Are they less Pakistani than Aafia Siddiqui?

Saudi Arabia beheading Pakistanis

On Tuesday, Saudi Arabia beheaded the 8th Pakistani in a few short weeks. This is remarkable for a number of reasons, but the one thing I am thinking about today is how different the reaction is to these cases and the case of Aafia Siddiqui who was convicted of terrorism and sentenced to prison.

In the case of Aafia Siddiqui, the Government of Pakistan approved millions to pay for her defence, and she was given a full public trial. Even after the trial, the state has continually tried to secure her release. Public rallies are held for her and she is termed as “the nation’s daughter’.

Then there are the others. The nameless Pakistanis who we have abandoned to be beaheaded in a Saudi Arabia. The Foreign Office has been silent on these cases. Are they less Pakistani than Aafia Siddiqui?

Continue reading

Washington Summit: Ships Passing In The Night

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif meeting with Barack Obama at the White House

Before he left Washington, a journalist friend in America wanted to speak with the Prime Minister to get his thoughts on how he thought the high-level meetings had gone. He was turned away, though, told that the Prime Minister was very busy and didn’t want to be disturbed. Through a cracked doorway, though, he could see the PM sitting alone and thinking, a somber expression on his face. He looked not like a man who had just engaged in political talks of global importance, but a businessman who had just left a meeting where he was told that his partners were no longer interested in doing business with him. My friend left the Prime Minister with this thoughts.

One wonders if Nawaz Sharif dreaded the visit from the very beginning. After all, his visits with American Presidents as Prime Minister have not been comfortable, historically. His last visit was in 1999 when he landed with a desperate request for President Clinton to save us from the Kargil disaster that eventually landed him in exile as overly ambitious military officers once again played the coup card against the ‘bloody civilians’. As his plane took off from Pakistan last week to carry him to Washington while bullets flew along the Line of Control, did the Prime Minister have a sinking feeling of deja vu?

Continue reading

Shireen Mazari’s Latest Column: India, Anti-Americanism, and an Ideology of the Past

Shireen MazariShireen Mazari’s latest column, published in Express Tribune, reads like she’s not even trying anymore. A mix of unintended irony, conspiracy theories, and outdated ideology leftover from the Zia years, it is a perfect example of where we were in the past, and why it’s time to move on.

Shireen starts off by pointing out the irony in American concerns about whether Davis can receive a fair trial when some here had similar concerns about the fairness of the trial of Aafia Siddiqui. She asks “are we to try murderers based on how the US views these trials and condemn the credibility of our judiciary proactively?”

This may seem like a fair point at first, but note that Shireen Mazari fails to notice the irony in her own suggestion that Davis can receive a fair trial only moments after she declares him a ‘murderer’ who ‘did kill in cold blood!’ The court is not set to formally charge Mr Davis until March 3, yet Shireen Mazari has him already guilty in her own mind. And even if we are to accept that Aafia Siddiqui did not receive a fair trial in the US, is Shireen Mazari suggesting that we should throw injustice after injustice? Or are we supposed to believe that a court could find Mr Davis ‘not guilty’ and Shireen Mazari would gladly accept such an outcome?

Perhaps this is what she means when she says we should not ‘condemn the credibility of our judiciary proactively’: That she can only rate the credibility of the court once she knows that it agrees with her own opinion. It is certainly worth asking if a fair trial is possible before an injustice takes place rather than afterwards. If we are going to demand impartial justice for our own countrymen, should we not be willing to demand impartial justice for others?

And this is not the only example of Shireen’s confusion on the issues. For that perhaps we should consider her repeating the conspiracy theory that Davis has links to attacks on the security establishment. This assertion is ridiculous as it contradicts what the security establishment itself is saying.

Consider how CIA and ISI officials described the relationship of these agencies to a real journalist, Mr Declan Walsh of The Guardian

“They need to come clean, tell us who they are and what they are doing. They need to stop doing things behind our back,” he said. There are “two or three score” covert US operatives roaming Pakistan, “if not more”, he said.

CIA spokesman George Little said that agency ties to the ISI “have been strong over the years, and when there are issues to sort out, we work through them. That’s the sign of a healthy partnership”.

The ISI official agreed that future co-operation was vital. “They need us; we need them,” he said. “But we need to move forward in the right direction, based on equality and respect.”

The intelligence agencies are merely asking that the CIA cooperate more openly with them. So why is Mazari trying to create some suspicion between the two by suggesting that Davis was involved in conspiracies to attack Pakistan’s security?

To answer that question we may look to the conclusion of her piece which lays clear the out-of-date ideology that obsesses Shireen Mazari and the rest of the Ghairat Brigade – India. Yes, only a senior official of the Ghairat Brigade could analyse a situation in which a US Embassy employee shoots two armed men at Mozang Chowk and somehow find a link to India.

