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Martyrs or Vermicelli?

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There is one thing that you have to give credit to the Taliban for, which is that their brutality can exceed the wildest imagination of most fiction writers.

Consider the recent attack in Quetta. 38 people butchered of which 19 were police officials. The attack was on a funeral, which too was arranged for by the Taliban. For that they attacked an SHO who had taken out his children for Eid shopping. The children were injured but their father was dead. An eid gift from the bearded Talib uncle. Ramzan, children, funeral, and all of that planned to the finest detail, can one be more heartless?

These 20 police officials did not have any personal enmity with the Taliban. Their sole crime was to wear their uniform, the one that they had donned to defend the likes of you and me.

In other words, these men were killed in the name of Pakistan. And the motive most probably was to send a message to us Pakistanis.

But the vilest of villains might just have met their match, in the form of the most indifferent of victims. Turns out TTP’s thunder was stolen by Mufti Muneeb and his promise of vermicelli. Because what mattered to Pakistanis on the eve of 8th of August was if they will be waking up for sehri or will there be vermicelli for breakfast? Shaheed gai bhaar main.

In my opinion we probably told the TTP to try harder. The bond of the word “Pakistani” is not that strong to make strangers ache for each other. The people that they did impact were the immediate family and friends of the deceased and those are a pretty small proportion of the Pakistani population.

I mean we could actually calculate an estimate of the people that the Taliban did affect in their last ten years of carnage. A rough estimate of TTP related deaths stands at around 40,000. Lets assume a family size of 7, and they have actually affected about 280,000 immediate family members. Throw in a circle of friends and extended family of around 14, and that’s another 560,000. Add these up and it’s a total of 840,000, add in a few suffering from Pakistaniat and we have a nice total of around 1 million affectees.

In proportionate terms that is nothing, as it is only 0.5% of Pakistan. If the TTP thinks its hurting the 180 million strong Pakistani nation by bombing and decapitating an insignificant minority then they are being deluded.

To many, our ability to not care about such incidents represents defiance and it somehow shows our “resilience”. I agree that we cannot give up on our way of life by succumbing to terror. But did we really show our defiance this Eid?

Defiance would have begun with a complete official focus on the incident. The Prime Minister, President, Federal Interior Minister, CM Balochistan and Governor should have all reached out to Balochistan police in every way possible. Making sure that the enemy knows that the elected symbols of state stand by its uniformed defenders. Our flag should have flown half-mast for the entirety of Eid, and our PM should have announced that this Eid be dedicated to the martyrs of Quetta.

Our clergy should have made a point in mentioning this incident in the two khutbas that day and castigated those who use Islam in such actions. Duas should have been dedicated to these martyrs and also to the families that they have left behind.

Our media should have focused on the sacrifice that our police is rendering, with the aim to galvanize this nation into honoring its defenders. It would have made these martyrs household names for the nation to cherish.

And with all that, we could have eaten our vermicelli, worn news clothes, and hugged each other Eid Mubarik. In doing so, we would have sent a strong message of resilience and defiance, that we still remember those who sacrificed their lives for us but we are not going to give up on our way of life. We are grateful to our martyrs and we will bring their murderers to justice.

But was it this way?

Well, not even close.

The Government’s response was pathetic at best. Nawaz Sharif, fresh from his umrah trip, simply sent his condolences and said that his Government is committed to eliminating terrorism. As usual, this “promise for future action” failed to name the Tehreek I Taliban Pakistan who had proudly taken responsibility of the incident. While the flag flew full mast on his office, the PM sahib was gracious enough to cancel an “Eid Milan party”.

Our Interior Minister saw it fit to spend Eid with his family rather than to rush to Quetta like he did after the Balochistan Medical Complex (BMC) attack. He showed up in Quetta on the 11th, i.e. 3 days after the blast to give this statementI pay tribute to the martyrs and the deceased who have lost their lives in the recent attacks and we want to assure everyone that an investigation is underway.” I wonder if someone could tell Chaudhry Sb, that the guilty have admitted to their guilt for the 100th time now. What exactly would he be investigating?

One wonders what happened to the Chaudhry sb, who only a month ago lashed out this strongly at the security agencies for the BMC attack? He has been awfully silent after that outburst.

