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Elitist Misconceptions

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With a mix of horror and disbelief I watched the footage from Matanai where a school van was ambushed by militants. Even for senses numbed by scores of bombings every year, this came as a shock because the victims were children (aged between 8 to 14 years), and were deliberately targeted. One would think that even the most shameless of villains would not be low enough to own these killings, but within hours the Tehreek I Taliban Pakistan (TTP) proudly claimed full responsibility. Bravo!

The footage of the aftermath showed faces smitten with fear, a little girl, hardly six or seven lay in a state of shock; her blank expression and her blood soaked shirt spoke volumes about the horrors that she went through. Some of the survivors did speak to the media and the noticeable thing about their interviews was that they were either in Pashtu or in heavily accented Urdu.

It is important to highlight the accents and thus ethnicity of these children because the same are often ignored by those who perceive Taliban violence as a Pashtun backlash. Take the Chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek I Insaaf (PTI) for instance; in one of his sermons on YouTube titled “Imran Khan Explains War of Terror and Pakistani Taliban”, he declares the Taliban to be a “Pashtun Resistance”. But, how exactly does a Pashtun Resistance claim mostly Pashtun victims is something that Mr. Khan didn’t elaborate upon.

To prove this argument, references are often made to episodes of Pashtun resistance from the past. But the difference between Taliban leadership and historical figures such as Faqir of Ipi becomes very obvious if one considers their respective target selection. Mullah Powindah, Pir Roshan and Faqir of Ipi were not known for targeting Pashtuns, as all of them had a strong nationalistic bias; i.e. a Pashtun bias. The Taliban however, do not have any of that as proven by the fact that their victims are predominantly Pashtun. It should be obvious that when an insurgency fights in the name of an ethnicity then it does NOT target that ethnicity; the ETA is not known for killing Basques and neither was the Tamil Tigers known for killing Tamils. For this reason, it is downright disrespectful to term Taliban violence as a “Pashtun backlash”, because the Pashtuns themselves are its biggest victims.

While one feels disappointed with the former cricketer, one is absolutely horrified when the same logic is echoed by a group of Pakistan’s “Foreign Policy Elites” (FPE). A recent report by the Jinnah Institute (JI) and the US Institute for Peace (USIP), titled “Pakistan, the United States and the end game in Afghanistan” builds its case on the very same assumption. While the FPE rightly point out that a settlement in Afghanistan should not result in “negative spillovers” or cause “resentment” among Pakistani Pashtuns, their recommendation for ensuring that is quite perplexing, as they want inclusion of the Haqqani Network and the Quetta Shura in any post US setups in Afghanistan.

If such an arrangement is considered necessary for appeasing Pakistani Pashtuns, then the FPE need to move beyond books of history & genealogy, and instead concentrate on recent news reports, electoral results, and opinion surveys. The Pashtuns of Pakistan have been categoric in rejecting the Taliban; in 2008’s general election, the Province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) voted overwhelmingly for anti Taliban parties i.e. the ANP and the PPP. The PEW research survey for 2010 predicts that only 7% of KP approve of the Taliban, while the same is 15% for Pakistan and 22% for Punjab. Furthermore, TTP’s targeting of elected leaders in KP as well as that of the tribal elders of FATA, clearly indicates that the Taliban feel threatened by those who represent Pashtun consensus. This anti Taliban sentiment should be expected, given the chaos and destruction that the TTP has brought upon Pashtun lands.

If our FPE think that the alliance between the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan can be taken care of through some strategic parlaying, then they are sadly mistaken. Whether it’s supporting the Uighars in China, or the refusal to handover Osama, the Afghani Taliban have proven that when it comes to the Global Jihadi fraternity, strategic concerns are not that important to them. Thus, it should be obvious that if the Taliban get strengthened in Afghanistan, then the strengthening of the Pakistani ones is inevitable.

Lest one forgets, this September had quite a few reminders of what that strengthening could entail. Besides the attack on the 13th in Matanai that killed 5, on the 16th a suicide bombing in Dir claimed 27 lives, on the 19th another 8 were killed in Karachi, and on the same day 6 died in an attack on CD shops in Peshawar, and if that was not enough, then on the 20th they lined up 26 Shias in Mastung and gunned them down; and then ambushed two more who were on their way to the scene of the massacre. A sum total of 74 Pakistanis killed in 7 days for the “crimes” of working for the Government, listening to music and being Shia.

