Posts Tagged ‘Islamists’

Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas plans anti-Hamas measures as split widens

January 13, 2019

The decade-long Palestinian split looks set to deepen in the coming months, with president Mahmud Abbas poised to take multiple measures against Gaza to squeeze its Islamist rulers Hamas.

The moves raise concerns of more suffering for Gaza’s two million residents, already under an Israeli blockade and facing severe electricity shortages, while a cornered Hamas could renew violence against Israel.

Analysts say the measures will also widen the gap between Hamas-run Gaza and the occupied West Bank, where Abbas’s government has limited self-rule.

Palestinian security forces loyal to Hamas (R) prepare to take control of Gaza's Rafah border crossing with Egypt on January 7, 2019 as Palestinian Authority personnel (L) pull out on orders from president Mahmud Abbas

Palestinian security forces loyal to Hamas (R) prepare to take control of Gaza’s Rafah border crossing with Egypt on January 7, 2019 as Palestinian Authority personnel (L) pull out on orders from president Mahmud Abbas AFP/File

Hamas and Abbas’s secular Fatah party have been at loggerheads since the Islamists seized control of Gaza from Abbas’s forces in a near civil war in 2007, a year after sweepinging parliamentary elections.

Hamas has since fought three bloody wars with Israel and fears of a fourth remain.

Multiple reconciliation attempts between the Palestinian factions have failed but Egypt thought it had made a breakthrough in late 2017 when the two sides agreed to eventually share power.

As part of that agreement Hamas withdrew from border crossings between Gaza and Egypt and Israel, allowing the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority to return and the Egyptian border to be reopened regularly.

The reconciliation agreement has since collapsed acrimoniously.

On Sunday, the PA announced it would withdraw from the Egyptian border crossing, creating a dilemma for Cairo about whether to leave it open with Hamas in control.

So far they have indicated they will.

Senior officials close to Abbas say he is looking for other measures to punish Hamas.

– ‘Very important decisions’ –

Among these could be removing staff from the crossings between Israel and Gaza — making it hard for the Jewish state to allow anything into the territory without dealing directly with Hamas, which it and many other countries label a terrorist organisation.

They could also include cutting salaries to families of Hamas prisoners or rescinding Palestinian passports for Hamas employees.

Abbas has also pledged to dissolve the Hamas-dominated Palestinian parliament, which though it hasn’t met since the 2007 split is still nominally the basis for new laws.

“Very important decisions against Hamas are being discussed,” a senior official said on condition of anonymity.

It follows a series of arrests of those affiliated with Fatah in Gaza, according to Abbas allies.

The official said the PA spent around $100 million per month in Gaza, including for electricity subsidies, and was looking to cut back significantly.

“Those that want to rule Gaza must bear the responsibility of governing it,” the official said.

Azzam al-Ahmad, a senior Abbas ally and negotiator of the 2017 reconciliation agreement, told AFP “the leadership is considering a number of measures”.

Senior Hamas official Bassem Naim said the Islamists had seen similar threats before.

“Any type of sanctions such as electricity, preventing medicine, closing the border or cutting the salaries are intended to blackmail residents into rising against Hamas and they fail,” he told AFP.

“This is the most that Abbas can do.”

– ‘Short-term thinking? –

The Palestinians have faced stark challenges over the past two years, with US President Donald Trump leading what he has called the most pro-Israel administration in the country’s history.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government has meanwhile continued to expand settlements in the West Bank.

Abbas?s government froze contacts with the Trump administration after it recognised the disputed city of Jerusalem as Israel?s capital in December 2017.

The deepening split between the two factions weakens their ability to respond to such pressure, said Hugh Lovatt of the European Council on Foreign Relations think-tank.

He said the PA withdrawal from the border crossings was part of a “package of measures designed to try and squeeze Hamas.”

“It is not irreversible but it is certainly a very negative step. This is short-term thinking triumphing longer-term strategy.”

Nadia Hijab, president of the Al-Shabaka Palestinian think-tank, said the infighting prevented a united front against Israeli policies.

“Palestinians fear that this latest move will cement the division and lead to a complete break between Gaza and the West Bank, something Israel has been pushing,” she said.

Both sides were “playing politics with people’s lives instead of taking on Israel’s 50-year-plus occupation,” she said.

