Choosing Sides, Choosing Isolation

Two important news stories have been reported in the international media that point to a digging in of entrenched positions that are further isolating Pakistan in the world community.

First was the story reported in The New York Times that US is considering withholding $255 Million in military aid due to ‘dissatisfaction with Pakistan’s broader intransigence toward confronting the terrorist networks that operate there’. Specifically, the Americans are frustrated because Pakistani agencies refuse to let them talk to a Haqqani Network militant captured in the raid that freed American hostages earlier this year.

It is a very interesting question why our agencies don’t want the Americans to talk to a Haqqani Network militant, even after he was captured in a raid with foreign hostages. Are they afraid of what he might tell them about receiving support from certain elements within the establishment? Even if this is all a conspiracy theory, isn’t it true that preventing him from speaking to American law enforcement only makes the establishment look more guilty?

The second story comes from a recent appearance of Palestinian Ambassador to Pakistan Walid Abu Ali on stage at a Difa-e-Pakistan rally standing next to none other than Hafiz Saeed who was freed once again a few weeks ago. Ironically the Jamaatud Dawah chief was set free after “a senior finance ministry official failed to convince the board that the release of Saeed would bring diplomatic and financial problems”. Diplomatic problems have certainly come into play, however, as Palestine has recalled its Ambassador due to his appearance with Hafiz Saeed on the DPC stage.

According to a statement by the Palestinian Foreign Ministry, “The State of Palestine highly appreciates India’s support in its tireless efforts to end the Israeli occupation” and terms attendees of the rally in Rawalpindi as “individuals accused of supporting terrorism”.

Blind and deaf to the diplomatic disaster that had broken, our own Foreign Office issued its own statement defending the recalled Ambassador and defending Hafiz Saeed.

In these two highly sensitive matters, it appears the state has chosen to side with the controversial militants rather than foreign governments. In this case both the US and Palestine. In the case of the Americans, even our own frustration with their unreliability does not explain what we gain from hiding a captured militant and looking guilty of their accusations. The case of Palestine is even more puzzling. By all appearances we have simply decided that these militant groups are more important diplomatic allies than world powers or oppressed Muslims.

Finally, it must be noted with some additional irony that in one report on these stories, Dawn termed Husain Haqqani as ‘disgraced ambassador’. While Pakistan receives multiple black eyes from internationally blacklisted militants, petty journalists continue peddling personal jealousies and prejudices instead of educating the nation about the very dangerous path that these stories show we are heading down. As one international analyst noted on Twitter, far from ‘disgraced,’ these stories appear to have ‘vindicated‘ Husain Haqqani and what he has been trying to warn us about since long.

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.

If a drone falls in Fata and nobody calls for dharna, does it even make a sound?

 

Sabir Nazar cartoon on drone strikeEarlier this week a senior commander of Haqqani Network and two other militants were killed by a US drone strike in Fata. COAS casually repeated the mantra that drone strikes are ‘counterproductive‘, but for the most part the incident has been quietly ignored. Only Shireen Mazari has been beating the drum of war against America while criticising the Army Chief for being too sheepish. This raises the question, what is different about this drone strike from others that have been turned into national

For one thing, there is the obvious. Pakistan is poised to win the Champions Trophy, and against none other than India itself. The truth is right now is the perfect time to do any dastardly thing that you don’t want anyone to notice because quite honestly everyone is paying attention to one thing and one thing only and that will continue till at least the next few days.

However, there is something else going on I think which is that there is uncertainty in the halls of power about just how far to push the Americans in the Trump era. Just a few days ago, Ambassador Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhary told the Americans that Haqqani Network ‘have moved into Afghanistan and need to be taken care of there’. Was he lying or was he merely uninformed? Either way, the fact that the Americans carried out a drone strike against Haqqani Network militants in Fata just days later shows that they already knew he was trying to sell them counterfeit goods. Was this strike the Americans sending a message that the old ways were not going to be tolerated any longer?

There have been other messages sent loud and clear, such as the American Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announcing that ‘The president has asked the question specifically about our level of support and funding to Pakistan’ and that the US is ‘beginning an inter-agency policy review towards Pakistan’. Is it a coincidence that these announcements came on the heels of a drone strike against Haqqani Network militants in a place that our government swore they could not be?

Whatever our past strategies toward the Americans have been, the election of Donald Trump as president has changed matters by creating much more uncertainty about how we will be viewed and whether our strategic concerns will be appreciated. Strategies of the past that involved turning a blind eye to pro-Pakistan militants are not going to go unnoticed today. That is something, unlike this week’s drone strike, that we cannot simply ignore.

Fake News Strikes Again With ‘Saudi Slaves’ Rumour

The latest outrage this week has been over comments by Saudi Defence Minister Muhammad Bin Suleiman that Pakistanis are ‘Saudi slaves’. Only problem…

He never said it.

If the Saudi Defence Minister never called Pakistanis ‘Saudi slaves’ (or anyone’s slaves for that matter), why do so many of our fellow countrymen believe he did? The answer goes back to a ‘news report’ by Arabi21, a Lebanon-based news site.