The underlying motivation for this violence is ideological, and this ideology is not likely to change whether the United States leaves Afghanistan tomorrow or doesn’t in the next ten years. It is also an ideology that declares a majority of us Pakistanis i.e. the Barelvis and the Shias to be Wajib Ul Qatal (dead men walking), and legitimizes the destructions of schools, shrines, Imam Bargahs and mosques. With the Quetta Shura and the Haqqani Network espousing the same ideology, their strengthening in Afghanistan should raise alarm bells for anyone concerned about Pakistan’s security interests.

If the potential “resentment” of Pakistani Pashtuns weighed heavily on the minds of our FPE, then the safety of the same Pakistanis should have had an even bigger impact, an impact that is certainly not evident in the conclusions to this report. For this reason, the Foreign Policy Elites need to reconsider their definition of Pakistan’s national interest. It is recommended however that before doing so, this group puts itself in the shoes of the parents of Matanai, it is very likely that the word “pragmatism” might have a different meaning then.

A slightly edited version appeared in The News on the 30th of September, 2011.

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Written by Imran Khan

September 30, 2011 at 4:51 am

iNewses- 1

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So this is my second attempt at animation, the software that I used is called “State” and is a downloadable and much more enhanced version of the web based Xtranormal

hope to do more of this in the future…

Written by Imran Khan

June 7, 2011 at 4:34 pm

Deceptive Desperation

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Hawks are an integral part of any political jungle, and Pakistan is no exception. But in relative terms the Pakistani variety does appear a “bit” more hawkish than the rest, “hawks on steroids” if you may. This lot usually hates compromises, for instance; grass seems to be their green of choice when denouncing aid from the infidels, and as a defense against an enemy onslaught they have even contemplated the possibility of detonating Pakistani nukes on Pakistani soil i.e. a national level suicide bombing of sorts.

But then amazingly, this same lot of missile-wielding and radiation burping warriors turns instantly dovish, at anything remotely Taliban-ish. Despite the Taliban’s ownership of hundreds of bombings, be-headings and abductions within Pakistan, all they get from our overly sensitive hawks are mere murmurs of protests and those too are hugely qualified.

So what gives exactly? Why is it that the people who justify the killing of Governor Taseer by quoting his blasphemous insensitivity are somewhat indifferent to those who bomb mosques and shrines? Why is it that those who go livid over the killing of a Muslim anywhere in the world, are shrugging shoulders in the face of this continuing massacre of thousands of Pakistani Muslims?

The main reason for this uncharacteristic silence seems to be an understanding; an understanding that the Taliban are desperate and thus irrational. Fighting these irrational beings will make them even more irrational, the solution thus is not to fight them but to understand the root cause of their desperation; which is the US occupation of Afghanistan and US attacks within Pakistan. The Americans apparently have challenged a people who have defeated the British Empire as well as Communist Russia, these brave and noble souls live by their code of revenge and will do anything to get back at their enemy. In their desperation then the Taliban are fighting with every mean possible, and the suicide bomber is the ultimate embodiment of the desperation felt by the Taliban. Until the root causes to this desperation are addressed, all of this killing and mayhem will “understandably” continue.

So exactly how desperate are the Taliban?

In 2007 a pair of economists from Harvard University published an interesting paper titled Human Capital and the Productivity of Suicide Bombers. Defining productivity as the ability to cause damage, the authors (Benmelech & Berrebi) considered traits among bombers that distinguished the more successful ones. Among other things, their analysis revealed “age” of the bomber to be a crucial factor in determining success; statistically speaking, a suicide jacket, if worn by an adult bomber is likely to do more damage than if it is worn by a child.

During the recent suicide attack on the Sakhi Sarwar Shrine, one of the bombers encountered a “wardrobe malfunction”, resultantly Umar Fidai, an embodiment of Taliban’s defiance and desperation was caught alive, and interviewed. One thing that comes across as obvious from the interview is that Umar is neither defiant nor desperate, in fact he is apologetic. When asked about his motivation to carry out this act, he literally specified “mazay” (fun times) in heaven to be the main reason. If this sounds childish, then it should, because Umar is only 14 years old; an age at which it is too early for one to have a true grasp of the Islamic compulsion of Jihad, or for that matter the revenge compulsions of Pakhtunwali.  Furthermore, Umar Fidai is not an exception, the eulogizing post-bombing videos, as well as testimonies of eye witnesses, invariably report suicide bombers to be mere teenagers.

