Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Islamic Law Now Official for a Valley in Pakistan


ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan has signed a measure that would impose Islamic law in the northwestern valley of Swat, in a move that was largely seen as a capitulation to Taliban militants.

Mr. Zardari’s approval came late Monday, after Parliament voted overwhelmingly for the measure, which would allow militants to administer justice through courts whose judges have Islamic training.

The local government in Swat agreed in February to allow the militants to impose Islamic law in exchange for a cease-fire. The deal came after months of fighting, during which the Pakistani Army was unable to subdue the militants.

Mr. Zardari had delayed giving the agreement a national stamp of approval, saying that the militants should first demonstrate that they would abide by the cease-fire. He signed the measure under pressure from conservatives, even though little in the valley has changed.

The deal has raised concerns in the Obama administration, which is pressing Pakistan to work harder to counter militants as the United States steps up its campaign in neighboring Afghanistan.

“We’re disappointed that the Parliament didn’t take into account the legitimate concerns around civil and human rights,” the White House spokesman, Robert Gibbs, said Tuesday.

Residents of the Swat Valley, once one of Pakistan’s most popular vacation spots, have been terrorized by militants from the Taliban, who human rights activists say are using Islam as an excuse to extend their own power. In the past week the Taliban made inroads into Buner, a district only 60 miles from the capital and likely to be the next district to fall under their control.

“The conflict is political, not religious,” said Ibn-e-Abduh Rehman, head of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. “They don’t want Parliament, they don’t want elections, they don’t want judges.”

A former interior minister, Aftab Ahmad Sherpao, said the government had no choice but to back the deal because its military campaign in the area had failed and civilian casualties had been mounting.

“This agreement was reached not from a position of strength but from a position of weakness,” he said.

The government now needs to press the militants by monitoring whether they hold up their end of the bargain to lay down their arms, Mr. Sherpao said.

Critics of the deal worry that it could simply provide the militants with a new haven from which they can carry out attacks. But Mr. Sherpao said the signing meant the militants had no excuse to use violence.

Source: The New York Times
Salman Masood contributed reporting.

Turkey’s soft power

Middle Eastern politicians increasingly recognise Turkey as key player in the region, with potential to play a constructive role

Al-Jazeera invited almost a dozen Turkish scholars and journalists to its Fourth Annual Forum last month in Doha. It was the first time so many Turkish participants attended. Why did al-Jazeera invite so many Turks to an event focused on the Arab world? More generally, why do people in the Middle East pay attention to Turkish perspectives on their affairs?

The answer is Turkey’s soft power. Middle Eastern politicians recognise that Turkey is working to resolve Middle Eastern problems. And because these problems have global implications, the rest of the world is paying attention to Turkey, too. The combination of Turkish politicians’ political will at home, and receptive audiences abroad, means Turkish soft power is in ascendance.

Turkey’s soft power emerges from its on-the-ground influence, coupled with its political, cultural and economic abilities. Turkey’s soft power fits the classical understanding, unlike Joseph Nye’s US-style smart power, which mainly brings soft power elements to the fore while limiting hard power measures in foreign policy. Turkey has gained the status of a soft power by experimenting with its foreign policy and demonstrating achievements on the ground.

The Caucasus crisis and the Gaza war have shown the limits of the international system’s ability to resolve conflicts. In both cases, the hard powers tend towards softness, while the soft powers seek solutions by developing hard power capabilities. With trust in the usual conflict mechanisms on the wane, Turkey’s peace-making attempts attracted attention. Turkey emerged as a peace-maker on the periphery of the international system. The US administration began to consider Turkey as a potential partner in issues such as Iraqi stabilisation and the Middle East peace process. This change in US policy reflects Turkey’s new image in the west.

Turkey’s rising soft-power status is rooted in the regional context. Its active diplomacy during the Gaza war and the Davos incident raised Turkey’s importance in the eyes of US and European policymakers, while winning the hearts of the people on the Middle Eastern street. The political halls of a number of regional states are not particularly enthusiastic about Erdogan’s rise in the Arab street. However, they hesitated to reflect discontent with Turkish policies. Turkey also prioritises good relations with world powers. Turkish policymakers enjoy being able to bring regional issues to international attention.

Subsequent visits to Turkey by US special envoy George Mitchell and secretary of state Hillary Clinton endorsed Turkey’s status as a regional power. President Barack Obama’s visit further strengthened Turkey’s self-confidence and regional image as a peace-maker in the Middle East.

There are three reasons for Turkey’s rising soft power.

One, Turkey’s modernisation, its social and cultural achievements, its economic development, its political and economic stability, and its democratisation and good governance made it an attractive civil-economic power to the countries of the region. As an example, Turkish TV series gained considerable popularity in the Arab countries. The rising interest in Turkey in the Middle East prompts more visits to Turkey by citizens of the regional countries.

