It’s our war now

Pakistan soldiers executed by Taliban

While many of us have been distracted by what’s going on in Islamabad, it’s what is happening in KPK that we should be paying close attention to if we want a glimpse of what the future holds. Events this week increasingly point to a terrifying future for Pakistan if we don’t stop and think about our national security strategy and whether any militants are really “ours” or “theirs”.

On Sunday, Taliban militants beheaded seven Pakistani soldiers in Dir. The next day, Afghan-based Taliban militants carried out a cross-border raid that martyred 13 Pakistani soldiers.

The Foreign Office responded immediately by summoning deputy head of the Afghan Mission in Islamabad, Musa Arifi, to the Foreign Office where the Afghan diplomat was told that the government of Afghanistan should take appropriate measures to prevent recurrence of similar incidents in the future.

The next day it was reported that TTP admits having safe haven in Afghanistan. Presumably the Foreign Office will now demand that Afghanistan eliminate militant safe havens on their side of the border. It will be interesting to see if they respond that TTP are not attacking Afghanistan and they have their hands full fighting their own Taliban militants.

The latest events also belie the increasingly accepted propaganda that Afghan Taliban are ‘freedom fighters’ who are waging war against occupation and mean no harm to Pakistan. If NATO really is losing the war in Afghanistan, then this means that the TTP safe havens are being allowed not by foreign occupiers, but by the Afghan militants. In other words, the ‘good Taliban/bad Taliban’ narrative is a lie. Why does no one ask why Jalaluddin Haqqani doesn’t take out Hakimullah Mehsud? Different militant groups may operate under different leadership and have different objectives, but they are all operating under the same extremist ideological umbrella, and in the long term they all want the same thing – forcing all of us to live under their medieval form of rule…or die.

This future is not inevitable, however. We can change course, but we can’t do it alone. We can prevent this future by facing the fact that just like the Americans use of jihadi proxies ended with the militants turning on them, we cannot trust any militant group to be our ally either. We don’t have to pretend that there are not serious problems with US strategy in Afghanistan, but we should also not pretend that an American failure will be a Pakistani success.

In 2014, the Americans will be gone. The Taliban will still be here. Will we continue pretending that Taliban are not bombing schools? Will we continue ignoring the killing of Shias? Will we continue to hide our heads in the sand and ignore the fact that these extremist militants are attacking our own culture and religious heritage?

Instead of US giving harsh statements about militant camps on the Pakistan side and Pakistan giving official protests about militant camps on the Afghan side, US and Pakistani generals should be sitting down together and developing a strategy for eliminating militant camps on BOTH sides. It may not be what we want to hear, but after this week, saying “this isn’t our war” isn’t going to cut it anymore.

Zardari bowls out opponents once again

PM Raja Pervaiz Ashraf

Asif Ali Zardari has been underestimated from day one. The shrewd businessman has proved not only to be a master of the boardroom, but of political strategy as well. Nominating Raja Pervaiz Ashraf as Prime Minister after losing successive wickets appears his latest triumph. And, as with his previous deliveries, this one too seems to have outwitted the opposition.

Nawaz Sharif termed Raja Pervaiz’s election as ‘tragedy’, but perhaps the PML-N chief was thinking of his own political fortunes. After all, Raja Pervaiz was born in Sindh and speaks Sindhi, but he was elected in Punjab. Even the carefully staged energy riots look a little bit awkward with a new Prime Minister who, as Minister of Water and Power, added more Megawatts to the national grid than anyone since the government of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto.

Imran Khan too seems to have been outplayed in this innings as he finds himself with a Vice-Chairman from a feudal family while Asif Zardari has a Prime Minister who rose through party ranks from a middle class background. By nominating Raja Pervaiz, Zardari has also neutralised Khan’s nationalistic appeals to security hawks. Though a liberal himself, Raja Pervaiz is strong on national security. In his first speech as PM, he declared that there can be no peace in Pakistan without peace in Afghanistan, sending a clear signal that the government continues to be united on defending Pakistan’s priorities.

Qamar Zaman Kaira’s stellar performances on talk shows had many PPP supports hoping he would pull off a surprise win, but it’s Kaira’s unmatched ability to silence the chattering heads that made him indispensable as Information Minister. Some suggested the name of Hina Rabbani Khar, too – but her deft handling of foreign affairs means that she too is more needed where she is. What is impressive about this debate among PPP supporters is that despite losing such figures as Benazir Bhutto, Salmaan Taseer, Shahbaz Bhatti, Husain Haqqani, Yousaf Gilani, and Makhdoom Shahabuddin, PPP still has such a deep line-up from which to draw new players.

