fouzia in America

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The discussion on countering militants was earlier framed as either ‘peace talks’ or ‘military operation’. Now that the talks have failed or have gone no where, the discussion has been framed around military operations and their consequences. I think there is a dire need to look at this scenario in a broader, and more realistic, framework. Only attacking the militant bases without a solid policy shift will not bring any change. Baitullah Mahsud was replaced by Hakeemullah Mehsud, who was replaced by Fazlullah. Continued focus on eliminating militant leaders without any thoughtful and sincere policy shift will not get us anywhere. What will bring peace back to our country? An impression has been created by the taliban apologists that the answer is with the taliban and that the talks would reveal the magic steps. The nation looked to them for an answer, but only found continued trickery and violence. The real question is what are WE willing to do to bring back peace. The onus is on us. To start off the discussion I am giving ten strategic points for consideration: 

1) Target Military Operations in places where militants are concentrated.

2) Issue official orders (for real) to break the friendly ties between law enforcing agencies (including intelligence agencies) and the militants and authorize them to apprehend the militants in the other parts of the country also, through investigation and inditement.

3) Expedite the inditement and conviction of the militants already captured. 

4) A clear policy by our leaders (political, military, religious or bureaucrats) to prevent any one from supporting, quietly protecting, or making backdoor deals with any banned groups of terrorists

5)  Change the narrative: separate Islam from militancy. Stop overplaying the sharia smoke screen, stop helping taliban reinforce their fake religious front. (This one especially is for the media) 

6) Change the narrative from taliban, jihadis to MILITANTS, so that the attention is not only focused on TTP, but on all the militants in the country.  

7) Put those using a religious front or pushing an ideology of hate under the garb of religion on the defensive. Strict action should be taken against all illegitimate militant hideouts in the form of “madrases” and “humanitarian organizations” and anyone who uses fatwa or incites people using Islam. 

8) This is OUR WAR and our mess and we have to clean up our house. We can sit together and blame USA or others later, but lets focus on protecting and cleaning our own house right now.  

9) Citizens must stick together through this roller coaster regardless of whichever party they support. This is not a time to divide ourselves and play politics. This is a time to focus on reclaiming our country. 

10) The national political leadership, and not the ISPR, should give briefings to media and to the nation. 



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Don’t Negotiate Women’t-negotiate-women

While we women welcome the initiative of talks taken by the Government and stand in full solidarity with them, we would like to clearly state that women will not be a negotiating chip this time. We have over a decade of experience in dealing with the Taliban and centuries of experience in dealing with the traditional feudal mindset and patriarchal system. Whether it is in the name of Islam or in the name of tradition, it all falls on our heads. Either in the pretext of sharia or under the garb of making peace, we will not let the women of Pakistan be used as badl-e sulah. 

It should be clear to the leaders of our country and the negotiating team that this time if they try to make a deal like Nizam-e-Adal in Swat or Shariah, as demanded by Maulana Abdul Aziz in Islamabad, women will not agree to be the sacrificial goats.

TTP and other militant groups have a history of being obsessed by women. TTP after its takeover of Swat ruled that all families should marry off their daughters as soon as they reach 16 or else the taliban will take care of it for them. When the proposals of taliban were rejected of young girls, they turned it into a morality issue. The case of Chand bibi, who was flogged in public, is said to be a similar scenario. They burned over 600 girls schools and announced severe punishments for women who would appear in public. Kishwar Naheed’s poem comes to mind, woh jo bachion se bhi dar gaey…   Is it obsession or fear? Whatever it is, the horror stories go on.

When the Taliban took over Afghanistan in 1996 they stripped women from all their rights. They banned them from working or getting education. Women could not leave home without being accompanied by a male relative. They were beaten and punished severely on any minor violation of these rules. Pakistani Taliban have been quite inspired by these standards. They were able to introduce a code of morality under the garb of Nizam-e-Adal where the so called Qazi decided whatever he felt was in the ambit of Islam. Immediately after our Parliament gave them a green light, they started shaving young men’s heads and flogging women on the streets without even a facade of a legal system. Only the MQM abstained from the vote, with all the other parties approving the imposition of sharia under the name of Nizam e Adal in Swat. Those wounds are still raw for us.

