Pakhtunkhwa Times

Pak-Afghan To Continue Talks To Ensure Stability

Posted in 1 by ppfcanada on April 7, 2009

KN Monitoring Desk

ISTANBUL: Pakistan and Afghanistan have agreed to continue talks for cooperation in political, security fields to ensure peace and stability in the region.

This was stated in a Joint Declaration after a meeting between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistan Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani under the mediation of the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in Istanbul.

Both the countries agreed to continue the trilateral summit process with the help of Turkey.

The meeting had been planned when Turkish President Abdullah Gul met President Asif Ali Zardari on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session in New York.

Prime Minister Gilani stressed that regional stability was vital for prosperity of the region, particularly of Pakistan.

The leaders agreed that global cooperation was essential for fighting terrorism and extremism.

He said Turkey would extend full cooperation to Pakistan and Afghanistan to resolve their disputes for overall development in the region.

The Turkish prime minister said the process initiated by his country had been disconnected in the past and now it was being revived.

The meeting welcomed the process of mini-jirga and expressed the hope that it would contribute to peace and reconciliation.

The participants decided that the second trilateral summit would be held at the earliest convenience of the presidents of the three countries.

Reading out a joint declaration, Mr Erdogan said President Karzai and Prime Minister Gilani had expressed satisfaction over contacts and cooperation between their countries and agreed to take the dialogue process forward.

He said both the countries had agreed to enhance cooperation in all fields to achieve stability and prosperity of their people.
The meeting was the follow-up of the Ankara Declaration of a trilateral summit held on April 29-30.

Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani says, Pakistan has taken bold and effective steps to fight extremism and terrorism to ensure world peace and security.

Addressing the preliminary session the World Economic Forum meeting on Europe and Central Asia in Istanbul, he sought the support of the international community in achieving the goals of peace and development.

He said Pakistan’s soil will not be allowed to be used to attack its neighbours and the international community should also ensure that Pakistan’s sovereignty is not violated.

Earlier, the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in his opening remarks urged the world to work collectively to face the economic and security challenges.

He also called for the resolution of regional disputes through negotiations.

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Pakhtun Culture and Talibanization: the Romanticism and the Clash of Values (Part II)

Posted in 1 by ppfcanada on April 7, 2009

By Farhat Taj

Professor Bakhshi Opendra is a philosopher of Indian origin based in a UK university. Once I asked him why the British colonizers had romanticized the Pakhtun, especially when the British had look down upon almost all natives in other areas they colonized. His answer was: ‘simple. The Brit was tall and well built. The Pakhtun was tall and well built. The Brit was good fighter. The Pakhtun was good fighter. The two clashed. The Brit got beaten up. Instead of admitting his mistake that it was the he (the Brit) who intruded into the Pakhtun’s territory and not the otherwise, the Brit began romanticizing the Pakhtun. The Pakhtun is so brave; such a natural fighter is he etc!

Colonization of major portion of the earth must have made the British arrogant. It must have been too much for their arrogant pride to admit to their mistake of attacking the Pakhtun territory and therefore they rationalized their defeat by attributing super human qualities to the Pakhtun. This is understandable.

But why do the Pakistani intelligentsia, journalistic circles certain political leaders, even ordinary people, like students, teachers, other professionals and housewives romanticize the Pakhtun by attributing to them too much religiosity? When the Pakhtun voted for PPP and ANP in Feb. 2008 elections, I thought this is it! The Pakhtun have chosen the parties that are closest to whatever level of democracy and secularism Pakistan has ever been able to achieve. So thought the ANP leader Asfandyar Wali, who in a post elections interview declared that the Pakhtun have sent have a powerful message to the world that they reject religious extremism. Unfortunately, even this affected no change in the attitude of the wider Pakistani society and the Pakhtun continued to be identified as Taliban or pro Taliban and their culture compatible with Talibanization.

Now this is not to suggest that Pakhtuns are not religious at all. Most Pakhtuns have deep respect for their religion, Islam. But at the same time they have worldly pursuits in life that are very important for them. Whether they would give up their worldly pursuits for the sake of religion as interpreted by their fellow Pakhtun-the Taliban- at the gunpoint is a big question mark. To explain it better I will give an example. Many Pakhtun businessmen are notorious for taking heavy interests on the loans they make to people. Once I asked an Alhaj (a person who had visited the holy Muslim site in Saudi Arabia many times) Pakhtun who also happened to be quite regular in saying five times prayer that why he takes so much interest on the loans when the Quarn forbids it. His answer was: ‘That (Quran) is my religions and this (taking interest) is my business. I do not mix them up. But I keep both. I need both’.

In the fist part of this article I tried to show how Talibanization is incompatible with the Pakhtun culture. Now I will try to depict how Talibanization is violently clashing with Pakhtun values. For example, sectarian diversity is one of such values. Most Pakhtun are Sunny Muslim. A significant minority is Shiite. Expect minor and sporadic troubles (which many believe were more tribal than theological) the Sunny and Shiite Pakhtun have been living in peace.

There have always been mix Sunny-Shiite Pakhtun communities and even families, with father Shiite, mother Sunny or otherwise. Sunny Pakhtun have been participating in Ashura celebrations, not in the actual rituals (some did this as well) but extending a helping hand in the arrangements for the celebrations, like keeping sabil of water, sweet drinks etc. Call it superstitious, but many Sunny Pakhtun believe (I personally know several) that if you have a longstanding unfulfilled wish, you go to the Ashura procession; make the wish to God there and the wish will be realized. There have always been Sunny Pakhtun going to the Ashura processions for fulfillment of their wishes. The Taliban is eliminating this diversity. For Taliban a Shiite is kafir and a Sunny who interacts with Shiite is also Kafir. Both must be killed.

On Peshawar-Parachinar road, Shiite passengers were dismounted by the Taliban in the areas under their control from the public transport and brutally beheaded just because they happened to be Shiite. The Taliban checked out ID cards of passengers. Anyone having Ali, Hassan, Hussain in their name were assumed to be Shiite. They also did body search and those with marks of Zanjirzani (a ritual when Shiite Muslim beat on their backs with a bunch of chains until the flush wounds and bleeds during the Ashura celebration) were recognized to be Shiite and dismounted to be beheaded. This brutality forced the Shiite from Parachinar to travel via Afghanistan to come to Peshawar and the rest of Pakistan.

The Taliban especially beheaded the Shiite among the captured of soldiers of Pakistan army and put their graphic videos on U Tube. The Taliban so traumatized the Shiite Pakhtun that they sent SOS calls to Shiite across the border in Afghanistan. The help came from Afghanistan but as a result innocent Sunny in the Shiite majority areas were murdered in cold blood or banished from their homes. Agreed that Shiite-Sunny conflict in the Pakhtun areas began due to past international and national events(Iranian Revolution, Afghan War, Zia’s Islamization etc). But now the tension is at its highest. Sunny Pakhtun Taliban have confronted their Shiite fellow Pakhtun with an impossible choice: they must perish or convert to the Taliban’s style Sunny Islam.

