The biggest coup of all

Abottabad compound

On Off the Record tonight, Kashif Abbasi asked Imran Khan of all people why didn’t the president and prime minister know about this operation? The first question to ask is why Kashif asked Imran Khan of all people, as if he would have any way of knowing what goes on behind closed doors at the highest levels. Second, who says the president and PM didn’t know? But what is more interesting is Imran Khan’s response to the question, which appears to be planted, that the operation will have negative consequences that weaken Pakistan Army. I think there might be something to what Imran Khan is saying, but it may not be what it seems at first.

In many ways, the reactions of Osama’s death have been predictable. CNN showed footage of Americans standing outside the White House chanting USA. Burger bacchas whined on Twitter and Facebook. Hamid Mir began reading the Taliban statement on TV. Zaid Hamid reminded everyone of his complete disconnection from reality. And Mushy belatedly became concerned about sovereignty. These were so predictable that it was almost boring to watch unfold.

What has been more interesting to me are the subtle clues to something much more interesting – and much more important – is happening within the ranks. Yes, much of this is speculation, but please let me tell you an alternative read on what has happened. There’s a lot of confusion and contradictory information going around, so let’s slow down for a moment and think about this logically:

1. Osama was holed up in a compound in Abbottabad for over five years, which makes it virtually impossible to believe that intelligence agencies had no idea he was there.

2. The attack was carried out by US special forces who flew in and out of Abbottabad using military helicopters, which makes it hard to believe that GHQ didn’t approve.

So, was the mission carried out as a joint Pak-US operation?

According to the speech of President of the US Barack Obama,

It’s important to note that our counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to bin Laden and the compound where he was hiding. Indeed, bin Laden had declared war against Pakistan as well, and ordered attacks against the Pakistani people.

This same point was made in the statement released from the Foreign Office today.

In an intelligence driven operation, Osama Bin Ladin was killed in the surroundings of Abbotabad in the early hours of this morning. This operation was conducted by the US forces in accordance with declared US policy that Osama bin Ladin will be eliminated in a direct action by the US forces, wherever found in the world.

Earlier today, President Obama telephoned President Zardari on the successful US operation which resulted in killing of Osama bin Ladin.

Osama bin Ladin’s death illustrates the resolve of the international community including Pakistan to fight and eliminate terrorism. It constitutes a major setback to terrorist organizations around the world.

Al-Qaeda had declared war on Pakistan. Scores of Al-Qaeda sponsored terrorist attacks resulted in deaths of thousands of innocent Pakistani men, women and children. Almost, 30,000 Pakistani civilians lost their lives in terrorist attacks in the last few years. More than 5,000 Pakistani security and armed forces officials have been martyred in Pakistan’s campaign against Al-Qaeda, other terrorist organizations and affiliates.

Pakistan has played a significant role in efforts to eliminate terrorism. We have had extremely effective intelligence sharing arrangements with several intelligence agencies including that of the US. We will continue to support international efforts against terrorism.

It is Pakistan’s stated policy that it will not allow its soil to be used in terrorist attacks against any country. Pakistan’s political leadership, parliament, state institutions and the whole nation are fully united in their resolve to eliminate terrorism.

Neither the US nor FO said much about involvement of Pakistan personnel, but both countries spoke of cooperation from the highest levels of government. Former US Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs P.J. Crowley posted on Twitter:

#Pakistan evidently played an integral part in the #binLaden operation, reinforcing to the #Pakistani people why this is a shared struggle.

As obvious as this seems, we must ask why it is being downplayed by both sides and why media is asking people like Imran Khan why the civilian government didn’t know about the mission when they obviously did. I suspect that the reason is that President Zardari and PM Gilani did know, and that this operation was carried out by civilian government taking command and leaving certain elements of the old establishment in the dark.

From the early days of the present government, civilian leaders have been trying to reign in what are perceived to be out of control elements in the military and intelligence agencies. Recall that in 2008 the government attempted to bring ISI under civilian supervision, only to be rebuffed by GHQ. Despite the PM’s recent remarks that ISI operates under full civilian control, nobody really believes this. But that doesn’t mean that democratic leaders are not still trying to create a new establishment.

It is also widely believed that there are multiple factions within GHQ who are struggling to define the future path of Pakistan military strategy. There is the pro-US group who sees the best results from cooperation  with the West to defeat militants and improve access to global economic markets. There is the pro-China group who thinks the US is yesterday’s ally and wants to concentrate on relations with China’s military as an antidote to Indian military expansion. And then, of course, there is the cold war leftover group who hangs onto to Zia-era ideology of jihad.

Could it be that this operation in Abbottabad was carried out with the cooperation of the civilian government and some elements of the military while keeping the cold warriors in the dark? That’s what it’s looking like to me. This would explain a few things, certainly.