Arabi21 News Report

Curiously, the story is not even from Lebanon, it is quoting an Iranian news agency. But that doesn’t really matter at all, because nowhere in the story does it say anything about the Saudi Defence Minister terming anyone as anyone else’s slave. So why do so many people believe that it does?

The answer comes down to two important facts. First, the media report being quoted is in Arabic, which most Pakistanis can’t read (disclosure: neither can I – I had to ask a friend to translate for me!) Second fact: A Pakistani ‘security analyst’ said so on social media:

The problems with this fake rumour were almost immediately noted by other journalists on Twitter

However even after several days since it was disproven, the original Tweet is still there and being passed around as ‘proof’. The fake rumour has received massive attention in large part because of controversies and worries about our role in the Saudi military alliance and the more recent crisis in Gulf over the isolation of Qatar. This has led to a spike in fake news stories over these issues meant to, in the trendy terminology, ‘shape perceptions’.

There is another issue at play, though, which is our sense of pride. After taking billions of dollars in foreign aid from Saudi, and watching millions of Pakistanis emigrating to KSA for jobs that bring billions more in remittances…why are we so quick to react to every piece of fake news that stings our pride a little bit?

We swing back and forth from one extreme to the other. First we fit our cars with number plates that refer to a fictional ‘al Bakistan‘ because we don’t actually know Arabic, then we get outraged over fake news – again, because we don’t know Arabic.

This outrage, like so many outrages over fake news, could easily be stopped before they start with one simple task: Fact checking. If you receive something on WhatsApp or even if someone tells you directly, why not ask for the facts. Where did they learn this information? Can you see the story? Where did it come from? Can you read it? If not, can you get a translation? Has it been verified by any other journalists or media agencies?

We are living in particularly sensitive times. There are forces at play that do not have our best interests in mind, and the internet and social media especially have made the spread of fake news so fast and so real looking that we cannot believe everything we hear or read. Thankfully, the same technology that makes fake news spread is also the antidote to the disease. Next time, before you get angry and quickly react, take the time to fact check.

Are Pakistan Elections Wikileaks Next Target?

Imran Khan

Wikileaks has returned to the headlines after tweeting a four years old story about US and UK ‘stealing‘ NADRA data. This is a serious report that deserves a complete explanation from the government, but it should also be a fair and reliable inquiry and we should not walk into a trap of becoming the next target of foreign political meddling.

There are a few problems with the NADRA story as it is being reported. The obvious problem is that what is being circulated is quoting an interview between Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and PTI chief Imran Khan and not a leaked document.

While Assange’s motivations are not known, there are some questions about his group’s meddling in political affairs not only of the US but France also. In the past, Wikileaks has also been accused of being an ‘psyop’ operation of some foreign agency. The truth is still unknown, but it would be wise to take precautions, especially when the contents are being presented in such an obvious political manner.

This is certainly the case with this story as the information in the Wikileaks cable is being discussed with the leader of an opposition political party. Whether or not you agree with him, it is undeniable that Imran Khan has a specific political agenda and is not a neutral party.

Instead of letting Imran Khan tell us what the document says, let us look at what the cable actually says:

NADRA —– 8. (S//NF) Both PM Gilani and Interior Minister Malik pointed out that the National Data Registration Agency (NADRA) already collects a wide spectrum of information on Pakistani citizens, from driving records to DNA. Malik offered to share NADRA-generated information on Pakistani citizens, within the constraints imposed by privacy concerns. NADRA is at the heart of what the GOP intends to be an integrated border management system, Malik said, and suggested that API/PNR sharing could be a subset of this larger system. The system is currently connected through passport data, but the GOP is adding voice and facial recognition capability and has installed a pilot biometrics system at the Chaman border crossing, where 30-35,000 people cross each day. Reiterating that he welcomed both USG assistance and the arrival of a DHS team to discuss PNR, Malik agreed to set up a joint U.S.-Pakistan task force to work out a way forward.

What the Wikileaks cable says is that the Interior Minister offered to “share NADRA-generated information…withing the contraints imposed by privacy concerns” and that he “agreed to set up a joint U.S.-Pakistan task force to work out a way forward”. As far as we know, no information was ever shared. Or if it was, it was in limited fashion that respected Pakistani laws and privacy concerns.

Nowhere does the Wikileaks document say anything about US or UK stealing any data. Nowhere does it say anything about a front company set up in the UK to steal any data. Those claims were made during the interview but till date there has been no evidence provided to back up these sensational claims. Until there is evidence, these are conspiracy theories only.

So what is the truth? The best way to know is for the government to provide a full explanation for what actually happened. As the present government is not from the same party as was in power during the alleged incident, it cannot be accused of covering up its tracks to protect itself. With elections coming up, Pakistan is in a sensitive position and there is no reason to believe that we will not be the next target of foreign meddling by anonymous and unknown actors.