“Country’s growth depends on quality of leadership and nature of institutions”

Syed Zafar Mehdi

There is a lot of variation amongst small counties in terms of the democracy, homogeneity of population and the quality of leadership, says Sarosh Kuruvilla, Professor, Industrial Relations, Asian Studies and Public Affairs, Department Chair, International & Comparative Labor, Cornell University

Q1. Improving the skill set is a key policy issue for all countries.  How do you see the relationship between investments in human capital and economic growth?
Economic theory has made it very clear that growth is tied to high investments in education and training. Countries exhibit a long-term growth tendency when they grow not simply because of huge investments in capital or labour, but because of productivity increases, and education and skills are a huge component of total factor productivity growth.

Q2.  A single archetypal training system does not suit all the countries, as lot depends on culture and ethnic characteristics of people. How is Singapore different from other countries in this respect?
Training systems have nothing to do with culture or ethnic characteristics. Rather, they have to do with institutions. It is right that there is no universal model of training that is applicable everywhere. Training systems are successful when they are integrated with other institutions, rules, policies and norms that are mutually reinforcing. Singapore is unique in that its human capital enhancement model has been well-integrated with several other institutions, such as economic development policies, skills development policies, education systems, vocational training systems, and so forth as I have discussed in my paper.

Q3. What has been the role of foreign direct investment (FDI) and of large firms as providers to skill training to workforce in Singapore?
The role of FDI was crucial in the early days, and the government’s effort to get foreign investors involved in training was just as crucial. A mixture of incentives was given to foreign investors. These included land and buildings, sometimes market guarantees as long as the investors established training centers or taught in government sponsored ones. In this way, the government training institutions captured the knowledge from the foreign trainers and replicated these programmes in other institutions. The foreign investors also benefited because they got to hire the best graduates from these training institutions.

Q4. The skill development system contributes massively to Singapore’s progress in comparative surveys of human resource development. How critical has been the contribution of private sector?
The key here is the general private-public sector partnership model that accounts for its success, but clearly, this is government-led. The skills development policies started by the government forces private sector firms to invest in training. Of course, some private sector firms from abroad (there are few domestic ones) have spread skills through their in-company training programmes over the long term, but in overall terms, it is a government-led effort.

Q5. How do you trace the link between economic development strategies and skill development policies?
They are mutually reinforcing. All fast growing countries in Asia have started off with low cost export driven model where there was a correspondence between their labour and HR policies and their low cost labour intensive focus. However, as they move up the value chain (low costs will not be a long term source of comparative advantage given the emergence of other low cost producers), they will need to invest in skills, to attract higher quality FDI, or to promote high value added local companies.

Q6. Can you talk about the education policy and the focus on increasing creativity in school children? How can the model be replicated in countries like India?
Singapore’s education policies are in many ways successful in producing well educated maths and science high school graduates. Where they had earlier failed was in producing people who can think freely. Promoting creativity in schools was a priority of Goh Tok Chong, and it was attempted by changing the focus from rote learning and multiple choice exams in school to projects, essays, and other ways for students to explore knowledge.

But improving creativity is not just a function of school education; it is also a function of other national policies. Clearly introducing a creative element in India’s education system is possible, although I suspect that we have enough trouble with basic education for all, and that is the bigger priority.

Q7.There is a general perception that attempts of transplanting successful systems from one country to another are bound to result in failure, due to various contextual and institutional reasons. What is your take?
Yes, I agree and in fact I have written about it. The principles are transferable, but the specific ways the principles are put into practice has to be context-specific and with attention to context specific institutions.

Q8. Critics say that the small size of Singapore makes it easy for government to implement state-backed economic strategies. Is it easy for smaller countries to climb the growth ladder?
No, it is not easier, generally for small countries to climb the growth ladder. Is china a small country? It has to do with the quality of leadership, and the nature of institutions. It is true that many small countries have done well (Singapore, Denmark, Sweden, Taiwan etc) but each has done well for a variety of reasons. There is a lot of variation amongst small counties in terms of the democracy, homogeneity of population and the quality of leadership.

