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December 4, 2008

Pakistan Reaction: Something dark is growing in our own backyard

http://www.jewishjournal.com/world/article/pakistan_reaction_something_dark_is_growing_on_our_own_backyard_20081203



This is the first of two parts on Pakistan and terror. Next week: Anti-Semitism and Pakistan.

"Abhi India me pat'ta bhi nahi hil sakega."

"Now even a leaf will need permission to stir in India," remarked R, a young Indian woman at an expat dinner off London's Baker Street on the Saturday after the Mumbai bombing. She was deep in discussion with three Pakistanis and nine fellow Indians about the expected tightening in security measures after the tragedy.

"It will be like the U.S. after 9/11," she said, as heads nodded in agreement around the room. One of the Pakistanis opened her mouth but shut it quickly.

For Pakistanis at home, the fear is more palpable. It is not necessarily fear of immediate violence, but of something much darker growing in our very own backyard. Initially, the tragedy had seemed somewhat distant, but then came the damning reports that the terrorists used a boat to travel from Karachi. If Complete coverage of Mumbai Chabad attackproven true, this confirms yet again what the people of Karachi (and all over Pakistan) have known for a long time, that this city is being used as a base for terror groups. The long-term implications are terrifying. In the short term, Pakistan is worried that, as in 2001, when the Kashmir-based Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT) -- the same group being named for the Mumbai terror -- attacked the Indian parliament, the two countries could be brought to the brink of war.

Caution vs. the Blame Game

The Mumbai attacks made front-page news across Pakistan in the English-, Urdu- and regional-language media. All political statements condemning the merciless assault were carried, and Pakistan was one of the first countries to make its stance clear.

However, much of the media debates were fed by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's statement that it was evident the group that carried out the attacks was based outside the country, and that India would act against any neighboring country that allowed itself to be used as a base for attacking India. These words raised alarm bells all over Pakistan and in a way have provided a case study of the divisions between the English and Urdu media. Also important was that President Asif Ali Zardari denied any Pakistani role in the attacks, pledged action against any group found to be involved, and advised New Delhi not to "over-react."

The timing of the Mumbai attacks is extremely suspicious to some analysts. It just so happens that whenever the government of Pakistan reaches out to work on peace with India, something terrible happens to sabotage the process. Sabotage may be a strong word to use here, but consider Taliban expert Ahmed Rashid's words. The author of "Descent Into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia" said on Nov. 4, just weeks before the attacks, that he would hardly be surprised if something were to happen to derail the talks initiated by Zardari. He gave examples of how the military had sabotaged diplomatic efforts for peace with India in the past: Benazir Bhutto met Rajiv Gandhi in her first term, following which problems in Kashmir flared up; Nawaz Sharif met with A.B. Vajpayee, following which then-President Pervez Musharraf went into Kargil, a border hot spot with the two countries.

Thus, there are sections of society and the media that harbor a general mistrust, and help perpetuate it between the two countries, despite the fact that the two were one nation for hundreds of years until 1947. Some sections of the Urdu media exemplify this stance. They condemned the loss of life, but nonetheless fed into the blame game, an old tack. Their opinions ranged from the alarmist to the paranoid. Jang, one of the more widely read Urdu newspapers, warned in an editorial that Pakistan should be careful. But the editorial's use of the word "propaganda" against Muslims to malign Pakistan had an old-school ring to it. The same line was taken by daily Urdu newspaper Nawa-i-Waqt, saying in its editorial that this was part of a "great game" by America, India and Israel against Pakistan.

Daily Urdu Ummat went so far as to indirectly support the "Deccan Mujahideen" by saying that their demands for the independence of Kashmir were "proof" enough that India could not "oppress" its Muslim populations for long. Urdu daily Khabrain chose to extrapolate on the earlier arrest of one Indian army lieutenant colonel for conspiracy by saying that India needed to get its own house in order. Similarly, daily Urdu newspaper Express felt that the "Indian rulers ought to change their thinking of hatred towards Pakistan," urging them to look in their own backyard for terrorists hiding there, a reference to the time when Hindu extremists attacked a church in Mumbai.