At least 241 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire in Gaza since mass protests along the border began in March 2018. Two Israeli soldiers have been killed.

The protests had calmed in recent months after Hamas and Israel struck an agreement that saw Qatari aid allowed into the territory.

This week, it was reported that Israel had blocked a third tranche of Qatari funding, which could lead to increased tensions.

“If the Israelis do block the money, then I think it is almost a certainty you will see Hamas increasing the tension on the border,” Lovatt said.



In Sudan, no one is clear on what happens after al-Bashir

January 12, 2019

“The Islamists have the power to reorganize and regain power.” — “Jihad” is till possible.

As violent anti-government protests enter their fourth week, Sudan appears headed toward political paralysis, with drawn-out unrest across much of the country and a fractured opposition without a clear idea of what to do if their wish to see the country’s leader of 29 years go comes true.

Even for a country that looks unwieldy when its’s not tearing itself apart, President Omar al-Bashir’s years at the helm have turned Sudan into a cautionary tale — from genocide and bloody rebellions to ethnic cleansing, starvation and rampant corruption.

The rally was the first held in Khartoum in support of President Omar al-Bashir since protests erupted last month [Reuters]

President Omar al-Bashir  [Reuters]

But Sudan has been hard to rule way before al-Bashir seized power in a 1989 military coup. Protest leaders say a whole new start is needed if the country is to stand any chance of progressing.

“There may be very few people out there who still support this regime, the way it governed or its use of an Islamic narrative,” said Othman Mirghani, a prominent Sudanese analyst. “The conclusion reached by the people is that this regime must be brought down and the search start for a modern Sudanese state based on contemporary values.”

Here is a look at where things stand after more than three weeks of protests, which claimed at least 40 lives.



The military and democratically elected governments have taken turns ruling Sudan since independence in 1956, with coups bringing the generals to power, only to be brought down eventually by popular uprisings. The only exception was in 1986 when the army honored its promise to hand over the reins to an elected government a year after it seized power.

Sudanese protesters affected by tear gas cover their faces during an anti-government demonstration in the capital Khartoum on January 6, 2018 [Anadolu Agency/Getty Images]

Sudanese protesters affected by tear gas cover their faces during an anti-government demonstration in the capital Khartoum on January 6, 2018 [Anadolu Agency/Getty Images]

The military has been the dominant force in Sudan since independence and, analysts and activists say. Al-Bashir hails from the military, but he has sidelined the army as the country’s main fighting force, replacing it with loyal paramilitary forces he created.

That has frustrated middle and lower ranking officers, in large part because the state’s largesse has gone to the paramilitary forces and security agencies, not them.

Since the current protests began Dec. 19, the military twice stated its support for the country’s “leadership” and pledged to protect the people’s “achievements.” Neither time did it mention al-Bashir by name.

Army troops have deployed to protect vital state installations but have not tried to stop protests and, in some cases, appeared to offer a measure of protection for the demonstrators.

All that raises the possibility the military could take over again and remove al-Bashir. But many fear the Sudan Rapid Forces, a 70,000-strong, well-armed paramilitary force of tribesmen allied with al-Bashir, could respond by stepping in, whether to protect the president or install someone of their own.

Image result for Sudan Rapid Forces, pictures

Sudan Rapid Forces

Curiously, the 74-year-old al-Bashir said Tuesday he would not mind if he is replaced by someone from the military.

Egyptian Sudan expert Hany Raslan said that “in any normal country, al-Bashir’s comments would have been interpreted as part of a transfer of power, but that is Sudan and he is most likely just trying to curry favor with the military.”

If Sudan’s stretches of military rule brought suppression of freedoms and human rights violations, its brief democratic spells — 1956-1958, 1964-1969 and 1986-1989 — were defined by their ineffectiveness. Traditional parties like the Umma and Democratic Union governed, but their failure to build a modern state and put the economy on solid footing paved the way for the next military takeover.



Al-Bashir seized power with the backing of the military and Islamists, who then formed the bedrock of his rule. For the past three decades, his National Congress Party — dominated by hardline Islamists — has had a lock on government and dominated the economy.

The leadership has styled itself as bringing Islamic rule by Shariah to Sudan and styled its past wars as “jihad,” whether against southerners or against insurgents in the western Darfur region. Al-Bashir often denounces “secularists” as Sudan’s worst enemies and touts his long rule as proof of God’s support.

