Monday, February 6, 2012

Sectarian Killings in Pakistan & Saudi Iran Cold War.

CHIGAGO: India, the world's fourth-largest oil consumer, will not take steps to cut petroleum imports from Iran despite US and European sanctions against Tehran, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee said on Sunday during a visit to Chicago. The United States wants buyers in Asia, Iran's biggest oil market, to cut imports to put further pressure on Tehran to rein in its nuclear ambitions. Washington suspects Iran of trying to make nuclear weapons, but Tehran says its nuclear program is for peaceful means. India, which imports 12 percent of its oil from the Islamic Republic, cannot do without Iranian oil, Mukherjee said. It is not possible for India to take any decision to reduce the imports from Iran drastically, because among the countries which can provide the requirement of the emerging economies, Iran is an important country amongst them," Mukherjee told reporters in Chicago at the end of a two-day visit aimed at wooing US investment. New US sanctions, authorized on December 31 and which penalize any financial institutions dealing with Iran's central bank, could make it more difficult for India to pay Iran for oil imports. The European Union banned oil imports from Iran earlier this month. Mukherjee said he projects India to return to its path of high economic growth, despite an expected slowdown to a 7 percent pace this year from 8.5 percent last year. The Indian fiscal year ends in March. "This year, because of the European debt crisis and the slowing of developed economies, there has been a slowdown" in India's growth, he said. "It will be possible to make it up in a year or two." The Reserve Bank of India ( RBI) last week held its policy rate steady and signaled its next move could be a rate cut, after signs that outsized price pressures may be ebbing. Inflation, as measured by wholesale prices, rose 7.47 percent in December, its slowest pace in two years, and Mukherjee said he expected further declines. "If this trend continues, I am optimistic (India will see inflation of) 6.5 percent to 7 percent by end of the year," he said. But a possible move by the US Federal Reserve to ease monetary policy further could reverse that outlook, he said. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke last week opened the door to a third round of quantitative easing, suggesting that a continued decline in inflation and ongoing economic weakness could justify new bond buying. The Fed's last round of bond-buying drew loud criticism from emerging economies who said it sparked inflation and hurt their exports. Mukherjee repeated that criticism on Sunday, saying US quantitative easing creates "inflationary impacts" in emerging economies and boosts uncertainty. REFERENCE: India won't cut Iranian oil imports despite US, EU sanctions: Pranab Mukherjee Reuters | Jan 30, 2012, 09.50AM IST

MIR The Saudi-Iranian Neo Cold War


The crisis was Bahrain's, but the 100 giant army tanks patrolling the island kingdom's capital, Manama, boasted two flags — Bahraini and Saudi Arabian. And the presence of the latter was a metaphorical salvo at an unseen combatant: Iran, the alleged patron of Bahrain's Shi'ites who were in the middle of an uprising against the country's minority Sunni ruling class (Iran has not publicly supported the Bahraini opposition). Quelling the Shi'ite rebellion in Bahrain was a proxy war between the two oil powers, the closest Riyadh and Tehran have come to any sort of violent confrontation in their burgeoning rivalry. Diplomatic spats have come up, over Lebanon and Syria, for example. But all the bile had been behind closed doors until this week, when the U.S. alleged that an Iranian plot had as its target Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi ambassador to Washington and a trusted adviser to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. The supposed plot "is something new," says Jane Kinninmont, a Middle East researcher at London think tank Chatham House who follows Bahrain and events in the Gulf. If true, "it will seriously raise Iranian-Saudi tensions." It's a deviation in a conflict that is generally relegated to rhetoric and diplomatic gestures, not concrete action. Says Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Doha Center: "There are long-simmering tensions between the Saudis and other Gulf states, and Iran. There's a deep suspicion." The tension between Riyadh and Tehran "has been a media[-fueled] war of words between the two countries, although until now, nothing more than that," says Simon Henderson, head of the Gulf program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. News of the plot against al-Jubeir is "very concerning. I think they'll be widely believed in the Gulf because people there already regard Iran as aggressive and devious, and are predisposed to believe in Iran's strength and have a deep anxiety about [encountering] it."Until the two Iraq wars involving the U.S., Saudi Arabia had been happy to let Iran throw its weight around. But the Shi'ite ascendancy in what was once secular, though Sunni-leaning, Baghdad has thrown the balance of power in the Gulf out of whack. Even so, Riyadh had taken a quiet approach to its Shi'ite rival. "This is a classic cold-war game where you do things under the radar, you don't try to be too public. And we're dealing with the Saudis, who don't do things overtly. They're behind-the-scenes people," says Barak Barfi, a fellow at the New America Foundation who follows the conflict and has spent time in Bahrain. If the Saudis decide to get even for the assassination plot, says Barfi, "they won't retaliate with a similar plot, but they're going to spread money out to allies to counterweight the Iranians and their surrogates." Barfi says that with this latest incident, the region might have to take sides overtly. "You'll start to see green and white countries on a map of the region," he says, "One color loyal to Iran, the other color loyal to Saudi." He says the Saudis' hatred for Iran runs so deep that there is even a remote possibility Riyadh might even take part in behind-the-scenes talks with a country it despises, Israel, because the Saudis see the Jewish state as a powerful counterweight to Tehran — the bête noire of Israel. Foiling the alleged plot against al-Jubeir could strengthen what has been a weakening friendship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. "They've been drifting apart," Shaikh says of Riyadh and Washington, "but this is an issue they've been working on at different ends that could bring them together." The Saudis could urge the U.S. to take a tougher line in its already hard-line dealings with Iran. That would not help an already volatile region. "The last thing the Middle East needs in the wake of the instabilities caused by the Arab Spring is a renewed Iranian-Saudi proxy war," says Barfi. But, he adds, "this is exactly what we should expect." As for the last proxy war, the crackdown is still going on in Bahrain. Though Saudi tanks have disappeared from downtown Manama, there are still nightly clashes in Shi'ite neighborhoods between opposition activists and Bahraini security forces. During spring conflict, the country's Sunni-run television channel Bahrain TV, which served as a chief instigator of anti-Shi'ite propaganda, fueled rumor after rumor that the Iranians were supporting the Shi'ite opposition, even alleging that Tehran had sent boats filled with weapons to Bahrain. The tension between the two countries "has always been fueled by sectarianism," Shaikh says. In the past month, Bahraini rulers have continued to repress dissent, for example, upholding the life sentences imposed on activists and the conviction of medical personnel accused of assisting and tending to injured protesters. "The Saudis will pressure their allies in Bahrain to cease offering any concessions to the Shi'a opposition, which it falsely links to Iran," says Barfi. If things get worse between Riyadh and Tehran, so will the plight of Bahrain's Shi'ites. REFERENCE: The Saudi-Iran Cold War: Will the Assassination Plot Heat It Up? By Karen Leigh Thursday, Oct. 13, 2011,8599,2096764,00.html 
UK seeks Saudi Arabia support to attack Iran