In the Taliban’s arsenal, the suicide bomber is undoubtedly the deadliest.  But, the creation of a bomber is not just about a volunteer, the rigging of belts and vehicles and their safe transportation towards their targets is a logistical exercise that is full of all sorts of risks. So, when a volunteer straps on a belt in a city such as Islamabad, then that belt is not just nuts and bolts, it includes the cost of clearing all sorts of security hurdles. For this considerable investment, why would the Taliban not want maximum damage and select grownups? I mean forget about that analysis from Harvard, it only confirms what we all know from experience, i.e. you do not send a boy to do a man’s job. So the question is where are all those angry and frustrated men for whom our hawks are so very eager to compromise on Pakistan’s security interests and stage dharnas (sit ins)? Why aren’t those men strapping on these belts, instead of these boys?

The answer to that lies in the testimonies of captured suicide bombers such as Umar Fidai. The recruitment of these children is full of ploys that befit child molesters; they are coaxed with heavenly candies and beaten black and blue if they dare to question. While gun totting Taliban men are very eager to swoop in on unarmed villagers and behead prisoners, they seem reluctant to carry out suicide bombings.

The reluctance of bearded Taliban to carry out these attacks goes contrary to the “desperation” argument presented by Pakistan’s religious right. By quoting any action against the Taliban as a source of raising this so called desperation, these “pacifists” are arguing against the only real response to the Taliban’s onslaught. Furthermore, the apparent “futility” of a military response should be seen in the context of Osama’s presence at the outskirts of Kakul, it is very possible that the military option wasn’t exercised properly in the first place; be it incompetence or collusion.


Appeared in The Huffington Post on the 20th of May, 2011.

Also appeared in The News on the 21st of August, 2011, under the title: When terrorists are merely ‘irrational

Written by Imran Khan

May 20, 2011 at 4:11 pm

Cant wait for Moharram?

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The Taliban strike again, while Peshawar and other cities in Pakhtunkhwa had been targeted frequently, this time they decided to hit the big cities, i.e. Karachi and Lahore. 11 people have died so far with more than 50 wounded.

An interesting thing to note is the statement of claim from the Taliban, here is how it has been reported by Express Tribune

“We claim responsibility for the suicide attack on police in Lahore,” said Azam Tariq, spokesman for the TTP, in a telephone call to AFP in Miranshah.

We regret the loss of civilian lives in the attack and warn people to keep away from security forces and government property,” he said.

“The attack was in retaliation for drone strikes and military operations in tribal areas. We have more than 3,000 trained suicide bombers,” he added.

The statement by Mr. Azam Tariq is something that would make the likes of Imran Khan (PTI) et al say; we told you so.

But a few points to ponder; why is it that for these two coordinated strikes, that were supposedly aimed at “security forces and government property”, the TTP chose the Chehlum of Imam Hussain? If they “regret” the loss of civilian lives then why didnt they just barge into one of the hundreds of police stations or army camps that dot Pakistan. Why a Shia procession specifically?

It is obvious that Mr. Tariq is lying, he by no means will ever “regret” the death of a Shia, so why do the drama then? Why not put an Alhumdulilah about killing Shia Kafirs?

In my opinion, statements such as these are to leverage the efforts of all of those who are presenting the Taliban as freedom fighters. This “regret” would probably be enough for many to declare this as a legitimate reaction to someone else’s war.

But, these attacks signify the inability of the Taliban to coexist with anyone who is theologically different from them. With Shias constituting around 20% of Pakistan’s population, this expression of hate should be enough to convince many about the necessity of containing the Taliban ideology.

But the hindrance to this obvious consensus is provided by baseless explanations that declare these actions as mere reactions. The scary thing is that the Taliban has evolved to leverage these ridiculous explanations. An evolution which is exhibited by this new found “concern” about civilian causalities.

Its also not the case that sectarian violence is a post 9/11 phenomenon, which would magically vanish once the war in Afghanistan is over. In the period between 1989 to 2000, around 1000 Pakistanis died and around 2500 were injured due to sectarian violence. A report by the International Crisis Group, claims that 70% of the deaths related to sectarian violence since 1985, were of Shias.

This expression of  “regret” by the Taliban shouldn’t mean anything, but the way the whole debate around the Taliban issue is being carried out, to many out there this is yet another incident to blame on outsiders.

Written by Imran Khan

January 25, 2011 at 5:06 pm

Our Unsung Heroes

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By claiming responsibility for lashings, public beheadings and suicide bombings, the Taliban have declared themselves villains of the caliber that can not be found even in the goriest of movies. But like anywhere else, the emergence of these villains has also prompted the rise of heroes.

