time beard has represented many things both in
By Saeed Ur Rehman
Beards are biological as well cultural products. In the early civilisations, a beard was a sign of masculinity. In Ancient Greece and Abrahamic religions, a beard was considered a sign of manhood as well as wisdom. All the major Prophets of the Book and many Greek philosophers maintained a beard, including Plato and Socrates. Outside the realm of ideas, keeping or shaving the beard has also been a concern of military strategists. Alexander the Great is reported to have ordered beard removal of his troops because he thought the facial hair could be gripped by the enemy for manhandling and butchering his soldiers. Since then, the armies of the world have regularly published manuals and codes regarding the beard. In British armed forces, Muslims and Sikhs are allowed to keep the beard for religious reasons but a strategic trimming of some areas around the mouth may be legally required to stick the gas mask directly on the skin during risky operations. Those soldiers who suffer from Tinea Barbae and Pseudofolliculitis Barbae (two of the many skin diseases that can be aggravated by shaving) are allowed to keep the beard after they show a medical certificate.
The present-day ubiquitous clean-shaven hero of Hollywood is also a product of wartime. The World War I involved the use of chemical weapons and a proper application of the gas mask required smooth facial skin. Because it was linked with survival and victory, it became a fashion in the mainstream American culture. The rise of Hollywood in post-war America consequently helped aggrandise the smooth-skinned image of the American male. As a reaction to this image of the baby-faced solider, the followers of American counter-culture movements (hippies and beatniks) after the World War II and the Vietnam War started growing beards to indicate an opposition to the draft.
This image of the smooth-skinned saviours of America did not change much during the Cold War. The reason for this was perhaps linked with the availability of proxy Muslim warriors. After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the mujahideen, sporting long flowing beards, were the retainers of the American dream of global dominance. They were so fundamental to American hegemony that President Ronald Reagan, in 1985, declared them as "the moral equivalent of America's founding fathers." After the Soviet forces were driven out of Afghanistan, these equals of America's founding fathers were declared not so equal. Because empires need enemies to unify their own ideas of the unified self, the mujahideen became the new enemy. The Western knowledge industry and media machine jumped on the bandwagon fuelled by a simple "the West vs. Islam" formula. In 1993, Samuel P. Huntington published an article in Foreign Affairs titled "The Clash of Civilizations?" and announced the arrival of the new enemy of America: the militant Muslim. By 1998, this abstraction was further corroborated by the media representations of Osama bin Laden, a man with a very long beard. After September 2001, the bearded Muslim was a security threat for the West, a figure to be watched and, if possible, contained at all times. Even an unfortunate Sikh, mistaken as a Muslim because of his beard, was killed by an Arizonian resident, Frank Roque, who was seeking revenge for the fall of the Twin Towers. When the police arrested him, he announced "I stand for America all the way." Apparently the Sikh beard was an automatic nullification of the Americanness of the migrant worker. By 2006, American Muslims had changed a lot of their cultural practices to ward off discrimination: they started shaving their beards. Recently Abdul Sattar Edhi, who maintains a long grey beard, was questioned by the American immigrant officials at the JFK airport for eight hours. Edhi revealed to the media that he was questioned about the way he looked and the reasons behind it.
Because the bearded, and therefore necessarily militant, Muslim is now a media stereotype, The News on Sunday decided to ask those Pakistanis who are maintaining a beard, in whatever shape or form. The first person we approached was a student of the National College of Arts, from Mardan, with a ponytail, a short beard and closely trimmed moustaches. He kept a beard, he explained, because he had seen, as a child, his Pathan elders keeping black beards which provided a good contrast to the colour of their pink rosy cheeks: "I am an artist and I am interested in colour combinations and contrasts. I think the black beard highlights the fair complexion."
A salesman at a bakery, who had been beardless for many years, explained his recent makeover with a mehrab on his forehead and a long greying beard. "I was not a pious Muslim and used to go to Thailand regularly for the kind of tourism the country is famous for. But a couple of years ago, everything changed. Both of my daughters got divorced within a period of some weeks. The shock of both daughters sitting at home, the loss of their jewellery, dowry, and everything else made me diabetic. I returned to my God, asked for forgiveness and grew a beard and started praying regularly."
