The existential threat is not terrorism

Lal Shahbaz

I had planned to write a short piece about this week’s suicide attack, but then there was another one. And another one. And then there was another one. The big one. Lal Shahbaz shrine attacked and close to 100 innocents killed, with hundreds more wounded.

This wasn’t supposed to be possible. Gen Raheel had broken the back of terrorists. Gen Bajwa reassured us, terrorism had successfully been defeated. The war was over. We won. Yes, there were still some acts of violence, but these were acts of sabotage by foreign agencies who wanted to derail CPEC. Or PSL.

A foreign conspiracy could be found for every attack, and we were told that if it wasn’t for world powers fear of our coming rise to super power status, this would be a land of peace and prosperity. But what economic route runs through Lal Shahbaz? What cricket tournament was being hosted there? What sensitive installations were hidden underneath? The only thing there was a crowd of common Pakistanis looking for peace.

Lal Shahbaz blast was a wake up call. The state swiftly responded with promises of ‘no more restraint for anyone’. The nation was now in a state of ‘all out war.’ The words were right, but they were met with confusion. What does this mean ‘no restraint against anyone’? Wasn’t that the National Action Plan that is now two years old? What does this mean ‘all out war’? Wasn’t that Zarb-e-Azb launched three years ago? If now we are done showing restraint, does that mean we have been lied to since before?

What came next left even more questions. Under what authority does GHQ summon foreign diplomats? Is the state really so gullible to allow militants to enter Pakistan if they ‘disavow terrorism‘? Why are we sealing Torkham border when the militants are coming from places like Multan? The state’s response to this week’s terror operations has been to repeat the same old script. Terrorists are foreign agents. We will not rest until they are stopped. Problem is, we have heard it all before. What is new this time?

Many so-called ‘liberal’ writers and bloggers have been criticised for not supporting Army’s efforts against terrorism since the past few years. But is reality ‘liberal’ or is it just reality? On this blog we have warned that terrorism was flourishing despite Zarb-e-Azb. We noted that despite all claims that terrorists werer foreigners, it was always Pakistanis being arrested. We warned that double-standards for different militants was a dangerous policy that would undermine our security. Every time, we are accused of being ‘anti-Army’. But everything we reported was just reality. It wasn’t anti-Army, even if it was critical of national security strategy. If national security strategy is in conflict with reality, isn’t it actually pro-Army to let them know?

Some in our agencies have tried to bend reality to match their national security strategy. It is a complete and total failure, and the damning evidence are the innocent lives lost in this week’s terrorist attacks. Terrorism is not the existential threat to Pakistan. The existential threat to Pakistan is the desire to bend reality to match our national security strategy instead of adapting our strategy to match reality. If we cannot do that, I’m afraid there is not much hope for us.

Bullies and Buffoons: Washington Embassy’s Embarrassing Behaviour

Col Fawad Butt Pakistan Embassy

Think tanks and academic conferences are ordinarily rather dull affairs. Analysts present their latest research and answer questions from journalists and other scholars. It is not uncommon to see someone gently nodding asleep near the back rows, so tea and coffee is often provided to help keep the audience awake. These events are typically gatherings of highly-educated people having a discussion about new research. Often there is some disagreement, but it is usually made respectfully with the point being to add to the discussion or correct some error. Last week, however, Washington Think Tank Hudson Institute held an event that was anything but ordinary moderated by Pakistan’s former Ambassador Husain Haqqani to present a new report on Pakistan-US ties.

Watching a full, unedited video of the event online, one will immediately be surprised by the tone and tenor of the discussion. With our expectations of anything in Washington to be a Pakistan-bashing affair, it is disarming to see that it is actually a polite and civil discussion of serious issues. Yes there are some points to disagree with, but in the era of internet trolls and hypernationalist fake news sites, this event seems like a refreshingly dull affair….for a while.

Things take a turn for the worse, however, once Haqqani opens the discussion to members of the audience to take their questions and comments. There are those who agree and those who disagree, and then at about 58 minutes into the affair it happens. Some unseen person begins shouting from the back of the room while an elderly journalist is politely trying to ask a question. Haqqani calmly asks the shouting man to please compose himself and stop interrupting. At this point, it all comes crashing down. The man, off camera, completely loses it and begins uncontrollably screeching at the top of his lungs.

“YOU ARE A RAW AGENT!!!”

As the man is finally escorted out of the room by security agents, his tirade of senseless screaming is difficult to understand. He appears to be a crazy person who has somehow wandered in to the event from the street, and one can see the analysts and other guests laughing as they are embarrassed for him. Yes, it was embarrassing, but what is one person? Everywhere there are crazy people and certainly this man does not represent Pakistanis.

