Kashmir: A forgotten tragedy

October 29, 2009

“Kashmir calls back, its pull stronger than ever, its whispers its fairy magic to the ear and its memory disturbs the mind.”
-Jawaharlal Nehru

During Maharaja Ranjit Singh reign, three brothers, Gulab Singh, Suchet Singh and Dhian Singh acquired powerful influence at his court and Dhian Singh became his principal advisor and Sikh Durbar in Lahore rewarded them for their services to the empire. Jammu was given to Gulab Singh in 1920 as a fief (jagir); Dhian Singh was awarded with Poonch and small surrounding hilly states of Bhimber and Mirpur, as Alastair Lamb notes that the areas which fell in the Poonch state, “Coincides very closely with what in late 1947 was to become Azad Kashmir.”

During the First Anglo-Sikh war of 1845, Gulab Singh remained neutral and later by the Treaty of Amritsar March 16, 1846; British sold Kashmir (areas to the eastward of the river Indus and westward of the river Ravi) to the Maharaja Gulab Singh for around Rs 7.5 million.

The state at that time was stretched over an area of 84,471 square miles and Gulab Singh bought it at the rate of Rs 155 per square mile while he paid seven and half rupees for every inhabitant of the state. (SHAHB NAMA)

Gulab Singh was succeeded by his son Ranbir Singh in 1858 and Partap Singh followed him but he had no direct heir to the throne and during his last days his brother Amar Singh was serving as the chief minister while the state was under direct British supervision.

Maharaja Partap Singh considered Jagatdev Singh, son of his great granduncle Dhian Singh, the Poonch Raja, as ‘Spiritual Heir to Kashmir,’ but his brother Amar Singh, who was his chief minister at that time with the connivance of British nominated his son Hari Singh in 1925 as the new ruler of the state. The British had once rescued Hari Singh from blackmailing when he was in Landon and according to Alastair Lamb, “Partap Singh despite the approval of Chamber of Princes was overruled by the Political Department, which thought that Hari Singh, whose disreputable background might make him easier to manipulate, would prove a more amenable Maharaja.”

Thus began the most decisive period in the history of Indo-Pak and on October 26, 1947 Hari Singh singed the Instrument of Accession with Indian Union and on October 27, Indian troops entered Kashmir and a war broke out in 1948. The countries also fought two more wars in 1965 and 71 and a constant war posture as in 1990s the Kashmiris launched a guerilla movement to win their independence from India with Pakistan’s active backing and around 100,000 died during the resistance movement.

The situation radically changed after the 9/11 and Pakistan started to distance her from the Jihadi groups. The Kashmir almost disappeared from the government’s agenda as Jihadis and government lost their good terms under the intense US pressure. Pakistan honeymoon with the Kashmiri resistance groups has ended and so the rhetoric of political and moral support for their right to self-determination. President Musharraf’s eagerness to resolve the dispute also played an important role in boosting Indian position while his defensive attitude and internal problems made the Kashmir’s issue a forgotten tragedy.


Mullah Radio

May 1, 2009

By using illegal FM radio broadcasts, militants in Pakistan are gaining the stature of a parallel government. But one government response shows that the militants have power but not credibility.

Here is a brief sample of a typical radio broadcast given recently by Maulana Shah Doran, a cleric who has risen to fame for his fiery transmissions in the Swat Valley: “I was coming to meet you people, but the infidels” – the army, police, politicians – “were there, so I cancelled my plans to visit the village of Shamozai Zarkhela. These infidels are opposing Sharia, and I say that if they do not implement it, we will enforce it on our own … they should be torn to pieces instead of being beheaded.”

Residents estimate that the militancy that is currently plaguing the valley owes some 90 percent of its strength to a single illegal FM radio station – the same that now broadcasts Maulana Shah Doran – set up by a local cleric in 2006. The story starts back in 1994, when Maulana Sufi Mohammad, the head of the Tehrek-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (the Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Law, or TNSM), began to wage a struggle against the state, demanding the implementation of Sharia in the Malakand division of Swat (see accompanying story, “The establishment a Taliban emirate”). In 2001, Maulana Sufi took 10,000 men to fight the Americans in Afghanistan, and suffered heavy casualties. After fleeing back to Pakistan, the Maulana was imprisoned for seven years. But his son-in-law, Maulana Fazlullah, was released on bail.