And if you thought that the straight shooters of the nationalist government of Balochistan would come to the fore and reply to the TTP, then that too would be a pretty high expectation. When IG Balochistan did his press conference, there was no one from the federal or the provincial government by his side.

This was such a contrast to this press conference after the BMC attack, in which Nawaz Sharif was flanked by Mahmood Khan Achakzai, Mir Hasil Bizenjo and accompanied by DG ISI and DG IB. Where were these same people after this recent massacre? Didn’t they promise us the world after BMC?

This Friday gave our clergy that rare opportunity to give two khutbas. From what I could gather on twitter as well as from relatives and friends, almost every other mosque had nimazis chanting “ameen” for success of “Mujahideen”. Conveniently forgotten was the fact that the “success” of Mujahideen was in splattering the innards of these very nimazis on the floors of their mosques.  And that the sole hurdle to that success was dressed in a police uniform and standing guard outside, ready to sacrifice his own life for the safety of those who were praying for his death.


Pakistani media was no less disappointing than the clergy that prayed for the success of our killers. On the day of the bombing, by 9 pm the news had become the second most important news of the day i.e. before the martyrs were even buried. Here is GEO’s 9 pm bulletin and here is Dunya’s. Notice that in Dunya’s bulletin, the story of Quetta attack comes at around 27th minute. It was preceded by reports such as Reshma taunting Meera and interviews of people coming out of aitikaaf.

Media anchors were a mixed bunch on the 8th of August. Talat Hussain, Abdul Malik, Ejaz Haider and Javed Choudhry, canceled their regular Eid shows to cover this incident, and perhaps represented the only concerted and dedicated effort from our electronic media on this issue. Nadeem Malik and Abdul Moiz Jaffri added the incident to their regular topics.

But then we had Mehr Abbasi who was out on the streets talking about Eid shopping. Fareeha Idrees cashed in on the comic value of Sheikh Rasheed which has become so necessary for getting a rating push these days. Mr. Kharra Such, Mubashir Luqman invited two palmists. He actually began the show by claiming that he invites palmists when he has “no other topics to cover”. Asma Sherazi did a “gup shup” eid show to do “khushi key batain” while Moeed Pirzada focused on India Pakistan LoC tension. And then Waseem Badami along with Junaid Jamshed pondered if their “Shaan e Ramzan” show was as good as the show that they were trying to copy.

Talat especially pointed out the absurdity of our media in focusing on Eid shopping and Mufti Muneeb. Ironically, his own program got interrupted to facilitate Mufti Muneeb’s announcement. Watch his show, at around 4:25, when the reporter from Quetta is cut off mid sentence to beam Mufti Muneeb’s announcement live.

The owners of all media channels who make tall claims of bringing about a revolution in this country seemed very reluctant to cancel on their money making plans of fun and masti for the next three days. There were no exceptions. As from the 9th of August, the Quetta incident simply disappeared from all programming and gup shup shows featuring our giggling media anchors came to the fore.

But what takes the cake for me is this cartoon from Roznama Nai Baat on its Quetta edition for the 9th of August. This was on the back page, while the front page carried the news of the Quetta massacre.


This pretty much sums up what we think of our police. A bunch of corrupt thieves whose sole aim in life is to rip us off of our money. Forget about this being in very bad taste because that would be too much to expect. But the irony is that this concern about corruption, that clearly outweighs the sacrifice of our police martyrs, is coming from a nation that has one of the lowest tax/GDP ratio in the world, i.e. a nation of tax thieves.

If this Eid signified our resilience then we need to redefine this word. We need to redefine it as the ability to not give a damn about tragedies befalling those who are neither friends nor family, the word Pakistani should not matter.

Define it like that, and yes, we might be the most resilient nation in the world.

A salute to our martyrs who have definitely been spared from this particular national trait.

I just wonder how many more of them are left?


Written by Imran Khan

August 12, 2013 at 6:52 am

2012: the year in bombings

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In the terrorist’s arsenal, the bomb is perhaps the most devastating and cost effective. Its cost effectiveness is apparent when compared with armed assaults or other types of attacks. Detonate a bomb from a distance, and you don’t lose any of your people, strap it on to one of yours, and that turns him/her into the worlds smartest smart bomb, one that is capable of doing the maximum damage by fine tuning its target till the final moment.

