If a drone falls in Fata and nobody calls for dharna, does it even make a sound?

 

Sabir Nazar cartoon on drone strikeEarlier this week a senior commander of Haqqani Network and two other militants were killed by a US drone strike in Fata. COAS casually repeated the mantra that drone strikes are ‘counterproductive‘, but for the most part the incident has been quietly ignored. Only Shireen Mazari has been beating the drum of war against America while criticising the Army Chief for being too sheepish. This raises the question, what is different about this drone strike from others that have been turned into national

For one thing, there is the obvious. Pakistan is poised to win the Champions Trophy, and against none other than India itself. The truth is right now is the perfect time to do any dastardly thing that you don’t want anyone to notice because quite honestly everyone is paying attention to one thing and one thing only and that will continue till at least the next few days.

However, there is something else going on I think which is that there is uncertainty in the halls of power about just how far to push the Americans in the Trump era. Just a few days ago, Ambassador Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhary told the Americans that Haqqani Network ‘have moved into Afghanistan and need to be taken care of there’. Was he lying or was he merely uninformed? Either way, the fact that the Americans carried out a drone strike against Haqqani Network militants in Fata just days later shows that they already knew he was trying to sell them counterfeit goods. Was this strike the Americans sending a message that the old ways were not going to be tolerated any longer?

There have been other messages sent loud and clear, such as the American Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announcing that ‘The president has asked the question specifically about our level of support and funding to Pakistan’ and that the US is ‘beginning an inter-agency policy review towards Pakistan’. Is it a coincidence that these announcements came on the heels of a drone strike against Haqqani Network militants in a place that our government swore they could not be?

Whatever our past strategies toward the Americans have been, the election of Donald Trump as president has changed matters by creating much more uncertainty about how we will be viewed and whether our strategic concerns will be appreciated. Strategies of the past that involved turning a blind eye to pro-Pakistan militants are not going to go unnoticed today. That is something, unlike this week’s drone strike, that we cannot simply ignore.

Kashmir Jihad Going The Way Of Afghanistan

Former J&K CM Farooq Abdullah has warned India that ‘you are losing Kashmir‘. India is unlikely to take his advise and abandon their military approach to putting down the anger that is spreading like wild fire due to the abuses that has caused an ‘epidemic of dead eyes‘. This is because Indian authorities suffer from an ideological blindness that does not allow them to see how their actions are actually counter to their own cause. Unfortunately, we also suffer from an ideological blindness about our policies and strategies in Kashmir.

There have been worrying signs for a while now. Members of Jamaatud Dawah, which has close ties with state agencies, have begun joining Daesh. Black flags of Daesh have been raised along side Pakistan flags in Kashmir. This practise has become so common that even Syed Ali Shah Geelani was forced to publicly comment on it. And now it appears that it is the Pakistani flags that may be disappearing as Kashmir militants are calling for jihad in Pakistan also:

We do love Pakistan because that country was created in the name of Islam. But there is no Islam at present. So, we are unhappy with it. We have to do Jihad with Pakistan as well.

Just as our support for Taliban in Afghanistan spun off the TTP to carry out deadly jihad in Pakistan, now it looks like our support for jihad in Kashmir is having the same effect.

Gen (r) Janjua’s advise for Afghanistan is good advise for Pakistan also

Gen (r) Naseer Khan JanjuaNational Security Advisor Lt Gen (r) Naseer Khan Janjua has found himself widely ridiculed on social media after claiming that US is only a superpower due to Pakistan. However, there are other claims made by the retired officer that are much less amusing. Actually, they should be taken very seriously if we are to ever find a way out of the cycle of madness that we seem to be stuck in.

Gen Janjua also asked at the same gathering, “It is said Pakistan is supporting Taliban. If that is true then why are Pakistani Taliban fighting a war against us?” Is the NSA not aware of the difference between Afghan Taliban and TTP? Is he not aware of the state’s different policies towards these two groups, seeing one as a legitimate political force and the other as an illegitimate anti-state terrorist group?

This brings up another curious point made in an exclusive interview the NSA gave to Geo where he blamed Afghanistan and un-named ‘hostile intelligence agencies’ for hosting anti-Pakistan militants like TTP. Here is what he said:

As a result of the successful conduct of Operation Zarb-e-Azb, the terrorists ran for their lives and crossed over to into Afghanistan, where they were hosted by the Hostile Intelligence Agencies (HIAs). After absorbing the initial set back, these terrorists relocated and re-established themselves.

