Who’s Afraid of Declan Walsh?

Declan Walsh

One of the more interesting sub-plots of the Axact thriller is the case of the New York Times reporter who broke the story. The reporter, Declan Walsh, was unceremoniously expelled from Pakistan two years ago, a fact belaboured by Axact’s defenders.

What exactly were these “activities against the state”? Well, like his report on Axact, they were investigative pieces that lifted the lid on some rather unsavoury dishes. When the Axact expose burst onto the scene, many were asking which piece it was that got the New York Times reporter expelled. There’s some disagreement about which was the ultimate sin, but what is more likely is that there was not one piece but a pattern in the reporting that was objected to.

In 2011, Mr Walsh wrote a long report titled ‘Pakistan’s secret dirty war‘ about what’s going on in Balochistan – a topic that some quarters would prefer not be discussed.

In 2012, he filed a report on Kamra Airbase attack that the target was “believed to be one of the locations where part of Pakistan’s nuclear stockpile” – a claim that was unwelcome for obvious reasons.

In 2013, Mr Walsh reported that American military officials believed Pakistan was lying about drone strikes to cover up our own airstrikes. A few days later, his visa was cancelled and Declan Walsh ordered to leave the country immediately.

For those of us whose perspective is molded by hyper-nationalist self-appointed ‘patriots’, that is to say all of us, this looks like a clear pattern of “anti-state activities” by the New York Times reporter. If we are willing to set aside our nationalist instinct towards defensiveness, though, another question emerges: Was any of his reporting actually wrong?

Whether or not these reports were factually incorrect is something that is not easy to answer. Those who know for certain are not interested in the truth coming out. But is this actually serving the country’s interests, or undermining them?

Questions about what is taking place in Balochistan are virtually unanswerable since the military has banned reporters from going there. The result of this is that all manner of allegations can be easily made but very difficult to disprove. Worse, if there are abuses taking place, they are not able to be exposed and corrected. This provides ready fuel to separatist propaganda and undermines the credibility of our own armed forces.

Army officials strongly denied that Kamra airbase was a nuclear site, but that doesn’t mean much. They would deny it even if it were true. Nuclear weapons sites are a carefully kept secret in order to keep them secure. But are they really more secure for being secret? When no one is sure where the weapons are kept, it’s hard to know if they’re really being targeted or not. We have to take Army’s word for it, and it does not serve Army’s interest for the public to know the details of such sensitive matters. Would our nuclear sites actually be more secure if they were public? Out of curiosity I did a quick Google search and discovered that America’s nuclear sites can be seen on Google Maps!

The missiles and their command bunkers have been in the same place “for decades,” Air Force Capt. Edith Sakura of the 90th Missile Wing Office of Public Affairs wrote in an email. “They are near county and state roads that are public access to people. You need security clearances to access the sites; however, it would be hard to ‘hide’ such facilities.”

Moreover, as other commenters noted, the sites are already visited by foreign militaries. Russian officers regularly inspect U.S. missile silos to make sure America is adhering to international arms-control treaties. (And the U.S. sends its own observers to Russia.)

America does not worry about whether someone knows where their nukes are because America’s Army is certain that they are secure. What does it say, then, when we so defensively keep ours a secret?

As for lying about drones, perhaps the less is said the better.

Army will deny each of the claims made in Declan Walsh’s reports, and because they involve sensitive subjects, it would be virtually impossible to prove them. Actually, even if some secret evidence was leaked, it would simply be dismissed as a Western conspiracy against Muslims as has been done in the past. We will accept the denials because what other choice do we have? We will dismiss Declan Walsh as “anti-Pakistan”, and we will sincerely resent him, not because we really believe that he’s a foreign spy but because there is that sinking feeling in the back of our minds that makes us doubt what we have no choice but to believe.

In an important piece by one of Axact’s victims, respected journalist Wajahat S. Khan reflects on his regrets about his brief experience with Bol:

But arrogance has a tone. Denial has a deafening silence. And mirages are self-constructed. I contributed to all three, in my three months at Bol. And played along with the best of them, because of where they came from, who they are, and what it all meant.

