Archive for the ‘Central Asia Online’ Category


By Zia Ur Rehman

September 4, 2014

KARACHI – The Sindh government and police are preparing for the dangers of confronting Taliban militants and criminal gangs and are taking effective measures to ensure the safety of police in Karachi, Pakistan’s commercial capital.

“The TTP [Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan]; Lashkar-e-Jhangvi [LeJ], a banned sectarian group; criminal syndicates from Lyari; and the militant wing of a political party are targeting police in retaliation for the on-going crackdown in the city that has shattered the network of all of these anti-peace elements,” Karachi Police Chief Ghulam Qadir Thebo told Central Asia Online.

Karachi police July 30 take part in a raid in Lyari. Concerned by the slaying of 115 police in Karachi so far this year, the Sindh provincial government is taking steps to improve the police’s ability to fight militants there. [Zia Ur Rehman]

The Karachi police, serving a population of 22m, face a variety of challenges, he said, noting that they include ethno-political violence, sectarian killings, organised crime, land grabs and militancy associated with the global jihad network, all of which make law enforcement in Karachi a more dangerous job than in other cities.

In the first eight months of this year, 115 local police were killed, Karachi Police spokesman Atiq Sheikh said, adding that many of the killings occurred in the west district, a largely Pashtun-dominated region.

During 2013, 166 police were killed in the city, up from the 122 police fatalities in 2012, according to Karachi police statistics.

Measures to improve policing

Police in recent weeks have killed or arrested a number of militants involved in targeting police, Sheikh said, and the police department is taking measures to ensure its officers’ safety.

Recently, police deputed 100 of 1,840 ex-military officers recruited in April to sensitive police stations to enhance security in the region, Irfan Ali Baloch, a senior police official, told Central Asia Online.

The department is working to upgrade its equipment and capabilities. In an early sign of that commitment, it acquired 66 new digital camera-fitted mobile phones in late August to improve surveillance and snap-checking in sensitive areas, Thebo said.

Additionally, police officers received bullet-proof vests and helmets, Baloch said.

The department strictly ordered police not to wear their uniforms when they’re off duty and in their own neighbourhoods, to always patrol with at least two vehicles, and to avoid any needless sitting in tea stalls.

Recruiting 10,000 police

The Sindh government in August decided to recruit 10,000 additional personnel for the provincial force in fiscal year 2014-15 and to provide them the latest anti-terrorism training from military officers. Most of them will be assigned to Karachi.

The government September 2 approved another batch of 1,000 retired military officers to supplement the force and ordered 5,000 more bullet-proof jackets to accommodate the influx of new police.

Expanding the force will, at the very least, improve the ratio of police personnel to citizens.

A study carried out in May by the Sindh police indicated that the available strength of the police force in Karachi was 26,847, meaning a ratio of one police officer per 820 residents – one of the lowest in Pakistan, Raees Ahmed, a Karachi-based independent researcher, said.

In Lahore, for example, the ratio is one officer for 337 inhabitants, Ahmed said. So recruiting more officers should help the Karachi police force work more effectively, he said.




By Zia Ur Rehman

May 2, 2014

KARACHI – The international community’s assistance in helping Afghanistan’s cricket team is proving to be fruitful as the side prepares for the 2015 World Cup.

The Afghans attended a two-week training session in Karachi before heading to the Malaysian-hosted ACC event, and Pakistan’s training apparently paid off.

The team recently won its first two matches in the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) Premier League over Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates, May 1 and 2, respectively.

Preparing for the 2015 World Cup:  

Militancy, financial problems and lack of facilities are not stopping the Afghan team.

After exhibiting the potential to play against established cricket-playing nations in the Asia Cup, the team is preparing for the 2015 International Cricket Council (ICC) World Cup.

The ICC last October gave the team a US $1m (AFN 56.8m) grant after it qualified for the 2015 World Cup.

While the financial assistance is appreciated, Kabeer Khan, the team’s coach, understands that experience and training are the keys his side needs to win.

