Archive for March 20, 2012

by Zia Ur Rehman

Feb 29, 2012

KARACHI – After a series of 14 blasts on railway tracks across Sindh Province February 25, Pakistani authorities are pursuing the Sindhu Desh Liberation Army (SDLA), a banned separatist group, Central Asia Online has learned.

Miscreants planted low-intensity explosives along railway tracks in Sindh, including in Karachi, Hybderabad, Shaheeb Benazirabad, Mirpur Mathilo, Pud Eaidan, Khairpur and Ghotki, said Zafarullah Kalhore, a senior official of Pakistan Railways (PR). The ensuing track damage caused massive disruptions in train service.

No passenger or cargo trains were near the blast sites at the time, otherwise major casualties could have occurred, he said.

The blasts caused 17 express trains to halt for around six hours at different railway stations, leaving thousands of passengers stuck while the damages were repaired, he said. Similar attacks have taken place along railway tracks in Sindh before, but this was the first time that 14 blasts were carried out almost simultaneously, he said.

SDLA involved :

Sindh Home Minister Manzoor Wassan told the media February 25 that investigations were ongoing and that the culprits, once arrested, would be punished.

Police officials and security experts believe that the SDLA is involved in the recent attacks.

“The police found pamphlets from the place of incidents according to which SDLA, an underground terrorist outfit, accepted the responsibility of blasts,” Muzaffer Shiekh, senior police official at Railway Police, told Central Asia Online. The SDLA carried out a series of attacks on PR tracks in February 2011.

In the pamphlets, SDLA Chief Commander Darya Khan Marri calls on Sindhi’s on to take up arms and join the movement to make Sindh an independent state, Shiekh said.

Yaqoob Jatt, another senior police official at Hyderabad, claimed that Lala Aslam Pathan, a central leader of SDLA, is involved in the recent attacks. On his directives, suspected miscreants – identified as Shah Nawaz Bhutto, Ramzan Jamali, Bashir Malah, Faqir Najeeb Qureshi and others – carried out the blasts. Jatt said.

“Police have started a crackdown against the group and are carrying out the raids to arrest the culprits,” Jatt told Central Asia Online.

SDLA linked with JSSM :

The SDLA is an underground Sindhi terrorist organisation comprised of different splinter factions that broke away from various Sindhi nationalist groups. Its main commanders are Marri and Ghulam Hussain Chandio, said Raees Ahmed, a senior journalist and visiting professor at Sindh University who monitors SDLA activities.

He said the SDLA is, in fact, an offshoot of Jeay Sindh Mutahida Mahaz (JSMM), a Sindhi nationalist political party headed by Shafi Burfat.

The Crime Investigation Department (CID) of Sindh police has formally inducted Burfat, in its Red Book list of terrorists, the Daily Times reported February 27, citing Ghulam Shabbir Sheikh, assistant inspector general of police. Police are collecting information about Burfat, the Times said.

The SDLA has bombed railway tracks in the past. It has always left pamphlets at the scene denouncing alleged atrocities against the Sindhi people and vowing to continue its struggle for Sindh “freedom,” Ahmed told Central Asia Online.

He said the SDLA emerged as a serious threat when an alleged terrorist died March 2, 2011, while planting a bomb at a railway track in Jumma Goth, Karachi.

Law enforcement agencies recovered SDLA literature after a March 7, 2011, blast at a house in the Ibrahim Hyderi limits. SDLA-linked militant Zulfiqar Kulachi was killed, and Ismail Abubakar and Sardaruddin Dino were injured, in that explosion.

Fayyaz Laghari, then head of Sindh Police, told media March 8, 2011, that terrorists were making bombs to blow up the railway tracks and they were using that house as SDLA’s Karachi headquarters.