As a country that has been rocked by bombings since the 80s, Pakistan is one of the worst victims of bomb attacks. Such has been the death toll from these attacks, that bombings with single digit causality figures hardly make it to our 9 pm headlines.

There is no doubt that Pakistan is the front line state in the war on terror, but then, is all of Pakistan a front line state, or does this front line of ours have corners of bliss? Ones where the sound of a bombing comes only through the ticker on news channels?

In my search for answers, I stumbled upon this excellent data source: the South Asian Terrorism Portal (SATP). It has statistics on terrorism in Pakistan as well as other countries in the region.

One such data series was the number of bomb blasts detailed according to cities. Using this data I mapped* the bombings for 2012.

One thing to remember is that this mapping is limited to just bombings and not armed assaults like the ones that happened in Gilgit Baltistan, when Shias were lined up outside buses and shot. Its important to point out that target killings, ambushes, beheadings as well as kidnappings occur frequently in Pakistan. Especially the violence in Karachi appears much low when only bombings are taken into account. According to SATP for 2012, the highest number or terrorism related deaths amongst the provinces were reported from Sindh at 1553, followed by Balochistan at 954, KP at 656, and Punjab at 104. But I could not find the district level breakup of this data, any leads to other data sources would be much appreciated.

What I mapped is an indicator for the overall damage. Since the website provides the number of dead and injured for each bombing, I randomly assigned weights to these numbers; 0.8 for the dead and 0.2 for the injured. So a bombing with 10 dead and 20 injured gets a damage score of 12. While one with 10 dead and 40 injured gets a higher score of 16, thus differentiating between their level of damage.

The figure below shows the cumulative annual district wise scores across Pakistan. A total of 648 bombings were reported across the country in 2012 leading to 1007 deaths.


The mapping points out three zones of high incidence of bomb attacks. Districts marked in red fall in the “Very HIGH” category of damage. In total the districts/agencies marked in red account for 61% of the incidents and 79% of the deaths.  These red areas are concentrated in three distinct zones.

Zone 1 includes, Peshawar, Kohat, Nowshehra and D.I.Khan from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, while Khyber, Kurram, Bajaur, Orakzai, and Mohmand agencies from FATA. This zone accounts for 39% percent of all the bomb blasts in 2012, and 59% of the deaths as a result of bomb blasts. The worst bombing of the year was carried out in Jamrud bazaar on the 10th of January 2012, in which 35 people died while 78 were injured.

Zone 2 includes the districts of Quetta, Mastung, Dera Bugti and Sibi from Balochistan, where the damage is in the “Very HIGH” category. This zone accounts for 16% percent of all the bomb blasts and 16% percent of the deaths in 2012.

Zone 3 includes the various districts of Karachi and Malir, this accounts for 7% percent of the total bomb blasts and 4% percent of the killings.

The provincial break up of incidents and killed vs injured also reveal the share of the damage between provinces.

If we lump FATA and KP together, then it accounts for 65% of the incidents and 71% of the bombing related deaths in 2012.

Incidents Killed

There is a big difference among incidents in terms of impact; a cycle bomb and a C4 laden water tanker would both be qualified as “incidents” in our listing but then in terms of impact and the ruthlessness as well as capabilities of its planners, there is a huge difference. So which districts are at the mercy of the worst villains?

For this we look at the damage per incident or the average damage for these districts. I am keeping districts with less than 15 bombings out of this calculation, as a lower denominator is not good for a representative average. Again the districts from Zone 1 show the highest damage per attack.