When asked if he could be photographed, a roadside vendor of greasy parathas fried in sub-standard cooking oil, sporting a well-groomed salt-and-pepper beard and a white prayer cap, refused. His reason was that photographing living creatures was forbidden in Islam. When queried if it was allowed to feed people the kind of stuff he did. His reply was: "May Allah forgive me but the government should also stop the factories which produce such low quality stuff. Why do you always go after the small fish and give tax breaks to those who damage the greatest possible number?"
At Hafiz Centre, Lahore, a great number of bearded men run thriving businesses selling the latest gadgets available anywhere in the world. Surrounded by laptops, wireless keyboards, geographical position systems, they practice moderate version of Wahabi, Deobandi, and Brelvi Islam. For them, the greatest civilisational divide of the contemporary world (between Western modernity and non-Western traditions) does not seem to have any meaning at all. They are equally at home in cyberspace and the mosque. The conflict may exist only in the mind of the simplistic analyst trying to compartmentalise their world. This combination of reformist Islam and commercial rationality, argues Francis Robinson, the author of The 'ulama of Farangi Mahall and Islamic Culture in South Asia, has the potential to achieve what the Protestant combination of religion and worldliness was able to do for Northern Europe.
The beard, then, is many things at once in East and West. The Western media and political analysts have to display more complexity than is usually shown in their analyses. Even the so-called intellectuals are not immune to the seduction of rushing to easy conclusions as exemplified by Henry Levi, the author of Who Killed Daniel Pearl? Again and again, he refers to the Pearl's captors as bearded men as if it was enough to use this shorthand of stereotyping to indicate the complex person behind the beard. If beard was the only thing to go by, we should all be afraid of Richard Boucher because his beard resembles those maintained by the members of Jamaat-e-Islami. On matters concerning millions of living, breathing human beings, we should heed the warning of Peter Hoeg, a Danish novelist: we can only come to a conclusion about something that we do not understand.
By Shahzada Irfan Ahmed
Anyone commuting on the highways of Punjab is bound to come across the fortress-like structures positioned at varying distances from each other. One also notices the blue vehicles patrolling along the intercity highways, mostly with the rear hatch door held open by a stick or even held by one of the officers seated inside in olive green uniforms. Called the Punjab Highway Patrol with posts coming up all over Punjab, the very first of these structures were set up during the tenure of former Punjab Chief Minister Chaudhry Pervez Elahi as part of his much touted 'Mehfooz Punjab' programme.
The purpose behind setting up these posts was to provide help and security to the people travelling on the highways, prevent crime, apprehend offenders and hand them over to police, preserve law and order, manage traffic, prevent traffic accidents and carry out crisis management and give first aid after an accident. The basic idea was to improve the age-old thana culture by being a people-friendly force.
This project envisages 522 patrolling posts, employment of thousands of fresh staff, their equipment and purchase of vehicles and their further fabrication to make them suitable for patrolling. The funds earmarked for this project were in excess of Rs 6 billion. In the first phase of the programme, 250 Toyota Single Cabins were acquired in 2005 for the patrolling posts staffs after modifying them to some extent. After getting the first consignment, it dawned on the users that the vehicles were not built for the job, were unfit for active patrolling and were of very low quality. A probe in this deal has also revealed that several irregularities were committed in the award of the contract.
Repeated inquiries into the matter have revealed that the vehicles are highly uncomfortable and there is no concept of comfort or operational ease in them. Getting in and out of these vehicles is a problem due to very low roofs and weapons cannot not be even kept upright or used while the vehicle is in motion. Besides, there is no ventilation system and the vehicles get very hot while patrolling at low speeds in their areas of jurisdiction. Above all there has been consensus among different wings of the police department that the price charged for this fabrication was exorbitant, i.e. Rs 2,75,000 per vehicle.
About the difficulties faced due to the faulty design, an official posted at Gia Bagga Patrolling Post in the outskirts of Lahore told TNS that they even face the threat of being killed by bandits and outlaws in case of a shootout. It's impossible to move inside the cabin whose height is hardly 40 inches. "We cannot even sit upright let alone stand straight." He says they cannot fire from inside the vehicle as they sit facing inwards and the sliding windows are too small and there is no sliding sunroof to use for firing in all directions.
The quality of these vehicles supplied in the first phase was found to be very low and all the discrepancies were brought to the notice of the high-ups in the provincial administration including then chief minister. It was decided to cease any further orders. But instead of following that decision and disqualifying the said dealer, another order for fabrication of 76 more vehicles was given to him without even floating a tender. The rate offered this time in 2006 was Rs 2,70,000 per vehicle. Interestingly, the dealer even installed air-conditioners in the vehicles despite the fact that the price quoted this time was lower by Rs 5,000 than the earlier one. The plea taken by the finance wing of Punjab police was that the department had made advance payment to the dealer.