A wave of protests across Sudan began in the northeastern city of Atbara on December 19 [AFP]

A wave of protests across Sudan began in the northeastern city of Atbara on December 19 [AFP]

Critics, however, say the Islamist ideology has largely become a veneer for a political machine that allows al-Bashir’s relatives, loyalists, politicians and businessmen to amass wealth by their links to the government.

“It is not an Islamic experiment, it is an experiment that uses religious slogans as a cover for practices that have nothing to do with Islam,” said Mirghani, the Sudanese analyst.

But even if al-Bashir goes, his cadres and other loyalists will still have considerable power and are likely to resist major change, backed by a religious rhetoric that can still rally some in the population to their side.



When past popular uprisings succeeded, the elected governments that followed were chiefly built around the Umma and Democratic Union parties.

Omar al Bashir

These two traditional parties are now weak and fractured. Moreover, their political discourse is also immersed in religion, something which does not resonate with many in the new generation of mainly young street activists loyal to liberal parties and professional unions or those acting independently.

“It will be a misguided step if we publicly describe ourselves as liberals or secularists, but what we are looking for is policies that are essentially liberal while not blatantly contrary to Islamic teachings,” said a 26-year-old protester. “We need a government of technocrats. We are done with the traditional parties,” she said, speaking on condition she not be named for fear of reprisals.

The activists and analysts say the weakness of opposition groups is a direct product of al-Bashir’s divide-and-rule tactics, constantly luring senior politicians away from their parties with lofty promises of national unity and a shot at positions that they can abuse for personal gain.

The protesters often chant “freedom, peace and justice” and “the people want to bring down the regime” — the latter the chief slogan of the Arab Spring revolts of 2011. But there isn’t a clear path for reaching their ambitions.

“There is no doubt that there will be big changes as a result of these protests, but they will never be of the magnitude that Sudan needs,” said another activist, who also did not want to be named.

“Al-Bashir could resign or be removed by the army, but the Islamists have the power to reorganize and regain power,” she said.

Associated Press

US military carries out 6 airstrikes in Somalia against al-Shabab extremist rebels, 62 killed

December 17, 2018

The U.S. military said on Monday it had killed 62 militants in six air strikes on Saturday and Sunday in the vicinity of Gandarsh in Somalia’s south-central Banaadir province.

The military’s Africa Command (Africom) said four strikes were carried out on Saturday, killing 34 militants, and two more on Sunday, which killed 28. “Africa Command and our Somali partners conducted these airstrikes to prevent terrorists from using remote areas as a safe haven to plot, direct, inspire and recruit for future attacks,” Africom said in a statement.

Image result for al-Shabab, photos

(Writing by Clement Uwiringiyimana; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

Source: Reuters

Nigerian army lifts ban of UNICEF after spy accusations

December 15, 2018

Nigeria’s army has revoked a ban on UNICEF after claiming it had held workshops to train spies for Boko Haram. The group’s Islamist insurgency has killed more than 27,000 people since 2009 and left 1.8 million homeless.

A health official measures the arm circumference of a child at a UNICEF Clinic in Dikwa, Nigeria (Getty Images/AFP/F. Plaucheur)

The Nigerian military on Friday lifted a ban on UNICEF operations in the country’s northeast, after accusing the aid agency of training “spies” supporting Boko Haram jihadists.

Earlier on Friday the military said the United Nations children’s agency had this week held workshops in the northeast city of Maiduguri, where it was training people for “clandestine” activities that were “sabotaging” counterterrorism efforts.

Read more: Nigeria: Another Boko Haram in the making?

The ban was revoked after a meeting between the military and the aid agency late Friday, where there was an “intervention by well-meaning and concerned Nigerians,” army spokesman Onyema Nwachukwu said.

“During the meeting, the Theatre Command admonished the representatives of the organization to desist from activities inimical to Nigeria’s national security and capable of undermining the ongoing fight against terrorism and insurgency,” he said in a statement.

Read more: Is Islamic extremism on the rise in Africa?

“The Command also urged UNICEF representatives to ensure they share information with relevant authorities whenever induction or training of new staff is being conducted in the theatre,” Nwachukwu said.