“Understanding the game’s finer points was the reason we went to Karachi,” team captain Muhammad Nabi told Central Asia Online. “We are in Pakistan to get maximum knowledge from Rashid Latif and Aamir Sohail, and both of them are carefully teaching us the skills we need to improve.”

“I am trying to make the Afghan cricket team competitive enough to play against the world’s best teams next year,” Sohail said.

Sports gain popularity: 

Sports in Afghanistan have been gaining popularity since the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001.

The militant regime banned sports and used Kabul’s main stadium as a stage for public executions. But the Afghan government has since been working to promote sports.

When Afghan refugees returned to their homeland, the country formed a cricket team despite a lack of funding and facilities.

“The government and the Afghanistan Cricket Board are doing its best to promote sports,” Khan said. “Cricket is now a school subject in Afghanistan, so we have a strategy to bring young talent to the national team.”

The sport also is finding success with the country’s females.

“The government is making efforts to bring women into the structure of sports,” Suleman Hotak, a Kunduz-based sportswriter, told Central Asia Online.

Another sport, football, is finding its way into Afghans’ affections. In September, the Afghan football teamdefeated India in the South Asian Football Federation Championship final in Nepal.

For its work in developing grass-roots football, building infrastructure and nurturing a professional league, the Afghanistan Football Federation received the FIFA Fair Play Award last year.


By Zia Ur Rehman

May 2, 2014

SWAT – Violence against those resisting the militancy in Malakand Division is not intimidating the area’s residents.

Unidentified militants in April killed two well-known anti-Taliban activists.

“In spite of these losses, the morale of Swat residents and of the family of Muzaffer Khan is high and we will continue to fight the extremists,” said Ataullah Khan, a former student leader and a relative of one of the victims, Garan Khan.

Gunmen in the Matta Bazaar killed Garan, a Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) official and Village Defence Committee member, on April 15.

A political leader in the Khwaza Khela area of Swat April 18 addresses potential voters during a campaign gathering before April 24 local elections. Malakand Division residents are united against the terrorism and militancy. [Zia Ur Rehman]

Six days later, miscreants in the Jowar area of Buner District April 21 killed Awami National Party (ANP) official Afzal Khan.

Officials and residents have condemned the slayings and demanded the government move against the culprits.

History of violence against activists :

Attacks against those who stand against insurgents have not been limited to the two most recent cases.

In 2013, militants gunned down nine village defence committee members in different areas of Swat District, according to statistics compiled by Central Asia Online.

In neighbouring Buner District, four prominent elders and activists since 2012 have fallen victim to a Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) assassination spree, with Afzal Khan as its most recent victim.

Garan’s family was noted for supporting security forces against the Taliban and “played a key role in maintaining peace” in Matta, Abdul Baqi, a Matta elder, said.

The family has paid dearly for that effort, though.

Taliban militants in May 2011 killed one of his relatives, Muzaffer Ali Khan, a former local ANP president, and in total, the family has endured 11 attacks and lost 14 members, Ataullah Khan said.

Sign of weakened Taliban : 

he Taliban launched its assassination campaign against anti-Taliban activists partly because the group has been losing sway and the citizens have turned against the extremist ideals, local elders told Central Asia Online.

Taliban militants have identified individuals who had organised armed resistance against them and are killing them one by one, National Youth Organisation provincial spokesman Hassan Buneri said.

But that threat isn’t deterring citizens from standing up against the militants. “Local residents are supporting law enforcement agencies against anti-peace elements in the region,” Baqi said.

Efforts to protect citizens: 

Officials are working to prevent attacks and bring those responsible to justice.

“The provincial government has made the special police force, its intelligence and investigative branches active in order to curb the targeted killing of political leaders and residents,” Chief Minister Pervez Khattak said in an official handout.

The local district administrations and police are fully aware of the threat and are protecting residents as well as leaders of various political parties and of anti-Taliban organisations, Swat police officer Akmal Khan said.