The Taliban are attacking the family values of the Pakhtun. A woman’s clothing and mobility in the public sphere are the absolute right and privilege of the family. Unrelated men interfering with those two issues are seen as violating the family honor, which can easily lead to honor-related crimes. Now, unrelated Taliban men openly order women to wear burqa or face consequences. If they did not abide by the order, Taliban publicly beat them- a scene unthinkable in the Pakhtun society. Such incidents have been reported from the Taliban control Swat and other area. In cities across NWFP the Taliban have threatened women to not to go shopping and stay in doors. They have publicly killed women, some for working with NGO’s, some they accused of prostitutions and some of adultery. So, it’s not the family but unrelated Taliban men controlling the women.

The British may have romanticized the Pakhtun for their bravery and honor. But now the Taliban are openly violating the norms of family honor of the Pakhtun and not much honor related crimes are happening! The Reason: the ordinary Pakhtun are no match to the heavily armed, indoctrinated and battle hardened militant Taliban Pakhtun. In the Taliban worldview a woman can only be a prostitute or bigger in the public. When the Taliban took over Afghanistan, they banned women from jobs , including war widows who were the only breed winners of their families. Resultantly the women had no option but to beg or prostitute themselves.

Another Pakhtun value that the Taliban have been so violently insulting is the reverence for Jirga- the council of tribal elders. Evolved in centuries of the Pakhtun history, the institution of Jirga has always been respected by Pakhtun in all circumstances. Even the blood thirsty warring parties would temporarily cease hostility during Jirga and under the instructions of Jirga. The Taliban have attacked with suicide bombings at least two grand Jirgas, one in Darra Adam Khel and the other in Orakzai agency, killing that entire tribal leadership of the areas. The Taliban have even been attacking funeral ceremonies, an extremely disgustful act in any culture.

The apologists of the Taliban have been saying on media that attacks on Jirga and funeral ceremonies have been the handiwork of spy agencies of the enemy countries-India and Israel. Well, India and Israel may or may not be providing money or weapons to the Taliban. But before accusing them we got to see that the Pakhtun Taliban are tearing apart the social order of their own society through violence. They are determined and this is the problem. Any real or perceived help from India or Israel, in my view, is of secondary importance. Even if there is no Indian or Israeli help (real or perceived) the determined Taliban may get it from elsewhere.

The apologists of Taliban also argue on media: ‘did the Taliban do this before the military operations in FATA?’Yes they did. Remember, even before 9/11 Muallana Sufi Mohammad of Tehrik Nifaz Sharia Mohammadi in Malaknad openly asked her followers to capture and take in Nikah then and there any female NGO worker that they spotted in the Malakand agency. The NGO’s workers of the area were terrified. In another incident of before 9/11 female activists of the pro-Taliban Jumaat islami attacked in a girls’ college in NWFP the participants of a Mina bazaar and forced the administration to close down the event because some of the girls were wearing kurta pajama that the Jumaat activists said was ‘Un Isamic Hindu culture’.

The reason such bizarre incidents happen more frequently now is that earlier the Taliban’s savagery was focused on Afghanistan. Now they have turned their eyes to Pakistan. Their acts of terrorism in Afghanistan were wrong, just as they are wrong in Pakistan. It was wrong of the establishment of Pakistan to back the Taliban in Afghanistan while fully knowing how savage they were.

People in the wider Pakistani society must understand that the Pakhtun are under attacks by the ferocious religious extremist Pakhtun supported by the global forces of the violent Jihad. They deserve help and support of the rest of the Pakistani society, not just for moral reasons, but for their own interests. Non-Pakhtun Pakistanis must remember if the Pakhtun society collapsed under the weight of Talibnization, the rest of Pakistan will follow shortly and probably more swiftly.
(To be continued)

Farhat Taj is a PhD Reasearcher at the University of Oslo.

Pakhtun Culture and Talibanization: Some Fantasies From Abroad (Part-III)

Posted in 1 by ppfcanada on April 7, 2009

By Farhat Taj

How the Pakhtun are seen by people in far away lands across the seas? I will present some examples to show a glimpse of how the ‘others’ abroad view the Pakhtun.

Sarajevo, Bosnia, July 2007

Bosnia is a beautiful Muslim majority country in Europe. The society is secular in line with the wider European practice. There was a war in Bosnia in the 1990’s when it broke away from the former Yugoslavia. Jihadis from many parts of the Muslim world, including Pakistan, flocked to Bosnia to ‘help’ the Bosnian Muslims against the Orthodox Christian Serbs. The war is over now. What happened to the Jihadis? Did they go back to their countries or did they stay put in Bosnia? To find this, I traveled to Bosnia.

There in Bosnia I met three bearded ethnic Bosnia men who I will call the Bosnian Taliban. I sat with them in a café downtown Sarajevo, the beautiful capital city of Bosnia. They were angry young men in 20’s. Angry at their society, which they said was too secular and miles away from the’ true Islam’. ‘True Islam’ in their view was the narrow, extremist and puritan Wahabi version of Islam. They rejected with disdain the Islam prevalent in Bosnia- the peaceful Turkish Sufi Islam, a very different Islam from the extremist version of the religion that they up held and that people in Pakistan and Afghanistan confront violently.

We talked about the international jihadi activities in Afghanistan and Pakistan. They supported such activities. It was the time when the Lal Masjid Operation was in full swing. They told me they hate Gen. Mushaaraf for ordering the raid of the mosque.

One of them said he really likes the Pakhtun women (he was especially referring to the Pakhtun women in Afghnaistan). He gave this explanation:

‘The Pakhtun women are very different the Bosnia women. The Bosnian women violate the limits of Islam prescribed for women. They chase worldly luxuries. They do not care for the life after death. The Pakhtun women fully subscribe to the limits prescribed by Islam. They do not interfere with the world outside homes, which is the men’s prerogative under Islam. The Pakhtun women support Jihad. They urge their husbands to go for Jihad and fight for Islam’.

The last two sentences that he uttered had me swing from one state of mind to another in the space of just one second. First I became angry, then stunningly surprised and then rational. I thought to myself he had said such an absolute non sense that he does not even deserve a serious response. So I made up a joke then and there.
I said:

‘brother, actually you are right. The Pakhtun women do urge their husbands to go to Jihad. But I am afraid you do not know why they do this. They do this because they are in love affairs with other men outside marriage. They see no other ways to get rid of their existing husbands. Therefore, they urge their husbands to go to Jihad hoping that they would perish in Jihad and they (the women) will be free to go to their lovers’.
One of the three men laughed. The other two remained serious. Expression on their faces told me they did not like the joke.
One of the three men said:

‘I always pray to Allah to give enough power to a Mujahid brother in Pakistan to kill Benazir Bhutto’.
I became angry again, but soon restrained the anger. I thought to myself I am a guest in this country. I have no business getting angry with people here. I have to be responsible in whatever I say. So I said:

‘do you have any ideas how deeply offensive is that thing you said about BB. It is not just BB’s right to life (a right fully protected under the Islamic teachings) that you have insulted but also the right of millions of people in Pakistan to vote her in or out of power?’