Take for instance the case of Liaqat Ali Khan, of the Dagai village of Matta in Swat. On October 17, 2008, Liaqat received an unexpected guest at his house; the guest was Zhang Guo a Chinese telecom engineer, who had escaped the captivity of the Taliban. They were holding him hostage to secure the release of their own fighters. With the Taliban searching frantically, Liaqat knew his options very well; he could hand the Engineer over and score a favor with the de facto rulers of Swat, or he could hand Zhang Guo over to the Army and face the consequences. But despite knowing well about the wrath of the Taliban, Liaqat chose the later option, he smuggled the Chinese engineer to a nearby army checkpoint and braced himself for the consequences. He didn’t have to wait for long, because on November 20th 2008, Liaqat Ali Khan was killed right in front of his house, as a punishment for interfering with the Taliban.

On October 20th 2009, a suicide bomber headed for the cafeteria of the International Islamic University. He had already killed a security guard, and was now aiming at the University cafeteria, which at that point had around 300 to 400 students. Pervaiz Masih, who worked as a janitor at the Univeristy, intercepted the bomber at the entrance of the cafeteria. There was an argument between the two, while there are no exact details of the argument, one thing is for sure, which is that the bomber would have warned Pervaiz of the consequences of standing in his way. But, the unarmed Janitor, didn’t budge and the bomber detonated his vest, but because of Pervaiz, the bomber could not achieve a higher death toll, which he could have, had he entered the crowded cafeteria.

On 15th November 2009, a police check point near the village of Pishtakhara at the outskirts of Peshawar was attacked by a car bomb. The vehicle had 50 to 60 KGs of explosives and was spiked with artillery rounds. The probable target could have been the crowded Saddar Bazar, where the explosives could have delivered a massive death toll. Similar to Pervaiz Masih, a policeman by the name of Fazl ur Rehman thwarted the car from passing the checkpoint. According to witnesses, an argument ensued between Fazl ur Rehman and the bomber, but this brave policeman also chose his own death to save probably scores of other lives.

There are more, many more such instances, where our fellow Pakistanis have sacrificed their own lives for the rest of us. In all three cases our heroes did not have to lose their own lives, neither were they aiming to save the lives of their family. They sacrificed themselves for a common good; call it Pakistaniyat, or insaniyaat, but that innate feeling ensured that these martyrs saved the live of strangers at the cost of their own.

So how do we, the faceless strangers, for whom these sacrifices were made, treat our selfless benefactors? To begin with, I myself only had a vague memory of these instances, and couldn’t recall any of the names when I started writing this article. The background searches revealed brief details of the instances in which these sacrifices were made. Liaqat is mentioned only in one news report. Fazl ur Rehman is mentioned by The Nation, as simply a “policeman”, while Dawn does mention his name, it too fails to mention his village or his rank. For Pervaiz’s family the Government announced Rs. 10 Lakh as a compensation for his sacrifice. But the payment had not been made till October 2010, i.e. even one year after his sacrifice. There was no news on awards of gallantry for these brave sons of the soil, neither  on any schools or roads being named after them.

It is very easy to blame the politicians for being incompetent, or the Media for being insensitive, for not honoring these heroes, but the fact of the matter is that Politicians as well as the Media play to the demand of the people. The ungratefulness that is exhibited by both the politicians as well as the Media is in effect the ungratefulness that is felt on the street.

The sacrifice of these unsung heroes saved many lives, this noble behavior needs recognition as well as encouragement; our disregard for these contributions might result in many potential Liaqats, Pervaizs and Fazl ur Rehmans looking the other way. It is high time we Pakistanis proved ourselves worthy of such sacrifices.

Appeared in Pakistan Today on the 4th of January 2011.

Written by Imran Khan

January 4, 2011 at 4:36 am

Discriminating Among the Dead

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In an ideal world all lives should be valued equally, but when the reaction to the loss of a life varies with the ethnicity, nationality, color or religion of the deceased, then for sure we have reached a less than ideal state of affairs. We Pakistanis are very quick to protest such behavior, especially when it comes to the Western media’s response to issues involving the death of Muslims.

But it so happens that for us Pakistanis, showing indignation is limited to issues where it doesn’t mean much. Many among us were heartbroken by the plight of the stranded in Gaza and fully supported the forced breaching of their economic blockade, but at the same time we are completely oblivious to the plight of our fellow Pakistanis in Kurram agency, who have also been cut off from essential supplies.