Documents available with the police department show that the first tender for fabrication of 250 vehicles was floated on May 24, 2005. Toyota Ravi Motors, owned by an influential MPA of PML-Q, got the contract for fabrication at a rate of Rs 2,75,000 per vehicle after getting other lower bidders disqualified on technical grounds. The whole contract amount worked out to be Rs 68.75 million, almost 21 million more than the lowest bid.
An official in the Punjab Home department tells TNS that his department has repeatedly expressed reservations over the financial dealings of the police department but cannot do much on this front. He says that direct control on finances under the new Police Order 2002, has made the police department defiant to a great extent. They do all the procurement themselves and do not divulge any information about these deals. It was due to this very reason that the blue-eyed dealer was obliged every time by the CPO in return for some handsome favours, he adds.
The responsibility to design a new purpose-built vehicle was given to the Project Management Unit (PMU) of Punjab Highway Patrol (PHP), established back in 2006 to keep a vigilant check on the performance of the PHP. The official discloses that many fabricators were invited to make a prototype but they wanted advance money. Finally, a Nowshera-based dealer agreed and was involved in fabricating the vehicle as per the initial design. The requirement was a higher roofed fibreglass body and a sunroof for active use of weapons during transit.
He says this dealer prepared a fibreglass prototype with an electrically-driven sliding sunroof and all other requirements of roof height and seating design and quoted the price for fabrication at Rs 170,000 per vehicle. The prototype was approved in July 2007 by all the concerned authorities and sent for standardisation and technical approval to Punjab Police's Motor Transport Wing.
But what followed was something that no one expected at that time, says the official adding: "Yet again it was the same Toyota Ravi that was given the contract without calling for open tenders to fabricate 200 more vehicles as per specifications given for the prototype prepared by the Nowshera-based dealer." Instead of approving the prototype, the transport wing had given an opportunity to its favoured dealer to inspect and copy it, he adds.
The official says that the new vehicles which are being made are again of inferior quality. The problem with them is that they are made with metal sheets whereas the requirement spelt out was for fibreglass due to its better insulation quality and lighter weight. This vehicle gets hot very easily in the sun and has already started to rust. They do have a higher roof as copied from the prototype but like the earlier model, the ventilation is poor and it has no sliding sunroof. Instead a fixed glass is placed in the roof which further heats the vehicle like a sunroom.
The official goes on to say that the price quoted by the successful dealer was Rs 250,000 -- higher by Rs 80,000 than that quoted by the one who prepared the prototype. He says the police department could have saved Rs 16 million in the deal if the contract had been given to the Nowshera-based dealer who quoted a rate of Rs 1,70,000 per vehicle.
When contacted for comments, PMU PHP Director General Air Commodore (r) Khalid Bashir Cheema tells TNS that the quality of the latest vehicles being provided to the patrolling posts are not up to the mark. He says even the latest ones fabricated according to the approved prototype have many problems with them. They have metal canopies and fixed glasses instead of sliding sunroofs.
About the PMU's inability to check the irregularities in PHP affairs, the DG says his unit has a monitoring role only. "Our unit can only point out discrepancies and irregularities to the concerned authorities and recommend action. This we have done on many occasions and on various issues. However, we are not in a position to intervene directly," he adds.
Mian Muhammad Asif, DIG PHP, confirmed to TNS that the very first batch of vehicles obtained by PHP was of very inferior quality and did not serve the purpose for which they were acquired. He says the fault lies with those who approved that deal at that time. "As far as the present set-up is concerned, all the officials are trying their best to make PHP a highly efficient wing of the police department," he adds.
Asif does not agree with the fact that the recently acquired vehicles are also substandard. He says these vehicles were modified according to the approved prototype and are quite comfortable and conducive for those commuting in them. They have high roofs, extra back and side doors for easy embarkation/disembarkation and so on, he says.
The DIG PHP was also asked as to why the contract to fabricate these vehicles had been given to the same dealer who had earlier supplied defective vehicles and that also at an exorbitant rate. To this, he says, he is not the concerned authority to comment on the tendering process or the price approved for that purpose.
Asif says PHP cannot abandon all the defective vehicles in just one go. "We are slowly phasing them out and replacing them with the new ones one by one," he adds.
