Saturday, 31 January 2015

Pakistan: Shia carnage in Shikarpur

In the second attack of 2015 on a mosque of Shia sect in Shikarpur in Sindh over 60 people were martyred, the first attack was in Rawalpindi. Police has been prompt in terming it a suicide attack. 

Reuters reported that Jundullah, a splinter group of Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which last year pledged support for the Islamic State group based in Syria and Iraq, claimed responsibility. “Our target was the Shia mosque ... They are our enemies,” said Jundullah spokesman Fahad Marwat

Residents of Sindh showed complete solidarity with the families who lost their near and dear. Sindh government announced a day of mourning in solidarity with the families of the victims and said the national flag would fly at half mast and compensation was also announced for the victims' families.

On the call of Majlis Wahdat-i-Muslimeen (MWM), a large number of men, women and children staged sit-in various parts of provincial capital as well as other cities. Protesters said that terrorists are roaming freely and the government has failed to protect citizens' lives.

MWM was joined by Sunni Ittehad Council, Sunni Alliance, Pakistan Muslim League - Quaid and the Pakistan Awami Tehreek. However, many of the political and religious parties remained completely aloof.

Over the years it has been alleged that Punjab offers the safe sanctuaries for militants but PML-N been denying it. In the aftermath of Shikarpur carnage, Federal Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan has accepted presence of various militant groups and extremists in Punjab. 

According to the scanty information provided to media 14,000 individuals were hauled up for investigation; 341 allegedly involved in hate speech; 1,100 warned for misuse of loudspeakers; and 41 shops closed for distributing hate material. These numbers pertain to the recent National Action Plan initiated only but no one knows about those arrested and freed.

The revelations by the interior minister indicate a continuing unwillingness to be as forthright as possible. Virtually nothing has been done in over a decade to clamp down on extremist and militant outfits in the province. According to the minister the groups operating in the province have soared to 95, well above the nationally banned 72 groups that the interior ministry itself has listed.

His revelation prompts following questions rightly raised by Dawn in one of its editorial:

  • Which groups comprise the list of 95 militant/extremist outfits
  • Which additional groups have become active in Punjab?
  • Who are the leaders of these groups?
  • Where do they operate?
  • What is their reach?
  • Who funds them?
  • Which madressahs, mosques or religious networks are they tied to?
  • What attacks have they carried out?
  • And, perhaps most relevantly, what types of attacks are they suspected of planning?
In any investigation, first the motive of crime has to be determined. Police by declaring this a suicide attack has freed itself and Reuters report involving Jundullah is likely to mislead further investigation. Linking Jundullah with TTP is totally misleading as these two groups have nothing in common.
While it is almost impossible to deny foreign involvement in such incidences, the real operators are certainly Pakistanis or those coming from other countries having found safe sanctuaries in Pakistan.

One has all the reasons to believe that most of the extremist outfits have bases in KPK, Punjab and Baluchistan

While these operators may kill hundreds of innocent people in those provinces to spread terrorism, killings in Sindh are aimed at making Pakistan economically weaker.

As such the interfaith harmony is at its peak in Sindh and Shia-Sunni rift is not a local phenomenon. Many in Sindh believe that sectarian killing in the province is done by groups based in other provinces.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Tale of two ports Chabahar and Gwadar