What is key here is the unity of purpose that the government brings to the task of economic development and the design of institutions to achieve that objective. Let me remind you that there are a lot of small countries in Africa that are not growing at all, so size has relatively little to do with economic growth.



Reaping Rewards of Re-positioning


Thirty years ago, Jack Trout and Al Ries published their classic bestseller, Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind — a book that revolutionized the world of marketing. But times have changed. Competition is fierce. Consumers are savvier. Communications are faster. And once-successful companies are in crisis mode. Hence, companies are increasingly going for re-positioning.

Repositioning tells you how to adapt, compete and succeed in today’s cut-throat marketplace. It is used to change the perception associated with the brand to make sure the meaning of brand is made relevant to the changing environment. “With hundreds of new offerings failing in the marketplace every year, there is a distinctive need to treat brand repositioning as a tool not only for old brands but also for new brands,” writes S Ramesh Kumar in Marketing and Branding: The Indian Scenario.


Re-positioning the brands

Repositioning is an effort to “move” a product to a different place in the minds of consumers. According to Jack Trout, it is important to review the essence of positioning, as it is also the essence of repositioning. “Positioning is about how you differentiate yourself in the mind of your prospect… and re-positioning is how you adjust perceptions, whether those perceptions are about you or your competition,” writes Trout. “Initially repositioning’s raison d’être was coping with competition. What has emerged is its use to handle the rapid technological change that is enveloping many products”. In his book The Innovator’s Dilemma, Harvard professor Clayton Christensen has coined a term ‘disruptive technologies’. It describes how these technologies curb the growth of well-managed companies.

The Journal of Consumer Marketing noted a large-scale study of 115 new product launches across five US and UK markets. The study compared the market share gained by products launched under established family or corporate names with the market share gained by products launched under new brand names. Share was measured two years after each brand’s launch. The brands with new names performed significantly better.

Every repositioning strategy is triggered by the competition in market. As Trout writes, repositioning a competitor often boils down to finding a weakness in the leader’s strength and attacking at that point. “Good competitive repositioning ideas are extremely difficult to sell because they are negative in nature. They go against the ‘positive thinking’ grain of most management people,” says Trout.


Companies going for repositioning

Sometime back, Porsche unveiled its new line of Panamera vehicles at a Shanghai car show. The car is a global model, but unlike Porsche’s other cars, it is significantly longer. The rich car buyers in China prefer to be driven by chauffeurs. The re-positioning trick worked and Porche’s profits skyrocketed. Brands position and reposition themselves frequently to sustain the brand identity, to be the repertoire of the customers, and enhance brand equity. A classic example of brand repositioning was seen at Dabur India Ltd. in the year 2001. The transformation of company into one of the leading fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) firms in India.

Why should buyers purchase your offering versus another? If your product faces competition, you will need to think about how to ‘position’ it in the marketplace, relative to competing products. Launched in Indian in early 2003, Mountain Dew was positioned as an ‘energy and exhilaration’ drink. Yet, it did not live up to all the hype. A survey by Synovate in late 2005 showed that people preferred Sprite and Limca, with Mountain Dew performing only a shade better than Frooti. This survey and the market performance of Mountain Dew set the stage for a course correction. Just a market repositioning rather than a radical re-branding was the need of the hour. This repositioning saw the introduction of the ‘Dar Ke Aage Jeet Hai’ campaign, which clicked big time.

Working on the same formula, The Quaker Oats Company, a division of PepsiCo (PEP), created a flutter after announcing that it was launching an expansive re-positioning of its business. For the first time in its 130-plus year history, Quaker was opting for a change and it clicked big time. “It is all about sailing through the cut-throat competition. Everyone wants to stand out,” says Sanjit Baruah, a Delhi based senior marketing professional.

“You do not want the product to be just another face-in-the-crowd in the minds of consumers,” says Sumit Mahajan, a senior business executive with Johnson and Johnson. LG Electronics hit the bull’s eye when it announced that it was globally repositioning the LG brand identity including its local unit, LG Electronics India, with the theme of `Harmony of smart technology in stylish design to fit into’ in India. Nestle India Limited (NIL) felt the need to reposition Maggi as a ‘health product’, just when the profits were plummeting.


