The swelling force
of desire and destiny
containers, shimmering lines
When I heard that Kamila Shamsie's new book was out, I must admit that I was not inordinately excited. I thought it would be like her four previous novels: extremely well-written and shrewdly-observed yet actually quite forgettable. But I was wrong. Very wrong. I have just finished reading Burnt Shadows and I am absolutely astounded by it.
A comprehensive survey of the Pakistani jehadi groups and their 'links'
By Amir Mir
The monster of Islamic militancy is spreading in Pakistan even though the Bush era has ended amid an endless war against terror. Taliban are claiming new grounds and al-Qaeda network is thriving by establishing a modus operandi which exploits its local affiliates -- militant outfits active in Kashmir and Afghanistan -- to pursue the global jehadi agenda of the Osama-led terror outfit.
The swelling forces of extremists along the Pak-Afghan border not only pose a threat to the US-led Allied Forces in Afghanistan but also to the people of Pakistan. Like their Afghan counterparts, Taliban militias are compelling the Pakistan government to impose their version of Islamic Shariat. Although Musharraf had decided to align with the US in the aftermath of 9/11, the infrastructure of Islamic extremism built during the last two decades allegedly by the Pakistani military and intelligence establishment was not dismantled as he deemed it fit to employ terrorism as state policy both in Afghanistan and Jammu and Kashmir.
Resultantly, the fanatic jehadis are literally marching on the state. The militancy is now spreading from FATA and other the border areas to the urban settlements of Peshawar, Quetta, Lahore, Karachi and Rawalpindi. The most recent instance: attack on Sri Lankan cricketers, allegedly by a group of Pakistani militants in Lahore on March 3, 2009.
Analysts say the menace of talibanisation is escalating rapidly because a new generation of highly-charged and committed Islamic militants is emerging in and around the Pak-Afghan tribal belt. Generally referred to as the Pakistan Taliban, these new militant leaders, new jehadi cadres and new militant groups are linked to al-Qaeda and Taliban. Predominantly Pakistani, they emerged after the US invasion of Afghanistan, and are presently leading the rebellion against the Pakistani establishment's decision to join hands with Washington in the war on terror. They are technology and media-savvy, are influenced by various indigenous tribal nationalisms, and honour tribal codes that govern social life in Pakistani rural areas.
This new generation of militants is replacing the original Taliban, led by Ameerul Momineen Mullah Mohammad Omar, who ruled till 2001, and were believed to have been created by Pakistan's intelligence agencies. The old guards, mostly Afghan fighters and a product of the Soviet invasion, no longer enjoy as much command as they did before the 9/11 terror attacks.
The holy war fought by the new Taliban is aimed at infidels occupying Afghanistan and those safeguarding the secular values of the Pakistani society. They want to cleanse Pakistan of all such elements and transform it as a pure Islamic state. Their threat seems real, in view of their stronghold in areas like Bajaur and Swat where they have already forced the government to enforce Shariat Laws.
The worrisome aspect for Pakistan is that US intelligence agencies firmly believe that with a gush of motivated youth flooding towards the realm of jehad and joining the al-Qaeda-cadres, Pakistan is a potential site for jehadi recruitment and training for al-Qaeda, despite the capture of over 500 operatives from within Pakistan.
A majority of the Pakistani jehadi groups may well be described as the civilian face of the Pakistan Army which has been nurturing and exporting militancy in the name of Islam to pursue its geo-strategic agenda not only in the immediate region comprising India and Afghanistan, but also in Central Asia, Chechnya and the West. Subsequently, Pakistan has become home to plenty of jehadi organisations (having links with al-Qaeda and Taliban) whose goals are believed to be easily compatible with those of the Pakistani state. These militant groups could not have achieved their present size without the active support of the Pakistan establishment. These very groups have made Pakistan a captive territory to push forth the global jehadi agenda of Osama bin Laden. But, the dilemma is that the Pakistani establishment apparently lacks both will and capacity to counter this enterprise.
Let's now briefly examine the key militant groups based in Pakistan and their hidden and known links.
Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) led by Baitullah Mehsud
Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is quite a recent phenomenon as it was established on Dec 12, 2007 when a shura or council of 40 senior militant leaders commanding an army of around 50,000 gathered in Peshawar and decided to unite under a single banner. Baitullah from South Waziristan was appointed the ameer (chief) of the TTP, Maulana Hafiz Gul Bahadur from North Waziristan was made the senior naib ameer (senior deputy chief) while Maulana Faqir Muhammad of the Bajaur Agency was made the naib ameer (deputy chief).
The TTP shura not only had representation from all the seven tribal agencies of the FATA, but also from the settled districts of the NWFP, including the districts of Swat, Bannu, Tank, Lakki Marwat, Dera Ismail Khan, Kohistan, Buner and Malakand.
A statement by Baitullah's spokesman Maulvi Omar on Dec 13, 2007 stated that the sole objective behind the launching of the TTP is to unite the Pakistani Taliban and set up a centralised organisation against the NATO forces in Afghanistan, besides waging a 'defensive jehad' against the Pakistani forces, carrying out military operations against innocent civilians in the FATA and NWFP.
