Rohit Kumar's Views

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Pakistan and Times Square

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If we want Times Square to be safer from terrorists, we need to start by helping make Pakistan safer as well.

People with links to Pakistan have been behind a hugely disproportionate share of international terror incidents over the last two decades: the 1993 and 2001 World Trade Center attacks; Richard Reid’s failed shoe bombing in 2001; the so-called Bojinka plot in 1995 to blow up 12 planes simultaneously; the 2005 London train and bus bombings; the 2001 attacks on the Indian Parliament; and attacks on two luxury hotels and a Jewish center in Mumbai in 2008.

So it came as little surprise that the suspect in the attempted car bombing in Times Square, Faisal Shahzad, is a Pakistani-American.

Why does an ostensible “ally” seem to constitute more of a threat than, say, Iran? Or Lebanon or Syria or Iraq? Or Egypt, birthplace of the Muslim Brotherhood brand of militant Islam? Or the West Bank and Gaza, where resentment of America’s Middle East policies is centered?

One answer, I think, is that Pakistan’s American-backed military leader of the 1970s and 1980s, Gen. Mohammad Zia ul-Haq, drove the country off course, seeking to use fundamentalism as a way to buttress the regime. Instead of investing in education and infrastructure, he invested in religious sanctimony.

The public education system, in particular, is a catastrophe. I’ve dropped in on Pakistani schools where the teachers haven’t bothered to show up (because they get paid anyway), and where the classrooms have collapsed (leaving students to meet under trees). Girls have been particularly left out. In the tribal areas, female literacy is 3 percent.

There’s an instructive contrast with Bangladesh, which was part of Pakistan until it split off in 1971. At that time, Bangladesh was Pakistani’s impoverished cousin and seemed pretty much hopeless. Henry Kissinger famously described Bangladesh as an “international basket case.”

But then Bangladesh began climbing a virtuous spiral by investing in education, of girls in particular. It now has more girls in high school than boys, according to Unicef. This focus on education has bolstered its economy, reduced population growth rates, nurtured civil society and dampened fundamentalism.

Educated girls formed the basis of a garment industry, making shirts for Americans. This brought in currency, boosted employment and provided an economic lifeline to the country. Those educated girls went to work for poverty-fighting organizations like BRAC and the Grameen Bank.

In Pakistan’s tribal areas, you can hear American drones buzzing faintly overhead, a reminder of our focus on military solutions. Drones and hard power have their place, but not to the exclusion of schools and soft power. An important 2008 study from Rand, “How Terrorist Groups End,” concluded that “military force has rarely been the primary reason for the end of terrorist groups.”

I can’t tell you how frustrating it is on visits to rural Pakistan to see fundamentalist Wahabi-funded madrassas as the only game in town. They offer free meals, and the best students are given further scholarships to study abroad at fundamentalist institutions so that they come back as respected “scholars.”

We don’t even compete. Medieval misogynist fundamentalists display greater faith in the power of education than Americans do.

Let’s hope this is changing under the Obama administration. It’s promising that the Kerry-Lugar-Berman aid package provides billions of dollars for long-term civilian programs in Pakistan, although it’s still unclear how it will be implemented. One useful signal would be for Washington to encourage Islamabad to send not only troops to North Waziristan but also teachers.

We continue to be oblivious to trade possibilities. Pro-American Pakistanis fighting against extremism have been pleading for years for the United States to cut tariffs on Pakistani garment exports, to nurture the textile industry and stabilize the country. Pakistan’s foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, told me that his top three goals are “market access, market access, market access.” But Washington wants to protect North Carolina textile mills, so we won’t cut tariffs on Pakistani goods. The technical word for that: myopia.

Education and lower tariffs are not quick fixes, sometimes not even slow fixes. But they are tools that can help, at the margins, bring Pakistan back from the precipice. It has been reassuring to see the work of people like Greg Mortenson, whose brave school-building in Pakistan and Afghanistan was chronicled in “Three Cups of Tea.” Ditto for Developments in Literacy, or D.I.L., which builds schools for girls in Pakistan that are the most exhilarating things I’ve seen there.

It costs $1,500 to sponsor a D.I.L. classroom for a year, and that’s just about the best long-term counterterrorism investment available.