US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is in Beijing meeting Chinese leaders to seek support for sanctions on Iran's oil industry. He met counterpart Vice Premier Wang Qishan on Tuesday night and is meeting Premier Wen Jiabao, Vice President Xi Jinping and Vice Premier Li Keqiang today. Both countries pledged to work together to boost global economic recovery. But, watchers say, it remains unlikely that China will support sanctions. China buys almost a third of Iran's oil exports and has rejected US unilateral actions in the past. The meeting with Mr Xi, who is in line to become China's next leader, started on a friendly note. "I believe your visit will go a long way to promote the stability and further growth of our economic relationship," he said to Mr Geithner at the Great Hall of the People in central Beijing. ''On economic growth, financial stability around the world, on non-proliferation, we have what we view as a very strong co-operative relationship with the government and we are looking forward to building on that," Mr Geithner replied. He also conveyed greetings from President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. Mr Xi is due to visit the US in the upcoming months. Mr Geithner is also expected to raise the issue of China's currency in his meetings with the Chinese leaders. Mixing Issues His visit comes amid international tension after the UN's nuclear watchdog said Iran had begun enriching uranium to a higher grade than is needed for power generation. On New Year's eve, US President Barack Obama authorised a law imposing sanctions on financial institutions dealing with Iran's central bank, which is responsible for processing most oil purchases in the Islamic republic. China has backed UN Security Council resolutions calling on Iran to halt uranium enrichment activities. But it has also criticised the US for imposing sanctions beyond the resolutions. Ahead of Mr Geithner's visit, China stressed that its oil imports are unrelated to nuclear issues. It relies on Iran for 11% of foreign oil imports. "We should not mix issues with different natures, and China's legitimate concerns and demands should be respected," a Chinese deputy foreign minister, Cui Tiankai, said on Monday. Mr Geithner's visit comes ahead of Mr Wen's scheduled visit to the oil and gas producing countries of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates this weekend - a sign that China may be seeking other options for its energy supply. Mr Geithner also is due to meet Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and Finance Minister Jun Azumi in Tokyo on Thursday. Japan is another major buyer of Iranian oil, depending on imports from Tehran for about 9% of its power consumption last year. REFERENCE: Geithner in Beijing seeking support on Iran sanctions 11 January 2012 Last updated at 08:51 GMT

ISLAMABAD: Notwithstanding international pressures, Pakistan gave on Monday an unequivocal assurance to Iran that it would implement, on a fast track basis, multi-billion-dollar gas and electricity import projects. “Pakistan is fully committed to importing electricity and gas from Iran and we are working on a fast track basis to finalise these deals at the earliest,” Dr Abdul Hafeez Sheikh, the prime minister’s adviser on finance, told visiting Iranian Deputy President Ali Saeedlou. The assurance was given at a time when Washington is putting pressure on Islamabad to back off from the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project, under which the country is to receive up to one billion cubic feet of natural gas from Iran by 2014. The US, which has intensified its efforts for increased economic sanctions against Iran, offered to Pakistan alternative sources of energy in the form of LNG imports and natural gas transmission from Turkmenistan. Dr Hafeez and Ali Saeedlou also discussed opportunities to boost trade and increase investment in horticulture, livestock, energy, transport, telecommunications and engineering sectors. Dr Hafeez said the establishment of proper rail and road network for goods transport would facilitate trading communities of the two countries to access markets in the region. “The present visit will further strengthen our friendship and bilateral trade, economic and political relations,” he said. A joint news conference by Dr Hafeez and the Iranian deputy president was cancelled in the evening following a Supreme Court order suspending 28 members of the Senate and national and provincial assemblies elected during by-polls conducted by an incomplete Election Commission. Dr Hafeez is also among them. Pakistan called for early implementation of the projects already committed to by the two sides. It also stressed the need for increasing bilateral trade from $1.5 billion to $5 billion. “Pakistan and Iran must actively implement the preferential trade agreement and work towards realising the goal of free trade area,” Dr Hafeez was quoted by sources as saying. He said the two sides should curb cross-border smuggling, review tariff and non-tariff barriers, promote business-to-business interaction and simplify visa procedures. REFERENCE: Gas accord will be honoured, Iran assured Khaleeq Kiani

