The attack on Islamic university in Islamabad: From General Zia to Imran Khan

IIU, me and you
The Pakistan report card

Thursday, October 22, 2009
Fasi Zaka

Several months ago, I was invited to speak at a seminar at the women’s campus of the International Islamic University (IIU). It was, to say at the least, a memorable experience. I came to the unfortunate realisation that I too was a prejudiced individual after I compared my expectations to what I saw there.

I expected a strict, stifling academic atmosphere that would be pervading the air in a sea of burqas. It was none of those things; the only cliché present was my pre-conceived notion, sadly with what could be called new neo-colonial mindset of the modernist Muslim despite his/her good intentions. The female students there were animated, gutsy and held intellectual discourse with vigour.

Most striking was the plurality of the female campus of the IIU; the girls there chose their own identities and wore what they liked (with even the occasional moderate western wear). The segregation hadn’t created an artificial environment; the students were free to be their own selves without the social mores that come into play when the genders mix.

When I heard of the bombing at both the male and female campuses of the IIU, I was deeply saddened. I continue to wonder how urban apologists for the Taliban will spin this one. In all likelihood they won’t, they will pretend it never happened. Rehman Malik is already at the blame game, claiming the problem was a lapse in university security. Since when have universities become experts in counter-terrorism is beyond me. He chose to ignore the obvious, which is that his ministry miscalculated when it thought schools were under threat and advised to shut them down instead of including universities on the list as well.

While the PPP maybe an abject failure in governing this nation, our only alternative is proving to be a duplicitous man preaching a hollow holier-than-thou tirade. Nawaz Sharif won’t answer questions about the Taliban, nor will he back the army into a war it has been slow to engage in.

After the IIU bombing, what else is it that the Taliban can do to prove to Nawaz Sharif that they are entirely Godless? The left will quote Chomsky, Pilger and others to explain the social conditions that lead to movements like the Taliban, in effect intellectually justifying their methods. There is no denying the areas that have spawned this collective deserved better. But then, frankly, what are the redeeming features of the Taliban, if any? Explaining their background cannot, and does not, mitigate their callousness or inhumanity.

Muted defenses of the Taliban always argue that one should not attempt to wipe them out because they are Muslims, ‘well intentioned’ but deviant. But what is odd that it seems the Taliban have no such qualms, having relegated everyone but themselves into the pit of infidels.

For a long time now, there has been no room left for understanding and compassion. It is time to demonise them. General discourse and the media need to paint them as the new infidels. The kid gloves need to come off; the right wing of this country has to treat them with the same disdain and suggestions of all-encompassing evil that they reserve for USA, India and Israel.

To be a member of the Taliban should be an unequivocal slur, it needs to have shame. In the battle for minds, maybe the same misdirected and spontaneous anger that creates mobs in streets against people (usually religious minorities) for alleged blasphemy should be aimed at people who collaborate with these murderers. It’s no less a grave blasphemy to kill and maim innocent girls in an overtly Islamic university in the name of the Prophet (PBUH).

But no, we have one standard for the Taliban and another for people who mark their heads with red dots and adorn their necks with crosses. This is the crux of our problem, not military might against the hordes of barbarians inside our gates.

Remaining silent is not an option. Avoiding questions the way Nawaz Sharif does cannot go on. And if we are to start on this right now, I propose a simple start. We legislate against allowing abstentions in both the upper and lower houses of parliament for both resolutions and pending legislation.

So whether it is the NRO, Kerry Lugar or action against the Taliban, the officials elected to represent the interests of the people cannot use the opt-out clause (abstentions) to gain false and damaging moral ground if they do not want to appear to support or be against certain issues when tabled.

Name the legislation after the students who lost their lives at the university, it is the people, army brass and politicians who remained silent for so long that the girls and others have been silenced violently in the prime of their lives. Surely, Nawaz Sharif must have an opinion on that. But maybe he believes the comical and sad statement that Qamar Zaman Kaira gave after the bombing: “their real faces are now exposed in front of the nation.” Really? Only now?

IIU, me and you — II

Thursday, October 29, 2009
Fasi Zaka

In times of unimaginable tragedy, it is hard to judge outpourings of grief. The mind is freckled by floods of angry emotion. After having said this, I still feel disappointed that right after the International Islamic University (IIU) bombings one of the pictures I saw in the press was of a demonstration by the boys of the university upholding banners that were against the Kerry-Lugar bill. It seemed to me the significance of what had happened to these hapless students hadn’t yet dawned on them.

