KLF London showcases our desperate situation

Karachi Literature FestivalFor the first time in history, Karachi Literature Festival was held outside Pakistan. Media reports that the event attracted thousands and presented Pakistan’s literary talent and diversity before an international audience note the positive aspects of the event, but these positives are only a mask over an uncomfortable reality. This reality was expressed by Ameena Saiyid OBE, co-founder of KLF and Managing Director of Oxford University Press Pakistan:

“It is not possible to bring the world to Pakistan to savour our literature and cultural creativity but it is possible to take it to the world.”

It is not possible to bring the world to Pakistan. Why? Partly it is because of the desperate security situation, which was observed by visitors during the 2015 KLF.

“It’s not an obvious location for a thriving literary festival, a fact emphasised when I’m met off my flight by a gun-toting guard in an armoured car. It’s barely six months since the Taliban briefly seized control of the airport, and my hosts are understandably wary about my safety en route to the festival. The guard radios in our location all the way along the car-clogged airport road. My initial view of Karachi is through green-tinted, bulletproof glass.”

There is more to the problem, though, which is that we are living in a time when it is not just bullets and bombs, but ideas are also considered national security threats. Hamna Zubair noted something missing from this year’s KLF:

Much of what emerged as being politically and culturally relevant to Pakistan in 2016 was absent from this year’s panel discussions. I was surprised that no session was organised to examine the increasing importance of online activism — its role in creating counter-narratives, its idiom and letter.

A few months later, it is no surprise. Bloggers have gone missing, only to reappear and flee the country fearing for their lives. Accused of blasphemy, there are now stories of torture and abuse of bloggers by state agencies. Now it is not only a few bloggers, but hundreds of social media users that are being investigated and facing arrest on charges of hurting the Army’s feelings.

What kind of literary festival can exist in a country where critical thinking and new ideas are answered with arrests and torture? The sad reality is we cannot bring the world to Pakistan for a free and open exchange of ideas because a free and open exchange of ideas is not possible in this country. Holding literary festivals abroad only showcases just how desperate the situation is at home.

Social Media: The latest front of deep state’s national narrative management

social media wars

Social media is coming under intense pressurization. First, government and judiciary began raising alarms over alleged problem of ‘blasphemous content‘ on social media. Now the attention has moved from offending the Almighty to offending the Army. Last weekend, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar declared it unconstitutional to criticise national security matters and related institutions. He has ordered FIA to take action against anyone criticising Army on social media.

However, if Army feels like it is loosing its grip online, it is not leaving it to the civilians to fix the problem. Activities of ISI’s media cell (aka M-Wing) are well known, but there are also ‘unofficial’ groups that are used to both spread messages and remind citizens of their place. In a new piece for Daily Times, Dr Aamir Khan has pointed out the rise of ‘a hidden WhatsApp constituency‘.

No, it is not hyper-paid TV anchors themselves, powerful though they are in shaping public opinion. I refer to some 25 to 30 thousand retired army officers who are daily using social media, especially WhatsApp to forge a formidable group exerting pressure on the highest leadership of our armed forces.

Propaganda rings and pro-Army social media operations are nothing new in Pakistan. For many officers, retirement means a new career in media. ‘Un-official’ new media operations were pioneered by the likes of Gen Hamid Gul and Major Raja Mujtaba, and their legacy is being carried on after them by a new generation.

In the past year, a new ‘private’ venture has launched called CommandEleven.com which is led by Lt Gen (r) Tariq Khan and Col (r) Azam Qadri supported by a cast of ‘analysts’ who came up through the ranks of PKKH and its off-shoots. As usual, this new operation features ‘analysis’ by retired Army officers questioning the patriotism of media and blaming corruption for all the country’s problems (but not all corruption of course).

This new group is also closely watching social media for any criticism of the armed forces. After DG ISPR’s Tweet rejecting PM’s notification on ‘Dawn Leaks’, one of CommandEleven.com’s so-called analysts wrote that ‘domestic and international elements also waged a social media campaign against DG ISPR’, and termed the entire affair as a a ‘classic media influence operation’. The same ‘analyst’ also has written a blog post that tries to paint the conference as ‘mysterious’ and the participants as ‘traitors’ and ‘foreign agents’ in a most typical manner, even though the conference was reported in both international media and Pakistani media and the contents of the conference are actually posted online for anyone to see what was actually said.

