Taking Refuge in Words and #Hashtags

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The latest MQM fiasco has mostly focused on the issues of law and order. Rangers raided and sealed 90 after MQM activists carried out attacks against media houses in Karachi – an inexcusable action by anyone but especially by a democratic political party, though sadly not an unusual one. PTI workers have been known to attack media workers include female reporters and PMLN workers have also indulged in attacking journalists. Any attacks on media are condemnable and attackers must be punished accordingly. However it is the underlying issue behind all of these attacks that requires our immediate attention.

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Muttahida Quami Mess and the State’s Options

mqmMQM is once again staring into the abyss. Has Altaf Bhai finally gone too far and done himself in? If the establishment has been trying to erase the party, and it certainly seems that way, Altaf himself has done handed them all the ammunition they need. However, facts on the ground show that eliminating the fourth largest party in the nation will not be so simple.

Farooq Sattar has been moving quickly to set the stage for an MQM version 3 – one run from Karachi, not London. It’s a move that worked for JI following Munawar Hasan’s statement that Taliban were the real martyrs, not Pakistan Army men. The JI chief refused to apologise, and was quickly replaced with someone more politically astute. Of course, MQM and JI are very different animals, and the establishment had much more interest in rehabilitating JI than it does MQM.

There are other complicating factors, though, including the fact that the Mayor of Karachi, whether anyone like it or not, is MQM’s Waseem Akhtar. This is especially important for what it means about how MQM continues to have significant support among the people of Karachi. The establishment cannot afford the risk of turning MQM into another BLA and facing a widespread insurgency in Sindh, too.

There is another complicating problem, also. While the state declares that no threat to law and order will be tolerated, it risks showing hypocrisy and double standards. Those responsible for attacks on media houses must be arrested and punished, and the state has a legitimate cause in controlling rallies that are meant to spark violence. But then we have to ask why this is only applied to MQM while banned militant groups like ASWJ and JuD hold rallies, give speeches that incite violence, and raise money for illegal activities?

MQM is in a mess, this cannot be denied. But both civilian and security agencies of the state also find themselves in a mess. They have a choice: Try to finish the job of eliminating a political party, or try to rehabilitate the party while holding extremist groups to the same standards. One option risks deepening cracks in society, the other could strengthen society and improve law and order. Which path the state will choose remains to be written.

The Story Behind the Fake Visa Waiver Story

Fake visa waiver storyIt is not the first time that a fake story has made its way from a satire website into the mainstream media, but a hoax report that the US has added Pakistan to the visa waiver program has generated more buzz more quickly than I can remember. The US Embassy has even been forced to issued an official statement on Twitter calling the report a ‘spoof’ story.

There are stories behind stories like this, and this one has many chapters to it. The first chapter is, of course, about how unprofessional – and untrustworthy – our media is. As I said before, this is not the first time a fake story has made its way into the mass media. It probably won’t be the last time, either. We should be asking what other stories we are being spoon fed are inauthentic? If our so-called ‘professional’ media can’t even bother to check with the Embassy before running a story about a major change in visa policy, how can they be trusted to report on more sensitive issues such as Kashmir or Balochistan?

There is more to this story, though, than just a failure to check sources. The story is reported that Pakistan was added to the US visa waiver program to show appreciation for Zarb-e-Azb. By doing this, the wide spread reporting gives away more than might have been intended. It is not merely a story about poor journalistic practices, it is a story about our own insecurities.

After suffering for so long, we are desperate for Zarb-e-Azb to be a success. But every time we start to feel positive, another attack reminds us that things are not so rosy as official reports tell us. This is why we are desperate for American officials to tell us things are improving. ISPR has been saying it since day one, and even though we listen, we stopped truly believing them long ago. Army’s interest is in maintaining morale, not reporting the truth.

But we are also desperate to be accepted by America. Even your most anti-American friend who always complains about US imperialism and Islamophobia secretly wants to go there. Being added to the visa waiver program says that American looks at us not as possible refugees (or worse – terrorists), but as equals.