In an interview with Al Jazeera correspondent Ahmed Zaidan after the launching of the TTP, Baitullah Mehsud declared: In an interview with Al Jazeera correspondent Ahmed Zaidan after the launching of the TTP, Baitullah Mehsud declared: "Our main aim is to finish Britain and United States and to crush the pride of the non-Muslims. We pray to God to give us the ability to destroy the White House, New York and London. And we have trust in God. Very soon, we will be witnessing jehad's miracles".
Baitullah Mehsud, who prefers being called a Pakistani Talib, virtually controls much of the South Waziristan agency on the restive Pak-Afghan border where militancy has given birth to a new generation of militant leaders. Already named by the Musharraf regime as the prime suspect in the Benazir Bhutto murder case, 35-year-old Baitullah reportedly commands a force of 40,000 to 50,000 fighters, who are willing to die for the cause of Islam.
Baitullah had pledged himself to Mullah Omar in March 2005 in the presence of five leading Taliban commanders including Mullah Dadullah who was killed in Afghanistan. Like Mullah Omar's Taliban militia, the private army of Baitullah too, has hundreds of foreigners, mostly Uzbeks, imposes Shariat with a view to prevent 'vice' and promotes 'virtue'.
The Pakistani authorities accuse Baitullah of receiving money from al-Qaeda and the Taliban to run the affairs of his parallel state in South Waziristan. He has been in the limelight for almost four years due to his well-known role in spearheading with the help of his suicide bombers a bloody insurgency against the Pakistani security forces, which are busy hunting fugitive al-Qaeda and Taliban militants in the trouble-stricken tribal areas on the Pak-Afghan border.
Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammad (TNSM) led by Sufi Mohammad
Generally referred to as the Pakistani Taliban, primarily to distinguish itself from the Afghan Taliban led by Mullah Mohammad Omar, the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi or the Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Laws, led by Maulana Sufi Mohammad, is a militant Wahabi group which has fast emerged in the Malakand Division of the North West Frontier Province and in the Bajuar Agency of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas as a private army to reckon with.
Known as a pro-Taliban jehadi organisation having sympathies with Osama bin Laden and Mullah Mohammad Omar, the TNSM motto is 'Shariat ya Shahadat' (Islamic laws or martyrdom) which rejects all political and religio-political parties for they follow the western style of democracy and openly condone the use of force in jehad.
The members of the group are identified by their shoulder-length hair and camouflage vests over traditional shalwar kameez clothing, being the trademark of Sufi, as well as black turbans which has become their identity. The TNSM members are therefore referred to as the black turbans. Ideologically, the TNSM is dedicated to transform Pakistan into a Taliban style Islamic state where Shariat should be the supreme law of the land.
In the words of Sufi: "Those opposing the imposition of Sharia in Pakistan are Wajibul Qatl (worthy of death)." The TNSM rejects democracy as un-Islamic. "We want enforcement of Islamic judicial system in totality: judicial, political, economic, jehad fi sabilillah (holy war in the name of Allah), education and health. In my opinion the life of the faithful will automatically be moulded according to the Islamic system when the Islamic judicial system is enforced", Sufi had declared in November 2001 before proceeding to Afghanistan along with thousands of his armed followers to join the Taliban in Afghanistan in their fight against the US-led Allied Forces.
Upon his return home, Sufi was jailed on terrorism charges where he had to spend the next seven years, before being released as a result of a peace deal with the government.
The Swat chapter of TNSM is headed by Sufi Mohammad's son-in-law Maulana Fazlullah, who has already become a household name in the picturesque valley. His private army fiercely resisted the Pakistan army when it launched a military operation in Swat in October 2007 to dismantle the militant network and demolish the infrastructure of the TNSM headquarters and its privately-run FM Radio station.
However, a year and a half later, the forces of Fazlullah eventually compelled the government to sign a peace deal with Sufi to restore peace in Swat.
As things stand, Fazlullah, having a fighting strength of over 5,000 in Swat, has growing links with al-Qaeda and Taliban, amidst intelligence reports describing the valley as crucial from the point of view of a larger front that al-Qaeda is in the process of creating in Pakistan. And remember Swat is just 160 kilometers from Islamabad.
Harkatul Jehadul Islami (HUJI) led by Qari Saifullah Akhtar
Led by Qari Saifullah Akhtar, who has already been accused by Benazir Bhutto in her posthumous book as the mastermind of the October 18, 2007 suicide attack during her welcome procession in Karachi, the Harkatul Jehadul Islami (HUJI) is a Pakistan-based jehadi group with affiliates in India and Bangladesh. While the exact formation date of the group is not known, its origin is traced to the Soviet-Afghan war.
Qari Saifullah along with two of his associates, seminary students from Karachi, were instrumental in laying the foundation of the Jamiat Ansarul Afghaneen (the Party of the Friends of Afghan People), in 1980. Towards the end of the Afghan jehad, the Jamiat rechristened itself as HUJI and reoriented its strategy to fight for the cause of fellow Muslims in the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir.
Considered close to the ameer of the Afghan Taliban Mullah Mohammad Omar, Qari had attempted to stage a coup in 1995 to topple the second government of Benazir Bhutto. He was subsequently arrested and tried, before being freed by the security agencies in 1996 soon after the dismissal of the Bhutto government.
Later he travelled to Afghanistan, where he became advisor to Mullah Omar on political affairs.
