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Soft targets and scapegoats: Who are the real culprits behind the gruesome Sri Lanka bombings? By Umakanthan Packiyam

The Easter Sunday serial bombings in Sri Lanka aimed at churches and foreigners has shocked the world in terms of its intensity and devastation. This has deepened the contours between the communities even further.

 

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Taliban Attacks in Northwest Pakistan Are Reshaping Ballot

When Shahid Khan started talking, his gunmen clambered onto a school’s rooftop, scanning the surrounding hills with flashlights, anticipating a possible attack. In the past 10 days, militants have carried out five attacks against Mr. Khan's party. Below them, Mr. Khan, a candidate for his region’s provincial assembly, addressed potential voters — poor farmers and village traders, gathered on a cluster of rope beds outside the school, listening raptly to his promises. Then, after wolfing down snacks offered by his hosts, he abruptly left.

By DECLAN WALSH NOWSHERA, Pakistan — When Shahid Khan started talking, his gunmen clambered onto a school’s rooftop, scanning the surrounding hills with flashlights, anticipating a possible attack.

In the past 10 days, militants have carried out five attacks against Mr. Khan's party. Below them, Mr. Khan, a candidate for his region’s provincial assembly, addressed potential voters — poor farmers and village traders, gathered on a cluster of rope beds outside the school, listening raptly to his promises. Then, after wolfing down snacks offered by his hosts, he abruptly left.

“They say it’s not safe around here,” said Mr. Khan, as he leapt into a waiting car, trailed by a bodyguard. “We’d better get going.” Electioneering has taken a dark twist in northwest Pakistan, where a concerted campaign of Taliban attacks against the main secular party is violently reshaping the democratic landscape before parliamentary elections scheduled for May 11. In the past 10 days, militants have carried out four bombings and one grenade attack against Mr. Khan’s Awami National Party, which has governed Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province since 2008, and whose secular ideology is repugnant to the Taliban’s vision of imposing an Islamic caliphate in Pakistan.

In the worst attack, last Tuesday, a suicide bomber killed 19 people and wounded dozens in central Peshawar, narrowly missing the former railways minister, Ghulam Ahmed Bilour.

The Taliban have warned voters to stay away from rallies organized by the three main secular parties — the Awami Party, President Asif Ali Zardari’s Pakistan Peoples Party and the Karachi-based Muttahida Qaumi Movement.

But so far, they have concentrated their fire on the Awami Party, restricting its candidates’ ability to campaign freely, and tilting the field in favor of more conservative parties, analysts say.

“The most effective campaign is being run by the Taliban,” said Asad Munir, a retired army brigadier with the army’s Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, who comes from the northwest. “They are holding the state of Pakistan hostage, and doing their activities as they want.”

This election was never going to be easy for the Awami Party, which has already attracted sharp criticism for poor governing skills and corruption while in office — deficiencies that analysts, and some party insiders, say will hurt it during the balloting. But now the Taliban seem determined to wipe out the party as a political contender.

In the past five years, militants have killed 700 Awami officials and supporters, including two lawmakers and a senior minister, officials say — more casualties than any other party in Pakistan.

In the southern city of Karachi, where the party enjoys support in ethnic Pashtun neighborhoods, about 40 activists have been killed in the past six months, effectively shutting down the party’s activities there. The Awami Party’s leader, Asfandyar Wali Khan — who himself survived an attack by a suicide bomber in 2009 — is said to be leading the campaign from the safety of the federal capital, Islamabad. For his candidates out in the towns and villages of the northwest, campaigning has become a furtive and fearful affair.

In Nowshera, a small town 25 miles east of Peshawar, Mr. Khan holds small rallies, often at night and with little notice. He quietly sends advance teams of supporters to check out potential sites. And he is always accompanied by a contingent of private guards and regular police officers, all heavily armed. “Every time my team leaves my house, we are not just praying for election success — we are praying for our lives,” he said as he drove down a cobblestone lane that snaked between high-walled houses. Once peaceful, the Nowshera district, which has a substantial military presence, has been increasingly affected by Taliban violence, suffering 26 attacks in 2012 and 5 so far this year, according to the police. Last month, a car bomb explosion at a refugee camp killed 16 people and wounded 31. In February, militants assaulted a police checkpoint, and then threw grenades at a police vehicle on a major highway, killing one officer. In some towns, Taliban fighters have forced shops selling movies to close.