DIST_NAME KILLED INJURED INCIDENTS DAMAGE = (0.2*Injured) + (0.8*Killed) Average Damage
Bajaur Agency 53 107 12 445.4 37.11666667
Kurram Agency 67 152 19 566.4 29.81052632
Khyber Agency 229 369 90 1905.8 21.17555556
Peshawar 144 413 75 1234.6 16.46133333
Kohat 37 62 19 308.4 16.23157895
South Waziristan Agency 19 41 10 160.2 16.02
Quetta 93 408 52 825.6 15.87692308
Karachi 40 280 45 376 8.355555556
North Waziristan Agency 11 35 12 95 7.916666667
Nowshera 13 93 22 122.6 5.572727273
Mohmand Agency 26 34 41 214.8 5.23902439
Dera Bugti 22 58 43 187.6 4.362790698
Charsadda 4 36 27 39.2 1.451851852
Swabi 1 25 24 13 0.541666667

Here is the district wise list of incidents and damage, ranked according to damage. Only those districts are included that came under atleast one bombing attack during 2012.

Khyber Agency 229 369 90 1905.8
Peshawar 144 413 75 1234.6
Quetta 93 408 52 825.6
Kurram Agency 67 152 19 566.4
Bajaur Agency 53 107 12 445.4
Karachi 40 280 45 376
Kohat 37 62 19 308.4
Orakzai Agency 34 42 8 280.4
Mastung 29 67 4 245.4
Mohmand Agency 26 34 41 214.8
Dera Bugti 22 58 43 187.6
Rawalpindi 21 30 1 174
Rahim Yar Khan 21 27 1 173.4
Sibi 19 59 4 163.8
South Waziristan Agency 19 41 10 160.2
D. I. Khan 18 51 5 154.2
Lower Dir 17 17 4 139.4
Nowshera 13 93 22 122.6
Killa Abdullah 14 7 1 113.4
North Waziristan Agency 11 35 12 95
Bannu 10 36 4 87.2
Upper Dir 8 19 3 67.8
Kech 7 16 4 59.2
Buner 7 5 1 57
Lahore 5 67 3 53.4
Jaffarabad 5 2 6 40.4
Charsadda 4 36 27 39.2
Nasirabad 4 31 9 38.2
Kohlu 4 3 6 32.6
Lakki Marwat 4 2 9 32.4
Hangu 3 10 8 26
Bhakkar 3 0 1 24
Jacobabad 2 10 1 18
Bolan 2 6 4 17.2
Zhob 2 0 1 16
Swabi 1 25 24 13
Panjgur 1 10 3 10
Kalat 1 4 2 8.8
Shangla 1 4 1 8.8
Vehari 1 2 1 8.4
Khuzdar 1 1 2 8.2
Loralai 1 1 1 8.2
Malakand PA 1 1 1 8.2
Tribal Area adj Tank 1 1 1 8.2
Tribal Area adj Kohat 1 0 1 8
Hyderabad 0 9 12 1.8
Mardan 0 8 13 1.6
Tribal Area adj Bannu 0 6 2 1.2
Tank 0 5 5 1
Barkhan 0 3 1 0.6
Nawabshah 0 3 4 0.6
Attock 0 2 1 0.4
Mansehra 0 2 1 0.4
Pishin 0 2 1 0.4
Chagai 0 1 1 0.2
Islamabad 0 1 1 0.2
Larkana 0 1 2 0.2
Badin 0 0 1 0
Ghotki 0 0 1 0
Khairpur 0 0 3 0
Multan 0 0 1 0
Naushahro Feroze 0 0 3 0
Shikarpur 0 0 1 0
Sukkur 0 0 1 0
Ziarat 0 0 1 0



* One thing that I want to point out here is that I am using a .shp file for mapping. I got this file for free from the good people at citypulse.com. The file is a bit dated, and it does not show the latest district break up. For some of the newer districts, I am using their older parent district.

Written by Imran Khan

February 26, 2013 at 3:57 pm

Karachi’s Pashtun “Problem”

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With the World becoming increasingly connected, political correctness in ideas and behavior is becoming essential for minimizing frictions, and for that reason it also is becoming the hallmark of the educated.

We Pakistanis often complain about the lack of “randomness” at airport security checks abroad and go livid at any generalization linking Pakistanis to terrorism, but then sadly, this indignation is reserved for foreign lands only, the same is definitely not displayed within Pakistan. Pick up any mobile phone here, and it is bound to have SMSed jokes with the racist stereotyping of Pathans. While such stereotyping for the sake of humor is at times tolerable, one is simply astonished to find the same to be believed for real. During the recent spate of violence in Karachi, I was shocked to come across a very high proportion of educated Urdu speaking Karachiites who believe the Pashtun ethnicity to be nothing short of a deformity, and the Pashtun influx as a curse for Karachi.

