The news that Muslim clerics have stood up on behalf of a Christian girl is a major turn from previous practice. We have seen so much bitterness and brutality in that part of the world. Now we have voices rising among the Muslim leadership calling for a more civil way of relating to each other in Pakistan. Great news. This group of Islamic leaders should be congratulated for their willingness to stand up for a non-Muslim girl accused of blasphemy. In fact the accusers included a Muslim cleric.
The article appears in the Guardian, by Saeed Shah appeared on 8-27-12. Some statements in the article:
Islamic leaders in Pakistan on Monday came out in support of a Christian girl with learning difficulties who is being held in prison, in an unprecedented public denunciation of the blasphemy law by hard-line mullahs.
The All Pakistan Ulema Council, an umbrella group of Muslim clerics and scholars, which includes representatives from fundamentalist groups, joined hands with the Pakistan Interfaith League, which includes Christians, Sikhs and other religions, to call for justice for the girl, Rimsha, who is accused of blasphemy. They also demanded that those making false allegations be punished.
Tahir Ashrafi, the chairman of the council, warned that the “law of the jungle” was gripping Pakistan …
She is being held in a maximum security jail, where her lawyer says she is deeply traumatised and begging to be released. Her parents have also been taken into protective custody. “We see the Rimsha as a test case for Pakistan’s Muslims, Pakistan’s minorities and for the government,” Ashrafi said. “We don’t want to see injustice done with anyone. We will work to end this climate of fear.”
Ashrafi is also part of the leadership of the radical Defence of Pakistan Council, a coalition of Islamic organisations which includes some thinly disguised banned militant groups. The outfit campaigns against western influence and to stop Nato supplies passing through the country to Afghanistan.
Barney Ronay has an article in the Guardian [2/11/12] about how the Afghans united in support of their cricket team against Pakistan.
That the Afghans would support their cricket team against Pakistan’s is hardly news. I have never met an Afghan that trusted a Pakistani, and war and the dealings with Pakistan’s ISI have simply reinforced that opinion.
What was most interesting was the news that the Taliban expressed support for the Afghan team. That is good news on a couple of grounds. For one thing, it suggests that they identify with the Afghans, not the Pakistanis. Again, it isn’t much of a surprise, because even though the Pakistanis have supported the Taliban in their fight against the Afghan government they have won little appreciation from the Taliban. It is no doubt because the ISI have been heavihanded. That the Taliban are willing to talk to representatives of the Afghan government reveals their distrust of the Pakistan and desire to escape from their control. Yes, they want the Americans out, but they don’t want the Pakistanis in either.
The other interesting thing about the Taliban support of the cricket team is that it suggests that they have softened their opposition to entertainments like radio and TV. What about wedding parties and dancing? One of the little noted results of the extended period of war in Afghanistan may be that the Taliban have begun to accommodate to what the rest of the world is like — even what other Muslims are like elsewhere. The Taliban movement began as a rustic opposition to repressive activities of the local warlords but there appears to have been a kind of subtext in the movement: resentment against innovations from the outside world of many kinds, things that were deemed from Soviet influence; the sense that come practices were godless (as in Soviet) were later transferred to the Americans. Now, after so many years engaging with outsiders the Taliban may have decided that some of the innovations from the outside world are OK. Also, they may have come to realize that the Afghanistan peoples deeply resented all the rules they tried to put into place — enforced by essentially ignorant troops, ignorant of Islam as well as the outside world.
Dawn has an article by retired army officer Gulman S. Afridi [“Fata needs a new social contract”] that gives us a view conditions in the tribal areas of Pakistan, FATA, that enable us better to understand why so many tribesmen participate in the insurgency.
Afridi points out that the FATA tribesmen were originally enthusiastic about the founding of Pakistan, and
[Their enthusiasm] “was reinforced by the Quaid`s announcement of his decision to pull out all military forces from the tribal areas and to allow the people complete freedom of movement.
The successive constitutions of 1956, 1962 and 1973 of Pakistan, … retained the colonial-era administrative and legal system enacted in 1872 and embodied in the Frontier Crimes Regulation(FCR) 1901. This system is inherently oppressive, negative in purpose and authoritarian in spirit.
It gave virtually unlimited judicial and administrative powers to the political agents to fine, blockade, detain and seize hostile groups and confiscate or demolish property in the tribal areas.
Fata MNAs did not voice the true feelings of the people as, being themselves no more than glorified maliks, their own interests coincided with the continuation of the system. The larger, dominant state system bears the responsibility for continuing with the outdated parallel legal system for over six decades after Independence.
Lack of effective representation and participation of the tribal population in the decision-making process was always a sore point. At present, they are represented by 12 members in the National Assembly and eight in the Senate but these legislative bodies cannot make any laws for Fata being the absolute domain of the president.
Fata has no representation at a provincial level and no elections are held at the local level. With devolution of powers to the provinces through the 18th Amendment, representation at a provincial level has become critically important.