There are many militant groups other than TTP all over Pakistan.  Each has a varying degree of control in the areas they operate in. They clearly have used their influence to curb women’s mobility and visibility without any checks from the administration. They are equally violent and dangerous. Will there be a strategy to root them out also?

The last time Pakistani Taliban came for peace talks (2009), their delegation came to Peshawar to discuss the pact with the cabinet members of KP. The first thing they objected to was the presence of a woman. Sitara Ayaz who was a well-respected Minister was asked to leave.  This time at least we won’t have that problem as there is no woman in the delegation. The only assurance we want from our Government is that they will not let women of Pakistan down and they will not compromise the rights of Pakistani citizens in the name of peace negotiations. We want to feel confident that they won’t. We are in solidarity with our Government, we would want our Government to be in solidarity with us!

The writer is a women’s rights activist who has worked on women’s issues for over 25 years.

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taliban pic Decades of indecisiveness about taking an action against the militants in Pakistan in a comprehensive manner has led people to be mistrustful of the main institutions of the country: the military, the government, the parliament and the judiciary. While all make big statements against the Taliban, all have had instances where they looked the other way or showed a soft corner for them. People are puzzled by a half-baked strategy where partially our institutions supported the enemy, partially looked away and partially acted against them to keep a pretext of fighting the war.  Last week’s strikes on Waziristan by our military were a sudden change from the peace talk mantras going on for a while. People waited in vain for a comprehensive explanation from the government announcing this change of policy, outline of a future strategy and instructions for people to position themselves in the context of what is about to happen.  Meanwhile, many people evacuated from Waziristan to Bannu in anticipation of more attacks.

A vacuum of decision making at the highest level, gaps in communication with the people, no joint stance of political forces and seemingly erratic attempts of retaliation can give wrong signals to the powerful and deeply entrenched militant enemy at this point. Such conditions can lead to a civil war if not handled properly. Recent announcement by the PM to form a four member committee is a good step forward. Here are some critical points to consider if Pakistan wants to avoid going into a civil war.

Bringing political leadership together: 

The current attacks in Waziristan seem to be led by military decision makers, with elected leadership giving it a civilian cover. These might have played the role of a catalyst in pushing the Government in making announcements of their next steps, but it should not be seen as the basis for future long term strategy. The government should actively seek consensus on the strategy of all political parties and bring them on one page. Merely announcing a negotiating committee or the beginning of a process is not enough. The consensus building should take place within the Parliament and not outside so that this institution gets stronger. The stronger the ownership of the political leadership the better they will be prepared when the negative consequences come. Later they will not be blaming each other and playing political games by saying this was not a good decision. The religious political factions who are sympathizers or pro-militants might not come together fully, but at least the main popular parties should join hands and build solidarity.

Get Experts in the team:

Pakistan is not the first country to face such a problem. Insurgency, militancy and such guerrilla warfare is something many countries have dealt with over decades. There is a whole field of study around conflicts.  Security experts around the world are available for their opinions and insights to contribute to the strategy for countering militants & negotiating with them. Many of these are Pakistani also. There are also local experts within Pakistan with good knowledge of the militant groups, their members, even knowing which members can be approached and who are the hard liners in these gangs. Pakistan has its local experts, among civil society, academia and journalists, who should be included in the closer circles and teams. Civilian government should not only count on military intelligence but should have its own civilian base of expertise who know and understand these groups and can guess their reactions. Sharing secret information from other countries involved in this war might be useful for the civilian government rather than restricting themselves to a few traditional sources of information.  In addition, the members of the negotiating team should not be all conservatives or taliban sympathizers. Pakistan has made this mistake many times, for example, Ijazul Haq,  son of dictator Zia ul Haq, was sent by the last Government to negotiate with the management of Lal Masjid and he came back after giving them a personal donation of one lakh rupees for the illegitimate madrassa built upon land that was not even theirs.