Pressure ahead of presidential election

Boko Haram’s Islamist insurgency has killed more than 27,000 people since it began in 2009 and has caused a humanitarian crisis in the wider Lake Chad region, where the jihadists have increased attacks in recent months.

The group’s violent uprising in northeastern Nigeria has left 1.8 million people homeless and millions dependent on aid for survival.

Read more: Nigeria: No return to normal life for freed girls of Dapchi

Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari, who came to power in 2015 on promises to end the violence, is under pressure to act as he seeks re-election in February. He has been criticized in the past for claiming the Islamists were “technically defeated.”

Repeated Boko Haram attacks on Nigerian soldiers have threatened Buhari's re-election bid [Audu Marte/AFP]

Repeated Boko Haram attacks on Nigerian soldiers have threatened Buhari’s re-election bid [Audu Marte/AFP]

The Nigerian military has hit out at media reporting casualty figures of the Boko Haram attacks and even threatened legal action against organizations for publishing unofficial death tolls.

Read more: What makes young African Muslims join jihadi groups?

It has also dismissed reports from international human rights organizations that it has committed rights violations and war crimes during its fight against Boko Haram.

UNICEF has not formally commented on the ban, but earlier a UNICEF spokeswoman said the organization was “verifying the information.”

law/bw (AFP, dpa, Reuters)


See also:

Nigeria’s Buhari rattled by Boko Haram attacks as polls loom

All of Pakistan’s problems are due to “lack of education” – experts

December 14, 2018

At the Tanjai Cheena school in northwest Pakistan, students squeeze into makeshift classrooms where plastic tarps serve as walls and electricity is sparse, as a surging population overstretches the country’s fragile education system.

Sandwiched behind desks like sardines, students repeat words learned in Pashto and English during an anatomy lesson: “Guta is finger, laas is hand”.

At the Tanjai Cheena school in northwest Pakistan students squeeze into makeshift classrooms where plastic tarps serve as walls and electricity is sparse. (AFP)

Two teachers rotate between four classrooms at the school, which lacks even the most basic amenities, including toilets.

“The girls usually go to my house and the boys to the bushes,” principal Mohammad Bashir Khan, who has worked at the school in the picturesque Swat Valley in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province for 19 years, said.

With birth control and family planning virtually unheard of in this ultraconservative region, the ill-equipped public school system has not kept up with population growth.

“In 1984, when my father started the school, there were 20 to 25 kids. Now they are more than 140,” Khan said.

Pakistan sits on a demographic time bomb after years of exponential growth and high fertility rates resulted in a population of 207 million — two-thirds of whom are under the age of 30.

And each year the country gains three to four million more people, overburdening public services from schools to hospitals.

At the Malok Abad primary school in the town of Mingora, 700 boys share six classrooms, many of which remain damaged from a 2005 earthquake with clumps of plaster still falling from their ceilings.

The youngest students study in the courtyard sitting on the ground, while others are forced to gather on the roof under the baking sun.

“We are doing our best. But those kids are neglected by the system,” teacher Inamullah Munir said.

On the girls’ side, the situation is even more dire with the smallest classes hosting up to 135 students packed into a space measuring about 20 square meters.

“This is emergency education,” said Faisal Khalid, a local director at the education department in Swat.


The stakes are high in a country where education has long been neglected and received little in the way of funding as Pakistan focused on fighting militancy.

Swat shouldered the extra burden of combating a deadly Taliban insurgency that saw dozens of schools destroyed and the shooting of schoolgirl and education activist Malala Yousafzai in 2012.

As peace has returned to the region, public spending on education has increased, but it still falls short of the province’s growing needs.

Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party has made “quality education for all” its rallying cry since taking the helm of the provincial government in 2013.

In the past five years, 2,700 schools have been built or expanded, while 57,000 new teachers have been recruited.

Authorities have also more than doubled Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s education budget between 2013 and 2018. “That was the biggest increase in the history of this province,” Atif Khan, the former provincial education minister, explains.

However, the rise in spending is no match for Pakistan’s swelling demographics, even as the government plans to expand existing facilities and extend working hours in an attempt to meet demand.

The top-ranked public high school in provincial capital Peshawar is a striking example of the challenges facing educators and students, who number 70 to a room despite the addition of a dozen new classrooms.

