Where is the national duty to provide security for Pakistani citizens?

Ahsan Iqbal

“Security of Chinese workers is considered as national duty by Pakistani Nation”. This was the statement of Minister for Planning, Development and Reform Ahsan Iqbal Ahsan Iqbal on Monday. His comment was made after officials confirmed that two Chinese nationals were kidnapped and killed by ISIS in Pakistan.

The statement is not a surprise because there is over $50 billion at stake. It would even be reasonable to say that the economic future of Pakistan is at stake since we have been told that CPEC is the ‘game changer’ necessary to bring our nation out of economic disaster.

However the question must be asked where is the national duty for security of Pakistani citizens? Does it sound like an unfair question? Then why after hundreds of students were killed, instead of securing schools, we gave guns to teachers and told them to ‘you have guns. You fight it out‘?

Pakistani teachers told to defend themselves from militantsWhose nation is this anyway?

 

Magnificent Delusions: Riyadh Summit Edition

Arab Islamic American Summit

It was supposed to be another opportunity for Pakistan to shine on the world’s stage. An international summit in Riyadh attended by world leaders including the American President Donald Trump. We would be standing side by side with other Muslim leaders including our close allies Saudi Arabia and our message would be clear to all. Only, that’s not what happened. We were caught completely off guard. What happened?

The first problem rose during US President Donald Trump’s visit to Saudi. According to reports, ‘something has gone terribly wrong‘. The reason for the panic? At the ‘Arab Islamic American Summit,’ Pakistan was not highlighted nor given opportunity to present its view. It was a snub felt across the nation, but should it have been so painful?

There are a few things that must be considered. Fifty-five nations were present at the summit. Keynote addresses were given by Saudi and American leaders who did not mention Pakistan’s sacrifices. It is unfortunate, but we must consider the circumstances. The summit took place soon after a series of mob attacks in Pakistan, statements by IHC and the Interior Ministry whipping up religious anger over blasphemy issue, kidnapping and torture of liberal bloggers, and the state’s full attention being paid to tracking down anyone who criticises Army on social media. Meanwhile, TTP is opening offices in KP.

World forums are not arranged by ISPR to promote the state’s narrative. In this case, it may have been better that nothing was said about the state’s actions. However, our frustration did not stop with our not being praised. Our media spit on other nations terming them as ‘minion states’ and even said that ‘Terming India a victim of terrorism was also a deeply painful insult,’ as if we are the only nation that has suffered from terrorists.

According to reports, PM spent hours preparing and rehearsing his speech for the summit, only to learn that he was not designated a time slot. It was a huge surprise to the entire delegation, but how is this possible? The entire affair appears to be another case of our believing what we want to believe instead of looking at the cold hard reality.

It was not just that we were denied the spot light we believed we deserved, policy statements by our allies were completely out of sync with what we expected also. The Saudi King turned the summit into an anti-Iran platform, terming Iran as “the spearhead of global terrorism”. This means that the Islamic Military Alliance led by our own Gen Raheel Sharif is actually a Sunni military alliance against our own neighbor Iran? We were shocked and surprised, but why? Journalists, bloggers, and even some politicians have warned of this since the beginning. Only problem, these were so called ‘liberals’ who were accused of working against Pakistan’s interests. Once again, we allowed ourselves to believe what we wanted to believe instead of looking at the cold hard reality.

Many have blamed the Foreign Office, or what passes for a Foreign Office in this country, for poor diplomacy that led to these embarrassments. But it is not the FO alone that is responsible, it is all of us. As long as we continue to believe that our wishes are reality, and reality is global conspiracy against Pakistan, we will continue to face such shocks and surprises.

In closing, it should be noted that the day after the summit it was reported that the US is considering slashing military and civil aid to Pakistan, and converting what is left to loans which must be repaid with interest. This should be no problem, though, as ex-COAS Gen Kayani has already said that Army has no need for US funds. And, after all, we’ll always have CPEC…

Crackdown on social media a self-defeating strategy

PTI is as famous for its army of social media trolls as it is for its playboy leader. Farhan Virk is virtually synonymous with Twitter bots, and the massive difference of support for the party by online accounts and actual voters has earned the party the moniker ‘Tehreek-e-Internet’. But as much of a nuisance as PTI trolls can be, like other nuisances, we have all adapted and learned to carry on regardless. Now, though, the party that has long been believed to be a baby of the ISI finds itself being nuisanced by no less than the state itself.

PTI leader Fawad Chaudhary has warned that the government is trying to ‘silence’ PTI by raiding their workers offices and arresting members of the PTI social media team. These raids and arrests are condemnable, however, it is not a politically motivated attack to protect the feelings of the Sharifs. What began as a crackdown on alleged online blasphemy against almighty Allah has turned into a crackdown on alleged online blasphemy almighty Army.

Ch Nisar has said that ‘the whole nation is united on national security issues’. It is a laughable claim knowing what we do thanks to Dawn Leaks, but it is also a laughable claim for anyone with internet access. Social media, where anonymity protects the dictator and the dissident alike, is the last place where there is a healthy debate about all manner of national issues including CPEC, extremism, and international relations. If political criticism is permissible, even encouraged, by certain quarters, however there is no room given for criticism of Army and intelligence agencies as has been proven by these latest crackdowns.

