The end of Al Qaeeda?

Osama Bin Laden

Osama Bin Laden

The US has announced the leader of Al Qaeeda, Osama Bin Laden, has been killed. What does this mean? On the ground in terms of the US’s fight against terrorism, it means nothing. Al Qaeeda will continue to function as it is. It is not an organisation in the traditional sense of the word. It is an idea, and there are people that affiliate to that idea, that are inspired by it and give themselves the name of the Al Qaeeda brand. That is not going to change.

America has given Osama Bin Laden what he wanted, martyrdom. He is now a martyr for his cause and there are many have followed, and many others who will follow in his footsteps. You can have someone on the other side of the world, that has never set foot in a training camp, has never met Osama bin Laden, and that has never met anyone proclaiming to be from Al Qaeeda, but can still plan and carry out an attack in the name of Al Qaeeda. The Madrid bombings were carried out by people who had never met Osama Bin Laden. Al Qaeeda is a brand and has become a rallying call for those that are frustrated and angry at Western intervention whilst following the hard line Saudi wahabism. America cannot kill that with a team of special forces.

But as the news spreads out across the world, it raises more questions than it answers. Why was Osama bin Laden in a town north of Islamabad, when he could have had sanctuary in Swat, Waziristan or any other tribal area of Pakistan? Why was his body dumped at sea? Not to create a shrine? But if the Americans knew anything about Osama bin Laden and his followers then they would know that hard line Wahabi Salafis do not go to shrines, are vehemently opposed to them and in the case of Somalia go around and destroy them. What traditional Islamic ritual was performed? Did they bathe the body? Pointless if you are going to drop it in the sea. Did they get somebody to perform the Muslim funeral prayer? In between shooting him and loading him onto a helicopter?

Many will be suspicious of the US narrative. Many believe he was killed years ago since he has not played a major frontline role in recent years. Questions are also raised about the role of Pakistan in this. Did the usually all-knowing ISI not know about Bin Laden’s whereabouts, or did they know and choose not to tell? If it is the latter it raises more questions, did they tip the US off or were they harbouring him?

The media narrative, at least in the American press, has been that Bin Laden has finally been brought to justice via a barrel of a gun. A great message to send out, no doubt. But when the Taleban offered to hand over Osama bin Laden to Pakistan so he could be tried in 2001 America refused. Again, this leads many people across the Muslim world to question the premise that the so called war on terror is actually to fight terror.

The common narrative is that this all started with 9/11. In the real world, a world where people have known imperialism, it started a long time before 9/11. It stems from the conquest of Muslim lands and the division of those lands into individual sheikhdoms for dictators the West supported, armed and loved. Our men in the Middle East. Colonial powers drew lines in maps with complete disregard for the people living in those lands. Then those very people were oppressed, physically, mentally and economically. Is it a wonder that people around the world view the West with suspicion?

Al Qaeeda and similar groups will live on as long as Western governments show double standards, hidden agendas and hopes of empire. Now Osama Bin Laden has gone, who will the next bogeyman be?

The challenge for Pakistan

Challenge for Pakistan

Challenge for Pakistan

Pakistan’s tumultuous relationship with the West has put the country at the forefront of the so called War on Terror.With violence flaring in the North West Frontier province and the recent attacks on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore, many analysts are predicting Pakistan’s future as a failed state.

 

Since former President Musharraf signed up to America’s so called “War on Terror” the country has been spiralling out of control.The violence in Afghanistan has spread south of the border into Pakistan.The Pakistani military, once respected and admired by Pakistanis, is now engaged in a war against its own citizens, that has resulted in large civilian casualties and thousands of internally displaced refugees from the Bajour Agency ,in the North West Frontier Province, and neighbouring regions.

When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979 thousands of students from religious schools in and around Pakistan and Afghanistan were encouraged to take part in ‘jihad’ against the Russian occupation.These mujahedeen fighters were trained and financed by both the Americans and the Pakistani military to fight off a common enemy.After the withdrawal of the Russian troops however the mujahedeen fighters turned on each other, and a bloody civil war ended with the Taliban taking control of Afghanistan.

Let us think outside the paradigm of the so called war on terror, outside the common narrative that we have just read above. What is really taking place?

War on Terror

The so-called “Pakistani Taliban” have been mounting attacks not only against the Pakistani military but also against ordinary people living in the region.If you ask people in Pakistan including in the provincial capital of the North West Frontier Province, Peshawer, people tell you “these militants are not Taliban”.There is the belief in Pakistan that the so called Pakistani Taliban have no links to the Taliban in Afghanistan. This is in fact supported by a statement from the Afghan Taliban that the so called Pakistani Taliban have nothing to do with them.The ‘militants’ in Pakistan seem to be jumping on the Taliban brand name to gain both religious and political legtimacy.They are well funded, well equipped and trained well enough to battle the Pakistani army.