Back in Swat, Fazlullah set up an illegal FM radio station, known as Fazlullah FM, broadcasting on 92 megahertz. The technology to do so was not only quite affordable, costing as little as PKR 15,000 (less than USD 200); it was also completely portable, thus allowing its owners to easily outpace the authorities’ attempts to shut them down. Despite the broadcast’s relatively small coverage area (it was at first unable even to reach the rim of the Swat Valley), Fazlullah’s nightly tirades against the Americans and then-President Pervez Musharraf quickly earned him a degree of fame among the locals, who dubbed him the ‘Radio Mullah’. Initially, Fazlullah confined his rhetoric to reformation, which included the recitation and translation of the Quran and Hadith (traditions), as well as the observance of purdah for women. Using the electronic medium, he also advised the destruction of television sets, CDs and VCRs, which he said were sources of loose morality. One particularly insidious element of Fazlullah’s doctrine was vehement opposition to the government’s anti-polio campaign, which he claimed was a Western scheme to render Muslims infertile.

Eventually, Fazlullah decided to establish a seminary in his native village of Imam Dheri. When he appealed for donations on his broadcast, he received an incredible response. At that time, in the early days, Fazlullah was listened to mostly by women at home (and children); indeed, this was the first time that women of the area had ever been able to listen directly to a preaching mullah, as they are traditionally absent from the actual sermons. At his beckoning, these women donated their jewellery en masse, and he amassed a fortune amounting to millions of rupees. But Fazlullah’s popularity among women began to change in late October 2007, when militants loyal to Fazlullah beheaded four policemen, parading their severed heads through Swat. The women started to be less excited about Fazlullah. This incident also marked the start of a reign of fear, as local zealots increasingly looked to the Radio Mullah to fuel a war for the enforcement of Sharia as well as against opponents including politicians, the army, the police and those supporting them. As fighting intensified, the station became increasingly powerful – and ever more threatening to the army, police, politicians and civilians.

The broader reaction mirrored that of the women, though with an ironic twist. In the beginning, the local menfolk and powerbrokers had not taken Fazlullah’s broadcasts particularly seriously. But after a ban was enacted on women visiting markets and on education for girls – both of which were spearheaded by the radio station – the number of listeners increased substantially. This was as much out of fear as enthusiasm, however, with the population now desperate to stay informed on exactly what the militants were planning – what they would say about the fighting, at whom they would aim their threats on any given day. While the Pakistan Army did briefly attempt to jam the broadcasts, by playing music at the same frequency, the militants were quickly able to adapt, by simply changing their broadcast frequency or moving their equipment around.

Today, the station’s transmissions run two hours, from eight to ten every evening, with a rebroadcast in the morning from seven to nine. It is not clear from which city they are operating. Programmes include sermons based on Quranic verses, threats to ‘opponents’ and a slot titled “Good News”. This last generally includes news of various types of violence – including Islamist actions, but also deaths from natural calamities, epidemics, etc – at the national and international level. The broadcasts have three principal speakers: Fazlullah, Maulana Shah Doran and a third named Maulana Mohammad Alam. With Fazlullah, for unknown reasons, having taken a back seat during the recent fighting, Maulana Shah has emerged as the key presenter. He tends to use derisive language against those in power in Islamabad, calling President Asif Ali Zardari gaddari, Urdu for traitor, and calling Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillani the ‘prime donkey’. He tends to end his broadcasts by hurling abuses at security officials, and issuing threats to policemen by name.

Whether or not the Swat Taliban is currently winning or losing in its fight against the state, it is certainly winning the propaganda war – with no more than a modest radio transmitter. The state, meanwhile, with all of its resources, has been unable to either shut the broadcast down or contain its impact. Despite the full understanding of the government and army of the threat this represents for rule of law and civil discourse, the broadcasts in Swat have only gone from strength to strength. Indeed, the range is steadily increasing, and today can be heard in Chakdara and parts of Mardan, up to 60 km away. Considering the direct impact that the station has had over the past three years, it seems fairly clear what to expect from this increased radio footprint. Today, Fazlullah is requesting that the government legalise his radio station. Given the significant increase in power wielded by the militants following the recent signing of a ‘peace agreement’ between the Swat Taliban and the provincial government, it should not be surprising if that happens. This would inevitably have broad ramifications for the rest of the country.