As he bumped through the night, driving between rallies held in courtyards and in small village squares, Mr. Khan pointed to a school that was bombed by the Taliban last year. He helped pay to have it rebuilt. “These days, you never know what can happen,” he said.

Mr. Khan, a burly man with an irreverent sense of humor, did not mention the Taliban in his campaign speeches. The talk was of bread-and-butter issues, not bullets: access to drinking water, electricity and gas. “I don’t want to depress people,” he said, citing increased sales of anti-anxiety medication in local pharmacies.

But such candidates are silent on delicate issues for another reason, too: they fear antagonizing local militants.

Nowshera shares a border with Darra Adam Khel, a tribal district famed for its gunsmiths, where militants have engaged in firefights with the security forces. Just a few miles away lies the infamous Akora Khattack madrasa, where several generations of Taliban leaders have received their education.

The problem is exacerbated by arguments among Pakistan’s politicians about how to handle the Taliban. Mr. Khan’s main rival is a candidate of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, the party of Imran Khan, the former cricket star. With his glamorous youth appeal and vocal opposition to American policies, particularly drone strikes, his party is expected to do well in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.

But critics accuse Mr. Khan of being soft on the Taliban because he advocates talks with the militants, not fighting. In a television interview on April 15, Mr. Khan said that the Taliban were bombing his opponents “because they supported America’s war.”

Similarly, Nawaz Sharif, the opposition leader who is a favorite to become the next prime minister, has also been measured in his criticism of militancy.

“If Imran Khan or Nawaz Sharif think this is only happening to someone else, they are mistaken,” said Mr. Munir, the retired officer, referring to the attacks on secular candidates. “If they do not speak out now, their time will come later.”

The Awami Party leadership has sometimes hurt its own cause. Mr. Bilour, the former minister who survived the bombing last week in Peshawar, ingratiated himself with the Taliban last year by offering a $100,000 bounty to anyone who killed an obscure American filmmaker who had released a film insulting the Prophet Muhammad.

The offer was made one day after a mob protesting the film had stormed through Peshawar, destroying several movie theaters, including one belonging to his family. But while the Taliban embraced Mr. Bilour’s offer, they ultimately offered little protection. In December, the militants killed his brother Bashir Bilour, a politician; after last week’s attack, the militants said they had intended to kill Mr. Bilour’s nephew, who is standing for election in his father’s election district.

After his recent night of campaigning in Nowshera, Mr. Khan, the Awami candidate, reached his home at midnight, finally relaxing over a cigarette and a cup of tea. This election was never going to be easy, he admitted — voters were already skeptical of corruption in politics, and his opponent, a doughty veteran of several elections, would be tough to beat. But since the Taliban entered the fray, his odds had slimmed even further. “I want to make a difference,” he pleaded. “But like this, our hands are tied.”

The New York Times, 22 April 2013

Pakistan’s silent election

April is almost over which means that the country’s most anticipated political event is almost upon us. Yet, an ominous silence has replaced the traditional pre-election euphoria, where thousands gather to cheer on for their leaders; big promises are made in grand rallies and historic speeches are recorded in the weeks leading up to elections.