The International Islamic University has absolutely nothing to do with the bill, and in any case the Taliban didn’t bomb the university because they were convinced that the IIU had drafted it for John Kerry. Even at that time, in the aftermath of a senseless act it was difficult to acknowledge for people that the Taliban were utterly nihilistic in their aims.

It was a lost opportunity to honour the lives of the people lost, to say that Islam just doesn’t allow any semblance of what the Taliban are doing. One of the students who died was Sidra, a young topper of the Rawalpindi board in the arts group. Her best friend who saw her die chillingly spoke of being unable to sleep, to remember the cold touch of her cheek when she was about to be buried. How did the Kerry-Lugar bill fit into this? Valid criticisms of the bill aside, this was not the moment to do it because it was peripheral to the whole issue, because the Kerry-Lugar bill is also on the lower end of the Taliban agenda, revenge being their first. And the thirst for blood is so great, that the revenge is also taken from the absolutely innocent.

I wonder just how influential the Islami Jamiat Talba (IJT) is at the IIU. Recently one of their office-bearers gave a statement to the press that Blackwater is behind the wave of terror attacks in the country. This is purposeful and utterly extreme mischief. If Blackwater is in Pakistan, and I increasingly believe that one of its subsidiaries might, it should be sent packing. But not for the nonsense that the Jamiat is keen on having people believe.

Blackwater should be sent back, not because it may laughably be complicit in terror, but because the firm is trained in counter-insurgency in Iraq and has a trigger-happy reputation and is staffed reportedly by bigots, starting from the very top. What if a firm like Blackwater kills someone in Pakistan, how will the law apply? It’s an invitation to flout our laws because we know the Americans won’t allow a trial here, and it’s already happening with incidents of foreigners being stopped and caught with illegal unlicensed weapons.

But, for a moment, even in our anger acknowledge that whatever firm the Americans may be using, they do need security and are acting in accordance with the directive, or at least philosophy of Rehman Malik and Shahbaz Sharif. Our rulers would extol the people of Swat to fight the Taliban, rather than doing something about it themselves. They are saying that educational institutions must protect themselves rather than the government increasing general security. With this trend, all the Americans are doing is the same. If the government will not protect the people (only itself by buying more and more bullet-proof cars), then the Americans will have to use private contractors.

But every argument that concerns legitimate internal concerns, say Americans with automatic weapons in the country, the Taliban or literally anything else, is increasingly hijacked and overtaken into vapid and vacuous arguments that sidestep the real issues. Without realising it, or maybe they do, but these right-wingers are hurting our country by making everything into issues of national pride or patriotism.

And this patriotism is hurting us because it is made by disingenuous people. It doesn’t reflect what this country should stand for. If we believed all our citizens have a right to life, we would be more incensed by the IIU bombing than we really are.

Let me give an example of this confusion. In a recent letter to the editor a young man wrote about his educational institution in Faisalabad where a couple were sitting under a tree. Security came and shaved the heads of both the man and woman. The writer of the letter was honest to admit that he was fearful and couldn’t speak up for two innocent people. But one reason people stay quiet is that they somehow believe that the tyrants who were shaving the heads of the couple may have been morally right. That’s the confusion of the myth-making we are creating in this country. If we had a real sense of values we wouldn’t think twice about speaking up for that poor duo because we knew others would share the sentiment. What crime was committed between two people sitting and doing nothing wrong in an open space?

In LUMS a girl is making news for her campaign against public displays of affection. Let us grant her the right to do so for argument’s sake, but the manner in which she did so is nothing less than hypocritical and reflects a tyrant in the making. By taking pictures of people secretly and promising to more and distributing them on email lists, I wonder if she is convinced Allah appointed her as the guardian to invade people’s privacy by being holier than thou.

I wonder if she took a break from her voyeurism activism to lead a rally against the Taliban after the IIU bombing. Which is more important now?

The writer is a Rhodes scholar and former academic. Email: (The News)

Striking Islamic University in Islamabad

On the fourth day of the South Waziristan offensive by the Pakistan Army, the terrorist suicide-bombers decided to strike at the International Islamic University in Islamabad, killing six, out of whom three were girls. Heeding the message, the federal government and the provinces have closed down all educational institutions for five days, after which some decisive developments are expected.

