When Debate is Debased

crazy personIt has been less than one month since I made this prediction after Husain Haqqani’s last piece published by the New York Times:

Instead, what comes after the social media abuse calms down is completely predictable: Op-eds will be published in The Nation, Pakistan Observer, and Express Tribune. Urdu talk shows, especially on ARY, News One, and Bol will feature talking heads parroting the same talking points about how Haqqani was a member of IJT 30 or 40 years ago, even though he obviously grew out of such ideas before most of the audience was even born. They will call for Haqqani to be brought back to Pakistan and be tried for treason. After a few days of chest beating, something else will take over the media’s attention and the Haqqani Hate Squad will quiet down until he writes something else and the ‘Standard Operating Procedure’ is repeated.

As if taking a cue, once again the keyboard commandos have rallied in obscurity. First there was SM Hali’s disorganized rambling in Pakistan Observer. It seems that he could not figure out what he wanted to say, so tried to throw everything possible into his incoherent piece. Perhaps this lack of focus is why he was never able to make it past Group Captain or the pages of Pakistan Observer.

Now he has been followed by another keyboard commando, this one is an ex-Pakistani sitting in his office in Canada accusing others of being ‘traitors’ to Pakistan. This man is named Haider Mehdi and his only claim to fame appears to be attempting to hold world’s record for number of WhatsApp groups joined. His piece was not even worthy of Pakistan Observer, so he was resigned to posting on a free Canadian blogging website.

Mehdi suffered severe indigestion when he discovered that the former Ambassador had written a piece on disqualification of Nawaz Sharif that was published by an Indian newspaper. He begins by apologising for such a harsh indictment of Haqqani, but what he should have apologised for what wasting so much time writing insults and accusations instead of answering Haqqani’s arguments. Or was it that Haider was driven to such mental anguish by Haqqani’s piece that he completely forgot to mention it except in the title? Instead, he uses almost 2,000 words to rehash the same old tired cliches and the same old worn out ‘traitor’ stamp. There is actually no debate presented, just insult after insult, even stooping to making pathetic insults about Haqqani’s appearance. Imagine how much time and energy this old man spent ranting and raving alone at his dining table in Canada, only to press ‘post’ on a freebie blog website! It would be comical if it was not so sad.

Could it be that these men’s anger is not really at Husain Haqqani at all, but at themselves? With Haider Mehdi, here is another former Army man who reportedly couldn’t make it beyond the rank of Captain. He entered the corporate world, but after decades of doing his best, he is still working for a mobile store in Canada and posting angry rants on the internet while joining every conceivable Pakistani WhatsApp. From wannabe General to wannabe writer is a great fall indeed, but that does not stop people like Haider and SM Hali from their loud outbursts of patriotism. At least Hali has made a name for himself in third-rate newspapers like Pakistan Observer. Haider has not even achieved that minimum of success. How depressing and angry it must make him! I was laughing halfway through reading his blog post, but by the end I actually just felt sorry for the old man.

They could do better for themselves if they made any reasonable or intelligent arguments instead of accusing everyone they disagree with of being foreign agents and cutting and pasting the word ‘TRAITOR!!!!’ over and over again. Except when it comes to their beloved Army, however. Then the tone changes 180 degrees: “I’m a nationalist and will not poison the well to kill the entire village, simply because I’ve a beef with the local strongman.” No, instead he will scream insults into the night sky, as if the moon will hear him and deliver him from his misery. Like a schoolgirl who dreams that her Romero will someday finally notice that she is the one, Haider Mehdi will never criticise the Army that had no use for him so long ago.

It is a sad psychological case, and one that deserves our pity. However, it also provides a lesson about how easy it is to debase oneself on the internet. There is a reason that real media groups hire editors and publishers. They protect their own reputations, but they also spare wannabe writers and analysts the humiliation of being seen as a crazy person ranting in the streets. In the global marketplace of ideas, there are those whose ideas and intellect get them invited to sit at the table, and there are those who are left yelling in the alley behind the office building.

We need more intellectuals at the table, and less screaming and throwing trash outside the door.

Arguing With Husain Haqqani

Husain HaqqaniHe is Senior Fellow and Director for South and Central Asia at a prestigious think tank in Washington, DC. He has written multiple books that have been termed ‘compulsory reading‘ in the West. He has been an invited speaker at the Aspen Ideas Festival and his ideas and analysis are regularly featured in global media like The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Foreign Affairs, and Foreign Policy. Whether we like it or not, Husain Haqqani is probably the most influential Pakistani intellectual of modern times. Many don’t like it. I do not want to defend Husain Haqqani or his controversial ideas. What I want to do is use Husain Haqqani to talk about how we respond to those who we disagree with.