The story is obviously a hoax, though. The US recently announced that it would not pay the Army $300 million in Coalition Support Funds because it we are not taking action against Haqqani Network militants. Jamaat ud Dawah Ameer Hafiz Saeed who US has declared a terrorist appears as a special guest on TV shows. Do we really believe that they are going to reward us with a visa waiver?

Today, the story is a hoax. If we want it to be true, we have to change the conditions so that it can become true. If we want Zarb-e-Azb to be a success, we have to stop turning a blind eye to ‘pro-Pakistan’ militants and end our tolerance for militancy completely. If we want to be treated as equals, we have to stop treating militant leaders as our special guests.

Decline in FDI a reflection of world’s faith in Army?

Corps CommandersForeign Direct Investment (FDI) appears to be in free fall, down over 14 pc. Even inflows from China, supposedly our great hope, are dragging.This is serious economic crisis as the FDI has been falling for years. During the previous cycle, FDI declined by 58 pc. That this negative trend is continuing even after the $46 billion CPEC agreement was signed is extremely worrying, especially since Chinese investments are also declining. All signs point to global investors seeing Pakistan as a risk not worth taking. The question we must be asking is why?

Sticking to his script, Imran Khan has blamed corruption, particularly referring to the Sharifs involvement in the Panama Papers scandal. However, the PTI chief may be half-right. Fears of corruption may be a factor, but it is not likely to be because of the Sharifs simply because they have faced corruption charges since long before coming to power in 2013. Any investors would have been able to factor the costs of doing business with the Sharifs. What is it then? It could be the Army.

Earlier this year, Gen Raheel removed six Army officers including 2 generals for corruption. This was actually not a surprise. Recently, Auditor General of Pakistan discovered billions being lost to corruption in the defence sector. Last year, 81 officers were found guilty of stealing billions more. Former COAS Gen Musharraf is well known to have billions in unaccounted for funds, and now his replacement former COAS Gen Kayani is finding his family embroiled in another corruption scandal along with other former senior military officers.

A corruption investigation has looked into senior retired officers, including relatives of the army’s former chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who for many years was the most powerful figure in the country.

Also under examination are three former managers of the Defence Housing Authority (DHA), a wing of the army that builds developments to house senior retired officers and also makes enormous profits selling homes to civilians.

Army has usurped more and more power in the country. While carefully avoiding a coup, the military has been placing its own men in civilian positions, and working to seize control of CPEC, the most important economic project the country has even seen. Admitting this, how can we ignore the frightening possibility that growing unwillingness of global investors to do business in Pakistan is a direct reflection of their lack of faith in a state that is being controlled behind the scenes by the military establishment?

Army has expanded its reach into every corner of the state, and is now the single most powerful institution not only in national security but the economy also. As the saying goes, “with great power comes great responsibility”. If the Army wants the power to dictate the country’s terms, it has to take responsibility for the country’s failures.

About that helicopter…

helicopterIt is a story that came and went too quickly not to be noticed. According to reports, a Punjab government helicopter crash landed in Afghanistan. Thankfully, all on board had their lives spared, but then were immediately seized by Taliban militants. Finally, good news as all have safely been returned to Pakistan. However, behind all the good news are some very strange facts.

  • The helicopter was flying from Punjab to either Uzbekistan or Russia, depending on the media report. Uzbekistan is over 1,200 km distance, and Russia is over 4,000 km. But the helicopter was an MI 17, which is a military helicopter with a maximum range of only 800 km.
  • The official story is that the helicopter was being taking abroad for maintenance. MI 17 is a military helicopter used by Pakistan Army. Does this mean that we do not have the ability to maintain our own fleets in Pakistan? If the helicopter required maintenance, why was it being flown over twice its maximum range?
  • Except for the flight crew, passengers aboard the helicopter were all retired military officers. Why were several retired military officers taking a Punjab government helicopter for maintenance?
  • Foreign Office has said that all captives were freed by the Taliban following an “inter-tribe exchange“. What was exchanged for these military officers?

The way that this story was so quickly and neatly brushed under the rug should raise eyebrows. There are many unanswered questions that need to be answered, and it seems that the powers that be are not keen to talk about them. Why?