For new and old alike

“Positioning is not something you do to a product, it is what you do to the minds of the prospects,” is an often-quoted line from Jack Trout and Al Ries, the inventors of the positioning concept. Product positioning and repositioning is not limited to new products alone. It is relevant for occasional face lifting of the existing products. This is evidenced by so called “new and improved products” of almost all kinds such as toilet soaps, shampoos, cosmetics, tooth pastes, even designer labels. Ritu Wears went for an overhaul with Ritu Wear Biglife. They found this new format more interactive and responsive, making it customer-focused. The new logo with four human figures celebrates the colorful bond of a family and positions.

However, repositioning does not mean total change. It sometimes entails strengthening and clarifying identity. A famous garment firm was having a tough time with the sales of its men’s shirts. Instead of involving into a futile competition with its competitor, it shifted the weight from men’s shirts to women’s blouses and sportswear. The result was an amazing increase in its profits.


Life term for ‘killing a cop’ he never actually killed

Syed Zafar Mehdi

Last week, a trail court in New Delhi sentenced Shahzad Ahmad to life imprisonment in the infamous Batla House ‘encounter’ case. He was spared the gallows owing to his ‘young age’. The same day, I was invited to Jawaharlal Nehru University alongwith Shahzad’s lawyer to speak at a public meeting on the court verdict and the relentless minority witch-hunt. I was not a wee bit shocked by the court verdict but there was not an iota of doubt in my mind that the judgment was a travesty of justice.

Batla House ‘encounter’ took place on September 19, 2008 in a Muslim-dominated locality in South Delhi, adjacent to Jamia Milia University, called Batla House. Two young men were killed and passed off as ‘terrorists’, while two slipped away from the scene, as per the dubious police theory. These men were held responsible for the serial blasts in New Delhi that had happened just a week before the encounter, on September 13, 2008. Civil rights activists rubbished the police theory of the ‘encounter’ and raised some pertinent questions, which went unanswered.

I have tracked the case from day one, and from my own dispassionate investigations and analysis, I am convinced that the ‘encounter’ was anything but genuine. The sequence of events that led to the ‘encounter’ continues to be shrouded in mystery.

It was September 13, 2008. I day I had a miraculous escape. Smoke and dust had filled the air. Bodies were lying scattered on the road. There were scenes of chaos and mayhem. All hell had broken loose. I was studying in Jamia Milia University that time. That day I happened to be in Central Delhi’s Connaught Place with some friends. We dispersed at around 6 o clock. I rushed to Barakhamba Road bus stop to catch a bus for home. It was Ramadan and I had to reach home on time to break my fast. I was just yards away from the bus stop when a massive explosion went off right in front of my eyes. It was total chaos.

As dust began to settle down, I found myself in the pools of blood, encircled by scores of fatally injured people. I started looking for a cab or auto rickshaw. Area was seized by police and all roads were jammed. Soon, I found myself cornered by a bunch of cops. The moment I said I am a student from Kashmir, they started grilling me in full public glare. It took me two hours to convince them that I am a Kashmiri and I am not a terrorist.

A week later, on September 19, I was sitting at home when I heard loud screams and shrill noise outside my apartment. I looked out from the window; people were running helter skelter for cover. I turned on the television and suddenly the news flashed that an ‘encounter’ was on at Batla House. I was flabbergasted. It was going on in my neighourhood, just yards away from my apartment. I came out and rushed to the spot. Huge number of people had already assembled there. The firing was on. After the ‘encounter’ was over, it was announced that the two ‘terrorists’ had been gunned down and two had managed to slip away. According to police, these were the ‘terrorists’ behind the September 13 serial bomb blasts in Delhi that I had witnessed before my eyes.

What happened next day was even more shocking. The pictures of two guys who were killed in the ‘encounter’ were splashed in all the leading newspapers. As I grabbed a copy of newspaper, I was literally shocked. One of the faces looked familiar. The guy branded as the ‘mastermind’ of Delhi blasts and gunned down in the operation happened to be a student of my university and somebody who came across as a nice guy. I remember speaking to him just few days before the ‘encounter’. It was unbelievable,  As the days progressed, the reality started coming out, pieces of the jigsaw started falling into place.