He said democracy is un-Islamic; Mohtarma BB Shaheed violated Islam by becoming a woman head of the government in Pakistan and so did those people of Pakistan, including the Pakhtun, who voted her in power.

In the sad days following her assassinations I often thought of that Bosnian Talib. I thought he and his Mujahid brothers all over the world must be happy men now. They have silenced a very defiant voice of our country against the dictatorship and religious extremism. The Mujahid brothers knew what she was up to.

Addressing the Norwegian-Pakistani community in Oslo on 8th May 2007, she spoke in details about the dangers posed by the religious militants to, what she called, ‘peace loving hardworking decent people from FATA to Karachi’. She said she had faith in the ability of the Pakhtun people to defeat the religious militancy in their areas. She said when her party came to power she will make sure all the necessary government support is given to people in FATA and NWFP for the purpose. Before she could reach that point she was physically eliminated by some Mujahid brother.

Sometimes I think who could that Mujahid brother be. The Pakhtun Mujahid brother- Baituallah Masud- who was accused for her assassination by the government of Gen. Musharaf? The Punjabi Mujahid brother- Gen (rtd) Gul Hamid- the former spy chief who she herself nominated as her would-assassin in her letter to Gen. Musharaf before her arrival in Pakistan or some other Mujahid brother(s)? I hope the proposed UN investigation of her assassination would provide some answers.

UK

In the 2nd part of this article I said that the British colonizers romanticized the Pakhtun. It seems that the new generation of the British people is distancing itself from the romanticism of their elders and is seeing the Pakhtun through the lenses of a stereotypical orientalism. Consider for example a report published in the Daily Telegraph dated 15, November 2001 titled as ‘How the British Empire Failed to Tame the Terrorist Fakir of Ipi’. Several points raised in this report are a gross distortion of the Pakhtun history and culture. The report compares the Fakir of Ipi, the man who led the resistance to the British colonial in Waziristan, with Osama Bin Lade. The comparison is preposterous. The Fakir was a Pakhtun son of the Pakhtun soil, Waziristan. Osama Bin Laden is an alien to the Pakhtun soil. Osama Bin Laden ran way from his own country, is a fugitive from the law of his own country and from many other countries. The Fakir lived and died on his own soil, Waziristan. Osama Bin Laden is fighting for the utopia of a global Islamist Khalafat. The Fakir, as the report admits at one point, was pursuing the aim of an independent Pakhtunistan. Unlike Osama Bib Laden, who unleashed death and destruction on the US cities on 9/11, the Fakir never ventured near the British islands. He was resisting the British colonization of his ancestral area, Waziristan. How does that makes his terrorist, I fail to understand.

The report quotes parts of an interviewed with Frank Leeson, the British Khasadar Officer who worked in Waziristan in 1940’s. Frank Leeson, age 82 years, now lives in a peaceful rural area of UK.

What struck me most in the report is this information.
‘The Fakir’s men also fought dirty. Captured and wounded enemy troops would be killed by having boiling water poured on them or be castrated by womenfolk.’

Did this really happen in the Pakhtun history of armed conflicts with foreigners? Well, the todays’s Pakhtun Taliban who lowered themselves to utmost savagery by torturing their captives in the most uncivilized manner. But did such acts, the boiling water and that thing about women, did they really happen? I do not rule out the possibility of individual Pakhtun lowering themselves to such mean and brutal acts of violence.

But as per my knowledge of the Pakhtun history of armed conflicts, the Pakhtun fighters did not adopt such means of torture in the conduct of their resistance to the British colonization. But to confirm it for sure, I needed to bury myself in the books of Pakhtun history of battles. Due to my own going commitment with the University of Oslo, I did not have time for this. So, instead I followed the easy road to confirm or otherwise this information: I traveled to UK to meet Frank Leeson. I asked him:

‘please recall all your memories of Waziristan and tell me did you ever hear or see such things (the boiling water and the thing about womenfolk) happening to the captured British or British-Indian soldiers’.
I showed him the news report. Frank Leeson said he never heard or saw such things happening to the British or British-Indian soldiers captured by the Wazir,Masud or Dawar in Waziristan.

The reason I picked this report from the Daily Telegraph is that I wish to tell the concerned Pakhtun that they should be on guard. They should have an eye on what is being said about their history and culture and cross check that with facts in their history and culture. They should challenge everything that is fabricated. If that which is reported in the Daily Telegraph had really happened (the boiling water and the thing about womenfolk) in the Waziristan’s history of resistance to the British colonization, the Pakhtun researchers and historians must described the full context under which that happened. If that did not happen, they must prove with evidence that this is a fabricated story and also try to expose the possible motives of those who spread such stories about the Pakhtun history.

The Kindom of Norway and Kingdom of Denmark

The image of Pakhtun in Norway and Denmark seems to be an extension of the image of the Pakhtun in Pakistan,i.e. the Pakhtun are very religious. When the PPP and ANP won the Feb. 2008 election in NWFP, I heard and saw many Norwegian/Danish Pakistanis (non Pakhtun Norwegian/Danish Pakistanis) expressed their surprised. They were expecting that Jamiat Ulama Islam of Maullana Fazal Rehman and Jumaat Isami will make a landslide victory in the Pakhtun areas. ‘Musharaf must have fixed up this election to please the Americans’,I heard some people saying. Unfortunately, I heard even an ethnic Danish scholar expressing almost a similar view. My answer to all such people has been this:

‘religion is important for the Pakhtun. But please do not over blow the importance of religion for them. The Pakhtun are human beings with human needs. Like people everywhere they need education, health, jobs and above all peace. They thought the religious parties would provide for those needs and voted for them. The religious parties failed to deliver on those things. The Pakhtun dumped the religious parties and picked up the PPP and ANP. If now the PPP and ANP fail to deliver on the promises they made, the Pakhtun will dump them as well’.

My answer got different reactions from different people. Some people agreed with me, some just kept silence and some did not agree- they continue to romanticize the Pakhtun as ‘very religious’ people (so religious that they are ever ready to slaughter their human needs for education, health, jobs and peace for the sake a religious cause everywhere in universe, be it in Palestine, Kashmir, Chechnia, Moon, Mars, Saturn or Ploto!).

Unfortunately to the Pakhtun, their land has become the central battle ground of the war of terror. Because of this reason, the world, it seems, is hungry for information about Pakhtun, their history, culture, current situation, almost everything Pakhtun. There are not many information coming from the Pakhtun themselves (at least this is what I have observed). The world turns to any sources that it thinks might have information about Pakhtun. Such sources often provide wrong information, some unintentionally and some on purpose.

