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Rifts for Baitullah Mehsud – The future of JI, Imran Khan and “religious parties”

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Rifts appear in Baitullah Mehsud’s alliance, as former allies turn. Now claim Baitullah Mehsud actions make HIM “wajibul qatal”, while his actions are against Islam – because he is targeting Muslims within Pakistan.

A lot of these warlords are opportunists and this is a sign that they TOO are seeing the tide turning.

As they may ALSO be seeing the new resolve in the Pakistani public against these people.

Geo TV and the changing sentiment of the public

For 2 years the TV channels (Geo, AAJ TV) have MASKED the hideousness of their behaviour by claims it was “against Musharraf policies” or as the Jamaat-e-Islami’s Qazi Hussain Ahmed would put it, it was a “radd-e-amal”.

First an anti-Musharraf sentiment was developed.
Then all behaviour of the criminal elements (warlords in FATA, Swat) was justified as “better” than the “horrid” rule of Musharraf.

Because the public (actually only about 40% of the public with about 30% halfway and maybe 20% still remaining pro-Musharraf despite all that shit) had been convinced of Musharraf’s culpability, THAT was used to sugar coat every other thesis down the gullible throats of the more non-skeptical segment of the public.

However that whipping boy (Musharraf) is no longer there to justify those claims.

Geo and AAJ TV have had to do some serious rethinking of what their stance will now be.

Geo’s Hamid Mir is starting to say some negative things about the Taliban (now that he sees the fight is afoot, the Army has momentum, and the public mood it turning increasingly sour).

AAJ TV’s Talat Hussain is getting some guts again (following his wimping out post-Lal Masjid when he did an about face and no longer cared about the “writ of government” that he was crowing about just a day earlier).

Now he is reporting from the troubled areas, and doing some reasonably good coverage. Although his reporting is always dripping with a semi-disgusted tone which says “they are doing this” and “I would do it this way”. This by itself is not bad, but as a journalist he should be acting like he is a participant in the coverage.

The impact of “big media” – joint ownership of TV and print media

With the rising pro-Pakistani reporting of most of the other channels, the pressure has been building on Geo and AAJ TV (both these channels run Voice of America’s (VOA) Urdu service as an almost indistinguishable part of their own broadcasts – whether there is a link to such “motivation” or not remains to be examined). Geo TV has extensive linkages with Indian media – which MAY make it difficult for them to criticize Indians if it has potential fallout on deals they maybe negotiating with the Indians.

These are things to consider when evaluating the “independence” of the media, yet there is little official analysis of this in the media itself.

Some competing channels HAVE voiced some serious misgivings about the “baray channels” (big channels) and those “media groups” who have consolidated power by being owners of BOTH print and TV media (something which is a no-no in some western countries for the anti-competitive impact of such monopoly power). This issue has been discussed on some programs and Sheikh Rasheed has said this was examined by their administration, but he was in favour of allowing SOME big fish, because otherwise the scale for efficient operations is not reached.

And there maybe some validity to that.

While ownership of print media DO give strong leverage to some media groups, the print media in Pakistan has never been as strong as in western countries. In Pakistan, because of high illiteracy, the penetration of print media is miniscule (beyond the urban literates). Plus print media has had trouble sustaining itself, and had to do deals with political groups and others in order to survive.

What maybe valid in the criticism is that those who were ALREADY in print media – if they are suddenly allowed to open TV channels, there is a risk that whatever corrupt practices they were doing in the hard to sustain environment where they previously took money and bartered favours to stay in business, MIGHT be used again in the TV media. That is, their bad habits maybe MORE easily transferred over to the nascent TV media, depriving it of getting a “fresh start”.

The quality of reporting on some of the other channels has been surprisingly good. Occasionally the smaller ethnic channels will have coverage of an event that is not being covered by GEO, or will have footage that is of better quality than the bigger channels. Already some of the best talent on Geo has left for the upcoming mid-sized channels that are gaining momentum (Express News, TV One) and Geo now seems to be populated by the dregs of what had been there before.

Baitullah Mehsud and the assassination of Benazir Bhutto

Also, as most people have understood it – Benazir Bhutto’s assassination was connected to Baitullah Mehsud.

Musharraf has noted that, and my own opinion is also in this direction.

I find it surprising that some TV channels CONTINUE to give MORE credence to Baitullah Mehsud (thus betraying their biases) by saying that “Baitullah Mehsud nay tow kaha hai kay uss nay nahin kiya”. As if a criminal HAS to say he did it. True, that it helps to know what Baitullah Mehsud says, but it is not a TRUMP CARD against all accusations against Baitullah Mehsud.