“After the death of Kulachi and a crackdown by law enforcement agencies in the light of information received during interrogations with Abubakar and Dino, the network of SDLA was shattered, but after lapsing of almost 11 months, the series of rail track blasts show that the group has become again active in the province,” Ahmed said. Recent incidents indicate that the SDLA is following the same approach of Baloch separatist groups, in targeting railway tracks, gas lines and other government installations. “

The bomb explosions at rail tracks in Sindh could be due to ‘a sense of deprivation’ among the Sindhi people and this sense of deprivation had been created after the assassination of PPP chairperson Benazir Bhutto,” said Wassan, adding that the government, however, has been actively trying to eliminate this sense of deprivation by creating jobs.



by Zia Ur Rehman

Central Asia Online

March 8, 2012

PESHAWAR – A recent escalation in political party activity in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) indicates that defeat of the militancy in the region is only a matter of time, political and security analysts said.

”]In a first, political parties in FATA are campaigning for votes fearlessly, ahead of general elections expected within the next 12 months.

“Tribal people are very thankful to President Asif Ali Zardari, who lifted a 64-year-old ban in August on activities of political parties in seven tribal agencies of FATA,” said Akhundzada Chattan, a parliamentarian from Bajaur Agency and a leader of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). He said such reforms would help defeat the militancy in the tribal region.

In August, Zardari extended the Political Parties Act (PPA) to FATA and introduced a regulation to amend the colonial-area Frontier Crime Regulations under Article 247 of the Constitution, putting FATA on an almost equal footing politically with other regions in Pakistan.

Prior to the extension, FATA’s 12 assemblymen and 8 senators were elected independently and could not join any political party. Now, tribal candidates will be allotted symbols of their respective political parties in the next general elections.

The Awami National Party (ANP), the PPP, the Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam-Fazal (JUI-F), the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) are the main political parties in Bajaur Agency. They have launched political campaigns with big gatherings in the tribal agency since early January, said Ghaffar Tofan, a local journalist and activist based in Bajaur.

Taliban militants killed many political activists, especially members of the ANP and JUI-F. Political leaders Asfandyar Wali (ANP) and Maulana Fazalur Rehman (JUI-F) narrowly escaped suicide attacks. Aftab Ahmed Sherpao, head of the PPP-Sherpao, and Amir Muqam, provincial president of Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid, were also attacked but survived unscathed.

JUI-F recently organised two public rallies in North and South Waziristan last month despite militant threats, said Maulana Rahat Hussain, former senator and central leader of the JUI-F, referring to distribution of Taliban pamphlets warning local tribesmen not to attend the JUI-F’s rallies.

“In spite of threats … about 15,000 local residents attended our rallies,” he claimed, suggesting the people now are frustrated with the militancy and have trust in democratic governance.

“(The) recent rise in political activities in Bajaur and Mohmand tribal agencies shows the majority of tribesmen are joining liberal political parties, including the ANP and PPP, rejecting religious and conservative political groups,” Tofan told Central Asia Online.

Tribesmen are suspicious of religious parties, he said.

The number of voters in the tribal areas has grown, according to official sources and media reports. More than 1m residents have obtained computerised national identity cards in seven tribal agencies, Daily Dawn reported December 28.

According to the Election Commission of Pakistan, the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) in 2011 added 759,775 voters under the Drafted Electoral Roll (DER)-2011 and FATA local authorities registered 1.3m new voters in FATA, Dawn reported.

According to DER-2011, Bajaur Agency had the most voters, with 295,278 registering in 2011, Dawn reported. Other agency numbers for the year follow: Khyber, 259,575; Kurram, 214,092; Mohmand, 154,189; North Waziristan, 137,009; and Orakzai, about 84,000.

The number of registered voters in South Waziristan, according to DER-2011, is lower because military operations against militants have displaced residents from their native areas, the report said, citing Shamshad Khan, assistant election commissioner for South Waziristan.

“The rise in voter registrations in FATA also indicates that tribal people reject militancy completely and believe in democratic and political practices,” Chattan said.