By Shoaib Hashmi
Okay, okay so I jumped the gun a bit and launched into my paean for summer before patiently waiting for the summer to bare its claws and dig in properly. That is happening now. It is an annual phenomenon, an unbroken ten day spell of intense heat, when the temperature does not move even at night while the humidity soars, and the chattering classes yell and scream and take to the hills.
The point is that this spell is also embodied in a less known adage about the weather which says that whatever weather is lousy for humans is good for the other species, and vice-versa. The wise among us know that while this long spell of heat may drain you of all energy and literally wring tears of frustration, the compensation is that the longer it lasts the sweeter and more luscious the melons and the mangoes get. And this is not one of my old wife's tales; it is rooted in science which tells us that the chemical reactions which turn stuff into sugar run best in this blistering heat.
And there are more compensations to come, because always this spell of heat is the herald and the harbinger of the monsoon. Now the monsoon of the plains, of course, is the stuff of song and story. It is no secret that if it was not for the monsoon, the movie industry of the sub-continent would have lost more that half its romance and a great deal of its poetry; not to mention the great scenes of the delectable heroines in the rain which the censor couldn't touch!
But there are more subtle heroics, like the smell of wet earth. Now I know the phrase exists in English also, but I must insist they must have taken it away from their sojourn here; because over a sizeable stay in England I never experienced any such stuff there. Rain in England is grey, miserable, dull and dreary, and it certainly doesn't evoke a perfume.
It takes all that heat stored up in the heart of the soil that comes bursting out with the first few drops of monsoon rain carrying that most delicate of natures perfumes -- we even have a word for it, it is called Baas -- and it is one of the nicest most beautiful smells in nature. If you want to taste it you might want to find a man's perfume called 'Eau de Issy' which is almost exactly it!
There are also fringe benefits which I don't think people from the temperate zones ever experience. All the scent and perfume-makers have never bothered to analyse why 'Oriental' perfumes are so heavy and clinging. The reason is that temperature has a lot to do with how a scent diffuses. In one round of the park, I manage to get a whiff of all the perfumes people are wearing. Of course if they have neglected to wear any I get the less welcome whiff of the other stuff too. I never said Summer was perfect!
A round up of the Dr Khan controversy...
By Nadeem Iqbal
The recent statement of the detained nuclear scientist Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan -- that he was not alone in the spread of unauthorised nuclear technology -- has again created doubts about the effectiveness of Pakistan's nuclear export control regime.
While the statement of Dr Qadeer to the international media ensued a battle of words between Dr Qadeer and Strategic Plans Division (SPD) of the National Command Authority, the PPP-led government remained a mere spectator and the only comment the foreign office made was that the Dr Qadeer's issue had been closed.
However, the PML-N spokesperson Siddiqul Farooq held President Musharraf squarely responsible for the whole controversy. Talking to TNS, he said that Musharraf is responsible for the controversy by adding a chapter in his book 'In the Line of fire' in which he humiliated the father of Pakistan's nuclear bomb.
The controversy started on July 4 when an American News agency, the Associated Press, quoted Qadeer as saying that the uranium enrichment equipment was sent to North Korea in a plane that was loaded under the supervision of Pakistan security officials and that the army had "complete knowledge" of the shipment of used P-1 centrifuges to North Korea in 2000, and Musharraf must have given his consent.
Later talking to local television channels Qadeer backed off from this account, referring instead to passages from Musharraf's autobiography, published in 2006.
Earlier, Qadeer alleged that the Feb 2004 confession was extracted out of him under coercion. Iran was quick to take credit when Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mohammad-Ali Husseini said that Iran steers clear as Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan admitted that he made wrong statements against Iran in 2004 that were taken under coercion and were totally fabricated.
The back-tracking from his confession was an expected improvisation by Dr Qadeer, a metallurgist, who in his televised address to the nation in Feb 2004 said he was solely responsible for the unauthorised proliferation of nuclear technology.
Though he was pardoned, he remained under house arrest. Only after the inception of the new government in April this year was his house detention relaxed, allowing him to meet friends and talk to media. Dr Qadeer, 72, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2006 for which he was operated; later there were reports that he was suffering from deep vein thrombosis.
Reacting sharply to Dr Qadeer's claims, Director-General Strategic Plans Division (SPD) Lt Gen (r) Khalid Kidwai said, "There had been no involvement by the Army or the president, in the transfer of centrifuges. Technically, yes it happened in his (President Musharraf) tenure, but giving an impression that he or the Army was aware or supervised it is wrong."