In India, widely hailed as the largest democracy, fake encounters are a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for trigger-happy police force. We have seen fake encounters in Gujarat, Maharastra, Manipur, Chattisgarh and other places. Between 1993 and 2009, there were 1224 fake encounters across India, and Batla House was one of them, according to National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) data that was accessed by a Jamia Milia University student Afroz Alam in 2009.

The role of NHRC in Batla House ‘encounter’ case has been nothing short of scandalous. NHRC in its report ruled out any conspiracy theory in the death of Inspector Sharma, who police claim was killed by Shahzad before fleeing from the spot. Interestingly, in reply to an RTI application, NHRC admitted that they never visited the site for inspection and their report was based on the police information.

NHRC’s guidelines call for a ‘magisterial inquiry’ into such cases. But it did not happen in this case, thanks to Governor of Delhi Tejendra Khanna who did not allow that to happen. Even the four member fact finding committee constituted by Delhi Minority Commission was disbanded. What was so wrong in allowing an impartial judicial inquiry? Delhi Police argued that it would ‘demoralise the force’. How would it demoralize the force if they had nothing to hide? They were apprehensive because they were in troubled waters. They didn’t want truth to come out, so they didn’t want judicial inquiry to take place.

It’s been almost five years now, but there are still more questions than answers. If the encounter was genuine, how did the 17-year-old boy Sajid have four bullet holes on the top of his head, which could only happen if the boy was made to sit down and shot from above? How did the skin peel off from Atif’s back? This was visible in the photograph taken before his burial. Clearly he was tortured before death. If the police knew in advance that these boys were the terrorists, why did Inspector Sharma go in without a bullet proof jacket? How could two of the boys escape from the building which had only one exit and one entry and that was manned by armed police sleuths?

Shahzad Ahmad’s case appears most intriguing. The court’s judgment, sending him behind bars for life for killing Inspector Sharma, raises some very fundamental questions. Prosecution claimed that he was an Indian Mujahideen operative who shot dead Inspector Mohan Chand Sharma. Interestingly, they could not prove beyond reasonable doubt that he was present in the flat that day and they failed to produce any credible evidence to establish his link with Indian Mujahideen. And what is Indian Mujahideen? Many here believe it is the false flag for Indian intelligence agencies.

The judge seemed to agree with the police theory that Shahzad fled from the building while the encounter was on. If the judge had visited the building he could have seen that the building has only one exit which was manned by police. It was virtually impossible to escape from those narrow staircases when you have armed policemen keeping vigil on the gate. He would either have been caught or shot.

An interesting story was doing the rounds till recently that the two men had jumped more than 20 feet. After this theory was rubbished by the defense counsel, prosecution twisted the theory saying they walked down the narrow stairway. So they actually managed to walk past 14 policemen who did not stop them while encounter was going on.

Why the hudgment is the travesty of justice is because it is entirely based on information given by the police. It is a lop-sided verdict where you take police version as gospel truth. Intelligence input for this ‘encounter’ had reportedly come from one IB officer Rajinder Kumar who provided similar inputs in the cases of 17 fake encounters in Gujarat that are being probed now. Why didn’t judge take serious note of that and relate it to the on-going probes in other such fake encounters in Gujarat.

Interesting thing to note is, in the FIR, Police said that two persons Junaid and Shahnawaz had escaped from the spot. Now, the police claim they had found Shahzad’s passport from the same flat, so if they had the passport, why did they get the name wrong?

According to the information accessed through RTI application, the Joint Commissioner of Police (Special Cell) in a note prepared by him had mentioned all the stuff recovered from the flat, including railway tickets, tapes, pencil sets, but there was no mention of Passport. And there is no independent attestation of the discovery of this so called ‘crucial’ piece of evidence. So was it planted?

All bullets fired matched the arms of police and two guns attributed to killed boys Atif and Sajid, so if at all Shahzad was there and he fired, where are bullets or shells?