FATA is the only region of Pakistan that has no female representation in parliament, but political activists predict change is brewing for the upcoming election because of a rise in women’s voter registration and political participation in tribal areas.

Saba Rehman Mohmand, a graduate of Peshawar University, was recently elected as vice-president of the ANP in Mohmand Agency.

“I am the first ever lady from FATA who has become vice president on a general seat, not in a specific women’s wing, and it definitely feels good to have this great honour,” Mohmand told Central Asia Online.

A woman is in Mohmand’s cabinet, too.

“It seems good changes have taking place in FATA regarding to women’s emancipation in mainstream politics. With the passage of time, it is becoming the need of the hour that women should come forward and join mainstream politics,” Mohmand said.

Without support from female voters, tribal candidates or political parties would not able to win the elections, Tofan said. The new computerised voter lists of Bajaur show that about 91,000 of the 290,000 voters are women, he said citing NADRA officials.

In past FATA elections, women, even if they were aware of the importance of voting rights, were barred from voting or their male relatives discouraged them from casting ballots, Peshawar-based women’s rights activists Naghma Shah said. Now the situation is changing, she added.

“Women’s emancipation in mainstream politics would be obviously a great blow to Taliban militants who drove an anti-women campaign in the FATA,” Shah told Central Asia Online, adding that the militants destroyed girls’ schools, barred women from social and economic activities, and even flogged women publicly.

by Zia Ur Rehman

March 9-15, 2012

Recent bomb attacks on railway tracks across the Sindh province indicate the rise of a separatist movement that takes inspiration and strength from the freedom movement in Balochistan, political analysts say.

At least 16 bombs targeted railway tracks in various parts of Sindh on February 25, stopping all train traffic. Low-intensity explosives were planted on railway tracks in Karachi, Hyderabad, Benazirabad, Mirpur Mathilo, Pud Eaidan, Khairpur and Ghotki, damaging tracks in the entire province, according to a senior Pakistan Railways official. There were no trains close to the sites of explosion, he said, therefore there was no major damage and no casualties.

“The police found leaflets from the bombing sites in which Sindhu Desh Liberation Army (SDLA), an underground separatist outfit, claimed responsibility for the attacks,” said Muzaffar Sheikh, a Railway Police officer. He said the group had bombed railway tracks in the past.

Denouncing alleged atrocities against the Sindhi people and vowing to continue its struggle until Sindh’s freedom, SDLA’s chief commander Darya Khan Marri asks other Sindhis, in the leaflet, to take up arms and join the movement. The SLDA says Sindhi separatists must get the same worldwide recognition as the separatists in Balochistan, and asks people to stand up against the “opportunist” People’s Party government, the army, and the ISI.

Sindhi separatist groups, which have never been popular in the province, have taken strength from recent move by a group of US Congressmen calling for the right of self-determination for the Baloch people. “Because of bad governance, nepotism, corruption and incompetence of the politicians, there is a lot of frustration and disappointment among Sindhi people, especially the young,” according to Imdad Soomro, a senior journalist who studies Sindh’s ethnic politics. Some of them might be involved in subversive activities, he says, but a majority of them believe in a peaceful political and democratic struggle.

The PPP seems to have taken the threat seriously. “The bomb attacks on railway tracks in Sindh could be due to a sense of deprivation among the Sindhi people, a sentiment that is also prevalent in the province of Balochistan. This sense of deprivation has been created after the assassination of PPP chairperson Benazir Bhutto,” Sindh home minister Manzoor Wasan told reporters. The government, he said, had been trying to tackle the problem by creating jobs.

The demand for the separation of Sindh from Pakistan has been made time and again, but the separatist movement has not posed a serious threat to the state so far. Low-scale insurgent attacks from the SDLA have been reported intermittently in recent years.