In a rare briefing to some media persons, Kidwai said the pardon was conditional on two counts: First, he would not commit any breach of national security, and two, if any other evidence or any other country emerges in this case, the granted pardon would be reviewed. "The government took all the flak and now the present government is grappling with the issue."
Kidwai said all the statements made by Dr Khan -- that he tendered a public apology under coercion, or through a deal or for the sake of taking the blame on his shoulders -- are far from truth and reality."I would like to categorically say it is absolutely false."
Kidwai added they had evidence about Qadeer's network which was dismantled more than four years ago. "We can produce it on camera at any level, court, parliamentary committee, tribunal or any group of people." Kidwai said a dozen centrifuges -- used for enriching uranium -- were sent to North Korea by Qadeer's network in 2000 and one was sent several years earlier.
In his Feb 2004 statement that he read out on TV, Dr Qadeer never gave details of the unauthorised proliferation activities. He said: "I wish to place on record that those of my subordinates who have accepted their role in the affair were acting in good faith, like me, on my instructions. I also wish to clarify that there was never ever any kind of authorisation for these activities by a government official. I take full responsibility for my actions and seek your pardon. I give an assurance, my dear brothers and sisters, that such activities will never take place in the future. I also appeal to all citizens of Pakistan, in the supreme national interest, to refrain from any further speculations and not to politicise this extremely sensitive issue of national security."
These activities were detailed by President Musharraf in his book giving space to Dr Qadeer to say now that Musharraf was responsible for the proliferation. Musharraf in his book dubbed Qadeer "a self centered and abrasive man who could not be a team player. He did not want anyone to excel beyond him or steal the limelight on any occasion on any subject related to our strategic programme. He had a huge ego, and he knew the art of playing to the gallery and manipulating the media. All this made him a difficult person to deal with."
Many in Islamabad believe Musharraf's version and say that since the 1998 detonation, Dr Qadeer felt he had not been properly honoured by Pakistan as Indians have made their nuclear scientist the president of the country.
The recent controversy might be another attempt by the nuclear scientist who is commonly regarded as the father of Pakistan's nuclear bomb to regain his lost fame and popularity by hitting at the weak Musharraf.
As the predictions of floods become a reality, the government agencies remain focused on flood relief and compensation and not on preparedness
By Aoun Sahi
The monsoon rainfall for this year in Pakistan has already been predicted above normal by the meteorological office which means the country is more vulnerable to floods this year. The situation emphasises the need for better co-ordination among the agencies concerned to ensure flood protection, management and relief. Their track record shows a plain incapability in this regard.
The truth is that there is a good network for timely information that passes among different departments concerned with flood preparation and relief work. The bigger question, however, is of orchestrating a timely response through our tedious governance system. The problem also relates to functional overlapping of different government agencies responsible for the job and absence of a lead agency in a local setting to forewarn vulnerable communities.
There is a well-developed system in place based on multiple inputs of Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD), WAPDA, Indus Water Commission and irrigation departments for giving early warnings. Flood Forecasting Department of PMD serves as the nerve centre for collecting, collating, interpreting and timely dissemination of early warnings.
"Wapda has telemetry system in place on 44 different locations in rivers and canals, they provide us with the water flow data from all these places every day, we also have our own observatories on 100 different locations throughout the country to collect the flood related data while flow of water from different dams is also been shared with us by the irrigation departments every day. In addition to that we have an elaborate system of radars and sensors to collect weather data," said Hazrat Mir, Chief Meteorologist, Flood Forecasting Division.
According to him all the stakeholders receive timely information and it is disseminated to their representatives in the vulnerable districts through governance line channels. "Our prime duty is to timely inform the agencies responsible for flood protection and relief. Most of the time we inform them 24 hours prior to floods in some river or area based on the calculation of data we receive. The information is passed down to vulnerable communities through the district and tehsil channels."
Although PMD has a range of very sophisticated gadgets and radars for flood forecasting but so far they are unable to forecast flash floods. "There is no system in place to warn vulnerable communities or urban areas from the flash flood hazard," says an official of PMD department on condition of anonymity. According to him there are many lacunae present in passing down this information to vulnerable communities. "District and tehsil administrations are the two key entities in articulating floods response on impact. Recent experiences have adequately highlighted their striking limitations. In the district situation it is the near absence of warning and planning instruments and a feeble outreach".