1. Last fall when a US helicopter crossed the border on a ‘hot pursuit’ chase in Upper Kurram, Pakistan soldiers fired at it. In Abbottabad, no soldiers fired on multiple helicopters carrying US special forces.

2. Abbottabad is not Mozang Chungi. It would take more than a Raymond Davis to gather the intelligence needed to orchestrate such a strike, and the idea that this level of intelligence gathering could be done without the cooperation of Pakistani intelligence is hard to believe.

Details are still not known and it’s going to be a while for the full story to come out. But it’s worth trying to figure out logically what the story is here. I don’t know what is going on, but I suspect there is something that is not being said out loud that is far more interesting than what is being discussed on TV. One possibility is that the civilian government and reasonable people in the military have formed an alliance to move beyond the obstacles created by leftover cold warriors and finally settle this war once and for all. This would not be announced so publicly, though, because it has probably ruffled a few feathers and now there are meetings being held to explain this new arrangement.

People love to complain about President Zardari, but he’s managed to get some things right. The 18th Amendment was an important move to undo power consolidation under dictators. But if President Zardari can manage to reconfigure the relationship between the establishment and the government in a way that similarly undoes the damage caused by past dictators, then he will have pulled off the one coup that Pakistan has desperately needed.

Ben Ali, Hosni Mubarak, and Ahmed Quraishi

What do Ben Ali, Hosni Mubarak, and Ahmed Quraishi have in common? Quite a bit, as it turns out. Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak learned the lesson when they got on a plane and left. Ahmed Qureshi titled his own article, ‘A lesson from Egypt & Tunis’, but as usual he got the lesson hilariously wrong.

Actually, Ahmed Quraishi’s spin is laughably bad. He terms dictators ‘politicians’, and yet still goes on to praise them. The man who has never met a dictator he didn’t fawn over like a blushing bride, Ahmed Quraishi looks at Hosni Mubarak’s record of iron-fisted rule and writes:

We can say a few good things about Hosni Mubarak who consolidated the position of the country and gave an opportunity to the middle class to grow but he failed to fully represent the potentials of the Egyptian people.

That’s right. Ahmed Quraishi believes that Hosni Mubarak’s failure was not fully representing the potentials of the Egyptian people. Secret police? Iron-fisted rule? All of these are just fine with Ahmed Quraishi who knows all too well what dictatorships and covert agents are up to. He has even said so himself, defending the release of the fake Wikileaks story by saying that it is justified to use fake media stories for political ends, and he followed up this astonishing admission of manipulation by calling for a blatant authoritarian regime in Pakistan that will “enforce discipline” and “tolerate dissent but not chaos”. Was Ahmed Quraishi a speech writer for the newly deposed dictators? It certainly sounds like it.

According to Ahmed Quraishi, the solution to all of the country’s ills is to give unchecked power to the establishment, and this time he wants to make sure meddlesome justices like Iftikhar Chaudhry do not get in the way of dictatorial powers.

Within a few hours of the flight of its President from the country, the army arrested all the presidential nearest and dearest who were suspected of plundering the national wealth. Remember, they were arrested alone as suspects and they did not wait for an investigation by an agency like NAB or a legal court.

This is no suprise. Ahmed Quraishi has been condemning the lawyers movement and all demands for fair and neutral justice for years. His latest article is another boring display of his same old fetish for coups and military strongmen.

Ahmed Quraishi and Gen Musharraf

Tunisians and Egyptians may have held their own long marches to remove dictators and win democracy, but Pakistanis won our own freedom a few years ago. But now Ahmed Quraishi wants to hijack the Arab pro-democracy movement and twist its meaning to support the return of military dictatorship to Pakistan. I’m sorry, but we have seen that movie too many times already. We all know how it ends and we’re not interested in seeing it again but thank you for the suggestion.

A much better explanation of Pakistan’s political situation is made by Dr Pirzada in Daily Times on Wednesday.

When after Tunisia, Egypt started to rock with shouts of “revolution”, an important western embassy in Pakistan ordered an immediate “risk assessment” to determine if Pakistan could be “next”. The ambassador was told: “Don’t you worry, for while Pakistan presents all factors ripe for revolution, sadly it does not have any leadership to lead this.” This is certainly true, but it is only part of the explanation. I would have told him: “Excellency! Relax and welcome to a multi-polar, raucous but democratic Pakistan.”

This is precisely what many in Islamabad and certainly Washington have not realised — not so far. When some of us were naively whispering in worried American ears: “Sir, we will fix it up in a day”, they did not realise that the country has changed; today it has many centres of political authority, dozens of TV channels — all trying to outwit Fox, hundreds of chirpy radio stations and countless racy publications. And precisely because of this multi-polar and multi-media situation, our courts have found the space to assert themselves as independent entities and they in turn add to the depth of a rough, volatile and fragile mix that despite its many failings is the new democratic dispensation in which no one is all-powerful, no one, not even the good old GHQ has total control. If they are creating impressions of ‘control’, they too are bluffing.

