Pakistani Establishment’s India Paranoia

The Pakistani establishment’s paranoia about India appears to have reached fever pitch, from writing letter to the UNICEF to ask for removal of Bollywood actress Priyanka Chopra as a goodwill ambassador to accusing social media giants of bias because of their ‘Indian employees.’

When Facebook and twitter suspended several Pakistani social media accounts for posting messages in support of violent action against Kashmir, the response of the head of ISPR, Major General Asif Ghafoor was to blame “Indian staff” working for these social media giants.

The government of Pakistan has also “lodged an official complaint with the United Nations, demanding the removal of Indian actress Priyanka Chopra as a UN goodwill ambassador over her “support for war” amid heightened tensions between the two nuclear-armed neighbours. In a letter to the UNICEF chief Henrietta Fore, Pakistan’s human rights minister Shireen Mazari accused the 37-year-old actress and former Miss World of publicly endorsing the position of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government in Indian-administered Kashmir.”

Maybe some introspection is needed. Social media giants the world over are cracking down on any kind of hate speech and that is the reason accounts have been suspended. Irrespective of the legality or illegality of the Indian action, calling for jihad or war with India is not going to help Pakistan’s cause or image.

Miltestablishment rules with an Iron fist

Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Naya Pakistan is worse than Purana Pakistan. At least under previous civilian leaders, the Prime Minister had some say. Today, the Miltestablishment has complete control over everything from media to economy to foreign policy and of course domestic politics.

In a recent piece, Agha Haider Raza, a Pakistan-based commentator provides details of the censorship and clampdown on the media. “Khan’s government has been enforcing unprecedented restrictions on the media in Pakistan since coming to power last year.  Under the watchful eye of the hyperactive miltablishment, the current civilian and military rulers have ushered in a new era of media management.  While the civilian government utilizes the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) to silence media houses, anchorpersons and journalists by sending them legal notices, the miltablishment utilizes the popular messenger service, WhatsApp, to impose directives.  Military officers have been known to ring up journalists and media owners in the middle of the night, threatening them to alter media content and have it edited to their liking.”

In his piece “Pakistan Being Ruled With an Iron Fist,” Raza, says, “Not only are public rallies and interviews of political leaders blacked out, but leading journalists have been strictly ordered to pre-record their programs to ensure that content not suitable to the regime is broadcasted.  Today, without any legal notice served, a private TV channel was forced to off-air the program of leading journalist Najam Sethi. Journalists have been pursued to a point where they have been pressurized to close down their twitter accounts in order to stop public rebuking of the PTI government.  Newspapers have seen their distribution curtailed after criticizing the government. Recently, a demonstration was held by a union of journalists to protest the clamping down on the media space.  Calls were immediately made to ensure that no cameras would be sent by TV channels cover the event.”

Further, “The censoring and harassment of the media by the current regime Pakistan is rather ironic given the fact that when in the opposition, Imran Khan and the miltablishment fully exploited the media space.  Nawaz Sharif was barely into his third-term as prime minister when Khan besieged Islamabad by sitting atop a container in the red-zone and demanded Sharif’s resignation.  Khan received non-stop live coverage for his 126-day sit-in.  On many occasions, Khan himself has acknowledged that it was due to the electronic and social media in Pakistan, which gave him the political capital to secure the prime minister house.  Unfortunate that once in power, Khan has sought ways to block and shut down social media sites to avoid criticism of his fledgling government.  Pakistan’s military leadership has put all its eggs in the PTI basket and is working tirelessly, at home and abroad, to ensure that Imran Khan faces no impediments.  The top leadership of opposition parties have already been put behind bars and placed in jails on un-proven charges.”

Finally, “In a recent meeting, Imran Khan had an attendance with the Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Bajwa, Director General ISI, General Faiz Hameed and Director General ISPR Major General Asif Ghafoor.  One can only hope that they advised each other to focus more on governing and working towards strengthening the economy rather than having a dictatorial approach towards the media and opposition.  In a now iconic photograph, former military dictator Pervez Musharraf is seen patting his brow as he faced the media in his final days of power. Imran Khan and the top brass would be wise to remember the photograph, realizing the pen will always be mightier than the sword.”

Suspending trade with India: Who will it hurt?

On Monday August 5, India repealed Article 370, an article that gave limited autonomy to Indian controlled Kashmir. Pakistan’s response, aside from resolutions and slogans, was to downgrade bilateral ties and suspend bilateral trade. This would mean a lot if India-Pakistan bilateral trade amounted to much, the reality is different.

As per the graphic below in the last ten years trade between the two countries has primarily comprised Indian exports to Pakistan with minimal Pakistani exports to India. From around INR 88 billion in 2009 they have gone up to INR 178 billion in 2019. 

Trade between India and Pakistan has never taken off because Pakistan has for decades linked trade to resolving the Kashmir dispute. The South Asian region is the least integrated of all regions in the world with intra-regional trade being around 3% compared to 25% in ASEAN (Association for South East Asian Nations) and 50% in North America under NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement).

As per World Trade Organization (WTO) norms, in 1996 India granted Pakistan MFN (Most Favored Nation) status as it gave to all its neighbors, but Pakistan was never able to reciprocate as in the eyes of the Pakistani security establishment economic (and cultural and people to people) ties would hurt their cause (of India being the permanent enemy).