More recently most security officials on TV have claimed that most evidence points to people associated or linked with Baitullah Mehsud.

Plus he is the only live cannon operating in Pakistan (publicly) who HAS the capability for such action.

Turkmenistan Baitni defection from Baitullah Mehsud’s cause

In the above video, Turkmenistan Baitni, a former ally of Baitullah Mehsud claims Baitullah Mehsud was involved and he can provide proof – including the addresses of the two suicide bombers who were assigned the job.

Announces his 9000 strong “lashkar” is going to fight Baitullah Mehsud’s 10,000 men.

He claims Baitullah Mehsud receives funding from Indian Embassy, and his 10,000 troops include Indian and Uzbek fighters.

Some people – including those who have been involved in the NWFP administration in the past – have questioned the motives of Turkmenistan Baitni – since some time ago it was Baitullah Mehsud who was reportedly against attacks on Pakistanis (might have changed with enough cash from India ?).

Others have questioned the motives of Turkmenistan Baitni, saying if he detailed information about Baitullah Mehsud’s involvement in Benazir’s assassination (since the Government knew he was connected as well), then Turkmenistan should have come forward earlier.

It is possible that with the announcement 2-3 days ago by the NWFP Governor Awais Ghani that the Mehsud Tribe is complicit as a base of operations for all anti-state activities, and with the suggestions that there will be an attack on Waziristan shortly, there maybe a realization among the Mehsud and allies of Baitullah Mehsud, that if a separation is to happen, it must happen now. However it may already be a little late for that, as these defectors are beginning to look “opportunistic” (and maybe seen as a strategic move to avoid recompense).

It is also a possibility that if news spreads of decisive action by Pakistan Army in future, that the 10,000 strong supporters of Baitullah Mehsud (who may primarily be motivated by cash payments and the prospect of steady empolyment at Rs. 15,000 per month as suggested by some) may see there will be no place for THEM, once Baitullah Mehsud flees. They will be at the rehm-o-karam of the public, and if the public is incensed, there will be few places to get support.

In addition if there ARE Indian agents/advisors working with Baitullah Mehsud, they may have been advised already by the Indian Government to make their escape now, lest some of them be captured by security forces – which would embarrass India no end.

Imran Khan and JI use of fear to dissuade action against criminals

However, contrary to the dim prospects outlined by the likes of Imran Khan and Jamaat-e-Islami, who have compared it to the operations in Bangladesh (which was separated by logistical barriers and a hostile populace), this operation will be a greater success than anticipated.

As the anti-Musharraf venom which allowed a lot of stuff to be labelled “it is related to Musharraf so it must be bad” wears off.

And as the Geo and AAJ TV inspired anti-Musharraf campaign takes a back seat to criticism of Zardari and corruption.

And as the desperation of Baitullah Mehsud groups escalates (in attacks against Sri Lankan team and other seemingly innocuous targets in the eyes of the Pakistani public) it will become increasingly difficult to say “Baitullah Mehsud Musharraf say laakh daarjay behtar hai”. Which was the impression most of these TV discussion forum hosts were giving (some of it no doubt because they were LESS scared of Musharraf and MORE scared of Baitullah Mehsud, but this of course makes their behaviour EVEN MORE “ghattia” and despicable). If they cannot speak the truth they should get off the pulpit (i.e. media).

It has become increasingly difficult for the likes of Hamid Mir at Geo, Talat Hussain at AAJ TV, Dr. Shahid Masood at Geo, and some of the other “top” discussion program hosts (who used these “religious groups” as a hammer to pummel Musharraf) to continue to justify the “holiness” of these criminal groups.

There is a palpable change in the public’s sentiment.

The ferocity of attacks against the public have in a way INOCULATED them against the violence of these attacks. So that now they are in a desperate state of affairs.

A similar situation seems to have descended on the TV channel hosts who were perhaps pro-Musharraf but COULD NOT earlier voice that feeling loudly (for fear of being called “dictator ka chamcha” by the likes of Hamid Mir. This use of labels by journalists who act like thugs, has done MORE to limit free expression in our country. It in effects asks for freedom to criticize – presumably for reasoned arguments, but INSTEAD uses that power to intimidate people – asking them to be either “for or against Musharraf”.

The second “deewaar ko dhakka” were the threats against the media by Baitullah Mehsud to not report anti statements. While this may have gone on for some time – as the TV channels have been routinely uncritical of the violent groups, but now with this threat in the open (as there are plenty of other channels besides Geo and AAJ – thanks the Musharraf/Sheikh Rashid policy towards media) the media may feel they have to push against the wall as well.