Democracy is neither orderly nor neatly pressed and tidy like the khaki uniforms worn by the Hosni Mubaraks and Ziaul Haqs of the world – establishment ‘liberators’ who gladly free their countries to serve their own interests and those of their lackeys. It’s really sad that people like Ahmed Quraishi are willing to take the sacrifices and the dreams of people for democracy and twist them into distortions that claim to promote the very dictatorships that people are struggling against. Thankfully, the power of the people is greater than the power of any dictator, and certainly more powerful than Ahmed Quraishi.

Ahmed Qureshi Article 2-9-2011

My Favourite Caliph

Sometimes Ahmed Quraishi is so ridiculous that I wonder if he’s performing some sort of dark comedy routine. Take, for example, the conversation that he has started on Facebook about how life under an 8th century Arab Caliph was better than life under ‘baboons’ in power today.

Here’s what he wrote on Facebook “A Glimpse Into The Mind Of A Muslim Caliph”

During the government of Alwaleed bin Abdul Malik, a Khaleefa of Bani Umayya [Umayyads],who was based in Damascus and in whose tenure Mohammad bin Qasim conquered Sindh, he introduced a social welfare system where widows could register themselves in special offices in various cities of the state and get monthly stipends and/or ration.

Well equipped shelters were built for the homeless and poor travelers. This covered the length abd breadth of the Muslim empire at the time. Special shelters were run by the state for the orphans. It was normal for mayors and/or rulers of various Muslim cities to compete with each other in building and running the largest libraries. Muslim cities and rulers prided one another on who maintains the largest and the richest public library of books. Every ruler competed in and rewarded citizens who would translate maximum numbers of books from other languages into Arabic and place the translated books in the local state-run library. Books on philosophy, religion, myths, science, etc. everything was translated. Muslims used to be confident. They were not afraid to translate books from other cultures that contradicted Islamic injunctions. They translated these books to learn how other nations thought and behaved and to know their strengths and weaknesses. You could find books on sex translated from other cultures lying in the local library of a Muslim city. Muslims then were confident in their faith and in themselves, knowing that they were reading foriegn material only to learn while not getting influenced by these books except in the positive.

First allow me to ask why he said ‘Muslim Caliph’ – what other kind of Caliph is there? But aside from petty redundancies, what made me laugh is that Quraishi had to go back to the 8th century to find a leader worth praising, and the leader he found certainly sounds like the ‘liberal extremist’ that Hamid Mir and Ahmed himself were trying to create as a bogey man just a few days ago.

Caliphs - notice, not PakistaniAlso, for someone who has proclaimed himself as “Pak Nationalist”, isn’t it curious that when he wanted to show good leadership he couldn’t find one single Pakistani to praise? Not even Baba-e-Qaum is worthy of Ahmed Quraishi’s praise. Ahmed Quraishi is so in love with Arabs that his perfect Pakistan leader is from Damascus.

This is where it gets less funny. How self-hating do you have to be to reject every single leader of your people including the father of your own country? And yet this is what Ahmed Quraishi is telling us. He is saying, ‘if you want good leaders, we should be servants of the Arabs.’

This greatest leader of the past 1,300 years that Ahmed Quraishi so admires declared Arabic as the only official language and decreed that all administration was to be done in Arabic only. Does Ahmed Quraishi believe we should give up our own languages and speak Arabic? Alwaleed bin Abdul Malik also invaded and conquered Sindh to add to his Arabian empire. It should be asked does Ahmed Quraishi believe in the integrity and sovereignty of Pakistan, or does he believe that we should be invaded and annexed as servants to some large Arab empire?

Alwaleed bin Abdul Malik did a lot of great things 1,300 years ago. His contributions to architecture, social welfare, libraries, etc etc etc were all positive. But I will say it again – we don’t live in 8th century Arabia. We live in 21st century Pakistan.

But of course the key issue for Ahmed Quraishi has never been improving Pakistan’s economy, spreading religious tolerance, or helping widows and orphans or anyone else except Ahmed Quraishi. He has a fetish for authority. This is why he was Pervez Musharraf’s puppet while he was in power, but once he was thrown out of power Ahmed abandoned him. It’s why he tried to get a job with the Voice of America, but has turned anti-American since they rejected him. Now he’s looking for another authority figure who he can serve.

We don’t need any authoritarian figures or dictators or Caliphs. We’ve had enough of that, thank you. And Arab dictators aren’t any better than Pakistani ones. Just ask the Tunisians, Egyptians, Syrians, and Libyans. The Arabs are not going to solve our problems, only we are. Neither are the Americans. Neither are the Chinese. So let Ahmed Quraishi keep his dictator fetish to himself. I’d rather have a democracy where I can choose my own leaders, even if they aren’t perfect angels.