Saturday, February 21, 2009

Special – Hello Taliban

Hello Taliban

Background of the Swat peace deal.

[By Amir Hashim Khakwani; picture by Mohammad Sajjad]

Translation by Kazim Aizaz Alam.

For the readers of Pakistan Paindabad, I have translated from Urdu a newspaper article by Daily Express columnist Mohammad Amir Khakwani on the Zardari government’s peace deal with the Taliban of Swat. It briefly states the circumstances that made the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Awami National Party (ANP) give in to the militants’ demands in the scenic valley of Swat.

On Tuesday, Feb 18, the NWFP government signed a peace deal with the Taliban of Swat. According to the deal, the Taliban and the military forces will observe a ceasefire for 10 days in Malakand division (comprising Swat, Dir and Chitral) and Kohistan district of Hazara division. As a result, a Nizam-e-Adl Regulation (Sharia law) will be promulgated by the government and the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) -- led by Maulana Sufi Mohammad -- will apparently be free to implement it in the restive valley.

Maulana Sufi Mohammad established the TNSM in 1992. He demanded that Sharia be implemented in Malakand division. He also issued a fatwa (religious decree) stating that Islam did not allow any sort of democracy and declared the electoral process un-Islamic. In 1994, he staged a sit-in in Malakand along with other TNSM activists and blocked the Peshawar-Mingora Road for seven days, which practically cut off Swat from the rest of the country. The local administration could not tame him and the federal government took notice of the grave situation. At the behest of the then prime minister Benazir Bhutto, Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao initiated the dialogue process with the TNSM, which led to a formal, but cosmetic, enforcement of Sharia law in Malakand division in November 1994.

The whole issue apparently died down till 1998 when furious demands of Maulana Sufi Mohammad compelled the Nawaz Sharif government to issue an amended ordinance for the implementation of sharia. By then, the tentacles of the TNSM had spread as far as Hazara division and Bajour agency (FATA). Then 9/11 happened and Maulana Sufi Mohammad took a few thousand mujahidin to the neighbouring Afghanistan to combat US forces. As the Taliban regime collapsed, these Pakistani mujahidin were either killed or taken hostage by the Northern Alliance. Only some of them were able to return safe and sound.

General Musharraf banned a number of sectarian and jihadi organisations on Jan 15, 2002. The TNSM was one of them. On March 30, 2002, Maulana Sufi Mohammad was arrested from Kurram Agency (FATA) and sent to Dera Ismail Khan Jail on various charges. After spending six years in jail, he was released on April 20, 2008.

During Maulana Sufi Mohammad’s six-year detention, his son-in-law and a member of the now defunct TNSM, Maulvi Fazlullah, emerged as the most prominent militant leader of Swat. His real name is Fazal Hyat. After passing 12th standard from Degree College Saidu Sharif he took admission in Maulana Sufi Mohammad’s madressah “Jamia Mazahir-ul-Islam” in Dir.

During his stay at the madressah, Fazal Hyat married Maulana Sufi Mohammad’s daughter and changed his name to Maulvi Fazlullah. He had accompanied Maulana Sufi Mohammad to Afghanistan and upon his return also served a 17-month sentence in a Pakistani jail. Fazlullah now reinvigorated the TNSM and instead of Dir made Swat its new headquarters. Fazlullah established his own FM radio and in the aftermath of the October 2005 earthquake took part in relief activities with great enthusiasm. This made the TNSM popular among the masses. Now his slogan became ‘Sharia or Martyrdom’.

The insurgency began in Swat after Musharraf government’s operation against Islamabad’s Lal Masjid in 2006 that killed hundreds of young female religious students living within the seminary. After the Lal Masjid operation, General Musharraf decided to weed out Swat militants. On Oct 22, 2007, a military operation was launched in Swat that initially defeated Maulvi Fazlullah-led militants as they lost Matta, Khwaza Khela, Kabal and Charbagh tehsils to the security forces.

Later, companions of Fazlullah changed their strategy and opted for guerrilla warfare against the security forces. Gradually they established close links with Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) chief Baitullah Mehsud and his deputy in Bajour (FATA) Maulvi Faqir Mohammad. Fazlullah’s organisation became a part of the TTP and by the beginning of 2008 its influence and power had reasonably increased as it had got support of different Taliban groups.