Possible Balkanisation?

Professor Michel Chossudovsky, director of the centre for research on Globalisation, recently wrote in his article the destabilasation of Pakistan, “Washington’s foreign policy course is to actively promote the political fragmentation and Balkanization of Pakistan as a nation” along ethnic lines.Pakistan faces the breakup of itself as a nation, which could lead to an independent Pashtunistan, made up of the NWFP and border regions and also independence for Baluchistan.Pakistan would be left with just the states of Punjab and Sindh.
Challenge for Pakistan

Far fetched? Well not if you consider the strategic location of Pakistan in the light of American and Chinese interests.China has recently signed a deal to develop the port of Gawadar in Baluchistan; this will be the largest Chinese construction investment outside of China.Chinese access to the Indian Ocean is making both India and the United States uneasy.While America does not want China anywhere near the Straits of Hormuz.India has had a continuous military rivalry with Pakistan, and the presence of China, a close military ally of Pakistan, could be seen as a potential threat to India.

Pakistani Government

The Pakistani government, currently led by the Pakistan Peoples Party, has lurched from one embarrassing incident to another after the end of President Musharraf’s rule in 2008.Apparent splits in the government began to emerge after the attacks in Mumbai in November 2008, with conflicting reports being given regarding the nationality of one of the alleged terrorists.This culminated in the sacking of the National Security Advisor, Mahmud Ali Durrani, by Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani.

However the biggest embarrassment to Pakistan and its people was when the Hilal-i-Quaid-I-Azam was conferred on Richard Boucher, US assistant secretary of State for central and South Asian affairs, by President Asif Ali Zardari for his ‘services to Pakistan’.Zardari has shown he is reluctant to break with the same governments that had favoured Musharraf.He has ignored the will of the Pakistani people and their anger at the war in Afghanistan and the consequences it has for Pakistan.US drone attacks and US troops carrying out operations on Pakistani soil which have resulted in huge civilian casualties have been met not with protest, but with the awarding of Pakistan’s highest civilian award to Boucher. The award was met with shock and criticism by politicians and media alike.

The latest crisis to grip Pakistan’s beleaguered government has just ended in a significant climbdown for President Asif Ali Zardari.The crisis began when the Supreme Court barred opposition leader, Nawaz Sharif, and his brother, Shahbaz, from elected office. The government of Pakistan’s most populous state, Punjab, led by Shabaz was duly dismissed.Sharif then threw his weight into the lawyers’ movement that has been active for the past two years following the sacking of the Chief Justice, Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry.Despite a government clampdown on protestors and attempts to place Sharif under house arrest, the protest gathered strength and thousands of supporters, determined to take their grievances to Islamabad.Zardari’s crackdown even went as far as to shut down independent news channels, which lead to the resignation of the Information Minister, Sherry Rehman.In the face of this Zardari was forced to step down, and to reinstate Chaudhry and other judges sacked by Musharraf.He was also forced to order the release of the political activists who have been arrested over the past week.People have been drawing parallels with Musharraf’s rule and have taken to the streets to demand change, and in doing so, they have shaken Zardari’s government.

Regardless of the incompetence and corruption of the government and the emerging threat from ‘militants’ and any future American plans for Pakistan,the Pakistani people seem to be holding together.On the streets of Pakistan, from Lahore to Islamabad, from Karachi to Peshawar, people seem to be in a defiant mood, and have no appetite for a fragmented nation.

On the busy streets of Peshawar lies a memorial for those that fought the British in the early 20th century.The same people will fight any occupier or any one that wills Pakistan harm.The Pakistani people are strong and will fight intellectually, verbally and if need be physically to defend their country against any oppressor.However, Pakistan’s biggest threat may come from within.

Report from a refugee camp in Kashmir

Refugee camp in KashmirIn Pakistani-administered Kashmir this small refugee camp is home to some 600 people who have fled Indian-administered Kashmir, 16km from the line of control. This is the line of the world’s most militarised zone. Since the Mumbai attacks and continued Indian allegations of Pakistani involvement tensions are once again forcing people to fortify their bunkers as they brace themselves for a potential confrontation.

Kashmir has been a disputed territory since both Pakistan and India’s independence in 1947. The two countries have fought three wars over the region. The green metal rope bridge shakes as the car mounts. The bridge is what separates Pakistan and Pakistani-administered Azad Kashmir. One vehicle at a time, some passengers walk across the shaky structure as the collective weight of the passengers and vehicle may be too much for the bridge. Down below flows the dark and murky Jelum river.