“The more classrooms we build, the more they will be filled,” Jaddi Kalil, who heads the educational services department in the area, said.

Pakistan now spends 2.2 percent of its GDP on education, the country’s Minister of Education Shafqat Mahmood told AFP, adding that the amount was set to double in the coming years.

Even more worrying, the increased funding has failed to put a dent in the province’s illiteracy rates, with only 53 percent of children above 10 years of age able to read and write.

The situation is replicated across Pakistan, with 22.6 million children out of school nationwide — a figure that is likely to increase, given the country’s unbridled population growth.

The quality of teaching is also a cause for concern with just one in two students able to solve basic math problems upon completing primary school, according to the finance ministry.

“Only elites have access to quality education,” a recent report by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) said.

With its economy already on the rocks, Pakistan faces the unenviable task of having to create between 1.2 and 1.5 million skilled jobs annually to employ recent graduates, the UNDP report said.

Poor education is a “recipe for frustration”, while good education “allows for more cohesion and less extremism”, Adil Najam, the author of the UNDP study, said. “All the important problems of Pakistan are related to education.”

Thousands of Islamists march in Jakarta ahead of elections

December 2, 2018

Around 100,000 people marched in Indonesia’s capital Sunday to mark two years since a demonstration that led to the fall of Jakarta’s Christian ex-governor, as presidential candidates seek to rally support ahead of next year’s general election.

Former governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama was voted out of office and later jailed for two years for blasphemy following the 2016 protests, in a case seen as an example of rising religious intolerance in Muslim-majority Indonesia.

© AFP | About 100,000 people joined the peaceful rally on Sunday with 23,000 officers securing the event

Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country, has seen its reputation for pluralism eroded by a surge in attacks on minorities.

Analysts say identity politics and rising intolerance are likely to feature prominently — along with the economy — in campaigning for next April’s general election across the sprawling Southeast Asian archipelago.

On Sunday, some 100,000 people joined the peaceful rally, with 23,000 officers securing the event, Jakarta police spokesman Argo Yuwono told AFP.

The demonstrators — many dressed in white and carrying Islamic flags — gathered at the National Monument, where former general and presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto spoke.

Subianto supported the rally that led to Purnama’s ouster in December 2016, and analysts say Sunday’s rally may have been politically motivated to boost his chance of winning the presidential elections set for April.

He will face President Joko Widodo, who has chosen conservative cleric Ma’ruf Amin as his vice presidential candidate, a move analysts think will bolster the president’s Islamic credentials.

Widodo also supported the 2016 rally, known as “212 demonstration” after the date when it was held — the second of December.



Pakistan: Imran Khan Government Passes 100 Day Milestone

November 29, 2018

The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) is holding an event at the Jinnah Convention Centre in Islamabad, where it will share its government’s performance over the first 100 days in power.

Senator Faisal Javed formally opened the event with a brief intro before making way for recitation of the Holy Quran.

PM Khan and FM Qureshi at the Jinnah Convention Centr. — File
PM Khan and FM Qureshi at the Jinnah Convention Centr. 

Prime Minister Imran Khan is going to make some important announcements during the ceremony, according to Radio Pakistan, and take the nation into confidence over the government’s achievements.

While opposition parties are terming the 100-day performance of the government as “unimpressive, ridiculous and full of lies and U-turns”, the ruling party leaders are boasting the period with “remarkable achievements”, claiming that the country has been put on the right track.

Some three months before the July 25 general elections, PTI chairman Imran Khan had unveiled his party’s ambitious “agenda” outlining the party’s commitments for starting work within the first 100 days of forming government after the polls.

Read: Jury out on PTI’s performance amid claims, counterclaims

The salient features of the agenda were expeditious merger of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, bifurcation of Punjab and reconciliation with estranged Baloch leaders.

The 100-day agenda also contained a plan for introducing a development package for Karachi and a programme for alleviation of poverty, besides a number of steps for improvement of economy.

Presenting the salient points of the economic policy of the PTI government, Asad Umar, now finance minister, had promised that the government would create 10 million jobs, revive manufacturing, rapidly grow small and medium enterprises sector, facilitate private sector to build five million houses, reform tax administration and transform state-owned-enterprises.