It also wooed members of the suicide bombers’ squad from South Waziristan agency (FATA) to come to Swat and take part in the fight against the security forces. The subsequent incessant suicide attacks on the security forces forced the government to negotiate a deal with the Taliban. In result, Maulana Sufi Muhammad was released on April 20, 2008, hoping that it would pacify the situation but the Maulana soon adopted an indifferent approach towards the whole Swat crisis and left it up to his son-in-law Maulvi Fazlullah.

By the end of 2008, around 90 per cent area of Swat was under control of the Taliban and the security forces were restricted to Mingora city only. Meanwhile, backdoor diplomacy continued between the Taliban and the government despite an unsuccessful peace deal in May 2008. Now Maulana Sufi Mohammad had set up a protest camp in Lower Dir calling for the enforcement of Sharia in Malakand division. The entire area brimmed with terror and fear and that forced the ruling ANP to request Maulana Sufi Mohammad to play a role in restoring peace in Swat.

The breakthrough came when a couple of weeks ago Maulvi Fazlullah agreed to a ceasefire if Nizam-e-Adl (Sharia law) was enforced in Malakand division. He also released, as a goodwill gesture, a Chinese engineer who was abducted eight months ago. That has resulted in a temporary halt in bloodbath after one and a half years.

Apparently peace has been restored in the area. There’s no more bloodshed for now and both the Taliban and the security forces have adopted a wait-and-see policy. Only time will tell if government’s policy of negotiations with the Taliban is right or not.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Obituary: Khalid Hasan, Journalist & Writer

"Pakistan Paindabad has set others a model of what a blog/site should be."
Late Khalid Hasan, US correspondent for the Lahore-based Daily Times and The Friday Times

Obituary: Khalid Hasan, Journalist & Writer

He died of cancer, aged 74.

[By Mayank Austen Soofi]

Writer and journalist Mr. Khalid Hasan died of cancer on February 6, 2009, aged 74. He was the US correspondent for the Lahore-based newspaper Daily Times and the weekly The Friday Times. Author of more than 40 books, including Rearview Mirror - four memoirs, The Return of the Onion, and The Umpire Strikes Back - People and Politics in Pakistan, Mr. Hasan lived in Washington DC.

I knew him. He had written for this blogsite. He liked Pakistan Paindabad. This is the blurb he wrote for me:
"Pakistan Paindabad has set others a model of what a blog/site should be."

Once he sent me this mail:
Dear Mayank,
Well it was time somebody gave you credit for what you have done. It is a handsome tribute. You deserve more, of course.
Khalid Hasan

When Benazir Bhutto died, he wrote to me saying:
I was in Burlington, Vermont, when a morning TV programme I was not quite watching was interrupted for the flash announcement that Benazir Bhutto had been injured in an attack. She was also said to have survived. But the sense of relief was short-lived because the next announcement said she was dead. My reaction was (and remains) utter disbelief.

After a few days of this message, I heard someone saying that Mr Hasan is suffering from cancer. I intended to write to him but never got around to it. Now it's too late.

Back in 2007, I happened to interview Mr Hasan for this blogsite. It's outdated and has references to things we may not care for in today's date but I'm still re-publishing it. So that we have a better idea of the person that Mr Hasan was.

Breaking the Ice

I’m glad to have veteran Pakistani journalist Khalid Hasan for an exclusive interview. Khalid sahib, welcome to Pakistan Paindabad. Since how long you have been stationed in US?

I have been living here since January 2000.

I understand you were born in Srinagar which is the capital of a part of Kashmir that is under the Indian control. So how come you end up in Pakistan?

Like hundreds of thousands of Muslims from the former State, we were among those who found refuge in Pakistan.

Since your birthplace remains in India, which Pakistani city do you consider your hometown?

I spent my growing years in Sialkot. It is in Punjab province, situated close to the Indian border.

In your website, there are pictures of you with many noted figures of Pakistan. In fact, you served as press secretary to the then Pakistan Prime Minister Mr. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto till he was overthrown in a coup. (Later executed by General Zia-ul-Haq.) You have seen Pakistani rulers like Ms. Benazir Bhutto, Mr. Nawaz Sharief, and General Pervez Musharraf from close quarters. Which leader did you find the most dynamic? Who among these was able to capture your imagination?