 Military Operation and citizens: 

It is important to have a buy-in from the people of Pakistan. The state has created high levels of confusion over the authenticity of the insurgency so have people romanticize Mujahidin and protect Taliban. The Kashmir affairs cell in PTV never stops working and the propaganda of showing Mujahidin martyrs and Taliban as anti USA and therefore ‘heroes’, is never ending on our media. The coverage of Hakimullah Mehsood is the most recent example where he was shown as a hero by the newspapers and many leaders. If there has to be a direct confrontation with Taliban we need to have Pakistani people join hands also. A clear message from the government and the State is necessary to clearly define the enemy and get the backing of the people, as was done in Swat. This will help the masses face the negative consequences if any in the form of internally displaced people, killing of innocent civilians, in case the negotiations fail.

The enemy is difficult to define:

It is easiest to fight an enemy outside. An enemy within the boundary of a country is difficult to fight. But it is most difficult when the enemy is not definable. As in some countries, this is not a fight between different ethnic or religious groups. Some may think that our enemy could be identifiable by big turbans and big beards holding guns and bombs but that is not so. The ‘taliban phenomenon’ is complicated. There are those who undermine the government through violence. There are those that pave the ground through propagation of a pro-taliban ideology and develop a volatile religious wicket to play on and gain power. There are those that have infiltrated into every sector, media, civil service, judiciary, police, political parties, civil society, business community and the military. These people continuously undermine the State and the Government and propagate the narrative of the militants. It is very difficult when the supporters of the enemy are deep into every institution of ours. In addition criminal elements have also joined the militancy in many cases who have different objectives to be in the fight. It could get difficult to separate out the militants and the purely criminal elements who are using the situation to gain their own benefits.

The present Government has come with a strong mandate. People are looking towards them for the required leadership. With the other political players they do need to take a lead, develop a strategy, not piece meal but a long term strategy with back up actions ready. They should have teams of experts dedicated to different parts of that strategy. The Prime Minister should talk to the people and build the motivation needed to take this enemy on. It is the elected Government that has to move ahead and the people should back them up regardless of which party they belong to.

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Aitizaz Hasan, 15, standing outside his school in Hangu, one of the most underdeveloped area of Pakistan, saw a militant with a bomb and recognised that he meant destruction for his fellow students. He did everything in his power to stop him. Aitizaz was successful in saving lives and stoping the bomber at the price of his own life. How can a 15 year old from Hungu  be smarter than our politicians to recognise what is bad for his people. These politicians  have gotten good education, some even went abroad for it. They have decades of experience of dealing with all kinds of people and have been exposed to all sorts of challenges. Why then they cannot see that militants, bombs, guns… are bad for their people and these militants should be stopped otherwise there will be many dead bodies. Even seeing dead bodies over the last so many years has not made them realise that militants need to be stopped. Can this be any more simpler!!! What we have seen is any attempt of someone else killing militants is strongly objected to by dharnas. We see nothing but protecting and apologising for militants. Finding excuses for them and at times even calling them shaheed. Yes countering militants might not be that easy but there are many countries in the world that have dealt with insurgencies. We are at a stage where even the intention has not been there to stop them. Short term gains are far more important for our leaders than joining hands against this menace. The responsibility has been claimed by Lashker e Jhangvi. What will our leaders do about it?

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Five-year quick analysis of Pakistan’s Situation & Happy 2014


  1. Devolution of powers and legislative authority given to the Provinces. Re-distribution of finances, NFC award and strengthening of a Federal structure.
  2. Taking off 58 2B and retuning powers of the Prime Minister from the President
  3. Completion of five year govt & a smooth and respectful transition to the next civilian government, without any intervention of the armed forces.
  4. Passage of pro-women legislation (7 laws between 2010 to 2013 after a gap of 50 years). Teaming up of civil society with the Parliament and a clear political active role  of women parliamentarians.
  5. Pakistani nation never voted more than 10% for the religious right.
  6. Active engagement of Pakistani public in elections in the face of violence and death.
  7. Willingness and initiation of peace talks with neighbours  (India).
  8. The beginning of a transition from a Military to Civilian Rule
  9. (eg. military budget-lines discussed in the parliament, court cases on ex ISI head and Chief of Army Staff, no overt interference by military since 2008).
  10. Strengthening of Election Commission and Council of Common Interests
  11. Continous progressive and democratic movement with brave people who would sacrifice anything for the country and the wellbeing of their people.