Before the US invasion of Afghanistan in November 2001, the HUJI had got membership among the Taliban cabinet as three Taliban ministers and 22 judges belonged to it. Qari was one of the few jehadi leaders who had escaped with Mullah Omar after the Allied Forces invaded Afghanistan in October 2001.
He first took shelter in the South Waziristan Agency; then moved to Peshawar and eventually fled to Saudi Arabia, from where he decided to move to the UAE. Three years later, on Aug 6, 2004, he was arrested by the UAE authorities and handed over to the Pakistani agencies, only to be deported. He was arrested after revelations during investigations of the Dec 2003 twin suicide attacks on Musharraf that he had been executing terrorist operations in Pakistan with the help of his men in Pakistan.
But instead of trying to prosecute and convict him after his arrest, the authorities chose to keep him under detention for the next two years and nine months, without even filing any criminal charges against him in any court of law.
A few months before Benazir's return home, he was quietly released, before being arrested again in February after Bhutto's claim in her posthumous book pertaining to his alleged involvement in the Karachi suicide bombing and the subsequent pressure created by the international community. He was released again after a couple of months following a series of suicide bombings in Lahore, targeting the Naval War College and the Federal Investigation Agency head office.
Jamiatul Ansar (JUA) led by Maulana Fazalur Rehman Khalil
Known as the only jehadi organisation from Pakistan with a record of closeness to Osama bin Laden, Jamiatul Ansar (JUA) is led by Maulana Fazlur Rahman Khalil who has enjoyed a long career in the ISI-sponsored Afghan and Kashmir jehads. Originally launched as the Harkatul Ansar, the group was renamed as the Harkatul Mujahideen (HUM or the Movement of the Holy Warriors) after the US designated it a Foreign Terrorist Organisation in October 1997 and then re-named as the Jamiatul Ansar after the Musharraf regime banned the HUM in January 2002, under American pressure.
Believed to be a Wahabi member of Laden's International Islamic Front (IIF) for "Jehad Against the Crusaders and the Jewish People" and a co-signatory of bin Laden's first fatwa issued in 1998 calling for attacks against the US, Maulana Khalil was in the al-Qaeda training camps struck by the US cruise missiles in Khost and Jalalabad in August 1998.
The JUA leadership represents Deobandi School of Islamic thought whose members are fanatic Sunni Muslims. With a pan-Islamic ideology, the jehadi organisation struggles to achieve secession of Jammu and Kashmir from India through militant means and its eventual merger with Pakistan.
Following the August 1998 American missile attacks on al-Qaeda training camps in eastern Afghanistan, Khalil had vowed at a press conference in Islamabad that the harm done to the members of his jehadi group by the US strikes, would not go unanswered. And the Americans still take seriously his 1998 public warning at the news conference: "For each of us killed or wounded in the cowardly US attack, at least 100 Americans will be killed. I may not be alive, but you will remember my words", Khalil had stated.
As of today, the US intelligence agencies believe that the Harkatul Mujahideen still retains links, like most of other jehadi groups, with the Taliban remnants and al-Qaeda operatives hiding on the Pak-Afghan border. Khalil took hundreds of his men to Afghanistan after the US-led Allied Forces had attacked Afghanistan in 2001. The Harkat chief returned home safely in January 2002 and lived for next six months in an Islamabad sanctuary, with no constraints until August 2002 when he was placed under house arrest.
The intelligence circles say he was taken into protective custody after American intelligence sleuths stationed in Islamabad had sought his custody to debrief him. The Pakistani authorities, however, had refused to oblige. Maulana Khalil was released a few months later.
Yet Khalil's name once again hit the international media headlines following the June 5, 2005 arrest of a pair of Pakistani-Americans by the FBI from the sleepy little farming town of Lodi, California. Hamid Hayat and his father, Umer Hayat were later charged with lying to the authorities regarding their connection with jehadi training camps in Pakistan. They told the FBI they had received training in terrorism at a military training camp being run by Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil, who maintains a jehadi facility at Dhamial area in Rawalpindi.
Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) led by Mohammad Akram Lahori
Most of the major terrorist operations carried out against the Western targets in Pakistan since the 9/11 terror attacks appear to have a common grandmother -- the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) -- a Sunni Deobandi organisation which is the group of choice today for hard-core militants who are adamant to pursue their ambitious jehadi agenda in Pakistan.
Launched in 1996 as a militant sectarian Sunni group, the LeJ today is the most violent terrorist group operating in Pakistan with the help of its lethal suicide squad. As with most of the Sunni sectarian and militant groups, almost the entire LeJ leadership is made up of people who have fought in Afghanistan and most of its cadre strength has been drawn from numerous Sunni madrassas in Pakistan. The LeJ was formed by a breakaway faction of the Sunni extremists of the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), which walked out of the outfit, accusing its parent organisation of deviating from the ideals of its co-founder, Maulana Haq Nawaz Jhangvi, who was allegedly assassinated by his Shia rivals in February 1990. The LeJ was actually launched by Riaz Basra who was succeeded by Akram Lahori, presently behind bars in Karachi on terrorism charges.
The Lashkar-e-Jhangvi uses terror tactics as a part of its grand strategy to force the state into accepting its narrow interpretations of the Sunni sectarian doctrines as official doctrines. Besides targeting the US interests in Pakistan, the victims of its terror tactics have been leaders and workers of rival Shia outfits, bureaucrats, policemen and worshippers. On August 14, 2001, General Musharraf, in the face of growing public criticism of his failure to control anti-Shia violence, announced the banning of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.