Explore: Imran unveils ambitious agenda for first 100 days of govt

Later, speaking at the first formal press conference after the elections and before assuming the charge as finance minister, Umar had said that offering any relief or subsidy to the people during first 100 days was like giving lollipops. He said the first 100 days would also not see a decision that would change the destiny of the nation, but a clear direction on what “we promised and where we are headed for stock-taking”.

The opposition parties allege that the government has totally failed to deliver at almost all the fronts, particularly economy and law and order situation. According to the opposition, the government has not done its homework properly.

Gunmen kill cleric at religious centre in Somalia: Al Shabaab

November 26, 2018

Al Shabaab gunmen attacked a religious centre in central Somalia on Monday, killing a cleric and 10 of his followers, a spokesman for the militant Islamist group said.

“A car bomb rammed into the centre of the man who insulted the prophet. Our militants are now inside and fighting goes on,” Al Shabaab spokesman Abdiasis Abu Musab told Reuters.

He later said the cleric Abdiweli was killed in the attack along with 10 of his followers.

Al-Qaeda linked al-shabab recruits walk down a street on March 5, 2012 in the Deniile district of Somalian capital, Mogadishu, following their graduation

Al-Shabab is an al-Qaeda-linked group fighting to overthrow the UN-backed Somali government. AFP photo

The casualties could not be independently confirmed.

Residents of Galkayo, where the centre is located, and a regional official said Abdiweli may have been targeted because his centre hosts mostly youths who play music and dance.

Al Shabaab said last year the cleric had referred to himself as the Prophet, an accusation denied at the time by Abdiweli.

“We cannot know the figure of casualties right now. Al Shabaab had threatened him many times,” Abdirashid Hashi, the governor of Mudug region, told Reuters.

Al Shabaab is fighting to topple the Somali government and establish its own rule based on its harsh interpretation of Islamic law. The group controls small sections on Mudug region, but it does not include Galkayo.

Reporting by Abdi Sheikh and Feisal Omar; Writing by George Obulutsa; editing by Darren Schuettler


Pakistan: Credibility-destroying surrender to the mob by Mr U-turn Imran Khan — When do we see detail and the building blocks of policy and governance

November 19, 2018

We live in polarising, vanquish-your-enemy, with-us-or-against-us, anything to win political times

THE other number is also arbitrary, and borrowed anyway: 100 days. The 100-day mark makes more sense in a presidential system where the swearing-in activates most executive powers.

In a parliamentary system, it’s more staggered.

By Cyril Almeida

The five-year countdown begins the day parliament is sworn in. But the executive only takes form once the prime minister is elected and the executive only really gets going once the majority of the cabinet is in place.

So ‘100 days’ here is just a contrivance, imported from other jurisdictions and with little local relevance. In which case, may as well attempt a 90-day review. At least that number has a bit of local history attached to it.

What have we got at the end of 90 days?

PRIME Minister Imran Khan talks to journalists after laying foundation stone of the shelter home.—APP
PRIME Minister Imran Khan talks to journalists after laying foundation stone of the shelter home.—APP

The latest: the promise of a plan at the end of 100 days, a loopy reference to the ultimate fascist and doubling down on the sobriquet of Mr U-turn. And before that: really just the Saudi mini bailout. And between those things: the credibility-destroying surrender to the mob.

Having turned the volume knob of politics all the way up to 10 and maximum for several years, Imran and the PTI are struggling to turn it down to a reasonable level.

It’s not looking good.

But if it’s not looking good, how bad is it really? In these polarising, vanquish-your-enemy, with-us-or-against-us political times, not-good is both disaster and success — disaster for the bitterly partisan opponent and success for the bitterly partisan supporter.

That is partly — maybe mostly — the PTI’s fault. Having turned the volume knob of politics all the way up to 10 and maximum for several years, Imran and the PTI are struggling to turn it down to a reasonable level. The practitioners of guerrilla-style politics have ambushed themselves.

But if you can get away from that a moment and ask a slightly different question, the PTI is more or less performing as could have been reasonably expected of it 90 days ago. The slightly different question: what could the non-partisan have reasonably expected of this PTI government in its first 90 days?

It is now obvious that the PTI was thoroughly unprepared, maybe even clueless, when it took over 90 days ago. But that’s not really a surprise. And for the sceptically inclined, it had an air of inevitability.