The attack on the university reveals the changing temperament of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and its increasing desperation. The University is a centre of the study of sharia and is staffed in such a way that a worldwide perspective on the Islamic way of life becomes available to Pakistani students. It has featured renowned foreign scholars on its faculty and is highly regarded in the Islamic world.

But the TTP signature is crying out to be noticed. The girls, most of them observing hijab, have been targeted. In this sense, the attack is of a piece with the attacks on girls’ schools elsewhere in the country by the Taliban. From a recorded past of approval, the terrorists have moved to disapproval of the University. Since it is funded by Pakistan’s friendly Arab states and is located right next to the Saudi-built Faisal Mosque, the attack also contains a message from Al Qaeda. All bets, it appears, are off.

The students of the Islamic University expressed their view of the government by pelting stones at the car of the interior minister, Mr Rehman Malik, as he arrived to review the scene of bombing. This was a leftover from the settled understanding they had of the government. It might change in the coming days as they review their opinion of the TTP and Al Qaeda. But the question to be asked here — and in other universities — is: will the campuses undergo a change of mind?

When the Islamic University was set up, one teacher sent by Saudi Arabia to teach here was Professor Abdullah Azzam, a renowned Palestinian scholar who also ran the famous Saudi humanitarian organisation Rabita al-Alam al-Islami, which had an office in Islamabad. Mr Azzam also laid the foundation of Al Qaeda in Peshawar, not as a terrorist organisation but as an Islamic response to the Soviet incursion in Afghanistan. He was killed in Peshawar but his legacy has remained a part of Al Qaeda.

It is significant that a TTP group of terrorists that killed a number of khassadars, or local levies, during the month of Ramazan in Khyber called itself the Abdullah Azzam Brigade. Is it a lapse of memory on the part of the terrorists that they have attacked a university where Prof Azzam taught once and to whom the leaders of such organisations as Harkatul Mujahideen and various Lashkars owe allegiance? One can only put it down to an act of desperation. And it must cost the TTP a lot of support.

Those who have held exchanges of views with the Islamic University will remember that its students did not share the generally liberal outlook that characterises Pakistani society. In this they are in tune with views held in most universities of Pakistan where religious parties have almost a permanent influence. In Pakistan’s education system, the madrassas and the universities are close in their worldview. In the middle, among the schools and colleges, is where the typical middle-of-road Pakistani view — backed by our non-religious political parties — is still prevalent.

The TTP may be about to lose the support at campuses where most students tended to look at them positively and were in favour of “talks” with the Taliban, adhering to the stance adopted by Jama’at-e Islami and Tehreek-e-Insaf. A glimpse of this was offered by the Punjab University where the vice-chancellor led a march of protesting boys and girls against Tuesday’s outrage at the Islamabad Islamic University.

The terrorists have gradually abandoned the broad support they had among the largely conservative majority of Pakistan’s population. By doing what they did in Swat they proved that it was a deliberate act. From a majority of those who accepted the “cause” of the Taliban, the country now has a minority that would still support the so-called “Islamic enterprise” their leader Hakimullah has announced from South Waziristan. This is the moment when the resolve to face up to the challenge of terrorism should become even stronger (Daily Times).

سب کی چھٹی

ڈاؤ یونیورسٹی، کراچی

پاکستان میں دہشت گردی کے خطرے کے پیش نظر تعلیمی اداروں کو عارضی طور پر بند کر دیا گیا ہے

کل گیارہ سال کے ایک بچے کو بتایا کہ کل سکول میں چھٹی ہے۔ اس نے خوشی اور حیرت سے پوچھا کیوں۔ میں نے کہا سکیورٹی۔ اس نے کہا کیا انڈیا حملہ کر رہا ہے، کیا ہندو آ رہے ہیں۔

آج ملک کے کروڑوں طالب علم جن میں پہلی جماعت کے بچوں سے لے کر یونیورسٹیوں کے فائنل ایئر کے سٹوڈنٹ سب شامل ہیں، چھٹی پر ہیں۔ جن کو امتحانات دینے تھے ان کے پرچے منسوخ۔ جو تحریری امتحان دے کر پریکٹیکل کا انتظار کر رہے تھے اب وہ یہ انتظار تاحکم ثانی کریں گے۔ اب چونکہ یہ تمام طلبا فارغ ہیں اور اپنی اپنی بساط کے مطابق کوئی شغل کر رہے ہوں گے۔ کوئی وڈیو گیم کھیل رہا ہوگا، کوئی گلی میں کرکٹ اور کئی ماں باپ کے دھندوں میں ہاتھ بٹا رہے ہوں گے۔ میری ان تمام طلبا کے والدین سے گزارش ہے کہ وہ ان بچوں کو اخبارات سے دور رکھیں۔