On Jan 15, 2002, Musharraf banned the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP). Soon afterwards, the regime rounded up a large number of the activists of the two sectarian outfits. However, despite being outlawed almost seven years ago, both the groups continue to carry out terrorist activities across Pakistan.
Since 2002, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi has provided services for large-scale suicide attacks. A suicide operation in March 2002 in an Islamabad church in the well-guarded sensitive diplomatic enclave killed five Christians, including two American nationals.
In May 2002, eleven Frenchmen, who were mistaken for being Americans, were blown up in Karachi and on June 14, 2002, twelve Pakistanis were killed in a suicide attack on US diplomats. Five of the 10 terrorists identified belonged to the LeJ cadres. It was also the first occasion that police identified LeJ as being involved in all the three incidents. One of the photographed men, Asif Ramzi, was already wanted in the Daniel Pearl murder case, with a three million rupees-reward offered for his capture. According to investigators, the al-Qaeda network worked in close coordination with the LeJ cadres to plan both the car bomb attacks in Karachi.
On Jan 30, 2003, the US State Department added the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi to its List of Foreign Terrorist Organisations and to those outfits covered under an Executive Order.
Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) led by Maulana Masood Azhar
The Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) or the Army of the Prophet Mohammad, is one of the deadliest militant groups operating from Pakistan and waging 'jehad' against the Indian security forces in Jammu and Kashmir. It was launched by Maulana Masood Azhar at the behest of the premiere intelligence agency of Pakistan in Feb 2000, shortly after he was released from an Indian jail, in exchange for hostages on board an Indian Airlines plane which was hijacked by five armed Kashmiri militants and taken to Kandahar in December 1999.
While resuming his activities in Pakistan almost immediately after his release, Azhar announced the formation of Jaish-e-Mohammad with the prime objective of fighting out the Indian security forces in Kashmir. Along with Masood Azhar, the Indian government had to release two more militants who had been arrested on terrorism charges -- Sheikh Ahmed Omar Saeed and Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar. Strong Deobandi creed forms the primary religious and ideological base for the JeM as well as the Taliban. In fact, the Taliban movement was launched by the students of the very network of 9000 madrassas which the Jaish's (formerly Harkat) parent organisation -- Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam -- led by Maulana Fazlur Rehman runs across Pakistan.
Masood Azhar only knit the ties stronger after his release as he toured Kandahar to secure the blessings of Taliban leadership after he had planned to launch Jaish. Having gone through many ups and downs in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks, it was in 2007 that the slowing down of the Indo-Pak peace process by the decision makers in New Delhi apparently made the Musharraf regime to reactivate the Jaish -- apparently to re-launch cross border offensives in 'Occupied' Jammu and Kashmir.
The Jaish was later reorganised under the command of Mufti Abdul Rauf, the younger brother of Masood Azhar. In July 2005, the British intelligence agencies investigating the 7/7 (2005) suicide bombings in London informed their Pakistani counterparts that two of the four suicide bombers Shehzad Tanweer and Siddique Khan, had met Osama Nazir, a Jaish suicide trainer, in Faisalabad, a few months before the 7/7 attacks when they had visited Pakistan.
A year later, the Jaish once again became the focus of world attention in August 2006 after it transpired that Rashid Rauf, an alleged al-Qaeda member named as the main plotter of a terrorist plan to blow up US-bound British airliners with the help of liquid explosives, was a close relative of Masood Azhar. Rashid Rauf was accused of helping train plotters in the use of explosives in readiness for their attempt to commit mass murder in the sky. He was arrested on August 9, 2007 from a Jaish-run religious seminary in the Model Town area of Bahawalpur. In December 2007, Rashid Rauf escaped from police custody under mysterious circumstances, only to be killed almost one year later in an American predator strike at an al-Qaeda hide-out in Waziristan.
In a latest development, Azhar has reportedly abandoned his headquarters in the Model Town area of Bahawalpur and temporarily shifted his base to the South Waziristan region in the wake of the 26/11 Mumbai terrorist attacks. There are reports that Masood Azhar was asked to restrict his activities following Indian government's recent demand to hand him over to New Delhi on terrorism charges.
While foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and information minister Sherry Rehman have already stated that Azhar was missing and that the government was unaware of his whereabouts, his close circles say the Jaish chief had first left for Muzaffarabad, but eventually decided to temporarily shift his based to the North Waziristan Agency, thinking it safer than any other place under the present circumstances.
Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) led by Prof Hafiz Mohammad Saeed
Literally meaning "Army of the Pure", the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), founded by Prof Hafiz Mohammad Saeed in 1991 at the Kunar province of Afghanistan, dreaded for its guerrilla attacks in Jammu and Kashmir and known for the infamous fidayeen attack on the Red Fort in New Delhi, has proved to be one of the most dangerous jehadi groups operating out of Pakistan and fighting the Indian security forces in Jammu and Kashmir.