The Pakhtun must reach out to the world and let the world know them better. How that can be done? I don’t know the details. But a general idea would be that Pakhtun from different background must network, discuss and make plans to interact with the wider world. Such exercise must be time consuming, intellectually intensive and financially expensive. Therefore, some Pakhtun should put their many into it (I understand there are many affluent Pakhtun, both in the mainland and in diaspora), some their time and expertise. This may mean less sleep at least some nights a week/month and less time with friends/family. Because such activities may have to be adjusted within the established responsibilities- work, time with family/friends/ sleep-rest at night. I understand such activities/ exercises have to be taken by the Pakhtun, if they wish to dismantle some of the fantasies constructed about them by the ‘others’ around the world.
(To be Continued)

Farhat Taj is Ph D Researcher at the University of Oslo. She can be contacted at bergen34@yahoo.com

Militancy, Displacement and the Future of Peshawar

Posted in 1 by ppfcanada on April 7, 2009

Syed Irfan Ashraf

The provincial capital city of Peshawar is facing severe problems of over-population party due to the influx of displaced people from the tension-ridden tribal belt and adjacent settled districts of the NWFP and mainly due to lack of employment opportunities and basic facilities in the rural areas of the province and tribal belt.

Taking a start from South and North Waziristan some four years back, the strong wave of militancy tripped Pushtun dominated seven tribal agencies along Pak-Afghan border and drifted downwards to enflame the adjoining settled districts of the North West Frontier Province.

According to rough estimate a total of at least 1.5 million people have been displaced during the last four years of confrontation between the security forces and militants. Over and above, sectarian conflict in Kurrum agency and its negative impact on Orakzai agency and Hangu District has further added to the wave of displacement. Almost the entire belt towards the West of Kohat leading to Parachinar has turned insecure for peace loving people. This compelled denizens of these areas to look for safer places in other part of the country.

The population shift-over from the restive rural peripheries towards relative peaceful urban centers has put extra burden on main cities of the province in general and the capital city of Peshawar in particular. Peshawar being nucleus of the province and darling of refugees in the past was considered secure by the IDPs for affordable start. However, this penchant has confronted the city with unnatural population growth carrying alarming future consequences.

Economic experts say the city has capacity and resources to accommodate at the most 1.2 million people, however, during the last three decades about three million people crushed gates of the city as refugees. Latter, most of the Afghan refugees’ camps were closed, however, sizable numbers settled illegally in the city giving tough time to the local people by sharing their limited business and employment opportunities. The city was still garbled with refugees’ problems; when militancy emerged take the province by tide. Since then about one million internally displaced people from Swat and the tribal belt has adjusted themselves in Peshawar.

This displacement has complicated the situation leading to severe economic insecurity and lawlessness. Though the NWFP government adjusted IDPs in 13 camps set up across the province, however, “about 70 percent of the displaced people are still avoiding living in camps and are staying with their relatives in Peshawar and Karachi,” says Afshan Chishti, UN representative at Kacha Garhi IDPs camp.

In the face of challenges like growing militancy, the city fathers are blamed for lacking effective planning to overcome future complications related with displacement. What if these ongoing conflicts around and inside the province continued for long and international community did not come to help of the NWFP government? If we go some thirty years back and study the influx of Afghan refugee into the provincial capital, it was soothing to find that donors were much active in supporting rehabilitation of refugees. But today the internal nature of displacement has not yet attracted foreign donors to share the burden with NWFP government.

In view of the grim situation, the growing rush of displaced people during the last couple of years has further added to the already present sense of insecurity in Peshawar. This partly contributed to the economic countdown. The already insecure business community started shifting their capital abroad. “In the absence of protection to property and growing insecurity around the city, the business community has taken out millions offshore to Dubai and western countries,” says Businessmen Zahid Shinwari. “The rest are also worried as kidnapping for ransom incidents are on the rise and businessmen are looking bleak future for their investment,” added Zahid.

Apart from dealing with challenges of galloping Inflation; worsening traffic problems; and all time high crime rates, the NWFP government is desperately in need of a management plan to handle the settlement of displaced people. Apart from this, the city fathers also needed concentration on developing infrastructure of the city especially roads to over-come problems related to growing population. If left unattended, this problem might take more severe turn in the near future as conflicts around the city see no end in sight, at least till the presence of US led allied forces across the border.

Mr.Syed Irfan Ashraf is a Peshawar based Freelance journalist. He can be reached at syedirfanashraf@gmail.com

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Compatibility: The Pakhtun Culture, Talibanization and Obscenity

Posted in 1 by ppfcanada on April 7, 2009

By Farhad Taj
One of the good things that have happened to Pakistan is the free media. The media’s educative and informative role in the society is commendable. The media, however, disappoint when it exhibits biases most probably unintentionally or when it promotes a particular view without even cross checking the facts on the ground.

Such views constitute constructed realities in the public eye that are based on ideological fantasies or vested interest or ignorance of some people whose voices are reflected in the media. Solutions are then recommended based on the constructed realities to critical problems of national level.

The solutions, disconnected from t facts on the ground, can affect no change.

In their zeal to be seen as ‘expert’ or at least ‘informed commentators’ on the Pakhtun culture, scores of discussants in media depict that Talibanization is somehow compatible with the Pakhtun culture. That confinement of women to homes, compulsory wearing of burqa, ban on female mobility in public sphere, minus those accompanied by related men, ban on girls’ education, ban on music, compulsory beards, killing people by slitting their throats, preference of madrassa over school education , compulsory punishments for not saying the daily five time obligatory Islamic prayers, and above all, going mad in revenge spree and eliminating innocent and perceived enemies without discrimination, all is Pakhtun culture.

They argue the Taliban’s Islam is not Islam, it is Pakhtun culture. The key premise seems to that a religion, especially a text based religion like Islam, is interpretation and interpretation is affected by culture. So, Islam, when seen through the lenses of Pakhtunwali turns out to be Talibanization.

One of those who project this view of Pakhtun culture is the ex-ISI chief General (Retd) Hamid Gul. His credential as pro-Taliban, pro-religious extremists in general and his role in Afghan Jihad that brought destruction of Afghanistan and the rise of radical Islam in Pakistan is beyond doubt. Still, surprisingly, the media anchors do not put him questions to investigate his view of the Pakhtun culture.

A journalist, Orea Maqbol Jan, in a TV talk show, Kalam Kar, claimed that even a Hindu woman in Pakhtun culture will have to wear shuttlecock burqa. To my utter disappointment, even Salman Ahmed of Junoon, one of my favorite musicians, displayed a similar distorted view of the Pakhtun culture. Addressing a gathering in Denmark he referred to his talk with the mullah ‘electricity’ in NWFP. Salman Ahmed said that ‘this (rejection of music) is his(mullah’s) culture’.