Follow the arc of Imran’s political career. He has been strikingly consistent in how little interest he’s shown in details — any details. If Nawaz has his roads and motorways and Asif his sugar mills and endless land acquisition, Imran has what?

Good or bad, illegal or above board, pet projects or grand policy, there’s nothing you can really find in Imran’s interests that could bring with it an understanding of detail and the building blocks of policy and governance (misgovernance, even).

The closest thing is this business of tree planting, but there, too, where’s the eye for detail — any detail? He hasn’t really talked plant types or the science of forestation or anything approaching an understanding of trees, foliage, soil, and terrain.

The point isn’t really about trees — it’s that even in the thing that he is ostensibly passionate about, Imran hasn’t evinced an interest in the details.

The bigger giveaway is the PTI itself. It has become an electoral juggernaut and that’s an incredible achievement, but the party’s legitimate support is quite obviously built on the personal appeal of Imran, and not a grass-roots political machine.

Each time Imran has had the chance to build a party political machine, he’s shown an impatience and irritation with complex, durable structures and what it takes to assemble them.

So, completely unprepared.

The other part has been adjusting to power — the actual 90 days in office. Completely unprepared both limits what you can do in your first 90 days and reflects your ambition to actually achieve something in the first 90 days.

The gap between what is pledged and what is delivered is always large, that’s just the way of politics. But the gap between what is intended and what is delivered is often smaller. The first 90 days look shabby and poor, but only if true reforms are considered to be part of the agenda.

Take away meaningful reforms, look at the PTI as a status-quo enabler and perpetuator, and the PTI has delivered pretty much the uneven performance of a new government, further handicapped by its status as a first-time governing party at the centre.

Remember, what could the non-partisan have reasonably expected of this PTI government in its first 90 days?

The economic crisis was baked in, the PTI having a choice between looking competent while partially steering us out of the crisis or bumbling its way towards a ratcheting down of the crisis. It’s only a difference of form and perception, really.

And the bludgeoning it took in the streets — terrible, yes, but made to look worse because of Imran’s show of bravado. Others wouldn’t have bothered with the bravado and probably ended up with the same result.

The bludgeoning in the streets was events imposing themselves and fire-fighting mode kicking in early — but not so early as to shock.

So, yes, it’s not looking good for Imran and the PTI. But if it’s not looking good, how bad is it really? To the non-hyper partisan, the PTI is more or less performing as could have been reasonably expected of it 90 days ago.

And now that the silly, arbitrary 90-day mark is out of the way, the PTI can get serious about delivery in a longer stretch up to the two-year mark, which is what matters for re-election — the only real political incentive.

The writer is a member of staff.

Twitter: @cyalm

Published in Dawn, November 18th, 2018

Pakistan Must Not Surrender to Mob Rule

November 17, 2018

AN inflammatory video filmed just after the Aasia Bibi verdict has received well over five million views. Therein you can watch the TLP leadership calling for the murder of the three Supreme Court judges who dismissed blasphemy charges against Aasia; hear that officers of the Pakistan Army should revolt against COAS Gen Qamar Bajwa; see the country’s prime minister being called a “yehudi bacha” (‘Jewish child’); and listen to the call for overthrowing the PTI government.

The orator is Pir Afzal Qadri, but next to him is the founder-leader of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), Khadim Husain Rizvi. Famed for his foul mouth and colourful Punjabi expletives, Rizvi does not speak here but periodically raises both hands in enthusiastic endorsement. Once an unknown small-time madressah operator, he rocketed into national prominence last November after paralysing Islamabad for three weeks. He draws his strength from heading khatm-i-nabuwat demonstrations across Pakistan.

By Pervez Hoodbhoy

Image result for Khadim Hussain Rizvi, photos,

The founder-leader of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), Khadim Husain Rizvi

Had a call for murder and mutiny been made by any other members of Pakistani society, unimaginable punishment would have been meted out. Similarly for other countries: in the United States instigators of bloody insurrection would be locked up for years; in Iran or Saudi Arabia they would be hanged or beheaded; and in China they would mysteriously disappear. And in India? Similar, I suppose.

A similar open call for murder and mutiny by other Pakistanis would meet extreme punishment.