Times Square probe: three arrested in raids

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Federal investigators conducted raids on Thursday in three north-eastern states in connection with the probe into the botched car bombing of Times Square in New York.

FBI investigators enter a home in Watertown, Massachusetts,

Federal prosecutors and the Federal Bureau of Investigation confirmed that search warrants were exercised in New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts in pursuit of leads in the case arising from the attempt to explode a vehicle earlier this month in New York City’s landmark shopping and entertainment centre.

“We can confirm that search warrants have been executed in several locations in the north-east in connection with the investigation into the attempted Times Square bombing,” authorities said in a joint statement.

Three people found during the raids were arrested on suspicion of immigration status violations, the FBI said.

The raids were conducted based on evidence arising from the Times Square probe but “do not relate to any known immediate threat to the public or active plot against the United States,” the statement said.

Searches took place in the Boston area and in Watertown and Brookline, Massachusetts, and on New York’s Long Island, as well as in New Jersey.

A car packed with fuel, fireworks and other flammable substances was left on May 1 in Times Square but did not detonate. It was discovered by police after witnesses noticed smoke emitting from the sport-utility vehicle.

A naturalised US citizen from Pakistan, Faisal Shahzad, was arrested two days later awaiting takeoff on an airliner leaving the country. He has been charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction in the Times Square incident, and has reportedly been cooperating with law enforcement.

Shahzad has apparently admitted his role in planting the would-be car bomb in Times Square and described having received bomb-making training from militants in Pakistan, where he had recently visited before the attempted attack.

In Washington, Attorney General Eric Holder mentioned the investigation in testimony to a congressional committee.

“When questioned by federal agents, (Shahzad) provided useful information. We now believe that the Pakistan Taliban was responsible for the attempted attack,” Holder said Thursday.

“We are currently working with the authorities in Pakistan on this investigation, and we will use every resource available to make sure that anyone found responsible, whether they be in the United States or overseas, is held accountable. This attempted attack is a sober reminder that we face aggressive and determined enemies.”

Senators criticise Hillary’s ‘threatening’ statement

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* Defence minister says only FM authorised to speak over the issue
* Salim Saifullah says Faisal saga seems ‘a conspiracy’

By Tahir Niaz

ISLAMABAD: Urging the government to adopt a clear policy on the threatening statement of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Pakistan in the case of Faisal Shahzad, senators on Monday said the government should present its stance to the US.

On a point of order, PML-N’s Zafar Ali Shah said Clinton had bluntly threatened Pakistan of ‘dire consequences’ in Faisal Shahzad’s case although Pakistan had faced severe losses being on the frontline in the war on terror.

Terming it a serious issue, he sought the government’s stance from Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar, who was reluctant to comment, saying the government had only authorised the foreign minister to speak over the issue due to its sensitivity.

Shah criticised Pakistan’s foreign policy, saying the foreign minister himself seemed to be publicly defending India by saying it was not violating the Indus Water Treaty. “We should face the US by taking a similar stance instead of bowing down to pressures,” he demanded.

Conspiracy: Senator Salim Saifullah of the PML-Q said Clinton’s statement is condemnable, particularly after the recent strategic dialogue between the two countries. He said the Faisal Shahzad saga seems a conspiracy, as he personally knows his family members. He also urged the defence minister to present an official statement in parliament and give a clear message to the US.

The PML-Q’s Haroon Khan pointed out that Pakistan should pressurise the US, as Faisal Shahzad was not a Pakistani citizen and he had used his American passport while carrying out the act.

Dramas: The JUI-F’s Maulana Haideri said the House should pass a unanimous resolution to condemn Clinton’s statement. He said the September 11 incident and the recent Faisal Shahzad case were both “dramas” staged by the US to target Pakistan again.

Earlier, JUI-F senators had walked out in protest against the military operation in Kala Dhaka of Mansehra division and demanded the government immediately end it.

However, the Awami National Party’s Afrasiab Khattak countered the claim by saying that there is no such operation in Kala Dhaka, but local police and Frontier Corps are engaged in a search operation to eliminate terrorists that have come from Malakand division. He said the search operation is being conducted with the help of local elders.

On a point of order, Tahir Hussain Mashhadi of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement raised the issue of land grabbing in Karachi, terming it an “institutionalised land grabbing” with the help of local administration and police.