Saturday, July 30, 2016
Erdogan’s counter-coup The failed military coup in Turkey of July 15 has spawned even uglier consequences than the condemnable putsch itself. First, the reasons for the attempted overthrow of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his AKP government are not hard to seek. In power for the last 13 years, Erdogan must be credited with transforming Turkey into a modern economic powerhouse. And this was achieved during his two stints as prime minister while allaying apprehensions about his and the AKP’s Islamist roots by adopting a moderate stance that would not disturb Turkey’s fundamental status as a secular state. However, signs of trouble began appearing after Erdogan was elected president three years ago. Observers noted his increasing bent towards authoritarianism, with accompanying expressed intent to shift power to the presidency. The coup attempt may have been triggered by such trends. However, the main suspect behind the coup attempt in Erdogan’s eyes was self-exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen, now residing in the US. Turkey insists Gulen must be extradited, but has yet to move a formal request for the same, since that would require substantiation. Gulen also stands accused of earlier trouble making through the alleged influence of his followers in the police, bureaucracy, judiciary and the media. What has cut little ice with Erdogan is the denial of responsibility and condemnation of the coup attempt by Gulen. While no right minded person could support the putsch by a section of the armed forces (the conspirators did not even have the backing of the entire military), what has followed its collapse has alarmed even Turkey’s friends. US Central Command chief General Joseph Votel had the ‘temerity’ to suggest the other day that the turmoil surrounding the coup bid and the subsequent round up of dozens of Generals could affect US military cooperation with Turkey. Despite Erdogan taking umbrage at this statement, was this an idle thought? Turkey’s critical position as a member of the US-led coalition fighting Islamic State (IS) in Syria and the strategic Incirlik air base from which strikes against IS are launched cannot but be affected by the purge of nearly half of Turkey’s 358 Generals, not to mention the sackings and arrests of judges, teachers, journalists and other alleged ‘Gulenists’. Amnesty International has reported the beatings, severe torture, rape of coup plotters in detention. This does not behove a democracy wedded to the rule of law. The media has received more than its due share of unwanted attention too, including the shutting down of 130 media outlets amongst whom can be counted 45 daily newspapers and 16 TV channels. Besides this, arrest warrants have been issued for nearly 50 former staffers of the Zaman newspaper. Earlier, 42 arrest warrants were issued for journalists, 16 of whom have been detained. Amidst the wider crackdown against Gulen’s alleged or actual supporters, the witch-hunt in progress seems to be Erdogan and the AJK government’s seeing an opportunity to purge all political rivals, dissidents and the critical media. Although Erdogan in his paranoia has rounded harshly on General Votel for his remarks, his crackdown promises the opposite of what is intended: further polarisation of Turkey amidst the country’s backsliding on human rights, the right to information, imposition of a state of emergency, partial withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights, and contemplation of the restoration of the death penalty. The shock of the attempted coup notwithstanding, nothing justifies this response and this trend. No democratically elected ruler/s, no matter how solid their majority and the demonstrated support against the attempted coup by even the opposition, can simply throw all restraint to the winds and ride roughshod over the rights, even existence, of all dissident opinion. Turkey, beset by a full plate of problems with IS’s turning its guns on its erstwhile covert supporter, the war against the Kurds and now the attempted coup, is not being well served by Erdogan’s turn towards what increasingly is looking like a ‘fascist’ state. For that matter, in the long (or perhaps not even that long) run, neither are Erdogan’s own interests or future.
Friday, July 29, 2016
A controversial, unresolved case Rashed Rahman The controversial case of Dr Shakil Afridi remains in limbo. Five years after the Abbottabad raid by US Navy Seals that killed Osama bin Laden (OBL) and the subsequent arrest of Dr Afridi on charges of high treason, he remains incarcerated, with his case lost in the labyrinth of our justice system. Dr Afridi was picked up for running an alleged CIA-run fake vaccination programme in Abbottabad, ostensibly to confirm OBL’s presence by obtaining DNA samples of the residents of the area. He was sentenced to 33 years imprisonment under the FCR. The sentence was initially believed to be for treason in connection with the OBL raid, but was later revealed to be on a dubious charge of alleged ties with Khyber Agency’s notorious terrorist Mangal Bagh (who was subsequently killed but not before his group denied any links with Afridi and threatened to murder him at the very first opportunity). Afridi’s appeal resulted in the sentence being overturned and a fresh trial ordered on the grounds that the trial court did not have jurisdiction. That retrial according to the fair trial provisions of the Constitution has still to see the light of day. In a sign that the partial justice accorded to Afridi did not mean the end of his woes, he was further charged with murder in the death of a patient he had treated eight years previously. It should be recalled that the Abbottabad Commission on the OBL raid had recommended on October 6, 2011 that Afridi be charged with “conspiracy against the state…and high treason”. Why then have the authorities charged him with virtually everything but? And why, even before the cases against him have reached a conclusion were his assets seized, his residence sealed, and his family moved to an ‘undisclosed location’? Nor has there been any investigation so far of the claim that he was tortured in custody. Given the spurious charges actually laid at his door, US ‘confirmations’ of his role, the obvious and glaring denial of a fair trial, the very least owed to Afridi is that due process be ensured. However, the security establishment may block any such move for fear it would open up the Pandora’s box of whether OBL’s presence in Abbottabad was known to Pakistan and the US raid exposing the defence forces’ vulnerability to such clandestine ‘invasions’.