The Matta Market Traders Association, the merchant group for the bazaar where Garan was killed, has plans to install security cameras and to form small, market-level committees to share information with security personnel.

“We will fully co-operate with law enforcement agencies to maintain law and order in the district,” the association’s president, Haji Abdul Qyum, said.

Residents stand strong: 

Malakand’s residents have no plans for the Taliban to return to power, they say.

“The government has defeated militancy and established peace in Malakand Division through unprecedented sacrifices,” Sardar Ahmed Yousafzai, president of the Kabal Tehsil Bar Association in Swat, said.

“The people of Malakand Division witnessed the brutalities of the Taliban … and there is no space for [the Taliban] now,” Feroz Shah, leader of a local anti-Taliban jirga, said.




By Zia Ur Rehman

April 16, 2014

KARACHI – The Sindh government is beefing up security as civil society calls for an end to the recent violence against Hindus and their places of worship.

Miscreants have launched several attacks in Larkana, Hyderabad and Tharparkar districts since Holi, a Hindu spring festival celebrated March 16, said Sanjesh Dhanja. Dhanja is president of the Pakistan Hindu Seva Welfare Trust, a Hindu rights group.

In one March 31 attack on a temple in Verhijhap village, Tharparkar District, unidentified men “desecrated parrh (a piece of sacred cloth wrapped around an idol) and stole a trishul,” Tharparkar Hindu activist Arjun Kumar said.

Hindu activists April 1 in Hyderabad protest recent attacks on Hindu worship places in Sindh Province. The Sindh government beefed up security around worship places and took steps to prevent inter-faith violence. [Courtesy of All Hindu Students Hyderabad]

Other incidents of vandalism and arson targeting Hindu temples and deities’ statues took place in Larkana and in Hyderabad District March 15 and 28, respectively.

Civil society responds:

Hindu groups and civil society organisations have responded with demonstrations in several Sindh cities.

“We are very concerned about the spread of intolerance and temples being torched and attacked in areas where citizens of all faiths had long lived in harmony,” the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said March 31.

The province, traditionally hospitable to Pakistani minorities and home to the country’s largest Hindu community, is slowly falling into the hands of Taliban-minded militants, Dhanja said.

But Hindus and Muslims in Sindh are working together to prove that militants cannot create animosity between the two communities.

One large group organised by the Pakistan Hindu Council demonstrated outside the Karachi Press Club March 31. It called on the Sindh government to protect Hindu temples and take action against the culprits behind the violence.

“Violence against the Hindu community is killing the spirit of religious pluralism that has been a hallmark of Sindhi culture,” Dr. Qadir Magsi, head of the Sindhi nationalist party Sindh Taraqi Pasand Party, told Central Asia Online.

It is high time for political parties, civil society, enlightened religious scholars and media to act together to prevent such insanity and promote inter-faith tranquility, Magsi said.

Government efforts: 

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, chairman of the ruling party in Sindh, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), asked Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah to bring the perpetrators to justice.

“The PPP will ensure full security for minorities’ worship places … any discriminatory treatment will not be tolerated,” Zardari said March 29.

Shah ordered police to secure worship places and take firm action against the miscreants, according to a chief minister office statement March 29.

Police have beefed up security around 154 temples in the Hyderabad police range, Hyderabad District Police Chief Sanaullah Abbasi said.

Police are taking the orders seriously and have already made progress.

Tharparkar District police arrested four suspects accused of involvement in the temple’s desecration and recovered the stolen trishul March 31, District Police Chief Muneer Shaikh said, according to the Express Tribune.



By Zia Ur Rehman

January 24, 2014

KARACHI – The Taliban’s recent attacks on Sufi shrines are giving people who oppose the militancy more fuel for their cause.

Police are investigating the January 7 killing of six men who were at the Ayub Shah Bukhari shrine in the Gulshan-e-Maymar area of Karachi.

