Monday, September 01, 2014


Pakistani Media Eye Recent Overtures With India

Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (left) shakes hands with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during the United Nations General Assembly in New York on September 29.

The Indian and Pakistani prime ministers met in New York on September 29 against a backdrop of hope for a lasting peace between the two nuclear-armed rivals.

With the weekend handshake approaching between Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his Indian counterpart, Manmohan Singh, Pakistani and Indian newscasters were busy speculating on the future course of relations.

Three major issues were on the anvil: terrorism, Kashmir, and Balochistan.

But with public sentiment presenting obstacles in both countries, those high hopes appeared to come to naught.

In India, parliamentary elections are due early next year and the perception of a soft stance vis-a-vis Pakistan could punish the ruling Indian National Congress.

In Pakistan, the powerful security establishment wields considerable influence when it comes to Pakistan's relations with India, and crossing the line can prove costly for Pakistan's elected rulers.

Discussing the key issues between India and Pakistan, leading Pakistani Urdu-language newspaper "Jang" writes in a September 30 editorial that the two sides need to revive the process that broke down in 1999.

Then-Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and his Pakistani counterpart at the time, Nawaz Sharif, signed the Lahore Declaration, under which they have agreed to devise a road map for resolving all the contentious issues between the two countries.

They key problem hampering India-Pakistan ties over the past 66 years is the disputed status of Kashmir. Each country accuses the other of forcefully occupying the territory in the valley of Kashmir.

Commenting on the same issue, another Pakistani Urdu-language newspaper, "Daily Express," says the Indian prime minister, instead of extending a hand of friendship to Pakistan, accused the country of supporting terrorism and called Kashmir "an integral part of India."

"Daily Express" suggests that if the two countries are really interested in overcoming the widespread poverty, they should set aside their enmities and focus on the promotion of peace.

"Daily Mashriq," another Urdu-language newspaper, adopting a tougher stance, writing in its editorial that Kashmir is not an integral part of India, as suggested by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in his address last week to the UN General Assembly.

Had that been the case, the paper asked, why did Kashmiris need to sacrifice thousands of lives to win the right of self-determination?

India accuses Pakistan of supporting militancy in Indian-controlled Kashmir. In response, Pakistan says the Kashmiris' struggle is indigenous.

In contrast to the more conservative Urdu-language press, English-language newspapers mostly concluded their lead editorials on positive notes.

"Dawn" newspaper, in its September 30 editorial, writes that "improving the India-Pakistan equation will depend on tremendous political will by each country's political leadership. Much was expected of Mr Sharif in this regard, but so far he's preferred to play his hand very carefully, almost to the point of inaction."

"The News International," in its editorial under the title "The Net Positive," says the Indian prime minister's speech at the UN General Assembly and his meeting with U.S. President Barrack Obama were disastrous for the mood of meeting.

"On a heartening note, both leaders invited each other for visits although a note of realism crept in when they decided that it would not be possible to schedule any meeting in the current climate of mistrust. Still, that Pakistan and India decided to continue with talks at a time when hawks on both sides are more vociferous than ever should still be seen as a net positive," "The News International" concludes.

"Daily Times" praises the meeting between the two prime ministers and says "the intent to move forward provides a befitting response to all the negative forces that had been designing ill-will around the relationship ever since Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced his intent to mend fences with India."

Referring to Pakistan's urge for peace and the Indian foreign minister's statement regarding role of Pakistan army in the country's peace bids toward Indian, "Daily Times" writes that "Pakistan's India-centric approach had of late been dismantled as the internal threat mounted pressure on its law enforcement and security forces to first put its own house in order."

-- Daud Khattak

Latest Pakistani Hopes For Peace Talks With Taliban Could Be Short-Lived

A child and an army soldier investigate the site of an attack with an improvised explosive device in Manglawar, in Pakistan's Swat Valley, in April.

On September 9, political parties at a government-sponsored All Parties Conference (APC) in Pakistan agreed on dialogue with militants as the first option to address ongoing terrorism in the country.

The daylong meeting was attended and briefed by, among others, Pakistan's two most powerful men: Army Chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani and the director-general of the country's prime intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Lieutenant General Zaheer-ul-Islam.

The government's offer of talks with the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) amid increasing incidents of terrorism was regarded by many as a goodwill gesture and was widely welcomed in Pakistan.

However, any high hopes suffered a serious blow when two senior army officers were killed in a roadside bomb attack in an area near the Afghan border on September 15 and the claim of responsibility instantly came from the TTP.

In a resulting fit of anger, it was the army chief who came out with a blunt warning, saying that "terrorists would not be allowed to take advantage of the military's support to the political process."

