27
July

Report By: Lt Col Amjad Raza Khan

For the last decade or so Pakistan has remained a frontline state in war against terrorism. Pakistan paid the highest price in this war in terms of human life and resources, yet never flinched its claim on authority and writ of the state within its boundaries. While all Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) of the country are making best efforts to eliminate terrorism, their capacity building to respond to such wide spectrum of threat remains a challenge. Pakistan Army having hard earned combat experience in war against terrorism has evolved a comprehensive training regime and part of this advanced and specialized training is imparted at National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) Pabbi, near Mangla Cantonment.

This institution imparts specialized pre-induction training to Pakistan Army units earmarked for FATA and Swat. Under the same context, Pakistan Army offered the counter terrorism training services of NCTC to LEAs including Pakistan Air Force, Pakistan Navy, Defence Services Guards, Strategic Plans Division, Punjab Rangers, Frontier Corps KPK, Anti Narcotics Force and police forces of Punjab, KPK, Sindh, Balochistan, AJ&K and Islamabad. NCTC is organizing a series of national level integrated courses for LEAs/ other services, named as National Integrated Counter Terrorism Course (NICTC). The training is conducted under direct supervision of Kharian Division and Mangla Corps. Lt Gen Mian Hilal Hussain and Maj Gen Zafar-ul-Haq have been carrying out frequent visits of NCTC and have directly been monitoring the training activities. Two such courses have so far been organized at NCTC. First course was run from 2-21 March 2015, whereas second course was organized from 13 April - 9 May 2015.

Closing Ceremony of the NICTC-I was held on March 18, 2015. Gen Raheel Sharif, Chief of Army Staff graced the occasion as the chief guest. Closing ceremony of NICTC-II was held on May 7, 2015.

Overall three best trainees of both the courses and one best individual from each department was awarded medal with cash awards. Beside this, COAS also awarded a shotgun each to medal winners and Rs. 1 lac to overall best trainee.

  • Departments / organisations/ Services Trained at NCTC by Pak Army
  •  Pakistan Navy
  •  Pakistan Air Force
  •  Strategic Plans Division
  •  Pakistan Rangers (Punjab)
  •  Frontier Corps KPK
  •  Defence Services Guards
  •  Anti Narcotics Force
  •  Punjab Police
  •  KPK Police
  •  Sindh Police
  •  Balochistan Police
  •  AJ&K Police
  •  Islamabad Police

Training Objectives – NICTC

• To develop physical fitness and mental robustness of the participants.
• Develop instant reflex response to impromptu situation including crisis management.
• Improvement of weapon handling and firing skills.
• Develop understanding of entire spectrum of dynamic nature of threat.
• Learning to fight as buddy pair and small group.
• Develop clear understanding of various aspects of base/installation security.
• To develop skills to appreciate the terrain and use it to own advantage for cover and fire.
• Mastering the skills of fighting in Build Up Area.
• Proficiency in negotiating various obstacles and field craft.

 

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At the start of each course, initial evaluation of trainees was carried out to gauge their proficiency level in firing, physical efficiency and theoretical knowledge. Majority of trainees were found wanting in these domains, however, towards the end of the courses, a remarkable improvement was assessed in all fields.

 

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NICTC played a vibrant role in sharpening the basic combat skills of trainees required to combat terrorism. Trainees displayed a high standard of dedication, diligence and professional commitments throughout the course and enjoyed the pleasure of learning. They will surely become useful assets for their departments in implementation of National Action Plan (NAP) and prove their mettle, whenever needed. The environment and standard of training being imparted by Pakistan Army was highly appreciated by all LEAs and services. Consequently, frequent requests are being received by different institutions to run similar courses in future as well. The capacity building of LEAs and sister services is a sacred task, national obligation and the need of time. Pakistan Army and NCTC shall never be short of steps to support the implementation of NAP and continue to play its role by organizing such trainings in future as well.

12
June

Written By: Dr. Amineh Hoti

The sister showed me the boys’ schoolwork – the writing was neat, logical and it had the teacher’s remarks in red, “well presented work!” On the cover of the schoolbook it read, “I shall rise and shine.”

mages are based on histories, encounters, and the ability of those represented to fight for an equal voice to express themselves. Creating negative images of “the Other” is deeply problematic for the idea of human morality, as it implicitly rationalizes the condoning of violence against “the Other”.

