Prisoners of Our Own Narrative

Since the devastating string of terrorist attacks last week which ultimately bore the horror of Lal Shahbaz shrine suicide bombing, the national discussion has been dominated by questions: How did it come to this, and what do we do now? Both of these are very sensitive questions whose acceptable answers are largely limited by how close they come to challenging certain national narratives.

As quickly as security agencies moved against militant bases (begging the question being asked by many why they didn’t go after these militants before they attacked rather waited until after), media warriors were at work winning the battle to control the narrative. Army’s official spokesmen immediately posted on social media once again pointing all blame at hostile foreign powers.

Army broke all diplomatic norms and usurped the Foreign Minister’s power completely by summoning Afghan diplomats to GHQ where they were demanded to take immediate action against militant camps on Afghan soil or else face the possibility of cross border attacks by our own forces. Meanwhile, unofficial spokesmen were busy writing saber rattling articles that promote this official narrative. Two examples are a piece for Dawn by disgraced former Ambassador Munir Akram who claims that ‘We know the ‘hostile powers’ that have sponsored these attacks: the intelligence agencies of Afghanistan and India’ and calls on Islamabad to answer by stepping up support for anti-Indian jihadi groups.

Next is a piece by another former Ambassador Zamir Akram who like his disgraced older brother also sees an Indian conspiracy behind every one of Pakistan’s problems. Ambassador Akram does not mention the Sehwan attack. Actually, it seems that his piece was written before the last week since he awkwardly repeats the mantra that Zarb-e-Azb has ‘broken the back of the al Qaeda while the TTP and its allies are on the run’. Rather his piece appears to have been written with another enemy in mind: Washington Think Tanks critical of Pakistan’s national security policy.

One can be grateful that the former Ambassador was better behaved than his colleagues at the Washington Embassy who embarrassed the country with their own response to a critical think tank report. However even though it is well written, still the facts are the facts and this piece is a better example of the kind of ‘alternative facts’ that we hear so much of these days.

Ambassador Akram complains that these Washington Think Tanks ignore all the evidence that Afghanistan’s NDS and India’s RAW intelligence agencies are responsible for terrorism in Pakistan quoting the case of Kulbhushan Yadav. Perhaps we should consider why that is? If we do, we might remember that none other than Sartaj Aziz admitted that the case against Yadav was weak, telling media in early December that “So far, we have just statements about the involvement of the Indian spy in terror activities in Pakistan” adding that further evidence needs to be gathered. PM’s Advisor on Foreign Affairs later told the Senate that ‘The (provided) material, in our view, was insufficient’. The dossier was shortly handed to Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi, but received no attention anywhere. Even Pakistani media reported that same as with previous dossiers, ‘these dossiers were weak in their provision of evidence, and the government knew this’.

There is more evidence against Kulbhushan Yadav than there is to support Ambassador Akram’s claim that ‘it is also possible that their paymaster is the Indian — American lobby rather than the institutions to which they are affiliated’, for which he offers no evidence other than that the report is critical of Pakistan having a confusing policy towards militancy, a reality that is not even denied by state agencies following last week’s attacks. What else could be meant by COAS’s statement, ‘no more restrain for anyone‘? Even the Army Chief admits that the state was showing restraint towards some groups while fighting others. It should be noted that it’s not only American Think Tanks that are critical of our policy towards militancy. Just a few days ago, it was reported that Saudi Arabia has deported over 40,000 Pakistanis out of terrorism fears! Does our dear Ambassador believe that the Saudis are on Indian lobby payroll also?

We can call everyone RAW, fully cooked, or half-baked agents, but it won’t change the reality of how the world, including even our Muslim allies, sees us which is as an increasing hot bed militancy that has gotten beyond our control. If we are going to change this, we will have to first break free from the prison of our own narrative.

World Is Cracking Down On Fake News: Is Pakistan Media At Serious Risk?

After Donald Trump brought the problem of ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts’ to the attention of the world, internet editors have begun to ask questions about the credibility of so-called ‘news’ sources. The latest sign of a widespread crack down on fake news is the announcement that Wikipedia has banned using UK newspaper Daily Mail as a source, terming it as ‘generally unreliable‘. This is a major development because it is banning of a newspaper that was founded 120 years ago, not some shadowy website that popped up over night.

With wide spread concern about the ill effects of ‘fake news’, banning of Daily Mail  may be just the beginning, and Pakistan media may be at serious risk. Since the past several years, dozens of fake news sites in Pakistan have been exposed. The most famous example was blog Cafe Pyala that shined the light on shadowy propaganda rings that appeared close to the deep state including even a Pakistani fake news source called ‘Daily Mail‘! Then last year an APP report may have  accidentally busted another fake news operation with ties to ISI.

Tight control of Pakistan media by Army is already well reported in international media. In 2015, The Guardian published an expose about Army officials threatening journalists and forcing them to self-censor. How can such media be deemed as reliable if it is well known that it is threatened and coerced by Army? These threats have again come under view after a group of bloggers who dared question Army mysteriously disappeared earlier this year, resulting in new global attention to the dangerous turn of censorship in Pakistan.

However, it’s not just censorship that threatens the credibility of Pakistan media as a whole, it is also the number of obvious deep state puppets who dominate the media. There are the obvious jokers like Ahmed Quraishi and Zaid Hamid, but there are also the more ‘serious’ journalists like Mubashir Lucman, whose fake news cost ARY millions after being judged by an international court, or Moeed Pirzada who is widely seen as close to the establishment.