Inspector Sharma was taken to Holy Family Hospital, which is hardly 2 kilometers from Batla House and it is still not clear how he lost 3 liters of blood that ultimately caused his death. The forensic report was not considered by the investigating authorities.

They were many reports in the media that a lot of jihadi literature was recovered from the place where these ‘terrorists’ were holed up. However, according to police’s own records, the only book recovered from there was Panchtantra. Is that a jihadi literature?

Mohd Saif, the person who had surrendered to police, was not named a witness of the prosecution or examined in the court. He hid himself in the bathroom during the whole ‘encounter’ and was actually an eye witness. He said Shahzad was not in the flat. Zeeshan, who left the house earlier in the morning, also said Shahzad was not there when he left. So it is clear police’s theory holds no water.

This judgement has come from the trial court and there are still other options left. You may recall what happened to SAR Geelani and many others. He was implicated in Parliament attack case and sentenced to death in trail court and was later acquitted by higher courts. I am sure truth will come out in this case as well.

(First published in The Friday Times, Pakistan)

Pakistan govt complicit in slaughter of Shias


By: Syed Zafar Mehdi



Coming down heavily on the Pakistani government, Human Rights Watch (HRW), in a statement said, “The Pakistani government’s persistent failure to protect the Shia Muslim community in Pakistan from sectarian attacks by Deobandi militant groups is reprehensible and amounts to complicity in the barbaric slaughter of Pakistani citizens.”

In the killing fields of Pakistan, the bloodletting continues unabated. In a latest incident, on March 03, a massive car bombing just yards away from my sister’s house in seaport city of Karachi claimed 45 lives, and left 150 others critically wounded.

My sister and her family escaped unhurt but two of her close relatives – a father and a son – were not as lucky. According to reports, terrorists struck when a large contingent of city police was busy in protocol and security duties at the engagement ceremony of Sharmila Faruqui, a provincial minister from the ruling party, and Hasham Riaz Sheikh, an aide to President Asif Ali Zardari. The car laden with 150 kilograms of explosives was parked in a Shia-dominated locality Abbas Town, between four-storey buildings, which were reduced to rubble. The dead bodies had to be taken out of the debris on a road with a 10-foot wide and four-foot deep crater.

President Zardari issued a statement, expressing sympathies with the bereaved families and directing the authorities to ensure the best medical treatment to the injured. It’s not the first time he has given a clean chit to himself in the shape of these statements. It sounds too monotonous and repetitive now, and has become a standard operating procedure for this government.

In Karachi, people are no strangers to violence and vicious targeted killings. In Muharram last year, many people were killed while they were participating in an annual mourning procession.

In February 2010, a series of blasts claimed 18 innocent lives. In June 2009, a suicide bomber blew himself up, killing 40 people. In July 2006, a massive explosion resulted in the death of many people, including the chief of Tehreek-e-Jafria Pakistan, Allama Hassan Turabi.

Karachi, however, is not the only dangerous place in Pakistan, if you fit a certain stereotype. As my friend said, for those who have relatives (Shia) in Pakistan, get in touch before it’s too late. It is not a shaggy dog story. Pakistan is a bleeding nation today. Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Sir Mohammad Iqbal’s dream stands in tatters. It’s difficult to absorb the full extent of this horror and mayhem, but certainly, silence at this point is criminal. It amounts to either complicity or cowardice.

The 40 dead in Karachi blasts included small children and women. My sister’s family is not the only bereaved family in Karachi right now, and it is not the first time these families have lost their loved ones in heinous targeted attacks. It’s a story of every Shiite family in Karachi, in Lahore, in Hyderabad, in Gilgit, in Parachinar, in Dera Ghazi Khan, in Dera Ismail Khan, in Jhang and in Quetta. As one Pakistani commentator wrote in his recent newspaper column, if you are a Shia in Pakistan, you are on your own.