Three of the men were custodians at the shrine, popularly known as Pahari Walay Baba, while the others were visitors.

Religious groups January 8 protest outside the Karachi Press Club against the January 7 killing of six men at the Ayub Shah Bukhari shrine and denounce Taliban violence. [Zia Ur Rehman]

“It seems that all of them were slaughtered with a sharp-edged dagger that was recovered at the crime scene,” Samad Khan, in charge of the local police station, told Central Asia Online.

Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militants left a note claiming responsibility for the massacre and warned the public against visiting Sufi shrines, he said, adding that the militants damaged the shrine’s walls and religious banner.

In another such attack this month, unidentified gunmen January 10 fatally shot two Ghazi Shah Baba shrine faith-healers in Mardan District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Taliban history of targeting Sufi shrines : 

Taliban militants have frequently targeted Sufi shrines in Pakistan, especially in the Pashtun region, and now are stepping up such attacks in Sindh and Punjab, according to Sufi leaders.

This does not come as a surprise given the TTP’s history of violence toward religious followers and their sacred sites.

Militants attacked at least 28 worship places (including four Sufi shrines) in 2013, killing 136 worshippers and injuring 453 others, according to an annual security report released by the Islamabad-based think tank Pak Institute of Peace Studies. The TTP and its affiliated groups claimed responsibility for the attacks.

One of the most lethal bombings of a Sufi shrine in recent years occurred in July 2010 when two suicide bombers targeted the shrine of Sufi saint Data Ganj Baksh Hajveri in Lahore, killing about 45 devotees and injuring dozens of others.

The attacks on shrines are thought to be linked to the arrival of Arab militants in Afghanistan, Asmat Khan Wazir, director of the Islamabad-based think tank Research Advocacy and Development (RAD), said. Such militants reject Sufi Islam and visits to Sufi shrines, viewing them as incompatible with the Wahhabi Islamic fundamentalism the TTP espouses, Wazir told Central Asia Online.

Killings widely condemned : 

Protest rallies to denounce the killings took place in Karachi January 8 and in Lahore January 10.

Religious scholars in Karachi organised a protest under the banner of the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) outside the Karachi Press Club. More than 50 of Pakistan’s top religious scholars associated with the SIC in July issued a fatwa against suicide bombings and other forms of terrorism.

“We condemn the gruesome killing of shrine visitors in Karachi and Mardan and denounce the Taliban’s violence,” SIC Secretary General Tariq Mehboob said, adding that Taliban militants have no legitimacy in Islam or in Sharia.

“Followers of Sufism have always condemned the Taliban’s un-Islamic acts, like beheading the innocent and bombing shrines and worship places,” Mehboob told Central Asia Online, surmising that the militants see Sufism as a threat.

The Taliban are trying to frighten the followers of Sufism, Allama Maqbool Aleemi, a Hyderabad-based religious scholar, said.

“First they attacked the shrines and killed Sufi leaders, but now they are slaughtering shrine visitors and faith healers,” Aleemi said, adding that Sufis spread a message of love, peace and inter-faith harmony that the Taliban are trying to discredit.

Sufi shrines security beefed up: 

The Sindh government, after attacks on Sufi spiritual leaders last February, devised a strategy to protect shrines and spiritual leaders across the province.

“The Sindh government installed cell phone jammers, walk-through gates and security barriers in all shrines in the province and directed district police officers to increase patrols around the shrines,” Muhammad Kaleem, an official in the provincial Awqaf (Islamic endowment) department, said.

Authorities are also protecting key Sufi shrines, including those honouring Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai (in Bhit Shah), Abdullah Shah Ghazi (Karachi) and Lal Shahbaz Qalandar (Sehwan), he said, noting that intelligence agencies declared them sensitive.




By Zia Ur Rehman

January 14, 2013

ISLAMABAD – Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) have enjoyed unprecedented political freedoms for more than two years, and a committee comprised of the country’s 10 key political parties is touring the country to gain support for more reforms that would empower the long-neglected region.