Wednesday, July 27, 2016
Karachi attack Two army soldiers have been killed in a gun attack in one of Karachi’s busiest areas on July 26. The two soldiers were shot in their vehicle by gunmen on motorcycles who managed to escape after the attack through the narrow, crowded lanes of the Saddar area. The law enforcement authorities say the attack appears to be by a banned group but add that it is too early to confirm any specific group being responsible (especially as there is no claim of responsibility so far by any terrorist organisation). As it is, the plethora of banned terrorist groups that afflict the country makes it difficult to pin down responsibility in the absence of any claim of responsibility or evidence to clinch any conclusion. While the law enforcement authorities immediately cordoned off the area and carried out a forensic examination of the soldiers’ vehicle that hit a wall after the shooting caused the driver to lose control, they were hampered in their investigation by the fact that the CCTV cameras installed in the area were found to be non-functional. This is a serious breach of the security protocol, especially since this is the fourth such attack in this very area. There are similarities with the attack on December 1, 2015 that left two military police personnel dead in a shooting on M A Jinnah Road, the lobbing of a chemical bomb into a Preedy police mobile that killed three policemen, and a few months later, three more policemen being killed in the same area. Whether the same group was behind all four terrorist incidents is not known at this juncture. The crowded area offers terrorists opportunities to meld into the teeming traffic, strike and make good their escape in expert fashion amidst the choked streets and alleys of the area. The fact that three earlier incidents were known to have occurred in the area should have alerted the security and law enforcement agencies to the fertile soil for terrorism presented by the peculiarities of the area. However, the pattern does not appear to have sunk home. And the icing on the cake is the dysfunctional CCTV cameras in this sensitive locale. The other significant aspect of this latest terrorist attack is that it was not directed at the police or, logically, the Rangers carrying out an operation against terrorists and criminals in the city, but regular army soldiers. Whether this is owed to the fortuitous (from the terrorists’ perspective) circumstance of randomly having discovered the military vehicle traversing the area or was the result of a well prepared ambush on the basis of prior information is also not known. However, the security and law enforcement agencies need to wake up to the terrorists’ ‘happy hunting ground' that the Saddar-Preedy area seems to have turned into and take well thought through, stringent steps to prevent a recurrence of such incidents. The fact that the toughest component of the country’s defence and security forces was targeted this time could be indicative of a mounting riposte by the terrorists to the operations being conducted against them in the city. As it is, reports speak of a surge in random attacks all over Karachi in recent weeks. This could be the start of a more aggressive campaign by the terrorists. That spells bad times again for the citizens of Karachi, who had barely heaved a sigh of relief at the improved security and law and order situation in the wake of the Rangers’ operation. It is a common error to perceive the relative quietude of terrorists when under attack by the security forces as an indication of their defeat or elimination. By its very nature, asymmetrical warfare follows the guerrilla principle of retreating and lying low while the security forces are actively campaigning, wait for the apparent lull to produce a level of complacency and then utilize the gaps in the security architecture to renew their attacks. We may well be witnessing such a development in Karachi at present. The lesson to be derived from this see-saw urban battlefield is that we cannot afford to let our guard down, irrespective of seeming ‘peace’ having been restored. In fact, if anything, all such sags in terrorist actions should be treated as the lull before fresh storms.
Tuesday, July 26, 2016
Change of guard The Dubai meeting of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) leadership has decided to show octogenarian Chief Minister Sindh Syed Qaim Ali Shah the door. The ‘surprise’ decision could have been anticipated since in recent days the air was full of speculation that a change was coming. Of Qaim’s three terms in office, the second one, 2008-13 was the only full one. In the current term, his ministry was beset with a whole series of new problems to add to the perception of ineffective governance that dogged his footsteps in earlier stints. Amongst these new problems, the Rangers operation against terrorists and criminals in Karachi perhaps proved the reef on which Qaim’s ship finally foundered. The issue of the extension of the Rangers’ mandate reared its head again and again, complicated further by the recent incident in Larkana in which Home Minister Anwar Siyal got implicated as a result of his brother Sikandar Siyal’s attempt to come to the rescue of Asad Kharal, arrested by the Rangers on corruption charges. This highlighted the desire of the military-backed Rangers to have their mandate extended not only in Karachi but further to all of Sindh. The perception is that Asif Ali Zardari, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and the senior leadership of the PPP were dissatisfied with Qaim Ali Shah’s handling of the Rangers issue, in which they found him too ‘soft’ and pliable. However, just as Qaim could not defy the will of the security establishment without risking the Sindh government per se, it remains a moot point whether his successor will be able to do any better. Given Karachi’s importance as the industrial, commercial and financial hub of the country and the decades old unrest, terrorism and crime that held the city hostage, the establishment’s impatience with ineffective civilian governments fed into the pressures applied and visible, especially since 2013, on the Sindh government. In this obtaining scenario, it is unlikely his successor will not face the same scenario. In addition, there has been a widespread perception that Qaim was largely a ‘showpiece’ chief minister, and that the province was actually being run in all important respects by multiple power centres, all roads from which eventually led to Asif Ali Zardari abroad. If Qaim Ali Shah was squeezed between the rock of the establishment and the hard place of multiple power centres dictating affairs in Sindh and answering only to Asif Zardari, what is the guarantee that his successor will not face the same fate? In a meeting in Karachi of the PPP leadership chaired by Bilawal after returning from Dubai, the decision has been taken to induct former Sindh finance minister Murad Ali Shah as Qaim’s replacement. Since the PPP enjoys a comfortable majority in the Sindh Assembly, it will have no problems in getting Murad Ali Shah elected as the new chief minister. However, Murad Ali Shah’s new assignment may not prove a bed of roses despite the confidence reposed in him by the PPP leadership. For one, the chances of being reduced to grist in the mill of the tensions between the establishment and the multiple centres of power answering only to Asif Zardari mentioned above remains a real risk. Second, many senior PPP Sindh leaders regard relatively young Murad Ali Shah as their ‘junior’. Whether they, and the powerful families and communities they are drawn from will be willing to serve unreservedly under him and offer him their full support remains a moot point. With two years to go to the next elections, the PPP in Sindh sees its already dwindled political fortunes nationally further weakened by the ineffective governance of Qaim Ali Shah over the last eight years in Sindh, its last remaining bastion. To engender some momentum going into the next elections, the PPP wants to switch its strategy from the ‘back foot’ (defensive, visionless, adrift) style of Qaim Ali Shah to a more aggressive ‘front foot’ posture. Whether the PPP will be able to successfully negotiate the ripples this is likely to produce in its relationship with the security establishment and use the 'victim’ card successfully if the latter moves against it, remains an open question that only time can answer.
