ISLAMABAD: It began innocuously enough, two men on a motorbike delivered a plain brown envelope to the home of Mohammed, an Islamabad businessman.
But the contents plunged him into a terrifying three-month nightmare.
The letter, headed with the banner of the Pakistani Taliban, informed Mohammed that a Taliban judge had found him guilty of not living by Islamic principles.
It said Mohammed, not his real name, had been fined five million rupees ($50,000) and threatened dire consequences if he went to the police or failed to pay up.
“Our squad of suicide bombers is always prepared to send non-believers to hell, God willing,” the letter seen by AFP read.
At the bottom, the name of feared Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) chief Hakimullah Mehsud was written in bold followed by a signature that resembled his name.
Mohammed had no way of knowing it, but the signature was fake.
He had been snared by criminals exploiting the terrifying reputation of the Pakistani Taliban to extort money from rich businessmen in Islamabad and its twin city Rawalpindi.
The Rawalpindi chamber of commerce says its members regularly receive extortion demands of up to $100,000, and last month a property dealer in the city who refused to pay a demand found explosives hanging from the door of his office.
The leafy capital, home to foreign embassies, international aid organisations and well-to-do officials, has remained relatively peaceful in recent years as attacks by homegrown Islamist militants have rattled other parts of the country.
But fear of the TTP, which has killed thousands of people in a bloody campaign against the state over the past six years, runs deep and criminals are cashing in.
Multiple sources in the security agencies and among the militants confirmed that the signature on the letter sent to Mohammed was fake and did not resemble that of Mehsud in any way.
Mehsud has since been killed in a US drone strike, but at the time, his name alone was enough to strike terror into Mohammed.
“I was scared to death when I read the letter. It was the most frightening experience of my life, I didn't know what to do,” Mohammed told AFP.
“I avoided going out of the house and didn't even go to work. I was also worried about my family's safety, my kids going to school.”He shared the letter with his wife but even then they were too afraid to go to the police.
“She said the Taliban were also attacking the police and intelligence agencies, they can't protect us from them,” he said.
The letter gave a phone number and time to call, and the man who answered spoke with a Pashtun accent, the main language of the northwest, where the Taliban have strongholds.
There followed a series of calls from strange numbers which he later came to know were from Waziristan, in the tribal areas where the Tailban have hideouts, and Afghanistan.
It took three months for Mohammed to resolve the situation, but he refused to say how he paid the money.
Over the past two years at least four businessmen are thought to have been killed by militants for not paying ransom demands, and a senior intelligence official told AFP it was natural victims would take threats seriously.
“Posing as member of the Pakistani Taliban is the easiest thing because the victims then get the impression that they are dealing with a very mighty thing,” a senior intelligence official told AFP.
“So they don't report the case with the police and are very ready to cooperate with the criminals.” Islamabad police say 17 extortion cases have been reported this year, compared with none last year, but there could be many others that go unreported because the victims are too afraid to go to the authorities.
The situation has become so severe that the TTP were recently forced to issue a statement denouncing extortion attempts.
“Threats are being hurled out and money being extorted from rich people in all big cities including Peshawar in the name of Tehreek-e-Taliban,” said the statement posted on the TTP media arm's website.
“We consider wealth of a Muslim as sacred as his life and announce our disassociation from such acts.”
'Help pay for jihad'
Not all of the letters are directly threatening in tone.
One sent to an Islamabad lawyer appealed to his religious conscience to help fund the militants' struggle, saying it cost $30,000 a day to feed their fighters.
“We cover our expenses with the help of God-fearing Muslims like you. Allah has provided you the opportunity to put your effort in the jihad and serve him and his fighters,” the letter said.
“You are instructed to arrange for the food expenses of the lions of Allah for two days.”The handwritten letter was again signed with Mehsud's name, but follow-up calls and letters put police on the trail of the culprits.
“The extortionists knew everything about the lawyer, his family, the number of his kids and when he leaves for and comes from the office,” a police officer on the case told AFP.
“This was the biggest clue and we investigated and found that the extortionists were actually labourers who were working in the lawyer’s home.”
The lawyer admits he was lucky, the police rarely catch the extortionists, leaving businessmen to pay up, and in some cases they are even in on the racket.
Islamabad police spokesman Mohammed Naeem said 13 people had been arrested over extortion, including serving officers.
