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.

Sadiq & Ameen vs Security and Economy

panama papersLet us save the theatrics for the script writers for a moment and admit what appear to be some basic truths. Nawaz Sharif’s family lives a lifestyle that exceeds their reported income. Okay, this is increasingly obvious, but is it really so unexplained? Let’s consider a few other facts:

  1. There are more people on planes at any given moment than people paying their due taxes.
  2. The ‘informal’ economy in Pakistan is nearly as large as the formal economy – around $160 Billion.

Yes, but it’s not our fault, you say. We expect more from our leaders, you say. And we would pay our taxes if we knew our leaders were not pocketing our money, you say.

Really? Okay. Then let’s talk about our leaders. Nawaz goes, who is the sadiq & ameen who will replace him? Asif Zardari? Imran Khan? Don’t make me laugh.

This is why we need Army to take over and clean house, you say. But how clean is Army’s house? Will we see another ‘Panama Papers’ type leak about Gen Musharraf’s unexplained wealth? The worst kept secret in the country is the rampant corruption and looting by Army officers.

Okay, then, so what does this mean? There is no hope? No. I don’t think we have to be so fatalistic. However, I do think that we need to decide what is important. Is it most important to see our political rivals humiliated? This seems to be how we are deciding things now, and what has it earned us? We are a nation that is divided, insecure within our own borders, overwhelmed by religious extremism, all while in a state of economic stagnation. Instead of taking our problems seriously, we have tried to outsource them – first to America, now to China. You take care of our security and economy, we say, while we entertain ourselves with petty political dramas.

This may well be the end for Nawaz Sharif. If he goes, he goes. But what comes next? The same will be repeated with the next, and the next, and the next. We have no intention of changing. And why should we? Are you not amused? After all, surely the Chinese will take care of us….

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!

Raymond Davis and Parachinar: Negotiating Realities

Parachinar residents negotiating with their own Army to receive protectionAfter days of their cries being ignored by military, media, and government, COAS Bajwa finally arrived in Parachinar. It is a scene you do not expect to see. Citizens negotiating with their own Army to receive protection. Protection not only from the jihadi militants who have been terrorizing them and killing them by the hundreds, but protection from the very security forces who were supposed to be defending them. After days of protests gone unheeded, Army was finally forced to sit down and listen to demands of the citizens and now Gen Bajwa has removed FC Commandant Malik Umer and ordered an inquiry into the murders of innocent civilians by security forces.

This is not the only negotiation in the news, however, as the Raymond Davis fiasco has once again returned to the lime light following the publication of a ‘tell all’ book by the disgraced spy. According to the expose, it was actually ISI who orchestrated the release of the CIA agent after he gunned down two men in the streets, led by none other than DG ISI Shuja Pasha and a nameless ISI Colonel. Not only did Husain Haqqani not give the American agent a visa and then arrange for his escape, according to the absconded spy, “Haqqani was largely viewed as being pro-American, but in this instance he was not so accommodating”.

Both of these situations challenge the very narratives that we are spoon fed through media and ISI’s own psyop operations. Such conflicts could be easily avoided by replacing the failed strategy of ‘perception management’ through promoted narratives with actually taking the people into confidence and explaining the difficulties and reasoning behind decisions and living with the harsh realities of the world. For the time being, though, we are left trying to negotiate reality with ourselves.

Parachinar and Sectarianism: Are Shia Becoming Next Bengalis?

The tragic situation in Parachinar has turned from bad to worst. First, the people are attacked repeatedly and agencies appear to be completely outfoxed as even in most secure areas, still terrorists are able to carry out attacks easily. The most recent attack which killed scores of innocents was virtually ignored, as PM preferred to condole those killed in Bahawalpur accident, and COAS preferred to spend his time at LoC.

Meanwhile, as the poor people of Parachinar protested their treatment, their cries were virtually ignored by major media groups adding to confusion and making the people feel helpless and abandoned. Then, the insult became injury as self-styled social media ‘defence analysts’ began a campaign to defame and threaten these Pakistani citizens as ‘traitors’ because they are Shia.

Faran Jeffrey CommandEleven.com sectarianism

After remaining silent, ISPR was forced to confront the anti-Shia sectarianism being projected across social media by these accounts with links to Army.

ISPR press release

However, it must be noted that the meaning of the official statement is unclear as it does not note who exactly Army is holding responsible for spreading sectarian hatred. Actually, this message is being promoted even by those spreading sectarianism.

So what is the message exactly? Those pro-Army accounts who are terming Shia as ‘traitors’ obviously believe that Army has endorsed their hate speech. This only puts Shia citizens in even more dangerous position.

To clear the air, ISPR needs to issue an official clarification to inform whether they endorse or condemn the sectarian hate speech being spread by Zaid Hamid, Faran Jeffrey, and other Army-linked social media commandos. Otherwise, is it the case that Army is reading from the same playbook that tried to silence Bengalis and then Mohajirs by spreading the narrative that they are ‘traitors’ to Pakistan?