Monday, July 25, 2016
Socialism’s revival Rashed Rahman Mairaj Mohammad Khan’s passing away this July 22, while undoubtedly the loss of a towering icon of the Left and a major figure in the struggles of the people for democracy and rights, also presents us with an opportunity to reassess his life and political career within the context of the present day crisis of the Left, globally as well as in Pakistan. Mairaj came to prominence on the Pakistani political firmament as a radical student leader, militant agitator and powerful orator. As leader of the National Students Federation (NSF), he distinguished himself by taking up the cudgels against the Ayub dictatorship in the 1960s, graduating to mainstream politics when he fashioned a partnership with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who had been ousted as foreign minister after he fell out with Ayub over the Tashkent Declaration in 1966. This partnership fathered the left-of-centre Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) in 1967, whose radical reform agenda owed a lot to the group of left-wing intellectuals who joined Bhutto to form the party. The first test for the newly formed PPP came in 1968 when a student-led agitation against the regime escalated into a countrywide struggle against the Ayub regime. After a six month continuous agitation in both the wings of the country, in which the working class came out in strength for the first time in the country’s history, Ayub had no choice but to relinquish power. However, in a last stab at the country, he handed over power to the army’s commander-in-chief General Yahya in April 1969, thereby throttling the very Basic Democracies system and the 1962 Constitution he had himself authored. The Yahya dictatorship, under the pressure of the mass movement that overthrew Ayub, made a series of concessions to defuse the popular mobilisation. One Unit in West Pakistan was abolished and the four provinces restored, the ‘parity’ between West and East Pakistan’s electoral votes was abandoned in favour of one man one vote, and general elections were announced for 1970. The Yahya regime perhaps concluded that Pakistan’s first and fair and free elections would throw up a fractured mandate, which the regime would then be able to manipulate to its advantage. The people, however, spoke decisively. With Maulana Bashani’s National Awami Party-Bhashani (NAP-B) erroneously boycotting the elections, the East Pakistan political field was left open for Sheikh Mujibur Rehman’s Awami League (AL) to sweep all but two seats in the eastern wing, which because of East Pakistan’s numerically larger population, gave it an overall majority nationally. In West Pakistan, the PPP swept the polls in Punjab and Sindh, with an alliance of the NAP-Wali and Jamiat-e-Ulema-i-Islam winning majorities in NWFP and Balochistan. Thus the mandate was ‘fractured’, but not the way the Yahya regime had anticipated. Yahya conspired to deny the AL its right to form the federal government, with Bhutto collaborating. This produced the first fissures in the Bhutto-Mairaj partnership. The second and more fatal breach occurred when, after coming to power in the wake of the loss of East Pakistan, in 1972 Bhutto had the police fire on factory workers occupying their workplaces in the industrial area of Karachi in order to forcibly take back the factories he had rhetorically been promising would belong to the workers. This led to Mairaj’s resignation from the federal cabinet. In 1973 the breach became an insurmountable gulf when Bhutto launched a military operation and a crackdown in Balochistan and NWFP respectively. Mairaj left the PPP and now began his long years on the margins of mainstream politics. Mairaj’s effort to form a Left party in the shape of the Qaumi Mahaz-i-Azadi failed to take off and his five-year flirtation with Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) too foundered on the rock of Imran’s closeness to the military. Like many other leftists of his and earlier generations, Mairaj spent the last years of his life in quiet but dignified resignation to the currents of the time. It is during this period that he was heard to muse about the correctness of his decision to leave the PPP. This is where the history of the Left in Pakistan needs revisiting. During the independence movement, while the Communist Party of India supported the Pakistan demand on the touchstone of (religious?) self-determination, many leftists joined the ranks of the Pakistan Muslim League in the hope of influencing its policies towards a pro-people direction from within. This was the first of repeated attempts by leftists to use the umbrella of mainstream political parties to further their socialist agendas (e.g. NAP, PPP), especially after the Communist Party of Pakistan was banned in 1954. All these efforts based on the theory of using the platform of ‘multi-class’ parties to further socialism came to naught at the hands of the state’s repression and marginalisation by the right wing in all these parties. What went abegging in the process was the emergence of an independent and effective Left party. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 meant different things to different people. To the capitalist cold warriors, it was the triumph of capitalism, variously interpreted, sometimes even as the Hegelian realization of his Idea (the ‘end’ of history). In this heady triumphalism, the west not only enjoyed the horizontal expansion of capitalism into the former socialist bloc and the underdeveloped world (globalisation), it saw this as the chance history had offered once more to demolish all existing and emerging rivals. This is the only explanation for the west’s otherwise inexplicable hostility towards post-Soviet Russia and rising China. Ironically, in a repeat of its early history, late, triumphalist capitalism has engendered its own class opposition in the shape of the new, emerging Left in Europe (and Latin America) in response to its latest economic crisis (2007-08). This is a Left unencumbered by the burden of twentieth century socialism’s defeat. It is pragmatic, social-democratic, and prepared to contest on the ground of the existing mainstream politics. The Left in Pakistan, already reeling from its implosion a decade earlier, sank into retreat and defeatism. Although the existing Left virtually collapsed in Pakistan around 1981, a full decade before the Soviet implosion, it has yet to re-emerge as a viable and effective voice of change, despite the efforts of the surviving Left parties and formations. To do this, and despite Mairaj’s late life second thoughts about sticking with the PPP, the Left has to reinvent itself theoretically, practically and organisationally. And this time without kowtowing to foreign centres such as Moscow or Beijing, and without the illusions about the ‘umbrella’ provided by so-called multi-class mainstream parties. email@example.com
Saturday, July 23, 2016
An icon of the Left Mairaj Mohammad Khan, who passed away after a long illness on July 22, was a towering figure in Pakistan’s chequered political history and an icon of the Left. Even a cursory glance at his life and career would bring out the truth of this statement. Pakistan’s early years saw the students and youth as the repository of the idealism that informed the independence movement as well as the aspirations of the people post-independence. In this milieu, it came as no surprise that this section of society was often in the forefront of struggles for the rights of the people. In the 1950s, students led the resistance to Pakistan joining cold war anti-communist military pacts led by the west. Mairaj acquired his early political consciousness in this culture of student resistance. Come Ayub’s military coup of 1958 and Mairaj was already active in student politics in Karachi. This involvement led to the founding of the National Students Federation (NSF), which under the leadership of Mairaj Mohammad Khan emerged as the leading Left student body in the country opposed to the Ayub dictatorship. In 1961, Pakistani students and youth agitated against the CIA-driven murder of Congo’s first prime minister Patrice Lumumba. Mairaj and the NSF were centre-stage in that struggle, which was brutally put down by the Ayub dictatorship. In the first instance of a recurring pattern that defined Mairaj’s political life, he and his NSF associates were arrested and sentenced to six months imprisonment. The next significant milestone in Mairaj’s trajectory came with the promulgation of the Universities Ordinance 1963 by the Ayub regime, seeking to extend the tenure of undergraduate degrees to five years from the previous four. This led to a widespread student struggle against the Ordinance, because of which Mairaj and a dozen of his student comrades were expelled from Karachi, the first such internal ‘exile’ in Pakistan’s history. When, however, this expulsion only served to strengthen student resistance to the Ordinance because of Mairaj and his comrades receiving a rapturous heroes’ welcome in the rest of the country, the Ayub dictatorship finally had to retreat and withdraw the Ordinance. This success elevated the NSF to a significant political force. When the split in the international communist movement emerged, it divided the NSF too, with Mairaj heading the pro-China faction. He earned the further ire of the Ayub dictatorship by turning out in support of the opposition’s candidate Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah in the 1964 presidential election and was elected a Basic Democrat under the gerrymandered electoral structure the dictator had erected to ensure his continuing grip on power. Although at loggerheads with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto throughout his association with the Ayub regime, Mairaj drew close to and joined hands with Bhutto to first create the (at that time) the left-of-centre Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) after Bhutto fell out with Ayub in 1965, and then played a leading role in the 1968-69 countrywide agitation against the Ayub regime that finally saw the back of our first military dictator. However, being the man of principle he remained throughout his life, Mairaj opposed Bhutto over the military crackdown in East Pakistan following the 1970 elections, and in 1972, with Bhutto in power, quit a federal ministry, the PPP and the mantle of Bhutto’s political heir-apparent over Bhutto’s violent repression of the working class movement in the industrial heartland of Karachi. Later, in 1973, he opposed the dismissal of the Sardar Attaullah Mengal ministry in Balochistan and the subsequent military operation and crackdown against the Baloch and Pashtuns respectively. This did not deter him, however, from opposing General Zia’s persecution and eventual hanging of Mr Bhutto. In fact he was one of the founders of the 1983 Movement for the Restoration of Democracy against the Zia regime. After these turbulent years that took their toll of his health, not the least because of the repeated incarcerations and tortures inflicted upon him by military dictators and authoritarian civilian rulers, Mairaj’s political fortunes declined along with the virtual collapse of the Left in Pakistan. Although he attempted to keep the flag flying in the shape of a new party he founded called the Qaumi Mahaz-e-Azadi, it never took off in a political climate in which the message of the Left had weakened immeasurably. Casting about for an anchor in the wake of the disintegration of his party, Mairaj briefly flirted with Imran Khan’s PTI, but soon left in disgust over the latter’s predilection for getting close to the military. The Left may currently appear just a footnote of history pending its revival, but the example of a principled, committed, simple life full of sacrifice for his ideals that Mairaj Mohammad Khan leaves behind should serve as an inspiration to today’s students, youth, workers and peasants, as it once did during his lifetime. RIP Comrade Mairaj.