One issue has become evident: the US agenda for Pakistan has growing question marks to it. The appointment of Marc Grossman as Holbrooke’s successor is a case in point. A known critic of the ICC, as vice-chairman of the Cohen Group, he has been closely associated with furthering US-India relations, including in the aerospace and defence fields. The Cohen Group was in the forefront of lobbying for the US-India nuclear deal. Earlier, as undersecretary of state for political affairs, Grossman was the main architect of the “Next Steps in Strategic Partnership between the United States and India” initiative. An active Indophile will now be dealing with Pakistan on behalf of the US. This really says it all about US intent in Pakistan.

This is an old and discredited way of thinking. China signed trade deals worth billions with India, and nobody pretends that this means China has nefarious intentions towards Pakistan. Actually, nations like the US and China don’t view their relations with us and India as a zero-sum game in which they can only be friends with one or the other. They want good relations with both, and they prefer that our two nations are also in good relations.

Of course we need a better and more balanced relationship with the US. But the correct approach to this is not explained by Shireen Mazari, but by Shafqat Mahmood’s column for The News.

Pakistan and the US are interlinked in myriad of ways. It is not just the Kerry-Lugar aid money that we desperately need or the American acquiescence to IMF or other international donors aid packages. Our defence and security needs also dictate a continuing relationship with the United States.

We do not have to be subservient to it, and I do not think we have been. There are many issues on which the US has been pushing us for a long time but, we have not given in. In particular, we have stoutly resisted the American demand for an attack on North Waziristan or its interference with our nuclear programme.

Having said that, there is also no need to get into an adversarial relationship with it. It is true that the Americans should not let the Davis case impact the entire relationship. But this argument cuts both ways. We also should not let it affect our relationship with the United States.

But worst is the way that Shireen Mazari tries to smear the name of the American diplomat Marc Grossman by accusing him of being “an active Indophile” because he had a job at an American firm that performed business consulting in India. In a glaring act of omission that has become typical for Shireen Mazari, she did not mention that Marc Grossman served at the US Embassy in Islamabad from 1976-1983. She did not note that he served as US Ambassador to Turkey from 1989-1992. She did not note that in 1999 Mr Grossman helped direct US participation in NATO’s military campaign in Kosovo that saved the lives of countless Muslims. All of this information is readily available – I learned it from his Wikipedia page. But such facts are not of interest to Shireen Mazari. With such a history, why does Shireen Mazari not term him ‘an active Islamophile’?

Shireen Mazari represents an ideology leftover from the Zia years. It is an outdated way of thinking about national security that places India as the ultimate threat, even while religious militants are attacking within our own borders. It uses anti-Americanism as an excuse for internal problems and provides a scapegoat for political pied pipers who promise that we will live in paradise if we can only get rid of the ‘foreign hand’.

The truth is, it is Zia leftovers like Shireen Mazari – not the Americans – that are holding us back. They want to keep us tied down to a Cold War mentality because they know that in the 21st century, their ideology is as irrelevant as their phony ‘think tanks’.

Wanted: Principled Leadership

The Raymond Davis saga took a turn for the worst over the past few days as principled leadership on the issue has been sacrificed on the altar of political ambition and populist groveling. The explosive statements of former Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has changed his reputation in the media from an American puppet to a Ghazi almost overnight. We should stop and ask ourselves if what is really going on is as it is being spun in the media (that would be a first) or if perhaps this new story line is once again not exactly as it seems.

FM Qureshi with US Secretary of State ClintonFirst let me say that a lot of people have taken to attacking Mahmood Qureshi, which is unfortunate. He’s not a bad guy. Actually, he’s really smart and capable man, if a little out of his element lately. Trying to define him as a demon does not do anything for the case of reason and rule of law over rule of mobs. Unfortunately, those same people who would demonize him as an American puppet last week are now ready to present him with his very own laal topi and declare him as one of the faithful. So let’s throw out all the self-serving statements and take a look at the facts.

Qureshi’s recent behaviour is unfortunately not out of the ordinary. Between Rehman Malik’s telling that he will kill blasphemers with his own hands and Babar Awan‘s trying to trade Raymond Davis for Aafia Siddiqui as if he were a bakriwallah bartering in a market and not Law Minister – too many of our politicians continue to play to the populist gallery rather than provide real leadership on hard issues.

When I first read Malick’s column in the The News I thought, ‘this is rich’. Suddenly the Americans’ darling Mahmood Qureshi is now their victim? The whole thing seemed a bit too tidy to me. It was just too convenient a headline. But there was more to the article than simply the headline that bothered me.

According to Malick, this supposed story starts in a high level meeting in Islamabad that was attended by President Zardari, Prime Minister Gilani, Babar Awan, Rehman Malik, Shah Mehmood Qureshi and the DG ISI Gen Shuja Pasha. Let’s stop here for a minute. If this is the cast of characters who was in attendance, it means that one of them has to be the leak. Reading the rest of the article, it’s clear that the source for Malick’s article is none other than Qureshi himself. This becomes even more clear as more articles begin pouring into the media with quotes from Qureshi which shows that the man whose silence got us into this mess is now incredibly accessible to every journalist in the country. So we must ask what is the purpose of Qureshi leaking his own story to The News which is not exactly a mouthpiece for the government?