کیونکہ آج آپ اردو کے دو بڑے اخباروں کے ادارتی صفحوں پر نظر ڈالیں تو انہیں یہ کچھ پڑھنے کو ملے گا۔

حضرت بایزید نے کس طرح کافروں کو مسلمان کیا۔ مکروہ بھارت مقدس پاکستان کے خلاف کیسی مکروہ حرکتیں کر رہا ہے۔

جماعت اسلامی وزیرستان میں نہ صرف آپریشن رکوائے گی بلکہ کیری لوگر بل پر ایک ملک گیر ریفرنڈم کروائے گی جس کے لیے پانچ ہزار پولنگ بوتھ لگائے جا رہے ہیں۔اگر کیری لوگر میں آپ کی دلچسپی ماند پڑ چکی ہو تو آپ گوانتا نامو میں ایک امریکی فوجی کے قبول اسلام کا ایمان افروز قصہ پڑھ سکتے ہیں۔

کراچی میس طلبا کا احتجاج

اسلام آباد یونیورٹسی میں ہونے والے خود کش حملوں کے خلاف کراچی میں طلبا احتجاج کر رہے ہیں

اسرائیلی جرائم کی چارج شیٹ پڑھ سکتے ہیں اور حمیت نام تھا جس کا ۔۔۔۔ کے نام سے طارق بن زیاد کے ولولہ انگیز کارناموں سے سبق سیکھ سکتے ہیں۔ اور اگر آپ کو تاریخ میں دلچسپی نہیں ہے تو آپ سابقہ کشمیری مجاہد اور تحریک طالبان کے موجودہ روح رواں الیاس کشمیری کے حالات زندگی پڑھ سکتے ہیں۔ کشمیری صاحب سے پوچھا گیا کہ جب کشمیر اور افغانستان فتح ہو جائے گا تو کیا جہاد ختم ہو جائے گا۔ انہوں نے فرمایا نہیں اس کے بعد ہندوستان سے حیدرآباد اور جوناگڑھ واپس لینے کے لیے جہاد ہوگا۔ اور اس کے بعد؟ ان کا کہنا تھا کہ دنیا میں کسی نہ کسی جگہ تو جہاد کی ضرورت ہوگی پھر ہم وہاں جہاد کریں گے۔

تو اولاد والو، عالم یہ ہے کہ ہم ایران، توران، بھارت اور اسرائیل میں جہاد کرتے کرتے، سپین میں چھن جانے والی حکومت کا ماتم کرتے ہوئے، اپنے گلوں میں اپنے جوہری زیور ڈالے آج اس مقام پر آن پہنچے ہیں کہ اپنے ہی محلے میں اپنے بچوں کو سکول نہیں بھیج سکتے۔ کیونکہ ان کی جانوں کو خطرہ ہے۔

کس سے؟

ہم ان کا نام لیتے ہوئے یا تو ڈرتے ہیں یا شرماتے ہیں۔


A state of denial
By Shahid M. Amin
Wednesday, 21 Oct, 2009
The conspiracy theorists ignore the reality that many suspected suicide bombers have been identified and found to be part of extremist groups such as the Taliban. –Photo by AP

The GHQ attack has drawn accusations from several quarters in Pakistan that it was inspired by foreign powers; some have named India and the US among the usual suspects. Such ‘experts’ rarely bother to give any concrete evidence to substantiate their charges, which are based mainly on conjecture.

They can only argue as to which country would want to hurt Pakistan the most: surely it must be India. Since many now see the US as the enemy, it too, in their view, could be the hidden hand behind the attack. In this particular case the leader of the terrorists has been captured alive. An army spokesman has identified him as Aqeel, alias Dr Usman, affiliated with terrorist outfits based in southern Punjab. The terrorists involved in the attack were apparently trained in South Waziristan.

Will the spokesman’s disclosure silence those who see a foreign power behind the attack? Not likely. The conspiracy theorists in this case are the same people who have been claiming that the suicide bombers — who have killed thousands in Pakistan over the last few years — could not be Muslims. They ignore the reality that many of the suicide bombers have been identified and found to be part of Islamist extremist groups such as the Taliban.