Similarly, images are built of countries as images are built of men and women: this one is a “good”; that one is “bad”. This one is “friendly”; that one is an “enemy”. Beneath this surface of media world and propaganda in which each country perceives itself as inherently good and “the Other” as inherently evil, there are real people struggling to survive, to find their next meal, to live a life of dignity. In Pakistan, loving grandparents, self-sacrificing parents with babies, innocent children and know-it-all teenagers must search for tools of peace building to heal our fractured but shared world.

Frankie Martin, an American researcher, and a student of my father, Professor Akbar Ahmed at the American University in Washington DC accompanied my father on his research project, Journey into America. Sharing his experience with me about same trip, he told about his meeting during a walk in Florida with a friendly elderly woman who was gardening. During their conversation, he told her about previous exciting learning research project called Journey into Islam, where we visited nine Muslim countries, including Pakistan. He told me that lady stopped him after listening the name of Pakistan, exclaiming, “Wait! What? Pakistan!” then after a pause she said, “Do people there love their children?”

Frankie, who has been involved in a lot of bridge building work with Professor Ahmed calmly replied, “yes, they do – just like us. They are very family-oriented and are indeed very loving to their children.” The woman shouted back in the direction of her husband in the house, “See darling, I told you they love their children there.” She explained that violent images of Pakistan dominate local news. However, she owned a sweater that bore the tag, Made in Pakistan, which gave her hope that people “out there” did normal things (not, as the news reflected, kill and hate). She felt deep down that people everywhere were good and productive – her sweater spoke more to her, in this case, than the image of Pakistan that, unconstructively for all of us, has systematically been conveyed through the media.

Negative images of “the Other” are harmful to the ones that are the object of this construction as it can drive them into self protective behaviours that push them towards the periphery and further marginalization. Muslim immigrants to the West encounter the differences between cultures more sharply which are often exacerbated by media depictions of Muslims (all South Asians get affected – Sikhs and Hindus included – and we hear stories of them being beaten up by local people thinking they are all “Pakis”). The media’s depictions of “the Other”, at present, especially Muslims, drive people apart, create walls of misunderstanding, increase stereotyping, and degrades mutual respect. Instead, I think, media can and should bring the world closer together through fair and equal representation of all sides within conflict stories, and more scholarly and positive analysis.

The outcome of this gap between how different people perceive each other is a propagation of dislike and intolerance of “the Other”, which can lead to the kind of violence we see today in the world. Violence begets violence and locks people into cycles of revenge. A famous tribal Pukhtun proverb is: “he took revenge after a hundred years and said, ‘I took it too soon!’.” In this scenario, when tribal people and modern states encounter each other through violence and force, the masses who suffer the most are the ordinary helpless people and children as seen when the Taliban took revenge on Army Public School in Peshawar killing 150 children and teachers. The Taliban had announced that they would take revenge on the children from army families for carrying out operation in North Waziristan Agency (NWA) by Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs). In all eventualities, there are civilian casualities including children in addition to the soldiers participating in the “war on terror” – they happened to be in the right place (schools) at the wrong time (time of global war not of their choice). Ironically, the Arabic-Urdu word “Taliban” is plural for “students” and students symbolize a thirst for learning and development and is something we, in the educated Muslim world, regret being associated with violent extremist fringe groups. The Attack on Army Public School (APS)

The seven armed men who attacked the army school in Peshawar were not of mainstream Pakistani origin (they are said to be speaking a non-local language – this was confirmed by all the parents to me). One of the parents told me that, they had blackmailed the canteen worker, who was an Afghan immigrant, by kidnapping and threatening his children. I was told by the parents of the boys that on entry, they first killed the canteen men, armed themselves, and proceeded to the female Principal’s office. They demanded the list of the boys who were sons of army men (the majority of the children were of civilian parents). The Principal, a dedicated educationist like so many other brave and bold female principals in Pakistani schools, refused to give the men any names. When we saw her husband in his apartment in Peshawar to offer Fateha, he described her as, “determined, kind and a dedicated educationist.” Her son pointed out, “she was more dedicated to her work, school and children than her home.” During the incident, she wanted to protect all the children. For her, they were all her responsibility as precious young adults. They threw petrol on her and burnt her alive just as they did with another 24 year old female teacher in front of her students who resisted while trying to protect her young students (this was narrated to me by the parents and friends of the boys killed).

I was shown the beds of two deceased brothers (one 15, the other 19) by a young sister who shared the same room. She felt lonely without her brothers, and now every night she hoped they were there in their own beds before she slept – the pain was horrendous for her.