I think there can be no two opinions about it. No one that I have known had Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s charisma, his brilliance, and his sense of history. He was not without his faults but no matter what measure is used to judge him, he was a great man. He continues to remain a hero to countless millions nearly 30 years after his execution, the consequence of a trial that was neither fair nor legitimate.

Politics in Pakistan

Pakistan's present military ruler, is definitely more progressive than its last dictator. The current handpicked Prime Minister, Mr. Shaukat Aziz, is not as tainted as the democratically-elected former Prime Ministers. Pakistan's relations with India too have improved tremendously. Besides, no foreign power can dare to attack this nuclear-powered country. The economy is also spiraling up with unprecedented growth. And still, most of the Pakistani journalists, including you, continue to be critical or cynical. Why?

There may be an element of truth in all that you say, but it is not to be assumed that these things would not have happened with a civilian, elected government in office. Military rule, no matter in what form or for what reason, is wrong and unacceptable. The people of Pakistan reject it. General Musharraf remains in power, but not by leave of the people of Pakistan, I can assure you.

In one of your columns, you described certain Muslim women in the west, for insisting on wearing the hijab, as 'exhibitionist' and 'deluded'. You called them 'hooded bandits'.

I consider the abhorrent practice of burqas as more tribal than religious. In that column, I was referring to women in Europe, especially England, who have created yet another unnecessary controversy around Islam and Muslims by going around in Niqabs. The attempt, sometimes it seems to me, is to convey that “we Muslims cannot live with you Westerners". But they have no intention of moving back to their countries of origin.

Pakistan is ruled by a dictator but if you read its opinionated newspapers, watch its activist news channels, and listen to its people holding a wide variety of views, it appears to be the most democratic country in the Islamic world. How do you view this dichotomy?

It may be the most democratic country in the Muslim world, but that is not good enough. I want Pakistan to be known as a democratic country, not “democratic” in a comparative sense when pitched against other Muslim countries. Pakistan came into being on the basis of a democratic principle and through a constitutional struggle, so it is ironic that it should have remained under more or less chronic military rule.

President Musharraf has intended the 2007 general elections to be the ‘mother of all elections’. You are an experienced observer of Pakistan politics. Whom do we expect to see as Prime Minister by the end of 2007? Who is the most likely candidate in your opinion?

Frankly, half the time I do not know what General Musharraf means. From what has so far become apparent and, given the General’s own stellar record in holding democratic elections, the 2007 elections are going to be rigged. He is not holding them to be thrown out of power.

You are not a soothsayer but what is the probability that President Musharraf will remain at the helm till his last breath?

Things are getting difficult for him. The ruling alliance of sycophantic and time-serving politicians, diehard Mullahs, and a compliant army, with whose help he has been ruling Pakistan, is beginning to come apart at the seams. The most honourable course for him and the best thing for Pakistan would be that he step down and let a fair and free election with the full participation of all political parties and their leaders take place. That is his one chance of going down in history. However, it is unlikely he will take it.

Watching Pakistan

During my recent trip to Lahore, I visited the red-light district of Heera Mandi. Taking a midnight stroll in its streets was a strange experience. Many of the foreigners imagine the Islamic Republic of Pakistan as a regressive nation where people are supposed to be intolerant about singing, dancing and pleasures of the flesh. And yet, places like Heera Mandi survive. How is that possible?

Why is that not possible? That is the way Pakistan – and India too – is. Pakistan is not a country of long-bearded Mullahs. The people of Pakistan are like people everywhere. No attempt to impose obscurantist regimes on them and make them intolerant of such diversions and traditions that you observed in Lahore will succeed because it goes against their grain and their native good humour and love for the good life.

It has come as a relief that Hudood laws have been moderated. It will help the raped victims claim justice. Can you think of other laws you wish to be changed?

The entire body of such laws should have been scrapped long ago. What also needs to be scrapped is the 1974 constitutional amendment that declared the Ahmadis community as non-Muslim. No one has the right to pronounce a judgment on who is or isn’t a Muslim, or a Hindu or a Sikh for that matter.