An area that is in desperate need of Pakistani indignation, is our media’s discriminatory coverage of the Taliban onslaught; a bomb blast in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa or FATA somehow does not result in the same level of urgency and priority as a bomb blast in other parts of the country.

An example of this is the difference in coverage between two recent suicide attacks, one of which was in Darra Adam Khel on the 5th of November while the other was in Karachi on the 12th of November. If the loss of human lives is the measure of the importance of these incidents, then in that respect our media associated a much lower weight to the dead in Darra Adam Khel.

The 16 dead in Karachi resulted in dedicated talk shows, awareness loops and the suspension of regular programming. On the contrary, the 61 dead in Darra Adam Khel, were met with a considerably colder response; the suspension of regular programming was for a much shorter time and none of our major media pundits chose to dedicate their shows to the issue.

Back in 2009, I had the opportunity to put this question to the owner of one of our leading news channels. He simply replied that since he was running a business, he had to cater to his demand, implying that the indifference that comes on the screen is a reflection of the indifference that is felt by a majority of Pakistanis.

The probable reason for this could be the smoke screen that is created by Taliban apologists in politics as well as media. At its core are misperceptions about the supposedly stubborn nature of Pakhtuns. These perceptions have gone beyond the realm of racially motivated jokes, and are fast becoming an explanation for the persistence of the Taliban phenomenon. The Taliban conquered FATA is still seen by many as being the land of the free, where people are so angry with drone attacks that they have decided to head to Karachi and Lahore to exact revenge. While these points could result in short term political gains, in the long term the persistence of these beliefs has major consequences for the future of the Pakistani identity.

This selective indifference i.e. shoulder-shrugging on bombings in the North and revulsion on those in the South, is creating a divide between the Pakhtuns and Non-Pakhtuns of Pakistan. It is no secret that the Taliban are predominantly a Pakhtun movement. Naturally, in case of bombings in non Pakhtun areas the first response is to blame Pakhtuns for the attack. However this realization could be countered by equally highlighting the death and destruction brought about by the Taliban in Pakhtun areas. A lesser emphasis on these attacks robs the ordinary Pakhtuns of a legitimate defense that rather than being the perpetrators, they are in fact the biggest victims of Taliban atrocities, accounting for almost 70% of the dead in 2009. Furthermore, on the other side, this selective indifference causes resentment among Pakhtuns, who feel abandoned by the rest of Pakistan.

The fight against Talibanization is being fought on two fronts, i.e. the physical and the ideological. On the physical side we are dealing with an enemy that is becoming increasingly sophisticated; the number of killed per attack has risen from 1.3 in 2006 to 3.31 in 2009. This increased devastation, which is predominantly caused by the Taliban, should have resulted in a major victory on the ideological front, i.e. in terms of a loss in Taliban popularity. But according to the latest PEW research survey, Taliban approval has actually increased from 10% in 2009 to 15% in 2010.

The provincial breakup of the survey shows that at 22%, Punjab has the highest approval rate for the Taliban, a feat that could not have been achieved without the Taliban-neutral stance of its main political parties. The emphasis on drone strikes and indifference towards terrorist attacks within Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, wrongly paints the Taliban as Pakhtun resistance to United States and thus creates support for their antics, but then the extra emphasis on attacks in non Pakhtun areas turns that misguided sympathy for the Pakhtuns into resentment against them.

Some might argue that comparing Karachi to Darra Adam Khel would be to ignore the importance of the former to Pakistan. While this argument would make sense if we were talking about natural disaster, in the case of the Taliban, the destruction between the two is interlinked. A peaceful Darra Adam Khel is a pre-requisite for a peaceful Karachi.

Appeared in Pakistan Today on December 7th, under the title “Disparity in coverage”

Written by Imran Khan

December 7, 2010 at 7:26 am

Suicide attack in South Waziristan

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A lot has been said about the links between drone attacks and suicide bombing, how drone attacks are leading to a marked increase in support for the Taliban in the areas affected.

The problem with this argument is that it implicitly blames the people of Waziristan for the suicide bombings in the rest of the country. But what this argument lacks is an acknowledgment of the misery of the people who live under the yoke of the Taliban. Yes, Waziristan is suffering from drones, but more so it is suffering from the atrocities of the Taliban.

As this recent suicide bombing in the Shakai Village of Waziristan shows, ordinary people in the tribal areas are as much a target as someone else in the country. If these bombers are solely motivated by revenge for the drone strikes, then why would they attack their own villages and people?

Written by Imran Khan

November 14, 2010 at 12:28 pm

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