Debate! IS The Sunni Shia Conflicts Damaging Islam - 1


RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Islam must do away with the dangers of extremism and present the religion's positive message, Saudi King Abdullah said Wednesday as he opened a conference of Muslim figures aimed at launching a dialogue with Christians and Jews. The three-day gathering in the holy city of Mecca seeks a unified Muslim voice ahead of the interfaith dialogue. In particular, Saudi Arabia hopes to promote reconciliation between Shiite and Sunni Muslims. "You have gathered today to tell the whole world that ... we are a voice of justice and values and humanity, that we are a voice of coexistence and a just and rational dialogue," Abdullah told the 500 Muslim delegates from 50 Muslim nations in his opening speech. Abdullah walked into the conference hall Wednesday with powerful Iranian politician Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who later sat on the king's left on the stage, sending a message that the Sunni kingdom does not have a problem with moderate Shiites like him. Saudi Arabia and mainly Shiite Iran are seen as top rivals for influence in the Middle East, standing on opposite sides of political divides in Lebanon, Iraq and the Palestinian territories. Moreover, Saudi Arabia's official Wahhabi interpretation of Islam considers Shiites as infidels — and days ahead of Wednesday's gathering a number of hardline Wahhabi clerics issued a statement harshly condemning Shiites and Iran. First for Saudis Abdullah announced in March that he wanted to sponsor an interfaith dialogue between the world's monotheistic religions — specifically including Jews. It was the first such initiative from a nation with no diplomatic ties to Israel and a ban on non-Muslim religious services and symbols.He said Wednesday that the Islamic world faces difficult challenges from the extremism of some Muslims, whose aggressions "target the magnanimity, fairness and lofty aims of Islam." "That's why (the conference) invitation was extended — to face the challenges of isolation, ignorance and narrow horizons, so that the world can absorb the good message of Islam," he said. Rafsanjani praised Abdu llah, saying, "Our brothers in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia ... have presented a great message to all humanity in the world." "Before we speak with other religions, we must speak among ourselves and reach an understanding on a particular Islamic path," he said, calling for greater understanding between Sunnis and Shiites. "We should support each other ... not weaken each other or sully each other's reputation," he said. "As a Muslim and a Shiite and an expert in Islamic issues ... I tell you that there are many things in common (between us) and there's no need to look at differences." King: Top clerics back me Participants say they hope the gathering will culminate in an agreement on a global Islamic charter on dialogue with Christians and Jews. They expect Saudi Arabia will launch its formal call for an interfaith dialogue at the conference's close or soon after. Abdullah's message, which has been welcomed by Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders, is significant. The Saudi monarch is the custodian of Islam's two holiest shrines in Mecca and Medina, a position that lends his words special importance and influence. Abdullah said Saudi Arabia's top clerics have given him their approval — crucial backing in a society that expects decisions taken by its rulers to adhere to Islam's tenets. It remains unclear who will participate in the second phase of the initiative, in particular whether Israeli religious leaders would be invited. The kingdom and all other Arab nations except Egypt and Jordan do not have diplomatic relations with Israel and generally shun unofficial contacts. REFERENCE: Saudi king calls for end to Islamic extremism Moderate Iranian Shiite leader Rafsanjani joins interfaith dialogue updated 6/5/2008 3:12:07 AM ET

Debate! IS The Sunni Shia Conflicts Damaging Islam - 2


Iran's human rights crisis deepened as the government sought to consolidate its power following 2009's disputed presidential election. Public demonstrations waned after security forces used live ammunition to suppress protesters in late 2009, resulting in the death of at least seven protesters. Authorities announced that security forces had arrested more than 6,000 individuals after June 2009. Hundreds-including lawyers, rights defenders, journalists, civil society activists, and opposition leaders-remain in detention without charge. Since the election crackdown last year, well over a thousand people have fled Iran to seek asylum in neighboring countries. Interrogators used torture to extract confessions, on which the judiciary relied on to sentence people to long prison terms and even death. Restrictions on freedom of expression and association, as well as religious and gender-based discrimination, continued unabated. Authorities systematically used torture to coerce confessions. Student activist Abdullah Momeni wrote to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei in September describing the torture he suffered at the hands of jailers. At this writing no high-level official has been prosecuted for the torture, ill-treatment, and deaths of three detainees held at Kahrizak detention center after June 2009.

On August 2, 2010, 17 political prisoners issued a statement demanding the rights guaranteed to prisoners by law, including an end to their solitary confinement and access to medical facilities. They also complained of severely overcrowded conditions. Reports by international human rights groups indicate that prison authorities are systematically denying needed medical care to political prisoners at Tehran's Evin Prison and other facilities. Dozens of journalists and bloggers are currently behind bars or free on short-term furloughs. On September 28 blogger Hossein Derakhshan received a nineteen-and-a-half year prison sentence for espionage, "propaganda against the regime," and "insulting sanctities." The judiciary sentenced numerous other journalists, including Isa Saharkhiz and Hengameh Shahidi who were sentenced to three and six years respectively, for crimes such as "insulting" government officials. On June 8 a revolutionary court sentenced Jila Baniyaghoub to a year in prison and barred her from working as a journalist for 30 years.

The Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance continued shutting down newspapers and in August directed the press not to publish items about opposition leaders Mir Hossein Moussavi, Mehdi Karroubi, and Mohammad Khatami, the former president.

State universities prevented some politically active students from registering for graduate programs despite undergraduate test scores that should have guaranteed them access. The government initiated an aggressive campaign to "Islamicize" universities, in part by forcibly retiring professors in the social sciences.

The government relied on plainclothes security forces and the Basij, a state-sponsored paramilitary force, to target Shia clerics critical of the government, such as Grand Ayatollah Yusef Sanei, Mehdi Karroubi, and Ayatollah Seyed Ali Mohammad Dastgheib. Ayatollah Kazemini Boroujerdi-whose understanding of Islam calls for the separation of religion and government-entered his fourth year in prison following a Special Court for the Clergy conviction on unknown charges. After years under house arrest and government monitoring, Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri died in December 2009. Security forces arrested scores of mourners who attended his funeral.

The government systematically blocks websites that carry political news and analysis, slows down internet speeds, jams foreign satellite broadcasts, and employs the Revolutionary Guards to target dissident websites. Authorities continued a blanket policy of denying permits for opposition demonstrations. Security forces prevented the Mourning Mothers, whose sons and daughters were killed by security forces during the 2009 unrest, from gathering at Laleh Park in Tehran. Authorities also prevented women's rights activists from publicly petitioning against existing laws or legislation that discriminate against women.

