Thursday, March 22, 2012

Rannie Amiri: The Bahrain Uprising in Numbers

Please note that this piece was published at the end of last year, so the numbers may be a bit dated. But the ground situation does not appear to have improved on any of these perimeters since then. Meanwhile, the people's protests against the Khalifa regime have been regularly occuring. Most recently, there was a massive turnout on March 9, 2012 (see BBC, Raw-footage).

The Bahrain Uprising in Numbers
by Rannie Amiri, December 29, 2011

Population of Bahrain: 1.2 million

Number of citizens: 535,000

Percentage of citizens who are Shia Muslim: 70

Percentage of those in government: 13

Number of senior positions they fill in the Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Cabinet Affairs, the National Guard, the Supreme Defense Council, and the Royal Court: 0

Percentage in the Ministry of Finance: 10

Percentage in the Ministry of Information: 6

Percentage in the judiciary: 5

Of the 1,000 National Security Apparatus employees, percentage who are non-Bahraini: 64

Percentage who are Shia Bahraini: less than 5

Of the 20,000 paramilitary Special Security Forces, percentage who are non-Bahraini: 90

Percentage who are Shia Bahraini: 0

Number of elected Bahrainis from all sects who sit on the country’s all-powerful Shura Council: 0

Day pro-democracy protests began in Bahrain as part of the Arab Spring: Feb. 14, 2011

People who took to the streets: 300,000

Proportional equivalent if Egyptians had done likewise: 40 million

Evidence that Iran instigated the demonstrations: 0

Day Saudi Arabia invaded to put down the uprising: March 14, 2011

Number of Saudi, UAE, and Qatari troops who arrived in armored vehicles: 1,500

People killed since Feb. 14: 50

Fatalities as a result of tear gas shot into residential homes or birdshot fired at close range: 30

Age of youngest victim: 5 days

Arbitrary arrests: 1,500

Civilians sentenced by military courts: 208

Physicians sentenced for offering medical treatment to demonstrators: 20

Cumulative jail terms levied: 2,500 years

Citizens currently accused of violating freedom of speech or assembly laws: 1,000

Documented cases of torture and ill-treatment since the revolt began: 1,866

Bahraini officials held responsible for killings or the systemic use of torture: 0

Mosques destroyed: 40+

Journalists targeted: 90+

Workers fired for supporting, taking part, or suspicion of having taken part in pro-democracy activities: 2,710

University students expelled for the same reasons: 477

Prisoners of conscience: 500

Bahrain’s rank among countries in political prisoners per capita: 1st

Proposed U.S. arms sales to Bahrain: $53 million

Years the al-Khalifa family has ruled Bahrain: 228

Days left in power: numbered

Thanks to the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and other NGOs for helping compile these figures.

Fisk and Safi on the Afghan Massacre and Media

Below, see two pieces on the media coverage of the recent Afghan massacre. In the first piece, Fisks suggests that frustration and revenge may be more common among the US soldiers, instead of exceptions among few individuals, because of losing the Afghan war. But the media presented the massacre in exactly the latter terms, as exceptions. I would add that the soldiers could also be driven by revenge just because of it, and a sense of national superiority and tribalism, for these attitudes are strongly cultivated in their military training. Also see Omid Safi's piece quoted below with my comments.

Madness is not the reason for this massacre
Robert Fisk, March 17, 2012,

I'm getting a bit tired of the "deranged" soldier story. It was predictable, of course. The 38-year-old staff sergeant who massacred 16 Afghan civilians, including nine children, near Kandahar this week had no sooner returned to base than the defence experts and the think-tank boys and girls announced that he was "deranged". Not an evil, wicked, mindless terrorist – which he would be, of course, if he had been an Afghan, especially a Taliban – but merely a guy who went crazy.

This was the same nonsense used to describe the murderous US soldiers who ran amok in the Iraqi town of Haditha. It was the same word used about Israeli soldier Baruch Goldstein who massacred 25 Palestinians in Hebron – something I pointed out in this paper only hours before the staff sergeant became suddenly "deranged" in Kandahar province.

"Apparently deranged", "probably deranged", journalists announced, a soldier who "might have suffered some kind of breakdown" (The Guardian), a "rogue US soldier" (Financial Times) whose "rampage" (The New York Times) was "doubtless [sic] perpetrated in an act of madness" (Le Figaro). Really? Are we supposed to believe this stuff? Surely, if he was entirely deranged, our staff sergeant would have killed 16 of his fellow Americans. He would have slaughtered his mates and then set fire to their bodies. But, no, he didn't kill Americans. He chose to kill Afghans. There was a choice involved. So why did he kill Afghans? We learned yesterday that the soldier had recently seen one of his mates with his legs blown off. But so what?