Similarly, some conspiracy theorists believe that Al Qaeda does not exist and the Sept 11, 2001 attacks were the handiwork of Israeli agents. The fact that Osama bin Laden has taken responsibility for 9/11 and all those involved in it were Arab nationals has not deterred the ardent believers of conspiracies.

How should one explain such a state of denial? It is not a case of not knowing the facts. Actually, the conspiracy theorists do not want to believe anything that comes in the way of their firmly held views: firstly, that the US, Israel and India are the arch enemies of Muslims; secondly, that the militants involved in the struggle against anti-Islam forces must be absolved of any charge of brutal excesses.

One can see a clear pattern at work. After every gruesome terrorist act the ‘defenders’ of the terrorists react. They assert that this must be the doing of anti-Islam and anti-Pakistan forces, or of elements within the regime, such as intelligence agencies. Even when the Taliban or other extremists claim responsibility the ‘defenders’ assert that this must be disinformation. It would not be incorrect to conclude that there is a nexus between the Taliban and these apologists, mainly belonging to our religious parties which seem to be acting as the political face of the terrorists.

What kind of mentality is helping create sympathy for violent extremism? How is it that extremists are attracting so many adherents? No doubt, the majority are drawn from madressahs where young boys are subjected to relentless brainwashing. But some supporters are well-educated people. It is important, therefore, to understand the phenomenon of ‘Talibanisation’ since military measures alone cannot destroy Al Qaeda and the Taliban. In the final process, ideas must be fought with ideas.

Over a period of time the perception has developed in Pakistan and elsewhere that the US is following a global anti-Muslim policy. The US is viewed as the main supporter of Israel, which has long been a dagger in the heart of the Arab and Muslim world. The Al Qaeda phenomenon itself developed after the US attack on Iraq during the first Gulf War of 1990. In 2001 the US invasion of Afghanistan and, more notably, the invasion of Iraq in 2003 raised Muslim fears to an unprecedented extent.

In Pakistan, sectarianism has been on the rise for the last three decades or so. But it was under Ziaul Haq that extremism acquired the shape that we see today. He patronised fundamentalism for political and ideological reasons. The Soviet military occupation of Afghanistan was seen as a threat to Pakistan’s own security. The West had its own motives to oppose the Soviets. There was also sympathy for the Afghan Mujahideen whose struggle against the Soviets was seen as righteous. It was not realised, until it was too late, that these militants would turn into Frankensteins. Today’s Taliban are the offshoot of the Mujahideen.

Sept 11 led to the US invasion of Afghanistan. Here another miscalculation occurred. The Afghan people have a long tradition of opposing all foreign invaders and history is now repeating itself. Thus, the US and Nato forces are facing a war of national resistance which the Taliban have converted into a ‘jihad’ in the Pakhtun areas. Ethnic Pakhtuns also live on the Pakistani side of the border, thus extending the area of conflict to our tribal belt. Vital support is also coming from sympathisers affected by Talibanisation.

To counter Talibanisation and the religious fanatics, it needs to be emphasised, firstly, that they have done a grave disservice to Islam’s image by their senseless violence and brutality. Secondly, the rampant anti-Americanism that is providing so many recruits for Al Qaeda can be countered by recalling some historical facts. The US invasion of Iraq in 1990 was due to Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait, an Arab and Muslim neighbour. In that war the UN and the majority of Arab and Muslim states had supported the US.

In 2001, it was the terrorism of 9/11 that resulted in the US invasion of Afghanistan and not vice versa. The liberation of Muslim Bosnia and Kosovo in the last decade was secured by the US, whose support for the Mujahideen had earlier secured Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. Even in the case of Israeli aggression against the Arab countries, it was the US that twice secured Israeli withdrawal from Sinai. The US also secured Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza in 1994 that allowed the PLO to return and form a Palestinian Authority in those territories.

Nevertheless, the onus lies on the US to rehabilitate its image in the Muslim world. It must end its blind support for Israel. The US withdrawal from Iraq must be expedited. The US should play a role to help resolve the Kashmir dispute. Barack Obama has a historic opportunity to change the Bush-era policies and build bridges between the US and the Muslim world. It remains to be seen how far he can rise to the occasion. (Dawn)