The mullah ‘electricity’ is presumably mullah Bijli ghar. A laughing stock among Pakhtuns, one wonders since when mullah Biji Ghar became a symbol of the entire Pakhtun culture.
Equally disappointing is the self-proclaimed voice of the Pakhtuns, Imara Khan of Tehrik Insaf Party. He argues that the Taliban’s spree of death and destruction is caused by the revengeful Pakhtuns, whose family members were supposedly killed in the on going military operation in FATA and other areas of NWFP. He rejects that religious extremism, systematically spread in FATA by the state agencies, may have anything to do with the atrocities committed by the Taliban in Pakistan (and Afghanistan).

Imran Khan’s argument portrays the Pakhtuns as savage and uncivilized people who can be so blinded by revenge that they become stripped of any capacity to differentiate between the innocent and the ‘guilty’. It implies that Paktuns can be driven so mad in revenge that they would bomb their own educational and health institutions, destroy the livelihoods of the fellow Pakhtuns and murder innocent people, both Pakhtun and non-Pakhtun, across Pakistan. Although, I have yet to see a Pakhtun so maddened by revenge, I still suppose there may be some people of this kind. I argue this is the personal decision of those people and has no justification in the code of Pakhtunwali for the purpose. Moreover, people so maddened by revenge may exist in any culture of the world.

These are but a few names who present such a false view of the Pukhtun culture on media. There are scores of other. These people show disrespect to the Pakhtun culture, some out of ignorance (like Sulman Ahmed, I guess), some for ideological reasons (Gul Hamid), some for professional reasons (just to be seen as expert on the something, like the journalist) and some for petty political reasons (like Imaran Khan) . In addition to the disrespect to the Pakhtun cultures, these people display utter disregard to some of the established notions of the social science.

Most social scientists all over the world agree that human cultures are internally diverse, flexible and adaptable. There are dominant norms in a culture and also less dominant norms. They coexist side by side. Even the expression of the dominant norms can be diverse. Cultures are not written in stone. They are flexible: members of the culture may mange to push the limits of the culture within the framework of that culture. In line with the changing requirements of the time cultures may adapt new ideas and norms from other cultures and societies. All this holds true for the Pukhtun culture. I will try to explain with some examples.

Shuttlecock burqa that many identify with Pakhtun culture is diminishing norm in some Pakhtun communities or localities. It is not a universal norm all over the Pakhtun land. A nearly universal norm is chader. But length of chader varies from area to area, family to family and even woman to woman. The way it is worn by women also varies: some may cover their faces with chader, some may not.

Most Pakhtun communities stand for girls’ education: this is precisely the reason why the Taliban, whose worldview has not room for girls’ education, are destroying girls’ schools and colleges. One can name tens of girls’ schools and colleges in the Pakhtun area that government of Pakistan would have simply ignored to build. But thanks to the Pakhtun elders of the areas, mostly fathers and grandfathers, who pleaded with the government to build those girls educational institutions in their area and their requests finally moved the government in building those institutions.

The Taliban have now destroyed or destroying those institutions. In almost very city and town of the Pakhtuns there have been growing number of communities and individual families, who have had exposure to education and modernity. Women in such communities and families have taken up non traditional roles in the public sphare. Before the rise of the Taliban no one had ever heard of any Pakhtun community or individuals violently reacting the women who have broken the confinements of the traditional gender roles.

Taliban bans music, which is an integral part of the Pakhtun traditions. Before the rise of the Taliban no one ever heard of attacks on musicians and music shops. There have always been men with and without beard among the Pakhtuns. Those with beard never forced the others to grow beard. There have always been Pakhtun who were regular in saying daily prayers and those were not so regular and even those who hardly say any prayers for years and years. Before the Taliban, it was unheard of that those who are regular in saying daily prayers would force the other to be regular.

Imran Khan’s assertion that the Taliban unleashing the reign of terror on Pakistan are Pakhtuns driven by revenge essentionilizes the notion of revenge to the Pakhtun culture. Essentionalism has been greatly challenged by social scientists all over the world. Essentionlaism is the belief that people have an unchanging ‘essence’ that wipes off the possibility of changeable human behaviour. Most social scientists will disagree that each and very Pakhtun would take to violent means in the name of revenge. Agreed that revenge is an important notion of the code of Pakhtunwali, but, nevertheless, this a notion. When put in practice it may take different forms, not necessarrly the violent forms.

There is nothing in the code of Pakhtunwali that sanctions or even justifies indiscriminate use of violence in revenge. Revenge is a qualified notion in the code. There are clear limits to who can be targeted for revenge. Such limits are not respected by the Taliban. Innocent people, women and children (even from the enemy’s family) are never the targets of revenge killing according to the code of Pakhtunwali.

The Taliban’s world view is rooted in the narrow interpretation of Islam that has international connections with religious extremists across the globe. This worldview is unified, inflexible and violently resistant to adaptability. This is the exact opposite of the Pakhtun culture. Unlike Talibanization, the Pakhtun culture is rooted in the centuries old human history and traditions that evolved in a geographical location.

During an interview with Fredrik Baarth, a famous Norwegian scholar of the Pakhtun culture, this writer asked him whether he sees any compatibility between the Pakhtun culture and Talibanization. His answer was: ‘in terms of Pakhtun culture, Talibanization is obscenity’. So, there you have it! Anyone who knows the Pakhtun culture and is not motivated by a vested interest would reject any notion of compatibility between Talibanization and the Pakhtun culture.
(To be continued)

Farhat Taj is a PhD research fellow at the Centre for Women and Gender Studies, University of Oslo.

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Film on Ghaffar Khan to premiere in New York next month

Posted in 1 by ppfcanada on April 7, 2009

NEW YORK: A documentary film on the life and mission of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, leader of the Khudai Khidmatgar movement who opposed the British rule and partition of India, is set to premiere in New York on November 8.

The Khudai Khidmatgar was founded on a belief in the power of Hindu leader Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s notion of Satyagraha, a form of active non-violence.

Titled “The Frontier Gandhi: Badshah Khan, a Torch for Peace,” it is the work of filmmaker and writer T.C. McLuhan, daughter of the Canadian media theorist Marshall McLuhan, who spent 21 years to bring the story to the screen.

The film will be screened at the Mahindra Indo-American Arts Council Film Festival in a local theatre.

The Los Angeles Times says that filmmaker McLuhan, a restless, determined woman, made numerous trips to Afghanistan and other places where the Badshah Khan story unfolded, even as American bombs fell in Taliban-held Afghanistan after 9/11 and through the dangerous times that followed. She shot the film in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and the North-West Frontier Province, giving this story of filmmaking persistence a geopolitical dimension not many can match, the paper said in a preview.

Ms McLuhan said that she made six trips over the Khyber Pass. She dug into archives Afghan film officials sheltered from the Taliban, according to The Times. She managed impossibly smooth tracking shots on rutted streets using a makeshift dolly her Indian cinematographer built with skateboard wheels. A warlord became her guide and appears with her in production stills, standing in a rugged Afghan gully. She had her equipment thrown into the street by police. And she kept going back, using her Canadian citizenship and a widening network of connections to make her account of Ghaffar Khan.