The Afghan narrative has been curiously lobotomised – censored, even – by those who have been trying to explain this appalling massacre in Kandahar. They remembered the Koran burnings – when American troops in Bagram chucked Korans on a bonfire – and the deaths of six Nato soldiers, two of them Americans, which followed. But blow me down if they didn't forget – and this applies to every single report on the latest killings – a remarkable and highly significant statement from the US army's top commander in Afghanistan, General John Allen, exactly 22 days ago. Indeed, it was so unusual a statement that I clipped the report of Allen's words from my morning paper and placed it inside my briefcase for future reference.

Allen told his men that "now is not the time for revenge for the deaths of two US soldiers killed in Thursday's riots". They should, he said, "resist whatever urge they might have to strike back" after an Afghan soldier killed the two Americans. "There will be moments like this when you're searching for the meaning of this loss," Allen continued. "There will be moments like this, when your emotions are governed by anger and a desire to strike back. Now is not the time for revenge, now is the time to look deep inside your souls, remember your mission, remember your discipline, remember who you are."

Now this was an extraordinary plea to come from the US commander in Afghanistan. The top general had to tell his supposedly well-disciplined, elite, professional army not to "take vengeance" on the Afghans they are supposed to be helping/protecting/nurturing/training, etc. He had to tell his soldiers not to commit murder. I know that generals would say this kind of thing in Vietnam. But Afghanistan? Has it come to this? I rather fear it has. Because – however much I dislike generals – I've met quite a number of them and, by and large, they have a pretty good idea of what's going on in the ranks. And I suspect that Allen had already been warned by his junior officers that his soldiers had been enraged by the killings that followed the Koran burnings – and might decide to go on a revenge spree. Hence he tried desperately – in a statement that was as shocking as it was revealing – to pre-empt exactly the massacre which took place last Sunday.

Yet it was totally wiped from the memory box by the "experts" when they had to tell us about these killings. No suggestion that General Allen had said these words was allowed into their stories, not a single reference – because, of course, this would have taken our staff sergeant out of the "deranged" bracket and given him a possible motive for his killings. As usual, the journos had got into bed with the military to create a madman rather than a murderous soldier. Poor chap. Off his head. Didn't know what he was doing. No wonder he was whisked out of Afghanistan at such speed.

We've all had our little massacres. There was My Lai, and our very own little My Lai, at a Malayan village called Batang Kali where the Scots Guards – involved in a conflict against ruthless communist insurgents – murdered 24 unarmed rubber workers in 1948. Of course, one can say that the French in Algeria were worse than the Americans in Afghanistan – one French artillery unit is said to have "disappeared" 2,000 Algerians in six months – but that is like saying that we are better than Saddam Hussein. True, but what a baseline for morality. And that's what it's about. Discipline. Morality. Courage. The courage not to kill in revenge. But when you are losing a war that you are pretending to win – I am, of course, talking about Afghanistan – I guess that's too much to hope. General Allen seems to have been wasting his time.


Below, also see Omid Safi's piece on the Afghan massacre. Omid Safi compares the media coverage of the Afghan massacre to the coverage of the 2009 Fort-Hood-shooting (by a person from Muslim background). Safi limits himself to criticizing the media's double standards. He also hopes that, "future investigations would demonstrate that Hasan’s actions were indeed the actions of a lone person, not part of a broader campaign."

I feel that he could have made a more incisive argument there, questioning if the Fort Hood issue should be seen as a "Muslim" issue at all. Furthermore, he could have scrutinized the pressure and politics that compell American Muslims to respond to Fort-Hood-like events in an apologetic way. In other words, why is it that American Muslims as a collectivity feel threatened and compelled to issue apologetic statements (to the general Americans) anytime someone does something in any part of the world.

Also, are there good and bad Muslim causes from an Islamic perspective, some of which may have resorted to violent struggle as their mode of resistance? Would the American Muslims support the good resistance causes that involve killing of oppressors -- for instance, that in Palestine and Lebanon? And how would that synchronize with the moral compass that Safi presents at the end of his piece? Could such a compass also de-legitimize the legit movements (in addition to removing the messy history from the equation in each case, putting the oppressor and oppressed, powerful and powerless, all on the same level)? (On these critical questions, also see: Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: Cracking the Media Code from

There may be a lead in the MLK quote that Safi refers to while describing his moral compass. To quote MLK in full: "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." The "content of character" may be a way to add the needed distinctions to Safi's moral compass. How do we judge the good and bad character and from whose perspective and with what assumptions and politics would be the key questions.

