Sadiq & Ameen vs Security and Economy

panama papersLet us save the theatrics for the script writers for a moment and admit what appear to be some basic truths. Nawaz Sharif’s family lives a lifestyle that exceeds their reported income. Okay, this is increasingly obvious, but is it really so unexplained? Let’s consider a few other facts:

  1. There are more people on planes at any given moment than people paying their due taxes.
  2. The ‘informal’ economy in Pakistan is nearly as large as the formal economy – around $160 Billion.

Yes, but it’s not our fault, you say. We expect more from our leaders, you say. And we would pay our taxes if we knew our leaders were not pocketing our money, you say.

Really? Okay. Then let’s talk about our leaders. Nawaz goes, who is the sadiq & ameen who will replace him? Asif Zardari? Imran Khan? Don’t make me laugh.

This is why we need Army to take over and clean house, you say. But how clean is Army’s house? Will we see another ‘Panama Papers’ type leak about Gen Musharraf’s unexplained wealth? The worst kept secret in the country is the rampant corruption and looting by Army officers.

Okay, then, so what does this mean? There is no hope? No. I don’t think we have to be so fatalistic. However, I do think that we need to decide what is important. Is it most important to see our political rivals humiliated? This seems to be how we are deciding things now, and what has it earned us? We are a nation that is divided, insecure within our own borders, overwhelmed by religious extremism, all while in a state of economic stagnation. Instead of taking our problems seriously, we have tried to outsource them – first to America, now to China. You take care of our security and economy, we say, while we entertain ourselves with petty political dramas.

This may well be the end for Nawaz Sharif. If he goes, he goes. But what comes next? The same will be repeated with the next, and the next, and the next. We have no intention of changing. And why should we? Are you not amused? After all, surely the Chinese will take care of us….

Arguing With Husain Haqqani

Husain HaqqaniHe is Senior Fellow and Director for South and Central Asia at a prestigious think tank in Washington, DC. He has written multiple books that have been termed ‘compulsory reading‘ in the West. He has been an invited speaker at the Aspen Ideas Festival and his ideas and analysis are regularly featured in global media like The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Foreign Affairs, and Foreign Policy. Whether we like it or not, Husain Haqqani is probably the most influential Pakistani intellectual of modern times. Many don’t like it. I do not want to defend Husain Haqqani or his controversial ideas. What I want to do is use Husain Haqqani to talk about how we respond to those who we disagree with.

As you must know by know, Husain Haqqani’s latest piece for The New York Times caused quite a stir. In it, he dismisses the idea that India poses a real threat to Pakistan, and confirms the belief that the Pakistani state has supported extremist militants in Afghanistan and Kashmir. This is nothing new, however, it is his prescription for a cure that has angered many quarters because Haqqani calls for the US to get ‘tougher’ on Pakistan, something that is automatically seen as many as a shocking disloyalty, even though he explains that he is not looking to punish Pakistan:

The United States would be acting as a friend, helping Pakistan realize through tough measures that the gravest threat to its future comes from religious extremism it is fostering in its effort to compete with India.

Calls for ‘tough love’ are always controversial, however the response to this piece has not been to counter with facts and analysis. Actually, the response has shown the worst of the worst of human emotions. Surely you know what I mean, but here is a small sample of what I am talking about:

This is the response: Abuse, threats, hashtags, shouts of ‘traitor’, Indian flags and even a jewish star photoshopped on his picture. It is so stupid it is embarrassing. What do we think this behaviour makes us look like to the rest of the world? Intellectuals or idiots? Debaters or bullies? This is not even the behaviour of so-called ‘cyber commandoes’. Actually, they are nothing but cyber goondas. He says Pakistanis cannot be reasoned with, and we respond unreasonably. Such responses actually give Haqqani’s point more credit than his enemies realise.

This brings up another point. Pakistan has an entire diplomatic corps at its finger tips. Where is Ambassador Aizaz Chaudhry’s piece published in New York Times? Where is his piece published in The Wall Street Journal? More to the point, where are the Pakistani intellectuals who can debate with Haqqani without resorting to name-calling, innuendo, and threats?

Instead, what comes after the social media abuse calms down is completely predictable: Op-eds will be published in The Nation, Pakistan Observer, and Express Tribune. Urdu talk shows, especially on ARY, News One, and Bol will feature talking heads parroting the same talking points about how Haqqani was a member of IJT 30 or 40 years ago, even though he obviously grew out of such ideas before most of the audience was even born. They will call for Haqqani to be brought back to Pakistan and be tried for treason. After a few days of chest beating, something else will take over the media’s attention and the Haqqani Hate Squad will quiet down until he writes something else and the ‘Standard Operating Procedure’ is repeated.

Husain Haqqani is not really the point here. He is not the only progressive Pakistan whose ideas are responded with such abuse and threats. We see the same treatment handed out to our other internationally respected intellectuals like Asma Jahangir and Malala. If ISI and ISPR support such stupidity, how can we ever expect to be taken seriously on the world’s stage? If they do not support it, they need to call out these foolish ‘cyber warrior’ accounts, especially those that have attended the official trainings at NDU. They need to correct the retired officers and their children who spend their days abusing on social media. We need to stop attacking and abusing those who we don’t agree with, and start proving them wrong if we can. Otherwise, we are only drawing attention to our own lack of intelligent answers!

