Beneath the surface of relative calm, there is the sense that a new and more insidious conflict may be afoot, one that could take many months to play out before the fate of this once-prosperous region is ultimately decided.
NYT: Mullahs in Punjab siding with landowners, status quo
Pakistan encompasses four provinces — Baluchistan, Sindh, Punjab and the North-West Frontier Province (which includes the Swat Valley) — each with its own languages and culture. The western mountains are tribal and so remote that in some areas, Pakistan’s Constitution does not even apply. It is from those badlands that the Taliban swept outward to neighboring Swat, itself a multi-ethnic patchwork. Baluchistan, another border area, has its own struggle for national autonomy. Sindh is mostly agrarian, with Karachi, an economic hub, at its southern tip.
Punjab, the fourth and most strategic province, is the country’s heart — home to the powerful military as well as much of Pakistan’s governing class; social upheaval here would drag the whole country with it. In my travels in this province, none of the mullahs were talking about revolution. In fact, the social justice discussions that have driven political movements in the wider Islamic world — Hamas, Hezbollah, or the Sadr Army of Iraq’s Moktada al-Sadr, for example — were notably absent.
Instead, I have found a surprisingly comfortable coexistence between the mullahs, the landlords and the political elite (the latter two are often one and the same). Even the harder-line preachers, among the sternly traditional Muslims known as Deobandis, have stuck to a bland, nonconfrontational line.
One leader of a Deobandi seminary in Kabirwala, a town in southern Punjab, told me that the land was distributed as God had intended, and that the only problem with the landlords was that some were insufficiently Islamic, though now that was improving.
History explains much of the feudal outlook of the clerics in Punjab. They tend not to oppose the establishment in part because the state itself made them powerful. In the 1980s, the military dictator Zia ul-Haq gave land and money to Deobandis, a policy the United States supported because it needed both Mr. Zia and fervent jihadists in the fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan.
Mr. Zia also crushed social ferment throughout Pakistan, and the debate on class and social justice that went with it, stifling political growth. To this day, Pakistan retains a colonial-style system of patronage: I-will-vote-for you-because-you-are-important-and-I-think-you-might-be-able-to-help-me-in-my-time-of-need.At the same time, the Zia government elevated the mullahs, once unimportant men seen mostly at weddings and funerals. They became powerful players with their own political space — a kind of middleman between state and populace, not breaking their ties to the elite that had empowered them...
This is not to say that all are nonviolent, just that their violence does not challenge the state or the social order. The leader of Sipah-e-Sohaba, an ultra-orthodox Sunni political party, whose military wing believes Shiites to be apostates and has been killing them since the 1990s, was allowed to contest an election from a prison cell in 2002. (He won.) Another militant group, Jesh Muhammed, which supports Pakistani claims to Kashmir, operates unhindered in the city of Bahawalpur. And Hafez Saeed, a cleric whose associates are believed to have carried out the attack on Mumbai, India, last year, gives weekly sermons here in Lahore...
Even in Swat, the Taliban’s takeover didn’t happen overnight. At first, some landlords lent tacit (if worried) support, donating food and money to the seminary where Fazlullah, the main Taliban leader, began his political movement. The government itself made peace deals with the Taliban. Only later did conditions worsen, with militants seizing ever more power, and eventually overrunning the landlords. The military has since fought to eject them, but it is not clear how effectively.
NYT: Christians targeted by mob violence
The attack in this shabby town in central Pakistan — the culmination of several days of rioting over a claim that a Koran had been defiled — shows how precarious life is for the tiny Christian minority in Pakistan.
More than 100 Christian houses were burned and looted on Saturday in a rampage that lasted about eight hours by a crowd the authorities estimate was as large as 20,000 strong. In addition to the seven members of the Hameed family who were killed, about 20 people were wounded.The authorities, who said the Koran accusation was spurious, filed criminal charges in the case late Sunday and apprehended at least 12 people. Officials said a banned Sunni militant group, Sipah-e-Sohaba, was among those responsible for the attacks, the third convulsion of anti-Christian mob violence in the region in the past four weeks...
While some Christians rise to become government officials or run businesses, the poorest work the country’s worst jobs, as toilet cleaners and street sweepers.It was the poorest class who lived in Christian Colony, a small enclave of bare brick houses where the mob struck Saturday. Its residents work as day laborers and peddlers in the market, often earning far less than the minimum wage, $75 a month...
The Hameeds were having breakfast when the mob descended, wielding guns, hurling stones and shouting insults (“Dogs!” “American agents!”) through their window. The Hameeds did not appear to have been singled out but had the misfortune of living where the mob entered the neighborhood and happened to be home at the time...
The rampage began Thursday in a nearby village when Christians at a wedding party were accused of burning a Koran. Few here believed that, and state and federal officials who looked into the case said it was false. Still, local mullahs seized on the news, filing a blasphemy case against the Christian family...
Pakistan’s blasphemy law has been criticized as too broad, and many legal experts say it has been badly misused since its introduction in the 1980s by the military dictator Gen. Muhammad Zia ul-Haq. Anyone can file a charge, which is then often used to stir hatred and to justify sectarian violence.