The lethal Lashkar is an Ahle Hadith (Wahhabi) jehadi group which was born as an armed wing of Markaz Dawatul Irshad (MDI) or Centre for Proselytisation and Preaching. The MDI was set up in 1988 by three Islamic scholars -- Prof Hafiz Mohammad Saeed and Zafar Iqbal, who were professors of Islamic studies at the University of Engineering and Technology, Lahore, and Dr Abdullah Azzam, a professor of the International Islamic University, Islamabad. Dr Azzam was also the ideologue for the Palestinian militant group, Hamas, besides being the religio-political mentor of al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.
The main purpose of the MDI was to promote the purification of the society, and to build a society on the teachings of Quran and Sunnah. Toward the end of the Afghan war, the MDI set up an armed wing called Lashkar-e-Taiba. With the launching of the Lashkar in 1991, several training camps were set up in the eastern Afghanistan provinces of Kantar and Paktia, both of which had a sizable number of Al Hadith (Wahabi) followers of Islam, with the aim of participating in the jihad against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
The participation of the cadres in Afghan jehad is believed to have helped its leadership gain the trust of the Pakistani intelligence establishment. Insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir beginning in 1989 is considered to have provided an active battleground for the LeT militants when its top brass was made to turn its attention from Afghanistan and devote itself to waging jehad in Jammu and Kashmir. The LeT soon shot to prominence for launching some deadly guerilla operations against the Indian security forces in the Kashmir Valley, especially the 2001 fidayeen attack on the Red Fort in New Delhi. However, Hafiz Saeed stepped down as the LeT chief in December 2001 and announced the launching of the Jamaatul Daawa (JuD). However, the US State Department which had actually designated the LeT a foreign terrorist organisation in 2002, describes the JuD as the 'front organisation' of the Lashkar.
The LeT was once again put in the spotlight after the bloody Mumbai attacks of Nov 26, 2008. Although the Lashkar-e-Taiba strongly refuted its involvement, the Indian authorities claimed that the lone terrorist captured alive (Ajmal Kasab) has confessed to being member of the LeT, belonging to the Faridkot village of Okara district in Punjab. After the UN banned the JuD as a terrorist group after the 26/11 tragedy, Pakistan subsequently conceded that Ajmal Kasab was its national. The ban was followed by the arrest of the Muzaffarabad-based chief operational commander of the LeT, Maulana Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, being the mastermind of the Mumbai terror attacks.
The LeT was once again named in the March 3, 2009 attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore that left eight people dead. The attack was described by international media as an attempt to hijack the bus carrying the visiting team to demand in return the release of Lakhvi who is presently detained at the Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi.
Hizbul Mujahideen (HuM) led by Syed Salahuddin
The Hizbul Mujahideen (HuM) or the Party of Freedom Fighters, is considered to be the mother of ongoing militancy in the Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir. Led by a militant Sunni Muslim Yusuf Shah alias Pir Syed Salahuddin, the Hizb is politically mentored by the Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan (JI) which describes Jammu and Kashmir as an integral part of Pakistan and stands for its integration with Pakistan.
Of the jehadi groups operating in Jammu and Kashmir, the Hizbul Mujahideen is the brand name of the Kashmir militancy because of being the largest and the most important in terms of its effectiveness in perpetrating violence across Kashmir. With a cadre base drawn from indigenous and foreign sources, the leadership of the Hizb had established contacts with many Afghan Mujahideen groups such as the Hizb-e-Islami of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, under which some of its cadre received arms training at camps in Afghanistan. Yet, its leadership has never identified itself with either al-Qaeda or the Taliban, unlike most of the Pakistani jehadi groups. The Rawalpindi based Commander of the Hizb, Syed Salahuddin has repeatedly denied any sort of links between his group and al-Qaeda or Taliban.
Unlike the other Kashmiri militant groups fighting in the Indian controlled state, the HuM exclusively operates in Jammu and Kashmir and has been held responsible for regular attacks against the Indian security forces since its inception in 1989. Many say the Hizb was actually formed to keep a check on the growing influence of the pro-Independence Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF).
The birth of the Hizb marked the first ideological division of the militancy in Kashmir -- the JKLF advocated complete independence of the State while the Hizbul favoured a merger with Pakistan, in line with the stated policy of the Jamaat-e-Islami. The US State Department included the Hizbul Mujahideen in its "Foreign Terrorist Organisations" list on May 1, 2003, a few days before the US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage's visit to the subcontinent. The move came after the Hizbul Mujahideen leadership owned up to having acquired shoulder-firing Estrela surface-to-air missiles being used against the Indian security forces in Jammu and Kashmir.
Third Inter-Varsity Drama Festival of GCU provided an opportunity of greater exposure and interaction
By Sarwat Ali
The best aspect of the Third Inter-Varsity Drama Festival organised by the Government College University Dramatic Club (GCUDC) at the Bokhari Auditorium last week was that groups from outside Lahore also participated. Theatre groups from educational institutions like Karachi, Bahawalpur, Quetta, Rawalpindi and Peshawar took part to make it a national festival.
It is a little difficult to say how regularly the groups at these various places and cities meet, rehearse and stage a production but the general level of their performances did not indicate that these were one-off attempts. Festivals like this one, nevertheless, provide an opportunity of greater exposure and interaction with various theatre organisations, with only positive implications.
What are the subjects which are worthy of being dramatised and put on stage has been the endemic problem of theatre/drama criticism. According to those who look back on history of the stage, only grand and significant characters or incidents formed the material of good theatre. In this day and age when heroism is on the decline, something grand has been replaced by something that is not common, or to put it more precisely, something which is odd and does not fall within the limits of normalcy.