The men were well informed about the school’s layout and timetable it seems, for they came into the hall at a time when all the senior classes of boys (Class 8 & above i.e. 15 to 18 years old) had gathered for an assembly that morning. Dressed in their crisp white shirts and green sweaters, the Army Public School boys – I reiterate most of them children of civilians – ended this morning’s assembly in terror. Every boy in Class 8 was killed – 15 years old in their prime – innocent of the world around them and not involved in the politics of people that had killed them. Some were shot in the limbs then savagely killed with knives. Pakistanis are asking who these ‘people’ were and who funded them?

Accompanied by family and a friend, I went to offer condolences to the mothers of the boys massacred in Peshawar. I did not know them personally, but as an act of humanity and compassion, we wanted to share their terrible loss and deep grief. When I sat with the mothers in their homes, I saw the deepest of human pain, impossible to express through mere words. After the traditional prayer offered for the souls of the boys, there was a struggle to find the right words. The pictures of the boys were freshly mounted on frames on the walls. These were middle class homes – people not involved in the politics of war but wanting to better their everyday lives and that of their children. The boys wore western clothes to school, spoke and wrote fluent English and had dreams. Mothers and sisters told me how intelligent, hard working, and wise these boys were – some wanted to be engineers, others doctors, and few others scholars.

I was shown the beds of two deceased brothers (one 15, the other 18) by a young sister who shared the same room. She felt lonely without her brothers, and now every night she hoped they were there in their own beds before she slept – the pain was horrendous for her. She showed me the boys’ pictures, school bags, piles of books with a prayer mat on top of them and a scrabble board right at the bottom of the pile – the 15 year old had three bags full of books which now lay there in the entrance to the house newly built by their parents – the father a banker and the mother a school teacher. They had worked all their lives for their children and moved from the village to the city of Peshawar to give their children a better future. The mother held their pictures to her eyes and cried her heart out for her beloved sons. It was unbearable – and deeply heart breaking. Together we cried and cried again – she for her sons, and I for the loss of such truly beautiful and brilliant young boys. The sister asked me crying, “Can someone tell me why they were killed, tell me one thing they did wrong? They were the best boys – so good, they were so loving and so caring.” Shamowail Tariq loved bringing people together. He dreamt of making a multilayered house to bring all his relatives together. With him, there was “ronak” (liveliness). He would tell his younger sister when she would say let’s do this tomorrow, “don’t leave it till tomorrow” (da maze bia bia narazee (this life/fun may not be there tomorrow). He would tell his younger sister, “I want to challenge you so that you think beyond the average level.” When he had typhoid and was out of bed in winter, ready to go to school, his elder sister scolded him. He replied, “we are zinda (alive). We are not affected by the cold. These all (who are living as a disconnected world community and are dominated by hate and divisions) are murda (dead: not mentally challenged and connected enough). He loved education, peace and faith. He would say his five times prayers and sit for long in the mosque behind our father.” His sister said that he told her, “something would happen and the whole world will remember us.” She cried, “Why! Why! Why!” The sister showed me the boys’ schoolwork – the writing was neat, logical and it had the teacher’s remarks in red, “well presented work!” On the cover of the schoolbook it read, “I shall rise and shine”.

The mother softly told me “I do not want any compensation for my sons – no money; nothing from the government. I just want the honour for them of the Nishan-e-Haider.” Martyrs are given this honour upon the ultimate sacrifice of life for their country. In another house, a Pukhtun army officer and father of a 18 year old boy, Saqib Ghani, who was killed in the massacre told me that, while he puts on a brave face in front of his family, when no one is looking he goes into the bathroom and cries his heart out for his precious and youngest son, whom he lost at such a young age. The father from Mardan said, “for our country we have done qurbani (sacrifice). When we first joined the army, we wanted shahadat (martyrdom) – it was a matter of fakhar (pride). But now I am a shaheed’s father. He was Allah’s amaanat (belonged to). He was the youngest of my five children. His way of talking was very pleasing. Sons bury their fathers but I buried my son! He was good in studies – he was brilliant at computers – he never teased us – he had very pleasant manners.”