Raymond Davis and Parachinar: Negotiating Realities

Parachinar residents negotiating with their own Army to receive protectionAfter days of their cries being ignored by military, media, and government, COAS Bajwa finally arrived in Parachinar. It is a scene you do not expect to see. Citizens negotiating with their own Army to receive protection. Protection not only from the jihadi militants who have been terrorizing them and killing them by the hundreds, but protection from the very security forces who were supposed to be defending them. After days of protests gone unheeded, Army was finally forced to sit down and listen to demands of the citizens and now Gen Bajwa has removed FC Commandant Malik Umer and ordered an inquiry into the murders of innocent civilians by security forces.

This is not the only negotiation in the news, however, as the Raymond Davis fiasco has once again returned to the lime light following the publication of a ‘tell all’ book by the disgraced spy. According to the expose, it was actually ISI who orchestrated the release of the CIA agent after he gunned down two men in the streets, led by none other than DG ISI Shuja Pasha and a nameless ISI Colonel. Not only did Husain Haqqani not give the American agent a visa and then arrange for his escape, according to the absconded spy, “Haqqani was largely viewed as being pro-American, but in this instance he was not so accommodating”.

Both of these situations challenge the very narratives that we are spoon fed through media and ISI’s own psyop operations. Such conflicts could be easily avoided by replacing the failed strategy of ‘perception management’ through promoted narratives with actually taking the people into confidence and explaining the difficulties and reasoning behind decisions and living with the harsh realities of the world. For the time being, though, we are left trying to negotiate reality with ourselves.

Parachinar and Sectarianism: Are Shia Becoming Next Bengalis?

The tragic situation in Parachinar has turned from bad to worst. First, the people are attacked repeatedly and agencies appear to be completely outfoxed as even in most secure areas, still terrorists are able to carry out attacks easily. The most recent attack which killed scores of innocents was virtually ignored, as PM preferred to condole those killed in Bahawalpur accident, and COAS preferred to spend his time at LoC.

Meanwhile, as the poor people of Parachinar protested their treatment, their cries were virtually ignored by major media groups adding to confusion and making the people feel helpless and abandoned. Then, the insult became injury as self-styled social media ‘defence analysts’ began a campaign to defame and threaten these Pakistani citizens as ‘traitors’ because they are Shia.

Faran Jeffrey CommandEleven.com sectarianism

After remaining silent, ISPR was forced to confront the anti-Shia sectarianism being projected across social media by these accounts with links to Army.

ISPR press release

However, it must be noted that the meaning of the official statement is unclear as it does not note who exactly Army is holding responsible for spreading sectarian hatred. Actually, this message is being promoted even by those spreading sectarianism.

So what is the message exactly? Those pro-Army accounts who are terming Shia as ‘traitors’ obviously believe that Army has endorsed their hate speech. This only puts Shia citizens in even more dangerous position.

To clear the air, ISPR needs to issue an official clarification to inform whether they endorse or condemn the sectarian hate speech being spread by Zaid Hamid, Faran Jeffrey, and other Army-linked social media commandos. Otherwise, is it the case that Army is reading from the same playbook that tried to silence Bengalis and then Mohajirs by spreading the narrative that they are ‘traitors’ to Pakistan?

Bahawalpur and Parachinar: Where Is Accountability?

Parachinar attack

Across media, there has been a common reaction to the tragedy in Bahawalpur. How do we hold those responsible accountable? However, as much as it is receiving the most attention, Bahawalpur was not the only city to suffer an immense tragedy.

Death tolls from twin terrorist attacks in Parachinar and Quetta have climbed to 85, with hundreds more injured and more deaths to possibly come. Meanwhile, four police officers were killed during iftar by unknown gunmen in Karachi.

The treatment of these events in the public discussion is worth noting. Here is what Dawn had to say about Bahawalpur:

Bahawalpur tragedy is numbing not only because of the vast number of dead and injured, but also because it was totally avoidable.

This raises the question, have we become numb to terrorist attacks because we have decided they are not totally avoidable?

Parachinar in particular is a warning sign. It is a heavily guarded place that has been the target of repeated attacks. After an attack earlier this year, Army established 24 new security posts in Parachinar in April. Two months later, terrorists once again carried out an attack. Is it unavoidable?

In its editorial on Saturday, Dawn hit the nail on the head perfectly:

The problem appears to be that any particular attack is not regarded as a failure of defensive networks and that none has led to meaningful accountability or change in standard operating procedure.

With Bahawalpur, the question might be who to hold accountable. In Parachinar and Quetta, the questions are much more difficult. Is it even possible to change ‘standard operating procedure’? Are we willing to accept the victims as mere ‘collateral damage’ (as an ex-DG ISI termed the victims of APS massacre) of our national security policies? It’s hard not to believe that this decision has already been made in higher quarters.

After years of denying that we provided sanctuary to Taliban, PM’s advisor on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz finally admitted what everyone already knew: We had been hosting Taliban on Pakistani soil for long. So too FO has claimed that there are no anti-Iran militants on Pakistani soil, despite the obvious. So too we see ex-ISI men gathered around LeT chief Hafiz Saeed rallying for jihad against India.

It is hard not to believe that jihad and militancy is part of our official national security policy. But if it is not, it is hard to believe that we are doing everything possible to eliminate jihadi mindset and militancy from society. The question is not who to hold accountable, though. That is obvious. The question is whether accountability is even possible.

What do you think?

Musharraf