Neglected for decades, Fata is one of Pakistan`s poorest regions, with reportedly over 60 per cent of the population living below the poverty line.
Huge unemployment, alarmingly low literacy rates, poorhealth services and a badly underdeveloped infrastructure has set Fata apart from the rest of Pakistan. The dismal human development indicators are a clear sign that the state has failed to perform its role in Fata.
Unlike previously, the tribesmen, after some reluctance, welcomed all development initiatives of the government after Independence.
Society was well on its way to progress when it saw its `natural` course of change and development rudely interrupted with the coming of thousands of foreign Mujahideen and recruitment of locals by the US and Pakistan in the 1980s to fight what was then the Soviet Union. The story of how the world abandoned the Mujahideen and Afghanistan, following the end of the Cold War is well known. But what is, perhaps, not known is that Fata too was abandoned, leaving it with a jihadi mindset, an abundance of cheap modern weapons and easy entry and exit of foreign Mujahideen.
The weaponisation of society and the presence of foreign extremist elements has dealt a serious blow to the tribal system. This in large part is responsible for the current imbroglio.
. . . The tribal society, considered classless and egalitarian, has transformed considerably into a class-based society. Four distinct classes comprising the big maliks, the new rich, the educated and professionals and the common masses can be identified in tribal society. Their overall aspiration and social behaviour towards change and reforms are often characterised by the class to which they belong.
. . .
No serious effort was ever made by the government to change the FCR, reduce poverty and give effective political representation, basic human rights and a mechanism to redress grievances to this marginalised region of Pakistan.
By failing to fulfil its obligations, the state appears to have abandoned Fata to its fate.
Fata has suffered heavily for being consigned to the backwaters, ignored and exploited for jihadi activities.
The resulting militancy has considerably weakened the tribal structure as well as the old system of governance that cannot be revived.
Afridi is calling for a structural change in way FATA is integrated into Pakistan society:
A paradigm shift is required in approaching governance and socio-economic issues in Fata. It will not be easy but the path to peace and lasting solution lies in ending the isolation of Fata and integrating the region into the mainstream through a new social contract.
[click on the title for a link to the source.]
I guess the American media have to make a horserace out of the Iowa caucus, the preoccupation of recent news reports, but as a consequence a lot has been ignored, as if what goes on elsewhere is less significant for the American people. Consider the situation in Pakistan, a nation with which we are engaged in the war against the Taliban/Al Qaeda. It still seems to be on the verge of some kind of melt-down. Akbar Ahmed [Al Jazeera, Jan 2, 2012], a Pakistani anthropologist, seem to think the situation is serious. In his recent comment on the problems Imran Khan will face if he succeeds in becoming the Prime Minister there he describes the situation [with each point bulleted separately]:
- [Pakistan’s] biggest province Baluchistan, which comprises almost half its territory, is in a state of open revolt. Baluchis complain about government’s policy of “kill and dump”.
- An entire generation of journalists and professors is being systematically killed.
- The Tribal Areas of the former Frontier Province is a theatre of war, involving thousands of Pakistani troops.
- Suicide bombers terrorise Pakistan with impunity.
- There is no end in sight to the violence. . . . No one is safe. Kidnapping and killings are commonly reported.
- The tensions between the military and civilian authorities are barely kept under the surface and the two are often pulling in different directions.
- Add to this, the woes of the ordinary Pakistani facing unemployment, high prices, shortage of electricity, gas and water who sees his rulers plundering the country and sending their ill-gotten loot abroad and you have Pakistan today.
A nation in such an internal state of confusion and decay, holding nuclear power, engaged rather ambiguously in a war in which Americans put their lives at risk every day – this situation merit’s virtually no notice in the American media. Try as we might, we cannot avoid being part of an ever compressing world, in which what goes on virtually anywhere can have consequences elsewhere. And Pakistan’s woes bear directly on what becomes possible for the American government, whoever becomes its President this year.
Stratfor has released a map of Kurram agency in Pakistan showing that a key road has been opened to Parachinar. This is a volatile area, in any period. The article says that the road has been closed since 2007 because of fighting between Sunni and Shia Pashtun tribesmen, a familiar problem in this area. The Stratfor article says that
. . . Kurram agency in the past has been used to project influence from the east into Afghanistan and particularly Kabul — which is only 100 kilometers (60 miles) from the Pakistani border — making its value to the Haqqani network obvious. Both Parachinar and Thal are areas where the Haqqani network and Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) are known to operate safe-houses and use for logistics and training purposes, and opening up the road would facilitate travel for the militants between the two cities.
The road opening seems to be owing to a truce agreement by the two sides, and Stratfor thinks that Haqqani might prefer to close the road. That there will be more military traffic on this road has to be taken for granted. Improvements in transport facilities have a large influence on the course of affairs; that this road is now open says a lot about the politics of the region as well as the quality of transport facilities.
Dr. Robert Canfield Professor of Anthropology, Washington University in St. Louis