The SDLA is believed to be an offshoot of the Jeay Sindh Muttahida Mahaz (JSMM), a Sindhi nationalist political party headed by Shafi Muhammad Burfat. Some of its members also broke away from various factions of the Jeay Sindh Tehrik (JST), founded by prominent Sindhi ethnic leader GM Syed. The Crime Investigation Department (CID) of Sindh police has added Burfat to its Red Book, Sindh IG Ghulam Shabbit Sheikh told reporters on February 27, and was gathering information on him. Yaqoob Jatt, a senior officer in Hyderabad, said police believed the attacks were orchestrated by SDLA leader Lala Aslam Pathan, and carried out by suspects he identified as Shahnawaz Bhutto, Ramzan Jamali, Bashir Malah, and Faqir Najeeb Qureshi.

Sindhis are predominantly represented in parliament by the PPP, but Sindhi ethnic parties that follow the political ideology of GM Syed also have a strong influence on provincial politics. After the demise of GM Syed, his JST split into at least 11 political groups: Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz (JSQM) Bashir Qureshi Group, Burfat’s JSSM, JST led by Dr Safdar Sarki, JSQM-Arisar Group, Jeay Sindh Mahaz Riaz Chandio Group, Jeay Sindh Qaumparast Party led by Qamar Bhatti, Sindh United Party led by GM Syed’s grandson Jalal Mehmood Shah, Jeay Sindh Mahaz (JSM) led by Abdul Khaliq Junejo, JSM Rasool Bux Thebo Group, JSM Sufi Hazoor Bux Group, and JST Shafi Karnani Group. Dr Qadir Magsi’s Sindh Taraqqi Pasand Party, Rasool Bukhsh Paleejo’s Awami Tehrik, and Amir Bhambaro’s Sindh National Party were not aligned with GM Syed’s ideology.

Burfat belongs to Tehni, a small village of Taluka Sehwan in Jamshoro district. He was a close associate of Dr Qadir Magsi in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and was accused along with Dr Magsi of orchestrating the September 30, 1988 carnage.

“Pakistan’s intelligence agencies are targeting our leaders and activists only because we are demanding our fundamental political rights,” said a JSMM leader in Hyderabad. He said the party’s secretary general Muzaffar Bhutto had been picked up several months ago and its vice chairman Serai Qurban Khuhawar, leader Rooplo Choliani and central committee member Noorullah Tunio were killed in Sanghar on April 21, 2011. He accused intelligence agencies of creating “a Balochistan-like situation” in Sindh.

The SDLA emerged as a serious threat in February last year when it bombed several railway tracks, a CID official said. A suspected terrorist died on March 2 apparently trying to plant a bomb on a railway line near Jumma Goth in Karachi. After an accidental explosion in a house that killed SDLA-linked Zulfiqar Kulachi and injured Ismail Abubakr and Sardaruddin Allahdino when they were trying to make a bomb on March 7 2011, police seized SDLA literature and other evidence. Information gathered from the literature and questioning of the injured men led to a crackdown in which all key members of the group were arrested. Eleven months later, the group has resurged with new attacks, apparently after being inspired by Baloch separatists, according to CID officials. But the SDLA is not as popular as the Baloch separatists, and that is why law-enforcement officials believe they can bust the group before it becomes a major threat.




By Zia Ur Rehman

Feb 24-March 1, 2012

As demands for new provinces surge, the people of the Federally Tribal Administrated Areas (FATA) have also started considering becoming a part of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa or a new province. The debate began when the government gave Gilgit-Baltistan a provincial status in 2009.

The terrain of FATA lies between KP, Balochistan and the neighboring Afghanistan. It consists of seven tribal agencies – Bajaur, Mohmand, Khyber, Kurram, Orakzai, North Waziristan and South Waziristan – and six Frontier Regions (FRs) – FR Peshawar, FR Kohat, FR Bannu, FR Lakki Marwat, FR Tank and FR DI Khan. The region has a total area of 27,220 square kilometers, and is almost entirely inhabited by Pashtun tribes.