Wednesday, July 20, 2016
The Musharraf saga The long, winding saga of former president General (retd) Pervez Musharraf’s high treason trial appears to have ended up in a cul de sac. The three-member Special Court trying the former military dictator on the charge of imposing the emergency in 2007 has ruled that it cannot proceed with the case unless the accused is either arrested and produced before it or surrenders and records his statement under Section 342 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC). Adjourning the case sine die, the court however held that Musharraf was a proclaimed offender for having failed to appear after he was allowed to proceed abroad for medical treatment by the Supreme Court earlier this year. Musharraf left for Dubai in March 2016, having made solemn commitments and given guarantees to return to face the charges as soon as his health allowed. Since then, reports speak of a hale and hearty Musharraf enjoying his lifestyle abroad that is by now familiar to Pakistanis. The Special Court has ordered that all Musharraf’s moveable and immoveable properties and bank accounts be attached under Section 88 of the CrPC. This order too appears to have run into snags as some of Musharraf’s properties are either army land allotments, co-owned by others, or have already been transferred, including to his wife Sehba Musharraf. Challenges on these and other legal bases are possible if not likely. The assignation of Musharraf as a proclaimed offender too could be negated by the usual ploy of medical certificates being produced in court to justify his continued absence abroad. In its July 19 order, the Special Court rejected the prosecution’s pleas for continuance of the trial even in the absence of the accused as well as suggestions that the former dictator’s statement could be recorded via Skype. Should we be surprised at Musharraf’s treason case ending up as a damp squib? After two and a half years of meandering through the courts, it has reached a not unexpected dead end. The support of the institution Musharraf headed may have been an important factor in this outcome, given that the military has not allowed any military coup maker in the past to be put into the dock either (General Yahya was declared a usurper by the courts only after his death). Musharraf had been expediently given safe passage abroad by the PPP-led government in 2008. He however, carried away by hubris, returned to the country under the illusion that he enjoyed immense support at home. Facebook ‘likes’ aside, what the dictator in his labyrinth failed to recognize was that those who supported him during his years in power were by and large sycophants, coattail hangers on and vested interests. This soon became obvious and Musharraf found himself in hot soup with few friends in sight. His trial by the Special Court, after he was charged with high treason for the imposition of the 2007 emergency in December 2013 and indicted on March 31, 2014, remained suspended after the Special Court in November 2014 ordered a reinvestigation to identify Musharraf’s abettors. Specifically, the order targeted then (and now again) law minister Zahid Hamid, Chief Justice (CJ) Dogar and then prime minister Shaukat Aziz. When the trial did eventually resume on the directions of the Supreme Court earlier this year, there was no shortage of sceptics who looked askance at the prospects, both because the charge of treason was confined to the 2007 emergency and not extended to the coup of 1999, and the track record of military coup makers getting away scot-free because of the overweening influence of the military. The 1999 coup was indemnified by the Supreme Court under the implied but still notorious doctrine of necessity, ironically by a bench that included Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry. The latter’s subsequent elevation to CJ reflected the good relationship he enjoyed at that time with Musharraf. It was only in 2007 that the two fell out, the reason being the dictator’s fear that Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry would obstruct Musharraf’s ambition of being re-elected president in uniform. The rest, as they say, is history. That history continues to uphold the right of military coup makers and dictators to get away scot-free after wreaking havoc on the country.
Tuesday, July 19, 2016
Timely recovery Barrister Awais Ali Shah, the son of the Sindh High Court (SHC) Chief Justice (CJ), has been recovered and returned home after a dramatic operation in which three kidnappers were killed. According to the media briefing of DG ISPR Lt-General Asim Bajwa, Awais was recovered after a shootout when the vehicle in which he was being transported was challenged at a check point near Tank in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). When the vehicle did not stop, the driver was shot dead and then the two other terrorists who came out of the vehicle firing their weapons were also killed. Awais Shah was found bound and gagged in a burqa in the vehicle. He was then transported by a special plane to Karachi and reunited with his family under tight security. Lt-General Bajwa said the successful rescue was made possible through an intelligence-based operation (IBO) conducted by the ISI. Lt-General Bajwa also revealed that a splinter group of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and al Qaeda were responsible for the kidnapping. It is being speculated that the purpose may have been to exchange Awais Shah for some incarcerated militants. It may be recalled that Awais was kidnapped in broad daylight from Clifton, Karachi, on June 20. Both Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and COAS General Raheel Sharif called the SHC CJ to congratulate him on the safe recovery of his son. They also had high praise for the intelligence and security services for the safe and relatively quick recovery of Awais Ali Shah. The recovery of Awais Ali Shah bears consideration. For one, it must be considered fortuitous that he escaped unscathed in the exchange of firing between his kidnappers and the security forces since he was immobilised inside the vehicle. Two, he was rescued by an IBO just one month after being kidnapped and then spirited across Sindh, Punjab and part of KP. ISPR says he was being conveyed to Zhob in Balochistan on the way to Afghanistan. This has long remained the modus operandi of kidnappers belonging to criminal gangs or militant outfits. The other option of secreting kidnapped victims in the militants’ safe havens in FATA is no longer available after Operation Zarb-e-Azb cleansed the tribal areas of this malign long standing presence. The remnants of the TTP and other militant groups were forced to flee across the border into Afghanistan under the pressure of the Operation, where Mullah Fazlullah’s TTP is said to be enjoying the hospitality of the Haqqani network. Although the effect of this cleansing is palpable in the decreased incidence of terrorism all over the country, so long as these remnants are alive and well, and receiving the support of the Afghan Taliban in the shape of the Haqqani network as well as al Qaeda, there is no letting our guard down, as the Awais Shah incident indicates. It also highlights the need for better security coordination amongst the provinces and the federal authorities. Three, the IBO to rescue Awais Shah was facilitated by the clearing of the ground in the tribal areas and KP, leading to better and more timely intelligence. The tracking of the vehicle carrying Awais Shah in KP, far from the start of the journey, is a reflection of this new reality. We only need to cast our mind back to the kidnappings of late Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer’s son Shahbaz Taseer and former Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani’s son Ali Haider Gilani to see how things have changed. Shahbaz Taseer was kidnapped in broad daylight on his way to office in Lahore, and it took more than four years and the declining fortunes of his kidnappers in Pakistan and Afghanistan for him to return unharmed to his family. Equally, it took three years for Ali Haider Gilani to return to his familiy’s bosom. Compared to barely one month for Awais Ali Shah’s return, the coefficient of kidnappees’ families’ mental and emotional torture has improved beyond description. However, these happy outcomes, eventual earlier, quicker now, should not lead us into complacency but point us in the direction of redoubled efforts to cut the ground from under the feet of those indulging in this notorious ‘trade’ and eliminate their ability to inflict such suffering.