The government increased restrictions on civil society organizations. On September 27 the general prosecutor and judiciary spokesman announced a court order dissolving two pro-reform political parties, the Islamic Iran Participation Front and the Mojahedin of the Islamic Revolution.

Repression of student groups was particularly harsh. Security forces detained scores of members belonging to the Office for Consolidating Unity, including Ali Qolizadeh, Alireza Kiani, Mohammad Heydarzadeh, and Mohsen Barzegar, who were arrested in early November 2010. The Office for Consolidating Unity is a national independent student association that authorities declared illegal in January 2009. In 2010, revolutionary courts convicted Bahareh Hedayat, Majid Tavakoli, and Milad Asadi, members of Tahkim's alumni group, to prison terms ranging from six to eight-and-a-half years on charges that include insulting government authorities. In 2009, the last year for which figures are available, authorities executed 388 prisoners, more than any other nation except China. Iranian human rights defenders believe that many more executions, especially of individuals convicted of drug trafficking, are taking place in Iran's prisons today.

Crimes punishable by death include murder, rape, drug trafficking, armed robbery, espionage, sodomy, and adultery. Under intense international pressure, officials suspended the stoning-to-death sentence of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani who was convicted of adultery in 2006. However, they alleged that Ashtiani helped murder her husband. She remains on death row at this writing.

Iran leads the world in the execution of juvenile offenders. Iranian law allows death sentences for persons who have reached puberty, defined as nine years old for girls and fifteen for boys. According to a human rights lawyer who defended many juvenile offenders on death row, authorities executed a juvenile offender named Mohammad on July 10, 2010. There are currently more than a hundred juvenile offenders on death row, including Ebrahim Hamidi, whom a local court sentenced to death for the alleged rape of another boy in 2010. Hamidi was 16 at the time of the alleged crime.

Authorities have executed at least nine political dissidents since November 2009, all of them convicted of moharebeh ("enmity against God") for their alleged ties to armed groups. On January 28 the government hanged Mohammad-Reza Ali-Zamani and Arash Rahmanipour. Although both were arrested prior to the June 2009 presidential election, they were tried as part of the August 2009 mass trials, where they reportedly confessed to planning a deadly 2008 bombing in Shiraz, southwest Iran.

Authorities executed Farzad Kamangar, Ali Heidarian, Farhad Vakili, Shirin Alam Holi, and Mehdi Eslamian by hanging on the morning of May 9 in Evin prison without informing their lawyers or families. Another 16 Kurds presently face execution for their alleged support of armed groups.Efforts to intimidate human rights lawyers and prevent them from effectively representing political detainees continued. In September authorities arrested Nasrin Sotoudeh, who represented numerous political prisoners. In November Sotoudeh went on a "dry" hunger strike, refusing to eat or drink anything to protest being held in solitary confinement since her arrest. Mohammad Mostafaei was forced to flee Iran after authorities repeatedly summoned him for questioning and detained his wife, father-in-law, and brother-in-law. Mostafaei represented high-profile defendants such as Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, the woman sentenced to death by stoning, and numerous juvenile detainees on death row. In October 2010, a revolutionary court sentenced Mohammad Seifzadeh, a colleague of Nobel-prize winner Shirin Ebadi and co-founder of the banned Center for Defenders of Human Rights, to nine years imprisonment and banned him from practicing law for 10 years.

Security forces routinely harassed and arrested human rights activists, often without charge. Others were swept up in raids and face charges of attempting to overthrow the government via "cyber-warfare." On September 21 a revolutionary court sentenced Emad Baghi to six years in prison for an interview he conducted with dissident cleric Grand Ayatollah Montazeri several years earlier. Another revolutionary court sentenced Shiva Nazar Ahari and Koohyar Goodarzi, both members of the Committee of Human Rights Reporters, to six years and one year respectively after months of "temporary detention" for alleged national security offenses. The government denies adherents of the Baha'i faith-Iran's largest non-Muslim religious minority-freedom of religion. In August the judiciary convicted seven leaders of the national Baha'i organization to 20 years each in prison; their sentences were later reduced to 10 years each. The government accused them of espionage without providing evidence and denied their lawyers' requests to conduct a prompt and fair trial.

Iranian laws continue to discriminate against religious minorities, including Sunni Muslims, in employment and education. Sunni Muslims, about 10 percent of the population, cannot construct mosques in major cities. In 2010, security forces detained several members of Iran's largest Sufi sect, the Nematollahi Gonabadi order, and attacked their houses of worship. They similarly targeted converts to Christianity for questioning and arrest.

The government restricts cultural and political activities among the country's Azeri, Kurdish, and Arab minorities, including the organizations that focus on social issues.

Sexual minorities also face a precarious situation. Law enforcement and judiciary officials discriminate, both in law and in practice, against Iran's vulnerable lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities. Iran's penal code criminalizes consensual same-sex acts, some of which are punishable by death. During the past few years, a steady stream of LGBT Iranians has sought refugee status in Turkey and are awaiting resettlement in third countries. Iran's nuclear program continued to be the center of attention for much of 2010, overshadowing serious concerns regarding the deepening human rights crisis in the country. In June 2010 the United Nations Security Council passed a new round of sanctions against Iran for its failure to comply with previous resolutions on transparency regarding its nuclear program.

During Iran's Universal Periodic Review before the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) in March, Iran rejected 45 recommendations of member states, including allowing the special rapporteur on torture to visit the country; prosecuting security officials involved in torturing, raping, or killing; implementing policies to end gender based violence; and halting the execution of political prisoners.

In October 2010 the UN secretary-general's office released its report on the situation of human rights in Iran, pursuant to UN General Assembly resolution 64/176. The report noted "further negative developments in the human rights situation" in Iran, including "excessive use of force, arbitrary arrests, and detentions, unfair trials, and possible torture and ill-treatment of opposition activists" following the June 2009 election.