There are heartrending tales of helplessness, of bravery, of resistance, of loyalty, of pride and of honour. Shias of Pakistan are a proud community and staunch nationalists. Like many other families in Pakistan, my sister and her family have also received threats, but they refuse to leave their country. Many families have lost their sole breadwinners, but they have not relocated anywhere. They remain loyal to their country. It is the unflinching love for Pakistan that gives them courage to walk the tightrope between life and death.

After battling for her life on a ventilator for close to three months, 12-year-old Mehzar Zehra is finally showing the signs of recovery. A few days back, she walked out of a local hospital in Karachi, escorted by her mother. The little girl, who has been called Pakistan’s Anne Frank, was thrilled to rush home and go back to her school. Almost three months back, on November 30 last year, her world turned topsy-turvy. A grade 7 student, Mehzar was heading to school with her father Syed Nazar Abbas when some scooter-borne assailants sprayed bullets on the father-daughter duo. Her father succumbed on the spot, in front of her, while Mehzar survived with four bullets. The bullets ripped through the lungs, ruptured stomach and badly damaged the spinal cord. Doctors initially refused to operate because they feared she might get paralysed. But, the 12-year-old showed the fighting spirit, and survived to tell the tale.

The calamitous incident has changed their life forever, but they have not left the country. The family is picking up the pieces and trying to rebuild their lives again. The memories of good old days, however, haunt them. Mehzar’s brother has left the small menial job he had. His mother is wary of letting him venture out. She doesn’t want her son to meet the fate of his father. The police investigations into the case have yielded no results. The case has been shut for the ‘lack of eyewitnesses’, despite the fact that the incident took place in broad daylight on busy Shaheed e Millat Road in Karachi.

Notwithstanding the myriad trials and tribulations, 12-year-old Mehzar’s mother is still grateful for her daughter is still alive and breathing. In Lahore, the ill-fated mother of 11-year-old Murtaza Haider is still in shock. She has not uttered a word since the fateful afternoon of February 18, when her son and husband were shot dead. As people in the country were mourning the massacre of 87 Hazara Shias in Quetta, Murtaza was on his way to school with his father, an ophthalmologist at Lahore General Hospital, when some armed men on motorbike opened fire at them on Kanal Road in Lahore. Murtaza’s father was shot multiple times in the face and head, and he died on the spot. Murtaza was shot in the head, before killers disappeared from the scene. The wounded boy was taken to the nearby hospital, where he, after fighting a losing battle, breathed his last. Murtaza’s mother is haunted by her son’s memories now. She wants to die and reunite with her son, but the thought of leaving the country has not even crossed her mind.

The mother of 28-year-old Irfan Ishaq also did not leave the country, but reunited with her son in the other world. Overwhelmed with grief, she succumbed to a massive heart-stroke besides her son’s grave in Behisht e Zehra, Karachi on January 15. She was buried in the same graveyard, next to the grave of her son. The young Irfan had been shot three times by armed motorcyclists outside his house.

Four-year-old Subhana and her father Naseer Magsi were murdered on December 03 last year at Larkana, when Naseer was hoisting a traditional black banner as part of annual commemorations in Muharram. In the sacred month of Muharram, black banners are mounted on the rooftops and cars in many parts of the world, as a mark of resistance against the forces of evil and tyranny. Subhana, the little girl, was watching her father fix the thread on the banner when a bullet hit her head, leaving her in pools of blood. The infant girl’s mother is crestfallen. Like Murtaza’s mother, she also wishes death for herself to reunite with her daughter, but leaving the country is the last thing on her mind.

While, Murtaza’s mother and Subhana’s mother atleast know what tragedy has befallen them, the two year old Mohammad has no clue where his parents are, why they abandoned him. His father Iqbal Hassan and mother Kaneez Fatima were shot dead in their car on Abul Hasan Ispahani Road in Karachi in November last year. The couple, employees of a private hospital, was returning home from work, when they were attacked by four assailants on two motorbikes.

Like Mohammad, the little daughter and son of Imran Abbas also keeps asking for their father. Imran was targeted and killed in Solder Bazaar Karachi on January 08 while on his way home after dropping his children at school. He was shot thrice in the head and was declared dead at Abbasi Shaheed Hospital.