This father told us of another boy who was kidnapped and released for ten million rupees. “His parents put him in APS where he became shaheed. He was doing hifz-e-Quran – he was brilliant and very good boy.” The Problem with Our Global Panic over Terrorism

This is indeed a deeply sad comment on the nature of humanity – when people become so brutal that they use force and kill because someone holds a different point of view or is born in a different family. It is important to highlight the point that although the media has created a panic over terrorism, it is these Pakistanis (the families of the people killed in terrible acts of terrorism) who are the real victims. While the Western media tends to paint a simplistic image of Pakistan as the hub of extremist activities, in reality the majority of Pakistanis are the victims of terrorism (thousands of innocent people in Pakistan have died since 9/11). A terrorist cannot and should not define Pakistan to the rest of the world. Consider an instance of the reverse – the man who killed three Muslim students in North Carolina. If that was the only person or story we heard around the world and in America, then he, as a white American, would define every white American for the rest of the world, ignoring the reality of his particular extremist view. Similarly, the Taliban cannot and should not define Pakistan. If this is allowed unthoughtfully, then it provides no moral support, understanding, or compensation from the international community for the families in Peshawar. As human beings, we are connected across borders to each other’s pain – we cannot deny this natural instinct in ourselves or the responsibility of connecting to others across borders as fellow human beings. What Can be Done

This followed by President Obama hosted a global summit on Countering Violent Extremism (now called “CVE”) with the aim of dealing globally with the growing threat extremism poses to all societies and states. Currently, as pointed out by Moeed Yusuf (United States Institute of Peace and also In Dawn, Feb 24, 2015) the number one, two and three strategies of states (such as the USA) dealing with violent extremism is by the use of force, and mostly in Muslim societies and countries. This will not work and can lead to creating more, not less, terrorism in on-setting cycles of revenge amongst tribal peoples who use a distorted understanding of religion to exploit impoverished and disadvantaged people in a vacuum where their own states fail to protect them. Non-violent policy options, for Western states, unfortunately are only at the stage of talk and not action. I agree with Moeed, that CVE can only be rooted out by changing mindsets through communication – dialogue, mediation, persuasion, deeper understanding, and above all peace building education, which introduces potent counter-narratives. In Muslim countries, one way is to educate students in counter-narratives by discussing and holding up heroes as role models who challenge the frame work of extremists – those role models who within an Islamic frame work of middle path represent moderate religious voices. The dialogue of civilizations, not clash is what states like the US need to promote. The world needs to be better informed about the array of Muslims and Islam, and Muslims themselves need to know much more about the Islamic culture of tolerance and their own rich history of co-existence. This knowledge will help end the cycle of extreme hate against “the Other”.

Before we take the first step towards creating a peaceful world, we have to stop building barriers of “us” versus “them”. There is much more to the story than simply “good guys” and “bad guys”; “good countries” and “bad countries”. Reality is far more complex and there is both good and bad in every story and history of nations. Understanding history and reading about the perceived “Other” helps. In Pakistan particularly, as the everyday life goes on: a country of two hundred million people where mothers drive their children to school, teachers begin the effort of teaching little reluctant 4 year old children how to read and write, and where female friends in beautiful lawn clothes “made in Pakistan” meet up at homes over coffee worrying, in English, Urdu and Pashto, about the safety of their beloved children. Teachers, students, and staff are worried and concerned about the way demonization of the “Other” and the growth of violent extremism in their lives is shaping world events. The principals of educational institutions worry about terrorism and the continuous cycle of revenge: one principal said she could not function for ten days after the Peshawar incident, despite a pile of papers demanding attention on her desk.

Mrs. Pracha a seasoned and dynamic Pakistani Principal said, “I am reminded of what Abraham Lincoln wrote to his son’s teacher: ‘Teach him that for every enemy there is a friend’.” She continued, “We in Pakistan need to remember this during current atmosphere of distrust and fear.” She said, “people in Pakistan are not all black and white – fundamentalists and liberals – we did not become Muslims in 1979, when the USSR invaded Afghanistan and the jihadis (as the west calls them) were created, nor will we stop being Muslims as the world turns in revulsion from the ISIS outrages. The state of being Muslim is not dependent on the depiction of a fringe splinter group. Its essence is more diverse and inclusive – welcoming of all sects, races, colours, and creeds. Witness the Moors in Spain: a pluralistic, highly civilized, and creative society. We must build bridges of economic hope and educational outreach.” She ended by saying, “Our hope lies in the extraordinary courage shown by those children who survived the Peshawar school attack. They, along with the Army Chief General Raheel Sharif and his wife, re-entered the building, saluted the flag, and went back to work.” General Sharif in his character and behaviour has displayed two of the key qualities of heroes – great strength combined with gentleness and understanding. All these examples provide us a glimpse of hope and of human courage when the threat is enormous and humanity seems to be at its lowest ebb. And from the perspective of a young Pakistani student, your nation seems to be misunderstood, your fellow students killed for attending school, and yet you continue to struggle to learn and participate in the idea of schooling, knowledge, and peaceful education. Many ordinary citizens and scholars working hard to change their world around them for the better. Because of these and many more reasons we can say, Pakistan is fighting hard for peace. And as the APS text books rightly say, I [we shall rise and shine].