Sunday, July 17, 2016
Coup attempt in Turkey An attempted coup by a faction of the military in Turkey has failed because of decisive action by the loyal military command and the determined unarmed resistance of the people. On July 15, Turkey and the world were shocked by the announcement by the military coup makers that they had overthrown the government of President Tayyip Erdogan and assumed control, ironically in the name of protecting the democratic order and maintaining human rights, existing foreign relationships and the rule of law. The state-run Anadolu news agency reported that the chief of military staff was among hostages being held in the Ankara military headquarters. Both President Erdogan and Prime Minister (PM) Binali Yildirim reacted swiftly in asserting that the attempted coup had been put down, with the former’s appeal to the people to come out in resistance on the streets producing extraordinary scenes of protestors facing off against tanks and thereby inducing the surrender of some of the rebelling soldiers. PM Yildirim declared that the elected government was still in charge and would only go when the people said so. He promised that the coup makers would pay the highest price. By the time he addressed a press conference the next day, it was clear the coup had collapsed, leaving a death toll of 104 soldiers from amongst the coup makers, 41 loyalist police and two security forces’ personnel, and 47 citizens. Almost 3,000 arrests and one military helicopter shot down while firing on citizens rounded off the score. One helicopter with military personnel on board escaped to neighbouring Greece and these rebels promptly demanded political asylum. Other than that the putsch claimed relatively little damage, a reflection perhaps of the narrow base of support within the military for the coup makers. The army chief, five Generals and 29 Colonels have reportedly been sacked in the aftermath of the attempted coup, presumably for their failure to head it off, which also points to an intelligence failure. The Turkish government announced that July 15 would be celebrated every year as Democracy Day. It also accused dissident self-exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen of being behind the attempted overthrow. Once an ally of President Erdogan, Gulen has fallen foul of the AK Party government and been accused repeatedly of running a ‘parallel structure’ of his supporters within the judiciary and administration. Gulen, however, has denied any responsibility for the coup attempt. It goes without saying that the attempted putsch set off alarm bells in the west as well as the region. Turkey has the second largest army in NATO, with the İncirlik air base serving as the launch pad for western air raids against Islamic State (IS) fighters in Syria and Iraq. Turkey under Erdogan, PM from 2003 till he was elected President in 2014 and attempted to shift executive powers to the latter traditionally ceremonial post, has of late been changing its policy of turning a blind eye to (if not cooperating with) IS in its obsession to get rid of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, because IS has bitten the hand that fed it by attacking Turkey, the horrendous Istanbul airport attack two weeks ago that killed 40 people being the last straw for Ankara. Erdogan has also tilted into a war once again with Turkey’s Kurds. His ruling AK Party has long had strained relations with the military and nationalists apprehensive of his attempts to alter Turkey’s founding secular state character in the direction of greater Islamisation. Turkey’s military has historically regarded itself as the guardian of Turkey’s secular state and not hesitated in the past to take over when dissatisfied with civilian governments. But it seems the long years of democracy under Erdogan, differences notwithstanding, has demonstrated its efficacy in pitching Turkey’s rapid development as a model for Muslim countries. Besides, we in Pakistan would have little difficulty in recognising that military coups, when they inevitably give way eventually to democratic, representative rule, leave more problems behind than those the coup makers set out to tackle. Not only that, the interruption of continuity weakens institutions and forces countries to go back to the drawing board every time to literally start from scratch to undo the malign effects of military rule and restart the democratic journey. If more current proof of this is needed, one need only cast a glance at the outcome of the Egyptian military coup that overthrew an Islamist government and is now faced with extreme unrest and discontent because of its authoritarian repression of the forces that fuelled the Arab Spring in that country. We in Pakistan, when we start to air our discontents with democracy, should keep in mind that military rule has only exacerbated our problems and slowed down, if not sabotaged, the project of incremental systemic institutionalisation, not the least because of covert and not so covert pressures exerted by the military. Turkey’s people and armed forces are to be congratulated for their successful defence of democracy against an ill considered and unacceptable military putsch. Pakistan too needs to learn the appropriate lessons from this event, which includes our civilian rulers paying greater attention to more effective governance and the strengthening of democratic institutions in the interests of the people.