But we in Pakistan are apparently nicer, kinder people. Our normally voluble, judiciary suddenly lost its voice. Unlike with errant politicians, the Supreme Court did not dock TLP leaders for contempt of court. The ever-vigilant ISPR also somehow missed hearing the call for mutiny against the army’s top leadership. Instead, it pleaded for “an amicable and peaceful resolution” of the Asia Bibi matter because it “does not want the army dragged into the matter”.

And the prime minister? Against the ‘enemies of the state’ his fighting words and body style initially drew wide approbation. Some liberals bravely termed this Imran’s finest hour. But the hour lasted an hour and no more; what started with a roar ended with a whimper. The TLP’s flaccid half-apology was accepted, ignoring the lives lost and property damaged by the rioters.

Imran Khan now wants to fight fire with fire. His current talking points are fulfilling ‘Allama Iqbal’s dream’, and remaking Pakistan as the seventh-century state of Medina. His information minister has just announced unprecedented celebrations of the Holy Prophet’s (PBUH) birthday next week, and a grand khatm-i-nabuwat conference in Islamabad. Invitees will include the imam of the Holy Ka’aba, the mufti of Syria, and various high clerics.

With these new battle plans, Imran hopes to take the wind out of the TLP’s sails by showing its followers and others that he loves the Holy Prophet even more than them. But will it work in the Aasia Bibi case? And will it also work once the next crisis starts (assuming the present one somehow ends)?

As mullah power rises, one cannot be too optimistic. Clerics now believe they can take on any politician or, if need be, generals as well. There is good reason for their confidence. After all was said and done, in 2007 Islamabad’s destroyed Lal Masjid — now grandly reconstructed — defeated the generals.

Consider that the insurrectionists lost about 150 students and other fighters, but head cleric Maulana Abdul Aziz lives more comfortably in 2018 than in 2007. No charges were ever levied against Aziz or others for killing 11 SSG commandos. Meanwhile, Gen Musharraf, the then army chief, glumly passes his days in Dubai. Among other charges, he is accused of quelling an armed insurrection against Pakistan and killing one of Lal Masjid’s ring leaders.

The state’s reluctance to confront clerical power makes its earlier promises ring hollow. Take, for instance, madressah reform. Forgotten is the anti-terrorism National Action Plan that called for financial audits of madressahs, uncovering funding sources, curriculum expansion and revision, and monitoring of activities. That’s a dead duck. Try auditing TLP-associated madressahs.

The security establishment must now ask itself hard questions: has its mainstreaming of religious extremism gone too far? Can extremists actually be moderated by bringing them into the political fold? On the political chessboard, was it a good move to try balance ‘hard’ Deobandi power with ‘soft’ Barelvi power?

Blowbacks do happen: whereas a year ago Imran Khan had cautiously welcomed Rizvi into the anti-Nawaz Sharif camp, others who wanted Nawaz defeated went a step further. They allowed themselves to be recorded on video while handing out Rs1,000 notes to the rioters. Politically, this is very embarrassing because Rizvi and his wild eyed boys have gone their own way.

Certainly, the TLP turned out to be a bad investment. Contrarily, there appears to be a good investment. The largely Deobandi LeT/JuD was encouraged to launch its own political party, the Milli Muslim League (MML). In August 2017, its debut in national politics via the Lahore NA-120 by-elections gained it the fourth position, a surprising show of strength for a new party. MML election posters denounced Nawaz Sharif as a traitor for seeking peace with India and carried aloft pictures of Hafiz Saeed.

Another apparent plus: LeT/JuD has threatened neither army nor government. Its spokesman explained away its low profile during last week’s violent protests saying that JuD has appealed against the Supreme Court decision to free Asia Bibi and would await the conclusion of the legal process before taking to the streets. What a relief!

Some parts of the establishment might see this good behaviour as vindicating its mainstreaming doctrine. But injecting religious leaders and ex-militants into the political mix is a bad idea. When large masses of people react unthinkingly to emotive slogans, everyone is endangered by an explosive, unstable configuration. Ultimately political leaders — and those who secretly engineer political outcomes — also become unsafe. Have we not suffered enough tragic blowback since Soviet times? Pakistan must firmly reject the rule of religiously charged mobs. Instead it should aspire towards becoming part of civilised, cosmopolitan world society. Surrender is not an option.

The writer teaches physics in Islamabad and Lahore

Published in Dawn, November 17th, 2018