 

By:Aima Khosa How scared are our politicians? April is almost over which means that the country’s most anticipated political event is almost upon us. Yet, an ominous silence has replaced the traditional pre-election euphoria, where thousands gather to cheer on for their leaders; big promises are made in grand rallies and historic speeches are recorded in the weeks leading up to elections. The election of 2008, for example, was a grand political spectacle where Nawaz Sharif and late Benazir Bhutto raced from city to city to assert their political might. Perhaps it was Benazir’s brutal assassination that has subdued the politicians now, or perhaps it is Musharraf’s trial that has pushed the election from center stage – either way, one must admit the days leading up to the elections have been engulfed in a strange political tension between various political quarters. The roots of this tension can easily be traced to security woes of the country; in the last few weeks, almost all mainstream political parties have come under attack. The news of these attacks come in short spurts and then fades away, only to appear once more. Often these attacks are targeted towards high-profile politicians, as in the case of Bilour of ANP and Zehri of PML-N. Other times, these attacks target political workers, as in the case of various independent candidates and MQM workers. It is feared that these attacks will escalate in their nature and magnitude as the election date draws closer. The previous election was delayed by a few weeks because it was marred by a high-profile assassination. Will Pakistan’s weak caretaker government manage to restrain the public and hold the elections if there was, God forbid, another high profile targeting? And if not, if the conspiracy theories of elections getting delayed are to be believed, what kind of political violence will be required to manage the delay of the polls Khoso’s interim government is so determined to hold? The ANP leadership has categorically stated that the elections must not be delayed even by a second. This statement was issued even as Ghulam Ahmad Bilour was reeling from the attack on an ANP meeting. This is because the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa constituency, a waning ANP stronghold, can still get the party decisive votes in the province in the next government. Bilour has said that he would hold the COAS, the CEC, the president and the chief justice responsible if anything happened to him. It is almost reminiscent of Benazir’s statements after the October attack on her rally in Karachi where she feared for her life under Musharraf’s presidency – who, interestingly, is currently on trial for her assassination case. The PML-N leadership too, has sensed victory in the upcoming polls and will not stand for a delayed election only because it could have a lot to lose if the polls are not held on May 11. At the same time, Nawaz Sharif and his entourage are aware that Big Brother is watching and Big Brother is dangerous. For his security, Nawaz Sharif has hired a helicopter for his transport and may be gifted 20 bullet proof vehicles from his Saudi friends for the transportation of his senior leadership. Yet, he remains conspicuously missing from public eye – unless you count the television campaign ads and the sporadic appearances the former premier makes. PML-N has suffered damage in Balochistan with the president of the party’s chapter in that problematic province coming under an attack that left his son, nephew and brother dead. Zehri survived and fresh questions emerged: who targeted Zehri? Was it the usual ‘Baloch tribal rivalry’ that led to such a personal attack on the PML-N leader in Balochistan? The Baloch are, after all, not very fond of PML-N and Zehri is its immediate representative in the province. Or was the attack a part of some systematic targeting that is a part of the dark threat to politicians at this critical juncture? PPP, too, has come under attack and has beefed up security and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has had to make very few public appearances as the poster boy of the PPP campaign. However, political quarters were strangely silent in condemning the attack on ANP, while half-hearted statements stressing on ‘solutions to militancy’ were issued. So how nervous are Pakistan’s political leaders at this point, with elections so near? Will they get the votes they want while running silent campaigns? Interestingly, election campaigning begins at least three months before the elections. So far, a lot of candidates still have not been issued tickets or are not eligible to contest in elections – there can be no campaigning if there are no candidates. Another bad sign for the elections? The central question still remains; will the elections get delayed? Constitutionally, it is not a possibility unless a situation is created where the caretaker setup has no option but to delay the polls. The caretaker setup itself is not mandated beyond a stipulated period to remain in power and its main job is to watch over the elections. Even if it somehow manages to extend that period, it shall not be strong enough to sustain itself for long. Neither will political forces, largely led by Nawaz Sharif, stand for a delay in polls. The speed with which Nawaz Sharif handled the Qadri debacle earlier this year by unifying Punjab’s political forces in the face of an uncertain situation points to how badly Nawaz to regain his glory days. Nawaz’s biggest foe, however, is still in the President’s House and there is no knowing what tricks President Zardari may have up his sleeve to tip the political balance back in PPP’s favor. At the same time, there is always the Army factor. Seemingly, Pakistan’s armed forces are embroiled in four crucial situations: an operation in Tirah valley and Orakzai Agency, watching over the election process, its former COAS going through a public trial and the rehabilitation process of the affectees of earthquake. Would the GHQ be able to orchestrate a behind the scenes delay in the polls while it has its hands full with the other crises it has to handle? Simply put, May 11 and its political significance in Pakistan’s history still stands. It will take outright chaos for that date to be pushed back. So then, are delayed polls worth the damage? The writer is Web Editor at Pakistan Today and tweets @aimamk

http://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2013/04/20/comment/columns/pakistans-silent-election/

Manifesto, manifesto everywhere but..