CPEC and Balochistan Rashed Rahman Balochistan has long complained of deprivation of its rights as a federating unit and its people of deprivation of their rights as citizens. Nothing has served better in recent days to remind us of that fact and focus minds on these continuing complaints than the controversies surrounding the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). To highlight these controversies, the Balochistan National Party organised a seminar in Islamabad on July 12 entitled “CPEC: Development or Exploitation?” A panoply of speakers delineated the contours of the project from different angles, with the theme of Balochistan’s deprivation in the past and apprehensions about a similar outcome of the CPEC dominating the discourse. The speakers were chosen from a wide array, including journalists, academics, lawyers and experts in their respective fields. While most speakers dwelt at greater or lesser length on the legacy of the unjust treatment of the province and its people, some common themes resonated throughout the presentations. First and foremost amongst these themes was the history of injustice reflected in Balochistan’s place in the federation and in its people being abandoned to poverty and a barely subsistence existence. The die of a strained Baloch relationship with the newly created state of Pakistan was already cast on the eve of independence by the Kalat State’s claim that it enjoyed the status of a Treaty State with the British Crown and therefore had the right to self-determination when Britain withdrew from the subcontinent. The Kalat State represented a tribal confederacy of the people inhabiting the area. Kalat’s argument was that after advancing British colonialism fought a series of wars with the Baloch during the 19th century in an effort to carve out an alternative strategic route to Afghanistan, where the British Empire was in contention with the Czarist Russian Empire, they opted for signing treaties with Kalat that brought an end to those wars. These treaties conceded a strategic corridor to the British running from Shikarpur, through the famed Bolan Pass to Kandahar. The Shal Valley provided the British with an ideal location for a cantonment close to the Afghanistan border, which grew over time into the city of Quetta. In return the British agreed to respect the internal autonomy of the Kalat State and its confederating Baloch tribes, provide funding for a Levies force recruited from the tribes and charged with keeping the peace within the tribal areas, and sweeteners in the form of purses for some of the tribal chieftains. This arrangement, in which the British did not interfere in the internal affairs of the tribes in return for unimpeded access to Afghanistan, evolved into what later came to be called the Sandeman system after a British officer whose name still adorns a town in the province (Fort Sandeman). This system Pakistan inherited at independence. Ironically, before independence Kalat engaged one of the most accomplished constitutional lawyers of the day, one Mohammad Ali Jinnah, to argue its case before the British Crown, up to and including the high forum of the Privy Council. Ironic because it was Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah who as the first Governor General of the newly created independent state of Pakistan, presided over the forcible accession of the Kalat State to Pakistan. This event needs to be located in the context of the tensions and pressures accompanying independence, particularly the disputes that arose between the two successor states of Pakistan and India. Nevertheless, this development coloured the subsequent trajectory of the relationship between Balochistan and the Centre. Seventy years later, in the midst of the fourth nationalist insurgency in Balochistan since Pakistan came into being, it is worth considering why the restive Baloch have felt compelled to take up arms again and again in defence of their rights, dignity and self-respect. The litany of grievances is by now familiar to informed observers. The seething resentment over the events surrounding the 1948 accession was added to in subsequent years by the perception that the postcolonial state of Pakistan was practicing what could only be described as internal colonialism. The fears and apprehensions of the ruling post-independence elite and the overdeveloped state institutions such as the military and bureaucracy vis-à-vis the threat from India fed into a siege mentality that transmogrified over time into the mindset of a national security state. Such a state argued for a strong Centre to meet the challenges from a larger neighbour, if necessary at the expense of the weaker federating units. Thus East Pakistan, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (then called the NWFP) felt the state’s priorities tilting towards the pre-eminence of Punjab, from which the military and bureaucracy were overwhelmingly drawn. The One Unit adventure was an attempt to nullify the numerical majority of East Pakistan by abolishing the provinces of West Pakistan, merging them into One Unit in the western wing and constructing a ‘parity’ of representation thereby with East Pakistan. In the early 1950s, gas was discovered in Sui in the Bugti tribal area. Although this natural resource fuelled the industrialisation and modernisation of commercial and domestic life throughout the country, the deprivation of Balochistan by not supplying the province of origin with its own gas, added to by little or no financial benefit to the province or its people, ignoring the local denizens in employment etc, set the tone for similar practices and their concomitant complaints and discontents where the natural mineral resources of the province, including gas (and potentially oil), copper and other minerals were concerned. The Saindak and still to be developed Reqo Dik copper and gold projects exhibit all these characteristics of the Centre rather than the people of Balochistan being the beneficiaries. These experiences inform the sentiment of the people of Balochistan vis-à-vis the CPEC. As reflected in the speeches at the seminar alluded to above, the Baloch as well as right thinking people throughout Pakistan critique the CPEC as non-transparent, oriented more towards the development of the already developed provinces (the Eastern route) rather than being seen as an opportunity for breakthrough development and modernisation of the underdeveloped provinces (the Western route), excluding local people in the employment opportunities presented by the CPEC and the development of the Gwadar Port, and altering irreversibly the demography of a large but sparsely populated province against the interests of the Baloch. These sentiments feed into support, overt or covert, for the nationalist insurgency once again simmering in the province. The powers-that-be suffer from both a lack of imagination as well as practicing Einstein’s definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Given that insurgency has gripped every generation of the Baloch over the last 70 years, perhaps the time has come to revisit the assumptions on which the security forces are operating once again in Balochistan. The allegation that the insurgency is purely India-driven and financed is oversimplification to the point of absurdity. This is a charge that has been used to castigate every previous insurgency in the province as well. Although no proof is available for the charge, even if for the sake of argument it is accepted, is it not axiomatic that the foreign hand can only fish in troubled waters? If your house is in fire, outsiders can take advantage of the conflagration. The contrary argument should be obvious. What is needed is a political approach to the Balochistan problem, rather than a reliance once again on driving the people of the province into paradise at the point of a bayonet. Separatism may not be acceptable to the state, but short of that many of the long standing and new grievances of the Baloch are arguably capable of being addressed within the ambit of the constitution and law. The benefit: peace within and along the CPEC route/s, which even the special security force being mooted to protect the CPEC may not be able to guarantee. To take maximum advantage of the CPEC, Pakistan needs peace within, especially in Balochistan, and peace without (meaning an end to proxy wars against neighbours). Is there the vision available for such a potentially shining future? firstname.lastname@example.org
Saturday, July 9, 2016
Televangelists and radicalisation The Maharashtra government in India has initiated an inquiry into the possible inspiration provided to the terrorists who slaughtered 20 hostages, most of them foreigners, in Dhaka recently, by the speeches of televangelist Zakir Nair. Bangladesh has revealed that at least two of the terrorists cited Dr Naik in their posts on social media before the attack. The good doctor has defended himself by arguing that 90 percent of people in Bangladesh know him and 50 percent are his fans, but every fan may not follow everything he says. He alleges that his speeches are often doctored, thereby distorting his comments. He therefore rejects the accusation that he may have inspired the Dhaka or any other terrorist attack. This is, to put it mildly, a strange defence. Dr Naik has an Islamic Research Foundation in Mumbai, purportedly to present ‘true’ Islam, and a satellite TV channel Peace TV, on which he is constantly seen. Peace TV is banned in India but aired nevertheless by some cable operators. While Saudi Arabia highly praises him and has even bestowed awards on him, he is reportedly banned from entering the UK and Canada. It is alleged that his views offer a defence of Osama bin Laden. One difficulty for India is that Saudi Arabian support for Naik becomes a delicate matter since India has of late been wooing the kingdom (and other Gulf countries). The issue is also entangled with Indian domestic politics, with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) criticising the opposition Congress Party’s senior leader Digvijaya Singh for sharing hugs and the stage with Dr Naik at an event to promote communal harmony where he praised Naik. Hindu preacher Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has also whaled into Naik for quoting the Vedas out of context during a public discussion with him on Hinduism and Islam. Meanwhile Information and Broadcasting Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu, castigating Naik’s speeches as “highly objectionable”, has said the home ministry will take appropriate action after studying the speeches. Whether one goes along with the emerging accusations against Naik of inspiring terrorist attacks through his speeches, the radicalisation of Muslim youth all over the world, not just in Muslim countries, is a phenomenon with wider dimensions than just one televangelist’s influence. On the one hand, received wisdom until recently was that poverty and deprivation provide the fertile soil for terrorist recruitment. While there is truth in that perception, evidence is mounting (including in the Dhaka attack) that youth from well off backgrounds and the best education are not impervious to radicalisation along extremist and terrorist lines. Apart from televangelists like Zakir Naik, the internet and social media have provided terrorist recruiters with a rich source of cannon fodder whose mindset has been altered through propaganda. The central theme of these messages is that the historical wrongs against Muslims (e.g. Palestine, Kashmir, etc.) and the collaborative structures in Muslim societies that serve the interests of the west dictate war against western interests and their satraps in the Muslim world. Added to this poisonous brew is the sectarian notion of declaring it justified to attack and kill members of all Muslim sects differing from their strict, literalist, distorted interpretation of Islam. The rash of terrorist attacks in Ramzan and around Eid in Bangladesh, Iraq and Saudi Arabia invokes in some quarters the spurious argument that ‘no Muslim could do this’. This mistaken notion that leads to the conspiracy theory that forces inimical to Islam are behind such actions needs to be laid to rest once and for all. It must be recognised by now that the perpetrators of such massacres (mostly, it must be said, of Muslims) are very much from within the Muslim fold, albeit so far down the deviant path as to be justifiably seen as outside the pale of Islam. While the Muslim world must tackle the roots of terrorism by addressing widespread poverty and deprivation in its societies through inclusive democratic systems that can wean youth away from atavistic, irrational, ‘other world’ solutions, the appeal of the extremists to educated and well off youth also needs to be tackled by a narrative that places centre-stage the message of peace of Islam and the broader enlightened humanitarian view of shunning and overcoming the barbaric aberration that the terrorists’ version of Islam has evolved into, arguably fuelled indirectly if not directly by seemingly ‘moderate’ preachers such as Naik.