One of the main fears expressed, is that since Pashtuns are more likely to be associated with terrorism and theft, stopping their inflow would naturally result in a more peaceful Karachi. Besides being horrifyingly similar to the “all Pakistanis are terrorists” argument often used by anti immigration groups in the West, this one stoops even lower as it seeks to quarantine fellow Pakistanis on the basis of ethnicity.  This argument conveniently ignores the fact that if the profession of gate keeping and driving in Pakistan can be associated with one ethnicity, then it is the Pashtuns.  While I am no fan of generalizations, but if one is to be done, then considering typical Pashtun professions shouldn’t the generalization be one of trust, rather than distrust?

Pashtuns are also held responsible for bringing the drugs and Kalashnikov culture into Karachi. This argument completely ignores the well documented planning and financing of the so called “Afghan Jihad”, furthermore, people who say such things basically consider Karachi as an entity separate from Pakistan. The arms and drugs trade was crucial in financing the Jihad, and the inflow of drugs and guns was not something new just for Karachi, it was the same for Peshawar, FATA as well as the rest of Pakistan. Pashtuns as an ethnicity are facing the brunt of that blunder committed by our “strategists” in the 80s. But, to completely ignore that whole episode and blame it on the DNA of an ethnicity would be too ignorant a conclusion. It goes without saying that the response to an increase in violence and drugs is better policing and not racial discrimination.

There also is a ridiculous belief that Pashtuns are somehow incapable of “culturally assimilating” into Karachi, reasons usually given are the inability to speak Urdu and having more conservative norms. To begin with almost all Pakistani Pashtuns are bilingual; it is very rare to find someone in Peshawar who can’t speak Urdu let alone find a Pathan in Karachi who wouldn’t. Furthermore, the norms of the Pashtuns might be considered conservative, but that is if compared with those of the Brazilians. Karachi is no Rio de Janeiro, as testified by the fluttering black burqas on Sea View and Gidani, and also as the former stronghold of Jamaat I Islami, Karachi can never be too liberal for even the most conservative of Pakistanis. Those who consider the Westernized bubbles of Clifton and Defense as the real Karachi are sadly mistaken.

These generalizations mask a worry, which emanates from rising Pashtun numbers in Karachi. Frustrated by wars and lack of economic opportunity, these Pashtuns are heading towards Karachi for a better life. But then, Karachi is not unique in receiving such migrants, just across the border, Mumbai is going through the same. Interestingly, the Urdu/Hindi speaking migrants from Uttar Pradesh, form the bulk of migrations into Mumbai.

Those who are worried about this influx into Karachi, should consider the fact that Karachi used to have a Sindhi majority, a fact that changed after the Mohajir influx. If there was nothing illegitimate about that phenomenon, then assuming no bigotry, there should be no apprehensions about Karachi becoming a Pashtun majority city, because in essence the only difference between an Urdu speaking Mohajir and a Pashtu Speaking Mohajir is that of the date on their train tickets.

Sadly, the expression of this apprehension is not limited to verbal racism, statistics on the ethnicity of the victims show that they are overwhelmingly Pashtun. Mehr Bokhari’s show on the 7th of July, 2011, revealed that in the violence till that point, 80 Pashtuns  and 7 Mohajirs were killed.

The irony of the situation is that those who are bent upon declaring the Pashtun as a separate specie, also make a case for victim-hood based on post-partition hostilities doled out to Pakistan’s Mohajir community.  It should be obvious that the pre-requisite for claiming a higher moral ground based on those injustices, is not to rationalize the same (if not worse) that is being doled out to Karachi’s new Mohajirs.

Appeared in the Pakistan Today on the 20th of July, 2011.

Written by Imran Khan

July 20, 2011 at 4:54 am

Killing Karachi

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For the past few years, the good people of Karachi have been hunted down by the dozens and that too on a regular basis. The lines are mostly drawn on the basis of ethnicity; till July during this year the break up of the victims of these killings show that, 48% of them were Pashtuns, while 33% were Urdu-speakers.  A joint investigative report of Sindh Police, Special Branch, IB, ISI, Rangers and the Interior Ministry, that came out in May this year, blames political parties for this situation but names only the MQM, a blame that MQM has denied categorically. But while the blame game goes on, what is more worrisome is the overall cost of this unrest.