Politics is a test match – not T20. You have to play a long term strategy if you want to win. Zardari’s opposition thought they could force him to retire early, but he proved too skilled for that. Now they are praying for a draw. But with this latest innings, Zardari has shown once again it’s the opposition who is still chasing.

Respect for Judiciary must be earned, not enforced

A lot of people have opinions about certain Articles of the Constitution, most of them not Constitutional scholars. That’s okay. It is a democracy and we are allowed to have our own opinions and honestly some of those with the most letters behind their name sometimes make the least sense. Most of the debate has been about Article 248 and whether its granting of immunity to the President requires interpretation. There is another Article of the Constitution that is equally controversial, though, and grants an even broader form of immunity but has not received the same level of scrutiny as Article 248, though it has, one can argue, had even greater effect on the government.

When the Prime Minister explained that the Law Ministry advised him that the president enjoys blanket immunity during his term in office under Article 248, Zardari haters in the media asked if this meant the president had ‘licence to kill’. More reasonable people suggested that being unambiguous does not make Article 248 uncontroversial.

Though the Constitution allows for immunity of a sitting head of state, the Court may want to reexamine this practice by looking to how this immunity violates other constitutional protections. However, the Court should defer to the elected branches and temper its activism to instances where the most fundamental constitutional rights are at risk.

After months of controversy and court orders, though, questions about Article 248 remain conveniently unanswered. Ironically, despite all the attention to Article 248, it was actually Article 204 that cost the Prime Minister his office.

Article 204 reads as follows:

204 Contempt of Court.
(1) In this Article, “Court” means the Supreme Court or a High Court.
(2) A Court shall have power to punish any person who,
(a) abuses, interferes with or obstructs the process of the Court in any way or disobeys any order of the Court;
(b) scandalizes the Court or otherwise does anything which tends to bring the Court or a Judge of the Court into hatred, ridicule or contempt;
(c) does anything which tends to prejudice the determination of a matter pending before the Court; or
(d) does any other thing which, by law, constitutes contempt of the Court.
(3) The exercise of the power conferred on a Court by this Article may be regulated by law and, subject to law, by rules made by the Court.

Let us, for the sake of argument, examine this article with the same logic used by opponents of the present government. If the Court can punish any person who disobeys any order of the Court, does that mean that Chief Justice can order the President to kill?

Okay, that was fun. But now for the sake of reason, let’s think about just how ambiguous Article 204 really is and whether such broad language is actually bad for the Court.

First, this article raises serious problems for separation of powers. Parliament is tasked with writing laws, the judiciary with interpreting them, and the executive with enforcing them. If one branch can compel another to do what it wants, though, then it creates redundancy. Why bother with an executive if the judiciary has the power to enforce its own decisions?

This might sound strange at first, but an important part of governing is prioritising. The Court will have certain priorities and these are reflected in the cases the Court chooses to take notice of. The executive has its own priorities, which may not be 100 per cent identical to the Court. These are reflected in its enforcement decisions. By separating these powers into two independent institutions, we make sure that no one institution has too much power.

It’s interesting that we come to the issue of power consolidation, because there is something of this reflected in 204(2)(b). Dictators – the greatest power consolidators of all – are infamous for demanding unquestioning fealty to their decisions. But there’s a difference between unquestioning fealty and credibility. People don’t respect dictators, they fear them. That won’t do for a court.

Some decisions of the Court will be controversial. If there was no controversy, there would be no need for a Court in the first place. But respect for the judiciary is not gained by threat of punishment, it is gained by providing well reasoned explanations for its decisions.

The former Prime Minister repeatedly said, “I respect the Court”. He appeared when called, he gave his arguments, and the Court punished him for ridicule – something the Prime Minister never did. Media are afraid to criticise the Court because the Chief Justice has sent a loud signal that he takes a very broad interpretation of Article 204 and that he will not hesitate to use it against even the most powerful if he doesn’t like what they have to say, and an army of black coats roam the streets threatening to enforce his rule.

By wielding the threat of contempt power so loosely, the Supreme Court may be asserting itself among institutions that have abused it in the past, but their Lordships should be careful that they do not become that which they aspire against – an institution seen as acting on politics and not principles, and thereby bringing the Court or a Judge of the Court into hatred, ridicule or contempt in the eyes of the public.

Events Highlight Need to Strengthen Civic Education

Mutalia PakistanOne issue highlighted by the Supreme Court’s disqualification of the Prime Minister is how many people don’t have a good understanding of how courts, parliament and the executive branch are supposed to function together. This is not to say that people don’t understand what is going on in the halls of power. Actually they understand this very well. But what is going on in the halls of power is reflects dysfunction, not the proper functioning of government.

