Clerics turn against ‘ignorant’ Taliban

Tom Hussain, Foreign Correspondent

Thousands of people are flooding into refugee camps such as this one in Swabi in north-west Pakistan. Yesterday they were holy warriors fighting for the popular cause of Islamic justice. Today Pakistan’s Taliban militants find themselves denounced by the orthodox clergy as infidels.

The Taliban’s fall from public grace over the past month has been dramatic, the slide having been sparked by an ill-timed statement by Sufi Mohammed, the cleric who negotiated a short-lived peace agreement in March between the Swat Taliban and the government of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP).

Mr Mohammed caused a political furore when, at a so-called peace rally in Swat on April 19, where hopes that the Taliban would disarm were finally dashed, he declared Pakistan’s constitutional democracy and judicial system un-Islamic and reiterated the militants’ intention to impose their agenda across the country.

Like the militants’ subsequent attempts to occupy the neighbouring districts of Buner, Dir and Shangla, the edict proved to be a huge tactical error.

Islamist politicians had, up to that point, dared not criticise the Taliban for fear of being branded America’s puppets. Mr Mohammed’s slur against democracy, which extended to many leading clerics with seats in parliament, ended the detente and set the stage for a war of words that has questioned the religious legitimacy of the Taliban.

Leaders of Pakistan’s mainstream religious parties pounced on the fact that Mr Mohammed had once, unsuccessfully, contested a local council election as a candidate of the Jamaat-i-Islami, and derided him as a hypocrite. Mr Mohammed was later expelled from the party for preaching extremist beliefs.

“By his own reckoning, Sufi Mohammed is at least part infidel,” sneered the Senator Allama Sajid Mir, the head of the Markazi Jamiat Ahl-i-Hadith, a party that follows the Saudi-based Wahhabi school of Islamic thought. The Jamaat-i-Islami and Markazi Jamiat Ahl-i-Hadith represent the right-wing fringe of Muslim thinking in Pakistan and have long campaigned for the enforcement of Islamic laws, with a significant degree of success, despite their modest presence in parliament.

However, the most significant criticism came from the Tableegh-i-Jamaat, an influential movement of proselytisers that is popular among born-again Muslims. It is considered apolitical, having cleansed its ranks of al Qa’eda sympathisers after some embarrassing arrests several years ago, and has a big following among educated, urban Pakistanis, particularly within the civil service and armed forces.

“Islamic law cannot be enforced at gunpoint. People who think that are ignorant [of their faith],” Haji Abdul Wahab, the leader of its Pakistan chapter, told a congregation of thousands in Islamabad on April 27.

Predictably, the response of the Swat Taliban was violent: four members of a Tableegh-i-Jamaat mission, preaching in the valley during the last days of the brief peace, were kidnapped and their fate remains unknown.

The criticisms by mainstream clerics have played on a key weakness of the Taliban leadership: their failure to attain advanced Islamic educational qualifications that would empower with the scholarly authority to issue edicts.

Islamist party activists said the clash of the ideologues was inevitable because they were competing for the same conservative political audience. They said the Taliban had been waging a cold war against the mainstream Islamist parties in their parliamentary strongholds, threatening, kidnapping and sometimes killing activists.

The parties, some of which maintain highly organised, armed cadres of their own, had refrained from taking retaliatory action because it would have undermined their stance against the Nato occupation of Afghanistan and the promotion of Islamic laws in Pakistan, the activists said.

But privately, activists concede they might have to switch tack if the Taliban responds with an expected campaign of terror attacks.

“An armed conflict is something we want to avoid, but if it comes to that, the Taliban will find themselves confronted with a force led by their teachers – men who led the jihad against Soviet occupation in Afghanistan and Indian forces in Kashmir,” said a senior official of the Jamaat-i-Islami, who requested anonymity.

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Swat’s Taliban expand operations despite peace deal


By Syed Shoaib Hasan
BBC News, Islamabad

The Taleban have not yet heeded calls to disarm
Taleban militants operating in Pakistan’s Swat region who agreed a peace deal with the government have expanded operations into nearby Buner.

Dozens of militants have been streaming into bordering Buner to take over mosques and government offices.
Buner is part of the Malakand region, which has just seen the implementation of Sharia law under the peace deal.

Under the deal the Taleban were expected to disarm.