The author is a PhD Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge. Presently she is Director at Centre for Dialogue and Action.
12
June

Written By: Feryal Ali Gauhar

The Top of the World, the End of the Earth

Sunlight falls on the slopes of the mountains and blinds one with a dazzling glare. It is not possible to keep one’s eyes unprotected here at this altitude with the slopes permanently covered with snow and ice. We arrived at Ibrahim Sector at an altitude of 19,000 feet above sea level, and Lieutenant Colonel Faisal had instructed me to fill my lungs with oxygen from a cylinder provided in the helicopter even before we landed in the soft snow of the ‘Hasrat Glacier’ lying in the folds of the Saltoro Ridge.

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The Saltoro Ridge originates from the Sia Kangri in the Karakoram Ridge and the altitudes range from 5450 to 7720 metres (17,880 to 25,300 feet). The major passes on this ridge are Sia La at 5589 metres (18,336 feet) and Bilafond La at 5450 metres (17,880 feet), and Gyong La at 5689 metres (18,665 feet). We entered the land of glaciers and crevasses by flying over the Gyong Pass. Below us were huge tracts of moving masses of ice and snow, rocks, and glaciers that feed the rivers which, in turn, feed our crops, and feed humanity. The glaciers are like massive brush strokes painted by a giant who commands this land of mountains. No one lives here, except for the legendary Paris and their consorts, the Deo of ancient, from mythological times. We had come to visit the thirteen men serving at Ibrahim Post, commanded by Captain Rao, a young officer from Bahawalpur. As Colonel Faisal set the chopper down, I saw three big dogs playing in the snow – I was fascinated by this sight: two golden haired dogs and a darker one, frolicking in the snow as if that was their playground. These must be sniffer dogs trained to seek out men fallen into crevasse or buried beneath the snow. I was to later meet their canine colleagues at the Goma where fourteen of the finest German Shepherds were being trained for the same purpose. Having lived with animals all my life, I am more convinced every day about their intelligence and intuition, and of course, the loyalty of dogs is legendary, something I am writing about in a novel based on the heroic stories of Siachen soldiers and their four-legged companions.

I alighted from the chopper cautiously, mindful that the snow is several feet deep and that crevasses lie hidden all around us. From the chopper I had seen the two men in snowsuits, guns held at the ready, standing at the edge of what appeared to be a ridge or a crevasse. What had startled me was the rope that tied them together, a precaution taken when guarding the treacherous terrain which serves as home for these brave men. If one of them took a wrong step and fell into a crevasse, the other one would be in a position to pull, or later help in his rescue. It was an arrangement that tied both men to the interest of mutual survival. Perhaps all of us should have that rope connecting us so that when one of us falls, the other can pull us up – is that the way to save humanity from destroying itself, by building such connections, visible and otherwise?

I was careful with my breathing, concerned that I could collapse by hyperventilating, or that the lack of oxygen in my lungs could cause memory loss. I consciously shielded my heart condition from the officers who had arranged my visit, afraid that they would not deem me medically fit to undertake the journey. Aware of the risk I had taken, I had promised myself not to let these officers down, and so calmed my breathing to a slow, deliberate rhythm, measuring each step as if it was a question of life and death.

Indeed, living at this altitude has led to serious illnesses, to amputations due to frost-bite, to burns which eat the flesh, to heart attacks which claim the lives of the young.

I had to take this risk in order to understand the peril faced by each of these men and their colleagues posted further up the ridge. I had to meet these brave men, soldiers and officers, cooks and porters, men who lived in an inhuman environment, whose families received an odd call once in a while informing them of the welfare of their loved one.

siachen where eagle2Captain Rao led Major Shumaila and I up the slope to where the men await us. All of them were in white snowsuits, their boots protecting their feet from frost bite and goggles protecting their eyes from snow blindness. Major Shumaila wore the parka provided for her, and I was pleased to see that she had also worn the extra pair of boots I had carried, “just in case...” In fact, this young Major looked rather fetching in her ensemble, my boots matching the khaki of her sari, which, incidentally, she was wearing as her uniform and that is worn by all women officers of the Pakistan Army. I believe Major Shumaila was among the few lady officers to arrive at Ibrahim Post wearing a sari. History had been made during our visit; the impossible had become possible!