To venture an educated guess post this conscientious but rather presumptuous utterance, Mr Walker never knew what hit him. On the other hand, if he was not systematically charged with corruption, tax fraud or other fabricated tests of human endurance, then outside of a miracle, the only explanation is that the bureaucracy was simply uninterested.

Syed Bakhtiyar Kazmi In the absence of credible party positions on real issues, the electoral process will only be about feudal-cum-tribal battles in most constituencies “Britain has invented a new missile. It’s called the civil servant — it doesn’t work and it can’t be fired” — Walter Walker. To venture an educated guess post this conscientious but rather presumptuous utterance, Mr Walker never knew what hit him. On the other hand, if he was not systematically charged with corruption, tax fraud or other fabricated tests of human endurance, then outside of a miracle, the only explanation is that the bureaucracy was simply uninterested. And let there be no doubt, nothing is outside the purview of the bureaucracy; a highly disciplined, ultimately unified and faithfully protected institution, cultivated over generations under a straightforward ideology, my way or the high way, all or nothing! The Commonwealth nations will remain eternally and infinitely grateful to the Empire for this awesome bestowment: long live the civil servant; notwithstanding Mr Churchill’s observation that some civil servants are neither servants nor civil. Anyone can shuffle or reshuffle them around, but in time, nothing can endure a conflict with a civil servant. The public service is a self-immortalising absolutism (doesn’t work, cannot be fired and are not elected!), which mere politicians or mere journalists can, admiringly, never even begin to understand. However, what the genre of politicians and journalists do understand very clearly is to avoid, like the plague, comrades who have invoked the wrath of a civil servant. This article is not about bureaucracy bashing, it is about the importance of manifestos, which unfortunately, currently are tantamount to nothing! And the persistent reader will again ask, but what does bureaucracy have to do with manifestos, and that is exactly the point: nothing! Finally grinning on nothing! In the history of democracy, what can perhaps be asserted without any fear of reprisal is that the populace has never ever read a single page of any manifesto, prior to using its hallucinatory vote. More on why votes are hallucinatory in some other article some other time. For the moment, the origin of this article lies in wondering whether the bureaucracy shying away in shadows within the corridors of powers, responsible for the eventual implementation of a manifesto, ever took these documents seriously. The answer, after a lot of reflection, most likely not! And why is this line of thought prescient? Unpretentiously, because in spite of great advances in technology, the combined knowledge of all brilliant minds of the modern era has failed in inventing any substitute for the inconspicuous civil servant, the unelected masters of the universe. Even democracy, the darling of civil society, fails at this juncture. “No matter how good you are, don’t ever let them see you coming. That’s the gaffe my friend. You gotta keep yourself small. Innocuous. Be the little guy...” John Milton in the movie The Devil’s Advocate. So, what if there was an innocuous department in the caretaker government specifically responsible for approving manifestos, prior to parties being granted election symbols, and in case of rejection, the findings to be considered for assessments under Articles 62 and 63; after all, breaking promises is a sin. At the outset, life will surely become difficult for the authors. Since everyone will be simultaneously filing on the closing date, the current opportunity to cheat or improve upon the last available manifestos will evaporate. Original and imaginative