The last two governments – under PPP and PML-N – tried to give India MFN under the name NDMA (Non-Discriminatory Market Access) but the military viewed that as a red line that could not be crossed. After the February 2019 Pulwama terror attacks India withdrew MFN status and hiked import duties.

If India and Pakistan traded like India and China – where the bilateral trade stands at around USD 85-90 billion annually – then suspension of trade would count for a lot.

As of now, the suspension of almost non-existent trade may make good rhetoric but will not make any difference on the ground.

India and Pakistan need to care for their citizens

In the last week there has been a rise in exchange of fire along the Line of Control between India and Pakistan, this has led to a rise in casualties on both sides, especially with the alleged use of cluster bombs, whose victims reportedly include children.

In this context the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) issued a statement asking both countries to take care of their citizens. According to HRCP increased deployment of troops and curfew-like restrictions on citizens are ominous signs of what may come. This could have grave repercussions for Kashmiri citizens on both sides of the Line of Control (LOC), should the escalation turn into armed conflict. With the gathering storm, the physical security and fundamental rights of Kashmiri citizens on both sides of the border are at stake. Their safety and rights must not be barefacedly trampled. Indeed, the need for regional peace and stability has never been greater. The international human rights community, too, must add its voice to those pleading for restraint and for saner voice to prevail.”

ISPR’s Expanded Role Leads to Comical Defence of the Indefensible

Discretion they say is the better part of valor. But maybe that is not taught in the Pakistani military or the ISI. That is perhaps why DG ISPR Maj Gen Ghafoor persists in tweeting and making statements that only create problems and force him to defend the indefensible.

In the context of the Senate chairman elections while responding to head of National Party, Senator Mir Hasil Bizenjo’s remarks that this was one of the darkest days in Pakistan’s democracy, DG ISPR insinuated that Mr Bizenjo was bringing disrepute to the “head of national premier institution.”

One would like to ask him when the ISI, an intelligence service, became ‘the national premier institution.’

This is the institution that has over the years interfered in politics, spent money to rig elections, responsible for the disappearance and torture of Pakistani journalists, politicians and civil society activists.

Here is a timeline of some recent stories about the ISI …

In 2008  “the new government shut the political wing of the country’s internal spy agency. A Pakistani intelligence official said closing the unit, which was suspected of manipulating electoral results and keeping tabs on the personal lives of politicians, using their embarrassing misdemeanours to ensure they toe the line, gave “fuller authority to the government to lead from the front”

In 2012 the Supreme Court of Pakistan agreed to hear two separate cases pertaining to ISI.

In the first case the Supreme Court ordered the ISI to produce in court seven suspected militants it has been holding since 2010 — and to explain how four other detainees from the same group died in mysterious circumstances over the past six months.

The second challenge revived a long-dormant vote-rigging scandal, which focused on illegal donations of $6.5 million as part of a covert, and ultimately successful, operation to influence the 1990 election. This petition referred to the Asghar Khan case emanates from the letter written in 1996 Air Marshal (r) Asghar Khan “to then chief justice Nasim Hasan Shah seeking action against former army chief Mirza Aslam Baig, former ISI chief Lt-General (r) Asad Durrani and Younis Habib of Habib and Mehran banks over the alleged disbursement of public money and its misuse for political purposes. He blamed the ISI for distributing money among various politicians. The allegation against the intelligence agency is that it used a slush fund to pay various amounts of taxpayers’ money to politicians to cobble together an alliance by the name of the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad. The petition alleges that this was done in 1990, in an attempt to deny the PPP victory in general elections that year.”

In this case later that year in 2012, former head of ISI Asad Durrani admitted “to spending millions of military dollars to influence an election during a humiliating court hearing that is being seen as a remarkable display of power from the country’s top judges. In extraordinary scenes at the supreme court a visibly embarrassed Asad Durrani said that in 1990 he was ordered by then army chief Mirza Aslam Beg to distribute millions of dollars to politicians and parties to help defeat the Pakistan Peoples party (PPP) government of Benazir Bhutto.”

In 2014 Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif “accused a former intelligence chief of asking him to resign during opposition protests in 2014, comments likely to further fray tense civil-military relations ahead of general elections.” Sharif stated “Those days, a message was sent to me from the chief of an intelligence agency that I should resign, and if that is not possible, I should go on a long leave,” Sharif said, without identifying either. “The demand for my resignation or going on long leave was based on this impression that if Nawaz Sharif was removed from the way it wouldn’t be difficult to wrap up the case against Musharraf.”

In 2018 the military openly and blatantly rigged elections in favor of Imran Khan. According to Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission the elections were “defined by “blatant, aggressive and unabashed attempts to manipulate” the result.” “The country’s top brass has a long history of intervening in Pakistani democracy. Pakistan’s generals have run the nation several times over the past seven decades; when not openly in power, they have exerted outsize control over foreign policy, the economy and local politics. The ISI, the military’s shadowy and influential intelligence wing, continues to maintain ties with militants abroad while stifling civil society at home. And though this election will mark the third consecutive transition of power from one civilian government to another — a success story by Pakistani standards — it has the fingerprints of military meddling all over it.”

One would have thought that the head of an institution like this would believe that keeping quiet was more suitable.