Parliamentary approval of the proposed reforms is necessary if they are to become law.

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) activists May 5 set up an election camp in the Malagori area of Khyber Agency. Last year, for the first time in Pakistan’s history, political parties campaigned in the militancy-hit tribal areas before the May 11 general election. [Zia Ur Rehman]

The parties, united under the banner of the Political Parties Joint Committee on FATA Reforms, include the Awami National Party, Qaumi Watan Party, Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam (Fazl), the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q), Jammat-e-Islami (JI), the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, the National Party and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).

The Committee’s activities : 

The parties January 13 agreed on a list of reforms to try to promote a stable peace in FATA, a region that has been afflicted by terrorism since about 2007.

The FATA reform committee, which was formed in late 2010, is fighting to help the tribesmen enjoy “access to the judicial system, constitutional guarantees and all fundamental rights like other citizens of Pakistan,” Ajmal Khan Wazir, central vice-president of PML-Q and member of the FATA committee, said.

The agreed-upon reform agenda proposes instituting local bodies’ elections, broad infrastructure development, and special funds for health and education, Wazir said.

During its nationwide tour, the committee will confer with the leaders of its member political parties and will hold media briefings in provincial capitals, Wazir told Central Asia Online.

The delegation January 11 visited Quetta to meet with Balochistan Chief Minister and National Party Central President Dr. Abdul Malik Baloch and discussed proposed reforms for FATA.

“We support the endeavors of the FATA Reforms Committee as it is a must for FATA residents to enjoy the same rights that has been enshrined in the constitution for every Pakistani national,” Baloch said during a January 11 press conference about the meeting.

Besides Quetta, the committee’s itinerary in January includes Karachi and Peshawar.

It earlier visited Lahore in December, meeting with JI chief Syed Munawar Hassan and other leaders.

1st party-based elections ever in FATA: 

The committee’s work comes on the foundation of historic reforms in 2011 that enabled FATA residents to fully participate in the country’s political life last year.

In August 2011, then-President Asif Ali Zardari amended the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR), a British-era law curtailing FATA residents’ rights, and extended the Political Parties Act (PPA) 2002 to the tribal areas. The change allowed political parties to operate there as they do elsewhere in Pakistan and compete for votes in the May 11 general election.

Prior to the extension, FATA’s 12 assemblymen and 8 senators had to run as independents. Now, tribal candidates may stand for general elections as standard-bearers of political parties.

Political leaders and civil society activists hail the extension of the PPA, saying that more such reforms could help defeat militancy in the region.

“Tribal people are very thankful to … Zardari, who lifted a 64-year-old ban in August 2011 on the activities of political parties in the seven tribal agencies,” Akhundzada Chattan, a former parliamentarian from Bajaur Agency and a leader of the PPP, said.

The participation of political parties in the tribal areas in last May’s general election had a positive impact, Islamabad-based political analyst Kahar Zalmay said.

“There is no concept of basic democracy without the operation of political parties,” Zalmay told Central Asia Online. “FATA is no exception. When you allow people to vote and to campaign, you’re making them stakeholders.”

“Political parties carried out their campaigns, and a large number of the tribal people cast their votes in the first party-based elections,” Abdullah Afridi, a PTI supporter in Khyber Agency, said, suggesting that FATA residents have become frustrated with the militancy and have faith in democratic governance.

Even though terrorists issued threats and committed outright violence, FATA voter turnout in the 2013 general election was 36%, compared to 31% in 2008.


By Zia Ur Rehman

January 6, 2014

PESHAWAR – Still feeling the pain from a September suicide bombing of the All Saints Church in Peshawar, Pakistan’s Christian community observed Christmas in a sombre fashion.

“Churches across the country decided to celebrate Christmas this year with simplicity,” said Zia Pervez Mirza, an All Saints Church priest who was leading a service when the bombing occurred.