Khan’s astoundingly open and honest words sparked an uncomfortable feeling, like they were hitting a bit too close to home.

Arrogance has a tone. Denial has a deafening silence. And mirages are self-constructed.

Wajahat S. Khan may have contributed to all three in his brief time at Bol, but each of us has contibuted to all three during our lives as well. The arrogant tone of our insistence that we are the fortress of Islam. Our silent denial that jihadi ideology is devouring our nation. And the mirage that we have self-constructed that tells us that the number one intelligence agency in the world and most accomplished military in the world will keep us safe and secure…just as long as we don’t ask any questions.

Will Gen Raheel Face Qatl-e-Amd Case?

Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui of the Islamabad High Court (IHC) has ordered police to register murder case against the then Islamabad chief of America’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for a drone strike in 2009. One could argue that it is a complete waste of time and resources since the accused is no longer in Pakistan and the chances of US sending their former spy chief to face murder charges here are less than zero. The response being that the case provides not only symbolic importance but the opportunity to fully explore a case that determines a legal precedent about whether or not drone strikes are murder. However, there is an interesting predicament: Last month, Army officially inaugurated Pakistan’s own fleet of armed drones, which Gen Sharif announced would be used in strikes against militants.

Gen Raheel Sharif oversees Pakistani drone operationIf drones strikes qualify as Qatl-e-Amd for former CIA station chief Jonathan Banks, then drone strikes qualify as Qatl-e-Amd for COAS Gen Raheel also. The counter-argument to this would be that the state reserves the right to use force, but there are certain complications with this response.

It is true that states reserve the right to use force in enforcement of the writ of state, but this power is not unlimited. The state cannot anyone kill without justification. It may be easy to bring a case against a CIA chief as that agency is unpopular, but in many parts of FATA, Pakistan Army is unpopular also.

However there is another important point: Even if the state has the power to order drone strikes, the CIA defence could also include the question of whether the CIA drone strikes were carried out under the sanction of state authority. Remember when Wikileaks exposed that Army was secretly requesting more drone strikes in Pakistan even while anti-drone public sentiment was being whipped up?

All of these questions are purely academic in nature, but they present the difficult problems that arise when Army carries out certain policies in secret while whipping up public sentiments against those same policies. This is not a justification for drones, but we have to face the fact that if we truly believe in ‘rule of law’, we can’t do the exact same thing we condemn others for doing and get away with it.

First Good Taliban, Bad Taliban. Now Good Drones, Bad Drones.

Pakistan Armed Drones

Policy of distinguishing between ‘Good’ Taliban and ‘Bad’ Taliban is well known. This is denied by the state, of course, but actions speak louder than words and based on the actions of the state apparatus, many believe that, in the words of The Nation, “The government tells us there is no distinction between good and bad terrorists – it lies.” Now, another group has apparently been divided into ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’ camps: Drones.

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#NotABugSplat Campaign Is A Media Sideshow

not a bug splat campaign

If you’re on Twitter, you’ve probably heard about the #NotABugSplat campaign by now. It’s a giant art installation in KP that is protesting drone strikes by displaying giant photographs of children’s faces so that drone operators will see them and realise that their targets are human beings and not ‘bug splats’. It’s a fairly clever idea, but there’s only one problem. There are no drones.

There hasn’t been a drone strike in over 100 days. No Pakistanis, innocent or otherwise, are being killed by drones. Meanwhile, there have been over 300 terrorist attacks in Pakistan so far this year that have killed hundreds of innocents.

#NotABugSplat campaign is impressive both in its clever way of drawing attention and its sophisticated use of social media to increase attention to the issue. However, that’s really the only point of it. All the giant photographs of innocent faces are purely for news cameras, not for drone operators. It’s a media sideshow that distracts us from the real cause of our problems. It’s great PR for PTI, but it does nothing to make Pakistan safer.

Time to Re-Think Drones

drone kills Hakimullah Mehsud

After tens of thousands of deaths and Taliban’s refusal to accept offers of peace talks, national consensus is finally beginning to come around on the need for defensive operations against militants. As these discussions are ongoing and the military begins to outline its plans for operations, it is also time to re-think our position on drones.

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