We enter Azad Kashmir and head towards Kotli district an area close to the line of control. The road twists precariously and snakes its way up, climbing steep gradients and slopes around the mountains of Kashmir. Numerous pot holes marks the tarmac. Clumps of green trees and bushes peer over the side of the narrow road, grey igneous rocks lie at the sides. The car shakes and jolts around, making its participants look like dolls, with their heads wobbling as their hands clinch tightly to the handles inside. One wrong move here and it is a sheer drop down the mountain – there are no safety barriers.

It is therefore not surprising to hear every now and then the grim reports of vehicles going down in this tortuous terrain often without survivors. Kashmir is a beautiful mountainous and green region, scenic, with its amazing views and fresh air. As we pass through villages and towns on our way to the refugee camp we can see evidence of the wealth earned in Britain spent on development of the area from money sent in by Kashmiri families in Britain, home of the world’s largest Kashmiri Diaspora. Large mansions, with a clash of colours – red, green, and brightly painted white is the common design in this region. Huge pillars holding up the three-storey homes, with four-wheel-drive SUVs parked in the driveways.

As we dismount our vehicle, which is now covered in thick dust, the number plate barely readable, we walk the rest of the way to the refugee camp. After traversing mountain paths, and jumping over rocks while taking in the scenery, we are stunned to see the lLine of control which the locals call the Line of Divide that separates the people of Kashmir is visible from here. My guide points to a mountain top in the distance. “There it is” he says confidently. And then he points to a green hillside within a stone’s throw of us, and adds “Shells land there when India fires its guns”. With an uneasy feeling, we head extremely close to the LOC that separates two nuclear armed nations and what remains a volatile flashpoint.

Over the years the tents in the refugee camp have been replaced by small houses and even a mosque and a small State run school teaching children up to the age of ten. These children play in the narrow alleys that separate their homes in what looks like a labyrinth of narrow passages. A little girl works the water pump trying to fill an old metal bucket. Her clothes are scruffy and face dirty from the dust. As we settle in we begin to talk with some of the residents here who fled Indian administered Kashmir.

Hasin Din, who is 25 years old, says: “I worked for 200 rupees a day (two pounds) as a labourer” to support my two children aged five and two. “Whatever we had we left behind, our homes, our families our land and livelihoods.”

I asked many of the refugees if they wanted to return, and without exception they they said “If Kashmir (Indian administered) becomes azad (free) tomorrow, we shall return”.

Peering through his metal spectacles, sixty year old Navi Baksh, is eager to share his story. A story that rings a familiar bell with the others heard in the camp. “We ran for our lives across these tough and forested mountains under the cover of darkness with my wife and my children” Navi says wearily. “It was a difficult and dangerous journey but we had no option, the Indian army gave us no choice, and they made life unbearable for us”. “We left with nothing but the clothes on our backs”.

Everywhere you go, everyone you speak to will tell you harrowing tales of their escape from what they say is the clutches of the Indian occupation forces. Muhammed Munshi remembers the ordeal which will be indelibly stamped on his mind:

“They killed my uncle and two nephews without any reason, then they took the bodies to the forest to burn them, but we realised what was happening and raised the alarm, all our village coming out to protest. Then they surrounded my house. The Indian army said we were helping Pakistani based militants, so I fled taking my three children and wife. We left one son behind along with my older brother. My son was 14 years old when we left. My son was taken into custody”. His grandchild now sits on his lap, and Muhammed holds him tight, close to his chest. The hurt is clearly evident on his face and pushing back the tears he continues:

“The Indian army used to come into our homes and force our women to undress, saying they were helping militants and could be carrying bombs! In our own homes?” he questions. “We were helpless. The Indian army are the ones with the power. We took our respect, dignity and honour and fled, we could not live under such rule or be subject to humiliation and oppression”.

The Pakistani government has provided some help for these people. Vehicles were provided for refugees to bring them to the camp. Small pieces of land were allocated for each family so that they might pitch up a tent. Each family receives 1000 rupees a month, approximately ten pounds. People told me that they are in debt, and it has been four months since the have received anything from the Pakistani government. There are thousands of refugees scattered throughout this region, victims of the conflict in Kashmir. These people are far away from the politics of Islamabad and New Delhi, even further away from Mumbai. If there is a war between the two nuclear-armed nations, it is people like those of Kashmir that will be the victims, long forgotten by the world and international community. Munshi hopes to be reunited with his son one day and return to his home. “Azadi” he says, freedom, one day.