  1. Our pattern of self bashing and disrespecting ourselves as a nation.
  2. Bashing the politicians only- increasing risk of instability and not standing behind our democratically elected governments.
  3. Lack of joint strategy of all stakeholders on militancy – including citizens themselves
  4. Lack of recognizing and unintentionally participating in the narrative of pro-militancy that is seeping into every sector. (trying to delegitimize Malala, organizations that work for progressive change shift focus on drones vs Taliban attacks, increasing moral bashing, who is a good Muslim and who is not. giving every debate a colour of religion.
  5. Continuous isolation in the international scenario which leads to suicidal tendency. very egocentric view of issues. not understanding the vulnerability of our country
  6. Lack of accountability for bureaucracy
  7. Lack of joint front of Pakistanis internally and diaspora, with a joint strategy of putting Pakistan-first and influencing the international dynamics.
  8. People get swayed by ‘selective justice’ which doesn’t always build the institution of justice. Lack of accountability of justice system, especially at the lower and mid level, which should be the backbone of the system
  9. People have learnt to criticize more and active participation less. Capacity of a country is collective. Lack of teaming up of citizens with the government or within themselves to come up with solutions and lobby for them. We need a shift from complaining to engagement mode.
  10. People become gullible to little information & propaganda by media or agencies. Transparency of how much money is coming from countries like USA for the military, government budget support, NGOs etc. (‘amriki agent’, or ‘anti islamic’ have become the most common beating sticks for whoever tries to talk sense).

HAPPY 2014!

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Another independence day!

With hope for the future I want to make ten demands from our government. The situation keeps getting more complex and the priorities get more urgent. This year it has to focus on security. The demand of the people on this independence day has to be for our lives to be protected. How basic can one get. The killings every day need to be stopped for us to think about anything else for the country. Here are my ten demands for our Government on 14th of August 2013.

1)A seriousness among all the political parties to solve the problem of militancy. ‘How’ is a later question, we the people are not sure if all the parties are serious about dealing with it. All players are not on board yet, so please lead the way!

2) A road map to bring the Baloch separatists into dialogue and move towards a peaceful resolution for their demands.

3) An assurance to the provinces that the autonomy given to them after 65 years under 18th amendment is not something that will be taken away and will not be tampered with again. The Federal government should restrain itself from interfering with the provincial authorities and let them develop.

4) At least a meaningful trade pact with India moving our relations in a positive direction, and yes regardless of the tricks both the militaries would do to prevent this from happening.

5) Get our local bodies up and running. Unfortunately the proposed legislation is diluting its functions, authorities, composition and the women’s role, but I do want the elections so that I can call our Government complete. I do not consider it complete without the third tier.

On other domestic issues:

6) Bijli please!!!

7) It would help a lot if we can modernize our flood warning systems and make some long term plans rather than suffering every year with floods.

8) Pay attention to Balochistan. I think a sound provincial govt. is necessary and not think that a token Government would do, with real powers continue to be with Military, Interior and intelligence agencies.

9) I would like to see a continued attention on women’s issues. The focus needs to be on implementation of policies and legislation and making their lives safe and livable!

10) Appointment of heads of institutions on somewhat merit!!! No more retired Military and retired Judiciary people. No more dominance of these institutions through the ‘retired forces’.

My magic number of keeping it to ten demands on this independence day is over but can we also please get our YOUTUBE back… please….. the pattern of shooting ourselves in our foot has to change…pleeease!!!

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Militants have no nationality or religion- Its time we changed our Narrative


An oped published in Star Tribune

Violent militants are not Muslims

  • Article by: FOUZIA SAEED Ph.D.
  • @FouziaSaeed
  • Updated: May 27, 2013 – 6:16 PM

We unwittingly help their cause when we conflate them with the whole of the Islamic faith.