As the world makes moves to limit the negative influence of fake news, will Pakistani media find itself caught between the rock of international questions and the hard place of establishment operations to keep tight control over national discussions? If UK Daily Mail is termed as ‘generally unreliable’, what can we say about most of Pakistani news? As the world community takes on the problem of fake news, Pakistani media will be facing a lot of difficult choices.

Imran Khan’s Statement on Trump’s Muslim Ban Tells You Everything You Need to Know About Him

Imran Khan with Prince CharlesImran Khan wasted no time responding to American President Donald Trump’s order banning Muslims from entering the US, and his response tells everything you need to know about him.

“I pray that Trump bans Pakistani visas.”
–Imran Khan

Die-hard PTI supporters will quickly jump to excuse their boss by trying to explain that he was meaning it for the good of Pakistan, so that the country’s best and brightest don’t leave. However, let’s leave political spin aside for a minute and take a cold hard look at the facts.

  • Imran Khan himself lived abroad.
  • All of Imran Khan’s wives have been foreigners.
  • Imran Khan’s own children do not live in Pakistan.
  • Imran Khan has spent years traveling to America to raise money for his political party from overseas Pakistanis.

Now comes the second excuse: All of these people are patriotic Pakistanis because they support Imran Khan, they only stay away because all other politicians are corrupt.

It’s very clever. Actually, it’s too clever. If patriotic Pakistanis stay overseas because of corruption, how would banning them from US change corruption? And what about Pakistanis in London, or Dubai? Why just ban US visas? It makes no sense.

Need more convincing? Listen to how Imran describes “corrupt” politicians:

Lambasting Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Khan alleged, the PM had taken money from Pakistan and spent it abroad. “His businesses are abroad, his children are abroad, but he is the prime minister of Pakistan. He even goes abroad for checkups,” he said.

Once again, let’s take a cold hard look at the facts:

  • Imran Khan has admitted forming an offshore company to stash his money.
  • Imran Khan’s children are abroad.
  • Imran Khan goes abroad for checkups.

When Donald Trump’s visa ban was announced, I joked that Mullahs were going to be offended that Pakistan was not included in a ban on Muslims. Imran Khan did not even think to use the religious excuse (yet). Rather he has simply used an issue that hurts regular Pakistanis to support his own endless ambitions while also giving himself all the exceptions. He will gladly sacrifice you and your family if it helps him gain power. And he will do it while declaring it ‘patriotic’. In other words, Imran Khan himself is the embodiment of the everything he says is wrong with this country!

When Looting Is Legal

Hearings in ‘Panamagate’ continue, though the case has been hitting some road blocks. Supreme Court Justice Ijaz-ul-Hassan has accused Jamaat lawyer Taufiq Asif of making ‘mockery’ of the case telling him ‘You have caused as much damage to your client as you possibly could’. Nevertheless, the BBC report that Sharifs have owned property in London since 1990s has already convicted the case in the minds of many.

At the center of the inquiry is the source of certain portions of the Sharif family’s wealth and hidden offshore assets. These are legitimate questions and in national interest for asking. However aren’t the same questions also worth asking about others?

For example, it has been established that former COAS Gen Musharraf has serious discrepancies in assets, spending millions more on foreign properties than his income as Army chief should support. But what about other cases that are not so black and white?

What can we say about another former Army chief, Gen Raheel Sharif, who has been allotted 868 kanals and 10 marlas of land in Lahore estimated at a worth of Rs1.3 BILLION? No one is claiming that anything was done illegally, but shouldn’t this actually ring the alarm bells? The Army chief was paid a handsome salary already, so why can’t he buy land just like any other citizen? And even if some allotment is to be made, isn’t it perverse to grant one man 90 acres of such valuable land? What can he possibly need with so much?

The truth is, in this country there is illegal looting and there is legal looting. How to tell the difference? I think you are not blind…

Bhensa, Blasphemy, and the Role of the Court

After several liberal activists including a professor of Fatima Jinnah University mysteriously disappeared, state security agencies once again found themselves facing negative international attention. Critical statements from international human rights NGOs and foreign governments began pouring in. Then came the ultimate trump card. The ‘Ace of Spades’. Blasphemy allegations.

The allegations began from right-wing hyper-nationalist websites and social media accounts like so-called ‘Pakistan Defence’. postThere is no proof that any of these missing are responsible for any blasphemy. There is not even any proof that any of these activists is behind the ‘Bhensa’ account that is being accused! Actually, they were originally accused of being anti-Army, not anti-Islam. Now that the blasphemy accusation has been made, though, it has also been formalised under the law as application has been submitted to register blasphemy cases against the missing activists.

However, this could be a test case not only for the democracy but for blasphemy law as well. Civil Rights activist Jibran Nasir is calling for arrest of Pakistan Defence admins for inciting violence against the activists. At first it sounds like fantasy, but on second thought there may be something to his thinking. No less than Chairman Pakistan Ulema Council Tahir Ashrafi has called for extreme care in handling of blasphemy cases and has even called for death penalty for those leveling false allegations. I personally do not support death penalty, but Maulana Ashrafi’s view shows how serious the issue is. Therefore, everyone can agree that such cases should be decided in court based on all the evidences.

In order for a court to evaluate, both the accused and the accusers should be made to appear before the Court to be questioned. The disappeared activists must be produced and also the admins of Pakistan Defence and other social media accounts that are making such serious allegations should be produced before the Court also. Otherwise, isn’t it those leveling such allegations from behind anonymous accounts who are making a mockery of the Court as well as the blasphemy law?

Perhaps there is someone who has committed blasphemy. We cannot know unless the case is heard by an impartial Court. There is also the question whether someone has tried to misuse blasphemy allegations in order to distract attention and cover their tracks. This also cannot be known unless all the actors and evidences are examined by the Court.