For McLuhan, 62, the finished film completes a journey that started in September 1987 in Berkeley, when an acquaintance gave her “Nonviolent Soldier of Islam,” a book by the late Eknath Easwaran, who knew Ghaffar Khan, according to the paper.

Associated Press Of Pakistan (APP)

15 Killed In Suicide Bomb Attack On Tribal Jirga By Our Correspondent

Posted in 1 by ppfcanada on April 7, 2009

AURAKZAI: Fifteen people were killed and fifty others injured in a suicide bomb explosion in Aurakzai agency this evening.

The incident took place at a tribal Jirga in Khudezai area of the agency. About six hundred elders of different tribes were considering ways and means to curb the Taliban when the suicide attacker struck them.

Death tool can increase as condition of most of the injured people is stated to be critical. Further details are coming.

Meanwhile In Bajaur agency, the miscreants have beheaded five members of the tribal peace Jirga. The incident took place in Charmang area of Mamoond Tehsil, today.

The Tribal Lashkar is reported to have launched massive hunt for the miscreants in different areas of the agency.

On the other hand, four militants were killed and several others injured during the operation of security forces in the area.

Official sources say the security forces also destroyed the hideouts of miscreants in Tangkhata, Rashkai, Khazana, Bicheena and Kausar.

Meanwhile, Salarzai tribe arrested two armed militants.

In Swat district of North West Frontier Province, the security forces started a massive operation to recover the District Naib Nazim, Malik Siddique, who was earlier kidnapped by the terrorists.

The security forces carried out raids in different areas to recover the missing Naib Nazim. However, there are no reports about the whereabouts of the official.

Meanwhile, the miscreants burnt one boys and one girls school in Kabbal Tehsil.

KURRAM:As clashes continue between Shiite and Sunni tribes in Pewar area of Kurram Agency, elders from both sides were flown to Islamabad for another round of talks.

Senior leaders of both the warring tribes had held successful talks in Islamabad last month at which they agreed to hold a ceasefire in the area.

However, clashes again erupted in Pewar area of Upper Kurram yesterday, which continued today.

According to sources, both sides used heavy and automated weapons against each other.

One hundred senior leaders of both the warring sides will hold another round of talks in Islamabad and discuss the prevailing lacunae in the peace process.

Time To Rethink War Against Terror Photo Courtesy The Medialine By Shaheen Buneri

Posted in 1 by ppfcanada on April 7, 2009

Peshawar, Pakistan] After seven years of the United States’ War against Terror, the situation in Pakistan’s Pashtun-dominated North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Pakistan’s seven tribal regions along the Pakistani-Afghan border has reached the point of no return.

The social and cultural basis of Pashtun society has been completely shattered by intensified Taliban insurgency. Utter confusion, uncertainty and loss of trust in the government machinery is leading the conflict-ridden society to a state akin to civil war.

Taliban insurgents who fled Afghanistan in the wake of U.S. attacks on the Taliban regime in 2001 found sanctuaries on the lawless tribal border. The region, which has been badly neglected in terms of socio-economic development by successive governments, proved an ideal place for different Taliban groups to recruit unemployed and poverty-stricken youth to their folds and strengthen their position by promoting an extremist version of Islam.

The first thing the Taliban did was to challenge the traditional tribal structure by killing about 600 tribal elders, commonly known as Maliks, in different parts of the tribal region.

The Maliks were experts in day-to-day tribal affairs and were instrumental in resolving feuds through tribal councils (Jirgas). They were an integral part of the political administration introduced by the former British rulers of the Indian sub-continent.

“By killing the tribal elders, the Taliban destroyed the social basis on which Pakistan’s central government was administering the region,” says Rifat Orakzai, a Peshawar-based tribal analyst, who added that it would take considerable time and energy for the Pakistan government to re-establish its authority in the region now controlled by Taliban groups.

“Once the tribal structure was eliminated, the whole administrative system was dashed to the ground,” Orakzai says.

The administrative vacuum was soon filled by Taliban commanders such as Baituallah Mehsud in South Waziristan Agency, Mangal Bagh Afridi in Khyber Agency, Faqir Muhammad in Bajaur Agency, Omer Khalid in Mohmand Agency, and Maulana Fazlullah in Swat district of the Frontier Province.

The Taliban exploited the U.S. presence in neighboring Afghanistan and the sense of economic deprivation among the tribal people to promote a version of Islam that was totally contrary to the social traditions and cultural values of the people of the unfortunate region.

This extremist approach towards religion is the legacy of the Cold War when the American CIA and the Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) established hundreds of religious seminaries with generous funding from the Saudi government and encouraged “jihad” by the tribal people against the USSR.

“The region has always been a laboratory for different imperialist powers through the ages,” says Malik Shah Dauran of Khyber Tribal Agency. “Different powers ruthlessly used the region and its people for their geo-strategic interests and imperialist designs and then left them in the lurch.

“Now, when the Bush administration complains it has become a safe haven for terrorists, no one asks who is responsible for this,” he adds.

The military and political establishment of Pakistan incorrectly thought that Taliban activity would only be restricted to the tribal belt and the rest of Pakistan would continue going about its usual business. But the reality on the ground resulted in a completely different scenario.

Using established terror techniques, the Taliban has now spread its influence to the settled districts of NWFP and parts of the Punjab province.

Under pressure from the Bush administration Pakistan’s then military regime used both excessive military might and negotiations with militant commanders to halt the rising tide of militancy, but failed to achieve the desired results.

The conflict between Pakistan security forces and Taliban fighters displaced millions of people from the tribal areas and the Swat Valley and rendered thousands jobless.

Political squabbling between Pakistan two major political parties, coupled with the deteriorating law-and-order situation resulted in more poverty, a power crisis, price-hikes and poor economic performance.

“Pakistan is faced with a real dilemma. On the one hand it has to honor its international commitment in the war against terror, and on the other it has to manage an ever-increasing anti-American sentiment,” observes Syed Irfan Ashraf, a Peshawar-based political analyst.

He adds that U.S. drone attacks inside Pakistan and strained relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan is threatening the alliance against terror as well as maximizing opportunities for the Taliban to regroup on both sides of the border and intensify its attacks on U.S. and NATO forces inside Afghanistan.

“If the three important countries in the war against terror don’t take immediate steps to remove misconceptions and build trust, there is every possibility that the Taliban will emerge as a formidable force and defeat the heavily funded campaign against terror,” Ashraf maintains.

A well-thought-out reform process in the administrative system of the tribal areas and initiating socio-economic development projects could play a major role in discouraging the menace of terrorism.

It is also an encouraging development that the newly elected Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP)-led government considers the war against terror as its own war and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani repeatedly says that his government will never talk to Taliban militants and will continue with the war against terror.