Tuesday, July 5, 2016
Deplorable irresponsibility The Foreign Office (FO) has refuted claims in the Indian media that Pakistan’s ISI was behind the Dhaka carnage in an uptown café on July 2. The attack on the café by gunmen belonging to the Jamayetul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) saw about 35 people taken hostage, of whom 20 were slaughtered with machetes, most of them foreigners. Six of the gunmen were eventually killed by security forces after an 11-hour siege, while one was captured alive and is being interrogated. Pakistan had condemned the terrorist atrocity and expressed its solidarity with the people of Bangladesh and the victims of the incident. It is all the more deplorable therefore that a section of the Indian media pounced upon the opportunity to malign Pakistan by ascribing imaginary statements to a Bangladeshi government advisor blaming Pakistan and the ISI for the planning of the attack. The advisor, Professor Gowher Rizvi, immediately denied the reports, particularly an interview with him claimed by Indian NDTV that he says never took place, let alone the statement blaming Pakistan attributed to him. He went further in castigating the motivated report as “proof of the Indian media’s malicious intent”. Not just that, Professor Rizvi informed Pakistan’s High Commissioner in Dhaka of the correct position and requested the clarification be conveyed to the Pakistan government to avoid any misunderstanding between the two countries. The sensitivity surrounding this episode needs to be seen in the context of recent tensions between Islamabad and Dhaka regarding the former’s castigation of the hangings of Jamaat-i-Islami’s (JI’s) leaders charged with genocide during Bangladesh’s independence war in 1971. The Pakistani FO sprang into action in the wake of these developments to reiterate its condemnation of the terrorist attack and express sympathies for the families of the victims. The FO called the allegations of Pakistani involvement “baseless and unfounded”, “highly regrettable”, “irresponsible and provocative”. The last phrase in particular sums up the blinkered approach of sections of the Indian media, never loath to exploit any opening to whale into its favourite whipping boy, the ISI. While Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency has earned a fearsome and not always enviable reputation in the past, on this occasion it is found to be more sinned against than sinning. While Pakistan and Bangladesh have officially cleared the air with each other over the false reports in the Indian media, this may not be the end of the matter. Bangladeshi Information Minister Hasanul Haq Inu could not resist the temptation to swim against the current of Professor Rizvi’s clarification by raking up old accusations of the Pakistan government’s continuing to patronise and support the JI, which had caused Pakistani diplomats to be withdrawn time and again. And in an interview with CNN, Mr Inu said his government was still looking into whether the ISI had played a part. For one, the Bangladesh government, in its own interests and in the interests of the relationship between the two countries, should refrain from issuing contradictory statements by different spokespersons. Second, the Indian media responsible for such irresponsible, unethical and motivated reporting should revisit its preconceived notions that seek to cast Pakistan always in a negative light even when the facts do not support it. The issues surrounding the Dhaka attack deserve a more serious approach than the one adopted in knee-jerk fashion by the Indian media. JMB, an outfit banned over a decade ago, claims to represent Islamic State (IS) in Bangladesh. That itself, along with the airing of photos of the attackers and details of the attack by IS should ring alarm bells throughout South Asia. IS is clearly establishing a foothold in the region through local terrorist groups. This calls for a realization on the part of governments and the media that they should not, consciously or inadvertently, provide grist to the IS mill, but instead make efforts to bring South Asia together to combat the common threat from terrorism in general, and now IS in particular. While the Indian media responsible for false reporting has rightly been exposed and castigated, we in Pakistan should also be critical of similar tendencies in our own media of preconceived, off the cuff, uninvestigated reporting that further muddies the waters rather than impelling South Asia towards cooperation in the common fight against terrorism.
Culture of goofing off There was a time when Pakistan had just two Eid holidays, the day itself and the following day (Taru). Over the years, the tendency to treat the occasion as an excuse for increasing these holidays has grown to the point where it has seriously eroded our work culture (itself weakened by many other factors). This year, as has become the norm, the federal government has announced four holidays from Tuesday, July 5 to Friday, July 8. Judging by past experience, this effectively means that the entire working week will be lost, since most government (and private) employees will take off for their native abodes on Sunday, July 3, and only return to work (if we are lucky) on Monday, July 11. The bureaucrats (as well as a great many ordinary citizens) in Islamabad are not natives of the capital. They therefore naturally wish to spend as much time as possible on the occasion of Eid in their home towns and villages. This is the main explanation for the phenomenon of extended Eid holidays, which are then taken advantage of by government and private employees to unilaterally exploit the ‘concession’ by further absenting themselves to their own convenience. This ‘sleight of hand’ is then followed by the provincial governments, which have to (happily?) follow the Centre. In the provincial capitals and towns too, a similar exodus is in evidence around Eid, largely the result of the urban pull of the big cities as centres of employment and other opportunities. The country as a whole therefore, barely emerging from a month of functioning at half speed and energy because of Ramzan (especially, as this year, when it falls at the height of summer), completely grinds to a halt for one whole week or more. Can Pakistan afford such ‘luxury’? The country is beset with a raft of serious problems, including terrorism and law and order. The economy is still struggling despite the government’s tall claims. Governance, both internal and in foreign policy, appears adrift. As far as the economy is concerned, despite the government’s ‘trumpeting’ of its stabilisation and recovery claims and the endorsement of the international lending agencies, the glass is still half-empty. Investment is lagging; growth, though marginally better, is still low and unlikely to meet the budgeted target; the much touted foreign exchange reserves of over $ 23 billion comprise 75 percent borrowed funds; agriculture is in crisis, with lower cotton production impacting the textile sector and therefore exports, already reeling from energy shortages and other problems. The government’s claim of meeting the tax collection target this year also needs to be tempered by the realisation that this has been achieved reportedly by withholding tax refunds, largely (61 percent) from indirect taxes, withholding taxes and advance taxes from the oil and gas sector that will have to be adjusted in the years to come. Expert critics of the economic performance of the government therefore have weight in their argument that the government is misleading the country by manipulating the facts and figures and highlighting only the ‘glass half-full’ side of the picture. Given the still fragile state of the economy and the myriad other problems on the country’s plate, what we need is to remind ourselves of the Quaid’s admonition at the birth of the country to “work, work, work”. In other words, what the country needs is an ethic and culture of hard work and not encouragement of a culture of goofing off on the slightest, most spurious excuse. If the bureaucracy has persuaded the government to adopt the latter course, it is in its own and the country’s interests to reverse this unjustifiable lacuna.