Two, Turkey’s ability to pursue an active foreign policy, which pays attention to international legitimacy and regional concerns, with the aim of resolving the region’s serious problems increases the country’s prestige in the Middle East. Turkish politicians obeyed popular will in 2003, when they prevented the entry of US troops to Iraq through Turkish territory, and prime minister Erdogan did so at Davos, when he expressed a feeling shared by the majority in the Muslim world against Israel’s President Peres. The masses in the Middle East considered these actions as courageous stances in support of their causes. This perception made Turkey a rising star in the minds and hearts of the peoples of Middle East. Arab and Iranian intellectuals appreciate Turkey’s role and urge its greater involvement in regional issues.

Three, Turkey pursues its diplomacy carefully and modestly. Turkish policy aims to include all related actors, forming a broad coalition to solve problems and develop initiatives. Turkish policy-makers keep an equal distance from all actors and avoid taking part in any regional alliances or groupings. Turkey’s all-inclusive policy and equi-distance policy satisfy the concerns of regional actors and assure them of the constructive nature of Turkish policies.

As a result, Turkey’s foreign policy has acquired strategic depth in the Middle East, where Turkish policy-makers have the self-confidence and political will to play a soft-power role. There is a receptive audience in the region. There is also international backing, which became more visible during and after Obama’s visit to Turkey. There is also no guarantee that Turkey will play an effective role in solving the chronic problems, since many others failed in previous decades. However, Turkey’s ruling elite is willing to take the challenge. In the years to come, we will see more Turkish involvement in resolving the Middle East’s protracted problems.


Bulent Aras, Tuesday 14 April 2009 10.30 BST

United Militants Threaten Pakistan’s Populous Heart

This article was reported by Sabrina Tavernise, Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Eric Schmitt and written by Ms. Tavernise.

DERA GHAZI KHAN, Pakistan – Taliban insurgents are teaming up with local militant groups to make inroads in Punjab, the province that is home to more than half of Pakistanis, reinvigorating an alliance that Pakistani and American authorities say poses a serious risk to the stability of the country.

The deadly assault in March in Lahore, Punjab’s capital, against the Sri Lankan cricket team, and the bombing last fall of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, the national capital, were only the most spectacular examples of the joint campaign, they said.

Now police officials, local residents and analysts warn that if the government does not take decisive action, these dusty, impoverished fringes of Punjab could be the next areas facing the insurgency. American intelligence and counterterrorism officials also said they viewed the developments with alarm.

“I don’t think a lot of people understand the gravity of the issue,” said a senior police official in Punjab, who declined to be idenfitied because he was discussing threats to the state. “If you want to destabilize Pakistan, you have to destabilize Punjab.”

As American drone attacks disrupt strongholds of the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the tribal areas, the insurgents are striking deeper into Pakistan – both in retaliation and in search of new havens.

Telltale signs of creeping militancy abound in a belt of towns and villages near here that a reporter visited last week. Militants have gained strength considerably in the district of Dera Ghazi Khan, which is a gateway both to Taliban-controlled areas and the heart of Punjab, the police and local residents say. Many were terrified.

Some villages, just north of here, are so deeply infiltrated by militants that they are already considered no-go zones by their neighbors.

In at least five towns in southern and western Punjab, including the midsize hub of Multan, barber shops, music stores and Internet cafes offensive to the militants’ strict interpretation of Islam have received threats. Traditional ceremonies that include drumming and dancing have been halted in some areas. Hard-line ideologues have addressed large crowds to push their idea of Islamic revolution. Sectarian attacks, dormant here since the 1990s, have erupted once again.

“It’s going from bad to worse,” said a senior police official in Dera Ghazi Khan. “They are now more active. These are the facts.”

American officials agreed. Bruce Riedel, who led the Obama administration’s recently completed strategy review of Pakistan and Afghanistan, said the Taliban now had “extensive links into the Punjab.”

“You are seeing more of a coalescence of these militant groups,” said Mr. Riedel, a former C.I.A. official. “Connections that have always existed are becoming tighter and more public than they have in the past.”

The Punjabi militant groups have had links with the Taliban, who are mostly Pashtun tribesmen, since the 1980s. Some of the Punjabi groups are veterans of Pakistan’s state-sponsored insurgency against Indian forces in Kashmir. Others made targets of Shiites.

Under pressure from the United States, former President Pervez Musharraf cut back state support for the Punjabi groups. They either went underground or migrated to the tribal areas, where they deepened their ties with the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

At least 20 militants killed in American strikes in the tribal areas since last summer were Punjabi, according to people from the tribal areas and Pakistani officials. One Pakistani security official estimated that 5 percent to 10 percent of militants in the tribal regions could be Punjabi.

The alliance is based on more than shared ideology. “These are tactical alliances,” said a senior American counterterrorism official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss intelligence matters. The Pashtun Taliban and Arab militants, who are part of Al Qaeda, have money, sanctuary, training sites and suicide bombers. The Punjabi militants can provide logistical help in Punjabi cities, like Lahore, including handling bombers and target reconnaissance.