Worshippers usually adorn the church with colourful bunting, flowers and balloons at Christmas, but this year the white walls of the 130-year-old church were covered instead with posters carrying pictures of victims of the bombing that shocked the entire country.

“We used to celebrate Christmas with great fervour and fun, decorating the church with flowers and lights, wearing new clothes and exchanging gifts,” Tanveer Shirazi, who chairs a committee to help survivors and the victims’ families, said.

Worshippers enter the All Saints Church in Peshawar December 1. A September suicide attack at the church killed more than 80 people and injured around 130 others. Muslim scholars have condemned such attacks on places of worship. [Zia Ur Rehman]

“But this time, we are celebrating with pictures of our loved ones who were killed.”

The attack killed more than 80 worshippers and injured about 130 others, Shirazi said, noting that the dead included 34 women, seven children and two Muslim policemen who were guarding the church.

Such attacks have drawn widespread condemnation.

“The Taliban’s view that attacks on churches are in line with the principles of Islam is totally wrong and against the teaching of Islam,” leading clerics – including Jamia Naeemia head Maulana Raghib Hussain Naeemi and Pakistan Sunni Tehreek head Sarwat Ijaz Qadri – said in an October 5 joint statement.

Taliban target worship places : 

The Taliban have attacked dozens of Pakistani worship places in the past 10 years, killing more than 1,500 worshippers and injuring about 3,000, security analyst Muhammad Nafees said. The defiled holy places include mosques, churches, Sufi shrines, Muslim processions, imambargahs, Ahmadi worship centres and missionary schools, he added.

The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and its affiliate groups claimed responsibility in almost all cases, with Jundul Hifsa saying it carried out the All Saints attack, media reported.

In another incident, a mob burned the Sarhadi Lutheran Church in Mardan September 21, 2012.

Workers November 30 continue reconstructing the Sarhadi Lutheran Church in Mardan, Pakistan, which a mob set fire to September 21, 2012. [Zia Ur Rehman]

“They set fire to the church, sanctuary and library and desecrated the holy books,” Murad Mushtaq, a pastor at the church, said of the attackers.

However, Christian leaders announced that they forgave the perpetrators to promote religious harmony, he said, and a Rs. 34.4m (US $326,000) reconstruction of the church is nearing completion.

Islamic scholars have urged the government to strike against the militants who inflicted irreparable harm to Islam and Pakistan, saying that the Taliban and their kind deserve no mercy.

After the All Saint Attack – Unity : 

While the militants are using such attacks to disrupt inter-faith unity, they have badly failed, Christian leaders said, citing instead the coming together of communities after religious bombings.

“Hundreds of Muslims helped move the bodies to hospitals after the attack and provided clothes to the injured,” Mirza told Central Asia Online.

In what Shirazi called “a welcome development for Christians,” the government, Islamic leaders and individuals unanimously denounced the Taliban and showed solidarity with the Christian community after the All Saints bombing.

The number of churchgoers also increased after the attack, showing that people are not afraid of the Taliban, he said.

Christian leaders have expressed satisfaction that police personnel are working alongside church members to protect churches, Mirza said.

Security around churches in Pakistan has increased. At All Saints Church, for example, police officers search every newcomer and workers have installed biometrics-enabled security gates that read thumbprints.

Training media to promote inter-faith harmony : 

Meanwhile, media development organisations are training journalists how to report on sensitive issues, especially regarding religious minorities.

“Because of growing commercialism and not having proper training, the media have not played their role in promoting inter-faith harmony and non-Muslims’ rights in Pakistan properly,” said Kashif Baloch, an officials with the Lahore-based NGO Punjab Lok Sujag (PLS).

PLS organised a media exposure trip in late November, where more than 20 journalists from across the country visited Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) churches that had been attacked and met with leaders of the minority religions and relatives of those killed.

The main message was that issues of faith are sensitive and should be handled with care, Karachi-based journalist Ammar Shahbazi said after the PLS training session.