Never stable in its entire 60-year history, Pakistan has been plunged into one of its worst crises as a result of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination on December 27. Soon after her death, General (retired) Pervez Musharraf and his minions made vacuous statements about “extremists” – naturally “enlightened moderates” like Musharraf could not have done it, could they? – threatening the “security and stability” of the country and vowed to redouble their efforts to deal with them even as enraged mobs went on a rampage.
A week after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the political dust has settled sufficiently for us to hazard some analysis of the situation Pakistan faces and where it might go from here. The announcement that elections have been postponed until February 18, and the appointment of Benazir’s husband and son to lead the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) – confirming it to be a family fiefdom rather than a political party in any real sense – have established some of the parameters of Pakistani politics in the post-Benazir era. And yet, in perhaps the most important ways, her death really changes very little.
Benazir Bhutto’s assassination has revealed a facet of Pakistani politics that is not generally known to people in the West: the extent to which Pakistani politicians act as agents of the West. Tens of thousands of Muslims are killed in political violence each year, most of of it sponsored by the West. Few are mourned as deeply as Benazir. Her assassination has been condemned by US President George Bush, the UN Security Council and a long list of other western leaders. Why should the death of one Pakistani draw so much attention in the West, when those of other – such as the girls killed in the Lal Masjid in July – are regarded with disdain?
In all the reams of articles and columns in the western media analysing the background and implications of the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) report published on December 5 that fatally damaged the anti-Iranian war lobby in Washington, one thing that few dared acknowledge was that it is a massive victory for the Islamic Republic of Iran. And yet that is undoubtedly the case, and the celebrating throngs in the streets of Iranian cities, which have lived for years under the threat of imminent US attack, were quite right to celebrate it as such.
The West’s all-out assault on Islam and Muslims–from the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine to the political and military occupation of Pakistan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia by the US–has murdered or maimed millions. Muslims living in the West were spared such assaults in the past, but no more. One only has to glance through Western newspapers, magazines or television programmes to feel the intensity of hatred directed at Muslims. While the West has always been intolerant of ‘Others’, since 9/11 the mask of civility has come off, and there is barely the pretence of respecting human rights and the rule of law.
The end of the year is often a time for looking back and reflecting on events past. This is particularly the case in Western countries, where the new year coincides with the annual Christmas break, the main holiday period in most Western countries, although it is no longer a particularly Christian or spiritual occasion. This year, the Islamic new year follows very soon after the new year on the Gregorian calendar; in fact, 2008 will be a rare Gregorian year because it has two Islamic new years, as the year 1430AH will begin at the end of next December.1
What you are about to read in this article may be regarded by some as controversial. These words are put together during the season of the Hajj, which is a good time to try to counter the tons of misinformation we have about the Saudi regime, which has done so much to diminish this annual expression of the independence and power of the Ummah to little more than a ritual void of warmth, enthusiasm, and spirit.
As Crescent went to press, Malaysians were still awaiting announcement of the date of the country’s general elections, which had been widely expected to take place before the end of the year. They have been delayed because of a number of man-made and natural events that have shaken the confidence of the government of prime minister Abdullah Badawi.
With reports of ebbing insurgent activity in the predominantly Sunni areas of western and north-central Iraq, there are also indications that armed resistance by Shi‘a groups is increasing. Attacks against US-led coalition troops in southern and south-central Iraq have been escalating over the past year to such an extent that top US military, Pentagon and state department officials argue that Shi‘a militias pose a long-term threat to coalition troops in Iraq.
The Algerian people are not unaccustomed to violence. Their brave struggle for independence from 1954 to 1962 cost many lives – a price considered worth paying to end 132 years of French rule. But the civil conflict that erupted in Algeria in 1992 after the regime cancelled elections (in December 1991) that FIS (an Islamic group) was about to win proved more destructive and lasted longer. Moreover, the lull in violence evaporated last year, when suicide bombers struck several times, culminating in the twin explosions on December 11 in Algiers that cost dozens of lives.
Intense debate has erupted in Washington about why sixteen US intelligence agencies unanimously endorsed the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) report on December 3 relating to Iran’s nuclear programme, which has openly contradicted (and therefore embarrassed) US president George Bush. For years Bush has accused Iran of working on building a “nuclear bomb”, despite vigorous denials from Tehran. The NIE report has confirmed what Iran had been saying all along: that its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes and that its enrichment activities comply fully with its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) rights and obligations.
A year ago (December 2006) the US government persuaded Ethiopia to invade Somalia, giving it military and financial backing to remove from power the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) and replace it with the transitional federal government (TFG). Both Washington and Addis Ababa thought at the time that they had gained effective control of Somalia by replacing the UIC with an administration made up of warlords, military officers and secular officials. But now they have no doubt that whatever control they had has crumbled:
Things are not going well for US president George Bush, not only because he is now seen as a lame-duck president or that bad news continues to pour out of Iraq and Afghanistan. Even the phony war on terror is not yielding results as it did immediately after 911, when frequent “orange alert” warnings kept people frightened enough to agree to whatever the government was demanding, including curtailment of civil liberties. People seen to have seem through these tricks of the government, which is widely distrusted by most Americans today.
With the surge in Iraq to establish security an utter failure and the British having fled Basra, Washington’s propagandists are in no mood to set another trap for themselves by making bold policy pronouncements about Afghanistan. A detailed review, forced by the failure of America and NATO to subdue the resistance in Afghanistan, has been launched without fanfare.
Ethiopia’s war in Muslim Somalia has been one of the major news stories of the last year. However, less well-known is the fact that Somali Muslims living under Ethiopian rule in the Ogaden have a 700-year history of resistance against Ethiopian rule. FAHAD ANSARI reports.
The fighting in the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp outside Tripoli last year drew attention to a little-noticed phenomenon in Lebanon, the growth of salafi jihadi influence among the Sunni community. NASR SALEM discusses the background and implications of this development.