In June 2007, Balochistan was badly hit by floods after cyclone Yemeni. The cyclone also resulted in huge rains that also brought floods in non-costal areas of Balochistan. Districts Kharan and Ketch were among the worst hit areas by the flood in result of heavy rains but the people of those districts complain that they were not forewarned about the flood by any government agency and they had no time to secure belongings or take any other action. "We were sleeping and at midnight it was the sound of the flood water that warned us. It took over us in no time. My five goats, all household goods and even ornaments of our women were lost in the flood," says Doshamby, 57, a resident of Solband village in Ketch district. He says his animals and precious goods at least could be saved if the government had forewarned them about the flood. According to Doshamby at least 100 people are still missing while the dead bodies of 20 people were found during the flood and it was all because of negligence of government. One can argue that Balochistan is huge areawise and government may not reach in time to inform all those people but the situation is almost the same in all provinces .
The Bajwat area in Sialkot district is hit by floods almost every year and locals complain that no early warnings are given to them. "We have never received an early warning from the government departments about floods," says Kazam Raza, 27, resident of village Marwal Syedaan in Bajwat. According to him many people lose their animals and belongings every year just because they are not forewarned.
Nadeem Arshad Kiyani, district coordination officer, Nankana Sahib however has his own point of view in this regard. He thinks that in this era of fast communication it is almost impossible that people do not have prior information about the flood. "We already have received information about the possibility of more floods this year and I am along with traditional tools also using the modern tools like cable networks and newspapers to forewarn communities vulnerable to floods.". According to him many people who have been living in these areas for centuries are not ready to leave on emotional grounds, "and that is why floods cause more destruction here."
The NGOs working on disaster protection and management don't agree with the official stance. "Government of Pakistan generally follows a reactive approach to floods which is apparent from past experiences," says Amjad Bhatti of RDPI. (Rural development Policy Institute) He believes that government focuses on relief and not preparedness. "So far, they have not established a central autonomous department responsible for preparedness and managing disasters like floods. Even the 1958 National Calamities Act focuses on relief and compensation. It does not look at disaster management beyond that. The Act basically caters for recurring damages occurring from the flood hazard. The funds by establishment divisions to provinces are released for flood management after it receives flood damage assessment by the respective revenue departments," he says.
According to Bhatti all the government departments like PMD, Wapda, relief commissioner, police, revenue, district and tehsil administration responsible for flood preparedness and relief need to have co-ordination to develop a good system for timely warning. "It is true that National Disaster Management Authority has been established but nobody knows about its jurisdiction and it is not fully functional in all parts of the country."
Bhatti also thinks that there is a dire need to train communities on protection and tackling disasters like floods. "Communities are the basic flood hazard response units. Configuring the first line of defence against floods; they are lacking in skills, resources and social organisation. They should also be included as a stakeholder in all activities related to flood protection and management."
A World Bank report published in 2006 seconds Bhatti's stance and points out many flaws in the official flood warning system of Pakistan. The report stresses the need for the effectiveness of local systems of flood warning, preparedness and response, calling them "an especially critical aspect of flood risk management." According to the report the local governments in Sindh have historically been responsible for flood management and, at least at district level, a system has been in practice for many years. "However many key elements of these systems have suffered from neglect in competition with other priorities and pressing needs," it reads. The study recommends an assessment be done of the existing district-level system of flood warnings with the aim being to "identify gaps in this system and to formulate a programme to fill those gaps with plans, systems, facilities and equipment as appropriate."
The tragic deaths of at least 16 policemen deputed at Islamabad's Melody Market area to apparently provide security to participants of a conference commemorating the first anniversary of the Lal Masjid operation is difficult to digest given that the country had been placed on high alert and that the police themselves had said on several occasions prior to this particular tragedy that suicide bombers would be targeting sensitive places in the federal capital and Rawalpindi. Besides, a few days prior to the attack, the head of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, Baitullah Mehsud, had said in response to the launch of the so-called operation in Bara, that he would turn Punjab and Sindh into a "furnace."
Given all this background, the police should have been prepared for any kind of eventuality. However, going by the reports of the attack, the police failed to successfully intercept the alleged suicide bomber, who was apparently running towards a group of police personnel. Had someone been more alert, the bomber could have been shot before he had approached the group and in that eventuality even if he had succeeded in detonating his explosives the damage and loss of lives might have been far less. So one really wonders what is going to make the law-enforcement and security agencies adopt a more pro-active strategy in dealing with would-be suicide bombers.