Citizens of peaceful countries cannot continue to live in fear, seeing the space for their daily activities steadily reduced. The Boston Marathon bombing has created the potential for generating worldwide support to deal with the menace of terrorism.

Many militants call themselves jihadis and crusaders of Islam. We have chosen to describe them with their chosen terms. But we should not. When we address them in this way, we help spread their false ideology for them. It is time we changed the narrative.

Extremists associated with Al-Qaida and other terrorist networks have defined a common narrative. They deny the concepts of nation-states and democracy. They claim their goal is to establish a supranational Islamic community (Ummah) across the world under one controlling structure (Caliphate), with Al-Qaida at its head.

They train their followers to think of themselves only as Muslims. They allow no other identity, whether ethnic or national. They push their followers to think of the rest of the world as the “Other.”

This Other is not merely non-Muslim, it is anti-Islamic. They associate terrorist attacks with their ideology, claiming these are justified actions (jihad) by Muslims against the anti-Islamic world. In so doing, they lay claim to being the leaders of the Muslim people.

In the attempt to counter global terrorism, America and its allies have reinforced the militant discourse by identifying the terrorists as “Muslims.” This has helped the extremists to broaden their constituency. By identifying every member of these international gangs first as a Muslim, then as a militant, we unknowingly advance their agenda.

Media and politicians alike frequently refer to “Muslim scholars,” “Muslim scientists,” “Muslim parliamentarians,” “Muslim women” and, of course, “Muslim terrorists.”

The argument here is not whether there is a Muslim world tying together 1.6 billion people scattered from Morocco to Indonesia. The point is that by referring to militants, as well as ordinary citizens, primarily by their religious identity we help to legitimize the militants’ claim as Muslim leaders, enhancing their image in the eyes of the impressionable.

Spreading this religious narrative also supports the terrorists, because it becomes difficult for individuals or countries to act against them for fear of appearing to be going against their religion.

This has been the major reason for Pakistan’s lack of success against the many terrorist groups operating from its territory. Acts of “revenge” against any Pakistani politician, and even ordinary citizens, who oppose the militant agenda are increasing by the day.

This narrative also leads to Muslims in America being harassed and often accused of crimes because of their religion. This causes many American Muslims, who do not support the extremists, to feel antagonized or vulnerable.

These militants are difficult to define. It is not like fighting a war with a country. These criminals originate from Saudi Arabia, Mali, England, Nigeria, Chechnya, Pakistan and many other places. There are no rules. The leaders are quite adept at getting their followers to blow themselves up, turning them into nearly uncontrollable weapons. These suicide bombers have found refuge in a religious identity because their leaders have given their ambitions a religious cloak.

Why should we buy their act? Why should our societies help create a medieval theological empire? Why should we promote this mantra of a “Muslim world,” “jihadist movements” and “grass-roots jihadism”? Why help the militants play the role of religious crusaders and recruit young people into their ranks by painting America as the primary anti-Islamic enemy?

As a Pakistani Muslim, I know these terrorists have no nationality and no religion. They should be viewed merely as murderers. They kill innocent citizens of every religion and country.

In Pakistan, in 2011 alone, there were 476 terrorist attacks by these murderers that killed 4,447 Pakistanis. Bombs were used indiscriminately to murder people while visiting mosques, shrines, churches, political rallies and funerals.

These murderers are killing people everywhere and of every religion. They bombed the Boston Marathon on April 15. They bombed a crowded political rally in Peshawar on April 16. They caused the death of more than 3,000 people in New York in 2001 and have killed more than 40,000 citizens of Pakistan in the years since that attack.

These militants should only be regarded as criminals and murderers. They are not seen as the leaders of Islam by any Muslim country. However, by giving them refuge in religion, we have clearly taken the bait.

But it is not too late to change the narrative. All people who oppose such brutality should refuse to call them “Muslims” — only criminals.

Blog “Fouzia in America” @FouziaSaeed