When do ‘turning points’ become a death spiral?

Mashal Khan

I have been hesitant to write anything about Mashal Khan lynching. What can be said that has not already? Not only this time, but the time before? And the time before that?

Some are expressing a ‘cautious optimism‘ that the strong reaction against Mashal Khan’s murder coming from certain quarters of society points to a ‘turning point’. But three years ago, we were told that the bloody APS massacre was a ‘turning point‘. Since then, we have witnessed many ‘turning points’. Sabeen Mahmud murder was a ‘turning point’. Safoora Chowk bus attack was a ‘turning point’. Sehwan blast was a ‘turning point’. Lahore Easter blast was a ‘turning point’. These are just a few examples.

With due respect to these courageous voices, I cannot help but have the exact same thought as blogger Dan Qayyum

The problem is so deeply rooted in society that even the defences of Mashan Khan cannot challenge it. So many are arguing that he did not ‘deserve’ lynching, but inside this defence is the acceptance that someone does deserve it. That the violence and hatred is not the problem, only the problem is that the wrong person was targeted. Zarrar Khuro describes this cancer perfectly.

We have nurtured our own disease, have fed this cancer of the soul, this cancer which has a mind of its own; this cancer with purpose. The fault lies with a society that sups on hate and willingly butchers its own children at the devil’s altar, mutilating their bodies and crushing their skulls like some kind of ritual sacrifice.

And so here we stand, bending over backwards to ‘prove’ that he was not a blasphemer, that he was a ‘good’ Muslim and did not deserve the fate that should, by implication, be reserved only for the not-so-good. But none of that matters either, because evidence is accusation, is a death sentence to be carried by public acclamation in some dark, murderous perversion of democracy.

Our dilemma can also be found in our debates about blasphemy laws themselves. Over and over again we see cases where innocents are tortured and killed due to blasphemy accusations. Most often these are not tried, sentenced, and executed by the state. They are accused and lynched. Yet the debate is always about how to ‘prevent misuse of blasphemy laws‘. But what law is it that was misused in lynching of Mashal Khan? What law was misused in the lynching of Shama and Shezad? What law was misused in murder of Salmaan Taseer or Sabeen Mahmud or Rashid Rehman or any of the others who have been killed not by any law but by lawlessness?

State institutions have been strongly pushing the fight against blasphemy. From government to judiciary to even ISI, all institutions have been promoting the narrative that blasphemy is a major problem of Pakistan. Political leaders tell us that the offence of blasphemy is ‘unpardonable‘ while Mullahs threaten ‘dire consequences‘ if anyone dares try to reform the laws. What did they think was going to happen?

The solution, we are told, is to also give death penalty to those who misuse blasphemy and take the law into their own hands. But in the most famous case fake blasphemy killing, the killer was given death penalty and hung. It did not make him a warning for our society.

It made him a hero.

Qadri Janaza

 

Jadhav Death Sentence: Show of Strength…or Weakness?

kulbhushan jadhav

Indian national and alleged spy Kulbhushan Jadhav has been sentenced to death. It is a surprise news not because of the outcome, but because it is the first time most have even been aware that there was a trial. This is because the trial and sentencing were conducted in secret proceedings by the military. It is not my intention to question the results of these proceedings. As far as I know, Commander Jadhav is a spy and is guilty of the things he is accused of. However, also as far as I know, he is not. This is the problem. And while the accused will suffer the most from the situation, I believe we, too will not come out of it without our own scars to show.

There will be many reasons given to justify the secret military trial, most of which will point to reasons of national security and protection of counter-terrorist intelligence operations. These may be part of the rationale, but I do not believe they account for everything. Rather, I think this entire affair has been conducted in a manner intended to avoid a repeat of the Raymond Davis fiasco. In that situation, an admitted spy who killed two ISI men in broad daylight was given access to his Embassy and public trial by a civilian court. As a result, the accused was ultimately freed in a deal arranged by DG-ISI Lt Gen Shuja Pasha. The aftermath of the Raymond Davis episode has not been forgotten, either by the public or state officials. Protestors took to the streets across the entire country, and the credibility of the state suffered as it was seen as showing weakness before the American empire.

Kulbhushan Jadhav’s case is on the one hand more serious than the Raymond Davis case, and the other hand much weaker. For long, Pakistani leadership has pinned the blame for terrorism, particularly in Balochistan, on ‘foreign governments and intelligence agencies’. In 2015, Army specifically blamed RAW for instigating terrorism in Pakistan. With the arrest of Jadhav a year later, it seemed like the Army finally had their proof.

