America Gives Us a Model For Official Inquiries

There are many times that people point to America as an excuse for doing something. We should not use proxies. “America does it.” We do not need to spend so much on weapons. “America does it.” We should not interfere in other countries affairs. “America does it.” However last night we saw the Americans do something amazing. I am writing of course about the inquiry into Donald Trump and the testimony before the Congress by the ex-FBI Director James Comey.

If you did not watch this incredible event, you should. The full and unedited video is posted online

Now let us discuss what we saw. First, the former FBI chief who was fired by the President was ordered to testify and answer questions from both Republicans and Democrats. During his statement, James Comey termed the President and his aides as liars. No shouting broke out. No threats were made or disruptions took place. The entire event was calm and taken seriously.

Next, the political leaders from each party both asked difficult but fair questions. When James Comey responded that he could not answer in public due to the sensitivity of the issue but he would answer behind closed doors, his reply was accepted. When he criticised the President, even the President’s own party members accepted his statements. The President’s party members did not attack him and term him as a traitor or a paid agent. Everyone involved in the inquiry appeared to have one thing in mind: Getting to the truth, whatever the truth might be.

It also must be noted how we know all of this. The entire hearing which took place in the Halls of Congress was broadcast by all media and streamed online. Even the full video of the hearing posted above was provided by the New York Times which the President has attacked as ‘fake news’. However no attempt was made to hide the contents or the criticism. To say the entire world was watching would not be an exaggeration, and nobody could watch and think that it made President Trump look good.

Now compare to how we have handled sensitive inquiries here. Panama Papers, Memogate, Dawn Leaks…each of these has been handled in the complete opposite manner. Public hearings have mostly been done by TV anchors pushing sensational narratives rather than calm and unbiased questioning by elected leaders. Political loyalties and personal biases have often been placed before the facts, even in cases of national security. And in the end, what has been uncovered by officials has been hidden from the public only feeding the confusion and conspiracies.

There are many things that we should not copy from American politics and actions, and we should always make our own decisions what is based on the good of our own country first and last. In the case of how to handle an official investigation, though, this is one where we should be taking notes.

“Command Eleven”: What’s the Point of ISI’s Latest ‘Perception Management’ Operation?

commandeleven

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).

Day-to-day management of the mysteriously funded ‘think tank’ is led by Khalid Muhammad, author of ‘Agency Rules’, a spy-thriller that celebrates ISI and its fight ‘for the survival of the nation’. Agency Rules was published in 2014 by “Dead Drop Books” from Karachi, which seems to have only published one book – Khalid Muhammad’s pro-ISI fantasy fiction.

In an interview, Khalid Muhammad explained his motivation to write the novel:

“Geopolitically, Pakistan is host to numerous intelligence agencies working within its borders, a public secret here and the ISI holds it’s own against all of them. Its routinely demonized by foreign nations, and much of that is because it is so good at what it does.”

He went on to describe his research for the novel as a “secret.”

“I had to get an understanding of Pakistan’s Army and the ever-powerful ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence service. Since the ISI operates both covertly and under the military’s wing, getting information about their training, operatives and missions is very difficult. How I got that information will stay a person secret.”

What is not a secret is the close relations those involved with the website have with the military. Contributors for CommandEleven.com include retired Pakistan military officers such as Colonel Azam Qadri (retired), and  Syed Haider Raza Mehdi, a former Pakistan Military officer who now lives in Canada and works for a mobile phone company. Others so-called ‘analysts’ are not military, but have direct ties to organizations with close ties to Pakistan military and intelligence agencies. These include Zeeshan Shahid Khan and Syed Ali Zia Jaffery, both members of the “Center for Strategic & Contemporary Research” (CSCR), an obscure Islamabad ‘think-tank’ founded by individuals with close ties to agencies after they completed trainings at NDU.

The question that must constantly be asked is what is the point? Do the strategic geniuses behind these operations believe that if they arrest critics and fill the internet with such obvious pro-Army propaganda that they will somehow not only manage ‘perceptions’ but reality also? Every day we hear more and more phrases like ‘information warfare’ and ‘psyops’ and ‘perception management’, but the truth is that bombings keep killing hundreds. Jihadis keep making more bombs. Banned groups raise more funds for jihad not from foreign agencies, but from our own citizens. And not once have any of these fake ‘defence analysts’ on social media say stopped any of them. So, if they are not actually making Pakistan safer…..what is the point exactly?

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.