While it is true that officials of the Bush administration have expressed their frustration with the discouraging results of the seven-year-war against Al-Qa’ida and the Taliban and are facing a 40 percent rise in Taliban attacks in Afghanistan, the reality is that no effort has been made to win the hearts and minds of the millions of people who are the direct victims of this war.

Increasing numbers of civilian casualties in U.S. air attacks in both Afghanistan and Pakistan are drastically changing people’s perception of the war, and different religious groups are garnering support to threaten the recently formed civilian government in Pakistan with country-wide protest demonstrations.

Military operations over the past three months against Taliban militants in Bajaur Tribal Agency and Swat Valley of the Frontier Province have displaced more than 600,000 people from their homes. Local media have reported that a number of religious groups with Jihadi credentials arranged relief camps and collected donations for these people in order to win their loyalty.

“The Taliban is killing our elders for not supporting them; the military is bombing our homes for nothing. We are in the midst of a humanitarian tragedy with no way out,” Farid Khan, a 27-year-old primary school teacher, who along with his family was forced by the military operation in Bajaur Tribal Agency to flee to Peshawar, the capital of NWFP, told The Media Line.

A private TV channel telecast interviews of the displaced people who were talking of revenge against the U.S. and the Pakistani governments for the atrocities committed against them in the name of military action against the Taliban.

The question is, is militancy being eliminated or is it being further strengthened?

There are reports that some of the banned Jihadi groups that went underground are resurrecting and forging alliances with fellow militant organizations on both sides of the border.

The U.S. should work with the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan to devise a comprehensive strategy to find long-term solutions to the menace of terrorism.

A grand Jirga between the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan for comprehensive discussions on the evolving situation in the region, relaxing tensions between Pakistan and India on the issue of Kashmir, and a vigorous media campaign to raise awareness about the dangers of militancy for the region and its people could halt the rising tide of militancy and create an environment where defeating Talibanization would become a relatively easier task.

Indiscriminate use of military might could breed nothing but more violence, more uncertainty and more chaos for millions of people on both sides of the Pakistani-Afghan border and might jeopardize the much-touted reconstruction process in Afghanistan.

Courtesy: The Medialine

Are We Losing The Frontier? By Syed Irfan Ashraf

Posted in 1 by ppfcanada on April 7, 2009

Militancy is fast creeping into the settled districts of the NWFP and its cordon is narrowing in on the economic hub and the capital city of Peshawar. The shift-over from the tribal belt has increased the pace of terror activities inside the settled districts of the NWFP, which carried grave social and economic implications for the province in general and Peshawar in Particular.

With the exception of Hazara Division, almost all 19 districts of the NWFP are reeling under the effects of terror related activities. Though the five district of Hazara Division is out of the ambit of terrorists’ attacks, however, it has been observed that militants sneaking from Shangla District are increasing their influence in the neighbouring District Batagram, This might help leading militancy down country to the strategically important terrenes of Abbotabad.

God forbade, if this happened the extreme North-south of Frontier province will get restive including Karakorum Highway and military town of Abbotabad. This, of course, will be a real loss for the province and the country as a whole vis-a-vie its ongoing battle against militancy.

Tehrik Taliban Pakistan Spokesman Molvi Omar has admitted in one of his media statement that they have office bearers in 40 self-styled administrative units of the tribal areas and the settled districts to follow the TTP agenda plan. If we believe this statement, it shows the well-equipped militants are strong enough to challenge the law enforcing agencies and take hostage the entire civil society in almost all the administrative units of the NWFP and even beyond.

Many NWFP districts adjoining the tribal areas such as Charsadda, Tank, Bannu, Dera Ismail Khan, Lower Dir, Upper Dir and Hangu are already getting their share of lawlessness from the tribal belt while the rest also are no exception to it.

Presently, custodians of the province have focused their energies on protecting the provincial capital. Check posts have been established around the city and police patrolling got regularized. Raids against miscreants are also carried out off and on. But still there is lack of counter-terror-strategy to root out the menace in a comprehensive way. Only tit bit actions are taken sufficient enough to give legitimacy to the miscreants as a force to reckon with.

Militants are ruling peripheries of the town sharing borders with Khyber Agency and Mohmand Agency. On the extreme outskirts of the Peshawar, they are operating their own courts to dispense prompt “justice” and in some areas collecting taxes through covert ways to meet their expenses. It is widely believed that gangs of criminals have also joined hands with the militants to kidnap businessmen and high profile targets. Sometimes these militants enter the city areas along with heavy weapons to threaten people and conduct show-off march on roads.

This dwindling writ of government in the city outskirts has given message to the people that the state is finding hard to defend them against militants. Unfortunately, due to the absence of proper counter-terrorism-plan, police operations against miscreants in the rural areas of Peshawar such as Mattani, Regi Lalma, Shahkas etc carried little impact. After few hours of fight, the miscreants flee to the adjoining tribal areas to return again after the operation.

This sorry state of affairs has almost halted social and economic progress of the provincial capital. Music and CD shops have almost been closed and business activities are not thriving due to fear factor. Universities are considering implementing dress codes for female students to avoid wrath of militants. Hundreds of industrial units in Hayatabad Industrial Estate, lying on the border of Khyber agency, have become victim of uncertainty due to lack of protection to owners and labourers. Kidnapping for ransom and attacks on police check posts have become almost routine affairs.

Weary of such situation, now common man has started believing that a time has come to lose Peshawar to the militants like rest of the settled areas of NWFP. Amid fear and uncertainty, common people are trying to adjust to the emerging realities. However, those who can afford fleeing the city are weighting their wings for a flight to safer areas.

Industrialists affiliated with Sarhad Chamber of Commerce and Industries openly admit that majority among them have already shifted capital to Unite Arab Emirate and other safer areas. If this trend remain continued, then time is not far away when unemployment, illiteracy, and uncertainty will further strengthen ranks of the militants, who desperately need all these factors to turn Talibanisation into insurgency. This off course will be a dooms day for the province and the country.

Afghanistan After Seven Years of War: You Call This a Good War?

Posted in 1 by ppfcanada on April 7, 2009

The drug-running warlords who have controlled Afghanistan with the US blessing since 2001 have no interest in either democracy or women’s rights.

By SHARON SMITH

In early September, the Pentagon closed its investigation into allegations that U.S. bombs killed 92 Afghan civilians, including as many as 60 children, as they slept peacefully in the village of Nawabad on the night of August 21st.

Despite protests from the UN, human rights organizations and the villagers themselves, Pentagon officials insisted for weeks that only seven civilians had been killed, along with 35 Taliban fighters, during a legitimate military operation aimed at capturing Taliban commander Mullah Sadiq. Indeed, they claimed that the attack, which included bombardment with a C130 Specter gunship, was a necessary response to heavy fire emanating from a meeting of Taliban leaders in the village.

In its defense, the Pentagon cited evidence from an embedded Fox News correspondent who had substantiated its claims.