The discussion continues, but things continue down this embarrassing path. The screaming lunatic may be gone, but the commenters continue to be a steady stream of people planted by Pakistan Embassy in Washington. This is not an assumption – when they are handed the microphone, each person is asked to identify themselves. Two identify themselves, saying, “I am from Pakistan Embassy…” Others claim they are Pakistani-Americans but insisted on pronouncing Pakistan as ‘Pack-is-tan’.

Who were these people? It is normal and appropriate for the Embassy to send a representative to any event where Pakistan is discussed, but this quickly became comedic. Multiple military officers from Pakistan embassy’s military wing reportedly attended including Group Captain Ali Naeem Zahoor, air attache; Group Captain Rashid Siddiqui, Attache Defense Procurement (ADP Navy/Air) and Colonel Fawad Furrukh Butt. It has even been reported that alleged undercover ISI officer Colonel Muhammad Ishtiaq arrived with a van full of civilians recruited to harass the speakers and disrupt the event.

However, the speakers and the rest of the audience seemed to find these agents funny, not intimidating. Col Fawad Butt caused the entire room to roar with laughter when he took the mic and announced, “Thank you very much. As the mic is with me, so now I have the control,” as if he had staged some sort of brilliant coup! His attempted coup was quickly put down, though, when Haqqani jokingly reminded him that things do not work this way as microphones can actually be turned off and then allowed him to carry on with his comment.

Several other Pakistanis, some possibly working under direction of Col Ishtiaq, stood and recited the same points over and over again, usually trying to change attention to India and Kashmir. After one example, Haqqani remarked: “So it comes down to the talking points that everyone was given” and once again the room burst into laughter. However this is not a laughing matter and the Embassy’s antics caused prestigious American analyst Dr Marvin Weinbaum – who had earlier stated that he was an ‘outlier’ in wanting to not reprimand Pakistan publicly – to warn that, ‘Pakistanis must take this report seriously and realise the mood of Washington’.

Watching the entire video, it stands out that it is the former Ambassador Haqqani who allows a constant stream of critical comments while it is the current Embassy staff and its not-so-educated ‘proxies’ who appear dedicated to silencing any criticism. Ironically, one of the well-spoken Embassy officials at the event noted that “there is a need for skilled diplomacy” in Pakistan-US relations. He couldn’t have been more correct. Unfortunately, what took place at The Hudson Institute was the exact opposite of skilled diplomacy. It was bullying buffoonery, and it was a national embarrassment.

World Is Cracking Down On Fake News: Is Pakistan Media At Serious Risk?

After Donald Trump brought the problem of ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts’ to the attention of the world, internet editors have begun to ask questions about the credibility of so-called ‘news’ sources. The latest sign of a widespread crack down on fake news is the announcement that Wikipedia has banned using UK newspaper Daily Mail as a source, terming it as ‘generally unreliable‘. This is a major development because it is banning of a newspaper that was founded 120 years ago, not some shadowy website that popped up over night.

With wide spread concern about the ill effects of ‘fake news’, banning of Daily Mail  may be just the beginning, and Pakistan media may be at serious risk. Since the past several years, dozens of fake news sites in Pakistan have been exposed. The most famous example was blog Cafe Pyala that shined the light on shadowy propaganda rings that appeared close to the deep state including even a Pakistani fake news source called ‘Daily Mail‘! Then last year an APP report may have  accidentally busted another fake news operation with ties to ISI.

Tight control of Pakistan media by Army is already well reported in international media. In 2015, The Guardian published an expose about Army officials threatening journalists and forcing them to self-censor. How can such media be deemed as reliable if it is well known that it is threatened and coerced by Army? These threats have again come under view after a group of bloggers who dared question Army mysteriously disappeared earlier this year, resulting in new global attention to the dangerous turn of censorship in Pakistan.

However, it’s not just censorship that threatens the credibility of Pakistan media as a whole, it is also the number of obvious deep state puppets who dominate the media. There are the obvious jokers like Ahmed Quraishi and Zaid Hamid, but there are also the more ‘serious’ journalists like Mubashir Lucman, whose fake news cost ARY millions after being judged by an international court, or Moeed Pirzada who is widely seen as close to the establishment.

As the world makes moves to limit the negative influence of fake news, will Pakistani media find itself caught between the rock of international questions and the hard place of establishment operations to keep tight control over national discussions? If UK Daily Mail is termed as ‘generally unreliable’, what can we say about most of Pakistani news? As the world community takes on the problem of fake news, Pakistani media will be facing a lot of difficult choices.