When Americans Kill vs. When Muslims Kill
by Omid Safi, Mar 19, 2012

The news from Afghanistan over the last few weeks has been heart-wrenching, devastating, and infuriating. An American soldier named Robert Bales (on the left in the image below) walked into the midst of an Afghan civilian community, and shot 16 people dead, including 9 children and 3 women.

The shooting in Afghanistan has eerie echoes of the Fort Hood Shooting from November 5th, 2009, when an American Muslim military member, Nidal Malik Hasan, opened fire inside a military base, and killed 13 people.

And yet the media coverage of the two episodes has been diametrically opposed. When Americans kills, it is portrayed as an aberration, an act of a tormented and troubled individual. When Muslims kill, it is covered as a signal of a communal, global genocidal tendency. Let’s go over some details.

Here is how Fox covered the shootings by Major Malik Nadal in the Fort Hood shootings:

The murders at Ft. Hood are about the radicalization of individuals by an extremist ideology -- jihadism -- which fuels acts of terror.
The main question we should be asking is when did Hasan become radicalized and who indoctrinated him?

Fox’s “analysis” was written by Walid Phares, the same person that Mitt Romney had picked as his Middle East foreign policy adviser. The very same person who has been identified as a major Islamophobes, and involved in massacres in Middle East.

Phares and Fox News take great pains to point out that Nadal’s actions are not about one individual man, but part of a grander Islamist war against America. Here is what they say:

Instead it is part of a wider ideological war, generated by radicalization and inciting individuals to perform such acts.
"Lone wolf" or not, organized or not, fully self-aware perpetrator or not, influenced by overseas radicals or not, this massacre of servicemen has moved America from stage to another.

Of course future investigations would demonstrate that Hasan’s actions were indeed the actions of a lone person, not part of a broader campaign.

In short, when a deranged Muslim kills Americans, Fox News tells us that it is “the largest terror act since 9/11,” and "it's jihadist evil and terrorism." When a deranged American kills Muslims, such as the actions of Robert Bales in Afghanistan in February 2012, Fox News and its subsidiaries behave in an entirely different fashion. We are offered the following litany of explanations and justifications:

*There was alcohol involved.
* it is an isolated act of a “troubled” person that in no way shape or form reflects on the noble ideals of America or Americans.
*The soldier was housed in the “most troubled” base in America.
*He was on his fourth tour of duty, and neither he nor his family wanted to go back.
*he simply “snapped.”
*He was experiencing martial difficulties.

The headline from Fox news read: “Money, career woes reportedly plagued Afghan Killing Suspect.” The first sentence of the article reads: “Bypassed for a promotion and struggling to pay for his house, Robert Bales was eyeing a way out of his job at a Washington state military base months before he allegedly gunned down 16 civilians in an Afghan war zone, records and interviews showed as a deeper picture emerged Saturday of the Army sergeant's financial troubles and brushes with the law.”

In short, the assumption that when we Americans kill, it is an aberration from our good nature. Even if the act is abominable, it is said to be purely an individual act totally disconnected from any larger institutional or political context. However, when Muslims kill, it is a sign of a world-wide, evil ideology of jihad and terrorism.

I have searched in vain to find a commentator in the United States that grasps the above double standard, and have not so far seen that insight in a mainstream American press. The only place I have seen it is in the UK, by Robert Fisk: Fisk correctly points that that most Western journalists use descriptions like how Robert Bailes was “"Apparently deranged", "probably deranged", "might have suffered some kind of breakdown" (The Guardian), a "rogue US soldier" (Financial Times) whose rampage was "doubtless [sic] perpetrated in an act of madness" (Le Figaro).

It is these types of double standards that are at the heart of the hypocrisy of our current situation vis-à-vis Islam and Muslims. What we should be saying is simply this: the life of each and every person in the world, civilian or military, American, Afghani, Palestinian, Israeli, Iraqi, Iranian, male or female, rich or poor, gay or straight, carries exactly and identically the same intrinsic value. Just as Dr. King taught us that the measure of a character is not connected to the color of our skin, we should be demanding that the measure of a human life is not connected to the nationality of the victim or the assailant. All human lives are sacred, all are sacrosanct. And all violations of human lives are equally morally repugnant.

Taking that type of an approach would restore a sense of dignity and honor to our standing in the world community, and it would allow us to recover the moral dignity that we have squandered over the last ten years.


