shahi rule.

In 11th century armies of Mahmud of Ghazni overrun Swat and later Ghurides and Mughals also ventured into Swat. Babar, the founder of Mughal dynasty tried to conquer Swat, but the war ended on peace deal. It was Akbar who attacked Swat and two of his famous aides Birbal and Abul Fazal were killed in the war and Mughals never become masters of Swat. In 1917, Miangul Shahzada Abdul Wadud, grandson of Saidu Baba, founded the state of Swat and it was also recognized by the British. In 1947, Wali of Swat decided to join Pakistan and it was finally merged into Pakistan on July 29, 1969.

Mad Mullah to Radio Mullah

Throughout history Mullahs have been dominant factor in Malakand. During the Frontier uprising of 1897, Mullah Mastan, whom British dubbed as ‘Mad Mullah’ rose up in arms against British.

During the crisis of Chitral in 1895, British occupied Malakand and Chakdara, which generated much resentment in Swat and in the mean time Mad Mullah declared war on British in July 1897 and tried to capture Malakand Fort. He claimed to have the help of invisible army from heaven, making himself invisible and feeding multitudes with a few grains of rice. Though his rebellion failed to achieve its objective of overthrowing British from Chakdara and Malakand; however, for a long time he continued to harass British in the area.

In 1994, around a century or so after Malakand uprising another Mullah, Maulana Sufi Mohammad chief of Tehrik Nifaz-e-Shariat Muhammadi (TNSM) took Malakand by the strom. Sufi, a Jamaat Islami (JI) activist in his early days, fought against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in early 1980s. In 1992 he founded his own organization TNSM which come to be known as ‘Black-Turbaned Brigade’ after its black flag and black turban of its activists. The aim of the organization was the implementation of the Shria in Malakand agency.

Sufi led an armed revolt against the government for the implementation of Islamic laws in Malakand agency in 1994 and the provincial government of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) accepted their demands and promulgated laws providing Qazi courts in the agency. In 2001, he led around 10,000 people into Afghanistan to fight against US forces along Taliban and most of his followers were either killed or captured and he was arrested upon his return in 2002 and was sent to prison for seven years and his outfit was also banned.

Sufi’s detention paved way for the emergence of his son-in-law Fazlullah, and in 2006 he setup an illegal FM radio station and earned fame for his fiery anti-western and Mushrraf speeches. His fiery broadcasts earned him the title of ‘Radio Mullah.’ Fazlullah’s growing power and increasing militant activities of his followers compelled government to take military action against him on October 27, 2007.

Niazm-e-Adl Regulations and beyond

In May 2007, the Mutthida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) government of NWFP and Fazlullah entered into an agreement. The agreement allowed Fazlullah to operate his radio channel in return for stopping opposition to polio vaccination and ban on display of arms in public. However, the agreement collapsed after army stormed the Red Mosque in Islamabad and it led to Swat Operation on October 27, 2007, after the district drifted into lawlessness.

The Awami National Party (ANP) government which took over after February 2008 election signed a peace deal with militants on May 21, 2008, after a series of negotiations, but it collapsed on July 29. On February 16, 2009, the government agreed to enforce Sharia in the area and Taliban agreed to ceasefire.

On April 13, 2009, Presdient Asif Ali Zardari signed the Nizam-e-Adl Regulations in Malakand agency after parliament rectified it. This regulation is continuation of Qazi courts established in the agency by Aftab Ahmed Sherpao in1994 and has generated much debate in the country. Many observers termed surrender to militants, while the ANP and PPP governments are defending it on the grounds that it would restore peace in the area.

Apart from the heat it has generated, this move has emboldened the militants and they advanced on Buner, Lower and Upper Dir and will also try further territorial gains. Government for the time being playing down the threat despite international pressure; however, it would be impossible for her to ignore external pressure and Taliban encroachments and this may put the precarious peace deal into jeopardy.

Zulifkar Ali Bhutto’s rise and fall

April 9, 2009

T.S Eliot’s line, “April is the cruelest month” has strong relevance in Pakistani politics, as the most charismatic Pakistani politician and founder of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Zulifkar Ali Bhutto was hanged in Rawalpindi Jail in April 1979. Bhutto’s dramatic rise to the echelons of power and PPP’s popularity with masses had proved time and again that he is the phoenix of Pakistani politics, and always rises from ashes.

Zulifkar Ali Bhutto (ZAB), a scion of Sindhi feudal origins, entered the Pakistani politics after joining Skindar Mirza’s cabinet as commerce minister in October 1958 after a military coup. Bhutto entry into politics entwined his fate with military and this love-hate relationship with army dominated rest of his life. His days as cabinet minister brought him into close circle of Ayub Khan and he become the Foreign Minister in 1962 and his stint is remarkable for Sino-Pakistan Boundary Agreement and 1965 war with India.

However, his parting of ways with Ayub Khan unpopular Tashkent agreement signed by Shastri and Ayub; Bhutto’s criticism of the agreement resulted into his resignation and formation of his own political party on November 30, 1967.

Pakistan Peoples Party

Following his resignation from Auyb Khan’s cabinet Bhutto started whirlwind tours of the country and in November 1967 formed Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) at Lahore and party’s slogan of rhetoric of ‘bread, clothing and shelter’ for the masse was something unheard then which brought the party to centre stage of Pakistani politics. This party set another benchmark in the elite dominated politics of the country and brought it to the doorstep of a common man and liberated it from the clutches of landlords and rich. Later, Ayub had to resign due to the growing opposition and Yahya Khan became president and held 1970s elections.

The exponential popularity and growth of this party was visible in 1970 elections when it emerged as dominant political force from West Pakistan while Awami League clean swept from East Pakistan. Unfortunately, these two political parties could not agree on power sharing and resultant discord and 1971 war with India resulted into dismemberment of Pakistan. Following the break up of the country Yahya resigned as president and handed over powers to the Bhutto.

Bhutto steered the country during tumultuous times following the Pakistan disintegration and also sowed the seeds of country’s nuclear program. In 1977, ZAB was overthrown and put behind the bars and later hanged on April 04, 1979 after a sham trial. His murder is remembered as ‘Judicial Murder’ in the annals of Pakistan judicial history.

Cursed family?

Bhutto family’s misfortunes did not end with ZAB’s hanging, rather have pursued the family in a succession and a Bhutto has been killed in every decade, all in mysterious circumstances, since his hanging on April 04, 1979. The family has a tinge of tragedy, curse and trouble like Kennedys family in America and Nehru-Gandhi in India.

In 1985 ZAB’s younger son Shahnawaz Bhutto, 27, was found dead in a Southern France apartment and his murder still remains a mystery. Benazir became heir to ZAB political legacy upon her return from an exile in 1984, while her brothers took up arms following the execution of their father. Benazir became first female premier of a Muslim country in 1988, following Zia and his coterie perished in an air crash. In her second stint as a prime minister in 1996, her only brother Murtaza Bhutto was shot dead in mysterious circumstances by police.

Benazir Bhutto went on a self-imposed exile in 1999 and remained abroad for around eight years and came back to the country in 2007. Her homecoming rally turned into a mourning procession on October 18, 2007, when a suicide bomber targeted her rally and killed around 180 people. She barely escaped the attack. She was again attacked on December 27 while coming out of a public meeting at Liaquat Bagh in Rawalpindi. She died when an unknown assassin fired shots on her and later a suicide bomber blew him up near her vehicle, while mystery is still shrouding her death.