There were further surprises up ahead – I made my way through the snow laboriously, praying that I would not pass out and make a sheer fool of myself. I was assisted by Captain Rao and a walking stick, and reached the flat area designated for our tea time break. A table fashioned out of a carton or a trunk and covered with a colourful table-cloth, was laden with freshly fried pakoras, samosas and potato chips. Two bowls contained fresh chutney and raita, and bottles of soft drinks sparkled in the snow while tea was poured into delicate cups. I had no words to express my awe as I looked around at those men who had not seen their families or been near anything familiar for several months, and yet had produced a tea fit for a ‘queen’. How do they manage at this altitude to even light a fire? How long does it take to melt the snow for tea? How often can they afford to bathe? What do they eat, and how often do they speak to their families? What happens when one of them falls sick, or is injured? Have any of them ever lost the will to survive here, in this wilderness where no man dares to get lost for fear of never being found?

Captain Rao answered my questions patiently: it takes much time to melt the snow in order to have drinking water, so bathing is out of question. Food is stored in a special stone hut, carried by porters using mules and donkeys. Beyond Ibrahim Post only porters can carry the supplies as it is impossible for pack animals to climb further (across the border I believe mules are given shots of rum to encourage them to climb impossible heights, deluding them with a sense of false courage).

I met the porter who had arrived the day before – he was a small man, from Astore, dressed casually in sweat pants, a T-shirt and a jacket open at the chest. On his head was a woolen cap and sunglasses shield his eyes from the glare. He wore ordinary joggers in his feet. Paid between rupees four hundred and one thousand per day, he would climb up to the farthest post at 21,000 feet, seventy kilograms of supplies strapped to his back. I look at his face, a young man, his skin burnt black, a smile playing on his face, and I wonder at the strength packed into his small frame, and the resolve carried in his heart. He didn’t think much of the work he does – it is all part of his own survival in a world where war costs not only human lives but billions of dollars a year; money which could be spent on the welfare of young men like our porter from Astore.

I finished my tea and walked up to the slope where the soldiers stood on guard, guns held ready. As we proceeded slowly towards the several winterized tents and the storage hut, I was directed to look up at the sky where a white fleck flits in the air. I was not sure what I was looking at – I had not expected to see birds at this altitude, though there were four ravens flying around the storage hut, I was quite sure, unless I was hallucinating due to the lack of oxygen! Captain Rao told me it was not a bird we were watching, in fact, we were being watched by a drone flown by the “enemy” across the ridge the moment our chopper must have been spotted. I thought of the futility of this war, of the costs incurred, of the need to constantly be vigilant, to ward off attacks in the middle of the night, to survive the freezing temperatures, to continue to believe in the value of war as a tool to settle conflict. And in my mind I imagined the lives of millions of my fellow citizens who do not have clean water to drink, adequate health care, access to education and justice, or even a nourishing meal twice a day. Could our warring countries not put these resources and our imagination to better use? Was there not a need to reconsider the hatred that fuels these conflicts, putting the welfare of our people before “strategic” considerations of the security apparatus? For what good is the state if the nation is uncared for? If children die for want of nourishment and drinking water and medical aid? If women cannot choose the number of children they want to bear, if men cannot find meaningful employment? These are the questions that mostly pertain to the Indian Army across the border as they are the ones who initiated this war, and also a major hurdle in peaceful resolution of this hazardous ‘war game’. Indian leadership have much to answer to the families of soldiers employed on both sides of the border. I talked to the men at Ibrahim Post until it was time to go – many of them were from Punjab and had never seen snow in their lives before coming here. Put through a rigorous process of acclimatization and training in Skardu, Youching and Goma, these men spent an average of 8-10 weeks at these posts, guarding our frontiers. Once their replacements are ready, they make their way slowly back to Goma where they are taken care of any medical need and, where the barber cuts their hair and shaves them, readying them for re-entry into the world.

I had seen that barber shop at Goma – it is like any other salon in our beloved country, complete with barber’s chair and mirror, a collection of after-shave lotions and creams, posters of handsome young men sporting dashing hairstyles, and a vase carrying red plastic roses placed on a shelf with pride. Just outside the officer’s living quarters, another profusion of red blooms bursted forth on a bush of wild roses, ‘Sia-Chen’ in Balti, a name given to a place on top of the world, at the end of the earth, that place of absence and longing, a place which has carved a space in my heart where I keep the image of two ducks, three dogs, four ravens and many brave men safe, etched into the velvet of my eyelids, engraved like a soldier’s badge of honour.