Unfortunately, that correspondent turned out to be Veteran Marine Corps Lieutenant Oliver North, who has been known to bend the truth in the past. North’s military career was cut short after his role was revealed in the Iran-contra scandal in the 1980s. At the time, North admitted to having illegally channeled guns to Iran while funneling the profits to the CIA-backed contra mercenary force fighting to overthrow Nicaragua’s democratically elected Sandinista government–and then lying to congress about it. In recent years, North has nevertheless cultivated a lucrative broadcasting career at Fox.

Although North assured Fox viewers, “Coalition forces…have not been able to find any evidence that non-combatants were killed in this engagement,” video footage taken on the scene by a local doctor showed scores of dead bodies and destroyed homes, documenting a civilian death toll at Nawabad that is the largest since the U.S. began bombing Afghanistan nearly seven years ago. Thus, the U.S. military was forced to reopen its own investigation on September 8th, only days after it had exonerated itself. A red-faced official told reporters that “emerging evidence” had convinced the Pentagon to investigate the matter further.

On that same day, Human Rights Watch issued a report that U.S. and NATO forces dropped 362 tons of bombs over Afghanistan during the first seven months of this year; bombings during June and July alone equaled the total during all of 2006. The rising civilian death toll in Afghanistan rattled even the normally placid New York Times, which argued, “America is fast losing the battle for hearts and minds, and unless the Pentagon comes up with a better strategy, the United States and its allies may well lose the war.”
* * *

As news of the Nawabad massacre unfolded, another atrocity was also gaining media attention, further exposing the gangster state installed and maintained by U.S. forces to run Afghanistan since 2001. President Hamid Karzai, the U.S.’ hand picked puppet, reportedly pardoned two men convicted of brutally raping a woman in the northern province of Samangan in September 2005.
At the time, Mawlawi Islam, the commander of a local militia, was running for a seat in Afghanistan’s first parliamentary elections. “The commander and three of his fighters came and took my wife out of our home and took her to their house about 200 meters away and, in front of these witnesses, raped her,” the woman’s husband told the Independent. The couple has a doctor’s report that the rapists cut her private parts with a bayonet during the rape, and then forced her to stagger home without clothes from the waist down.

Mawlawi won a seat in parliament in September 2005, as the U.S. media celebrated the elections as proof that democracy was flourishing in Afghanistan thanks to U.S. occupation. But Mawlawi was assassinated, mafia-style in January of this year. His past had caught up with him. Mawlawi had first fought as a mujahedeen commander in the 1980s but switched sides to become a Taliban governor in the 1990s. He switched sides yet again when the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and re-joined the former mujahedeen, which had morphed into the “Northern Alliance”–the group of warlords installed by the U.S. to run Afghanistan as a collection of private gangster fiefdoms.

Karzai issued a press statement expressing his “deep regret” in response to Mawlawi’s death in January. Bypassing the rape charge, he expressed nothing but praise: “Mawlawi Islam Muhammadi was a prominent Jihadi figure who has made great sacrifices during the years of Jihad against the Soviet invasion.” Mawlawi’s three subordinates were finally convicted for the rape this year, and one died in prison. But although they were sentenced to 11 years, Karzai reportedly issued a pardon for the other two in May, claiming the men “had been forced to confess their crimes.”

The drug-running warlords who have controlled Afghanistan with the U.S.’ blessing since 2001 have no interest in either democracy or women’s rights. Indeed, it is not uncommon for poor poppy farmers who cannot repay loans to local warlords to offer up their daughters for marriage instead. Gang rapes and violence against women are on the rise, according to human rights organizations.

As a member of parliament, Mir Ahmad Joyenda, told the Independent, “The commanders, the war criminals, still have armed groups. They’re in the government. Karzai, the Americans, the British sit down with them. They have impunity. They’ve become very courageous and can do whatever crimes they like.” In this situation, Afghan warlords again produce 90 percent of the world’s opium, without legal repercussion.

Women’s prisons, in contrast, are teeming once again. As Sonali Kolhatkar, the author of Bleeding Afghanistan: Washington, Warlords, and the Propaganda of Silence, argued on Democracy Now! “Women are being imprisoned in greater numbers than ever before, for the crime of escaping from home or having, quote-unquote, ‘sexual relations’–‘illegal sexual relations.’ Most of these women are simply victims of rape.”

Despite the appalling conditions that seven years of U.S. occupation have produced for ordinary Afghans, the two U.S. ruling parties came together in August to plan the escalation of that sordid war with the goal of adding 10,000 more U.S. troops in the coming year.

Barack Obama chided his Republican rival during his acceptance speech at the Democratic Party convention on August 28, using a page from Bush’s playbook: “John McCain likes to say that he’ll follow bin Laden to the Gates of Hell–but he won’t even go to the cave where he lives.”

Obama did not utter a word of criticism about rising civilian casualties, rampant corruption, the flourishing drug trade or women’s oppression in U.S. occupied Afghanistan during that historic speech.

On the contrary, he continued, “I will end this war in Iraq responsibly, and finish the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.” Ending the war in Iraq “responsibly” will allow a long-term U.S. military presence there–and the redeployment of 10,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan to “finish” the job started by George W. Bush.

In one fell swoop, the candidate who slogan is “change” laid out a strategy bearing striking similarity to that of the neocons who invaded Afghanistan in 2001. This hawkish turn was not a surprise.

Obama first expressed his willingness to bomb Iran and Pakistan in 2004, when he told the Chicago Tribune, “surgical missile strikes” on Iran may become necessary. “On the other hand,” he continued, “having a radical Muslim theocracy in possession of nuclear weapons is worse.” Obama went on to argue that military strikes on Pakistan should not be ruled out if “violent Islamic extremists” were to “take over.”

Obama represents the dissenting ruling class view since 2003, which regarded the Iraq war as a “distraction” from the real war the U.S should pursue. That war has little to do with al-Qaeda, but much more to do with Afghanistan’s strategic location in Central Asia, and its borders with Iran, Pakistan, Russia and China.

The Russia-Georgia conflict this summer surely reminded U.S. rulers that they cannot afford to ignore their long-standing aim to establish U.S. military bases in this key region, a goal which long pre-dated 9-11. As the BBC News reported on Sept. 18, 2001, “Niaz Naik, a former Pakistani Foreign Secretary, was told by senior American officials in mid-July that military action against Afghanistan would go ahead by mid-October.”

The antiwar movement in the U.S. can no longer afford to ignore the war in Afghanistan without fading into irrelevance. The original aims of the war on terror have been resuscitated, and as Obama has repeatedly emphasized in recent months, its “central front” is shifting back to Afghanistan. The Afghan people have endured seven long years of misery thanks to U.S. occupation, and it is high time to take a principled stand against U.S. imperial aims in Central Asia.

The war on Afghanistan is no more justified than the war on Iraq.
Sharon Smith is the author of Women and Socialism and Subterranean Fire: a History of Working-Class Radicalism in the United States.

Courtesy: Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA)
Website: http://www.rawa.org