Since then, potential peace negotiations with the Taliban have become the topic of heated debate in the Pakistani print and electronic media, with some key questions being raised about the proposed process:

a. Among the 62 proscribed militant outfits, which should be chosen for such talks?
b. Would the Taliban surrender their arms and accept state authority?
c. Would militants agree to end their jihadist activities inside Pakistan and across the border into Afghanistan?
d. Would the Waziristan-based militants agree to cut ties with international terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU)?
e. And would they accept the Pakistani Constitution by ending their armed struggle for the implementation of a Shari'a-based system.

Many Pakistani analysts suggest that if the answer to any of these questions is a clear "no," then the last option left to the Pakistani government is the use of force rather than any futile attempt at talks.

Commenting on the government's olive branch to the Taliban and the latter's killing of two senior army officers, the leading English-language daily "Express Tribune" asked:

"How many more of the upper echelons of the military are we to see murdered before the state makes a robust response? Time to walk the walk Mr prime minister, if you can because the time for merely talking the talk is over." 

Another English daily newspaper, "Dawn," in an editorial on September 16 questioned the Pakistan army's policy toward the Taliban and warned that before hoping to achieve lasting peace, the military establishment needed to do away with its allegedly duplicitous policies of "good" and "bad" Taliban:

"Has the army leadership publicly distanced itself from groups like the Difa-e-Pakistan Council and sundry right-wingers running around the country trying to stir up trouble?"

In an op-ed piece in "Dawn," retired police officer Tariq Khosa asked the government and the military leadership to work together to counter the Taliban threat:

"If the political leadership and the military establishment want to be on the same page regarding the post-APC developments, they will have to come up with a purposeful and well-planned response to the offensive launched by the TTP and its affiliates despite the offer of talks and the unanimous political will to give peace a chance."

In his op-ed piece for the "Daily Times" on September 19, columnist Muhammad Taqi argued that "without setting the parameters for what exactly is the state willing to concede to the TTP in exchange for peace, the prime minister and his APC have left the door wide open for the terrorists to keep making highly perverse demands."

Since 2001, the government of Pakistan has signed various peace agreements with militants in different parts of northern Pakistan. But critics complain that each agreement has ended up further strengthening the Taliban and eroding people's trust in writ of the state.

Elaborating on the same point in an op-ed piece for "The News International" on September 19, columnist Kamila Hayat said that "each new cease-fire called over the years appears to have given the militants time to re-group, strengthen their ranks and welcome back freed fighters."

Following the killing of the two army officers in the September 15 bomb attack claimed by the TTP, some leading columnists asked for an across-the-board action against the militants. That came against the backdrop of years in which the Pakistani army has been accused of using certain jihadist groups as "strategic assets" in Afghanistan and India.

Columnist Kamran Shafi, in an op-ed piece for the "Express Tribune" on September 20, wrote:

"The question is: have our strategists finally decided that there are no ‘good' Taliban; that all of the many factions are joined at the hip, be they the Mehsuds or the Haqqanis or the Fazlullahs or the Punjabis or whatever's? That all of them ultimately pay allegiance to Mullah Omar, that al Qaeda is the Mother of All Umbrellas and that strategic depth in Afghanistan is dead as a dodo? And, finally, that though most difficult it will be, North Waziristan must be cleansed come hell or high water?"

Conservative Urdu-language media also expressed anger over the Taliban attacks and advised the government not to hesitate to employ force if the first option (talks) was not going to bear positive results.

The "Daily Express," in an editorial on September 19, wrote that "the government peace talks offer to the Taliban was a golden chance which they [Taliban] wasted following their attack on the army officers in Dir Upper of northern Pakistan."

Writing in another Urdu-language newspaper, "Daily Jang," columnist Irfan Siddiqi said the killing of army officers and the instant claim of responsibility by the Taliban have shattered hopes for peace talks. Though still supporting a midpoint between the use of force and negotiations, Irfan Siddiqi said the Taliban claim that it killed the army officers on September 15 has provided a golden opportunity to those who support the use of force in order to crush the Taliban insurgency.

-- Daud Khattak

Zardari Leaves A Mixed Legacy

Former Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari stepped down with a smile on his face. (file photo)

Pakistan's former President Asif Ali Zardari's term concluded with fanfare as a grand military guard of honor formally marked the end of his tenure on September 8. Zardari left Islamabad's sprawling President House with a broad grin as he became the nation's first elected head of state to complete a full five-year term.

His years in office, however, were tumultuous and he leaves behind a mixed legacy, which helped strengthen democracy but failed to resolve the country's economic and security woes.