Soon after Jadhav’s arrest, though, things began to break down. ISPR released a ‘video confession,’ but that only raised more questions than it answered. Why, for example, would an Indian agent refer to terrorist activities in Pakistan as “anti-national”? And why was the confession recorded in English? Authorities were convinced that they had the proof they needed, though, and were prepared to take their case to the UN and finally put India in its place. Then came the famous admission of Sartaj Aziz in December 2016 that agencies had “insufficient evidence” to prepare a dossier against Jadhav.

Then, three months later, Sartaj Aziz announced that a FIR had been registered and Jadhav would be prosecuted. Now, only a few weeks later, the entire case has been concluded and the accused has been convicted and sentenced to death in what has to be the fastest trial ever conducted in history of Pakistan. Obviously, it was all done behind closed doors. Who knows what the facts are? Our only choice is to accept the word of the Army who has an obvious interest in seeing the accused convicted and executed. The entire national security narrative has been built on the back of this one man, along with the credibility of the military’s anti-terrorist strategy which has been called into question again due to skyrocketing terrorist attacks.

Given only one choice, we are unable to be truly convinced. As a consequence, there will remain a lingering doubt. Did we sacrifice an innocent man in order to protect a narrative? Why was the accused denied consular access per diplomatic norms? Does the fact that the weak ‘video confession’ is being promoted again mean that this is the only evidence we have? If the case against Jadhav was strong, why keep the evidence hidden away in secret military trials and classified ‘dossiers’? These are questions that will haunt the proceedings. The more one looks at the facts, the more it looks like Kulbhushan Jadhav has been convicted and sentenced in a manner scripted to make the state look strong against India, but the way it was handled could unintentionally result in the opposite.

Visa leaks: A political strategy that backfired?

Nawaz Sharif

It’s hard to believe that it’s almost been five years since PMLN dominated the polls and Nawaz Sharif returned for a third term as Prime Minister. Elections are not expected for one more year, however it seems that election season has arrived already. That is the best explanation I have been able to think of for the sudden return of the old visa controversy.

There are several theories about what is behind the leaks of documents related to Husain Haqqani’s time as Ambassador. Cyril Almeida believes it is to remind the civilians of who’s boss, but I have my doubts this time. The usual Army proxies are unusually silent. Not only this, but whoever is behind this whole drama hasn’t thought it through very well.

The first leaked document was a letter granting Husain Haqqani greater authority in expediting visas for some US officials without first sending requests to Islamabad for clearance. What first seemed like a smoking gun turned out to be nothing but dust when Haqqani himself noted that this was nothing new and had actually been reported long ago.

It was the next document that really gave away the incompetence of the conspirators, though. A memo from the Foreign Office marked as ‘Confidential’ directs Missions not to issue visas to a list of 36 alleged CIA agents. There are three major red flags with this leak.

  1. Obviously, we do not know if visas were actually issued to any of these people.
  2. If this list is authentic, it is unlikely that our agencies would want it published because it will cause serious problems for our own intelligence agents who are working undercover. There is a tradition of agencies respecting each other and not exposing the other sides agents except in extreme circumstances. Publishing a list of undercover agents would risk upsetting the very delicate balance of trust with foreign agencies and put our own agents at risk of being exposed.
  3. This is the biggest mistake: Whoever leaked overlooked that the list of alleged CIA agents includes a hand written request for their visas signed not by Husain Haqqani or Asif Zardari but by the Defence & Army Attache who is himself now a Corps Commander!!!

Defence Attache visa request

Husain Haqqani has insisted that ‘military was not bypassed. period‘. Even if the Ambassador was granted authority to issue visas without review by Islamabad, there has never been any evidence that visas were issued without full cooperation and review of Defence agencies located withing the Embassy. Till date there has been no evidence that any visas were issued without the approval of agencies stationed at the Embassy. In fact, this latest leak suggests that Defence officials were fully informed. Just as publishing lists of foreign agents is not in our own agencies interest, also we should ask if publishing documents that show the Defence officials who reviewed and approved visa requests is in our national interest.