This is not to say that one should dismiss the possibility of homegrown terrorism for India. But as some sections of the English media demonstrated, in a much more cautious, balanced and well-informed tone, there is another way of factoring that into the analysis of the situation rather than just by being accusing. For example, Dr. Hasan-Askari Rizvi, a well-respected political and defense analyst, pointed out in an op-ed piece in Daily Times that the blame game between India and Pakistan serves the political agendas of both hard-line Hindus and hard-line Muslims, who have always opposed normalization of India-Pakistan relations.

"India will soon learn what Pakistan already knows: It is not easy to control shadowy militant groups, especially when they cultivate support in sections of society," he wrote.

Similarly, in its editorial, Dawn -- one of the most widely circulated and oldest English newspapers -- cautioned that those implicated in previous attacks in India have been homegrown Muslim militants. "In addition, Hindu militants have been linked to attacks targeting Muslims and Christians in India. What this all clearly adds up to is that India has a massive problem of domestic terrorism that it appears ill equipped to respond to.... But Pakistan cannot afford to be smug as India suffers. We have a grave problem of militancy, and the attacks in Mumbai are a grim reminder of the endless possibilities of terror." These voices, mostly from the English media, acknowledge the problem, but instead of perpetuating insular rhetoric colored by anti-Semitic bias, urge cooperation; opinion based on historical trends and emerging facts; and transborder, regional solutions -- given that the terrorists operate globally.

ALTTEXT
Photo: The Chabad House in Mumbai (before.) Next page: Chabad House interior (after) ALTTEXT



Caution vs. the Blame Game

The Mumbai attacks made front-page news across Pakistan in the English-, Urdu- and regional-language media. All political statements condemning the merciless assault were carried, and Pakistan was one of the first countries to make its stance clear.

However, much of the media debates were fed by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's statement that it was evident the group that carried out the attacks was based outside the country, and that India would act against any neighboring country that allowed itself to be used as a base for attacking India. These words raised alarm bells all over Pakistan and in a way have provided a case study of the divisions between the English and Urdu media. Also important was that President Asif Ali Zardari denied any Pakistani role in the attacks, pledged action against any group found to be involved, and advised New Delhi not to "over-react."

The timing of the Mumbai attacks is extremely suspicious to some analysts. It just so happens that whenever the government of Pakistan reaches out to work on peace with India, something terrible happens to sabotage the process. Sabotage may be a strong word to use here, but consider Taliban expert Complete coverage of Mumbai Chabad attackAhmed Rashid's words. The author of "Descent Into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia" said on Nov. 4, just weeks before the attacks, that he would hardly be surprised if something were to happen to derail the talks initiated by Zardari. He gave examples of how the military had sabotaged diplomatic efforts for peace with India in the past: Benazir Bhutto met Rajiv Gandhi in her first term, following which problems in Kashmir flared up; Nawaz Sharif met with A.B. Vajpayee, following which then-President Pervez Musharraf went into Kargil, a border hot spot with the two countries.

Thus, there are sections of society and the media that harbor a general mistrust, and help perpetuate it between the two countries, despite the fact that the two were one nation for hundreds of years until 1947. Some sections of the Urdu media exemplify this stance. They condemned the loss of life, but nonetheless fed into the blame game, an old tack. Their opinions ranged from the alarmist to the paranoid. Jang, one of the more widely read Urdu newspapers, warned in an editorial that Pakistan should be careful. But the editorial's use of the word "propaganda" against Muslims to malign Pakistan had an old-school ring to it. The same line was taken by daily Urdu newspaper Nawa-i-Waqt, saying in its editorial that this was part of a "great game" by America, India and Israel against Pakistan.