Arrest of Hafiz Saeed tests state’s credibility

Hafiz Saeed

The surprise arrest of Jamaatud Dawah Amir Hafiz Saeed sent a clear message that military and civilian leaders were serious when they said that extremist groups would be handled with no preferences given. However, as they saying goes, the proof of pudding is in the eating. Having taken the decision to arrest Hafiz Saeed, the state’s credibility is now at stake in how the case is handled.

China, who according to military insiders is the one who pressured for the arrest, will surely be watching how the case is handled. If it is another example of saying one thing while doing another, or if the state has actually turned a corner from differentiating between ‘Good Taliban’ and ‘Bad Taliban’.

Already there are signs that the JUD chief is being given special treatment. Who can forget the infamous raid of Nine-Zero and the treatment of MQM workers by agencies?

Pakistan Rangers raid nine zeroCompare to case of Hafiz Saeed who day after his arrest was releasing videos on social media.

When agencies raided MQM HQ, leaders were taken into custody and remanded for months on end where they were even tortured to death. When Hafiz Saeed was arrested, his own house was declared sub-jail so that he does not face any inconvenience.

Most importantly to note is that JuD has already pulled the same trick that it has always used by getting ‘banned’ to appease some foreign ally and immediately reemerging under a new name while continuing exactly the same activities. Does GHQ believe Beijing is as stupid and blind as America to fall for this trick also?

DG-ISPR officially stated that the arrest was ‘in the national interest.’ This is important because what happens next will speak volumes about how seriously institutions are taking ‘the national interest’ or whether it is nothing but another code word for telling everyone to shut up. So far, there is not much to be hopeful about.

 

PPP: Liberal Politics or Confusing Messages?

After the 2013 elections, PPP appeared to be wandering aimlessly. It was unclear who was advising, and what the party would look like after taking a drubbing in the polls. For some time, it was not even clear whether there were one or two PPPs. Recently, though, things seem to have changed and the People’s Party looks like it has settled on a particular strategy. However, looking at what has been going on is in some ways more confusing than before.

Let me start by clearing up one thing. Confusion doesn’t mean that there are lies or attempts to fool anyone, but it does mean there are questions. For example, there is the recent issue of PPP officials tellingi media that Zardari was ‘invited‘ to Trump’s inauguration, something that the American government denied.

Trump Swearing In Diplomatic NoteThis was followed by another media report, that actually someone gave Trump $1 Million so that Zardari and Sherry Rehman could attend. What is the truth? Were PPP leaders invited on their own, or were their ‘invitations’ bought? Or is there some other truth somewhere in between? These are questions that hang over the entire affair, and someone needs to come up with an answer for them.

However these questions only raise further confusion. It seems like the PPP leadership has been in America more than Pakistan this year. Last month, news reports were suddenly filled with photos of Zardari and Sherry Rehman taking dinners and meetings with American officials. Most recently, Bilawal has been in Washington giving speeches warning Donald Trump against any attempt to ban Pakistanis from entering America or else to face ‘a host of hostilities’.

This all might have made sense when PPP was in power, but since the past three years PPP has been a minority opposition party. This begs the question who has sent them to America, and what are they trying to accomplish there? Are they working as messengers for the government? Isn’t this what the Embassy and the entire diplomatic corps led by our Ambassador are for? Sherry Rehman resigned her Ambassadorship in 2013. What is she doing in Washington instead of Islamabad? If PPP isn’t representing the government overseas, are they representing themselves? Are they trying to curry favor with the Trump administration for some reason?

Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto often sought international support for restoration of democracy, which was sensible because in times of dictatorship, international pressure helps getting a free and fair election from a dictator. Mohtarma Bhutto’s lobbying worked in 1988, 1993 and 2007 in securing international pressure for fair elections. Now that Pakistan has had successive fair elections and transfer of power within our constitutional framework, the real task for the PPP leadership is to win an election at home and define its political positions. The PPP has generally tended to back off from liberal positions under the slightest pressure within Pakistan. What benefit, then, would good PR in Washington with right wing American politicians do for the PPP if it cannot project itself as the party of liberals in Pakistan? American officials, a handful of elected representatives and former Congressmen might meet a former Pakistani President and his children along with a former Pakistani ambassador out of politeness but that is hardly the path to political success for an embattled political party that has significantly lost support outside Sindh.

There are no easy answers, but the questions cannot be denied. If the party was split a few years ago, it seems to have come together, but it is unclear whose advise is being taken and where exactly it is supposed to lead. PPP remains the standard bearer for a liberal progressive democracy, but it is mostly by default with MQM in complete disarray under pressurisation and Nawaz’s unwillingness to sever ties with Chaudhry Nisar and his sympathies. Even if PPP is the liberal standard bearer, though, there is not much sign that they will be effective by taking this strategy of attending expensive dinners in America instead of building the party at home.