Two such areas of activities have a fatal attraction for playwrights, poets, fiction writers and film makers -- one the dancing women and to a lesser extent transvestites.
In most societies, these transvestites are an object of pity and derision; not finding any role for themselves, they are driven underground. So this combination of derision, the unacceptable and the illicit has been common luring ground for creative writers. The Islamia University Bahawalpur staged Band Gali in which the plight of the community was made the central focus. Usually it is the attempt by these communities or individual among those communities that forms the crux of a play and in this, too, one central character tried to break out of the vicious circle that nature has forced upon it but failed to do so. The play was fully immersed in the clichés of singing and dancing, against the backdrop of the discriminatory bias of the society.
Similarly, to enhance the dramatic impact of dream and poise it as a counter to reality, another endemic technique in theatre, the Balochistan University of Information Technology and Management Sciences, Quetta, chose to make a play on two young and dreamy characters. Always wanting to become actors in their imaginary world, they found themselves in the court of Akbar -- again a clichéd manner of showing the contrast between reality and make-belief. The silver lining was that both these plays had original scripts and were not unduly laboured productions.
Since GCUDC has a history that goes back more than a hundred years, it is not at all surprising that some of the plays have been staged many times over. A few plays have been favourites with the club, like the Lawyer, Matchmaker, The Inspector Calls and Arsenic and the Old Lace which have been staged over and over again. Shakespeare was a rage especially during the colonial period and a little later.
Apparently there is nothing wrong if a play is staged many a time by the same society or club at intermittent intervals because it gives the director and the production team an opportunity to focus on yet another interpretation of the text that has the potential to yield itself to many layers of it. Bey Saya Loug an adaptation of Men without Shadows was staged as the annual play of the college and now it was one of the plays in the festival. Staged about thirty years ago as well, in English on the same stage, it has the potential of being relevant for all times. Other than this Sartre's play GCUDC also staged Neil Simen Rumours, which sustained brisk pace and was entertaining.
Fatima Jinnah Women University Rawalpindi mounted a production Da'yyen aided by multimedia effects but could have been tightened a lot. While National College of Arts was there in full strength with three of their production, Alif Adab with Akhri Khawahish, Nautanki with Lolly Pop and Neo Transitional Mime with Wonderland Managerie with great emphasis on visual brilliance. Kinnaird College staged two plays Jack or the Submission and The Tree, both tame productions. While University of Engineering and Technology which has a better record of presenting imaginative productions mounted Malba, a play bound up in change, nostalgia, regret and hope.
The Punjab Unicversity, too, has been active in the last many years under Ahmed Bilal. Their group Natak mostly comprising the students of Arts and Design staged Warna. Indus Valley School of Arts and Design Karachi staged Sassi Punno while Peshawar University mounted Chawkidar. Bahauddin Zakariya University, Multan produced Bhatkan and Phir Pukara Ruswa Ko Ruswai Nay.
Some of the names from among the GCUDC now have a familiar ring to them because they have been appearing on stage and a team of dedicated youngsters seem to be in the offing that may pursue theatre and drama beyond the cloistered environment of an academic institution.
For the past few years the University had also taken the initiative of inviting plays of colleges and universities from across the border, particularly the Indian Punjab and Delhi. It exposed the audiences to the college theatre in India and the exchange proved beneficial for everyone involved. This year, this could not be managed but hopefully the exchange programme will continue, for regularity can lead to competition for improvement of quality.
In Rashid Arshed's recent exhibition a variety of approaches towards calligraphy have been explored
By Quddus Mirza
There have been artists in our midst who not only explored the aesthetic possibilities of script in their art but also were writers and poets. These include Anwar Jalal Shemza, Sadequain, Haneef Ramay, Tassadaq Suhail and to an extent Shakir Ali.
Rashid Arshed belongs to that group of artists who are well-versed in both -- the art of writing and writing -- and have pursued them both equally seriously. He has published a number of books; his latest, Jungle mein Mangal is a collection of humorous essays in Urdu. Having obtained his "Diploma in Art" from the Mayo School of Art in 1960, he was appointed the principal of Central School of Arts and Craft, Karachi in 1970. He left his teaching position in 1975, and migrated to the US. After spending many years there, he returned to Pakistan in 2006 and became the Head of Fine Arts at the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture in Karachi for a period of two years.
All these biographical details may appear extraneous, but are essential in order to comprehend the man behind the painter Rashid Arshed. His fascination with script, as a mode of creative expression, has a peculiar history, besides being a personal passion. This is long before calligraphic painting became a politically- and economically-correct pursuit during the military dictatorship of General Zia.
Arshed stood apart from this crowd of opportunity-seekers, since his connection with calligraphy was genuine. To begin with, it was his literary inclination that provided a subject in the form of text. While the writer managed language in his books, the painter manipulated words for pictorial purposes. Thus his work, from an early stage, was about text-based surfaces, built with layers of letters, which in most cases were indecipherable or indistinguishable. Richly tactile canvases conveyed the presence of script but the aspect of readability was altered for visual effect.