Daily Urdu Ummat went so far as to indirectly support the "Deccan Mujahideen" by saying that their demands for the independence of Kashmir were "proof" enough that India could not "oppress" its Muslim populations for long. Urdu daily Khabrain chose to extrapolate on the earlier arrest of one Indian army lieutenant colonel for conspiracy by saying that India needed to get its own house in order. Similarly, daily Urdu newspaper Express felt that the "Indian rulers ought to change their thinking of hatred towards Pakistan," urging them to look in their own backyard for terrorists hiding there, a reference to the time when Hindu extremists attacked a church in Mumbai.

This is not to say that one should dismiss the possibility of homegrown terrorism for India. But as some sections of the English media demonstrated, in a much more cautious, balanced and well-informed tone, there is another way of factoring that into the analysis of the situation rather than just by being accusing. For example, Dr. Hasan-Askari Rizvi, a well-respected political and defense analyst, pointed out in an op-ed piece in Daily Times that the blame game between India and Pakistan serves the political agendas of both hard-line Hindus and hard-line Muslims, who have always opposed normalization of India-Pakistan relations.

"India will soon learn what Pakistan already knows: It is not easy to control shadowy militant groups, especially when they cultivate support in sections of society," he wrote.

Similarly, in its editorial, Dawn -- one of the most widely circulated and oldest English newspapers -- cautioned that those implicated in previous attacks in India have been homegrown Muslim militants. "In addition, Hindu militants have been linked to attacks targeting Muslims and Christians in India. What this all clearly adds up to is that India has a massive problem of domestic terrorism that it appears ill equipped to respond to.... But Pakistan cannot afford to be smug as India suffers. We have a grave problem of militancy, and the attacks in Mumbai are a grim reminder of the endless possibilities of terror." These voices, mostly from the English media, acknowledge the problem, but instead of perpetuating insular rhetoric colored by anti-Semitic bias, urge cooperation; opinion based on historical trends and emerging facts; and transborder, regional solutions -- given that the terrorists operate globally.

Lashkar-e-Tayyabaand Terror Groups

No matter what the media says, it is still important for a full investigation to reveal the people behind the attack. For now, there has been speculation that the terrorists have links to Pakistan and worked through Karachi. They are being called Muslims who said their attack was motivated by the treatment of Muslims in Kashmir and India. More specifically, some U.S. media and intelligence reports have brought up the names of Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammad, groups active in Kashmir whose agenda is fighting to free its Muslims from Indian rule. The LeT has so far denied any links to the Mumbai case.

The LeT was established to fight Indian rule in Kashmir and has past links to Pakistani intelligence and al-Qaeda. According to news agency AFP, it was founded by Hafiz Mohammad Saeed in 1989 as the military wing of the Islamic centre Markaz Dawa-wal Irshad, headquartered in Muridke near Lahore, Pakistan.

Saeed is known to have received funds from Saudi donors and Pakistani intelligence to launch his group, which subsequently acquired land in Muridke to organize militant cells and training. When LeT was blamed for the 2001 attacks on the Indian Parliament, it brought India and Pakistan to the brink of war. The group denied any involvement, but Pakistani authorities outlawed it in 2002, shortly before which Saeed left LeT to set up a charity. Now run by Qari Abdul Wahid Kashmiri, the group currently maintains a low profile in Pakistan and focuses its activities in Indian-held Kashmir.

This does not mean, however, that other groups have not been active. There have been reports that different banned outfits have been joining hands by pooling their resources in order to widen their terrorist networks. The Pakistan government seems to be waking up to this. On Nov. 22, Interior Advisor Rehman Malik said al-Qaeda was using the banned Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), Sipah-e-Sahaba and Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan to do its work and that the LeJ may strike in Karachi. A senior officer of the Crime Investigation Department in Karachi has estimated that the city has 35,000 militants with different banned outfits who trained in Afghanistan, Waziristan and Kashmir. It is thus extremely important that a proper investigation look into the people behind the Mumbai attacks to determine whether they are indeed traced back to Karachi, as has been said, and if so, they need to be tackled there.