thought will be required to convince the competent authority. Manifestos also do not follow bureaucratic norms, which is necessary since irrespective of the criticism, the civil service, amongst other things, is known to be meticulous about form. Most likely, the concerned department will notify a standard format for the manifesto, setting out in triplicate the information required therewith. Amongst other things, to qualify for any credible analysis, the singular percept currently lacking in every party’s manifesto is an explanatory analysis of their previous manifestos. This proposition has universal applicability. While those in power definitely need to defend their performance against the unrealistic promises made just a few years ago, those yet to be blessed with absolute power also need to clarify changes in their vision over time. Without exaggeration, those who have frequented the corridors of the Pakistan secretariats can easily visualise the file noting of the much feared Section Officer, if subsequent editions of the manifesto do not analyse past performance or clarify the catalyst for change in earlier versions. Assuming the impossible, the respective parties resubmit their manifestos after necessary amendments regarding historic performance, perchance disguised by tall claims and questionable data. That just would not do with the bureaucracy. At the end of a long process, each and every historic assumption will either get supported by tons of paper or conversely subjected once again to an adverse file note. Frankly, once on the file, only the elders of the services can unlock the mischief of the noting, and that is hardly a frequent occurrence. Accordingly, at this point in time, the manifesto will be relegated to the dreaded record room, where it will lie until perhaps the next elections. Assuming the fantastic, probably only in the case of those clamouring for a change, alterations from the last document, especially in the absence of historic performance, are accepted and the Section Officer can finally move to the next step, or is it the next hurdle? Horribly, the ghostwriter misunderstood the format. Each assertion or futuristic claim needs to be supported by valid verifiable data and assumptions, has to be quantified and needs to be accompanied by a timeline. Also, curriculum vitae of the technical team together with their proposed portfolio are a must. Finally, Key Performance Indicators need to be precise and concise for ease of reference and future monitoring. Accordingly, “I am directed to inform that the competent authority has deferred approval of the subject manifesto until it is resubmitted after regularising the matters set out therein.” The intent today was not to ridicule manifestos; in fact, quite the opposite, the intent was to highlight that the most important document in the electoral process has become a mere formality. In the absence of credible party positions on real issues, the electoral process will only be about feudal-cum-tribal battles in most constituencies, and the populace can hardly be blamed for voting for the candidate rather than an ideology. Truly, after scanning a few, none of the existing manifestos qualify for consideration under a bureaucratic process, and since the masses are too naïve to analyse fanciful futuristic claims, manifestos will remain a ritual. The complete lack of enthusiasm by the champions of democracy, on this key, perhaps paramount matter, is rather perplexing for the lonely but avid and passionate opponent of democracy. Don’t just do it, do it right! If things continue as they are there will be manifestos, manifestos everywhere with not a drop of sense. Perhaps next week, the recently issued manifesto for change can be subjected to a bureaucratic analysis, so ‘wit’ for it! For the time being, looking forward to back to golf! Cheers The writer is a chartered accountant based in Islamabad. He can be reached at syed.bakhtiyarkazmi@gmail.