It was a time of destruction and devastation. When novelist James Michener published his essay “A Lament for Pakistan” in the New York Times in January of 1972, the country had been hacked in half. Michener, who had lived in various parts of Pakistan, wrote evocatively and with consternation. He could not imagine how the country he had so sincerely admired had become the site of such disunity. In Michener’s words, Pakistan seemed “dogged by bad luck. Jinnah died shortly after the nation was launched, Liaquat Ali Khan, first Prime Minister and perhaps an abler politician than even Jinnah, was assassinated in 1951. All attempts at democracy ended in 1958 when dictatorship took over. And the conciliation one hoped for between East and West never happened.”
It was not bad luck, however, that doomed Pakistan. Michener’s grim assessment of Pakistan rested not on the country’s condemnation by chance or fortune, but by a crucial failure in its core idea. The severing of East and West Pakistan represented to Michener the end of the tantalizing dream of the religious state, proof of the inadequacy of religion as the foundation of a nation state. Faith had been the only basis of uniting East and West Pakistan, the glue with which the vast chasm of cultural differences, geographical incongruencies, qualms, and quibbles over politics and outlook and ethnicity were to be molded together into one statuesque edifice of nationhood. This glue of a common faith had been infused in the once-united country’s constitution, but it could not glue the two halves of the country together.
Decades after Michener’s essay, religion dangles again over the gaping wounds of a bleeding nation. Since 1971 and the excision of a portion of the country, it has been used to paper over the perfidy of dictators, to keep the country’s women forever suspect, to imagine an authenticity that reality has failed to hand up. If religion is believed to be the glue, the country has needed a lot of it to keep its armies fighting, to keep its people paranoid, to make it all work. There is popular religion on television talk shows, to be ingested with recipes for chicken chow mein; there is the religion of beards and exposed ankles, the religion of school textbooks, the religion of cricket matches, and of course the religion of suicide bombers.
Once again, it has not been enough. Lathered liberally over a nation that imagines itself forever soiled, it has failed to purify, failed to unite, and failed to enlighten. All it has done is change the contestation over culture, over misunderstood identity, over limited opportunity into a sordid contest of the accessories of piety. Unable to unite, it remains still the object of an insatiable hunger, slathered on open wounds it cannot heal. The anger of the bleeding distorts it, devolves and daily denigrates it. Before a bleeding blinded population, its arbiters are not men of learning or men of spiritual substance but men with the blood of thousands on their hands, men of war. Theirs is a vision not of the future but of a crudely imagined past — dark, primitive, poor, and paranoid. Today’s lament for Pakistan is that this landscape of dread has become the vision of a nation.
But if the loss of one part of itself did not provoke the grim deliberations that would reveal the delinquencies of nationhood, the ravages of the current moment are also unlikely to do so. The burden of 60 and some years of believing in one idea, on erecting nationhood on faith, means that imagining alternatives feels at once traitorous and misguided. If not this, what then, asks a generation that knows only war, that has not been trained to look elsewhere, that imagines goodness as blind obedience and spirituality as a political act.
There are no answers for them; the greed of those who have gobbled up faith has rendered dissent into blasphemy and silence into survival. Soiled by the politics of power and death, religion stands misused and politics confused. Amid the wreckage of old ideas, of peace talks, amid ready shrouds and promises for the future by the robbers of the past, is the fear that the shuddering, shivering edifice of our nationhood will crumble and fall as it nearly did once before, occasioning from one writer, now long dead, a lament for Pakistan. His words from the past touch our present; our quest for a nation built on faith has left behind a faith without feeling, and a nation without meaning.
By Rafia Zakaria
KUWAIT: According to a local Arabic daily, Kuwait will export 100,000 tons of used tyres that are currently stored in different areas including Rehaya and Mina Abdullah to Pakistan. This will be done by a local private company after getting approval from the authorities in charge including the Environment Public Authority and Customs Department. The shipment will leave Kuwait by sea from Mina Abdullah.
This decision to send the used tyres is an alternative solution to get rid of these tyres instead of building a factory for treating and recycling them. There has been much discussion about storing used tyres in large quantities after repeated fires in Rehaya. Tyre recycling can be a profitable industry and an investment if done with modern technology. “Any project should be build on certain pillars to be feasible. To build a recycling factory for treating the used tyres, we will need to have huge quantities of these tyres on a regular basis. Building such a factory is very expensive and has capital and operational costs, and has to operate for a certain period to cover expenses and make profits,” economic analyst Hajaj Bu Khadour told Kuwait Times. “Although the present quantity of used tyres is huge, it was collected over many years and not in a year. So we can’t expect the factory to work only for three or four months a year. In this case, the production cost will be very high. So the quantity should be suitable and adequate to cover this cost.