This is not to say that we, the average citizens, are dysfunctional but only that our education system does not make a priority of these things. One of the reasons why we keep having such crises is because there is confusion and disagreement about the working of the governmental system because most people aren’t taught about these things early on in school. I vaguely remember just the one chapter of ‘parliamani nizam’ (parliamentary system) from my ‘Mutaliya Pakistan’ book from back in second year (12th grade). That too did not go deep enough into the matters of the constitution and separation of power principle or the effective working of these pillars of state (judiciary, legislative and executive branches). But even this is more information than many of our citizens will ever have about the way the government works!

I’ve seen people suggesting Supreme Court is supreme, and some saying Parliament is supreme but no one seems to suggest that it is the constitution which all of the pillars of state are trying to uphold. And that one institution does not need to be superior to the other or does not have to encroach its jurisdictional boundary as explained in the constitution, to do its job. All institutions need to work together to make an effective and working state.

Many people also seem to think that every institutions will naturally fight for supremacy. Partly this is because our history is filled with the eternal battle between military and civilian institutions. Today, the civilians are supreme and individuals favour one institution or another institution based on the need of the hour for their political party, not the good of society. For example, PML-N supporters opposed the judiciary to the point of storming the Supreme Court when it threatened Mian Nawaz, but today are supporting the judiciary because they think it will hurt the PPP.

Needless to say, various institutions within our system have also not been a paragon of how a democratic state institution should work and that has not helped the situation any, further playing into the hands of the media and its anchors who exploit these problems to advance their own fame and fortune as was recently exposed in plain sight.

The answer to this is strengthening civic education so that all citizens have a firm understanding of how the system is supposed to work. Everyone wants to strengthen rule of law, but first we must agree on what ‘rule of law’ means. Then it will become clear when individuals or institutions are acting improperly and will make it easier to hold them accountable.

Signals and Perceptions

Screenshot HATF testPakistan has a perception problem. Actually, we have two. One is the way we are perceived in the world, and the other is the way we ourselves perceive the world around us. Ejaz Haider’s latest piece for Express Tribune is a case in point.

At issue is the claim that a Pakistani general told Tony Blair’s former communications director Alastair Campbell that Pakistan could launch a nuclear strike against India in 8 seconds. From Ejaz Haider’s point of view, this claim makes Mr Campbell either ‘a liar or a sucker’.

Ejaz Haider explains his reaction by first attacking Mr Campbell’s credibility, then attacking the minute details implied by his claim.

In eight seconds, one can’t do it even if the warhead is mated with the delivery vehicle and is on hair-trigger alert in a silo. To think that Pakistan, which doesn’t have deployed weapons, could do something in eight seconds is to stretch credulity. But if one reads closely the statement, “It takes us eight seconds to get the missiles over”, it would seem the unnamed general is talking about the flight time. Campbell, or for that matter anyone, would have to be a sucker to fall for that.

Or, the general could have been exaggerating to make a point. After all, this discussion took place at a dinner hosted by Gen. Musharraf, not a classified seminar at NDU on Pakistan’s nuclear capability. Ejaz Haider suspects, ‘signalling’.

It would make sense for Pakistan to signal, informally but credibly, that while Pakistan had chosen to side with the coalition in Afghanistan, the coalition had to ensure that its eastern front remained secure.

Thus, according to Ejaz Haider, “the unnamed Pakistani general played him and Campbell got played!” Score one for Pakistan!

But wait.

Whether or not Alaistar Campbell knows the difference between a three-star general and a Field Marshal; whether or not the general said 8 seconds or 8 minutes; whether the general was referring to launch time or flight time – all of this completely misses the point. Whatever the general’s intentions, the only thing he signaled “informally but credibly” is that Pakistan was insane.

Imagine sitting over a dinner just after 9/11 attacks – before the US invasion of Afghanistan, before the invasion of Iraq, before everything fell to pieces – imagine that you’re asking for help against terrorists that just murdered thousands of innocent people by turning an airplane into a missile – and the Pakistani general seated next to you starts talking about nuking India. Does that communicate that “the coalition had to ensure that Pakistan’s eastern front remained secure”? Or does it communicate that Pakistan is unhinged?

Ejaz Haider is right – facts matter. But so do perceptions. And however important generals perceive the threat of India to our national security, when they casually tell foreign diplomats about how easy it would be to nuke them, it sends the wrong ‘signal’.