And let’s consider Qureshi’s previously impenetrable silence, can we? The shooting that started this whole mess happened three weeks ago. According to Qureshi now, he has “strongly argued the case that Raymond did not enjoy unlimited diplomatic immunity under law, flatly refused and even said that if need be, he’d rather resign”.

Really? Since when? Because everyone has been demanding that the FO decide the question of diplomatic immunity for weeks and Qureshi was nowhere to be found. If he was really being pressurized to act against his convictions and was so adamant about resigning rather than facing the tune, why did he never resign? In fact, it’s only since he’s been sacked that Qureshi has suddenly found this adamant conviction on the issue.

And then there’s the issue of Qureshi’s sacking, which wasn’t really a sacking at all. When the PM dissolved the cabinet in order to reduce the bloated number of ministers and began making reappointments, it was decided to offer Qureshi a new portfolio – Water and Power. Unfortunately, Qureshi felt that he deserved foreign affairs, and if he wasn’t given the position he wanted, he was going to take his ball and his bat and leave the game. In fact when he was supposed to be sworn in as a cabinet minister, he didn’t bother to show up at all, rather he sent a terse note saying, “I am not interested in water and power ministry in place of foreign affairs”. This is a curious response to the offer of a cabinet portfolio, a position for which only a handful of people are selected out of the 180 million citizens. Could it be that Mr Qureshi’s reason has fallen prey to his personal ambitions?

And rather than a punishment, offering a cabinet position to Qureshi was actually something of a token. After all, has there not been constant frustration with his performance as FM over the past years? Manmohan Singh blamed Qureshi personally for his poor handling of talks last summer. This was an ongoing problem that Qureshi had, pushing his Indian counterparts away when it was his job to hold talks and find solutions to issues. And it was under Qureshi’s guard that India has become considered for membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group, while Pakistan remains without a civilian nuclear deal. Also he has taken great criticism from diplomats such as Tayyab Siddiqui for his comments on Iran.

He skipped the SAARC meeting in Bhutan last month, and in the midst of the negotiations over Raymond Davis, he even skipped a meeting with an American delegation last week. More on that point: As I stated earlier, if Shah Mahmood Qureshi truly felt so  adamant about Raymond Davis’s status, why was he silent and missing in action for the past weeks? Why did he not make statements when it could have mattered? If he was actually being pressurized, why did he not resign then? He said himself that he would have kept his position of FM if it was offered, so don’t try to have it both ways please.

And let’s not forget that it was only a few short days ago that the Foreign Office under the leadership of FM Qureshi stated that Raymond Davis at a minimum does enjoy at a minimum “partial immunity”. Then Salman Bashir calls the newspapers and says that if he committed some immoral act, he would not request diplomatic immunity for himself, which is essentially admitting that Raymond Davis does have diplomatic immunity, but it is annoying to the FO. This is another example of the failure of the foreign office by trying to have everything both ways. Whether or not Salman Bashir would invoke diplomatic immunity is irrelevant – Raymond Davis has invoked it. If Qureshi was unable to make a decision one way or the other, the country needed someone in the Foreign Office who could.

But the problem is not just Qureshi’s failure to act on principle. We’re also seeing other leaders like Babar Awan trying to barter Raymond Davis for Aafia Siddiqui as if Islamabad was filled with goat traders at a market, or Altaf Hussain comparing apples to peaches by saying that “Just the way US court gave the decision of Dr. Aafia’s case, US must also wait for Pakistani court’s decision on Raymond’s case”. Whether or not Aafia should be repatriated, she has no claim to diplomatic immunity, so her case is nothing like that of Raymond Davis.

Last fall, Shah Mahmood Qureshi warned against being influenced by concocted messages sent through media over Pak-US relationships. He now seems to be playing the same game. Unfortunately, he is not the only one doing so. It is now three weeks since the tragic incident that has brought diplomatic relations with the US to stand still. As Foreign Minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi could have ended this mess weeks ago by declaring Raymond Davis’s status one way or another. But when Qureshi had the opportunity to speak, he was silent. Now that his opinion carries no consequences to his own skin, suddenly he has found his voice. Elsewhere, our political leaders are asking the courts to help them out of a difficult situation and making populist speeches and goat trading to protect their own hides. The courts are telling those responsible in government to please do their jobs. Outside in the street it is the same as in the media – we are blinded by ghairat when the situation requires objective reason.

Again let me state that I do not think any of these are bad, dishonest, or incompetent people. I think the problem is one that is a larger problem in society. We allow issues to be hijacked by people who use emotional blackmail to keep us from using our brains. As a result,  good and capable men lose all sense of reason and proportion.

At present, everyone appears to be playing hearts and demanding to take the trick. But spades are trumps in this game, and diplomatic immunity is the ace of spades. If Raymond Davis plays the trump card, he takes the trick no matter how many hearts are thrown. But we should also keep a sense of proportion. The Raymond Davis case is only one trick and it is not for game. We need to stop acting like it is for all the chits. We need leaders with the courage and principles to play by the rules instead of trying to upend the table when they don’t like their hand.