Other than that, one also has to raise the question that why was police security being provided to the shuhada conference? Given the past statements of those who had been the 'karta dhartas', so to speak, of Lal Masjid, that they had an army of suicide bombers ready to take on the government, and given that the banned Sipah-e-Sahaba (according to several news reports) was present in force at the conference, including its current chief Maulana Ahmed Ludhianvi (which also goes to show the sectarian nature of the mosque), one can only wonder what was the dire need for providing security to such a conference. If anything, the police in the city, and the law-enforcement agencies in general, needed to be on full alert and mindful of any such incident, but particularly for their own safety.
Attended by thousands of madrassah students, questions have also been raised -- unfortunately only in the English press -- that why was the conference allowed to be held in the heart of Islamabad in the first place. Fiery speeches were given at the conference and it was reported in newspapers the next day that several of the speakers present asked for the public hanging of those responsible for the operation against Lal Masjid. Announcements were also made that madrassah students from all over the country would go whatever they had to do to protect each and every seminary and mosque in the country from the long arm of the state/government, whom they believed was towing the line of the west (i.e. the Americans).
One can only wonder why the conference was allowed to be held in the very place where such a controversial and emotion-evoking event took place last year, particularly given that the premise of the moot was to commemorate the said incident.
Just read on the Long War Journal blog (www.longwarjournal.org), which quoted an Asia Times report as saying that during the operation in Bara, Haji Namdar, head of the self-proclaimed pro-Taliban organisation Amal Bil Maroof Nahi Anil Munkir was seen riding with the paramilitary convoys that were conducting the operation. If true, this may seem surprising to say the least given that the said operation was being conducted apparently against three organisations, including the one run by Namdar. The AT report said that Namdar was with the convoys to ensure that "encounters with militants were kept to a minimum."
A detailed background check on Namdar revealed some interesting things -- and these may partially help explain why he was riding with the convoy. Allegedly, he provided the Taliban of South Waziristan assistance in attacking NATO supply lines -- particularly oil tankers passing through Khyber Agency, on their way to the Pakistan-Afghanistan border crossing at Torkham. The Taliban sent in one of their Afghan commanders, Ustad Yasir, to the area and Namdar liaised with him and his men to provide a place for his fighters to mounting attacks on the main road leading to the border.
This was however initially resisted by the local tribals and the Taliban responded by sending a suicide bomber who blew himself up as a local jirga was in session deliberating measures to rid the agency of Taliban influence, killing around 40 people. During one of his numerous visits to Pakistan, the number two in the US State Department, Deputy Secretary John Negroponte also visited Khyber Agency but only six tribal elders showed up to meet him -- the low turnout probably had to do with the suicide attack earlier. As for the Taliban, the report said, with Haji Namdar's help, the number of attacks on convoys heading for Afghanistan began to increase and in April they ended up taking hostage two employees of the World Food Programme who were captured along with their vehicle. Surprisingly, the Taliban were chased by the security forces and in the ensuing gun-battle five security personnel were killed. However, their ammunition ran out after which point they gave up the WFP employees and tried to flee. However, their escape was blocked by the security forces, and the Taliban called for reinforcements, as did the government forces.
Eventually -- and the report doesn't say how they did this -- the Taliban managed to take hostage a local government official and used him to flee back to their safe houses. However, when they reached these they were surprised to find security forces lying in wait and dozens were arrested and their arms stocks were seized. Since Haji Namdar was the person who had provided these safe houses in the first place, the Taliban realised that he had more or less betrayed them. Namdar then went on a local radio station and announced that Ustad Yasir and other Taliban commanders should surrender or face the consequences. The report alleges that Namdar got a substantial reward for this which was the equivalent of $150,000. This also explains why he was then the target of a suicide attack within weeks of this happening -- though he survived the attack unhurt. Ironically, a safe house in which seven of Namdar's men died during the Bara operation was allegedly fired upon by missiles. Local militants said that the Americans were behind this strike while Islamabad insisted that the explosion happened when explosives stored inside the house went off.
However, the million dollar question is that why conduct an operation against him in the first place? And did not the government know that after this apparent betrayal by Namdar, the Taliban had lost their footing in Khyber Agency? And so why the need for an operation that wasn't even directly targeting the Taliban in the first place?
writer is Editorial Pages Editor of The News.