In April Iran withdrew its bid to gain a seat on the HRC after strong international opposition. However, it did gain a seat on the Commission on the Status of Women. During the June session of the HRC, 56 states joined a statement expressing concern over "the lack of progress in the protection of human rights in Iran, particularly since the events surrounding the elections in Iran last June." In December 2009 the UN General Assembly passed a resolution criticizing Iran's human rights record.

On September 29, 2010, the Obama administration announced "human rights sanctions" against eight high-level Iranian officials, including individuals from the ministries of intelligence and interior, the police, the Basij, the Revolutionary Guards, and the judiciary, who were responsible for systematic and serious human rights violations. REFERENCE: World Report 2011: Iran The Islamic Republic at 31 Post-election Abuses Show Serious Human Rights Crisis FEBRUARY 12, 2010

Debate! IS The Sunni Shia Conflicts Damaging Islam - 3


A few years ago, I met some young boys from my village near Bahawalpur who were preparing to go on jihad. They smirked politely when I asked them to close their eyes and imagine their future. “We can tell you without closing our eyes that we don’t see anything.” It was not entirely surprising. South Punjab is a region mired in poverty and underdevelopment. There are few job prospects for the youth. While the government has built airports and a few hospitals, these projects are symbolic and barely meet the needs of the area. It’s in areas like this, amid economic stagnation and hopelessness, that religious extremists find fertile ground to plant and spread their ideology. The first step is recruitment – and the methodology is straightforward. Young children, or even men, are taken to madrassas in nearby towns. They are fed well and kept in living conditions considerably better than what they are used to. This is a simple psychological strategy meant to help them compare their homes with the alternatives offered by militant organisations. The returning children, like the boys I met, then undergo ideological indoctrination in a madrassa. Those who are indoctrinated always bring more friends and family with them. It is a swelling cycle.

Madrassas nurturing armies of young Islamic militants ready to embrace martyrdom have been on the rise for years in the Punjab. In fact, South Punjab has become the hub of jihadism. Yet, somehow, there are still many people in Pakistan who refuse to acknowledge this threat.

Four major militant outfits, the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) and Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT), are all comfortably ensconced in South Punjab (see article “Brothers in Arms”). Sources claim that there are about 5,000 to 9,000 youth from South Punjab fighting in Afghanistan and Waziristan. A renowned Pakistani researcher, Hassan Abbas cites a figure of 2,000 youth engaged in Waziristan. The area has become critical to planning, recruitment and logistical support for terrorist attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In fact, in his study on the Punjabi Taliban, Abbas has quoted Tariq Pervez, the chief of a new government outfit named the National Counter-Terrorism Authority (NCTA), as saying that the jihad veterans in South Punjab are instrumental in providing the foot soldiers and implementing terror plans conceived and funded mainly by Al-Qaeda operatives. This shouldn’t come as a surprise considering that the force that conquered Khost in 1988-89 comprised numerous South Punjabi commanders who fought for the armies of various Afghan warlords such as Gulbuddin Hikmatyar and Burhanuddin Rabbani. Even now, all the four major organisations are involved in Afghanistan.

The above facts are not unknown to the provincial and federal governments or the army. It was not too long ago that the federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik equated South Punjab with Swat. The statement was negated by the IG Punjab. Perhaps, the senior police officer was not refuting his superior but challenging the story by Sabrina Tavernese of The New York Times (NYT). The story had highlighted jihadism in South Punjab, especially in Dera Ghazi Khan. The NYT story even drew a reaction from media outlets across the country. No one understood that South Punjab is being rightly equated with Swat, not because of violence but due to the presence of elements that aim at taking the society and state in another direction.

An English-language daily newspaper reacted to the NYT story by dispatching a journalist to South Punjab who wrote a series of articles that attempted to analyse the existing problem. One of the stories highlighted comments by the Bahawalpur Regional Police Officer (RPO) Mushtaq Sukhera, in which he denied that there was a threat of Talibanisation in South Punjab. He said that all such reports pertaining to South Punjab were nothing more than a figment of the western press’s imagination. Many others express a similar opinion. There are five explanations for this.

Firstly, opinion makers and policy makers are in a state of denial regarding the gravity of the problem. Additionally, they believe an overemphasis on this region might draw excessive US attention to South Punjab – an area epitomising mainstream Pakistan. Thus, it is difficult even to find anecdotal evidence regarding the activities of jihadis in this sub-region. We only gain some knowledge about the happenings from coincidental accidents like the blast that took place in a madrassa in Mian Chunoon, exposing the stockpile of arms its owner had stored on the premises.

Nothing is off limits: Militants attack the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore in March 2009.

Secondly, officer Sukhera and others like him do not see any threat because the Punjab-based outfits are “home-grown” and are not seen as directly connected to the war in Afghanistan. This is contestable on two counts: South Punjabi jihadists have been connected with the Afghan jihad since the 1980s and the majority is still engaged in fighting in Afghanistan.

Thirdly, since all these outfits were created by the ISI to support General Zia-ul-Haq’s Islamisation process, in essence to fight a proxy war for Saudi Arabia against Iran by targeting the Shia community, and later the Kashmir war, the officials feel comfortable that they will never spin out of control. Those that become uncontrollable, such as Al-Furqan, are then abandoned. This outfit was involved in the second assassination attempt on Musharraf and had initially broken away from the JeM after the leadership developed differences over assets, power and ideology. Thus, the district officials and intelligence agencies turned a blind eye to the killing of the district amir of Al-Furqan in Bahawalpur in May 2009. As far as the JeM is concerned, it continues its engagement with the establishment. In any case, groups that are partly committed to the Kashmir cause and confrontation with India continue to survive. This is certainly the perception about the LeT. But in reality, the Wahhabi outfit has also been engaged in other regions, such as the Afghan provinces of Kunar and Badakhshan since 2004.