About Omid Safi: Safi is a bona fide scholar on Sufism and used to be part of the (now defunct) Progressive Muslim Union (PMU) of North America. He emphasizes compassion, love, and theological plurality drawing from the resources of various sufi traditions. On PMU-NA, see (with a pinch of salt):

Monday, March 12, 2012

Younus Habib spills the beans in the Mehrangate-IJI case

This is a window into the politics of the upper echelons of power in Pakistan. It is also another reminder of the moral bankruptcy of those who run this country.

Money arranged at behest of Ghulam Ishaq, Aslam Beg: Habib

Islamabad: A frail-looking Younus Habib, who headed the now defunct Mehran Bank, spilled the beans in the Mehrangate-IJI case on Thursday when he revealed in his first-ever statement before the Supreme Court that he had been forced by former president late Ghulam Ishaq Khan and former army chief Aslam Beg to arrange Rs340 million in the “supreme national interest”.

Nasir Iqbal, Dawn, March 9, 2012

Mr Habib, who was on wheelchair, said he had also been jailed for serving the “so-called supreme national interest”.

A three-judge bench comprising Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, Justice Khilji Arif Hussain and Justice Tariq Parvez accepted his sworn handwritten statement which the elderly banker first said should be treated as a confidential document, but later agreed to read it loudly in the open court.

The bench had taken up the 1996 petition of Tehrik-i-Istiqlal chief Air Martial (retd) Asghar Khan accusing the ISI of financing several politicians during the 1990 elections to create the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) and prevent Benazir Bhutto’s PPP from winning. The ISI allegedly dished out Rs140 million for the purpose. The petition was based on the affidavit of former ISI chief Asad Durrani.

On Thursday, the court ordered defence ministry’s director (legal) Mohammad Hussain Shahbaz to submit reports on the working of security and intelligence agencies from 1990 till date. The documents would remain confidential “in the interest of the nation”.

Younus Habib said Gen Aslam Beg and ISI’s Brigadier Hamid Saeed had provided number of certain accounts in UBL, ABL and MCB for depositing the amount while the counterfoil of the deposit slip had been handed over to one Colonel Akbar.

Both Gen Aslam Beg and Asad Durrani were in the court, quietly listening to Mr Habib’s affidavit.

“In all I was asked to arrange Rs350 million by the former president and the army chief before the 1990 general elections,” said Mr Habib while reading out the affidavit.

Of the Rs345 million, Rs140 million was paid through Gen Aslam Beg to politicians — Rs70 million to former Sindh chief minister Jam Sadiq Ali who was provided another Rs150 million (from Mehran Bank’s funds) for arranging licence to set up Mehran Bank, Rs15 million to Pir Pagara through Jam Sadiq, Rs70 million to Younus Memom on the instructions of Ishaq Khan and Gen Beg for the politicians who wished not to receive the money directly from the ISI. Some of the money was also dished out to the Army Welfare Trust.

Younus Habib, who joined the Habib Bank Limited in 1963 as a clerk and retired as the bank’s Sindh chief in 1991, tendered an apology for his involvement in the scam and threw himself at the mercy of the court.

He admitted that he used to talk to Gen (retd) Beg frequently and it was in March 1990 that the latter wanted him to arrange Rs350 million before the elections. A few months later, he said, he had been invited by Gen Beg to attend the installation ceremony of Col Commandant Sindh regiment where he was treated like chief guest.

Mr Habib submitted a photograph, along with his affidavit, in which he is seen with former president Ishaq Khan and a uniformed army officer having conversation with Gen Beg.

The court made the photograph part of the record.

He said a meeting later arranged at the Balochistan House in Islamabad was attended only by him, Ishaq Khan and Gen Beg. “I was told by Ishaq Khan that the money ought to be arranged by hook or by crook.”

Mr Habib said he had told them that arranging such a huge amount was not possible through legal means for which he had to manipulate the system. At this Ishaq Khan told him that he would have to do whatever he could for the national cause.

Mr Habib’s bag of surprises had a few other information. On Sept 29, 1990, he said, a meeting had been held in the Q block of the Islamabad Secretariat in which former attorney general late Aziz A. Munshi and Roedad Khan (probably the then chief of a cell to initiate cases against Asif Ali Zardari and Benazir Bhutto) had been pressurised to lodge a complaint against Mr Asif Zardari implicating him in the Fauzi Ali Kazmi Tax Free Plaza scam.

Younus Habib was arrested on the orders of Roedad Khan at Karachi airport when he refused to oblige. He was kept in an FIA cell for five to six days. While in custody, Mr Habib said, he concluded that he had to arrange the money and was also bullied through the courtesy of Jam Sadiq Ali.