The Daily Times, 16 April 2013

Ballot or bullet

 

The Baloch ‘sub-nation’ finds itself caught between two crucial options at present: intensify the insurgency and disrupt the coming elections through the bullet or cast votes and have their voice heard through the ballot.   By Tariq Khosa   The Baloch ‘sub-nation’ finds itself caught between two crucial options at present: intensify the insurgency and disrupt the coming elections through the bullet or cast votes and have their voice heard through the ballot.   According to Dr Allah Nazar who commands the separatist Baloch Liberation Front (BLF), the elections would be “nothing but a tool deployed by the central government in Islamabad to suppress the voices and demands of the Baloch people”.   Akhtar Mengal, the leader of the Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M), resisting pressure from radical nationalists, has chosen the path of a democratic struggle. He, along with other prominent Baloch politicians like Mir Hasil Bizenjo, Dr Abdul Malik, and Talal Bugti, has decided to contest the coming elections. Democracy is their preferred option in place of insurgency.   But for Nazar, “If Akhtar Mengal takes part in this sham of an election, he will have compromised with the very same security establishment that has been responsible for the deaths of hundreds if not thousands of Baloch”. Akhtar Mengal, sensitive to Baloch resentment, tried to address their concerns in an open letter to the Supreme Court before his arrival last month to participate in the elections with strong reservations.   Mengal counted “60 mutilated bodies, 70 targeted killings and 100 missing persons” since his court appearance in September 2012. “The heirs of missing persons are suffering an agony which only they can relate to, and are losing hope in the justice system,” read the letter. He had called his four-day tour in September a “last stand” and added that “elections will become selections” if they are held in “the war-zone that has become Balochistan”.   It is keeping this inner struggle of the Baloch in mind that the state and society should try and understand the mindset and trials that are pulling the nationalists in two opposite directions — a lawful struggle through constitutional means or a separatist and violence-driven campaign against the federation.   Allah Nazar is the prominent face of the Baloch insurgency. Apart from the BLF, three other key Baloch militant organisations that advocate the secession of Balochistan include the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), the Baloch Republican Army (BRA) and the Baloch Liberation United Front. Analysts believe that Nazar has successfully spread the insurgency beyond the traditional strongholds of the rebels to the non-tribal western parts of the province, where insurgent attacks on security forces have arisen.   Believed to be the most influential figure among the radical Baloch youth, Nazar represents a tragic case study of an educated young man abandoning a professional career for an armed uprising from the mountains of western Balochistan. He belongs to a middle-class family from Mashkay, a town in Awaran district.   Born in 1968, he chose to become a doctor by initially getting admitted in Ata Shad University of Turbat in 1986. As a result of his hard work and determination, he not only secured a medical seat in Bolan Medical College Quetta but was also awarded a gold medal in gynaecology in 1999.   Like most Baloch activists, he was actively associated with the Baloch Students Organisation (BSO), the student wing of the Balochistan National Movement (BNM) which is now called the National Party. After parting ways with the BNM in 2002, Nazar founded the Azad faction of the BSO, which is pro-independence and supportive of the armed resistance.   In March 2005, he was picked up by unknown gunmen from a flat in Karachi and remained missing for around a year. He resurfaced in August 2006, and was jailed in Quetta for several months. After his release on bail, he went into hiding again and this time he took refuge in the mountains near Turbat to lead the insurgency against the state.   Security officials estimate that overall there are about 1,000 militants of which the core are around 250. The BLF has 300-400 fighters. However, in his interview with a Quetta-based journalist, Nazar claimed that there are more than 6,000 fighters in their ranks and the number is growing.   The Nazar-led armed insurgency may not be very large but it has given rise to a new phenomenon: the educated, non-tribal insurgent from a middle-class background. This new insurgent profile is quite unlike the customary insurgent base that usually has consisted of uneducated tribal fighters and, indeed, he is the first non-tribal head of a militant group in Balochistan.   The main challenge in the forthcoming elections would be a joint strategy of all major militant organisations to sabotage the democratic process in an extremely fragile caretaker governance framework. The intentions are clear as on March 12, the Hyarbyar Marri-led BLA targeted and killed Mohammad Ziaullah Qasmi, the district election commissioner in Quetta. “We will not let Pakistan hold elections in Balochistan,” said the BLA’s spokesperson. The Brahmdagh Bugti-led BRA is likely to soon close ranks with the other separatist factions.   Against this grim scenario and internal struggle between radical nationalists promoting insurgency and the Baloch political parties treading the democratic path, the recent gestures of the Election Commission of Pakistan that has promised to address the concerns of the parties in providing a level playing field, and the visit of the army chief to Quetta and his urging all political parties in the province to participate in the coming elections, are certainly positive and will strengthen the cause of democracy.   This is a defining and critical moment in our history and all the stakeholders of state security must back up and support the Baloch who are grudgingly but knowingly becoming part of a democratic process to seek redress of the grievances that had forced their activists to choose militancy over democracy. It is time to heal their wounds and reach out to them with affection. The Baloch can break but won’t bend. Let this strength in their character be the force harnessed carefully for a strong and prosperous Pakistan.   The writer is former IG Police Balochistan.   The Dawn, April 15, 2013
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