Fourthly, there is confusion at the operational level in the government regarding the definition of Talibanisation, which is then reflected in the larger debate on the issue. Many, including the RPO, define the process as an effort by an armed group to use force to change the social conditioning in an area. Ostensibly, the militant outfits in the Punjab continue to coexist with the pirs, prostitutes and the drug mafia, and there is no reason that they will follow in the footsteps of Sufi Mohammad and Maulana Fazlullah, or Baitullah Mehsud. Since the authorities only recognise the pattern followed by the Afghan warlords or those in Pakistan’s tribal areas, they tend not to understand that what is happening in the Punjab may not be Talibanisation but could eventually prove to be as lethal as what they call Talibanisation.

Finally, many believe that Talibanisation cannot take place in a region known for practicing the Sufi version of Islam. There are many, besides the Bahawalpur RPO, who subscribe to the above theory. A year ago in an interview with an American channel, Farahnaz Ispahani, an MNA and wife of Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington, Husain Haqqani, stated that extremism couldn’t flourish in South Punjab because it was a land of Sufi shrines. This is partially true. The Sufi influence would work as a bulwark against this Talibanisation of society. However, Sufi Islam cannot fight poverty, underdevelopment and poor governance – all key factors that encourage Talibanisation.

South Punjab boasts names such as the Mazaris, Legharis and Gilanis, most of whom are not just politicians and big landowners but also belong to significant pir families. But they have done little to alleviate the sufferings of their constituents. A visit to Dera Ghazi Khan is depressing. Despite the fact that the division produced a president, Farooq Khan Leghari, the state of underdevelopment there is shocking. Reportedly, people living in the area in the immediate vicinity of the Leghari tribe could not sell their land without permission from the head of the tribe, the former president, who has been the tribal chief for many years. Under the circumstances, the poor and the dispossessed became attractive targets for militant outfits offering money. The country’s current economic downturn could raise the popularity of militant outfits.

In recent history, the gap created due to the non-performance of Sufi shrines and Barelvi Islam, or the exploitative nature of these institutions, has been filled partly by the Deobandi and Ahl-e-Hadith madrassa conversion teams and groups, such as the Tableeghi Jamaat, and militant outfits. This alternative, unfortunately, is equally exploitative in nature. Sadly, today the shrines and Barelvi Islam have little to offer in terms of “marketing” to counter the package deal offered by the Salafists for the life hereafter, especially to a shaheed: 70 hoors (virgins), a queen hoor (virgin queen), a crown of jewels and forgiveness for 70 additional people. This promise means a lot for the poor youth who cannot hope for any change in a pre-capitalist socio-economic and political environment, where power is hard to re-negotiate. Furthermore, as stated by the former information minister Mohammad Ali Durrani, who had been a jihadi from 1984-90, a poor youth suddenly turning into a jihadi commander is a tremendous story of social mobility and recognition that he would never get in his existing socio-economic system. More importantly, the Deobandis and Ahl-e-Hadith offer a textual basis for their package, which is difficult for the pirs to refute due to the lack of an internal religious discourse in the Islamic world. The modern generation of pirs has not engaged in an internal discourse to counter this ideological onslaught by the Salafis. The main belief of Salafism is that all Muslims should practice Islam as it was during the time of Prophet Muhammad. The religion at that time, according to them, was perfect. Salafism – which pre-dates Wahhabism – is often used interchangeably with Wahhabism, which is actually an extension of Salafism.

* * *

Punjab offers a different pattern of extremism and jihadism. The pattern is closer to what one saw in Swat, where Sufi Mohammad and his TNSM spent quite a few years indoctrinating the society and building up a social movement before they got embroiled in a conflict with the state. South Punjab’s story is, in a sense, like Swat’s in that there is a gradual strengthening of Salafism and a build-up of militancy in the area. The procedure of conversion though, dates back to pre-1947. Still, the 1980s were clearly a watershed, when both rabid ideology and jihad were introduced to the area. Zia-ul-Haq encouraged the opening up of religious seminaries that, unlike the more traditional madrassas that were usually attached with Sufi shrines, subscribed to Salafi ideology. In later years, South Punjab became critical to inducting people for the Kashmir jihad. The ascendancy of the Tableeghi Jamaat and such madrassas that presented a more rabid version of religion gradually prepared the ground for later invasion by the militant groups. Two reports prepared around 1994, firstly by the district collector Bahawalpur and later by the Punjab government, highlighted the exponential rise in the number of madrassas and how these fanned sectarian and ideological hatred in the province. These reports also stated that all of these seminaries were provided funding by the government through the zakat fund.

The number of seminaries had increased during and after the 1980s. According to a 1996 report, there were 883 madrassas in Bahawalpur, 361 in Dera Ghazi Khan, 325 in Multan and 149 in Sargodha district. The madrassas in Bahawalpur outnumbered all other cities, including Lahore. These numbers relate to Deobandi madrassas only and do not include the Ahl-e-Hadith, Barelvi and other sects. Newer estimates from the intelligence bureau for 2008 show approximately 1,383 madrassas in the Bahawalpur division that house 84,000 students. Although the highest number of madrassas is in Rahim Yar Khan district (559) followed by Bahawalpur (481) and Bahawalnagar (310), it is Bahawalpur in which the highest number of students (36,000) is enlisted. The total number of madrassa students in Pakistan has reached about one million. REFERENCE: Terror’s Training Ground By Ayesha Siddiqa 9 SEPTEMBER 2009

Debate! IS The Sunni Shia Conflicts Damaging Islam - 4


Everyone has been so focused on FATA and the NWFP that they failed to notice the huge increase in religious seminaries in these districts of South Punjab. According to a study conducted by historian Tahir Kamran, the total number of madrassas in the Punjab rose from 1,320 in 1988 to 3,153 in 2000, an increase of almost 140%. These madrassas were meant to provide a rapid supply of jihadis to the Afghan war of the 1980s. At the time of 9/11, the Bahawalpur division alone could boast of approximately 15,000-20,000 trained militants, some of whom had resettled in their areas during the period that Musharraf claimed to have clamped down on the jihad industry. Many went into the education sector, opened private schools and even joined the media.