If dominating the narrative on social media molded the narrative offline, Imran Khan would have been PM long ago. Army’s reactions on the social media front is a mistake because it shows a weakness in the national security strategy. If agencies arrest, kidnap and torture well meaning critics, it gives an obvious strategy to our real enemies who can create dozens of fake accounts to promote truly anti-Army messages to create confusion and chaos. What will we do then? Will we block all social media? What about blogs? Will we only allow access to approved blogs? What about foreign news websites like New York Times and Guardian that have been accused of promoting anti-Army narratives? What about Pakistani news sites like Dawn and Geo that are also accused? Will we only allow access to Bol and Neo? How long until the internet in Pakistan looks like the internet in North Korea?

The crackdown on dissent on social media is an impossible task. Taken to its logical conclusion, the state’s present strategy means disconnecting completely, which is choosing isolation and only confirming the worst accusations that the powers that be want to disprove. The only way to counter negative propaganda online is to disprove it through positive actions off-line. That means taking the fight to the real national security threat, not critics on social media.

Who should be lecturing who on strategies to de-radicalise youth?

This week an invitation was delivered to Vice Chancellors of every University in Pakistan summoning them to Army Auditorium, GHQ for a seminar on ‘Role of Youth in Rejecting Extremism’ organised by ISPR.

Email to University Vice Chancellors from GHQ

The timing of the announcement was unfortunate because it was delivered the same day that a major newspaper published a blank space in the place where there was supposed to be a piece on the threat of extremism by Mohammad Hanif, once again showing that when it comes to discussing the problem of extremism, certain quarters have their limits.

blank page newspaper

It is commendable that Army leadership recognises the important role of young people in ridding the society of the curse of extremism. However, if the military wants to demonstrate its ‘unprecedented support to Education’, the obvious answer is not to invite Vice Chancellors to be addressed by the Hon’ble Chief of Army Staff, but to invite the Hon’ble Chief of Army Staff to be addressed by actual educators who have developed an expertise on education and extremism. People like Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy, who has been lecturing on roots of extremism and strategies for de-radicalising youth for years.

If Army is serious about eliminating extremism and the role of youth in rejecting extremism, GHQ should be inviting Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy, Dr Salman Haider and other educators and experts to educate ISPR on what is needed. Then, maybe ISPR will arrange for Dr Hoodbhoy to give a special interview on TV, and not the spokesman for TTP.

Dawn Hackers: Lynch Mob or Contract Hit Job?

Hackers target DawnYou have surely by now seen the alert. Dawn media group has been under attack by hackers since the last three months. All web sites are at risk from hackers who want to display some messages as pranks or spam, but this appears to be a more serious type of operation.

“for the past three months and a number of attempts have been made to hack and hijack its official social media accounts and the accounts of its staff”

So these hackers are not just trying to deface Dawn’s website, they are also targeting the individuals who work for Dawn. What are they looking for? For some clue, we might look at the time line of the attacks.

Dawn first reported that they were being targeted by hackers in January, but the media group’s troubles started a few months earlier when they published a controversial report about a meeting between PM Nawaz Sharif and DG ISI Gen Rizwan Akhtar in which Pakistan’s growing international isolation and willingness to take on all militant groups was allegedly discussed.

The report caused a panic in Rawalpindi and Islamabad. A Corps Commanders meeting was called and ISPR termed it ‘a breach of national security‘. PM House also released a strongly worded statement saying that publishing the report ‘had risked the vital state interests‘, and the reporter Cyril Almeida’s name was temporarily placed on ECL as if he were a wanted criminal.

From unofficial quarters, the response was even more extreme. Social media has been flooded with hashtag campaigns including:

#DawnIsATraitor

#DawnIndianPawn

#ArmyActForDawn

As usual, even media talking heads are smelling blood and promoting the narrative that Dawn is in league with India.


Is it any surprise that some hackers have put Dawn and even its staff in their sights? The question is whether this attack on Dawn is an informal response of an angry group intent on punishing Dawn without any trial – in other words a lynch mob? It is difficult to pinpoint the source of social media trends which occur both intentionally or unintentionally. However, the extent of the hacking operations targeting Dawn mean this could be something else: A contract hit job funded by those with the means and motivation to silence a media group that they believe has breached national security.

It is well known that the latest front in modern defence is cyber warfare and the battle for control of narratives and information. Cyber warriors operate like spies, lurking in the shadows of the internet and protecting their anonymity as a cloak to hide their goals and their methods. This gives state agencies who sponsor them cover of ‘plausible deniability’. Also like spies, many of cyber warfare operations are carried out by contractors, not uniformed soldiers, making it even harder to trace.

But there are still clues that raise questions. Who can support a three months long hacking operation? And if it was only some hypernationalist vigilantes looking to bring down the Dawn website, why are they targeting reporters social media accounts? Could they be trying to search through DMs for any incriminating evidence? Could such an operation be carried out by one or two hackers, or is it a team that is working? And if this is the case, who has trained and organised this team of cyber warriors?

There is another question, too. Most every other country treats hacking of media as an attack on national security. However in this case, there has been no response by security agencies, and no investigation has been demanded or announced. If it was believed that a cyber attack on a national media group was coming from Indian or other hostile agencies, surely there would be an appropriate response. In this case, though, the attack is met with silence. Is that silence a sign of approval?

Prime Minister’s Special Assistant on Foreign Affairs Tariq Fatemi is expected to resign over allegations of his involvement in leaking the information contained in the controversial Dawn report by the special committee set up to investigate the leaks. If he is found to have leaked sensitive or secret information, it is appropriate for him to resign or be sacked to stop future leaks.

Problem of leaking is only one part of the problem, though. There is also the issue of a massive hacking operation targeting national media. Unfortunately, till date there has been no sign of any interest in investigating or acting against those responsible. Actually, it is quite the opposite. Without an official investigation and report, this will leave the answers about who is behind it to your own imagination.