On September 31 2011, 5-year old Hania wore her favourite dress and went for Eid congregation with her father. The special biryani prepared by her mother turned cold, but Hania and her father never returned back. She was one of the many children who died that day in a suicide attack in Quetta. Her father also died, but the family still lives in Pakistan. On December 30, 2012, a 13 year-old boy Moazzam Ali was heading to his school in Chiniot when he was hit by some unidentified gunmen. After battling for his life in Allied Hospital for many days, he finally succumbed to his injuries on January 5, 2013. His father fainted while shouldering his coffin and had to be admitted to hospital, but he refused to go abroad.

On February 10, 2013, another father-son duo, Amjad Ali and Asif Ali were killed in Orangi town of Karachi, while they had gone to nearby mosque for prayers. On February 18, a 24 year-old Syed Safdar Kazmi was killed when armed assailants opened fire on him in Karachi’s airport area. A resident of Model Colony, he was shot twice on his chest and died on the spot. Two days before that, another 25 year-old Syed Hasan Naqvi was killed in Karachi’s Paposh Nagar. On February 22, a 24 year-old Syed Faiz Hussain was targeted in Karachi’s Kati Pahari area. None of these families have left the country even after losing their loved ones, and that’s unarguably the best possible way to resist these killers and defeat them.

In the killing fields of Pakistan, death is a statistic. The manner in which most of these unprovoked targeted attacks are carried out bears striking similarity. Armed assailants on motorbikes close in; open the fire, and leisurely whisk away. Eye-witnesses look the other way. Police personnel patrolling the streets are conspicuously absent from duty or far from the scene of action. Sometimes, buses are stopped; passengers are offloaded, lined up in an open field, identified (as Shias or Sunnis) and executed. Imtiyaz, a young survivor of one such massacre at a place called Babu Sir that took place in August last year, is haunted by the memories of that fateful day. He recalls the day when almost 30 men, with long hair and saggy commando attire – carrying arms, ropes and knives – ambushed the bus he was travelling in. Passengers were instructed to show their Identitiy Cards to determine whether they were Shiite or Sunnis. Those who ‘failed’ the test were lined up and shot dead. Imtiyaz was lucky to survive as he hid himself under the bus, but he lost many friends in the attack.

Those who manage to escape eventually end up dead in massive explosions, in the markets, processions, shrines and mosques. On January 10 this year, a powerful blast on Alamdar Road Quetta claimed more than hundred lives, including small children and women. Some had gone out to buy vegetables, bakery and milk, while some had gone out for prayers. The families of victims refused to bury the dead, and in protest, sat on road in chilling cold for three long days. The provincial government of Balochistan was dismissed and governor’s rule was announced after protests erupted across the country. But bloodletting continued. On February 16, another powerful blast ripped through a crowded market on the outskirts of Quetta. The death toll has crossed 90 and hundreds are still admitted to various hospitals. It was followed by another blast on February 25, in which four people were killed and many others injured outside a Sufi shrine in Shikarpur, Sindh. Now, the Karachi blasts on March 03 have already resulted in 45 killings, and counting.

As per an estimate, more than 20,000 Shias, and thousands of Sunni Barelvi, Ahmadis, Christians and Hindus have been killed in Pakistan since early 80s by terrorists affiliated to takfiri Deobandi school of thought. Alarmingly, not less than 30 per cent of the 20,000 Shias killed have been children and youngsters.

Coming down heavily on the Pakistani government, Human Rights Watch (HRW), in a statement said, “The Pakistani government’s persistent failure to protect the Shia Muslim community in Pakistan from sectarian attacks by Deobandi militant groups is reprehensible and amounts to complicity in the barbaric slaughter of Pakistani citizens.”

Why is there no let-up in these killings? According to a secret dossier prepared by Quetta Police following the imposition of governor’s rule in Balochistan, the killing of 90 more Shia Hazaras on February 16 in Quetta could have been prevented had the Frontier Corps (FC) and police made efforts to capture terrorists belonging to Usman Saifullah Kurd faction of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. The dossier contains detailed information about the masterminds and the executioners of January 10 blasts on Alamdar Road in Quetta, which resulted in more than 100 casualties.