As you must know by know, Husain Haqqani’s latest piece for The New York Times caused quite a stir. In it, he dismisses the idea that India poses a real threat to Pakistan, and confirms the belief that the Pakistani state has supported extremist militants in Afghanistan and Kashmir. This is nothing new, however, it is his prescription for a cure that has angered many quarters because Haqqani calls for the US to get ‘tougher’ on Pakistan, something that is automatically seen as many as a shocking disloyalty, even though he explains that he is not looking to punish Pakistan:

The United States would be acting as a friend, helping Pakistan realize through tough measures that the gravest threat to its future comes from religious extremism it is fostering in its effort to compete with India.

Calls for ‘tough love’ are always controversial, however the response to this piece has not been to counter with facts and analysis. Actually, the response has shown the worst of the worst of human emotions. Surely you know what I mean, but here is a small sample of what I am talking about:

This is the response: Abuse, threats, hashtags, shouts of ‘traitor’, Indian flags and even a jewish star photoshopped on his picture. It is so stupid it is embarrassing. What do we think this behaviour makes us look like to the rest of the world? Intellectuals or idiots? Debaters or bullies? This is not even the behaviour of so-called ‘cyber commandoes’. Actually, they are nothing but cyber goondas. He says Pakistanis cannot be reasoned with, and we respond unreasonably. Such responses actually give Haqqani’s point more credit than his enemies realise.

This brings up another point. Pakistan has an entire diplomatic corps at its finger tips. Where is Ambassador Aizaz Chaudhry’s piece published in New York Times? Where is his piece published in The Wall Street Journal? More to the point, where are the Pakistani intellectuals who can debate with Haqqani without resorting to name-calling, innuendo, and threats?

Instead, what comes after the social media abuse calms down is completely predictable: Op-eds will be published in The Nation, Pakistan Observer, and Express Tribune. Urdu talk shows, especially on ARY, News One, and Bol will feature talking heads parroting the same talking points about how Haqqani was a member of IJT 30 or 40 years ago, even though he obviously grew out of such ideas before most of the audience was even born. They will call for Haqqani to be brought back to Pakistan and be tried for treason. After a few days of chest beating, something else will take over the media’s attention and the Haqqani Hate Squad will quiet down until he writes something else and the ‘Standard Operating Procedure’ is repeated.

Husain Haqqani is not really the point here. He is not the only progressive Pakistan whose ideas are responded with such abuse and threats. We see the same treatment handed out to our other internationally respected intellectuals like Asma Jahangir and Malala. If ISI and ISPR support such stupidity, how can we ever expect to be taken seriously on the world’s stage? If they do not support it, they need to call out these foolish ‘cyber warrior’ accounts, especially those that have attended the official trainings at NDU. They need to correct the retired officers and their children who spend their days abusing on social media. We need to stop attacking and abusing those who we don’t agree with, and start proving them wrong if we can. Otherwise, we are only drawing attention to our own lack of intelligent answers!

Bahawalpur and Parachinar: Where Is Accountability?

Parachinar attack

Across media, there has been a common reaction to the tragedy in Bahawalpur. How do we hold those responsible accountable? However, as much as it is receiving the most attention, Bahawalpur was not the only city to suffer an immense tragedy.

Death tolls from twin terrorist attacks in Parachinar and Quetta have climbed to 85, with hundreds more injured and more deaths to possibly come. Meanwhile, four police officers were killed during iftar by unknown gunmen in Karachi.

The treatment of these events in the public discussion is worth noting. Here is what Dawn had to say about Bahawalpur:

Bahawalpur tragedy is numbing not only because of the vast number of dead and injured, but also because it was totally avoidable.

This raises the question, have we become numb to terrorist attacks because we have decided they are not totally avoidable?

Parachinar in particular is a warning sign. It is a heavily guarded place that has been the target of repeated attacks. After an attack earlier this year, Army established 24 new security posts in Parachinar in April. Two months later, terrorists once again carried out an attack. Is it unavoidable?

In its editorial on Saturday, Dawn hit the nail on the head perfectly:

The problem appears to be that any particular attack is not regarded as a failure of defensive networks and that none has led to meaningful accountability or change in standard operating procedure.

With Bahawalpur, the question might be who to hold accountable. In Parachinar and Quetta, the questions are much more difficult. Is it even possible to change ‘standard operating procedure’? Are we willing to accept the victims as mere ‘collateral damage’ (as an ex-DG ISI termed the victims of APS massacre) of our national security policies? It’s hard not to believe that this decision has already been made in higher quarters.

After years of denying that we provided sanctuary to Taliban, PM’s advisor on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz finally admitted what everyone already knew: We had been hosting Taliban on Pakistani soil for long. So too FO has claimed that there are no anti-Iran militants on Pakistani soil, despite the obvious. So too we see ex-ISI men gathered around LeT chief Hafiz Saeed rallying for jihad against India.

It is hard not to believe that jihad and militancy is part of our official national security policy. But if it is not, it is hard to believe that we are doing everything possible to eliminate jihadi mindset and militancy from society. The question is not who to hold accountable, though. That is obvious. The question is whether accountability is even possible.

What do you think?

Musharraf

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…