One month since Sehwan blast and already we have lost plot

Hundreds of innocents killed in a new wave of terrorist attacks, a new military operation announced, and within weeks we have already lost the plot. In just the past few days we have seen Islamabad High Court and Interior Ministry announce possible new social media ban to crack down on alleged problem of ‘blasphemous content’. This was followed by a petition against Zara Hut Kay for daring to question the IHC Judge.

Soon after, some of our so-called ‘journalists’ selectively read an article by former Ambassador Hussain Haqqani about American politicians meeting Russian diplomats and somehow managed to turn it into an admission that he helped capture Osama bin Laden. Only in Pakistan is helping capture the world’s most wanted terrorist considered treason, but this is our reality. However this interpretation doesn’t even match what is in the supposed confession. Haqqani says that he brought a request to Islamabad (which was his job) and that American intelligence agents were operating in Pakistan (this is no revelation or have we forgotten that ISI was working with CIA in Pakistan at the time?). The important line that nobody seems to have read is when Haqqani notes that “the United States kept us officially out of the loop about the operation”. Never mind the facts, though, as PPP grasped at the opportunity to disown their former Ambassador, something they do once a year as part of their desperate attempts to slow their slide into political irrelevance.

Meanwhile, COAS Bajwa has met with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz and Army has announced new operations will defend Saudi Arabia from cross border attacks. This news has broken only two days after Chinese media reported that Pakistan Army Chief has also promised to protect Chinese workers and investments in Pakistan. It has not been clarified where Pakistani citizens come in the priority, but some are speculating that the current list is:

  1. Chinese investments
  2. Saudi Princes
  3. Kashmir-based ‘freedom fighters’
  4. Cricket tournaments
  5. VVIPs

Operation Raddul Fasaad was launched on 22 February. Less than four weeks later, we find our selves in essentially the same chaotic mess that we have remained leading many to ask if Raddul Fasaad and the national ‘unity’ is anything else but a facade.

Should we care if China uses CPEC to increase trade with India?

When I was growing up there was a boy who lived near us who one day received a very special gift. It was a toy that all of us had wanted, but no one had. It was very expensive and no one’s family had the extra money to buy such a luxury. He was given the gift by an uncle who was visiting from overseas, and it made him the star of the whole neighborhood. Only one condition was given that he had to share the toy with his sister. When the uncle first mentioned this the boy nodded but wasn’t really listening. He was completely entranced by the toy and wasn’t really paying attention. But soon, his father reminded him: Beta, that toy is not just for you. You must let your sister enjoy it, too. The boy’s eyes darkened. No, he thought, this is MINE. After another week had passed, his father told the boy to go and fetch the toy and bring it for his sister to play with. The boy stood still, pretending as if he hadn’t heard. His father repeated and this time the tone was clear: If you do not get the toy now, I will get it myself and give it to her. The boy looked down and turned to go get the toy while his sister stood grinning with pleasure. Soon, he returned. A dark look on his face, and his hands behind his back. His father smiled, ‘Good boy. Now let her play with it some.’ His sister reached out and the boy brought his hands from behind his back. In his palms were the smashed pieces of the toy. He poured them on the ground and turned his back.

I was reminded of this tale when I read today that Senators have been discussing their fears that China may use CPEC to enhance trade with India also! Since day one, CPEC has been predicted to be an economic game changer for Pakistan. It has already provided a much needed boost to investor confidences as well as calming some fears of important international organizations like IMF. Not only this, but it has renewed a sense of hope for the future that was missing since long. CPEC is not an economic miracle, and there are still details to be worked out and concerns to be addressed. But one of those concerns should not be whether or not India gets some benefits from it too! We must stop looking at issues from a ‘zero sum’ strategy where anything good for India is bad for Pakistan. If CPEC is good for Pakistan, that should be our only concern. If someone else benefits too, it does not harm us.

Balochistan: Dreams and Nightmares

Gwadar goes operationalYesterday was an important day in troubled provice Balochistan. Top civil and military leadership, including Chief of Army Staff Gen Raheel Sharif, Balochistan Governor Muhammad Khan Achakzai and Balochistan CM Nawab Sanaullah Zehri along with Chinese officials and businessmen attended the grand opening ceremony at the Gwadar port. The event was marked by hope and optimism as the first sign of CPEC’s promise has come to pass. However, the grand opening of Gwadar port was not the only event to take place in Balochistan this weekend.

At least 52 killed, 102 injured in blast at Khuzdar shrine

The day before the nation’s top civil and military leadership were celebrating in Gwadar, hundreds of citizens were mourning and wailing in Khuzdar where a blast tore through shrine of Shah Norani killing over 50 and injured hundreds more. The sectarian terrorist attack was claimed by Islamic State.