The real mystery here is what is the point of these hypernationalist social media operations being run by retired military officers? What used to be the domain of conspiracy-mongers like Zaid Hamid and Ahmed Quraishi is now a crowded room of newly retired Army officers and their young proteges. Is it only a coincidence that this is happening at the same time Interior Minister is threatening action against anyone who critcises Army on social media, or is it an orchestrated part of deep state’s national narrative management?

China’s view of Pakistan, in their own words

H.E. Ambassador Luo Zhaohui at India

Former Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan Luo Zhaohui recently gave an address at United Service Institution of India. His official statement which is available on Chinese Embassy’s website must be read by everyone to understand the reality of our relations with China which are not the fantasy that is promoted by hypernationalist TV anchors. Here is a key paragraph:

Some Indian media say that China always puts Pakistan first when handling its relations with South Asia countries. I want to tell you this is not true. Simply put, we always put China first and we deal with problems based on their own merits. Take Kashmir issue for example, we supported the relevant UN resolutions before 1990s. Then we supported a settlement through bilateral negotiation in line with the Simla Agreement. This is an example of China taking care of India’s concern. Today few Indian friends remember this episode, or they have chosen to forget it. On Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) issue, we do not oppose any country’s membership, believing that a standard for admission should be agreed upon first. On promoting India-Pakistan reconciliation, we hope that both sides could live together in peace, because this is conducive to regional stability in the interests of China. The development of China, India, Pakistan and the stability of the whole region call for a stable and friendly environment. Otherwise, how could we open up and develop? That’s why we say we are willing to mediate when India and Pakistan have problems. But the precondition is that both India and Pakistan accept it. We do this only out of good will. We do hope that there is no problem at all. When the Mumbai Terrorist Attack on November 26, 2008, took place, I was Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan, and I did a lot of mediation at that time.

Please take time to read Ambassador’s full speech on Chinese Embassy’s website. Before responding, think about what it means, and whether our own internal policies are not leading us down the same path with China that we already went down with America.

Are extremists are becoming mainstream, or the mainstream is becoming extremist?

Ehsanullah Ehsan and Nareen LaghariThe appearance of Ehsanullah Ehsan on TV will go down as one of the largest media blunders in history. That this was orchestrated by ISPR cannot be doubted. The captured TTP spokesman was in Army custody. He did not hire a PR team to arrange his interview. No, it was obviously a plan of Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor’s team. But why? The answer is obvious. Part of it was explained by Mohammad Hanif in his article that the powers that be don’t want anyone to read:

With his appearance, the Pakistani Army seemed to be sending this message: You can kill thousands of Pakistanis, but if you later testify that you hate India as much as we do, everything will be forgiven.

It’s not just anti-India message that the TTP leader was giving, though, it was more. In his ‘confession,’ Ehsanullah Ehsan even pointed a finger at Israel. The narrative here, to use the Army’s favourite expression, is not that militancy is illegitimate, it’s that these militants are illegitimate.

However, after this fiasco blew up in ISPR’s face, they were given a second chance. Ehsanullah Ehsan is hard to feel pity for. He is the same who was gladly announcing the brutal massacre of children at APS Peshawar. As he is ushered off the stage, though, the second performer steps into the spotlight.

Enter Noreen Leghari.

Nareen Laghari interviewLike Ehsanullah Ehsan, Noreen was also involved in terrorism. However, her target were Christians, and she did not get the chance to carry out her evil plans. Now that she has been captured, she has realised her mistake. Noreen’s confession is not as detailed as the confession of Ehsanullah Ehsan, but her role is different. A medical student, Noreen has pointed a finger at social media. You see, this is how she was radicalised. Social media. On the internet. Not in our own society.

Noreen Leghari is the anti-Malala. She was not resisting radicalisation, she was gladly radicalised. She was not an innocent victim of extremists, she was an extremist. Only she got carried away. It could happen to anyone, even a bright university student.