The economic costs are obvious; the city of Karachi accounts for around 20% of Pakistan’s GDP. A recent study released by PricewaterhouseCoopers (2008) declared Karachi to be the biggest urban economy within Pakistan with an estimated GDP of $78 Billion for 2008, which was almost twice that of Lahore. Besides being the central hub of trade and finance, Karachi also accounts for a majority of our rural to urban migrations, bestowing it with a highly motivated labor force. Given these facts, it won’t be wrong to infer that in terms of the costs to the National Economy, the paralysis of Karachi means much more than the paralysis of any other part of Pakistan.

There are political costs as well; a recent report by PEW Research shows that in Pakistan the approval ratings for the Taliban have gone up from 10% in 2009 to 15% this year. It is no secret that on the political front the threat of Talibanisation has been confronted solely by Pakistan’s liberal parties. The impact of this confrontation is reflected in their electoral strongholds where; Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh show a taliban approval of 7% and 5% respectively, compared to the 22% approval for the Taliban in Punjab. Continued infighting between the liberal half of Pakistan’s political spectrum is likely to have a direct bearing upon their efforts in countering the ideological onslaught of the Taliban.

Given the convergence in the political viewpoints of PPP, MQM and ANP, this conflict in Karachi can hardly be termed an ideological one. It is basically a turf war that is being perpetuated by a lack of policing and an excess of weaponry, all of which is being facilitated by political patronage. The immediate response should be to de-weaponise Karachi and apprehend the culprits behind the killings. As the Police seemingly does not have the capacity, the Army needs to be utilized.

But given the situation, the response of the Government is simply bewildering; apparently more “can be done” by using the existing civilian apparatus. If this is the case, then what exactly was the Sindh Government waiting for till now? The Shershah massacre is much smaller in scale compared to the killing sprees before it, if the Government is implying that it could do more after those incidents and didn’t, then this negligence is criminal and demands resignations rather than smug appearances on press conferences. But if the Government has actually exhausted its civilian security resources, as indicated by the MQM as well as ANP and confirmed by Federal Minister Nabeel Gabol, then it is high time to call in the Army, because the cost of waiting is in terms of human lives.

Utilizing the Army is not only a valid option for our elected Government, it is also the most effective one. Amazingly, to many, such an intervention seems the same as a military takeover and provides a “we told you so” moment for many supporters of military dictatorship. But the “subtle” difference is that the Army in this case would not be called to run the day to day affairs of Karachi, it would be called upon for its soldiering ability, an ability in which we have invested more than our capacity, and an ability which the Government has every right to rely upon. This was done in Swat, and the same is now required in Karachi and for that matter – urgently.

There are also objections to the proposal of de-weaponising Karachi. This resistance is coming from the MQM; the party that has repeatedly pointed out the “gun culture” of the Pashtuns as a source of friction, surprisingly also believes that the right to bear arms is essential for deterrence. In any case, the fact of the matter is that the death of police officials and that of political leaders accompanied by armed guards, shows that even carrying weapons doesn’t necessarily make a difference. Furthermore, most of the victims usually belong to the lower income groups, and for people who barely survive on a daily wage, affording guns and bullets is a difficult if not impossible task.

According to Police sources, 90% of these killings were carried out using handguns, furthermore the illegal practice of stamping the same license number on multiple weapons is also said to be widespread in Karachi. Given these facts, it is obvious that the weapon most commonly used for deterrence is also the one causing most of the damage and that licensing is no guarantee of lawful use. Therefore, given the intensity of the situation, de-weaponisation of Karachi should be the immediate goal of any efforts undertaken to address this problem.

With this year’s deaths by target killings surpassing those by suicide bombings, and the post-Shershah round of violence already claiming 4 lives, the PPP Government needs to start worrying about numbers other than just those surrounding no confidence motions.

Appeared in Pakistan Today on the 26th of October 2010

Written by Imran Khan

November 11, 2010 at 6:11 pm

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