These madrassas play three essential roles. First, they convert people to Salafism and neutralise resistance to a more rabid interpretation of the Quran and Sunnah in society. Consequently, the majority of the Barelvis cannot present a logical resistance to the opposing ideology. In many instances, the Barelvis themselves get converted to the idea of jihad. Secondly, these madrassas are used to train youth, who are then inducted into jihad. Most of the foot soldiers come from the religious seminaries. One of the principles taught to the students pertains to the concept of jihad as being a sacred duty that has to continue until the end of a Muslim’s life or the end of the world. Lastly, madrassas are an essential transit point for the youth, who are recruited from government schools. They are usually put through the conversion process after they have attended a 21-day initial training programme in the Frontier province or Kashmir (see box “A Different Breed”).

State support, which follows two distinct tracks, is also instrumental in the growth of jihadism in this region. On the one hand, there has generally been a link or understanding between political parties and militant groups. Since political parties are unable to eliminate militants or most politicians are sympathetic towards the militants, they tend to curb their activities through political deal-making. The understanding between the SSP and Benazir Bhutto after the 1993 elections, or the alleged deal between the PML-N and the SSP during the 2008 elections, denote the relationship between major political parties and the jihadis. Currently, the SSP in South Punjab is more supportive of the PML-N.

The second track involves operational links between the outfits and the state’s intelligence apparatus. As mentioned earlier, some of the outfits claim to have received training from the country’s intelligence agencies. Even now, local people talk of truckloads of weapons arriving at the doorstep of the JeM headquarters and other sites in the middle of the night. While official sources continue to claim that the outfit was banned and does not exist, or that Masood Azhar is on the run from his hometown of Bahawalpur, the facts prove otherwise. For instance, the outfit continues to acquire real estate in the area, such as a new site near Chowk Azam in Bahawalpur, which many believe is being used as a training site. Although the new police chief has put restraints on the JeM and disallowed it from constructing on the site, the outfit continues to appropriate more land around the area. Junior police officials even claim seeing tunnels being dug inside the premises. The new facility is on the bank of the Lahore-Karachi national highway, which means that in the event of a crisis, the JeM could block the road as has happened in Kohat and elsewhere. Furthermore, the outfit’s main headquarters in the city is guarded by AK-47-armed men who harass any journalist trying to take a photograph of the building. In one instance, even a police official was shooed away and later intimidated by spooks of an intelligence agency for spying on the outfit. Despite the claim that the SSP, the LeJ and the JeM have broken ties with intelligence agencies and are now fighting the army in Waziristan, the fact remains that their presence in the towns of South Punjab continues unhindered.

Is it naivety and inefficiency on the part of officialdom or a deliberate effort to withhold information? The government claims that Maulana Masood Azhar has not visited his hometown in the last three years. But he held a massive book launch of his new publication Fatah-ul-Jawad: Quranic Verses on Jihad, on April 28, 2008, in Bahawalpur. Moreover, JeM’s armed men manned all entrances and exits to the city that day – and there was no police force in sight. The ISI is said to have severed its links with the JeM for assisting the Pashtoon Taliban in inciting violence in the country. Sources from FATA claim, however, that the JeM, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM) and LeT are suspected by the Taliban for their links with state agencies.

In addition, intelligence agencies reportedly ward off anyone attempting to probe into the affairs of these outfits. In one case, a local in Bahawalpur city invoked daily visits from a certain agency after he assisted a foreign journalist. Similarly, only six months back, a BBC team was chased out of the area by agency officials. In fact, intelligence officials, who had forgotten about my existence since my last book was published, revisited my village in South Punjab soon after I began writing on militancy in the area and have gone to the extent of planting a story in one of the Urdu newspapers to malign me in my own area. In any case, no serious operation was conducted against these outfits after the Mumbai attacks and the recent spate of violence in the country. Hence, all of them continue to survive.

The Deobandi outfits are not the only ones popular in South Punjab. Ahl-e-Hadith/Wahhabi organisations such as the Tehreek-ul-Mujahidden (TuM) and the LeT also have a following in the region. While TuM, which is relatively a smaller organisation, has support in Dera Ghazi Khan, the LeT is popular in Bahawalpur, Multan and the areas bordering Central Punjab. Headquartered in Muridke, the LeT is popular among the Punjabi and Urdu-speaking Mohajir settlers.

There are obvious sociological reasons for LeT’s relative popularity among these people. The majority of this population represents either the lower-middle-class farmers or middle-class trader-merchants. The middle class is instrumental in providing funding to these outfits. And the support is not confined to South Punjab alone. In fact, middle-class trader-merchants from other parts of the Punjab also feed jihad through their funding. This does not mean that there are no Seraiki speakers in Wahhabi organisations but just that the dominant influence is that of the Punjabis and Mohajirs. The Seraiki-speaking population is mostly associated with the SSP, LeJ and JeM, not to mention the freelancing jihadis that have direct links with the Tehrik-e-Taliban (TTP).

The LeT’s presence in South Punjab is far more obvious than others courtesy of the wall chalkings and social work by its sister outfit, the Jamaat-ud-Dawa. Despite the rumours of friction between the LeT and the JuD leadership, the two segments operate in unison in South Punjab. Three of the favourite areas of recruitment in South Punjab for all outfits are Cholistan in Bahawalpur, the Rekh in Dera Ghazi Khan, and the Kacha area in Rajanpur. The first two are desert areas known for their poverty and underdevelopment, while the third is known for dacoits. However, another known feature of Kacha in Rajanpur is that the clerics of the Lal Masjid come from this area and have partly managed to push back the dacoits. Local sources claim that the influence of the clerics has increased since they started receiving cooperation from the police to jointly fight the dacoits.
Organisations such as the LeT have even begun to recruit women in the Punjab. These women undergo 21 days of ideological and military training. The goal is to ensure that these women will be able to fight if their menfolk are out on jihad and an enemy attacks Pakistan.