The writer studied Political Economy at McGill University, Montreal, Media Education at the University of London, Development Communication at the University of Southern California, and Cultural Heritage Management at the National College of Arts, Lahore. She teaches at apex institutions, writes columns for a leading daily, makes documentaries, and has published two best-selling novels.
12
June

Written By: Muhammad Amir Rana

Many internal and external factors had been at the heart of the conflict in Yemen. But the recent crisis is largely an outcome of the unsuccessful democratic transition in the country in the aftermath of the Arab Spring and the ouster of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. The internal unrest raised the regional concerns and provided space for external interventions.
Though the Yemen’s crisis has implications for global security and regional strategic balance, it has not received the due attention from the international community to address it.
The US is assisting in the Saudi-led air strikes in Yemen but is reluctant to take up a leading role. The NATO countries are behaving in a similar manner. It appears as if their not-so-successful ventures in Libya and Syria have made them cautious

Some may argue that the state’s socio-political stability is more important as compared to ideological balancing. However, in case of failure to achieve either, non-state actors are the main beneficiaries, whether they are religiously, ethnically or politically motivated. And a range of non-state actors exist in Yemen.

enough to stay away from such conflicts whose outcome is difficult to measure. The ‘careful’ global attitude has provided more space to Iran and Saudi Arabia for a strategic play in Yemen. In military perspective too, it has put a huge liability on the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members. Certainly, without troops on the ground certain objectives cannot be achieved. For that purpose, these countries are looking towards their non-Arab allies with strong military capabilities, mainly Pakistan and Turkey, to share their burden.
Apparently, the equations of the conflict seem simple. But a deeper look reveals that the situation is like a jigsaw where assessing the local, regional and global dynamics and impacts is not an easy task.
Background
The roots of social and political confrontations in Yemen are old but the current crisis is linked to the late 2011 uprisings against former president Saleh. As a result, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi took over as the new president with a responsibility to unite all shades of Yemeni political landscape. The uprising also provided space to Islamist militant groups mainly Al-Qaeda. A United Nations-backed National Dialogue Conference (NDC) was launched in 2012 to develop consensus on major issues facing the country's future. In January 2014, the NDC extended Hadi’s term for another year but failed to develop the required consensus among all stakeholders on the framework of a constitution. However, it made some progress in terms of reaching an agreement for a national council with two chambers: an upper house composed of the existing parliament in which the General People’s Congress (GPC) held a majority; and a lower house with all NDC components including the Houthis, Hiraak, youth, women and other groups. There was also consensus on forming a national government comprising all main parties including Houthis but president Hadi refused to accept the agreement.
This situation triggered unrest in the country. Shia Houthi tribes made an alliance with former president Saleh and started a march towards the capital.
According to a report by Al-Jazeera, ‘when pro-Houthi militias abducted Ahmad Awad Bin Mubarak, the Yemeni President’s Chief of Staff, President Hadi gave orders to the army to take over the security of the capital. The Houthis had initially agreed to pull out their fighters once a government was formed. They later backtracked saying that withdrawing their fighters from the capital would lead to more instability.

In this turmoil and crisis, less attention to the people of Yemen, who are suffering and waiting for the regional and international humanitarian assistance. According to the reports, half of Yemenis already live below poverty line and decades of wars and instability have made their economic future uncertain.