Buner district is only about 100km (62 miles) from the capital, Islamabad.

Recent reports said the Taleban had ransacked the offices of international aid and development agencies working in Buner.

Some employees of the agencies were also briefly taken hostage before being released on Monday.

Patrols

The Taleban have banned the playing of music in cars and are also using mosques to invite local youth to join them.
We implemented Sharia law as it was a demand of the people, not just the Taleban

Mian Iftikhar Hussain,
NWFP official
The Taleban have also started regular patrols in the district.

Buner’s police chief, Rashid Khan, said the police had lodged an official complaint over the matter.

But the Taleban are not mentioned in the reports, which only names “unknown persons” as the culprits.

Mian Iftikhar Hussain maintains that the Taleban must disarm as agreed under the peace deal.

“Even Sufi Mohammad has said that there is no reason for the Taleban not to disarm,” he said.

He was referring to the head of a local religious group who has been acting as the government’s chief negotiator with the Taleban.

“We initially adopted the path of dialogue and reconciliation, but this is as far as we can go,” Mr Hussain said.

“We implemented Sharia law as it was a demand of the people, not just the Taleban.

“If they continue with their activities, they will not have the support of the people.

“The majority of the people are now with the government. The government will not stand by and tolerate [the violation of] the peace deal.”

The Taleban say they will not lay down their arms until Sharia is fully implemented.

Muslim Khan, a spokesman for the Swat Taleban, said his movement’s aim was the enforcement of Sharia law in all of Pakistan.

(Head Heretic here: I can’t say that I need to comment much. There is an active slow-burn civil war gouing on in Pakistan and the government is, at best, passive in its face. The people have no power against the Talibs and it is worth a policemants life to even report that the “culprits” were Talibs. This story definately belongs in the “not a good thing” file.)

U.S. may widen strikes in Pakistan( Take that Robert Spencer!!

(HH here: As I keep telling my conservative friends…Obama seems to be using the old Speak softly but carry a big stick…and he doesn’t seem to be afraid to use it. Which should do wonders in mending the attitude of the Iranians. If they see that Obama is not afraid to flex the military option then they might become more reasonable about nukes.)

By David E. Sanger and Eric Schmitt Published: March 18, 2009

WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama and his national security advisers are considering expanding the American covert war in Pakistan far beyond the unruly tribal areas to strike at a different center of Taliban power in Baluchistan, where top Taliban leaders are orchestrating attacks into southern Afghanistan.

According to senior administration officials, two of the high-level reports on Pakistan and Afghanistan that have been forwarded to the White House in recent weeks have called for broadening the target area to reach the Taliban and other insurgent groups to a major sanctuary in and around the city of Quetta.

Mullah Muhammad Omar, who led the Taliban government that was ousted in the American-led invasion in 2001, has operated with near impunity out of the region for years, along with many of his deputies.

The extensive missile strikes being carried out by Central Intelligence Agency-operated drones have until now been limited to the tribal areas, and have never been extended into Baluchistan, a sprawling province that is under the authority of the central government, and which abuts the parts of southern Afghanistan where recent fighting has been the fiercest. There remains fear within the American government that extending the raids would worsen tensions. Pakistan complains that the strikes violate its sovereignty.

But some American officials say the missile strikes in the tribal areas have forced some leaders of the Taliban and Al Qaeda to flee south toward Quetta, making them more vulnerable. In separate reports, groups led by both General David H. Petraeus, commander of American forces in the region, and Lieutenant General Douglas Lute, a top White House official on Afghanistan, have recommended expanding American operations outside the tribal areas if Pakistan cannot root out the strengthening insurgency.

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Outspoken Pakistani rape victim marries


(HH here: I am not sure what to make of this. On the one hand it is a great thing that this woman is so strong and is actually being admired in her country for her stand. On the other hand her casual acceptance of the evils of the “ownership” of wives is rather disturbing. There was no mention of how he treats her. Only her concern that the first wife will be pushed aside by him over her. How many types of unfair pressure did the man and family exert that were NOT mentioned? This man, a police officer, takes sleeping pills in a fit of depression because she will not marry him? Well, I am glad she has overcome the “dishonor” of being raped that her society holds. But I can’t happy for how she was persuaded to be married.)