A decisive development in the life and art of Arshed took place when he had to leave his homeland in 1975 because of his beliefs. His forced migration to a land, away from his language, faith and culture, played a crucial part in formulating his vocabulary, still valid for him as the maker of images.
The displacement must have been traumatic for Arshed. His work, produced after his shift to North America, signifies his association with signs of identity -- both religious as well as national. Lines of poetry about being invisible or the pages of Pakistani passport incorporated in his mixed-media reveal a sensitive painter's situation, as he has lived in exile of all kinds -- including cultural, communal and emotional. The work from this phase can be classified as the expression of dissent. Yet, his tone remains gentle, soft and elegant.
After his return to the country, Arshed has continued with calligraphy. Even though, one hardly notices any signs of protest in these compositions, his act of making calligraphy itself is a sufficient mark of defiance. It's an act of rebellion, not only against the decrees that forbid a certain community to inscribe verses of Quran, but an important practice in the context of art-making. His constant engagement with this theme demonstrates the artist's ability to create never-exhausting solutions within a certain frame of reference.
Thus, in his recent exhibition "Between the Lines" (being held from March 15-Apr 5, 2009 at Drawing Room Art Gallery, Lahore), a variety of approaches towards calligraphy have been explored. In almost every painting, the words are not drawn clearly; on the other hand, they look like shapes that have some link with the written language, not necessarily Arabic (in a few paintings the nature of text reminds one of the script of ancient civilizations).
In other works too, one finds it difficult to decipher alphabets; so one has to search for meanings behind these marks. It is slightly easier to catch the name of God and Holy Prophet, even though these are constructed as abstract images. Besides these single-word paintings, most others offer clues to sacred script, without revealing much. This tendency to veil the word, the Word of God, may have multiple connotations. It certifies the painterly approach employed in treating text as a visual texture. At the same time, it affirms the sacred substance of being a code that needs to be located and understood after effort and time. In a way the energy spent in searching, reading and unfolding the text serves as some sort of a spiritual experience -- enhanced with a careful arrangement of contrasting colours and vivid hues. These shades merge with each other in a subtle manner, adding to the illusion of a harmonious activity -- a mantra -- that can be invoked by gazing at the paintings for a longer span.
The art of Rashid Arshed affirms that the artist can liberate himself from restrictions of all sorts; his work may also serve to free a viewer's perception about art, religion and politics, components of our culture that were inseparable in the past but not any more.
Nadia Khawaja's artwork embodies one of the oldest and most necessary of human impulses, the art of the conjuror
By Aasim Akhtar
Nadia Khawaja makes smart, snazzy drawings filled with roiling movement and seductive detail, the kind of work that sets the eye flitting restlessly over the surface in pursuit of recognisable shapes and patterns. At first you think you might spot an eye here, a flower or a bird there. But ultimately the quest is frustrated, and what remains is simply the dizzying pleasure of calculated chaos. Viewers of new art with little background knowledge about an artist are often baffled by what they see. This is particularly true at her show currently on at the jamjar in Dubai. Using line as her material, Khawaja decided to transform the gallery space into a seductive, yet inaccessible diorama, creating a psychological interaction with the viewer that evokes desire and loss, pain and hope.
Reducing her subjects down to their fundamental, constituent scaffolding, Khawaja has experimented continuously with abstract line drawing, in which the meandering ink seems to impress the pulp like the organic residue of botanical specimens.
Khawaja's classicism, if we should call it that, evolves gradually, and as in the case of a veteran artist like Agnes Martin, from biomorphic forms. It is a geometry that provides a plane of attention and awareness upon which the perception of sublimity depends. Khawaja takes us across the Greeks, and to Asian thought, especially Zen and Tao. Then with a vast jump across the centuries she would return to John Cage, Ad Reinhardt, Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko. Hers is the space of the sublime, a form of prayer, in an open space, or desert. Khawaja carries the aura of self-sufficiency, and proclaims the oracular nature of art. The work then is not about nature, only the experience of being before nature. It may even be anti-nature counting on what is forever in the mind.
It is worth pursuing the comparison with Agnes Martin who worked with simple found objects; and created an airy matrix. Similarly, she was interested in weaving, which led to the open form of the lattice. Her grids and parallel lines were undulating, following a pencil along a string or measuring tape; and they were nearly invisible: 'luminous containers for the shimmer of line.'
Focusing in extreme close-up on the warp of a weaver's loom, Nadia Khawaja discovers landscapes of formal precision, the various textures of warp and weft emerging from the drawing like sensuous, topographical shorthand. She has achieved a masterful, formal reductionism in her line drawings. In a series of abstract line drawings on paper, isolated geometric or ovoid forms, or small clutches of straight, bent or curved lines emerge from the grid. This is what makes Khawaja's schematic drawings so much more than post-Constructivist, utopian meditations in the tradition of her Russian and German predecessors. She aspires for a detachment that could be called her classicism, but included therein are the great melodies of eastern music; and oriental aesthetics across the board where you have in the very forms of sublimation a vast romance.
Khawaja's drawings, etched with precision, are strictly ruled; they are shot through with radiating lines. Tense like arrows, echoes, shafts of light; penetrative, flying into the constellation, revolving like a satellite or a Martian disc. This complex graphic conjunction, a steeply positioned and delicately webbed wing, is strung to yield a set of notes that splinter into echoes and traverse the elements in a series of repetitive sounds displaced in time. Yet the works remain optical – seeing as if through the telescope into stellar space and then having it reflected back into the small orb of the eye.