2007 will be observed as ‘Visit Pakistan Year’. You have been very sarcastic about it. The title of one of your recent columns was titled 'Visit Pakistan in 2007’ — and get shot'! Were you being funny?

No, I was not being funny. We need to have better law and order and security than we have. We also have to make Pakistan fun to visit. Not everyone comes to look at mountains or lakes. Most tourists want to cool their heels, have a drink in the evening and visit a good night spot. We used to have it all well into the 1970s. Those facilities need to be brought back. Also Pakistan’s hotels are either five-star establishments or dumps. We need a lot of low-priced and clean hotels with good food and decent comfort. We ought to realize that the average tourist is not loaded with dollars. We should learn from the Indian experience and study how India has promoted its tourism.

Who, in your opinion, are the greatest Pakistanis since the year 1990?

Imran Khan won the Cricket World Cup for Pakistan in 1992 at Melbourne. So being a cricket fan, I would place him among the best men we have produced. He has also built the commendable cancer hospital in Lahore in the memory of his mother, Shaukat Khanum, who herself had died of cancer. A lot of poor people, who would otherwise not get treated, are treated there free of charge. I only wish Imran Khan was as successful at politics as he was at cricket and in building his hospital.

Pakistani Diaspora in US

There are frequent news reports of British citizens of Pakistani origin being suspected of plotting terrorist attacks. Some of the mosques there are accused of preaching extremist ideologies that foment terrorism. Fortunately, this lamentable impression of Pakistanis in the UK is not the fate of their counterparts in the US. How do you explain this difference?

Fortunately not, or at least not so far; but there is a more than fair sprinkling of the fire-breathing Mullah in this country too. These clerics are retrogressive in thinking, uneducated, ignorant but good at spreading confusion and pulling people back into the Middle Ages instead of propelling them forward. Muhammad Iqbal, Poet of the East, wrote: 'the religion of the Mullah is to spread strife'.

You have been working in America since 2000. What, according to you, are the major negative misconceptions held by Americans about Pakistan, impressions that you feel are quite unfair?

The problem is that Pakistanis do not mix. They live in their own cultural ghettos and thus remain uninvolved in the larger life of the community. There always can be a happy marriage between our own traditions, culture, way of life, food, music etc. and the norms, requirements and obligations of the societies in which we live.

Following 9/11, have you faced any serious discrimination in US because of your name or your passport?

Yes, “Traveling while Muslim” is now a fact of life. I myself have been subjected to special attention almost every time I have returned from abroad. I am sure that has to do with my name and my looks. Such discrimination is abhorrent and it is against what we knew as the American Way of Life. Hopefully, with time it will pass, but who knows?

There are many great things about America which, if adopted, can make Pakistan a still better place to live in. But what are those aspects about the West that you do not wish to be emulated by your country?

It has to be that American instinct for rank commercialism to the exclusion of all else.

Reading Pleasures

Did you read General Musharraf's memoir In the Line of Fire? What do you think of it?

It is a third-rate book, and it would have been better if he had not written it or had it ghost-written. It also contains many untruths - Kargil war with India for instance - and it makes some uncalled for and most unfair attacks on individuals, including Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Let me put it this way: General Musharraf may have many talents, but writing is not one of them.

I can not resist sharing an interesting if irrelevant observation on this entire book hype. Mr. Musharraf’s memoir was first released in English, then in Hindi, and lastly in Urdu - Pakistan's national language. And the Urdu version was titled Sabse Pehle Pakistan (Pakistan First)! Wasn’t that ironic?

The entire book, and what preceded and followed it is best described as an embarrassment.

You are also an acclaimed translator and have translated many important works of the great Urdu writer Saadat Hassan Manto into English. Now, Mr. Manto was a writer who generously sprinkled sex in his short stories. But he is perhaps best known for articulating how religious passion could turn a decent man into a beast. In such context, what example this legendary writer holds for the young generation of the present-day Pakistan? What can they learn from his writings?

Manto was a humanist and that is what we need to learn from his writings.

Please suggest a few books to help us understand your country better?