Saudi Arabia, which has a long history of dealing with the internal issues of Yemen, was watching these developments cautiously. An alleged Iranian support to Houthi forces was a major concern for Saudis, that viewed emerging developments in a broader regional perspective. Syrian crisis and a rise of Islamic State had already put the whole region in turmoil, which was gradually expanding its boundaries. The escape of President Hadi from the capital was the point where Saudi Arabia and its GCC allies lost their patience and launched airstrike to dismantle the Houthi forces. The strike made the Yemen’s internal crisis a regional strategic and political conflict.
Tribal and Political Actors
Most of the Western and Middle Eastern analysts still see Yemen crisis as an internal issue. They believe in an internal solution with regional guarantees. The local political and tribal actors hold the key for the resolution of the crisis. In this perspective, following actors are important:
Houthis: Headed by Abdulmalik al-Houthi, Houthis are the most powerful political and military group in northern Yemen. They control a huge area that stretches from Saada in the north to the south of the capital Sanaa. Houthis are Zaydi Muslims, followers of the Shia religious school historically seen as closest to Sunnis. But Zaydis have come to be dominated by a clan that owes allegiance to a now dead rebel leader, Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi, who declared war on the government in 2004. According to the Telegraph, ‘the Houthis' Shiism has led them to a pro-Iran, anti-Western position – its adherents carry flags saying, “Death to America, Death to Israel”. Houthis are demanding implementation of the Peace and National Partnership Agreement (PNPA), which was struck after the Houthis seized the capital Sanaa in September 2014.
Al-Islah: Al-Islah is a Sunni Islamist political movement that is described as Yemen’s version of the Muslim Brotherhood. It is the main constitutional opposition to the government. According to the media reports, its leaders have been targeted for reprisals by the Houthis, as the two represent the rival sects of political Islam.
The Southern Movement: The Southern Movement (known as Al-Hiraak) is a strong secessionist movement. The Southern Movement was working for re-establishment of South Yemen as an independent state, as it was before the merger with North Yemen in 1990.
Former President Ali Abdullah al-Saleh: Former President Saleh, who fought the Houthis for years, is now a partner of Houthis. He still enjoys the support of the army apparatus controlled by his many relatives, partly out of revenge against Gen Mohsen, who has retained power over a rival army faction.
The Government: The UN and GCC still recognise Hadi’s government as legitimate. According to a BBC report, Mr Hadi is also supported in the predominantly Sunni south of the country by militia known as Popular Resistance Committees and local tribesmen. All efforts by the GCC are aimed at restoring the Hadi’s government in Yemen to restart peace and dialogue process.
Regional players
• Saudi Arabia-led GCC Alliance: The Saudis are staunch anti-Houthis and declare Houthis as proxies of Iran and Lebanon’s Hizbollah. This is not a first military campaign of the Saudis against Houthis; they had launched similar airstrikes in 2009 in Saada province. In 2014, they declared the Houthis a terrorist organisation. Saudi Arabia had also been making efforts to isolate the Houthis diplomatically, strangle them economically, and is now trying to weaken them militarily.
• Iran: Iran denies charges that it is physically arming the Houthis but a ship carrying weapons apparently from Iran was seized in Yemeni waters in 2013, which strengthened the Saudi’s doubts. According to media reports, the Houthis have close ties to Hizbollah. Many reports indicate that Shia militias now control parts of both Saudi Arabia’s southern border with Yemen and northern border with Iraq.
The Beneficiary
The recent advances of Al-Qaeda in Yemen make it clear who will be the main beneficiary of a protracted crisis in the country. The Al-Qaeda fighters recently attacked a jail in Yemen and freed hundreds of inmates including scores of militants as well as one of their main leader. The militant of Islamic State (IS) had already registered their presence in the capital of Yemen by orchestrating large-scale suicide attacks on Shia mosques in Sanaa last month.
Against this background, some may argue that the state’s socio-political stability is more important as compared to ideological balancing. However, in case of failure to achieve either, non-state actors are the main beneficiaries, whether they are religiously, ethnically or politically motivated. And a range of non-state actors exist in Yemen.
The religiously motivated non-state actors, including Al-Qaeda and the IS, have not yet displayed their full potential in the rapidly deteriorating situation. But experts believe that these actors had been waiting for this moment of Sunni-Shia confrontation in the country for a long time. They knew that sectarian tensions would open up space for them to flourish and operate. Now they will be more than ready to encroach upon the space that the ongoing war in Yemen will create. Yemen’s case could be even worse than that of Syria where Bashar al-Assad’s forces are still offering resistance to non-state actors.
It is a valid argument that the US-led invasion of Iraq and intervention in Syria created situations of chaos that non-state actors such as Al-Qaeda and IS have effectively exploited. These violent actors have attracted Islamist extremists from across the world. Through playing the sectarian card, such groups create strategic space for themselves. Arab analysts had already predicted that terrorist groups in Yemen would exploit the Saudi-led intervention as an excuse to go after the Shia Houthis.
In this turmoil and crisis, to the people of Yemen, who are suffering and waiting for the regional and international humanitarian assistance. According to the reports, half of Yemenis already live below poverty line and decades of wars and instability have made their economic future uncertain.

 

The writer is a security and political analyst and the Director of Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS). He has worked extensively on issues related to counter-terrorism, counter-extremism, internal and regional security, and politics. Twitter @AmirRana
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