Naval Dockyard attack being swept under the rug


The terrorist attack on Karachi Naval Dockyard should have been a wake up call about the continuing threat of jihadi militant groups throughout the country despite targeted anti-militant operations in one region. Actually, it should have been another wake up call. Latest statements from the military and ‘security analysts’, however, are trying to lull the public back to sleep.

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We Can’t Eradicate Terrorism Without Changing Afghanistan Strategy


The top military brass has reaffirmed its commitment to eradicate terrorism. The words are sweet, but the reality is more sour. As we were reading the Army’s new pledge, another suicide attack ripped through Peshawar. Today, another blast, this time against the most vulnerable: IDPs. The problem of our own home grown militancy has been discussed elsewhere, most recently in a highly recommended piece by Aziz-ud-Din Ahmad. There is another obstacle to peace, however, which is our Afghanistan policy.

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New ISI Chief: Another case of the more things change, the more they stay the same?

Lieutenant General Rizwan Akhtar

Change is in the air. Not in Islamabad, though, in Aabpara. The extent of that change, though, remains to be seen. Anticipating the retirement of DG ISI Gen Zaheerul Islam next month, ISPR announced the appointment of a new spy chief by the Chief of Army Staff Prime Minister: Lieutenant General Rizwan Akhtar. Reports of the new appointment are all very encouraging, predicting positive changes for an important institution which has found itself fending off bas press lately. However, these encouraging reports are fairly standard and as history shows, encouraging reports of change at the top is not a good predictor of actual change in policies.

First, let’s examine how a change in DG ISI affected US-Pakistan relations. Here is how Lt Gen Rizwan Akhtar’s appointment has been described in the media:

For American officials, though, General Akhtar may offer hope of an improved relationship. In a paper written during a period of study at the Army War College in Pennsylvania in 2008, he stressed the need to establish a stable democracy in Pakistan and to curb anti-Americanism in the country.

By comparison, this is how Lt Gen Zaheerul Islam’s appointment was described in 2012:

“He’s a safe choice,” said Wajahat S. Khan, a journalist who has written about internal military politics. “He’s served in the ISI, he’s from an infantry wing, and he’s pretty media savvy — which is what they need right now.”

General Islam’s first job is likely to involve refashioning relations with Washington, which have been virtually frozen since an erroneous American attack near the border with Afghanistan in November killed 24 Pakistani troops. At a special joint session of Parliament set for this month, Pakistan’s politicians will debate the broad contours of a new policy toward the United States.

This is how Lt Gen Shuja Pasha’s appointment was described in 2008:

Retired Pakistani officers considered friendly toward the United States said General Pasha’s appointment was positive.

“It will give a good signal to the Americans,” said a retired general, Talat Masood. “He is rated a really good officer by international standards.”

General Pasha may also provide an opening for more candid discussions with the Americans, particularly over the Taliban, Mr. Masood said.

It is easy to say that relations have improved since the past several spy chiefs, but it is not as easy to believe. It is not just US-Pakistan relations that have remained unchanged despite all the change, though. Let us next examine civil-military relations:

Here is how Gen Rizwan Akhtar’s appointment is described:

Analysts said they expected that General Akhtar, who recently led a campaign against the Taliban in Karachi, was likely to shy away from such a prominent political role — at least initially. But there is little doubt that he inherits a strained relationship with the country’s civilian leadership, which was evident from the manner of his appointment.

Here is how Gen Zaheerul Islam’s appointment was described:

Although the ISI officially reports to the prime minister, in reality it is controlled by the army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, with whom General Pasha had a close relationship during the agency’s turbulent relationship with the United States in recent years.

And here is how Gen Shuja Pasha’s appointment was described:

General Pasha’s appointment comes two months after President Asif Ali Zardari and the senior adviser at the Interior Ministry, Rehman Malik, made a failed effort to wrest control of the spy agency from the army, which has always run it.

General Kayani’s announcement about General Pasha reaffirmed the military’s institutional control of the intelligence agency, the English-language newspaper Dawn said Tuesday.

The ISI is supposed to be more than a public relations agency, however. It is the nation’s premier intelligence agency and in many ways the front line of defence. Therefore, it is worth noting that, lacking any change in national security strategy, the national security deteriorated under each previous ISI chiefs. Soon after Gen Akhtar’s appointment was announced, jihadi militants carried out a suicide attack in Peshawar targeting a senior Army officer and more bullet riddled bodies were discovered in Balochistan.

Will Gen Akhtar be able to bring the necessary change to the ISI? Or will it be another case of ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same…’

Prof Dr Muhammad Shakeel Auj Victim of Zarb-e-Azb?

Prof Dr Muhammad Shakeel Auj

Has Prof Dr Muhammad Shakeel Auj become the latest victim of Zarb-e-Azb operations? No, he was not killed by a PAF airstrike, neither was his murder taken in retaliation for supporting Army operations against militants. Actually, while his killers are yet unknown, there is no reason to believe that the murder had anything to do with Zarb-e-Azb. And this is precisely the point.

We are continually reminded of how successful Army’s anti-terrorist operation has been. News reports tell that hundreds of militants have been killed, certain areas in Fata have been cleared, and grandiose statements are made about terrorists being ‘on the run’ and their capability for attacks being ‘neutralised’. But has Zarb-e-Azb actually reduced the threat of terrorism, or has it only changed our definition of terrorism?

It is true that there has not been a major suicide bombing of a mosque or market since some time, but to suggest that this means we are free of terrorism is like saying that because you are not bleeding you are not ill. Suicide bombings are a symptom, not the disease.

In all likelihood, Dr Muhammad Shakeel Auj’s murder was a political act. Not the politics of political parties, but the politics of religion, which has become in many ways far more powerful than the politics of parties. An act of political violence is, by definition, an act of terrorism. The dangers is that Army’s grand statements and images from Zarb-e-Azb have made us forget that this, too, is terrorism, and these terrorists are continuing to operate with impunity in our country.

The sad truth is that Zarb-e-Azb is not going to rid the nation of the cancer of terrorism unless the Army changes its strategy to target not only the militant camps but the militant mindset. Military operations are necessary, but they are not sufficient. Dr Muhammad Shakeel Auj was not killed as part of Zarb-e-Azb, but if we allow that to convince us that his killing was not an act of terrorism, he will be its victim just the same.