"The New York Times'" Pakistan correspondent, Declan Walsh, aptly summed up his contribution:

Over his five years in power, Mr. Zardari fended off threat after threat. Senior judges sought to unseat him through corruption prosecutions. Generals murmured to diplomats about the possibility of a coup. The Taliban vowed to kill him. And large portions of the Pakistani news media and public seemed to revel in ridiculing or condemning him.

He leaves with the Pakistani economy a shambles, and with the once-mighty political machine he still leads, the Pakistan Peoples Party, in disarray after a crushing election defeat.

Yet for all that, Mr. Zardari, 58, has also confounded expectations. He bolstered Pakistan’s democracy by draining his own office of power. He became the country’s first elected president to complete his term of office. He shifted the tone of politics, eschewing bare-knuckles confrontation for a more accommodating approach.

And, perhaps thanks to the instincts that were honed during his 11 years in prison before becoming president, he displayed political wiles that enabled him to outmaneuver the steeliest rivals, and simply survive.

Perhaps for the first time in years, Pakistani media also praised Zardari for his political acumen. In an editorial on September 7, "The Express Tribune" daily credited him with ensuring a smooth democratic transition after the May 11 general election.

The paper praised him for "giving up key presidential powers thereby altering the presidential role to a mainly ceremonial one. This is, of course, how things should be in a parliamentary democracy," the editorial said.

The "Dawn" daily created a special page compiling the views of journalists, politicians and civil society leaders on Zardari's legacy.

Columnist Asad Rahim Khan criticized Zardari for his lack of political experience before assuming the presidency and blamed him for failing to stop sectarian and ethnic bloodshed in the country:

...in the five years of arresting images, it will take a lifetime to forget Alamdar Road, Quetta [where ethnic Hazaras, a Shi'ite minority, were massacred in suicide bombings]. Then, as with the floods of 2010, as with the funerals of the shaheeds  [martyrs] that fight terror so that we may live oblivious, it was defined by a president just not there.

-- Abubakar Siddique

Hope And Expectation: The Pakistani Media's Response To Karzai's Visit

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (right) greets Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Islamabad on August 26.

While the concrete outcome of Afghan President Hamid Karzai's two-day visit to Pakistan has yet to be seen, hopes and expectations are higher than they have ever been.

One reason for this could be the fact that Karzai's 20th and perhaps last trip to Islamabad as president of Afghanistan has come at a time when international forces are getting ready to leave the country and a new government has replaced the old guard in the Pakistani capital.

Karzai and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif met after a deadlock of more than a year between the two South Asian neighbors. During this period both sides also accused each other of making illegal border incursions.

Relations took a nosedive following Karzai's assertion that he had been left out of the Doha peace efforts by his American partners and Pakistani neighbors.

Although it did so in a mostly muted manner, Islamabad also continued to express its anger over Afghanistan's increasingly cordial relationship with Pakistan's archrival and eastern neighbor India.

However, the mood in Pakistan changed when Karzai and his delegation landed in the Pakistani capital on August 26.

The first sign of improved relations was seen during a joint news conference with the Afghan president when the Pakistani prime minister expressed his government's backing for an "Afghan-led and Afghan-owned" peace process in the landlocked country.

As Karzai was leaving Islamabad after holding one-on-one talks with his host, Sharif, in the tourist resort of Murree on the second day of his extended visit, the Pakistani media were booming with comments of both hope and despair.

"Trust deficit was the underlying theme of Afghan President Hamid Karzai's visit to Islamabad," said Pakistan's leading English daily newspaper, "Dawn," in its lead editorial on August 28.

Referring to the fact that Karzai has less than a year left in office as well as to the looming withdrawal of international forces in 2014, "Dawn" concluded that it is difficult to solve a puzzle in six months when it has been insoluble for more than a decade.

In its lead editorial, "Righting the region," on August 27, "The Express Tribune" newspaper said that "...Pakistan needs to be taken on board regarding growing Indian influence in Kabul. But perhaps, most important is the need for Islamabad to clearly show that it accepts that Afghanistan is a sovereign, independent country whose people have a right to determine their own destiny." 

Another English language newspaper, "The Nation," took a slightly different tack in its editorial on August 28 by posing the question: "Can Karzai be trusted?" 

In making reference to a number of allegations and counterallegations between Afghanistan and Pakistan and also referring to Sharif's strategy of dealing with the Pakistani Taliban, "The Nation" concluded that "the Prime Minister, while faced with the tremendous task of neutralizing the extremist faction, must protect the interests of Pakistan when dealing with the Afghan President, and also, ensure consistency between him and the rest of his cabinet. A united front is crucial to the present and the future of the country."