Over time, they have reorganised, regrouped, and recuperated. The recent series of attacks show that they are now well-established and have adequate support of Hostile Intelligence Agencies to restart their heinous activities.

I am not making any disagreement with the NSA’s statement, but there is an important point missing which is that what he is describing is exactly what Pakistan is doing also.

Last year, Sartaj Aziz admitted what was already obvious which is that Pakistan has been hosting Taliban leaders and providing safe haven where they were able to reorganise, regroup, and recuperate. Former COAS Gen Musharraf also admitted that ISI cultivated Taliban to counter any Indian influence in Kabul. In other words, everything we have blamed Afghanistan for doing that has fueled this terrible war, we have admitted doing also!

NSA Lt Gen Janjua said that “continuous way of war, and the intent to gain a position of strength, has made the war perpetual in Afghanistan.” If this is something he truly believes and is not just reciting sweet talking points, the obvious result is for our own state agencies to end our obsession with the way of war and intent to gain a position of strength in Afghanistan. If we are sincere in wanting to see peace in Afghanistan and at home, we need to take our own advise and stop our ‘good Taliban’ ‘bad Taliban’ policies.

Are we doomed to repeat past mistakes with China?

“Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”

Are we doomed to repeat past mistakes with China? We believe we have turned a new corner by shedding our reliance on America and becoming closer to our neighbor to the East, but will that allow us to continue past behaviours without facing similar consequences? These are questions that require immediate attention if we are to enjoy the full benefits of CPEC and our strategic alliance with China, and current events warn of looming problems.

On the strategic side, Nawaz Sharif appreciated China’s support in the fight against terrorism, a critical issue during a time when terrorist attacks have once again sky rocketed in Pakistan. Only yesterday there was another suicide blast in Lahore, showing that the militants have much more ability than official statements give credit for.

However if we ask whether China is actually on the same page as our own civil military leadership when it comes to terrorism, there is reason to worry. Chinese authorities have continued passing tighter restrictions on Muslims including banning long beards and burkas. Chinese officials are worried about infiltration of extremist ideology, a problem that the Chinese have blamed Pakistan in the recent past. There is also the question of China’s international anti-terrorism fight. It is also becoming clear that China is secretly working with Kabul in fight against Taliban in Afghanistan.

In Pakistan, our position is less clear. We are united against ‘terrorism’, but we are not united about who is a terrorist. While there are question marks around how Osama bin Laden was able to live outside PMA Kakul without being detected, Sartaj Aziz has famously admitted that we hosted Taliban leadership in Pakistan. Pakistani militants have been killed fighting alongside Taliban in Afghanistan, and JUI-F General Secretary Abdul Ghafoor Haideri on Wednesday even invited Taliban to join his party.

We have not forgotten the past, but our memory has become cloudy and confused as incidents and actions have been buried under decades of conspiracy theories and  ‘narratives’ invented to retell history in a way that favours what we want to believe. In the past, we wanted to have close relationship with America, but support Taliban also. Eventually, this destroyed our relationship with the Americans who saw us as playing a double game. Now we have replaced US with China, but we have kept the Taliban as our ally. However, China also sees Taliban as a threat just as America does also. Will our unwavering support for Taliban destroy our relations with China also?

About that helicopter…

helicopterIt is a story that came and went too quickly not to be noticed. According to reports, a Punjab government helicopter crash landed in Afghanistan. Thankfully, all on board had their lives spared, but then were immediately seized by Taliban militants. Finally, good news as all have safely been returned to Pakistan. However, behind all the good news are some very strange facts.

  • The helicopter was flying from Punjab to either Uzbekistan or Russia, depending on the media report. Uzbekistan is over 1,200 km distance, and Russia is over 4,000 km. But the helicopter was an MI 17, which is a military helicopter with a maximum range of only 800 km.
  • The official story is that the helicopter was being taking abroad for maintenance. MI 17 is a military helicopter used by Pakistan Army. Does this mean that we do not have the ability to maintain our own fleets in Pakistan? If the helicopter required maintenance, why was it being flown over twice its maximum range?
  • Except for the flight crew, passengers aboard the helicopter were all retired military officers. Why were several retired military officers taking a Punjab government helicopter for maintenance?
  • Foreign Office has said that all captives were freed by the Taliban following an “inter-tribe exchange“. What was exchanged for these military officers?

The way that this story was so quickly and neatly brushed under the rug should raise eyebrows. There are many unanswered questions that need to be answered, and it seems that the powers that be are not keen to talk about them. Why?