By Salman Masood Published: March 18, 2009
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan: Mukhtar Mai, the resilient Pakistani who was gang-raped in 2002 on the orders of a village council but became a symbol of hope for voiceless and oppressed women, has married.

In a telephone interview on Tuesday, Miss Mukhtar, 37, said her new husband was a police constable who was assigned to guard her following the attack and who had been asking for her hand for several years. She is his second wife.

She said the constable, Nasir Abbas Gabol, 30, and she married Sunday in a simple ceremony in her farming village, Meerwala, in Punjab Province.

“He says he madly fell in love with me,” Miss Mukhtar said with a big laugh when asked what finally persuaded her to say yes.

Pakistani rape victims often commit suicide, but Miss Mukhtar, who is also know as Mukhtaran Bibi, instead successfully challenged her attackers in court, winning international renown for her bravery. She runs several schools, an ambulance service and a women’s aid group in her village and has written an autobiography. By marrying, she has defeated another stigma against rape victims in conservative Pakistani society.

(HH: I think this might be the saddest part of this situation: the idea that to her and her society this is a progressive and reforming evolution! That she was manipulated into marrying instead of being killed or encouraged to commit suicide may be good to them but try selling that to an American woman who thinks non-equal pay is an evil.)

The village council ordered her rape as a punishment for actions attributed to her younger brother. He was accused of having illicit relations with a woman from a rival clan, but investigations showed that the boy had been molested by three of those clan’s tribesmen, and the accusation against him had been a cover-up.

(HH It IS truly amazing that she was able to fight and win. I can see why the author wanted to bring this amazing woman to light again. Even though there is tragedy in this “triumph” she must be allowed her due. In her society she IS a winner. So far. IF this guy gets violent with her I hope she cuts his …. off.)

Mr. Gabol was one of a group of police officers deployed to protect her after she was threatened by the rapists’ relatives to try to stop her from pressing charges.

Mr. Gabol had a hard time persuading Miss Mukhtar to marry. He had been calling her off and on since 2003 but formally proposed a year and a half ago, she said.

“But I told my parents I don’t want to get married,” she said.

Finally, four months ago, he tried to kill himself by taking sleeping pills.

The morning after he attempted suicide, his wife and parents met my parents, but I still refused,” Miss Mukhtar said.

Mr. Gabol then threatened to divorce his first wife, Shumaila.

Shumaila, along with Mr. Gabol’s parents and sisters, tried to talk Miss Mukhtar into marrying him, taking on the status of second wife. In Pakistan, a man can legally have up to four wives.

It was her concern about Shumaila, Miss Mukhtar said, that moved her to relent.
“I am a woman and can understand the pain and difficulties faced by another woman,” Miss Mukhtar said. “She is a good woman.”

(HH: So she is a slave who has a human heart and can be manipulated thereby out of concern of another slave’s fate. This story hold her up to honor but puts her family and husband and society in a gloom of pure evil. I feel sorry for the writer of the article. Having to somehow spin this so a Western audience sees that to HER this is something of a victory must be very hard. We need to encourage evolution in totalitarian societies. But some are so backward that even a good thing looks horrific to Western eyes.)

In the end, Miss Mukhtar put a few conditions on Mr. Gabol. He had to transfer the ownership of his ancestral house to his first wife, agree to give her a plot of land and a monthly stipend of roughly $125.

(HH: She is not dumb! She knows that once she is married to him he owns her and might change his mind and divorce the first wife. She held him up until he basically guaranteed that no matter her marriage status the first wife will be taken care of and have a place to live. IN other words the new wife has forced him to guarantee the he will fulfill his own duties as a husband!! This lady certainly has will AND a conscience!)

Asked if she had plans to leave her village to live with her husband in his village, Miss Mukhtar said no.

Where is the scorecard to help me figure out all the players? Mass Demonstration Defies Pakistani Government

LAHORE, Pakistan — A crackdown by the Pakistani government to prevent a national demonstration and detain the country’s leading opposition figure collapsed on Sunday, and what had been a clash between the police and protesters transformed into a huge anti-government rally.

In what analysts here called an unprecedented reversal by security forces, phalanxes of riot policemen here in Lahore melted away rather than continue to confront protesters who had rallied around the opposition leader, Nawaz Sharif, when he defied a house arrest order early Sunday.