In its lead editorial on the same day, the Lahore-based "Daily Times" described the immediate outcome of the visit as "a mixed bag."

The newspaper also discussed the future of a stable and peaceful Afghanistan in a nuclear-armed Pakistan's backyard, adding that "while Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif promised every possible facilitation for this and the international community's efforts for peace, there are no details so far of how and when Islamabad may proceed on this score."

While writing about Karzai's visit and the expectations surrounding it, the Urdu-language "Jang" newspaper called the trip an important step in bringing relations between the two countries back on track. "You may change your friends or foes but you can't change your neighbors," the daily said.

In its main August 28 editorial titled "Pak-Afghan relations," another leading Urdu-language newspaper, the "Daily Express," said that ties between the two sides have never been stable despite being close neighbors and brotherly Muslim countries. 

The paper added that Karzai's visit would help overcome misunderstandings between the two sides, which in itself is a good omen for developing a strong partnership in terms of regional peace and stability at a time when the 2014 date for the international withdrawal from Afghanistan is getting closer.

-- Daud Khattak

Honor-Killing Case Raises Fears For Women's Rights In Afghanistan

Rights activists fear that many of the civil liberties women have gained in Afghanistan over the past decade or so could soon be eroded. (file photo)

Authorities in the northwestern Afghan province of Badghis have arrested a local cleric accused of killing a woman for allegedly having an affair with her male cousin.

Badghis police chief, Sharafuddin Sharaf, told Radio Free Afghanistan over the phone that local security forces arrested Mullah Abdul Ghafoor on July 30 and handed him over to judicial officials in the province. The cleric had been in hiding since April.

Sharaf added that Ghafoor had issued an edict or fatwa for the women's execution on the grounds that she had apparently had an "illicit affair" with a man. The killing was carried out on April 22 when the 20-year-old woman, known as Halima, was shot dead by her father in front of more than 200 inhabitants of the village of Kookchaeel in the Aabkamari district.

"The fatwa was an illegal act," said Sharaf. "Even if that woman was guilty, she should have been tried based on Afghan Islamic law and its justice system. It was an unjust act because it was an extra-judicial trial conducted without the presence of any eye-witnesses."

Badghis Governor Ahmadullah Alizai also condemned the fatwa.

"This is cruelty and we are trying to arrest those who set-up their own courts and kill women," he said. "We have to implement stringent laws on them." 

Sharafuddin Sharaf told Radio Free Asia that Halima, the mother of two children, was accused of running away with her male cousin while her husband was in Iran and returned to her family after 10 days.

Sharaf added that Halima's father and her cousin are now on the run and their whereabouts remain unknown.

In a report published on April 30, Amnesty International said: "The public killing of a woman in Afghanistan is further proof that the authorities are still failing to tackle the shocking levels of gender-based violence in the country." 

According to the report, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission registered more than 4,000 cases of violence against women from 21 March to 21 October 2012, which shows a 28 percent rise in the level of women's rights abuses in the country compared with the same period in 2011.

By way of a presidential decree in 2009, Afghan President Hamid Karzai signed a law on the Elimination of Violence against Women (EVAW), which criminalizes rape, child marriage, forced marriage, and other activities that threaten females.

However, the legislation was opposed by a number of hard-line Afghan lawmakers in May and has not yet been approved.

Conservative members of the Afghan parliament argued that some articles of the EVAW, including one stating that the victims of such violence should be given shelter at a safe house, are against Shari'a Law.

Advocates of the EVAW say that it offers "sanctuary for Afghan women" and that it should be approved to safeguard women's rights in the country.

It was common practice during the Taliban regime in Afghanistan for women to be stoned to death on charges of committing adultery or having seemingly illicit affairs with men.

Now, many women in the country are concerned that any Taliban resurgence could trample on the hard-won rights they have gained under the U.S.-backed Afghan administration that has governed the country for nearly 12 years. 

-- Mustafa Sarwar

Destruction Of Historic Building Sparks Debate About Pakistan's History

The Ziarat residency before the attack...

A new debate has unfolded in Pakistan after a residence of the founder of the country was bombed and burned in a picturesque valley in southwestern Pakistan on June 15.

Some saw the blowing up of the summer retreat of Muhammad Ali Jinnah in the midst of juniper forests in Ziarat as a great loss because it was symbol of national heritage.

They viewed the attack on the Ziarat residency, as it is known, as an attack on the very foundation of Pakistan by Baloch separatists who are fighting for a homeland in the vast, resource-rich region that borders Afghanistan and Iran.

Others brushed it aside as the destruction of a colonial-era building favored by British administrators. They pointed out that it is more important to protect the restive province's beleaguered communities from terrorist violence rather than lament the loss of an historic building favored by British colonial rulers.

A Pashtun leader in Balochistan said that they viewed the building as a "symbol of slavery."

Akram Shah, a former lawmaker from the Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party, told "The Express Tribune" newspaper that the Ziarat residency "always reminded the Baloch and Pashtuns of the long period when they were the slaves" of the British Empire on the Indian subcontinent.

... and after
... and after
He added that they viewed it as nothing more than the former residence of the 19th-century British colonial ruler Sir Robert Sandeman.

Shah also criticized allies in the governing coalition for visiting the burned-out building while ignoring the victims of terrorist attacks in the provincial capital, Quetta. Those attacks killed some 25 people and were claimed by a Sunni extremist faction.

Firefighters extinguish the fire that gutted the Ziarat residency.Firefighters extinguish the fire that gutted the Ziarat residency.
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Firefighters extinguish the fire that gutted the Ziarat residency.
Firefighters extinguish the fire that gutted the Ziarat residency.
Author Rasul Baksh Rais said he was "shocked" by Shah's statement. He wrote that, despite being built by the British, the Ziarat residency is part of the national heritage and a "symbol of honor" for many Pakistanis.

He questioned Shah's understanding of history and argued that the British essentially built the system that still sustains Pakistan.

"This [statement] really shows how our contemporary political leaders and representatives are ignorant of history, society, and even politics, which they practice more for power than any principle or public interest," he wrote.

"The New York Times" concluded that the attack on the Ziarat residency signified "the deep rifts in Pakistan where ethnic and nationalistic tensions are straining the national fabric."

-- Abubakar Siddique

Pakistan Demands Filters Before Lifting YouTube Ban

Supporters of the Islamist Pakistani party Jamaat-e Islami protest against an online competition to draw pictures of the Prophet Muhammad on Facebook in Peshawar in 2010. Facebook also faced a temporary ban.

Pakistan is pushing Google to install a "proper filtration system" before lifting a nine-month ban on its video-sharing website, YouTube.

Speaking to RFE/RL, officials in Pakistan Information Technology Ministry emphatically rejected rumors that Islamabad had threatened to ban Google's search site and other products if the tech giant failed to comply with its request to remove what Pakistanis view as blasphemous videos from YouTube.

Pakistan's new information technology minister, Anusha Rahman, said Islamabad was only interested in removing material viewed as offensive by the Muslim nation of 180 million.

"We wish to have an efficient and effective mechanism -- filters in place for blocking blasphemous contents before YouTube can be unblocked in Pakistan," she said in a statement after rumors of a possible ban on Google made waves on the Internet.

Rahman also used the micro-blogging website Twitter to respond to critics. "We need technology, but without compromising on our moral, religious and ethical values," she wrote in response to concerns about a blanket ban on Google.

She wrote that the new administration expects progress through "affirmative action." "We need to do our best and find apt solutions and alternatives. We can't block indefinitely, this is not the way forward," she said

But the government might not be the only Pakistani institution capable of ending the YouTube ban. The country's assertive Supreme Court has reportedly ordered its own probe into "blasphemous" material on the Internet.

The court has taken up a new case that is seeking to block "ever-increasing blasphemous material circulating in the Internet domain, having for reaching implications on the minds, the lives and liberties of mainstream Muslim population."

Pakistan banned YouTube in September after clips of the movie "Innocence of Muslims" sparked protests because they were considered blasphemous for defaming Islam's Prophet Muhammad. The country had earlier tried to ban YouTube in 2008. It had temporarily banned Facebook over controversial caricatures of Muhammad in 2010. It also pulled the plug on Twitter last year for the same reason.

Google has restricted access to the videos in Indonesia, India, Jordan, Malaysia, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, and Turkey. In addition, the videos were temporarily restricted from view in Egypt and Libya.

But the company does not have a filtered YouTube version for Pakistan because its takes time to research the country's laws and building partnerships with local content creators.

Free-speech advocates are troubled by the prolonged ban on YouTube. Writing in the daily "The Express Tribune," journalist Jehanzaib Haque has advised Google to stand up to the pressure from the Pakistani government and refuse to deprive its citizens of information.

He said that "Google should ban Pakistan" to make its point. 

-- Abubakar Siddique

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About Gandhara

Gandhara is a blog dedicated to Afghanistan and Pakistan written by RFE/RL journalists from Radio Mashaal (Pakistan), Radio Azadi (Afghanistan), our Central Newsroom, and other services. Here, our people on the ground will provide context, analysis, and some opinions on news from the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. Send comments or questions to gandhara [at] rferl.org.