The IS footprint Rashed Rahman The Islamic State’s (IS’s) footprint is expanding. First, an area where it originally arose and still has a formidable battling presence, Iraq. An IS suicide car bombing on Sunday, July 3, in Baghdad’s Karrada shopping district, busier even than normal because of crowds of Eid shoppers, killed 119 and wounded more than 140 people. This was the deadliest attack in a long line of attacks since January in the Iraqi capital. It came just one week after the recapture of Fallujah from IS by a resurgent Iraqi army. Mosul now is the only city left under IS control. The bombing in Baghdad is being viewed as IS’s riposte against civilians for its recent military reverses. IS has claimed responsibility, reiterating that the action was aimed at Shias, as have its past such strikes in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq. The Baghdad bombing came just one day after the incident in Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka. There, an IS group slit the throats of 20 people with machetes, the favourite weapon it seems of terrorists in that country. Gunmen took customers at a café popular with foreigners near the diplomatic quarter hostage, sifted Muslims who could recite the Quran from those who could not, spared the former and slaughtered the latter. Thirty hostages were wounded in the incident. Two policemen died in an initial exchange of fire. After an 11-hour siege, security forces stormed the café, killing six of the attackers and capturing one alive, who is under interrogation. The Bangladesh government offered a strange explanation for the incident. Denying that the attackers had any affiliation with IS, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said the killers were well-educated members of a homegrown militant outfit Jamayetul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) who found extremism “fashionable”. JMB was banned by Bangladesh more than a decade ago. Although IS claimed responsibility for the atrocity and its news agency Amaq published extensive details and photos of the attack, the Bangladeshi authorities stuck to their version, probably fearing that an acknowledgement of IS’s footprint in the country would frighten off foreign investors. Some of the foreigners killed were reportedly buyers involved with Bangladesh’s garments export sector, second only to China’s globally and on which the Bangladeshi economy heavily depends. Some others were involved with Japan’s aid agency JICA’s projects in Bangladesh. The fallout for Bangladesh’s economy could be devastating, hence the government’s reluctance to admit that IS was behind the massacre. Despite the Bangladeshi government’s head-in-the-sand denial mode, IS’s own claim of responsibility clinches the argument. Additionally, the government of Sheikh Hasina has been indulging in misplaced concreteness. Since last month, the government has launched a crackdown that has netted some 11,000 suspects, but analysts say these arrests smack of arbitrariness and seem to be aimed largely at the political opposition. The main target therefore comes out as Begum Khalida Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party and its ally the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), some of the latter’s leaders having been imprisoned and others hanged on charges of genocide during the country’s 1971 independence war. The JI has been banned since these controversial trials and executions. IS attacks in countries as far apart as France, Belgium, the US, Yemen, Iraq, Syria, north and west Africa and now Bangladesh point to the spreading ripples of this most ruthless of the terrorist groups in the field globally. What the Bangladesh government is not willing to acknowledge in an unlikely to succeed stance is that like its predecessor al Qaeda, IS does not function with a centralized command structure. It is enough for any extremist terrorist group anywhere in the world to pay obeisance towards IS and its self-proclaimed Caliph of its declared Islamic State, al-Baghdadi, to be recognized and awarded the IS ‘franchise’. This enterprise is now flourishing and spreading like never before. The world is in turmoil as a result and its reasons and the present trajectory have their roots in the Afghan wars since the 1980s. The US-led west’s cold war obsession with defeating communism persuaded it to utilize the opportunity afforded by the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union in 1979 in support of its Afghan communist allies. This translated, in Brzezinski’s phrase, into a campaign to ‘bleed’ the Soviets through the agency of the Afghan Mujahideen. The west succeeded in this venture in spectacular fashion, forcing thereby the Soviets to finally retreat from Afghanistan in 1989 and suffer an internal collapse just two years later in 1991. With the cold war won and the Soviet Union not only vanquished but dismembered, the west now turned its back on ‘backwaters’ like Afghanistan, mistakenly thinking that no great strategic interests remained for it in that part of the world. This left the field open in Afghanistan for the local and regional players to fill the ‘vacuum’. Through the collapse of the Afghan communist government, the twists and turns of the Mujahideen civil war that followed and the eventual rise of the Taliban, the west is now learning to its cost what a blunder that was. As though having learnt nothing from the disaster of 9/11, the US invaded and occupied Afghanistan (where it still has a precarious toehold), then Iraq, and under a ‘peace’ President Obama, destabilized Libya and Syria through proxies. Withdrawal from Iraq opened the door to the rise of IS. The rest, as they say, is history. While IS can by now boast ‘franchise’ or affiliated groups stretching from South East Asia through South Asia and the Middle East into northern, western and eastern Africa, with local groups able to strike as far as the west itself, there is no countervailing international anti-terrorist architecture available to conduct the necessary coordinated struggle on the military, security and political-ideological front worldwide. This allows IS and similar terrorist goups to wriggle through the gaps of states’ national considerations and perceived interests and strike far and wide in a random pattern that is difficult to predict let alone stave off. The struggle against the antediluvian delusions of IS and others of its ilk promises therefore to be long and bloody. Whether the will and consensus exists internationally to bring the superior military might and resources of the world to bear on the task is a question whose answer still goes abegging. Pakistan had better beware of the possibility of the IS franchise arriving on our soil (there have been relatively weak claims of IS affiliation by some existing terrorist groups here too). We already have enough on our plate without the resources of IS being thrown into the equation in support of terrorist groups we are struggling against.