By early evening, the sight of exuberant anti-government crowds in Lahore — a mix of Mr. Sharif’s loyalists, supporters of smaller opposition parties and ordinary people with their young children — encouraged people in other cities in the Punjab Province to come out on the streets

But by 5 p.m., the police disappeared and huge crowds, on foot and in cars, enveloped the Mall. Green, red and white banners of with portraits of Mr. Sharif were held aloft as other groups, including Jamaat-i-Islami, a right wing Islamist group, joined what turned into the anti-government demonstration that the government had feared all along. The leader of the lawyers’ movement, Aitzaz Ahsan, moved toward the High Court, accompanied by scores of lawyers, to make a speech.

One of the senior officials in the Lahore government, the chief magistrate, Sajjad Bhutta, told reporters he refused to carry out what he called the illegal acts of the police crackdown. He appeared among the crowds on the mall, surrounded by cheers and waving flags.

Mr. Ahsan said that protesters would try to defy the government’s efforts to keep them away from Islamabad and would attempt to converge on the capital from various points around the country on Monday.

“The strategy is simple,” Mr. Ahsan said. “The long march is on for an indefinite period.”

There appeared to have been a decision, either by provincial officials, many of whom support Mr. Sharif, or at the national level, to allow Mr. Sharif to proceed.

This is the first time in the history of Pakistan that the police and civil administration have defied orders by the government to control public demonstrations,” said Ashtar Ali, a corporate lawyer who supports the Pakistan Muslim League-N. “The writ of the government has failed.”

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Pakistan strikes deal with border clan to rein in militants

(HH here: This is good news I hope!)

By Ismail Khan Published: March 10, 2009

PESHAWAR, Pakistan: A major tribe with close ties to the Pakistani Taliban signed an agreement with the Pakistani government to hand over several of the militant group’s local leaders, to lay down arms and to stop harboring foreign militants.

The agreement on Monday with the Mamoond tribe, the largest and most strategically placed in the restive Bajaur region, followed a military victory against the local Taliban last month. It was one of the first major successes of the Pakistani forces against the militants and their affiliates in Al Qaeda since they started operations in the tribal areas in 2003.

Taliban forces in Bajaur then declared a unilateral cease-fire and the Mamoond, whose members live on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border, decided to cooperate with the government.

According to the 28-point agreement, a copy of which was made available to The New York Times, the Mamoond will stop harboring foreign militants and will close down militant training camps.

The agreement also calls for the surrender of senior Taliban leaders in Bajaur, including a deputy, Maulvi Faqir Muhammad, and the group’s chief spokesman, Maulvi Said Muhammad, who also goes by the name Maulvi Omar.

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Pakistan says Taliban beaten back in border region

By CHRIS BRUMMITT
The Associated Press
Saturday, February 28, 2009; 4:11 PM

KHAR, Pakistan — Pakistan has beaten the Taliban in a major stronghold close to the Afghan border, is close to victory in another and expects to pacify most of the remaining tribal areas before the end of the year, commanders said Saturday.

The upbeat assessment of conditions in the arid, mountainous regions of Bajur and Mohmand follows international criticism of Pakistan for accepting a cease-fire with militants behind a bloody campaign in Swat Valley, just next to the tribal regions.

Many analysts also fear that growing political turmoil between the government and opposition could distract attention from the fight against al-Qaida and the Taliban just as Washington wants more concerted action.

The United States and independent analysts have praised the offensive in Bajur, saying it has helped stem the passage of militants from Pakistan into Afghanistan, where violence against American and NATO troops is running at its highest level since the U.S. invasion in 2001.

Pakistan’s tribal regions are believed to be a likely hiding place for Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaida leaders. Foreign governments fear extremists there could be plotting attacks on the West.

Maj. Gen. Tariq Khan, commander of the paramilitary Frontier Corps, said the insurgency had been “dismantled” in Bajur after six months of battles between well-armed militants and soldiers backed by tanks and helicopter gunships.

He said 1,600 militants had been killed and 150 civilians had died. Both figures were impossible to verify independently.

“Their resistance has broken down. We control the roads,” he told reporters flown to the northwestern region by helicopter. “They have lost.”

Col. Saif Ullah, commander in the neighboring region of Mohmand, said troops had repelled insurgents from most of the territory and it would soon be cleared.

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