Why Army’s ‘Withdrawal’ of ISPR’s Tweet Is Not A Victory For Democracy

ISPR’s announcement that Gen Ghafoor’s infamous Tweet ‘rejecting‘ PM’s notification on so-called ‘Dawn Leaks’ has been ‘withdrawn’ is being treated as a victory for democracy. It is not. Allow me to explain why.

Let us look at what the Army actually said in its latest release:

Rawalpindi – May 10, 2017:

The tweet on 29 April 2017 was not  aimed at any government office or person. Recommendations as contained in Para 18 of the Inquiry Committee Report, duly approved by the Prime Minister, have been implemented, which has settled the Dawn leaks issue. Accordingly, ISPR’s said Twitter post stands withdrawn and has become infructuous.

Pakistan Army reiterates its firm commitment and continued resolve to uphold the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and support the democratic process.

There are a few key items to note. First is that the statement begins with a completely ridiculous and unbelievable claim. Gen Ghafoor’s Tweet said ‘Notification on Dawn Leak is incomplete and not in line with recommendations by the Inquiry Board’. That is a specific notification that was issued by a specific government office of a specific person, namely the Prime Minister. This is how it was understood by everyone, and to try to pretend otherwise only confirms the inappropriate and unprofessional nature of the original Tweet.

Most importantly, though is the beginning of the third sentence: ‘Accordingly’. This follows a recognition that PM implemented the Inquiry Committee’s recommendations (a committee that included representatives of ISI, MI, and IB). Army’s new statement says recommendations of the Inquiry Committee have been implemented, therefore Army is withdrawing its Tweet.

The reason Gen Ghafoor’s Tweet should have been withdrawn is that it was prima facie insubordinate as well as inappropriate and unprofessional and furthering suspicions and conflicts between arms of the state. Army’s new statement should have said, “The tweet on 29 April 2017 was inappropriate and is regretted. Accordingly, ISPR’s said Twitter post stands withdrawn.” Instead, Army said that it was withdrawn because PM implemented recommendations made by a committee including Army men. By doing so, Army has reserved the right to ‘reject’ future notifications by the PM if he fails to follow their orders.

The fact that Army’s ‘withdrawal’ is being treated as a victory for democracy and a set back for the military only shows just how firm the military’s grip on the state is. This is not a victory for democracy, it is only a sign of how far we are from it.

Iran Rejects Saudi Alliance, Now Border Heating Up. Coincidence?

jaish-al-adl

Security situation on the border with Iran is heating up. Ten Iranian border guards have been killed by militants from Pakistan side and Iranian government has issued a statement declaring that “the Pakistani government bears the ultimate responsibility of the attack”. This accusation can be understood in two ways: Either we do not control these areas as much as we claim to, or we do control these areas and the state is pursuing some strategy of using militant proxies to annoy Iran.

The possibility that we do not really have control of these areas is probably true. Despite media events showcasing surrender of hundreds of Baloch insurgents at a time, attacks against FC soldiers continue and jihadi literature is being openly distributed by state-approved militant groups posing as ‘relief’ organisations in areas controlled by Army. The spread of such extremist ideology is impossible to control, and Army’s tight controls on reporting from these areas means no one can be sure what is the actual security situation.

However there is another possibility, which is that the border attacks have heated up as a response to Iran’s rejection of Saudi military alliance led by ex-COAS Gen Raheel Sharif. FO has been trying to bring Iran on board with the Saudi military alliance despite their belief that there is a ‘hidden agenda‘ in the scheme. Foreign Office officials have rejected Iran’s claims, saying that the alliance is for good of all Muslims and is not against any country but terrorism. Could these attacks be orchestrated to pressurize Iran into joining the alliance? Or are certain quarters taking a page out of an old play book to send a warning about what can happen if preferred policies are not accepted?

Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua said last week that ‘We have no border issues with Iran and our border with Iran is friendly’. Iran’s Defense Minister Brigadier General Hossein Dehqan has given a different view, warning that ‘we reserve the right to give a firm response to such acts of terror’.

We are already facing rising tension with Afghanistan and India. We cannot afford to open another front against Iran also.

Ehsanullah Ehsan: How did ‘patriotic Pakistanis’ end up as RAW agents?

Ehsanullah Ehsan’s confession has confirmed what we have said all along: TTP are fighting to destabilise Pakistan under the direction of hostile foreign intelligence agencies. After Kulbhushan Jadhav’s confession, what more evidence needs to be provided? There is only one problem: This is not what we have said all along. Let us review some history.

In 2006, Army signed a ceasefire that was followed by hugs and return of weapons.

Maulvi Nek Zaman MNA read out the agreement after which the militants and military officials hugged each other and exchanged greetings. The venue was heavily guarded by armed Taliban and journalists were not allowed to shoot or film the event.

In 2011, Army allegedly entered peace talks with TTP. This was ‘strongly and categorically‘ denied by ISPR, but immediately after a cease fire was announced. That cease fire ultimately failed, but negotiating with TTP was still the official policy. COAS Gen Kayani even confirmed Army’s support for the process. This policy was not only continued but expanded by Gen Raheel who declared peace talks with TTP a national security ‘top priority‘. In 2014, we accepted another month long ceasefire that was supposed to break the deadlock in peace talks. Reconciliation with TTP was state policy for years.

Nek Muhammad with Army officer

This begs the question, if TTP are RAW/NDS agents, why would the state want to reconcile with them? To find the answer, let us ask our top security officials themselves.

“We have no big issues with the militants in Fata. We have only some misunderstandings with Baitullah Mehsud and Fazlullah. These misunderstandings could be removed through dialogue.”

The truth is, our own Army termed TTP as ‘patriotic Pakistanis‘.

So what happened? Is the military really that incompetent that they were fooled by RAW/NDS for so many years? Did we just not get it? Or was it all BS? Are the allegations about RAW connections BS or was all the stuff about ‘patriotic Pakistanis’ BS?

Before you answer, consider this. Despite Ehsanullah Ehsan’s allegations about TTP’s  RAW links, the idea that TTP are simply ‘misguided patriots’ and not actual RAW agents is still being projected.

This begs a serious question: Are claims of a RAW connection meant to cover up an ISI connection?

Long before anyone had thought to point fingers at India, it was widely reported that our war against TTP was a fight against our own Frankenstein’s monster. This point has been swept under the rug and replaced with the claim that TTP was a creation of hostile foreign agencies. However the facts are the facts, and in the digital age, history is not so easily re-written.

Ehsanullah Ehsan in state custodyOn a related note, there has been a lot of anger expressed about Ehsanullah Ehsan’s media appearances, and even PEMRA has now issued a notice banning such presentations. However, what is not being asked is how Ehsanullah Ehsan, who is in Army’s custody, has been able to give such interviews and appearances without Army’s nod?

In the shadowy world of spy games and proxy wars, the truth is often hard to find. Be careful about believing anything you hear without seeing some actual evidence first, especially if what you are being told is exactly what you want to hear. The truth might be a little more complicated.

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.