Pakistan Security Brief – January 11, 2011

Nominations for new Punjab governor up for debate; Bilawal Bhutto Zardari vows to fight blasphemy law; Young lawyers rallying behind Qadri; Men sentenced to life imprisonment on charges of blasphemy; Full-scale military offensive in North Waziristan to be postponed indefinitely; Infighting in Kurram; Police open fire on crowd of protesters in Bannu.

 

Governor Taseer Assassination and Fallout

  • Following media reports alleging that Senator Latif Khosa was set to be appointed as the new governor of Punjab, the Express Tribune claims that, according to its sources, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has offered the coveted slot to a member of his own cabinet. The newspaper had previously reported that Khosa’s name had been confirmed by President Zadari and Prime Minister Gilani to replace the slain governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer. However, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, the current foreign minister under Prime Minister Gilani, has now reportedly been considered for office due to disagreements between the President and Prime Minister over the nomination of the new governor. Qureshi has purportedly turned down the offer in order to stay available in case of a vacancy in the leadership of the Parliament.[i]

  • Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, condemned the assassination of Governor Salmaan Taseer for campaigning to reform the country’s blasphemy laws. In a memorial ceremony in London for the assassinated governor, Bhutto pledged, “To the Christian and other minority communities in Pakistan, we will defend you. Those who wish to harm you for a crime you did not commit will have to go through me first. To those who are praising or justifying these crimes, I say: you along with the killers of Shaheed (martyr) Salman Taseer are the real blasphemers."[ii]

  • Crowds have rallied behind the assassin of Governor Taseer this week, praising Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri’s act as one of heroism. The New York Times examines the many young lawyers, once thought to be liberal forces for democracy in Pakistan, who have eagerly taken up the defense of Qadri. Carlotta Gall points to the “deep generational divide tearing at the fabric of Pakistani society, and of the broad influence of religious conservatism — and even militancy — that now exists among the educated middle class.” The report cautions that the strength of the conservative base threatens to overpower voices of liberalism in Pakistan’s delicate civilian government.[iii]

  • In the wake of thousands protesting the divisive blasphemy law, a Pakistani court in Muzaffargarh has jailed Mohammad Shafi and his son Mohammad Aslam on blasphemy charges. The two were arrested last April for allegedly removing a sign outside their grocery store which advertised an Islamic event in the local area.  Judge Mohammad Ayub sentenced the pair to life imprisonment as well as enforced a fine of 200,000 rupees ($2,350) each. The defense counsel has vowed to fight the verdict in a higher court, alleging the verdict had “been given in haste and was the result of inter-faith rivalries.” [iv]

 

North Waziristan Offensive Delayed

  • According to a report in the Express Tribune, the Pakistani military has indefinitely delayed a full-scale operation into North Waziristan owing to the onset of a freezing winter. Despite Pakistan’s official position that U.S. drone attacks are a breach on sovereignty, the newspaper quoted military sources as saying that U.S. aircraft will continue to target insurgents in the tribal region through the winter. The military campaign highlights the differences in U.S. and Pakistan policy and strategy in the North Waziristan region, with the U.S. pushing for a full-scale military operation in the face of Pakistani protests over sovereignty and an overstretched military. The Pakistani Foreign Office has attested that the operation will only be initiated if it is in the best interests of Pakistan.[v]

 

Militants Killed in Kurram

  • Five militants, including a local commander of the Al Badr group, were killed Monday during infighting in the central Kurram tribal region. Recent fighting between rival militant groups in the area has been attributed to internal disagreements over extortion and ransom money. [vi]

 

Violent Protests

  • Pakistani police opened fire on a crowd of 500 protesting power cuts in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province on Tuesday, resulting in one death and fourteen injuries. In response to accusations that police instigated the shooting, a local officer retorted that the “police first fired in the air but some people in the crowd directly fired on us and the man was killed during a subsequent exchange of fire.” The crowd had refused to disperse from a busy road in Bannu while protesting severe electricity outages at a local electricity grid station.[vii]



[i] Rauf Klasra, “Race for Punjab governor still on,” The Express Tribune, January 11, 2011. Available at http://tribune.com.pk/story/102116/race-for-punjab-governor-still-on/
[ii] Myra MacDonald, “Bhutto pledges to defend minorities in Pakistan,” Reuters, January 10, 2011. Available athttp://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20110110/wl_nm/us_pakistan_blasphemy_bhutto
[iii] Carlotta Gall, “Pakistan Faces a Divide of Age on Muslim Law,” New York Times, January 10, 2011. Available at http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/11/world/asia/11pakistan.html?partner=rss&emc=rss
[iv] “Pakistan court convicts imam and son for blasphemy,” AFP, January 11, 2011. Available at http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20110111/wl_sthasia_afp/pakistanreligionblasphemy
[vi] “Five militants killed in Kurram infighting,” Dawn, January 10, 2011. Available at http://www.dawn.com/2011/01/11/five-militants-killed-in-kurram-infighting-2.html