The public is also impacted as they see attacks against THEM, as well as on “holy cows” like cricket (Sri Lankan attack).

The net result is a steady “bad zanni” in the mind of the public against “religious fervour” which shoots us in the foot.

The PPP is also taking a firm stance, and Nawaz Sharif is reluctantly having to take a stand (although he has links to Saudis and has been rumored to been offered $10M by Osama Bin Laden for defeating Benazir Bhutto – as claimed by Zardari in an interview).

The long-term fallout – the survival of the “religious parties”

The losers in all this will be:
– Imran Khan
– Jamaat-e-Islami
and some “religious parties”.

There is a danger that people may ask whether “religious parties” is an ELITIST nomenclature and whether it creates MORE political empowerment or not, or does it move discussions AWAY from reasoned examination and TOWARDS emotionalism and “religious” justification – which usually means that ONE person gives a “fatwa” and the rest follow. This is highlighted by the lack of “democratic” sentiment WITHIN the JI (for example in a recent interview it was revealed that once an Ameer is elected, it becomes difficult to remove him).

This is because there are legitimate questions to be asked about the “Islamic” justification for “religious parties” as well. Because that suggests that one “party” is claiming it is not only proposing slightly different strategies and political options, but it is ALSO suggesting they are “better Muslims”.

This is a CLASSIC first step towards creation of sects.

What are political parties NOW will within 50 years become a “sect”.

Within the Jamaat-e-Islami there was a serious rift some decades back on the question of whether the party should enter active politics.

Because the alliance of a “party” with a religious name is reminiscent of parties which have historically arisen in Islamic history. They have a tendency to become “sects”.

That is the history of the “Shiaan-e-Ali” which started as a political party (loosely associated or taking justification from bad management by some in power and later expanding it into a wider system). With mismanagement increasing in later caliphates, this created a stronger justification for the party. However the “religious” element in it led to the creation of a “religious sensibility” for the party. As realistic claims to power dissipated (as the caliphs became ever powerful and less room remained for “ijmaa” deciding the new ruler) eventually the “political party” narrowed itself down to a religious sect.

See The Origins and Early Development of Shi’a Islam – S. H. M. Jafri.

The Jamaat-e-Islami, while it lacks the emotional aspect, by leveraging it’s “political party” status is able to expand it’s power base BEYOND what it would if it was purely a doctrinal group or religious think tank.

In fact there is LESS thinking within the Jamaat-e-Islami than “follow the Ameer”.

So it creates a dangerous combination of “taqleed” (i.e. blind following) within what purports to be a “democratic” institution.

In time, those who oppose changes in Jamaat-e-Islami will fall by the wayside (i.e. leave the party), and those who PERSIST with the political parties will be people who want to continue the party.

Usually such “parties” will eventually wither away and die as the public loses interest. In the case of Shia Islam there was a strong aspect of persecution (at the hands of Muawiya and the Umayyad Caliphate) and of emotional attachment for heriditary reasons (descendants of Hazrat Ali and the Prophet’s daughter Fatima).

The reason the Jamaat-e-Islami and other such parties have SURVIVED lies in their ability to act as agents of foreign powers and to LATCH ON to every new opportunity that arises.

During the 1960s, the JI was receiving funding from the US (which used JI’s printing presses and later burnt the material – in effect paying them off legally). Then during the 1980s with the Afghan War with Saudi/U.S. money.

Most of these “religious parties” do not have a sufficiently strong emotional reason for supporters to continue support.

The question is, will the “religious parties” survive in Pakistan in the longer term ?

The answer is YES – as long as they remain CONDUITS for foreign money. Essentially as long as they are allowed to act as AGENTS of foreign powers (to varying degree) they WILL be able to survive.

Which is why there needs to be STRONG monitoring of the financial roots of these “religious parties”. Just as the financing of “madrassas” should be transparent.

However the same could be said for other political parties as well. Which is why we will probably not see great scrutiny along these lines.

UNLESS of course, if the JI starts to get labelled as a semi-terrorist party (or sympathizer, or suspected of providing succour to the enemy), in which case there COULD be a severe routing of this group.

The trend DOES seems to be moving in this direction ever so slightly.

It is possible that when the axe falls on Baitullah Mehsud and similar groups, it will land awfully close to the Jamaat-e-Islami and to Imran Khan.

Links:
Rifts develop in Baitullah Mehsud’s alliance – Express News – June 18, 2009

The Origins and Early Development of Shi’a Islam – S. H. M. Jafri

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