CPEC has been declared so important to Pakistan that 15,000 troops of Special Security Division have been assigned to protect CPEC projects and Chinese nationals. But have similar efforts been made to protecting our own citizens who are facing targeted attacks?

COAS Gen Raheel Sharif has said that ‘We are ready to pay any price to turn this long cherished dream into reality’. By transferring security resources from protecting vulnerable communities to protecting Chinese development projects, are we paying that price in our own blood?

Pakistan-China Relations: What are friends for?

China has proven to be a powerful antidote to concerns about international isolation. Relations with America might be on the decline, but isn’t America on the decline also? Even if America’s decline is more wishful thinking than fact, it cannot be denied that China will continue to have a growing role of economic and military power in the region and globally. With Pakistan-Chinese relations as strong as they are, can we really be ‘isolated’? To many of our fellow countrymen, China is not only a cure for isolation, but a panacea that promises to heal all of our problems. We should appreciate China’s vote of confidence, however we should also be careful to take a realistic view of the relationship and what we are getting out of it.

First, let us take an honest view of CPEC. This is a very sensitive issue since the country’s economic hopes have been attached completely to the Chinese investment which has been termed a ‘game changer’ for the country. There is no doubt that such an impressive investment of over $45 billion will have a positive impact on the economy. However, we should also not be naive enough to believe that China is simply handing this has a gift. Analysts are warning not to get overly excited about how much ‘change’ is coming.

In a new piece for Express Tribune, Cambridge graduate and management consultant Faran Mahmood has warned to be realistic and pay attention to ‘the fine print‘ in CPEC.

Drawing parallels, Pakistan is also repeating same mistakes by awarding contracts to Chinese players without any competitive bidding – with a sovereign guarantee of 18% return on investments.

Moreover, there is no guarantee that Chinese will pump money into our local economy by sourcing materials and labour force from Pakistan. The lion’s share of 400,000 jobs that will be created may go to Chinese labour force – not to mention the hefty cement and construction material import bill that may touch the billion dollar mark.

CPEC is not the only issue where China may be working more to its own benefits. There is also defence which is another sensitive issue that is usually discussed based on wishful thinking than cold hard reality.

In the current trendy narrative, US is moving away from Pakistan and realigning with India while we are realigning with China. This model is based on the view that the world is moving away from a single superpower as America declines and China rises and all sides are being rearranged. It should be noted that some analysts like Mosharraf Zaidi disagree with this view, however it cannot be denied that it is the most popular narrative in Islamabad today.

China has promised to stand with Pakistan in any eventuality. This can be understood as no different than the similar NATO alliances that say an attack on any Western country is responded by all. However, in our case we should be careful about whether we are taking China’s promise as only a defensive protection against foreign aggression or whether we are also taking it as license to continue failed policies of the past.

China has supported our positions at the UN, but have these always been in our interests? By blocking the UN from blacklisting Masood Azhar per our request, hasn’t China actually exposed us as supporting jihadi militants? It also makes it harder to change the status quo of our Kashmir policy which has failed for decades to actually help the Kashmiri people. Is a friend who helps an alcoholic to keep drinking really a friend at all?

China wants to keep India from achieving regional hegemony, and knows that supporting Pakistan will help that strategy. However this is different from having Pakistan’s best interests at heart. America wanted to prevent the Taliban from returning to power in Afghanistan, and supported Pakistan for over a decade as part of their strategy. But does anyone believe America had our best interests at heart? Why are we willing to fall for the same trick twice?

Finally, it would be incomplete to not say a word about the way that certain personalities have been attacked recently. Ayesha Siddiqa is the most recent example, but there are many others also including many famous examples. Each of these people has been attacked for supposedly repeating ‘enemy narratives’ or being overly critical of sensitive institutions such as our armed forces. They are stamped as ‘traitors’ and accused of being enemy agents with the only evidence being that we did not like what they said. No one likes it when their doctor tells them that they have cancer, but no one calls them a traitor for it either. It is understood that by telling you the harsh truth, the doctor is giving you the opportunity to save yourself. Isn’t it the case with these scholars also? Even the claim that they are attacking institutions does not hold up. If Dr Siddiqa points out that there are some corrupt officers, or Husain Haqqani notes that some policies are promoting extremism, the cure is not to get rid of the institution any more than the cure for cancer is to kill the patient! The enemy’s advice would actually be to ignore the presence of the disease which only allows it to spread. It is the friend who wants to heal the patient so that he can become stronger.