Lately two ports, namely Gawadar and Chabahar, have emerged on Makran coast that are located at a distance of about 70 kilometers. One is located in Baluchistan province of Pakistan and other is also situated in Sistan-Baluchistan province of Iran. Both the ports have been constructed with the stated objective of finding efficient and cost effective routes to energy-rich Central Asian countries passing through Afghanistan.
The point to be explored is that both the ports have been constructed by two rivals, China and India, one an accepted world super power and the other a self-proclaimed regional super power. The story is not as simple as being narrated because the United States is fully supporting India in establishing its hegemony in the region by not taking any action against India for supporting Iran facing economic sanctions for more than three decades.
Afghan transit trade has been passing through Pakistan since independence. Arms, ammunition and combat forces also used this route when USSR attacked Afghanistan and also when the United States attached Afghanistan in the aftermath of 9/11. While this route has been used for supplies for combat forces for more than four decades, the need was felt for developing another route that could provide easy access to landlocked countries to ‘warm waters’.
Since the United States could not construct an alternative rout passing through Iran at its own, it encouraged India to support Iran, facing economic sanctions for more than three decades, in building a port outside Strait of Hormuz and link it with Central Asian states via Afghanistan.
The work on both the ports started around the same time. While the rulers in Pakistan remained engrossed in ‘war against terror’ and didn’t raise any objection on Indian involvement in an Iranian port, India remained critical of Chinese involvement in Gwadar. On almost every forum India tries to prove that Chinese involvement in Gwadar is a threat for its (Indian) existence.
The plea taken by India is that Indian Ocean should remain ‘arms free’. However, navies of almost all the major powers are present in the area to protect their maritime trade. It is on record that almost 60% of global maritime trade passes through Indian Ocean. It may not be wrong to say that in the name of protecting their maritime trade certain countries have deployed their submarines and aircraft carriers in the Indian Ocean, which could become a ground for proxy war.
Pakistan has over 1,200 kilometer long coastal line, which offers the country opportunities to establish Special Economic Zones and attract huge foreign investment. However, presence of insurgent and resistance groups in Baluchistan has kept foreign investors away from Pakistan. Fallout of the war going on in the neighborhood is that some of the militant groups have found safe havens in the province.
There is also a loud talk about creation of ‘Greater Baluchistan’ comprising of one slice each from Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Since India has played a major role in turning East Pakistan into Bangladesh, keeping an eye on its involvement in Chabahar, growing insurgency in Baluchistan and armed conflicts at Pak Iran border is necessary.

Friday, 2 January 2015

US to stay in Afghanistan beyond 2014

I wrote a blog as back as in August 2012 raising a question, will US pull troops out of Afghanistan? My gut feeling even at that time was that the troops would not be pulled out for one or the reason. I recently read an article which substantiates my point of view. I have all the reasons to believe that point of view of author is right.

The basic premise of author is that after 13 years of war, President Barack Obama has declared the end of U.S. combat operations in Afghanistan. “Our combat mission in Afghanistan is ending, and the longest war in American history is coming to a responsible conclusion,'” Obama said in a statement from Honolulu, where he is spending his Christmas vacation. But that should not be taken to mean that there will be no U.S. forces in the country, nor that they will not be engaged in warfare in the New Year.  He mentioned five reasons for the retention of US troops that are:
Afghanistan wants help
American troops will remain in Afghanistan for more time. A day after his oath taking Afghan President Mohammed Ashraf Ghani signed a bilateral security agreement with the U.S., extending the American military presence in his country beyond 2014. Obama has announced plans for a phased withdrawal of troops over the next two years that will leave about 5,500 there by the end of 2015 and 1,000 by the beginning of 2017.
Withdrawals are already delayed
The New Year has begun with as many as 10,800 American troops still in Afghanistan, or about 1,000 more than Obama had planned. Departing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who announced the withdrawal slowdown earlier, said delays in Afghanistan's election process and in the signing of the security agreement left allies unable to commit enough troops in time. While the extra American troops may stay only for several months, the need for them underscores continuing tensions between military commanders worried that Afghan forces aren't ready to stave off the Taliban and a president determined to keep his promise to end the war on schedule.
Afghan training continues
While the U.S. and allied combat mission is officially over, American troops who stay on will spend the next two years training and advising Afghan forces. The Afghans also still need aviation and intelligence support that the U.S. will provide in 2015. That role could still put U.S. troops in combat as a Taliban offensive is under way. Kabul, once among the most secure cities, has been the scene of daily bombings lately.
The War on Terror isn't over
The U.S. forces are still conducting counterterrorism operations. As part of their redefined mission for the next two years, Americans will focus on terrorist threats that may be posed by Taliban leaders or remnants of al-Qaeda. Those operations could still risk combat casualties, albeit in smaller numbers.
The Taliban isn't done either
Shortly before declaring combat over, Obama quietly authorized continuation of some offensive air and ground operations in 2015 to protect any remaining U.S. forces, ensuring their right of self-defense. The Taliban and other militants have stepped up attacks across the country in recent weeks in an attempt to overthrow Ghani's new government. The violence has killed and wounded about 10,000 civilians in 2014, according to the United Nations. More than 2,300 Americans have died in the war, which began as an effort to oust the Taliban after 9/11 terrorist attacks on the U.S.. More than 20,000 U.S. troops have been wounded.