Air wars
Illegal FM is also flourishing in Khyber Agency, just to the west of Peshawar. Here, a station is run by a militant commander, Mangal Bagh, of the Lashkar-e-Islam (LI, the Army of Islam), a hardline organisation opposed to shrines, Sufi influence and faith healers. Now 35, Bagh was a bus cleaner in 2001 when he joined the secular Awami National Party, and quickly rose to be secretary of the transport association of the city of Bara, near Peshawar. He underwent something of religious conversion and, in 2002, undertook a four-month tablighi (proselytising) trip, after which he joined LI.

Not long after his return, by July 2004 Mufti Munir Shakir, then the head of LI, and Pir Saifur Rehman, of a second militant group called Ansar-ul-Islam, had both set up illegal FM broadcasts in order to propagate their views. Indeed, a half-decade ago, up to nine illegal FM stations were operating in the Khyber Agency. Today, however, nearly all of these have closed, having fallen to the influence of Lashkar-e-Islam and Ansar-ul-Islam. The broadcasts run by these two groups, meanwhile, compete directly with each other. Locals listen raptly to both, in order to be up on the claims and counterclaims of both organisations – spats that could quickly have direct impacts on their lives. These two groups have clashed physically on several occasions, ending in the death of many. After one such clash, which left 21 people dead, a tribal jirga asked both groups to leave the agency. Subsequently, Mufti and Pir who were not locals, coming from Hangu District in the NWFP and Afghanistan, respectively, were forced to leave. At that point, Mangal Bagh, by then an important commander, assumed charge of LI. Today he virtually controls Khyber Agency.

Broadcasting at 94.2 megahertz, Bagh spends most his 45-minute shows either spouting propaganda against LI opponents, or preaching his own version of Islam. Pirs (spiritual figures), faith healers and shrines are his direct targets, and are lambasted for purportedly being un-Islamic. Like Fazlullah’s set-up in Swat, Bagh’s equipment is mobile, and much of the time he is able to cover even parts of Peshawar. A second transmitter has recently been set up, allowing him to operate in Bara and broadcast his edicts and teachings to the people of Tirah, about 60 km away from Peshawar.
Also similar to what took place in Swat, at first Bagh’s broadcasts were limited to recitations of the Quran, Hadith and the preaching of virtue. With the passage of time, however, its tone has become increasingly aggressive against his opponents. In March 2008, Bagh’s followers attacked a 400-year-old shrine in the Shaikhan area of Peshawar, killing 12 people and destroying the tomb. On 5 March this year, militants bombed the shrine of Sufi poet Rehman Baba, regarded as the national poet of the Pashtun; security officials blamed Bagh. Community leaders, backed by some key political figures, have now requested the government to take action against Bagh, threatening that otherwise they will ‘take care’ of him themselves.

Recapturing ears
There have been a few notable attempts to counter militant radio. One is a private venture, the Pak-Afghan Cross-border Radio Training and Production (PACT), started in 2004 by John Butt, a Muslim chaplain at Cambridge University and broadcasting in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. PACT’s flagship program, “Da Pulay Poray” or Across the Borderline, is a two-hour show in which journalists from both sides of the Durand Line report on a range of social, cultural and other relevant issues.

While there has been significant criticism regarding the government’s seeming inability to do much to counter the growing influence of these militant-operated radio broadcasts, it is not true that nothing is being done on the official front, either. In May 2006, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) Secretariat, which governs these areas, launched its own radio channel, by the name of Radio Khyber. Today, this station airs six hours of programmes daily in three-hour stints, during the day and night. It offers programming focused particularly on the youth, the elderly and women, including news and reports on health, sanitation, education and militancy. The broadcast area is quite large, able to be heard in Peshawar, Mardan, Malakand, Mohmand Agency, parts of Bajaur and even in Swat.

Radio Khyber, broadcasting at 91 megahertz, is thus able to reach many more people than are the individual militant broadcasts, and the local people are making it clear which they prefer and why. The station currently employs around 15 reporters, with the explicit aim of attempting to offer objective, independent reporting and analysis of the often complicated situation on the ground in Khyber Agency and the surrounding area. Somewhat surprisingly, the station has thus far remained free of intimidation by militants. The reason for this is undoubtedly the strong backing that the channel has received from the local community; workers at the station claim to receive some 300 telephone calls and 200 letters every week, from listeners requesting particular songs or specially focused news analysis. This is due to a very basic broadcast formula in comparison to the harangues on 94.2 and elsewhere: honest focus on real issues affecting ordinary citizens. Clearly this is a significant change from the militant broadcasts, which preach fear, broadcast threats and fervently focus on issues of importance to the mullahs – and not to the local communities themselves. How ironic that a government station is seen to be more popular and credible than private stations. But that is what happens when the airwaves are hijacked by militancy.

