Voices from North Waziristan

Mahvish Ahmad of the indispensable Tanqeed interviews refugees in Bannu, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, displaced from North Waziristan after the launch of the Pakistani Army’s Operation Zarb-e-Azb. Note that these voices go unheard in the Pakistani media and the nationalist and liberal intelligentsia has been cheering on this “war on terror”.

Hawking Women’s Rights

Considering the amount of uninformed commentary that has been proliferating on Pakistan, readers might want to check out Tanqeed, an important new initiative started by a group of progressive Pakistani academics, writers and journalists. The trigger was a typically obtuse ‘debate’ on New York Times about the recent assassination attempt on a school-girl in Swat. In response Tanqeed (which means ‘criticism’) asked 6 Pakistani writers to present a less ideologically skewed take on the same event (and its broader context). You can find the result here. The following is my contribution:

Ten year old Nadia, whose family was incinerated in a drone strike.

For advocacy to be successful, it has to come from a place of empathy rather than superiority. Many of the most vocal advocates of women’s rights in Pakistan today are also known for their sanguine views on the “war on terror.” It is, therefore, doubtful that their new self-image as the deliverers of women from patriarchal tyranny will gain much purchase among the sufferers.

Women have doubtless borne the brunt of the dislocation and insecurity occasioned by the “war on terror.” But, to treat women’s rights in isolation from the general malaise merely serves to put the concern under a pall of suspicion. Women’s rights have been long used as a pretext for imperial aggression. Far from bringing relief, their invocation by the apologists for war merely helps obscurantist criminals, like the TTP, elevate misogyny into an anti-imperial expression.

The situation in Pakistan’s troubled northwest is no doubt ugly. From the indiscriminate violence of the Taliban, the gratuitous butchery of sectarian criminals, the bombing of girls’schools, the targeting of children, to the threats against the media, it is a predicament that is begging for a visionary political solution.

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Bureau of Investigative Journalism exposes CIA lies on drone casualties

An investigation by a Bureau of Investigative Journalism team led by Chris Woods conclusively shows that the US government has been lying about civilians casualties in its illegal drone war inside Pakistan. The story was recently covered by the BBC’s Newsnight.

Our friend, the great Gitmo lawyer Clive Stafford Smith is now suing the CIA’s former legal chief John Rizzo for murder.

Gunboats and gurkhas in the American Imperium

My new piece on the complicity of the Pakistani elite in the US drone war is up on Al Jazeera‘s website.

Pakistanis are enraged by ongoing US drone strikes in their country

Meet Resham Khan. The 52-year-old shepherd was brought on a stretcher to a psychiatric hospital in Islamabad in January, traumatized and unable to speak. The father of six witnessed 15 members of his extended family perish last June when a US drone attacked a funeral procession in his native North Waziristan. The atrocity has left him mute and emotionally paralyzed, his vacant eyes staring into the distance. He gave up on food and drink in the months following the attack; shortly afterward, the pious Muslim gave up on prayer too. His condition also prevented him from looking after his ailing mother who died soon thereafter. And his surviving children have suffered. When the Reuters journalist finally got him to talk, one of the few things he said was ‘Stop the drone attacks.’

Kareem Khan, too, has suffered. On December 31, 2009, his son Zaenullah Khan and his brother Asif Iqbal were among the three people killed in a US drone attack which destroyed their home in Mir Ali, North Waziristan. Kareem’s absence spared him the sight of his mutilated family; and unlike the helpless shepherd, he had the wherewithal to demand justice. In November 2010, his lawyer, Barrister Shahzad Akbar served legal notices to the CIA station chief Jonathan Banks, former Defence Secretary Robert Gates, and former Director of Central Intelligence Leon Panetta for $500 million in damages.  Banks, who was in Pakistan on a business visa, took fright and soon fled the scene, and the US government was so terrified of the legal challenge that last month it denied a visa to Barrister Akbar to travel to the US. More survivors have since come forward demanding justice.

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Pakistan and the Global War on Terror: An Interview with Tariq Ali

by Mara Ahmed, with Judy Bello

Tariq Ali and Mara Ahmad at Hamilton College, NY.

Mara Ahmed and I were given the opportunity to interview Tariq Ali when he spoke at Hamilton College in Upstate New York on November 11, 2009, during his recent speaking tour of the United States. Tariq, a native of Pakistan who lives in England, is a well known writer, intellectual and activist. He has traveled all over Southwest Asia and the Middle East while researching his books. Mara, who is working on a film highlighting the opinions of the Pakistani people regarding the current situation in Pakistan and the Western initiated ‘Global War on Terror’, had a lot of questions for Tariq about the internal state of Pakistan. I wanted to ask Tariq for his opinion about the effects of American foreign policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and what alternatives he thought might be available.

Mara: What is the role of Islamophobia in the Global War on Terror? Many American war veterans have described the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as imperialistic, racist and genocidal. Your comments?

Tariq: Well, I think Islamophobia plays an important part in things, because it creates an atmosphere in which people feel, “Oh, we’re just killing Muslims, so that’s alright.” And this situation is becoming quite serious in the United States and in large parts of Europe, where people feel that the fact that a million Iraqis have died is fine because they’re not like us, they’re Muslims. So, Islamophobia is becoming a very poisonous and dangerous ideological construct which has to be fought against.

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Pakistan, Clinton, Drones, and US Foreign Policy

Yesterday, after my analysis of developments in Pakistan was published by IPS, I was interviewed by Dori Smith of the excellent Talk Nation Radio, which is broadcast on several Pacifica channels. Among other things we also spoke about US foreign policy in the region, the Iraq war, neoconservative networks, Afghanistan, and media in Pakistan.

Idrees Ahmad returned to his native Pakistan where he reported for Inter Press Service in an October 30, 2009 story ‘The US in Pakistan’s Mind: Nothing but Aversion’.Pakistanis have viewed US policy with grave skepticism as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seeks to win ‘hearts and minds’ while promoting the unpopular US war on terror.

Idrees Ahmad joined us after returning to Glasgow, Scotland, where he is a student about to publish his PHD thesis as a book. You can find his story about Pakistan online at Inter Press Service News and look for his more detailed piece in the November issue of Le Monde Diplomatique.

Hearts, Minds, and Dollars

POLITICS: U.S. in Pakistan’s Mind: Nothing But Aversion

Analysis by Muhammad Idrees Ahmad

With Nato supply convoys passing through the FATA region, US military hardware frequently falls into the hands of insurgents.

PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Oct 30 (IPS) – To the west of Peshawar on the Jamrud Road that leads to the historic Khyber Pass sits the Karkhano Market, a series of shopping plazas whose usual offering of contraband is now supplemented by standard issue U.S. military equipment, including combat fatigues, night vision goggles, body armour and army knives.

Beyond the market is a checkpoint, which separates the city from the semi-autonomous tribal region of Khyber. In the past, if one lingered near the barrier long enough, one was usually approached by someone from the far side selling hashish, alcohol, guns, or even rocket-propelled grenade launchers. These days such salesman could also be selling U.S. semi-automatics, sniper rifles and hand guns. Those who buy do it less for their quality—the AK-47 still remains the weapon of choice here—than as mementos of a dying Empire.

The realisation may be dawning slowly on some U.S. allies, but here everyone is convinced that Western forces have lost the war. However, at a time when in Afghanistan the efficacy of force as a counterinsurgency tool is being increasingly questioned, there is a newfound affinity for it in Pakistan.

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