The cooperation between the groups intensified greatly after the government’s siege of Islamic hard-liners at the Red Mosque in Islamabad, in mid-2007, Pakistani and American security officials say. The siege has since become a rallying cry.

One such joint operation, an American security official said, was the Marriott bombing in Islamabad in September, which killed more than 50 people.

As this cooperation intensifies, places like Dera Ghazi Khan are particularly vulnerable. This frontier town is home to a combustible mix of worries: poverty, a growing phalanx of hard-line religious schools and a uranium processing plant that is a part of Pakistan’s nuclear program.

It is also strategically situated at the intersection of two main roads. One is a main artery into Pakistan’s heartland, in southern Punjab. The other connects Baluchistan Province in the west to the North-West Frontier Province, both Taliban strongholds.

“We are being cornered in a blind alley,” said Mohammed Ali, a local landlord. “We can’t breathe easily.”

Attacks intended to intimidate and sow sectarian strife are more common. The police point to a suicide bombing in Dera Ghazi Khan on Feb. 5. Two local Punjabis, with the help of Taliban backers, orchestrated the attack, which killed 29 people at a Shiite ceremony, the local police said.

The authorities arrested two men as masterminds on April 6: Qari Muhammad Ismail Gul, the leader of a local madrasa; and Ghulam Mustafa Kaisrani, a jihadi who posed as a salesman for a medical company.

They belonged to a banned Punjabi group called Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, but were tied through phone calls to two deputies of the Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, the police said.

“The phone numbers they call are in Waziristan,” said a police official, referring to the Taliban base in the tribal areas. “They are working together hand in glove.” One of the men had gone for training in Waziristan last summer, the police said. The operations are well-supported. Mr. Kaisrani had several bank transfers worth about $11 million from his Pakistani account, the authorities said.

Local crimes, including at least two recent bank robberies in Dera Ghazi Khan, were also traced to networks of Islamic militants, officials said.

“The money that’s coming in is huge,” said Zulfiqar Hameed, head of investigations for the Lahore Police Department. “When you go back through the chain of the transaction, you invariably find it’s been done for money.”

After the suicide attack here, the police confiscated a 20-minute inspirational video, titled “Revenge,” for the Red Mosque, which gave testimonials from suicide bombers in different cities and post-attack images.

Umme Hassan, the wife of a fiery preacher who was killed during the Red Mosque siege, now frequently travels to south Punjab, to rally the faithful. She has made 12 visits in the past several months before cheering crowds and showing emotional clips of the attack, said a Punjabi official who has been monitoring her visits.

“She claimed that they would bring Islamic revolution in three months,” said Umar Draz, who attended a rally in Muzzafargarh.

The situation in south and west Punjab is still far from that in the Swat Valley, a part of North-West Frontier Province that is now fully under Taliban control after the military agreed to a truce in February. But there are strong parallels.

The Taliban here exploit many of the same weaknesses that have allowed them to expand in other areas: an absent or intimidated police force; a lack of attention from national and provincial leaders; a population steadily cowed by threats, or won over by hard-line mullahs who usurp authority by playing on government neglect and poverty.

In Shadan Lund, a village just north of here, militants are openly demanding Islamic law, or Shariah, said Jan Sher, whose brother is a teacher there. “The situation is sharply going toward Swat,” Mr. Sher said. He and others said the single biggest obstacle to stopping the advance of militancy was the attitudes of Pakistanis themselves, whose fury at the United States has led to blind support for everyone who goes against it.

Shabaz Sharif, the chief minister of Punjab, said he was painfully aware of the problems of insurgent infiltration and was taking steps to restore people’s faith in government, including plans for new schools and hospitals. “Hearts and minds must be won,” he said in an interview Monday. “If this struggle fails, this country has no future.”

But people complain that landowners and local politicians have done nothing to stop the advance and, in some cases, even assist the militants by giving money to some of the religious schools.

“The government is useless,” said Mr. Ali, the local landlord. “They live happy, secure lives in Lahore. Their children study abroad. They only come here to contest elections.”

The police are left alone to stop the advance. But in Punjab, as in much of the rest of Pakistan, they are spread unevenly, with little presence in rural areas. Out of 160,000 police officers in Punjab, fewer than 60,000 are posted in rural areas, leaving frontier stations in districts virtually unprotected, police officials said.

Locals feel helpless. When a 15-year-old boy vanished from a madrasa in a village near here recently – his classmates said to go on jihad – his uncle could not afford to go look for him, let alone confront the powerful men who run the madrasa.

“We are simple people,” the man said. “What can we do?”

Source: The New York Times


Sabrina Tavernise reported from Dera Ghazi Khan, Pakistan; Richard A. Oppel Jr. from Peshawar, Pakistan; and Eric Schmitt from Washington. Mark Mazzetti contributed reporting from Washington, Waqar Gillani from Dera Ghazi Khan, and Pir Zubair Shah from Peshawar.

Permanent Mission of Afghanistan