These concerns were also echoed by Amin Shaheedi, deputy secretary general of Majlis-e-Wahdat-e-Muslimeen. “Had the army operation been launched against the terrorists after Alamdar Road tragedy, Hazara Town tragedy would not have been occurred,” he said to media. Passing the buck to provincial government of Balochistan, Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik, during a debate in Senate, said that after 18th amendment, his job was confined to policy guidelines and sharing intelligence.

His ministry, Malik said, had provided all the intelligence inputs to provincial government of Balochistan. “We must not blame intelligence agencies. It was provincial government’s incompetence, which resulted in killing of innocent lives,” he said. The minister further claimed that the headquarters of Lashkar e Jhangvi, responsible for most of these targeted killings, is in Punjab with sub-headquarters in Karachi. The explosives used in the Quetta blast, he said, were transported from Lahore. However, he reiterated that his job is to inform, not to take action.

The lawmakers, on the other hand, blame intelligence agencies of either being involved in the attacks or incapable of dealing with the scourge. “If Pakistani forces are not involved in terror activities then it is their inefficiency and inability to deal with the issue,” Senator Abdul Nabi Bangash of Awami national Party (ANP) said, asking government to disclose the names of those involved in these activities. Governor of Balochistan also termed it the sheer failure of intelligence agencies. He said the agencies are either afraid of the terrorists or incompetent to track them.

Meanwhile, as politicians squabble and pass the buck on where the killers are hiding and how to catch hold of them, the leaders of Lashkar e Jhangvi continue to issue ultimatums and threats to Hazara Shias. “The government should be under no illusion now that the imposition of governor’s rule in Balochistan has failed to dissuade us from targeting our enemy: Shia Hazaras. We want to make it clear to the Shia Hazaras that they should not consider themselves safe and secure till the establishment of the Islamic caliphate in Pakistan,” said LeJ spokesman by the name of Abu Bakar Siddiq, while making phone calls to mediapersons on February 16 to claim responsibility for the Alamdar Road blast. Since then, there have been two major attacks so far.

According to Hazara Democratic Party, the attacks against Shia Hazaras in Quetta have intensified after some of the LeJ leaders like Malik Ishaq were released by courts. Some like the chief of LeJ’s Balochistan chapter Usman Kurd and his deputy Dawood Badini, who were detained in high-security ATF jail, mysteriously escaped on the night of January 18, 2008. According to a report prepared by Minority Support of Pakistan (MSP), an NGO working for minority rights, there was a clear conspiracy in their escape from a jail located in high security garrison zone of Quetta Cantonment. The report said the night Kurd and Badin escaped, the Hazara guards were relieved of duty and the roster was quickly altered by the jail superintendent. The same Kurd-Badini duo, according to security experts, now spearheads the ongoing genocide of Shia Hazaras in Balochistan.

On February 22, Malik Ishaq was again detained by authorities for one month under the Maintenance of Public Order (MPO) law on the orders of the provincial government. Hazara leaders welcomed the arrest of Ishaq, who is one of the founders of the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, however, they demand arrest of all others involved in the attacks.

Shias in Pakistan have listed out the demands for government. The demands include government acknowledging the atrocities against Shia Muslims as genocide, outlawing apostatizing of Shia Muslims by an Act of Parliament, and stringent action against Takfiri Deobandi militants of Lashkar e Janghvi. The issues to be addressed, as demanded by the Shia Hazaras, include holding army accountable for the law and order situation and safety of all people including Shias, strict enforcement of legal ban on Sipah-e-Sahaba that currently operates camouflaged as ASWJ, stopping the publication of threats and insinuations against Shia community in local press, financially compensating the affected families, releasing the Shia detainees implicated in bogus cases, and instituting a judicial commission, also to probe the allegations of nexus between terrorists, intelligence agencies and army.

Pakistan Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf has pledged to ‘go to any extent to punish the people behind the attacks’. If he is serious enough to tackle the issue, he must start working on these legitimate and humane demands of Shias in his country. If he is not, then he must not make a secret of State’s war against the Shias.