If the boys are not behind this one, then, who is? To find the answer we should look at the narrative that is being promoted. It is not just Haqqani who is being targeted, it is PPP leadership. The former President Asif Zardari and PM Gilani are clearly in the sights of the leakers and those who are pushing the narrative that PPP government went around the military to help US agents. It was Khawaja Asif who called for a full investigation, apparently having forgotten that there already was one, and that if anyone wants to get to the bottom of things they can simply release the full contents of the Abbottabad Commission Report.

Until someone comes forward and admits being behind the leaks, this will all be left to speculation. However, it is hard to see how any of this benefits the boys at this time. Much more likely is that someone in PMLN got too clever for their own good and decided to start campaigning early by knocking out PPP by re-introducing old civil-military divides. This was both unnecessary and counterproductive. Unnecessary because PPP is too busy making their own bad decisions to be a real political threat, and also because it sppears that someone within PMLN leadership is trying to drag the Army into politics. 2018 is looking good for Nawaz Sharif. As this drama shows, he needs to make sure it is his own people who don’t bungle it!

Are we living up to the promise of the Lahore Resolution?

Lahore SessionAs we all ignore the obvious neo-colonialist overtones of foreign troops parading through the capital on Pakistan Day, I want to draw our attention back away from the militarism that has come to dominate our entire national narrative to the actual words of the Lahore Resolution.

We are all aware of the key component which called for “territorial readjustments as may be necessary that the areas in which the Muslims are numerically in a majority”. But do any of us remember the promise that we made along with this demand?

That adequate, effective and mandatory safeguards should be specifically provided in the constitution for minorities in these units in the regions for the protection of their religious, cultural, economic, political, administrative and other rights and interests in consultations with them and in other parts of India where the Mussalmans are in a majority adequate, effective and mandatory safeguards shall be specifically provided in constitution for them and other minorities for the protection of their religious, cultural, economic, political, administrative and other rights and interests in consultation with them.

In 1947, almost 23 percent of Pakistan’s population were non-Muslim citizens. Today, the proportion of non-Muslims has declined to approximately 3 percent. Instead of constitutional protections for religious minorities, we have created constitutional persecution.

Instead of celebrating missile technology and Chinese funds, we should reflect on the vision laid out in the Lahore Resolution, and ask ourselves honestly: Have we lived up to its promises?

Husain Haqqani Controversy: The Real Cover Up

cover upThe latest controversy surrounding Husain Haqqani continues to grow as different parties try to score some political points. Whether it is PMLN trying to solidify its power, or PPP’s unseemly willingness to turn on one of its own, everyone knows that piling on someone who has openly criticised the Army’s policies towards militants is a low risk proposition. The reality is that this latest episode is nothing but a repeat of past dramas, and like those too nothing will come of it except distracting from the actual problems facing the nation.

As it has already been pointed out, there is not any new information in Haqqani’s latest article. There was never a denial that he issued visas to Americans working for the US government, but as already explained in his statement to the Abbottabad Commission that no unauthorised visas were issued to Americans agents while he was Ambassador. This brings up an important point: There has already been a commission to investigate these claims, and it has already produced a report! However, as always, it has been kept secret from the people opening the door to conspiracy theories and confusion. If there is some great concern over Haqqani’s article, the obvious answer is to follow advice of Justice Javed Iqbal, who headed the Abbottabad Commission and publish the complete report so the people can know the actual findings.

This raises another important point: While we have already had a commission investigate Abbottabad raid, nothing has been done to investigate and explain any of the following:

This is only a partial list of unanswered questions that the state has shown no interest in investigating. Do we have nothing better to do than try to interpret and decode hidden messages in Husain Haqqani’s writings?

In Husain Haqqani’s latest article he gave the example of passing messages between US officials and Pakistan officials. As was obvious to anyone who can read, he was explaining that this is the job of a diplomat – to pass messages back and forth. Nowhere does he say that he issued any unauthorised visas, and no one has shown any evidence that he did. Does the state really want to push things to the limit that records of every visa and who authorised them (including military personnel) are leaked to the public?

The obvious next step is not to constitute a new commission but to release to the public the report already compiled by Abbottabad Commission and once again face the inevitable questions about how Osama bin Laden was able to enter Pakistan and live next door to PMA Kakul without ever being noticed by our own agencies. Next we can answer questions about why officials continue to accuse civilians of treason for any contacts with CIA when it is well known that most cooperation was with Army and ISI agents and not civilians. Most importantly, though, we must stop allowing this pathetic political point scoring to continue as cover up for the lies and failures of state policy that continue to plague our nation and cause the deaths of hundreds of innocents.