PSL Final: A glimpse of the possible, and the danger of complacency

Lahore PSL FinalIt was spectacular. The most historic PSL Final held in Lahore among glittering lights and screaming fans was a much needed reprieve from the doubt and despair that crept back again after last month’s string of terrorist attacks. But it was much more also. It was a glimpse into the greatness in our country that is being held back by extremism.

If we are going to successfully see the possible become the norm, however, we must avoid the trap of complacency. We should be proud of what we accomplished. We had our moment one the world’s stage and we shone brightly. But we did not defeat terrorism.

The successful match brought out our national pride on social media, but it also brought out dangerous delusions. There were the hypernationalistic pro-Army accounts that once again tried to steal the nation’s prize for a few only

Obviously security agencies deserve our respect for their role, but it was more than just Armed Forces responsible for security. It was police also. And it was us, the citizens, who made sure that everything went accordingly. Credit goes to all of us, not just Armed Forces.

These posts were part of the misguided trend that has appeared of #VictoryAgainstTerrorism. We must be careful about declaring every successful event as a victory against terrorism because doing this suggests that terrorism is the norm and being able to do anything without an attack is unusual. PSL Final was a victory of Pakistan in every respect – sport, civil society, government, LEAs, business, etc etc etc.

Worst, though, is that trends like #VictoryAgainstTerrorism could allow some sense of complacency to creep back in. If we learned anything from Zarb-e-Azb, it’s that declaring victory prematurely and trying to win a fight via press release is a recipe for failure. Raddul Fasaad is in its infancy. It must be given time to mature and root out the threat of militant groups and the extremist ideology that feed them.

Hours after PSL Final wrapped up, 5 more soldiers were martyred in another militant attack. Their sacrifice is the reality that the successful PSL Final was not a sign of the success of Raddul Fasaad, but a sign of why it’s so important to finally pull extremism out by the roots and let Pakistan’s greatness shine through every day.

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.

Religious Tests: Theirs and Ours

American protests

Following massive protests blocking US airports, an American judge has blocked an order by the American President blocking citizens of Muslim countries from entering the US. It is an incredible moment that is unfolding before our eyes. While Pakistan was not included in the first list of countries banned, we do not have to stretch our imaginations to predict that we could be next.

Though should express concerned about the spread of bigotry and intolerance in the world, we should also take this moment to reflect on our own bigotry and intolerance. Some have asked if there could be a religious test forced on Muslims.

Have we forgotten that Muslims have already been forced into religious testing, not by the Americans, but by ourselves? Every time you get or renew your passport, you are forced into a religious test.

religious testWhere are the crowds blocking airports in Islamabad and Karachi demanding the rights of Ahmadis? Is there a judge in this country courageous enough to block this act of bigotry and intolerance?

Donald Trump’s orders are extremely worrying, but it is comforting to see the resistance of the American people. We can see the madness in Trump’s bigotry. When will we wake up and fight back against the Trump-ism that has already taken root here?

Are We A Lawless Country?

While some debate whether supreme law of the land is the Constitution or the Quran, I am here to offer another possibility. We have many laws, but we are a lawless country. Let us look at the evidence. First there is PEMRA’s notice to Bol News directing not to air Aamir Liaquat due to hate speech.

“During several weeks it has been monitored that Amir Liaquat host of the programme Aisay Nahi Chalay Ga, in the episodes broadcast on BOL News from January 2, 2017 to January 24, 2017, has willfully and repeatedly made statements and allegations which tantamount to hate speech, derogatory remarks, incitement to violence against citizens and casting accusation of being anti-state and anti-Islam, on various individuals.”

In a country with rule of law, Bol would respond by appealing the notice through proper legal channels. Here, though, the media group not only defied the notice completely, they allowed the banned personality to abuse the government agency on the air!

Next is the case of a massive land allotment to the ex-Army chief. Media reports that Gen Raheel had been gifted 90 acres of prime land in Lahore sent shockwaves and serious questions about the decision were debated…for one day. Then the Army gave a warning about the limits of discussing certain legal matters.


In case it was not clear, the phrase “This debate with intent of maligning Army” is a direct warning to anyone that any further discussion will result in severe action, just as when Army carried out similar threats against media groups in the recent past. Even analysts who are very pro-Army have noted the anti-democratic nature of ISPR’s warning, but such objections assume we are living in a society ruled by laws. This may be true in theory, but what is the reality?

 

Our addiction to fake news

Over the past year the world’s attention has been drawn to the issue of ‘fake news‘. This has been mostly as a result of the dramatic US election, but as with many issues, in this case it is not a new phenomenon so much as it is a case of once again Americans are late to the party. In Pakistan, fake news is nothing new. Actually, it’s our national addiction.

We have a long history of publishing fake news about military victories. The headlines from 1971 are now legendary17 December 1971 Dawn front pageand every year we celebrate victory in a war we didn’t really win. Over the past few years, our ‘victory‘ over terrorists was reported every few months, only to be followed by another terrorist attack. Fake news websites declaring our intelligence agencies ‘best in the world‘ appear and are reported every year, and who can forget Ahmed Quraishi actually writing a piece defending fake news!

But let’s be fair. While security agencies and their shadowy supporters are most often pointed to for spreading fake news, they are by no means the only guilty party. In recent days we have seen a case where the government news agency reported that BBC was investigating its reporter for planting a fake story against the PM, only to have the BBC immediately deny their report.

This is a particularly fascinating case. Did the government really think they could get away with faking a story about BBC and that BBC would not respond? Aren’t they humiliated? Not likely. Just like with every other case of fake news, the idea was most likely that the original report would be spread far and wide while the denial would be shared among those elites who already questioned the authenticity of APP’s report. Both stories only strengthen the existing views of those who read them.

Even the opposition uses fake news. You have probably seen media reports about PPP chairman Asif Ali Zardari being ‘invited‘ to attend Donald Trump’s swearing in ceremonies.

A senior PPP leader told The Nation, that Zardari had been invited to Trump’s inauguration and he would fly to the US to attend it.

“Bilawal has also been invited but he may not go due to party engagement. Zardari will not be in the US for long,” he said.

This has been followed with social media posts of photos of Zardari along with Sherry Rehman and Rehman Malik attending various functions in Washington DC.

The PPP leaders may be in Washington, but they went on their own, not by any invitation. According to a document from the US Department of State, “foreign delegations will not be invited to Washington for this occasion”.

Trump Swearing In Diplomatic NoteOnce again the question must be asked why a senior PPP leader told the media that Zardari had been ‘invited’ when he clearly had not? The obvious answer is just like the government’s decision to report a fake story about BBC. Even if opponents will read the correction and feel vindicated in their beliefs, supporters will read the fake story and feel pride and spread it to their friends.

So what is the harm in all this fake news if everyone is doing it? At a time when we have finally reached agreement that the need of the hour is national unity, our addiction to fake news is standing in the way of our success. If we cannot even agree on a set of facts, how can we ever agree on a solution?