The militant outfits are rich, both ideologically and materially. They have ample financial resources that flow from four distinct sources: official sources (in some cases); Middle Eastern and Gulf states (not necessarily official channels); donations; and the Punjabi middle class, which is predominantly engaged in funding both madrassas and jihad for social, moral and political ends. With regard to donations, the militant outfits are extremely responsive to the changing environment and have adapted their money-collection tactics. Gone are the days of money-collection boxes. Now, especially in villages, followers are asked to raise money by selling harvested crops. And in terms of the Punjabi middle class, there are traders in Islamabad and other smaller urban centres that contribute regularly to the cause. These trader-merchants and upcoming entrepreneurs see donations to these outfits as a source of atonement for their sins. In Tahir Kamran’s study “Deobandiism in the Punjab,” Deobandiism (and Wahhabiism) is an urban phenomenon. If so, then the existence of these militant outfits in rural Punjab indicates a new social trend. Perhaps, due to greater access to technology (mobiles, television sets, satellite receivers, etc), the landscape (and rustic lifestyles) of Punjab’s rural areas has changed. There is an unplanned urbanisation of the rural areas due to the emergence of small towns with no social development, health and education infrastructure. Socially and politically, there is a gap that is filled by these militant outfits or related ideological institutions.

Fortunately, they have not succeeded in changing the lifestyles of the ordinary people. This is perhaps because there are multiple cultural strands that do not allow the jihadis to impose their norms the way they have in the tribal areas or the Frontier province. This is not to say that there is no threat from them in South Punjab: the liberalism and multi-polarity of society is certainly at risk. The threat is posed by the religious seminaries and the new recruits for jihad, who change social norms slowly and gradually. Sadly nothing, including the powerful political system of the area, which in any case is extremely warped, helps ward off the threat of extremism and jihadism. Ultimately, South Punjab could fall prey to the myopia of its ruling elite.

* * *

So how does the state and society deal with this issue?

Deploying the military is not an option. In the Punjab this will create a division within the powerful army because of regional loyalty. The foremost task is to examine the nature of the state’s relationship with the militants as strategic partners: should this relationship continue to exist to the detriment of the state? Once this mystifying question is resolved, all militant forces can be dealt with through an integrated police-intelligence operation.

This, however, amounts to winning only half the battle. The other half deals with the basic problems faced by the likes of those young jihadis-in-training from Bahawalpur who said, “We don’t see anything” in our futures. Presently, there is hardly any industrialisation in South Punjab and the mainstay of the area, agriculture, is faltering. The region requires economic strengthening: new ideas in agriculture, capital investment and new, relevant industries. This is the time that the government must plan beyond the usual textile and sugar industries that have arguably turned into huge mafias that are draining the local economy rather than feeding it.

Investment in social development is desperately needed. A larger social infrastructure that provides jobs and an educational system that is responsive to the needs of the population can contribute to filling the gaps. The message of militancy is quite potent, especially in terms of the dreams it sells to the youth, such as those disillusioned boys from my village. Jihad elevates youngsters from a state of being dispossessed to an imagined exalted status. They visualise themselves taking their places among great historical figures such as Mohammad bin Qasim and Khalid bin Waleed. It is these dreams for which the state must provide an alternative. REFERENCE: Terror’s Training Ground By Ayesha Siddiqa 9 SEPTEMBER 2009

Debate! IS The Sunni Shia Conflicts Damaging Islam - 5



Excerpts from a book: Pakistan’s Drift into Extremism: Allah, the Army and America’s War on Terror By Hassan Abbas published by An East Gate Book. M.E. Sharpe Armonk, New York, London England. “The Khomeini revolution in Iran already bolstered the confidence of the Shias, and they were not about to take Sunni dictates in religious matters lying down. Hard-liners among Sunni, for their part, felt that such dictation was their right, and those on the extreme right of the Sunni spectrum simply cut the Gordian knot by taking a position that, correct or not, Pakistan had a Sunni majority and as such it should be declared a Sunni Muslim state in which Shia should be treated as a minority. Since achievement of this holy goal would likely to take some time, some of them decided that the interregnum ought not to be wasted. Thus in 1985 they formed Anjuman Sipah-e-Sahaba (ASS) – an organization piously dedicated to ridding the country of the nettlesome presence of the Shias by eliminating them physically. Later, when they realized what the organization’s acronym meant in English, they changed the name to Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP).” “The zealous emissaries of the Iranian Revolutionary Regime started financing their organization Tehreek-e-Nifza-e-Fiqah-e-Jafaria (TNFJ – Movement for the Implementation of Jafaria Religious Law) and providing scholarships for Pakistani student to study in Iranian religious seminaries. For the Zia regime though, the problematic issue was Shia activism leading to a strong reaction to his attempts to impose Hanafi Islam (a branch of Sunni sect). For this he winked to the hard-liners among the Sunni religious groups in order to establish a front to squeeze the Shias. It was in this context that Jhangvi was selected by the intelligence community to do the needful. It is also believed that the JUI recommendation played the decisive part in this choice. The adherents of the Deobandi School were worried about Shia activism for religious reasons anyhow. State patronage came as an additional incentive. Consequently, in a well-designed effort, Shia assertiveness was projected as their disloyalty to Pakistan and its Islamic Ideology.” “In a few months, Saudi funds started pouring in, making the project feasible. For Saudi Arabia, the Iranian revolution was quite scary, for its ideals conflicted with that of a Wahabi monarchy. More so, with an approximately 10% Shia population, Saudi Arabia was concerned about the expansion of Shia activism in any Muslim country. Hence, it was more than willing to curb such trends in Pakistan by making a financial investment to bolster its Wahabi Agenda. According to Vali Raza Nasr, a leading expert on the sectarian groups of Pakistan, the flow of these funds was primarily routed through the Pakistan Military and the ISI. It is not known whether American support for this scheme was readily available, but the Zia regime knew well that the United States would be glad to acquiesce, given the rising US – Iran hostility. However, some analyst believe that CIA funds were involved in the venture.”


No comments: