FaithWorld

from The Great Debate:

Risky business: Talking to the Taliban

If one event crystallizes Pakistan’s helplessness in confronting its political future, it is the recent assassination-by-American-drone of Hakimullah Mehsud, erstwhile leader of the Pakistani Taliban.

Islamabad had only just acknowledged its plan to hold “peace talks” when Mehsud was killed. Mehsud -- with a $5 million bounty on his head, and thousands of civilian deaths to his movement’s credit -- was immediately eulogized as the key to peace in Pakistan.

Or so it had seemed to the wishful among Pakistan’s politicians. But the country’s labyrinthine military and political makeup and its often opposing foreign and domestic interests make it difficult to imagine how any Pakistani government can negotiate a deal that brings peace to a time of many terrors. If it is unclear what it means for Pakistan to negotiate its political compact with the Taliban, it is also unclear what it would take to make any deal stick.

To the unwary, this would seem to be the Taliban’s moment.

More than 12 years after the fact, the U.S. special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, James Dobbins, has concluded that ignoring Afghanistan’s Taliban post-2001 was a mistake -- an observation that others, including United Nations Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi, reached a decade ago.

Dobbins is looking for a way to negotiate an agreement so that the 2014 U.S. military withdrawal can look like a vote for harmony and stability. In Pakistan, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is searching for ways to limit a crisis that is pitting majority pro-negotiation parties against minority, secular parties who see the Taliban as an unparalleled threat to society and security. Now, with Mullah Fazlullah, the new Taliban chief, opposed to negotiations, Sharif needs a new partner.

from India Insight:

Delhi shaped South Asia’s Muslim identity, Pakistani author says

Raza Rumi is based in Lahore, but the public policy specialist and Friday Times editor's new book is based in another milieu entirely. "Delhi by heart" is a kind of travelogue about a city that is the source of a shared heritage that spans hundreds of years.

By his own admission, it is a "heartfelt account" of how a Pakistani comes to India, an “enemy country”, and discovers that its capital has, in fact, so many things common with Lahore.

"I wanted to write the biography of Darah Shikoh, the great Indian Mughal prince," Rumi said. "While researching for that, and while visiting Delhi all the time, I felt really it merits a Pakistani version as well because for these five years we have been so much cut off and we have misunderstood each other so much that it is time to sort of build bridges. Hence the book."

from Ian Bremmer:

Is becoming Pakistan the best Egypt can hope for?

After the events in Egypt this past week, some in Washington are debating whether to call a coup a coup. The better question: Was the upheaval that toppled Hosni Mubarak in 2011 really a revolution? Think of what Egypt was before and after the fall of Mubarak, and what it is now. Before the Arab Spring the military was Egypt’s most critical political body, a stabilizing force in a country of weak politicians and weaker governance. That never changed. In fact, it hasn’t changed much in the past 60 years. The same military has deposed Mohamed Mursi, and whether it did so because the people demanded it or because the military wanted it is beside the point. Mursi is gone, the Constitution offers no effective oversight of the military, and the fate of the country still rests with a few select generals.

As we ponder Egypt’s foreseeable future, there are no attractive options. Egypt’s least worst option? Pakistan -- if it should be so lucky. Things in Egypt are now so bad that resembling Pakistan is as good as it can realistically get any time soon. The worst possibility: outright state failure.

The outcome is in the military’s hands. Egypt’s situation already bears similarities to Pakistan’s, where the military is central, broadly popular, and the country’s primary economic force. In both countries, the military understands that actually running the country -- or at least being seen as running the country -- is the worst way to consolidate power while avoiding public fury when things go wrong.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

In the shadow of violence, Quetta’s divides multiply

Persecution can bring people together. It can also prise them apart.

In Pakistan, so many minorities are threatened by homicidal extremists that travelling the country can feel like hopping across an archipelago of communities under varying degrees of siege.

Rarely is the impression stronger than in Quetta, the fear-filled capital of Baluchistan province, and a cauldron of the bigotry and intolerance that has poisoned so much of Pakistan’s body politic.

A wave of killings unleashed on the Hazara community has left its 500,000 members afraid to venture out of their enclaves in the east and west of the city. At least 100 have been killed in Quetta and its environs since January. Nobody has been prosecuted.

In Ahmadis’s desert city, Pakistan closes in on group it declared non-Muslim

(Ahmadis stand over graves of victims of an attack on one of their mosques, in Rabwah, May 29, 2010/Stringer)

At the office of what claims to be one of Pakistan’s oldest newspapers, workers scan copy for words it is not allowed to use — words like Muslim and Islam. “The government is constantly monitoring this publication to make sure none of these words are published,” explains our guide during a visit to the offices of al Fazl, the newspaper of the Ahmadiyya sect in Pakistan.

This is Rabwah, the town the Ahmadis built when they fled the killings of Muslims in India at Partition in 1947, and believing themselves guided by God, chose a barren stretch of land where they hoped to make the Punjab desert bloom. Affluent and well-educated, they started out camping in tents and mud huts near the river and the railway line. Now they have a town of some 60,000 people, a jumble of one- and two-storey buildings, along with an Olympic size swimming pool, a fire service and a world class heart institute.

Pakistan’s patchy fight against Islamist violence sows confusion

(A man takes a nap next to a poster of Osama bin Laden at the Chauburji monument in Lahore May 13, 2011. The message written on the posters read: "The prayer absentia for martyr of Islamic nation is a duty and a debt"/Mani Rana)

At the rehabilitation center for former militants in Pakistan’s Swat valley, the psychiatrist speaks for the young man sitting opposite him in silence. “It was terrible. He was unable to escape. The fear is so strong. Still the fear is so strong.” Hundreds of miles away in Lahore, capital of Punjab province, a retired army officer recalls another young man who attacked him while he prayed – his “absolutely expressionless face” as he crouched down robot-like to reload his gun.

Both youths had been sucked into an increasingly fierce campaign of gun and bomb attacks by Islamist militants on military and civilian targets across Pakistan. But there the similarity stops.

Hizb ut-Tahrir urges Pakistanis to take to the streets for Islamic rule

(A protester pokes his head through a banner during a demonstration by members of Hizb ut-Tahrir outside the Syrian embassy in central London, May 7, 2011/Andrew Winning)

Hizb ut-Tahrir, a global Islamist party banned in many Muslim states, said on Friday Pakistanis should take to the streets to call for Islamic rule and join a campaign to end subservience to Washington that was advancing “from Indonesia to Tunisia”.  The party, which says it is non-violent but is accused by some analysts of seeking a coup in Islamabad, added that “powerful factions” in Pakistani society including the military should also take part, but violence had no place in its work.

Hizb ut-Tahrir won international attention when Pakistan’s army said on June 22 it was questioning four majors about alleged links to the party, following the arrest in May of a brigadier suspected of having such ties. Brigadier Ali Khan, whose lawyer has denied the allegations, was the highest-ranking serving officer arrested in a decade. The Pakistan army is under pressure to remove Islamist sympathisers in its ranks after U.S. forces found and killed Osama bin Laden in the garrison town of Abbottabad on May 2.

Ayman al-Zawahri: Suburban doctor who became chief of al Qaeda

(Ayman al-Zawahri speaks from an unknown location, in this still image taken from video uploaded on a social media website June 8, 2011/Reuters TV)

 

The Egyptian who has taken the helm of al Qaeda after Osama bin Laden did not emerge from the crowded slums of Egypt’s sprawling capital a militant or develop his ideas in any religious college or seminary. Instead, Egyptian-born Ayman al-Zawahri was raised in Cairo’s leafy Maadi suburb where comfortable villas are a favourite among expatriates from the Western nations he rails against. He studied at Cairo University and qualified as a doctor.

The son of a pharmacology professor was not unique in his generation. Many educated youngsters were outraged at the treatment of Islamists in the 1960s when Egypt veered towards a Soviet-style one-party state under socialist Gamal Abdel Nasser. Thousands of people suspected of subversion were thrown into prison after show trials. “Zawahri is one of the many victims of the Nasser regime who had deep political grievances and a feeling of shame at Egypt’s defeat by Israel in 1967. He grew up a radical,” said Khalil al-Anani, an expert in Islamist movements at Durham University.

Pakistan’s booming female madrassas feed rising intolerance

(Covered Pakistani female madrassa students take part in an anti-government demonstration in Islamabad August 27, 2004 after a government raid in their mosque and Islamic seminary/Mian Khursheed)

Varda is an accountancy student who dreams of working abroad. Dainty and soft-spoken, the 22-year-old aspires to broaden her horizons, but when it comes to Islam, she refuses to question the fundamentalist interpretations offered by clerics and lecturers nationwide.

Varda is among more than a quarter of a million Pakistani students attending an all-female madrassa, or Islamic seminary, where legions of well-to-do women are experiencing an awakening of faith, at the cost of rising intolerance. In a nation where Muslim extremists are slowly strengthening their grip on society, the number of all-female madrassas has boomed over the past decade, fueled by the failures of the state education system and a deepening conservativism among the middle to upper classes.

Egyptian Salafists honor bin Laden with death prayer

(An Egyptian Islamist cries as people hold a funeral prayer over the death of Osama Bin Laden, in a mosque in Cairo May 6, 2011/Asmaa Waguih)

Hundreds of Islamist Salafists defied security forces and held special prayers Friday for al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, killed in a U.S. raid in Pakistan this week. Some Islamists regard Saudi-born bin Laden, who was inspired by Egyptian militants, as a martyr.

“We will pray, we will pray,” some 200 men chanted as police tried to stop the special prayers at the Salafist-run al-Nour Mosque in the Abbasiyah quarter of Cairo after regular Friday noon prayers. Salafists call for a fundamentalist version of Islam based on that practiced by its earliest followers.