The perceptual field persists. The drawing floats and settles like a macrocosmic grid on the paper, it appears as a mini-matrix in the lucid eye. With a mere glance she maps out the terrain she sees across these great distances, from the ground above to the sky below in a transparent interface of land water air.
The exquisite awareness of time and duration, of the eye's perpetual travel while registering the commonly overlooked detail, goes to the core of Nadia Khawaja's aesthetic. One is tempted to call her a Minimalist, yet the label finally hangs like a straitjacket. Indeed, Khawaja's is more a roaming, cursive, meandering consciousness, which lights effortlessly upon fragments in the landscape, the cityscape and Islamic architectural forms, such as the stepped cornice of an early mosque observed in extreme close-up.
Spare, nearly weightless and almost entirely self-effacing, Khawaja's aesthetic is ultimately about focusing consciousness back onto itself with the aid of an abstract foil. The stringently pared down tableau that emerges from each of her sketches – often concise clutches of lines paced across paper like abstract scaffolding – in felt-tip pen on paper. Something of an architect's conceptual sensibility informs this reductive vision, where vast forms are mapped and schematised, as though with an eye to their eventual reconstitution.
Drawing attention to the found and transient – ever time-bound – arrangements of light, shadow and texture indexing the artist's own skin, as well as retina, her works in felt-tip pen prove intensely diaristic. It already seems a given that her parallel appreciation for Kandinsky, Nolde and Klee – enthusiasms shared by many of her progressive colleagues - situates her squarely in a long tradition of the 'spiritual in art.'
Unexpectedly, Khawaja's visual syntax seems to follow from her apparent encounter, in early Ecole d'Art d'Aix-en-Provence, with the spiritually conflicted offshoot of French Existentialism running from Camus to Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Camus' droll insistence upon the absurd as the fundamental basis of human reality is no simple nihilism. Even so, Khawaja's work transcends such cultural politics, ultimately insisting that we come to terms with a profoundly universal, existential premise underscoring its vulnerable, yet tenacious posture.
Khawaja is the consummate sorcerer of the moment. Awash with desire, transformation, death and loneliness, her work embodies one of the oldest and most necessary of human impulses, the art of the conjuror. The ultimate goal of the conjuror's magic is to make things happen and to revise and create new meaning in the world according to the magician's desire, yet always with the risk that some result will go terribly awry.
Without slighting any mystical readings, it may be time to finally appreciate Khawaja for an equally moving, if more concrete aspect of her work: an uncompromising perceptual clarity matched with a designer's sense for reducing visual congestion to clean formal signatures.
When I heard that Kamila Shamsie's new book was out, I must admit that I was not inordinately excited. I thought it would be like her four previous novels: extremely well-written and shrewdly-observed yet actually quite forgettable. But I was wrong. Very wrong. I have just finished reading Burnt Shadows and I am absolutely astounded by it.
This is a beautiful and deeply moving book. It covers a wide canvas: it moves from the bombing of Nagasaki, to pre-partition India, through post-nine eleven Afghanistan and New York to Guantanamo. Essentially it is the story of two families whose lives become improbably yet inextricably linked; their lives, dreams and aspirations shattered by the violent events of the last century.
The story opens in Nagasaki on the day the Americans dropped the atomic bomb there. It is a strange beginning for novel yet it works perfectly: and just as the event was the catalyst for a series of political events so we see how it sets into motion a chain of events for two families.
Hiroko Tanaka survives the bombing but forever bears the physical and emotional scars of that day. She meets her fiancée's family (the Burtons) in Delhi in 1947 in a land in turmoil and on the brink of a violent partition. She also meets Sajjad Ashraf, a Dilli walla, to whom the loss of that city is an almost unbearable loss. The families move across the world... their paths cross, in Karachi, in New York, in Kabul. They are bound to each other despite differences of race and culture, despite distance or nationality.
Yet despite the broad sweep of the book's canvas, this is not a book that is a self-conscious discourse on identity and politics; instead it is about the human lives caught up in the currents and eddies of war and politics. This is a story of individuals looking for meaning and love and beauty in their lives, and trying to make sense of a world gone mad.
What is truly impressive is how the book holds together. The brief prologue is visually evocative as well as chilling and in just a few sentences it raises the question "How did it come to this?" This is followed by four sections: Nagasaki, Delhi, Pakistan and New York/Afghanistan.
Burnt Shadows is about love and longing, war and peace, dislocation and relocation, about friendship and loyalty, hatred and cruelty. This is a story about us and our world and the horrors that are of our own making as we muddle about with concepts of patriotism and deterrence and nationalism and religion. Yet, despite these rather intense themes, this is the sort of book that pulls you into its narrative instantly, its prose light and expressive, its empathy and humanity distinctive.
I was always able to appreciate Kamila Shamsie's writing but up to now it was just well-crafted prose, a precocious voice with an often juvenile tone. It was technically perfect but not much else. Burnt Shadows seems to me artistically perfect and I think this book really marks her arrival as a writer of maturity and sensitivity, a master of her art, not just her craft. This is one of the best books I have read in recent times. I look forward to hearing a lot about it and hope it gets all the attention it deserves.
Do read it and see what you think.