Pakistan is infected with two deadly diseases – one is polio; the other is extremism.
Poliovirus attacks a child’s central nervous system, and can cause permanent paralysis within days of infection. The virus of extremism, on the other hand, attacks the mind, radicalises the victim, and ultimately paralyses the thought process, converting the patient into a human bomb. There is a vaccine against the poliovirus, but there is still no effective vaccine against extremism.
Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan has now claimed responsibility for the coordinated murders this week of mostly-female volunteers who had been administering polio vaccine to children in Karachi, Peshawar and elsewhere.
The surge in sectarian violence in Pakistan is a symptom of the growing influence of the Taliban across the country. It has been a consistent strategy of Taliban groups: when they target an area, they first attack sectarian minorities.
Taliban militants have stepped up attacks against Shiites across the country from Gilgit-Baltistan in the north to Balochistan in the south-west. In particular, in Balochistan the violence against the Hazara Shiite community has been intensive and indiscriminate. All of the sectarian attacks on Hazaras in recent weeks have been claimed by Sunni militant outfit Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which has officially been banned by Islamabad.
The group is part of a loose-knit extremist network, including the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan. Hakimullah Mehsud, the TTP’s leader, maintains ties to Al Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban and Sunni extremist groups including Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. The US has offered $5 million (Dh18.4 million) reward for information leading to the arrest of Mehsud, who has survived several US drone attacks since 2010.
China is set to take operational control of Gwadar, the deep-sea port built with financial and technical assistance from China on Pakistan’s south-west coast, after the Port of Singapore Authority (PSA) has decided to pull out of a 40-year port management and development contract signed in 2007. Now China will also operate the port, which is strategically located close to the Pakistan-Iran border and the Strait of Hormuz in south-western Balochistan province.
Pakistan’s ports and shipping minister, Babar Khan Ghauri, has confirmed that the government has issued a no-objection certificate to quit the contract held by the PSA, which is going to sell its shares to a Chinese company. The Singaporean firm decided to quit the Gwadar project after Pakistan’s government failed to transfer land needed to develop a free zone, as was promised under a 40-year concession deal signed in February 2007 during former president Pervez Musharraf’s regime. Since its official opening in March 2007, the Gwadar port has been unable to become fully operational because of the unsettled issues between Islamabad and the PSA.
Gwadar is an important coastal town in Balochistan. The port has the potential to serve as a secure outlet as well as a storage and transshipment hub for the Middle East and Central Asia oil and gas supplies through a well-defined corridor passing through Pakistan. China has contributed about $198 million (Dh727 million) of the initial investment for the port project.
The blasphemy case against an 11-year-old Christian girl in Pakistan, and a mob’s harassment of the Christian community near Islamabad, have renewed concerns about the spread of religious extremism in the country, which is, of course, officially at war with extremists.
The girl, Rimsha Masih, was arrested last week in Mehrabadi village, near Islamabad, for allegedly burning pages inscribed with verses from the Holy Quran. A local cleric led a mob to surround the police station and demanded police hand over the girl so that she could be burnt alive. Before she was arrested, Rimsha was severely beaten by members of the community.The incident frightened many Christian families. About 300 families, including Rimsha’s, reportedly have fled the area. Continue reading
The Taliban has announced a war on Pakistan’s media for not giving adequate coverage to its point of view. Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) recently claimed responsibility for an attack on the office of Aaj News, a private television news channel in Karachi on June 25 that injured two people.
But at the same time that Taliban leaders make these threats they also call on the media to report on their radical interpretation of Islam and anti-state activities – like banning groups administering polio vaccines, as they did yesterday in the country’s tribal areas. They can’t have it both ways.
Through propaganda tactics, radical Taliban elements look to exploit different events and issues with the aim of winning the support of local people, in part to provoke a backlash against western forces. But in this way the Taliban is playing with the lives of innocent Pakistanis.