A version of this article appeared in Himal Southasian April 2009 issue.

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.

NWFP policy needs a paradigm shift

January 18, 2009

When Lord Curzon took over as the Viceroy of India in 1899, the British were trying to recover from the affects of 1897 rebellion in northwestern parts of India, that beginning from Malakand took the most parts of the tribal areas in its spiral. Around 10,000 British forces were deployed in Khyber, Waziristan and Malakand areas at the time of his arrival. Lord Curzon in 1901 created a new province by the name of North West Frontier Province (NWFP) from areas lying west of Indus under the policy known as ‘Withdrawal and Concentration.’

The British first interaction with the Frontier came when Monstuart Elphinstone visited the area in 1809 and his ‘ An Account of Kingdom of Kabul’ was first British account of this area, which was gaining importance due to ‘Alarmist Policy’ followed by Britain due to Czarist expansion in Central Asia.
Following his visit the region potential as a trade corridor to Central Asian states came to limelight and under ‘Meddling Policy’ Alexander Burnes was sent to Kabul on a mission in 1832 and the British interference in the Afghan affairs culminated in First Anglo-Afghan war of 1839-42.

Before the British ascendancy over area, Sikhs snatched it from Durrani rulers of Afghanistan, who had earlier ended the mastery of Mughals over the areas west of Indus. After defeating Sikhs, British tried to create a series of defensive lines against the possible Russian advance on India in the wake of ‘Great Game’ in 1850s.

The British retained the Sikh tradition and Frontier remained a part of Punjab and they also introduced the notion of ‘Tribal Areas’ and tried to create a buffer zone of Afghanistan between the Russia and British India by defining the Durand Line as border in 1893.

These actions in the long run proved counter productive and 1897 risings in Malakand, Swat, Waziristan, Khyber and Orakzai areas not only gave British a cold sweat but were by-products of ‘Active Forward Policy’ towards NWFP and Afghanistan as C.C. Davies puts it. The British had to crave out NWFP province and tribal areas to cope with the challenge of policy failure.

During the past three decades the neighboring Afghanistan saw two super powers attacks, first came the Russian in 1979 and NWFP became a frontline in struggle against Russian occupation of that country. The bad blood among the Jihadi groups in Kabul following the fall of Najib compelled the Pakistani policy makers to follow the notion of ‘Strategic Depth’ with secure western border vis-à-vis India and this led to the formation and backing of Taliban.

In 2001 American toppled the Taliban government in Kabul after 9/11 terrorist attacks on America and NWFP emerged as geographic and ideological flashpoint for the religious fundamentalism.

The landslide victory of hardliner Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) in 2002 elections from the province was a watershed that signified a shift in the politics of the province, previously dominated by the secular and nationalist forces. Towards the end of MMA days the ‘spillover effect’ of what was happening in remote parts of North and South Waziristan caught the province in a windstorm of militancy as the neo-Taliban phenomenon diffused into settled areas.

The MMA not only lost 2008 general elections to nationalists, but was also not able to keep itself intact, rather, “the MMA constituent parties were outflanked by a new class of “religious” actors operating on the blurred boundary between formal politics and insurgent militancy”, as Joshua T. White puts it.

Whether it was under Mughals, Durranis, Sikhs or British, this part of the world has inherited a political volatility throughout its history. The period after the partition of Pakistan is relatively peaceful era in the area history, however, the conflict has returned to area in the form of militancy and most of the tribal areas on fire like 1897. The British sensing the nature of the Frontier problems devised a Frontier Policy and created a new province and tribal areas and Pakistan is still relying on that a century old colonial policy to address the issues that owe their genesis to the globalization and three decades long Afghan conflict. Pakistan needs a new paradigm shift in her Frontier policy to address the issues of the NWFP, as given the present state of affairs in the region; this area is bound to dominate the future of Pakistan as well as of Southasia.