“The blasphemy law is being used to terrorize minorities in Pakistan,” said Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s minister of minority affairs, in an interview in Gojra on Sunday...
Christians here protested all day on Sunday, blocking the roads and refusing to bury the Hameeds until the authorities filed a criminal case. Late Sunday the authorities did, and the bodies were buried. That was little comfort to the Hameeds.
USAT: COIN in Afghanistan
A few miles away, but seemingly a world apart, sits another walled cluster of homes. Here, the Marines arrive the next day to a reception that may not be warm, but isn't lethal. Afghans talk with Marines; children beg them for sweets. A villager notices Marines hoisting themselves over a wall, gets their attention, and points out a shortcut.
The contrast between the two housing compounds in Afghanistan's Helmand River valley, a longtime stronghold of the Taliban militant group, illustrates the challenges facing Marines as they implement a new strategy that emphasizes winning the trust of the local population...
By providing security, rather than just focusing on killing insurgents, the Marines hope to convince locals to turn on the Taliban and eventually hand control over to the Afghan army and police — mirroring the tactics that helped turn the war in Iraq a few years ago.
"We win when the people really believe that the government is here to help them," says Lt. Col. Christian Cabaniss, the battalion commander. "We can't kill our way out of an insurgency. All security does is create a vacuum. It takes the Taliban out. We'll show them that our brand of security is a lot nicer than the Taliban's."...
Trouble spots can be especially hard for the Marines to identify because they often co-exist with relatively peaceful areas — as happened with the two unnamed compounds that Garrett's unit encountered near the village of Hassan Abad, about 400 miles southwest of Kabul.
In an insurgency, "every village has its own microclimate," says John Nagl, a counterinsurgency expert at the Center for a New American Security, a Washington think tank.
Nagl says control of a particular area — "even (a) neighborhood or street," he says — can hinge on a variety of factors including how long Afghan security forces have been there, whether there are any insurgent bases nearby, and even what tribe the local population belongs to.
WP: Congo conflict morphs as it drags on
For the most part, though, people in eastern Congo have not died in a blaze of bullets or in large-scale massacres. More often, the conflict has set off a chain reaction of less spectacular consequences that begins with fleeing through an unforgiving jungle and ends with a death such as Mihigo's. In eastern Congo, people die from malaria and diarrhea, from untreated infections and measles, from falling off rickety bridges and slipping down slopes, from hunger and from drinking dirty water in the hope of surviving one more day.
Arguably, people die because of the wider social impact of the conflict. Entire villages have been scattered across hundreds of miles, atomizing extended family networks that people depend upon in difficult times. The conflict has overwhelmed already-dysfunctional government hospitals and left roads rutted and overgrown, isolating people in villages like Walikale from help.
At the moment, the conflict in eastern Congo is surging once again. Since January, at least half a million people have fled a U.N.-backed Congolese army operation targeting Rwandan rebels, which Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is expected to discuss in a visit to Congo this month. The rebels are retaliating against villagers with whom they have lived for years.
Since March, more than 2,000 people displaced by violence in rural Colombia have occupied the green hillocks and red-brick squares of Third Millennium Park, which was to be a jewel of Bogota's urban renaissance as a military crackdown on leftist rebels brought greater safety to the nation's main cities.
Instead, the park and its tent city are a reminder that the five-decade-long conflict still afflicts the countryside, causing hundreds of thousands to flee their homes and generating the world's worst internal refugee problem, according to United Nations statistics.
The occupants of Third Millennium Park are demanding that President Alvaro Uribe's government heed a court order to provide them with food, education and jobs...
The Bogota tent city, because it's so public, offers a certain comfort, he said.
"Here, we are safer than anywhere else."
NYT: captured FARC computer files implicate Venezuelan government aiding and abetting
Econ: Afro-Colombians fight racism
NYT: the crime rate is down in the US, defying explanation
No single lens — sociological, econometrical, liberal or conservative — seems an adequate one through which to view crime. The economy, which seems as if it should be fundamental, has never been a good predictor; the Prohibition era was far more violent than the Great Depression. Adding prison beds has not helped; the incarceration rate has marched grimly upward for decades, while the crime rate has zigzagged up and down, seemingly oblivious. Years ago, criminologists thought demographics explained a lot — remember the warnings about thousands of cold-blooded, teenage “superpredators” in the mid-1990s? — but demographics cannot shed light on what is happening now. Improved policing deserves credit for bigger declines in certain cities, but not the overall national trend...
While the decline may not have taken hold in the minds of the public, it has undermined a cherished belief, particularly among liberals, in root causes — that criminals are born of misery and the limited options of poverty. “There are people that are putting up with an awful lot of suffering, and they’re not complaining all that much,” said Andrew Karmen, a criminologist at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.
USAT: yet surge in concealed weapons permits applications 'in anticipation of crime increase'
if crime does go up, SV urges us to remember the sequence of events.
NYT: Iran takes 3 hikers into custody
SV hoping for the quick release of Josh, Sarah, and Shane