Complete coverage of Mumbai Chabad attackWhen it comes to terrorism in Karachi, much of the focus has only been on madrassas and not on society in general or the more vulnerable section to extremism. That is not to say that many but not all madrassas are part of the picture. Indeed, according to the last count, there were 17,000 seminaries in the country, of which 3,000 were in Karachi alone, according to the Federal Interior Ministry. Most of them are unregistered, and previous government efforts to register them have been just rhetoric. According to the data complied by the Additional Inspector General of Police Special Branch Sindh, Karachi, for the Prime Minister's Data Book, many seminaries have been found to be involved in terrorist activities and are sending a large number of students for military training either to Afghanistan or other places.

The report also mentions that a number of seminaries were affiliated with defunct religious organizations, such as the Sippah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Jaish-e-Muhammad, Harkatul-ul-Mujahideen, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, Sippah-e-Muhammad Pakistan and others, including the Taliban.

But aside from the madrassas, there are other aspects of fighting terrorism that have yet to receive full backing, and none of them can be addressed if the government does not first know what it is dealing with. For example, till today the media is stuck with the guesstimate of 17 million people living in the metropolis. But it is a known fact that each day Karachi gets bigger and bigger, mostly due to migration within Pakistan. In addition to the Afghan refugees, Karachi has to now accommodate families fleeing the fighting in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). According to one estimate, near Ramadan this year about 4,000 families arrived in Karachi from the Bajaur Agency, where the fighting has been heavy between the army and the Taliban. These families have settled in the slums or informal village-like settlements called goths on the outskirts of the city, where they live in miserable conditions.

Thus, we don't even know how many people live in the city. Its entry points are not regulated, and there are plenty of no-go areas, where even the police dare not venture. Young men are jobless, depressed and frustrated, and most of all there aren't enough schools and universities to teach them that extremism isn't the only answer.

Zardari has, for the record, shown some understanding of the situation. Karachi is Pakistan's engine, its financial capital, supplying 70 percent of the nation's income. "We need to accommodate [people who come there seeking jobs and safety], but simultaneously we also need to keep a watch on them, because criminals and terrorists can also make their way into Karachi along with migrants from the disturbed northern areas," Zardari said.

But what concrete measures have been taken in the past to bring Karachi under control?

For now, Zardari has said a database of madrassas and their students should be compiled, and that everyone coming to the city should register with a police station. But unfortunately, these measures not only should have been taken a long time ago, it is perhaps too late to make them effective. As everyone knows, anyone can get a fake identity card, even passport, and there are only about 30,000 ill-equipped police officers for a population of "17 million." It will take a lot more than databases to deal with this problem.

Any country that wishes to fight terrorism will have to realize that it will need to, at some level or point, coordinate with Pakistan, especially when it comes to intelligence and information sharing. It is already established that the terrorists are nonstate actors who work across borders, as may well prove to be the case in the Mumbai tragedy. As a result, it must be recognized that terrorism is not just Pakistan's problem. In addition to the problems with al-Qaeda and the Taliban, other outfits such as the LeT and LeJ need to be tackled, and not just in Afghanistan, along the border with Pakistan, or in the FATA. As many of them are also active in Karachi, the authorities -- domestic and foreign -- and civilian populations will have to think long and hard about fighting this persistent threat.

The problem is a regional one, as Rashid and many other analysts repeatedly have pointed out. Iran, the U.S., U.K., Israel, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Russian caucuses are all part of the picture. The United States wants Pakistan to flush out al-Qaeda from its Afghan border, but Pakistan is too nervous now to fully deploy its forces there, because of insecurities with India.

In the meantime, the Pashtun civilian populations from the tribal areas are fleeing the drones to places like Karachi, where ethnic tensions simmer between them and the Urdu-speaking residents. All along, the Israel-Palestine, Kashmir and Iraq problems fester, giving the radical groups ample recruitment material.

The terrorists seem to have no problem befriending one another for their foul agendas; why don't these countries band together to stop them?


Mahim Maher is the former city editor for Daily Times, a national English newspaper in Pakistan. She has worked as a journalist in Karachi for the last nine years and was the 2008 Daniel Pearl Fellow.

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