Mr Habib said the case had been dubbed the Mehran Bank scandal, but actually the amount had been provided by the HBL and the NBP.

When former prime minister Benazir came to power for the second time, she ordered an audit of the bank.

Earlier, two sealed documents (four folders), one comprising a report by a commission tasked to review the working of security and intelligence agencies, were opened in the court. The other document contained two audio-cassettes and unsigned statements/cross-examination of Maj-Gen (retd) Naseerullah Babar and Lt-Gen (retd) Asad Durrani recorded during an in-camera session of the court.

The court noted that its office had also tried to find out whether the examination of Naseerullah Babar and Asad Durrani was recorded because no such document was on record.


According to Younus Habib:
•Rs140 million was paid through Gen Beg to politicians;
•Rs70 million to former chief minister Sindh Jam Sadiq Ali;
•Rs15 million to Pir Pagara through Jam Sadiq;
•Rs70 million to Younus Memom on the instructions of then president Ghulam Ishaq Khan and Gen Beg for the politicians who wished not to be paid directly from the ISI;

•Some amount was also dished out to the Army Welfare Trust.

According to the affidavit of former DG ISI Asad Durrani:

•Nawaz Sharif received Rs3.5 million;
•Mir Afzal Khan Rs10 million;
•Lt-Gen Rafaqat Rs5.6m for distribution among journalists;
•Abida Hussain Rs1 million;
•Jamaat-i-Islami Rs5 million;
•Altaf Hussain Qureshi Rs0.5 million;
•Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi Rs5 million;
•Jam Sadiq Rs5 million;
•Mohammad Khan Junejo Rs0.25 million;
•Pir Pagara Rs2 million;
•Maulana Salahuddin Rs0.3 million;
•Humayun Marri Rs1.5 million;
•Jamali Rs4 million;
•Kakar Rs1 million;
•K. Baloch Rs0.5 million
•Jam Yousuf Rs0.75 million
•Bizenjo Rs0.5 million;

•Various small groups in Sindh received Rs5.4 million.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Shia killing on the rise in Pakistan

The last two months have witnessed a surge in Shia killing, with tragic instances in Kohistan (K-PK), Parachinar (FATA), Khanpur (Punjab), and Quetta, Karachi, and D.I. Khan. The causes, again, are complex, and the local, national, and international forces all appear entangled. For one, I doubt that Jundallah (based in the Balochistan province, which claimed responsibility of the Kohistan attack on Feb 28) could have done this attack without support of the local militant groups in that remote area of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province (that is, if Jundallah did indeed carry out this attack). Jundallah's Washington connection is also well known. The attackers were also said to be wearing army uniforms.

On the interconnections among various militant groups and their foreign supporters as identified in wikileaks cables, see here.

The Pakistani media -- and police -- often frames the target killing of the Shias as a "sectarian conflict". The label implies that Pakistani Sunni and Shia communities are fighting against each other. That is far from the truth. The label also hides the fact that both Shias and Sunnis have been killed by the same militant groups (for instance, see here and here). The label, moreover, gives a sense of symmetry ("Sunnis kill Shias, then Shias kill Sunnis"), whereas in reality a disproportionally high number of Shias have been killed or injured in recent years. It is more appropriate to call the recent surge as "Shia" killing, not "sectarian" killing. Each incident also requires a nuanced analysis of the causes (consider, for instance, the entangled causes surrounding the December 2009 Ashura blast in Karachi).

Saudis and UAE fund extremist groups in Southern Punjab, Pakistan - Wikileaks

With a pinch of salt, check out these two videos. The first is by Dawn News in Urdu, uploaded on youtube on May 22, 2011, that quotes a leaked cable of Bryan D. Hunt, a US diplomat in the Lahore consulate. The report suggests that some extremist groups in Southern Punjab receive more than 10 million dollars annually directly from Saudi Arabia and UAE.

The report, however, maligns whole maslaks (Islamic schools of thought) instead of focusing on the specific extremist-leaning organizations (belonging to these maslaks or otherwise), like Sipahe Sahaba, Jamatud Dawa, Jaish-e-Mohammad, and Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan. The following cable from the same diplomat, published by Dawn, names these specific groups. It also emphasizes the mutual connection among these groups (the connection extends beyond Southern Punjab). The cable also suggests that Qaddhafi's Libya may also have supported the extremist groups in Pakistan.

Next, another clip in Urdu, uploaded on youtube on March 2, 2012, where some Ahle Hadith ulama reject and protest the militant agenda of Lashkar-e-Tayiba and Jamatud Dawa. (This particular clip does not contain any condemnation of these militant groups' anti-Shia ideology and activities.)