Choosing Sides, Choosing Isolation

Two important news stories have been reported in the international media that point to a digging in of entrenched positions that are further isolating Pakistan in the world community.

First was the story reported in The New York Times that US is considering withholding $255 Million in military aid due to ‘dissatisfaction with Pakistan’s broader intransigence toward confronting the terrorist networks that operate there’. Specifically, the Americans are frustrated because Pakistani agencies refuse to let them talk to a Haqqani Network militant captured in the raid that freed American hostages earlier this year.

It is a very interesting question why our agencies don’t want the Americans to talk to a Haqqani Network militant, even after he was captured in a raid with foreign hostages. Are they afraid of what he might tell them about receiving support from certain elements within the establishment? Even if this is all a conspiracy theory, isn’t it true that preventing him from speaking to American law enforcement only makes the establishment look more guilty?

The second story comes from a recent appearance of Palestinian Ambassador to Pakistan Walid Abu Ali on stage at a Difa-e-Pakistan rally standing next to none other than Hafiz Saeed who was freed once again a few weeks ago. Ironically the Jamaatud Dawah chief was set free after “a senior finance ministry official failed to convince the board that the release of Saeed would bring diplomatic and financial problems”. Diplomatic problems have certainly come into play, however, as Palestine has recalled its Ambassador due to his appearance with Hafiz Saeed on the DPC stage.

According to a statement by the Palestinian Foreign Ministry, “The State of Palestine highly appreciates India’s support in its tireless efforts to end the Israeli occupation” and terms attendees of the rally in Rawalpindi as “individuals accused of supporting terrorism”.

Blind and deaf to the diplomatic disaster that had broken, our own Foreign Office issued its own statement defending the recalled Ambassador and defending Hafiz Saeed.

In these two highly sensitive matters, it appears the state has chosen to side with the controversial militants rather than foreign governments. In this case both the US and Palestine. In the case of the Americans, even our own frustration with their unreliability does not explain what we gain from hiding a captured militant and looking guilty of their accusations. The case of Palestine is even more puzzling. By all appearances we have simply decided that these militant groups are more important diplomatic allies than world powers or oppressed Muslims.

Finally, it must be noted with some additional irony that in one report on these stories, Dawn termed Husain Haqqani as ‘disgraced ambassador’. While Pakistan receives multiple black eyes from internationally blacklisted militants, petty journalists continue peddling personal jealousies and prejudices instead of educating the nation about the very dangerous path that these stories show we are heading down. As one international analyst noted on Twitter, far from ‘disgraced,’ these stories appear to have ‘vindicated‘ Husain Haqqani and what he has been trying to warn us about since long.


کیا پاکستانی قومی سلامتی کو سوشل میڈیا سے خطرہ ہے ؟


رفیع عامر

گزشتہ برس جب پاکستانی وفاقی حکومت نے سائبر کرائم بل پیش کیا تو اس کی چند شقوں پر خاصی تنقید کی گئی – کہا گیا کہ یہ شقیں بہت مبہم ہیں اور ان کی غیر متعین حدود کی وجہ سے ان کے بے جا استعمال کا اندیشہ ہے – یہ بھی تنبیہہ کی گئی کہ بعید نہیں کہ مستقبل میں اس قانون کو حکومت کی اپنی پارٹی اور اس کے حامیوں کے خلاف استعمال کیا جائے – بدقسمتی سے ان اندیشوں کو سچ ہوتے زیادہ دیر نہیں لگی

رواں سال کے آغاز میں سوشل میڈیا ایکٹوسٹس کی پکڑ دھکڑ کا جو عمل شروع ہوا وہ ابھی تک جاری ہے -حالیہ دنوں میں اس کاروائی کا مرکزی نشانہ حکومتی پارٹی کے حامی ہیں – جن افراد کے خلاف یہ کاروائی کی گئی ان پر حکومتی ، فوجی اور عدالتی اداروں کے خلاف قابل اعتراض مواد پھیلا کر معاشرے میں انتشار پھیلانے کا الزام لگایا گیا – ان الزامات میں نہ تو معاشرے میں اس مبینہ انتشار کی کوئی متعین نشاندہی کی گئی اور نہ ہی یہ بتایا گیا کہ وہ قابل اعتراض مواد تھا کیا – بظاہر ایسا محسوس ہوتا ہے جیسے کچھ خاص اداروں کے کردار پر تنقید ہی قابل اعتراض اور قابل گرفت ٹھہرا دیا گیا ہے

اداروں کا احترام پاکستان میں ایک عجیب و غریب سی اصطلاح بن چکی ہے – پاکستان میں ان گنت ادارے ہیں اور ان پر مسلسل تنقید کی جاتی ہے – مثال کے طور پر پولیس کے ادارے پر تنقید شائد قومی مشغلہ بن چکا ہے – پولیس کا ادارہ تو مین سٹریم میڈیا پر مزاحیہ پروگراموں تک کا موضوع بنتا رہتا ہے لیکن آج تک اس پر تنقید کے خلاف کسی قانون سازی کی ضرورت محسوس نہیں کی گئی – اور تو اور، پارلیمان، جو کہ ایک آئینی جمہوریت کا سب سے معزز ادارہ ہوتا ہے، ایسی تنقید سے بالا نہیں – اسے ڈاکوؤں کی مجلس تک کہہ دیا گیا لیکن اس پر کبھی کوئی کاروائی نہیں کی گئی تو پھر ایسا کیوں ہے کہ صرف دو ہی ادارے ہیں جنہیں بالائے تنقید رکھنا ضروری سمجھا جاتا ہے؟ کہیں ایسا تو نہیں کہ اس طرح ان اداروں کو بلا خوف تنقید من مانی کی اجازت دینا مقصود ہے ؟

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Trump is obviously wrong…But so are we


US President Donald Trump announced America’s new Afghanistan policy today, which sounded very familiarly like America’s old Afghanistan policy. What has received the most attention, though, are his claims about our policy.

“We can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organisations,” he said, warning that vital aid could be cut.

“We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting,” he said. “That will have to change and that will change immediately.”

The response from official quarters has been quick and strong. Politicians of all stripes  raced to the microphone to respond and remind the American President of how much Pakistan has suffered at the hands of terrorists, and some, like PTI’s Shireen Mazari, added empty threats of ‘a befitting response’.

The most honest and important reply actually came before Trump’s speech. Inter-Services Public Relations Director General Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor told reporters, referring to theh possibility that Trump would take a hard line against Pakistan, “Even if it comes…Pakistan shall do whatever is best in the national interest.” In other words, no change on our part. We will keep doing what we have always done.

Unfortunately, what we have always done is a failure. Despite the pleasing words from official sources, we have seen the state declare victory of Zarb-e-Azb and Radd-ul-Fasaad, only to see the same ‘defeated’ terrorists carry out massive attacks against innocent citizens. We have heard pleasing words about abandoning ‘good Taliban’ policies and support for so-called ‘pro-Pakistan’ militants, only to see the same militants announce that they are now preparing to enter the National Assembly.

America may be out of ideas in Afghanistan, but we are the ones suffering from our own failure to accept new ideas and new policies. We hold tightly to the same old failed policies like an anchor that is dragging us to the bottom of the ocean. Blaming Donald Trump and the Americans is easy and convenient. They may be wrong, after all. But we are victims of our own policies, and we have only ourselves to blame. It’s too bad none of our so-called leaders have the guts to say it.



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….