Since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s and especially the US arrival in 2001, the region has become a hub of militancy. The area is considered to be the epicenter of violence in Afghanistan and Pakistan and a major source of international terrorism. All the seven tribal agencies and adjacent FRs have been affected by the rise of militancy and the military operations carried out in response.

The people of FATA believe the government should take measurements to end underdevelopment, backwardness and violence in the areas. “The tribal region is still being governed by the inhumane Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR) dating back to the occupation of the Pashtun frontier region by the British in 1848,” said Gul Muhammad Mamond, a political activist from Bajaur Agency.

There is also considerable external pressure on Pakistan to change the current administrative setup in FATA. The massive turmoil caused by militancy and the subsequent military operations to re-establish the government’s writ in FATA has caused irremediable damage to the old administrative and legal governing system, and the new socio-economic landscape and power structures that have emerged call for a fundamentally new social contract, experts say.

But politicians are divided on whether the territory should be merged with KP or made into a separate province.

The Awami National Party (ANP), the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), and a number of citizen groups want the merger of the tribal regions with KP.

“FATA is an integral part of KP and should therefore be merged in the province after taking all stakeholders on board,” said Bushra Gohar, central vice president of ANP and an MNA. “I don’t believe in forcing decisions on people. There is a general consensus among political parties that without the integration of FATA and equal rights and opportunities for its people, sustainable peace and development is not possible.”

ANP has declared 2012 the year of FATA to focus on the social, political and economic priorities of FATA and hold jirgas, meetings and other events with local elders, elected representatives, the public and other stakeholders in an effort to evolve a consensus on the ways forward on priority issues, she said, adding that if FATA continues to be used as strategic space and its people held hostage in the regional power play, no amount of funds will benefit the region.

Nisar Lala, a prominent political activist from South Waziristan, also supports the merger of tribal region with KP. “Pashtun land was divided into four parts: Afghanistan, KP, FATA and Balochistan. The people across the world are struggling for the unification of their divided land. But some forces want to keep Pashtuns divided, because they follow the colonial principle of ‘divided and rule’.” He said FATA and KP were geographically and ethnically the same. “As one big province, the people will have a greater say in national and international affairs.”

The people of FATA depend for health, education, and commerce on KP. A large number of people have migrated to nearby cities of the province. The administration of the tribal regions is handled from the FATA Secretariat in Peshawar.

But influential politicians who win the elections in FATA on the basis of tribal strength are strongly opposing the merger, and want the tribal areas to become a separate province.

“I was the first MNA to have raised the issue of a new Khyber province consisting of all tribal agencies of FATA in 1993,” said Muhammad Shah Afridi, a tribal leader from Khyber Agency.

He says the actual population of FATA is higher than those of Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan, and that is why it deserved a status of a separate administrative unit.

His opponents say the demand may benefit the Taliban and other militant outfits. “The beneficiaries of the old system, especially Maliks (tribal chiefs), political agents and wealthy independent political figures want to see the continuation of FATA’s isolation. Such a set-up is also useful for Taliban militants,” said a political scientist at Gomal University in DI Khan.

Sources in the government say it might hold a referendum on the issue. Last August, President Asif Ali Zardari introduced a regulation to amend the FCR under Article 247 of the Constitution and also extended the Political Parties Act of 2002 to FATA, allowing political parties to operate there as they do elsewhere in Pakistan. Prior to the extension, FATA’s 12 members in the National Assembly were elected independently and could not join a political party.

Human rights activists say as long as corrupt practices prevail in the country, reforms cannot be implemented, particularly in FATA where the government’s writ has been challenged.

Ejaz Mohmand, president of FATA Lawyers Forum, says both the demands are premature and might not be feasible. “In the first phase, for at least five years, there should be an elected council that decides the future of FATA. The extension of jurisdictions of the high court and the Supreme Court, implementation of rights guaranteed by the 1973 constitution, and separation of judiciary from the executive are measures that need to be taken immediately.”