All you have to do is seek your answer through 'Mr. Google'. I would only add that those interested in Pakistan should read Pakistani literature – fiction and poetry. But people only seem to read books on politics or recent history. That can at best provide a single dimension, if that.

Khalid sahib, thank-you for spending time with us.

My pleasure, Mayank. I wish you the best of luck with your commendable effort to enlarge friendship and understanding between our two countries: India and Pakistan.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Eminent Pakistani - Naz Ikramullah, Artist

"Pakistan Paindabad has set others a model of what a blog/site should be."
Late Khalid Hasan, US correspondent for the Lahore-based Daily Times and The Friday Times

Citizen Profile – Naz Ikramullah, Artist

Snooping around a sari-clad Pakistani in the Indian capital

[Text and picture by Mayank Austen Soofi]

A few hours after Bombay, India's Karachi, came under terrorist attack in December, 2008, a 70-year-old Pakistani artist, sitting thousands of nautical miles away in Karachi, started e-mailing friends in Delhi. She had plans to visit the Indian capital but the Bombay outrage made her pause.

Would it be wise for we Pakistanis to travel to India in these tense times? She feared what if somebody spat on her face? Finally, after "considering all options" she landed in Delhi just before India's Republic Day.

"I came because all my Delhi friends insisted that I should come no matter what," she told me later.

I was one of those friends. I live in New Delhi.

No, Naz Ikramullah is no back-slapping buddy of mine. I first met her only a year ago during her last trip to Delhi. It was love at first sight. Her Sonia Gandhi-esque sarees, grey hair, and sweet smile added extra zing to her inner graciousness, vivacity and elegance. And then she's such a big-time artist. Trained in lithography, Naz's work is scattered all over the globe – Amman, Ottawa, Islamabad, Bombay, Washington DC (Library of Congress!) and Delhi. She herself divides time in Karachi (winter) and Ottawa (summer).

Yet Naz is a rare specie – a naturally modest person with a kind of genetic je ne sa quoi that comes only with a lineage as impressive as hers. Her father was Pakistan's first foreign secretary. Her mother was an ambassador who was posthumously awarded with Nishan-i-Imtiaz. One of her uncles was Pakistan's prime minister; the other was India's vice-President. If you are a sucker for who-is-who, you better know that her sister is a Jordanian princess.

The real meat comes now. In a time when Indians and Pakistanis are not daring to cross the border unless they happen to be peacenik pros, Naz came to Delhi just to... well, hang out.

Not long ago her bag was snatched outside a Karachi bakery at gunpoint, and then the Bombay tragedy made her distraught. The poor dear needed this break. So, here was Naz flitting around in her cozy Delhi – Shanti Niketan, Lodhi Estate, Mehrauli, Khan Market, Maharani Bagh, Nizamuddin East...

Like a native in a native city. After all, Delhi is her home, too. Passport notwithstanding.

It was in Delhi that she spent her childhood. Here she went to the kindergarten. Here her parents moved amongst the history makers. (Once her brother told MA Jinnah that "Mr Jinnah, you write good articles in Dawn.")

And then the Partition happened, parents migrated and Naz became a Pakistani.

But this Pakistani refuses to be chained to a single identity. Her personality transcend boundaries. Despite being a two-time emigrant (first to Pakistan, then to Canada), Naz is not rootless. Instead, she has roots everywhere.

Over coffee at Khan Market's Café Turtle, she laid out the family tree – mother from what is now Bangladesh, father from somewhere in Uttar Pradesh, one nephew (or was this cousin?) married into a Jain family in Bombay, her son-in-law a Pakistani Punjabi... then I lost the thread. You may get an idea from this e-mail excerpt:

... no place is safe these days. My nephew (Bangladeshi) has talked of marrying his Nepali girl friend in Phuket...

Naz is truly cosmopolitan. In this short trip, I saw this London-born lady talking to cab-drivers in flawless purabiya, conversing with society queens in perfect angrezi and humoring me with 'What the F' lines.

Too bad good things don't last long. I waved my final goodbye to Naz in Lodhi Estate two evenings before she was to leave for Karachi. When her cab was turning towards the Sai Baba temple, I was suddenly hit by fear. Delhi can't be trusted with beautiful women.