Even a humble daughter.

Noreen Leghari was arrested only two weeks ago in a raid on a Daesh hideout. During her two weeks in custody, she has been deradicalised. She is not working with human rights NGOs, she is working with Army. She is not giving speeches on problems in Pakistani society in foreign cities, she is giving interviews here about dangers of social media and external threats to Pakistan. And she is not denouncing jihad. She is denouncing misguided jihad. In other words, it is the difference of ‘bad‘ jihadi vs ‘good’ jihadi.

Apologists explain that Army is that by mainstreaming extremists like these two, we will set off a chain reaction and other extremists will be mainstreamed also. What is not clear, though, is what is our definition of ‘extremist’. Until we know this, how can we know whether extremists are becoming mainstream, or the mainstream is becoming extremist.

blasphemy riot

Kulbhushan Jadhav Sentence: Reading the Analysts

Husain Haqqani has written a ‘must read’ analysis of the Kulbhushan Jadhav affair. As usual, the former Ambassador makes many important observations, particularly about how the ‘military-intelligence combine wants to ensure the primacy of its worldview at least within Pakistan’. This is becoming more and more obvious in the aftermath of GHQ’s announcement of the verdict against Jadhav.

Take note of the following paragraph in Haqqani’s piece:

Pakistani military intelligence maintains a large “M” (media) wing that threatens mainstream journalists, tries to influence reporting on Pakistan by foreign media and ensures that civilian politicians, journalists and intellectuals who question its narrative of a permanently besieged Pakistani state are projected as agents of a Zionist-Hindu cabal. Islamabad was also an early adopter of fake news sites used to promote everything from the country’s capital to building the image of its top army commander.

With that fresh in our minds, now let us consider another analysis of the Jadhav affair. This is from a piece in The Nation by Waqar K Kauravi and Umar Waqar called ‘Kulsbhushan’s Himmelfahrt‘:

The Kulbhushan enterprise was directly responsible for 1345 killings of innocent Pakistanis and injury to 7500, the financial cost to Pakistan has been approximately 3 billion USDs mainly in lost business and bad perception affecting tourism, sports (cricket), exports and imports; indirect cost may not be ever known.

These are oddly specific numbers, aren’t they? Not ‘thousands’, but exactly 1,345. Where did this number come from? The Army conducted Kulbhushan Jadhav’s trial in complete secrecy, so where did these writers get such details? After some research, the only other reporting of this statistic I could find is from an AP story that quotes two anonymous ‘senior security officials’. However, the AP story was published the same day at the story in The Nation. So did Waqar K Kauravi and Umar Waqar get their information from anonymous ‘senior security officials’ also? If so, why didn’t they say so? And who are these officials?

Maybe the answer can be found in the previous writings of these two. Their recent pieces include:

  • A hit piece on an American scholar who is critical of ISI.
  • A hit piece on Husain Haqqani.
  • A piece advising media not to criticise Army and ISI.
  • A piece projecting official narratives of ISI having ‘a global rating of excellence’ and RAW as a threat to ‘Pakistan’s perception management matrix’.
  • A piece celebrating ‘the heroic contest by Pakistani nation and her soldiers against Indian aggression’.

Are these writers the perfect example of ISI’s ‘M-Wing’ that Haqqani discusses in his piece? Now let us return to the mysterious details provided by Waqar K Kauravi and Umar Waqar’s analysis. Such pieces would be completely unnecessary if another of Haqqani’s points was taken to heart by our state institutions:

Mr. Jadhav’s conviction for espionage would have been more convincing if it had resulted from an open trial.

The facts and evidences from the trial are completely unknown. In fact, the entire affair was carried out behind closed doors and it is not even certain that the government was informed until after it was decided. Details are not coming through official channels, but leaked by anonymous security sources and reported by unknown analysts who only write pieces projecting Army narratives. These reports will be emailed and posted and repeated by hypernationalists, but anyone who dares to show any scepticism will be branded as a sell-out or traitor.

Haqqani concludes that ‘spy games can only make it tougher for the two South Asian neighbors to even explore peace, let alone find it’. Maybe it is his mistake that anyone was looking for peace to begin with.