There should be a regular supply of material to achieve economic feasibility,” he added. “For these reasons, the export of these used tyres is better than building a factory. Although we have a great number of vehicles in Kuwait, our consumption of tyres is not enough to operate a factory. Pakistan is a huge country with a population of over 180 million people, so definitely their consumption and use of tyres will be greater than ours, so exporting used tyres is the best solution to solve the problem of this waste,” he explained. Bu Khadour blamed the Municipality for not taking this role. “As a result of bad administration and corruption, the Municipality left this transaction to a company from the private sector and is also paying for this. They instead could save these expenses for storing food supplies or other projects, and turn the expenses for waste treatment into income for the state budget. As long as this idea exists, the government is able to execute it,” he concluded. Chairman of Green Line Environment Group Khalid Al-Hajiri described the export of used tyres as the wrong solution. “This waste has great economic value if it is recycled correctly.
In general, recycling waste can turn Kuwait into an exporting country for raw material at least if not other products that can be manufactured from the waste. It’s a wrong decision as there are strict international laws for transporting this waste. Also, these importing countries can refuse to import this waste at any time in the future,” he pointed out. According to him, the intended quantity to be exported – 100,000 tons – presents a part only. “The available quantity of used tyres in Kuwait is much bigger than what will be exported, so we need a clear strategy and plan to recycle the waste and produce useful material out of it, as well as preserve the environment,” Hajiri noted, adding bureaucracy in various public authorities is responsible for failing all environment projects. “I blame the Environment Public Authority, Public Authority for Industry, and the Kuwait Municipality for their negligence. In Kuwait we have the most expensive cleaning contracts that reached $1 billion a year if calculated per square meter. Yet the companies executing this do not provide basic services such as separating waste and others. Corruption is behind these problems,” he stated
By Nawara Fattahova
ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif visited the General Headquarters on Tuesday where he was briefed by the top military leadership on the current security situation in the country.
In his first visit to the GHQ after assuming office, the prime minister lay a floral wreath at the memorial of martyrs and held a one-on-one meeting with the outgoing Chief of the Army Staff, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. The meeting was followed by a detailed briefing by the military's top brass.
Many pressing issues, including talks with the Taliban and appointment of a new army chief and Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee — the post currently held by Gen Kayani after the retirement of Gen Khalid Shameem Wynne in the first week of October — are likely to have come under discussion.
Prime Minister Sharif has said before and after his election that the next army chief will be appointed on merit and the most senior general will get the charge.
Haroon Aslam is the most senior general after Gen Kayani.
The prime minister was also briefed by the military leadership on the pros and cons of contacting new Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan chief Maulana Fazlullah, a sworn enemy of the army. Following the TTP’s latest threat to carry out attacks on the military and government installations and functionaries, the government is virtually in a bind as far as the proposed peace talks with the Taliban are concerned.
ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif and Kuwait's Prime Minister Sheikh Jaber Al-Mubarak Al-Hamd Al-Sabah held formal talks here on Monday aimed at strengthening bilateral ties between the two countries.
The meeting held at the Prime Minister House focused on enhancing cooperation in diverse areas, especially trade and energy.
Prime Minister Sharif said the visit of Prime Minister Sheikh Jaber would give a fresh impetus to the efforts to further carry forward the multifaceted bilateral relations with Kuwait.
He mentioned that Pakistan's relations with Kuwait were rooted in historical links and enriched by the great warmth and goodwill between their people.
In the delegation-level talks, Prime Minister Sharif was assisted by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid, Science and Technology Minister Zahid Hamid, Special Assistant to PM on Foreign Affairs Tariq Fatemi, State Minister for Petroleum Jam Kamal and State Minister for Privatization Khurram Dastagir.
Kuwait's ministers for Petroleum, Trade and Chamber of Commerce participated in the talks.
On Sunday. President Mamnoon Hussain underscored the need for Pakistani and Kuwaiti governments to take their bilateral relations to new heights by focussing on trade and investment.
During his meeting with Kuwait’s Prime Minister Sheikh Jaber Al-Mubarak Al-Hamad Al-Sabah at the Presidency, the president said Pakistan had huge potential for investors in various sectors, including defence and energy, and invited Kuwaiti businessmen to avail the attractive incentives offered by its government.
Mr Hussain said the Kuwaiti prime minister’s visit to Pakistan demonstrated the special bonds of friendship and brotherhood between the two countries and expressed confidence that it would add momentum to the existing close ties between them.
ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif has said that Pakistan attaches special importance to its relations with the Kingdom of Kuwait. He said this while meeting His Highness Sheikh Jaber Mubarak Al-Hamad Al-Sabah, Prime Minister of Kuwait, who met the Prime Minister here in Islamabad today.